Tag Archives: Darley Awards

“Making Claims” debuts in Arabian Finish Line

Another exciting chapter of my journalistic endeavors kicked off this month with the debut of my monthly column, “Making Claims”, in Arabian Finish Line magazine.

The column’s inaugural entry, which appears in the publication’s April issue, is split into two parts.

The first half introduces yours truly to the magazine’s readers, including anecdotes about my origins in the sport, a few of my qualifications and my experience in Arabian racing. Naturally, I throw in some anecdotes about Mount Pleasant Meadows, too. In the second part, I look back on the Darley Awards weekend, including my evening at Sam Houston Race Park, with the help of a numbered list.

This month’s issue also features several photos I took over the weekend, including ones at the races and a few on the cover.

And now, without further ado…

Click here to read the debut installment of “Making Claims”!

Like what you see? After this post, “Making Claims” will be exclusive to readers of Arabian Finish Line. To keep up with the world of Arabian racing, including my monthly commentary, click here to order a subscription to Arabian Finish Line.

Arabian Finish Line is a fine publication that provides insight on a sector of horse racing that often goes overlooked by the industry’s media outlets. The magazine features articles, commentary, stakes recaps and statistics on Arabian racing in North America and around the world. With detailed stats on every Arabian that leaves the gates in North America, the magazine is quite the useful handicapping tool, as well.

If the notion of reading my column every month is not reason enough to get yourself a subscription, hopefully something in the above paragraph will convince a few readers to give the magazine a try.

I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank the good people at Arabian Finish Line for allowing me the platform to express my views and spin some tales. I hope I can provide a consistent source of engaging and entertaining content for many issues to come.

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Under the lights at Sam Houston Race Park

Sam Houston Race Park takes advantage of its strengths as well as any mid-level track. Shotgun Willis is led in front of the grandstand on his way to the paddock.

Sam Houston Race Park had been on my radar as a priority track to visit for quite some time.

The track’s repeated Gallery Furniture-sponsored overtures to pit the two hot horses of the moment against one another showed the willingness of the mid-sized track to make a splash on the national scene.

Nobody ever bit on the offer, but you’ve gotta love a track with moxie.

The evening at Sam Houston concluded day one of the festivities surrounding the weekend’s Darley Awards – Arabian racing’s version of the Thoroughbred breed’s Eclipse Awards. Consistent with the theme of the weekend, the evening’s dual feature was a pair of Arabian stakes races.

The first, and most defining feature of Sam Houston is its lighting – from the stadium track lighting that can be seen well before the rest of the property comes into view, to the inside of the plant itself, which was lit like a shopping mall. Of the tracks I have visited that host a significant night racing schedule, Sam Houston may be the best illuminated.

Having left Detroit that morning in the midst of sleet weather, the comfortable Houston temperatures put me in a very good mood. A big smile came across my face as I passed through the turnstile. I was in a strange city at a new track. The sky was dark, the lights were bright and the breeze was warm. Yes, this is what it means to be alive.

Admission was free for me, as I had a free pass with the group of Arabian enthusiasts. Upon further inspection on the track’s website, general admission is $6. Kind of steep. Programs were $2, and were made of good quality white paper.

The Sam Houston plant is a very large structure, with at least two sets of escalators. Nooks and crannies were plentiful, with some even offering specialties like Greyhound racing (In retrospect, I wish I would have picked up a simulcast program just to see what Greyhound past performances look like). Business was good enough on that particular Friday night that most of the alcoves had at least a small population.

The ground floor offered bars for the parched horseplayer, but I found most of the major food stands on the second floor. My group had arrived at the conclusion of the third race, and I had not eaten since that morning in Detroit, so I found the nearest hamburger stand (or in this case, a barbecue stand that offered hamburgers) and scarfed one down. The burger was ok to average, but considering the above circumstances, I am willing to award an incomplete grade.

The second floor is a testament to the track’s friendliness to new fans. The track has decorated the walls above the mutuel windows with a glossary of horse racing terms. Basic betting, racing and horse lingo was laid out like it should be in any program worth its salt. Do 90% of the fans in attendance already know just about everything on that wall? Sure. But for that 10% who are standing in line still deciding for whom they want to vote, that information could prove invaluable.

