Category Archives: Infield Trips

Widescreen wind around my eyes — SECRETARIAT

I saw Secretariat tonight at a sneak preview screening with the rest of the RTIP.  I enjoyed the movie, despite its fuzzy history and melodramatic tendencies.  It is a nice tribute to Big Red.  People who were old enough to remember 1973 will see it as a fun look back in time, and the young’uns will enjoy the racing scenes.  Jim would have loved it (NOT ENOUGH GAFFNEY!!).

I found myself reciting the race calls of the Triple Crown races.  I only tear up over horse races.  By the time they got to Belmont I was on the verge of a meltdown – but not because of “Penny’s heartwarming family scene.”  I was picturing the magnificent performance that I’ve seen thousands of times on video.

Secretariat is one of those personalities difficult to make non-documentary movies about because of the intensity of his fans.  We know all the stats, have seen all the races and can quote the calls, we’ve seen all the interviews and heard all the stories from the major players.

He was such a striking physical specimen that it’s hard to cast stand-ins.

But the most difficult thing for a feature film to capture is the personality, the style, the raw emotion stirred by the original Big Red.

I would have been just as happy had they simply showed the original Triple Crown races on the widescreen, and wrap myself in nostalgia for a time and a hero I never knew.


Filed under Infield Trips, Jim Gaffney, promoting racing, reviews, Secretariat, Secretariat movie

Sing with Bing

I’m enjoying the cool darkness of the Tucson evening from my balcony as I write this blog, though my heart is still on Jimmy Durante Boulevard, a block away from the beach.  I left Del Mar last Sunday, after a final week of Pacific Classic prep, Baffert gossip and beach parties.

The Pacific Classic preparation began with putting together media guides with the nominated horses’ information.  Then there was the post position draw party at the swanky Rancho Valencia resort in Rancho Santa Fe.  All of the connections, a few jockeys and trainers, the press and TVG turned out to watch Tom Robbins & Rick Hammerle pull pills and horse names, and chuckle when Joe Harper called it “the Bob Baffert going away party.”

I met a few of the West Point partners in Awesome Gem; listened as track trumpeter Les Kepics and a guitarist serenaded us with jazzy tunes as the sun set in gorgeous colors; got a few pics of Isle of Giant’s trainer, Ben Cecil, and one of the owners ripping the horse’s name off the sign after the party…

The Pacific Classic trophy is pretty neat – it is made of crystal and has curves along the base that look like ocean waves!  It’s not the Woodlawn Vase, but it’s totally Del Mar cool.

The day of the Classic, my main job was to get as many shots of people around the TVG signs as possible.  The network also had a giveaway of TVG flip flops and a full field of pink-silked jockey girls to distribute them.

I enjoyed a final day of paddocking, got lots of pics of the Classic contenders, then squeezed along the rail for one last big race.  I saw Richard’s Kid, still in mid-pack, kick into a higher gear as they ran past me in the stretch.  He managed to get to the front in the last few jumps and power under the wire for his second Pacific Classic victory.  The horse really likes Del Mar.

His trainer doesn’t though, and only a few days before the race had vowed to leave Del Mar if they didn’t restore the traditional dirt surface next year.  He didn’t go to the draw party (which allowed me to do some cannibalizing of the sign, too and snatch Richard’s Kid’s plaque) and wasn’t at the races that day, either.  Instead, he was at Saratoga, where he had to watch as 3 of his trainees won decisively on the Del Mar stretch he hates, including BOTH of the grade 1s!

Team Intern had one last big blast at the Horsemen’s Beach Party & Volleyball tournament.  The party was back after a few seasons’ hiatus, and it was probably the most fun thing I did all week.  The beach near the track is gorgeous, and the track set up tents and nets and called in a caterer to make the scene even better.  Those backstretch workers were some *serious* volleyballers – they had Olympic-level technique and an intense competitive streak!  I didn’t play (because balls tend to hit me more than I hit them in these games) but Team Intern still brought it hard and left it all on the court (hehe for sports cliches!).  The weather was perfect that afternoon — the sand sizzled but the ocean water cooled us all off between games.  The Brown Scorpions team won a hard-fought final match with Doc’s Bunch, the reigning champs.

