Monthly Archives: March 2009

The Haiku Handicapper: Dubai Recap

Dubai World Cup

Well Armed shuts it down
Didn’t see “Jockeys” film crew
Someone just got canned

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

U.A.E. Derby

Ransom gets revenge
Desert Party had his pooped
A Derby duo?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

While you are here, be sure to check out the new Twitter widget I added to the right side of the page called “The Claim Box.” My tweets might not always be about horse racing, but they’ll always be entertaining.

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The Haiku Handicapper: Dubai Daily Double

I’m in a giving mood today and don’t feel like tackling the list of things I should be doing right now, so I have decided to double my output on the haiku end of things. It makes perfect sense.

With this Saturday being Dubai World Cup day, it seemed fitting to tackle more than one of the multi-million dollar races. Aside from the obvious choice of the $ 6 million Dubai World Cup itself, I decided to look at the big Derby prep on the Dubai path to Louisville, the $2 million U.A.E. Derby – featuring the last man standing in Shiekh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s once formidable three-year-old stable, Desert Party. In order to save room on the front page, I have placed the U.A.E. Derby segment behind the jump, so be sure not to miss it.

Also, consider this your two minute warning to vote in the “Where would you like to see the next season of ‘Jockeys’ held” poll. Barring some outstanding event, I will discuss the results and perhaps offer a new question next time we convene.

Enough housekeeping, let’s get to the races…

Dubai World Cup

No Curlin this year
American hopes look slim
Can’t win every time

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

#1 – Muhannak (Ire)
Marathon winner
On a cold streak since Cup win
Might not like surface

#2 – Arson Squad
Hits wall in Grade 1s
Closer’s form going wrong way
Would be a surprise

#3 – Snaffy
Steady improvement
Has come alive in Dubai
Best as a sprinter

#4 – Asiatic Boy (Arg)
A Dubai mainstay
Loves the track, no layoff rust
It’s his race to lose

#5 – Happy Boy (Brz)
Runs well, but bridesmaid
Can’t get past Dubai’s elite
Worth glance for super

#6 – Gloria de Campeao (Brz)
Well back last World Cup
Had to drop class to compete
Behind the field’s best

#7 – Well Armed
Third in last year’s race
Could be working into form
Uncle Sam’s best shot?

#8 – Casino Drive
Belmont streak breaker
Disappears in global tests
Shouldn’t be a threat

#9 – Joe Louis (Arg)
Falls flat in Dubai
Arabian heavyweight
Would need knockout race

#10 – Albertus Maximus
Comes off two big wins
Only question is distance
Should be there near end

#11 – Muller (Arg)
Arabia’s best
Won’t break sweat at ten panels
Can Saudi class rate?

#12 – Anak Nakal
Underachiever
Can’t hit board in Grade 1s here
No chance on world stage

#13 – Paris Perfect (SAf)
Ran huge in King’s Cup
Would rather see him on turf
Could shock, but doubt it

#14 – My Indy (Arg)
The Sheikh’s lone Cup hope
Came back big after layoff
Will the post trump class?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Who gets the big check?
The four gets his World Cup win
Ten, fourteen, the tri

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now let’s take a look at the U.A.E. Derby…

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Inching closer…

Look at what I found in my inbox earlier today…

This notice is to inform you that one or more of your horses has worked out.

Mrs. Murphy 

Your Comment: 

Date: March 20, 2009
Track: HAWTHORNE
Distance: Four Furlongs
Time: 53:80 Breezing
Track Condition: Fast
Surface: Dirt
Rank: 27/34

– From Equibase.com

For those of you keeping score at home, this is her third workout. She stretched out an extra panel this time around, so perhaps her owner/trainer has something in mind for her in the near future. As always, keep it here for further updates.

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Grilled cheese and reality TV

The Turfway Park plant. Quite an imposing structure.

The Turfway Park plant. Quite an imposing structure.

(This is part two of my spring break chronicle following my travels to Beulah Park and spots in central and northern Kentucky. To see the first installment, click here.)

After my profitable stopover at Beulah Park, I got back on the road and headed toward Florence, Kentucky; home of Turfway Park.

