Tag Archives: Kentucky Derby

The Day I Met My Favorite Horse – Thunder Gulch

Inspired by this post on HRN, I decided to talk about when I met my favorite horse.

But first, let’s get in the old TARDIS & dial it back to May 1995. It’s a lazy day in Memphis, Tenn. and in the neighborhood of Raleigh there is an almost-13-year-old girl trying hard not to clean her room. She turns on the TV that sits atop the tall chest of drawers by the closet and starts channel surfing. The channel chosen depends entirely on the quality of the reception, because this is the analog era and she lives in a non-cablevision home. By a great stroke of luck, her search ends when horses appear onscreen – it’s the Kentucky Derby! And even better – the station comes in pretty good! The colors are a little weird, but hey, the horses aren’t too fuzzy.

The talking heads are buzzing about a filly named Serena’s Song. Awesome! Girl Power! She’s pretty! But then, they show a list of all the Derby horses, and a name leaps off the screen (literally, had 3-D glasses been involved, since the picture was so bad!) and into the heart of our heroine: Thunder Gulch.

THIS is her Derby horse. How awesome is a horse that carries that name- it conjures up the imagery of outlaws and Indians, black hats and white hats, mustangs, Monument Valley, and showdowns at high noon.

Eager to catch a glimpse of her Derby horse, she watches as each big favorite is shown, and she learns that Serena’s Song has the same trainer as this Thunder Gulch. But when will they show him? Finally, there he is! And what’s this? His jockey is wearing PURPLE and PINK SILKS*!!! It was meant to be!

The chords of My Old Kentucky Home fill the speakers and the horses step onto the track. Our heroine can barely contain herself; she would will herself through the screen to be there at the track at this very moment, to cheer on her Derby horse – but her room wouldn’t get cleaned and that would mean losing TV privileges…

You know how this story ends: after stalking the pace set by frontrunner Serena’s Song, Thunder Gulch burst to the lead in the final turn and drew off to win the Kentucky Derby by 3 lengths. As he galloped under the finish line, an almost-13-year-old girl in Memphis, Tenn. became a racing fan FOR LIFE.

And from that moment, I wanted to go see my favorite horse in the flesh. It would be nearly a decade before I got the chance, but finally, on a frigid day in January 2003, I met Thunder Gulch.

I had learned of the January stallion shows in the Blood-Horse, and of course, Ashford Stud was one of the first farms I found when the internet came around. I got on the Ashford email list and that year, I received an official invite to their open house. It was during the winter break at school, and I finagled time off from the job I had at the time (which wasn’t much since I don’t remember what it was!).

Kentucky that winter was ice cold. It snowed a bit, but the temps were so cold that the flakes didn’t stick to the ground when they fell, they got blown around like grains of sand. That never happened in Memphis.

Ashford Stud is gorgeous, a definite must-see for any racing fan. At the time, Johannesburg was the newest star to stand at the Coolmore-owned farm in Versailles. Fusaichi Pegasus was also a big name in 2003, when his first crop were new yearlings. But I was there for one horse, the one who helped make Ashford, and Coolmore itself, a name in America: Thunder Gulch.

When he was led out of the palatial barn, I was first struck by how small he was – I had seen his son, Point Given, tower over the world. But Thunder Gulch was as compact as a quarter horse, which made him very approachable. I walked right up to him and patted his burnt-red chestnut shoulder. He drank in all of the attention, posing for several photos before the stallion manager told us it was time for him to go back inside. He, along with FuPeg and a few others, had just shipped back from Australia. They had not grown out a winter coat while on southern-hemisphere time. I could totally empathize – despite wearing a heavy overcoat with a fur hood, I was a popsicle by that time.

I followed Thunder Gulch back inside of his barn and watched as he shook off and took a few turns of his stall. I didn’t want to leave. I told the stallion manager that Thunder Gulch had made me a fan, and it was a huge thrill getting to meet a childhood hero. The manager, in that understated way common to horsemen, simply said, “Yeah, we like him around here, too.”

In the years since Thunder Gulch won the Derby, I have had the chance to visit many farms, have seen hundreds of good horses, and even done the Kentucky Derby. But Thunder Gulch will always have the #1 spot in my heart, for he is the horse who started it all.

*It would be almost a year before I realized that the colors were, in fact, royal blue and orange. That is when I found a copy of the Blood-Horse’s Kentucky Derby magazine with TG on the cover at the Kroger store. I told you the colors were weird on that TV!

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Down The Stretch They Come

The RTIP, including me, with Mike Smith at the Symposium on Racing & Gaming. Phot0 by John Engelhardt

In two weeks, my great adventure out west will end with a 350 yard dash and a jubilant winner’s circle ceremony – Commencement!

I can’t believe it has been 2 years already!

I have completed my Race Track Industry Program courses, presented at the Symposium, consumed way too many cups of caramel-flavored coffee, cheered for cheap claimers at Rillito, banged on my apartment ceiling with a Swiffer handle to shut up (encourage?) my rowdy upstairs neighbors, lived in California, swam in the Pacific, survived a windstorm and an earthquake, baked 500 minicupcakes and met sooo many AWESOME people!

