Tuesday, November 23, 2010

One Man’s Trash; Or, The Kindness of Strangers; Or, When it’s Time to Check Yourself in to the Loony Bin*

I collect things. Weird things, by most standards. Among my favorite possessions are worn halters, used horseshoes, and mane and/or tail hair from favorite racehorses. These items are not necessarily easy to come by, so I will often seize any opportunity to get a memento. When Harmonious lost a baby tooth in October, I diverted it from being thrown away and kept it. When at Oaklawn I saw the great mare Zenyatta shake her head vigorously and a wad of cotton fly out of one ear, I picked it up. Let’s face it: chances are slim I will ever be able to get a more mainstream keepsake like a halter or shoe of Zenyatta’s, so the cotton ball was like a treasure.

And then it occurred to me before Zenyatta’s start, her final race, in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs that the rundown bandages a horse wears in a race are typically thrown away. I asked my friend, John Shirreffs’ stable foreman Francisco, if he would try to keep Zenyatta’s hind leg wraps for me. After all, if they were going to end up in the trash…

In the aftermath of Zenyatta’s second-place finish in the race on Saturday evening, remembering to take the bandages home with me was the last thing on my mind. By early Sunday afternoon, when I realized what I had done, I was at Keeneland with no hope of being able to drive to Churchill to pick up the bandages prior to Zenyatta and her groom Mario, Harmonious, and Francisco boarding their flight to California.

Like any insane person paranoid about losing a piece of, let’s face it, junk with dirt ground into it, I panicked briefly until my friend Sarah connected me with Alice, who had vanned over to Churchill with a horse on Sunday. I can only imagine how crazy I, a complete stranger, must have sounded when asking if she would get the rundowns for me. But she got them anyway and took the wraps back to her stable barn at the farm in Versailles. I was tied down at the sales for the next two weeks, but I knew that my beloved Zenyatta’s bandages were safe and waiting for me to get them.

Yesterday, the first weekday after the sale was finished, I sent Alice a text message that I would be coming by to get the bandages. But I had to much to do after a month of overexerting myself -- for instance, the milk in my refrigerator was dated October 7th -- and I only wish I were kidding -- and then I felt uncomfortable showing up at the training barn unannounced, so I decided to wait one more day and e-mail someone I know in the office to say I would be there today.

I was up early and eager to pick up the wraps, but I made myself wait, not wanting to show up during the busiest hours of their workday. Mid-morning, on my way out the door, I grabbed a gallon-sized freezer bag and wrote “Zenyatta – hind bandages from 2010 BC Classic” on the label. As I scrambled to get the dog and myself into the car, I missed a call from Alice on my cell phone.

With dread, I listened to Alice’s voicemail saying that between yesterday and today, the bandages had ended up in the dumpster and couldn’t be found. I sat in the car, still in the driveway, clutching on to my baggy for dear life, running the gamut of emotions, not moving for 25 minutes. I was crushed.

I knew that I had to call Alice; I felt equally bad for both of us. I could tell from her message that she felt horrible, and I needed to tell her that it was alright. None of this was her fault: I had left them at Churchill, and I hadn’t picked them up on Monday like I said I was going to do. All she had done was to perform an act of kindness for someone she didn’t even know, and whatever the outcome, I appreciated it. But I didn’t want her to hear in my voice how sad I was, so I decided to hold off on calling her until I knew I would sound better.

Unbeknownst to me, while I was idling in my car staring at the empty freezer bag, some of Alice’s co-workers – Rosa (or Rosie) and two guys – had driven to the big dumpster across the farm and were searching for the bandages. So less than half an hour after the first call, and before I was composed enough to call her, I heard from Alice again: Zenyatta’s rundown bandages had been found!!

Two of my treasures: my traveling companion poses (unhappily) with my rundown bandages.

I really don’t know quite how to express an adequate “thank you” to the people who would and did do all that they did so I could add this unconventional prize, from a horse I love unabashedly, to my collection, but what I do know is that my unique piece of Zenyatta memorabilia is even more special to me now as a reminder that human kindness does, in fact, still exist.

