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Tragedy in the Bay State

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An image of Carcava’s Hunt from my first visit to Suffolk Downs, a place of small-time local trainers.

The last time I felt this way was when it was announced that dear little Paynter had laminitis. But in a way, this feels worse— since it has to do more with money than with heart, it is that much more hopeless.

I’ve been following the fight for Massachusetts casino licenses since the push for it began several years ago. Mohegan Sun signs popped up around neighboring towns where I currently call home around the western part of the state. They said that at least one casino license would be granted for both the western and eastern part of the state should it be voted to allow casino gambling and if the proposed towns were okay with it. Local votes gave a nod to Springfield, not far from where I live now, and up until recently, a battle waged for a casino either in Everett or in Revere, which would share grounds with the struggling Suffolk Downs. A casino license to the Downs would buoy the historic establishment for at least 15 years, but would also grant Mohegan Sun controlling power of both the already-approved Springfield facility as well as the Revere one. The state gambling commission which approves proposals upon the local voters’ nod, announced it today— Everett wins, Suffolk loses. The track, which is one of the oldest in the country, is all but dead.

I have had a profound sense of pride about my home state for my whole life, even more so after I packed my bags to head to Florida for three years. We are a place of acceptance, of revolutionary idea, and of great respect for history. As I watched the teardown of the historic Orange Bowl in Dade County, Florida, I thought to myself that this was the sort of thing that wouldn’t happen in Massachusetts. They would never do that to one of Cigar's battlegrounds, where he won after shipping in from New York complete with a police escort. They wouldn't do that to the place where Skip Away skipped away, where Commentator romped, where War Relic, Whirlaway, Menow, and Stymie all flew home in front and where Tom Smith discovered Seabiscuit walking through the fog one morning. 

This wasn’t the first track to die nor will it likely be the last, but it is the last of its kind in Massachusetts as well as New England, which has played host to so many great sporting events including those within Thoroughbred racing. 

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Suffolk standout sprinter Classic Speed, who quickly became my buddy when I met him. Such a sweet little gelding.

All in all, I have tremendous mixed feelings about the track’s closure. I’m sad to see it go in my home state. Angry about the decision, which could have benefited so many hard-working track employees who will now have to look elsewhere. Worried about the fate of New England racehorses who will likely be sold, and hopefully into caring, cautious hands. Annoyed, because I’m convinced more could have been done to make the Suffolk Downs proposal a lot better in the eyes of the state commission. In November, I get to vote as to whether or not I want casinos at all in Massachusetts courtesy of a referendum ballot. After months of flying the “Vote Suffolk Downs” sticker from my car, I’m not sure which box I’ll check.

Thank you to everyone who worked to make Suffolk Downs what it was as I knew it and what I’ll remember it for.

A Few Words of Thanks to Tom Durkin

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Tom Durkin calls a turf race during the 2014 Saratoga meet. We’ll miss you!

Like many before and after me, I was romanced to the racetrack courtesy of Tom Durkin, who I heard call the first horse race I ever watched: the 2002 running of the Kentucky Derby, won by War Emblem.

"War Emblem is still there! War Emblem and he’s pulling away! He has another gear!"

"And at the top of the stretch, a filly is in front at the Belmont but Curlin is right there with her! These two in a battle of the sexes at the Belmont Stakes! It is Curlin on the inside, Rags to Riches on the outside! A desperate finish! Rags to Riches and Curlin! They’re coming down to the wire, it’s going to be very close! It’s going to be… a filly in the Belmont!”

"And Jerry Bailey calls on Cigar for everything he has!… And here he is the incomparable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar!”

Winter Memories is in the clear, coming like a gray bullet!… It was a gray blur in the stretch!”

"And Tiznow is battling on! The American Horse of the Year and the Arc winner are heads apart with a furlong to go in the Classic!… Tiznow fights on, here’s the wire! Desperately close! Tiznow wins it for America!”

It was a whirlwind year to be introduced to horse racing, with War Emblem’s near-miss of the Triple Crown and just before that, trading hands from U.S. ownership to Japan. But it would not be the last call of the Derby I would watch that was called by Tom. Funny Cide, Barbaro, Street Sense, Big Brown, Mine That Bird all come to mind. Hearing his voice over the loudspeaker at my first trip to Belmont Park really set the tone for me, like ‘wow, I really am here, and there’s Tom Durkin talking!’ Even though at that moment he was only reading the current list of scratches and track conditions, it was still enough to send a true fan into a tizzy. The emotion of the experience made me even more jealous of those who were able to hear his calls before War Emblem and all the ones I missed in between.

