Happy Derby Day!

Our Derby favorite, Dialed In. He definitely looks the part.

It is here, the First Saturday in May, arriving as late as it possibly could. Here are some thoughts to take us into the race.

So, great moments in small town living. I go to the local Bi-Lo, known as the Ghetto Bi-lo, because it is in Pendleton, and therefore small, old, crowded and raggedy. Clemson Bi-Lo is newer, bigger, and fancier, BUT! Ghetto Bi-Lo has WAY better produce and meats, and that store is CLEAN. I heart my Ghetto Bi-Lo. So anyway, I was there, in the produce section, and alas, there was no mint to be found. A produce guy was there, stocking green beans.

ME: Any chance you have any mint in the back?

PRODUCE GUY: Unfortunately, no. You a racing fan?

ME: YES.

PRODUCE GUY: I hear the big horse, Uncle Mo, scratched this morning.

Animal Kingdom, previously ridden by alleged wife beater Robbie Albarado, now ridden by Johnny V. Didn't I say he was a nice looking horse?

I proceeded to tell Produce Guy every down dirty rumor I’d heard, which may or may not be true. Rumors like – Mike Repole wanted to secure an extra three box seats, so he entered the horse, knowing he’d scratch. Rumors like – they wanted to shrink the field to benefit their other horse, Stay Thirsty. And I also told Produce Guy some cold hard facts, like, The horse had been looking like crap all week. His coat looked bad, his appetite wasn’t good, and while he was mechanically sound, he was clearly off. The Todd SAID this. OUT LOUD. While saying that they wanted to give Mo “every chance” to improve. Look, The Todd, you know and I know that if your horse looks like crap on Tuesday, has been looking crappy for some time, has been battling an internal infection – he’s not going to be up for one of the toughest races in the world come Saturday. SO WHY ENTER? Unless Mike Repole wants those extra box seats.

Meanwhile, Sway Away, who would have been in the race if Mo hadn’t taken up a spot only to abandon it a day and a half later, is on the outside looking in. His owners, who are in their 70’s, will probably never get the experience of having a horse in the Derby. But don’t worry, The Todd, Mike Repole, you just do whatever you want. (As a side note, I really like Sway Away, who runs with a fascinating, head-way-up posture. He’s a quick horse, but likely 1 1/4 miles isn’t his game. MUCH LIKE UNCLE MO. AND HALF THE FIELD. ANYWAY. I’LL TRY TO STOP SHOUTING.)

So! Our beloved Archarcharch, of Adorable Arkansasness Fame, drew the one hole. Heavy sigh, kids. Heavy sigh. Ferdinand won the Derby in 1986 from the one hole, but he had the immortal Bill Shoemaker in the saddle and the advantage of a come-from-behind running style. Does Jon Court want to drop to last to avoid the crush? Probably not, but he also might not have much choice about it.

You’ll have to trust me on this one, but as the post positions were drawn, I kept thinking, my horses are going to be in 7 and 8. As it turned out, Dialed In and Pants on Fire wound up in those spots. I didn’t mention Dialed In previously, as I have no special feeling for him, really, but I do respect the holy heck out of this horse. He’s all class, and Nick Zito thinks the world of him. While a Dialed In win would not be especially sentimental for me, it would definitely be satisfying.

In other news, Johnny Velasquez, The Todd’s top jock who was set to ride Uncle Mo, wound up getting a new mount in Animal Kingdom. Animal Kingdom is a nice looking chestnut trained by Toby’s Corner’s trainer, Graham Motion. AK has heretofore been a grass or synthetic horse, so we’ll have to see how he likes the Churchill dirt.

Twice the Appeal, Calvin Borel's mount, winning the Sunland Derby in New Mexico. Note the lush and beautiful landscaping.

Interestingly, Animal Kingdom’s jockey, newly minted wife-beater (allegedly) Robbie Albarado, was thrown from a horse on Wednesday and then the horse stepped on his face, breaking his nose and orbital bones. Sucks to get beaten up, doesn’t it, alleged wife-beater Robbie Albarado? So, Robbie is out, and Johnny is in. I am always looking for the karma angle, and I have wonder if this last minute switch from Robbie to Johnny isn’t a weird, cosmic shift to make an Animal Kingdom win more palatable.

Also interesting – Plum Pretty won the Oaks on Friday. She came out of New Mexico, like Mine That Bird. Some think the training/racing at elevation is what allowed Mine That Bird to decimate the 2009 Kentucky Derby. He was, of course, ridden by the great Churchill Downs jockey, Calvin Borel, who has won 3 out of the last 4 Derbies. This year, Calvin is on Twice the Appeal. And where has Twice the Appeal been training and racing? New Mexico.

