Anyone ever been stuck on a farm in a snow storm? Back-to-back storms? With four kids home from school for the week? The occasional friend sleeping over. Two dogs and a puppy? Three cats and a kitten? Twelve horses?
There aren't enough chew toys for Addie (puppy) so there goes Barbie's head. Checkers and Chess are fun. Once or twice. Boggle, Banana Grams are fun, challenging games (ages 12+). The snow is too deep to sled in or to be pulled around on the tractor. The power goes off, so no television. No movies. I hook up the generator so we have water for the horses and heat for the house.
Anyone in racing will tell you there are ups and downs. Try to minimize and not get too down on the lows and enjoy the highs, trying not to get too high. It can be a long fall. We had a few of those this week. We had three entries Friday. Two at Laurel Park and one at Penn National. Louisa Laglass was making her first start for Nancy Lee Farms. Any time you have a first-time starter in the barn, there is always the unknown. Always hope. Will they work to the potential they have shown in the morning? Will they surprise you in the afternoon with unseen ability? The 3-year-old Louis Quatorze filly did everything the right way – almost. She came into the paddock looking around at her new surroundings, walked right into the saddling enclosure and stood like a rock while I saddled her. Andria Terrill had been working the filly all along so she knew Louisa could be a little unpredictable. She was confident, however, that the big bay filly would behave just fine. She was almost correct. They left the paddock with the pony and all seemed fine until just before post time. Louisa saw something on the track and propped dropping her rider. She was so quick, Steve Hamilton wouldn't have been able hang on. While temporally loose, she was quickly caught and rejoined with her rider. She raced a little green trailing the field early. Turning for home she made a little run finishing fifth. Now that she has a race under her belt, I'm sure her next start will be more promising.
Rodger and Donna, of Tara Farms, don't have a lot running right now so when I told them Singingtothecrowd was back in on Friday, they were thrilled. Rodger and Donna take the long way to the races. Breeders! For those of you who haven't experienced that route, it is a long, expensive, and laborious road to the races. And sometimes, the winner's circle. By far the most rewarding and by far the most trying. Malcolm Franklin got the return call on the pretty gray filly. He's ridden her in her two previous starts. In the paddock we talked about where we thought she would be sitting – off the early pace, when to make the run, and the importance of a strong finish. As usual it is good to have a back-up plan. I guess Malcolm did because when the gates opened Singer shot out of the gate and was all alone on the front end. To say I was surprised was an understatement. I didn't watch much of the early race. I was focused on the splits; 24:53, 49:73, 1:15:32, and she was coasting. Now I was watching. She had slowed the pace and now turning for home I hoped she had saved enough to turn back the charge of the horses coming inside, outside and directly behind. She did. Singingtothecrowd won by 2 1/2 lengths. How does a trainer not jump up and down after a win, high five and show emotion, hug and kiss the owner? Easy. I saw it coming. Unfortunately, Malcolm didn't. Pick Up The Pieces was trying to come through a hole. Malcolm switched sticks and hit Singer left-handed and drifted just enough to go from a $5,700 payday to a $600 disappointment. We smiled for the picture but I warned Tara Farms, that this might not go on her record. After a brief inquiry, reality hit us. This was going to be one of those lows.
And that makes four for the year. Well, maybe five, but more on that later.
Last week we had three good efforts when Irish Ego finished fifth, Scottish Song picked up a fourth and Heart Striker earned a check for fourth. Sorry, I never wrote anything about them, the week went by slowly; when you don't win, time stands still.
We have an action-packed week and it started nicely on Wednesday. True Tricks Sis hasn't shown all we had hoped in her last three efforts, so I added blinkers, and threw a goat in her stall to help keep her at least partially settled, and hoped for the best. Adding blinkers is near the top of a trainer's grab bag of solutions. Adding a goat is well down the bottom of remedies. Something worked because when apprentice Andria Terrill broke from the gate the 4-year-old old filly shot out like a rocket. Settling along the rail and no more then 3 to 4 lengths off the pace she came between horses in the stretch and finished well for the show. It was a decent effort and something to build on as we go forward.
Arnold Heft's 5-year-old gray gelding, Dressy Devil, was coming into Wednesday's race off his maiden win. At 5-2, he was sent off second choice behind Media Speed. Sheldon Russell came into the paddock like Donald Trump comes into the boardroom – confident, cocky and certain he could do no wrong. I like that.
He proved why he is so good on ordinary horses. Dressy loves the outside and breaking from the outside, he got his wish. The pair let the early pace horses wear each other out while saving the big gray's stamina for the stretch run. Arnold and I got a little nervous at the half-mile pole as DD seemed to drop out a little too far. Sheldon didn't seem too worried as he roused the loping, lazy gelding five wide for the stretch run. Nickobokko caught us at the eighth pole, leaned out as the two battled head to head all the way to the wire. It was the gray nose after the photo was read.
Congratulations Bill Kroh and Arnold Heft for two very good efforts.
We have Singingtothecrowd and Louisa Laglass on Friday at Laurel and Awe So Beautiful at Penn National Friday night. Stent Double at Laurel on Saturday and Piney Point Sunday at Philadelphia Park. A couple of more wins and we'd finish January with a nice running tally, ever closer to our goal of 50 wins by the end of the year.
My first trip to the Eclipse Awards – what a year to make your maiden voyage. Beverly Hills. Summer Bird. Lookin At Lucky. Gio Ponti. Julien Leparoux. Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra?
My vote was for Zenyatta. My vote doesn't count. Rachel was certainly well deserved – 8-for-8 – hard to split greatness either way you look at it.
I met and spoke with Zenyatta’s connections, Ann and Jerry Moss, just marched up and introduced myself at the cocktail party the night before the big show. I was amazed how down to Earth and easy they were to talk to – maybe they’ll want to send a horse to Laurel, I know a good trainer . . . They seemed very excited to be racing Zenyatta in the new year. Everyone is looking forward to the 2010 racing year. Pimlico Special Match Race? Remember War Admiral/Seabiscuit? Rachel Alexandra/Zenyatta? We can always dream.
The real reason I was out here this year is my friend Sean. What a great story he wrote on Sidney Watters ("Life's Work", Jan. 3, 2009. Blood-Horse magazine). Congratulations! To think I knew him when . . . he was working for Janet Elliot and trying to hustle rides for the claimer at Saratoga.
I also met and talked with George Strawbridge Jr., owner of Informed Decision, winner of female sprinter title. He’s a huge supporter of racing and I liked what he said about Jonathan Sheppard allowing Informed Decision to get over a warm knee with rest rather than stress. Sheppard is a credit to the game. We talked about Maryland racing and where it was heading, at least where we HOPED it was heading. He used to run a lot of horses in Maryland, but, then again, didn’t we all?
I met Monique Koehler, Special Eclipse Award winner for all her work with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. She was one of the first to openly talk and openly try to do something about retiring our horses. Thanks for all you have done and continue to do for the retired Thoroughbred.
The 2009 Eclipse Awards were a wonderful experience for me. I watched my best friend accomplish something most of us in Thoroughbred racing only dream about and met the champions of our sport.