Sunday, March 27, 2016

Derby Fever

American Pharaoh (I painted during my layup).

Well, I'm back after not having blogged since The Belmont Stakes and Pharoah winning the Triple Crown.  In July, I finally got it about the Hamptons, why people like it so much, and bought a paddleboard  to help me stay youthful.  Confident I'd found a place I wasn't afraid of sharks and with those romantic Billy Joel tunes about Long Island Sound going off in my head, I headed straight for the beach with a crossover surfboard.
Thirty years ago (in Australia) I swam a lot of broken-down horses at the beach, having a shark spotter was a good idea.  The horses could hardly stand up and it was a belief that one could get them fit by swimming.  In truth, it works sometimes but usually is only good for cardio and does little to strengthen the chassis, which just means you keep throwing good money after bad.

I was too smart to stick to a nice cruiser on the creek and enjoyed a blissful two hours way off the North Shore even dangling my legs in deep water.  When I came in to beach some guy told me I had a nice board and then, the swell got me, I fell off and broke my leg in two places; no Saratoga for me, was all I could think and that is what I said to the doctor.   If a horse doesn't make a fool of you it appears a paddleboard will.
Since playing the ponies and not having an income didn't seem responsible I stopped for a while.  I can't complain about last year, in the 12 months prior I saw a Triple Crown winner, went to the Prix de l' Arc de  Triomphe and The Dubai World Cup, although his year was a much better WC with Chromy victorious.  What a ride from Victor Espinoza, he landed the World Cup like Sully on the Hudson, and his girth was almost a flank rope.  It really doesn't get any better than that, a Triple Crown and a golden whip on two of the greatest racehorses ever.

California Chrome, 2nd in the Dubai World Cup 2015

Now it's time to pick a team.  Are you on team Nyquist or team Mohaymen, that's the big question coming into the Florida Derby.   March 1st thru 3rd is the last chance to bet futures on the Kentucky Derby too.
Then there is Lani, impressive winner of the UAE Derby with impeccable breeding, Tapit from a Sunday Silence mare, Heavenly Romance; and Gun Runner, who won the Louisiana Derby easily yesterday.  Cupid's, Rebel Stakes win was okay but maybe it's someone else's turn other than Bob Barffert's.   In the East vs. West dual coming up this weekend I have to go with Mohaymen.  This time last year I was already a strong team Pharoah supporter and would have sold my first born (if I had one) to see him run in this year's World Cup.
I plan on getting off the couch to witness the Wood Memorial again, Frosted was awesome in 2015 and as they say, 'a very talented horse who was just born into the challenge in the wrong year.'  Him and Keen Ice were always on my tickets with American Pharoah and he brought me much pleasure.

  Frosted returns to scale after winning The Wood Memorial.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


American Pharaoh and Victor Espinoza 

Saturday June 6th, 2015, the day that broke the 37 year Triple Crown drought at Belmont Park, New York.  Rain or shine, it didn't matter to a great horse, he likes both and made it look easy in any weather.  Only a non-horseman would have bet against him, someone who doesn't understand that champions not only possess terrific physical attributes but have to mentally be in the zone also to pull off a Triple Crown.  Of all the good horses that have won the first two jewels in recent years American Pharaoh was the most likely to succeed in the third to be crowned King of Ovals.  He is a calm horse which indicates a low resting heart-rate making him easier to train than a highly strung sweat dripping, bucket of anxiety.  An important quality for a thoroughbred racehorse since they tend to lose weight quickly, go off their food and train off.  You have to find the right temperament, nurture it, and not bugger it up.  The best trainers recognize it and know how to keep a horse, the right horse, at peek.
In the very same barn their was another exceptionally talented horse, Dortmund, but he didn't seem to like the crowds.  He was more on edge and nervous, unsettled enough to warrant saddling in the tunnel at the Kentucky Derby.  This effects their performance.  Nothing much seems to ruffle Pharaoh's feathers, the challenges came at him during the Belmont but fell away with only Frosted putting in a really good effort.  They were all quality horses that had won classic races from Dubai to New York but AP drew away by five.      
War Emblem stumbled at the start of his Belmont Stakes,  Smarty Jones was a puller and the challengers wore him down purposely to have it snatched in the last few strides.   The gelding, Funny Cide, was a puller also and a horse that sat on his flank made him overwork an tried him to defeat.  Big Brown had the worst ride you will ever see in a Belmont, look at the replays and judge for yourself.  His jockey decided to pull the horse up after getting him in trouble.   I'll Have Another, was questionably withdrawn the night before.  California Chrome, a lovely horse, just wasn't as fit on his big day as Tonalist.
American Pharaoh was able to run wire-to-wire and still had juice in the tank.        

