Thursday, May 23, 2013

Limerick's birthday portraits

Since Limerick colicked in February, a lingering feeling of having narrowly averted disaster has remained with me. No matter how well she is doing, that feeling haunts the corners of my mind and heart like the ghost of a future missed. That ghost made itself well known in April, when a friend on Facebook lost her beloved horse after he colicked and was diagnosed with a dorsal displacement. That evening, with a heavy heart, I lavished extra love and kisses upon Limerick and told her how thankful I was that she is still here.

When Lim turned 22 on May 14, the following weekend I wanted to commemorate the event by taking photos of her with the DSLR. I enlisted my husband's help and, after grooming Lim to a show sheen, we took the photos. Thanks to the fading sun, they didn't come out as well as I would like, but in their imperfection, they show her beautiful spirit perfectly.

Happy 22nd birthday, baby girl

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Weekend Recap: The Preakness Conundrum

We meet again, old friend.

I find myself using this image of Oxbow yet again, as this colt--who I've followed since August of 2012 and touted since January of this year--has finally vindicated himself on the Triple Crown trail. But his victory brought forth a rude mix of emotions--disappointment, disdain, excitement, disbelief. Yes, lots of 'disses', but the latter was a good sort of disbelief, a surreal "did the little bay roan colt that I first saw at Saratoga last year just win the Preakness Stakes??" sort of disbelief.

Not only that, but he won under Gary Stevens, who is having a hell of a comeback, and for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who once dominated the Triple Crown races but has been absent from the spotlight for the past decade.

But what happened to Orb? Orb had no excuses, in my opinion. He just had a bad day, as we all do. This is a wonderful post clearly illustrating that Orb had zero excuses. Unfortunately his bad day had very bad timing. I have no doubt he'll bounce back and awe us again later in the year, but it's now clear that he'll be facing a seriously tough contender in Oxbow.

Speaking of Oxbow as a tough contender, a particular line from this article from Steve Haskin made me laugh with delight: “[Oxbow]'s like a little fire-breathing dragon. He has a Napoleon complex. It’s like, ‘I may be little, but you don’t want to mess with me.’ Wayne is crazy about all his horses, but he’s really fond of this one.”

That article is fantastic and a must-read.

As for the Belmont, there's a very good chance that both horses will face off over Big Sandy's 1-1/2 miles. Will Orb or Oxbow emerge victorious, or will a third horse cap off the Triple Crown trail? We'll find out on June 8th.

Click here to watch the 138th edition of the Preakness Stakes.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Photos from Arlington Park, Saturday May 11

Blue-eyed pony

After the second race

Holycow Shes Sassy

The national anthem

Mya Faccia Bella

Pleasant Angel being not-so-pleasant

Pleasant Angel

Mya Faccia Bella

Dani Nikki

Holycow Shes Sassy

Loading the gate

Michael Shannon and Rosemary Homeister

No Rachmones

No Rachmones

Static Kill

Hughes the Daddy

No Rachmones

Bank Account and Seth Martinez in the riders-up dance

Hughes the Daddy and Kent Desormeaux

Any Given Time and Noel Vigil

James Graham on Rock on This

Work All Week and Florent Geroux

Work All Week draws away

Work All Week

Hughes the Daddy and Static Kill duel for second while Work All Week (on screen) wins going away

Work All Week

Monday, May 13, 2013

Happy 10th Birthday, Oil Money's Dream

April 7, 1979 Daily Racing Form & Santa Anita race program featuring the San Jacinto Handicap, which Hot Oil won

Hot Oil, Limerick's sire

A few weeks ago, I found a Santa Anita program from Saturday April 7, 1979 for sale online. It featured that year’s running of the San Jacinto Handicap, which Limerick’s sire Hot Oil won. When I mentioned to the seller why I wanted this particular program, he said he had the Daily Racing Form for that day as well--would I like to purchase it, also? You bet I did.

Both items arrived in the mail today. Coincidentally, tomorrow is Limerick’s birthday, and today is the birthday of another special mare that is also closely related to Hot Oil--a maternal granddaughter, Oil Money’s Dream.

