In Defense of a Sino-American Institution

Walmart, as America would have you see it.

Dear America,

And when I say, “America,” I am really saying, “American Haters of Walmart,” but that’s kind of long, so I’m just going to say, “America,” and you can sort it out amongst yourselves whether I am talking to you or against you. But back to what I was saying –

Dear America. You have long protested the rise of the evil empire that is Walmart. You cite their poor treatment of their workers, their destruction of local economies, their undercutting of US manufacturing. Look, America, you’re not wrong. When you say these things, I agree with you. Wholeheartedly. But here’s the thing America. Walmart does something for me that you do not.

Walmart makes me feel thin, rich and beautiful.

 Right now, America, as I type this, I am wearing a tank top that is labeled a size 4. I bought it yesterday at Walmart, and it is not tight, America. I probably could have gone to a size 2, just for the entertainment factor. Do you think this tank top would be labeled a size 4 at Ann Taylor? No, America, it would not. It would probably be a size 10, maybe 12. You know what it would be at Guess? An XXX-Large. So what happens if we get rid of Walmart, America? Are you going to come to my house and cut out all the size labels on my shirts and pants, and replace them self-esteem boosting size 4? Because I like feeling thin, America, and I’ve seen your magazine covers and your television shows. You want me to feel fat. Walmart vertiably insists that I feel thin.

A picture of me, at the Walmart.

Alongside  my size 4 tank top — which, for the record, has an ugly Hawaiian print, but it was a size 4, and I was buying it, by God — there were several other tank tops in a variety of colors. Grey and white striped, different shades of grey stripes, plain pink, a red and white bandanna looking thing that was very Fourth of July, and a variety of other options I’ve since forgotten, even though it was yesterday, and I actually bought them. Thing was, there were so many choices, and I couldn’t figure out which varieties I liked best. And then I realized, THEY’RE TWO DOLLARS EACH. And like Scrooge McDuck diving into his pile of gold coins, I went hog wild and bought all the colors I liked. My ugly size 4 Hawaiian print shirt was a pricey four dollars, bringing my grand total to SIXTEEN DOLLARS.

I’d stopped by Walmart on my way to feed the horses. I was therefore dressed in ancient jeans, falling apart paddock boots, a dirty Smarty Jones ball cap and a purple t-shirt I got in 2003 for free at a bar. And yet, America, I was one of the most beautiful women in all of the Walmart. If we lost the magic of the Walmart, America, where could I go, wearing that outfit, and still feel beautiful? I’m waiting, America. That’s right, there is no other answer to that question. Walmart is the only place where that kind of magic happens.

And this is to say nothing of the additional feelings of well being I find at the Walmart. Never do I feel so cultured, civilized, and benevolent as I do while at the Walmart. After all, I have never called a child stupid and then spat on the floor in public. But there are people who have, and they’re at the Walmart.

So the ball’s in your court, America. You want to see the destruction of the Walmart. I want to feel thin, rich, and beautiful. You find me a one stop shop that can reliably produce such feelings of well being, and I’ll side with you. Until then, I am with the magic of the Walmart.

Preakness Recap, or, The Story of How Carrie Met Mr. Cotter

My niece, Courtney, on Robin Hood.

This last weekend was my niece Courtney’s 18th birthday, as well as her last event on the Irish Sporthorse gelding, Robin Hood. And so it was that I traveled north, to a state I’ve never been to, Virginia. Prior to setting off, I told my mom I was sure our hotel would be nice. She asked why I was so sure, and I said, “It’s in Virginia.” And verily has it been so in my imagination, that Virginia was a land of beauty, wealth and resources. I wasn’t wrong. As far as I could tell, Virginia was prettier, nicer, and altogether more perfect than the Carolinas. That said, I’ve always believed that imperfections are where one finds the most compelling sorts of beauty. This is why I love South Carolina. (How about that complisult, South Carolina? South Carolina does not deign to reply.)

