Wednesday, July 22, 2009

SUPERSIZE ME


So I'm on the phone with Bob Baffert, and he's telling me about Wynning Ride, who's going in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks Saturday at Belmont Park, and I hear some weird background noise, something about iced Mocha Latte.


"Hold on, I have something important to do," he says.


And I hear him say, "I'll take a burger, medium fries, and a coke."


Baffert, who is to be inducted into racing's Hall of Fame on Aug. 15, three-time Derby winning trainer, conditioner of multiple Eclipse Award winners, is in the drive-in lane at McDonald's???


"You know how it is at Del Mar," he explains. "The lines, you can't get anything to eat."


"They couldn't sell you on the iced Mocha Latte?" I ask.


"Mocha, that's not me," he says.


"More importamt, have you started writing your speech for the induction," I ask.


"No," he says. "And I'm worried. I can tell a story, but I can't give a speech."


"So that's what you need to do -- tell a story."


"Yeah, but which one?"


I have no answer for this (but my mind is reeling with the possibilities) and by this time, he's paying and he obviously needs to eat.


"When are you getting to Saratoga?"


"Some of the horses are shpping in on the fifth, I'll be in probably the eighth or ninth."


"See you then."




Saturday, July 4, 2009

FIREWORKS


The weather, finally, has broken and there is no finer place to be (for me, anyway!) this Fourth of July than the Top of the Stretch at Belmont Park, barbecuing with friends and awaiting the first of three great graded stakes this afternoon. When the gates open for the Prioress, I fully expect the fillies to shoot out of there like Roman Candles!

Bring your own BBQ briquettes, burgers, dogs, beer, whatever, peruse the Daily Racing Form or the official track program, walk a few feet to make your wager and then move right to the rail for your own personal private viewing of the horses as they thunder past.

Located in between the quarter-pole and the eighth pole, the picnic areas give you a great view of the horses as they come barreling around the turn, and right there is usually where the races are decided. It is awesome to watch the young and old alike cheering for their horses (so what if it's a 3-2 shot!) and celebrating their victories.

Good friends, cold beer, and the world's finest thoroughbreds .... who could ask for anything more?



Thanks, Teresa!!!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Party at the Park


So I'm looking at the weather report and it says (I am not making this up) that for SIX of the next SEVEN days it is supposed to be rainy. Showers. Showers. Showers. Showers. Partly Sunny. Showers.

Never fear.

One thing at the racetrack that seems to withstand the elements is the Friday afternoon deal at Belmont Park, Party at the Park. Last Friday, which started out as the ickiest, most humid, horrible hair day in the history of man, turned pretty wonderful by post time of 3 p.m., with the blue sky glinting off the puddles of water on the track, Commentator having rolled to victory, and a throng of young people in the backyard, HALF-PRICED BEER (that bears repeating) HALF-PRICED BEER and fine music and trivia from 3-6 p.m. in the Festival Tent, courtesy of Ernie Munick. (Disclaimer: I adore Ernie Munick).

(Also: Let me digress for a moment: The late afternoon sun glinting off the standing water on the track was pretty, but if you were calling the races, it was hell. Looking up the track as the horses turned for home, all you could see was the glare of the sun, brown animals, and NO COLOR. I have no idea how Durkin managed.)

OK. So there we are in the Festival Tent, and the beer is HALF PRICE (let me repeat that: HALF PRICE) and the woman behind the counter couldn't be friendlier or happier, and I hear my absolute two favorite songs of all time, Down by the River (Neil Young) and Hesitation Blues (Jorma K.), and I have an ice-cold HALF-PRICED beer in front of me, my friends are there, and the horses are parading by and I'm thinking, I am really lucky.

And I mean that. I can't wait for this Friday!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Where's That Bird?

By Wednesday afternoon, Ashley and I were becoming increasingly despondent over the departure of Summer Bird for Louisiana and Mine That Bird for Louisville.
We were bird-less.
So this is what we did.





video





Here are Ashley's pictures.




Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Goodbye Mr. Chip



So the most indelible memory after the Belmont Stakes was Mine That Bird's trainer Chip Woolley sitting in one those folding canvas chairs you bring to the beach -- foot rest, arm rests, cup holder for a beer -- and sitting there outside his Belomt Park barn with his black cowboy hat, boots and legs propped up and him kind of laughing: ``If you would have told me five weeks ago I'd be sitting here the day after the Belmont Stakes disgruntled because we were third, I'da said you were crazy.'' And then he went on to praise the training of Tim Ice, like Chip, a new face in New York, who saddled the winner, Summer Bird.
I don't think I've ever met anyone like Chip Woolley. That's because I don't think I've ever met any cowboys before in my life. Sure, you got Wayne Lukas. He wears a cowboy hat and jeans but he also gets his jeans dry cleaned so that doesn't count. Bob Baffert grew up in New Mexico and he gets his jeans dry cleaned, too, so he doesn't count either.
Someone told me Chip was 2-for-40 heading into the Preakness (one of the wins was the Kentucky Derby) _ for the year. Gary Contessa is like 2-for-40 for the WEEK! at Aqueduct or Belmont! I really liked how Chip handled Mine that Bird ... The horse showed up every race _ and despite Calvin ``I'm on national TV!'' Borel totally dismissing the idea that Belmont Park is a different animal, the gelding really established himself as a horse we're going to love to follow in the years to come ... But back to Chip ... So there Chip was, and he looked like he'd been rode hard and he admitted he was tired ... Down the street from Belmont Park there is a pizza joint _ excuse me, an Italian restaurant called King Umberto's _ and every night Chip and the rest of the Cowboys would show up and have dinner. They showed up after the race. There were the balloons and the Mylar horses and the crepe paper, and when he was talking about it Sunday morning at his barn you cud see how touched he was, that these people he didn't know four days ago would go to all this trouble in big bad New York to make him feel at home.
Because that's what they do, cowboys, they make you feel at home. Whether Chip was at Madison Square Garden or at Anna House or patiently answering another stupid question from a member of the Fourth Estate, he went out of his way _ even on crutches _ to make everyone around him feel at home.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Please Mr. McLaughlin, try this!

The Belmont Child Care Association 's Honoree Kiaran McLaughlin paid a surprise visit to Anna House Toddlers during lunch time.


Save the date !
Wednesday, August 26th 2009
The Belmont Child Care Association's 12 Annual Benefit at the Gideon Putnam Hotel, Saratoga Springs.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Road Not Taken

About 802 miles west-southwest of where Jimmy Jerkens was headed on a dank Friday morning, there no doubt were mint juleps to be made and fancy hats to be worn and Derby horses about which to argue, which is where Jerkens should have been instead of walking towards the Belmont Park training track.
"I'm working a horse," he said as he walked past the barn and up a flight of wooden steps to the rail, jacket collar turned up against the fine mist and stopwatch in hand. The horse happened to be Subprime, one of several horses Jerkens trains for Edward P. Evans, another, of course, being Quality Road.
Subprime, most recently fourth in the Grade 2 Comely, would go on to breeze six furlongs in 1:15.69 in the mud; Quality Road would once again walk around the shedrow, looking magnificent under tack and leaving one to wonder what might have been.
Monday morning, when the stubborn quarter crack on the colt's right front foot showed no signs of responding to treatment, Jerkens scrapped his final breeze and withdrew Quality Road from the Derby. Shortly after 8 a.m. my cell phone starting ringing, people calling from Churchill Downs wanting to know if it was true, that he could not be running on Saturday.
"That's a shame," said one writer. "He was five lengths better than the rest of the field."
The plan, said Jerkens, is to put a bar shoe on and once he's sound, to resume jogging. The Preakness is out, the Belmont is a long shot, and it's a damn shame because it would have meant so much not just to Jerkens, an amazing horseman, but to his father. "The Chief" never won a Derby, and I remember standing next to him after Sky Beauty ran dead last in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs in 1994.
"I just never have any luck here," said Allen, shaking his head. "Never."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Out of Hibernation


In the south parking lot at Belmont Park this month is an assemblage of garish, brightly-lit, whirling structures bearing names such as Sky Flyer, Expo Wheel, Tilt-A-Whirl, Gravitron, Rock-O-Plane, Sea Ray, Yo-Yo, Scrambler, and, a personal favorite, Giant Mouse, all of which are guaranteed to induce nausea, or at the very least, queasiness.

The annual appearance of the Belmont Fair means two things: first, that it will rain every weekend in April, and second, that the opening of Belmont Park is not far off. After seven months at the Big A, it will be a welcome change of venue.

The main track opened for training on April 1, and as each day passes, more and more horses are making the trek there from the backside. Soon to be among them is Kentucky Derby hopeful Quality Road, the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby winner who is trained by Jimmy Jerkens.

There's something about a Kentucky Derby contender that automatically draws the eye, and such was the case the other morning when he had his first work since the Florida Derby.

Another intriguing element was added when, upon his return to the winner's circle following the Florida Derby, Jerkens noticed a trickle of blood coming from the colt's right hind foot. The source was determined to be a quarter crack (haven't we been down this road before?). A bar shoe was placed on the hoof, and on Wednesday (April 8) hoof specialist Ian McKinlay placed a patch on the crack, which is far less severe that the one sustained last year by Big Brown.

