View From the Verrazano

On Sunday, I leave for Lexington, Ky. to shoot our next “And They’re Off” video and attend the Keeneland fall yearling sale. The last time I traveled to Lexington in September was in 2001 to attend “John Henry Day” at the Kentucky Horse Park and to do a book signing with Ron McAnally. My “Legends” series book on John Henry had been released that summer. Flying back the following day, as we approached Newark Airport, we flew right past the World Trade Center and I commented to my wife and daughter how beautiful the Twin Towers looked shimmering in the evening sun. Two days later, they were gone.

As the years distance themselves from events, it reaches a point where it is more meaningful to recall thoughts and feelings as they actually happened rather than write a retrospective of the event years later.

As we approach the seventh anniversary of 9/11, I thought, rather than rehash how one of the most cataclysmic events in American history affected the racing world, I would reprint a story I wrote of my visit to Belmont Park four days later on Sept. 15 in order to recapture the atmosphere and the emotions that prevailed at the time, as well my own observations and feelings.

View From the Verrazano

Driving over the Verrazano Bridge into Brooklyn on the morning of Sept. 15, it was apparent why the New York Racing Association decided at the last minute to cancel racing until Sept. 19. Any thoughts of Belmont Park or Thoroughbred racing were obliterated by the sight of the seemingly naked skyline of Lower Manhattan off to the left and the deathly shroud that still hung over it.

The Statue of Liberty, once nestled under the shadow of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, now stood under an ominous ashen cloud that stretched across New York Harbor all the way to New Jersey.

After the initial shock of seeing nothing where the Twin Towers used to stand, one had to marvel at how the mighty city could have both its arms ripped out and still retain its ability to embrace.

Throughout New York, millions of hands linked to form an unbreakable chain. And beneath that gaping space where the World Trade Center once filled the sky, many of those hands scraped and clawed through tons of steel, oblivious to the crippled structures standing precariously above them.

With pride and sadness competing for dominance in the mind and heart, there was little room left for celebrations other than the discovery of life among the ruins. So, New York Racing Association officials decided at 10 a.m. Friday that the cheers and the trophies could wait.
Thoroughbred racing, like most everything now, is a mere speck against the cataclysmic events of Sept. 11, and New Yorkers were not quite ready for any diversions to take their mind off the horrific wounds that they, and all Americans, had suffered.

But life did go on at Belmont Saturday morning, as horses and horsemen went about their daily chores. Unlike other athletes across the country, Thoroughbreds have been oblivious to the darkest day in American history. There were no billowing black clouds of smoke or haunting images to obscure their view. They still saw the same wide open spaces before them and felt the same crisp breezes blowing in their face. And on Wednesday, when Belmont reopens, just maybe, for a few hours, they will be able to help people see and feel something beautiful again after a week of unspeakable anguish.

“We understand we need to get back to normal, but unlike the other tracks that are racing, we're just so close to it,” NYRA president Terry Meyocks said. “There's so much tension around here, we felt it wasn't in the best interest of New York to conduct racing so quickly. We were going to race, but then baseball, football, golf, and NASCAR all canceled, and Friday was proclaimed a day of mourning. We’ve developed a good rapport with the communities over the years, and we realized that there's a lot more to life than racing this weekend. It just wasn’t the right thing to do. The employees and the horsemen are still pretty somber, and this will give them another weekend to be with friends and family.”

All around Belmont were sights and sounds that continued to pummel Tuesday’s disaster into our psyche. On the Belt Parkway, just outside the gates of Aqueduct, a funeral procession headed east, escorted by two police cars and a fire engine, strongly suggesting it was for one of the deceased firefighters. On the Staten Island Expressway, another police car escorted a dump truck, filled with debris from the World Trade Center, to the Great Kills dump.

At the Belmont stable gate, a sign was tucked into the window of the booth, showing the American flag, with the words “Pray For America.”

Media pins no longer wielded the same authority as before. “I can get that in a box of Cracker Jacks,” the security guard said. “Let me see the ID number on the back.” The guard, who wished to remain anonymous, later said, “You can imagine what it’s been like around here. It’s pretty morbid. But everyone has been showing solidarity. Everyone is proud to be an American. A lot of people were very upset when they originally announced they were going to race.”

Tony Pittelli, a security guard directing traffic inside the backstretch, was happy to see planes flying overhead once again. “The mood hasn’t been too good,” he said. “One of my sons lost his sister-in-law, and one of the riders here lost his son-in-law. His daughter and son-in-law had been married for two years and have a one-year-old baby. Unbelievable. It’s just terrible.”