Evening Jewel after winning the Del Mar Oaks

Hall of Fame jockeys Mike Smith & Don Pierce (l-r)

Da Boomer, impressive 2yo winner trained by Tom Blincoe

There is still one last weekend of fun at old Del Mar, but I must watch it on TVG.  But when I see Camacho the outrider and his horse Max on the screen, or catch a glimpse of Ken, Sue or Heather on the patrol judges’ stands, and see Connie, the winner’s circle queen award the bottle of champagne to the winning horse’s owners, I’ll feel like I’m right back there.

Del Mar will be on my annual trip list no matter where I end up after this year.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to do the only thing I missed out on this year:

Sing with Bing!!!

Where the turf meets the surf…

Down at old Del Mar….

Take a plane, take a train, take a car….

There’s a smile on every face…

And a winner in each race…

Where the Turf meets the surf….


Richard's Kid exits the track after a fun & successful season at Del Mar!

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Filed under Del Mar, Graded Stakes, Infield Trips, internship, polytrack

Something Completely Different (but still involving horses!)

Last Thursday morning the track was closed for maintenance, so there were no workouts.  I saw Dan Hendricks (of Brother Derek fame) in the paddock with 2 others, but they seemed to be in a serious conversation that I didn’t want to interrupt.  I walked around to trackside and watched the tractors harrow, then got back to the paddock, hoping the trainer was done with the conversation. By the time I got back around, the trainer was gone and so were the horses who’d been schooling.

As I wandered thinking about ways to salvage my morning, I saw a lady sitting under a tree with a clay sculpture.  I walked up and overheard her telling the security guard that she did several sculptures for Breyer!

I mentioned Breyerfest and she said she was doing ComicCon instead this year.  Turns out, the sculptor in Del Mar’s paddock was none other than Sue Sifton, a favorite among Breyer collectors for her renditions of Cigar, Smarty Jones and the new Rachel Alexandra model!

We chatted a little bit and she took me back to the barns to meet “her” trainer, Paddy Gallagher.  Seems that Sue has been around the Del Mar barns studying the horses of several SoCal trainers, passed from one to the next as the older guys retired.  Gallagher was busy despite there was no training on the main track, but he took a few minutes out to meet me and to discuss the condition of the surface.

After meeting Gallagher, I took Sue to see the new PEB mural in the clubhouse.  She loved it! As we parted ways, she offered to show me around the horse country in San Diego.  Tuesday, I took her up on it.

I had the pleasure of meeting Steffen Peters, Olympic dressage medalist and his horse Ravel, whom Sue had a clay sculpture of that she took so the rider could critique its likeness.  Ravel is a handsome warmblood stallion, dark bay with a Harry Potter-esque lightning bolt on his forehead.  In a few months he will ship to Lexington for the WEG!

Next she took me to Newmarket, a spiffy hunter/jumper stable owned by CeCe Durante-Bloum, daughter of Del Mar legend Jimmy Durante (in fact, the street address of the track is Jimmy Durante Boulevard).  Most of the stalls were empty because the Del Mar horse show was on, but despite that there were still some very pretty ponies to see!

After playing fetch with a curious, overactive buckskin Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, we left Newmarket for yet another barn, this one a place I could afford on my horse budget.  There were ancient school horses, chunky stock horses and some thoroughbreds in corrals at this barn.  We stopped to do some pretty pony gazing: buckskin QH with golden tones and dark dapples on his shoulders; a big, big warmblood in bay tobiano pinto that looked like someone had dripped paint on his bay coat; and a true medicine hat paint in black with blue eyes. There were unusual black markings around his eyes that made him appear to have been decorated by tween girls with cosmetics.  In the Breyer world, this would literally be called “eyeliner” but I doubt real horse folks are familiar with that term!

