Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
But if you're a link-a-phobe, here's the article in its entirety:
When I got into the sport of horse racing, it was a pretty lonely thrill; few people shared my enthusiasm, or could understand why I got so excited come the first Saturday in May. All I had were my parents and the brief newspaper articles during the Triple Crown, those articles I'd be lucky to find on page three of the sports section. I'd campaign to everyone I knew about the big upcoming races, but most people had never heard of a stakes race outside of the Kentucky Derby and just smiled politely at the little enthusiastic kid jabbering away about horses. (Admittedly, not a lot has changed in that respect.) But when I grew up, I started driving hours away from home and attending the tracks for live racing. I don't know what I expected, exactly, but I never would've anticipated what I found on the track and the backstretch.
It was like coming home.
I have never seen or heard of a sport that appreciates fans so much. Aside from the chronic gamblers who shout at the simulcast TVs all day long, the people who inherently care about the sport time and time again go out of their way to make you feel welcomed, and for you to have a memorable experience. I'm talking about everyone from valets and gift shop employees to million-dollar horse trainers and owners. Maybe it's that they realize they are existing in a sport that lives only in concentric circles, little orbiting worlds that rarely touch people outside of their revolutions, but the fact is, once you experience this phenomenon, you can't help but feel like a part of the family.
During Kentucky Derby week at Churchill Downs, the party atmosphere was infectious. People were dressed to the nines on non-stakes days, smiling faces were everywhere, and people who didn't know each other would rub elbows and chat about the nine horse in race three, and whether his jockey improved his odds. My husband and I took a shuttle from the back of the parking lot to the grandstands, and the valet sneaked us two free tickets to the third level, directly below Millionaire's Row. We didn't ask for the tickets, or hint that we wanted to sit up in the expensive seats; he just wanted us to have a good time. The Sunday following the Kentucky Derby, the connections of Mine That Bird stood outside of the Kentucky Derby museum and handed fans roses from the famous blanket of roses that drapes over the Derby winner's shoulders; just a little memento that will create a lasting memory.
The last thing I expected from the sport of horse racing was the sense of family I would begin to feel at the track. True, it does help if you follow the coverage on HRTV and TVG and get to know the horses, jocks, and trainers, but in person, horse racing is a whole different experience... and it's so much better. You can stand on the rail, as up-close and front-row as you can get, for less than $5 at most tracks, and be right in the middle of the action. You can admire the highest-class Thoroughbreds from only a few feet away, and get a nod from a world-class jockey for simply taking his picture. It's an old-time pastime that doesn't require a lot of spending money, nor any fancy technology to enjoy it.
There are few sports as simple as a man on a horse trying to win a race, but there's an unspoken serenity in its simplicity. You can enjoy the same pleasure someone experienced in the 1600's, with little difference. Yes, there are times when it's not all gloss and fancy, much in the same way a family has its trials and black sheep. But that's life, isn't it? Nobody is perfect, and no family is perfect.
But then, there is the family that is perfect for you.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Rafael was Del Mar's top jockey last year, and will likely be out for a week or more to recover. So far, it's unclear if he'll have surgery to his face.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
I paid strict attention to Hollywood Park itself on my brief visit there, taking in the abundant palm trees, the honor bestowed upon the Gold Cup winners, the monuments, and the track itself. I felt I was going as a sort of archaeologist, trying to preserve in pictures something that wouldn’t be there when I next returned to California. I took pictures of the Swaps statue from just about every angle I could think of, and paid my respects to the grave of Native Diver (follow the link for a great video on this amazing horse), who has one of the most lovely memorials I’ve ever seen.
Charles didn’t show up on Friday, but he let me know that Bob Mayberger from New York (yes, the same Bob whom I shot with at Belmont!) was in town to shoot the Gold Cup. Bob didn’t end up showing until the short card was about halfway over and the daylight had failed, so he missed the beautiful sunset. Meanwhile, I introduced myself to the track photographers and tried to stay out of their way. Since my boss told me he wanted me to shoot from the inside rail for the Gold Cup, I tried to practice some from that position on Friday. Let me tell you, taking photos at night directly into spotlights is absolutely no fun. Taking photos from the outside, however, is pretty cool and challenging, because there’s only one point where the spotlight is on the horses: just on the finish line. At no point is it nice to shoot from the inside during night racing, unless you’re cool like that and want to shoot an “atmospheric” photo. That may work for one race, but I don’t recommend it for a full card.
I ended up leaving before the card was over. I'd actually hurt my ankles walking down steep slopes at Yosemite National Park two days prior, and then not helped them by hiking around Sequoia National Park the previous day, and I was not as fresh as I'd been in my Belmont adventure. I needed all the energy I could get the next day, but it was still hardly enough!
Friday, July 10, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
In other news, I'm sure most of you have heard by now that Calvin Borel has been permanently taken off Mine That Bird, at least for the rest of the year. I'm a little saddened by this news, as horse racing had gotten a boost in the public spotlight with this Derby-winning team. Hopefully, any new fans who might've been recruited thanks to the hype will stick around to watch Rachel kick some tail in the remainder of her 2009 campaign.
As of yet, no jockey has yet been found to replace Borel, as trainer Chip Wooley is looking for a jock who can commit to the rest of the year, including the Breeders' Cup Classic. Mike Smith was asked, but declined because of his conflict of interest should Zenyatta face the boys for the first time in the Classic. Who would you name to replace Borel? Part of me wishes they'd call on Chantal Sutherland again, since she already knows the horse and wasn't given the opportunity to ride him in the Triple Crown. It would certainly give her career a boost to become a regular rider for the Derby winner if he stays in the same form he was in from May-June.
And in other news, Churchill Downs experienced fantastic results with their final test of night racing yesterday. I'm sad to have missed it. According to Blood-Horse, the attendance Thursday was 33,481 spectators--more than any other race day outside of the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks, or Breeders' Cup days. That means more people showed up to watch claimers than to see Horse of the Year Curlin in his comeback race from the Dubai World Cup. It seems that Churchill has struck gold here in whatever they've been doing. You can vote on whether or not you want Churchill to continue night racing as a part of the regular meet here: http://www.churchilldowns.com/ I voted "yes," because whatever is bringing in more people to the sport, we can definitely support!