Derby 2012: Your Handy Dandy Guide: Part III – The East Coast

This Take Charge Indy. His story is at the end of this post.

So, first things first. There is an undefeated horse in the field named Gemologist. He is trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Javier Castellano. As a side note, Javier used to ride Union Rags. He gave up Union Rags to ride Gemologist, and it was Javier who boxed Union Rags in on the rail during the Florida Derby, essentially ruining his former mount’s chance at the win. In other news, Javier is also the guy who was attacked by Calvin Borel after a Breeder’s Cup race.  Thing is, by all accounts Javier is a super nice guy and a clean rider. Mostly, I just wanted to post the video of Calvin going bananas.

Anyway, Javier jumped off Union Rags in order to stick with Gemologist, and the horse is undefeated and won the Wood Memorial. Technically, I should like him. I loved his hard fighting sire, Tiznow, and Gemologist has shown similar grit. And yet, I’m just not a believer. He has bizarre action. His front legs paddle so much he’d be all kinds of useful in a canoe. There are a lot of rumors of unsoundness. He is trained by The Todd, which is always uninspiring. The Todd is the Corporate America of horse racing, and who roots for Corporate America? Pretty much just Corporate America. Another horse worth knowing is Alpha, second in the Wood Memorial. He’s a nice horse, trained by a nice guy, Kiaran McLoughlin. But I just don’t care about either of these horses, despite their prominence. So, in case you’re interested, here’s the Wood Memorial and I’m moving on. (Actually, I just watched the Wood again. It is a good race. The winner was bumped, forced wide, etc. and he still won…I don’t know why I don’t care.)

Big! Grand! Chestnut! Dullahan!

All right! Onto the horses I find more inspiring. Firstly, we have Dullahan. Here’s what he has going for him. A.) Cool name. B.) Cool looking C.) Real big. Those are always fun qualities, right? Especially when they come in a grand looking chestnut with a lot of white. He is trained by Dale Romans…who I like-ish, but sometimes he does things that baffle me. The way he’s handled Shackleford, last year’s Preakness winner, has kind of bummed me out at times. Moreover, First Dude improved enormously after moving from Romans barn to Baffert’s. So, I don’t know about Romans. He’s had all kinds of success, especially at Churchill Downs, but I don’t entirely trust him as a trainer. Anyway. Dullahan is ridden by Kent Desormeaux, the personality-filled jockey who is either really, really good, or really, really terrible, depending on the day. I think Kent’s struggled some since his divorce, too. But when he’s at his best there’s nobody better.

More importantly, though, here are some facts about Dullahan the horse. His dam, Mining My Own, is the same mare who brought you longshot Derby winner Mine That Bird. Dullahan, however, was not sired by the diminutive Birdstone, like his brother, but rather by the very large Even the Score, the only sound son of Unbridled’s Song. Maybe not the “only” sound son…no, wait, actually. Yep, pretty much the only sound horse ever sired by Unbridled’s Song. Mining My Own seems to pass on soundness, so hopefully Dullahan will have escaped the curse of Unbridled’s Song. (Germans would totally have gelded Unbridled’s Song ten years ago.) But moving on – Dullahan has had success over turf and dirt, but he seems to really excel over synthetics. He did finish fourth in the BC Juvenile behind Hansen, Union Rags, and Creative Cause, so he isn’t terrible on dirt. The question is, can he be as effective over the dirt as he is over the other surfaces? We’ll find out. He definitely loves the holy heck out of Keeneland’s synthetic track, where he closed impressively to beat Hansen in the Blue Grass Stakes in his final prep before the Derby.