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Frosted, Iced The Wood Memorial

Frosted winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes

A perfect spring day at Aqueduct race course in New York drew a bigger crowd for the Wood Memorial Stakes than it has in a long time.  An important day for those who follow the "Derby Trail," it is also the running of the Santa Anita Derby in California and the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland.  Any of these winners' has an excellent shot at victory in the "Run for the Roses" on the first Saturday in May.

Kentucky Derby 2015, is clustering a field of stars this year.  The brightest for me being last week's UAE Derby winner, Mubtaahij, and not just because I was there but the easy at which he took the lead and won by eight lengths impressed me.

Mubtaahij after winning the UAE Derby

Another very fine and quality horse undefeated in six starts shinning in the California Derby for trainer Bob Baffert was, Dortmund.  This striking plain chestnut of seventeen hands is a fiery comet and I can't wait to see Mubtaahij and Dortmund do battle.

American Pharaoh, also trained by Baffert sure looks the part winning his lead up races with easy.  He's a front runner who pulls away and hasn't had the whip wheeled at him once.  A wet track in the Rebel Stakes was no problem.  I believe he'll put them away in the Arkansas Derby this weekend.  Ever since Smarty Jones I never let that winner fly under the radar.

I see a break to the next line of charge in the KD possible a duel for show between Carpe Diem, winner of the Blue Grass Stakes and the Tampa Bay Derby, and Materiality, winner of the Florida Derby.  I've kind of given up on a Bluegrass winner taking home the roses but Carpe Diem could make a fool of me and I wouldn't throw out Upstart yet, who fought on hard in the Florida Derby.  The hope of a Wood Memorial horse getting the first jewel of the Crown escapes me too, although Frosted is a sterling steed.  Churchill Downs is still  a galaxy away and there maybe falling stars before the magical day.  I just want it to be a good horse race; fairness in running for all and a deserving victor who dares to shoot for the Triple Crown.

Easter Saturday, Wood Day was a card packed with delights at the Big A. and here are some of the highlights:

Zingarelli by Bernardini returns to scale
The Bill Mott trained Rectify was no surprise  in the 3 YO Maiden
Pretty gray Juba wins the fifth  race (alw)

Summer Place To Be captures the sixth race in great stride (alw)

Condo Commando got the jump on them in the Gazelle Stakes and never looked back.
March by Blame (the horse that defeated Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup) beats Lord Nelson in the Bay Shore Stakes

JL Ortiz smiles for the camera as he wins the Carter Handicap on Dads Caps

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Dubai World Cup 2015

Prince Bishop and William Buick return to scale after winning the Dubai World Cup 2015

Some of my favorite horses have run in the Dubai World Cup, the first being won by my lifetime star, Cigar, who sadly passed away last October.  This year another special American lined up with hopes of winning the richest horse race on the planet, California Chrome but when Prince Bishop got the better of him in the final strides, he spat his bit out and gave it up without a whimper.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a Chromy, I always have been and always will be, he gets my support every time.  He put in a huge effort to run second from a horrible position on the outside and I couldn't help wishing Jerry Bailey had been in the saddle.  Chromy, is just not an aggressive runner and tends not to fight back like some other horses.  It's probably a pecking order mentality thing he has going on and I'm not knocking him, he's a polite racehorse.
California Chrome going out for the DWC

All the races on the card where equally fantastic.   For me the highlights were: Brown Panther winning the Dubai Gold Cup, Sole Power in the Al Quoz Sprint, Secret Circle winner of the Dubai Golden Shaheen and Solow's win in the Dubai Turf.  Thank goodness for successful internet connection in the nick of time.
Manark winner of the Dubai Kahayla Classic

Solow wins the Dubai Turf with Maxime Guyon

Sole Power and Richard Hughes take the Al Quoz Sprint

Dolniya who beat Flintshire to win the Dubai Sheema Classic

The DWC has always been at the top of my bucket list and although I visited Meydan for opening night of the carnival last year this was my first Cup.  What a terrific show, great racing, fireworks and a rock concert.  The weather was perfect and the atmosphere relaxed.  Women dressed up but by the end of the night like any other big race day in the world they were carrying their shoes and the men were wearing their fancy hats.

