Tag Archives: Turfway 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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Filed under Mount Pleasant Meadows, Pictures, Polls, Racetrack Visits

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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Filed under Commentary, Mount Pleasant Meadows, Story Time, Triple Crown

Michigan Notebook: March 8, 2010

Michigan-based jockey T.D. Houghton has not been allowed to ride at several racetracks since his involvement in a still-pending investigation was announced in 2007.

Michigan-based jockey T.D. Houghton has not been allowed to ride at several tracks since his involvement in a still-pending investigation was announced in 2006.

– When it comes to bad news in Michigan, the hits just keep coming. Various news sources report over 30 people are being investigated by the Michigan State Police and Michigan Gaming Control Board for alleged race-fixing schemes at harness racetracks in Michigan and Ontario. According to the Associated Press, the management at Michigan tracks Hazel Park Raceway, Northville Downs and Sports Creek Raceway are not being accused of any wrongdoing and are cooperating with the investigation. The Flint Journal reports the investigation has been ongoing for about 11 months.

UPDATE: It seems this story has garnered some national exposure. ESPN’s Bill Finley has commented on the situation on the sports network’s website. In the piece, Finley suggests the pools at Michigan’s harness tracks are too small for any sensible race fixer to bother with. He also questions if authorities, who don’t know enough about the intricacies of the sport, are too gung-ho in approaching this situation and predicts little will come of it.

Hat tip to Longshot for sniffing out the ESPN story.

– Jockey T.D. Houghton, who grew up in Hazel Park, has been grabbing headlines following the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s Feb. 25 deferment of his request to ride in the state. His primary reason for applying was to ride at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky.. Houghton has been denied access to ride at several tracks across the country after he was named in a race-fixing investigation in 2006 involving seven riders at Great Lakes Downs and Tampa Bay Downs. For more information, an article by Thoroughbred Times can be read here and the Blood Horse’s take can be found here.

– In a bit of lighter news, I was quoted last week in a piece on ESPN.com by Claire Novak. The blog post addressed recent suggestions by Vic Zast and Paul Moran to “dumb down” horse racing to appeal to today’s ADD-riddled youth. As one of many contrarian examples, I discuss how social media may actually make understanding the sport easier for young people with short attention spans. Be sure to check out Novak’s work, as she is the best turf writer in the country under the age of 25 – and that’s including myself, so you know she’s got to be good.

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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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Grilled cheese and reality TV

The Turfway Park plant. Quite an imposing structure.

The Turfway Park plant. Quite an imposing structure.

(This is part two of my spring break chronicle following my travels to Beulah Park and spots in central and northern Kentucky. To see the first installment, click here.)

After my profitable stopover at Beulah Park, I got back on the road and headed toward Florence, Kentucky; home of Turfway Park.

I could see the track from my hotel room, which is one of  those things that sounds insignificant unless you have been in the situation yourself. Turfway or otherwise, being able to look out the window and say “I’m going there tomorrow” is a neat feeling. I would guess this is what being a rock star feels like.

The plan was to head to Turfway Park around noon, watch and wager on the day’s live races and head down to Lexington in time for dinner.

This plan survived up to the point where I was halfway between my vehicle and the front entrance of the track.

On my way toward the building, a frustrated-looking old man walking in the opposite direction told me the day’s live card had been canceled due to a water main break in the barn area. Had I not been to Beulah Park the day before, I might have wept a little. If driving six hours to see a live race is a sign of a gambling problem, driving eight hours for a canceled card could be considered grounds for a nervous breakdown.

With little else to do, I ordered a grilled cheesse sandwich. I don’t know what they do differently, but Turfway Park makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches I have ever had. It has the perfect proportions of butter, cheese and bread size. It’s hard to screw up grilled cheese, but it’s even harder to make eating one a priority at a destination, as they have at Turfway. I have been unable to duplicate it back home and the finest culinary scientists in the central Michigan area (see: family and local greasy spoons) have failed to reproduce the formula either. In case you were wondering, the sandwich was excellent, as always.

After a few stabs at the simulcasts from Florida and New York came up empty, I got back on I-75 due south for Lexington.

After settling into my hotel room, my first stop was Keeneland Race Course. I know what you’re thinking. “Holy crap, Joe. Didn’t you get enough action at Turfway Park? You have a problem, man.”

However, I had a legitimate reason. While reorganizing my room a few weeks ago, I came across an uncashed $4 voucher that was either for Churchill Downs or Keeneland. I figured while I was in town, I might as well run it through a machine and see what happens. I turned it into $9. Like I said before, it’s not a problem if you win.

