Thursday, October 13, 2011

Goodnight, moon

We've had a lovely hunter's moon lately, and with the accompanying beautiful weather and clear skies, I've been taking advantage of it by riding Lim after sundown.

Some rides began shortly before sunset, but before I could even get into a warm-up trot, the sun was deep over the horizon and the moon was already high in the sky. Moments like that create a surreal mash of fading red light and growing blue light, complete with moon shadows. Nighttime--what's that?

Limerick was full of pep and spook for the first couple rides in the moonlight, and honestly I didn't blame her. If I were by myself, I too would be a little creeped out by the coyote yips in the deep shadows surrounding the outdoor arena. But before long, the routine became old to her and she relaxed.

Each time except one, it was just Limerick and I out there. Naturally, I could hear really nothing (those coyote yips were very, very close by, so I could hear them) and during the earlier rides, when the moon was not near full, I could barely see anything past her pricked, fuzzy ears. But I knew the lay-out of the arena and I knew that Lim could see quite well, so I trusted her to know where to go. In having all my senses gone except feel, I could thoroughly concentrate on my seat, my legs, my arms, and my shoulders.

As a result I was able to sit her spirited trot, playful bucks--and yes, occasional spooks!--with nary any difficulty. And although her senses were not gone, and she was at times on high alert, Lim listened to me acutely, her ears flicking back to catch my whispers and her body responding to my reassuring hands on her neck. We were very in tune with each other.

And now the moon is growing smaller again, and we have several days of clouds, rain and cold ahead of us. There will be no more moonlit rides....for the time being. But the memories of the past week will never fade.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Photos from Keeneland

My husband and I went to Keeneland on Saturday for the stakes races that day, mainly the Shadwell Turf Mile. Being fans of both Sidney's Candy and Gio Ponti, we wished to see these guys in person.

I have never been to Keeneland for live racing before--I am an Arlington Park girl all the way through!--but thought the track was very beautiful, particularly the paddock area. Big old trees always win me over.

And of course, I took a lot of photos.

The rolling hills of Lexington: the best view from a car, ever!

An earlier race.

Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes: Dances with Ashley (6, chestnut) and eventual winner Holiday for Kitten (5). All following photos from the same race until noted.

Musical Romance

 Shotgun Gulch

 Diamond Song

 Promised Mandate


Above and below: First Lady Stakes; Wasted Tears (8), C.S. Silk (7) and Gypsy's Warning (10). 
All following photos from the same race until noted.

Eclair de Lune (11)

Wasted Tears (8), Gypsy's Warning (10) and Eclair de Lune (11)

Bay to Bay (1)

Cherokee Queen (2)

Category Seven (4)

Wasted Tears

Above and below: Shadwell Turf; Tajaweed. 
All following photos from the same race until noted.

Above and below: Sidney's Candy

Dance and Dance (IRE)

Zoffany (IRE)

Gio Ponti and Society's Chairman waiting behind Zoffany.

Above and below; Gio Ponti

Society's Chairman

Wise Dan

Get Stormy

Sidney's Candy going back to the barns

Overall, it was a wonderful day. We were up over $600 by day's end! My husband was disappointed that Sidney's Candy came in third but it was a thrill to see Gio Ponti win. I've long been a fan of this hard-knocking horse--he is nothing but a professional, and gives it his best each time. 

The Shadwell Turf was to be Gio Ponti's second to last race (the Breeder's Cup Mile being the last). After the race, I leaned on the rail and watched as he was taken to the winner's circle, then untacked, sponged down with water and led past me. By then, it was just him, his groom and the late afternoon sun, but I watched until he was led to the gap in the rail and out of sight. At that moment, he wasn't a multi-millionaire, or even a race winner. He was just a horse--just a horse on his way to a clean stall and supper. It was almost an intimate moment, and knowing that I would only see this guy run one more time, I had a lump in my throat. 

What a beautiful picture.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The hard part about being a racing fan, and a formal farewell to Fleet Indian

 Both my husband and I know that there is one very difficult aspect of being a horse racing fan: the inevitable loss of horses over the years. From pensioners passing due to old age to breakdowns on the track and everything in between, finding out that a horse you have cherished, followed, and/or met has passed away is never easy.

Although you don't own these horses, they are out there for the public, and a small part of each horse belongs to the fans and followers of the sport.

The sense of loss varies. If I read that a horse I have never heard of had to be euthanized, I will feel a pang of sadness. It doesn't matter if I have never before read that horse's name, or seen any of that horse's races. As a fan of the sport and all-around horse lover, a part of you quietly grieves.

