a long time coming

“In the fifth race, scratch the four.”

I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.  I looked at my past performances just to make sure I was remembering things correctly, since my brain works far better on horse names than it does on horse numbers.  However, I knew Frostbite Falls had drawn the 4 gate in the fifth race.

Scratched again?  He had scratched two weeks before, which I had found out while I was on my way to the track that day.  It took the wind out of my sails, since I thought last Saturday would finally be the day I saw Frostbite Falls in person for the first time in almost two years.

In a brief, disappointed moment, that time rushed through my head.

He raced on the Arlington Million undercard in 2013, the day that finally turned me from an occasional trackgoer into a regular.  I bet him that day, and although he did not win, I fell in love.  I have followed him ever since.  Through that fall, he kept racing on days when I couldn’t go to the track.  Still, my favourite race of my first meet at Hawthorne happened on the Gold Cup undercard, when I urged him home from inside a northbound Damen bus.  He returned to the worktab before the Hawthorne spring meet, and I hoped I would see him soon.  He worked a few times, and disappeared.

I wondered if Frostbite Falls would ever race again.  Come November, it had been almost a year since his last race.  Curiosity made me bold, and I finally asked his most recent trainer of record if he was still in her barn.  I had seen Tammy Domenosky around the track, and knew her by her good reputation, but never actually introduced myself before.  Fortunately, she did not run screaming.  I was thrilled when she told me he was getting over his setbacks, and that he would soon return to training.

A few months later, he returned to the worktab.  He finally entered a race at Arlington on May 15, Black-Eyed Susan Day.  It was a $7,500 N3L at five and a half furlongs on polytrack.  His only previous polytrack start had been a maiden win at five furlongs, so it looked like a good spot.  It was a class drop, down to the lowest level of his career, but that made sense as well.  After all, he had been off for a year and  a half.  He may have lost a step, and there was no use putting him in over his head after such a long layoff.

It turned out to be a perfect spot.  He stalked right outside the flank of favoured Takeittothehouse.  Come the quarter pole, it was go time for Frostbite Falls.  He had a clear lead turning for home.  By then, I was glad no one could hear me except for my friends’ dogs, because I could not stop screaming, willing him home.  He got home the clearest of winners; no one could make a credible run, and he finished 2 3/4 lengths in front.

He was also claimed that day.  However, he was claimed into the barn of trainer Ingrid Mason, who runs regularly at Arlington.  Since I had not been able to go to the track for that race, I held out hope that his new connections would keep him at Arlington, and that I would see him again someday.

I had thought that day would come on May 31, but I found out on the way to the track that morning that the veterinarians had scratched him.  He posted one more work and then entered back in this race, two weeks later.

I had handicapped the race earlier in the day, and Frostbite Falls looked to be in a good spot.  His form on paper stacked up well, and he was one of those sneaky condition book types: it was a $16,000 “three year olds or N3L” race, but races for claiming tags of $12,500 or lower did not count for eligibility.  Since Frostbite Falls had beaten $7,500 N3L company last out, he fit.  I made a rather bold claim on Twitter:

And, after all this?  After not having seen him in person since August of 2013, after a year and a half lay, after the scratch two weeks ago, after a race I was sure he would win, he was now scratched again?

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

Turns out, the scratch announcement was Brian’s idea of a joke.  Frostbite Falls had not scratched after all — he just knew how excited I was to see him in person, and figured that would get a reaction.  He was right.  I had to hand it to him for a well-targeted prank…and a funny one, now that I knew I would actually see Frostbite Falls in person for the first time in almost two years.

Before the fourth, I flew down to the paddock.  He was just as dark as I remembered, nearly black.  However…I knew nothing about horse physique two years ago.  Now, with what I have learned over the years, his build struck me.  He looked like a sprinter, well-meant for that five-furlong trip ahead.

Frostbite Falls, on his toes as he walks around the Arlington paddock.
Frostbite Falls, on his toes as he walks around the Arlington paddock.
Frostbite Falls, saddled up before Saturday's 5th race at Arlington.
Frostbite Falls, saddled up before Saturday’s 5th race at Arlington.

I wondered a bit when I saw the post parade, since Frostbite Falls did not march with the rest of the horses.  He came out apart from the post parade, which gave me a little bit of pause.  I never take it as a good sign if a horse has to be separated.  Still, he did not act out when he came out to warm up, and I hoped he would still live up to what I thought he would do.

Frostbite Falls and Julio Felix take to the track on Saturday.
Frostbite Falls and Julio Felix take to the track on Saturday.

Out of the gate, Dollar Doblado, Frostbite Falls, and There’s No Telling made it three across the track.  After the first few strides, Frostbite Falls made himself most prominent.  He edged away from that pair, and had a length advantage as the field came into the far turn.  Turning for home he still led by a length, but he opened daylight by the time the field hit the quarter pole.  There’s No Telling resumed chase and Gyp Rope came flying from off the pace, but Frostbite Falls held safe by a length.

Frostbite Falls had extended his perfect Polytrack record to three-for-three.  He had now won both his starts after his year and a half layoff.

I had finally seen him in person for the first time since the hot August day two years ago when I really fell in love with horse racing — and he won.

Frostbite Falls gets a well-deserved rinse before going into the winners' circle.
Frostbite Falls gets a well-deserved rinse before going into the winners’ circle.
Frostbite Falls, still on his toes, heads off for his win photo.
Frostbite Falls prances over for his win photo.
Frostbite Falls heads out of the paddock...here's hoping all the carrots awaited him in the barn.
Frostbite Falls heads out of the paddock…here’s hoping all the carrots awaited him in the barn.

Congratulations, Frostbite Falls!  I hope your comeback keeps going as well as it has gone so far…and that I get to see you in person again just a little sooner.

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