Upon arrival at the Virginia Horse Park, we found my niece at the Bent Tree barn. A lot of showgrounds have chintzy, impermanent stabling. Because we were in Virginia, the barn was gorgeous, bright and airy, with its own indoor schooling ring (!!!).

Now, my sister Becky had told me that Hillary Irwin and her mother Carrie Cotter Irwin would be there. To refresh y’all’s memory – Carrie’s parents own my beloved Toby’s Corner, the chestnut piece of awesome that won the Wood Memorial, vanquishing Uncle Mo. Hillary Irwin is a top eventer who owned the original Toby, a pony who had the corner stall. Becky said she’d introduce me to Carrie, and I was all twitterpated. For me, meeting the Cotters is akin to, say, meeting Rihanna, or Kristen Stewart, or Fill-in-the-blank-celebrity-of-your-choice.

So imagine my surprise when upon meeting Carrie I discovered she was sitting with her father, Mr. Julian Cotter, owner and breeder of Toby’s Corner. Did I have a complete and total fan girl freak out? Yes, yes I did, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I believe there might have been some ranting. “I was never afraid of Uncle Mo!” There was some gushing. “You’ve bred TWO Wood Memorial winners!” There was probably some blathering. Luckily, I don’t remember the details of that.

Best of all, Mr. Cotter was even cooler than I expected him to be. He was very classy, and didn’t say anything untoward, but he definitely had some great lines, too. For example: “At the Wood Memorial, they’d declared it Uncle Mo Day. When we walked in, they tried to give us an Uncle Mo bracelet. We politely declined.”

He also proudly declared, “When I looked at Toby’s Corner, I said, ‘This is going to be the one.'” At which point his daughter said, “You’ve been saying that for forty years.” Mr. Cotter replied, “And I’ve been right twice!”

As you all can imagine, I was in horse girl nerd heaven.

The classy speed, Shackleford. Look how happy Jesus Castanon is.

Mr. Cotter also said he’s been traveling to Saratoga religiously for years. Now that Toby’s on the mend, and according to trainer Graham Motion, pointed toward the Travers Stakes, one can only imagine how much a Travers win would mean to the Cotter family. If Toby were to win the Travers, you can rest assured I’d once again scare my cats with my over-the-top celebration.

On a somewhat related note – my mom and I have been attending horse events for years. We are small, small fry in the big world of equestrian sport, and we’re pretty used to being treated like the very, very small fry that we are. (One notable exception – Bobby Costello. He’s always nice. And funny.) In any case, on the second day of the show, my mom and I found ourselves sitting at a picnic bench, waiting for results. (We would eventually find out that Courtney finished 7th out of a big and competitive field.) As we sat there, sipping our coffee, a nice looking horse and rider came our way, obviously exiting a cross country go. “Good morning!” said the rider. My mom and I looked at each other, wondering if we were the ones being addressed. And then I realized it was Hillary Irwin. “Hello!” we called back. After she passed by, my mom said, “Holy cats. A friendly top class rider? Who’da thunk it?” Soon enough, Hillary passed us again, headed back to cross country, now on a grey. “Good luck!” I said, and she said, “Thanks!”

Now, this probably seems like a paltry small deal, and maybe it is. But both my mom and I found it a remarkable one. Perhaps a sad reflection on a lot of top riders, but it’s also just the truth. And it’s one more reason why I’d be so thrilled with any future success Toby’s Corner might have – his people are good people, and that’s all too rare in this day and age.

****

Finally – the Preakness. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to say. “Beware the classy speed!” I said several times during the post parade, while referring to Shackleford, not Flashpoint. The classy speed is always dangerous, and Shackleford is classy speed. But he wants no part of a mile and a half. The day after the race, Carrie Cotter Irwin asked if I thought they’d send Shackleford to the Belmont. “No way!” I said. “They’d be crazy to think he’d get the distance!” Well, as of now, they’re sending him. And I officially think they’re crazy. He’s a good horse. Why burn him up going that far around Big Sandy? (Big Sandy being the nickname of the track at Belmont. It is a mile and a half, one trip around, and the footing is sandy, and therefore tiring.)

