Thursday, April 23, 2009

Winding Down With Whirlaway

For those readers who are not in my class I feel you should be informed that this is the last required week I "have" to write entries. Luckily for those who wish to continue reading, I plan and hope to continue this blog's upkeep. The entries will be a little more...spaced...than they would be back when I have a deadline, but they should pop up every now and then. Hopefully there is enough here to distract you while I am waiting for something to write. Although I cannont promise anything too exciting, I know I will get into those moods where I find and article or see a race that I can't help but comment on. I mean could I possibly keep my thoughts about the Kentucky Derby to myself?! 8 DAYS 21 HOURS 30 MINUTES!

Back to what I should be talking about...I am again taking another look at Blood Horse's list of the top 100 horses in the 20th Century. This time around I decided on a horse I have heard countless times, but really don't know much if anything about. That is how I chose number 26: Whirlaway.

The one and nearly only thing that I know about Whirlaway is that he won the Triple Crown in 1941. That alone would earn a horse a spot on the 100 list (all of which eleven are on the list: 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 9th, 12th, 13th, 26th, 28th, 33rd, 49th, 61st).

With this massive accomplishment Whirlaway was given the title of 1941 Horse of the Year, which he one again in 1942. Whirlaway was in the money 93% of the time and won 32 of his 60 starts. Not a bad record to say the least.

Another amazing horse for an incredible era.

Ol' Dan Patch

I take pride in knowing a lot about horse racing in general, it's what I do. So of course when my mom was talking about a horse I have never even heard of, I was beyond shocked. When I voalized my shock, she merely looked at me, cocked her head, and asked, "You never heard of Ol' Dan Patch?"

It soon became fairly obviously why I had never heard of Dan Patch...he was a harness racer. Although I love harness racing, I do not follow it nearly as close as I do Thoroughbred racing. I don't follow it much at all really, I just enjoy being a spectator. But the fact that knew nothing of this legendary pacer was unacceptable!

It turns out that Dan Patch was pretty much the greatest harness racer off all time. The awards given out at the end of the harness racing seasons are actually called the Dan Patch Awards. Even though it has been ages since he was on the track (the early 1900s) Ol' Dan Patch is still admired by racers everywhere and cosidered the best.

When he was racing, he beat the world harness records at least fourteen times and actually set the fastest time for a harness paced mile at 1:55.25 in 1905. Sometimes owners would scratch their horses from a race if Dan Patch was on the card, knowing that nearly no horse could beat him. This didn't stop Dan Patch from pacing the race anyway...he just had to race the clock (and he usually won that too!)

Having never lost an actual race, Dan Patch's undefeated career made him a favorite among nearly everyone. He was endorsed with countless items ranging from toys (I am positive I would have bought one) to cigars and washing machines. His talent brought many fans to the track, and often packed the grandstands with his supporters. Even a United State's President or two stopped by the track to watch his amazing speed.

After earning over a million dollars in race earnings (in the early 1900s remember...that's a lot of cash now!!!) and nine world records, Ol' Dan Patch was retired in 1909 to a life of glory where in his later years he traveled to exibitions so his faithful and adoring fans could visit the legend for themselves.

While searching for pictures of Dan Patch, I came across a blog entry about him.

"Dan Patch was the fastest racehorse of his day, having never lost a race. He also broke the two minute mark 35 times, more than any other horse. He was the Black Beauty of his day. There is still a Dan Patch Historical Society continuing the memory of the famous horse. Even at the Minnesota State Fair, there is a street named Dan Patch Avenue," (The Millennial Freemason).

Besides being absolutely gorgeous, a magnificent racer, and all around amazing, Dan Patch was foaled in the good state of Indiana. Way to make the state proud! Way to go! I know the harness world, my mother, and now I...will never forget good Ol' Dan Patch!

Monday, April 20, 2009


You see them all over the place...those little Jockeys running around in vibrant and colorful shirts looking for their mount in the paddock. But what exactly are the silks for?

Silks are the way horse owners and barns represent. Each owner or stable has a particular set of silks they use for each and every horse they own. This is for those handicappers (betters) out there that swear a horse to win by the stable or the simple fans looking for their favorite barn.

