ceci n’est pas une Handicap de Chicago

This afternoon, Finley’sluckycharm extended her four-year-old record to a perfect three-for-three with a win in the Chicago Handicap (G3).  The 3/10 betting favourite, she got to the lead quickly after the break and rated well despite Kathballu and Covey Trace pressing at her throatlatch early.  Kathballu dropped away; Covey Trace pressed the issue into the far turn.  No matter; Finley’sluckycharm moved easily through a 22.85 opening quarter, a 45.62 half.  Turning for home, nine riders implored their mounts to gain, as Brian Hernandez still had Finley’sluckycharm in hand.  He finally asked her; she maintained comfortable daylight to the wire.  Finley’sluckycharm finished the seven furlong main-track trip in 1:22.17, two and a quarter lengths clear of Ivy Bell.

The preceding paragraph made sense, in a way.  It has verbs with subjects and objects.  The names, times, distances, and grade all correspond to an actual race contested today.

On the other hand, it felt surreal to write that.

Continue reading “ceci n’est pas une Handicap de Chicago”

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Diamond Jubilee Stakes Preview

Royal Ascot, five days of world-class turf racing, draws to a close on Saturday.  This piece takes a look at the closing day feature, the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes, a six-furlong turf sprint for older horses.

In a competitive, 19-horse renewal of the Diamond Jubilee…

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: Lovely Loyree, Oak Brook Wire Illinois-Bred Turf Stakes

On a humid and (at times) rainy day at Arlington Park, Illinois-bred older grass horses took centre stage for a pair of 1 1/16 mile stakes races.  The Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap, named after the late turf writer for the Daily Herald, featured a field of six fillies and mares, including graded stakes performers LOVELY LOYREE and PRADO’S SWEET RIDE.  The open-company complement, the Black Tie Affair Handicap, was the long-awaited eight-year-old debut of multiple Grade 1 winner THE PIZZA MAN — but he had four other foes to face, and they would not let him have it easy.

One race saw a well-backed victor.  In the other, a longshot prevailed.  But, in both, speed held over the rain-soaked grass.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my recap of today’s stakes action at Arlington, and check in with the best turf horses Illinois has to offer!

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Mike Spellman Memorial H. and Black Tie Affair H. Preview

This Saturday’s card at Arlington features a pair of state-bred turf stakes: the Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap and the Black Tie Affair Handicap.

Though both drew short fields, they both drew fields as classy as you’ll ever see in a state-bred stakes race.  The Black Tie Affair, for open company, not only drew multiple Grade 1 winner The Pizza Man, but also defending champion Cammack and dependable old warrior Super Soldier.  The Spellman drew Grade 3 winner Prado’s Sweet Ride, multiple graded stakes placed Lovely Loyree, and defending champion Stormin Elle.  One thing is certain: whoever wins these races will have fought for it, and will have beaten good horses to do it.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Saturday’s stakes at Arlington, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

a new kind of horse racing writing

The first time I ever went upstairs at Hawthorne, in March of 2014, it fascinated me to see how race charts got made.  I had been devouring them since I started following horse racing closely, the summer before.  I had no idea how they came to be, or even when they came to be.  I imagined someone hunched over a keyboard late into the night after the races, banging out descriptions of every single race.

It made so much sense when I saw it.  One person held binoculars toward a plate glass window four stories above the racetrack, observing, calling aloud the horse numbers and the margins between them at several points around the track.

“1, a length and half.  3, a head.  2, a length.  7, a length.  5, by four.  4, by two.  11, by four, to the 10.”

As he proclaimed those margins, his partner listened, furiously jotting down the saddle cloth numbers and the margins.  After the race, the chart caller (there’s a name for the person who documented the race and made charts — who knew?) typed that information into a computer.

During that twenty minute break between that race and the next, the time I would use to study horses in the paddock or swing by the food court for a taco, the chart caller worked to turn his observations into a permanent record of the race.  He watched the replay, scribbled notes, rewound the tape, scribbled more notes.  How sharply everyone broke…or, in the case of I O Cashel, how she didn’t break at all.  Pistols Drawn three deep, Lewderhoo six wide.  He typed, sentences this time, turning a mile and seventy yards into meticulous prose in about the same length of time it took the racetrack to get ready for the next race.

It never crossed my mind that I’d do that one day.  But, three years later, that door has opened.  This Friday I begin working for Equibase as a chart caller at Arlington Park.

I’m a little nervous about taking on the responsibility of writing official race descriptions for handicappers and fans.  But, I trust myself to get the hang of it, far more than I typically trust myself when attempting something new.  After all, I strive to be clear and accurate no matter what I’m writing.  That has been reflected in my work here, at Picks and Ponderings, and everywhere I’ve written.  I believe in that as a foundation for growing into a good chart caller.  From there, I have much to learn: to develop my voice, think more quickly, write more concisely, sharpen my eye for races and trips.

I can’t wait to build these skills, and to engage even more deeply with the sport I love.

Picks and Ponderings: One Liz Rewards Cochonours For Bringing Her Back to Illinois

In today’s Isaac Murphy Handicap at Arlington, Puntsville was vying to become only the second horse ever to win the Isaac Murphy Handicap twice.  However, it was a prodigal daughter of the Land of Lincoln — One Liz — who proved her polytrack prowess and ran on late for the win.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, take a look back at today’s Isaac Murphy Handicap, and get to know winner One Liz!

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Isaac Murphy Handicap Preview

Belmont isn’t the only place with racing action going on this weekend!  At Arlington on Saturday, Illinois-bred filly and mare sprinters take centre stage in the Isaac Murphy Handicap!

The race drew a competitive field of eight, including the top three finishers from last year’s Isaac Murphy (Puntsville, Dandy Gal, and Church Road).  The race also drew the top two finishers from the Third Chance Handicap at Hawthorne this spring (My Mertie and Go Lady Jay).

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Isaac Murphy Handicap, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Belmont Stakes Point/Counterpoint

We’ve reached my favourite leg of the Triple Crown: the Belmont Stakes.

Perhaps the most consistent part of this year’s Triple Crown season has been Classic Empire’s path being so star-crossed.  Unfortunately, he is not one of the entrants into this year’s Belmont, as he came up with a foot abscess this morning.  However, twelve horses did pass the entry box.  Lookin at Lee will be the only horse to contest all three legs of the Triple Crown.  Irish War Cry takes one more Triple Crown before going back to Jersey for the Haskell.  A couple horses we saw at Hawthorne a month and a half ago, Multiplier and Hollywood Handsome, will try Big Sandy.

Who do Paul Mazur and I like?

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read our preview of the Belmont Stakes, and let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Belmont Gold Cup Preview

Friday’s card at Belmont features the fourth edition one of my favourite races of the year: the Belmont Gold Cup (G3).

It’s graded for the first time this year, and it drew a deep field of 13: seven Americans, and six international horses.  It’s exciting to see how far this race has come in just four years.  The race has more proven stayers than ever before, and classier contestants as well.

In addition to a full preview of the Belmont Gold Cup, I also share my picks for all of Friday’s stakes races.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Belmont Gold Cup, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Purple Violet Stakes and Springfield Stakes Recap

Today, the three-year-old Illinois-breds took the spotlight at Arlington Park, with the Purple Violet Stakes and the Springfield Stakes.

In the fillies’ division, it was a familiar face: Babybluesbdancing, the runaway top two-year-old in the state last year, won the Purple Violet in a runaway.  Among open company, it was a horse testing his mettle in stakes company for the first time: Smoke ‘N’ Gloat, despite pace pressure, held a heavy favourite at bay.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, and take a look back at the top three-year-olds in Illinois!