July 2009 Archives
The racing season on any track provides rich fodder for writerly types like me. If you keep your
eyes, ears and heart open--and, to paraphrase Mark Twain, your mouth shut--you can see and experience things so small and yet so significant that your spirit fairly bursts into a thousand electric shards. Joy is everywhere as daily life on a racetrack presents myriad opportunities to observe new things and to integrate these things into the story of your own Life.
Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course exploded with opportunities to hear the poetry of the cosmos as it manifested itself right here on this very human plane. I'd recorded it all in my being, but this morning I realized that I should translate that into 0s and 1s, so that the residents of CyberSpace may--if only by association--experience the pure bliss of that gorgeous day in July 2009.
On the eve of the 2009 Saratoga race meet, it's easy to get caught up in the cacophony because, while the pace is hectic--it's the most fun sort of hectic into which the human soul can be thrust. For me--and others of like mind--this joyous madness begins way back in mid-April, when the Thoroughbreds first start to move back to Saratoga from their winter "snow bird" perches.
Forget the First Saturday in May: each day that brings us closer to The Last Wednesday in July finds the decibels in our heads growing louder: every minute that ticks by, we become more and more crazy with joy. The horses are our rock stars: the Sallee and Brook Ledge vans, their buses filled with potential.
The weeks leading up to the meet is a time of wild planning, as NYRA prepares to move an entire corporation north for six weeks. This is a monumental feat--talk about being organized: basically, NYRA moves Belmont Park up to Saratoga for a month-and-a-half. In the midst of this packing frenzy is the necessity of being uber-together, to assure that not one paper clip or betting voucher misses its ride up the Northway.
The Saratoga meet is like a big, wild-eyed vacation for hundreds of thousands of people and animals who, just last week--may not have known each other. But if you're a fan of this sport, you trek to Mecca once a year to pay your respects, renew acquaintances and bow to the pari-mutuel windows. For six weeks every year, everyone is a friend or at least a potential temporary confidant. It's difficult to keep your head on straight...while this is good madness--it's madness, nonetheless. How to get Zen and stay there?
This new category is truly an open forum: I'd like everyone who has an opinion--and everyone has one--to write in your comments. Let's start a conversation here. Racing is in dire straits in America, and we all gripe about it on an almost-daily basis. At least once in the last year, every person in racing--professional and fan, alike--has punched the air with their index finger and proclaimed, "They don't know how to market this sport! Do you know what they oughta do?"
Lots of opinions, not much action.
So we'd like to hear your opinions--who knows? Maybe someone in a place of authority, those whose job it is to market the sport and grow the fanbase--will actually listen to us. Your comment here on Mairzy Doats could be the word that turns it all around, and gives insight that hasn't heretofore been given a place for you to contribute.
Read my suggestion in this first blogpiece, then comment on the 'site. Let's talk to each other, because we love this sport. We love the horses. We love the culture of racing. Without us--the fans and pros in the sport--there'd be no racing. Our opinions matter--and that means that your opinion is valid.
Sans further ado, we move on to The Match-Up of the Decade...
Like most experiences in life, if you try something once and it isn't pleasant--you're not eager to try it again. A day at the races is a wonderful, magical experience--if you have a little heads-up about activities and events. It can be very confusing to step foot onto the grounds of a Thoroughbred racetrack for the first time--and we want to alleviate some of that angst, right out of the gate.
Now, the first thing you should understand is that, in the world of Thoroughbred racing--every single day of a race meet is a Major Sporting Event.
Unlike other major sports--say, football or baseball--the meet at a racetrack is a daily event (or nearly daily) for an extended period of time. A football team may have a game once a week during their season. Not so with Thoroughbred racing! Consider this: racing happens somewhere in the United States 364 days a year. To my knowledge, there's no Christmas racing.
Let's use the Saratoga Race Course as our example: the Saratoga meet takes place for six glorious weeks every year. Six days a week--only Tuesdays are "dark"--the New York Racing Association puts on a show that features the world's most beautiful and gifted equine athletes. If you spread out just the Saratoga meet by the schedule of a football team, the 36-day meet would take 36 weeks! (And, lest you mistakenly think that the hard-working folks at NYRA only work that hard for only six weeks a year--uh, no. Opening Day at Saratoga every year happens only a few days after the close of Belmont Park. And after Labor Day, when the Saratoga meet ends--they go back to Belmont, and do it all over again. Then Aqueduct. Then Belmont. Then Saratoga again. NYRA puts on this show year-round, an amazing feat, indeed.)
Well. Like football--or perhaps more so--racing is a very complicated sport. It's not an endeavour for the frail-of-heart. And I mean being a fan! There's a lot to learn about handicapping and pedigree, for example. (And don't worry--we intend to help you learn all those things here in Racing 101 over the next several weeks.)
