Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I Didn't Win a Media Eclipse Award This Year

The winners are rolling in. Yesterday, it was announced that Vinnie Perrone won the Media Eclipse for Writing in the Feature category with his poignant reflections of the late Clem Florio. Billy Reed was awarded the Media Eclipse for his commentary about the late Eight Belles. Bill Nack received an honorable mention for "Eight Belles Breakdown: A Predictable Tragedy." Last year, Bill Mooney won the Media Eclipse about the Precisionist's death.

Thus, one can conclude that these Media Eclipse judges don't have much of a sense of humor. Doom and gloom. Death and tragedy. Nary a positive spin on horse racing. Clearly, I have no hope in winning a coveted Media Eclipse Award.

And speaking of Media Eclipse judges, what exactly were those guys drinking when they bestowed the Photography Eclipse Award of yet again another Frankie Dettori Flying Dismount? Yes, Frankie Dettori is a very photogenic sort. He's been gracing the inside cover of the Lone Star Park program for a number of years with the same joyful expression. Subsequently, I rummaged into the Famous Box of Racing Junk I Have Yet to Discard to review my 2004 Breeders' Cup section. And sure enough, Dallas Morning News photographer, Irwin Thompson, snapped a similar photo of the Frankie Detorri Flying Dismount after 28-1 longshot, Wilko, defeated Afleet Alex in the Juvenile. However, I don't recall Irwin Thompson receiving an Eclipse Award.

So what makes Matt Goins photograph so monumental? Well, could it be that it is an excellent demonstration of how the Breeders' Cup lacks the ability to use Spell Check? As our good friend, Mr. Not Really writes,
How stupid is everyone in that particular error chain, to let those signs get that far? How does that happen? How can the Breeders' Cup seriously call itself the greatest day in racing?

And another thing. Donativum doesn't have a nose.

Perhaps the NTRA was deluged with a insurmountable sundry of uninspiring horse racing photos not worthy of consideration, such as the following,

Title: Texan Blogger Captures Excitement of Thoroughbred Racing After Consuming Old Style, Arlington Park, IL

Media Eclipse Judge 1: Wow! The photographer captures the spirit of racing! What a lovely group of maiden claimers!
Media Eclipse Judge 2: And the begonias look good, too.
Media Eclipse Judge 3: Unfortunately, we can't give this photographer consideration for an award because 'Arlington Park' is spelled correctly.
Media Eclipse Judge 1: (nods head in agreement) Yeah. Plus the begonias are alive, not dead.

Anyway, the TBA is conducting the TBA Photo Contest Do-Over. It's a great way to start off the new year. So start sending in your Media Eclipse worthy photos which may or may not include the Gary West Flying Dismount or some sort of subject called "horse". Good luck!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Treats Can Lead to a Sugar Overload

Every good story has to come to an end. And sometimes, a bad story can't come to the end soon enough. For those [two] readers that enjoyed the holiday exploits of our racing reindeer, I give you the final installment.

The Racing Reindeer: Comet's Final Turn

Comet stood patiently in the saddling paddock while Huey saddled him, happily whistling Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

All of a sudden, Sid hustled over to them, his racing form tucked under his arm. "Hey you guys," he said, "I got a line on Beer Pong. Tom Amoss is pretty high on this one and his morning line is 5-1. We could have a real solid exacta." He looked at Huey, annoyed. "Will ya quit whistling that song?"

"It's a good song," came a familiar voice.

Comet, Huey, and Sid looked up, startled.

There stood Santa Claus.

He was dressed in dark slacks and a blue sports jacket, easily blending with all the other owners and trainers in the paddock. But the white beard and rosy cheeks were unmistakable. However, he wasn't exactly looking like a jolly ol' fellow.

"Ah, Comet. Huey." Santa raised his white bushy eyebrows in surprise when he looked at Sid. "My, my," he observed dryly, "Look who we have here."

Sid flushed. "Hey there, Santa," he said sheepishly. "Been awhile, huh?"

Santa folded his arms across his chest and spoke with a quiet command. "Comet, it's time for you to come home."

Comet looked at Santa pleadingly. "Please, S.C. Just this one last race! I just want to have the chance to show Larry Jones my stuff! He's got Doc's Friend entered in the Sugar Bowl Stakes!" He looked to Huey and Sid for support, but the elves shrugged helplessly. Who argued with Santa Claus?

Santa gently stroked Comet's muzzle. "Comet, you are a part of my team and Christmas is only a few days away. I need you. And you've had a wonderful opportunity to live this dream as a racehorse over the past few weeks but it's time to come home."

"But .. but ... my Derby dreams ...," Comet sputtered.

Santa just shook his head.

