Category Archives: The Family Business

Guest commentary in Thoroughbred Times TODAY

Last week, Ed DeRosa of Thoroughbred Times invited me to write a commentary piece about my grandpa and our time together at the races for the daily email publication, Thoroughbred Times TODAY. I was more than happy to oblige.

The story appeared in Tuesday’s edition of TODAY and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. They even picked a pretty sweet picture of me for my bio. Have a look for yourself…

Click here to read the story – “More than just past performances and picking winners”.

This PDF appears courtesy of Thoroughbred Times and its daily publication Thoroughbred Times TODAY. Many thanks to them for allowing me a page to remember my grandpa and our adventures at the races.

Thoroughbred Times TODAY is currently offering a free 30-day trial of its email publication. Having written for TODAY during my internship with TTimes, I can tell you from experience that they do a fantastic job and it is definitely worth your time to check it out.

To sign up for a free trial of Thoroughbred Times TODAY, click here.

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In Memoriam

My grandpa, John Murphy, passed away last night at the Masonic Pathways Home in Alma, Michigan. He had been battling a variety of ailments for quite some time.

He’s the one who introduced me to the sport of horse racing, patiently taught me how to decipher the program and instilled a love of the game that lives on to this day. Simply put, if not for him, you’re probably not reading any of the things you see on this site right now.

Outside of the track (though often at the track, too) my grandpa was the funniest individual I have ever known. Readers who have been fortunate enough to meet him over the years have almost certainly been touched by his sense of humor at one time or another. No one could make me laugh the way he could.

Few people have shaped my life like he did.

We lost a good one today.

I’ll miss him.

UPDATE: Funeral arrangements have been finalized and will be as follows…

Visitation will be on Thursday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Clark Family Funeral Chapel in Mt. Pleasant.

The funeral will be Friday at 1 p.m. at the Clark Funeral Home with dinner following.

My grandpa displaying his horsemanship. (Family Photo)

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Murph toughs it out, breaks maiden

Mrs. Murphy is a maiden no more! (Photo from a previous race)

Mrs. Murphy is a maiden no more! (Photo from a previous race)

After a 2009 campaign that took her to three different tracks and saw her just miss the brass ring on a few occasions, Mrs. Murphy finally got her breakthrough win last Friday at Pinnacle Race Course. Boom goes the dynamite!

Consecutive weekend trips to Detroit and Lexington left me strapped for cash and lacking for energy, so I decided to watch the race from the simulcast room at Mount Pleasant Meadows. The feed didn’t have sound, but I could bet on the race, and the fact that my name was in the program made me the most popular guy in the place for the half hour surrounding the contest.

As I entered the bar and searched for a monitor broadcasting the Pinnacle signal, I saw Murph was giving off odds hovering around even money. She was the morning line second choice behind a first time starter named Copperness. In their pre-race selections, mutuel clerk/racing analyst/multitasker Andrea Ritter picked her to win and track announcer Matt Hook had her second behind Copperness. Murph and Copperness took turns as the people’s choice, but when the gate’s opened, Mrs. Murphy was the 1.60-to-one favorite.

True to form, Mrs. Murphy came out of the gates like a rocket and challenged fellow chalk horse Copperness for the lead. The pair streaked several lengths ahead of everyone else and never looked back as they dueled across the backstretch. Murph pressured the leader from the outside through the turn and heading into the  stretch. Then things got interesting.

At this point, Mrs. Murphy began to fall off from the leader. She was as far back as a length and a half  and showing signs of lugging in. At this point, a part of me began to concede defeat. She ran hard throughout the race and between her past performances and sprinter’s pedigree, she could have very easily tapped herself out.

Except she didn’t.

By the middle of the stretch, Copperness began wavering and Murph began slowly chipping away at her advantage under urging from jockey Mike Roll. She gradually came even with her rival as the wire approached, traded bobs of the head and willed herself to the front as they crossed the line. The Equibase chart says she won the race by a neck, but from what I saw, that was a pretty generous spot.

For an Equibase chart of the race, click here.