In other news, this morning I procured two packages of mint, so I’m all set. Hope you all enjoy the Derby, and most importantly, that every jockey and every horse gets around safe and sound.

Hello, Behind the Bit-ers!

Stacey's beautiful Harv - BTB's most apt logo

Just saw Stacey sent you over here. (Heee!)

Although I am a lifelong horse person, have ridden dressage for – Holy Cats, y’all, I just did the math. TWENTY YEARS. Can that be right? Can I be old enough to have ridden dressage for twenty years? (A technical delegate has just reviewed the evidence and it turns out, yes, twenty years is accurate. Wow. This post just went from fun and fluffy to a headlong collision with my own mortality. Talk about whiplash.)

ANYWAY. Despite my horse-yness, I don’t often post about horses. For some reason, I tend to focus on bad song lyrics. But sometimes I do write about my four-hooved friends, including those with substance abuse problems, like Bob. Here is Bob’s Story.

For Fanfreakingtastic’s horse loving readers – and for those who are horse-curious – Stacey does the foremost dressage blog on the interwebs at Behind the Bit.

Kentucky Derby 2011: A Guide, Part 2

I mentioned in Part 1 the potential for a historical win for Kathy Ritvo, who trains Mucho Macho Man.  

Rosie Napravnik. Smart, tough, strong. My kinda girl.

 The Girl Who Was on Fire: There is another woman who could make history in the Derby – Rosie Napravnik. Rosie rides Louisiana Derby winner Pants on Fire. Rosie herself is on fire these days, having destroyed the competition at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Red-haired and fierce, she reminds me a lot of my good friend, National Champion Becca Prichard. (Am I right or what, people who know Becca?) Rosie also is very smart, articulate, decisive, and gives a great interview. I’d really, really like to see her win. In part because of headlines like this. (If you don’t want to click on the link, the headline reads: Woman jockey rides Pants on Fire to historic victory in Lousiana Derby. Firstly, “Woman jockey?” Is that like a “woman driver?” And secondly, it’s TOO LATE IN THE GAME for this to be news. Seriously, Julie Krone won the Belmont a bazillion years ago. Chantal Sutherland won the Santa Anita Handicap this year. It’s time to move past this phase, and a good way to do it would be for Rosie to win the Derby, give a bunch of rad interviews, and remove the novelty surrounding “woman jockeys.”)  

Rosie gallops Pants on Fire at Churchill Downs.

Pants on Fire is a good horse, too. As a horse person, I love his looks, especially his beautiful, big eye. He’s been a Rodney Dangerfield horse this year, never getting enough respect. I’ve always liked him, and while I’d be surprised if he won the Derby, I wouldn’t be crazy-surprised.  This is what Rosie had to say about his win in the Lousiana Derby:  

“He ran with as much heart,” Napravnik said about Pants On Fire, “as a horse can run with down the lane…. He just dug in, and he really finished with all his heart. I don’t know where he’s going,” said Napravnik, who rode Pants On Fire for the first time, “but wherever it is, I’d like to go with him.”  

As it turns out, Pants on Fire is going to the Derby, and Rosie is going with him.  

Comma to the Top: It pains me to say this, but I don’t think Comma has any place in this year’s Derby. I don’t think he wants any part of running a mile and a quarter. But I have to put him down here because I love this horse. This horse tries with all of his heart, every single time. He doesn’t always win, but he wins a lot. His trainer had said he wasn’t going to go to the Derby, but then Comma gutted out an extremely close second in the Santa Anita Derby they decided to go. I know it must be hard to fight off the Derby Fever, but I have concerns about this decision.  

Comma to the Top, plain bay all over, but completely adorable.

Also making me unhappy is the presence of Patrick Valenzeula on his back. Patrick won the Derby back in the 80’s on Sunday Silence. Now 48, Patrick has battled a lifetime of drug addiction, as well as innumerable suspensions for reckless riding. Straight up – I don’t trust Patrick Valenzeula. I hope that as time goes on, he’ll have enough days of clean living and clean riding that it could be said he’s truly turned his life around. Right now, I’m not there yet with him. If I were queen of racing, I would have given him a lifetime ban several strikes ago. I’m not normally so judgey about addictions, but in racing, lives, both human and equine, hang in the balance of good decisions. One wrong move and everybody’s going down. This is why tempers flare. Here is mild-mannered Calvin Borel going after equally mild-mannered Javier Castellano. Calvin shouldn’t have done this, of course, but when your friend almost kills you and your other friends, you get a little angry. Had the offender been Patrick instead fo Javier, I think Calvin would have actually knocked him out.   

