theequinejournalist

Passionate, and slightly opinionated, ramblings on all things Thoroughbred.

Time to get Personal

Well, not truly. However, I do plan on spilling the beans about what I have been up to these last few months.

While it may not be overly thrilling to some, I was offered the chance to do some freelance writing for the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association (PHBA) newsletter. This meant I actually got to write big girl stories about real race horses, real racing people, and have it be published in a real horse racing magazine, Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred!

Imagine my excitement, and slight fear, when my first assignment was a feature piece on Arch’s Gal Edith – the dam of 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Winner, I’ll Have Another. Edith is a PA-bred, so it was the opportune time to connect a dual classic winning horse to the winning ways of Pennsylvania!

Now, you might be asking yourself why I was a bit afraid of this piece, right? After all, Thoroughbreds are right up my alley. Well, I found out that I had to contact  top U.S. trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, for an interview…or at least a comment. Despite having a case of the nerves, I called him up and not only got a statement about the mare (whom he trained when she was running), but actually got an entire three minutes to speak with him. May not seem like much time, but in the busy world of horse racing, it was an absolute gift.

I interviewed the rest of Edith’s connections and compiled a story. I guess things were in proper order because I was asked to write another piece! This time I visited the newly established Northview Stallion Station in Peach Bottom, PA. There I interviewed the Director of Bloodstock and wildly interesting, Carl McEntee, about the stud farm’s goals, plans, accomplishments, etc.

Not only is the farm a beautiful sight, but the staff is beyond friendly and more than willing to answer questions. Even got to point my lens at the ever-handsome stallion, Fairbanks. McEntee was truly enough of a character to warrant an article on him alone – his past is so wonderfully highlighted by some pretty amazing experiences. I really had to stop myself from picking apart his history, but talking about the farm proved to be another topic of great intrigue for me.

Both stories have been published and can now be seen here – Sept and Oct. newsletters(if you aren’t subscribed to Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, then shame on you).

Plans are in the works for me to continue writing for PHBA, in hopes that one day I can move on to a full time position within equine publishing. All in all, this is an amazing opportunity to educate myself, network, build a portfolio and enjoy the sport I love most.

Press Start to Resume Game

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, so I’m really hoping my disappearance means everybody is that much more excited about my return! Positive thinking, right?

To even begin to cover all that has happened over the last few months in the horse racing world would be extremely ambitious. Since I’m not quite up to spilling and sharing all the details on each little event, I’ll just mention the biggest (in my eyes).

First, Gemologist, Hansen, Bodemeister and about the entire three-year-old male crop have retired prematurely due to mysterious soft tissue and ligament issues. Surprise! And shocking the Haskell (Gr.I) winner and Belmont Stakes (Gr.I) runner-up, Paynter, is the only one with a serious argument for early retirement. He has been battling colitis since August, fought off a catheter infection and even defeated a bout of laminitis in three of his feet (largely in thanks to aggressive treatment). And guess what. His owner, Mr. Zayat, still thinks his horse will fully recover to run again. What?! Even I would just send the horse out to play for the rest of his life, but hey, at least he’s not eating up stud offers like many others are! Whoops, did I say that?

Anyway, Frankel is an undefeated monster that continually renews my faith in this sport and Wise Dan is probably all I am looking forward to in the Breeders’ Cup. Will he be running in the Mile or the Classic? My money is on the Mile, I think Game on Dude will be the choice for the Classic.

In other news, A.P. Indy’s last crop has surprisingly disappointing results at the Keeneland Sept. Sale. I expected a lot more for them, but then again, I would also sell my soul for a Tapit baby.

Clearly a lot more has gone on, and is continuing to do so, but these topics are what I likely what have covered in this blog along the way. I plan on delving deeper into a few bigger issues within the industry, but it has been quite hard when there is a resounding lack of investigative pieces in this sport. Everything seems to fluffy, light filler about who is winning what race. Which is great, we need that, but where’s the hard hitting pieces that really inform the public on pressing issues? Let me know if you stumble across any.

 

Go Figure!

That would absolutely happen. Not even 24 hours after I post about my disappointment that Union Rags is out for the year, his connections announce his retirement. The full story is here.

 

I shouldn’t be surprised and I am not entirely shocked, but I had so much hope! I really, really like this horse. He is talented, athletic, fast, physically impressive and his connections are devoted horsemen. You don’t always get that total package. But here we are again, another three-year-old retired prematurely (through no fault of his own). Was his injury just bad luck? Long years of poor breeding? Negligent care? My bet is on bad luck. Union Rags comes from a solid line, Matz keeps great looking horses and to top it off, I think these connections are being cautious and not wanting to take added risk.