*Special thanks goes to @EJXD2 for the vocabulary lesson/thinking clearly on my behalf.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

BC Classic Footage Shot from the Track

Im in desperate need of video editing software but I think this will still be fun to watch even with the distractions:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Zenyatta – Paddock Scene and Off to the Track

Here are two more installments from my very amateur video footage following Zenyatta to the Breeders’ Cup Classic…

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Zenyatta – Breeders’ Cup Classic Walkover

I still hope to write a blog about the pre- and post-Breeders’ Cup Classic experience with Zenyatta, but in the meantime, here is some video footage of the walkover with the big mare.

My videography skills leave something to be desired, yet I think this manages to convey something of what it was like to be there. Please pardon the rather embarrassing heavy breathing and sniffling – it was cold, I was out of breath, and my nose was running the entire time!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Breeders' Cup Friday

Here are just a few photos (all I have the energy to upload) from the first day of Breeders' Cup racing:

Boys at Tosconova in the morning, the day before the Juvenile..


Garrett Gomez on Apart, pulling up on the far turn with a lot of run left after winning the G3 Ack Ack S.

Gabby's Golden Gal grabs the lead in the Filly and Mare Sprint after the start.

Ah, the calm before the storm: Javier Castellano loving on Prince Will I Am.

I didn't see the incident during the race (or the post-race incident until YouTube) but thought it was odd to see Calvin Borel standing straight up in the irons on A. U. Miner after the Marathon.
Winter Memories, favorite, and eventual second-place finisher, in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.

I can guess a few things Informed Decision might be thinking here, but none of them are PG.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

As the Breeders' Cup Nears, the Big Show Hits Town

Beauty. Majesty. Perfection. Zenyatta.
I am swamped – completely in-over-my-head, what-am-I-going to do?! swamped. And yet after getting up at 5am and putting in five solid hours of work this morning, I somehow, and quite without my permission, ended up in the car driving to Churchill Downs. What can I say, the devil made me do it! And yes, there will be hell to pay as I pull another all-nighter.

Was it worth it? Well, I was there for this, Zenyatta walking off the van after a police (and news helicopter) escort from the airport:

Before her arrival, I was squished in behind the barricade elbowing for room with the other members of the press when I heard my name and looked up to see Marcelino, Evening Jewel’s caretaker who I had met when they were stabled near Harmonious at Keeneland. “Come inside the barn,” Marcelino said, “you’ll see better.” So thanks to him, I had a lovely, roomy, unobstructed view of the big girl from the shedrow of the barn housing Evening Jewel, The Usual Q.T., Blink Luck, Dakota Phone, etc. – though facing into the sun (the location behind the barrier was not much better, light-wise).

Pardon my finger...I was recording with my camera phone while taking this picture.
After two spins on the gravel, Zenyatta’s groom Mario took her through the barn to the other side to stretch her legs for a few minutes on the grass (what little there is of it!):

Another treat was getting to pet this girl’s nose, after the commotion surrounding Zenyatta had awakened her from her nap:

Breeders' Cup "Distaff" favorite Blind Luck watching the Zenyatta parade.

…and I saw a couple of other Breeders’ Cup horses from California arrive on the grounds who I haven’t even tried to identify yet. (I missed Lookin At Lucky, that much I know.):
Frizette winner and BC Juvenile Fillies morning line pick A Z Warrior.

Two of the Baffert horses. Last season's Acorn S.-G1 winner Gabby's Golden Gal leads. I don't know who is behind -- it's not a BC horse.
Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint contenter Tropic Storm.

Breeders' Cup Marathon morning line favorite, 7-year-old Awesome Gem.

So, was it? Worth it? When it involves seeing Zenyatta, the answer is always going to be an emphatic, “Yes! Yes, it was worth it!”

I could, however, have done without the accidental detour to Indiana on my way home.

Its precious cargo of 16 horses including Zenyatta unloaded, the Tex Sutton charter leaves Standiford Field.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Something Good This Way Comes A-Blowing

It's a windy day in Kaintuckee an' ma hair is goin&... on Twitpic
It was a day for crazy manes and flying tails.

Sunrise over Fasig-Tipton this morning. on Twitpic
Sunrise at Fasig-Tipton.

A beautiful, warm Tuesday morning in Central Kentucky gave way to a tornado watch and a fierce wind that rattled the trees, the red and yellow leaves on the ground raced each other in lazy, upward circles. (Those leaves had me thinking of La Hojarasca, a book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that I read in high school; the English title is Leaf Storm.) At 1:30, the breeze suddenly – quite literally in a matter of seconds – lowered the temperature some 20 degrees and brought with it a cold, wet rain that persisted into the evening.