By this point, my hand had become sore from slapping it with my rolled up program. After a race like that, it was a good hurt. Though I will someday cash a nice breeder’s check from the day, the immediate payoff from Murph’s win was about $15 and change from $2 across the board and another $2 to win. By the end of the day, it was all back in the Mount Pleasant Meadows till.

Though I could not make it to the race in person, it was a good feeling to see a horse with so many ties to my family, both by name and bloodlines, succeed. Staying away from the track seems to be the winning formula, but I hope to someday watch her find the winner’s circle with my own two eyes. After an effort like this, there will surely be more to follow.

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Murph gets one more shot

Mrs. Murphy will have one more chance this year to break her maiden at Pinnacle Race Course on Friday.

Mrs. Murphy will have one more chance this Friday to break her maiden during the 2009 meet at Pinnacle Race Course.

With all the excitement in Lansing, I almost forgot to mention this….

Mrs. Murphy is entered to run on October 16, 2009 at PINNACLE RACE COURSE. 

Race: 1  Distance: Five And One Half Furlongs  Surface: Dirt  Age: 3  –  Filly
Race Type: Maiden Claiming Purse: $ 7,500
Jockey: Mike Roll
Trainer: Randall R. Russell
Race conditions: FOR MICHIGAN BRED MAIDENS, FILLIES AND MARES THREE YEARS OLD AND UPWARD. Three Year Olds, 120 lbs.; Older, 123 lbs. Claiming Price $8,000.
Last Raced: 10/02/2009 at PINNACLE RACE COURSE in Race 8
Finish Position: 3rd
Last Reported Workouts:
08/25/2009-PINNACLE RACE COURSE-Four Furlongs-Dirt Fast-54:00 Breezing
05/30/2009-PINNACLE RACE COURSE-Five Furlongs-Dirt Fast-1.06:00 Breezing
05/19/2009-PINNACLE RACE COURSE-Four Furlongs-Dirt Fast-56:80 Breezing

– Equibase.com

Barring a miraculous (and a little bit insane) two-day turnaround for the getaway day card, this will be Mrs. Murphy’s last start at Pinnacle this year, and in turn, her last chance to earn a breeder’s award for yours truly. I am going to try stormtrooping this card, so I have not yet had a look at her competition outside of the basic information given in the Equibase entries and my own recollections. Besides, I already know who I am betting on in this one. The morning line has her picked as the 5-2 second choice off a very decent third place finish in her last start. There is no reason she should not be right there at the end once again.

After exhausting my energy and funds during my trip to Keeneland Race Course last weekend, I am going to stay close to home tomorrow and watch this race from the comfort of the Mount Pleasant Meadows simulcast room. Because this is her first race in Michigan I will not see in person, I fully expect Murph to win by several lengths. Hope for the best.

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The Haiku Handicapper: Jockey Club Gold Cup, etc.

The haikus aren’t here
Guest spot on NTRA
Click here to read it

As always, a huge “thank you” goes out to Claire Novak for allowing me to pollute her blog with my amateur poetry.

And now, a look at Mrs. Murphy’s start earlier today…

Third place by a length
Rough break, traffic, gained in stretch
Looks like she digs mud

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Murph returns

Look who’s back in Detroit…

Mrs. Murphy is entered to run on October 2, 2009 at PINNACLE RACE COURSE.

Race: 8  Distance: Six Furlongs  Surface: Dirt  Age: 3  –  Filly
Race Type: Maiden Claiming Purse: $ 7,500
Jockey: Mike Roll
Trainer: Randall R. Russell
Race conditions: FOR MICHIGAN BRED MAIDENS, FILLIES AND MARES THREE YEARS OLD AND UPWARD. Three Year Olds, 120 lbs.; Older, 123 lbs. Claiming Price $8,000.
Last Raced: 09/03/2009 at PRESQUE ISLE DOWNS in Race 4
Finish Position: 6th
Last Reported Workouts:
08/25/2009-PINNACLE RACE COURSE-Four Furlongs-Dirt Fast-54:00 Breezing
05/30/2009-PINNACLE RACE COURSE-Five Furlongs-Dirt Fast-1.06:00 Breezing
05/19/2009-PINNACLE RACE COURSE-Four Furlongs-Dirt Fast-56:80 Breezing

I have not yet had the opportunity to look at the past performances for this race, as my Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance 10 DRF Formulator programs for $10 discount expired a few days ago. What I do know is Mrs. Murphy is running in the card’s night cap and is the fourth choice at odds of 6-1. It will be a full field, and she will start from around the middle stall.