One of my favorite silks is those for West Point Thoroughbreds. I'm not sure why I find their silks so appealing, but I know when I see that black star on the gold torso, I should be keeping my eye on that horse.

Although silks show where the horse hails from, it also is a easy way for spectators to keep their eye and the horse they bet on. The vibrant colors are usually unique to one or two horses in a race, and help the onlookers keep track of where their horse is running. Silks can be seen from the highest seat and from across the track due to their normally bold colors and patterns. Trust me, this comes in handy when watching the Derby which sports a twenty horse field.

Silks are very useful and an important part of racing. Should you want to give designing them yourself, try this link and make your own silks! If you like them you can even buy them!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Track Safety

For those of you who either do not know or have perhaps forgotten about that tragic loss of Eight Belles almost a year ago. The remarkable filly who finished second in the Kentucky Derby only to break down on the back stretch. No one is really sure what happened that day, but no matter what caused the accident, the filly still lost her life that day.

Eight Belles was an amazing horse and had the potential to be the filly of the ages. Being able to hold her own against nineteen of the strongest three-year old colts out there, I was eager for her career. Unfortunately that chance was taken away from her by a freak accident. Memorials of her are all over the Internet as I soon realized as I stumbled over a blog entry dedicated to her memory. Powerful Memory - Eight Belles - Powerful Legacy.

Although breakdowns are not uncommon on tracks, rarely are they viewed by hundreds of thousands of people. The fight for improving track conditions such as switching to Polytrack (synthetic and softer dirt) from the good ol' traditional dirt to banning the plethora of drugs these horses are injected and supplemented with monthly. After this particular accident animal activists such as PETA were on all arms, harassing spectators at the Preakness and the politicians in Congress. Although I found PETA just annoying and slightly disrespectful, they were adding to the masses that demanded Congress to act.

The leaders of the NTRA had already acted before the government could get involved. Although many veterinarians have claimed that a certain type of steroid is therapeutic for horses, it has already been banned from all tracks. The consequence of not banning the drug would be the loss in a graded status. So if Churchill Downs for example did not ban the drug, the Kentucky Derby would no longer be a Grade I race. Naturally tracks obeyed this law along with the many other anti-drug laws passed. But how will this effect the horses?
"Many veterinarians, then and now, consider steroids a therapeutic medication. Dr. Larry Bramlage, a highly respected equine surgeon who is former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and was honored in 1994 with the Jockey Club Gold Medal for distinguished service, said during last year's Triple Crown that there were "some good aspects" to steroid," (ESPN: Eight Belles, one year later).

What does this mean? Will the horses truly benefit from losing the drug? It seems we will find out. This is the first Derby and Triple Crown season where the horses are relatively 'natural'.

I am not all against the use of drugs with racehorses, most of our human athletes are drugged why not our equine stars? I do disagree with some drugs though, such as snake venom and other drugs administrated for pain killers. The thought that a horse will continue running when something is breaking or hurting it is just terrible. The horse should know when something is wrong so perhaps it can stop itself before something breaks and the animal must be put down. Jockeys too wish to see the end of pre-race pain killers because they want to have an accurate feel of the horse they are riding at speeds of near forty miles per hour. They do not want to find out about an injury the same time as the horse falls to its knees in the middle of a race; jockeys prefer to know ahead of time so the can save themselves, the fields, and the horse.

Another thing people are trying to change is switching dirt tracks to polytrack. The polytack is much deeper and softer than traditional dirt so it is better at absorbing the impact while horses run. However, the deepness also slows the horses down drastically. Personally I think switching all the tracks of America from dirt to polytrack is nearly absurd. Dirt is not the main cause of breakdowns in racing...horses have been running on it forever! I do however feel that training tracks would be better off as polytrack, so when the horses our at the farms training they build up stamina with less harm to their legs.
There are many more things being done and ideas being tossed around to ensure that a tragedy like Eight Belles will not happen again. No matter whether I like the change or not I am sure that it will be more beneficial to the horses and make the sport that much more competitive. It is all about the horses' safety after all. Because with no horses, there would be no horse racing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New Derby Spot

A new opening has become available in the Kentucky Derby. Although this is a great opportunity for another horse to get a chance a glory, for Old Fashioned it was a lost chance at greatness.

Unfortunately for this potential legend, his dreams were cut short after his last race in the Arkansas Derby this past Saturday. After the race was called, the connections of Old Fashioned realized there was something wrong. The colt had suffered a fracture in his right knee. Although this is not a life threatening injury, it is usually a career ending one. Later that week the horse was shipped to a farm in Lexington, Kentucky to receive surgery on his knee.

"It's not life-threatening, it should be okay," Jones said. "Career-ending is a possibility just because of the type of horse he is. But we'll see. We'll let them make that call," Old Fashioned's trainer said in an ESPN article on the subject. I was not sure what to make of this statement. I hoped it was not the stereotypical call that a well bred horse automatically makes a great stud, even when untested. I am hoping that they were referring to horses usually being unable to reach the same level of greatness they had obtained when injured. Sadly we will probably never know.

Following the surgery it was decided that it was better if Old Fashioned was retired. Although he would never have recovered in time for the Derby, it is still unfortunate that he will never be able to race again. The colt was well on his way to being considered the favorite for the first Triple Crown race, but now that honor will be passed on to another horse.

Before his career could really start, it was ended. Now this young boy will never again feel the track under his hooves. He will wait in pasture until he is old enough to breed, forever passing down his untested, yet potentially amazing, abilities.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Run for the Roses

The most exciting two minutes in sports, the biggest race in North America, the most sought after win, that coveted blanket, the first Saturday of May.

Yes, here I go again: the Kentucky Derby.

I have said it time and time again, but this really is a very important race. Three year-olds all across North America are pointed in toward this race, but only twenty of them will even get the chance to stand in the starting gates.

The technical aspects of this race have been covered in a previous blog, but just in case you either did not read that entry or have merely forgotten, here is a reminder. The Kentucky Derby is an annual race run at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky every first weekend in May. Fillies or colts are allowed to run in the race so long as the animal is three years of age. The horses also have to qualify for the race for only twenty horses are allowed spots in the starting gates. To qualify horses generally have to either have earned a certain amount of money or have won so many graded (important) races.

Once a horses makes the line-up for the Derby, they are expected to run over ten furlongs which is the equivalent to a mile and a quarter. This race is run over dirt and takes the field around two corners. The two corners and the distance is usually a new thing for these horses as the prep races for the Derby tend to be short and rarely have two turns. This is one of the many things that can cause a horse to experience running problems.

Because of all the problems that can occur, the truly best horse may not win, but the one that does overcomes many obstacles and deserves the honor that comes with that win. In Jeremy Plonk's article, Derby Worries are Multiple, some of the more common reason are outlined.

The problem he focuses on in this article is that more and more tracks are switching to a synthetic surface which is proving to be easier on the fragile horses' legs. However, this new surface also favors a different running style than dirt or turf tracks. The Kentucky Derby is ran on the dirt, therefore many horses are coming into this race without ever running on real dirt. Plonk combats this problem by going into the plethora of other challenges that go hand in hand with running the Derby.

"Last I checked, it takes a great horse — at the very least a great performance — to win the Kentucky Derby," Plonk says in his article, and he is right. There are so many things to overcome besides the surface that a horse has to be focused and at the top of his or her game to win this prestigious race.

Being the biggest single race in North America, the horses in the race are faced with many new experiences all at once. The sheer size of the crowd is enough to get under any horse's skin. The paddocks are packed with spectators while the horses are being saddled. The horses are met by a band and song filled stands as soon as they set foot on the track. The inside of the tracked is crammed with hundreds of drunken partiers. Lastly, the field itself is huge. Twenty horses is more than most race will ever see. Even the Breeder's Cup races at the end of the year average about ten or twelve horses per race.

With all these factors these flighty horses get nervous, and this tends to crack their focus usually resulting in a poor performance. Should the horse somehow manage to stay calm and focused, they still have to fight the other nineteen horses for the lead. As can be imagined, finding that perfect spot or opening is near impossible with that many horses, which is why, as Jeremy, the best horse does not always win. Luck plays a big factor.

All these challenges makes it hard to pick a winner for the Derby, but history has some helpful tips for those new to the game.

Certain colors are more likely to win the Derby. In the 134 runnings of the race, it was won by forty-seven bays, forty-three chestnuts, the remaining few being black, grey, or roan. Although this seems to a good way to pick a winner, generally speaking most Thoroughbreds are either a bay or chestnut. This means they have more horses which means more chance to win. So if you are hoping for a grey to win you may want to consider a bay back up.

Geldings and fillies also tend to be a bad idea for your winning pick. Although fillies have come close to winning like Eight Belles did with her second place finish last year, only three have won in the history of the race. The first filly to win was Regret in 1915. When she was born, her owners named her Regret because they regretted that she was a filly because her bloodlines suggested greatness, which she obviously lived up to. Geldings win the race a little more frequently, but it is still a great feat. This is why Funny Cide in 2003 became such a fan favorite. Everyone loved rooting for the gelding underdog.
Surprisingly Kentucky Derby winners tend to all be from the same state. Not so surprisingly, Kentucky has spawned a hundred of its races winners. The state with the next highest wins is Florida with only six horses to win.

Away from all the technical stuff, the Kentucky Derby has many fun traditions that are celebrated annually.

The Mint Julep is the cocktail of the Derby. The Night before the race and all day during, these yummy drinks are available for all of age to enjoy. Mint Juleps have been the Derby's official drink since 1938 and an average 120,000 will be enjoyed for years to come.
Another favorite Derby tradition is the fabulous hats. Many women wear very elegant hats for the day while many others simply try to create the most absurd hat they can. Each year there is an award for the most beautiful hat, and the most creative and fun.
The Kentucky Derby just wouldn't be the Kentucky Derby without the playing of My Old Kentucky Home. As mentioned, as the horses make their way to the gates the crowd joins in singing of Kentucky's state song. Each year the University of Kentucky lines up near the winner circle and begins to lead the stands in song. For horses this tends to be an unnerving moment, but for trainers and jockeys alike, the song goes right through them, bringing even the veterans to tears.

There is also a special winner circle at Churchill Downs where only the Derby winner and his or her connections may stand. It is a dream of many to have their own horse in that circle. Here horses receive the coveted blanket of roses. Although many big races place a flower blanket over the winning horse, the roses is exclusive to the Derby and only a handful of horses will ever be allowed such an honor.
Opening the infield to spectators is another special thing about the Derby. Usually the inside of the track is off limits to anyone but track hands, but this one day the infield is opened to the public, and so begins the biggest party since Woodstock. Hundreds of people pack into inside of the track to be loud and get drunk. Those who go to the infield party are rarely there to watch the race, just because it is extremely unlikely to see a horse tail, let alone the winner. So if you are looking for fun, try the infield, otherwise stick to the grandstands.

While researching the Derby for this entry I came across a wonderful site for the 135th Kentucky Derby. The site has all the information you could want about Derby past and future. I have been visiting the site daily since I found it. It gives updates of the horses prepping for the Derby as well as videos and horse profiles. My favorite aspect about the site is the silk strand of the horses already excepted into the race. There are currently thirteen horses set to run, leaving only seven spots remaining for other Derby hopefuls.

If you wish to learn more about the Kentucky Derby and its runners, I highly suggest you check out that site. It will answer more questions than I can.
One of these days I will get tickets for the Kentucky Derby, and that will probably be one of the most fun, emotional, and all around best days of my life.

From the time this is posted...there is only...twenty-three days...and fifty-six minutes until the Kentucky Derby...GET EXCITED!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Special Search

As mentioned in my last blog, I feel I need to get to know the great horses in racing better after letting Alysheba's talent slip under my radar for too long.

With this in mind I went back to Blood Horse's Top Hundred Horses in the 20th Century list and chose a name I didn't recognize and liked.

That is how I found him.

Tom Fool. He was a special horse from his first races as a two year old to his last races as a four year old. As a two year old he won five of his seven starts with the other two races being seconds. This sort of record is immpressive for an advanced horse, but for a young kid it is near amazing. Because of this he became top two year old in 1951.

