Friday, June 29, 2007

Taking Time to Clock

    Clocker: Individual who times workouts which is usually provided for betting information. Job qualifications comprise of the innate ability to accurately operate a stopwatch, clearly identify horses with the highly descriptive terms such as chestnut, bay, or gray as well as saddlecloth colors. Acrophobia is prohibited.

The second half of Morning Workouts Adventure with Gary West consisted of a visit to the clocker’s stand, which is, in fact, a small room on the 7th floor of the grandstand where Gary Reckner and his entourage time workouts. Although I was not allowed to be in the clocker’s stand, I was able to observe some of the morning workouts from the Media Center.

Gary West reached into what appeared to be an old cigar box on his desk and fished out a couple of stopwatches. He gave me a quick overview of the system, which I will happily paraphrase:

Mary [or Macie or Nancy or Franny] calls the clocker from the backstretch and informs him of which horses will be working out and she will give a description of the horse as to what the color of the horse is and the trainer’s saddlecloth and will also provide the information of what the distance is of the work and then the clocker will make the identification of said horse and begin the clocking when the horse breaks off from the particular pole be it the three-quarters pole or the half mile pole as well as establish the fractions at each distance marker except for the quarter pole as we use the light post as the landmark because of the turn in the track and the angle from the clocker’s stand makes it difficult for accuracy and sometimes on particular occasions the horse that is was indicated for the workout does not fit the description of the horse that Mary [or Macie or Nancy or Franny] indicated and well, we don’t know who that horse is.

I nodded my head in understanding. Way down there was a dirt oval with a number of posts along the perimeter. Sheesh, I didn't know the 3/4th pole from a fence post.

Gary continued with his lesson, "Now let’s go ahead and clock one of these horses that might be having a workout. We can find a horse that might be doing something ..."

Doing something?? Somewhere down in the hodgepodge of horses 7-floors-feels-like-43 below us, I’m supposed to find a horse that "might be doing something"?

"There’s one that might be doing something (doing what?) as the rider has his irons up (irons up?) and his stick out." Gary deftly started his stopwatch and clocked the horse that "might be doing something" and when the horse that "might be doing something" crossed the wire, Gary stopped his timer, looked down and remarked, "He wasn’t doing anything."

I nodded again in agreement. I looked down at my stopwatch like a seasoned professional clocker. I hadn’t even started my stopwatch because (1) I did not know from which distance marker or fence post or light pole I was to begin my clocking, and (2) I didn’t know how.

After my quick lesson in clocking, the Professor left me to practice the technique. Just when I finally figured out how to actually operate the stopwatch with proficiency, I began my own search of a horse that "might be doing something." But the track had emptied.

Gary come out of the clocker’s stand and was as giddy as a roofer after a hailstorm: Donnie Von Hemel would be sending Brownie Points, who had recently finished second to Lady of Venice in the Ouija Board Stakes, out with Strong City for a 3/4 mile workout. He provided the official decription, "She’s the chestnut and he’s the gray. Start your clock when they breakoff from the 3/4th post." He quickly disappeared.

Uh oh. My practical exam.

Like a good pupil, I started the clock when they broke off from the 3/4 mile pole and stopped the time as Brownie Points crossed the wire, a length ahead of Strong City. According to my Robic Muli-Event stopwatch, the final time I recorded was 1:11.33.

Not bad. The official time given was 1:11.80. Strong City received a 1:12.00 by using the technical and precise methodology of "He finished just little behind her."

It should be noted that Brownie Points is entered at Prairie Meadows in Saturday’s Iowa Distaff, and Strong City is entered in the Alysheba Stakes at Lone Star Park. Be sure to review your race program and marvel over their last workout.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

An Expedition to the Backstretch

Last Friday I was invited to take a "field trip" to the backstretch at Lone Star Park during morning workouts. The backstretch, not be confused with backgammon or Backstreet Boys, is the mysterious realm on the opposite side of the racetrack where horses are stabled. The railbird’s vantage of the backstretch is a smattering of buildings with the horses being led to and from the area.