So from my first visit to Belmont in 2012 to my last day at the Saratoga meet yesterday, I’ve enjoyed nothing but Tom Durkin as my race caller when I go to the track. Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga… they will never be the same for me from this point on. Like the mighty Secretariat who graced all three NYRA ovals like he did, there will never be another like him.

In a cherished moment of wisdom, I close this post out with a heartfelt thank you to Tom and a reminder to all that everything is temporary.

Thoughts Following the Pacific Classic-Travers Weekend

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Image source: ESPN

It promised to be a big weekend for horse racing and it did not let us down. But am I seeing things or are America’s best horses… GELDINGS?

With a pace scenario that ultimately benefited him and chewed apart another Haskell winner, V. E. Day came to life in the final stages of the Travers Stakes (I) and nipped the Midsummer Derby by a nose over stablemate Wicked Strong. I imagine a lot of bettors and fans were outraged by the 19-1 longshot’s win, and even though I woke up too late to play that pick 4 like I had planned (thanks graveyard shift), I was pleasantly pleased by the appearance of another player in the three-year-old Eclipse hunt. Is he the best 3-year-old in the east? Probably not. And certainly not the country…

Debate California Chrome's validity all you want in the year-end honors battle, but unless the chromey colt can put out the flames of our weakening older horse division, the award is going to go to Shared Belief. The nearly-black gelding “may” have won on poly and “may” have defeated a weakening Game On Dude, but he did it in splendid fashion and had me thinking about Tiznow's late-blooming sophomore year. Shared Belief factors perfectly in the Breeders' Cup Classic picture as long as he can avoid post-race bounce and do the same on dirt. Most exciting thing about the Shared Belief news?: he's a GELDING, which means he should be around for a long time, and Jerry Hollendorfer excels at shipping horses when he finds a reason to. Sorry I just… really want to photograph that pretty face…

The next questions this weekend will hopefully answer at Saratoga: can Wise Dan put a stop to the freight train known as Seek Again? Can Moreno hold off Zivo this time in the Woodward… or better yet, can Itsmyluckyday earn that G1 win? Can Clearly Now enforce his excellent sprinting form again?

Some Thoughts on Cozmic One and Jess’s Dream

It has been a while since I shed commentary on the two wonder colts, Cozmic One and Jess’s Dream. I always felt anything beyond a word here and there about how they looked physically was speaking too soon. But now as they are both officially two-year-olds in training at a major racetrack with top trainers to go with their tack, it seems time for a revisit. What are the odds that Coz and Taco can run like their great parents, and how do they size up as individuals?

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Coz is a very impressive individual overall with the promise to look doubly good as he gets older. He has a bit of an “uphill” conformation and looks like he will crave that classic distance. Photo by Alys Emerson.

Cozmic One

The morning of Whitney Day I stood at the edge of the Oklahoma training track, remarking to a fellow photographer friend (we were both hopeful on Wise Dan, who at the time was only a “hopeful” to actually breeze that day) about wanting to see Cozmic One if I couldn’t catch the Dan. On that point, we both agreed as well as on the matter of how very awkward he often looked. Not “hide the children” awkward, but “I’m going to be a handsome guy in college” awkward. Around year one he went into the typical ugly yearling phase, and has since struggled to grow into the behemoth body with a very big head and ears to match. 

Pedigree-wise, he represents some great racing families, but from a nicking perspective, I would be surprised if a bloodline generator found the cross of Bernardini and daughters of Street Cry [IRE] to be anything good (I haven’t tried it). With the exception of To Honor and Serve, I’ve just never liked anything Bernardini, finding most of them wanting and rather particular to a surface. A typical good Bernardini makes himself known at two and gets better with age, and one of the best signs you can get from a pedigree perspective is a consistently good female family, which Coz definitely has through Zenyatta and Vertigineux. I would be surprised if he won at distances shorter than 1 1/16 miles and showed his best before well into his three-year-old year. He’ll probably like dirt best, especially off-goings.

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Unfortunately, a yearling conformation shot will have to suffice as Stonestreet does not appear to provide very fantastic coverage of Jess’s Dream as he grows up. I’m not terribly crazy about this shot, but here he begins to muscle out nicely like he could be good at two.

Jess’s Dream

Despite liking Zenyatta more than Rachel Alexandra, Jess’s Dream was probably the more impressive foal, yearling, and possibly now two-year-old by my last count. Both of his parents were absolute powerhouses in the spring of their 3-year-old year, and so far he appears to be stepping up the ladder where he could get the experience now, and be even better as the months go by. If Jess is not fast, I will be surprised looking at him as he is now.