Went the Day Well, from the same connections as Animal Kingdom

Another Easterner to keep your eye on is Went the Day Well. Brought to by the same team who took Animal Kingdom to the win last year, Went the Day Well is trained by the classy Graham Motion, ridden by classy John Velasquez, and owned by the sometimes classy, sometimes outspoken, often entertaining Barry Irwin of Team Valor. This horse, who really needs a nickname, was named after a British WWII movie. He has followed precisely the same path to the Derby as Animal Kingdom, having prepped with a win in the Spiral Stakes. In most ways I’d say he’s not as impressive as Animal Kingdom, but he is getting good right now, and seems to love Churchill. Motion worked him in blinkers last time out, and it really helped O’ Wenty (I just gave him a nickname) but the thing about an equipment change is that it can only be done without approval after a loss. Because Ol’ Wenty won his last race without blinkers, Motion will need to get approval from the stewards to make the equipment change before the Derby. Here’s Ol’ Wenty winning the Spiral. You can see how hard Johnny V. has to work to keep him straight in the lane. The blinkers will fix that, and help to keep him focused on the task at hand.

Finally, we have Take Charge Indy. Yet another graduate of the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, Take Charge Indy hasn’t done a whole lot of winning, but he has won when it counted most – in the Florida Derby over Union Rags. He also finished a good second in an important two-year-old race. What makes Indy special isn’t so much his race record as it is his personality and history. He is the son of the wonderful racemare Take Charge Lady, who raced 22 times, winning half her starts, finishing second seven times, and earning 2.48 million dollars. When Lady foaled Indy, she produced a colt who looked a lot like herself. Good sized, dark, scrappy. She also produced a colt with some pretty significant conformation faults. And so the colt out of one the greatest racemares of all time, and sired by the living legend A.P. Indy, could not find a buyer.

A headshot of Take Charge Indy.

Indy’s owner went to a woman named Tami Bobo who had just entered into the Thoroughbred game after a lifetime with Quarter Horse show horses. She loved Indy, despite his close set forelegs, upright pasterns, and short strided walk. But then, if you’re a Quarter Horse person, you’ve seen plenty of upright pasterns and short strided walks in your life, so it makes sense. Tami bought Indy privately, and took him to her farm in Ocala. She believed he just needed time to grow up, so she turned him out to pasture and let him be a horse. She also took to riding him bareback all over the place with nothing but a halter. She even galloped him on the traick in this way. Indy is a very kind colt, and took to all the attention like a duck to water. Tami taught Indy tricks, teaching him to shake his head “yes” and “no” for carrots. Indy was introduced to trail riding, and went all over hill and dale with Tami.

Tami and her business partner had purchased Indy with the idea of selling him, but Tami found she had a hard time parting with the colt. Eventually, they sold part of Indy to some good friends. They owned him in partnership for awhile, but once Tami got used to the idea, she sold the rest of her stake in Indy to Chuck Sandford, the horse’s current owner. It was very important to Tami that Indy’s new owner understood who and what he was, so before Chuck bought him, she set up a meeting between the two, showing Chuck all of Indy’s many tricks, showing Chuck how kind and sweet he was. For Tami, this deal couldn’t be just business, it had to be personal, too. Chuck Sandford understood that he wasn’t just buying a racehorse, he was buying the son of a legend, and he was buying an animal with a ton of heart and personality. Tami remains an active part of Indy’s life, visiting him frequently.

But even before Chuck came on board, this rag tag team needed to find a trainer. They looked to Pat Byrne, who signed up immediately. Once upon a time, Byrne had been known as one of the greatest trainers in the game. He trained Favorite Trick, a one time Horse of the Year. And then something happened. I have no idea what. But something happened, because Byrne lost everything, and completely fell off the map for many years. Indy was his way back in.

In turn, Byrne brought on board the Rodney Dangerfield of jockeys, Calvin Borel. Bo-rail has won three Derbies, and knows Churchill Downs better than any jock alive. But every year he’s struggling just to find a mount for the Derby. This year, he latched onto Indy early and stayed with him, even when he wasn’t showing much in his races. Calvin had faith in the colt, and Indy rewarded that faith in Florida. They are a perfect match – Indy, a racehorse so broke you can trail ride him with nothing but a halter, and Calvin Borel, the jockey who likes to scrape paint (literally) when sneaking by on the rail. In Indy, Calvin found a horse willing to do whatever was asked of him. And it was a classically Borel ride that took the colt to his greatest triumph to date – The Florida Derby.