As for a career, I’m still looking, but I have several apps out, have had a few good interviews, and am waiting patiently for good news on a couple of options. I hope the next time I blog, I will have a great announcement to make, but until then, I’ll give you my KENTUCKY DERBY PRELIMINARY PICKS!!

As of today, I like these 5 horses, and they will be on all of my tickets:






I may add a longshot or two, like TWICE THE APPEAL (can’t ignore Bo-Rail), but these are my favorite 5 for the Run for the Roses!

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Filed under Brag sheet, career track, Handicapping, Kentucky Derby, Race Track Industry Program


Last year, I smuggled the Magic 8 Ball into the Infield with me and made a few wagers based on its liquid blue wisdom.  The best it could do was assure me Intangaroo was “Very Likely” to win the Humana Distaff.  I had fun with it, though, so here we go again!

Oh Magic 8 Ball, will the track dry out in time for the Derby?  “Answer Unclear, Ask Again Later”  Fine then…

Magic 8 Ball, wise and infalliable, will the Derby winner go off at odds higher than 10-1?   “Don’t Bet On It”

Ok, will the morning line favorite wear the roses?  “Consult Again Later”  Right, right — the ML favorite has scratched.  How about the Post Time Favorite?  Will that horse win?  “The Stars Say NO”

Will the winner break from the auxiliary gate?  “Focus And Ask Again”  OK, (placing my fingers on my temples) oh honorable Magic 8 Ball, will the winner break from a far outside post position?  “YES”

Will the Derby winning jockey be wearing green silks?  “Chances Aren’t Good”

Will the Derby winning jockey be a first time winner?  “Looks Like YES”

Does it matter if the horse has ever run on a traditional dirt surface?  “Cannot Fortell Now”  Hmmm…

How about the Godolphin horses?  DO they have a shot this year?  “So It Shall Be”  WOW!!  DOes this mean Sheik Mohammed will finally get his Derby winner?  “Looks Like Yes”  OMG!  Will it be Desert Party?  “Cannot Foretell Now”  Ok, how about Regal Ransom?  “Chances Aren’t Good”  So it’s gonna be Desert Party, then?  “So It Shall Be”  That does it, I’m placing my bets now!

Ok, you told me to ask about the track again, will it be a fast track by Derby time?  “VERY LIKELY

SWEET!  I don’t know about you, but I’m going to place a couple bucks on Desert Party in the Derby.  People have picked winners off stranger methods!

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Filed under Churchill Downs, Handicapping, Hot Tips, Kentucky Derby, live blogging


After today’s Oaks win by Rachel, the Derby has a tough act to follow. 

1.  PIONEEROF THE NILE:  This colt has been so good that he has overcome his name and found a place at the top of my list.  Bob Baffert was just elected to the Hall of Fame in Saratoga, which is good luck for those trainers with Derby horses:  Neil Drysdale was elected the year FuPeg won, and D. Wayne Lukas was elected the year Charismatic won.  Steve Haskin says the PNile had the best workout at CD and was the best-looking contender in terms of coat condition and attitude.  On track, the son of Empire Maker has done nothing wrong, except not race on dirt.  But the way he looked in his CD workouts put my questions to rest.  He has shown that he can win off the pace, or up on it, as he did in the freaky running of the Santa Anita Derby.  He has already beaten I Want Revenge twice, Chocolate Candy twice, Papa Clem and Mr. Hot Stuff.  He breaks from post 16, not bad for his usual closing style.  Garret Gomez chose PNile over Dunkirk, and I think he made the right choice.  Jon White says he will win the whole Triple Crown if he can capture this first jewel.    I won’t go that far.  Yet.

2. I WANT REVENGE :  Got out of Cali to avoid PNile and became the Morning Line Favorite by his brilliance on dirt.  TV star jockey Joe Talamo will ride the near-black colt, which will pull some bets in from the teenybopper set.  I Want Revenge has shown speed, heart and stamina with his wins in NY.  Trainer Jeff Mullins has won big stakes before, and owners IEAH have lived the Derby dream before, with Big Brown.

3.  GENERAL QUARTERS:  He is the sentimental favorite with the heartwarming story.  He is also a gritty competitor who has been versatile on a variety of surfaces. 

4. PAPA CLEM:  Can’t leave out the Arkansas Derby winner — beat Old Fashioned in a thrilling stretch duel.

5. FRIESAN FIRE:  If it’s a sloppy track, this son of AP Indy will be dangerous.  The Larry Jones trainee has been consistent all year.  He has never run over 1 1/16 miles, however, and the 7-week layoff is worrisome.

Longshots that I will play in my exotics: CHOCOLATE CANDY… REGAL RANSOM … DUNKIRK … and whoever else I get a hankering about before Derby.


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at least that’s what my boss predicted in his quirky coin-toss method of handicapping. He may have something there, since that 20-horse field is formidable for even the most experienced bettors. I’ll bet Mr. Hot Stuff $2 across the board just for kicks.

My official Infield Derby Picks & Analysis TOMORROW!

and of course, LIVE OAKS BLOG at 4pm CST!