Buzz Tenney, assistant to Shug McGaughey, can’t believe how quiet the backstretch has been. “It feels like it does when a meet is over and you’re just hanging around waiting to move to the next track,” he said. “We're all going through our work, but there’s been only one topic of conversation.”

As Tenney spoke, Tiznow, who has been stabled in their barn, walked down the shed with Ramon Arciga aboard. Last year’s Horse of the Year has been unable to return home to California following his third-place finish in the Sept. 8 Woodward Stakes. “We're stuck here,” Arciga said. “We were supposed to have left Wednesday, then again on Friday. Now they say Tuesday, but we're not sure when we'll be leaving.”

One barn that has been affected in a much different way is the Godolphin stable of Sheikh Mohammed. The Godolphin grooms are all Pakistanis, and they have been told by assistant trainer Laurent Barbarin to keep a low profile. “It’s a very difficult situation,” Barbarin said. “I spoke to them and told them to stay quiet. It's safer for everybody. But we’re all holding up very well.”

Another trainer, Bobby Frankel, was scheduled to return to California on Monday, following You’s appearance in Sunday’s Matron Stakes.
“It’s tough getting a commercial flight, so I’ll stay through the week and leave after I run Squirtle Squirt in the Vosburgh Saturday,” he said. Frankel ran into racing secretary Mike Lakow, who was driving out of the stable area, and said about canceling the races, “You definitely did the right thing.”

Neil Howard, who had entered Secret Status in Saturday’s Ruffian Handicap, was also forced to remain in New York. He had originally been scheduled to fly out of LaGuardia to Louisville on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. “I'll just stay here for a while and point Secret Status for the Beldame. Even if we had won the Ruffian, how can you go in the winner’s circle and act happy?”

One person who has been doing everything he can to offer assistance is veterinarian Russell Cohen, who purchased two dozen work gloves from True Value and several cases of soda, then brought them to the fire house on 48th Street and Seventh Avenue, which had lost 14 firefighters – one third of its entire crew. He also brought other goods to a police precinct in the Bronx. From 48th Street, he walked down to Canal Street, offering his services in case the police needed any assistance with their horses.

"There’s nothing much we can do, but every little bit helps,” Cohen said. “I’ve done work for the ASPCA before, and was on the Animal Planet (network) once, so a lot of the people know me. I just found out that one horse owner, a member of a syndicate, was killed at the World Trade Center. And there’s probably more that we don't know about.”

So, Belmont Park sits back and quietly waits for the country to return to some sense of normalcy. Because of the timing factor, four of the five stakes scheduled this weekend have been canceled, while the Jerome Handicap will be run next Saturday.

Returning back over the Verrazano, smoke from newly ignited fires continued to rise from the ashes of Lower Manhattan, adding to the hell-like conditions. But beneath the smoke, the Statue of Liberty could be seen, now sparkling like an emerald in the late morning sun, reminding us that there is still a great, powerful city out there waiting to get on with its life.

 

28 Comments

Leave a Comment:

needler in Virginia

Thank you for your thoughts.... as always you are classically eloquent. After that, Steve, what else is there to say?

02 Sep 2008 1:02 PM
normajean81258

Thank you....

02 Sep 2008 1:21 PM
Tammy

Wonderful

02 Sep 2008 2:20 PM
Bradgm

Steve,

Just as heart wrenching and touching as it was the first time I read it in that year of tragedy.

Thanks for your eloquence then and now.

02 Sep 2008 2:28 PM
Bill

You've managed to capture the mood of that awful time. My first thought was the impossibility of such a horrific event occurring on such a beautiful day.  The contrast between what nature and man had wrought was stunning that day.  The gloom that pervaded everything including Belmont was palpable.  It's too bad it takes an immense tragedy like this to remind us what is really important. Why is it that we rarely can come together except during times like this??

02 Sep 2008 3:09 PM
Huh

Amazing story, thank you for bringing back the memories of a horrific incident in this great countries' history.

02 Sep 2008 3:49 PM
Cgriff

Steve,

Isn't it more than a little cool that you'd see Tiznow on that first day over to Belmont...and it was Tiznow who won for America on Breeder's Cup day and gave us a reason to cheer, laugh and even cry in celebration.

He remains my contemporary favorite - just such a cool, neat horse.

Thanks for the walk down a bittersweet memory lane.

02 Sep 2008 4:20 PM
Golden Gate

Steve,

As the first rain bands from now tropical depression Gustav sweep over us I am crying. Crying for those lost and yet for us life goes on and racing goes on. Thank you for sharing your memories of that horrific time with us. I thank God for having spared New Orleans and for what we do have still.

