My year in racing, 2010

As I think about my 2010 racing memories, I am struck by how few of them actually happened on the racetrack. Few races stand out to me; few horses left durable impressions. I am surprised by that.

That’s not to say, though, that 2010 ends devoid of lingering recollections; there are plenty of them, and it was fun to look back through Brooklyn Backstretch posts and photos to see what I was paying attention to – and what I wasn’t – over the last racing year. In no particular order, and with links to original posts…

My year started, literally, at the track, at the Tropical Park Derby at Calder on January 1. I watched two horses – Fly By Phil and Lost Aptitude – that I thought that I’d see a lot more of through the year.  I didn’t.

First-time track visits were of the C-list variety: Calder, Colonial, Churchill. Having never been to Churchill before 2010, I ended up there three times this year, in April, June, and November.  That blog post about my impressions of the place never quite got written.

Another C-list memory is the opening of Old Friends at Cabin Creek: The Bobby Frankel Division. As successful in execution as it was perfect in conception, this Thoroughbred retirement home brought to Saratoga many of our favorites, thanks to the efforts, time, and money of Michael Blowen, JoAnn and Mark Pepper, and hundreds of volunteers and donors.  My Champagne glass is raised to all of them.

What a pleasant surprise it was to hear from the new owner of a claimer I’d followed, and who then disappeared.  Now, I keep up with Lucky To Cope’s progress in his new life via his blog, rather than via stable alerts.

I’ll remember meeting Spooky Mulder and his wonderful caretaker, who sent along a recent photo of him.

On the racetrack, I’ll remember Giant Moon’s Evan Shipman at Saratoga; Proviso’s Diana; the photo finish of the Travers, Jimmy Jerkens’ Afleet Express just barely over Nick Zito’s Fly Down.

The Evan Shipman

The Travers

I’ll remember the Alabama and Blind Luck, and I’ll remember Haynesfield, witnessing his wins in two of New York’s most historic races, the Suburban and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and his oh-so-close second in the Cigar Mile.

Haynesfield winning the Suburban

I’ll remember, of course, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, standing six stories above the finish line, with a perfect view of what I didn’t want to see. I still haven’t watched a replay.

Off the track, I’ll remember an abundance of opportunities to write about racing and get paid for it, which leaves me grateful and humbled. To have my name in publications that I’ve read for years is something for which I barely dared hope when I started all this in September of 2007, as is becoming a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters.

I’ll remember racing making an appearance in the general media, with the release of Secretariat (which I still haven’t seen) and the small, independent documentary Horses, by Liz Mermin. And who would have thought that a novel about racing would win the National Book Award?  Zenyatta made Oprah and 60 Minutes. If racing didn’t reach a larger audience this year, it never will.

I’ll remember that coincidence in the form of a colleague led to the story of Stately Victor after the horse won the Blue Grass. He brought me to the home of Bud and Toni Perrone for the Kentucky Derby, and the friendship of the extended Perrone family. I’d have loved to see Stately Victor win a few more races, but seeing the Perrones at the track is pretty good consolation.

I’ll remember Saratoga, for backstretch mornings and press box afternoons; for history and horses, for long conversations with Allen Jerkens and Jonathan Sheppard, and for discovering that the latter has won races at the Spa for more than 40 consecutive years.

I’ll remember Winter Memories winning the Miss Grillo and finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf, and wonderful conversations about her and her mother with the avuncular, accommodating, insightful Jimmy Toner.

I’ll remember meeting racing friends, old and new, at every track; Twitter handles became real people, Facebook profiles came to life, commenters and I talked in person and not in print.

I’ll remember afternoons, and evenings, at the Paddock Bar, to me the most perfect hangout spot ever created at a racetrack, and the gambling tree at which so many racing friends gathered through 40 racing days.

I’ll remember the end of the New York State legislature intransigence on a VLT contract for Aqueduct, and the demise of New York City OTB, and the seemingly immortal shamefulness of our state government; I’ll remember the continued misrepresentation of racing and its business in almost all press except the trades.

Life At Ten before the Rare Treat

I’ll remember Franny Freud and her four-race winning streak, and my disappointment at her injury and retirement. I’ll remember loving at Life At Ten from her win in the Rare Treat at Aqueduct last February, and her victory in the Phipps on the day of my Belmont birthday party. She was one of “my” horses, which made the Breeders’ Cup debacle even more upsetting and perplexing.

And of course, I’ll remember Zenyatta: remember watching her races on television; remember finally seeing her in person, out for a gallop on Friday morning, on the track in that agonizing race, and then composed, dignified, sublime on Sunday morning.

When I started to write this, it wasn’t supposed to be about Zenyatta. It was supposed to be about the year, about all the little moments that make following racing a limitless, surprising pleasure. But, I suppose inevitably, Zenyatta is where I ended up. In 2010, I’ll remember Zenyatta.  On the grand stage that is the racing world, the rest, in comparison, is silence.

6 thoughts on “My year in racing, 2010

  1. August Song,

    That was terrific. Thanks so very much for sharing tbe Bloodhorse edition of Lane’s End’s welcome to Zenyatta! Yes, indeed, “She looks very happy” in her new paddock and even feels free to strut her stuff on a new surface — frigid SNOW! — for the camera again. What a warm way to end 2010.

    And, what a pleasing addition to Brooklyn Backstretch.


  3. Beautiful, as always. A very good year and I was happy to be a small part of your great experiences in racing in 2010. Hope that 2011 brings even better thrills and excitement for you both on the track and off.

  4. David – thanks for the motivation. I’ll get it done in January. New Year’s resolution #1!

    August, that is great. Thank you.

    Patti, Marshall, Matt – thanks for taking the time to read and comments. Here’s to a terrific 2011 for all the horses and humans in our lives…

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