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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"And They're Off!"

"I am still under the impression that there is nothing alive quite so beautiful as a Thoroughbred horse."
 - John Galsworthy

It makes me sad that I feel like I need to justify what I did a week ago Saturday night, but here goes:

I LOVE Thoroughbreds. They are my favorite breed by far and always have been. I love them for their looks, their courage, their spirit, their personalities, for everything that makes them the Ferraris of the equine species. My fondness for the breed was born during childhood riding lessons spent at hunter barns where everyone's aspiration was to have a TB for the show ring. My mom was also a casual racing fan, and we usually watched all three Triple Crown races (the only ones televised back in the day), so I became interested in racing at an early age. Basically, as far as I am concerned, TBs have always been THE breed. Besides riding them, I like to read about them, study pedigrees, and watch them.

This includes live racing. As the years have gone by, and I've had Internet access, I've read and heard an awful lot about the dark side of TB racing. I'm afraid that when I was a kid, I never thought much about where they went when they were done with the track. Certainly off to greener pastures, to produce more wonderful animals like themselves or to be loved and ridden by horse-crazy people, right? Now I know that thousands go to slaughter. I know about the drugs, the breakdowns, the irresponsible breeding, the running on three legs and a heart, the riding too young, too fast, too soon. But I can't help it - I'm still fascinated. They are just so magnificent! Even the lowliest, shoulda-been-retired-two-years-ago broken down old claimer is a creature of absolute beauty to me.

So I went to the races.

Fairmount Park in IL is a little over an hour from my home. Every time I've driven by in the past I've thought, "I need to go there." But it took until last year, when a guy from work told me he was putting together a little racetrack-going party, to actually get me in the place. I had a great time, so this year when the email came I jumped on it and said COUNT ME IN.

Thanks to Equibase, I was able to pull up a complete list of entries for Saturday night's races. This made for some interesting reading: out of 47 runners total in eight races, guess how many had sires whose names I recognized? Six. And two of those studs are now retired at Old Friends! (More about this later) To be fair, most of the horses at Fairmount are Illinois-breds, and I don't know much about the breeding scene outside of KY. All of the horses whose dads' names rang a bell were KY-bred. In addition to checking out pedigrees, I also looked at recent workout times, races run and results, and what track(s) the horse ran on. I have never attempted before to do so much handicapping in advance, but the Internet sure made it easy.

I was especially excited about a horse running in the first race. Initially his name, Truebill, caught my eye, as I thought it was catchy, and then I saw his sire's name: Whywhywhy. I've heard of him... I have no idea "why," but I knew it. When I looked him up I found out he was indeed a nice horse. Not spectacular or a champion, but a useful sort and a graded-stakes winner of $315,000. He stands at Gainesway so you know he's also definitely a successful sire:
Wendy, if you're reading this - you guys need to call Gainesway! I think this is a LOUSY confo. shot: Whywhywhy's neck looks bad, he's overbalanced onto his front end, and his eye looks just awful! I know you could do a LOT better.
When I glanced back at Equibase and saw that Truebill is also a grey, I knew I had my pick for Race 1, pending a good look at the youngster. It was going to be his first race ever and he could act like a dingbat. I wanted to check out his eye and demeanor and see if I thought he had the smarts to figure out what he needed to do. Somewhere in the recent past - I think on Steve Haskin's blog over at - I read that the author feels you can predict a racehorse's success by how smart s/he is. This makes sense to me. I have never felt like I could bet on a horse without seeing him/her in person, and besides checking for lameness, I now want a look at their eye. An intelligent face is going far with this bettor! (I also bet on a horse Sat. night simply because I liked his feet, but I'm getting ahead of myself :-)

Having said that, I was so excited about this guy on paper that before the horses even appeared in the paddock I went all to pieces and bet $2 on him to Win. I don't know why I was so keen; just had a feeling, I guess. I was not alone. Practically everyone else at the track also liked the grey's chances, as he was 2-1 from the get-go.

