Tag Archives: Ellis Park

Photo of the Year: 2010

This photo of Zenyatta and super-skilled photographer Jamie Newell is probably the photo of the year, but for the sake of competition, it gets a free pass.

As it was mentioned in previous discussions, 2010 was a big year.

I visited a lot of places, I took a lot of pictures, I’ve seen a million faces and I rocked ’em all.

Okay, perhaps that last line is a wee bit exaggerated, but two and a quarter years of operation on this site is too long to go without a Bon Jovi reference.

The first two parts of the statement, however, are completely true. The last year afforded me the opportunity to visit racing venues and big events around the country, and I have tried my best to bring my readers along for the ride with my tales and photos.

That brings us to the annual display of my favorite memories from those travels: The 3rd Annual Michigan-Bred Claimer Photo of the Year poll.

Truth be told, my best photo is all but certainly the one shown above of super-skilled photographer Jamie Newell and Zenyatta the morning after the Breeders’ Cup Classic, titled “Consolation”. That projection is supported by the photo’s third-place showing in the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance photo contest. If I have not said it before, allow me to take this opportunity to thank everyone kind enough to throw a vote my way. We’ll get ’em next year.

For the sake of competition, we’ll consider that one the winner by default and conduct the poll as usual to determine a reserve champion. Unlike the TBA contest, this is one vote I can’t lose.

All of the photos included in this poll were shot with a Kodak EasyShare Z980.

Thank you all for reading, commenting, voting and otherwise being a part of what was a huge 2010. I look forward to providing a front row seat to my adventures in 2011 and beyond.

Behind the jump are the 20 photos I have handpicked as my favorites of 2010. Have a look, then vote for your favorite in the poll on the left side of the page. Comments are always welcome, too.

And now, without further ado…

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Making the most of 2010: A look back on the year

The days leading up to New Year’s Eve offer a time for reflection on the year gone by.

For most, doing so may conjure up a roller coaster of memories, recollections, emotions and perhaps scars. Some will find they have made the most of the year, while others might discover that they have done very little with the last 365 days.

After doing some searching of my own, I have no problem staking my claim in the former group.

I often carry massive stacks of photo albums and other mementos in my vehicle because I always assume people do not believe me when I tell them the stories of my adventures. To save time and space, I have compiled some of the highlights of my 2010 into a handy bulleted list of links to posts of those stories.

Even after putting it into an itemized list, it boggles my mind that I experienced all of this in a lifetime, much less in one year. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I am a lucky son of a gun.

Let’s have a look at some of the things that have gone down since this time last year.

In the year 2010 I…

Said goodbye to the man who got me into this whole mess in the first place.
Watched the Michigan Gaming Control Board slash the state’s race dates.
Checked two tracks off my wish list.
Watched the Michigan Gaming Control Board slash the state’s race dates again.
Was told to get out of Michigan by Chris McCarron at Keeneland Race Course.
Followed a colt with Michigan ties through the Keeneland Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale.
Gave out 20-1 winner Exhi in my ThoroFan Handicapper’s Corner preview of the Coolmore Lexington Stakes.
Drove off the beaten path to chase the Fortune 6 wager at Beulah Park…And was promptly dumped out by the second leg.
Wrote some haikus for Claire Novak’s NTRA blog.
Lost a Kentucky Derby pin collecting contest against Dr. Sale Guru Emily.
Got pelted by a flying mint julep on Kentucky Oaks day.
Roamed the backstretch to gather quotes after the Kentucky Derby.
Went to Mount Pleasant Meadows a lot.
Hosted racetrack bucket-lister Tom Miscannon during his visit to Michigan.
Suited up in the box seats at Arlington Park.
Broke down a Pick 4 while waiting in line for a cage fight, then did a phone interview about my selections during an intermission for Claire Novak’s Youbet On-Track podcast.
Watched the next generation of Michigan-breds go through the sale ring.
Ate, bet and drove my way through Hoosier Park, Ellis Park, Riverside Downs, The Red Mile and River Downs, which earned the attention of Jennie Rees’ blog.
Severely underestimated the popularity of racing in Montana at Yellowstone Downs.
Played blackjack and the Quarter Horses at Prairie Meadows.
Live blogged the Indiana Derby on-site at Hoosier Park.
Partied with Bo Derek, Toby Keith. Encountered Kentucky’s governor. Visited champion mare Zenyatta in her stall.
Witnessed one of the greatest races in the history of the sport – The Breeders’ Cup Classic – Even if the outcome wasn’t what we had all hoped.
Got to pet Zenyatta, cover breaking news in the Churchill Downs press box.