I could see the track from my hotel room, which is one of  those things that sounds insignificant unless you have been in the situation yourself. Turfway or otherwise, being able to look out the window and say “I’m going there tomorrow” is a neat feeling. I would guess this is what being a rock star feels like.

The plan was to head to Turfway Park around noon, watch and wager on the day’s live races and head down to Lexington in time for dinner.

This plan survived up to the point where I was halfway between my vehicle and the front entrance of the track.

On my way toward the building, a frustrated-looking old man walking in the opposite direction told me the day’s live card had been canceled due to a water main break in the barn area. Had I not been to Beulah Park the day before, I might have wept a little. If driving six hours to see a live race is a sign of a gambling problem, driving eight hours for a canceled card could be considered grounds for a nervous breakdown.

With little else to do, I ordered a grilled cheesse sandwich. I don’t know what they do differently, but Turfway Park makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches I have ever had. It has the perfect proportions of butter, cheese and bread size. It’s hard to screw up grilled cheese, but it’s even harder to make eating one a priority at a destination, as they have at Turfway. I have been unable to duplicate it back home and the finest culinary scientists in the central Michigan area (see: family and local greasy spoons) have failed to reproduce the formula either. In case you were wondering, the sandwich was excellent, as always.

After a few stabs at the simulcasts from Florida and New York came up empty, I got back on I-75 due south for Lexington.

After settling into my hotel room, my first stop was Keeneland Race Course. I know what you’re thinking. “Holy crap, Joe. Didn’t you get enough action at Turfway Park? You have a problem, man.”

However, I had a legitimate reason. While reorganizing my room a few weeks ago, I came across an uncashed $4 voucher that was either for Churchill Downs or Keeneland. I figured while I was in town, I might as well run it through a machine and see what happens. I turned it into $9. Like I said before, it’s not a problem if you win.

The next couple days were spent catching up with my friends at the Thoroughbred Times and the apartment complex I stayed at during my internship last summer. Between seeing everyone and the record-high temperatures, it was hard to leave Lexington on Wednesday. It’s always hard to leave Lexington. In many ways, I feel more comfortable there than I do in Mount Pleasant. But I digress…

On the way back to mid-Michigan, I decided to give Turfway Park another shot. This time, the races were on.

My first visit to Turfway Park was last March following my interview with the Thoroughbred Times. In brief, I found it to be an enjoyable mid-level track that could benefit from a fresh coat of paint.

Not much had changed since then. Like many winter tracks, the ravages of the elements kept it from looking its best. However, the neat little touches, like the horse head statues placed along the fences and the big, open paddock were still intact. Though the level of racing is a step or two higher than on my native soil and the races are not being run on soil at all, I still felt comfortable at the track.

My first act was to grab the day’s program. My second act was to get a grilled cheese sandwich. Life was good. Life was very good.

After a day where Kentucky saw temperatures climb into the upper 70s to lower 80s, the mercury sunk like a rock. It was just cold enough that wearing a jacket was uncomfortable, but wearing a coat would probably be overkill. Because of this, the number of people out on the apron and on the rail rarely passed double digits. Outside of the horsemen, interested parties, and a few dedicated punters, most everyone stayed indoors.

Having so few people out on the rail can create something of a surreal experience. Things are so quiet. You can hear everything – each individual railbird’s desperate pleas to their chosen horse, the jockeys’ whip cracks and final urgings as they pass the finish line, the discussions between the gate crew members and the eerie silence just before the gates burst open. Watching a horse race is a completely different experience when all you can hear is the race itself.

After the race, you can hear each jockey’s explanation of his ride to the trainer (I don’t remember which one, but someone in the first five races will win if he goes long. Keep it in mind.) and the riders’ conversations between one another as they walk through the apron amongst the scattered racegoers. Then, if you stand under the right TV sets inside the plant, you can listen to the trainers give their spin on the race to the owners as they watch the replay. After only a few races, I felt more in the loop at a non-Michigan racetrack than I ever had before.