Mike Roll is a new rider for Murph, but he appears to have established himself the trainer’s go-to guy, so clearly he has confidence in him. The last time I remember Randy having a rider on retainer like this was Jareth Loveberry at Great Lakes Downs, who was the most consistent and successful rider my grandpa’s horse, Royal Charley, ever had on his back.

Also working to Murph’s advantage is a slight drop in class. After spending her time at Pinnacle running in open-fillies $12,500 maiden claiming company, she will drop down to a state-bred $8,000 tag. Perhaps the change in competition will be a welcome one.

With the Pinnacle meet drawing to a close in the coming weeks, this could be my last opportunity for the year to see Mrs. Murphy race in person. Hopefully she can pull this one off.

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The Haiku Handicapper: Woodward Stakes recap, etc.

Rachel spurns late charge
Start engraving her Eclipse
A legend confirmed

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

And for those of you curious about Mrs. Murphy’s start last Thursday at Presque Isle Downs…

Broke with the lead pack
Going backward by stretch drive
A well-beaten sixth

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Murph on the move

And now for something completely different…

Mrs. Murphy is entered to run on September 3, 2009 at PRESQUE ISLE DOWNS.

Race: 4  Distance: Four And One Half Furlongs  Surface: All Weather Track  Age: 3  –  Filly
Race Type: Maiden Claiming Purse: $ 13,000
Jockey: Erick D. Rodriguez
Trainer: Randall R. Russell
Race conditions: (PLUS UP TO 30% PABF) FOR MAIDENS, FILLIES AND MARES THREE YEARS OLD AND UPWARD. Three Year Olds, 119 lbs.; Older, 121 lbs. Claiming Price $7,500.
Last Raced: 07/03/2009 at PINNACLE RACE COURSE in Race 1
Finish Position: 4th
Last Reported Workouts:
08/25/2009-PINNACLE RACE COURSE-Four Furlongs-Dirt Fast-54:00 Breezing
05/30/2009-PINNACLE RACE COURSE-Five Furlongs-Dirt Fast-1.06:00 Breezing
05/19/2009-PINNACLE RACE COURSE-Four Furlongs-Dirt Fast-56:80 Breezing

– Equibase.com

The Good News:
– This looks like a pretty good spot for Murph. Her mother, Janies Enjoyment, excelled at four furlongs, and 4 1/2 panels is about as close as most tracks get to offering half-mile contests these days. Pinnacle offers the occasional 4 1/2 furlong race, but to my knowledge, those are largely reserved for two-year-olds.
– The morning line has her picked second, and being as though the other half of her entry has yet to start, one would conclude it must be based on Murph’s merits. The field does not look terribly threatening and it appears she has a fairly high-percentage jockey on her back. Hitting the board is definitely a realistic possibility.

The Bad News:
– Running in Pennsylvania means no breeder’s awards for yours truly if she gets the duke. As someone who enjoys money, this is a real downer.
– I have class on Thursday, so my long-overdue road trip to Erie, Pennsylvania’s racino will have to wait for another time. This whole “college” thing is really cramping my style. Instead, a trip to Mount Pleasant Meadows’ simulcast room is in order.

Intangibles:
– This will be Mrs. Murphy’s first start on an artificial surface. Though I have heard little else but praise about Presque Isle’s Tapeta Footings surface, it remains to be seen how Murph will handle it.
– Mrs. Murphy is in as part of an entry with the same rider on both horses. There is the possibility she could be scratched.

It goes without saying there will be a write-up of how things went down sometime after the race. Let’s do this.