High on my bucket list but not a horse race, was also an African safari and it made perfect sense to stop over in Dubai from Nairobi on my way back to New York.  For the price of the race ticket parking was included, so I rented a car.  Driving to the track is easy and I hate taxi lines.  On arrival I spotted a booth where the men were surprised but pleased to issue me a free copy of Al Adiyat, the equivalent of the Daily Racing Form.  It is helpful for doing the complementary pick 6 entry as there is no on-track betting, you also get in the drawing for another big give away.  The race book and pen are free and beautiful little girls dab you with perfumed water.  Afternoon tea was set out and I thought that was it but a buffet dinner followed during the night.  An open bar delighted many and pretty young women walked around offering cigars.

The DWC is something every horse racing fan should experience at least once in his or her life, and even if you are not horsey you'll enjoy it.  I recommend doing the barn area tour too if you have the time one other morning.  Book it through the Meydan Hotel where you will breakfast before seeing the stables and touring the five story grandstand.
Florida Derby Day is always the same day as the World Cup.  One of the key Kentucky Derby trail races it looks like it could be a strong Derby field this year with the winner Materiality and second place, Upstart.  Mubtaahij, winner of the UAE Derby last Saturday, will also be gracing the Downs.  Here in New York this Easter Saturday we have another great Derby prep race in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.  I have to see them in the flesh to make a selection but I'm thinking like everyone else, Daredevil and Frosted.  There is a full card of awesome races including the Grade1 Carter Handicap.   I can't wait to see The Big Beast again.  I'm a Beast groupie now, like some of us were for Shackleford.
Luck at the Window (or online)!

Secret Circle defeats Super Jockey in the Dubai Golden Shaheen

Tom, a happy race goer from Scotland looking very fashionable in his lady's hat.

Frankyfourfingers, just because he looks so amazing. (5th in the Godolphin Mile)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe: Bucket List!

                                     Treve, second time winner of Prix del'Arc de Triomphe

If you say to a racing fan, "I'm going to the Arc de Triompthe" they assume you mean the horse race and not the monument. The biggest horse race in France, The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is one of the top ten grade one races in the world and the best grass race on the planet.  The trophy is a not too small silver replica of the actual Arc de Triomphe, ordered by Napoleon to honor his soldiers.

French Cavalry Band Parade before the running of the Arc

Attending the Acr is something I've dreamed about all my life and a priority on my bucket list.  This year has been good to me, life is a race track and I started off at opening night of the World Cup at Meyden, Dubai. With still a few big ones left to finish out the season I've been to the Belmont Stakes, New York, the Travers Stakes, Saratoga, the trots at Hippodrome de la Cote d'Azur in Nice, thoroughbred racing at Saint Cloud Paris, camel races in Dubai, dog races in West Palm Beach, Quarter Horses at Los Alamitos, California and now the famous Arc at Longchamp, Paris.  Then, I just had to stop by Marseille-Vivaux in Marseille to collect on a winning ticket from Arc weekend; a small but pretty track set looking out at the mountains. It might be time for me to learn French, at least enough to translate "couple order" to exacta box, so I don't throw away good tickets.

While I picked a number of winners they do like objections at Longchamp and my horses kept getting put back in the field.  Cirrus Des Aigles was placed 5th after winning so even my exacta was gone and another winner was taken down and placed 3rd, bye-bye exacta again.  It was worse than a Monday at Parx with all the frivolous protests but they are very strict and uphold any interference claims taking forever to resolve them. In the instance of Cirrus Des Aigles they presented the trophy, blanketed the horse with the burgundy and gold trim rug and then took her down.  She was the favorite and had won her last 3 starts, so had Fractional, the eventual winner, but it hurt a lot of fans, especially her devoted groom who kissed her in the parade ring.  And, only in France do the grooms wear fascinators in their hair and bustiers to lead the horses around; you have to love it, that's style.

Cirrus Des Aigles
Fractional outside of Cirrus Des Aigles

The reason they have so many claims of foul is because the finish post is all the way at the very end of the home straight right before the bend and horses are being encouraged to fire while preparing to turn.  It's natural for them to want to come over to the inside but it was Cirrus Des Aigles who was disqualified.  They also race clockwise at Longchamp which was difficult for me because it was my first encounter that way.  At Saint Cloud they raced anti-clockwise.