This past Saturday--May 11--was an anniversary of sorts; one I had been thinking about in the weeks and days leading up to it. On that day last year, I made public my plans to purchase Oil Money's Dream. Purchasing a horse is typically a straightforward deal--you find a horse you like within your budget, you visit and/or ride that horse, you have a vet check done, you consult with your trainer or an experienced, trusted friend, and if the horse passes all the tests then he or she is yours once you hand over the check. This was not the case with Oil Money's Dream.

Trainer Owen Rainwater saddles Oil Money's Dream at Arlington Park, June 13, 2010

On May 11, 2012, I wrote:

"[In 2009, after seeing IL-bred Oil Money's Dream race at Arlington Park] I added her to my Virtual Stable and began following her. She would finish in the money sometimes, and it was cool to see a 'niece' of Limerick's running. In early 2011, I found out that Owen Rainwater, her trainer, passed away. [In another coincidence, I later found Rainwater's obituary and his date of death was May 11, 2011] I wasn't sure what would happen to the mare. A few months later, I got a notification that she was at Mountaineer under Bart Baird. She won her first race with him.

I hoped she would be okay there, despite the track not having the most stellar of reputations. A few months went by and I didn't receive any more notifications. Then in February, I received a single workout notification for her at Mountaineer. She did 3f in 39:20, ranking 28 out of 33 for the day. 

After that day, she was entered in races nearly every other week, starting in March.

March 5: 5k claimer, finished 7th, beaten by 9 lengths
March 16, 5k claimer, finished 5th, beaten by 3 lengths
April 6, 5k claimer, finished 5th, beaten by 8-1/2 lengths
April 24, 5k claimer, finished 5th, beaten by 11 3/4 lengths

Each race had 7-8 horses on average. This mare was clearly tiring, and she was being over-run, particularly for a nine year old mare. While it's not uncommon to see geldings being raced up to this age, it is unusual to see mares still on the track when they are approaching double digits in age.

I began to worry about this mare."

Oil Money's Dream at Arlington Park, June 13, 2010

I grew tired of worrying and decided to see if I could do something. I was drawn to this mare--this long-faced chestnut with large, soulful brown eyes and a crooked skinny blaze--this mare I had watched from afar for years but had never met. There was a powerful pull coming from within that I could not deny. This drive was something I would reflect upon over the next few months: where had it come from? Why this horse? The sentimental attachment--her being a relative to Limerick--surely played a large role. As did the visible downward spiral she took through the claiming ranks. But she wasn't the first horse in my Virtual Stable to end up in cheap claimers, and she wasn't the last. Perhaps it was something I saw in her as I watched her on video in the paddock or in the post parades--a quiet obedience, her large brown eyes barely hidden by the blinkers she always wore. Whatever the reason, I let this invisible force drive me towards attempting to help her.

There were some hurdles. The mare, once stabled nearby at Hawthorne and Arlington, was now located nearly 500 miles away from me and I didn't have a horse trailer--or even a truck. In addition, I couldn't afford to keep a second horse, so I would have to find a permanent home for her. And the biggest hurdle of all: I didn't know how to get in touch with Baird. Even if I could, I would need to ask my husband to make all calls for me since I cannot hear well enough to make or receive calls. Would Baird perceive me as dishonest or shady if I would only communicate with him through my husband?

I was not discouraged. I asked a lot of people a lot of questions. I Googled endlessly. I brought up my idea to several people that I thought may be able to help me or offer advice. I found a way to contact Baird. One friend, Lori, offered to drive me in her truck and trailer to Mountaineer. Another friend, Christine, offered her invaluable re-training and re-homing services. With support and after endless discussions with my cohorts over instant messaging, I had a plan. In the meantime, I fundraised by selling homemade jewelry in order to cover the costs of purchasing, transporting and boarding this mare until she could be adopted out to a good home.

In the end, throughout it all, Baird was never in direct contact with me and would only work through a liaison, another trainer at Mountaineer. This trainer was reluctant to approach Baird, preferring to let him initiate contact. This made staying updated on what was happening very difficult, if not impossible.

