Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More Than Just Thoroughbreds

Although this blog is mainly focused on Thoroughbred horse racing, I think it is time that I share with my readers that more than just Thoroughbreds run on the tracks.

My personal favorite breed actually got it's name for its running ability. The Quarter Horse, (usually associated with ranch work, rodeos, and pleasure riding) received its name for being the fastest horse over a quarter mile. Humans run a quarter mile usually between one and two minutes, while Quarter Horses run the same distance typically between sixteen and eighteen seconds.

Quarter Horse racing is one of the more entertaining forms of racing to watch. Despite the fact that it is done so quickly, their speed is what makes it amazing. Unlike Thoroughbred racing, Quarter Horses don't have to worry about how many horse widths they are from the rail (which would make their trip slightly longer), how many turns the race has, and whether or not the horse gets their perfect position. This is mainly because Quarter Horse racing is a full on sprint in a straight line from start to finish. Most horses are within a few lengths from the leader, who usually wins by a neck or half a length. If you are worried about getting around other horses you might as well relax because the race is already over.

Although it is not as regal and prestigious as Thoroughbred racing, Quarter Horse racing is a lot of fun to watch because of the intensity to the finish line and their speed.
Another breed of horse that races is the Standardbred. These horses race in an entirely different manor than their cousins the Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred. They are harness racers and race with sulkies which are light weight racing carts.

There are two forms in which Standardbreds can race: Trotters or Pacers. The difference is in gait (speed and movement) in which the horses race.

Trotters are horses that race in a gait known as a trot. A trot is usually a moderate speed where the horse's legs move on diagonals (front right moves with back left and vice versa) in a two beat fashion, but in the case of Trotters the 'moderate' idea is thrown out the window. Although it is not as fast as a gallop, horses do hit some fairly high speeds.

Pacing is similar to trotting in the fact that it is also a two beat gate that is remarkably fast. However, in a pace the horses legs move together on one side (right front moves with right back). Pacers make up a good portion of harness racing and is generally more popular because of it's unique gait. It is also much faster than trotting, and more speed usually means more excitement.

To help show you what I mean (hopefully) here are some prime examples of harness racing.

The first picture is of a Pacer, while the second is of a Trotter.

The differences are subtle, but they greatly effect how the race is run in terms of speed.
My favorite part about harness racing has to be the start of the race.

Unlike Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, Standardbreds do not use a traditional starting gate. This is mainly because it would be near impossible to get the speed you want without breaking the proper gate. To solve this problem, a Standardbred starting gate moves with the horses. It is mounted onto the back of a truck, and as the truck is in motion, the horses get to their proper position and speed. The truck eventually gains more speed than the horses and the long gates fold around the truck giving the horses room to move.

Sadly, I have only seen Thoroughbred racing live. Although it is amazing and probably my favorite form of racing, I am really hoping to see the other three types.
The sheer speed and intensity of Quarter Horse racing would make for a fun and adrenaline filled day at the track, while the beauty and precision of Pacers and Trotters would simply introduce me into a world I do not know a lot about.

I encourage everyone to watch different forms of racing and find which one they find the most interesting, Whether it be the classic a regal world of Thoroughbreds, the high speed battles of Quarter Horse racing, or the complex sport of Harness racing. No matter which branch or breed of horse racing you choose, you are almost always guaranteed great competition, amazing speed, a grand amount of excitement, and the ability to watch a magnificent animal doing what it

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I Have Found My Derby Pick

As mentioned countless times, the Kentucky Derby is one of the most watched races in North America, and I am one of the millions that tune in for the race.

Each year I usually spend the months before Derby day to comb over stats of all the three year olds on the Derby trails, so come that first Saturday in May I am well prepared with three or so horses to choose from to win.

This year has been no different. For the most part I have been focusing on upcoming filly Stardom Bound and the Louisiana Derby winner, Friesan Fire as my main Derby hopefuls. However, this all changed on a visit to I made not twenty minutes ago.

The new horse on my list is relatively untested in racing, having only run in four races. The only reason he was mentioned on ESPN's webpage was because he had a decent work out on a very muddy track. So what draws me to this horse if he isn't impressive? His name: Theregoesjojo.

Although this may seem insignificant to nearly everyone reading this, the name has some connections to me personally. First off, it isn't unlikely for people in my family to call me Jo, or even Jojo. A primary factor to this was my love of PowerPuff Girls arch nemesis Mojo Jojo.

So what about the first part of the name? Well, I ran track during my secondary schools years, and as good parents will, mine were always cheering from the sidelines. GO JO! And go I did.