Pedigree-wise, I admit I am not crazy about Curlins. Palace Malice was the obvious exception, being a very impressive colt at two and very talented at age 3 and 4 winning at just about any distance given to him. The funny thing about Curlin and Rachel as well, is that they both appear to be turf-capable, but excelled on dirt. Curlin has shown he can produce a fine turf horse as well as a dirt horse, so in the event Jess does not take dirt in his face, turf could be the answer. Either way, Preakness horses tend to pass on speed, so Jess could be entitled to some favoritism early on and going shorter. Of the two colts, I like him better 7-9 furlongs, but the potential is very much there for 10 and busting his maiden as a 2-year-old.

Things I Loved From My Saratoga Opening Weekend

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The very confused butterfly that fluttered about the main track. Just because you’re black and yellow like Man o’ War was doesn’t make you special, you dang drunk arthropod!

A special thanks go out to fourfurlongs who spent the entire weekend with me!

There are roughly 28932897271 things I could feasibly complain about from my 3-day excursion to Saratoga’s first, second, and third days of the 2014 meet. But, seeing as most of them are self-inflicted (i.e. the consequences of forgetting sunblock, sleeping in too late to catch some decadent racing stars in the morning), I will instead focus on the many things I loved about my trip. Thank you to work and my 10-day horse babysitting sentence for making this post later than ideal!:

Frankie Dettori’s flying dismounts
I felt so privileged getting to see one of the best jockeys in the world ride at Saratoga this weekend, especially after learning people have been begging him for decades to come over for the short summer meet. It definitely seemed to pay off, as Dettori won not one but two races on opening day (and almost a third!) and gave everyone in the crowd a thrill by doing his famous “flying dismounts” off the winner. What a guy. I will certainly remember this for a long long time.

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The ducks of Congress Park

I visited Congress Park for the first time back in May, but going back to this adorable little park in the midst of downtown Saratoga Springs was a joy, with plenty of new baby ducks waddling around. They are impressively tame thanks to the friendly humans who feed them (by the way, such an act is strongly discouraged due to the current duck population), ultimately letting me near a few of them as I sat with my people sipping some cool smoothies while complaining about life. I love complaining, you love complaining, and don’t pretend like you don’t!

Somali Lemonade winning the Diana Stakes (I)

I made a gallant effort trying to whittle down who I liked for the Diana Stakes (I), but no lie it was way too freaking hard for me to even think about going for the late pick 4 as I originally planned. Super handicapper Ciara and I agreed that Stephanie’s Kitten had a tremendous chance to get back into top form, but that there were simply too many horses that had a big chance to win. So, when in doubt, go for the heart pick! With Michael Matz being my #1 favorite trainer, while I didn’t think she could win, it was Somali Lemonade and Discreet Marq in my cheering camp (Clement is my #2 favorite). Unbelievably, it was Somali Lemonade at 11-1 odds who had the best stride in the stretch, holding off Stephanie’s Kitten and dismissing all the rest to win. SO. PROUD.

Reuniting with some good friends

You know who you people are! I hadn’t seen Ciara since the Belmont, Tory since the Wood Memorial, and Danica since the 2012 Belmont! I enjoyed reminiscing and chatting about ponies all weekend with them.

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Tourist and Ring Weekend running 1-2 in the Sir Cat Stakes

It comes as little surprise that I was in Tourist's cheering squad when the colt made his stakes debut on opening day, seeing as he was one of the special few to be included in a GHR Derby Watch piece. God, that horse was beautiful as a two-year-old, and has really muscled out as a three-year-old. In what would become one of the weekend’s best performances, the Tiznow colt took to the lead and drew away in the stretch to just miss the track record mark by .12 seconds with Ring Weekenda horse I thought highly of this spring, clipping off the rest of the classy group late in the game. Don’t mess with Tapits!


Meeting Barbara Livingston

Barbara needs little introduction as the Ansel Adams of horse racing photography. Thanks to Ciara I kind of got the inside path to officially meeting the fantastic lady, who is so tremendously nice. I’M NOT WORTHY BUT HI!

Nearly choking on my dinner while making of fun of people

I freakin’ love diners: THE kind of place to go if you want to avoid mass crowds, you’re starving, and you’re deaf to “normal” feeding schedules. I don’t know how it came up or how we were able to name so many situations, but it came to our attention that a book could be written about things people who don’t know that much about racing do/say/wear when they go to the track. It’s practically unavoidable.


