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By Eclipse Award-Winning Writer Sean Clancy
He just appeared one day. I don’t remember how he got there, why he got there, who sent him or when he left. We were living in an old yellow house on the edge of Route 82 in Unionville, Pa. I was just out of college, nursing a torn ligament in my knee, eating frozen hamburger paddies cooked in a microwave and drinking beers for lunch. 1992, I guess.
“Hi, I’m Cort.”
“Yeah, it’s spanish for cuarto. Fourth.”
“The fourth what?”
“I’m the fourth; Ferdinand Vincent Marzullo…the Fourth.”
That was about all the introduction needed. Ferdinand called me Seanstein. He made fast friends.
We had a spare room, mattress on the floor. He parked his pickup truck (white, with a cap if I remember), threw a duffel bag on the floor and we suddenly had a roommate. Geoff Turnbull, Chip Miller and I – just kids, paddling the rapids, languishing through the summer, wondering where we were going, what we were doing. No money, no worries.
“Uh, Ferdinand. We’re all leaving next week.”
“Where you going?”
He could have asked, “What’s Saratoga?” But I could have my stories mixed.
Billy McCarthy, who had a small string of Trish and Jim Moseley’s horses going to Saratoga, had called me, looking for an exercise rider for the meet.
“Here, call this number. If you can gallop this guy’s filly, he’s got some nut filly nobody can ride, then come to Saratoga. Work for him. Maybe you’ll meet somebody. You can stay with us.”
Cort drove to Philadelphia Park.
“Piece of cake, Seanstein” he said on his return.
Cort threw his duffel bag in his truck and we went to Saratoga. He lived in the hallway, in a sleeping bag on the floor, of a finished basement, outside of town, hung his one collared shirt on a doorknob. Miller, myself, J.W. Delozier and Ferdinand. We were tough on Delozier, easy on Ferdinand.
He stuck. Began riding races, became adept at it and became part of this crazy steeplechase fabric, woven in the threads with Winky Cocks, then Rowdy Irishman and the Haynes family, Raptor at Morven Park (I’ll never forget that cover), Atlanta Hall in Monkton, Kathy Lewis in Tennessee and eventually landed in Camden with his wife and two sons.
Years after that first foray to Saratoga, I had to ride To Ridley in the Iroquois, taking off Rowdy Irishman, Cort picked up the ride and won the big one. I begrudged everybody. Not Cort, especially after nearly breaking his leg when I flipped over a golfcart, into his convertible Cadillac (the sweetest car I’ve ever seen) the day before the race. Clubs went sailing across the parking lot, I dented the back fender of the car. We scuffed our hands, we laughed all the way back to Percy Warner Park.
Another summer, we worked together at Leo O’Brien’s at Saratoga. By now, he knew all about Saratoga. Keith got hurt and left us shorthanded. I worked at the set list, worried over which bridle to put on which horse, trying to keep things in order. Cort and J.W. would go for coffee at the kitchen and worry about it later.
“Seanstein, you’re taking all of this too serious. We’re beating horses over bushes with sticks. That’s all.”
As my wife would say, “He got the joke.”
Sometimes it’s better not to get the joke.
I remember when he told me Vickie was pregnant. We were sitting in a booth at some restaurant, back left corner, after a day’s racing at Oxmoor or some midwest meet.
He just said it. Boom. Suddenly, life had consequences.
I saw him for the first time in years at the Colonial Cup, a few weeks ago.
“Seanstein…” with that big smile.
“Ferdinand, what’s happening,” like it was 1992.
I was in a hurry, distributing papers, anticipating the horses for the first, moving, moving, moving. Ferdinand didn’t say a lot, said he was still starving, working with bad horses. I didn’t stop, just kept moving. He seemed to want to talk, but then didn’t say anything.
He told me he had a picture of me winning on Rarity Bay, the owners had sent it to him by mistake (must have been 12 years ago), he made another self-deprecating remark, then we walked into the parking lot at Camden, through the pine trees. Cort going left, me going right.
Weeks later, he’s gone.
As always, when a friend goes too soon, chooses inexplicably to go too soon, there are more questions than answers. We’re left, simply, with introspection. Mind-numbing, agonizingly painful introspection that goes nowhere. Still unsure if we get the joke or don’t get the joke.
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