02 Sep 2008 5:57 PM
Tiznowbaby

I, too, thought of Tiznow fighting back down the stretch, perhaps carrying a bit more on his back than a jockey and a saddle. Your column brings back so vividly my own memories of that day. It's good not to forget.

02 Sep 2008 5:58 PM
$BILL

ISTILL RECALL THAT MORNING AS I WAS @ AQUEDUCT & PAUL TOSCANO CAME INTO THE BARN ON A HORSE AND TOLD US A PLANE HAD JUST HIT THE WTC, AS WE ALL RAN OUT TO THE RAIL TO SEE THE 2ND PLANE HIT ,JUST A TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE DAY & THE PEOPLE WHO DID THIS STILL HAVENT BEEN BROUGHT TO JUSTICE...........

02 Sep 2008 6:03 PM
Steve Haskin

Griff, that's why he remains my favorite contemporary horse as well. With the U.S. losing three straight races to foreign horses, for Tiznow to come through, and against an Arab-owned horse no less, was one of the most emotional moments I can recall. And for for him to do it the same way he did it to another foreign horse the year before made it all the more remarkable. It was privilege to cover both those Classics. I'll be seeing Tiznow next week when I go to Kentucky.

02 Sep 2008 6:50 PM
Mercedes

Bravo Maestro!

When you are there, you see, you feel and then you put the words together in such a way that they become alive and they become a picture, your writing becomes a Masterpiece.

You take us there to see and feel.

Thanks

02 Sep 2008 7:08 PM
Bryce Be Quick

For over 20 years before 9/11 I was in the aviation industry, part of a State aeronautcal agency with duties which included operation of a major commercial air carrier  airport, in an office located right under the air traffic control tower and above the passenger ticketing concourse. My dream job.

What use to be a joy increasingly became a burden after the attacks, however, and it just got harder and harder to go to work. Hung in there for almost another seven years, but finally realized when things change, and 9/11 was a transformational shift of semistic proportions for aviation, they can never go back to the way they were. Even the pleasure of going out on the ramp each May to welcome horses flying in for the Preakness was not enough, so I took a job with similar but non-aeronuatical duties at another State transportation agency. Looking back, I can now see where my interest in t-breds flowered as by passion for all things aviation diminished.

Thanks, Steve, for helping me piece this together with your usual evocative prose-- you express and capture feelings and thoughts so well, and in a seemingly effortless economy of well-chosen words.

That, fellow bloggers, is art. Having not a creative bone in my own body, I appreciate all the more Steve's immense talents. Thanks for sharing them, and yourself, with us.

02 Sep 2008 7:50 PM
russell maiers

Thanks Steve for making the picture so clear again! A great read.

My arabian horse was smelling the clear, crisp air also. She helped me and others at the time find a way to put one foot in front of the other. She is always great to remember. P.S. Congrats to anak nakal! Something about that horse.

02 Sep 2008 9:47 PM
Matthew W

I put my last tenner on Tiznow that year...his first Classic was/still is, I believe, the strongest run Classic (over Giants Causeway)...as a 4yo he romped in The Big Cap and looked like a horse for the ages---then back problems/as well as "head" problems side-tracked his Spring/Summer...he surfaced at Belmont, he had so much class even in defeat that day...only to return...to pounce on Albert The Great, only to be passed by Sahkee, The (impressive) Arc Winner...Frankie Dettori said it felt like he was alongside a dinosaur's head....and Tiznow won it "For America..." as dramatized by Durkin (whom I really miss as The Voice Of The Breeders Cup"....)..and now with his success as a sire he remains important to Racing! He was a specimen and he's putting out some pretty good looking horses...Tiznow was a real diamond in the rough, and now he's strengthening the breed....he was/is good for America---I even rooted for The Yanks that ONE year....

02 Sep 2008 10:14 PM
Richie

I will never, ever forget the joy that I felt, standing at Belmont and screaming as Tiznow fought his way back to win the Classic after the 9/11 tragedy. I stil get goosebumps thinking about it today. I visit him every time I am in Kentucky. Thanks Steve for anothe great piece of writing.

02 Sep 2008 10:27 PM
Steve Haskin

I appreciate all the kind words. Thank you very much.

03 Sep 2008 10:15 AM
txhorsefan

Thank you once again, for sharing your art of prose, as stated by Bryce Be Quick, and putting things in perspective again.  Yes, you are definitely an artist and I'm grateful you've chosen to re-run this wonderful piece.

03 Sep 2008 10:52 AM
Don

WTC on that day would have been clearly visible from the 5th floor of the Belmont building, facing west after stepping out onto the roof from the door in the hallway that leads to the media department.