After our in-between-race meal, my group found its way to the grandstand seating. The crowd was good-sized, which is no small feat in a plant of that magnitude (no doubt aided by the 50 cent draft beer and $1.50 wine on Friday nights).

Looking out over the track brought two things to the immediate forefront. First, the track is really good at drawing advertisers. Banners and billboards of various sponsors – with varying levels of local and national recognition and involvement in racing – could be found on the apron, in the paddock, on the rail, beside the tote board and behind the backstretch. As much of an eyesore as that sounds, it was actually arranged to look rather professional. Second, from where we were seated, the auxiliary chute inside the turf course provided an almost head-on view of the break in races that warranted using it. It was a perspective many tracks do not offer.

As the horses entered the gate for the fourth race, what occurred next will stick with me as long as I care about how a racetrack presents itself. When the “minutes to post” number hit zero, the lights dimmed in the grandstand like a movie theater about to play the previews. The buzz that ran through the crowd when this happened was something that I had never seen for an otherwise run-of-the-mill maiden race. It was almost Pavlovian, and it carried on through to the race. It got loud when the field approached the wire – louder than Hoosier Park on last year’s Indiana Derby day, where most of the crowd came inside to seek refuge from the rain – almost “cover your ears” loud. Again, in a grandstand of that magnitude, this was no small feat.

Perhaps this is the secret to horse racing’s never-ending quest to crack the “new fan” demographic – psychological reactions. Clearly, nobody is going anywhere just because of some dim fluorescent lightbulbs, but those dim bulbs tell people that something is going down and it is time to be excited. All attention is turned to the starting gates. If the decades-long success of the laugh track proves anything, it is that if they are already in the seats, people will get excited if you tell them to get excited. If we, as an industry, can find a way to harness these natural reactions, we might be on to something.

Anyway, I hit my first bet on Texas soil – a 5-1 shot that fell to 5-2 by post time. It would also be the last bet I hit on Texas soil. Fortunately, I like to bring home a ticket from each track as a souvenir, so that is not an entirely bad thing.

After a couple races in the grandstand, I decided to venture out on my own and explore the facility. First stop was the paddock. It was a fairly simple stalls and connected walking ring setup behind the grandstand. Horses entered and left by going around the plant.

When the horses emerged at the front of the grandstand to meet the awaiting ponies, they had to pass by a section of the apron. This provided some entertainment as the night wore on and the 50 cent drafts accumulated. A group of guys had gathered by the path and asked each entry arguably the most important question in handicapping, “You gonna win, number five?”, “You gonna win, number six?”, and so on. Most of the riders carried on with their business without paying much mind to the group on the other side of the fence, but when one rider near the end of the procession was asked the question, he turned to them, flashed a smile and thrust his arm out with a resounding thumbs up. This got a huge reaction from the gathering on the apron. The horse didn’t win.

Out front, the track was elevated a few feet off the rather expansive apron. Separating the masses from the running surface was a dirt path where horses were led from the barn area to the paddock without interfering with the horses unsaddling on the track. It was a novel idea, but there was one drawback. The elevated track, along with the walking path, meant the outside rail was prominently placed in the line of sight. Aside from the general difficulty of photographing a speeding horse at night without the benefit of flash photography, the rail made composing a good on-track photo difficult-to-impossible.

The Arabian stakes races kicked off with the seventh race – the Texas Yellow Rose Stakes. Headlining this heat was multiple stakes winner Sanddpiper, who would take home the Darley Award for top three-year-old female the following evening. Very rarely does a horse strike me with that indefinable “It Factor” on first sight, but Sanddpiper has it. The gray Burning Sand filly is incredibly photogenic – definitely not to the “camera aware” level of a Zenyatta, but still pretty good. Her sloped nose gives Sanddpiper the distinct look of an Arabian that makes her stand out from the crowd. Plus, she wins a lot, which never hurts. If I were given the task of selecting Arabian horses to market to a national audience, I would choose Grilla, based on the exposure from his big win last year at Keeneland Race Course, and Sanddpiper. Sanddpiper kept up her end of the deal with a dominant 8 1/2 length score in the Texas Yellow Rose.