Friday, with DRF turf writer Dave Grening, award-winning photographer Barbara Livingston (see photo) and yours truly in attendance, Quality Road breezed an easy five-eighths in 1:02.19. (You can watch the final 3/16ths of the work on NYRA's YouTube channel; included in the clip are Quality Road walking back and forth from his barn, a brief interview with Jerkens, and the sound of Barbara's shutter clicking madly.)

Settling on a horse to follow along the Triple Crown trail is a tricky business, indeed. Were I a horseplayer, I would be feverishly perusing pedigrees and crunching numbers, but I am not a horseplayer, and my wallet thanks me for it. Rooting for the best story was my modus when I was a journalist, but nowadays, I find myself rooting for the best horse and the best people, which brings me down to two (actually three) choices: Larry Jones with Friesan Fire and Old Fashioned, or Jerkens and Quality Road.

Right now, it's neck and neck. In three weeks, there's a lot that can happen. And it surely will.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Frozen in Time


Snarky comments about Al Gore explaining a foot of snow in March aside (last time I looked, all you global warming skeptics, it was still winter), the sight of Belmont Park under a blanket of the white stuff is nothing short of majestic.

Standing near the gap on the main track, there was nothing ahead but a vast expanse of white covering the entire infield and the track, unmarred by a single hoofprint. The air was so crisp it almost crackled, and except for the muted hoofbeats of a solitary, unseen horse on the training track, it was silent.

Nothing moved. There were no people, no animals, no birds, just the snow, the track, and the grandstand, frozen, as if in a snapshot.


Hard against the stillness was the echoed wall of noise that greeted Smarty Jones as he turned for home in the Belmont Stakes, while the immense whiteness was a tempting screen upon which to project images from the past: Cigar sweeping under the wire to cap off his perfect season in the Classic; Forego barreling down the stretch under 137 pounds in the Marlboro Cup; Curlin looking like equine royalty as he emerged from the tunnel for the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

A furlong away, in the barns, the snow was little more than a cold and wet nuisance to the grooms who had to break through the ice in the horses' buckets and the exercise riders who were up and out on the training track at first frozen light, bundled up and looking like pumpkins atop their frisky mounts.


Belmont Park was not built to accomodate fans once the weather turns. Even when racing returns in April, the chill lingers on in the grandstand, and there is much huddling in the fall when the sun's path takes it behind the bullding at the end of the day's card.


But to experience it in the grasp of winter, perhaps, is to appreciate it for what it was meant to be, the timeless juncture where horse racing's past, present and future come together.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Jockeeezzz (Feb. 27)


UPDATE: Oh yeah, another new episode or two!!! OK. Thanks to instant replay, we can clearly see that Joe Talamo can't steer a horse. He goes on double secret probation. Asterisks on the blackboard. Who writes on the blackboard after every race? Whatever. The stewards call him in and nod. And wink. Joe is off the hook!!! Yay Joe!!

UPDATE (commercial): Everyone should buy a Snuggie. $19.95, royal blue, sage green, burgundy (whatever) Two book lights, free!!! Awesome.

UPDATE: Alex Solis appearence, OMG!!!!

UPDATE: Mike Smith waxes sage to Joe T: "You ain't gonna get that good until you're in your 30's." That is a long time. Joe T has blank stare.

UPDATE: CURLIN AD!!! YAY!!!!

UPDATE: It's 20 minutes into the show and no women jockeys have appeared. Hmmmmm.

UPDATE: Wow. I didn't know stewards let everyone in on their decisions. ("Get outta here. And be careful") This could be a cool show in itself.

UPDATE: (Rico, upon seeing Dana again:) "Whoa!"

UPDATE: Video of HOLY BULL!!! COOL!!!!

UPDATE: Joe T doesn't know who Holy Bull is??? Arrrrgggghhhhh.

UPDATE: Brandon meets with the stewards, also no problem. Can we get these guys to be in the Nassau County court system? ("I didn't see the stop sign ......")

UPDATE: Alex Solis is riding Lavender Sky for Dan Hendricks. Solis Jr. bought the horse. Oh boy, papa is feelin' the pressure ... he says something like it's usually the kid who wants to impress his dad, now I want to do great for my son (ain't that cute?)

UPDATE: Trivia question about how many different horses Aaron Gryder has ridden? 2,000, 5,000 or 50,000 (duh, he's been riding for 22 years -- it says so every week in the opening)

UPDATE: While we're trying to decide, stunning news on the ensuing commercial: The Wizard of Oz is returning to New York for the first time in more than 10 years (the play, we assume), sometime in March/April ... So flabbergasted, we turned away and didn't get the details. Stay away from New York we will in March and April.

UPDATE: Thank goodness the nightmare commercial ends and it's back to the show: 50,000 is correct!!!!!!!! Like we said, DUH!!!!!!!!!!!!

UPDATE: We'll make this quick; Pig dog Lavendar Sky finishes last!!!!! Last we tell you!!!!!! Why even go for this storyline???? Poor Dan Hendricks says it's time to retire the horse .. no kidding Dan!