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Assume The Position

Friesan Fire has the best PP of the possible favorites, breaking from the 6 hole. It also looks like a rainy Derby Day (again), which will be even better for the Larry Jones trainee.

In post 15, Dunkirk will have a lot of work to do, but the auxillary gate won’t hurt his closing style too much, that is, if he isn’t the overrated allowance winner I think he is.

I Want Revenge will break from the “lucky” 13 hole, not where I’d like him. Young jock Joe Talamo will have his work cut out guiding the colt through the 20-horse gauntlet.

Pioneerof The Nile breaks from gate 16. Only 3 other winners have started at that spot, that last being Monarchos in 2001. Charismatic and Thunder Gulch are the others.

General Quarters got post #12. I like this horse; he is versatile on a variety of surfaces and has a great story with his retired HS teacher owner.

Horses with good posts that I will have to take another look at include Advice in #3, Papa Clem in #7, Regal Ransom in #10 and Chocolate Candy in #11.

Desert Party got shafted with the #19 post — no horse has ever won from that piece of gate real estate.

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I’m a sucker for Tauruses. 

Guys born under the sign of the Bull just do it for me: they’re strong and sturdy and steady, even-tempered lovers of life.  Cancer girls like me are astrologically compatible with them, as they enjoy the comforts of home that we can provide.  They’re creative and loyal and funny, and if you’re a Taurus reading this now, you can find me on MySpace AND Facebook!

They also have Derby Birthdays!  Not all of them were actually born on Derby day of their birth year, but they share a date with many winners in history.  Here are a few of my favorite Men of the Derby!

H.B. — May 1 — I knew this guy in high school.  Quiet, geeky, liked to listen to Metallica.  He was born on Derby Day in 1982, when the grey Gato Del Sol swooped around the field in the slop to win for Arthur Hancock’s Stone Farm.   Don’t know what he’s up to these days, as I haven’t Facebooked him. Yet.  May 1 was also the date of the Derby wins of two Triple Crown winners, Count Fleet in ’43 and Citation in ’48.  I realized H.B. had a Derby birthday in 1999, when we were both in 11th grade.  I had gotten a serious case of Derby Fever and could not stop talking about the Baffert trio of Prime Timber, Excellent Meeting, and “Rhodman”, AKA General Challenge.  He got tired of me going on and on about the horses one day, saying, “When will this be OVER?!” 
I said to him, “The first Saturday in May!” 
“That’s my birthday.” 
“Sweet!  We can watch the race at your party!”
“Um, You can watch the race at Your party.”

Charismatic won the Derby that year.  I didn’t talk to H.B. much after that.

C.S.– May 7 — I met C.S. in college sophomore year and spent the rest of my time at UM chasing him around.  He was really tall, had sparkling blue eyes like Hawaiian beachfront, and was a trivia nut.  I learned early on that he had a Derby birthday and spent scads of time filling him in on the particulars:  Behave Yourself and Burgoo King, Col. Bradley’s pair from the 30s; Ponder, winner in ’49 sired by Derby winner Pensive and sire of ’56 winner Needles; Swaps, the California wonder.  He actually remembered watching the 1994 Derby on TV because rain kept his party inside — I was always excited to remind him that I had “met” that year’s winner, Go For Gin, at a recent Kentucky trip.  Seattle Slew is the only TC winner I have seen in person, and his Derby was on May 7, 1977, another thing I probably talked about too much. 
C.S. graduated 2 years before me, but I kept up correspondence with him for a little while.  In 2005, I went to the Infield for the very first time.  It was a dream come true, all 12 hot, sweaty, julipy, messy hours of it.  Giacomo won at 50-1.  That year’s Derby was on May7.  I hope that some of that Derby ephemera I incessantly quoted to C.S. stuck somewhere in his memory, and I sometimes think of him winning a Trivia Bowl by correctly answering “Who won the 1988 Kentucky Derby?*”

F.L. — May 11 — I hated F.L. when I first met him.  He was too overbearing, had a penchant for telling ridiculous lies, and could be entirely too goofy at times.  But as I got to know him, I realized just how misunderstood he was.  I found out he had a May 11 birthday and thought he may have a Preakness winner or two.  But delving into the stats, I discovered that F.L. shared a Derby with a few early winners, like 1887 victor Montrose and 1892 winner Azra.  But he also shares a Derby with Exterminator, the 1918 longshot winner who became a national hero.  Exterminator got the nickname “Old Bones” because of his coarse, angular frame, and raced only 4 times at 2 before becoming a workout mate to W. Kilmer’s champion 2yo Sun Briar.  Unfortunately, Sun Briar developed problems that kept himout of the Derby, and Kilmer reluctantly entered Exterminator.  The big brown gelding had not raced at all prior to the Derby, but he was well-conditioned after running alongside the champ for so long.  He ran away from the field in the stretch and won by a length, redeeming his supporters and horse-laughing in the face of his detractors.  F.L. has a lot in common with Old Bones, except I’d probably call him Honeybun (his girth would probably compare to the horse’s).

I’ve been talking F.L.’s ear off about Derby 135 for months.  He’s probably glad the race is 4 days away — he needs his ear back.


ETA: *Winning Colors, May 7, 1988!

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