Tag Archives: River Downs

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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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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Rettele featured in Cincinnati local TV news story

Jockey Richard Rettele and Fearles Fred won their second straight stakes race in Tuesday's Queen City Dash Stakes at River Downs.

When Richard Rettele wins a stakes race at Mount Pleasant Meadows, hardly anyone bats an eye. In fact, it’s usually expected.

When Rettele does it at River Downs, it makes the local news.

Then again, Rettele’s win aboard Fearles Fred in Tuesday’s $15,000 Queen City Dash Stakes was his first since turning 70 on Aug. 8. Even more impressive is the fact that he missed the track record for 350 yards by just .055 of a second. It was the second race in a row won by Rettele and Fearles Fred where the pair came within a fraction of a second of setting a new mark.

Rettele’s appearance alone garnered attention from the track, including an interview prior to the race with track announcer Pete Aiello and various promotional photos (for those of you with Facebook accounts).

The race, and its outcome, drew the attention of WCPO Channel 9 in Cincinnati, who did a feature on Rettele for its Wednesday evening news. Included in the piece is an interview with River Downs’ Director of Publicity John Engelhardt, the video of the race itself and clips of Rettele’s interview with Aiello.

To view the TV feature, along with a write-up on the channel’s website, click here.

Daily Racing Form reporter C.A. Shoemaker also did a story about Rettele’s 70th birthday and his continued success in the saddle. That story can be read here.

The Blood Horse put a story on its website Thursday about Rettele’s win, which can be read here.

The Associated Press has also gotten in on the story, with a video based largely on the footage provided by River Downs. I have been told the video was featured on the front page of Yahoo News.

I’m working on a story of my own about Rettele for the Midwest Thoroughbred magazine, so to avoid the risk of scooping myself, I’m going to let the above pieces do the talking for now.

However, I will go as far as to say I am a big admirer of his work, and he provided a fantastic interview when I spoke to him for the aforementioned article. Rettele is a class act and great at telling his fascinating story.

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Photo of the Year 2009: The Results Show

The Michigan-Bred Claimer's 2009 Photo of the Year: Del Mar Storm and jockey Azael De Leon wait in the starting gate prior to a race at River Downs. Date Taken: July 16, 2009.

Riding a wave of support from fans of jockey Azael De Leon, the photo entitled “Caged Animal” was the leading vote-getter in the second annual Michigan-Bred Claimer Photo of the Year poll.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to vote and comment on my photos. Your kind words were greatly appreciated. It was a ton of fun to shoot these photos, and with another year of experience with my new camera, the shots that document 2010 ought to be better than ever. Hope you’ll join me for the ride.

Now let’s take a look at how the votes shook out…

Which is your favorite photo of 2009?

11 Votes – 26%
#9 – “Caged Animal” (Del Mar Storm/Azael De Leon)

Five Votes – 12%
#2 – “Waiting” (Leonard Frazzitta, Jr.)

Four Votes – 9%
#10 – “Stumbled Start” (Orieal/Lee Gates)

Three Votes – 7%
#3 – “Acting Up” (Buffalo Bill Cole)
#6 – “Tucked Down” (Christmas From Mom)
#16 – “Natural Ledge” (Keeneland Race Course)
#18 – “Into The Tunnel” (Surely Bird)

Two Votes – 5%
#1 – “Paddock Inspection” (Island Chancellor)
#12 – “Victory in the Rain” (Bush Hog)
#15 – “Stretch Duel” (Im A Corona & Lucky’s Rambler)

One Vote – 2%
#5 – “Lighting up the Board” (Send Cash)
#7 – “Admiration” (Funny Cide)
#11 – “Shoot to the Lead” (Waltz Across Texas)
#14 – Follow the Leader (Toagule/Lee Gates)
#17 – “Call to Post” (Bucky Sallee)

No Votes – 0%
#4 – “Load ’em Up” (JJ Delgado)
#8 – “Pea Patch Parade” (Revival Ridge)
#13 – “Blanket Finish (Mt. Pleasant Meadows)
#19 – “Grabbing the Spotlight” (Backtalk)
#20 – “Masked Man” (Teetee’s Tapit)

Now I’ll work on getting up that countdown clock looking ahead to opening day at Pinnacle Race Course. Be on the lookout.