UPDATE: We won't go there, but all that needs to be said is jockey agent Ron Ebanks (The "Love Man" ) is hanging with apprentice Brendan Meier the day the kid has no mounts. They are on a porch at the condo overlooking the beach. Wow. Poor depressed gang.

UPDATE: Guess what? It seems the day after this DAY OFF, Meier decides it's time to leave the West Coast and go to Kentucky (where maybe he can win a few races). He says (after like three months) the competition is too tough at Santa Anita (MEMO to Brandon: Try New York, dude). He calls his girlfriend and tells her; she's lives in Chicago, right? And he asks if he's doing the right thing ... She responds something like, you'll be closer to me. Thanks, blondie.

UPDATE: Solis wins Norfolk Stakes on Street Hero (not Street Sense) ... and beats Midshipman (2-year-old champion now training in Dubai for the Kentucky Derby _ a likely losing proposition). Solis is beaming; he has a Derby contender (he hasn't won it in 27 years of riding)...
FACT: Street Hero was third behind Midshipman in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and was retired with a knee injury. Tough luck, Alex.

UPDATE: While Solis is celebrating Norfolk win, Meier is seen packing his bags, saying goodbye, and then driving away from Santa Anita. See ya at Churchill Brandon! ...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Jockeeezzzzzzz.......

(Wherein jockeys talk.)
UPDATE: Nice shades, Chantal. They go well with Jinmy the Hat's hat.....
UPDATE: Aaron Gryder's kids are way cute. (Time out while I take my insulin.)
UPDATE: Rico and I think it is bad luck not to ride Gryder on the horse Grace Gryder. But, what do we know?
(INTERIM QUERY: Do they play that cool rock music all the time at Santa Anita?)
UPDATE: Obviously, we don't know much -- Joe Talamo wins on Grace Gryder.
UPDATE: Hey, 20 minutes into show and NO BREAKDOWNS! (Commercials don't count)
UPDATE: Chantal says exercising horses is like getting "their bodies to climax." Rico says: Whoa!!! Then she and Mike Smith go out to dinner and she plays with a cork and they make a bet. She plays with the cork come more. Zzzzz....
UPDATE: Chantal beats Mike in a raZZZzzz...
(INTERIM QUERY: What ever happened to Kayla Stra? Have her upper arms gotten too big for the show?)
UPDATE: Joe Talamo and his girlfriend win over her parents and make cupcakZZZ...
UPDATE: Ahhhhh .... a rousing discussion of synthetic surfaceZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz
....

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Breadlines and Champagne


Sadly, I relay the news that Marylou Whitney will not be making her customary grand entrance at the Whitney Gala this year at Saratoga, as the Whitney Gala will not be held in light of the current economic meltdown.

"It would," said husband John Hendrickson, "be in poor taste."

I beg to differ. During the 1930's, escapist fare, called "screwball comedies," about madcap heiresses who lived in mansions with a never-ending supply of servants and champagne, were enourmously popular.

For years, hundreds of onlookers have gathered at the Canfield Casino in Congress Park awaiting the grand entrance of Mrs. Whitney, whether by hot-air balloon or horse-drawn coach (suitable for the Queen) or motorcycle, to signal the start of the racing season. Would she be Glinda the Good Witch? Snow White? Little Bo Beep? We could hardly wait.

It was all, she once said, entertainment for the masses, huddled or not.

To cancel now, when we need it more than ever? Say it ain't so!

In the 1930's, during the Great Depression, Americans went almost compulsively to the movies.

"The movies offered a chance to escape the cold, the heat, and loneliness; they brought strangers together, rubbing elbows in the dark of movie palaces and fleapits, sharing in the one social event available to everyone."

--Carlos Stevens, From the Crash to the Fair, The Public Theatre

Moviegoers swooned over Clark Gable, Bette Davis, and Errol Flynn. They laughed at W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers, fell in love with Shirley Temple, delighted in Busby Berkley's choreography and thrilled to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sashaying across the screen.

It was, simply, an opportunity for normal folks to escape the harsh economic climate of the time. And to describe the current economic clime as anything but harsh would be dishonest.

Now, if Mrs. Whitney elected to respond to many people's vision of what should happen to the ridiculously rich by showing up at the Canfield Casino in a tumbrel, a la Marie Antoinette, that might be considered to be in poor taste (however apropos).

Then again, maybe she could come as Bernie Madoff.