I do think Animal Kingdom would relish the added ground. If he’d had a few more yards in the Preakness he would have overtaken Shackleford and won. I hope they send him, but I can see where Graham Motion might want to save him for the second half of the season.

For myself, with no Triple Crown on the line, my focus shifts to the year end Eclipse Awards. Who’ll win top 3 year old colt? Toby’s still in it, and my money’s with him, wherever he goes.

An Actual Conversation that Actually Happened

Today, I tried to purchase champagne for a friend. Unfortunately, he lives in a state you can’t ship alcohol to. Thinking myself clever, I did a google search and called up a wine shop close to his home. Let’s listen in and see how this conversation went. 

ME: Hello, I was wondering if I could buy something for a friend. I’m out of state.

WINESELLER: Of course, that would be no problem.

ME: Great! I made a bet on a bottle of champagne and lost.

WINESELLER: Very good. (droll laughter)

ME: And you can take care of the delivery?

WINESELLER: I will take the bottle myself, personally, today.

ME: Wow! Really? That’s fantastic. So, the bet we made was on a bottle of Moet & Chandon White Star, I guess they’re calling it Imperial these days. Do you have that in stock?

awkward pause

WINESELLER: No.

ME: Do you have any other varieties of Moet?

WINSELLER: No, we do not carry any varities of poo.

awkward pause. (perhaps he didn’t specifically use the word “poo.”)

WINESELLER: We do not carry mass produced poo. We only carry boutique, handcrafted champagne and wine. No poo.

awkward pause, while I wonder if I should inquire further.

WINESELLER: I would be happy to recommend an establishment with champagne you can afford. (And yes, he specifically used those exact words.)

ME: Ummm….okay?

WINESELLER: Please call Soandso Liquor store. They’re close by and can help you with the sort of poo you’re looking for.

ME: Ummmm….thank you?

WINESELER: Happy to be of help! And I hope you’re able to get the poo delivered to your friend.

ME: Me, too.

*****

Poo.

Okay, so, I have some questions. Where the hell did I call? The private purveyors of champagne to the royal family of Monaco? I called this place because they popped up on top of my google search. There was nothing in the little blurb that said, “Do not call unless you have an American Express Black card.” But I have little doubt that the man was right – I am sure there is nothing in that store I could afford.

And like, am I crazy, or isn’t Moet a perfectly respectable bottle of champagne? I mean, it’s fifty bucks. Isn’t fifty bucks decent? I mean, it’s not like I was asking for Andre or something. I did not ask for Barefoot Bubbly.  I did not ask for for Yellow Tail Sparkling Wine. Not that there’s anything wrong with cheap champagne, either. (Although asking a wineseller to arrange delivery of such would be a bit gauche.)

I don’t know. I just found the thing so baffling. And he was so eager to be helpful, while simultaneously letting me know exactly where I stood on the socio-economic ladder. Maybe he’s hoping one day I’ll be able to climb up a few rungs.

In any case, I did call Soandso Liquor Store, and they were great. Totally reminded me of Old Town Spirits here in Pendleton. They even gift wrapped it at no extra charge. So, all’s well that ends well, I guess.

Animal Kingdom and the Triple Crown: A History Lesson

 
Animal Kingdom at Fair Hill, training for the Preakness.

Usually there is a lot of buzz exiting the Kentucky Derby, with speculation about the possibility of a  Triple Crown. This year, not so much. Particularly amongst my horse friends, most of whom are very disappointed in this year’s Kentucky Derby. If you ask them why, they say, “Well, we won’t have a Triple Crown winner this year.” And if you ask them why they think that, they say, “Because when a horse is going to be great, you know it coming into the Derby.”

