Tag Archives: Horse Racing

John C Mabee Stakes

Del Mar Track DMTC-panorama-Andrew-Chen-2008-wikicommonsThe John C. Mabee Stakes is a 9 furlong Grade II turf race for fillies and mares at the Del Mar track in San Diego County, California. John C. Mabee is my eighth cousin.

I found that out while looking for another John Mabee. The search results were filled with John C. Mabee Stakes and “California racing icon”. Well, I had to find out if we were related. We are.

John C. Mabee and me

john c mabee chart
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You have to go back eight generations to Pieter Casper van Naerden Mabee, born in 1626. His parents had come to New Amsterdam, now New York City, from the Netherlands in the 1620s. Pieter Casper Mabee married Aechtje Jans van Norden about 1650. They had six children.

Their son Jan Pieterse is the ancestor of John C. Mabee. A younger son Casparus Pieterszen is the ancestor of my grandmother.

American and Canadian Mabees

The family stayed in the New York and New Jersey areas for more than a hundred years, until the American Revolution. John’s branch stayed in the new USA. My grandmother’s line remained United Empire Loyalists and left for Canada.

Simon Casperson Mabee moved his family to New Brunswick in 1783. His son Silas, my grandmother’s great-great-grandfather, moved between New Brunswick, the US and Ontario, dying likely in Ohio. His children, for the most part, settled in Norfolk and Elgin counties in southwestern Ontario.

John C. Mabee’s great-great-grandfather Bartholomew moved from New York to southern Ohio around 1800 and died in Greenup County in northeastern Kentucky. Bartholomew’s son William Thomas Mabee moved from Ohio to Iowa.

From Bird to Golden Eagle Farm

John C Mabee findagrave.comJohn Couchman Mabee was born August 21, 1921 in Seymour, Iowa. He was the youngest of John Lynford Mabee and Dora Beatrice Couchman’s four children. They owned a farm and John grew up with a mare named Bird. He suffered from pneumonia and bronchitis. So, from childhood, he wanted to live in a climate better suited to his needs.

In 1941 he married Betty Lee Murphy from nearby Putman County in Missouri. Soon after, they moved to Nevada and then to California. In San Diego, John and Betty started a small grocery store called Johnny’s Market. That one store grew into a chain called Big Bear Supermarkets.

They bought three yearlings in 1957 and began racing. In 1972 they bought a property in San Diego County and built a breeding and racing stable they named Golden Eagle Farm.

Best Pal 1988-1998

Best-Pal-with-Gary-Stevens-Del-Mar-findagrave.com-pic-donald-greyfieldBest Pal was maybe their best known horse, a crowd favourite who came in second in the 1991 Kentucky Derby. There’s a race at Del Mar named after him too. The Best Pal Stakes is for 2 year olds at a distance of 6½ furlongs on dirt.

After John died, Betty and son Larry continued operating Golden Eagle Farm. Betty died in 2010 and Larry died two years later. Larry’s son John R. Mabee continued in the racing business. According to posts on Facebook, the Mesa Grande Band of Diegueño Mission Indians bought Golden Eagle Farm in 2019.

For more on the Mabees and their farm, see California Thoroughbred, November 2004 (also Legacies of the Turf and Del Mar below). Also see my Mabee Family Tree.

Today is normally  Belmont Stakes day in New York. But it’s been postponed to June 20th. No fans will be in the stands for what is this year’s first leg of the Triple Crown.

Man o’ War

Man o War winning_Belmont-12-Jun-1920-wikicommonsIn 1920, the most promising 3 year old horse in the United States did not run in the Kentucky Derby. Later in May, that horse – Man o’ War – won the Preakness Stakes. In June, the Belmont Stakes became a match race. All the other horses, except for Donnaconna, dropped out. Man o’ War won by 20 lengths in world record time.

sir-barton-plaque-belmont-twinspires.comBut we’ll never see Man o’ War’s black and yellow silks in the lineup of Triple Crown winners in the Belmont infield. His name is always there, though, in my mind. Right between 1919’s Sir Barton and 1930’s Gallant Fox. The odds were in Man o’ War’s favour had he run. In 1919 he had been named American Champion Two-Year-Old Colt.

Owner Samuel D. Riddle thought that the distance of 1 1/4 mile was too long for a three year old at the beginning of the season. It was too close in time to the Preakness, that year only ten days later. And Kentucky was a long way to travel from his home in New York. So aim for the Preakness, he decided.

Three races, not a crown

Man o War with_trainer_Joseph_Bryan_Martin-8-May-1918-Nursery-Stud-Lexington-wikicommonsAt that time, there was no reason to think you were missing the chance at a historic event. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes were just three dates on the racing calendar. It wasn’t until 1930 when Gallant Fox won all three that they became popularly known as the Triple Crown. Sir Barton, who won the three races in 1919, was posthumously honoured as the first Triple Crown winner in 1950.

Man o’ War ran 10 races as a two year old, with one loss. He ran 11 races in his 3 year old season. He won them all and set world records.

His most spectacular win was in September 1920. He won the Lawrence Realization Stakes at Belmont Park by 100 lengths. That’s a quarter of a mile in a long 1 5/8 mile race. Turf writer B. K. Beckwith said Man o’ War “was like a big red sheet of flame running before a prairie wind.”

The_Race_of_the_Age_1920_Exhibitors-Herald-detail-wikicommonsWhen the 1920 racing season ended, Man o’ War retired to stud. He would be required to carry a tremendous amount of weight If he raced the next year. Under handicapping rules, he had already carried much more weight in both his racing years than any of his competitors. With every win, the weight would increase. Mr. Riddle did not want to do that to him.

“The colt is not for sale”

In 1921, Texas oil- and horseman William Waggoner offered Riddle $500,000 for Man o’ War. That’s over $6.5 million in today’s dollars. Remember, Man o’ War was no longer racing and his record as a sire couldn’t yet be known. When that offer was refused, Mr. Waggoner increased it to $1 million, then offered a blank cheque. The one-sided auction ended when Mr. Riddle said “The colt is not for sale.”

war admiral triple_crown plaque belmont twinspires.comIn his fifteen years at stud, Man o’ War proved to be a great sire. His foals became champions or themselves produced champions. Look at the pedigree of any Thoroughbred. You will likely find Man o’ War. His son War Admiral, also owned by Sam Riddle, won the Triple Crown in 1937. His grandson Seabiscuit defeated War Admiral in the famous match race of 1938.

The late nineteen-teens were a bad time in the USA. A World War, a flu pandemic. Even horse racing was at a low. Many tracks were closed due to anti-gambling legislation. Man o’ War brought horse racing back to life in the US, and then he brought the whole country to life. Gave people something to cheer about. On his own and through his progeny, he was a maker of legends.

“The mostest horse”

He stayed a hero long after his races made news. He died on November 1, 1947. His well-attended funeral at Faraway Farms was broadcast nation-wide on radio. A bronze statue of him was placed on his grave in October 1948. It and his remains were moved to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington in 1977. It still stands there, magnificently by itself, a moving memorial to maybe the greatest racehorse ever.

Man o War KY Horse Park-Dec-2007-photo-d-stewart“The death of Man o’ War marks the end of an era in American Thoroughbred breeding history…. Few will remember him as a foal, or a yearling, or even on the racetrack… But one thing they all remember – that he brought an exaltation into their hearts,” said breeder Ira Dryman in his eulogy to him. It had then been 27 years since Man o’ War had raced.

will harbut man o war findagrave-alex-hudsonHis groom Will Harbut said about him: “He’s got everything a horse ought to have, and he’s got it where a horse ought to have it. He’s the mostest horse.” Mr. Harbut died just one month before Man o’ War. They were together 17 years.

6 things you may not have known about Man o’ War is a great article in Equus.

The 146th Kentucky Derby, which should be today, is delayed for the first time since 1945. They’ll run for the roses September 5, 2020 instead. The Preakness and Belmont Stakes are postponed too, with no dates yet set. You can watch all the Triple Crown winners run the Derby in a computer simulation on NBC 3-6 pm ET on May 2nd.

Jump!

I’ve wondered what real jockeys think about horse racing novels. Especially those where newcomers – human and horse – manage against all the odds to win THE BIG RACE. It’s a frequent, and beloved, theme. National Velvet, The Black Stallion.

cover of Jump! by Jilly Cooper
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Jockeys know too well the years of blood, sweat, tears and broken bones that go into racing. Trainers do too. For the horses, many may be called but an infinitesimal number make it to the top races. So when I read the back cover of Jump! by Jilly Cooper, I was dubious. An older woman finds a horribly injured filly – and the rest is racing history. However, I absolutely love Jilly Cooper’s novels. Especially the Rutshire horsey ones. if anyone can do justice to the horse world with this premise, I thought, she can. And she does.

It takes a village

It takes a village to get a horse to the races. Fortunately our heroines, horse and human, can call on a village full of trainers, riders and wannabe owners. All of them love racing and most love horses. Enough of them have money. Horse_racing_Paul-2009-Bangor-on-Dee-wikicommonsThe wherewithal for preparing a horse – and a Jilly Cooper story – is here. The truly good, the selfish and silly, those evil to the core, and all points between. In this novel, Jilly Cooper keeps a curtain drawn on most of the evil done. Thank heavens! Some descriptions of horse “training” in her earlier books still give me nightmares.

So it works. It’s classic Jilly Cooper and as true to life as any of her tales of the English horsey set life may be. The covers of her books alone tell you what to expect. A fun, racy (in all senses) farce. Many people, horses, dogs, cats – all with huge personalities. A lot of sex, a lot of drinking. Schemes and manipulation. It’s as competitive off the course as on.

cover of Mount! by Jilly Cooper
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You get pulled into this world and you happily live there for as long as you can. You want to keep reading to find out what happens next. But you don’t want to come to the end either. So like many of the characters, you face a difficult choice. It’s just not as difficult as the choices that the characters must too often make. I thought I had read all Jilly Cooper’s novels so was delighted to find Jump! (2010). Looking further, I found another, Mount!, published in 2016. Jump! is about hurdles and steeplechase while Mount! is about flat racing. I can’t wait.

You could start reading the Rutshire Chronicles with Jump! since it’s set much later than the others. And the major characters are new. The main characters of the earlier ones are in Jump! but you can figure out their history.

Real-life Jump!

Amazon link for UnbreakableLooking through Amazon.ca, I found this book. A 41-year old countess and a little mare compete against top Nazi riders in a Czechoslovakian steeplechase just before World War II. It sounds like Jump! and National Velvet put together – but it’s a true story. Unbreakable is about Lata Brandisová and her horse and their 1937 Grand Pardubice. (tap image for link)

Today is Derby Day in Kentucky. Best of luck and safe ride to all the horses and jockeys!

Justify

Justify belmont-time-nbcsportsA big chestnut colt won the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. Five weeks ago, Justify won the Kentucky Derby. Three weeks ago, he won the Preakness. So he won the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred horse racing. It’s the second Triple Crown in three years, also second Triple Crown in forty years.

The jockey of another big chestnut colt was there watching Justify baffert-greets-ron-turcotte-2018 belmont stakes-nbcsportsdo it. Ron Turcotte could see the blue and white pole at the side of the track. It is 31 lengths from the finish line, marking the distance by which he and Secretariat won the 1973 Belmont, and the Triple Crown. No horse ever has matched that margin (76 metres) or Secretariat’s track record time.

Secretariat-pole-2018-Belmont-nbcsports
Frontrunners passing Secretariat pole 2018 Belmont Stakes

But Justify won the extraordinarily long race, at 1 1/2 miles, wire to wire. He was first out of the gate, and he kept his lead. For what felt like a long, long time, all the other horses were keeping up with him, just back a bit. Keeping up but not increasing their speed. Still, I was terrified. Someone was going to go into overdrive somewhere in that last half- or quarter-mile. “Pull him back, Mike, he’s got to save something for the stretch.”

Justify 1st, Gronkowski last to 2nd

gronkowski-last-2018-nbcMike Smith knows more about riding horses than I do. Justify did have something left. He pulled ahead a bit right near the end, finishing 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Gronkowski. That order of finish was a total surprise. Gronkowski was a long shot who wasn’t even near the pack for much of the race. And then he flew past horses to the front, almost. If you’d bet that unlikely combination, you’d have made some real money.2018-belmont-official-results-nbcsports

Justify is the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown in its 99 year history. His name and silks join theirs in the small field at Belmont Park honouring the winners. The silks of red with yellow stars justify 2018-triple-crown-plaque-nbcbelong to the China Horse Club, co-owners of Justify. In the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, he wore the colours of WinStar Farms, the other owners in the partnership.

With luck, we’ll see Justify run again this year. Maybe the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in August and the Breeders’ Cup in November at Churchill Downs. In 2015 American Pharoah won the Breeders’ Cup but finished behind Keen Ice in the Travers.

Justify_2018_Belmont_Stakes-Mike-Lizzi-wikicommonsjpgJustify is the son of Scat Daddy and Stage Magic. He has a lot of Northern Dancer in him, through both parents. 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew is his mother’s great-great-grandsire. A  Man_o_War_winning_Belmont-1920-wikipedia chestnut big redgeneration back from there on his dad’s side, there’s Big Red, Secretariat. Another few generations back and you’ll see the original Big Red, the big chestnut champion Man o’ War.

The Story of Seabiscuit

the story of seabiscuit stable decisions madeThe Story of Seabiscuit was released in 1949, only two years after the great racehorse died. It is the story of his life – sort of. His son Sea Sovereign portrays him.  Shirley Temple co-stars. The former child star was a young woman by then, and The Story of Seabiscuit was the second to last movie she ever made.

Seabiscuit ahead of War Admiral, match race at Pimlico Nov. 1938
Seabiscuit ahead of War Admiral, match race at Pimlico Nov. 1938

The real Seabiscuit is also in the movie. It includes archival footage of two of his races. The Santa Anita Handicap of 1938, a photo finish that Seabiscuit lost to Stagehand. Also the famous 1938 match race that he won against that year’s Triple Crown winner War Admiral. The race footage is the very best reason to watch the movie. Well, aside from also seeing his son Sea Sovereign, it’s the only reason.

Fiddling with the real story of Seabiscuit

While the movie portrays Seabiscuit’s career fairly accurately, it takes a lot of licence with the people around him. Owner Charles Howard and jockey George Woolf are portrayed in the movie. But fictional characters take the place of his trainer, Tom Smith, and regular jockey, Red Pollard.

His trainer in the movie, the man who recognizes his potential, is Shawn O’Hara, played by Barry Fitzgerald. O’Hara arrives in the United States from Ireland accompanied by his niece Margaret, shirley temple and lon mccallisterplayed by Shirley Temple. Seabiscuit’s jockey is called Ted Knowles, played by Lon McCallister. He falls in love with Margaret but there is conflict. It’s quite painful to watch.

Very painful to watch is derogatory stereotyping of African-American and Chinese characters – indeed Irish too. It starts very early in the movie and can put you right off watching any more. Also hard to watch is a discussion between nurse Margaret and jockey Ted about jobs for men and women. So be warned: pretty much every insulting portrayal of anyone is in here.

fictional racing programme
Racing form mixes real and fictional information

But the race footage! When the picture goes from Technicolor to black and white, you’re about to see the real races. Then you see the real tracks with the real horses and the actual crowds. Interwoven with the historical footage are shots of the actors to move the story along. Still, it’s spine-tingling to see the real horses in action. And, of course, to watch Sea Sovereign up close throughout the movie.

This movie makes you ask yourself questions about the nature of headline seabiscuit romps homestorytelling. Why was Seabiscuit’s well-known and real-life rags to riches story fictionalized in some ways and not others? Did some of the real people refuse to allow the movie to use their names? What did movie viewers think of this bastardization of a story many of them knew? It had all happened only a decade earlier.

Sea Sovereign as Seabiscuit in winner's circle Santa Anita 1940
Sea Sovereign as Seabiscuit in winner’s circle Santa Anita 1940

Pegasus World Cup

This Saturday, January 27, is the 2nd annual Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in Florida. The richest horse race in the world, it costs one million dollars to enter. The total purse is $16 million, up from $12 million last year. That’s the million each from the owners of the twelve horses running, plus $4 million from the Stronach Group which owns the track.Gulfstream_Sunshine_Millions_2006-Aht820-wikipedia

It is a Grade 1 race, with a distance of 9 furlongs or 1 1/8 miles. That’s one furlong shorter than the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic. It’s open to 4 year olds and up. So horses from the previous year’s Triple Crown races are eligible. With January 1st being the official birthday of Thoroughbreds, those 3-year-olds have turned four. For many of them, it’s a final kick at the racing can before they take up stud duty.

Arrogate 1st Pegasus winner

arrogate after 2017 pegasus world cup winIn 2017 Arrogate won in a track record time, ridden by Mike Smith (Watch race on NBC). Named American Champion Three-Year-Old Male in 2016, Arrogate won the 2016 Travers Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic. In the Classic, he beat favourite California Chrome, winner of 2014’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness and Horse of the Year in both 2014 and 2016.

Gulfstream_Park_Clubhouse_at_Hallandale_Fla. 1930s postcardGulfstream opened in Hallandale Beach, Florida in 1939. The Florida Derby began there in 1952. The Canadian Turf Handicap started in 1967 in honour of the many Canadians who winter or live in Florida.

One of those “snowbirds” was Sam Russo. His wife was my mother’s best friend from childhood. They lived near the track, and Sam worked in the betting windows during their winters there. It gave him a good excuse to go to the races, he said. He loved Gulfstream, and I loved his stories about it. Sam passed away in January 2017.View_of_first_turn_of_track_with_crowds_in_stands_at_Gulfstream postcard

In this Saturday’s race, 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Gun Runner is entered, along with other top finishers in the Classic. It will air on NBC and TSN at 4:30 ET. It will be streamed live on NBCSports.com and on the NBC Sports app as well.

Hanover Horses

Waco Hanover and Donnie MacAdams photo Barbara LivingstonA Facebook share – Waco Hanover celebrates his 40th birthday in 2017. He’s a Standardbred pacer, living in Vermont.*

From his name, I knew he was of Hanover Shoe Farms. I’ve read Donald P. Evans’ Hanover: The greatest name in harness racing. It tells the story of a Pennsylvania racing and breeding stable that the Hanover Shoe Company owners started at the turn of the 20th century.

About ten years ago, after reading the book, I read online about Ralph Hanover who won the US pacing Triple Crown in 1983. He was the only Canadian-owned horse to do so. I learned that Ralph Ralph Hanover racing photo Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Famehad lived at Grand Royal Farms near Calton in East Elgin County, Ontario. It is a magnificent property, one you know has seen days of glory. It was past those days when I knew it, but it was still a working horse farm. I took riding lessons there.

Ralph Hanover and Grand Royal farm?

The story of Grand Royal was easy to find. It had been a large Standardbred stable in southwestern Ontario. Then it went to Thoroughbred racing. It changed hands several times and its racing days were over.

mare and foal Grand Royal 1980s photo Elgin County Archives
Standardbred mare and foal, Grand Royal Farms, Calton ON, late 1980s

Finding out about Ralph Hanover proved more difficult. I googled and asked anyone I knew in the horse business. He went to Kentucky to stand at stud. Then he’d gone to Prince Edward Island, maybe. Alive? Nobody knew.

Reading about Waco Hanover now, I wonder how closely related he was to Ralph. My go-to horse pedigree site tells me Waco Hanover, born 1977, is the son of Tar Heel and Wanda Hanover. Tar Heel was son of Billy Direct and Leta Long. Wow! Billy Direct was the horse who matched Dan Patch’s record 1:55 mile in 1938.

Tar Heel was Ralph Hanover’s maternal grandsire. Ralph was born in 1980, sired by Meadow Skipper out of Ravina Hanover (by Tar Heel). So Ralph’s mother and Waco are half-siblings, making Waco Ralph’s sort-of uncle.

Ralph Hanover Waco Hanover pedigree by Dorothy Stewart
Ralph and Waco Hanover pedigree chart (click for larger view)

Then I google Ralph. Right at the top are articles about his death in October 2008 at the age of 28. He lived in Dutton, West Elgin, Ontario. In 2008 I lived in St. Thomas, a half hour drive from Dutton.

West Elgin Horse Farms

In July 2008, we went on a tour of West Elgin horse farms. One was a harness racing stable. I talked to the owner, but did not ask about Ralph Hanover. If I had, he likely would have told me that Ralph lived a few concession roads over. Ralph lived on the Mac Lilley farm.

One of the owners of Grand Royal Farms in its harness racing heyday was Doug Lilley. Googling hasn’t given me the connection between Mac and Doug, but the Mac Lilley Farms website says it’s a three-generation operation.

Ralph Hanover and Ron Waples horseracinghalloffame.com/1986/01/01
Ralph Hanover and Ron Waples, Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame 1986 inductees

So the lesson from this? Google, drive around, ask – and keep asking and driving. One good chat at the Western Fair race track probably would have told me where Ralph Hanover was. And keep googling. I might not have found out about Ralph until he died, since that’s what most of the results were about, but at least I’d have known eight years earlier.

Finding Ralph, too late, has made me think about the famous horses meeting their fans at the Hall of Champions in the Kentucky Horse Park (see my Cigar). And Dan Patch’s towns, Oxford, Indiana and Savage, Minnesota, making sure that visitors know they’re entering hallowed horse racing ground (see my Dan Patch).

Ralph Hanover was among the elite of racehorse champions. Dutton deserves to be proud of being his final hometown. And publicize it! I only wish I’d known he was there, so close by.

*Waco Hanover passed away February 9, 2019 at the age of 42. He will be missed by all his friends, but especially Donnie MacAdams. My condolences to Waco’s family, and may he rest in peace.

Dan Patch

Dan Patch was a harness racing horse, a pacer. He was crazy good, they said. 110 years ago, he was the best pacer ever seen. He was a Harness racing Dan Patch Breeder_and_sportsman_mag_1911_wikicommonshuge celebrity in the US, the first multi-million dollar sports superstar.

His story is told in Charles Leerhsen’s 2010 book Crazy Good. You will enjoy it even if you know nothing about harness racing. It’s a story of triumph over adversity, of middle America at the dawn of the automobile age, and of the hucksterism that Americans do so well.

Harness Racing Lineage

Dan Patch was born in Oxford, Indiana in 1896 to Zelica, a mare obscure in Standardbred breeding history. His sire, Joe Patchen, was well known for both his speed and his bad temper.

Crazy Good: The true story of Dan Patch - Amazon link
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At birth, Dan Patch’s prospects seemed zero. His left rear leg was misshapen. His owner Dan Messner was advised to put him down. But he didn’t. For the history of harness racing, and for Dan Patch, that was a very wise decision. Dan Patch learned to walk, then run.

Dan was a natural. He loved to race and he loved audiences. As his star rose, other parties became interested in him. With a new owner, he went to the big time. That’s when the hucksterism started. Not by Dan Patch, who simply continued to run the very best he could, but by Marion W. Savage, his new owner. At Savage’s International Stock Food Company farm near Minneapolis, Dan Patch lived out the rest of his days. When he wasn’t travelling the country in his own rail car.

T-Eaton-Co- photo Dan_Patch_wikicommonsDan Patch never lost a race. Horse owners became unwilling to enter their horses against him. So Savage promoted exhibition races with Dan running only against the clock. Dan set a record in September 1906 at the Minnesota State Fair with a mile in 1:55. That time was not officially recognized because a windshield was used. Dan Patch’s official mile record was 1:55:¼ set in Lexington KY in 1905. His unofficial record was not matched until 1938 when Billy Direct paced a mile in 1:55. It wasn’t beaten until 1960.

Dan Patch Two Step (tap for piano sheet music)

Dan Patch coffee can from ctpost.com
from ctpost.com March 22 2012

Savage was an odd man, very successful at selling himself and products. However much he may or may not have known about horses, he knew a lot about marketing. And market Dan Patch, he did. Dan’s image and name were on livestock feed, tobacco, a railway and everything in between. He even gets a mention in The Music Man (in the song “Ya Got Trouble”).

For horse people, Dan Patch didn’t need a front man. His talent spoke for itself. But Savage’s marketing of Dan and racing made both better known to a public much larger than harness racing fans.

Dan Patch died July 11, 1916. Marion W. Savage died one day later. By that time, harness racing had ceased being a major national sport.Dan-Patch-Line-MN-Bachman-farm workers load train car-wikicommons

If, like me, you’d like to do a pilgrimage to the homes of Dan Patch, check Dan Patch Historical Society in Savage MN for places and events. Also look for “Dan Patch Days” in Oxford IN.

I’ll Have Another

Barbaro-findagrave-17738583-J-Griffith
Barbaro 2003-2007

This was first posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog, May 10, 2012. This Saturday, May 7th, 2016, it’s Derby Day again. It feels different this year – it’s the first anniversary of the beginning of American Pharoah’s successful run for the Triple Crown. It’s also the 10th anniversary of Barbaro’s Kentucky Derby win. Sadly, he was injured in the Preakness and he died Jan. 29th 2007. 

coffee mug from Kentucky Derby MuseumThe 1st Saturday in May, this is the mug I pour my first cup of coffee into.  Last Saturday, the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby, I’ll Have Another came from the middle of the pack and passed the frontrunner. At 15-1 odds and in the 19th position, he wasn’t considered a serious contender.

His jockey, Mario Gutierrez, raced at Hastings Raceway in Vancouver, or as the announcer put it, “the small-time circuit up in Canada.”  It was Gutierrez’ first Derby ride.  The owner of I’ll Have Horses at finish line 2012 Kentucky DerbyAnother, J. Paul Reddam, is originally from Windsor, Ont.  As a university student, he got interested in racing by hanging around Windsor Raceway.  Two racing lives honoured in the winner’s circle of the most prestigious race in North America, both nurtured on Canadian tracks.

Tracks that, at least in Ontario, face closure.  Premier McGuinty’s government decided that the long-standing profit-sharing agreement between tracks and the OLG would not be renewed.  Until now, OLG and the track shared the profits, with OLG getting the lion’s share.  Still, the 10% that the tracks get is crucial to their economic survival.  Slot machines and rooms that house them cost far less to maintain than do barns, tracks and horses.

Another side of tracks: history and tourism

All racetracks, including Churchill Downs, rely on slot machines and other forms of gambling for income.  When we toured Churchill Downs, our guide said the only day of the year on which the track 1907 Postcard of bookies at Woodbine Racetrack Torontoactually makes money from racing is Derby Day.

But the pride, prestige and history of Churchill Downs is in the racetrack and barns.  It is a tourism draw, with tours, gift shops and a museum.  Restaurants, motels and stores in Louisville also benefit from the dollars that come with these tourists who come to Horse Mecca and buy a commemorative mug.  Do non-gamblers make a special trip to tour a casino, other than in Las Vegas?

A racetrack is a huge operation, employing many in track and horse maintenance.  Also the breeders and trainers who spend years refining bloodlines and preparing juveniles for the track.  The stars are the horses and they are expensive to maintain.

Amazon link for Northern Dancer Legend and Legacy
Click for Amazon

Meanwhile in Ontario, racehorses are being sent for slaughter.  If the tracks don’t have the slot machines, they likely will close. There will be nowhere to race horses so breeders are getting out of the business.  That means getting rid of living horses.  It is said that newborn foals are being killed before they stand up – that way insurance will cover their “loss”.  Many of those thoroughbred foals and their mothers and fathers have the blood of the great Canadian Northern Dancer in their veins.

Thoroughbred and harness racing are part of our national history.  If Harness racing at Western Fair track London Ontario ca 1934profit sharing with slot machines keeps tracks alive, that also keeps alive our horses and our presence in the sport of kings.  McGuinty’s tinkering with what worked just fine for long before he became premier is now costing the lives of horses and livelihoods of horse people.

Breeders’ Cup

Saturday was Hallowe’en. A big day. This October 31st was a big day for another reason. The Breeders’ Cup Classic horse race and the chance to see something that’s never happened before. It happened.

breeders' cup classic pharoah-and-victorWire to wire and breaking the track record time, American Pharoah won the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Therefore, he won the grand slam, the four most prestigious Thoroughbred races in North America. He is the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown and the first who had the chance to add a fourth jewel. (Watch it here)

The Breeders’ Cup was started in 1984 by American horse breeders as a showcase for the sport and the bloodstock. Each year, on dirt and turf tracks, the best of the best compete. The Classic is for 3 year old and older horses. It’s a big end to the race meet and the season.

five-length-leadUnlike the Triple Crown races, the Breeders’ Cup moves from track to track each year. This year, for the first time, it was held at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. In light of the history it made, that was especially nice. Keeneland is an old and prestigious track right in the middle of the blue grass and horse farm country.

Breeders cup celebration wave

After the Breeders’ Cup Classic

The day after the Breeders’ Cup, American Pharoah was trailered a few kilometres down the road to his new home, Ashford Stud at Coolmore Farms. It would have been a difficult day for the Zayats, saying goodbye to him.

He’s still their horse but they sold the breeding rights to Coolmore. It’s likely his stud fee will be about $200,000. That will go up or down, depending on what happens when his babies start racing. The fee for the services of Pioneerof the Nile, his dad, jumped way up to $120,000 after American Pharaoh won the Triple Crown. It was evidence of good genes being passed on. So now we wait to see if American Pharoah passes them to his offspring.

classic championI wish American Pharaoh a long and happy life. His name will be a distinguished one in the record books forever. He’ll have a special place in our hearts. A Triple Crown after 37 long years, when it seemed all but impossible. Then the cherry on top – the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But most of all for his heart and personality, for making it look so easy.