Swung by the horse show grounds and the polo fields, then took a drive to Santee for DTS Tack, a cool shop with a fine selection of new Breyers as well as vintage and special run consignments! It was really cool hearing the sculpting artist talk about the Breyer world behind the scenes, too.  I saw a few very limited Breyers for the first time but they were far out of my price range!

We went back to the show grounds and wandered the barns, then went over to Mary’s Tack and Feed, *the* place in San Diego for horse equipment.  They also had a great Breyer selection and I couldn’t help but pick up a Rachel Alexandra Breyer (though it is scandalous to do so in Zenyatta territory, the Breyer Z hasn’t been released yet. I may pick up the Z at Churchill just to make it fair, hehe).

Sue is an awesome sculptor and knowledgeable horsewoman.  It was a treat to spend the day with her!

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Filed under Breyer model horses, Del Mar, Infield Trips

Survival of the Glamourous: Del Mar Opening Day 2010


I admit, I was kind of scared yesterday morning when I woke up and it was cloudy, cold and even drizzly outside.  Let me tell you, California has not been living up to its “sunny” reputation this summer.  I was even more glad that I had remembered to pack my black blazer when I slipped into my fabulous opening day dress, a vintage-inspired shift in Del Mar blue – sleeveless is not the way to go when the breeze is wintry.  Drizzle speckled my windshield on the drive up to the track.  I hoped for a miracle but braced for the worst.

On-track, my assignment was to photograph and document as many people, horses and sights as possible for the Opening Day social media post-a-palooza.

I went out on the apron to get shots of the place empty, and saw the brave few firsters who set up lawn chairs by the rail.  As I shivered my way down to where the starting gate was parked, I saw a guy intently watching the horses gallop for their workouts.  I stopped and asked him if any were his, and he said no, but he had a horse in a race that day.  It so happened that Rick was a partner in Joyride Stable, the partnership who owns Domonation, a 3yo colt slated to test the turf in the feature, the Oceanside Stakes.  We chatted a few minutes, but I barely got a word in edgewise. Rick was intense about his horses and hopeful of Domonation’s chances. He also had lots of praise for trainer John Sadler.

Wandered up to the clubhouse and took pics of the linen-topped tables and flowers.  Once the gates opened the walkways up there were too crowded for me to get through!

The fancy hats began arriving as soon as the gates opened, and I made a beeline for the Plaza de Mexico, where the hat contest contestants milled around posing.  It was so much fun to get pics of ladies and their fun hats, and every one of them were happy to give me all the deets: how long it took them to create their hats, how many flowers/beads/Faberge eggs were used, where they were from, how many times they’d entered…

I took several breaks throught the day to post the shots on Del Mar’s social media sites, so if you follow them on Twitter, FB or Flickr, most of the pics from opening day are mine!

I glanced at the entries a few days before and a familiar name jumped out at me: VALIANT EFFORT.

This older claimer is a big favorite of my friend Debbie in Mississippi.  She saw him on TVG a couple years back when he did some serious acrobatics in a turf race here at Del Mar.  Ever since, she has managed to keep up with him and lets me know when he runs.  I made it my mission to be in the paddock when he was being saddled to get some pictures of him for her.  As I stood snapping away, I noticed a lady next to me who was taking just as many pics as me.  I asked her if she was VE’s owner, and sure enough, she was!  Kathy was tickled to hear that someone in Mississippi, of all places, was a fan of her horse!  I wished her luck and followed the field as they walked through the clubhouse tunnel to the track.  I stationed myself at the winner’s circle “just in case” and wtched with delight as Valiant Effort stalked the pace in 3rd and then gutted out a narrow victory!

I was giddy watching the horse come back and congratulated his trainer, Ron Ellis.  Kathy came running to the winner’s circle and the entire crew just looked so happy in their official photos! As she left the winner’s circle, Kathy saw me and said it must have been some Mississippi luck!

