If you have not already heard the news by another means, Mrs. Murphy finished dead last in her Pinnacle Race Course debut.
A hearty boo-urns is in order.
Though the outcome of the race was far from ideal, the day still produced plenty of interesting happenings. Let’s start with the headliner…
In all honesty, I had not seen Mrs. Murphy in person for at least a year, so I was curious as to how she would look. She seemed to be a nice-looking horse over the Hawthorne Race Course simulcast, but it’s hard to examine a horse’s features on a TV screen suspended 10 feet above one’s head.
Her trainer said she still had some fat to burn off, but as someone who spends most of his time around Belgian Draft Horses, I thought she looked spectacular. She was heads-up, her ears were pricked, her coat was shiny, her build was solid – she definitely looked the part.
Despite having not seen her in quite some time, I still managed to do a better job identifying Mrs. Murphy than the person handing out the numbered smocks at the paddock’s opening. As I was snapping pictures of Murph, I saw out of the corner of my eye a trainer making his way toward the paddock judge with the “1A” pancho. Unless the horse had undergone some major cosmetic changes since I had last seen her, a mix-up had occured. The confusion was quickly taken care of and Mrs. Murphy was correctly identifiable.
Throughout all of this, I could not help but notice how well-behaved Mrs. Murphy was acting. This was a sea change from the rest of her family tree. Her mother, Janies Enjoyment, is the antagonist of countless family stories about routine hoof and veterinary care procedures gone awry. Her uncle, Royal Charley, was considered by many to be one of the rankest horses at Great Lakes Downs during his tenure in Muskegon (but he could run). During a visit to Randy Russell’s farm last weekend, the farm’s employees gave me a guided tour of all the holes her two-year-old half sister, Hail Mrs. Murphy, had kicked through her stalls.
Compared to all of that, one would think the numbered smock distributor had made yet another error in numbering Mrs. Murphy. One of these things is not like the others.
It turns out, all she needed was to be put under tack. As soon as the saddle hit her back, she went on two legs. That was more like it! She discarded the tack one more time before allowing jockey Angel Stanley to climb aboard without incident. Murph acted a little antsy heading out of the paddock as well, initially keeping her distance from her lead pony. She calmed down once the outrider got a hold of her though, and was no problem through the rest of the post parade.
When you are tied to a horse in a race, the moments before the gates open are agonizing. What surely wasn’t more than 30 seconds with a full starting gate felt like an hour watching from the rail near the finish line. Though an improvement from Great Lakes Downs, Pinnacle’s sightlines can be less than ideal at times, meaning it can be hard to see what is going on in the gates across the track, which makes things all the more uneasy. Just as I began to wonder what was causing the hold up, the gates parted and the field made its opening strides.
Things started out well enough. Mrs. Murphy shot out the front from her outside post and challenged for the lead across the backstretch. She was in a good spot about halfway around the turn when it all fell apart. One by one her foes got past her as announcer Matt Hook commented “Mrs. Murphy is headed in the wrong direction.” Halfway down the stretch she was ahead of just one horse and still fading. From my spot at the wire, I thought to myself “just let her beat this one horse so she has something to hang her hat on from this race.” As this thought crossed my mind, the last-place horse moved up to overtake Mrs. Murphy by a head at the wire. Damn.
Murph came back fine and unsaddled without incident. Talking to her trainer after the race, he said Mrs. Murphy learned a lot about being a racehorse from that race and still needed a little shaping up before reaching her peak. He seemed confident that she would win a few races before it was all said and done.
He also said she had become more focused in recent weeks. Before, he said her temperament was almost like that of a children’s horse, but she was beginning to figure out the races. Many of the foals of Mrs Murphy’s 2nd dam, Janies Echo, were late bloomers (Royal Charley didn’t really get his head on straight until his seven-year-old campaign), so maybe the best is yet to come. Perhaps my high-shooting dream of a dominating stakes campaign might not happen, but I would be satisfied with cashing a few win tickets and breeder’s checks in the claiming ranks and getting in a few win pictures with the horse named in honor of my grandma.
For a chart of the race, click here.
The day continued to be interesting after Murph’s race was in the books. Standing by the paddock, I heard another racegoer loudly tell his cell phone that Matt Stafford, the Detroit Lions’ #1 pick in April’s NFL Draft, was on the grounds playing the races.
Pinnacle is not a terribly big place, so I began my search for the Lions’ blue chip quarterback. The problem? I completely forgot what Matt Stafford looked like. Georgia football is not high on my priority list and thinking about the Lions just makes me sad, so I try to do that as little as possible. Plus, in every picture I have seen of Stafford, he has been wearing a helmet. Unless he came to the track wearing his jersey, I didn’t have much to go by.
A group of bigger guys made their way to the winner’s circle shortly after the phone conversation and winning trainer Jaron Gold gregariously invited them into the win picture while making a bunch of proclamations centering around the phrase “these guys are Detroit Lions.” Jackpot. I still could not pick out the $50 million quarterback from the lineup, but at least I could narrow it down. As they made their way past security and into the paddock, a few people shouted out their predictions for the upcoming season. Most of them hovered around the 8-8 mark. I thought I heard one person apologize to Stafford for getting drafted by the Lions, who finished the 2008 season at a record-setting 0-16.
The group did not stay for the whole card, but it was still neat to see some of Detroit’s most noticeable figures make an appearance. Perhaps it will start a trend of athletes and other Detroit-based celebrities coming to Pinnacle to play the races. Anything to generate positive exposure for the racetrack can’t hurt.
Here are a few pictures of Mrs. Murphy and the visiting Detroit Lions…
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Oh, and there was a football team, too.