a bizarre experiment in handicapping and memory


Usually, handicapping is the opposite.  It’s a game of information, and we have so much at our fingertips: past performances, race replays, the analysis of handicappers we know and trust.  It’s as open-book as it gets, thanks in such a huge part to the Internet.

But, I decided to try a little exercise in memory, and in my feel for the circuit: handicapping the card with only the overnight, the list of scratches, and the knowledge that we’re off the grass today.  I didn’t look at the past performances, and didn’t look at the morning lines.  It’s all based on what I remember about each horse, jockey, and trainer.

It may turn out well.  It may turn out to be a disaster, since my memory (as most people’s) tends to lapse at times.  If it is a disaster or I do miss an obvious horse, feel free to laugh at me, or harangue me in the comments because of things I got wrong in my notes or logic.

Here are my notes — after all, if I decide to write about this experience afterwards, it would be nothing but redboarding were I not to post something beforehand about my picks and my logic.  I also note my top picks in each race, and the horses I’m using in my Pick Fours.

Let’s see how this goes.

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racehorse or emo band?

If you haven’t been listening to BARN these last few months, you’re missing out.  Hosted by Jason Beem, the show is informative, entertaining, and a lot of fun for any fan of racing.

And, I’m a guest on today’s show!

I do not talk about this much on here because it does not pertain to horse racing, but I love emo: the whinier, the better.  I’m basically the world’s oldest emo kid.  Therefore, when Jason was looking for a contestant for his “Racehorse or Emo Band” game, I had to toss my hat into the ring.  How often do those two bits of my personality overlap?

It was just as entertaining to play as I hoped it would be.

Thank you so much, Jason, for having me on the show.  I had a great time!

Curlin baby names…from an alternate universe

On Twitter tonight, Carly Kaiser (of Horses, History, Humor) posted a fantastic flurry of rejected and changed horse names, and several others got in on the action.  This set up the question — what sorts of interesting name changes have Curlin’s progeny had?

It turns out, Palace Malice was not the only name submitted for Curlin’s most successful son to date.  What would it have been like to cheer home either Stones or Perret in the Belmont or the Met Mile?

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 8.51.08 PM

Of course, Palace Malice is not the only one with an entertaining paper trail attached to his name.

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go Keen Ice!

Earlier this month, Romans Racing did a Keen Ice selfie contest.  The rules were pretty simple: print out one of the #GoKeenIce signs, post selfies with the sign, and share them on social media with the hashtag.

This was, of course, right up my alley.  Keen Ice is not only a Curlin baby, but became my Derby horse last September after his improbable maiden win.  I have been a huge Keen Ice fan ever since, and it has been a thrill to watch him grow, mature, and finally win his first Grade I race.

I took a few selfies for the contest, but one of them entertained me the most by far.  I was walking down the Hawthorne backstretch, on the way to go visit Lucky Lindy, and saw a sign that just begged to be in a Keen Ice picture:


Talk about being in the right place at the right time!

Turns out, I was not the only one entertained by this picture.  I found out a few days ago that this picture had won second place in the contest!  The awesome folks over at Romans Racing sent me some fun prizes, just in time to cheer Keen Ice on in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Of course, this meant time for more Keen Ice selfies.


Thank you so much — and good luck to Keen Ice!  It would be such a thrill to see him win the Classic on Saturday.

since you asked: Skylarbdancing photos!

Someone found Blinkers Off a few days ago by googling “skylarbdancing photo”. I apologise — I did not have any here yet, and I hope you found some already if it was urgent.

However, since Skylarbdancing (Sky Mesa – Two Hearts, by Deputy Minister) raced in today’s Arlington 1st. I got a few pictures of her.  If you find your way back here, hopefully this gives you what you were looking for.  If you were not the person looking for Skylarbdancing photos a few days ago, but enjoy bay fillies with white noses, then today is your lucky day..


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a Classic verse

With all apologies to the Haiku Handicapper, this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic was sufficiently dramatic to require a Sonnet Recapper. As the Sonnet Recapper does not actually exist, Blinkers Off makes its attempt.

the gates flew open, Bayern flew inside
momentum’s law impacted the stampede
through Shared Belief, Moreno then denied
the only chance presented one-way speed
then Shared Belief was slowed a bit by Toast
as Bayern made it where he liked to be
and kept his nose in front at every post
a light came on: a stewards’ inquiry
while all the world awaited final word
with riders, judges both they did consult
the stewards then claimed that it had occurred
in such a stage impactless on result
no matter what they said or didn’t say
we’re left to wonder who was best that day

out of Bella Bliss…

One of the reasons I got into horse racing was because I am such a trivia nerd.  I have always loved Jeopardy!, Trivial Pursuit, pub quizzes: anything that involves having fun and putting knowledge of obscure facts to good use.  This afternoon, I had a very clear reminder of why being a trivia nerd and being a horse racing fan go hand-in-hand.

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gone Scavving.