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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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Revenge at the River

With slots on the way, River Downs could become a major player in the near future. A muddied With Wings returns from a race with Vernon Bush aboard.

With slots apparently on the way, River Downs could become a major player in the near future. A muddied With Wings returns from a race with Vernon Bush aboard.

Last summer, during another one of my road trips with Jeff Apel, we headed north to Cincinnati for a visit to River Downs. I didn’t cash a single ticket that day.

The thought was still fresh in my mind when my travels brought me back to the River a year later, making the purpose of my stop less about leisure and more about revenge.

It’s nothing personal, River Downs, just business.

River Downs was the last stop on my tour of mid-level midwest tracks before heading back to Michigan. Having been inspired the movie Public Enemies (more John Dillinger himself than the actual movie, which wasn’t great), my plan was your standard smash, grab and make the clean getaway, hopefully making it home by a decent hour.

The parking lot at River Downs is unique in that cars can literally touch the track’s outside rail with their bumpers. Though I did not see anyone doing it this time around, my visit last year saw many people back their trucks up to the rail and watch the stretch drive from their tailgates or a lawn chair in the back of the truck. Perhaps it was more of a weekend thing, but it was still an interesting feature of the track to be able to gather up a cooler and some buddies and watch the best part of a race without having to leave the parking lot.

This wouldn’t be very much fun to read if I had just stayed in the parking lot, so I ventured into the track’s plant. Admission was free.

My first stop was to the program stand.

River Downs’ live card is set up in a somewhat unorthodox fashion. Ohio has three Thoroughbred tracks, with live meets that often overlap each other. To keep the tracks from directly competing for the simulcast dollar when this happens, the 7 & 7 system was put in place. In this system the two overlapping tracks, in this case River Downs and Thistledown, alternate broadcasting their races on one simulcast signal. While one track is bringing its horses over to the paddock, the other is sending theirs to the gates. From a live racing perspective, each track gets seven races, but there are 14 races in the program.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is $1.50 for a program is a pretty good deal.

After looking over the day’s races for a while, I met up with track photographer/awesome tour guide Emily. She showed me around the grounds, including the press box, which resides on the other end of a mildly terrifying catwalk suspended over the grandstand.

The view was impressive from the press box window. For a mid-to-lower rung track (heck, even for a lot of the higher-level ones), the infield is quite scenic and well-landscaped. Behind the track is the Ohio River and a heavily wooded hill, which provided a stunning backdrop for the day’s races.

The plant itself could benefit from some renovation, but that could be on its way in due time. The grandstand had long rows of ticket windows, but only a few were manned by mutuel tellers. In the plant’s main concession and simulcast area, a massive wall of television screens hangs suspended over several rows of benches showing the best races a Thursday afternoon has to offer. I wish I had taken a picture of it because it is quite the imposing structure.

Emily also filled me in on the state of Ohio racing. It sounded a lot like Michigan’s situation with a more cooperative governor and less tribal interference (though it sounded like the church lobby might be comparable). After a long battle, it looks like Ohio will, in the near future, become a slots state. With it will likely come renovations to the facility and increased purses, both of which ought to draw patrons.

Shortly after the walkthrough, the horses began coming to the paddock for the first race. Those of you who have been following along have probably noticed my complaints regarding the paddock areas at the previous stops on my trip. I didn’t have those issues with River Downs.

The paddock is divided into a saddling area and a walking ring, similar to Beulah Park, but not as spread out. The paddock stalls are arranged in an anchor shape with the lane to the walking ring going down the middle. Of all the places I have visited, the River Downs paddock offers the closest access to the horses while they are saddling. I like being able to get a good, close look at each horse, and this paddock affords handicappers the chance to do so standing still and on the walk. It makes taking pictures much easier as well. Consistent with the rest of the landscaping, the walking ring is well-kept with trees and flowers. River Downs’ paddock easily ranks among my favorites.

I spent most of my day at the River hanging out in the photographer’s office with Emily. Positioned near the paddock, the office got lots of traffic from nearby trainers. The stories they told gave some extra intrigue to the upcoming races. The most notable backstory came from a trainer who, after dropping a horse from stakes races to $4,000 claiming company in less than a year, planned to retire his charge to the hunt and jump circuit if he did not win his race that day. His horse ended up soundly trumping the field.

