I started reading This Was Racing on the way home from Hawthorne last night. In one of the first columns printed in the book, Joe H. Palmer notes that:
“A horse cannot pile up boxes on a platform so he can get at a banana on the ceiling, because he has no hands with which to pick up a box and he doesn’t like bananas anyway.”1
By the time he wrote this, Palmer likely had more knowledge about horses and horse racing stored in his little finger than this latecomer to the sport will ever have in their entire body. He is right about horses not having hands, and more than likely right about horses not being able to pick up and stack boxes.
It just seemed an odd sentence to read at the end of a weekend that began with a maiden win by a banana-loving horse.
Aly’s Bluffing is the first racehorse I ever met. The first thing I knew about him that wasn’t printed on a racing form was that he loved bananas. Mary, who I met while she was keeping morning works organized at Arlington during Million week, told me. She was skeptical that I would believe it, but told me that Aly’s Bluffing liked bananas. After works, we went back to Rey’s barn, and he had a banana that I fed him. He happily ate it. They later suggested, once Aly’s banana was gone, that there should have been a picture taken to prove that I had actually fed him a banana.
Having never previously met a racehorse before, I did not find anything odd about his affinity for bananas. I knew horses ate apples. Maybe the liked all kind of fruits? I had not yet so much as fed a pony a mint or a carrot before; that banana was the first thing I had ever fed a horse.
My relatively early exposure to banana-loving equines must have been atypical.
Also atypical is how lightly raced Aly’s Bluffing is compared to most other horses his age. He turned five this year. When I met him this summer, he had raced just twice. His best finish, which came at a day I had been at Hawthorne, was a second-place finish as a 50/1 outsider. He got the summer off, but raced three times last fall. He finished well beaten and off the board in all three of those starts.
Aly’s Bluffing got a few changes going into Friday’s start. He put on blinkers for the first time, which suggested he could show the early speed he had lacked in his previous five starts. He also got a rider change to apprentice rider Vicente Gudiel. Gudiel had been riding the rail shrewdly all meet long, particularly advantageous since Aly’s Bluffing had drawn the 1 gate. Given how friendly the Hawthorne winter track has been to forwardly placed horses on the inside, these all suggested our banana-loving friend was in with a shot.
Aly’s Bluffing broke well, and settled along the rail behind the front flight. He was never more than two lengths off the lead set by Can’t Be True as the field ran down the backstretch. This made him anomalously close-up compared to his previous races. Turning for home, Can’t Be True turned a little wide: vacating the rail. At that point, track announcer Peter Galassi proclaimed, “Aly’s Bluffing has an opening, if good enough, toward the inside.”
He was good enough. He got his head in front passing the three sixteenths pole, and edged ahead. Can’t Be True gave way, and though Iloveadixiechick tried to make a run late, Aly’s Bluffing was gone. He crossed the wire three confident lengths in front.
Congratulations, Aly’s Bluffing! I hope you got all the bananas you wanted after Friday’s race.
1 Joe H. Palmer, This Was Racing (Lexington: Henry Clay Press), 9.