This is poppycock. Now, there is some truth to the idea that a Horse for the Ages usually is recognized as such relatively early in his/her career. But with our most recent Triple Crown winners being Affirmed, Seattle Slew, and Secretariat, we have forgotten that not every Triple Crown winner is a legend from the get go. (Horses for the Ages being somewhat rarer than Triple Crown Winners.)

Assault, after winning the Derby. Damn, that little horse looks tired.

Omaha was a son of Gallant Fox, an extremely popular Triple Crown winner. Omaha carried with him his sire’s mystique, which is probably why he was second choice in the betting at the Derby. He’d won only once as a two-year-old, with a whole bunch of runner-up finishes as a three-year-old. He was also a physically impressive horse, standing seventeen hands high, which no doubt encouraged the bettors. (For non-horse people, this translates to 5’6″ at the shoulder.) Omaha proceeded to win the Derby, the Preakness, lose the Withers, and then win the Belmont. So he won the 1935 Triple Crown, albeit with a loss thrown into that series of races.

Assault, who won the Triple Crown in 1946, took four tries to break his maiden, finishing his two-year-old year with two wins out of nine races. On Derby day, he was fourth choice in the betting, and won in slow time. The Preakness was the first race wherein Assault found himself the favorite. He won the Preakness, but not impressively, and it was Lord Boswell who was made the favorite for the Belmont. That race, however, proved to be one of Assault’s best, and he was a decisive winner of the final jewel of the Triple Crown. Assault was a plain, small chestnut with one deformed hoof, and maybe this fed into the general lack of respect for him. But over a 42 race career, he proved he was no fluke, winning 18 times and placing 13 times.

Sir Barton, who won the crown in 1919, had never even won a race when he entered the Derby. The only reason he was in the race at all was to act as a rabbit for his stablemate, Billy Kelly. (For non-horse people, a rabbit is a horse who sets a hot pace, knowing the pace will wear him down and leave him unable to win. However, the hot pace ensures a good set-up for a closing stablemate.) Apparently, nobody told Sir Barton he wasn’t supposed to win. He went on a streak, and by the time he won the Belmont in American record time, he no longer played second fiddle to Billy Kelly.

The "billy goat" Exterminator wears the blanket of roses.

Finally, I want to mention a horse who is not a Triple Crown winner, but is relevant for another reason. One of the many records or streaks broken by Animal Kingdom in his Kentucky Derby win was this one – “No horse since Exterminator in 1918 has won the Derby off of four starts.” At 30-1, Exterminator was a far longer shot than Animal Kingdom when he won the Derby. In fact, he wasn’t going to be started at all, but then his star stablemate, Sun Briar, turned up lame. Exterminator had been purchased not as a racehorse, but as a workmate for Sun Briar. When the trainer suggested they enter Exterminator instead, the owner of both horses was appalled that an unattractive nag like Exterminator would carry his colors. He actually called Exterminator “the billy goat.” But the trainer was persistent, and ultimately the horse was entered.

After his surprise Derby win, Exterminator did not go on to win the Triple Crown. But he did go on to win 50 out of 100 races and become a living legend, beloved by legions of fans.

My point is, the paths to greatness are many and varied. Over the 33 years since Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby, racing fans and the general public have become increasingly locked into what I’d call Secretariat Syndrome. We want a horse to come along and defy reality. I don’t know if Animal Kingdom will win the Triple Crown, but I can give you one guarantee – there will never be another Secretariat.

 But there might be a magical story unique to Graham Motion’s bright chestnut colt with the perfect star on his forehead, and I can tell you this – he’s better than a lot of people think. He covered the last half mile of the Derby in 47 seconds. Only one horse has ever closed faster – and that horse was Secretariat.

The Derby Gods Strike Again

Your Kentucky Derby winner, ladies and gentlemen...

Yesterday, I wrote the following sentence here on this blog:  I am always looking for the karma angle, and I have to wonder if this last minute switch from Robbie to Johnny isn’t a weird, cosmic shift to make an Animal Kingdom win more palatable.