Blinkers Off will be a little quieter than usual for the next few days.  The University of Chicago Scav Hunt is this weekend.  As a result of this world’s longest and most frenetic scavenger hunt, I will be away from the racetrack for the first weekend since the Hawthorne spring meet opened in February.  It will be strange to be away from the track, but I wouldn’t miss the Hunt for anything.

However, I keep my fingers crossed that there will be a little something related to racing on this year’s list.  Occasionally, there is some overlap between Scav Hunt related mayhem and our favourite sport.  Back in 2009, the road trip sent a few of us through Kentucky and Tennessee, and we visited the graves of both Man O’ War and Isaac Murphy at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Last year’s road trip didn’t officially send us through any horse racing related destinations, but one of the more puzzle-type items read as follows:

37. Well, we would ask you for twenty grand in Greek money or for a Rhinemaiden on the Quadrangle or, for once in your life, to behave yourself, but that would pose a genuine risk, and we might regret it. Besides, what would come after Sunday? You tell me, or no point given. [3 points]

This confused much of my team, but was rather clear to me…and more than likely would be clear to you as well, since you spend at least some of your time reading about horse racing.  It’s a litany of horses who have won a Triple Crown race or two over the years.  I was pretty sure all the judge would have wanted for this item would be for us to answer “Silence”, as in Sunday Silence (winner of the 1989 Kentucky Derby, as well as the 1989 Preakness), when she asked us to provide this item.  However, the road trip squad (which I was on) had to go through Louisville on the way home from New Orleans.  Furthermore, when I mentioned the answer was silence, one of the other guys in the car mentioned that Hamlet’s last words were “the rest is silence.”

I could have far more fun with this item than just giving a simple answer.

So, I wrote a Shakespearean sonnet in the car, with as many horses who had won a Triple Crown race or two that I could possibly get into it.  The final count was twenty-four, including the Sunday Silence reference in the last line.  We made a detour to Churchill Downs, and I read the text in my road trip costume (something prescribed by the list to prove we were there that weekend, and not earlier) with the iconic twin spires in the background.

i’m Bounding Home as more than iron man,
but as His Eminence the Iron Liege.
on High Quest to recount that classic Chant
of Tyrant beasts on Bold, Unbridled siege.
the Real Quiet their Victory Gallop make —
an Empire Maker slays one’s Funny Cide
when in a Ruthless and an Agile way
an Easy Goer turns up bona fide
in this kings’ sport! if you’re a Royal Tourist,
no Gallant Man has ever said it better
than Charismatic Elocutionist
our Old England’s The Bard of Arts and Letters.
as ended sweet Majestic Prince’s violence:
after Sunday, yes, the rest is Silence.

Is this high art?  Surely not.  However, was it a lot of fun to take an item intended as a simple yet thickly veiled question and turn it into a bit of absurd performance on racing’s hallowed ground?  Yes, yes it was.

the perfect Derby cocktail?

Today on Twitter, an article about cocktails named after horses on the Derby trail this year went a little viral.  As delicious as most of these sound (and, specifically, the Hoppertunity!), they missed my favourite horse who has earned his way into the starting gate: Ride On Curlin.

As for the base liquor, bourbon is a given.  This is the Kentucky Derby, after all, and Blinkers Off really does enjoy their bourbon.  Ginger beer seems like a natural, as well: it’s the stormy component of a Dark and Stormy, and Ride On Curlin is out of the Storm Cat mare Magical Ride.  Those are the easy parts, but those could also apply to any Derby prospect closely related to Storm Cat: in other words, to a whole lot of horses.

Derbyologist has referred to him on several occasions as the Pride of Ellis Park: quite apt, since that’s where he broke his maiden second start with a track-record performance.  Ellis Park is in Henderson, Kentucky: John James Audubon spent several years there in the 1810s, and there’s a state park named after him there.  Hence, a reference to birds in the cocktail would be a beautiful thing, and something more specifically tied to Ride On Curlin: because how many horses kick off their Derby dreams with a win at Ellis?

Fortunately, I did not have to brainstorm this alone.  I talked to a couple of the bartenders at Old Fifth, my favourite local bourbon bar, to figure out a potent, potable take on Ride On Curlin that incorporates all these facts about my favourite horse on the Derby trail!  The guys at Old Fifth were more than happy to help with my little inquiry, and helped me flesh out the bird idea.  One of the bartenders suggested an egg white cocktail, since eggs come from birds.  Of course!  Then he suggested mixing the egg white with lime juice, though I suggested trying lemon instead since there is a bird-named cocktail, the Crow, which uses lemon juice as one of its main ingredients.

After all this conversation, I present to you the Ride On Curlin.  I am drinking one now, and it is delicious.

Ride On Curlin

2 oz. bourbon
1 oz. egg white
1/2 oz. lemon juice
ginger beer

Shake together the bourbon, the egg white, and the lemon juice.  Place a few ice cubes in a rocks glass, and pour the bourbon mixture in.  Fill the rocks glass with ginger beer.


Thank you, Old Fifth, for helping this delicious drink in honour of my favourite Kentucky Derby contender come together.  I know what I’m having on the first Saturday in May — and, for once, it’s not a mint julep!