"Maybe we can come back in January for LeComte?" Huey offered up hopefully.

Santa Claus chuckled, the familiar twinkle returning to his eyes. "No, Huey. Even you know that Christmas Magic only lasts so long. It's time to come home," he repeated. And then looking directly at Sid, he added, "All of you."

Sid grunted. "Well, I kinda did enjoy the snow last week. It really wasn't all that bad."

"Tell you what, Sid. I'll consider opening an OTB parlor after the new year," Santa conceded.

Sid brightened visibly. "Okay, S.C., but can I get out of sorting Lincoln Logs?"

Santa smiled and nodded. Then he directed his attention to his reindeer. "It's time to retire as a racehorse, Comet."

Comet was disappointed. He'd be going back to the North Pole, a permanent frosty winter wonderland with the perpetual odor of peppermints and gingerbread along with the chipper melodies of perky elves. It's not as if he would enjoy the same type of retirement as, say, Curlin.

"Look," said Santa, "you can be Filmore's assistant. You've proven very athletic and competitive as a racehorse. Morning workouts, sprints and routes, turf and dirt. I think you can bring some real spirit to our team."

"What about me?" Huey asked.

Santa thoughtfully rubbed his whiskers. "Why don't you plan on staying here in New Orleans for a few more weeks - keep an eye out for P Val. Keep him out of trouble." Santa looked over to P Val, as he was standing next to his mount, Screen Your Friend. P Val met his gaze, somewhat surprised by the hint of familiarity. He smiled wanly to Santa Claus' wave. "Merry Christmas, P Val!" he called out.

And Merry Christmas to all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Snow in New Orleans

The Road to Louisville is in NOLA Today Another Day

Our holiday pals, Comet, Huey, and Sid are currently in the Crescent City, and that's a good place to be today if you're dreaming about the Road to the Roses.

The 6th race at the Fair Grounds is a 1 mile allowance affair for 2-year-olds. And there is lots of potential. Indygo Mountain looks to be a very promising horse, winning his maiden by more than 6 lengths,
He sprinted away from his rivals, through the final quarter-mile in 24.64 seconds — something few 2-year-olds could do — on his way to completing the mile in 1:35.54 ... just two ticks slower than the winning time turned in by a good group of older horses in the day’s featured race. [Gary West, Star-Telegram]

Let's put it this way, it was impressive enough that the Professor has already placed Indygo Mountain squarely on his list of Derby prospects. And of course, given the fact that I'm a homer, I love his connections: trained by Bret Calhoun and owned by Clarence Scharbauer,Jr. What could be better for Texas racing than putting a couple of Texans in the Derby Winner's Circle?

Trainer Larry Jones, who in his endeavor to retire from training has assembled a small arsenal of quality 2-year-olds, has two entries in the race: Friesan Fire and Doc's Friend. Not to be left out of the Mardi Gras, Doug O'Neill ships in Escalon, who's been racing over California's synthetic surfaces and just might discover that he likes this stuff called "dirt". And you can never discount Steve Asmussen, who saddles Uno Mas.

So this afternoon's a good time to grab some crawfish and gumbo and dream of roses, f'sure.

UPDATE: Forget the crawfish and gumbo - get a snow shovel! According to a press release, Fair Grounds canceled its Thursday card due to snow, of all things.

Handicapper and blogger on the scene, Jim Mulvihill, explains the reasoning behind the cancellation,
Those of you outside of the south who wonder why a little bit of snow--at most four inches and probably less around the track--would shut down racing need to understand what a rare occurrence this is around here ... Cities down here don't have snow plows. Power is out in some pockets. Major interstates like 310 are closed, as well as several bridges, like the Huey P. Long, which crosses the Mississippi River. [Fair Grounds Blog]

The good news is Bourbon Street is still open for business.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Economy Brief

I spoke with Donna Keen this morning. I was supposed to go out to her farm today to visit her latest rescue project, Lights on Broadway, who would soon be starting his new career as a racetrack pony at the Fair Grounds. The former racehorse had put on weight and trained beautifully for his new job. Donna had hoped to use him as her own pony but she admits, "He's pretty big; a little tough for me to get on. It involves a little jumping and maneuvering for me, but he's patient."

Anyway, it's cold here in North Texas: 31ยบ F. (Note to all Canadians, New Yorkers, and Yankee "Others": Don't give me any lip by making comments that include words such as "heatwave" or "balmy" or "wuss"). We rescheduled my visit for later in the week, but we briefly chatted about her other rescue projects as well as the development of a 501c3 non profit fund for the Keen's rescue operation, Remember Me Rescue.