The one positive thing Patrick’s famous for is milking early speed. He knows how to win wire-to-wire, and that’s how Comma goes – he goes to the front and he stays as long as he can, and he has so much heart. And if, so help me God, Patrick Valenzuela abuses Comma’s heart, I will hunt him down and Calvin Borel him into next week.  

Top o' the morning to ya! Says Master of Hounds

Classing Up the Joint: Master of Hounds. He finished second to the outstanding filly Khawlah in the UAE Derby. A lot of people were super impressed by him, I was more impressed by Khawlah, who, after all beat him. Master of Hounds is from the mega-powerful Irish stable Coolmore, trained by the mega-successful Irish trainer Aiden O’Brien. Like I said, I wasn’t super excited. Lots of times horses who ship in don’t do so well in the Derby. And then I saw Master of Hounds get off the van, with a disturbing amount of confidence, and my, is he a fine looking horse. When he strode away toward the stables, looking around him, it’s like you could hear him say, in an Irish accent, “Oh, so this America? I haven’t seen it since I was a foal. It will be delightful to CRUSH THEM ALL UNDER MY HOOVES.”  

Two Quick Entries: And finally, I want to mention Decisive Moment and Twinspired. These horses are going to be loooooooooooong shots. But Twinspired is great at picking up checks. Not at winning, but at picking up checks. I love his consistency and his try. He’s definitely not the most talented horse in the field, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he got third. (He’s also a lovely dappled grey.)

Decisive Moment is a lot like Comma, he’s built for shorter distances. But he is another horse with a lot of try, tons of heart, and a horse who picks up checks. In the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs he pulled off a pretty amazing win, having led throughout, then was passed in the stretch, then surged back to take the victory. That is a very rare thing for a horse to do. Plus, he has been training really well at Churchill Downs. And, imo, he has fairy tale black stallion looks, which never hurts. In entertaining news, his trainer Juan Arias, exercises the horse himself. WHILST SMOKING. Who does that? Juan Arias, that’s who.

Decisive Moment. Note cigarette.

*

Twinspired, comin' atcha.

Kentucky Derby 2011: A Guide, Part 1

Toby’s Corner won’t be there, but the show must go on, and I wanted to present a handful of horses worth rooting for. Two of these horses, Mucho Macho Man and Archarcharch, I almost included with Toby’s story. Hopefully, you’ll find a horse here you like!

 

Archarcharch trains for the Kentucky Derby.

THE LITTLE GUY: Archarcharch comes into the Derby having followed exactly the same path as Toby. He won his first prep, was third in his second, and won his last, the million dollar Arkansas Derby. His trainer, Jinks Fires, is 70 years old. This will be his first Kentucky Derby. Fires’ daughter married a jockey, Jon Court. Jon wanted to make it to the Derby, and moved his family out of Arkansas to Southern California. They had a deal. If Jon didn’t find a Derby horse within so many years, they’d move back home to Arkansas. Jon never found his Derby horse. They moved back to Arkansas. Jon, now 50, is still a jockey. And he’ll be on the back of Archarcharch, who he has ridden in all of the horse’s races. He found his Derby horse in his father-in-law’s backyard.

So, you might be wondering, how down home is Archarcharch? THIS down home:

While the stress might be getting to Archarcharch’s owner, Yagos said because of unique circumstances he is quite confident his colt will handle the excitement and media crush awaiting him at Churchill Downs.

 

Jon Court celebrates his Arkansas Derby win with Archarcharch.

“Just before we sent him to be broken, he lived with us on the farm, and that’s right next to the salvage yard,” said Yagos. “He’s been used to forklifts and trucks and equipment since he was a baby. And we are also right in the flight path for an Air Force base. We get those big C-130s coming and going all the time. He’s sure going to be used to all the noise.”

Archarcharch himself is an attractive horse with a near-black coat. He’s not particularly big, but he is bred to run a distance of ground. His people love him, and report that he is a very kind, easy horse to deal with. He’s a quiet horse. Jinks Fires is the same way. This is an old school crew, think John Wayne and his trusty mount.