The red summer dawn at Oklahoma

"Wow look at that light!" Picking a seemingly perfect morning at the Oklahoma training track to go shoot photos, the Saturday AM sunrise cast this gorgeous reddish glow over a clear, fast going with some light fog over the turf course. Absolute stunner!

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Crown Queen’s romp over the grass

In a race that was chock full of really amazing trainers and even more impressive pedigrees—a half sister to Wicked Strong, two European-breds, a Stuart Janney filly I took an earlier liking to (Cloture!), and a Ramsey-owned Kitten’s Joy— Sunday’s ninth was a 1 3/16 mile turf allowance for fillies and mares that looked extremely promising from the get go. But it all fell to one horse shortly after the field rounded the far turn, and she just about crumpled the field without being asked or urged. Crown Queen, the half sister of Royal Delta, obliterated the classy allowance field with little effort, garnering smiles all around from her connections. WATCH OUT FOR HER!

A ‘Dance’ to Remember Always

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Last year, there weren’t very many horses who popped onto my radar as good two-year-olds. Of that amount, fewer kept my interest in them strong enough to track them throughout their current three-year-old year. And even fewer (and perhaps what makes this scenario so unique), are the ones I began tracking simply because I loved their butt. I wrote about Dance With Fate back in January, when Kentucky Derby horses are just beginning to take form, listing him as #8 in my first top 10 list of the Derby season. Besides Honor Code, I do believe he was the only horse to stay on that Derby Top 10 list in February and March while serving as my #1 pick in both the El Camino Real Derby (III) and the Blue Grass Stakes (I). I then gave him the thumbs up upon entering the gate for the Kentucky Derby, listing him as my #2 pick. He ran a respectable 6th after a rocky trip, all after being pretty much ignored at the windows at 16-1.

In July, I mentioned on Twitter that I was excited to finally photograph the black beauty, but unfortunately, he was scratched from the Belmont Derby (I) after getting a little colicky. If it was fate that intervened in our meeting, I damn Lady Destiny even more than I have before, as yesterday it was announced that Dance With Fate was dead.

I’m upset that it happened, sad that I never got to see for myself the horse I believed in and followed for so many months, but happy that his pain was kept short. He was not only a beautiful horse, but an animal that was loved dearly by those who cared for him and followed him. Every now and then, tragedy strikes, but in this case I am glad to see the departure of Dance affect so many and on such a deep level. It inspires faith in humanity and the potential for continued years of greatness in Thoroughbred horse racing. Dance may not have lived long enough to reach his full potential, but he managed to show us a piece of his being that one spring day at Keeneland.

Thank you, Dance.

Chrome Controversy Continues: Press Release Edition

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California Chrome’s courageous 4th place in the Belmont Stakes was achieved despite injury and after a long hard-fought Triple Crown run. Despite this acknowledgement, his reputation has suffered significantly through negative press.

A bit of background before I comment:

It’s not every year that die-hard racing fans are treated to a Triple Crown run. I for one felt very fortunate, getting the opportunity to watch the historic attempt live in the flesh. Alas, despite all of this, the excitement of California Chrome's winning streak and unbridled celebrity came crashing down simultaneously and in the worst way possible. The post-Belmont response of Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn was so negatively charged in the minds of onlookers— both Chromies and outsiders— that the thought of handing Chrome just the top three-year-old Eclipse began feeling distant. It’s worth mentioning that I’ll Have Another achieved the award after a very similar race record without question, even after retiring before the Belmont. 

In the days following the Belmont, Mr. Coburn made a heartfelt apology and all seemed forgiven with the summer and fall classics as well as a four-year-old campaign in the future. Good press continued on behalf of the horse himself, as Chrome returned to training sooner than expected. However, all that good will was tarnished by talk of a $50,000 appearance fee that was required in order for California Chrome to parade at Del Mar. In response, DAP Racing sent out this press release.

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Mr. Coburn was a refreshing change of scenery for fans, speaking out against Churchill Downs and campaigning their tough-as-nails homebred California Chrome. I know everyone at Belmont Park that day enjoyed him.