I stayed in the little town of Suresnes just across the river from Longchamp and walked to the track through a beautiful park.  When I finally stepped through the looking glass I was Alice in Wonderland fighting back tears of joy, I couldn't believe I was really there.  The weekend was sponsored by Qatar and there where white tents and Arab men in traditional dress, and women (mostly French in costume) in a huge display of Arab culture.  Perfume from burning Bakhoor wafted on the air above live performers and Arabic music.

The grandstand was so enormous I couldn't even glimpse the track and thought for a horrible moment that my cheap ticket meant I wouldn't get trackside; like at the Preakness where I was stuck watching everything on a monitor because  my seat was on the third floor behind glass.  But Longchamp is well able to cope with large crowds and nothing was a big deal except for winning.  They do go on with a lot of pomp and ceremony, all of which takes place behind the grandstand in the parade ring where the winners' circle is.  A large amphitheater that surrounds the winners' circle and paddock gives everyone great close up viewing of the horses and you don't have to climb over picnickers like you do at Saratoga. The atmosphere was healthier than an American track as most of the spectators were true racing fans there for the horses and not the party, many came from England, Ireland, German, Japan and Arab countries.

Paddock and Winners' Circle

I was a bit surprised once in Paris when I said I was there for the Arc I had to explain, "you know, the horse race?"  It was Fashion Week and there was also a motor show on.  My hotel was reasonable, easy to book and town, quiet.  A fabulous inexpensive restaurant I ate in both Friday and Saturday night had been jammed on Saturday but closed on Sunday after the races like many others.  It was amazing, one of the biggest horse races in the world and no craziness.  To the second time winner, Treve's connections, it was a huge deal. After the presentation a horse drawn carriage with black Frisians, and one with all white horses, took them from the winner's circle out onto the main track for a lap of honor.
Treve, second time winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe might have been back at the beginning of the month on October 5th but since it  was one of my top five bucket list things I couldn't leave it off the blog.  Not all my great racing experiences make it such as Hippodrome de la Cote d'Azur, a night at the harness racing last trip, or the recent quarter horse racing I've become intrigued  with at Los Alamitos, California.  The hippodrome near Nice is one I have wanted to visit for about 28 years and would probable have ended up going there to work had I not stayed in the US in 1992.  I considered Los Alamitos at the time as well since I started out on a ranch north of Temecula.
Quarter Horse Los Alamitos, CA

If it runs I follow and I have a great admiration for trotters and pacers, they are tough horses. Quarter horses, well  "I love big butts" and they are so flaming fast.
Trotter Race in Nice, Fr

It might interest everyone to know that on both days of the Prix de l'Arc at Longchamp there were Arabian races too.  Yes, for all those thoroughbred snobs, the, most beautiful equine racehorse breed had their own, Qatar Arabian World Cup on Arc day.  Handicapping Arabians, Quarter horses, trotters, thoroughbreds or even Appaloosas is basically the same. There are no fractions in the racing form in Europe so it is just assessing past performances and what they physically look like depending on the race distance, in any language.  I did rather well, the simplification eliminates one's over analyzing, but racing bodies are trying to bring fractional times to the rest of the world.  Most of the English players got the free French form sheet at the gate and bought the British Racing Post, an excellent publication.  I didn't even bother to buy a program. The Racing Post, gave the horse's rating in a number which is not a speed figure but based on wins, it was very accurate, Treve the Arc winner, and Taghrooda 3rd,  both had 139 ratings the highest in the race.  The only other horse with 139 was Just A Way from Japan, who got some of my money.  The Japanese fans were so inspiring I hoped it might be their year.

Arabian World Cup Winner
I am waiting for the day when Arabians and Quarter horses are afforded the same prestigious respect as thoroughbreds by everyone.  I think people are afraid to handicap them simply because they are unfamiliar with the breed type and muscle tone. Colin Hayes, the Australian trainer used to always say the best looking horse on the day is most likely going to be the winner, by that he meant the fittest horse, which is your best rule of thumb.


The Arc was a highlight of my life, right up there with Meyden, Newmarket, the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders' Cup. What's left?  Royal Ascot (England), Chantilly (France), the Japan Cup, the Melbourne Cup, the Grand National, and the Irish Derby at the Curragh; it's good to have goals.

Photos by Annie Wade