Thursday, April 30, 2009

Derby Daze

Derby field set and post positions drawn, I finally printed a copy of the past performances for the Kentucky Derby. And you know what's missing? A maiden.

For the past 273 days, horsemen, turf writers, bettors, Steve Haskin, and Sister Leonard of St. Emily's Parish in Mt. Prospect, IL, have been sifting through reams of statistics and information - past performances, race replays, pedigree dosage, workouts, trainers' cocktail preferences - all to select The Derby Horse. And, it should be noted, The Derby Horse subsequently shoulders the responsibility of potentially being The Triple Crown Winner.

But reviewing the past performances for the 135th Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands, there appears to be a few horses that should instead be racing in n1x allowance conditions. Thoroughbred owner, Ted "Minnie Soda" Grevelis, so astutely observes, Why?

I miss Old Fashioned and Quality Road in the field, two talented and promising horses that are either retired due to injury or are having a serious relationship with Ian McKinlay. However, the recent scratch of Win Willy was hardly noticed; Win Willy wasn't my Derby horse. And Nowhere to Hide is definitely not my Derby horse.

Yes, there appears to be a number of horses that are overmatched, but I said the same thing about Giacomo back in 2005 and it is, after all, a horse race - with pace scenarios, traffic troubles, track conditions, infield rowdies, and a little bit of pixie dust - any of them could win.

Okay. Maybe there's a couple of 'em that will require just a pinch more of pixie dust that others.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lights On Broadway Prepares to Leave the Track for Greener Pastures

The grooms call him ‘Superpony’.

Less than year ago, 2001 Texas Horse of the Year, Lights On Broadway, was purchased off the back of a slaughter truck for $200. And after a few lackluster cheap claiming races, he was acquired by a group of energized horse lovers and shipped off to begin a new career as an off-the-track Thoroughbred, or OTTB, under the excellent care of trainers Donna and Dallas Keen.

I was fortunate to see Lights On Broadway last September, shortly after he arrived at the Keen farm, just south of Fort Worth. He was underweight and had hoof abscesses, but the heart of the champion remained.

"He knows he’s somebody," Donna told me. "You can tell just by the way he carries himself, perks his ears up and responds to you. He’s exceptionally intelligent."

Indeed, Donna discovered that Lights On Broadway was easy to train for a post-racing career, and had hoped that he might develop into a suitable pony at the racetrack. He also became the inspiration for the Keens’ new non-profit racehorse rehabilitation and placement program, Remember Me Rescue. Dallas and Donna are passionate about finding homes for former racehorses as well as raising awareness about horse rescue.

This spring, Lights On Broadway - ‘Superpony’ - returned to Lone Star Park, but his pony career wasn’t going well. "He has a paralyzed flapper and gets very nervous along with making a quite a bit of noise when galloping on the racetrack," Donna informed me. "Plus he’s really too big for me [at a little over 17 hands], making it hard for me to get on him, or pick up something I might drop. And," she admitted, "he’s not happy here."

So Lights On Broadway will be leaving the racetrack for good and head to his new home: his own 2-acre paddock in Fredericksburg, located in the beautiful Hill Country of Texas. However, before he goes, the champion will be in the spotlight once again – he’ll be featured in the local news this weekend. His final job: demonstrate the importance and success of horse rescue. There is life after racing.

Lights On Broadway, the new media darling of North Texas

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Opening Night at Lone Star Park: A Photo Essay

While much of the horse racing world is abuzz with Triple Crown and/or Jeff Mullins drama, this little corner of the planet is rattled with excitement as this weekend live racing returned to Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie.

Last Thursday, I attended Opening Night and thought I would share with you the evening with images.

First frozen margarita.

    First winner, Upstream (Open Forum), a 6-year-old Texas-bred chestnut gelding, winner of the 13th running of the Premiere Stakes, trained by Allen Milligan. Of note, Milligan was the leading trainer in the 2009 Oaklawn meet, sending out 24 winners. Perhaps a celebration should be in order over at the Men's Wearhouse where he can secure a stylish sports coat.

      First losers.

        First win of the meet for Steve Asmussen. Copihue (Candy Ride) won the third race, immediately vaulting Asmussen to the top of the trainers' leaderboard, as he once again mounts his offensive to take home his 11th Lone Star Park Training Title and collect a myriad of family photos he can enclose in his Christmas cards.

          Mark your calendars for next Saturday, for Lone Star Park's Cajun Crawfish Boil. That should make for an interesting photo essay.

          Wednesday, April 01, 2009

          The Long and Winding Quality Road to the Roses Discovered in Oklahoma

          Spring Break conjures up images of frenzy college fun on some sunny beach far away from school and any sort of responsibilities. My daughters are not immune to this notion of taking a road trip during this week, although being in 1st and 5th grade doesn’t exactly lend well to a South Padre destination. Although I strongly encouraged the girls to consider spending the week at home, cleaning their rooms and helping me with chores, they were most persuasive, “Let’s go to Grandpa’s and drink his liquor!” Okay, they didn’t exactly say that, but they wanted to visit my Dad who lives in Arkansas.

          Originally, I coaxed them into a side trip to Hot Springs but mutiny ensued when they discovered that Hot Springs was not the Taj Mahal of waterparks but in fact, home to Oaklawn Park and horse racing - not their idea of Spring Break fun. Needless to say, we ended up settling on a trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, spending the night at the Embassy Suites along with 27,944 other kids who, by sheer coincidence, were all in the pool at the same time.

          However, it’s noteworthy that Tulsa has a connection to Florida Derby winner and serious Kentucky Derby contender, Quality Road. Richard Linihan of the Tulsa World alerted horse racing fans that Quality Road’s trainer, Jimmy Jerkens, is the brother of KJRH’s Sports Director, Big Al Jerkens.

          Serendipity! Once again I find myself closely linked to a potential Derby winner! I’ve been to Tulsa. Jimmy Jerkens’ brother lives in Tulsa. And Oklahoma and Texas are kind of close on a map, if you are lucky enough to have a map according to Miss South Carolina Teen.

          Seizing the opportunity to learn more information about Jimmy Jerkens, I fired off an email to Big Al, anticipating a response or anecdote, like “Jimmy’s a phenomenal horseman; he was practically born in a barn (no offense, Mom),” or “Nobody could pull off the classic Flaming Bag of Horse Poop prank better than Jimmy,” or “Jimmy and I do not enjoy a close relationship since the summer of ’74 when he swiped my Thurman Munson rookie card and stuck it in the spokes of his bicycle tires to make a motor sound. It chewed up the card and I’m still mad.”

          Unfortunately, Big Al has not responded to my email. One can theorize that perhaps my email ended up in Big Al’s spam folder or Big Al, being a New York Ranger’s fanatic, is busy interviewing the new Ranger’s Superfan.

          Anyway, Quality Road is Jimmy Jerkens’ first Derby starter and today he’s been installed as the favorite in the final Kentucky Derby Future Wagers pool.