Jenny Kellner is an award-winning journalist and educator who has written about horse racing for more than 20 years. She has been a media specialist with NYRA for the past four years.
It was a miserable morning for anyone but ducks and farmers. There were mud puddles everywhere on the backstretch at Belmont Park and on the main track, the cones were up in case anyone was even thinking about training on the inside.
But down the stretch, just after 7 a.m., here comes a little bay gelding, ears pricked, eyes taking everything in, fairly skipping over the surface and trainer Chip Woolley has somehow hopped up with his crutches onto one of the benches on the apron and he’s smiling because Mine That Bird is a very happy camper, indeed.
“He just carries it with him wherever it goes,” he says.
Someone asks him if there’s a track out there that Mine That Bird doesn’t like.
“If there is,” says Woolley, “We haven’t found it.”
The “official” sign on Saturday’s Belmont Stakes went up exactly at 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, when Mine That Bird stepped off the horse van that carried him from John F. Kennedy International Airport. A few minutes earlier, Woolley, whose cast has to stay on for another three to eight months, hopped up the ramp to check everything out, and to welcome the Bird to New York.
“Welcome to New York,” he said.
Nothing seems to bother this horse. He comes down the ramp, stops and looks inquisitively at the phalanx of videographers, reporters and photographers, shutters snapping madly, and then calmly walks down the horse path toward his new digs in trainer Carl Domino’s barn.
The photographers remind me of sea monkeys. When Mine That Bird moves to his left, they follow. If he turns to his right, so do they. When he stops, they stop. If he does something cute, like look at them, the shutters click even more insanely.
“What’s it like, having him around?” I ask Domino.
“I kinda enjoying it,” he says. “The people are nice, and the horse is acting like he’s been here his whole life.”
“He gets into his stall, rolls, and gets up. Nothing bothers him.”
Just what I wanted to hear!