Not all surprises are good fun, but 2013 was especially good to me in horse racing. At the start of the year, I had some racing goals to fulfill, but knew I was going to have a tough time getting through a year where I had to work extra extra hard just to get to college classes, never mind pass them. The summertime and free weekends in between my dire and non-existent life were made pleasant through my favorite pastime of going to the track and blogging about it:
Favorite NEW horses I got to see (and some photograph) this year:
Funny Cide, Orb, Oxbow, Point of Entry, Little Mike, Royal Delta, Princess of Sylmar, Mizdirection, Stephanie’s Kitten, Will Take Charge, Moreno, Verrazano, Groupie Doll, Mucho Macho Man, Goldencents, Graydar, Assateague, Native Singer, Power Broker, Stud Muffin, Swampy Town, Evening Attire, Big Blue Kitten, Imagining, Laughing [IRE], Revolutionary, Juba, Toasting, and Freedom Child.
Meeting many more Tumblrers, other racing folks
It’s always a highlight meeting new people at the track with which to share memories and an embarrassingly encyclopedic memory of stats, pedigrees, and other racing jargon, but meeting new Tumblr peeps is special, so thank you to all those kids I got to see this year! Even if I didn’t get to meet everyone in-person, the nice comments and support throughout the year was a welcome guest!
Shooting with a fast telephoto lens
Once I came back into having money and time, I was able to rent high-end equipment this year for my foray into horse racing photography. My only regret is not doing it sooner, especially for when I went to Saratoga for two days. My work definitely got a leg up once I was able to have access to a wider aperture and automatic focus. For comparison purposes, a stock automatic Nikon lens I used when I first started shooting races at the 2012 Belmont Stakes:
and the first time I used an upgraded fancy lens in 2013, the morning of Super Saturday at Belmont in September:
Getting to visit Aqueduct for the first time
This has been on my list a while. I wasn’t able to go to the Wood Memorial like I had wanted due to work commitments (I should be able to go in 2014!), but I made a powerful effort last month to get there for a very flattering running of the Cigar Mile and Remsen Stakes. Visiting a new track every year is becoming my byline. Dubai next year, right? [har har har]
Meeting Ramon Dominguez and others
I am horribly, horribly starstruck and speechless when acknowledging heroes, so it was both special and awkward to get to have my Funny Cide book signed by Ramon Dominguez, Jose Santos, Richard “Mig,” and Angel Cordero this summer. EGAD! WHAT ARE WORDS?
Honor Code’s personal impression upon me
He was the first (and few, if not the only one) horse I wrote about this year as a potential Kentucky Derby horse— even before he ran his first race. Something really captivated me about Honor Code, but whether it was his pedigree, his good looks, his fast morning workouts, or something else, it became secondary to me as I had the personal pleasure of randomly seeing him one morning at Belmont Park. I don’t get to go the track all that often, so between that one mythical fall morning shooting workout photos and seeing his first big win in the Remsen (II), I grew a new kind of attachment I’ve yet to have with any other Derby hopeful of mine.
Assateague’s 23-1 thriller in the De La Rose Stakes
I was feeling sick, but made my pick 4 submission anyway. It was probably the heat that day at Saratoga— even though I announced to everyone who was reading my Twitter feed that it was an absolutely flawless day to be at the races— and I felt myself needing to sit down a bit leading into the height Whitney Day card. I covered three horses in the first leg of the pick 4, and while I’ve been a long-time believer and bettor in Michael Matz’s turf mare Assateague, who is owned by his wife, I did not expect her to win. But she did; the stretch drive was incredible, bearing all of the frenzy of a longshot boiling down the lane in front combined with the thrill of a heart pick paying me back. It was enough to boot out any heat stroking I was doing. I survived the rest of the day feeling brilliant, but despite my heat-loving self who rarely turns her fan on all summer, I had the AC in the car going full-blast from the parking lot to the Half Moon, NY exit. Yikes.