The most thrilling race of the day had to be the 7th, where Lava Girl and Go On Babe dead-heated in a dramatic blanket finish.  Lava Girl was my rooting interest since I had seen her in the morning workouts and also visited her in her barn.  She is Lava Man’s half-sister, too!

The Oceanside Stakes was won by a Sadler horse, but it was not Domonation – Twirling Candy established himself as a serious 3yo to watch in his turf debut.  They say an NFL player was there to present the trophy, but I wouldn’t have known him.  I didn’t get any pics of him, either, because right after the Oceanside, my camera died.  I took the hint and trudged back up to the office for one last photo posting.

Then after congratulating the other interns on a great Opening Day, I sat in the parking lot for an hour as traffic knotted the roads.  I finally made it home after 9, after an intense 13-hr day of horses and gi-normous hats!

More Hi-Lites:

Snuck into the Turf Club to get some shots of the Kettle One vodka ice sculpture…

Met 3 previous winners of the Hat Contest, and picked out at least half of this year’s finalists early in the day! My favorite? The surfing horse!

TROTT rep with huge “Queen Z” hat posing for pics, with a donation, of course 😉

Getting to eat lunch with the reporters in the press box…

Weird incident before the 5th race, when scads of ladies in hats & high heels went out to the starting gate while horses were on the track.  Umm, guys, the gate crew have to wear vests around that thing, and ya’ll are in heels? Plus they stayed in the empty chutes while the horses broke for the race! YIKES

Said hi & congrats to Bob Baffert… Said hi & better luck next time to Eddie Truman, whose filly Reason to Run looked good early but couldn’t stay on at the end of the race.

Did I mention it took at HOUR to get out of the PARKING LOT??

My first Opening Day at Del Mar was Truly Fabulous!

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Filed under Del Mar, favorite races, Infield Trips, internship, photos, polytrack, Race Track Industry Program

Walk A Mile In My Shoes

The action is picking up at Del Mar as the tsunami of its 2010 meet rushes closer to the shore, to break with epic waves on July 21.  I’ve been an extra set of hands for many departments, from media to accounting to customer service.

Last week I got a tour of the beach towns near Del Mar while postering the hot spots. If you see the bright blue and yellow posters with the lady in a hat at places along Cedros Avenue, at the Highlands, or at the bar on the beach in Cardiff, I put those up!  I also left stacks of cards with the summer concert schedule around hotel lobbies, front desks and cash registers.  It was fun not having to drive to these places since I could gaze out the window along the route and not worry about rear-ending somebody on the freeway.  I also made a loooong checklist of shops and restaurants I *must* try when I get my first check.

Today was an eventful Monday – the county fair is officially gone and the transition to race meet is well underway.  My assignment for this morning was to take photos and video to show how this is progressing.  You can check the final product out here!

(I must give full credit to Andrew, who took the brilliant video of the grey chewing on the hay net.)

A thick layer of dirt was pushed into place in the paddock and along the entrance to the track with bulldozers this morning to make a cushy path for the horses.  Crews worked on the landscaping and planted more beautiful flowers around the Plaza de Mexico.  The grandstand was home to hundreds of trees awaiting placement around the apron and restaurant areas – it was like a jungle in front of the mutuel windows!

I hiked over to the infield also, to get a feel for what would normally be my home at an elite meet such as this.  The digs are pretty swanky, with a spanish-style pavillion, vegetable garden and playground on one side, and a large lake right behind the toteboard.  There was a bridge across the lake that is normally closed off by a gate- today the gate was left open for the crews working, so I took full advantage of this unique view and walked across the infield lake! Woohoo!

Behind-the-scenes fun fact: the flowers in front of the toteboard are plastic!

While discovering that piece of trivia with Meganne, I noticed some movement near the final turn.  It was a trio of horses!  I looked both ways before ducking under the rail and dashing across the turf course for a closer look.

You can see what I got in the video above.  It is too awesome standing on the rail as horses canter past, even if these were just out for a leisurely turn around the polytrack.