Worked in One WTC for five years, then left in 1994.  Watched the 2nd plane hit from a window on the 30th floor in my residential building.

Phone rang later.  Kevin called to say that the people in our golf outing in 1994 - who thought I was nuts when I told them that the terrorists who botched the 1993 attack would come back and hit WTC again - had changed their minds.

Small consolation.

03 Sep 2008 11:18 AM
joe

And that was such a cold day, when Tiznow fought back in the stretch of the classic, and would not be defeated.  That is the moment of triumph in an oddly muted visit to NYC; how the streets became barren as I neared the wreckage of the WTC Thursday, going into Breeders' Cup weekend.  We still applauded firemen as their trucks took them who knows where.  Mass-just off Times Square at the "Actors Church"- the Sunday morning after the Breeders' Cup was emotional and deeply moving.  There was the tragic fall of Exogenous in the parade to the Distaff, on that cold and strange Breeders' Cup day.  

03 Sep 2008 2:09 PM
Wanda

Bittersweet storys for sure. Would a guy like to forget yes but we are reminded of the good things that came along during that trying time. The better halfs birthday is coming up and you guessed it, it's 9/11.

03 Sep 2008 3:07 PM
heidi

i will always remember that day like it was yesterday know people lost that day and many who went to help dig who can forget the fly overs by the f 16 s as they flew up and down the hudson river keeping watch i am a mere 20 miles from the site

we also went thru our stuff and brought clothing for the rescue persons to our local fire house

03 Sep 2008 3:35 PM
Cgriff

Steve-

LUCKY!  Give Tiznow a pet for me - I haven't seen him since 2002 - right after he went to Winstar.  I remember Lenny (the groom who gave me the tour)mention how smart a horse he was - getting bored easily - and his main handler had even taught him to pick up a stick that was tossed his way!  

I remembered McCarron being quoted in your article at the time (I think it was yours, anyway) that he felt Tiznow's bad behavior during workouts was due to him being too smart and getting bored with the same old routine - much like John Henry.

I'm thrilled that he has become the rising sire I'd hoped he'd be - and I'm glad he's healthy and retired sound - but man - I would have loved to watch him run a little more.  Greedy, I know!

03 Sep 2008 4:46 PM
gammyp6

I wish everyone could read your piece. I wish everyone would read your piece. Too much complacency a mere 7 years later.

03 Sep 2008 10:15 PM
Cheryl, Newmarket

A wonderful and moving piece, which I missed first time round.  

I too remember where I was when this atrocity happened - holding mares for the farrier in a paddock in Newmarket.

My house-mate and I sat all night in front of the television watching events unfold.

I am more than a little disturbed to read the comments above about Tiznow beating an "Arab" horse at Breeders' Cup later that year.

Yes Sakhee was (is) Arab owned, but what has that got to do with anything?  Dubai was not in any way involved in 9/11 and is still one of the most western of the Arab states.

It's kind of like saying "Hurrah we beat a European horse!" Of course German's are European, so they must all be bad, after all they started WWII!

04 Sep 2008 6:36 AM
BIGHORSEFAN

Cheryl,

Not to speak for Steve but I took it as a comment on the irony of it all. At the time feelings in AMERICA were running high, there was a lot of Nationalism and Patriotic pride, more so than usual. There's always been a certain amount of competition between America and the European countries but the comment about WWII was out of place. After all England is a European country and we fought and died along side your countrymen. I could add more but I'm trying to be kind here. Just say you were there, we were here but we were also there when YOUR country needed us.

04 Sep 2008 12:12 PM
Cheryl, Newmarket

BIGHORSEFAN, I in no way meant to come across as disrespectful, I completely understand that feelings were running high at the time - with very good reason.

Perhaps my WWII comment was inappropriate, but so was the comment about beating an "Arab" horse.  Like I said, Dubai (and more specifically Godolphin) had no connection to 9/11, so where was the validity of the post.

Let's not get into the "who helped out who" debate - that's a whole other kettle of fish!

;)

04 Sep 2008 3:13 PM
BIGHORSEFAN

You took the comment too literally. Arab nation, European horse-whether it's England,France whatever, just a category or generalization. Whether Dubai is whatever is irrelevant, they are an Arab country.

As for the rest of it well you're wise to stay out of the who helped who, I know my gramps was in England then Germany fighting off the occupation of your country, getting shot. Was yours here? This is Steve's blog, his feeling at the time. He was kind enough and democratic enough to allow you to post your inappropriate comment.

04 Sep 2008 5:03 PM

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