As a three year old year was a little rough. Although he still won most of his races, the colt was pulled off the track for a two month lay off. This happened because after a second place finish it was found he was running a high fever and was rather ill. He came back strong that year and still had an impressive season.

Tom Fool's four year old season was simply magnificent. He won ten races in a row, which also happened to be the ten races he ran that season. Therefore he left the track undefeated, making him 1953 horse of the year.

Yet another amazing horse to become a Champion.

A Legend Leaves Us

Just this past weekend another notable death hits the racing World. Alysheba, '87 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, and '88 horse of the year, unfortunately was euthanized at the age of twenty-five.

In his stall and honored spot in Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champion, the beautiful, old stallion fell, injuring his right hind femur.

"Kathy Hopkins, director of equine operations at the horse park, said Alysheba fell due to a chronic degenerative spinal condition." (

The article goes on to say that because of his age, Alysheba was in a lot of pain, so much that the stallion was unable to stand without support. With his pain and pride in mind, the team decided to allow the Champion proper rest.

Through his racing years Alysheba proved to be amazing. He always fought for what he wanted...and he always wanted to win. Alysheba was in the money (1st, 2nd, 3rd) for 81% of his twenty-six starts, earning $6,679,242. Winning eleven of those starts, Alysheba earned a plethora of awards such as top three year old in '87 and Horse of the Year in '88.

In 1987 Alysheba would make an amazing attempt at the Triple Crown. His Kentucky Derby was one of the most amazing shows of heart I have ever witnessed. When the field turned for the stretch, Alysheba was not really in the mix for the win, but he started to make a strong move toward the lead horse Bet Twice. As he was getting close to overcoming the leader, he took a bad stumble. As can be seen in this video, it can be seen that Alysheba was nearly knocked down as he clipped heals with Bet Twice. Luckily for him and all the other horses in the race, Alysheba remarkably recovered. Not only did he get back up, but he was barely bothered by the fall. He got up, turned his head past bet twice and plowed forward to win.

"Falling didn't even go through my mind," McCarron said. "I kept thinking there's only one horse left in front of us that was going to prevent us from getting the roses. He just did an incredible job of righting himself. I was focused on keeping my balance and trying to stay on his back."
Says Alysheba's jockey Chris McCarron as he remembers his magnificent partner.

Alysheba would then go on to win the Preakness as well. Unfortunately for Alysheba, he would take a loss in the Belmont to his rival Bet Twice. Alysheba and Bet Twice would continue to meet over the next year, and the two traded blows with wins and loses. But with wins in other races against other amazing horses, Alysheba came out on top of the rivalry.

As a four year old Alysheba only improved, although continuing his close race trend. It must have been a love for the horse to keep things close, and although he occasionally lost in his photo finishes, he desire to stick he nose in front usually prevailed. Although he lost the Breeder's Cup Classic in 1987, he would come back to win the Classic in 1988. With this win he earned himself the Best Older Horse award and the coveted Horse of the Year.

After his racing career he did what all Champions did, went to a life in the breeding shed. But that can only last so long. Eventually the old man was retired from that as well and was donated to Kentucky Horse Park to live out his days in the Hall of Champion. That is just what he did. He was happy and well taken care of, and allowed the public to get close to such an amazing creature.

With all his talent he was listed 42nd on Blood Horse's list of hundred top horses in the 2oth century. The boy truly deserved it.

I was truly shocked when I heard the news. Although never actually seeing Alysheba run, I have heard his name dropped countless times as they try to give the public some idea of a horse's talent. I'm glad that I got this opportunity to learn more about this amazing stallion, I just wish I had not waited so long to learn about him.

What really depresses me about Alysheba's death, besides losing a legend, is I was going to travel to Kentucky Horse Park again this summer. I would have been able to see this amazing horse with my own eyes, and hear first hand about his greatness. Unfortunately I will never be able to do that, but I still respect his ability.

Because of Alysheba I feel a more motivated to learn about all the great race horse's out there.

Thank you Alysheba. Your memory will live on.