It felt like they were putting this all on just for me.  With the access I had just from being in public areas, I became the producer and cameraman of my own reality show, and the people of Turfway Park were the stars. I didn’t need the Animal Planet reality show, this is as real as it gets.

People seemed quite talkative at the track as well. The old guys on the rail were more than willing to talk to me, a complete stranger and a newcomer to the track, about their picks and who they thought was due for a clunker. Maybe they were so thrilled to see somebody new on the rail who half looked like he knew what he was doing that they felt the need to be welcoming. Maybe they saw my Thoroughbred Times hat and thought I was somebody important. Maybe they just liked to B.S. with anybody within earshot. Either way, it added to the experience.

Perhaps you have noticed I have made very little mention of my betting fortunes so far. That’s because I laid a big goose egg for the day. Didn’t cash a single ticket. I played some daily doubles that only hit one leg and some exactas where only one horse hit the board and lost about 20 bucks while I was at it. It still left me about $65 or so ahead for the trip, but it was a big hit to my ego.

Because I had to cover a county road commission meeting back home at 8:30 a.m. the next day and my good vibes had apparently been used up elsewhere, I decided to cut my stay short after race five. As a horseplayer and someone who just likes to see a live horse race, leaving a live card early is a hard thing for me to do, but seven hours on the road laid ahead of me and I needed to get home early enough to get something resembling a good night’s sleep, because like the Beastie Boys mused in “Remote Control,” “things get hectic quick.”

If you can handle racing in the frigid climates, Turfway Park is worth a stop. Parking and admission are free every day except this Saturday’s Lane’s End Stakes day, so you ought to have plenty of money to spend on what I consider to be a member of the holy trinity of racetrack concession stand products (the others being Ellis Park hamburgers and Mt. Pleasant Meadows pretzels circa 2006). If the sandwich does not hook you, the behind-the-scenes tour you will get in front of the scenes ought to do the trick. Just dress warm.

Finally, I would just like to extend my gratitude to everyone who read and commented on my Beulah Park post (the link’s at the top of the page if you want to read it). With the help of sites like the Paulick Report, Equidaily and readers like you, I experienced the two highest-traffic days I have recorded.

I was pleasantly surprised to see such a passionate response to the track considering its size and the fact that Ohio is not considered among the top-tier racing states. Also, I found it ironic that as a Michigan-focused blogger, my most popular entry is about a racetrack in Ohio.

Anyway, I appreciate your visits and comments and hope you all continue to enjoy my posts as much as I enjoy writing them.

Oh, and have a look at how Equidaily labeled my story…

Diehard!… Blogger visits Beulah: “I drove six hours to watch $3,500 claimers lope around in the middle of Ohio just because I hadn’t seen a live race since last November.”

Here are a few pictures from my day at Turfway Park. Hope you like them…

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The Haiku Handicapper: Louisiana Derby Recap

Mud can’t douse Fire
Any doubts are up in smoke
Jones has a new ace

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The Haiku Handicapper: Louisiana Derby

Four big Derby preps
Picture should clear, bubbles burst
Or bring more questions
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

#1 – Free Country
Ran flat as the chalk
Shifts west from Tampa letdown
Great works, bounce back race? 

#2 – Soul Warrior
Failed class test last start
Did well with jock as maiden
Likely also-ran 

#3 – Patena
A wiseguy favorite
Will Dutrow bump strike again?
I’ll let him beat me 

#4 – Terrain
Plagued by long layoffs
The Jackpot flattered no one
Doubt he’s sharp enough 

#5 – Flying Pegasus
Fifth race, fourth jockey
Like him, but distance concerns
Could win, could fade back 

#6 – Giant Oak
Nightmare trip last out
New rider, Prado got canned
Bubble horse needs win 

#7 – Uno Mas
Asmussen’s best shot
Shows up, but behind elite
Would have to step up

#8 – Papa Clem
Runs big with Rafi
Pro-Ride to dirt worked last week
Could be worth a play 

#9 – Friesan Fire
The field’s marquee name
No respect despite big wins
Due for a flameout? 