But the first thing you need to learn--the thing that will help you have a blast on your first day, and inspire you to return day after day--the key element to enjoying a day at the races is--calm down...
People You Should Know
This category, "People You Should Know in Racing," is really a subdivision of Racing 101. The people in racing whose jobs we'll discover are essential to the smooth and safe operation of a racetrack, a Thoroughbred breeding farm and other industry-related businesses. Their jobs are essential--so you should know about them.
But precisely because they're so important, I decided to give them their own category here on Saratoga.com. As you read through the entries and meet these extraordinary humans who go to work every day and make the sporting world go 'round--you may gain new perspective. You will come to respect and admire someone whose very existence was, just yesterday, below your radar.
You may even find your own vocation, your calling.
At the very least, I'll use these pages to introduce you to folks who are so darned good at their jobs that too often they become invisible. Like actors who convince you that they're not acting--these people are so good at what they do, and they move seamlessly through the workday--and most of the time we, the observers, don't notice them.
We hope you enjoy People You Should Know, and that, if you don't already--you come to understand more fully how much it takes to get a horse to the racetrack, and to run that track smoothly. I hope that you will walk up to someone who works in one of these jobs, and that you will thank her or him for performing a vital service. And I hope that you stop and look around the next time you go to the races, and realize that, truly, it takes an entire city, perhaps a small constitutional monarchy--to make this sport happen, day-after-day, week-after-week, year-after-year. (For 141 years here in the United States, so far.)
Please enjoy this new category, and do send in your comments. If you know of someone or a group of someones in racing who should be acknowledged--drop me a line. I'd love to do the research and give kudos to those who deserve it. Your input is valuable to us, as are you and all the amazing people who make Thoroughbred racing happen.
And now, for our first entry in this category, we ask you to hold your buddy's hand, and slip into a hole in the six-ton starting gate. You're about to encounter the Cowboys of Horse Racing. Ready, set--run!
I have two friends of whom I am very fond, Bella and Madeline. Both are uniquely beautiful: Bella, a dark, sleek brunette, and
Madeline, a beautiful redhead, have a lot in common. Both are professional athletes. Both are big, strapping girls with large, dark eyes. Bella is a bit older than Madeline, but both are equally fit, sculpted and perfect-of-face.
My two friends are very dear to me, as they're not afraid to express their emotions openly, to wear their hearts on their proverbial sleeves. They love deeply, give their opinons loudly and put their entire beings into their jobs.
Bella is better known as Bella Attrice; Madeline is Catty Madeline, and both are, of course, Thoroughbreds.
These two may very well know each other, but one thing I know for sure is that they share a life motto: "Stick Your Neck Out"...
Many people new to racing are unfamiliar with the name of Jean Cruguet, and this is a pity. No, make that a sin.
Every year the oft-times fickle racing community falls in love with a potential Triple Crown Winner. And every year since 1978, this love affair goes sour when, for whatever reason--the would-be conquerer fails to pass the test.
Jean Cruguet is my favorite all-time Jockey. The reasons for this are myriad, not the least of
which is that he's a beloved friend, so I know a bit about the inner workings of the man's mind.
But even those who don't know Jean have ample reason to love and respect the man: in case you're either a newbie to racing or a long-time fan who's lived under a rock for the last 40 years--Jean Cruguet is the only undefeated Triple Crown Jockey. Of the 11 racing teams that went into the Kentucky Derby in search of the Crown, only Cruguet and his mount (my all-time favorite Thoroughbred), the mighty Seattle Slew, went into the Derby and emerged on the other side of the Belmont, undefeated.
In an era before racing purses (prize money) had reached the stratosphere--Cruguet earned in excess of $51 million for the owners of his mounts. That's a phenomenal figure: the purse for the 1977 Kentucky Derby was a mere $227,500. Cruguet earned that money the old-fashioned way: by racing his butt off, and more-often-than-not, finishing first.
If it takes a village to rear a human child, surely it takes an entire metropolis to get a
Thoroughbred to that first race.
To the uninitiated, it looks to be a very simple concept: Take a horse. Throw a saddle on her back. Throw a small person on the saddle on the horse's back. Stick 'em on a racetrack, and open the gate.
Much easier said than done.
Let's start with the basics. Now that we know how to identify a Thoroughbred, and how they differ from other breeds, let's look at the life of a horse, and how they go from being a wobbly-legged, deer-like infant to a big, strapping, muscular athlete. And then we'll get that athlete into the world of horse racing. It takes a lot of dedicated people, a ton of cash and a tremendous amount of commitment...
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