But to deny the masses the chance to forget their everyday troubles for an hour? That is truly tasteless.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day Picks


Magna 5
A Rose for You, Goldsville, Into My Soul, Mutak Gold, Wiggle and a Wink

Big A
1st - Beam of Love
5th - Kiss the Cruiser

Gulfstream Park
3rd - Dixie Love
5th - Many Kisses
7th - (exacta box) Wise Passion and Celebrating Love
10th - Jo Jo Love

Laurel
4th - Sweet Lil Thief
5th - Mario Flowers
Late double: (Best Bet) 8th and 9th: Emma's Valentine and A Rose For You

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jockeys (Friday the 13th: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid)


In which Kayla Stra and Brandon Meier try to win a race and everyone else tries to remain thin:

UPDATE: Brandon Meier may be 5-foot-6 but he has very white teeth.

UPDATE: Brandon Meier is wandering the backstretch at Santa Anita without his agent. This is bad.

UPDATE: Jockeys are discussing food. They are all hungry. Duh.

UPDATE: Each of Kayla's arms are the size of Winston Churchill.

UPDATE: Kayla is upset because she weighs 110 pounds. OMG. Shut up, girl!

UPDATE: The color of the jocks' room at Santa Anita is the same as the color of the house Aaron Gryder lived in here in Floral Park.

UPDATE: I want my own hot box

UPDATE: Rico says Dana is hot. I do not know who Dana is.

UPDATE (for those who have not heard about the Lindbergh baby): 48-year-old Jon Court is no longer a phenom

UPDATE: YAY! Kayla finishes second. Each of her arms have become the size of Shaq's thighs.

UPDATE: BOO! Kayla gets DQ'ed _ from second place! Her arms remain the same size.

UPDATE: (commercial: I am sending away for the $14.95 AB-ROCKER)
It looks awesome!
(I am lying.)

UPDATE: Brandon wins. Brandon's jockey father is clueless. BAD DAD.

UPDATE: Kayla's arms are getting bigger. How is this happening?

UPDATE: Jon Court's wife (niece of Earlie Fires) is scary. I wouldn't eat either if I were married to her.

UPDATE: (Wide shot of jockey wives) Rico: "Whoa."

BREAKING NEWS: Longtime publicist Joey Goldstein passes. More later.

UPDATE: (commercial) I am sending away for a Barbie Girl Pet Vet.

UPDATE: Is Chrystal Court jealous of Kayla? With those upper arms?

UPDATE: "Kayla out of the money"

UPDATE: "Kayla in 9th place"

UPDATE: (Kayla sucks)

TV INTERLUDE: How many bones has Jon Court broken? Rico: 28. Me: I don't care. (Answer: More than 30; good guess, Rico!)

UPDATE: YAY! Kayla wins! OMFG!! Look at those arms! Now she's flexing!

UPDATE: Jon Court and Dick Vermeil were separated at birth (This is not a reach!)

TUNE IN NEXT WEEK!


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Jockeys: The Show


Much of what has been written about the new reality television series "Jockeys" has been positive. Not being a fan of reality television, or "non-scripted" television, my initial reaction to the show was, basically, relief they didn't screw it up too much. I found the voice-over of the racecalls somewhat annoying, but didn't think much of it at the time.
But then, Brooklyn Backstretch (www.brooklynbackstretch.com) weighed in with a particularly sharp-eyed critique of the show, including her observation that a casual observer would think that a race caller mentions the jockeys as often as he mentions the horses.
I have enormous respect for jockeys, for their fearlessness, their athleticism, for their love of horses. But it's called horse racing, not jockey racing, for a reason.
It's the horse that carries the jockey to the finish line, not the other way around. Re-dubbing the race call to make it appear that jockeys are more important than horses is, well, un-real. And dishonest.
The question remains, however -- would people be more attracted to the sport if the human element were emphasized over the horse element? If each track were to publicize situations and conflicts amongst its jockey colony "to create maximum drama and ultimate titillation" would that create more interest in the sport? Would that be kosher? Would the end then justify the means?
This past summer, in a long conversation with Carl Nafzger before his Hall of Fame induction, the trainer talked about his philosophy regarding horse racing. "Put the horse first," he said, "and everything else falls into place."
On Saturday at Aqueduct, after Haynesfield crossed the finish line to win the Whirlaway, racecaller John Imbriale added: "What a day for Ramon Dominguez!" on his fifth winner of the day. Afterward, Dominguez said he knew he was on a lot of good horses that day, but you could never count on anything. It was all about the horse, he said, and the horses came through. For the owners, the trainer, the bettors, and him.
There's a place for everyone, and everything, in horse racing. And it works best when everyone acknowledges that the horse comes first.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Bits and Pieces (of my mind)


I love that Curlin won Horse of the Year honors (again) without having won the Breeders' Cup Classic and that his defining moments in 2008 came in the Woodward and the Jockey Club Gold Cup in New York.

