Where everybody knows your name

Nothing warms the heart like a homecoming. Kit Corona heads to a maiden win under Juan Delgado at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

Nothing warms the heart like a homecoming. Kit Corona heads to a maiden win under Juan Delgado at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

For me, it all begins at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

It was at Mount Pleasant Meadows where in 1990 I stood in the winner’s circe for the first time with my grandpa’s horse, and future Echo Hills matriarch, Janie’s Echo. I was four years old. Richard Rettele was the jockey.

Mount Pleasant is also where I picked my first winner, an Arabian colt named Fast Dance, again at the age of four, maybe five. Using all the handicapping prowess I had at the time, I picked the horse with the best name.

Nineteen years later, I was again headed toward the winner’s circle, but an Echo Hills horse hasn’t run at Mount Pleasant in at least 15 years. Instead, I was on my way to get a picture of the race’s victor, Anniversary Annie, a horse I overlooked because her odds were too low to justify the risk. Richard Rettele was the jockey.

No matter what goes on in the outside world, it’s good to know some things never change.

After canceling its initial Kentucky Derby-corresponding opening day due to a lack of entries, Mount Pleasant Meadows kicked off its 2009 meet on Sunday.

It was a cloudy day, and there were still a few puddles on the track from the previous day’s storms. If the track surface does one thing well, it’s holding water.

The place was pretty quiet when I got there, about an hour before first post. People began filing in at a quicker rate as the horses reached the paddock for the first race.

The thing I love most about Mount Pleasant is its communal feel. The trainers and their assistants double as the pony riders, often taking horses other than their own from the barn to the paddock and to the starting gate. From there, the same horsemen put on yet another hat and become the gate crew. Try finding that kind of trust at Churchill Downs.

Speaking of trust, the trainers/outriders/gate men display an awful lot of it before each race. While the trainers saddle their horses in the paddock, they leave their pony horses in the care of whomever is standing near the paddock at the moment. Normally, this means young-to-preteen children, though I sometimes find myself holding one or two on slow or unseasonable days. Parents often look on as their children, usually new to the sport or horses in general, try to figure out what exactly they are holding the reins to. Just as often, the kids get sneezed on.

There are plenty of other things at Mount Pleasant Meadows a racegoer will not see at most tracks. Among them is previously mentioned jockey Richard Rettele, who at the age of 68 continues to be the big money rider at the track. He may not ride in every race, but when he does climb aboard, he usually removes his tack in the winner’s circle. ESPN.com mentioned Rettele in a story it did a few years back about older jockeys, which can be read here.

Also, because Mount Pleasant is a mixed breed track, fans are treated to races of varying distance and horse type. Not good at picking out Arabian closers at five furlongs? Give it a few minutes and a 250-yard quarter horse dash will be on the card. Want to see a paint horse go up against a Thoroughbred? Every once in a while they’ll make it happen.

Only at Mount Pleasant Meadows will you see an 0-for-three years paint horse lose a match race by five lengths, but win by DQ, then see its jockey get jumped by a chipmunk waiting inside the mailbox holding the phone to the stewards after the race.

Despite the attractions of the out-of-the-ordinary, Mount Pleasant Meadows is something of a track in crisis. The number of horses being sent to the gates has dwindled to four or five per race when the cards fill at all. The track is consistently and significantly last in the state in both live and simulcast handle year after year (according to Equibase, the total live handle on opening day was $3,267). Competition from a casino ten minutes away saps away even more of the gambling dollar, and outside of Triple Crown race days, the the live attendance is a long way from robust. Things are tough, and with the economy giving people a tight grip on their cash (especially in Michigan), and the state government’s almost daily report of bad news for the racing industry, thinking about the track’s future can be a little scary.

It’s a surreal experience visiting a track that knows it’s in trouble. Upon cashing a $9 winning ticket, the clerk said, “Hey, that’s pretty good for where you are.” I ended up making about $20 on the day, all from win bets because the fields were not big enough for exacta wagering for all but the last race.

The tension was spread out among the regular racegoers as well. Conversations tended to focus around the people who weren’t there, be it those listed in the program as having passed on, or more frequently those who left to chase bigger purses in Indiana. Notably absent were the pink and black silks of Ron Raper, usually good for 1.5 horses per race, who has moved his operation to the Hoosier state.  However, when slots-enriched Indiana Downs is offering more purse money in one quarter horse race than Mount Pleasant is in its entire quarter horse portion of the card, it is hard to blame anyone who takes up a new residence south of the Michigan border.

Still, it was great to be back. It was nice to catch up with the old friends I hadn’t seen since the meet ended last October and introduce myself to new friends I had made through this site. Not everyone may know my name there, but they all knew my grandpa, who was a regular since the track’s opening day 25 years ago.

For all the ragging I do on Mount Pleasant Meadows, it is the one track I always find myself longing for. Throughout my time in Kentucky last summer, I often found myself wondering what was going on at the dirt oval north of town. Simply put, without this track, the course of my life would have been dramatically altered. Hopefully Mount Pleasant can make it through its current struggles, because the racing world would lose something special if the lights go out.

Here are a few looks at opening day at Mount Pleasant Meadows…

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Mike Holmes in the post parade aboard Dg Eyesa Dream.

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Ageless wonder Richard Rettele (he’s 68!) takes the irons on Anniversary Annie.

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Holmes leaves the paddock with Jess Watch Me Dash.

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Fearless Fred and Richard Rettele pull away from Dials Corona For Me under Juan Delgado in the second race.

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Rettele and Fearless Fred approach the wire.

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Rettele and Fearless Fred head back to the winner’s circle.

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Fearless Fred and Rettele step into the winner’s circle with the famous phone in the mailbox in the foreground. Rettele won the first two races on the card.

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Nate Alcala and Shestheone head out to the track.

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A field of Arabians leaves the gates in race three.

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The opening strides of race three.

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Passing in front of me.

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Alcala and Shestheone pull away to win the third race with ease.

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Amy’s Talent and Juan Delgado in the post parade.

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The start of race four, a Thoroughbred race.

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The field starts the clock.

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Tasha Fritz and Two Cowboys take the early lead.

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Fritz and Two Cowboys enter the stretch with a commanding lead.

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Fritz and Two Cowboys have the race well in hand.

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Fritz and Two Cowboys enter the winner’s circle after taking the first Thoroughbred race of the season.

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Fritz heads to the scales after unsaddling.

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Fritz (right) and Juan Delgado wait for their mounts.

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Mount Pleasant’s top Thoroughbred, Waterbury, and Mike Holmes nose out Seismographer and Oscar Delgado to win race seven.

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Tasha Fritz and Sway With Me return to unsaddle.

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Holmes and Waterbury head to the winner’s circle.

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Nate Alcala and Canadian shipper Fames Eyesa Special head out to the track.

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Miss Gold Promise (a buckskin!) gets loose on the track after throwing her jockey in the post parade. She was caught on the backstretch, re-saddled and went on to finish third.

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8 Comments

Filed under Mount Pleasant Meadows, Pictures, Racetrack Visits

8 responses to “Where everybody knows your name

  1. Lauren

    Great Pictures! Love Fred!!

    I think you may want to check Richards age cause I’m pretty sure he’s been 67 for at least 2 years… ( I’m the girl in the paddock with his horses)..

    • ejh

      I have enjoyed reading the past few months. Today you brought me down memory lane. I grabbed the win picture of Janies Echo. You were 4, my daughters wanted to know who the young kid was holding the horse. 19 years seem like just a few days ago. My favorite part of that win picture is all the family and two very proud grandfathers. On a separate note Michigan racing did receive a little good news today. Look at the article on bloodhorse.com or the Mihbpa website. Keepup the good work.

  2. Andrew

    Nice pics! You nailed the Two Cowboys stretch drive. Great day of racing.

  3. mibredclaimer

    Lauren,
    Eep! You’re right. If the ESPN article is correct, he’ll turn 69 in August. Fixed it. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Either way, he, and the rest of your stable, are doing a bang-up job. Send him my regards.

    Andrew,
    Thanks! I executed a Tiger Woods-like fist pump when I blew that one up on the computer. Really glad I got that one.

    Any day of racing where I make money is a good day, but it definitely would have been a good time regardless. Good seeing you there.

  4. lifesmagic

    Loved looking at your great pics. Mount Pleasant Meadows sounds like a neat track. Thanks for the wonderful post about it.

  5. mibredclaimer

    EJH,
    Eddie John! Great to hear from you! It is quite the crowded win picture, isn’t it? I’m not sure, but we may have set the record. I think I’ve seen Derby win pics with less people in them.

    And I did hear about the decrease in cuts for this year. It has become yet another chapter in my ongoing investigation of the issue. It’s a shame it has to be cut at all, but it’s better than getting nothing, I suppose.

    Lifesmagic,
    Glad you like them. I’ve been taking pictures at Mount Pleasant for a few years now, so I’m starting to figure out how to use my little point-and-shoot to its full advantage there. It is a great little track. Definitely worth the while to visit.

  6. ragman

    Waterbury the top thoroughbred???
    June 15th, 2008 Mountaineer Park 4th race the $24,900 “Dean Martin Memorial Purse” 5f on the turf. Negra Cloud trained by Don Evans with Mike Holmes up every step of the way and pays $10.80.
    The best part was in the winners circle. Dean Martin’s family was there for the presentation to Evans/Holmes. Was one of my feel good moments of the year. If Evans has a winner’s circle picture of that I would love to see it on your site.
    RG

  7. mibredclaimer

    Ragman,
    I based my judgement solely on performance at Mount Pleasant Meadows. Waterbury is currently riding a six-race winning streak at MPM. That’s hard to top.

    Still, it’s great to see Mount Pleasant-based horses venture out and win elsewhere. They made me a lot of money at Great Lakes Downs over the years.

    Also, what on earth was Dean Martin’s family doing in West Virginia? Seems like a pretty un-Rat Pack place to be, even if it was a casino.

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