If you are reading this, thank you.
Blinkers Off turns two today, and that would never have happened without you.
I said a lot when this little corner of the Internet turned a year old, and all of that stands. It has been another year of writing, learning, and getting even more deeply into horse racing.
It has also been a year of equine-related adventures, both in Chicago and farther afield.
There was April, Illinois Derby Day. That day, I met the team behind Conquest Stables, and got to see Conquest Curlinate in person. This was amazing in all respects. Conquest Curlinate was a breathtaking grey tank, and he ran lights-out at Hawthorne. The people behind Conquest Stables could not have been more friendly. That meeting also led to the opportunity to talk in even more depth with Ernie Semersky about Conquest Stables, and to my favourite piece I wrote all year.
Just a few days after the Illinois Derby, I ventured out to Arlington early in the morning to see Mubtaahij. It was an unexpected thrill to find out that the UAE Derby winner was hanging out in Chicago instead of going straight to Kentucky, and I could not resist the chance to watch him make his final preparations over our local track.
If it had not been for Candice suggesting an almost-last minute trip to the Kentucky Derby, I never would have considered going to Kentucky this May. But, we went. We hung out with Rapid Redux and Silver Charm and Sarava at Old Friends, and we went to the Kentucky Derby the next day.
Little did I know that five weeks later, on a trip I originally planned to see Palace Malice race in person for once…I would not see him. But, Lisa and Terri and I would see Curalina win the Acorn, and witness American Pharoah win the first Triple Crown of my lifetime.
Once again, Arlington Million week was a thrill. That race day will always have a special place in my heart, as it was my visit to the 2013 Million that shifted me from someone who rarely went to the track and occasionally binged on racing-related reading to a die-hard race fan. This year, Paul and I were on site at Arlington all week long to cover it in tandem for Picks and Ponderings. I got to feed Aly’s Bluffing another banana, and Listen to Mama thought Paul was the coolest person ever. Thanks to Melissa, we have photographic evidence that Hapman is the happiest loose horse ever. We saw an Illinois-bred win the Arlington Million for the first time ever.
Fall’s adventures all centered around my home track, Hawthorne.
I started volunteering for CANTER, and it was amazing…both because of what we were doing to strengthen the racehorse retirement infrastructure around Chicago, and because of how often I got close to the racehorses I admired so much. I met Buzzy, who proved to not only be a big, grey tank I admired from afar, but a genuine snugglebug. He is going to be amazing as a jumper, and I only hope I find a way to follow his second career.
I met the gorgeous One For Biscuit, a horse I had been following on the track since 2013, and got to play at least a small part in him finding his forever home off the racetrack.
On another wander, though we were following up on a completely different horse, I finally got to meet my favourite horse still in training, a horse who I had been following since that day in 2013 when I really fell in love with racing: Frostbite Falls.
Another horse who I fell in love with through the year, Puntsville, really made her mark during the Hawthorne fall meet. I liked her quite a bit at 2…but really got excited about her at 3, both because she was growing into herself, and because she had moved into Michele Boyce’s barn. I met Michele back in the fall of 2014, and she has become one of my favourite people I’ve met through horse racing — both because she is so friendly, and because she takes such impeccable care of her horses. I first met Puntsville on July 4, just two days after her first race of 2015. Since then, she has proven that she could sprint on anything: turf, polytrack, or dirt. Puntsville capped off her season with a dominant win in the Pershing Handicap. The day before her first stakes win, I visited her, and took one of my favourite photos of the year.
Though betting is not the main thing about horse racing that makes me tick, it can still be a lot of fun, and I closed the fall meet on a high note from that perspective. I wrote a detailed preview of the Super High 5 carryover race on December for TwinSpires, my first piece there…and my top choice, Turbulent War, even prevailed in the win photo. I also previewed the final day of the meet for Danonymous Racing; my pick in the meet’s final race galloped easily home at 12/1.
As happy as I was with Blinkers Off and where it was a year ago…I would have laughed so hard at anyone who suggested that even half of these things that happened over the last year would happen. At this point, I will not even venture to guess what might happen in 2016…but I thank each and every one of you for reading along with any part of this ride. Horse racing is the most fun sport there is. I cannot wait to see what happens — both in Chicago and beyond — in 2016.