On to the commentary part…

The thing about the media is that it is a double-edged sword. It can do good, but it can also do much harm. It depends on how you handle it, as demonstrated by the charismatic Charles Howard of Seabiscuit fame. I agree with many points Mr. Coburn mentioned in his press release; I do not think it unreasonable to request some type of aid when it comes time to truck a valuable horse like Chrome out to Del Mar purely for marketing purposes. It was also very unprofessional for a sizeable establishment like Del Mar— which I doubt needs much help breaking attendance records— to let something like this leak out in hopes of pressuring DAP to cave in. They may not have caved in Del Mar’s favor obviously, but judging by the language of the release, they may have sacrificed some of their valor. It is possible to flash a figurative middle finger in public, and I swear by the gods it’s a hundred times classier and more awesome if it reads a little more poetic than prose. [Read: Lebron James’ departure letter from the Miami Heat]

Advice I would like to offer as food for thought:

  1. Treat the places and people who were good to you: maybe Chrome’s home base of Los Alamitos would be a good start.
  2. I realize I have none of the financial success that DAP has had, but I thought to myself the other day how I couldn’t fathom doing much beyond paying off my debts and buying a house if I won the lottery. Perhaps do an appearance or something of that nature for racing’s charities. The Permanently Disabled Jockeys’ Fund as well as the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance are good starting points.
  3. If you want another shot at Tonalist, Saratoga will offer some good racing AND great hospitality for you. They may even be tempted to sweeten the deal if Chrome ships out east again.

To close this message out, I am actually glad to see DAP fire back at Del Mar. It creates transparency within racing, which is very much needed in a time plagued by illicit drug use and mysterious injuries/deaths/retirements. In the age of social media and free Wi-Fi, we shouldn’t have to read about this in a book published ten years from now, wondering out loud why we didn’t hear their side of the story for the Del Mar controversy until then. It allows us to see behind the veil, and it would be fitting if California Chrome was the one to level the playing field between the backstretch and the grandstand. 

Belmont at Its Best: The Inaugural Stars and Stripes Festival

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It was good to see ol’ Secretariat again, all aglow in the summer sunshine on Stars and Stripes Day.

I would describe myself as a dedicated racing fan, but in the same breath, mention that I am also a drive-by-myself, full-time floor scrubbin’, just-graduated-from-college kid who drives a duct-taped 1999 Toyota Camry and scoffs at the thought of paying for gas AND the insane bridge tolls in New York. So with that said, I have to pick the days I go to the track wisely where I can get the most bang for my buck, and lucky for me, the inaugural Stars and Stripes Festival repaid me for my efforts.

It’s not commonplace for most U.S. races to attract very many international entries, but the purse sizes of the $1.25 million Belmont Derby Invitational (I), formerly the Jamaica Handicap (I), and the $1 million “Win and You’re In” Belmont Oaks Invitational (I), formerly the Garden City stakes (I), lured a handful of promising three-year-olds from their stomping grounds to Long Island. Attracting just 5 horses last year, the revitalized $500,000 Suburban Handicap (II) drew a full field of routers going the original 10 furlongs again. Even the James Marvin Handicap-turned-$400,000 Belmont Sprint Championship, “just” a G3 status race, beckoned a full field that demanded respect. It was a great day in the making for racing fans, paired with a mystery voucher and T-shirt giveaway and most importantly— food trucks! I’M STILL GROWING! Maybe not any taller, but WIDER!

Almost immediately upon opening the gates to the track, there was a crowd. Not the massively overwhelming type or the type full of drunk college kids— I saw not a single one all day— but a lot of families and racing fans, many of whom seemed to be there for the first time. Between all the food trucks of virtually every taste and texture and the outrageously perfect weather, the atmosphere of the day was sublime.

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Sam the Bugler gives a bugling lesson early in the card and took some selfies with the kids

Most important aspect of the day that is impossible to leave out: the racing! For the first time in a while, I had a good betting day at Belmont Park although regretfully I did not wager half as much as I should have since for once, I did not sift through the card beforehand. Lesson learned, I suppose! There was a lot of value plays that panned out for the lucky few and so many excellent performances, some of which I think will go down as very memorable moments:

In the Dwyer (III), which was won last year by my guy Moreno— one of my few and proudest straight trifecta victories!— there was a small group of three-year-olds, offering one of the stiffest opportunities at the betting terminals. Kid Cruz, hot off a sizzling Easy Goer Stakes win a month ago, was the horse to beat, going up against undefeated stablemate Captain Serious and the promising challenger Tiz Dark. In the end, the race set up perfectly for the 3-5 Kid Cruz, who swept in late just as he did in June for another deserving graded stakes win. It was a proud moment again for me, after I had to deal with post-Preakness shame after listing him on top, the only career start of his that he totally blew. Watch out for this closer in the coming months! Final say: Kid Cruz is the real deal! Obviously bad betting race!

