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
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
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
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.