Yesterday I went out to Hawthorne. Before the races, I got the chance to meet trainers Angie Coleman and Rob Rittof, talk a bit about harness racing, and learn firsthand what it’s like to drive a Standardbred
One of my favourite stories of the Triple Crown prep season ended up having very little to do with the Kentucky Derby: that of Conquest Mo Money. The son of Uncle Mo, an $8,500 Keeneland November bargain for owner Judge Lanier Racing, emerged as the top Sunland Park-based three-year-old this spring. He beat eventual Blue Grass Stakes (G2) winner Irap in the Mine That Bird Derby. He held his own in the Sunland Derby (G3), finishing second behind Hence after being closer to a blazing pace. Then, he shipped to Arkansas and proved he wasn’t just a Sunland wonder. Conquest Mo Money was right up on a contested pace in the Arkansas Derby (G1), and in a race that set up so nicely for off-pace types, he was just barely passed by Classic Empire. Still, second place was good enough to give him a shot in the Derby if he wanted it.
Instead, at a press conference after the Arkansas Derby, Tom McKenna of Judge Lanier Racing announced that Conquest Mo Money would bypass the Kentucky Derby and go to the Preakness instead. At first blush, it was a disappointment.
We talk so often of horse racing needing to try new things to bring attention to the sport. Less often, I see novel measures actually taken.
In an event atypical of this spring’s racing season, a three-year-old finally brought some clarity. I have complete confidence in putting a three-year-old at the top of my list — for the first time since Classic Empire bombed in the Holy Bull (G2).
Still, the top slot does not return to last year’s champion two-year-old male. His Arkansas Derby (G1) was solid, a testament to Mark Casse’s training acumen and a suggestion that Classic Empire can once again find top-flight form. Despite the roadblocks between the Holy Bull and the Arkansas Derby, he has once again marked himself a contender. But, a clear standout? That’s going too far after his issues, after his getting only two Derby preps spaced so far apart. No, Classic Empire is not the source of my clarity.
There are at least as many reasons to follow a horse as there are people who come to the racetrack. Most of those reasons are happy ones. Their name makes you laugh. You own the horse, or your friend does. They have a funny little spot on their nose. They gave you a cute little look, right in the eyes, from the post parade one day. You followed their sire, their dam, their sibling.
But, not every reason for following a horse is happy.
The Davona Dale Stakes is coming up this Saturday. Just like last year, and the year before…it makes me sad.
Heading into the serious prep season in 2014, I had two horses in particular who I kept picking against, and who kept making me look like a fool. Out west, I had California Chrome. In the three years between then and now, we all got to know California Chrome well. He got the chance to write his story, a story which will see his name enshrined in the Hall of Fame in five years’ time.
Out east, I had Onlyforyou.
On March 26, 2014, I was a horse racing neophyte. Having followed the sport closely for less than a year by that point, I had far more enthusiasm than knowledge or sense. (One could say that is still the case, though hopefully the gap has narrowed over the last few years.)
That enthusiasm led me to volunteer to do Jim Vs. — once a week, a fan would go on the pre-race show with Jim Miller, discuss their picks, and have a friendly little handicapping competition. I knew I had jumped in over my head, but I’ve always liked public speaking…so I could do my homework, deliver my picks with confidence, and hope for the best.
The opener proved the perfect metaphor for the day: Jim beat me as soundly as Divine Delivery beat Sgt. Green in the day’s first race. In that race, a $17,500 maiden claimer, he sided with 4/5 favourite Divine Delivery. I took my shot with second betting choice Sgt. Green…who finished second, beaten 18 1/2 lengths. That’s how most of my day went: I kept looking for cute ways to beat the chalk, and I kept falling short.
In one race, however, I took an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude toward the favourite.
“Write about a book or publication that is special to you or has had a big impact on your life.”
One piece came to mind. As much as I wanted to write about…anything else, anything less catastrophic, anything less sad, I couldn’t do it. The piece of horse racing writing that comes to my mind more than any other is not a happy one, but this topic compelled me to write about it.
For the first few weeks of the NTRA three-year-old poll, Classic Empire sat atop. The first ballot came before the Holy Bull. After his flat third the Holy Bull, most voters dropped him from the top slot…but I kept him on top. Yes, Irish War Cry was sharp in victory, and McCraken picked right up where he left off when he won the Sam Davis. Even with these talented contenders, Classic Empire’s two-year-old year was so good that he deserved a mulligan.
But, word came out within the last week that his foot abscess hadn’t healed up yet, and Classic Empire would miss the Fountain of Youth as a result.
Was I willing to give him another one? I had to sleep on it.
I shied away from it for a long time given my questionable photography skills, but finally gave it a shot in 2015. Posting horse pictures there has been fun, as has looking at everyone else’s horse pictures. Though my Twitter and Facebook pages are a little bit of everything, I’ve focused my Instagram to be completely horsey. I post nothing but horse-related pictures on there. My timeline abounds with racehorses, foals, and riding horses. It’s my Internet happy place.
Still, there’s one thing on Instagram that makes my blood boil: accounts that take other people’s pictures and use blanket phrases like “photos not mine” or “credit to the photographer”. No, that’s not evidence of permission, and that’s not proper credit. There are plenty of pieces out there already about why stealing people’s photos and posting them without credit is not okay. This won’t be a treatise on copyright law.
Instead, I will be positive. If you are going to post on Instagram, focus on posting your own pictures. Your pictures are you, and your pictures are enough.