So! There you have it! Except you don’t, because what does all of this mean? Well, for one thing, it means that we have one the best fields in recent memory. In a refreshing change of pace, the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile wound up producing all kinds of Kentucky Derby starters. Knock on wood, the first five finishers – Hansen, Union Rags, Creative Cause, Dullahan, and Take Charge Indy – will not only be in the gate on Derby day, they will be in the top tier of favorites. This is absolutely unheard of. Knock on wood, knock on wood, knock on wood. Not only that, but other Juvenile competitors – Alpha and Daddy Long Legs (they finished 11th and 12th respectively) will Run for the Roses. Two other horses from the Juvenile, Optimizer and Prospective, may get into the gate as well. Considering that only 13 horses ran in the Juvenile, the fact that 9 of those 13 are still at the top of their class is absolutely extraordinary, especially when you consider another horse, Drill, is now a star sprinter.

And so we have a remarkable field of extremely talented horses. Not only have they shown consistency and class, they’ve been knocking it out of the park when it comes to the times they’re running. But guess what? This exceptional field has an Achilles’ Heel – and his name is Trinniberg. I will have one final post, where I will analyze the Derby, tell you about Trinniberg, and set you up for the First Saturday in May.

Squarely in Toby’s Corner

Toby's Corner

Every year, I do a Kentucky Derby promo here at Fanfreakingtastic, once all the prep races are run, and the Derby picture clears. Usually, I feature several horses of interest. This year is different. This year, I have one big, giant, huge, sentimental favorite for the first time since Smarty Jones won in 2004.

His name is Toby’s Corner. Here is the story of how I fell in love with him.

It was early February, cold and dreary, when I found the name Toby’s Corner in the entries for the Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct. I laughed out loud and sent an email to my mother-in-law, telling her I’d found her Derby horse. My mother-in-law has a cat named Toby. I have written about him, and his struggle with demonic possession, here.

Encouraged by what I read in his past performances (he was riding a two race win streak), I was eager to see what Toby’s Corner looked like. Once I saw him, I fell for him. He was long, leggy and lithe, just the way a racehorse should be. He was well put together, but very upright for a thoroughbred, and also a little unusual in some of his other angles. Toby’s Corner is a classically beautiful horse, but different enough to be interesting. I was a smitten kitten.

And then I watched the Whirlaway.  (You can see it here, although you need to scroll through all the prep races to reach it.) I was extremely impressed with his win. He made a brilliant move on the turn for home, and then started to gawk at the stands. His jockey, Eddie Castro, tactfully suggested Toby look where he was going, and once he straightened out he opened up on the field, with a beautifully long, sweeping stride. Galloping out, he had his ears pricked, a sign of a happy horse who likes his job.

All atwitter, I tried to find out all about my new love. I read interviews with his owner, Dianne Cotter, who also bred and raised Toby. I learned that he is trained by my beloved Graham Motion, an Englishman who treats racehorses like horses, training out of the Maryland facility Fair Hill. (Fellow horse people – the racehorses there get TURN OUT. Non horse people, turn out means they get time to be loose in a pasture and hang out like a regular horse. Most racehorses spend 23 hours a day in a stall.)  I googled his name, and learned that Toby’s Corner is the oldest house in New Orleans’ Garden District. I love New Orleans, and chalked it up as one more reason to love Toby. I also told a lot of people about the meaning of his name.

The Gotham Stakes, Toby’s next prep, fell on my dad’s birthday. I informed the family that we would be taking a time out from the celebration to watch Toby. He finished third that day, but I wasn’t overly disappointed. He was due to bounce coming out of his huge effort in the Whirlaway. Better to bounce now, than later.

My sister Becky and my niece Courtney were there, watching Toby with me. Courtney is an eventer, and trains with a competitor named Hillary Irwin. I hear a lot about Hillary. I’ve never met her, but I feel as though I have, given the number of Hillary stories I have heard. I knew she evented ex-racehorses she got from her grandmother, who bred them, I knew she has a deep loyalty and love for her horses, I knew she was a wonderful mentor to Courtney and gave her excellent advice.