I should have listened to myself more thoroughly. Thing was, Animal Kingdom had so much history to beat. In winning the Derby, he became the first horse since Exterminator in 1918 to win off of only four lifetime starts. He became the first horse since Needles in 1956 to win off a six week rest. Most importantly, he became the first horse in history to win having never raced over dirt before.

I love this photo of Animal Kingdom winning the Derby. Please note that he is the only horse with his ears pricked. People think horses are dumb, and do not know where the finish line is, do not know if they've won. They absolutely know where it is and whether or not they've won.

But I loved the horse’s looks (how could you not?) and I love, love, love the horse’s trainer. I previously went on and on about the glories of Graham Motion when discussing his training of Toby’s Corner. The same applies here. Motion’s horses are treated like horses. Fair Hill in Maryland is my favorite thoroughbred training facility in the United States. The horses live the good life there, in every possible way. I am also incredibly happy for Team Valor, who went all in with Graham Motion, putting all of their horses with him, and building a state of the art barn for him to use at Fair Hill. You’ve got to love it when someone is rewarded for doing right by the horse.

All that said, I’d dismissed Animal Kingdom early on, thanks to the four starts, the six weeks, and the lack of dirt experience. Because of that, I didn’t look more closely at the horse until the last minute switch to Johnny V. That’s when my antennae went up, because I sensed the Derby Gods in motion. I looked at some photos of Animal Kingdom, and remembered how handsome I’d found him to be. But even then, I didn’t stop and think the following thought: “Hey, this horse LOOKS like a dirt horse.”

Check out the definition of his serratus muscle. This is a horse with size and power. This is a dirt horse.

Because he does. He totally, totally looks like a dirt horse.  He carries a lot of size, and with that size comes strength and power. At the same time, his classy turf pedigree gives him incredible stamina. It might just be that we’ve found a very special crossover hit, here. I am reminded of Cigar, another great horse bred for the grass who didn’t find his best stride until they tried him on dirt. Or even Secretariat, a horse bred to excel at a something less than a classic distance, who found his best moment at a mile and a half. Horses that transcend their breeding don’t come along very often, but when they do, they are often our most special racehorses. Whether Animal Kingdom will follow in these illustrious hoofsteps we’ll just have to see.

In Other News:

Patrick V. did take care of Comma, who raced close to the pace until in deep stretch. When it became evident Comma was done, Patrick wrapped up on him and he wound up crossing the wire last. Once back at the barn, they discovered an ankle injury. It does not appear to be serious.

Archarcharch had a horrible trip, complete with slipping saddle and a leg injury incurred while Jon Court pulled him up. A very bad, no good Derby for Archarcharch. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not the injury is career ending.

The Todd turned comedian, making not one, but two jokes at Mike Repole’s expense. Completely shocking, in a good way. The Todd even smiled. Possibly in a, “Ha ha ha, this guy is driving me crazy, I don’t care if I make him angry, maybe then he’ll leave, ha ha ha,” sort of a way.

The Todd was also extremely gracious after the race, giving Johnny V a high five with so much enthusiasm you would have thought The Todd trained Animal Kingdom. It was almost enough to make me forget the owners of Sway Away, watching at home, sad and old.

On to Baltimore:

Animal Kingdom looked great this morning. I watched a video of him walking the shedrow, and he looked relaxed and supple. No evidence of exhaustion or stiffness. The plan is to go on to the Preakness. Also heading to Baltimore is Much Macho Man, who was a very good third for Kathy Ritvo. Apparently he, too, came out of the Derby well. Dialed In, the favorite who placed a non-threatening 8th, is thinking of going as well.

As the crab cakes get closer I’ll post further updates. Fingers crossed Animal Kingdom can get it done in Maryland. He definitely won in the right way in Louisville – strong, steady, and with something left in reserve.

Under the Twin Spires...and winning by a good margin, too.