I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis…Stay thirsty, my friends.

Okay, perhaps that last statement is not entirely accurate, but it seemed like the right thing to say at the time.

Later today, my travels will take me to Turfway Park. Once there, I will have been to every still-active track I have ever visited within the 2010 calendar year…If that makes any sense. Turfway was the last track I visited in 2009 as well, so it is fitting to bring everything full circle.

This year has been, without a doubt, the most memorable ride of my life. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who shared in my adventures over the last 12 months at the races, in the press box, in meetings, at parties, on the road, on this site and all points in between. You are the ones who make all these stories worth telling, be it as a reader or an active participant.

Now let’s try to carry some of this good mojo into 2011, shall we?

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Pinnacle Race Course suspends simulcast operations

Effective immediately, Pinnacle Race Course will cease simulcast operations until 2011, a track press release announced Tuesday.

The release cited Michigan’s difficult economic conditions, the Michigan Gaming Control Board’s drastic reduction of race dates, made up with funds from the state’s horsemen’s groups, and the board’s rescinding of funding from the state’s simulcast tax as reasons for the closure.

The track will remain open to cash out tickets Nov. 3-5 from noon to 6 p.m. and Nov. 8-12 from noon to 2 p.m..

A specific date was not given for the track’s re-opening next year. The MGCB recently approved an 84-day live meet at Pinnacle for 2011.

Pinnacle’s hiatus will also have an effect on the payment of outstanding purse money expected to be covered by incoming simulcast funds.

From the Michigan HBPA website

The loss of simulcast purse revenue will have an impact on issuing the balance of purses earned to the horsemen and women. Purses will be paid, but it may take a little longer.

Closing down simulcasting for the winter is a tactic that has been employed by other tracks in the midst of economic difficulties. Last year, Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky. suspended simulcast operations from Nov. 8, 2009 to April 1, 2010 to cut costs.

To view the track’s full press release, click here.

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Eat. Bet. Drive.

The best damn burger in racing can be found at Ellis Park. The burger alone makes the eight hour drive totally worth it. Every time before I eat one, I photograph it just so I can remember the experience. It's that good.

My evening at Hoosier Park was just the first leg of my swing through the Midwest.

Over the five days of my road trip, I visited four tracks in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. Because each stop after Hoosier Park was a repeat visit, this post will lump together the remainder of my voyage with a series of photos.

Picking up where we left off last time, I hopped in my Trailblazer and headed south for Ellis Park. After spending about four and a half hours driving the roughly 280 miles from my home base to Anderson, Ind. the previous day, I traversed another 270-odd miles over another four and a half hours to get to Henderson, Ky.

Over the journey, I re-introduced myself to the soundtrack from the film Crazy Heart. Aside from being an outstanding arrangement of songs, driving around the countryside and hitting a different town every night can make a person feel like Bad Blake pretty quickly. You know, minus all the whiskey. Like any good road playlist, it just seemed to fit the situation.

When I start comparing myself to imaginary washed-up country singers, it’s time to get on with the story.

Behind the jump are photos and tales from the rest of my journey after leaving Hoosier Park.

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Photo of the Year: 2009

Last year's winning photo: Oscar Delgado talks things over with the stewards following a race at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

As my readers may or may not have noticed, I did not fare so well in the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance photo contest.

My goal was to get one of my three photos out of the first round, but it wasn’t to be. That said, thank you very much to the seven or eight of you who cast your votes for my shots.

That brings us to the annual stroking of my ego that is my own “Photo of the Year” contest. It’s pretty hard for me to lose this one.