Next up – the Wood Memorial, where my Toby was set to do battle with Uncle Mo, the golden boy of the class of 2011. Undefeated, Uncle Mo was the champion 2 yo colt of 2010, and as I watched the coverage of the race on TVG I felt my blood pressure rise. The commentators were touting Uncle Mo as though he were the next coming of Secretariat, and made no mention of Toby at all.

I couldn’t understand it. Didn’t these people see what I saw in the Whirlaway? Didn’t they know that Toby was built to go a distance? Didn’t they see Uncle Mo’s short, bulky muscles, designed for mile long races? Didn’t they realize that his trainer, Todd Pletcher, had wrapped the horse up in bubble wrap? Giving him one joke of a race to prep for the Wood? To me, the entire thing reeked of injustice. As Toby loaded into the gate, I prayed, “Please God, please let Toby make all these people eat their words. All these rude, rude, rude, incredibly stupid people, please force them to see what I see.”

And this is what happened.

Now, I love Tom Durkin, the race caller, but he, along with everyone else, forgot Toby was in the race. He is number 2, and is along the rail, in the back. His jockey wears a bright red cap and forest green and red silks. Turning for home, Toby is last, and still on the rail. You can then watch that red cap weave through traffic until Toby bursts into first place, sticking that long, lean, liver chestnut neck out in front of Uncle Mo.

And there was much rejoicing.

After the race, I eagerly awaited the recaps from the experts. I knew they’d come along with their tail between their legs, forced to acknowledge Toby’s excellence. But no! All the stories were about Uncle Mo’s loss, not Toby’s victory. More injustice, more gnashing of teeth.

On the plus side, there were some human interest stories about Dianne Cotter, Toby’s owner. I learned I was wrong about his name. Dianne purchased a pony named Toby for her granddaughter many, many years ago, and the pony had the corner stall. They called it Toby’s Corner. The name was sentimental and nostalgic, and it made me like Dianne Cotter all the more. I also learned that she only bred about two foals a year, and had bred Toby’s sire, Bellamy Road, who also won the Wood Memorial. To have bred two Wood winners from such a small operation is truly a feat. This win was even sweeter than Bellamy’s, however, as Dianne still owned Toby at the time of his win. (As a side note – Bellamy Road is Toby’s sire.)

I called my sister, Becky, to tell her of the glories of Toby’s win, the injustices surrounding him and all the neat things I’d learned about his connections. Before I could get anywhere with my story, she said, “Oh, yeah, that’s Hillary Irwin’s grandmother’s horse.”

This is what a thoroughbred is supposed to look like.

“WHAT?!?”

“Yeah, Hillary Irwin. She’s the one who owned Toby the pony when she was a little girl.”

“WHAT?!?”

Becky said, “Yeah, you know. She gets her thoroughbreds from her grandmother, that Hillary, well, her grandmother is Dianne Cotter. Hillary’s mom, Carrie, is my good friend.”

And my brain exploded with joy, and I wrote the biggest 12 year old fan girl letter to Carrie Cotter Irwin on Facebook, telling her all about how I am Toby’s BIGGEST FAN IN THE WORLD!

The kind woman wrote back, told me that they are all over the moon about it, about how Toby’s Wood was the greatest day of their lives. She was gracious and lovely, and said not a thing about the nasty TVG commentators, or Tom Durkin’s call of the race. She was simply filled with gratitude that her mother is getting to see her dreams come true.

And this, my friends, is the wonderful thing about horse racing. It is the ultimate meritocracy. Toby didn’t know that he wasn’t supposed to win the race, he didn’t know about the lack of respect he’d been given, he didn’t know that he was from a small operation in Florida, he didn’t know the odds were against him. All he knew was that he was there to run his best, let the chips fall where they may.

Origins, Cont’d

We have six inches of snow on the ground, might hit seven by 1pm, at which point the weather people say this will turn to ice. Ice = Complete and Utter Destruction. Last time we had an ice storm, we were without power for three days. I called the power company and told them we have seniors on our street. They could’ve cared less. I called them a day later to tell them we had a live power line down, with people driving over it. They appeared within the hour. I don’t know why I didn’t lead with the live power line.