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Back to work

Well, hello there…

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

Mrs. Murphy

Your Comment:

Date: August 25, 2009
Track: PINNACLE RACE COURSE
Distance: Four Furlongs
Time: 54:00 Breezing
Track Condition: Fast
Surface: Dirt
Rank: 22/24

– Equibase.com

It’s nice to see Murph back on the work tab. I’m not sure where this will take her, but if I find anything out, you know where to find it.

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Fourth without fire

Murph causes a bit of a stir in the post parade with Angel Stanley aboard.

Murph causes a bit of a stir in the post parade with Angel Stanley aboard.

Great expectations often lead to great disappointment.

After drumming up public support from local sources including track announcer Matt Hook and further-reaching national sources off a strong second place effort last time out, Mrs. Murphy failed to deliver, turning in a fourth-place effort on Friday.

Murph’s race was the first one of the day, so I made the 2 1/2 hour drive in record time and got to the track about an hour and a half before the first post. This left plenty of time for a marathon’s worth of nervous pacing.

After a while, the National Anthem started to play from the PA system. Already a bundle of nerves, hearing the Star Spangled Banner brought to the surface years of repressed memories surrounding the tense moments before participating in an athletic competition. Like Pavlov’s dogs, the Anthem has always been a sign for me that it was time to uncoil on some unsuspecting rival. I began to bounce on the balls of my feet, waiting for the song to be over so it could be game time. It took some effort to bring myself down from this, and the adrenaline rush didn’t fully go away until well after the race had concluded, but a few shaky shots with my camera got me balanced enough to function properly.

Shortly after the Anthem concluded, Hook and wandering mutuel teller/handicapper Andrea Ritter began their pre-race prediction show. Both analysts picked Murph to win. The combination of background noise in the tent where I was watching the broadcast and the intermittent roar of airplanes passing overhead kept me from hearing most of what the two had to say about Mrs. Murphy, but ultimately, Murph’s #6 at the top of their selections was all that mattered. The public stepped up to support Mrs. Murphy as well, sending her off as the second choice at 2.10-to-one

As this was going on, the field began coming over to the paddock. Last race, I searched for the distinctive star on her forehead to separate her from the crowd, only to find she already had her blinkers on. This time, I searched for the silver and blue blinkers and instead found the star. 

While the horses were led around the paddock, Hook began to speculate as to whom Mrs. Murphy was named after. He then told an anecdote about a Mrs. Murphy he knew from Thistledown and wondered aloud if she was the namesake. Then, after reviewing the program, he realized her co-breeder was John Murphy, my grandpa. Mystery solved.

Unlike her two previous starts, Murph went through the whole pre-race process without spending time on two legs. She continued being reasonably well-behaved throughout the post parade. 

It seems as though that spell of good behavior ended at the gates. The horses were loading on the other side of the track, so my point of view was not the greatest, but with only Murph left to load, I saw her rider, Angel Stanley, dismount. Rarely is this a good sign. She loaded in by herself and Stanley got back on. 

Mrs. Murphy broke from the outside post and spent most of the race hung out in no man’s land. She was forwardly placed in third, but not as close to the leaders as she was in previous starts. 

In Murph’s three races at Pinnacle, the turning point each time has been the…um…turn. Three races ago, she went backwards and faded to last. Two starts ago, she accelerated en route to a second place finish. This time, she did something in between, running with the pack and lacking a late bid. She crossed the line fourth, about three lengths behind the winner, first-time starter Sinful Eyes.

To help express what was going on inside my head in the moments following the race, I would now like to introduce my special guest, international movie star, and Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader…

Photobucket

Thank you, Mr. Vader.

She appeared to come back just fine, so the performance probably can not be blamed on a physical issue. Sometimes it just isn’t a horse’s day. Perhaps last Friday wasn’t Murph’s. 

If one positive came out of this race, the fourth place finish ought to drive her odds back up to a more profitable level, so when she does finish first, I’ll be able to afford a good meal on the way home (Fowlerville Farms, here I come).

We’ll get ’em next time.

Behind the jump are a few pictures from Mrs. Murphy’s race…

Continue reading

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