Oil Money's Dream at Mountaineer on May 14, 2012

On May 18, 2012, I wrote:

"I am still working to get this mare retired and back to Illinois. She raced on Monday, May 14 (Lim's birthday) and finished a game fifth. My hunch tells me that her trainer, Baird, will want to try running her once more (she is eligible to run just one more time at Mountaineer), but if at all possible I would like to purchase her from him before she runs again.

There's a lot of "hurry up and wait" in this situation--and waiting is hard to do."

Waiting was very stressful. I had trouble sleeping, and when I did sleep, I would often dream of Oil Money's Dream and my fragile plans to get her. I knew that as soon as Baird gave word that he was "done" with the mare, I would have to be at Mountaineer within a day or two. To make matters worse, I was told through our liasion that if I didn't get her quickly, he would sell her to another trainer at Thistledown Racino in Ohio, where she would run in even cheaper claiming races. If this mare slipped through my fingers, I would have to go through the process of figuring out where she was and who had her, and how to contact this person, all over again.

But waiting paid off.

At last, we meet.

On June 20, 2012, I wrote:

"Oil Money's Dream--or Dara, as I've nicknamed her--raced last Tuesday. She finished sixth but safely--just what I was hoping for.

From there, the wheels began turning--fast! Arrangements were made with Dara's trainer, and plans to pick her up on Thursday and pay him $1,000 cash quickly fell into place.

At 2:30am on Thursday morning, I awoke after a brief, restless night and drove to Urbana. From there, Lori and I drove her truck and trailer to Mountaineer Racetrack in West Virginia. It was 450 miles each way, and with the trailer in tow that meant a roughly eight hour trip one way.

We arrived at Mountaineer close to 3pm eastern time. I never met Dara's trainer--instead I worked with my contact at the track, another trainer. Money and paperwork exchanged hands, and then it was time to meet Dara in the flesh after watching her race for over three years."

Finally heading back to Illinois

I wondered what she was like for most of the 8-hour drive to Mountaineer. Was she kind? Was she quiet? Was she moody, like Limerick could be? Was she sound after 7 years of racing?

It didn't take long to have my questions about her personality answered. From the start, she she was unflappable, sweet, attentive, curious, kind, and easy to handle. In short, she was everything I had hoped for--and more. I boarded her in Woodstock for one and a half months and visited her every weekend. She was very easy to fall in love with, and I did just that.


Giving her a bath

On August 6, 2012, I wrote:

"One by one the pieces of the puzzle, which had once seemed scattered far and wide, began to fall into place for Dara. I went from searching for pasture boarding for Dara and staring at my budget, trying to estimate how long I could afford to board two horses, to crying at work because I knew Dara had found her home.

I cried out of happiness, gratitude, sadness, and everything in between. From the very start, I hadn't allowed myself to become emotional. I had been so sure that I would tear up when Lori and I retrieved Dara from Mountaineer, but I didn't. Each time we had cleared one hurdle, all I could think was "Okay, one down, how many more to go?" By my personal nature, I am very guarded with my emotions.

But now, with Dara finding her home at long last, everything came tumbling out."

That long-faced chestnut mare with the skinny crooked blaze and large, soulful brown eyes had finally found her home.

With her very happy new owner

In yet another coincidence, the mother of Dara's new owner told me that her daughter had always wanted to get a chestnut mare and name her Dharma--and so, that became the new off-track name of Oil Money's Dream.

"We made plans to trailer Dara (now named Dharma) to her new home on Friday, July 27. Fittingly, on Thursday July 26 (my wedding anniversary), the story on Dara by Hersh was released online.

Retired racehorses: One fan does her part to find mare a home, by Marcus Hersh

I was blown away by how lengthy and thorough the story was. It was a timely tribute, and I hope it inspires other folks to take a chance on a racehorse--whether it's a horse they are following on the track that clearly needs a second career, an already-retired horse awaiting adoption, or a well-trained, older retiree that needs a new home.

Doing all this for Dara was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I wasn't alone. I couldn't have done it without the help of countless people: my husband, Christine, Lori (and her hard-working truck), Jackie E., Mary J., my parents, the many people that bought jewelry from me while I was fundraising, and countless others." 