Then there are occasions where I can sit with tears streaming down my face after finding out a well-loved horse has passed away. I remember where I was when I found out Seattle Slew died. I remember bawling on my way home from work after Personal Ensign's death. I remember the deep sorrow I felt when John Henry passed away, and that wound was opened anew when I visited his grave for the first time. This was before the monument, when the grave was a stark patch of bare ground rimmed with flowers. Upon seeing this bare ground, I burst into tears, for it was the first time in two decades of visits that there was no John Henry for me to see at the Kentucky Horse Park.

But this time, I got a deeper look into the emptiness that opens up after the loss of a beloved racehorse.

As I mentioned in my last post, I found out that a mare we had met in May of this year passed away--Fleet Indian. At the time of the visit, I was provided with the email address of a woman at the farm, and she helped me set up the visit. I distinctively remember her telling me, with delight, that I could certainly meet "Ms. Indian" and her filly. The love for this mare traveled strongly over the email! So when I found out about the passing of Ms. Indian, my first thought was to email this same woman again to tell her how sorry I was. Her response was so thankful yet so full of sorrow and loss that it brought tears to my eyes. What a fortunate, lucky mare Ms. Indian was to be with such a loving, devoted farm.

And today, the eloquent Barbara Livingston created a tribute on her blog: Fleet Indian, a.k.a. "Large Marge"

 This inspired me to write my own brief tribute, which I initially posted on the local horse forum.

I had the honor of meeting this beautiful mare and her 2011 filly in May of this year. I was struck not just by her angular features and her towering frame (what a girth on that girl!) but by her sweet personality. She had big floppy ears and endearing, soft brown eyes. At the crinkle of the peppermint wrapper in my hand, she brightened up and waited for me to present the candy to her, then took it gently from my hand. She did the same with my husband.

Never once did she show impatience or a longing to get back to the pasture with her friends. When it was clear to her that the peppermints were gone, she stood patiently for pictures before being led back to the pasture, filly by her side.

I was also struck by the love and admiration everyone at the farm had for her--from the ladies that helped me plan my visit over email, to the woman that not only showed us Fleet Indian but also gave us an impromptu tour of the farm. I know that every person there grieves heavily for this sweetheart of a mare. I was also told that not long before her death, Fleet Indian was playing the role of babysitter for the farm weanlings--and loving it.

And last, but not least, she was also a magnificent racehorse, the champion older mare of 2006. But in meeting her, her character almost outshines her achievements on the track.

Rest in peace, Ms. Indian.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Breeder's Cup 2011 plans and other quick notes on horse racing

With the Breeder's Cup a month away, now is the time to start finalizing plans. Like last year, we plan to watch the Friday races at home, then hit the hay super-early. We will then wake up at around 3am to drive to Churchill Downs. Let's hope there are no lake effect snowstorms in Indiana this time!

Then on Saturday night after the races we will drive to Lexington and stay the night there, then spend Sunday in the Lexington countryside, visiting stud farms and watching the Fasig Tipton bloodstock sales. Then Monday morning we have an appointment to feed the lovely Serena's Song peppermints before driving home. Whew--busy weekend, but the best and only kind to have in Kentucky!

Of course, we will take lots and lots of photos and I will post them on the blog once we're done.

Yesterday, a lot of final prep races for the Breeder's Cup were run, including the Kelso Handicap, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Lady's Secret and Beldame Stakes. The impressive winners of the day were Uncle Mo in the Kelso and Havre de Grace in the Beldame.

I don't know what words can be accurately used to describe the power of Uncle Mo's surge down the stretch over a sloppy track. What amazed me most was that jockey Velazquez merely had to let Uncle Mo see challenger Jackson Bend at the top of the stretch before the colt made his big move. Uncle Mo worked a blazing 4f in 46 and change earlier in the week so we already knew he was in top form, but being human, one cannot help but be so impressed by his performance in the Kelso.

Havre de Grace easily defeated top filly Royal Delta in the Beldame. She is now pointed towards the Breeder's Cup Classic and will attempt to become the second filly since Zenyatta to win the Classic. But if Uncle Mo also races in the Classic, that will not be an easy task for her.

On a sad note, I found out that champion mare Fleet Indian passed away at Summerwind Farm due to colic. We had the great opportunity to meet her (and feed her peppermints) during our trip to Kentucky in May of this year. Rest in peace, beautiful girl!

Fleet Indian and 2011 Medaglia d'Oro filly, Castlegrace