looking back, and looking forward, on Blinkers Off’s fourth birthday

Four years ago today, I started a blog to keep me on top of horse racing through the course of the winter, while Hawthorne wasn’t running.

It’s still here.  I’m still here.  Every year I look back with amazement at where the last year has taken me, and no year so far was more of a whirlwind than 2017.

Part of that feeling came from all the places I was lucky enough to visit during the year.

January took me to Fair Grounds for the first time ever, and there I enjoyed victories by favourites Valiant City and Farrell.  February I returned to Tampa Bay Downs, a place which is becoming a yearly tradition for me.  A madcap road trip with Carly, Nicole, and Ryan in July brought me to both Saratoga and Fort Erie for the first time in my life.  I soon followed that with my second trip to Saratoga — to attend the very first Equestricon.  September brought me to the friendly confines of Presque Isle Downs for the Masters — long one of my favourite races of the year, though I had never seen it in person until 2017.  In October, I returned to Woodbine for my second Canadian International…and snuggled a Curlin baby for the first time ever.  Just about as soon as I returned to Chicago, I was back on the road again…that time to Del Mar, for my first ever visit to a track west of the Mississippi, my first ever Breeders’ Cup.

More than anything, I get dizzy looking back at 2017 because it was the year I actually made horse racing my life, as opposed to just thinking it was.

Going into 2017, racing was as much of my life as I could manage with a full-time job outside the sport.  But, I took a risk in June, leaving a stable yet exhausting job in information security in order to start calling charts at Arlington.  I was petrified — it was part time, and just for the Arlington meet.  But, it was a jump I had to take, to see where it would lead.

And, it has worked out well.  I absolutely love chart calling, and am looking forward to doing it again next summer.  Watching races in meticulous detail and describing them accurately suits me, suits how my brain works.  I’m not sure I’ll ever find a way to make myself more useful to horse racing than calling charts.

Since then, I’ve worked on some other projects this year that stretched me beyond what I’ve typically done.  I took on an expanded role with The Tournament Edge, did some article writing and design projects with Bergen Stables that appeared in the November and December issues of New York Breeder, and worked as a spotter for TVG’s The Works in the week and a half leading into the Breeders’ Cup.  Coming up this month, and through the winter harness meet, I’ll be doing some writing for the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association, my first Standardbred-oriented work.  In short — even within the world of horse racing, I learned over the last year that I’m a bit more versatile than I thought.

What will 2018 hold?  I don’t know for sure, but I do know two things.

I know I’ll be trying to get better at using my words (and, at times, pictures) to convey what I love about horse racing.  At my heart, that’s all I can think of that we who like to cover racing can do — keep communicating about what makes our sport compelling.  I spent so much of 2017 thinking about that, wondering how I could do that better, but not enough time during that year trying things in that vein.  That was one of my biggest challenges of the year — let’s just say, there’s a reason I end up taking a punt on Analysis Paralysis a couple times each summer at Emerald, and it has everything to do with her name.  I get so hung up on how best something that can be done that days, weeks, months pass…and I forget to do.  To write.  To try.  I’m hoping to get past some of that analysis paralysis this year.

And, I know I’m grateful to every single one of you for reading my work, for taking the time to chat online or at the track, and for showing me there’s room in horse racing even for someone who didn’t grow up at the track.  Thank you…and I hope you stick around for year five.

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