April 28, 2011

How "Horse Country" Is Lexington?

     When they say Lexington, Kentucky is horse country, one might ask, how much? To give you an idea, I have been in Lexington for three days, seen nothing but horses and with the exception of driving past it, haven’t entered Keeneland Race Course once.
     Lexington is still horse country any other time of the year. The last week of April magnifies this label to a whole new level. Derby Fever is taking hold of the thoroughbred world. The Rolex 3-Day Event is under way with competitors from around the world. It is the highest rated competition of its type held in the United States.  There is even the Kentucky Reining Cup during Rolex.   All of this, and we haven’t touched the 400 horse farms in the midst of breeding season or the Keeneland Spring Meet – drawing to a close tomorrow.
     Which brings us back to this plethora of horse-related event choices all sandwiched into one week. I will concede I am not Kentucky native. I know very little about the inner workings of the horse industry. I do know horse racing, and, while I photograph racing for editorial reasons, there is no way I would do it if I didn’t love horses as much as I do. Kind of a nice added benefit, loving what you are doing.
     So I coaxed my family into a “working vacation” to the Bluegrass State the week before the Kentucky Derby. Rolex is a major equestrian event so why not weave in, more like why not become immersed in, everything Kentucky.
     There aren’t very many sports where the stars retire and you get to hang out with them.  If I had asked my oldest daughter which retired athlete she wanted to go visit, I doubt I would have been able to deliver on the request. Try to go visit Michael Jordan and Pete Rose and see where that gets you. Horse racing is quite different.
     I was expecting Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra, but she responded, rather quickly I might add, “I want to see Big Brown.” Well, she got to see Big Brown at Three Chimneys.  The folks there are quite accommodating - their tours are excellent, their horses are amazing, the grounds are perfectly kept and they have the Seattle Slew monument.
     Now it was my turn. If you haven’t tried to schedule a farm visit, it can be quite vexing. Plan way ahead. Most tours book quickly. Darley – no go. Lane’s End – not there either. Calumet – not a shot.  I did have one that was still at the top of my list and it was a yes at Claiborne Farm.
     Not only is the 3100-acre Hancock-run establishment the home of Blame, his daddy Arch and War Front, but also six out of eleven Triple Crown winners were bred there.  The on-site cemetery is a walk through racing history, including the graves of such racing greats as Secretariat, Mr. Prospector, Gallant Fox, Bold Ruler and many more.
     According to Rodeo, our tour guide at Claiborne and a regular groom, the usual horses visitors get to see are Pulpit and Eddington. He asked if anyone wanted to see a different stallion and I promptly requested Arch.  It was a tough call, but Blame isn’t siring a potential Derby winner for a while and I liked Arch anyway.
     It turns out that Rodeo is also Arch’s regular handler. You could see they had formed a bond over the years.  It wasn’t just a groom trotting out a stallion. Arch knew Rodeo and Arch knew Rodeo owed him a payment of at least one peppermint for being nice to the visitors.  Claiborne and Three Chimneys are must visits.
     If not horses in Kentucky, then what? Well, for many, the next word is bourbon.  It was labeled in the Bourbon Act of 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson and Congress as uniquely American. They declared only whiskey distilled in the United States could be called bourbon.  While many think it is only distilled in Kentucky, it can be made in other locations – it just happens that 95% is made in the Bluegrass.
     For a reminder of these facts and for a tour of the oldest bourbon distillery in Kentucky, one only needs to drive 20 minutes west of Lexington on I-64 to Woodford Reserve Distillery.  Distilling began at the location in 1797 and the building was erected in 1838.  Not only will you learn more than one could imagine about Kentucky Straight Bourbon, but you will get a sample of their wares at the end of the tour. An added bonus for visitors is free Rebecca-Ruth Bourbon Ball chocolates. The supply is seemingly endless.
     Back in Lexington, we still haven’t touched Keeneland. There is so much more to this town and much of it is horse-related. I will try to address some of that in a follow-up posting. For now, Rolex 3-Day has taken center stage. Day 1 for the Dressage Test is down and great weather is on tap for the weekend. Also in the works is a visit to Michael Blowen’s Old Friends Equine.
     We wrote about Lexington in one of the first Stride LIVE posts. If you love horses, there is no better time to be in Lexington than right now. Any trip to Lexington can be bookended right into Derby week. Does it get any better?