After a Thoroughbred buffer race in between, the field arrived at the paddock for the Texas Six Shooter Stakes. The race was another blowout affair, this time by Darley Award nominee T M Fred Texas, who won by seven lengths.

There were signs throughout the grandstand providing a number to text for information regarding the movement toward slots in Texas. Like Michigan, the state is surrounded by racino-enabled jurisdictions and is suffering because of it. Regardless of where one stands on the issue of slots as a long-term solution to racing’s ailments, it is no stretch of the imagination to say that Sam Houston is one of the most natural fits for adjacent gaming I have seen.

Sam Houston Race Park appears to have grown itself the right way. The fields are as ample as the attendance, the track setup is well-designed and the marketing efforts and fan experience are superb. With an infusion of that sweet, sweet slots money at Sam Houston, there would be no stopping it.

I’m pulling for them. You’ve got to root for a track that works hard.

Behind the jump are photos from the evening at Sam Houston Race Park.

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Expanding the brand

The recent weeks have provided several opportunities to expand my presence to bigger stages on the printed page, online and over the airwaves. Here is what’s going on…

– In the coming issues, I will be debuting as a columnist for Arabian Finish Line magazine. My monthly column, “Making Claims”, will examine topics in the Arabian racing world and elsewhere through my usual off-kilter prism of perspective, and hopefully provide an entertaining and provocative experience for readers.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the good people at Arabian Finish Line for providing this opportunity. I look forward to providing a new voice to the publication.

To learn more about Arabian Finish Line, and to subscribe so you can read the column for yourself, click here.

– In related news, I have been invited to attend the Darley Awards in Houston, Tex. on March 5. The Darley Awards are the Arabian equivalent to Thoroughbred racing’s Eclipse Awards. The weekend’s festivities also include a pair of Arabian stakes races at nearby Sam Houston Race Park, so I will get to check off another track to visit, as well. Expect some observations on the entire event at the conclusion of the weekend.

– The Michigan-Bred Claimer now has its own Facebook page! The social network fan page will feature links to the blog and other items relevant to Michigan horse racing, as well as other thoughts and conversations too small to expand upon in the blog. To visit the page and become a fan, click here.

– Last weekend marked my second round matchup in the Post Parade Lead Pony Challenge against noted author and handicapper Steve Davidowitz. I regret to report that I did not emerge victorious. After having great success playing Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs in the first round, the state of Florida went cold for me over the weekend.

However, the matchup did afford me two opportunities to chat with the contest’s hosts, Molly Jo Rosen and Bruno DeJulio, on their Post Parade podcast. Outside of discussing my picks for the weekend, topics covered over the two shows included vocal impersonations (Hulk Hogan, Andy Beyer, thick-accented Italians), professional wrestling, the Aaron Rodgers championship belt and the rallying cry for fans of comedy podcast Sklarbro Country – “Henderson!!!”

My first appearance on the podcast, where I am the first guest, can be listened to here. Sunday’s podcast, where I show up around the 42:30 mark, can be heard here.

I would like to thank Bruno and Molly Jo for letting me join the fun for the inaugural competition and wish them the best of luck through its conclusion. If they include Mount Pleasant Meadows among the tracks for their next tournament, I just might consider a return appearance.

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Two Michigan-Breds nominated for Darley Awards

Get R Done and jockey Juan Delgado teamed up for two impressive victories in 2010 to earn the horse a Darley Award nomination.

Michigan will be represented by two Arabian divisional finalists at the upcoming Darley Awards.

Stakes winner Get R Done earned an invitation to the event in the three-year-old colts and geldings division and stakes-placed Ovour The Moon is a finalist for champion four-year-old filly.

The Darley Awards are the Arabian equivalent of Thoroughbred racing’s Eclipse Awards. The winners will be announced Mar. 5 in Houston, Texas.

Get R Done was the uncontested leader of Michigan’s juvenile division during the most recent meet at Mount Pleasant Meadows. He was a perfect two-for-two in 2010 for earnings of $5,150.

Arabian Finish Line magazine reports Get R Done ranked 12th in the nation by 2010 earnings among three-year-old Arabian colts and geldings. Because of their size and speed of development, Arabians do not begin their on-track careers until age three.

