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You Ain’t Seen Nothing Like It — ZENYATTA at Del Mar, pt 3

The most asked question on all of the Del Mar social media sites since July 6 was: Is Zenyatta going to race there?

Many close followers of racing (and those who think they know everything) probably believe that the track was confident in her entry, knew it all along, so much so in fact, that they made souvenir pint glasses to give away on Hirsch day.

Fact is, the people in the Del Mar Executive Offices were as anxious as the fans about her entry in the Clement Hirsch.  The uncertainty hovered even up to race day.  When I arrived that morning, the buzz was that another trainer had pulled his horses from training over the polytrack and that Z’s connections were going to scratch.  Then the rumor was that they were going to wait until the 2nd race to decide whether to scratch.  Then the time pushed back to 45mins before post time.  You can imagine the hairpulling that went on behind the scenes. (Don’t quote me on this, but I am pretty sure the pint glasses were a year in the making, due to the production/shipment schedules from China and all).

So it was a huge relief when the big, near-black mare with the tornado-shaped blaze finally approached the receiving barn, entourage close behind, camera crews and photographers in pursuit, around 5:45 p.m.  I had scouted a spot just outside of the barn, at the shoe inspector’s truck, for my pre-race glimpse.  All of my backside excursions, all of the people I’d met and shadowed throughout the past 4 weeks had well prepared me for this assignment.  I knew that it would be difficult to get around the Sherriffs barn on race day (both due to the queen’s schedule as well as my internship duties).  The paddock was out of the question, too – there were over 400 paddock passes given out for the media & connections of the horses in the Hirsch.  Even if I’d gotten in, my pics would have been over heads and between arms.  But I knew every horse had to stop by the receiving barn for I.D. and shoe inspections.

She was poised and calm at that point, not yet ready to start her famous strut.  The afternoon sun shone brightly, illuminating the dapples on her gleaming coat.  She was a pro at shoe inspection time, lifting each hoof delicately before farrier Victor even reached for them.  Zenyatta stood calmly as horse I.D. expert Diane flipped the mare’s upper lip to check the tattoo.

That’s when I had to dash.

The next step in my Hirsch game plan was the most difficult.  I hurried through the mob at the paddock, squeezing between and ducking around people who craned their heads to see even an eartip of the fabulous Z.  My destination: winner’s circle.

I staked out my spot along the rail as the 8th race went off.  A few other photogs and a video guy or two also had the same idea.  I looked back at the grandstand – every level was packed.  The apron was 10-deep, even for the 8th race!  I spotted a few pink and teal signs among the mob. The crowd around me at the rail grew with each minute as well, until security had to hold back at least 200.

At around 6:15, the excitement reached crescendo as Zenyatta stepped out of the tunnel and onto the track.  She strutted, swayed, bowed and posed as she did her diva thang in the post parade.  On the big screen of the tote board, the track broadcast its music video tribute to Zenyatta.  She was cool and collected during the warm-up, went into the gate with ease, and then…

There was an enormous cheer as the gates opened and the mares leaped out.  I almost couldn’t hear announcer Trevor Denman!  As the field raced past us for the first time, Z was in her usual spot at the back.  Behind me, a gentleman was excitedly hollering, “that’s it, slooow it down Raphey, slow it down!” This was Rinterval’s trainer, Eric Reed.  He continued shouting as the horses galloped around the turn and into the backstretch.

As they cleared the final turn, the cheers grew even louder, to a deafening roar as Zenyatta began picking off rivals in the stretch.  Reed began pumping his fist (I know this bc he was so close I could feel it on my back!) when Z hooked up with Rinterval.  By then I couldn’t hear Trevor at all.  I was banging on the rail and stomping, yelling “GO GIRL! GO GIRL!”

She flashed under the wire a head in front of Rinterval.  Reed was still elated, despite having been defeated.  I heard him say before the crowd swallowed him up, “…seen nothing like it…”

I looked back at the stands again: the jubilant faces, the fists pumping, the cryers, the laughers, the little girls and the older men, all in love with a horse! 