Just about every photo you see on this site was taken with yours truly at the helm (except for the photo of myself on the “about” page, where I set the ten-second timer and ran really fast). Over the last year, I have taken thousands of photos at tracks across the Midwest and filled a towering stack of photo albums with scenes from my travels.

This year brought an upgrade to my equipment, when I finally retired my tiny point-and-shoot and graduated to a Kodak EasyShare Z980. All of a sudden, I had 24x zoom and could fire off a ludicrous number of shots in only a few seconds. The quality and quantity of my photos skyrocketed, and I’d like to think it improved the quality of this blog dramatically. If anything else, it made me feel more professional.

Behind the jump are some of my favorite shots I’ve taken from the last year. Hopefully you will enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed shooting them.

To vote for your favorite, simply consult the poll on the sidebar to the right. I haven’t set any kind of deadline at the moment, but there will be fair warning when I get ready to close the poll.

And now without further ado…

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Weekend at the Pea Patch

Ellis Park does a good job of giving fans a full day at the races. Revival Ridge heads through the post parade with Fabio Arguello, Jr. aboard.

Ellis Park does a good job of giving fans a full day at the races. Revival Ridge heads through the post parade with Fabio Arguello, Jr. aboard.

During my internship with Thoroughbred Times last summer, one of the things I enjoyed most was the weekend day trips to nearby racetracks with former Assistant Today Editor Jeff Apel.

One of our trips took us west to Henderson, Kentucky; home of Ellis Park. I left the track that day with a new favorite out-of-state racing destination (and about $100 ahead for the day, which certainly didn’t hurt my opinion of the place).

After having such a positive experience with my first visit to Ellis, I made a point of making the track a cornerstone of my summer road trip. The track’s announcement that it could shut the lights off at the end of the year without slots legislation made a trip to Henderson this summer an even higher priority, just in case it comes true.

I left my hotel in Shelbyville, Indiana Saturday morning coming off about four hours sleep after a busy night at Indiana Downs. The plan was to get to Ellis by the day’s first race at 12 p.m. Central Time (which completely threw my internal clock out of whack). That was quickly shelved when I found my path to be obstructed by a bridge being rebuilt from the ground up with no signs leading to a detour. I spent the next hour driving through rural Indiana’s narrow, twisting, turning and dead end-ing back roads and farm service lanes while my GPS worked frantically to get me back on the freeway. After lots of driving and listening to Michael Jackson’s greatest hits (considering the time and place, it seemed fitting), I finally got on course.

One thing I remembered from my first visit to Ellis was the incredibly dangerous left turn needed to pull into the track’s entrance. Henderson’s main drag is set up as a boulevard, so getting into the track’s driveway from the other side of the road requires crossing two lanes of oncoming traffic without the assistance of a stoplight or anything else to slow the other lane down. Leaving the track is just as scary. I couldn’t imagine taking a trailer full of horses across that turn.

I’ve noticed that region of Indiana and Kentucky does not seem to protect the motorists any more than it has to. While driving through Evansville, Indiana before the races, I saw a sign at an intersection that read something like “High Accident Area.” Instead of doing something to improve the safety of the crossroads, the city simply put a sign up telling drivers they were probably going to get hit. Dynamite.

Needless to say, I survived the turn and entered the back way into Ellis Park. The path is quite scenic, leading to endless fields of various crops if one decides not to turn off into the track’s parking lot.

I got there about an hour late, and with an opening day crowd, that meant I was going to have to do some hiking. Though there is a blacktop parking lot, the majority of racegoers parked in a grassy field adjacent to the stretch, reminiscent of an auction, flea market or other large, informal community gathering. I got that feeling a lot there, and that’s not a bad thing.

I finally made it through the gates prior to the third race.