#10 – Nowhere to Hide
Dual entered elsewhere
Will start at Tampa instead
Put a line through him

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

My tri ticket is…
Papa Clem pulls the upset
Squeaks by the nine, three

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Beulah…Beulah…Beulah…

 Dye and Deny heads toward the wire at Beulah Park under jockey Edgar Paucar.

Dye and Deny heads toward the wire at Beulah Park under jockey Edgar Paucar.

The first step toward recovery is admitting one has a problem.

I drove six hours to watch $3,500 claimers lope around in the middle of Ohio just because I hadn’t seen a live race since last November.

Some psychologists may look at this and see a serious warning sign of a gambling problem.

Then again, there is no such thing as a gambling problem if you come out ahead for the day.

I am currently in Lexington, Kentucky catching up with friends and attending live races wherever they occur on my path. I have not been to Lexington since my spur-of-the-moment trip during the Keeneland fall meet last October, so it has been nice to see the people and places that made my last summer so memorable.

Aside from a few heavy storms in Michigan, the drive went smoothly. Few things will cleanse the soul like a long drive through the Ohio countryside with a Steve Earle song on the radio.

I took a detour from my usual route to Lexington in order to check another track off my list of tracks to visit – the primarily winter-based Beulah Park in Grove City, Ohio.

I had heard stories about Beulah Park. It was run down. The horses were junk. The betting prospects were below average at best. A recent photo essay on the track painted a somewhat dreary picture of Beulah as a track that was well past its glory days. None of them were entirely wrong.

What they failed to realize, though, was that tracks like these are where I feel the most at home. I have spent many years trying to find the cream of the four-digit claiming crop. These were my people. I was among friends.

When the facility was built in 1923, I am willing to bet Beulah Park was one of the finest tracks in the midwest. The paddock/walking ring area was fairly scenic and dotted with trees, though most of the plant life was still stripped from the winter. There was definitely an old-time feel to the track, with chalkboards dispensing information in the paddock and over the betting windows inside the plant. Not all of them were utilized, but it added to the atmosphere of the place.

Making some money at a new track usually does not hurt my first impression of it either. I missed out on the first race, but hit consecutive exactas in the next two races, paying about $100 altogether. The latter of the scores paid $84.80. I was feeling very good about life at the time. My good fortune ran out after the third race and I failed to cash another ticket for the rest of the day. However, my quick start left me over $80 ahead at the end of the day. Not a bad way to start off my year at the live races.

The problem with tracks with old-time vibes is they are often that way because no one has put any serious money into them since the Truman administration. A portion of the spectators’ walking ring area was taped off for construction, which forced me to find a detour on a few occasions. Also adding to the Point-A to Point-B issues were the clusters of picnic tables scattered in the lane next to the corridor used by the horses to get out to the track. Aside from the added difficulty of inspecting and photographing the horses, it created traffic problems amongst patrons getting to the apron. Perhaps the tables are evenly dispersed once the weather gets consistently warmer and people actually start going outside to watch the races (it was in the high-50s/low-60s the day I was there), but at the time, it was a nuisance.

Perhaps the track’s most unforgivable sin was its lack of a gift shop. As someone who likes to buy a shirt from every track he visits, this was a major letdown. After wandering the premises for any kind of souvenir vendor, I was informed by the lady in the information booth that Beulah’s gift shop had closed sometime last year. I know Beulah is a small track that’s struggling, but if Mount Pleasant Meadows, a track that draws half the crowd, if that, has a place to buy apparel, then Beulah has no excuse.

Of course, even with its warts, I did enjoy myself at Beulah Park. With a little elbow grease and some added purse money, it could probably become more of a destination. Obviously, asking it to become the next Keeneland would be stretching it, but there is no reason it could not become one of the nicer tracks in the state or the region. Like Linus Van Pelt said describing the ratty little tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas, “Maybe it just needs a little love.”

I head back to Michigan on Wednesday. When things calm down, I will continue with the tales of my voyage to Lexington, my stop (and possibly stops) at Turfway Park, and anything else that strikes my fancy about this trip.

Until then, enjoy some photos I took from my day at Beulah Park….

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