Walker (my boss) motioned for me to slip under the rail and join the rest of the press corps on the track.  She made a valiant victory pass, Mike Smith beaming his dimpled smile.  I was in awe of being so close! She was barely breathing hard and there wasn’t a drop of sweat on her!

I managed to get between the press hounds and snap off a few wonderful shots as Zenyatta entered the winner’s circle for the 18th time in a row, and her 3rd time in the Hirsch.

It was a spectacular day and one that I will remember fondly for years to come.  If you ever get the chance to see Zenyatta in person, take it – you ain’t seen nothin’ like it!

QUICK PICKS:

  • As the crowds lined up outside the gates, I spent my time resetting my camera.  The day before, my photoshoot of the Queen during her morning routine went well, but when I uploaded the photos, most of them were blurry, unfocused messes! I was so disappointed!  I was determined to figure it out before the 9th race, and after a bit of fiddling I discovered the problem.  I also had 2 specific undercard races to practice.
  • The crowd clamoring for Zenyatta and her pint glasses was so large the track opened early to alleviate the craziness.  I got pulled from photos to help man a distribution booth in the clubhouse.  The only thing that went faster than the pint glasses were the plastic bags we handed out to help carry them!
  • I got a quick lunch break and then grabbed my camera for a trip to the paddock for the 3rd race.  Tom Blincoe’s Tall Texan was in, as well as Carla Gaines’s Doppio and Henry Moreno’s Party Mandate.  I have become great friends with Texan, who likes to eat butterscotch and root beer flavored hard candy.  Gaines is a fabulous trainer & nice, too, while Henry is probably the most flirtatious trainer there (but it’s all in good fun).
  • The Whitney at Saratoga went off while I was in the paddock for Tall Texan.  I watched the race on the big screen with Willie, the main paddock guard. We were both rooting for Blame, and gave high-5s when he won! As the horses exited the paddock for the race, a blonde lady in a blue blouse & sunglasses hurriedly asked me who won the Whitney.  I cheered, “Blame!” and then realized the woman was Bo Derek.
  • Great Bernardine raced for my RTIP classmates in the 5th race.  I was paddock-side for that one, too, and met trainer Mag Perez & his lovely wife, Candace, as well as P Val.  I got a pic with P Val, too, just before he got a leg up on Bernardine!
  • I was thisclose to Ken Rudolph during the Hirsch.

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Filed under Del Mar, Graded Stakes, internship, photos, polytrack, promoting racing, zenyatta

Survival of the Glamourous: Del Mar Opening Day 2010

CLICK ME!!  CLICK HERE!!  CLICK HERE!!!

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

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

GAWKED: BOURBON COUNTY SECRETARIAT FESTIVAL 2008

After 35 years, the spirit of Secretariat still gallops strong through the hearts of racing fans, as evidenced by the turnout at the first Bourbon Co. Secretariat Festival last Saturday.  The line for the autograph session with Penny Chenery wrapped around the exhibition building, and tours of Claiborne Farm, where Secretariat lived after his retirement from racing, were full for every scheduled half-hour.  For the Secretariat Look-Alike contest, 19 big, red (and sometimes cosmetically-enhanced) equine tribute artists vied for the $3000 prize.  All this and I didn’t even get a single shot of the famous bourbon!
Penny Tweedy, owner of Secretariat, poses with Mom and me.

Penny Chenery, owner of Secretariat, poses with Mom and me.

 

Wannabe Secretariats line up for the Look-Alike Contest

Wannabe Secretariats line up for the Look-Alike Contest

 

Each contestant was evaluated on many points, including the trademark Big Red Butt

Junk in the trunk: Each contestant was evaluated on many points, including the trademark "Big Red Butt"

Champion Secretariat Tribute Artist, TROLLEY BOY.  The 4 year old thoroughbred stallion was the first contestant to enter the arena and was the only one who needed no painted-on enhancement to his markings.