I arranged to meet Gary West at 6:30 a.m. for my excursion. Upon arrival to the backstretch, I immediately discovered some startling facts:

    1. If you show up for work at the backstretch at 6:30 a.m., you are really late. There is a flurry of activity: horses, trainers, grooms, jockeys, exercise riders. The track is open from 6:00 – 10:00 a.m. and since Texas summers are notoriously hot, there is motivation to get the horses on the track as early as possible.

    2. The proximity of the backstretch to the grandstand is approximately 12 miles. Okay, it is not actually 12 miles, but my first impression when I approached the track with the Professor, I boldly pronounced my most scientific observation, "This is a long way away!"

    3. There is not a Starbucks on the backstretch.

    4. Mrs. Dallas Keen is the best-dressed woman associated with the sport. On race days, Dallas Keen’s wife is immaculately dressed and has impeccable style. She is very striking and many women except maybe Oprah, would love to have her sense of fashion as well as her manicurist on speed dial. The same holds true when she is on her horse at 6:30 in the morning.

    5. The barn area is roughly the size of Maui. What I always thought was a "smattering of buildings" is actually a small village that stables about 1200 horses, and any given morning 800 of them may be on the track, be it workouts or gallops. And then there’s all the people who are associated with those 1200 horses, many of whom are probably not Republican.

The Professor provided a wonderful education of morning drills and the intricacies in training racehorses, peppering his stories with anecdotes about different trainers, some notable, others with two-horse stables.

During the renovation break, Gary informed me that a little chat with Steve Asmussen was in order. We headed over to his stables, and Steve Asmussen was conveniently sitting in his car, which apparently converts to his office when he’s not on a horse. Gary waved his hands and Steve Asmussen rolled down his window. It was an interview that could’ve taken place at a Sonic instead of the barn area:

Gary West: What are your plans for Curlin?
Steve Asmussen: Haskell. Classic.
Gary West: How do you get Curlin to be Horse of the Year?
Steve Asmussen: Win the Classic.

Their discussion then launched off to remarks about the Belmont and 46.4 and 23.6 and other numbers and coming in second to "the filly" and could Curlin beat "the champion" in the Classic and how Steve Asmussen was anxious to see how Curlin runs after an eight week layoff and so forth. Feel free to read Professor West’s column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Up next: The clocker’s stand expedition, complete with instructions on how to operate a stopwatch.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Little Acts

My 8-year-old daughter, Sophie, is a very generous soul. She’s always willing to give her money to those in need, donate clothes that no longer fit her to Goodwill, and on rare occasions, reluctantly part with a toy or two:

Sophie: I think that someone would really like to have this Barbie.
Me: Sophie, that particular Barbie doesn’t even have a head!

Anyway, a few weeks ago she announced that she wanted to cut her hair and donate it Locks of Love. Sophie has beautiful thick blond hair; women attempt to simulate her naturally highlighted hair by spending hours with their chemist, er I mean hairdresser, and treating tresses with smelly chemicals all for the cost of a winning superfecta wager.

Today was the day. Hair salon. Scissors. 12 inches of hair. Tears (me).

Sophie was very pleased and proud. And exceptionally happy that her little act was going to make someone else happy.

And maybe every now and then, we horseplayers and racing fans should participate in the little acts. The TBA contributes to the organization, Old Friends, and now sponsors the Older Horse category in the TBA standings and donates to Old Friends as well to have their ad on the TBA blogs. Recently, Riding with Barbaro wristbands were sold for a couple of bucks to raise money for the Barbaro Lamintis Fund. If you missed out on the bracelet sales, you can always purchase some EquiPride and EquiLix horse supplements, assuming that you have a horse and you purchase the product via the internet, as SweetPro Feeds will donate a portion of the sale to the fund.

There’s the Permanently Disabled Jockey Fund, which recently had a cash-flow deficiency and couldn’t meet the monthly stipend of $1000 to all of the disabled jockeys, and Edgar Prado, saddle in hand, came to their rescue. Got a ton of money and a yearning for art? ReRun, a horse rescue organization, auctions Moneighs on eBay to raise funds. Good pal, John of Not to the Swift fame recently posted an entry regarding the impending doom of the once-glamorous Hialeah Park and I’m sure there’s a group out there who is looking for some cash to save a bit of history.

