Saturday, June 7, 2014


In 1973 I lived in Baltimore, with a couple of hippies and a young woman who I had met on the last day of art school at MICA. Instead of returning home to our families for summer vacation we selected to stay in Balwamer and work at the track. I had spent the spring working as a hot walker/groom at Timmonium, the sister track of Pimlico, out in the suburbs. I would get to work in the dark, about 4:30 am, share a hit off the Irish jockey's flask and joint, give him a leg up on the first horse and go about shoveling the shitty straw out of the stall. When he was through exercising the beast I'd help remove the tack, attach a "shank" line and slowly walk the heaving, sweating thoroughbred around the dirt paddock. By 10 am all five horses had been exercised and cooled, their stalls cleaned and I would have another shot and hit, drive into town and go to school. Some days I'd stay up all night partying and just go to work. Looking back on it, I can't believe I ever had the energy.
     This was John Water's Baltimore of PINK FLAMINGOS, Edie's Thrift Store, white marble steps, rats and cockroaches. The actors on THE WIRE hadn't been born yet. I was a small town boy, naive, clueless and a bit scared, let on the loose in this city. The track was my escape. I got the young woman (who I would marry less than a year later) a job with me, as a hot walker for another stable. The two of us and my dog, piled in my '49 Ford pickup 6 days a week and attended to our nags.
    The track is a rich and poor, black and white, pampered and exploited, rough sub-culture. I worked for a trainer who was no older than I. He was the son of a famous jockey, too big to ride, at the beginning of his career. I learned fast. By the time the PREAKNESS came around in May I was an old hand. SECRETARIET had won the derby a few weeks previous and all the buzz was that he would win the PREAKNESS. "Are you going?" my young boss asked. I just shrugged. "You know it's free to track employees?" Sold. The future ex-Mrs. Osterhout and I got on my motorcycle (the truck was down) and headed for Pimlico, track badges pinned to our coats, horse shit still on our boots.
   The day SECRETARIET won the second prong of the Triple Crown we were treated like VIPs. Those track IDs got one anywhere one desired to go- backstretch, winner's circle, finish line. I've had "all access" laminates over the years, but never one so inclusive. Anything short of jumping on the horse, for a trot around, was allowed. Rich women in big, stupid hats were shoved aside as we cut in line after line. Baltimore football player Johnny Unitas stood next to us, as he gave his retirement speech in the infield. Maybe John Waters was there, but I'm sure he couldn't git in the places we could. As SECRETARIET  crossed the finish line we were sprayed with dirt from his hooves. As everyone knows he went on to win Belmont. This afternoon CALIFORNIA CHROME will try to repeat the toughest thing in horsey history to accomplish- win the Triple. I won't be trackside. I think my 1973 Thoroughbred  Assoc. ID has expired.  Post time: 6:55pm. Get your bets in.


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