Ellis Park is a spread-out track, but unlike Indiana Downs, there are places everywhere on the grounds to eat, drink, watch the race and place a bet. Between the apron and the paddock is a grassy path dotted with picnic tables and boards for playing corn hole. Behind that are several lean-tos with betting windows, simulcast screens, stands for food and drink, and a bar (and thankfully, lots of fans to fight the heat).The track seems to take the phrase “a day at the races” quite literally, giving people plenty to do outside of the races themselves.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a “community event” feel to a day at Ellis Park. Perhaps it was just an opening weekend rush, but the place was packed both days I was there. With crowds like that, I can not believe the place is going under, even if they are only buying hot dogs and beer. Parents and grandparents teaching their children about the sport were plentiful, as were young groups of friends deciding which horses to vote for. The steps up to the grandstand were used just as frequently as makeshift bleachers.

Even the infield gives off the feeling that the track belongs to the community. Every year, a soybean crop is planted in the middle of the oval, which is kept up by the grounds crew, then harvested, with the payload going to charity. That’s just cool.

If I can get away with gushing about the atmosphere at Ellis Park for one more paragraph, even the gift shop does things right. It sells the standard hats and T-shirts, but there are also many items directly associated with the track that make for unique souvenirs. Jockeys’ whips and goggles are available, but my personal favorite items were the numbered smocks worn by a horse’s handler in the paddock. Some of them had seen better days, but they make for neat, offbeat mementos.

After the race, I headed over to the hamburger stand to partake in Ellis Park’s biggest attraction. As some of you may recall, I listed the Ellis Park hamburger among my holy trinity of racetrack foods, and that day’s meal was no different. I can’t define what exactly makes the Ellis hamburger stand apart from its racetrack burger contemporaries, but it alone is worth the price of admission. I wanted to ask the man behind the grill what his secret was, but I decided that, like a magic trick, some things should just be enjoyed without getting into the hows and whys.

Opening day at Ellis Park was also “Funny Cide Day,” featuring appearances by the dual classic winner, Sackatoga Stables’ Managing Partner, Jack Knowlton and various Funny Cide merchandise (I wanted to try the Funny Cider, but it was just too hot out for a drink like that). I missed the horse’s first appearance, but made sure to get a spot by the paddock for his second and final showing after the fourth race. He was led up and down the paddock fence for anyone within arm’s length to touch. After a little shoving to get a spot on the fence, I finally got to pet the neck and shoulder of the champion. I considered finding a container for the hair left behind on my hand to place next to my dirt from Churchill Downs, but most of it blew away before I had time to conduct a search. Oh well…

Funny Cide was well-behaved considering the new location and all the strange people touching him. I know a lot of horses that would have gone ballistic under similar circumstances. He got a little antsy near the end, but nothing worth serious reprimand from his handler. The horse was eventually joined by Knowlton and Ellis Park owner Ron Geary, who held his grandchildren as they pet the Kentucky Derby winner. After visiting with his admirers, Funny Cide was paraded in front of the grandstand, where a steady roar of applause followed him down the stretch.

After Funny Cide departed, Knowlton went back to the merch tent to sign autographs. I told him he had one heck of a horse and managed to get one of my business cards into his hands. I even got him to sign my picture to “The Michigan-Bred Claimer.” If Mr. Knowlton is reading this, thanks for stopping by!

While we are still figuratively near the paddock, I will take this moment to quickly criticize Ellis Park for its paddock setup. Only one side of the of the paddock is available for the public to view the horses, which can lead to quite a bit of crowding on the fence. As a photographer, this caused quite a bit of trouble with people’s heads getting in the way of my shots, and as a handicapper, the higher-numbered stalls were so far away that getting a good look at the horses became difficult. Also, working to find an open spot on the fence was a constant distraction.

If my readers have not yet noticed, I’m kind of big on getting the paddock right. I don’t necessarily have a prototype of what a good paddock should be, but I know one when I see one.

There was actually some horse racing going on throughout all this, too. An awful lot of of the riders had ridden at Indiana Downs the night before, which I found to be quite impressive. I drove the same distance and did about a quarter of the work they had and I sure didn’t feel like picking up six or seven mounts that day. Then again, I doubt they spent the night in the casino, but it is still quite the trip, nonetheless.