They also know that a good looking Belmont Stakes winner could make a pretty penny in the breeding shed. Perhaps Rags is worth more now (going out a winner) then not being able to return to top form after recovering. Who knows. In the end, the horse is healthy which is most important.

But who else is sharing in my frustration at watching these colts retire so eagerly? This is, once again, part of why racing could be failing. Nobody runs long enough to create a fan base! Thank goodness Hansen is still around and I jumped on the Bodemeister bandwagon awhile ago…but clearly it doesn’t take much to knock these horses out of commission.

Disappointment. That’s all that can describe my reaction to this.

Bad Luck Thoroughbreds

My time away has been well spent, I promise. I have been working on a rather exciting project which I can’t exactly spill the details on yet, give me a little bit! It’s probably way more exciting for me than it is for you, but you’ll smile and be happy for me anyway. Right?

Let’s start off with the inevitable horse racing topic that you know I wouldn’t miss. It can’t be hard to guess – which racehorse have I gushed about more than all the others? That’s right, Union Rags! Well, imagine how broken my little heart became when I learned that he sprang an injury is out for the remainder of the year.

Who do I cheer for now? Let’s just hope Mr. Baffert can train Bodemeister to finish better than second (which I believe he can surely do). I need another bay cutie with a blaze to root for!

I also feel the need to link this blog post by Michele Macdonald about 2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Winner, War Emblem. His Derby was the first I watched at age 12 – live, at least. So this black beauty holds a special place in my heart, and his post-racing life is just as interesting as his racing adventures! Check it out.

Shifting gears to Thoroughbreds off the track (OTTB). Well, I titled this “Bad Luck Thoroughbreds” because not only is my favorite three-year-old colt out of my commission, but my own project is out of training too! He’s forming what is known as a”hunter’s bump” – a pretty painful condition of the pelvis. It can be caused by many things and I’m crossing my fingers that it’s not chronic for Doyle. Here’s more info on hunter’s bump.

I’m particularly disappointed because he just returned from being re-started by a trainer in Lancaster. He suffered an injury last year after he ran into the pasture fencing and I really thought we’d be able to get down to business once he returned home. It was noticed just prior to Doyle’s return that his gait was a little off and when I sat on him last week I could definitely feel the difference. And boy, when you look at him from behind, he’s quite uneven! Giving him time off, plus some laser, chiropractic and massage therapy to maybe sort things out. Keep your fingers crossed!

One thing that was all good luck was Pimlico’s Totally Thoroughbred Horse Show! An amazing turnout of about 500 horses, wonderful connections being made, and donations galore to plenty of Thoroughbred rescues! There was a resounding media response, HRTV filmed and broadcast the entire day’s events, Chronicle of the Horse was wandering around (and even interviewed me!) and many local news stations made an appearance. Quite a day!

I can’t even begin to explain how good looking these animals were and they were truly beautiful advocates to the diversity of the breed. Check out CANTER Pennsylvania’s Facebook Page to see an album of photos I took at the event.

Last thing, remember in my last post I introduced Nkosi Reigns? Well, I think we have finally decided on the name Hugo, but definitely expect a blog dedicated to his training coming very soon. It’s amazing how much they can change in just two weeks time.

Do it all with an OTTB

I believe I have mentioned before that I do some work for CANTER Pennsylvania and I even help re-train some CANTER PA graduates. Well, we added a new pony to the herd on Monday! While he is not exactly a CANTER PA grad, he now belongs to the Executive Director of the PA chapter.

His name is Nkosi Reigns and he’s an 11 year-old by Out of Place. Yeah, he is 11 and just retiring from racing – talk about a war horse! This guy won several graded stakes, including the Spend a Buck Handicap (Gr.III) in 2006, along with the Cigar Stakes. He has spent the latter part of his career running in claimers around Penn National, but still brought home checks consistently – nothing to sneeze at! He raced 87 times, with 19 wins, 18 seconds and 19 thirds – with earnings totaling over $500,000. Can’t say I’ve ever sat on a horse with so much success on the track.

But anyway, this huge (almost 17hh) boy is settling in to life off the track. We pulled his shoes, so he’s a bit ouchy, but otherwise looks fine. He’ll eat up and lose the racing fit look over the next two months. For being 3 days off the track, he is the most settled of horses I have been around. Not phased by anything and his only vice is that sometimes he walks away from you when you try to bring him in from the field. But hey, the guy hasn’t been in a huge turnout in years, can you blame him?! He is already playing in the duck pool and trying to climb in water troughs – something tells me he won’t be phased by water portions of a cross country course!