"I hated to [ask for donations]," Donna told me, "but we can no longer afford to pay for the rescue operation ourselves. Everything - feed, hay, and help - has gotten too expensive."

This in turn led to a conversation about the economy and its effect on horse racing, a dangerous territory for people like me. Sort of like discussing transmissions with my mechanic. (Note to Economists, Steve Zorn, and Smart Business Types: Please refrain from making comments that include words such as "moron" or "dork" or "bubblehead"). I stated the obvious: Purses are higher at the Fair Grounds than at Sam Houston Retama so racing there should be more lucrative for their operation. However, Donna quickly pointed out that the competition at the Fair Grounds was a whole lot more tougher. She cited a recent maiden special weight, "We're racing our horses against expensive, $600,000 horses." I suggested that given the economy and costs associated with purchasing and owning racehorses as well as purse amounts and reduction in handle and increase cost of beer at racetracks, that perhaps these expensive, half-million dollar purchases could no longer be purchased for a half-million dollars because of Reaganomics or Voo-doo Economics or some other trickle-down-effect political gobbledygook, and the competition would eventually even itself out. And then I could have a nice conversation with my mechanic and instruct him how to repair the transmission.

But Donna pointed out that it wasn't so much the purchase price of a racehorse at the Keeneland Sale that was the horseman's problem, rather an economical factor that I had never even considered. "Where I see a real downturn is in the claims. Nobody is claiming anymore. We end up running a $30,000 claimer for $10,000 because there are no claims at the higher level. There used to be a couple of claims in every race, or lots of claims if a horse is real good," said Donna, "but it's becoming tough to sell a horse."

    Tuesday, December 09, 2008

    Holiday Treats in the Big Easy

    The holidays just wouldn't be the holidays without the classic stories of It's a Wonderful Life or A Charlie Brown Christmas. And it is in that spirit that I present the continuing holiday saga, sans George Bailey and Mr. Potter (at least in this chapter), of
    The Racing Reindeer
    Beignets and Rosy Dreams

    "What a month," Comet thought to himself. The Fall Meet at Churchill Downs had been romp. After he easily broke his maiden, he pounded the competition in the allowance ranks. A win in the Grade II $500,000 Clark Handicap would have been the tinsel on the tree - the very idea of defeating the likes of Einstein and Commentator made him absolutely giddy - but Huey got into a verbal altercation with a racing official prior to the race, resulting in a late scratch and a fine.

    "He said some unflattering things about you," the elf had informed Comet. "So, I reminded him of the time when he was 11-years-old and he swiped Mr. McGooken's brand-new riding lawnmower and took it on a joyride around the neighborhood. Put him squarely on the Naughty List that year, I told him. And if that jerk didn't apologize for calling you The World's Ugliest Equine, I could assure him a return trip to the Naughty List."

    Needless to say, it seemed like a good time to quickly vacate Churchill Downs and head to the Fair Grounds. Huey had a weakness for jazz and beignets. And that P Val character owed them a favor or two after last year's debacle in California.

    When they hit New Orleans, Comet and Huey had met up with Huey's cousin, Sid, a rogue elf that left toy manufacturing behind to play the ponies. Not only was he an excellent handicapper, he had the knack to secure good jockeys for Comet. Francisco Torres and James Graham were somehow magically available to ride after a few words with Sid. And Comet had recently observed Sid chatting it up with Jamie Theriot. Huey surmised that Sid's success had more to do with residual Elfin Magic rather than smooth talking.

    "Hey, Huey," Comet called out from his stall. "Don’t you think we should be getting back to The North?"

    "Oh yeah," Huey mumbled absentmindedly, concentrating on The Daily Racing Form.

    Comet continued speaking. "Filmore’s probably started training camp. I’ll be lucky if I even get the Christmas Eve gig if I don’t get back there soon."

    "I wouldn’t be worrying about Filmore," Huey replied. And muttering under his breath, "He’s a doofus."

    "You know, ol’ S.C. put up a lot last year with my little expedition to Hollywood Park and all," Comet said.

    Huey let out an exasperated sigh. Rolling his eyes back he spoke directly to Comet, "There’s nothing to worry about. Just a couple more races then we head home. Good stakes races are a little sparse at the moment, but I've got you lined up in the Classic on Louisiana Champions Day next Saturday. Easy. $150 K purse. Party on Bourbon Street. Buy Mrs. C. a nice Christmas gift. Home before the first Polly Pocket is loaded on S.C.'s sleigh." Huey returned to his racing form, "And you could teach that Guitar Hero a thing or two."

    "Star Guitar," Comet corrected.

    "Whatever," mumbled Huey.

    Comet fidgeted. He loved this. He loved racing. He loved being with thoroughbreds. He loved the Call to Post. He loved the railbirds. He loved the post parade. He loved hanging around with D. Wayne Lukas. And he especially loved flying across the wire first and having his photo taken in the Winner's Circle.

    But the fact remained that Comet was a reindeer. Not just any ol’ Norwegian variety reindeer, but he was Santa’s reindeer. A flying reindeer. And Christmas Eve was only a few of weeks away, and racing against Star Guitar or Autobeacat didn’t seem nearly as important as making sure that Teresa got a Hannah Montana Malibu Beach House, or John received a Nerf N-Strike Vulcan EBF-25 Blaster.

    "Hey, dreamer!" called out Huey.

    Comet shook off his reverie. "What?"

    "Time to head over to the paddock." Huey folded up his Daily Racing Form and stuck it behind his back into the waistband of his blue jeans. "Sid thinks he can lure Borel to ride next time," he said nonchalantly. He opened Comet's stall.

    "Calvin Borel? Sid knows Calvin Borel?" Comet asked excitedly.

    Huey grunted in affirmation.

    Comet's hooves didn't touch the ground all the way to the paddock. Calvin Borel might be his rider. Thoughts of returning to the North Pole were immediately forgotten; Comet was thrilled. He greatly admired Calvin Borel, especially when he won the Kentucky Derby aboard Street Sense.

    All of a sudden, Comet harbored the idea of going back to Churchill Downs ... on the first Saturday of May.

    Monday, December 01, 2008

    A Holiday Classic Returns

    December already? Holiday festivities are underway as many of you are still enjoying the remnants of Thanksgiving in the form of turkey tetrazzini or turkey sandwiches. Hopes of leftover pumpkin pie in the refrigerator are dashed when the only thing located is Aunt Fern's pink Jello salad. Horse racing has hit the doldrums, creating waning interest unless, of course, you're Alan or that Pull the Pocket guy, and are capable of scribing no less than 24,578,966 words about the Breeders Crown races. So, it's time to incite some holiday spirit into this blog, and I do so with the return of the beloved Christmas classic,

    The Racing Reindeer

    Episode VI: Missing!

    The barn door burst open.

    “Get up!” shouted a voice. “Get your lazy pieces of venison-bottoms up and at ‘em! Christmas Training Camp starts in 10 minutes!”

    The overhead lights switched on. Bright. Way too bright for the sleeping reindeer. In desperation, Dasher buried his muzzle under his pillow.

    “GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP!!” the voice continually thundered.

    Dasher squeezed his eyes shut. He knew what was next.

    The shrill of a whistle blared through the stable.

    Filmore was a stout elf that relished conducting Reindeer Games and Christmas Training Camp to his charges. He had no use for whiners or complainers, slouches or dawdlers. Pulling Santa Claus’ sleigh on Christmas Eve was top priority. And each reindeer had to be completely fit.

    Filmore took the whistle out of his mouth. He marched along the shedrow, inspecting each stall, calling out each reindeer by name with the authority of a Marine Drill Sergeant, “Donner! Get up! Prancer! Get moving! Dasher! Don’t make me come in there and yank your ever-lovin’ antlers off that pillow! Comet! Get ... what?” The elf stopped abruptly. “Where’s Comet??” he called out, incredulous.

    There was brief moment of silence. “Church,” Cupid called out hesitantly.

    “Church?!?” screeched Filmore. “What do you mean by church?” he asked Cupid pointedly.

    Cupid shrugged. “I dunno. All I know is that he said something about going to church.”

    Filmore got nose to nose with Cupid. “And, “ Filmore drawled, “when did he say he was going to church?”

    As the interrogation progressed, Cupid became a little nervous. “Uh, maybe a couple of weeks ago?” he offered, hopefully. He looked around the stable. “Don’t you guys think it was a couple of weeks ago?” he asked the reindeer team.

    A chorus of agreement sounded. “Yeah, it was a couple of weeks ago.”

    “He wasn’t going to church,” cooed the unmistakable silky voice of Vixen. “Comet said he was going to Churchill,” she emphasized.

    Filmore attention snapped to Vixen. “Churchill? Churchill??” his voice rising. “Like in Churchill Downs??? He went to Churchill Downs??” he shouted, the tips of his pointy ears turning as bright red as a poinsettia.

    Vixen calmly eyed him with her signature sultry look. “Honey, he mentioned something about horse racing. I believe he has a dream that needs to be fulfilled.” She batted her long eyelashes.

    Filmore slowly backed up against the wall, shocked. Christmas was only a few weeks away, he thought, and Comet was AWOL. His legs unable to no longer hold him, Filmore slid down the wall, his only thought being, “What am I going to tell Santa?”