The next couple days were spent catching up with my friends at the Thoroughbred Times and the apartment complex I stayed at during my internship last summer. Between seeing everyone and the record-high temperatures, it was hard to leave Lexington on Wednesday. It’s always hard to leave Lexington. In many ways, I feel more comfortable there than I do in Mount Pleasant. But I digress…

On the way back to mid-Michigan, I decided to give Turfway Park another shot. This time, the races were on.

My first visit to Turfway Park was last March following my interview with the Thoroughbred Times. In brief, I found it to be an enjoyable mid-level track that could benefit from a fresh coat of paint.

Not much had changed since then. Like many winter tracks, the ravages of the elements kept it from looking its best. However, the neat little touches, like the horse head statues placed along the fences and the big, open paddock were still intact. Though the level of racing is a step or two higher than on my native soil and the races are not being run on soil at all, I still felt comfortable at the track.

My first act was to grab the day’s program. My second act was to get a grilled cheese sandwich. Life was good. Life was very good.

After a day where Kentucky saw temperatures climb into the upper 70s to lower 80s, the mercury sunk like a rock. It was just cold enough that wearing a jacket was uncomfortable, but wearing a coat would probably be overkill. Because of this, the number of people out on the apron and on the rail rarely passed double digits. Outside of the horsemen, interested parties, and a few dedicated punters, most everyone stayed indoors.

Having so few people out on the rail can create something of a surreal experience. Things are so quiet. You can hear everything – each individual railbird’s desperate pleas to their chosen horse, the jockeys’ whip cracks and final urgings as they pass the finish line, the discussions between the gate crew members and the eerie silence just before the gates burst open. Watching a horse race is a completely different experience when all you can hear is the race itself.

After the race, you can hear each jockey’s explanation of his ride to the trainer (I don’t remember which one, but someone in the first five races will win if he goes long. Keep it in mind.) and the riders’ conversations between one another as they walk through the apron amongst the scattered racegoers. Then, if you stand under the right TV sets inside the plant, you can listen to the trainers give their spin on the race to the owners as they watch the replay. After only a few races, I felt more in the loop at a non-Michigan racetrack than I ever had before.

It felt like they were putting this all on just for me.  With the access I had just from being in public areas, I became the producer and cameraman of my own reality show, and the people of Turfway Park were the stars. I didn’t need the Animal Planet reality show, this is as real as it gets.

People seemed quite talkative at the track as well. The old guys on the rail were more than willing to talk to me, a complete stranger and a newcomer to the track, about their picks and who they thought was due for a clunker. Maybe they were so thrilled to see somebody new on the rail who half looked like he knew what he was doing that they felt the need to be welcoming. Maybe they saw my Thoroughbred Times hat and thought I was somebody important. Maybe they just liked to B.S. with anybody within earshot. Either way, it added to the experience.

Perhaps you have noticed I have made very little mention of my betting fortunes so far. That’s because I laid a big goose egg for the day. Didn’t cash a single ticket. I played some daily doubles that only hit one leg and some exactas where only one horse hit the board and lost about 20 bucks while I was at it. It still left me about $65 or so ahead for the trip, but it was a big hit to my ego.

Because I had to cover a county road commission meeting back home at 8:30 a.m. the next day and my good vibes had apparently been used up elsewhere, I decided to cut my stay short after race five. As a horseplayer and someone who just likes to see a live horse race, leaving a live card early is a hard thing for me to do, but seven hours on the road laid ahead of me and I needed to get home early enough to get something resembling a good night’s sleep, because like the Beastie Boys mused in “Remote Control,” “things get hectic quick.”

If you can handle racing in the frigid climates, Turfway Park is worth a stop. Parking and admission are free every day except this Saturday’s Lane’s End Stakes day, so you ought to have plenty of money to spend on what I consider to be a member of the holy trinity of racetrack concession stand products (the others being Ellis Park hamburgers and Mt. Pleasant Meadows pretzels circa 2006). If the sandwich does not hook you, the behind-the-scenes tour you will get in front of the scenes ought to do the trick. Just dress warm.

Finally, I would just like to extend my gratitude to everyone who read and commented on my Beulah Park post (the link’s at the top of the page if you want to read it). With the help of sites like the Paulick Report, Equidaily and readers like you, I experienced the two highest-traffic days I have recorded.

I was pleasantly surprised to see such a passionate response to the track considering its size and the fact that Ohio is not considered among the top-tier racing states. Also, I found it ironic that as a Michigan-focused blogger, my most popular entry is about a racetrack in Ohio.

Anyway, I appreciate your visits and comments and hope you all continue to enjoy my posts as much as I enjoy writing them.

Oh, and have a look at how Equidaily labeled my story…

Diehard!… Blogger visits Beulah: “I drove six hours to watch $3,500 claimers lope around in the middle of Ohio just because I hadn’t seen a live race since last November.”

Here are a few pictures from my day at Turfway Park. Hope you like them…

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Filed under Commentary, Pictures, Racetrack Visits, Story Time

Beulah…Beulah…Beulah…

 Dye and Deny heads toward the wire at Beulah Park under jockey Edgar Paucar.

Dye and Deny heads toward the wire at Beulah Park under jockey Edgar Paucar.

The first step toward recovery is admitting one has a problem.

I drove six hours to watch $3,500 claimers lope around in the middle of Ohio just because I hadn’t seen a live race since last November.

Some psychologists may look at this and see a serious warning sign of a gambling problem.

Then again, there is no such thing as a gambling problem if you come out ahead for the day.

I am currently in Lexington, Kentucky catching up with friends and attending live races wherever they occur on my path. I have not been to Lexington since my spur-of-the-moment trip during the Keeneland fall meet last October, so it has been nice to see the people and places that made my last summer so memorable.

Aside from a few heavy storms in Michigan, the drive went smoothly. Few things will cleanse the soul like a long drive through the Ohio countryside with a Steve Earle song on the radio.

I took a detour from my usual route to Lexington in order to check another track off my list of tracks to visit – the primarily winter-based Beulah Park in Grove City, Ohio.

I had heard stories about Beulah Park. It was run down. The horses were junk. The betting prospects were below average at best. A recent photo essay on the track painted a somewhat dreary picture of Beulah as a track that was well past its glory days. None of them were entirely wrong.

What they failed to realize, though, was that tracks like these are where I feel the most at home. I have spent many years trying to find the cream of the four-digit claiming crop. These were my people. I was among friends.

When the facility was built in 1923, I am willing to bet Beulah Park was one of the finest tracks in the midwest. The paddock/walking ring area was fairly scenic and dotted with trees, though most of the plant life was still stripped from the winter. There was definitely an old-time feel to the track, with chalkboards dispensing information in the paddock and over the betting windows inside the plant. Not all of them were utilized, but it added to the atmosphere of the place.

Making some money at a new track usually does not hurt my first impression of it either. I missed out on the first race, but hit consecutive exactas in the next two races, paying about $100 altogether. The latter of the scores paid $84.80. I was feeling very good about life at the time. My good fortune ran out after the third race and I failed to cash another ticket for the rest of the day. However, my quick start left me over $80 ahead at the end of the day. Not a bad way to start off my year at the live races.

The problem with tracks with old-time vibes is they are often that way because no one has put any serious money into them since the Truman administration. A portion of the spectators’ walking ring area was taped off for construction, which forced me to find a detour on a few occasions. Also adding to the Point-A to Point-B issues were the clusters of picnic tables scattered in the lane next to the corridor used by the horses to get out to the track. Aside from the added difficulty of inspecting and photographing the horses, it created traffic problems amongst patrons getting to the apron. Perhaps the tables are evenly dispersed once the weather gets consistently warmer and people actually start going outside to watch the races (it was in the high-50s/low-60s the day I was there), but at the time, it was a nuisance.

Perhaps the track’s most unforgivable sin was its lack of a gift shop. As someone who likes to buy a shirt from every track he visits, this was a major letdown. After wandering the premises for any kind of souvenir vendor, I was informed by the lady in the information booth that Beulah’s gift shop had closed sometime last year. I know Beulah is a small track that’s struggling, but if Mount Pleasant Meadows, a track that draws half the crowd, if that, has a place to buy apparel, then Beulah has no excuse.

Of course, even with its warts, I did enjoy myself at Beulah Park. With a little elbow grease and some added purse money, it could probably become more of a destination. Obviously, asking it to become the next Keeneland would be stretching it, but there is no reason it could not become one of the nicer tracks in the state or the region. Like Linus Van Pelt said describing the ratty little tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas, “Maybe it just needs a little love.”

I head back to Michigan on Wednesday. When things calm down, I will continue with the tales of my voyage to Lexington, my stop (and possibly stops) at Turfway Park, and anything else that strikes my fancy about this trip.

Until then, enjoy some photos I took from my day at Beulah Park….

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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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