(A look down the shed row at the barn of trainer Stephen Lyster / Photos by Gene McLean)
(Barn cat is on the job early)
I don’t get to go to the racetrack as much as I used to, or as much as I would like to. Some how life just seems to get in the way of a good time.
Too much work.
Too much to do.
Too many places to go.
Too many people to see.
Too many things getting too much of my time.
But this morning, I made the time and I made myself. Set the alarm. Jumped out of bed. Got to the car. Rolled down the highway.
And, it didn’t take me long to figure out what I have been missing in my life.
Truth be known, this is my place. My happy place.
As soon as I pull into the barn area and got out of the car, I could feel the muscles (if I have any of those left at my advanced age) relax; I could feel the tension dissipate. I could smell the hay, and the sweet feed mix. I could see the horses move to the stall web and stick their heads over the door as if to say “hello” and “…where the hell have you been?” I could hear the trainer’s instructions; and I could hear the grooms grooming; the hot walkers hot walking; the farrier’s hammering; the veterinarians being veterinarians.
My senses were fully engaged, and I sense that this was going to be a good day.
A real good day.
I got to spend time with our trainer, Stephen Lyster. More importantly, though, I got to spend some time with one of our family’s best friends, Stephen Lyster. One of the best people I have ever met in this profession of many characters.
I’ve known Stephen since he was a childhood friend of my son, Brad. Stephen and Brad grew up together. Literally. Figuratively. There were not many days that the two of them didn’t spend some time together. They played baseball whenever they could squeeze an ounce of time out of the summer. They played basketball whenever it was in season. From the time they were playing T-Ball to this very day (somehow they are now 36 years old), they have been the best of friends — even though neither one of them would admit it in public. They would much rather pull a practical joke on the other and laugh about it for years to come than pay a compliment. Boys.
But, when the time came for me to find a horse trainer, there truly was — and still is, today — only one option. It was always going to be Stephen Lyster. You see, Stephen went to the best school for fledgling trainers. He was home schooled.
Stephen’s dad — R. Warren Lyster — has always been one of the best hard-boot horsemen to ever walk the walk. He learned the game from some of the best, including Ted McClain, and ran a shed row in New Orleans many moons ago. The man knows his stuff, and it didn’t take long for him to depart that on both his sons.
Stephen’s mom — Gay Lyster — has worked at Woodford Feed for years. She could help with the horse tutoring, too.
And, then there is Stephen’s brother, Mack. As a teenager, Mack tinkered with the idea of become a professional bull rider. Had high hopes of landing a gig in the big league rodeo.
The thing is? The bulls were never as tough as Mack. And, I am being serious. But he could handle a horse with the very best of them. And, he still does, as he manages his own horse transportation company known as Warren Vans.
Stephen had no choice. Trainer was in his blood. Trainer was in his path. Trainer was always in his future.
Today? Stephen had to pull out a trait that his dear old dad never seemed to master. Today, Stephen put on his good face and put up with the antics of an over-weight and pesky owner. Blush. (In the old days, Stephen’s dad would have just told me to get lost. I would laugh. Warren would not.)
And, ole’ Geno had the time of his life.
I got to go stall by stall and get a report on each steed residing within. Some developing 2YOs. Some developing 3YOs. Some hanging on for better days ahead. Some ready to create their own better days ahead. Stephen gave me the mental notebook on each.
I got to go over to the stall of our very own Diamond Solitaire, who is a filly that I co-bred with owners Lori and David Osborne and a filly that I now own in partnership with some of the finest folks you can ever meet and get to know. “Diamond” is a special filly to and for me. She is the final child from a mare that I owned and raced, and later lost to a severe bout of colic after foaling “Diamond.” She is a child raised by a nurse mare, named Geri, and a human nurse, named Lori. She is our miracle child.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Diamond Solitaire — who is a Stakes-placed Indiana -bred filly — started her 3YO campaign with a determined 2nd place finish at Indiana Grand Racing and Casino. We hope it is the tip of our incoming iceberg. We hope it is just the beginning to what could be a great future.
This morning, I got to watch Diamond breeze in her final preparation for a possible reunion in an allowance race next week at IGR. And, as soon as she walked out of the stall, I saw something that the filly probably could not. She was wearing a new set of black blinkers — a new piece of equipment since her last race. As we always do when I am there to participate, Diamond and I walked all the way to the track for her breeze. Along the way, we chatted. I am truly convinced she knows exactly what we are talking about, even though she never answers back. And, I am pretty sure Diamond was asking a lot of questions about this new eye-glass wear.
Diamond worked just the way Stephen wanted her to, and in the exact time that he requested from the rider. All systems go. Good news.
I also got to go over to the stall of our newest addition to the Lyster barn — our 2YO colt Knight’s Move, another Indiana-bred son of Majestic Harbor. While it was great to see the colt, it was not as good to feel him. After I turned my back to watch another horse make his way down and through the shed row, Knight’s Move leaned out of his stall and grabbed the back of my arm that he mistook for a large carrot stick. The teeth’s clinch was a little more than I wanted, but it was just a warning. The colt wanted more attention than I was giving, and I had to be reminded. Had to happen.
I got to watch the racing newbie breeze through the lane — going an 1/8th of a mile. He was as green as the new grass growing around the barn. But he was learning. He was willing. And, he was trying. He was fun to watch, even though you have to watch being around him. LOL.
After his exercises were done, Knight’s Move got his bath and for a round or two, he got to trek the shed row right behind Diamond Solitaire. Until Knight’s Move was getting ready to make his, er, move. Next time around, he went in front and Diamond was a couple of horses behind. She was not in the mood for love, even though the “teenager” was.
I also got to see a couple of Stephen’s other horse youngsters go through their morning routines. We stood at the track gap and watched them all. Chatted about this. Chatted about that. Neither one of us in a rush to do anything else.
And, it was perfect.
The perfect conversation.
The perfect discussion.
The perfect day.
When I bid farewell and headed to the truck and to Mom’s House for a tasty lunch, I knew then and there why I own a racehorse. There was a smile as big as the banana salad that Mom was making draped all over my face. There was a warm feeling in my tummy. There was contentment.
It is days like this.
It is days like this that are just perfect.
Mom’s Kitchen Table Afterwards: