Thursday, February 18, 2010

Much Ado About Apple Blossom Tickets

Bubbajoe is mad. He’s feeling ripped-off.

Bubbajoe has purchased a dozen tickets for an exciting day at the races at Oaklawn [Racing and Gaming] Park. But instead of being giddy with anticipation, he’s infuriated.

Bubbajoe purchased tickets with expectations to see the Apple Blossom (gr. 1) ... on April 3.

Of course, the Apple Blossom has been pushed back six days in an effort to accommodate Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, and it is now scheduled to be run Friday, April 9. Tickets purchased for April 3 will not be honored on April 9 nor will they be refunded.

And Bubbejoe is not alone.

I’ve seen numerous comments throughout blogs and message boards written by folks that snapped up tickets for an April 3 Apple Blossom, with hopes of watching the much-anticipated showdown between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, only to feel cheated when the race was moved to a different day.

I feel bad for Bubbajoe and all the other individuals that are feeling duped and disappointed. If I were one of those individuals, I’d gripe and protest and hope for some kind of compensation, even though the fine print on the tickets probably simply reads, No refunds. No exchanges. All sales final.

Being the concerned horse racing fan and semi-diligent blogger, I contacted Oaklawn's General Manager, Eric Jackson, and expressed my concern about the ticketing flap regarding the Apple Blossom. What was Oaklawn’s perspective? And would there be some type of “horse racing consolation” for April 3 ticketholders, like really great racing and/or cheap beer?

Mr. Jackson responded with very sound reasoning,

We have been selling seats for the 2010 season since November 1. The primary stakes planned for that particular Saturday (April 3) is always the Oaklawn Handicap. Normally, the Apple Blossom is the undercard stakes (and has not always been run on that day). The majority of seats that weekend were sold well before there was any thought that Zenyatta and Rachel might hook up. In fact, Zenyatta was "retired" until mid-January.

In order to get both those horses in a race, we had to create a new race on a new date. We moved it to our closing weekend to accommodate the two stars. Unfortunately, that is our Arkansas Derby weekend, which has essentially been sold out since late 2009.

So if you have tickets for April 3, Mr. Jackson assures you that Oaklawn “will have excellent racing with the Oaklawn Handicap being our big race that day.” No word on beer specials.

And for April 9 ticketholders, he says they hope to have Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra there but shares this warning: “There are no guarantees that both stars will be here.”

Friday, February 12, 2010

Homecoming Revisited

Way back in 1979, I eagerly looked forward to my high school’s homecoming dance. I was absolutely positively sure that this boy I adored, ‘Dwight’, was going to ask me to the dance. Well, ‘Dwight’ asked ‘Hillary’ to the dance. So instead I eagerly looked forward to my Homecoming Emergency Back-Up Plan which consisted of consuming a bag of Doritos, a pint of ice cream, and watching The Love Boat, all the while feeling sorry for myself and seething over the imagery of ‘Dwight’ dancing with ‘Hillary’ - secretly hoping that ‘Hillary’ would break her ankle or upchuck all over ‘Dwight’.

As it turns out, I didn’t even get to revel in the glories of my Homecoming Emergency Back-Up Plan because I got horrifically sick with the flu that weekend. Doritos and ‘Dwight’ never crossed my mind; I’m pretty sure that my fever-ravaged body only demanded some sort of relief, like death.

Anyway, there is a point: You can circle a date on a calendar for some greatly anticipated event but sometimes unforeseen circumstances beyond your control can muck it all up and the much ballyhooed said event turns into a big bowl of nothingness.

Horse racing fans have made it abundantly clear they have a burning desire to see 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra take on the undefeated Zenyatta. Or Champion Older Mare / 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Zenyatta take on that upstart punk Rachel Alexandra, depending on your point of view. Regardless, Mr. Oaklawn, Charles Cella, in a humongous humanitarian effort to make this race possible, whipped out a big fat purse and circled a new date on the calendar for the Apple Blossom Invitational Handicap (gr. 1).

So now there’s a big bowl of great anticipation and excitement along with copious amounts of skepticism, peppered with hopeful optimism that these two wonderfully talented fillies will race against each other on April 9th. And as our resident American-in-Paris trainer Ms. Rarick so astutely reminds us that “plans can change in an instant with one bad work or a little heat in a joint,” to which, I would assume, she would be referring to the horses and not Steve Asmussen.

Neither Rachel Alexandra nor Zenyatta have yet to race this year, both being targeted to race on March 13th. Is everybody all that hopped up in the excitement and big bowl of possibilities that they’re ready to take an extra day off work and pour into some little burg in the Ozarks or their local OTB? Okay, maybe not John … not surprised there.

For many, the “hot spot” is now Hot Springs, Arkansas, in early April. And, if all goes well and Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta remain healthy and happy (read: come out of their respective prep races well and have good workouts and don’t have any ‘hiccups’), this really could be a big bowl full of something.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Book Review of 'The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby'

Some time ago I was asked to read and review The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby by Crystal Hubbard, a children's book about the life of jockey Jimmy Winkfield. It’s an excellent book and I quickly found my review resembling the back jacket of a book on the New York Times Best Seller list:

    Lively and entertaining! I couldn’t put it down!

    Wonderful detailed story … Ms. Hubbard weaves Wink’s exciting racing triumphs with his struggles of enduring racism, world war and exile.

    Dramatic artwork …

An inspiring story of hope and dreams with important lessons about racial discrimination and injustices. But let’s face it, although it is a lively and entertaining detailed story with dramatic artwork, it’s a book that’s written for children and belongs in an elementary school library. So my opinion means squat.

Conveniently, my daughter, Alice, is in 2nd grade. Not only is she a voracious reader – Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary is currently on her bedside table – but she’s also my occasional companion at the racetrack, so she has a basic understanding of horse racing, albeit she’s kind of clueless about the prominence of the Kentucky Derby.

Nonetheless, I asked Alice to read and review The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby. I merely transcribed and edited her review, answered a few questions, and made popcorn.

* * * * *

My Book Review of The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby
By Alice
(Age 8)

This book is really really good. I give it two thumbs up. I like going to the racetrack with Mom but she says that the Kentucky Derby is not at Lone Star Park and that I will never see the race in my lifetime because it costs more that our trip to Walt Disneyworld and Mom says I would have to marry a millionaire. If Hudson becomes a millionaire I could marry him when I grow up and go to the Kentucky Derby! Also, I think that Hudson would like this book because he is smart. He also likes horses, I think. And cats, too.

In the story, Jimmy Winkfield is a jockey and he’s a good jockey. But I guess people don’t like him because he’s black. “Racial conflicts,” it says in the book. I don’t understand it. I mean, President Obama is black. So’s my friend, Alexis. Everybody likes them and they’re good people.

Anyway, Jimmy Winkfield – they call him Wink, for short – won two Kentucky Derbies in a row in 1901 and 1902. That was a long time ago, even before my Mom and Dad were born. The horses’ names were His Eminence and Alan-a-Dale. The next year he wanted to win another race but he came in second. Then he moved to Russia.

It is a good book and I will bring it to my teacher, Mrs. Lewis, and maybe she will read it to our class.

* * * * *

Mom says: This book provides a wonderful opportunity for young children to learn about horse racing as well the struggles endured by African-Americans; it certainly opened up some serious discussions with my own child. And more importantly, it teaches that you can achieve your dreams.