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I have labeled myself a pretty blah sprint handicapper, and my usual go-to strategy of betting the Speightstown in the race was looking pretty folly as Central Banker, a horse who has grown into his role quite a bit this year, was the likely favorite. The inaugural Belmont Sprint Championship (III) had lots of good horses, but I admit to not really checking it out from a betting perspective. That wound up not being the real draw as the race caught fire in the stretch; Clearly Now came up from off the pace and just plain took off like he was breaking from the gate again, putting some serious daylight between himself and the rest of the horses. I was so flattered and in awe, and it came as no surprise as it was announced that he had broken the track record for 7 furlongs. Amazing. Final say: Clearly Now steals the show! Best performance I’ve seen in a while!

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For older horses, the Suburban Handicap (II) welcomed back the 10-furlong distance much to the delight of traditionally-minded handicappers, with 11 horses entered, with many stretching out from a mile or taking the next step up from the overplayed 9-furlong distance. I’ve long had eyes and heart for Moreno, who broke wonderfully with the blinkers back on and set out to set a very modest pace out on the lead. The son of Ghostzapper held off challenges that came early and late, ultimately falling in the final moments of the stretch to the deep closer Zivo. A 5-year-old bred in New York and trained by Chad Brown, the heart displayed by Zivo did not mar the tough beat that was handed to Moreno. I hope to see a lot more from this gun show, but he certainly won’t be overlooked by anyone again. Betting-wise, I stayed out of this one yet again, sensing an upset somehow but not knowing who it would be; Last Gunfighter always seems to drop the ball in big graded races and I’ve never liked Romansh. (On a side note, Zivo was that type of horse you see at long odds and wonder what was wrong, what you weren’t immediately seeing that you should have. Bettors failed themselves in this race at 13-1!) Final say: Great race with terrifically gutsy top two! Wish I had show-betted Moreno after all. Aw well, I think Saratoga will be kind to him.

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Considered the highlight of the day despite its non-“Win and You’re In” status, the Belmont Derby (I) attracted some classy Euro shippers to fight the American contingent, which featured the prominent speed demon Bobby’s Kitten. Aidan O’Brien’s Adelaide [GB] was the deserving favorite but had some serious challengers in the form of Gailo Chop, Flamboyant [FR], and Pornichet [FR]. The morning line favoritism fell to poly specialist Toast of New York, who’d be getting another shot on the turf after initially failing on it in his debut, off of which he blossomed into a different horse. With so many shippers, it was reasonable to forget about the Americans… but to such disregarding odds, it was unfathomable. The tempo of the Derby built up to a raucous stretch drive with multiple horses flying late; Adelaide’s patient stalking position gave way to a flurried flight to the front, but he was not alone— storming up the rail came the black silks and cherry cap of the Phipps Stable. Mr Speaker! The connections of Toast of New York could be heard down along the rail, “COME ON, JAMIE [OSBOURNE]! COME ON JAMIE!” But the race turned from a scrambled stretch drive to a duel between two, and in a determined final rush, it was Mr Speaker who ebbed and yawed his way through to win. Considered a potential major player earlier in the year, Mr Speaker captured G1 status that day at an unfathomable 23-1 odds, paying out $49 to his supporters for a $2 win wager. Final say: Holy cow Mr Speaker! I dare not compare him to Point of Entry, but he was so game!

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The final stake of the afternoon, which would invite its victor to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in November, was the first-ever Belmont Oaks (I). Considered the easier of the two big turf races by many handicappers, who were mainly leading toward Euro entry Wonderfully [IRE], it was still a very wide-open affair, especially considering the major upset in the Derby. If I liked anyone in the field, it had to be the beautiful Flying Jib by looks and Sea Queen by virtue of her Christophe Clement connections (although Clement had another filly by Arch in Summer Solo). Again, it was the American turf trainers who showed the way on their home course— Coolmore’s Chad Brown-trained filly Minorette, who packed a wicked turf pedigree, flew courageously to the front late and went eyeball-to-eyeball with the always game Sea Queen. It was a scintillating show that paired with the Belmont Derby like a fine wine, each with the top two boxing it out at the end. Longshot and previously undefeated Summer Solo hashed out the trifecta for a day the Americans joyfully dominated. Final say: We’ll get ‘em next time, Sea Queen! Minorette the deserving, good-looking winner!

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I am so annoyed at myself for not doing my homework a little more on the races, which I strongly feel I would have won more on if I had chosen to handicap them beforehand like I almost always do— by nature, I always put down Lezcano-ridden turf horses as well as Clement and Brown horses regardless of surface. But also by law, if I don’t do my homework beforehand, I don’t typically allow myself to bet. I found out too late that Minorette is a half-sister to an old favorite of mine, Master of Hounds. Ugh! I gotta get it together for Saratoga! I can’t complain too much though, since I still managed to profit off that free $5 voucher I got from attending the races, mostly thanks to the 10-1 Michael Matz horse who won race 1.

