Barn Buddies: Saratoga Kittens Ensure The Best Monday Ever - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Barn Buddies: Saratoga Kittens Ensure The Best Monday Ever

Monday shows off her favorite spots in Gargan’s office

Although Saratoga closed several weeks ago, its reputation as a cradle of top juvenile talent will continue to build as impressive Spa 2-year-olds move toward the Breeders' Cup. But this year's meet was also the site of precocious youth of another kind.

Saratoga has always been home to a particularly fine collection of barn cats — from the crew of orange and white siblings at the Rusty Arnold barn to the precocious Juanito (who has since left Jimmy Jerkens' operation for the Hamptons, where he lives better than you and I) to the year-round feral residents lovingly cared for by Michele Jennings

One of the greatest parts of having a barn cat is that they often start out as barn kittens, and this Saratoga season saw the Thoroughbreds sharing their spotlight with two particularly small barn employees. 

At Danny Gargan's barn on one August morning, stable star Tax overlooked an empty box, tipped on its side and filled with a fleece girth cover. During training hours, this is where a tiny tabby named Monday can be found snoozing, secured by a collar and leash so she can't wander into the horse path.

Monday has never been so adorable.

A sleepy Monday interrupts her nap to play with a piece of straw

“She's a dog,” said Rachel Keithan, assistant to Gargan, over the summer. “When the horses are done walking, I take her off the leash and you call her and she comes. She comes to her name.

“She doesn't necessarily want to be a wild cat. The other day, I was in a stall with a horse and saw her in the shedrow. She knows 'No' so I told her 'No' and as soon as I went in the stall she ran past me and went under the dormitory building. Danny's panicking, like what if we can't get her out? I said, Let's go sit on the patio and see if she'll come. I called her name and she came right out.”

Monday was born into a feral cat colony near the Belmont apartment of one of Gargan's exercise riders, who suggested if Keithan could catch one, she could probably socialize it before it became too wild. 

Keithan gives Monday a snuggle between sets

“She was in a box, and was the only one I could catch,” said Keithan. “I grabbed her as fast as I could. I caught her on a Monday.” 

Monday spent Saratoga days mostly in Gargan's office, where the trainer gradually ceded square footage to his barn cat's feed, water, and play space. Keithan said he didn't seem to mind. 

“Oh he drives her around in the golf cart. He loves her,” said Keithan. “She loves to be held and picked up and walked around. She comes home every day with me in the car. She sleeps in my lap as soon as we start driving.”

Across Union Avenue at the Oklahoma training track, Anthony Quartarolo's barn was also home to a miniature scene of inter-species tranquility. It's not quite the lions lying down with lambs, but it is common to see two miniature goats in a pen at the end of the shed row along with a tiny black and white kitten. The goats are brothers named Alfalfa and Spanky. They stand perhaps 18 inches high and jockey for attention from passersby while chowing down on their thick bedding of hay. 

Alfalfa and Spanky out for a walk

“They have their moments,” Quartarolo said. “They play together and then bang, they'll knock heads. It's amazing. You put enough hay in there a horse couldn't eat it all, and they want to fight over it. It's funny. They'll push each other over, knock heads, and then they get over it.”

Alfalfa and Spanky will one day be allowed to choose horses to pair up with, but in August when they were still young, Quartarolo worried they were too naïve to be out loose. At their Saratoga base, the brothers would stay in their pen until training finished, and then one of Quartarolo's hot walkers would take them for a walk around the barn area on leashes. At night, they had their own personal concierge, as the night watch from the neighboring Pletcher barn checked on them. 

Quartarolo's operation has always been home to barn buddies – goats, cats, dogs – so he has an appreciation for how soothing they can be for horses and humans. He has two dogs and a cat of his own, including a new puppy named Mackenzie. As far as he's concerned, the barn is not an equine-only zone.

“We used to have chickens, goats, a pot-bellied pig,” he said. “Inky was his name. You couldn't find him sometimes. He used to go into the stalls, bury himself under the straw. 

“He could eat anything. Humans, too,” Quartarolo continued dryly. “If you have a human you don't like, throw 'em in there. He'll take care of everything, bones and all.”

Luna hangs out with Alfalfa and Spanky when she isn't working in Quartarolo's office

Tiny Luna the kitten is the barn's next mouser. Henry, one of Quartarolo's exercise riders, quickly took over her care, doting on her and carrying her back and forth between the barn as his dorm room when he goes to and from work. Luna can most often be found sleeping on clean laundry in the office (while purring like a motorboat), in Quartarolo's chair, or outside Alfalfa and Spanky's crate. Despite her diminutive frame, she has no fear of chasing a bit of straw or toddling down the shed row after training. 

Henry and Luna have quickly become close friends

“Sometimes you can't find her, she goes underneath the bandages,” said Quartarolo. “She runs around here like she's the boss.”

And of course, she is the boss. That is the first thing barn cats learn about their place in the shed row — it's always at the top.

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