I’ll keep you posted on him as his training begins. I’ll also have frequent updates on another CANTER PA grad once he comes home from cowboy camp :D That’s another story. Just expect to hear a lot about a little horse, with an amazing forelock, named Doyle. He’s my special boy.

In the mean time, enjoy this picture I snapped yesterday during my visit to see the ponies.

Brody (left) a CANTER PA grad, now turned dressage horse, welcomes his new buddy Nkosi Reigns (right) home to Cedar Line Farm

A Day of Greats!

Two very important things happened in the racing industry today. I fought myself over which to cover first, but I will begin with the event that started my morning: Frankel’s romp in the Queen Anne!

The Royal Ascot meet could not have started out any better. Undefeated European champion, Frankel (named for late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel), steam rolled to an 11 length victory in the Gr.I Queen Anne Stakes. He had 11 other competitors to put away, but my goodness did he make easy work of every one!

Jockey Tom Queally put the four year old colt in perfect stalking position and then unleashed the monster with about three furlongs left to go. It was absolutely amazing to see such a dominating performance by such an incredible equine athlete. I am crossing my fingers that this victory will solidify his entry in the Breeders’ Cup this year. I’m not sure if there’s any horse out there that can beat him at a mile and quarter, but my goodness I just want to see him on American turf!

I don’t know how you can’t be a fan of this guy, this is what keeps racing fans coming back for more!

Frankel rolls to an 11 length victory, Photo by Frank Sorge

So last week I discussed the Maryland Racing Commission reviewing Secretariat’s 1973 Preakness time. Well, 39 years later Secretariat is being (rightfully) credited with setting and holding the Preakness Stakes record time, with a final time of 1:53 flat – a whole 2/5 faster than what was thought to be the record.

Congratulations to Big Red and all of his connections – record times for all three legs of the Triple Crown! As if the red guy couldn’t have gotten any better :]

You can find the full story and details here!

“Colors of the Mind”

Steve Haskin recently wrote an image evoking entry on his Blood-Horse blog, Hangin’ with Haskin, titled “Colors of the Mind.”

I felt compelled to write about his entry because of the disappointment and, at time, the frustration I feel over having not been alive to see horses like Damascus run. I have never seen a Triple Crown winner and I have certainly never seen a horse run 16 times as a three-year-old. Perhaps more aggravating is that I may never see either of those in my lifetime.

I consider myself extremely blessed to have watched horses like Zenyatta, Azeri, Frankel and Black Caviar run – even Rapid Redux. But there is something about the horses of the 20th century that is so hard to replicate. There’s something about those times that I admire so much, that I wish could be restored.

Every time I watch Secretariat’s ’73 Belmont Stakes I get goosebumps and I dream about what it must have felt like to be there that day, or even watch from home. And much like Haskin, I have no idea why I’m writing this entry, but here I am doing it. Maybe I’m not ready to leave the Triple Crown behind either. I don’t want the excitement to fade, I don’t want to wait until next year. But that’s what makes the first Saturday in May so magical, because it only comes around once a year.

Damascus won or placed in 31 of his 32 lifetime starts

A few minutes ago I was browsing the racing history of a graded stakes winner that my friend/mentor will be bringing home to call her own this week. He’s eleven years old and did his fair share of running, especially in this age of racing where colts that win stakes races are kept intact and retired early for stud duty. Not this guy, he was gelded and kept around as long as he was sound, happy, and winning. Now he’s no longer winning and seems to prefer to wind down instead of up – so he has now retired and will be calling New Oxford, Pa his new home. I am quite excited to get my hands on him, future sporthorse? I think so!

It is surely ‘Hump Day’

After a lot of job hunting and trying to network, I decided to dedicate two hours of my time to reading today (as a way to de-stress). I should say that those two hours have since turned into five hours and will surely continue into the night. I blame George R.R. Martin for writing such captivating (if not a bit inflated) fantasy fiction.

Since I am unable to tear myself away from the book today, I will share my Flickr account with you. Which is basically a subtle invite to view my novice and poorly misguided attempts at photography.

Here it is, enjoy!

Life after Graduation

Since I graduated from Wilson College on Sun, May 20, life has been a bit of a blur. Okay, well not really. I went on a two week beach vacation, not too complicated. With limited internet access and an ever-active mind, I did my best to brainstorm future job possibilities and determine the best paths for me to take. This included sifting through several equine publications in the Pennsylvania/Maryland regions (since I don’t exactly have the funds to move out of state).