Little acts. The cost of a $2 wager on the 6th race at Hollywood. A few dollars from a winning Daily Double wager. It will make you exceptionally happy.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Father's Day

I'm sure many of you have been wondering, where the heck is Sue? And of course, the first thing that comes to mind is that I cashed in an exceptionally profitable Pick-3 at Belmont and took off for some exotic destination such as Costa Rica, where they have beautiful beaches and fascinating volcanos but questionable horse racing and even more uncertain, decent simulcast facilities. But alas, tis not (Tiznot?) the case. It was actually my girlfriend, Judy, who was vacationing in Costa Rica over the past week and I worked for her at the lab. And since I have been functioning as the mad scientist for the past week, I daresay that I have been unable to even glance at The Daily Racing Form, nor Blood-horse, nor (gasp) the TBA RSS feed. (Note to Gary West: You lucky guy ... you, I read. You're in my daily paper delivered to my house!)

Since I have absolutely nothing significant to contribute to my favorite sport, I shall share with you some thoughts I have about tomorrow, Father's Day. Okay, okay. They are not really my thoughts; it's the Father's Day card I bought for my Dad and I laughed so hard in the store I very nearly peed in my pants. And it has nothing to do with horse racing. But it's funny.

Happy Father's Day to all of you who are Dad's or have Dad's (I guess that includes just about everybody except the family of amoebae living in my birdbath in the backyard). Cyber hugs and kisses to Sophie and Alice's Dad as well as my own Dad.

Bet and Barbeque!

* * * * *

New Father’s Day Golf Rules

1. Every drive is a practice drive till you get one you like.
2. Subtract 1 stroke for every tee you remember to pick up.
3. If the ball rolls over the cup, it’s a gimme.
4. If the ball rolls around the cup, it’s a gimme.
5. If the ball looks like it was headed in the general direction of the cup, it’s a gimme.
6. Distractions like noise, wind or clouds moving are immediate cause for a do-over.
7. Chipping on the green will be replaced by an underhand toss.
8. If in a trap, your sand edge may now be replaced by your sand shovel.
9. The terms “par” and “double bogie” are hereby interchangeable.
10. If you take more than five strokes, count it as a “5” and move on … there are people waiting!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Rags to Riches Wins Belmont!

In recognition of Todd Pletcher's first victory in Triple Crown racing, John of Not to the Swift fame salutes him with a can of hair styling mousse.

Concurrently, in true celebratory fashion, Superfecta is enjoying some fine libations and is headlining her next blog entry as I Told You So, You Nitwits!

Meanwhile, in acknowlegdement for the filly's persistent duel and subsequent win, the connections for Paris Hilton are considering changing her name to Riches to Rags.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Looking for the Preakness-Belmont Exacta

Steve Asmussen has roughly 18,624 horses in his barn. Okay, that would be a guess and probably not a very good one either. However, it’s that handsome strapping chestnut Preakness winner, Curlin, that has captivated many individuals.

Because I am such a stickler for facts and figures, I made a Herculean effort to ascertain the number of horses that are actually trained by Steve Asmussen. Of course, my extensive fact-finding mission went directly to the NTRA website that consists of trainer statistics and biographies. As I began to peruse the information (born in Somewhere, North or South Dakota ... had horses in Laredo, Texas ... grew too big to be a jockey ... wife Julie, kids Keith, Darren, Eric, dogs Rudolph and Poopsy ... oh, the phone is ringing just a minute ... no I don’t need a pest control service ... now where was I?), my attention was diverted to a little side bar feature on the website that had Ellis Starr’s picks for the Belmont Stakes. This was notable for a few reasons: (a) I had never heard of him nor ever had read any of his previous selections and there was always a good possibility that he would be an improvement from either Mike Watchmaker or Steve Haskin, (b) he looks just like my Uncle Bill sans a cigarette and a martini, and (c) his top three picks seemed somewhat unordinary,