I visited Dharma in November and she was clearly enjoying just being a horse in a herd of horses, with young ladies to dote on her. I am planning another visit, hopefully for next month, and will get some new photos then.

Happy 10th birthday, Dharma--I'm so glad you are able to enjoy it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Miner's Mark and his legacy to one stallion manager

In the days leading up to his historic win in the Kentucky Derby on May 4, trainer Claude "Shug" McGaughey's thoughts were full of everything Orb. But early in the week, when it was revealed that Miner's Mark had passed away at age 23, McGaughey's thoughts no doubt momentarily drifted back to the summer and fall of 1993.

That year, Miner's Mark--by Mr. Prospector, and the first foal out of undefeated champion Personal Ensign--racked up wins in the Colin Stakes (Gr. III), Jim Dandy (Gr. II), and Jockey Club Gold Cup (Gr. I) for McGaughey and the Phipps family, with a second to Cherokee Run in the Dwyer (Gr. II) and a courageous third in the Travers (Gr. I). 

Miner's Mark in the 1993 Travers Stakes

Yes, Miner's Mark was a regally-bred graded stakes winner, but he was also a friend. My friend Tyler, who had the privilege of working with the stallion, shared this tribute:

I recently found out that Miner's Mark had been humanely put down; to many he was famous for his dam, the immortal Personal Ensign, or for his performance on the track, but to me, he was so much more.

When I first moved to Lexington, I'd worked at my first job—in the yearling barn for a large Thoroughbred farm—for maybe a week or two when the Lay-up Barn/Stallion Prospect manager quit abruptly. That afternoon I was told that I was now the manager of the Lay-up/Stallion Prospect barn (I’m still not exactly sure how that happened). I'd worked with horses for several years, but had never laid a hand on a stallion, and now I had a barn with seven of them under my care.

In the first stall on the right upon entering the barn was Miner's Mark; he had suffered an injury that while not life threatening, would prevent him from being able to live cover mares. I knew immediately who he was, royally bred and a Grade 1 winner, and I was over the moon to be able to touch him, much less take care of him. But he didn't come without warning; the previous manager had told me he could be aggressive and had absolutely no toleration for fools. I was even told (although I’m still not sure if it's true) that he had broken the shoulder of a noted Lexington vet when he tried to administer a shot. Miner, like myself, despised needles and shots and would usually make this known in a fairly violent manner, so it's possible the story is true.

Through a lot of trial and error, Miner helped teach me how to handle a stallion. As warned, he didn't tolerate anything he didn't think was necessary, and I paid for mistakes, generally with a nip or a swipe of a hoof, but he always stopped short of inflicting serious injury. His warnings were a quick, if painful, alert of "uh huh kid, that crap won't fly". Because of him I still have a love of stallions and their varied, complex personalities. He was an amazing animal—tough to handle, yes—but in the quiet moments in his stall or walking him down to his paddock at the end of the day, he was kind and loving, a true and dear friend I will never forget. You'll forever be in my heart, big man, and I'll see you again someday. I'll meet you at the gate with a peppermint like always.

You can view the 1993 Dwyer Stakes here. The video also includes the 1993 Hollywood Gold Cup at the soon-to-be-gone Hollywood Park, which Marquetry raced in. Marquetry also passed away recently and was a good friend to Tyler.

Read the Blood-Horse article about Miner's Mark here.

Tyler and his wife recently co-wrote their first book, The Promise. It may be purchased on Amazon as a paperback or in a Kindle Edition--click here.

I want to thank Tyler for sharing with me what Miner's Mark means to him. It's often the more difficult horses that have the most to teach us, if we are only willing to listen and learn.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Limerick update

Limerick developed some lameness issues a couple weeks ago. I can usually pinpoint what is bothering her but I wasn't able to this time--she was able to walk fine on asphalt but hand-walking her in the arena made her walk as if she were nearly crippled on all four legs. Needless to say, I didn't walk her in the arena for long!