Later, all of us went to the backside and investigated the harrows used to maintain the synthetic surface.  The green “gallop master” is the key to the whole operation.  New track superintendent Richard Tedesco has a big job but with big toys like the gallop master it’ll be a cinch keeping the track healthy.

The only horses here right now are some trained by Richard Mandella.  A quick skip through the barn revealed Crown of Thorns, runner-up in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, among the horses vying for glory at Del Mar.  Yes, I have pictures of a lot of this stuff, but this uncertain internet connection prevents me from putting them up. YET.

Hope you enjoyed today’s walk in my shoes – tomorrow I’ll be lending a hand in the racing office & of course I’ll have all the deets in my next entry!

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Filed under Del Mar, Infield Trips, internship, polytrack, video clips

A Happy Birthday

I have had to work on my birthday every year since 2004.  It is a hazard of having your birthday 2 days after a national holiday and usually one of the busiest days for major tourist attractions.  This year I was off for the 4th, but by some strange coincidence I ended up driving into work today, my 28th birthday!

But this was not the usual grind, it was my first day as an intern at Del Mar!

First, I totally underestimated the morning rush hour traffic. The same route that took 20 mins last weekend took nearly an hour to traverse today! It was also really messy/dreary/drizzly this morning, too.  What happened to California sun? But I made it just in time!

The track was still overrun with midway rides and food carts from the county fair. I made my way through to the executive offices to start my Del Mar adventure.

I totally geeked out over all the magnificent paintings in the hallways, of such stars as Lava Man, General Challenge and Skimming.  Best Pal’s portrait is in one office, Candy Ride’s in another. It was an impressive collection of sporting art that this blogger totally envies.

The other interns are from a variety of places and have different interests: Amy, who worked last year, is our leader; Andrew from Pasadena just graduated from college; Meganne spent 4 years in Italy and came from Louisville.  I can’t wait to get to know them better.

I met so many people today that I don’t remember everyone’s names.  I also got to creep around the grandstand and sneak up to the press box.  I will get to the barns and backstretch before the end of the week, but today was just too messy to do anything outside.  I got my credentials and parking pass (so glad I dressed up today) and started in with some filing and labeling work. Tomorrow is envelope stuffing. Who knew that all those years of Sir Speedy collating would still be useful today?

Here’s a head’s up though: Del Mar media guides are hitting the post office this week. Along with the gorgeous photos of Zenyatta, there is a half-page list of Summer Interns on page 58. Check out the *only* one from Tennessee.

I didn’t even bother to take pics today since the weather was sooo nasty.  You’ll see pics here at the first hint of sunshine.

So even though I had to work today, it was a Very Happy Birthday 🙂

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Filed under Del Mar, Infield Trips, internship, promoting racing, Race Track Industry Program

Bullring — Love & Racing @ Rillito Park

Historic Rillito Park in Tucson,in the shadow of the Catalinas

At the turn of the last century (that’s 1900), Memphis was home to a lively race track called Montgomery Park.  The little oval was situated on what was then the outskirts of town, with a small but well-used grandstand.  The races were part of the larger Mid-South Fair, which attracted spectators from all walks of life, from all the surrounding states.  The upper-crust people from the “Victorian Village” neighborhood stood shoulder to shoulder with the country folks from Arkansas.   A quick search of the archives (oh mighty Google, what would I do without you?) turned up among the entries and results a story about a gunfight that broke out in the crowd during one afternoon’s races.  The shooting “in the presence of a crowd of five thousand created a sensation.”

(Oh yes, some things never change)

Horse en route to the paddock.

I’ve often wondered what it was like to be there at my hometown’s meet, nothing fancy, just local racing and the cross-section of society having a good time.

Rillito Park is probably the closest I’ll get to the days of the Memphis Jockey Club.

The tiny oval located less than ten minutes from campus is where I’ve spent my weekends since the meet began Jan. 16.  Parking is free, admission to the grandstand is free, programs are cheap, the crowds are friendly and you really can get close-up to the action.

