My grandfather once instructed my mother to put gin in my milk to inhibit my growth so that I could become a jockey. And why not? He was an off-track betting aficionado, and I was an undersized child with a fondness for horse-riding. You can’t blame an old geezer for trying. Anyway, my mum declined and, as a result, I grew another two inches. At 5 feet 4 inches I was, shockingly, out of the running.
I often think about what life would have been like if I had been able to fulfill Grandpa’s dreams. After all, how totally chic is horse-racing? When all is said and done, is there anything more stylish than knocking back a gin cocktail (don’t worry, you’re too old for it to stunt your growth) in the clubhouse in a well-cut sheath with a pair of binoculars dangling round your neck? Give it a whirl this summer.
Before you hit the track, you should probably read Elizabeth Mitchell’s recently published blockbuster entitled Three Strides Before the Wire . It’s the story of Charismatic, “a colt nobody wanted,” and jockey Chris Antley, “a jockey everybody doubted.” The vicissitudes of pocket-sized charmer Antley’s life and its screechingly gripping dénouement-which I wouldn’t dream of disclosing-will have you on the edge of your shooting stick.
I spoke to Ms. Mitchell as she excitedly prepared her ensemble for last week’s gripping Belmont Park. She was rooting for War Emblem, who finished eighth behind long-shot Sarava. “He’s gorgeous, black, and he bites other horses,” she said. “He’s the Mike Tyson of the paddock.” (Apparently so-they both choked.)
The attractive, skinny, blond Ms. Mitchell shared with me her tips on rail-side dressing: “Always classic-a well-cut blouse and skirt. Too much fashion will get you too much attention.” Elizabeth (“Biz” to her friends) cautions against going to the other extreme: “Absolutely no head scarves and tweeds. I’ve never seen that frumpy, British, horsy look at any track. Besides, it’s much too hot.” A sun hat is de rigueur , plus a bag big enough to hold the daily racing form and the track program. “No short-sleeved shifts; you’ll get a creepy tan line. And closed-toe shoes always-stepping in horse poo in sandals is a really nasty feeling.”
Re nasty feelings: Ms. Mitchell’s book has loads of info on those punishingly effective jockey dietary regimes. “Jockeys are totally fixated on keeping their weight at 105 pounds. Laffit Pincay Jr. allows himself one peanut during a transcontinental flight.” Being a jockey, as it turns out, is not really very different from being a female fashion model. You get invited to loads of parties; everyone wants to shag you, and you’re never thin enough.
Plus there’s lots of people willing to ply you with illegal substances.
If you missed Belmont Park, don’t fret: War Emblem’s stumble and the terrified-to-be-outré fashions made for an anticlimactic day. And there are plenty more opportunities to hit the rails: Monmouth Park, for example, runs throughout the summer. Throw on the loudest long-sleeved Diane Von Furstenburg wrap you can find, an oversized, natural straw sombrero and a pair of poo-repellent, calf-length rubber wellies, and jump aboard the Seahorse Express cruise to Monmouth Park from Pier 11 in lower Manhattan, the East 34th Street Pier and the Brooklyn Army Terminal at 58th Street. A round trip is only $27 per person and includes official track program and grandstand admission. Call 1-800-BOAT-RIDE.