So even though Theregoesjojo really has no amazing qualities to speak of, I feel I must root for him come the Kentucky Derby.

I've mentioned before that I often pick horses by whether or not their names sound like they should be called first, so here's hoping that on May 2nd the announcer will yell: AND THEREGOESJOJO! Winning the 135th Kentucky Derby!!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Crown of the Kings

When it comes to North American horse racing there is one goal nearly all owners, trainers, and jockeys share: to win the Triple Crown.

Most people only manage to get their hands on one of these races during their entire career. The very talented will gain a few more wins in the Triple Crown series, some winning all three races at separate time, but only eleven teams have had the horse to win all three at once.

The Triple Crown consists of three races, The Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, for horses of either gender, so long as they are only three years old. Alone, these races are like any other, but combined they present a challenge for even the best of horses.

The races cover three different distances over three different tracks. By today's standards the Triple Crown races are also much closer together than most modern race horses can handle.

The Kentucky Derby is the first and probably most famous of the Triple Crown races. It is held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday of May. No matter the horses in the race, the Derby always pulls in the biggest crowd and the biggest field of horses. On the way to the gates, the crowd sings 'My Old Kentucky Home' to welcome to three year-olds to the track. This race is run on the dirt over one and a quarter miles or ten furlongs. At the end of the race the winner gets to stand in the special Derby winner circle and receive the coveted blanket of roses.

The Preakness Stakes is next on the card, being run at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. With the singing of 'Maryland My Maryland' the horses are guided to the gates for the second leg of the Triple Crown. As the gates open, they take a trip around a dirt track for one and three sixteenths miles or nine furlongs making it the shortest of the three races. With a win here the horse is draped with the next set of flowers, black-eyed Susans.

The third and final leg of the Triple Crown is Belmont Stakes, at Belmont Park Elmont, New York. Depending on the outcome of the first two races the second Saturday in June could be the most exciting race. If a horse has one both the Derby and the Preakness, all that is needed is a win in the Belmont for a new Triple Crown winner. With this hope 'Sidewalks of New York' (the theme from New York New York) rings through the stands while the horses prepare to run for the win. The race will take the horses a mile and half or twelve furlongs on dirt. No matter if it is an upset or a historical event, the winning horse is adorned with the last blanket of Belmont flowers: white carnations.

Plenty of horses have run these prestigious races, but only eleven have ever won the Triple Crown. For this reason, these horses will always be legends. Although all these winners are amazing athletes, two horses in particular stand out in my mind for impressive wins.

The horse that had the most magnificent Triple Crown run was Secretariat. He was a super horse. He won the Derby while setting a record that still stands and has only been challenged once, in the Preakness he won effortlessly, and his win in the Belmont was the most amazing feat that track has ever seen. Secretariat won by thirty-one horse lengths. He was so far ahead his jockey actually turned to look over his shoulder to see just how far back the competition was.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum was the Triple Crown's best rivalry: Alydar vs. Affirmed. Every time these two horses met it ended in an intense stretch battle, and the Triple Crown was no exception. The two ran their hardest for each race, and each time Affirmed came out the winner. Due to their bitter rivalry Alydar also had a Triple Crown first. He was the first and only horse to be second in all three races. Although this is not quite as impressive as being first, it still shows how amazing he and Affirmed were.

Although these were some fantastic wins, most horses aren't lucky enough to win all three.

To the public, the most disappointing loss is when a horse wins the Derby and the Preakness but falls short in the Belmont. Since the year 2000 four horses (War Emblem '02, Funny Cide '03, Smart Jones '04, and Big Brown '08) have done just that. They get America excited for a potential Triple Crown, only to crash the bandwagon. There are many reasons for losing the Belmont after winning the first two legs.

The most popular reason to blame the loss on is the fact that modern race horses simply don't run as often as the Triple Crown schedule demands. Other reasons for losing this big race is that it is the longest, new and rested challengers, as well as uncontrollable things such as track condition (muddy from rain), or even the horses mood. Big Brown for example, won the first two races easily but failed miserably in the Belmont. There was a lot of fuss about a loose shoe, but I think his head just wasn't in it. He wasn't bucking in his stall that morning like normal and he just looked unfocused on the track. But no matter the reason, horses tend to lose the Belmont.

Although it is very disappointing when a Triple Crown contender loses at the last moment, I am more agitated when the horse loses the Kentucky Derby, but goes on to win Preakness and the Belmont. Luckily for me, this has only happened twice since 2000 with Point Given '01 and Afleet Alex '05. The reason I find this so irritating is simply because when the run in all three races but win the last two that means they have stamina to run and to win the Triple Crown.