A strong, early belief in Moreno pays off
The Ghostzapper gelding Moreno caught my eye last year while racing fourth in the Frontrunner (I) won by Power Broker out in California, and I even wrote about him on here when that happened. Then in June, I noticed he was on the Belmont Stakes program and just had to bet on him despite a pretty wretched day at the windows. He was my lone winner of the day, cantering home from wire-to-wire at 8-1. Then, he took the Dwyer (III) the same way and then nearly stole the Travers (I) at 42-1. I never felt more like a bloodstock agent than the times I got to follow Moreno from also-ran to surprise star.
Hitting the pick 4, earning more than $100 in a day
I have previously only done a pick 4 once… I missed two legs by a total loss margin of maybe two lengths… and managed to hit my first pick 4 this year on my third try. My first try of 2013 was so so close and would have made for an amazing payoff if Cross Traffic did not win the Whitney, and I came back two weeks later to hit it. I was real close to hitting several in the Breeders’ Cup, each of my 3 tries failing because of one race. I almost always hit at least 3 legs every time I try the pick 4, which is becoming one of my go-to exotic arrangements. DAGH! But altogether, I met my handicapping/wagering goal for the year as a small-time, occasional, I’m-a-poor-comm-major gambler, and I also got another BC straight trifecta (the Mile with Wise Dan, Za Approval, and Silentio finishing in that order) and a boxed trifecta in the Juvenile Turf.
I got to see my first… and second… Kentucky Derby winner
Because I’ll Have Another defected last year, I never got to see a Derby winner outside of pictures in books and images on a screen (they kept IHA in the paddock to say goodbye at the Belmont last year, I was trackside). So, Orb was my first in-the-flesh Kentucky Derby winner when he was led out to the Belmont, which also marked my first in-the-flesh Preakness winner, Oxbow. But the first Kentucky Derby winner I got to see and photograph, much to my delight because he’s my all-time favorite, was Funny Cide while the gelding was being paraded at Saratoga.
Working on the horse racing-related documentary projects
Up until this year, I had only ever made short fictional student films, with absolutely no experience working with real-life characters and asking them about their stories. Cinema is different from documentary, but spinning off a successful turn to non-fiction in my Intro to Film class, I won a funding grant to create a horse racing-related documentary and then championed a video project for CANTER New England as well as a project on retired racehorse and stakes winner, Stud Muffin. It was the first time I felt like a legitimate filmmaker and storyteller and the first time I was able to really break through what I only read about and interact with stories in the flesh. It even allowed me the first time I ever got to touch and feed carrots to a stakes winner, as well as one Triple Crown runner in 2006 Preakness participant Greeley’s Legacy. I hope the projects keep coming and surprising me in 2014.
The Beldame Invitational
This race gets its own mention because I think it was the best race I saw all year in person. Yes, better the Belmont and the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Cigar Mile. It was my first and likely only time I got to see the fabulous Royal Delta and the truly talented Princess of Sylmar, who I became an instant fan and follower of after this race. It was a small field, but the noise coming from the stands suggested numbers larger than 10 or 12,000. Unlike the 2012 Belmont, which is still my favorite race ever that I got to see in person, there were more serious fans in the crowd versus a drinking, there-for-the-frills bunch, which was obvious to see from Averie Levanti’s homemade sign and pilgrimage from Pennsylvania to the shouts of “Javi! Javi! Javi!” and the applause for Royal Delta. It reminded me yet again that this is the greatest sport in the world.
Goals for the new year:
- Visit a new track, if I can (the *if* is in there because 2014 is setting up to be a big year of many changes for me, including location)
- Improve my track photography and photograph more cool horses
- Get back on top handicapping-wise. I feel I’ve been overthinking things too much and would like to scale back to older strategies I’ve forgotten about. I know I’ve still got it somewhere deep within… as shown by my support of Riven Seven (12-1 winner recently in the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes) and Fredericksburg (17-1 winner last out). It just needs to come out more often!
- Horses I want to see next year that I haven’t yet: Wise Dan and Dayatthespa take the top of the “feasible” list.
- Graduate with the best of my racing work on display at the university festival. It’s looking good to happen too.
- I’m too afraid to list anything else. Racing has a way of surprising me, as does time and other uncontrollable factors, so I’m just going to sit here and hope for the best as 2014 rolls my way along with the end of my college career.