Anyway, I wanted to get a second Freddy Joe Bedtime Story out into the ether before the Icepocalypse hits. (Ack! As I wrote that sentence the weather changed from white, fluffy flakes to ice! Noooo!!! And it came an hour and a half early!!!!)

This story is dedicated to Kat Owens, as it is entitled, “The Insect Collector.”  Please visit Kat’s blog, and also please know she isn’t a sociopath! And in fact is quite a nice lady. : )

Once upon a time, there was a boy who collected insects. It was his all consuming passion. Everyday, he’d harvest as many bugs as he could find. It didn’t matter whether they were a new species, or one he’d already collected. He brought in everything he got his hands on, because what he enjoyed most about insect collecting was pinning the bugs to his display board.

Dead bugs... or are they?

He’d take the day’s haul to his bedroom. The bugs, still alive, would scramble against the glass jars and plastic boxes he’d put them in. But their struggle was all for naught. One by one, the boy would pluck the insects from their clear cages and pin them to the board. Their many legs would wave feebly for a few seconds and then they’d go still, never to move again. The boy liked watching the life leave each insect, and he wouldn’t pin the next until the first had died.

In this way, the boy amassed a giant collection. It was so vast and varied, even scientists were envious. A professor asked if could borrow the boy’s praying mantis collection for a study, but the boy refused. He liked his insects where they were, displayed on his bedroom walls.

The day he denied the professor’s request he suffered a horrible nightmare. In it, he was in darkness, surrounded by clicking. He couldn’t see anything, didn’t know what the clicking was, but it terrified him. In the morning, he noticed his newest praying mantis had fallen from its spot on the display board. He carefully returned the mantis to its spot. Over breakfast, he accused his mother of going into his room and causing the mantis to fall, but she denied it.

The next night he had the same dream. In the morning, two mantises were on the floor. Enraged, the boy yelled at his mother, and demanded she confess to messing with his collection. She said she hadn’t done any such thing. That afternoon, the professor came by the house to ask, in person, one last time to borrow the collection. He told the boy that so much good could come of this simple favor. The professor’s studies would be used to help the insects that the boy obviously loved so much. The boy shut the door in the man’s face.

That night, he had a hard time falling asleep. He was so angry that his mother had messed with his collection, that this man thought he was entitled to it. His collection was his and his alone. He’d killed every one of those insects himself. They belonged to him.

He finally fell into a fitful sleep. No sooner had he drifted off, than the nightmare began again. Pitch black, the boy could see nothing, but there was the sound of clicking, clicking, clicking. A new sound arose, the thrum of insect wings. With a thrill of horror, the boy felt the bristly legs of a cockroach run up his bare arm.

He sat upright, and felt an avalanche of insects roll down his body. He was blanketed in them. He wanted to yell, to scream for his mother, but then he found they were in his mouth, choking him. Wake up! he wanted to yell at himself, Wake up! And that’s when he realized–he was awake.

In one moment, as though on a prearranged cue, the attack came. Those that bit, bit, those that stung, stung, those that had no weapon, smothered the boy, crawling into his eyes and ears and mouth.

The next day, at breakfast, the boy’s mother wondered why he hadn’t come down for his pancakes. She went upstairs, opened the door. The room was in perfect order. The boy’s insect collection hung in straight lines on the walls, his room tidy, his bed so neat it almost looked as though no one was in it.

The only thing amiss was the boy himself–he was dead, his eyes and mouth frozen wide in an expression of sheer horror.

ALTERNATE ENDING

Sometimes, when my dad told this story, the insects attacked the boy with the pins, causing him a million tiny stab wounds. And at times the mother would find all the insects down from their displays, littering the floor and covering the boy. My dad liked to switch it up occasionally.

