If there's one thing Juanito, aspiring barn cat at Jimmy Jerkens' Saratoga shedrow, takes seriously, it's his capacity as supervisor of morning chores. And napping. And climbing that muck pit. And helping roll bandages. And — well, everything is pretty serious work when you're a kitten.
Juanito, named after Jerkens allowance runner Unbridled Juan (because they both have four white socks), is believed to be about three or four months old. Groom Danny Jaiprashad adopted Juanito after his uncle's cat had kittens. Already, Juanito is one of the best-traveled pets at Saratoga.
“He goes with me everywhere I go,” Jaiprashad said. “For the last three months, he goes everywhere. He went to Jersey, Maryland, and now he's here. His next trip is back to New York, and then after New York, it's Palm Meadows.”
The staff at the Jerkens barn say Juanito doesn't need much more training for his role as feline assistant trainer. He instinctively stays away from cars and horses' hooves and has figured out how to climb trees in case of emergency, so he has the most important skills covered. He had to be discouraged from sleeping under golf carts but has now determined that the tack room, with its catnip treats and cotton rolls, is more comfortable anyhow.
When the crew returns to Belmont, they say, they'll know for sure how well he can earn his keep. By then, Juanito should be big enough to take on the famed Long Island rats, who outweighed him during his last stay there. At Saratoga, he has shown interest in birds, though he hasn't been successful in catching any yet. He's even become bold enough to take on pigeons and will climb halfway up a tree after one. When he figures out the bird has taken off, he gets himself right back down again.
“He's a pretty smart cat for three months old,” said Jaiprashad.
If there's one thing Juanito doesn't take particularly seriously, it's barn loyalty. Jerkens staff occasionally find him sleeping in neighboring tack rooms (where grooms and exercise riders are equally delighted to see him as his own staff is) and have to retrieve him. One rider confided to me she thinks their Saratoga neighbors have been trying to win his affections with food. After a few weeks, most young barn cats develop a sense of where 'home' is based on where they're fed, so whenever Juanito disappears, the staff scoops him up and plops him in front of his food dish. He seems to have the right idea about where 'home' is. That, or he has already mastered the art of training humans.
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