Author Patrick Smithwick will be signing copies of his most recent book, Racing Time: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Liberation, and reading an excerpt from the newly published work at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame on Thursday, July 25.
The reception, co-sponsored by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, begins at 5:30 p.m., a few hours after the A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1), named for the author’s father, is scheduled to be run at Saratoga Race Course, across Union Avenue from the museum.
In part, Racing Time chronicles Patrick Smithwick’s relationship with his best friend, Hall of Fame trainer Tom Voss. The following excerpt from Racing Time provides an insight into their relationship and Tom Voss’ genius. The accompanying artwork is a detail of a painting by Maryland artist Sam Robinson.
It’s a cold, miserable, windy day in December. A few owners are coming. He wants to show them something. Celeste and I jog and canter around the indoor track. The wind bangs against the northwest wall of windows. Tom and Robert Cutler, who “rubs” the seven horses stabled in the new stalls inside the perimeter of the track, start wrestling with the twelve-foot tree limbs that lie in the dirt alongside the inside wall. They pull the limbs out and set them across, inserting the ends into the ladder of two-by-four slots in the walls. Two feet. We are on young horses. We jog around, jumping them. Three feet. We turn, go the other way, canter over them. The owners and Tom are standing up against the inside wall between two of the jumps. Tom enlists the help of one owner, who is no help, in setting the limbs apart from one another, forming a three-foot wide spread fence, and bringing the top limbs up to four feet. These are limbs six inches in diameter that do not break slid into slots made of two-by-fours hammered into the main support posts of the walls. Make a mistake and you’re out of luck.
The indoor does not have a high ceiling. On its front side, running along the driveway and facing the “finish line field,” the original builder made two sections in the roof beneath which fences could be set up. In those sections, the rafters do not go straight across from the top of the inside wall to the outside wall. Instead, two A-frames were built into the ceiling creating an extra three feet of overhead space so that your horse can jump high without tearing your head off. However, a decade ago, the back side had collapsed in a storm, and when it was rebuilt, no A-frame spaces were constructed. The two-by-six rafters go straight across. In short, I ride a little tall in the saddle, and as the fences went up, I did worry about my forehead catching a well buttressed two-by-six at a gallop, which could’ve been the end of me, but I didn’t bring this up.
“Patrick,” Tom says. “You go this direction.” He points to the right. “Celeste, you go the opposite, and I want you both to time it so you meet here at this fence and jump it at the same time.” I stare at him as if he is crazy. Does he really mean it? Yes, he does. And there my potential owner stands beside him. He owns the timber horse I want to ride in the spring. Celeste notices my hesitation. “What’s the matter, Patrick? You scared?” Her favorite means of relaxation on Sundays is to jump out of airplanes. Tom takes a pull of his Pall Mall. He is training me. He is showing this owner what I, an old timer, can do. He has confidence in me. He takes another pull. Hands on hips, keeping his face directed toward the fences, squinting his eyes, he looks up at me, directly into my eyes, and holds it for a second.
I did it. First at a canter. Then at a gallop. On a young, but athletic, horse. Celeste was not even fazed. It took my breath away. Day after day, he pushed me beyond what I wanted to do, what I thought I could do, whether it was breezing horses, schooling over hurdles—fast!—or following him down the row of a just-cut corn field at a full gallop out foxhunting, sprinting up a steep hill, and then jumping out over a four and a half foot board fence.