Relive the Summer of 2009 With Rachel Alexandra

What would it be like to spend six weeks shadowing:  the President and CEO of a major thoroughbred racetrack, a trainer of five Triple Crown races, a horse that was in the midst of one of the greatest campaigns in recent history, and a jockey who was the darling of the media?
Brendan O’Meara, the author of Six Weeks in Saratoga, How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became the Horse of the Year, was lucky enough to have full access to Charlie Hayward, Nick Zito, Rachel Alexandra, and Calvin Borel. For six weeks at Saratoga in the summer of 2009, O’Meara had the unique privilege of detailing their activities.
I first met O’Meara in the grandstand at Monmouth Park early in the morning on Haskell Day, the biggest day of racing at the Jersey Shore.  He was setting up a table to promote his new book.  He has there to chat with the racing fans and to sign the cases of books he had brought with him. Coincidentally I had just purchased his book because it sounded fascinating from what I had read on Twitter, so I was excited that I got to chat with O’Meara.
I asked him how such a young and relatively inexperienced writer was able to get access to all of those high profile race trackers.  He said that he first got permission from Charlie Hayward of NYRA and that that gave him instant credibility.  
Then it was relatively easy to secure the others.
Charlie Hayward had just survived the renewal of the NYRA franchise.  He was in the midst of OTB turmoil, particularly with Nassau OTB illegally using the NYRA signal. The push for the completion of the VLT deal had reached its highest levels.  Throughout all of this political pressure and the countless media appearances, O’Meara always felt welcome in the midst of the whirlwind of Hayward’s activities.

Once the Triple Crown has passed trainer Nick Zito can move on to Saratoga.  He is one the few that sends his horses upstate as soon as the Oklahoma barns open in the early spring and then they stay there long after the end of the meet. In recent years his older horses like 
Commentator have been the focus of his summer.

Rachel Alexandra had been dominating racing in 2009. She beat the boys in the Preakness and then again in The Haskell in July.
In 2009, Calvin Borel was the media face of horse racing.  He had just won his second Kentucky Derby with 50-1 Mine That Bird and was riding Rachel Alexandra into the history books. He left his home base in KY for the summer just to stay close to Rachel, the greatest horse he had ever ridden.  He did not expect to win many races at Saratoga but he wanted to make sure that nobody would try and get the mount from him.
Later in that Haskell day I went by to see O’Meara again.  He had had a great day talking with the racing enthusiasts at Monmouth and that he had sold all of the books.  Near the end of the day Barbara Banke, now the owner of Rachel Alexandra’s Stonestreet Stable, stopped by and bought six copies of the book.  She was at Monmouth because Stonestreet had a horse running in The Haskell. Banke asked O’Meara to personalize each of the books to a different member of the Rachel team.  O’Meara was tickled that Rachel’s owner saw fit to use his book as a gift to Rachel’s caregivers. 
In Six Weeks in Saratoga, O’Meara weaves the life stories and day-to-day activities of Hayward, Zito, and Borel around the important role that Rachel Alexandra played in the success of the 2009 Saratoga meeting. Throw Mind That Bird and Summer Bird, the sons of Birdstone, into the mix and you have got the makings of a fascinating book about what goes on behind the scenes of America’s most important racing meet.   
Meet Matt Shifman

In the 70’s I was another one of those kids that went to the track with their fathers, and I immediately became enthralled with the excitement and challenges of handicapping.  And then the charisma and dominance of Secretariat gave me a hero to follow. To this day, I still get emotional when I hear Chic Anderson’s call of the 1973 Belmont, “Secretariat is moving like a tremendous machine”.

There have been many great horses run at the shore. In 1976 I watched Majestic Light win the Monmouth Invitational, now the Haskell, in track record time, defeating Honest Pleasure, the big favorite who was in from New York.  This was one of my first big wins at the track.
In the 80’s, as a disciple of Andy Beyer, I made my own speed figures because they were not available to the public. Needless to say I visited Monmouth frequently to test out the “figs”.
The 90’s allowed me to learn about the backstretch as a part owner of a few claimers that were stabled at Philadelphia Park.  Not a typical owner, I mucked stalls, cooled out the horses, and watched morning works.  Also, I met my wife and discovered that her grandfather bred, owned, and raced thoroughbreds on the West Virginia, Maryland circuit.  Today our office is decorated with winner’s circle pictures and a vast collection of Kentucky Derby glasses.
Today’s electronic age makes it so easy to gather information about racing.  I hope you use this blog to learn about Racing at the Jersey Shore.


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