Talk of the Track Scoops: Cauthen Injured in Saratoga, Cruguet Wins Harness Race. All the News that’s…News.
And you thought I was just another pretty face. This website–talkofthetrack.com–is known for a lot of things, but scooping the rest of horse racing media hasn’t historically been a priority of ours. We love to interview, and take fans right into the heart of horse racing. We give opinions, we report on beautiful victories on the track–but we don’t lie awake at night, waiting for The Next Big Scoop to come up, so we can get it online, first.
So when two juicy stories come along, and NO ONE ELSE in horse racing OR general sports news is reporting them–it falls upon our shoulders to pick up the mantle of journalism and report. (Even though our stories don’t read as hard-core, Woodward and Bernstein-esque reporting. My style as a writer puts me generally into the realms of Op/Ed, or Essay. I’m a storyteller, not a fact-checker. Definitely, not a concise writer/journalist, in the truest definition of that noble profession.)
Not today, folks, not today: Today, your friends at Talk of the Track bring you two tidbits of news that, for some reason, other mainstream and racing-specific news outlets have all-but ignored.
Maybe they didn’t know about it–because they weren’t there, because they ovwelooked(?) the press release that I wrote and distributed, days before the event that resulted in the news, below.
Or maybe they just-plain thought that you wouldn’t care.
(However, it appears that you DO care, for many people on Facebook saw the photos herein, taken by the tremendously talented photographer, Ronnie Betor–and commented that they would have attended–had they known about the event. Well, I wrote the release–I sent it out, to racing, general and sports media. If they ignored it, and didn’t tell race fans in advance–it’s not because I didn’t try to shoot up a flare.)
So, with the very long intro behind us, here’s the scoop: on Saturday, September 23rd, Saratoga Hotel and Casino* (*and Raceway)–hosted an All-Star Sports Festival. Apparently gentlemen who play sports like football and baseball were in the house, but honestly, since I don’t care about any sport that doesn’t include horses–I couldn’t tell you who they were.
I was there for the jockeys.
And the jockeys! ONLY four of the most respected, most-beloved jocks in the history of our sport: Jean Cruguet, Ron Turcotte, Steve Cauthen and Angel Cordero, Jr. were on-hand in Saratoga to sign autographs, meet fans–and in general, raise a welcome ruckus as only legends can. <— Smirk here.
And to make the scoop even more interesting, even-more exclusive, albeit, sad: Affirmed’s pilot, Little Stevie Cauthen (known now as an adult as simply, Steve Cauthen)–participated in the fund-raising softball game that took place as part of this all-athlete lineup. Unfortunately, as so often happens in a contest of athletic prowess…it’s all fun-and-games, until somebody loses an eye.
Or, in the case of Cauthen–until someone breaks his collarbone, sliding for home.
Writing here as a media professional, I can’t believe that news sources and aggregate websites didn’t at least put this at the top of their pages, first-thing Sunday morning. “Cauthen Injured, Sliding for Home in Saratoga Charity Softball Game.”
So now you know: at age 57, Cauthen still has the athletic goods. He can whack a ball, and run the bases. What he couldn’t do was land well on home plate. Jean told me that he slid for home–and in sliding, thus was his undoing.
Sadly enough, his day–which should have ended with a group of us at dinner later that evening–saw Cauthen land in Saratoga Hospital’s ER. When we saw the X-Ray photo on Leonard Lusky’s phone, we made a collective, “YEOWCH!” I cannot imagine how much that had to hurt, I’d have been screaming all the way to the needleful of painkillers. We should all pray for his full, painless and uneventful recovery, soon.
But jockeys are used to pain, and to broken bones. So Cauthen busted up his collarbone–in three places, we heard. I’ll wager that he sucked it up, and was a great, cooperative patient. So, while we can’t report on his state of mind at that moment–we can tell you that, when last we heard, he was resting comfortably in his Saratoga hotel room. As comfortably as someone with broken bones can rest.
So that’s Scoop #1.
Scoop #2 is that, at 7:20 that evening, undefeated Triple Crown-winning jockey, Jean Cruguet, took on two other athletes (someone named, “Wade Boggs”–baseball, I think? –and a fellow whose name evades me) in an exhibition harness race. And of course, Cruguet being the only one who’s ever been on the back of a horse who was throbbing, pulsating at 40 mph–Cruguet mopped up the Saratoga Raceway with ’em.
(N.B. here, that both Cordero and Cauthen were slated originally to participate in the race, as well–but duty called Cordero away after the autograph signing session. And, even though he’s a real trouper–I’m sure that Steve Cauthen never thought, “I can give it a try…” for a MINUTE. Were I he, no such false sense of duty would have overwhelmed me as I lie, writhing on an E.R. gurney.)
So the harness race featured but one of the original three originally-scheduled jockeys. And, being the sole representative of his profession, Cruguet took on not only two gigantic professional (something-or-other) athletes–he represented his profession as a jockey with a beauty that I’ve rarely seen, even on a Thoroughbred track.
In all fairness, I must report that all three harness-drivers-for-a-night shared their sulkies with actual harness drivers, who kept watchful eyes the whole time.
BUT Cruguet had the actual reins in his hands, and YES–he held the reins in his left hand at the finish, and pumped his right fist in the air as he won.
It was a scene right out of Belmont Stakes Day, 1977.
I’d prayed that he’d do that, even in the moments before the race and during, as I screamed my guts out, “JEAN! RIDE ‘EM LIKE HE’S SEATTLE SLEW!!!!!!!”
A beautiful night of victory, as Thoroughbred racing crossed Nelson Avenue in Saratoga–NYRA friends attended–and thus was wedded, two horse racing worlds in Saratoga.
The evening wound down with a lovely supper at Fortunes, the restaurant atop the harness track’s Clubhouse. Jean Cruguet had had a long day, and athletic challenges, so he passed on dinner. But we were honored to break bread with Secretariat’s beloved Ron Turcotte; his sweet, fun family and Penny Chenery’s business partner, Leonard Lusky. (Leonard and I have gotten to know each other over the years: I like him, a lot. I’d hang with him more often, if we lived near each other. And the Penny stories that we share!)
The night ended with a toast to Penny. Leonard suggested graciously, that I speak the toast since she meant so much to me, as one of her proteges. I was so honored that my eyes welled with tears even as he said that. Somehow I managed to choke out a toast, we all smiled, sadly but with such great love–and sealed our connection with the clinking of our glasses.
Yes, Saturday, September 23, 2017, was an interesting and (generally) wonderful day for horse racing in Saratoga. Too bad more people didn’t know about it, so they could have come and celebrated four legendary jockeys. Heroes, all–worthy of racing fans’ love and respect. An historic gathering, which may never be repeated in Saratoga.
Those of us who were there–were, and are, blessed.
Stay tuned to Talk of the Track, folks–we’ll ferret out news that others may miss–and get it to you, piping hot and fresh. Talk of the Track: All the News, that’s…News.
Jean Cruguet, three Harness Driving photos, courtesy of Ronnie Betor. Thank you, Ronnie!