I discovered this problem on a Thursday night; she had a farrier appointment the next day so I decided to ask the farrier for his opinion then (as any good farrier should be able to discern what is causing a horse to be lame, to a point). He initially thought that perhaps her right fore pastern or hoof was bothering her, although she was negative for pain with the sole testers.

When my farrier moved on to her hind end, Lim began giving him a lot of trouble, which is uncharacteristic for her. Nonetheless, he managed to finish trimming her hooves before asking me to walk her around for him. I walked her over asphalt, grass and the arena footing. He then concluded that her hind end was bothering her, although it wasn't exactly specific to any one spot. A vet from the clinic that I use happened to be arriving shortly and I was given permission to bump Limerick to the head of the line so she could be seen first. After a lameness exam, he determined that she had hind end lameness that was likely related to the muscles by her hips and croup.

He gave me Previcox and told me to give her one tablet a day.

In typical Thoroughbred fashion, she has bounced back very quickly! I took this video of her on Monday and I was very pleased to see her feeling well enough to act silly.

I've also been taking her down to the alleyway to eat grass every day lately. The walk down is mainly asphalt so I'm substituting these trips for her hand-walks. She likes to stop grazing and stare off into the distance, head high, at a faraway jogger or bicyclist.

"What's that I spy, wayyy off in the distance?"

We are also treated so some spectacular sunsets from the alleyway!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Weekend Recap: Kentucky Derby & Oaks Days

Whew, Derby Day has come and gone, and what a good day it was! Orb’s win in the 139th Kentucky Derby wasn’t the only cause for celebration over the weekend, however. Let’s recap.

The Kentucky Oaks and Oaks undercard provided some memorable moments for Friday:

So Many Ways, winner of the Schuylerville (Gr. III) and Spinaway (Gr. I) stakes at Saratoga last year rebounded from two losses this year to win the Eight Belles (Gr. III). The blaze-faced bay beauty, a daughter of the prematurely deceased sire Sightseeing, has been on my radar since her wins at Saratoga.

Authenticity, a daughter of a personal favorite stallion, Quiet American, defeated On Fire Baby, winner of this year's Apple Blossom (Gr. I), and Believe You Can, winner of last year's Kentucky Oaks (Gr. I) in the La Troienne (Gr. II).

Take Charge Indy, half-brother to Kentucky Derby entrant Will Take Charge, handily won the Alysheba (Gr. II) under rider Rosie Napravnik, prompting me to wonder if it was a sign for Derby Day.

The finale of the day was the Kentucky Oaks (Gr. I), which boasted one of the deepest fields in years, talent-wise. Dreaming of Julia, the runaway 21-length winner of the Gulfstream Oaks (Gr. II) was the favorite, but she had to contend with Beholder, winner of the Breeder's Cup Juvenile Fillies (Gr. I) and champion 2-year-old filly, Unlimited Budget, undefeated winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks (Gr. II), Midnight Lucky, the speedy winner of the Sunland Park Oaks, and Princess of Sylmar, who broke her maiden by 19 lengths last year before winning the Busher and Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct.

I liked three fillies in this race--Dreaming of Julia, Midnight Lucky, and Princess of Sylmar. I felt the latter was grossly underrated but wasn't sure if she could get the win. The night before the Oaks, my husband and I went to the barn together. He jokingly asked Miss Limerick who would win the Oaks and I said, without thinking, "She says Princess of Sylmar." We had a good laugh over it.

As it turns out, Miss Lim was right. When the fillies turned for home and Beholder took the lead from fading pacesetter Midnight Lucky, I saw the purple and chestnut of Princess of Sylmar manifesting from the wall of dirtied horseflesh and screamed. I am not a screamer or a crier when I watch horse racing but when I realized that Princess of Sylmer--the long-shot chestnut beauty that I told my husband about months prior--was going for the win, I screamed so loudly that my cats ducked for cover and I'm sure my apartment neighbors heard me. Now that's some good horse racing.