I love that Indian Blessing, who won three races in New York including the Test, the Gallant Bloom and the Prioress, was voted top female sprinter without having won the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

And that Proud Spell earned top 3-year-old filly honors by virtue of her victory over Music Note in the Alabama at Saratoga, and that male sprint champion Benny the Bull counted Belmont Park's True North among his four 2008 victories.
I don't like that IEAH Stables, which had two Eclipse winners in Big Brown and Benny the Bull and won 11 Grade 1 races, was outvoted for outstanding owner by Frank Stronach, who had no champions.

I hate that the MTA wants to discontinue the Belmont Special. I know that people can take the LIRR to Bellerose Station, walk three blocks to Belmont Park's Mayfair Avenue gate and hop a NYRA shuttle to the grandstand, but it's hard enough getting people to come out to the racetrack without making things more difficult.

I really like having new faces at Aqueduct during the winter months. Maylan Studart and Jackie Davis aren't exactly new, but the addition of Sheldon Russell, Rosie Napravnik and Eddie Castro adds a new dimension to the jockey colony. And what's not to like about (think John Imbriale here) "C .......C.......Lopez"?

I usually love the names given to NYRA overnight stakes, but confess to being totally stumped by Friday's event, "The Jones Times Machine," unless it's a reference to a recent episode of "Fringe" wherein Mr. Jones' thugs were running around stealing safe deposit boxes put there by Walter 23 years ago. Come to think of it, what else could it possibly be?

And one more thing -- my favorite 11-year-old racehorse, Tour of the Cat, returns to action Wednesday in a $10,000 claimer. Anyone interested?







Friday, January 23, 2009

A Good Name for a Racehorse



At the risk of sounding woefully under-educated, I confess to having never seen either the musical 42nd Street or the 1933 film starring Ruby Keeler, at least until last night. (I promise this is going somewhere). Early on in this delightful piece of fluff, the musical director says to the dancers something along the lines of: "Congratulations, you finished two lengths ahead of the orchestra." It's just a throwaway line, but it says a lot about the times. First, that the writers were familiar with horse racing, and secondly, that they assumed everyone would know exactly what it meant.
My other favorite line was, "It must have been tough on your mother not having any children."
The best part of the evening, however, was when, after hearing a dancer's nickname was "Anytime Annie," Rico turned to me and said, "That would be a good name for a racehorse."
Last year trainer Nick Zito, after explaining in an extremely convoluted way how Da' Tara got his name (something to do with the Count of Monte Cristo and how when he washed up on shore he looked like a piece of driftwood, which is called "Zatara" and that's how he came up with Da' Tara), said, "You know how hard it is to come up with names."
Well.
On the Jockey Club website (www.jockeyclub.com) you can use the Online Names Book to check a name to see if it is currently in use or otherwise unavailable.
To our delight, Anytime Annie was very much available, which of course led to finding out if the other 42nd Street-inspired names we dreamed up were available. Which they were, including (but not limited to):
She Can Swing It
You’re a Cinch
Come Back a Star
Niagara Limited
Snooty Cutie
Small Town Bigshot
Watch That Tempo
Think You’re Swell
A Habit with Me
The Village Maiden
A Girl Short
It Must be June
Pretty Lady Co.
Pick It Up Jerry
and finally,
Company Dismissed


It kind of makes me want to buy some horses, just so I can start naming them.

Monday, January 19, 2009

No Ageism Here


It was wonderfully fitting, then, on the day after the renamed Evening Attire Stakes was run, that a contemporary of the now 11-year-old should come up a winner at Aqueduct.
The second race on Sunday was an otherwise unremarkable event -- a $19,000 claimer at one mile, 70 yards for 4-year-olds and up, each of whom carried a price tag of $7,500. Six went to post, but the heavy favorite was Tour of the Cat, a son of Tour D'Or who was making his 75th lifetime start and giving the phase "back class" a new meaning.
It was not the first time the bay gelding had raced at the Big A; eight years ago, emboldened by a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Flamingo at Hialeah (talk about your Way Back Machines!), his then connections brought him north to finish sixth in the Grade 3 Withers behind Richly Blended.
He returned to Calder, and in the ensuing years made brief forays to Gulfstream Park and Tampa Downs, and once even to Dubai, where in 2004 he would finish sixth to Our New Recruit in the $2 million Golden Shaheen.
Among his victories were the Grade 3 Spend a Buck Handicap, the Grade 2 Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship, and the Grade 3 Miami Millions Breeders' Cup Handicap in 2003 and 2004. Unraced in 2005, he made his first start for a tag --albeit a $200,000 tag -- in his return in 2006, finishing last, and then began the slow descent down the scale, finally haltered by trainer David Jacobson in November.
"His earnings were good," explained Douglas Jacobson, the trainer's brother and managing partner of Jacobson Racing Stables. Indeed, in 74 previous starts, the old pro had failed to pick up a check only eight times, and earned more than $1 million in compiling a record of 20 wins, 12 seconds and 13 thirds.
Although they have been claiming more 3-year-olds of late, the Jacobsons have had success with older horses, including the claimer Cool N Collective, who last winter went on a whirlwind tour of barns and won a pair of races at Aqueduct and Belmont at the age of 11 before heading north to Suffolk Downs, his current residence.
Last year, shortly after then 10-year-old Explosive Count was claimed out of his barn, Jacobson told me he once saw a 13-year-old horse race in Kentucky. In 2007, a 15-year-old horses named Hermosilla raced at Wyoming Downs, and according to recent records, the oldest horse ever to win a race was 14-year-old Alpena Magic, who won a claiming race at Indiana Downs on May 27, 2004.
"I have a soft spot in my heart for all my horses, but I also have a certain admiration for the older ones," Jacobson told me Sunday afternoon. "They're such pros -- nothing bothers them. The younger ones, a different color starting gate,different trees, an apartment building, anything new they notice. Horses like Tour of the Cat, they're pros. They know how to take care of themselves. They don't have any bad habits, and they love what they're doing. I get a kick out of it."