Luckily, Truebill did NOT disappoint when I did see him. He was simply gorgeous, rippling with muscles, and looked far more mature and ready to run than the other somewhat weedy and small two-year-olds in the Maiden Special. He was quiet, not sweating too much (and it was hot), and yes, had a air of intelligence. I apologize for the crummy through-the-fence cell phone photo, but here he is in the saddling enclosure:
He was a very dark steel grey; it was almost hard to tell his color.
After this I immediately went back to the betting window and laid down a couple more huge, monster bets, totalling the whopping sum of $6.00. $4.00 more on Truebill to Win, and a $2.00 Exacta box with the #4 horse, who was also popular and looked pretty good. Hey, considering my usual is the minimum $2, eight bucks IS a big splash! :-) I had vowed that if there was a horse I really, really liked I was going to be brave and risk a bit more. The only thing that stopped me from really living large (like betting $20, my entire stake for the night) was the fact that it still was his very first race. Anything could happen.

What happened was the darn horse won the race easily, making it look like it was something he'd already done a dozen times before. It was only a half-mile race, and he hung second for about three furlongs, made his move around turn, sailed to the front and never looked back. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. To add to my joy, #4 managed to come in second, completing my Exacta. I was so excited to be holding three winning tickets that I raced back into the Clubhouse to cash them in and missed getting the Winner's Circle shot. I was handed $21.50 so I was ahead $13.50 on the first race! I got back outside just in time to catch the victor prancing his way back to the barn:
Again, a wretched photo but better than nothing.
I consoled myself for not betting more with the knowledge that, at such low odds, I would "only" have made $20 if I'd bet my whole stake. Now, if I'd thrown down the twenty on the Exacta we would have been talking the kind of money that would really be good news. I know, I know, "what ifs" are the bane of every gambler. But doggone it, that horse was a LOCK and I knew it! :-)

Gambling-wise, the rest of the night also went pretty well for me. I bet on six more races, and cashed in on four. I wound up going home with five extra dollars in my pocket and considered myself a success.

So about the other horses... There was a son of Marquetry, and a daughter of Jade Hunter running. Both of these guys now live at Old Friends, and I believe I met Jade Hunter when I was there (Marq hadn't arrived yet). I bet on both of the "kids," just because of the connection. The Marquetry did nothing but the Jade Hunter mare came in third, so I got money for my Show bet. Before one race, where I hadn't really seen anyone to get excited about on paper, I went to the ring and saw a horse with a very sweet face. When I looked at his feet I noticed that he actually - GASP! - had HEELS! A racehorse with real heels, whoo-hoo! I said as much to the trainer, an older guy who was busy saddling him. He said, "Yes, I like to keep my horses comfortable, they all have heels." So I bet on Sweet Face, too, and he ran second to last - but hey, at least his feet hopefully didn't hurt.

The other horse I was most excited about in advance, though (besides Truebill) was a son of Street Cry.* Ding! Ding! Ding! Can you say, "Zenny's Brother!" I know, technically not even a half-brother, but what the heck, I was tickled. Here's his picture, where you can at least see his head:
Don't know if there was a family resemblance or not. This guy is named Roadster, and has really been around the block. He's run a lot (40+ races) and personally, I think he should be retired rather than appear in $3200 claiming races at a not-top-echelon track. He was the favorite, and wound up placing in this race, I believe. I'm going to check back on him in a while and see what's going on.

There was one bad occurrence this evening at the track. In the last race, a horse I had bet on had to be pulled up halfway around. I overheard someone say he'd gone down on his knees but the jock didn't come off (I couldn't see what happened). Here's my ticket that I sadly, never got to cash:
I hope this guy, a grey and a good past runner, is going to be okay and finds a happy home with a TB-lover somewhere.

So there you have it: a night at the racetrack, complete with thrills, chills and plenty of beautiful, beautiful Thoroughbreds. I had a great time and so did the other folks I went with. I think it's sad and scary that going to the races used to be such a popular activity in this country and now so many tracks are closing. Fairmount seems to be doing okay, though, and someone told me that their "Horse Hooky" Tuesdays are attracting quite a crowd. Who knows, maybe I'll play hooky one of these days and head back over there!

1 comment:

  1. Didn't you live in IL! So do I! I usually try to get out to Arlington Park once a year, which is only 30 minutes from home. I still haven't managed to get out there yet this year, and I'm pretty sure they close after labor day. Oh well.


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