Wait for It: An Exhilaration Like No Other

-By Nikki Sherman for Uptowncharlybrown Stud LLC

The unsung heroes of horse racing are the men and women who quietly spend their mornings – and sometimes afternoons – taking care of our horses. They arrive at the barn in the 3 o’clock hour to the sound of soft nickers and then spend the next several hours preparing for the day.

In that last hour or so, I arrive at the barn to begin my own day as a hotwalker. By that time, stalls have been cleaned, horses brushed and buckets scrubbed. The hotwalkers then walk the “cold” horses, the ones who won’t be training that morning.

A racing barn is an intricate web of people who work together like a family. Just as the grooms know every crevice of their horse’s body by sight and feel, hotwalkers know the rhythm of each head bob as the horse walks alongside us. If a step or two feel “off”, we notify the groom, assistant or trainer. Exercise riders will do the same thing except by feeling underneath rather than beside them.

Working so closely with these horses means that we get attached to some of them. If they get claimed or leave for the farm, there’s a sadness that the next horse to fill the stall doesn’t always heal. And of course, when they win it’s a feeling of exhilaration like no other.

As hard as I may try not to get attached, I’ve found myself falling for a few special ones. The first one in this barn sadly was injured; he continues holding a place as my phone’s wallpaper even though he’s been gone nearly five years. The second is Alan’s Legacy, who I now cherish as my own in his retirement from racing (he’s now training as a dressage horse). And the third is Uptowncharlybrown Stud LLC’s newest stakes winner, Wait for It.

When Wait for It arrived at Parx, he was still a colt and quite the handful. Within 48 hours of his first hoof touching the ground in Bensalem, a video of his antics had been sent to managing partner Bob Hutt and a gelding appointment had been scheduled with the veterinarian.

While the testosterone worked its way out of his system, I nicknamed Wait for It “P.I.T.A.” – short for “Pain in the A—-“. I clearly wasn’t a huge fan, plus I was still head over heels for another son of Uptowncharlybrown in the barn. That all changed when Alan’s Legacy was claimed. Soon enough, P.I.T.A. became “Petey” as he mellowed out and helped heal my broken heart.

Most racehorses have nicknames. After all, who wants to say Frank N Ducky when his name can be shortened to Frank, Frankie, Ducky or even Duckworth? Sometimes outsiders can figure it out from the name, but often they can’t without some insight.

Everyone in our barn knows Petey for who he is. But on social media when I post about him, hardly anyone knows that his official name is Wait for It.

“Oh, THAT’S Petey!” three different people in the test barn exclaimed while I was cooling him out on September 7, 2020.

Twenty minutes earlier, Petey had entered a new echelon of racehorse as he stormed home to victory in the $80,000 Storm Cat Stakes, the first of his career.

I could hardly believe what my eyes were seeing. It didn’t sink in as I photographed jockey Anthony Nuñez pumping his fist in the air to celebrate his own first career stakes victory. It didn’t register when someone congratulated me, though it prompted tears to start pouring down my face. And it didn’t even register when I threw my arms around the shoulders of Petey’s longtime groom Jose “Piña” Rodriguez.

Piña is a great groom. He’s a little – well actually, a lot – OCD, which is perfect for the care of his horses. He will come back in the middle of the night to make sure their fans are turned on or off if the weather changes. He wants their bandages wrapped precisely and removed at exactly the proper moment. Scissors, blinkers, and saddle towels must be in the exact same location. His horses will get ice boots every day, even if there’s a chill in the air. But don’t worry because then they will be covered with a warm blanket.

So when Piña checked to make sure I still wanted to cool out Petey in the test barn, I knew he was giving up a small level of control. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only one person is permitted in the detention barn per horse, which meant that I would not only have to walk but also hose him off myself. We don’t use cross ties and it isn’t safe to tie an amped-up racehorse for a bath anyway, so I would need to hold the shank with one hand while hosing with the other. Luckily the adrenaline was also pumping for me too, and I handled Petey just fine even though I have a broken finger too.

As I turned left around and around the test barn, I think it finally started to creep into my head that Petey had won the biggest race of his life and I fought back more emotional, happy tears.

Reality set back in when a walkie talkie announced the next race’s results: 1-1A-5.

“Holy s—!” I thought, realizing that our barn had just finished 1-2 with two full brothers in another stakes race. Shortly thereafter, I was joined in the barn by Midtowncharlybrown.

Petey has become an expert at the test barn and soon enough I was able to witness and sign for his samples. When he saw me return, he hollered loudly which made everyone laugh as my heart melted. We rounded the shedrow one last time and as we exited, there was Piña waiting to accompany us back. I shouldn’t have been surprised because Petey is his favorite horse too.

The air was celebratory as we arrived back in Barn 10. Grooms and hotwalkers were gathered around cell phones, watching the rest of our horses compete in the later races – nine horses were racing that day, making up nearly one quarter of our barn.

Finally, grooms began returning to their familiar spots alongside their prized racehorses. As pastel splashes of color began to appear on the horizon, they ran their hands down legs, applying poultice and bandages. It was a peaceful conclusion to a thrilling day as everything reset for the night. But of course, everyone would be ready to begin anew in just a few hours, long before the first rays of sun streamed into the sky.

Copyright © 2021 Nikki Sherman