Though I took an absolute thrashing from a handicapping standpoint, I did claim a big moral victory when Michigan-bred Speak of Kings took Saturday’s feature race, a $30,000 allowance optional claimer going 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf. He went off as the favorite both in the morning line and when the gates opened, and moved late to win the race. Speak of Kings has represented his home state well as a regular on the Kentucky circuit, winning four races in 2008 and only missing the board once this year.

On Sunday, I got the opportunity to speak briefly with track owner Ron Geary. He was out in the picnic area meeting and greeting with track patrons, and as he walked by, I told him he was running a fine operation. He thanked me and we talked for a few minutes about hard times. When I told him I was from Michigan, he asked me how Pinnacle’s racing date situation was looking and we discussed purse structures. I didn’t manage to give him one of my business cards before he had to go, but getting some one-on-one face time with the track owner was pretty memorable regardless.

I left Ellis Park that weekend throughly defeated at the windows, but the experience of being there far outweighed the cost to play the game. Ellis Park is out of the way from most of my usual Kentucky destinations, but I wholeheartedly recommend a visit the track if one’s adventures lead to the western part of the state. Hopefully the track can manage to cure what ails it without having to close the doors, because tracks like this do too many things right to deserve to fail.

Behind the jump are some pictures from my weekend at Ellis Park…

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Ship-ins

Nobody ever won an Eclipse Award staying at one track.*

With that mantra in mind, I am loading up and shipping south.

Friday, I will be at Indiana Downs, followed by excursions to Ellis Park, Lexington, Kentucky and River Downs. Unless the Indiana slots take all my money right off the bat, this road trip will rule. Expect recounts of my travels whenever I find the time to write.

While we are on the subject of ship-ins, Chicago-based rider, and star of Animal Planet’s reality series “Jockeys,” Brandon Meier brought home one winner from two starts on Tuesday’s card. Meier found the winner’s circle in a 6 3/4 length victory aboard Heaven’s Flame in race eight. His other start was a second-to-last effort aboard Crystal Mast in the sixth race.

Behind the jump is a reader-contributed photo of Meier during his visit to Pinnacle Race Course.

* I don’t have the time or initiative to verify this. I wouldn’t doubt someone in the history of the awards took home the prize having only raced at one track, but in general, champions are encouraged to take their games on the road.

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Photo of the year

The votes have been tallied and after a brief time as a neck and neck race, two thirds of the voting public helped daytime racing pull ahead as the preferred time to hit the racetrack. Let’s take a look at the results…

When is your preferred time for live racing?

Day Racing – Eleven Votes (61%)
Night Racing – Seven Votes (39%) 

I have already written at length about the pros and cons of both, so I will not waste your time with a rehashing of my thoughts. However, if you do have time to waste, there are worse ways to do it than reading this.

Now on to the next poll topic…

As some of you may already know, there has been a bit of a controversy over the choice for this year’s Eclipse award-winning photo. As you can see here, the winning photo is basically a stock, if a little off-center and misspelled, photo of jockey Frankie Dettori making his famous flying dismount following his win aboard Donativum (GB) in the Breeders’ Cup “Junenile” Fillies.

I am not discounting it as a nice photo that captures a moment of jubilance after a major race, but my rule of thumb when deciding the quality of a professional photo is if I can conceivably take the same quality picture on my cheap little point and shoot camera, it’s not that good – at least not Eclipse-quality.

In response to this error in judgement, the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance has staged its own Eclipse Award do-over

I find this contest very interesting. However, I also realize that despite having been a lot of places and taken a lot of pictures, nothing I took in 2008 could crack the top ten against what is already entered.

 That’s why I am holding my own personal Photo of the Year poll showcasing some of my favorite pictures from my travels last year (holy ego stroking, Batman!). The winner will be chosen by you, the viewing public.

Each photo comes with a quasi-pretentious title for identification purposes and a short description to give the back story. Feel free to give your feedback on the pictures outside of simply voting.

Last year gave me the opportunity to take pictures at so many different locations. I hope you enjoy my photos as much as I enjoyed being there to shoot them.

And now your nominees…

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