Photo by Adam Coglianese

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Big Screen at the Big A



Tucked away in the southwest corner of Aqueduct Racetrack is the Big A Grill, a tranquil spot that is one of my favorite places. Obviously, the New York Post's John DaSilva likes it, too.




You don't go to the Big A Grill for the food, although the rotisserie chicken with one side ($6.25) is always tasty. Clam chowder ($4.75) and egg sandwiches ($2.25) are popular, plus they offer cans of Dr. Brown's Cream Soda ($2.75) in both diet and regular varieties.



Ralph, behind the counter, is always pleased to take your order, after which you can settle in at one of the tables and look out to the west, or better yet, feast your eyes on a collection of horse-themed movie posters from back in the day.





Several of the movies star Gloria Henry, who made her film debut in the 1947 "B" film "Sport of Kings" and later went on to fame as Jay North's mom in the hit TV series Dennis the Menace.




"The Fighting Chance," a 1955 flick about a jockey and a trainer who fall in love with the same girl (amazingly, complications arise) stars Rod Cameron, the tall in the saddle actor who counted among his many credits such films as "Woman of the North Country,"Santa Fe Passage, "and "The Plunderers."




You have Don Ameche in "That's My Man," about a horse trainer who loses sight of what's important once he becomes a success; "Pride of the Blue Grass," a boy meets girl-boy loses girl-boy gets girl back story starring Lloyd Bridges and Vera Miles, and "The Great Mike," wherein the kid who used to play Alfalfa in the Our Gang comedies says "gee willikers" about one bazillion times.



So with live racing cancelled tomorrow because of Arctic cold, perhaps a movie fest is in order. Armed with a quarter rotisserie chicken and a can of diet Dr. Brown's cream soda, inbetween the simulcast races from Gulfstream Park, I'll be watching -- in glorious Technicolor! -- images from a time when racing was king -- even in Hollywood.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Goodbye Joe



In the midst of the discussion over what constitutes journalism and the worthiness, or lack thereof, of blogs, comes news of the passing of Joe Hirsch, the Daily Racing Form columnist who was called the dean of American turf writers.
There never was, and never will be, anyone who covered horse racing quite like Joe Hirsch, who was a staunch advocate and viewed it as deserving of the same kind of coverage as other, more mainstream sports. Tall, with jet black hair and dark glasses, always impeccably turned out, he had the respect of everyone in the industry, from owners to jockeys and trainers, and from other writers as well, especially those he helped along the way.
"He was a global ambassador for the sport, a mentor to two generations of journalists, and probably the most universally respected figure in the world of horse racing," said Steve Crist, DRF's publisher.
Talking with Dave Grening of DRF yesterday reminded me of what Joe would do when he saw someone new on the beat: He would give them a copy of the Revised Veterinary Glossary for Turf Writers. Dave's was dated March, 1980. (I refuse to tell you when mine was dated.)
If you needed a phone number, he would open his little black book and give you it. If you needed access to an owner, he would take you over, and introduce you. If you couldn't pin down the exact date of an event, Joe would remember for you. He did this because he wanted horse racing to have a prominent position in the sports pages, whether it was the New York Daily News or the Miami News or the Bergen Record.
Richard Migliore said yesterday that when Joe called and wanted to interview you, it was so special and humbling that he'd pick you as a topic. As a turf writer, you felt the same way when Joe would ask you to join him and several others at a restaurant for dinner during the Triple Crown or at the Breeders' Cup or Saratoga. He wanted everything to be first class; if things were not to his liking, he would quietly have them corrected. I remember once, at the Wishing Well in Saratoga one August, a plate of local tomatoes was brought to the table. It must have been by someone who did not know who Joe was, as some of them were quite green around the edges. He looked at them, looked up and simply said, "Bring us some good tomatoes" and within moments, the ripest, reddest beefsteak tomatoes I have ever experienced appeared in front of us.
He may have chronicled horse racing for 50 years, but I think his real legacy was all the turf writers he started on their way. There are but a handful left, now, and only a few of those writing for the internet had the privilege of being mentored by Joe. And that is something to mourn.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


The search for the next Kentucky Derby winner winds up in strange places; was it last year that New York Magazine did a short piece on Aqueduct Racetrack, postulating therein that one was very unlikely to find a Derby winner racing there in January (and totally forgetting about Smarty Jones?)