On the drive home, many questions surfaced: how good did my photos come out? Is traffic on I-91 going to be bad with the holiday rush? And most importantly, how good did Belmont do with today? I begged the racing gods that the Stars and Stripes went very well for the business end of the sport, and it appears that prayer has been answered with some 11,000 in attendance with more than $18 million wagered.

If you didn’t get to go to this event, do try to make it next year! It beat out most other NYRA days I’ve attended since I started going in 2012 and even many Saratoga days. Next time I will surely do my homework…

Racetrack Bucket List

Saratoga will likely always be my favorite racing place as a realized childhood dream, a historically significant place, and a buzzworthy racing scene that envelopes the entire small city which embraces “horses, history, and health.”

Now that Keeneland has been confirmed as the site for the 2015 Breeders’ Cup, it has stirred thoughts as to what tracks I would really love to go to someday within North America. If you told me when I was a kid that I would eventually make it out to Saratoga and Belmont, I would have basically flipped out, courtesy of reading Man o’ War multiple times, and thus inheriting a booming love for those two landmark courses. While I doubt anything can top those two, here are my top 5 “bucket list” Thoroughbred tracks:

  1. Keeneland - Epitomizes what is right within the heart of the Bluegrass, and I haven’t stopped hearing good things about the country’s most historically-preserved race place since I seriously entered the racing world. I’m optimistic the switch to dirt will go well, and even if they never changed it, it still takes the top of the list as to where I would go next if asked to go to a new track.
  2. Arlington Park - Kind of a weird choice, but yes, Arlington. I’ve been fascinated with the idea of one day visiting Chicago among several other metropolitan areas of the States, but I feel like Arlington might be up my alley. It’s another place with historical significance and good racing and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it that convince me that I would really like to pay it a visit.
  3. Churchill Downs - Hard to leave this one off the list as arguably the most famous racetrack in the world. I’d like to go there on an off day, Derby Day, and for Downs After Dark. Seems like it has a lot of fun things going on at its height.
  4. Hialeah Park - I am sad to say I never got to go to Hialeah Park while I still lived in South Florida because it wasn’t reopened for racing until after I left. It looks like a wonderful place to visit with its gorgeous Spanish-inspired architecture and the ol’ Citation statue. I would still go there even if they never pick up Thoroughbred racing again.
  5. Del Mar - I would go here next simply because I want to see which one is the better summer place: Saratoga or Del Mar. (I’m pretty sure I would stay faithful to ‘Toga, but just to test the waters)

To close this out, I am 1132893% glad that Keeneland has been chosen as a Breeders’ Cup site. I was part of the early dissenters that Santa Anita continue being the host site or possibly become the permanent site. While the great weather is a very strong argument for it (even for me, the snowbird-in-hibernation come winter months), no weather scenario is perfect and it doesn’t feel right to keep it on the west coast. I also had a major major problem with the track bias it has shown, which SA is thankfully seeing to fixing, and the effects shipping all the way to California has on European horses. Keeneland seems like the ideal fit, as a place which has long drawn rave reviews, totes a great safety record, and brings everyone back to the home of Thoroughbred racing: Kentucky. 

Grading the Diehard Fan’s Belmont Stakes Experience

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The 146th running of the Belmont Stakes (I) was my third trip out to New York’s toughest race and my first-ever in-person Triple Crown run. The events of the day were as wild— and at times as disappointing— as the end result of the race. Because I used to be a video game writer and in honor of E3 week, I’ll be using the 1 to 10 grading scale. A “10” is the best I’ve ever had and exceeding expectations while a “1” is the worst imaginable.

I count myself among the few that could be labeled as “diehard, kind of selfish young racing fans.” I would rather glue myself to the rail all day then retreat inside for a beer and a hot dog, and would rather my beloved heart pick look straight at me than cash in a longshot. In that sense, Saturday’s Belmont Stakes card was like dying and going to heaven with more graded stakes action and racing superstars in one day than I’ve ever seen before. Triple Crown run or not, I was running to make it out to Long Island and drove the 3-hour drive back home with mixed results.

The Drive, Entering, Parking, and Leaving Belmont: 8.0

Thanks to my rampant problems with my car (I still love you, Cammy!), I had to drive my dad’s boat down to New York, which sucks because it’s really difficult to see around the car when I have to change lanes. The drive to was nearly flawless except for heavy bridge traffic on the Throg’s Neck, and more traffic than I expected coming into the peasant parking lot at Belmont. Upgrade this year: they had a few nicer shuttle buses to bring you to the gate! Unlike a lot of other people, I had next to no notable issues leaving Belmont when it was time to go and had a way easy time getting back onto the Cross Island Parkway since police had shut down the merging lane just for us, something they didn’t do last year.