Champion Secretariat Tribute Artist, TROLLEY BOY. The 4 year old thoroughbred stallion was the first contestant to enter the arena and was the only one who needed no painted-on enhancement to his markings.

 

This pic reminds me of that shot of Sec striding onto the track for the Belmont.

This pic reminds me of that shot of Sec striding onto the track for the Belmont.

Judge Jim Gaffney and Sandra White, founder of the Center for Women in Racing & chairperson for the Secretariat Festival congratulate Trolley Boy.

Judge Jim Gaffney and Sandra White, founder of the Center for Women in Racing & chairperson for the Secretariat Festival congratulate Trolley Boy.

 

Mary McKinley & SHREKRETARIAT

Mary McKinley & SHREKRETARIAT

A super fan of Super Red

A super fan of Super Red

 

Secretariat looks watches over Jim Gaffney and Penny Chenery at the autograph booth.

Secretariat watches over Jim Gaffney and Penny Chenery at the autograph booth.

You could buy this barrel, handpainted by a local Paris artist, in the silent auction.  I wonder if the bourbon is included?

You could buy this barrel, handpainted by a local Paris artist, in the silent auction. I wonder if the bourbon is included?

This booth was brimming with authentic racing memorabilia.  Those are actual saddlecloths worn by such greats as Ginger Punch, Intercontinental and FOrest Danger.  Sadly, I left my Grade-1 saddlecloth money back at home.

This booth was brimming with authentic racing memorabilia. Those are actual saddlecloths worn by such greats as Ginger Punch, Intercontinental and FOrest Danger. Sadly, I left my "Grade-1 saddlecloth" money back at home.

Among the activites during the day were hours of mounted pony club games in the arena.

Among the activites during the day were hours of mounted pony club games in the arena.

No Nerf balls here.  In this game, riders had to spear balloons with sticks.

No Nerf balls here. In this game, riders had to spear balloons with sticks.

This is what 31 Lengths looks like in orange cones.

This is what 31 Lengths looks like in orange cones.

 

Big Reds Babes

Big Red's Babes

I could go on for even more pages, but instead, I’ll just send you to my photobucket album here!

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Filed under Bourbon County Secretariat Festival, Claiborne Farm, Infield Trips, Jim Gaffney, photos, Secretariat

Infield on the Backside

Morning at the clockers stand.

Morning at the clockers' stand.

Despite the miraculous nature of modern technology and hour of uploading and formatting, the previous entry was still FUBAR.  Here are some photos from my visit to the Thoroughbred Center in Lexington last Friday morning.

Mary Gaffney, Mary McKinley, Jim Gaffney and Karen Curtis.

Gaffney and Girls: Mary Gaffney, Mary McKinley, Jim Gaffney and Karen Curtis.

 

Horses on track for their workouts at the Thoroughbred Center.

Horses on track for their workouts at the Thoroughbred Center.

The facilitys barns gleam in morning sunlight as a trio work in company.

The facility's barns gleam in morning sunlight as a trio work in company.

McKinleys horse, MO TERMS, sporting red blinkers.

McKinley's horse, MO TERMS, sporting red blinkers.

 

Another shot of Mo Terms, 3yo gelding by Private Terms out of the Chief Honcho mare Moroncho

Another shot of Mo Terms, 3yo gelding by Private Terms out of the Chief Honcho mare Moroncho

You can see the competitive fire in his eye

You can see the competitive fire in his eye

Mo was race-fit and pulling on his rider the whole way around the track, and stuck his head in front at the end of the work.

Mo was race-fit and pulling on his rider the whole way around the track, and stuck his head in front at the end of the work.

JIGGLIN, 5yo mare owned and trained by Scott Moran

JIGGLIN, 5yo mare owned and trained by Scott Moran

JIGGLIN,  Pryamid Peak x Busty, by Fuzzbuster

JIGGLIN, Pryamid Peak x Busty, by Fuzzbuster

At The Wire

At The Wire

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Filed under Infield Trips, Jim Gaffney, live blogging, photos, Secretariat, Uncategorized