I so distinctly remember speaking with John Servis five years ago, when he was shipping the then totally unknown Pennsylvania-bred named up from Philly Park for the Count Fleet. "It will be a test for him," said Servis. "If he passes it, we'll think about moving on to the next step." (Months later, I stood at the finish line at Belmont Park and listened to more than 100,000 screaming fans fall totally silent as Birdstone reeled in Smarty Jones in the final yards of the Belmont Stakes, cutting short the Triple Crown bid of what in my own personal opinion was the most deserving "near-miss" in recent memory.)

This year's Count Fleet, named for the Triple Crown winner who raced for the wife of John D. Hertz, founder of the rental car company, once again gives me the impetus for the old Big A longshot. Last year I was rooting for Rick Schosberg and Giant Moon, who evenutally mader it to the Preakness; this year I'll be following fellow New York-bred Haynesfield.

Will Haynesfield put Turtle Bird Stables in the driver's seat? Like Giant Moon last year, Haynesfield was coming into the Count Fleet off a flashy victory in the restricted Damon Runyon. Unlike Giant Moon, Haynesfield wound up in the Damon Runyon as a matter of coincidence; a state-bred allowance failed to fill, and trainer Steve Asmussen elected to send him into the stakes off a maiden victory.

"His last race was a pleasant surprise," Asmussen said before the Count Fleet. "His first race was a disappointment; he redeemed himself in his maiden victory and then won the Damon Runyon because the other race didn't go. It's all a process."

For Haynesfield, an attractive chestnut, the process continued as he handled the mile and 70 yards in a competent fashion, covering the distance in 1:44.65. Jockey Ramon Dominguez, who last year was out of breath from piloting the tough-to-handle Giant Moon, seemed glad he had made the decision to remain in New York, skipping a trip to warmer climes for the Hal's Hope for a shot at a step onto the Triple Crown path.

Will the victory be enough to move him up alongside the likes of Remsen winner Old Fashioned (upon whom Dominguez also has the mount) and Midshipman, Pioneerof the Nile, Square Eddie, Street Hero, Terrain or Afleet Treat? I don't know. But if it is, I will be happy to have been among those who saw him win at Aqueduct on a cold and gray January afternoon.



Sunday, January 4, 2009

"A horse, a horse. My kingdom for a horse!"

Today marks the final day in New York of the American Museum of Natural History exibit, "The Horse," which examines the enduring bond between horses and humanity since the beginning of the Ice Age. The dioramas, fossils, models and culutural objects from around the world were fascinating, functioning as a kind of time machine that offered a peek into to a world in which horses were used as food, for work, for transportation, and yes, in warfare.

According to Kentucky Equine Research, Inc., more than 3,000 horses died at Gettysburg.

One of the more poignant artifacts in the exhibit was a photo of a horse wearing a gas mask during World War I; a quick Google revealed that more than eight million horses were killed from 1914-1918. During World War II, more horses than tanks played a role, as they were used to move artillery, as pack animals and on scouting missions. The German Army had more than one million horses, and the U.S. Cavalry staged its last charge during that time, in the Phillipines. Even today, horses are used by U. S. Special Forces in the rugged terrain near Afghanistan and Iraq.

The role of the horse today is more one of recreation, and sport; near the end of the exhibit there is a (way too) small area set aside for Thoroughbred racing, at which one can, among other things, view the 2005 Kentucky Derby (and listen to Tom Durkin's rousing call of the finish) and view trophies from Citation's Triple Crown.

Curiously, the Belmont Stakes Trophy is absent from this collection, in its stead was a large silver plate. Given the proximity of Belmont Park to Manhattan, one might have thought there would be more of a New York Racing Association presence other than a video clip of Secretariat. There is a rather large section devoted to racehorse injuries and the virtues of synthetic tracks, which speaks volumes about the public's perception of horse racing.

The exhibit goes on tour later this year to the UAE (but not in time for the World Cup); in 2010 it travels to the Canadian Museum of Civilization; in 2011 to the Field Museum in Chicago, and in 2012 to the San Diego Natural History Museum.