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…
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…