April 21, 2011

Two Journalists Killed In Libya

Reflecting on the work, the lives and the sacrifices of photojournalists Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington

by Scott Serio

     As hundreds of journalists, photographers, videographers and writers alike prepare to converge on Louisville, Kentucky for the 137th Kentucky Derby, recent events half way around the world serve to remind us that, sometimes, in the grand scheme of things, whether or not Jaycito runs is just a triviality.
     News broke early yesterday that photojournalists Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington had been killed while covering the action in Misurata, Libya.  The latter will be known by some as the co-director of the gripping documentary “Restrepo”.  Hondros was little known outside of the journalism community, but to those in the community his work and his character were highly respected.

     Take a look at a few of his most amazing images. I say this now, they are screen grabs, they are his work and if Getty or someone wants compensation for them, I will gladly pay.
     This posting is a small tribute and a reminder there are many more important things in the world than horse racing.  People like Hondros and Hetherington risk their lives to bring light to the struggles of those less fortunate than we are.  Hondros spent his professional career photographing conflicts all over the world.  He was witness to things many of us do not even want to imagine.
    As some know, in real life I am a police officer.  I know the dangers of working in one of the more violent cities in the country. I am also a photojournalist. Having seen both ends of this, I have the utmost respect for Hondros and Hetherington.  When things go bad, even when I am being what some might consider heroic, I’m not. I have a gun, but if worse comes to worst, I can call for backup. When it is really bad, I have SWAT.
     What Hondros and Hetherington did, they waded into situation 1000x worse, without a gun and keep their lenses up and on the conflict.  While risking their lives, and ultimately giving their lives, they delivered on a personal promise to be a voice for those who otherwise would not be heard.
     So as you load up your suitcase, decide on your Derby hat and figure out what wagers you are about to make in Louisville, take a moment to think about Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington. Think about their sacrifice. Think about the sacrifices of the men and women whose stories they told.  
     Here are some links to see more images and learn more about Hondros and Hetherington:


April 19, 2011

Who's In Your Stable? The Top 10 in the RTTR Contest

     It is doubtful they had any inside information, but the folks who are currently in the Top 10 of Stride LIVE’s “Road To The Roses Derby Contest” have certainly distinguished themselves throughout this Kentucky Derby prep season.
      Out of the 20, 730 entries in the RTTR contest, the leader for our league sits at #328 overall.  Keith Cooper’s 221 points are not far from the top either.  The contest leader has 280 points.  There are also four entries that have exactly ZERO points. Not sure how you pulled that off.
      Gary Schneekloth has two entries in the Top 10 and sits in 2nd and 4th in the Stride LIVE league. You want a sleeper stable though, look at Sue Kawcyznski’s stable. Sue K. has Archarcharch, Dialed In, Mucho Macho Man, Nehro, The Factor, Toby’s Corner and Uncle Mo. She is tied for 17th place at 150 points, but is stacked with horses who seem to be running their best.
      For those with a chance to win, interestingly, many have Dialed In and Mucho Macho Man, but only the aforementioned Sue K. has Archarcharch. Hmm. Either way, good luck to everyone. Here is the full Top 10.

League Rank
Stable Name
Keith Cooper
Gary Schneekloth
Barry Mitchell
Gary Schneekloth
Valerie Klein
Alfred Hilbert
Deborah Slagle
Ashley Bolsei
Linda Daly
los alamos
Thomas Haydock

April 17, 2011

THE BIG PICTURE on The Derby Trail

     This most recent week of thoroughbred racing action did not to clear the Kentucky Derby picture one bit.  The last “favorite” in everyone’s mind was The Factor. Depending who you ask, either he folded like a tent in the stretch or he “flipped his palette” during the stretch run and faded.
     Either way, Archarcharch has won two graded Derby preps this season – and he wasn't, and probably still isn’t on anyone’s Top 10 list. Nine hours to the East, Keeneland’s Bluegrass Stakes provided another shocking finish that landed a son of Three Chimney’s stallion Dynaformer in the Top 20 of graded earnings.  The last Dynaformer of note on the  Derby Trail – Barbaro.
     While confusion reigned supreme in the three-year-old ranks, many venerable campaigners continued to make their mark and build resumes that would hopefully punch tickets to the 2011 Breeders’ Cup.
     Photos from the best of the week's racing action are the flavor this week. Please excuse the obnoxiously large watermarks, we just need to protect the rights of our image provider Eclipse Sportswire. All photos produced by Eclipse Sportswire are provided for the readers of Stride LIVE, and all rights are reserved.
Russell Road returns to his winning ways with Travis Dunkelberger aboard in the Confucius Say Stakes and Charles Town Races and Slots.

Get Stormy wins the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland.
The Jenny Wiley at Keeneland Race Course

Jon Court gives a thumbs up after Archarcharch wins the Arkansas Derby.

Shotgun Gulch storms home for the win in the Vinery Madison at Keeneland.
Sweet Goodbye draws clear for a win in the $250,000 TVG Sugar Maple Stakes at Charles Town Race and Slots.
Juniper Pass and Rafael Bejarano(left) hold off Imponente Purse and Chantal Sutherland to win the San Juan Capistrano .Handicap at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, CA

Turbulent Descent wins The Beaumont at Keeneland Race Course.

Brilliand Speed surges by on the outside for the win in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland.

Michael Blowen, founder and president of Old Friends Equine Retirement home in Georgetown, KY, with recent retiree Ball Four after he paraded in the paddock during a morning demonstration for Keeneland visitors. Old Friends recently found out they were in dire need of emergency funding after a bank error put them more than $200,000 behind in payments. Old Friends is still in need of financial assistance.
"Jersey Joe" Bravo coasts Duke of Mischief to the wire at Charles Town Race and Slots to be the first horse to win the first graded stakes races ever contested at the 6-furlong oval since its opening.  This was the third running of the $1,000,000 Charles Town Classic.

April 13, 2011

Talking Mo-Mania On The Derby Trail

Animal Kingdom winning the Vinery Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park

     With 23 days to go until the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, it is time to talk about Mo-Mania – and we are not talking about Uncle Mo. We are talking about trainer Graham Motion. The momentum started when Animal Kingdom won the Vinery Spiral, but reached an absolute roar when lightly-regarded Toby’s Corner shocked 1-to-9 favorite Uncle Mo in the Wood Memorial.
     In the thoroughbred racing community, there isn’t a trainer who is more highly regarded by his peers, his owners and his fans.  His slow climb to where he stands now started with Motion’s first stakes winner Gala Spinaway.  He then scored his first Breeders’ Cup win with veteran turfer Better Talk Now. Now, as the recently selected primary trainer for Barry Irwin’s Team Valor, he has two, maybe three legitimate Kentucky Derby starters.
     The 2010 campaign started a little slowly for the Cambridge, England native, but the way it finished propelled Motion to the ranks of elite trainer.  The graded stakes winners started coming during the summer. First there was Check The Label, then Gypsy’s Warning and Shared Account. The biggest victory though came in the Breeders’ Cup.
Trainer Graham Motion
     Shared Account is owned by Under Armor CEO Kevin Plank and his Sagamore Farm.  The mare’s chances of winning the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf might have taken a turn for the worse when she was spooked during a morning workout. Shared Account reared up and dropped exercise rider Heather Craig.  Luckily for all involved, including Shared Account, Hall-of-Fame trainer Bill Mott was nearby. He wheeled his pony around playing outrider and managed to keep the mare from bolting into the distance. Shared Account won the $2,000,000 turf race the next night.
Shared Accounts tries to run during morning workouts.
     It was shortly after this win that Barry Irwin announced that Motion would become Team Valor’s sole trainer. According to Irwin, “Graham is attractive to Team Valor because he has been successful with the kinds of horses we own and in the races we want to win.”  Irwin added, “Also, he is squeaky clean in terms of his record with drugs and he trains at Fair Hill, which we consider to be a huge plus.”  That’s right, while many trainers were racking up suspensions for medication violations, Motion had exactly zero in more than 8,000 starts.
     All Team Valor horses were transferred to Motion and will eventually be stabled at a newly purchased barn at the Fair Hill Training Center.   Among the horses who came Motion was recent Juvenile Turf winner Pluck.
Shared Account (inside, 5) wins the 2011 Filly and Marf Turf.
     That quickly, Motion was able to claim something not even UberTrainer Todd Pletcher could claim – three Breeders’ Cup winners in the barn.  To be fair, Better Talk Now is retired. He is still in the barn at Fair Hill. Better Talk Now gets regular exercise, gets to frolic in the fields and still delights the many visitors who just can’t get enough of “Blackie,” as he is called by the many who love him.
     The training center is but 350 acres of the 5,600 acres that comprise the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area.  The rolling hillside and woods in northeastern Maryland have not only the thoroughbred facility, but it also plays host to steeplechase racing, a nature center, a county fair, 80 miles of hiking trails and is home to the annual Fair Hill International, a upper-level Three Day Event.
Dianne Cotter (right) leads Toby's Corner to the winner's circle.
     In addition to training Pluck and Animal Kingdom for Team Valor, Motion also manages Crimson China and the recently purchased Summer Soiree, the runaway winner of the Bourbonette Stakes. Animal Kingdom and Summer Soiree have already punched their tickets for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, respectively. Pluck had been ambitiously pointed to the Irish 2000 Guineas until bone bruising was revealed during a recent examination. He will have time to recuperate at Fair Hill.
     Crimson China still has to prove himself in the Toyota Bluegrass Stakes this weekend at Keeneland Racecourse. In his first non-turf start Crimson China finished a fast-closing second in the Rushaway Stakes on Spiral Daym but has no graded earnings. According to Irwin, “We hope Crimson China can pull off an upset in the Blue Grass, because like Animal Kingdom he can get the Derby's 10 furlongs and has a better pedigree to handle the dirt.” Irwin is also happy with the path Motion has taken thus far. “Graham has given these two every chance and we are thrilled with the job he has done with them,” Irwin said.
Graham Motion at Santa Anita for morning workouts
     Crimson China will not be highly regarded in the Bluegrass, but Motion is no stranger to longshots.  His first Breeders’ Cup win came at odds of 28-1.  Shared Account scored the second win at 39-1. Then, there was the 2011 Wood Memorial.
     Uncle Mo was being billed as “The Next Secretariat” by many. His legend had grown so large, so fast, that even Sports Illustrated sent a team of photographers to document his coronation in the Wood Memorial.  What the crowd of more than 12,000 witnessed though was, well, very much like Secretariat.  Not since Big Red himself was shocked in his own Wood Memorial effort had race fans seen such an upset.
     It would the Graham Motion trained Toby’s Corner, Dianne Cotter’s homebred son of Bellamy Road, that would deliver the defeat. The win in the Wood vaulted Toby’s Corner to 4th in the graded earnings list, making him the second Motion trainee to secure a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on May 7th.
Summer Soiree winning the Bourbonette Stakes
     The win in the Wood Memorial gave Graham Motion his sixth graded stakes win for 2011, already two-thirds of the way to the 2010 total for Herringswell Stables.  Having Animal Kingdom, Toby’s Corner and Summer Soiree also gives Motion a real chance at winning the elusive Kentucky Oaks-Derby Double.
     According to KentuckyDerby.com, only two trainers have managed to accomplish that feat -- Ben Jones in 1949 and 1952 with Calumet Farms' Wistful/Ponder and Real Delight/Hill Gail, respectively, as well as Herbert J. Thompson in 1933 with Colonel E.R. Bradley's Barn Swallow/Brokers Tip.
Toby's Corner (center) rushes between horses ofr a win in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
     Graham Motion is on a roll in 2011 and most think it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.  Many were stunned when Uncle Mo lost, but the consensus among spectators was that if Mo had to lose, they were glad the winning trainer was Motion.

April 11, 2011

Say It Ain't So Mo - THE BIG PICTURE

     Like Midshipman, War Pass and Stevie Wonderboy before him, Uncle Mo finally got the taste of Breeders’ Cup history that only Street Sense has managed to avoid. Trainer Todd Pletcher handpicked an easier route to the Derby trying to avoid the post-Breeders' bad karma that has befallen so many. Instead Pletcher, Uncle Mo and owner Mike Repole ran smack into it on Saturday.  The Kentucky Derby trail is not over for Uncle Mo. What is in jeopardy though is Mo’s bid to become only the second horse to win the Derby after winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

     This trip along the Derby Trail had had more twists than a Dick Francis novel, and we still have two more major prep races to go.  The Kentucky Derby Top Ten lists so many pundits love to fashion with sleepers and chalky can’t-misses are in shambles.

     On the East Coast, the 1-9 Uncle Mo was upset by a horse who trainer many consider the nicest guy on the planet. While Mo-Mania appears to be on hold, the is a different kind of Mo-Mania gathering steam.  Animal Kingdom already won the Spiral. Graham Motion has two contenders.  If Crimson China fires in the Bluegrass, Graham "Mo-Mania" Motion might have three Derby prospects in his charge.
     On the West Coast, just about everyone is off the Derby Trail Well. Not everyone, but the horses every one considered at the top of the class are on the sidelines. The winner of the Santa Anita Derby, the premier Left Coast prep race, well, he was a maiden less than a month ago. Now Midnight Interlude is in the Top 10 in earnings himself and has secured a spot in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.

     There are few things certain on the Derby Trail after this weekend.  What is certain is the weekend that just passed is usually filled with great racing and Saturday was no exception.
     With the help of Eclipse Sportswire photographers, talk a look at the scene from across the country. No slideshows this time, just big photos. THE BIG PICTURE.