Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Life stories series: Saratoga r&r

Saratoga r&r
by Mike Marcellino

Day No. 7 of a series, ‘Life stories’

He loved the smell of the track, his first whiff as he neared on his bike. The writer’s first thought was uncle Buddy, lying there dead in the Jamaica cemetery, blocks away from the track where he rode winners without a whip. Now Lavelle 'Buddy' Ensor lives in a touch screen video inside the National Horse Racing Hall of Fame, a kind a new red brick building, across from Saratoga, one of the oldest and pretties tracks in America. Buddy rode thoroughbreds like Exterminator. He won millions of dollars in the years before and during the Great Depression. He died without a penny, but he threw great parties after a big stake's win and invited all of Baltimore.

Inside the gate he swung his bike over to the rusting silver chain link fence that kept him off the dirt. The track, fittingly across the street from a barren shopping mall dotted with higher weeds, had seen it’s better days but jockeys still put on their silks and roses walked along alone tied up to a training wheel. He would have taken that lone mare for a ride if he thought he could get away from it.

He could have been a jockey, still could if he could sweat and starve his way to lose 10 pounds to get down to 114, the top weight. One of the jockeys at the cheap Ohio track, 10 miles southeast of Lake Erie in a town called Northfield, namesake of the deserted mall, told the writer there’s no age limit.

He daydreamed, made up headlines in the Times -

Michael Ensor navigates Crapshootin $5000 Charles Town claimer win

Buddy’s great grand guides Easy Does It's maiden special weight romp by six

“What If?" "Great name for a horse." he figured.

Strange things happened, especially lately.

He knew he could do it, with practice. He felt like a bird when he lifted himself off the seat of his bike, and guided, glided easily. Feet on the peddles, it could be a dawn morning work.

Next month, the writer would find out if he is his father’s son and his great uncles nephew or not. An ex-paratrooper, Gary, picked out a horse for him to ride at his Texas ranch next month.

His daydreams reminded him of the night before, or the night before that, when white birds called to him, raced across the night sky, crossing just under a near full moon that looked like the sun. The next day he swore those birds had turned brown, but not black.

“I was born at the race track,” the writer leaned down and told the girl jockey in her silks and cap, waiting for her next mount.

“Well, at least I must’ve been conceived at the track.’ he clarified. She was the prettiest jockey he’d ever seen, always wearing baby blue and white.

The dirt of the track gave him chills. The infield gave him peace.

He was at home at race tracks - Santa Anita, Gulfstream, Saratoga, Pimlico, Sunland, outside El Paso, it didn’t matter where.

Saratoga R & R, copyright by Mike Marcellino, Life stories, seven in a series 2009