Energy!: 9.0

One thing that immediately stood out this year for me: the excitement and enthusiasm I saw everywhere. So many fans dressed up in purple and green and some went the extra mile wearing elaborate costumes, hats, and made really neat signs. California Chrome’s co-owner came out and waved to fans and autographed items thrown up to him in the owner’s box, which was cool and really livened things up. This is what you come TO the races for.

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The Lineup of Races: 9.0

I was not a fan originally of smushing the Memorial Day card with the Belmont Stakes card, but it was probably a good idea in the long run just by looking at the quality of contenders that ran. I think I looked forward to every race leading up to the Belmont, and I commend the 30-minute or so wait between races (except the Belmont) as opposed to the past couple of years when it was 40-50 minutes between EVERY race. The Met Mile was stacked and the Ogden Phipps attracted the best mares in the country.

Handicapping: 9.5

I was very impressed with the fair track bias at Belmont Park that day and I was all-around very pleased with racing results which birthed very good if not excellent payouts and worthy winners as well as exciting performances. I unfortunately did not spread to Coffee Clique in my pick 4 ticket in the Just a Game (I), so thus I did not cash in. Can’t win ‘em all, but I am very happy with how my selections ran as well as horses I praised on this blog ran. Bayern finally made me a very proud supporter cutting back to the 7-furlong Woody Stephens (II), blowing Social Inclusion out of the water like I knew he could. Preakness pick Kid Cruz also made me ecstatic winning the Easy Goer Stakes, and a horse who failed me and a Moreno double wager last year, Wabbajack, cruised to victory in the first race. I wagered ahead of the crowd rush and on mobile, so my thoughts are untarnished by the long lines.

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Events: 6.0

There were several goings-on and giveaways that made the day a bit of a spree affair. I was able to pick up a California Chrome poster thanks to TVG and got autographs from the Triple Crown jockeys that were set up. Unfortunately, the crowds were too massive to take advantage of everything without missing a lot of racing; I waited an hour and a half in line for the jockey signing which I don’t think was worth it. And of course, you throw in the word “free” and people will try to grab 10 of everything only to abandon much on the grandstand floor. That’s people for you. I can’t say I was that excited for the music guests, but I appreciated the gesture of having something going on in the hour between the Manhattan Handicap (I) and the Belmont (I).

My Own Experience: 6.0

Loved getting to see so many greats, loved slithering my way down to the finish line once again this year, loved getting to see a Triple Crown attempt. I experienced very little of the tense interactions others had throughout the day. However, my time was marred thanks to a number of things that could have been prevented:

  • The laughable extended security ban: Does nothing, and it will never do anything except harm the experience of the average fan/racegoer and bring down handle and attendance. Every other person was trying to bring in contraband items at the gates and many prevailed somehow. It does not work and NYRA would be better off doing common sense inspections next year.
  • Getting ill because of above ban: Other than the Belmont, I was looking forward most to the Ogden Phipps, but I didn’t even get to see the post parade because I was sickened by heat exhaustion to the point where I threw up over the rail and had to be carted out by the medics. If I could have brought my sparkly new mini cooler with me, this wouldn’t have happened. Could I have bought ice or other? Yes… if I cared to wait 45+ minutes. The medics even advised me to get lunch but we wound up discarding the idea because of the lines. A big thank you to Bismarck and those around me who helped stabilize and comfort me.
  • Media interference: I feel for those who got stuck behind the speakers for the concert, which were originally raised but then lowered down right before the Belmont, obstructing the view of many. Even worse, that impacted myself and those around me, some Channel 10 guy from Albany thought it was suitable to set up shop on our side of the fence with a massive TV camera. I don’t give a damn if this guy would get fired for not getting his shot, we were there since 8:30am. Have some respect. You have a press pass. I do not like paying admission and sickening myself all day only to have some camera guy obstruct my view.

I give NYRA credit for going big, and I blame inexperience and moments without tact for ultimately garnering a lot of poor publicity. Regardless, if this was a purely racing crowd we wouldn’t have heard half of the complaints. Dismiss the security ban and consider doing an infield type location/setup for “mild” or newbie fans bothered by normal major sporting event woes. Advice to those coming out to big stakes days: come prepared, and if you don’t like the baggage of lines, expenses, and travel hiccups, you can always wager from home.

Going to the Thoroughbred races, keeping "track" of the memories. Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.


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