I went opening day with my boyfriend, a native Tucsonan who had never been to the track.  We spent all afternoon running from the paddock to the windows to the rail for the races, with some exciting moments in-between.

At the chain-link paddock fence before the first race, I pointed out details about the horses and explained a little about what the data was all about in the program.  Many of the horses looked like they had come from colder climates and had fuzzy coats but all of them were well-groomed and on their toes.

RTIP classmate Ernesto Avalos leads Divalicious from the paddock to the track at Rillito.

By far, the best-looking horse in the field of 8 was a chestnut named Southern Irish: he was taller, more muscled and had a sleeker coat than any of his rivals.  Boyfriend also being Irish, that sealed the deal.

I made a couple of notes on the program and decided what sort of wager to place, then went up to the window and boyfriend watched in awe as I told the teller my bet.  I assured him he’d be as good at it by the end of the day, and we headed to the rail.

The track is situated in the foothills of the Catalinas, with grandstand views dominated by their jagged peaks.  In the afternoons, the shadows shift and colors change, creating a majestic backdrop for the equine drama on the track.  At the very least, it takes your attention away from the soccer fields in the infield.

Only eight horses make up a full field at Rillito because the oval is so narrow.  To give a little perspective, the Kentucky Derby can have a full field of 20, or 2.5 times wider than Rillito.  Another thing I found delightfully quirky was the 2-turn 6furlong sprint!

6furlongs!  TWO TURNS!  AMAZING!

Horses spring from the gate at Rillito

But that’s Rillito.  Boyfriend and I watched the horses parade to the gate, confident in Southern Irish’s chances: he still looked like a horse among ponies.

The race itself was a 300-yard dash for quarter horse maidens with a purse of a whole $2000.  We stood about halfway between the gate and the finish line, a great spot to experience the thundering hooves.

It was over quicker than the post parade.

Southern Irish sprang from the gate like a jack-in-a-box and never looked back.

Jockey waits for "Riders Up!"

Only a dumb pick for place in the exacta kept me from cashing the ticket.  Back to the paddock we went to observe for the next race.  The jockeys ranged in size from pocket to tall drink of water (well, at least as tall as me, and I ain’t no jockey;-)  and they wore house silks in the post position colors.

As the afternoon wore on, the crowd picked up; I ran into most of my RTIP classmates; boyfriend and I watched races from vantage points all around the stretch, from behind the winner’s circle to the far end of the chute, picked a few winners and had to wait for the schoolbell to ring before I could cash the ticket (hehe!).

Drama before the third race: two horses flipped in the gate as the others were loading, a scary situation that took over 15 minutes to sort out.  Thankfully, both horses were extricated from the gate unharmed.  The tense situation spilled over into the race itself when the inside horse, a first-time starter, dumped her jockey at the break and then jumped over the inside rail!

The jockey walked away with bruised pride, and the horse got to romp around the soccer fields.  I don’t remember which horse won the race!

Proud winners!

Around the 6th race, boyfriend decided to place a few wagers, one based on a tip we’d gotten from a classmate.  There was an Irish-bred who must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque and ended up in Tucson.

We went up to the window & I placed mine first, then he made a shaky first attempt.  I kissed his tickets for luck.  Tickets in hand, we found a great spot near the finish line.  (Boyfriend also said it was sexy that I knew how to place a bet.  Yes, he’s a keeper.)

As the sun slipped lower in the western horizon, the capacity crowd pressed against the rail and watched the sorrel Irish-bred sprint first across the wire.   Our cheers echoed through the grandstand and up into the purple shadows of the mountains.   Rillito may just be a little bullring out in the desert, but at that moment I could have been at Churchill or Oaklawn or even old Montgomery Park, among the electric crowds who love racing.

The end of another great day of racing at Rillito

(Photos taken 1/30/2010 by Candice C. Curtis)

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Filed under career track, Infield Trips, Love Life, photos, Race Track Industry Program, Rillito Park, University of Arizona