Origins

Almost every day, I take a walk with Tom Foolery and Shenanigans, my purebred American Mutt Dogs. (Their father was a blue heeler, their mother a Roughcoated Collie x Great Pyrenees cross [And they even have the extra toes to prove it. {In case you didn’t know, Great Pyrenees have extra toes.}])

Anyway, the point is, I go on a nature walk just about every day with them. Last week, I finally met the man who maintains the trail. His name is Norman, he is retired, and he does it for fun. He liked Tom and Nanigans, and told me about a new trail he’d made. I followed his directions and soon found myself walking along a river. It had flooded into two large pools, thanks to two beaver dams.

On the way home, I was struck by the trail’s aspect. It is sort of the Platonic ideal of a trail–flat, broad, leaf littered, bordered by deciduous forest, now leafless, thanks to winter. It gently arched away from me, disappearing into the forest, hiding whatever lay in wait around the corner.

This image of a trail was innately familiar, and strangely unnerving. Something deep within me raised a warning flag. This beautiful little place held secret dangers. I looked at my dogs. They were fine, and if there’d been anything to be worried about, they would’ve let me know.

And then it came to me, where I’d seen this trail before, and why it made me uneasy.

It looked just like the trail from my imagination, a trail created by one of my father’s favorite bedtime stories. My dad is a world class storyteller. I’ve had people tell me I’m a good storyteller a couple of times, and I always say, “You should see my dad.” I can bring someone into a story if they’re willing to come. With my dad, it’s different. He talks and people listen, no matter who they are. If they’re alpha, ADD, a non-stop talker, impatient, holier-than-thou, it doesn’t matter. They stop what they’re doing and they listen, because that is the special magic my dad has.

A little girl's best friend.

And so, once I realized why that trail looked so familiar, I thought, I should really put my dad’s bedtime stories up on the blog. They’re good stories. Also, disturbingly violent. Which really explains a lot, if you think about it. Without further ado, I present, “The Teddy Bear.”

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved her teddy bear with all her heart. She loved her bear so much, she brought him with her wherever she went. She even took him to school.

Her walk to the bus stop was a long one, and she’d found a short cut through the woods. When the little girl told her mother about the short cut, her mother told her not to take it. She needed to take the road all the way to the bus stop.

The little girl and her teddy bear had a rough day at school. The other kids always teased her about her bear, and this day was worse than any before. The little girl had told her classmates that her bear was actually alive. He could see and hear and think and breathe. They mocked the little girl ruthlessly.

When she got off the bus, an idea came to her. She didn’t want to walk the long way home with her tormentors. She decided to take the short cut through the woods. It was winter, and already getting dark. She knew her mother didn’t want her to go this way, but if she hurried, she could get ahead of the other children, and her mother would never be the wiser.

She trotted off into the forest, hustling as fast as she could go. Halfway home, she saw a figure in the deep shadows. A man stepped out into the path. Fear stabbed the little girl right in her heart. “Where’re you going?” he asked. “I’m going home,” said the little girl.  The man fell in step beside her. She shifted her teddy bear to her outside arm. She didn’t want him taking her bear. He smelled badly. She knew he was mean, he was a mean man.

The little girl bolted for home. But in three steps, the man caught her. He grabbed her by the ponytail. Her bear flew from her arms, landing in a mud puddle. She spun around and kicked and punched and bit. She did everything she could to fight the man off. She felt his hands close around her throat. He was choking her. As she lost consciousness, she saw a giant shadow loom overhead, she heard a thunderous growl, but it all seemed so far away. She fell to the ground, and knew no more.

The little girl woke up hours later. Her parents were there, and so were policemen. She still lay in the mud. Paradmedics with a stretcher were on their way. She looked up. The dancing beam of a policeman’s flashlight slipped over the body of a man; the little girl’s attacker. He was dead, covered in blood.

“Where’s my Teddy?” the little girl cried. Her stuffed animal was handed to her as she was strapped into the stretcher. He was cold and wet from his time in the mud puddle, but stranger still, all the fur had been ripped from his paws, revealing the white stuffing inside.

As they loaded the girl into the ambulance, she heard a policeman tell her parents,”What are the odds… this man, mauled to death by a bear just before he could do this poor child any serious harm.”