The Derby undercard on Saturday was excellent (click here to read my prior post about the Derby undercard), although there was one major disappointment:

The much-anticipated match-up between Point of Entry and Wise Dan in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (Gr. I) never manifested, as the relentless rains of the day turned the turf course into a bog and Point of Entry was scratched. But Wise Dan more than made up for the disappointment by handily putting away good opponents Optimizer and Silver Max. Hopefully a Point of Entry and Wise Dan meeting will happen down the road.

The Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile (Gr. II) featured a personal big favorite, Daisy Devine. Marketing Mix was scratched prior to the race. Daisy Devine appeared comfortable initially, leading briefly on the backstretch, but around the final turn and down the stretch she appeared to be leaping over the turf course, an indication that she was no longer comfortable with the wet turf. She was overtaken by Hungry Island and Stephanie's Kitten, the winner. I was proud of Daisy Devine's effort, nonetheless.

As for the Kentucky Derby (Gr. I), you may read my post about Orb's historic win for trainer Claude McGaughey and the Phipps and Janney families here. The other contenders I liked were a mixed-bag of results. Verrazano was up close to the suicidal pace set by Palace Malice and faded to 14th in the homestretch. Goldencents failed to fire and finished 17th, perhaps disliking the sloppy track. Mylute and Oxbow finished 5th and 6th, respectively. I was particularly impressed by Oxbow's performance--of all the horses to be close to the fast early pace, he was the only one to hang on gamely and finish better than 10th. I'm telling you--he's a tough horse and one to watch down the road! And Revolutionary--he with the Farish-bred dam line--finished a very good third.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

At long last, Kentucky Derby glory for a premier racing family and Hall of Fame trainer

On Wednesday, I posted photos of some Kentucky Derby winners I’ve had the chance to visit. In the captions for the photos of Thunder Gulch (1995) and Smarty Jones (2004), I commented that their Derby wins were some of my favorites. We can now add Orb’s 2013 win to that list.

Not since Smarty Jones has a Kentucky Derby win felt so “right”. Each Derby finish since 2004 has been something of a surprise. Some wins were surprising yet deserving (Barbaro, 2006 and Animal Kingdom, 2011) while others were complete shockers (Giacomo, 2005; Mine That Bird, 2009; Super Saver, 2010), with the rest falling in the middle somewhere. Orb’s win yesterday not only fits neatly into that narrow slot of “just right”, but also marks the end of one of the longest waits in American Thoroughbred racing.

Before 2013, the Phipps and Janney families had never won a Kentucky Derby, despite family patriarch Ogden Mills planting the seeds leading to the production of fine Thoroughbred bloodlines over a century ago.  These bloodlines, carefully maintained and supplemented through the generations, produced an endless parade of champion homebreds. The Phipps and Janney families bred to race, and as the old bloodstock families of the early to mid-20th century disappeared, their fine horses dispersed at sales, it became the new normal to breed to sell. But the Phipps and Janney families clung to that now old-fashioned breed-to-race ideal, sending forth their horses to starting gates, not sales pavilions.

As a result, they were blessed with several homebred champions over the years, including Bold Ruler, Buckpasser, Ruffian, Personal Ensign, and Easy Goer. The latter two were trained by Claude “Shug” McGaughey.

McGaughey was invited to train the stables of Phipps and Janney in 1986. Although he enjoyed early success with Personal Ensign and Easy Goer, he was never one to steer his horses towards races they weren’t ready for, particularly the Kentucky Derby. Unlike several modern big-name trainers, in his time with the Phipps and Janney stables, McGaughey has only entered six horses in the Kentucky Derby.

Yesterday, one lifetime and several generations of patience came together for McGaughey and the Phipps/Janney families when Orb granted them their first blanket of roses.  As thrilled as I was to see Ruffian’s colors winning the Kentucky Derby, knowing that her blood flowed through the veins of Orb through his fourth dam, Laughter—Ruffian’s ¾ sister—the best part of the Derby was seeing the stunned silence of Shug McGaughey shortly after Orb’s win, which spoke volumes about the man.

Indeed, the best and most deserving horse won yesterday, and it is glorious. On to Pimlico!

You may read an excellent article on what the win means for Shug McGaughey here, and Blood-Horse coverage of the win here.