I have created a pretty substantial list that I plan on sending my resume and portfolio, but there’s a problem with all of them. From what I have been able to find, none of these publications are actively hiring. Now, that won’t stop me from sending in my packet, but it does increase my chances of being rejected. It’s a part of life, but it doesn’t mean I want experience it over and over again. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed and networking as best as I can.

Only a few of those publications cover Thoroughbred racing, but beggars can’t be choosers and in no way will I be too picky as long as I get a job offer. Of course, the main goal is to eventually report on all things Thoroughbred (racing, breeding, training, etc.).

I don’t want to continue droning on about my adventures as a college grad on the job hunt, so I’m going to talk about several non-Triple Crown topics in racing today. As with all of my entries, I will probably give you a lot of my opinion.

First on my agenda is the Maryland Racing Commission is conducting a review on Secretariat’s 1973 Preakness Stakes win time. A faulty electronic timers caused discrepancies about the official time for Big Red’s Preakness victory. In fact, there was so much confusion that the official hand clocker announced the time several days later as 1:54 2/5 – a small beat of Canonero II’s 1971 time of 1:54 flat. Three other horses (including 2007 Preakness winner Curlin) have beat the 1:54 mark, all tying with 1:53 2/5, but the all time record for 1 3/16 at Pimlico is held by Farma Way with a time of 1:52 2/5.

Since Secretariat set the record for the Kentucky Derby (1:59 2/5) and the Belmont Stakes (2:24 flat), I can see why people believe he would have had a faster Preakness time – especially since two clockers got him going 1:53 2/5 (a big difference from the electronic timer’s 1:55). I’m just pleased that the matter is finally going to be settled and the controversy can be left behind. Whether or not the horse set, equaled, or ran slower the record is irrelevant to me for the sheer purpose that his talent is unmatched on nearly every level. If Curlin ran fan a faster Preakness, is it really a big deal? Curlin didn’t win the Belmont by 31 lengths and he surely didn’t run ten furlongs in under two minutes. It will be interesting to know, but I don’t think the ending result could  make Secretariat shine any brighter (or  tarnish his legendary status for that matter).

1973 Triple Crown winner, Secretariat

I read this piece by Mary Simon on Sunday and found myself reading it again Monday and even today. She simply takes the words from my mouth when it comes to I’ll Have Another and race horses of recent years in general. I’ll Have Another was prematurely retired, the details of his injury are a bit vague, if not sketchy and he never became one of the immortal greats. Instead he became another Super Saver, Big Brown and Stevie Wonderboy.

What happened to the Spectacular Bids, Seattle Slews and Cigars? When did our breeding model change from sound, durable horses to light boned, fragile creatures with no longevity? Was it when stud fees increased? When colts made more money at stud than on the track? I’m not sure, I may have been too young to have watched the trend and times change. Yet I have been watching Classic race winners retire at age three since I can remember. I remember when Smarty Jones retired, and I consider myself a big fan of his, but more so I remember Eddington winning the Pimlico Handicap in 2005, at the whopping age of four. I remember being thrilled when Quality rode came back for his four-year-old season. But I couldn’t care less about Animal Kingdom’s Derby win. In fact, I really just had to think about won the Derby last year – pretty scary, but pretty poignant.

For me, Mary Simon hits the nail on the head. She’s frustrated with racing for a lot of the same reasons I am. She wants the best for the horses and the sport, but unfortunately the two seem to be working against one another. Whether it started in the breeding shed or on the track, I don’t know but something went wrong somewhere.

But alas, as she also says, horse racing fans are pathetically optimistic and always looking to welcome the horse that could change it all. And that is always a live possibility. Horses like I’ll Have Another are fun to watch and root for, quick to disappoint and easy to forget. When is the last time people talked about Super Saver or Mine That Bird? Horses like Spectacular Bid, John Henry, Cigar, Azeri and Zenyatta restore faith and hope in the racing community – and their names are difficult to forget, because they stayed around, because they were everything a racing fan wants.

19 time winner, Zenyatta.

I Won’t Have Another TC Winner and All Glory to Rags!

I am kicking myself for not updating this blog sooner with heartbreaking, and heart mending news! My excuse is valid, I promise. I was in Corolla, Nc. for a two week beach vacation (one week with my family and one week with my boyfriend’s). Needless to say, internet connection was far and few between, but my tan is quite dashing!

Anyway, time to discuss all that unraveled in the final days of Triple Crown mania!

I’ll get down to the obvious, and perhaps most important development which occurred one day before the Belmont Stakes. I’ll Have Another injured his rear tendon and was retired. That’s right folks, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was scratched and them promptly retired due to injury a mere 24 hours before he could have made history. Heartbreaking? Definitely. Surprising? Not so much.