There are just as many reasons to fail at the Derby as it there is for the Belmont. For some horses this is the first time they have gone around two turns, others are afraid of the crowds. Not only are the stands stuffed, but the inside of the track is packed as well. Some horses can handle this, but others can't and get nervous. If this wasn't enough to deal with all the people, dealing with all the horses can unnerve even the most seasoned horse.

The Derby is open for the twenty top three year-olds in the nation, and all those slots are filled come race day. On the average, there are usually eight horses in American races, so twelve more horses is beyond frightening for these youngsters. Even if the horse doesn't fear the big crowd, that many horses makes it hard to have a good trip. There is more bumping with this many horses which can destroy focus or even injure a horse. Despite that, sometimes the opening the horse needs just never appears making it almost impossible to get past the field.

With all these factors the Triple Crown truly is the most exciting event in horse racing. If you can only watch three races a year, make them the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. Even if you don't see a Triple Crown sweep, you will surely see some amazing races and some amazing three year-olds.

It has been thirty years since America's last Triple Crown win; will this be the year to break that streak?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Just Wanted to Share

Through the years I have seen some pretty amazing things as far as horses go, and I just wanted to share some of these amazing things with my readers.

Spending hours going through horse racing galleries pays off every once in awhile. Sure, no matter the picture the horses are going to be gorgeous and usually captured in a magnificent action shot or a regal pose, but I have stumbled upon some more unusual pictures that show of the true power of these great animals.

The first picture I have for you is of the late Barbaro just as he is coming out of the gate. He is wide eyed and ready to run as the gates snap open before him.

Here's another picture of the power these animals possess as they literally spring forth from the gate.

This next picture is both amazing and kind of funny. The horse is caught mid jump, giving the allusion of flying. The horse was jumping shadows on the track surface.

The next two pictures show why horses need to be kept calm.

It's likely this horse just got nervous or overexcited while being saddled. Acting up in the paddock is a common thing in the racing world, but never have I seen a horse get this much air.

No one is really positive what was going on in this horse's mind, but he clearly didn't like something that was happening. (And I thought the other horse was in the air!)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

All Time Fav

This model seems like any other Breyer model, a gorgeous horse captured in an amazing action pose. This is what drew me to the horse back when I was nine.

By this time I had upgraded from Grand Champion horse toys to the Breyer Models and was quickly expanding my barn. On a trip to a horse sale (a 'Toys R Us' in this case) I ran toward the box housing this strong, beautiful, race horse stallion. His name is Cigar, and he is my favorite model.

Consequently, he also became my favorite racehorse. As I got more and more immersed into the sport, I started doing some minor research. Unfortunately by the time I got the model, Cigar had been retired from racing for some time. This didn't stop me from getting excited about his amazing skill.

He didn't get a lot of glory when he was young, because he didn't hit his peak until he was about 5 years old. That is when he started his amazing career. In 1995 he went undefeated, winning all ten of his starts and was deemed Horse of the Year. As a six year-old he was just as impressive, winning his first five starts of the season. These five wins combined with his ten from the previous season, and his final race in 1994, gave him an amazing winning streak of 16. There is
only one other horse in North America to have run such a streak, and that was racing legend Citation. In 1996 he also left America to travel across the world and ran in the Dubai World Cup. There he won against some of the world's best horses again earning the title of Horse of the Year.

In his lifetime he ran thirty-three times, with nineteen wins, and eleven of those nineteen being Grade I races. With all these wins he accumulated the most money in North America, and help that title until just recently when Curlin earned just a smidgen more.
He had a magnificent career and like most horses he retired to the breeding shed.

However, not everything went as planned. After several attempts and failures at impregnating a mare, Cigar was deemed sterile and removed from a sheds. He would never have a chance to pass down his amazing abilities.
Unfortunately in the world of racing, a horse that doesn't bring in money is almost deemed useless, but luckily for Cigar not all was lost. Today he stands in Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions, where he is taken out a few times a day and is shared with the public.

I was lucky enough to go there myself and pay my beloved model a visit. He is just as gorgeous in real life. Although he hasn't raced in years he still provides a strong powerful pose for all those who come to see him.

To this day he is happily munching the grass in the Champion paddocks, and I cannot wait until the day I get to go visit him and the other Champions again.

When I was little he was merely my favorite toy, today, he is my all time favorite racehorse.