Get R Done kicked off his career on July 11, with a six-length victory in his maiden effort. The Virgule Al Maury gelding followed that effort with an emphatic 23-length romp in the Aug. 1 Michigan Arabian Juvenile Stakes.

Get R Done is homebred by Tom Fritz and trained by Mario Fritz. The gelding is also nominated for three year-end awards from Michigan’s Association of Racing Arabian Breeders, including the state’s horse of the year.

Other finalists for champion three-year-old male include multiple G3-placed Ovour The Top, G3 winner Rich Frynchman, stakes winner T M Fred Texas and G3 winner Venom.

Ovour The Moon competed at Arabian racing’s highest levels in 2010 and locked horns with some of the best in the sport.

The four-year-old Nivour De Cardonne filly spent most of her campaign at Delaware Park, arguably the breed’s marquee venue. She also participated in the breed’s highest-profile race in recent memory, the President of the United Arab Emirates Cup Stakes (G1) at Keeneland Race Course.

Trained by John Youngdale and homebred by Kathryn and Paul J. Smoke, Ovour The Moon won two of ten starts in 2010 for earnings of $22,079. She was last year’s third-leading earner among four-year-old females, according to Arabian Finish Line’s figures.

After a pair of unsuccessful tries in maiden company, Ovour The Moon earned her first win against a field of open claimers. A second-place finish in another claiming contest led to an off-the-board finish in the CRE Run Oaks Arabian Distaff Stakes (G2).

Ovour The Moon found the winner’s circle once again in an optional claiming race, following a third place effort in an allowance race. She then made the jump back to stakes company, with a runner-up finish in the Rosebrook Arabian Distaff Turf Handicap. Her year came to a close with a pair of unplaced finishes in the President of the United Arab Emirates Cup and teh Buzz Brauninger Distaff Stakes.

Ovour The Moon’s competition for divisional honors includes stakes winner Burning Fancy, multiple stakes placed Doranikaa, G2 winner Sand Witchh, and multiple stakes winner TM Super Bird.

In related news, Michigan-bred Quarter Horse Cold Cash 123 was a finalist for the American Quarter Horse Association’s Racing Champion two-year-old gelding, which was decided Jan. 12

The Oak Tree Special gelding won the Nov. 28 Southwest Juvenile Championship Stakes (G1) at Zia Park and drew away in the Sept. 6 All-American Juvenile Invitational, the consolation race for the All-American Futurity, after winning his trial race. He finished the year ranked seventh nationally among two-year-olds.

However, Cold Cash 123 did not receive a single vote in his division’s Racing Champion ballot, which was won by multiple track record-setter JLS Mr Bigtime.

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Catch Me Ridin Dirty nominated for Darley Award

Catch Me Ridin Dirty's dominant 2009 campaign earned the gelding a Darley Award nomination for champion three- year-old male.

Michigan-Bred Arabian Catch Me Ridin Dirty is a Darley Award finalist for champion three-year-old male.

The Darley Awards are the Arabian equivalent of Thoroughbred racing’s Eclipse Awards. The winners will be announced March 13 in Houston, Texas.

Catch Me Ridin Dirty was Michigan’s top three-year-old male in 2009. He notched five wins from six starts in his juvenile season for earnings of $11,625. His lone defeat was a second-place finish to an older horse.

The Aransas HF gelding was campaigned in 2009 by owner Diana Jackson and trainer/breeder Nicole Holst. Nate Alcala rode Catch Me Ridin Dirty in every start.

Catch Me Ridin Dirty capped off his 2009 campaign with an emphatic 12 1/2 length victory in the Sept. 27 Michigan Juvenile Stakes at Mt. Pleasant. His five wins last year were by a total of 29 1/2 lengths.

Other three-year-olds nominated for the award include stakes winner A Ladys Man, multiple stakes placed Full of Fiesta, multiple stakes winner Lacy Crazy Vaz and Grade 2 winner Quite a Show.

Another Darley nominee with experience at Mt. Pleasant is MW Bonnie Z. The K A Czubuthan mare, who is a finalist for champion older mare honors, was a stakes winner at the Michigan track in 2008. She did not make any starts at Mt. Pleasant in 2009.

For more information on the Darley Awards and to see the full list of nominees, click here.

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