There’s currently a lot of debating in the racing world about whether the New York Racing Association (NYRA) is to blame for the son of Flower Alley’s injury and premature retirement. This year the NYRA decided to establish a “stakes barn,” which ultimately means that all horses competing in the Belmont Stakes are to be stabled in the same barn leading up to the big day. This is exactly why Pimlico does with all the Preakness runners (unless of course you’re Barclay Tagg who stabled 2003 Derby/Preakness winner, Funny Cide, in another barn). People are accusing the NYRA of causing I’ll Have Another unnecessary anxiety by changing his environment a week before the race. Mind you, I’ll Have Another shipped in to Belmont a day after winning the Preakness – meaning he was stabled at Belmont for only two weeks before switching barns.

While it seems that a lot of people are pointing the finger at the barn change, they are also discussing the fact that nasal strips (think ‘breathe rights’ for horses, opening up the nasal passage ways) are banned in New York. I’ll Have Another sported a nasal strip in all of his races, but the NYRA board banned them a while back based on the premise that they can be performance enhancing.

I will agree that these variables could have contributed to I’ll Have Another’s injury, but I do not think they are the sole reason. I am a bit shocked that people are so eager to point the finger at a barn change as the cause of a tendon injury. Sure, stress and anxiety from a change surely doesn’t help. But let’s not forget that I’ll Have Another experienced a good three to four barn changes prior to his switch to the Belmont Stakes barn. He barely had time to wind down from the Derby and Preakness before being shuttled off to a new destination. If the horse gets anxious from traveling, then surely all of this would add up. So why not blame all of the travel instead of a stroll from one barn to another on the same track? I don’t really get it.

I’d also like to remind people the extreme training stress put on I’ll Have Another. The horse only galloped or jogged between races, never recording a workout, but galloping can be just as strenuous – especially paired with two exerting effort for the Derby and Preakness. Tendon injuries in horses are typically caused by the results of rigorous training or from serious acute trauma. Does that sound like a change of stalls to you? Not in my book. It’s much more likely that the horse just couldn’t stand up to the training of becoming a Triple Crown winner – nothing to be ashamed of, 19 have been in that position and still failed with or without injury. Heck, Charismatic fractured his leg in the stretch of the Belmont – so it’s not like we haven’t seen something more serious.

It’s sad, yes, but the racing community should be thankful that the horse is still alive and will receive wonderful care. What if his injury didn’t surface until mid-race and something much more tragic happened? What if he became another Barbaro? Let’s count our lucky stars and let I’ll Have Another recover and be on his merry way to being a daddy.

With that said, I still don’t think I’ll Have Another would have won the Belmont if he didn’t get injured. I really don’t. Did I have my fingers crossed? Of course, I want a Triple Crown just as much as the next person! Like I’ve mentioned before, he never impressed me – physically that is. He is nothing to sneeze at, based on his accomplishments, but the horse never gave me the look that said “I’m the next Triple Crown winner.” The horse will tell you. The only time I’ve seen that look was when Barbaro was racing. That horse had it. Compare Barbaro to I’ll Have Another and you’ll notice it – there’s just a look. Put all of the Triple Crown winners together and there’s something in all of them that makes them different. At least, I think so. So while I wanted a TC winner, I completely advised all of my friends and family against betting I’ll Have Another. It was just a gut feeling and it turned out to be right. I also explained that his pedigree didn’t exactly scream 12 furlongs to me, I think he would have been outdistanced and out run by other horses regardless of injury status.

It should also come as no surprise that I completely supported and cheered for team Union Rags. Phyllis Wyeth and Michael Matz are among my favorite people in racing, top it off with Johnny Velasquez in the saddle and I was in equine fan heaven! The horse looked absolutely brilliant, he was fit, well rested and sharp. I knew he’d get the distance, but I didn’t know that Paynter would nearly wire the field! Talk about a pleasant surprise. I had Dullahan as my second choice, but after seeing Paynter win an Allowance race at Pimlico on Preakness Day, I surely won’t turn my back to him. He’s impressive, fast and was only fourth behind I’ll Have Another in the Santa Anita Derby. This guy could be an under the radar threat – as if the three-year-old male crop wasn’t confusing enough!

Union Rags should definitely head his class and I am so happy he won one of the classics. He could really be more amazing than we think. Congratulations Union Rags, you deserve every bit of this victory!

I’d also like to add that Bob Baffert ran second in the Derby and Preakness with Bodemeister and the Belmont with Paynter. Poor guy came within a length each time – somebody give him a consolation prize! That’s not easy to do.

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