BABY HUEY: Mucho Macho Man is from a very different kind of group of people. From Suwanee, Georgia, MMM’s owners have put up billboards along the I-85 corrider telling Georgians that MMM is their hometown horse. They’ve also campaigned the Georgia legislature to find a place for horse racing in Georgia. Quiet cowboys they are not. But they are also good people. The day before MMM’s best Derby prep, the Risen Star, his longtime jockey, Eibar Coa, suffered a devastating fall. He watched, paralyzed from the neck down, as Rajiv Maragh won the race on his horse. The next day, Mucho Macho Man’s owners visted Eibar in the hospital, and gave him a check for $18,000 as though he’d made the winning ride himself.

Much Macho Man trains for the Kentucky Derby.

Eibar Coa went on to shock his doctors by regaining movement in his limbs. Less than two months after his cataclysmic injury, Eibar walked out of the hospital. How unbelievable was Coa’s recovery? This unbelievable:

“In all my years of neurosurgery never have I seen a case, an event, this impressive and this miraculous,” said Dr. Scott Berta, the attending surgeon at Memorial Regional Hospital South.  “To have a man who’s completely paralyzed from the neck down — a complete quadriplegic — and then be able to get up and walk is an extremely rare event.  And do to it so quickly on top of it is pretty much unheard of.”

Coa will be at the Kentucky Derby to root on the big horse, Mucho Macho Man. And when I say “big horse” I mean that literally. MMM is over seventeen hands tall, and he’s not yet three years old. He will not turn three until June 15th. Most thoroughbreds are bred to be born as close to the January 1st cut-off date as possible. MMM’s dam, Ponche de Leona, was bred late, but her owners expected her to foal at the first of May. Still late, but not obscenely late. Ponche de Leona had other ideas, holding onto her baby for another six weeks.

A newly acquired member of Carole Rio’s broodmare band, she did not yet know the mare’s unusual foaling behavior. Which is, essentially, no behavior whatsoever. When Ponche de Leona is about to have a foal, you’d never know it. She just stands there, grazes, acts totally normal. Then she lays down, has a foal. Gets up, continuous to act as though has happened. And so it was with Mucho Macho Man, who was foaled in a field, thanks to his dam’s unusual behavior. The weirdness didn’t stop there.

Rajiv Maragh celebrates with Mucho Macho Man after the Risen Star Stakes.

Everyone thought MMM was stillborn. He lay, lifeless, in the field, while people worked over him, rubbing him, trying to get him to breathe. Just as they gave up, the colt leapt to his feet and took off. There were no struggling first steps, no awkward attempts to get up. Bizarre as this scene was, it has since been repeated by MMM’s younger siblings. Ponche de Leona is a strange mare, indeed.

MMM might have been born too late, but his mind was always two steps ahead. Super easy to train, MMM made up for his physical immaturity with his kindness and intelligence. He eventually found his way to the barn of trainer Kathy Ritvo, a heart transplant survivor. For Kathy and Mucho Macho Man, it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Kathy and MMM have a deep affinity for one another. (As a side note, if he were to win the Kentucky Derby, Kathy would become the first female trainer of a Derby winner.) MMM is too tall, too gangly, his ears are too big and his legs are too long, but despite all that baby huey awkwardness, he finds a way to win. MMM has heart. Just like his jockey, his owners, and his trainer.

How My Brain Works when I’m Not Awake

A grouse, sans mink stole.

The setting – a train station with a 1940’s feel, but the place is amorphous, unimportant.

Striding ahead of me, a chicken-like bird, the color of a blonde-ish Rhonde Island Red. She is fluffy, too fluffy and too large, to be a chicken, although she reminds me of those Polish ones with the puffy heads. Ultimately, I decide she is a grouse.

She is wearing a mink stole similar in color to her own plummage. Feeling my presence, she turns around. A glittering brooch keeps her stole wrapped securely in place.

We engage in quick, Oscar Wilde-ean banter. I admire her wit, her polish, her assertive air. I immediately note the obvious – she speaks with a Russian accent.

“You are from Russia?” I ask.

She doesn’t deign to reply, the question is too stupid. Of course she is Russian.

Our conversation devolves, and the grouse makes the observation that American men are not real men. Russian men are real men, but not American men are not. Although I’ve respected the grouse so far, this comment rankles. “That is not true,” I tell her. “My dad is a real man, and he is an American.”

The Russian grouse scoffs. She thinks my comment is aburd and sentimental. I can tell there will be no changing her mind. This conversation is dying on the vine and I am ready to be done with her.

And that’s when Pumpkin pulls the covers away from my face, insisting that he be fed. I recall the dream I just had and think, “Thanks for the entertainments, Brain!”