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?
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.