Backyard Bliss

What do the 2018 Triple Crown winner, the Kentucky Oaks, Acorn, and Coaching Club American Oaks winner, the Haskell and Blue Grass winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up, the Belmont Derby winner, the Golden Shaheen winner and Met Mile runner-up, three of the leading contenders for the Whitney, and the Curlin Stakes runnerup have in common?

They are all owned or co-owned by residents of Fifth Avenue in Saratoga.

This street is not to be confused with that other avenue with the same name where Tiffany's, Gucci, and the Pierre Hotel are located. This Fifth Avenue is a tranquil slice of heaven located alongside the backstretch of the Oklahoma training track in Saratoga Springs, New York. The tree-lined backyards of the houses add to the ambience. Some of the residents sit outside in the morning with their cup of coffee and the Pink Sheets and watch the horses train, as trainers such as Wayne Lukas, Steve Asmussen, and Bill Mott pass right by their gate on their pony, often leading one of their top-class stakes horses back to the barn.

The house where my wife and I stay, owned by our dear friends Avi and Rhoda Freedberg of Everything's Cricket Racing is a stone's throw from the barns of Shug McGaughey, Christophe Clement, and Bill Mott. The Freedbergs recently saw their newly purchased colt Nicodemus finish second to the Mott-trained Hofburg in the Curlin Stakes, finishing nine lengths ahead of the third horse. They bought the son of Candy Ride privately from WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and SF Racing, with their good friends and longtime owners, the Goichmans, purchasing an interest in the colt.

The Freedbergs' next door neighbor is Bob Edwards, co-owner of Sunday's Haskell winner and last year's 2-year-old champion Good Magic. Edwards, who runs under the name e Five Racing with his wife Kristine and three children, Cassidy, Riley, and Delaney, has already won three Breeders' Cup races in the three years he's been owning horses.

Several houses down is the home of Ken Ramsey, who will send out the stakes-winning Backyard Heaven in the Whitney. Care to guess where Ramsey came up with the name Backyard Heaven? He loves his mornings looking out on the Oklahoma training track while doing his extensive handicapping.

And just a few doors down is the home of Sol Kumin, who gained instant fame in racing as co-owner of Lady Eli, and now co-owns so many top horses, the list of names would be too long to mention. In addition to co-owning Justify, Monomoy Girl, and Catholic Boy, Kumin will run two horses in the Whitney -- Mind Your Biscuits and Good Samaritan.

The Freedbergs, who will square off against their next door neighbor in the Travers, as well as Kumin, who likely will run Catholic Boy, are the Fifth Avenue veterans of this group, with Kumin, Edwards, and Ramsey buying their homes just in the past couple of years. Edwards purchased his home from trainer Kenny McPeek, who also had great success at Saratoga, winning the 2012 Travers Stakes with longshot Golden Ticket, who dead-heated with Godolphin's Alpha.

There is no greater alarm clock than awakening to the sounds of horses' hooves outside your window. And there nothing more invigorating and cathartic than heading out the back door at about 6 a.m. on a chilly Saratoga morning, wearing a jacket, and walking the 30 or so yards to the training track. Last year I would make sure I was standing outside our back gate at 6:30 sharp each morning waiting for Gun Runner to head back after training. This year, it is the star filly Elate who walks by the house at about the same time, sometimes being led by Mott.

It is a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds -- the sun rising above the barns and illuminating the track and horse path, horses charging around the turn and up the backstretch, the goldfinches singing, the steady stream of water from the Freedbergs' fountain that sounds like a babbling brook and serves as a constant source of refreshment for their lovable Havanese Jose. Although they host a huge brunch each year, complete with entertainment, that attracts many people from racing, you can always count on Rhoda to have a spread out every morning.

The special mornings have been walking up the street to meet up with Sol Kumin and head out on his golf cart to take a barn tour, visiting many of his top horses scattered all over the Oklahoma and main backstretches. The last stop on Oklahoma before heading across Union Avenue to the main backstretch is at Chad Brown's barn, where a walk down the shedrow is like seeing the old New York Yankees' Murderer's Row - one star after another. It is quite a sight seeing the steady procession of golf carts crossing Union Avenue, along with the horses, going to and from both tracks.

This is all part of the magic of Saratoga, which remains a soul soothing experience after 50 years. But staying with the Freedbergs has been a rare gift that Joan and I cherish. Although we are merely transients in this new and vibrant community, we, along with the Freedbergs, Sol Kumin, Bob Edwards, and Ken Ramsey, and I am sure many others along that stretch of Fifth Avenue, are all in our own way part of what is truly a backyard heaven.

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