During my road trip, I had good luck with Michigan-breds and Michigan-based connections stepping up their games and finding the winner’s circle. My day at River Downs kept the streak alive, with Here’s the Melody notching her first victory in 16 starts and breaking the bank at $50.20 for a $2 win ticket. Though the horse was an immediate throw-out during my review of the card, it was nonetheless a proud moment. The other MI-bred entered in the day’s card, With Wings, finished fourth later in the day.

After a few races, I was met by River Downs’ Director of Publicity and Public Relations, John Engelhardt, who shared in my excitement of the Michigan breds’ success. The day before my visit to Cincinnati, I visited the Thoroughbred Times office to catch up with my former co-workers. After hearing of my plans to visit River Downs, Managing Editor Tom Law sent an email to Engelhardt asking him to show me around. The results are as follows…

After the horses entered the walking ring for the upcoming race, Engelhardt led me into the middle of the ring to take pictures. A former track photographer himself, he gave me some pointers on the best places on the grounds to position myself.

After the next race, Engelhardt took me once again over the mildly terrifying catwalk and introduced me to the track’s stewards, including 1970 Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mike Manganello (who won the race on Dust Commander).

Afterward, we headed up to the announcer’s post , the workplace of Peter Aiello. I immediately became a fan of Aiello’s work after the first race of my visit last summer. Few announcers can get me excited about a $5,000 claiming race in which I have no money wagered, but Aiello managed to do it. I have spoken highly of him to anyone that will listen ever since.

As it turns out, Aiello is a reader of the blog and a fan of Mount Pleasant Meadows, so we hit it off immediately. Aiello said his time working on the Arizona fair circuit while attending the University of Arizona’s Racetrack Industry Program gave him an appreciation of racing’s smallest venues.

We swapped unbelievable small track stories one would only see at the most obscure bullrings. I volleyed with my famous “Chipmunk in the mailbox” story, but conceded defeat when he countered with a story about a trainer beaning his own jockey (still on the horse) in the helmet with a beer bottle from the bleachers, getting thrown in the county jail (on the same property as the track), then winning the following race.

While I was up there, I also got to watch Aiello call a race. First-rate as always. One of these days, he’s going to be announcing at one of the marquee tracks. I’m calling it right now.

Between races, I hopped on a golf cart with Engelhardt and headed over to the six furlong chute to photograph the start of the last race. Having never watched a race from this vantage point, it was fascinating to see the pre-race motions often overlooked by racegoers on the apron. As the horses approached the gate, Engelhardt told me to go up tp the starter’s stand to photograph the start. Though I managed to keep it hidden on the outside, I began doing a giddy jig on the inside.

For someone who probably isn’t going to end up being a professional racetrack photographer, this was a once-in a lifetime opportunity. Not a good time to screw things up. With that in mind, I decided to use some of my sweet new camera’s tricks to ensure I’d get it right. My plan was flawless – once all the horses were loaded in the gates and pointed forward, I would hold down my shutter button and start the camera’s burst function so when the gates did open, I wouldn’t miss a second of it.

I took my position on the starter’s stand, got the gate into frame and focus and waited for the horses to take their marks. When everyone was loaded and appeared set, I pressed the button. Shortly afterward, a horse began tossing his head, delaying the start of the race. I released the shutter, but was then met with the photographer’s most hated word: “Processing.” As the camera thought things over, the gates opened. I managed to get an out-of-focus shot of the field passing by once the camera shook off the cobwebs, but clearly, that’s not what I was up there to do. I was pretty disappointed in myself, but grateful for the opportunity. I didn’t get it on film, but it was still fascinating to see from that angle.

After the race, I said my goodbyes, thanked to my impromptu tour guides, then hit the road for the seven-hour drive home. I ended up giving an awful lot of money to the racetracks, but as those of you who have been following along have seen, I had a lot of fun, took lots of pictures and have loads of stories to tell. Without a doubt, I had a blast everywhere I went.

Oh, and for those who were still wondering, my plan to get revenge on River Downs failed miserably. Once again, I did not cash a single ticket. Dillinger would be deeply ashamed.

But that just means I will have to make a return trip someday to try it again. This time, it’s personal.

Behind the jump are some pictures from my day at River Downs…

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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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