    1. Rags to Riches
    2. Tiago
    3. Curlin

With a quick click of my mouse button, I abandoned Steve Asmussen and ventured into the handicapping world of Ellis Star of Equibase Fame. First, I must commend Ellis Starr on his use of the bold and italics fonts. Secondly, he made a good case for Rags to Riches (sorry, John),
...not only is she from the same dam that produced [2006 Belmont winner] Jazil, her sire, A.P. Indy, won this race in 1992, himself sired by Belmont and Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. Having won three straight grade one stakes races in a row ... with back-to-back 107 figures earlier this year, Rags to Riches has all the credentials to be the third filly in the history of the race to win

Mr. Starr shared his thoughts on Tiago - which I didn’t really pay much attention to because I don’t think that he has a shot – and then Curlin, whom he felt was still a little bit freaky. However, Mr. Starr did concede the following,
Curlin has an excellent chance of completing the Preakness-Belmont double just as accomplished most recently by Afleet Alex in 2005

Memories of Afleet Alex and his racing career occupied my thoughts. So I bid adieu to Ellis Starr and set off for YouTube ...

2005 Belmont Stakes
"Afleet Alex just ran by Giacomo like he was standing still!"

It’s not difficult to imagine Curlin running by Tiago this year.

So, whatever the number of horses in Steve Asmussen’s barn, there is 1 I'll be watching with particular interest this weekend.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Calvin Borel Interview

Lone Star Park Track Conditions Spring 2007: Sloppy. Muddy. Off Turf. Crappy.

Lone Star Park Track Conditions on Lone Star Million Day, May 28th: Muddy. Wet Turf. 16,196 People. Free Lawn Chairs. Rain. Calvin Borel. Go Go. Bob and John. Best Horse Racing On Planet Earth.

Okay, okay okay. It’s Friday and it’s old news. So before I rehash last weekend’s best events, I’ll toss out a few upcoming picks for those of you looking for a play or two this weekend.

3 – 2 – 11 – 7

That’s my Pick 4 at Hollywood. Or it could be Arlington. Or is it Belmont?

Anyway, last Monday was one of the finest days of racing in Texas. Six stakes races worth $1.1 million. Best horse of the day was the impressive Lady of Venice who ran 23.80 seconds in the final quarter of the Ouija Board Stakes. Best jockey of the day was Garrett Gomez who won three of the six stakes. Best observation of the day was Railbird Roy, who said, “This is a whole lot better than the Texas Rangers.”

Part of the Lone Star Million excitement was an autograph session that included a couple of Triple Crown Notables: jockey Calvin Borel, and trainer Steve Asmussen.

I’m not much of an autograph hound. Come to think of it, I have very few memorabilia lurking around. There are some Cliff Berry goggles that my daughter scored last year and there is a good possibility that I still have my copy of Sports Illustrated with Smarty Jones on the cover (however, do not ask me where this magazine might be located in my house). But to have a chance to actually meet Calvin Borel and Steve Asmussen is what every horseplayer-that-writes-an-insipid-racing-blog-that-rarely-provides-any-factual-information hopes for. I felt this would provide me a tremendous opportunity to ask a question or two in the :43.20 seconds of one-on-one time provided.

When I finally reached Calvin Borel, I offered the obligatory congratulations. And then seizing the moment as he began to sign the photo, which by the way he said was a great photo of him and it should be noted that it was not from the Derby because I called my husband the night before the autograph session and pleaded for his computer-techno-genius to provide me with some kind of photo that I could bring to the autograph session and because my husband is a computer-techno-genius he downloaded a picture of Calvin Borel from God Knows Where taken by I Don’t Know and therefore I cannot publish this photo because I do not have written permission from whoever took the photo, I began my interview:

Me: Did you actually get to touch the Queen? You know, there is some kind of protocol on this whole “touching” matter.
Calvin Borel: Yes. Yes, I did get to the touch the Queen. I got to touch everyone! It was the greatest day of my life!

I was ready to launch quickly into my next question, which was going to be either “Did Carl Natfzger declare his love for you?" or “Who’s your dentist?", however that is when Steve Asmussen horned in on my interview with Calvin Borel.

Steve Asmussen: The Queen, eh? What did she sound like?
Calvin Borel: English

They giggled and tittered another comment or two, back and forth like a couple of schoolboys who had just toilet-papered their gym teacher’s front yard.

And that concluded my Calvin Borel interview.