Herman's Hermits...Something tells me I'm into some... on Twitpic
Fasig-Tipton, 1:25 pm.

Standing outside showing and selling horses in this weather is not much fun, nor is getting soaked through to the bone and wearing wet clothes for six hours. However, on this – the second day of the three-day Fasig Tipton October sale – Four Star Sales (for whom I work at the sales) sent some nice horses through the ring as agent. The bright spot was hip #761, a bay colt by top sire Tiznow out of the graded stakes-placed Boston Harbor mare Papa to Kinzie. Canadian-based trainer Mark Casse purchased him as agent for $170,000. This flashy, unflappable yearling has a lot of size and scope, like his sire, and he was the second highest-priced horse of the session and third highest of the sale so far:

Friday, October 22, 2010

BC F&M Turf Contenders Spotted Out & About

Harmonious, patiently (?) on the lookout for the arrival of her exercise rider:

Lemme go! Lemme go!

2008 Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner/champion turf female Forever Together:

Old Timers Solid in the Sycamore

Todays feature at Keeeneland was the Grade 3 Sycamore Stakes over a mile and a half on the Haggin turf course. The race had lost its defending champ, ten-year-old Cloudys Knight, when the popular gelding retired this week, but several other old fogies made it into the gate, with the average age of the runners 5.88 years old. The field of twelve had earned over $7.66-million combined (it would have been over $10-million had Cloudys Knight run!). Im posting photos of them in appreciation of these grand old warriors.

The retiree Cloudy's Knight, photographed in November of 2009, a few days prior to his second-place effort by a nose in the Breeders' Cup Marathon..

Brass Hat (1st), a nine-year-old gelding who was registering his first win this season, was the senior citizen of the group, and third betting choice.

Brass Hat in the paddock.

The only horse under the age of five was four-year-old Southern Anthem, who ran second at odds of 54.6-to-1.

Four-year-old Southern Anthem.

The favorite, eight-year-old Musketier (Ger) (3rd), was making his first start since defeating Brass Hat in the Fifth Third Elkhorn S.-G2 over course and distance in April.

Musketier entering the paddock.

Yates Black Cat (5th) was one of two seven-year-olds in the field.

Handsome Yate's Black Cat.

The other, three-time Grade 1 stakes winner Presious Passion (9th) – he of the catch-me-if-you-can racing style – was second choice on this, his first appearance on a Kentucky racetrack.

Presious Passion in the paddock...
...and leading the field the first time under the wire.

As you can see, Brass Hat barely broke a sweat in securing the win by a length in 2:30.73.

Brass Hat awaiting win circle photo #2 after winning the Sycamore.

After posing for the traditional graded stakes race winners circle photo on the grass course, jockey Calvin Borel did something Id never seen before when he hopped on the bareback Brass Hat for a win photo in the regular winners circle.

Calvin Borel posed bareback on Brass Hat.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Harmonious at Keeneland for the QE II

Marty, Pam, and Emily Wygod’s Harmonious shipped in to Keeneland from her base of Hollywood Park in California to run in the Grade 1, Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes for three-year-old fillies on Saturday, October 16.

These are some (of many, many) photos from the days preceding the race and of raceday itself. Click on the pictures for a better look.

Schooling with Frank between the races on Thursday:

Pre-gallop entertainment at the barn on Friday morning:

Walking before heading out to the track:

Four other QE II fillies were in the same barn or directly across, including Evening Jewel and Zagora (Fr), who finished third and second, respectively, seen here cooling out after their morning exercise on Friday:

Harmonious in the paddock on the way to the track...under her regular rider Frankie, she couldn’t wait to go out:

Back at the barn, posing for the camera:

The crowd-pleasing daughter of Dynaformer paused to nibble on the hedge during her Friday afternoon schooling session:

Saturday A.M., she was walked in the paddock by Frank and Frankie under the eye of her trainer, John Shirreffs:

And here she is getting kitted up at the barn right before race time:

Entering the paddock and getting saddled:

John doing his thing, signing autographs before the start:

And Harmonious is an impressive winner under jockey Joel Rosario:

Crossing over to the grass course for the win photo and trophy presentation:

At the test barn:

And finally back to her barn:

...where this awaited her: