Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bite of Bobby

I have yet to weigh in on the recent passing of racing legend Bobby Frankel, but, like many others, I do have a story. I encountered Bobby just once in my racing adventures (it would be a stretch to say I met him). This was in August 2004, while I was at Saratoga for the Travers. At 16, I was fairly new to the racing scene, but I knew who Bobby was. I knew Medaglia D'oro, Empire Maker, Sightseek, Tates Creek and Heat Haze, among many others. And I knew he trained one of my favourite older runners, Peace Rules. I did not know about Bobby's often crusty facade, nor did I understand the privacy with which some trainers like to blanket their barns. I came across Bobby's barn while exploring the Saratoga backside, and was delighted to see the legendary trainer standing outside. Bouncing up to him, I announced to Bobby that I would like to meet Peace Rules. He stared down at me blankly for a moment, a look of surprise on his face as he assessed the gangly adolescent frame staring up at him. Finally muttering "okay", he led me over to the stall and walked away. Those were the only words and few moments of contact I ever had with Bobby, but as I've grown and learned more about racing and Bobby's legendary character, I would often think back on that morning and laugh. Bobby was well known for his gruff character, but the consent he made that day for a young girl who loved a horse showed how much Bobby really cared.

Secret Shame

Much has been written about the renaming of the Lady's Secret (gr. I) the Zenyatta, effective for the 2010 renewal of the race. Many racing fans are dismayed by the total disregard being given to Lady's Secret, myself amongst them. Aside from the general arguments that this change is being made too quickly, and what will happen in 10 years when another super mare comes along (both valid), here is my take on the situation as a young racing fan:

Lady's Secret etched her place in history two years before I was born. I did not know her as a racehorse, but I have learned about her legacy, much of which has been carried on in this race named in her honour. While I did not watch Lady's Secret race herself, I have watched numerous renewals of the Lady's Secret Stakes, and recognize it to be a prestigious event; any horse who has won or showed up well in this event is one to watch. On the flipside, I followed Zenyatta throughout her 14-race demolition, and need not hear more than her name to appreciate the wonderful champion she is, and the accomplishments she has made. The Zenyatta Stakes, however, is meaningless to me, and I am more likely to scan over it unintentionally on a racing form rather than give it the respect it deserves.

Secondly, it is not a secret (no pun intended) that the sport of horse racing is craving new fans. Watching its fan base age, the sport's leaders are tirelessly pondering ways to bring in younger followers. It is not easy, but, in this respect, it's also not rocket science: if we don't respect our legends of the past, how can we expect new fans to respect them, and understand what this sport is all about? If we don't respect our own legends, the heart, soul and foundation of this sport, business and industry, how can we expect fans to respect us?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A little graphic design skill. Just a little.

Here is the magazine layout I created for my story on horse slaughter. Please note this is a shortened version of the story, necessary to fit the layout. Click on images to enlarge.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Turf Beat, Live!

Here is the magazine cover and content page for the presently-fictitious Turf Beat, a Canadian Thoroughbred racing news magazine. These were done as assignments for my fourth year advanced magazine journalism class:

The Best of Years

In my four plus years working for Gus’s operation, this year was by far the best on the racing end. Gus’s horses racked up 13 wins, 2 stakes wins, 2 two-year-old winners, and three repeat winners (Woodsmoke, First Circle and Cheers Mate). There were many other strong efforts, giving preview to a promising 2010 season.

Tomorrow morning, the racehorses will pack up and van to Aiken for the winter. Four have shipped to Maryland, and one is already a winner there.

With this racing season wrapped up and packed away, here are some of my favourite moments from this year:

· Woodsmoke breaking her maiden in her first start, with Politelyprecocious third in the same race. Woodsmoke would go on to win the Fury and Alywow stakes in exciting front running fashion.

· Politely breaking her maiden on Kentucky Derby day, then watching Mine That Bird from the bar while celebrating the win.

· After finishing valiant seconds in two stakes (one by a wisker), First Circle closed out the year with a decisive allowance win.

· Silent Wisper becoming our first Wando winner.

· Mobil Unit following up his maiden victory with two impressive stakes showings.

· Artic Fern finishing a promising second in his first and only start of the year.

Okay, so what didn’t I list? Each horse and each race is special in some way, and each win is one we will never forget, whether it was a $50,000 claiming race or a $500,000 stake.

This fall, I had the good fortune of working for Mike a few days a week. This was a very new experience for me, coming from the farm, but one of the greatest experiences I have had. Working with the athletes in the barn was thrilling, and a wonderful sanctuary from the stresses of school. I met a lot of amazing people here; I can honestly say there wasn’t one person in the barn that I didn’t have an interesting conversation with, and I gained a great appreciation and respect for each one of these people. To spend time with so many people who love horses was truly a gift, and it is something I will remember fondly and cherish for a long time. The only thing left to do is to say thank you to each and every one of those people. Have a great winter, and see you next year.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A "Wandoful" Weekend!

While I have been pulling at the bit to head to Kentucky ever since I was accepted as an intern at The Blood-Horse in August, a recent two-day visit only increased my adrenaline. On perhaps the warmest November weekend of my 21 years, I was lucky enough to attend two days of the Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale and drop into Lane's End, where I will be taking up residence for my ten week internship. The highlights of the trip included by and far seeing Wando, who looked as spectacular as ever (or perhaps more), meeting Curlin for the first time, meeting Mr. Bill Farish and Mike Cline for discussion on my stay at Lane's End, and spending hours on end looking at horses at Keeneland, a great way to tweak my eye for conformation.

Below is a photo of Wando. For more photos from Lane's End (including Curlin, Langfuhr, Candy Ride, and Rock Hard Ten) check out the new Turf Beat Picasa Album.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Horse Slaughter: Complications and Intricacies

I've just finished the following article for my fourth-year advanced magazine journalism class. The goal of the article was to examine both sides of the highly-controversial horse slaughter argument, and to compare and contrast these arguments and present them to readers in an objective manner so they may make their own decision as to which side they fall on. It is important to note that this article only brushes the surface of either side of the argument; I could have gone for 8000 words 0r more, but there is a limit. More information can be found on both anti and pro-slaughter arguments by simply Googling these terms.

I hope you enjoy.

People across the world are drawn to the grace and beauty of the horse. The exquisite features, shattering strength and breathtaking athleticism of this animal has made it a model of magnificence for leisure, work and sport for thousands of years.

Much of the evolution of human civilization has revolved around the horse. Right through to the mid 1800s, people used horses for the farming that put food on tables, for transportation of people and products, and for the leisure and sport that filled their downtime. Kings and rulers built their empires on horseback, and horses even went to war. In other words, there was little a horse could not do, and much that couldn’t be done without it.

Today, this is not the case. With the evolution of technology and machinery, the need for horses apart from recreational purposes has largely disappeared. Many people still use horses for sporting, leisure, and companionship, but few aside from the small community of people who breed and own these horses think about what happens to them when they are no longer useful to their owners. Those who do think about it often imagine them living out a happy retirement, grazing amongst a happy herd on lush farmland. Few would imagine that these elegant animals could be impaled, hung, and dragged down the processing line of a horse slaughterhouse.

But this is the reality for thousands of North American horses each year. While some horses change owners numerous times and unintentionally end up in the hands of a ‘kill buyer’, others are purposely sold for slaughter.

This state of affairs has inspired people like former IT professor and anti-horse slaughter advocate Alex Brown to lobby for an end to the killing of these animals.

For Brown, there are more than 3000 reasons to shut the slaughter industry down. That is the number of horses, and counting, that have been saved from the slaughter pipeline by Brown and his followers from the lobby group Alex Brown Racing since 2006.

A man of small stature, Brown doesn’t appear to be the type to move mountains. Thick layers of clothing shield him from the late October chill, his winter-weathered skin fading into the multicultural backdrop of backstretch workers at Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack. Upon first impression, 45-year-old Brown is like most other stable employees. He braves the early mornings and progressively more bitter weather to make a living working with horses. A second glance, however, will reveal that the English-born exercise rider has a determined focus, and, where principle is concerned, would be more likely to ascend the Appalachians than to rest on his laurels.

“We (Alex Brown Racing) do a lot of work on the horse slaughter issue, lobbying (and) trying to effect change,” Brown said. “We’re also working within the horse slaughter pipeline, pulling horses out and rescuing them. We’ve raised more than a million dollars, and rescued probably 3100 horses.”

Brown became immersed in the horse slaughter issue following the death of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Bringing an undefeated record to the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of America’s Triple Crown, Barbaro never made it to the finish line: he shattered his right hind leg shortly after leaving the starting gate, and was taken by horse ambulance to the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania to undergo rigorous and dangerous surgery. This started a national rally behind Barbaro, in which Brown played a key role.

Prior to Barbaro’s Triple Crown campaign, Brown had been little more than a small blip on the popular colt’s radar, an underachieving blogger with an interest in horses and social media. But when he began blogging about Barbaro after his Kentucky Derby win, Brown’s popularity grew rapidly. Then, following Barbaro’s injury, readership of his blog skyrocketed as fans swarmed to his web page for information.

Over the next eight months, Brown would continue to provide comprehensive coverage of Barbaro’s recovery. When the celebrated Thoroughbred ultimately succumbed to complications from his injuries in January 2007, his owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, identified the anti-horse slaughter cause as an important issue to them. They suggested fans could take up this cause to channel their grief for Barbaro.

As a result, Brown began researching horse slaughter and gathering others to join the cause through his website, Today Brown travels North America, working at different racetracks and managing his website. He has been in Canada for the past two years, working for leading trainer Steve Asmussen and raising awareness for horse slaughter.

Anti-slaughter advocates, mostly grassroots groups, are armed with many reasons why this practice should be banned, most of which revolve around the inhumanity of the executioners and the injustice to the horse. The reality, however, is that horse slaughter is a highly controversial and widely contested issue.

The other side of the argument, armed with strong reasons of its own, is the pro-slaughter community. It is largely comprised of government officials and livestock groups. These people fight for equality across the livestock sector, for property rights, and, for what they interpret as the welfare of unwanted and abused horses, contrary to the anti-slaughter side.

“We make our business with livestock, and we have a level-headed way of looking at animals and how we use them,” said Sue Wallis, a rancher and State of Wyoming Legislature Representative who is against the proposed horse slaughter ban. “We understand that horses were domesticated to be very multiple purpose animals and always have been, in the vast majority of the world, considered an ordinary food animal.”

Both pro and anti slaughter proponents bring a plethora of arguments and tactics to the table, and both are able to appeal to certain audiences as to why their side is right.

In 2007 the last remaining American slaughterhouses, two in Texas and one in Illinois, were closed by state legislation. This has encouraged anti-slaughter groups to shift their efforts to the federal level, in hopes of permanently banning slaughter across the U.S.. In the meantime, pro-slaughter groups have been working to ensure these bills do not pass. They are driven by a fear of growth in the numbers of unwanted horses, which they believe will lead to worse abuse and neglect.

“Without (slaughter), the only low-end horses that have any value at all are those big and healthy enough to be worth trucking to Canada or Mexico,” Wallis said. “So that leaves all those old horses, horses that people can’t afford any longer, (and) horses that are crippled or damaged, with nowhere to go.”

The website, a website documents cases of horse abandonment and neglect in America. The motivation for this site is the belief that if slaughter is banned, abuse will soar, as owners who can no longer dispose of their horses economically also find themselves unable to care for them. The website’s homepage claims that, without slaughter, America will be faced with one million unwanted horses in ten years’ time. This calculation is based on the fact that more than 100,000 horses have gone to slaughter annually in recent years. Wallis says that cases of abuse and neglect have been “horrifically magnified” since the closing of U.S. slaughter houses. “There’s been just an absolute explosion all across the country of abandoned and neglected and starving horses,” she explains. “Out here in the West, they just take them out and dump them in the desert. Back East, they turn them out in state parks, (or) they turn them out on roads and people run into them with their cars.”

Alex Brown, however, argues that the number of horses slaughtered each year far outnumber those that are abused and abandoned. In addition, Brown has seen firsthand that the unwanted horses turned out on the highway are often horses that slaughterhouses would reject anyway. In other words, they have no cash value. They are not sought after by ‘kill buyers’, people paid by slaughter houses to find horses worth slaughtering.

“I go to kill auctions, and the kill buyers want the young healthy horses, and they pay a premium for them,” Brown said. “The kill buyer has a contract with the slaughter house to buy a certain number of horses. They get more money for better looking, healthier horses.” Brown believes that the fact that these unwanted horses that Wallis describes are often not those picked up by kill buyers gives the lie to the pro-slaughter argument that these animals would be ‘saved’ by humane execution .

This view is shared by Simone Netherlands, a natural horse trainer in Arizona.

“I go to all these auctions, and it’s really tough,” Netherlands said. “You have the killer buyers and the horse rescues bidding against each other. That in itself tells you if they [the kill buyers] weren’t there these horses could have gone to good homes.” Netherlands stresses that it is not only rescue facilities that kill buyers are bidding against, but also people looking to buy horses for recreational animals and companions.

Netherlands, who fights horse slaughter under the name Respect 4 Horses (, suggests that rather than providing a disposal for unwanted horses, the option of slaughter encourages overbreeding and in itself creates the problem of unwanted horses. Where Wallis believes that ending slaughter would create a plethora of abandoned horses, Netherlands insists that banning slaughter would force breeders to upgrade their operations, breeding only the finest animals out of fear they would be stuck with the lifelong care and feeding of inferior ones.

A controversial aspect of the horse slaughter dispute is the fact that horses are legally classified as livestock. The purpose is to allow owners to receive tax incentives to breed them. But this has the unintended effect of grouping horses with stock that is slaughtered for food, such as cows, pigs and chickens. That suits pro-slaughter advocates, who believe any animal raised for profit is ‘livestock’ and should fall under the same blanket term. But anti-slaughter groups see horses as an exception.

“The reality is, horses are different from other livestock,” Brown said. “We train them, they trust us, we give them names, and they compete for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It doesn’t matter if they’re tax classified or not. They just [aren’t] livestock.”

Laws classifying horses as livestock also mean that they are, legally, ‘property’. This definition is used with effect by the pro-slaughter side, who argue that horse owners should be allowed to do as they wish with their property.

“Here’s the bottom line: it [banning horse slaughter] is really an imposition on our private property right,” Wallis said. “Telling me that I cannot market my unusable horse for food is denying me the ability to get the residual value in my asset. That’s the same as telling a rental car owner that they can’t market their used cars after so many miles.”

Brown rejects this logic. “The property rights argument is no good. I have restrictions on what I can do with my house, because of (my) Homeowners Association. Just because you own it doesn’t mean you can kill it.”

Brown is, technically, correct that society imposes many limits on property rights. But it’s an abstract argument. Far more potent for the anti-slaughter lobby are the arguments which arise from the manner in which horse killing is done. Groups such as Alex Brown Racing and Netherlands’ Respect 4 Horses argue that the slaughter process is cruel. Netherlands also argues there is no humane way to slaughter a horse.

“The horse slaughter practice is just so atrocious because these people don’t know how to deal with horses,” Netherlands said. “Many horses get beaten in the face because they think it’s easier if they can’t see anymore. They figure this horse is going to die anyway, so what does it matter?”

Brown describes the slaughter process on his website. The main concern is that slaughter is designed for cows, which are much smaller and less flighty than horses. This makes it difficult to ensure the horses are unconscious before they are slaughtered. Many times the captive bolt gun (the most commonly used method in North American slaughterhouses) doesn’t effectively penetrate the horse’s skull, leaving him conscious for portions of the slaughter process. Brown notes that while veterinarian groups such as the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and the American Veterinary Medial Association (AVMA) have deemed the slaughter process humane, these particular professional groups are pro-slaughter. They do not speak for the many veterinarians who are outspoken in their belief that horse slaughter is inhumane.

Wallis, on the pro-slaughter side, argues that horse slaughter is humane precisely because it is legal, and therefore subject to government oversight. She notes that all livestock are treated the same, and approval by the AAEP and AVMA are indications of safe slaughter practice.

“The slaughter process for horses is exactly the same as it is for all other classes of livestock, and the only methods of killing that can be used are those that are approved by the vets who are experts in that particular species,” Wallis said. She argues that the captive bolt is effective, and that this is apparent in the quality of the resulting meat.

“The captive bolt creates instant insensibility. That’s important not only for veterinary reasons, but for meat quality reasons. If they are wounded or in pain for any length of time before they are insensible, it greatly affects the meat quality because there’s all that adrenaline coursing through the body.”

Whichever side of the slaughter argument one falls on, it is inevitable that the abolishment of horse slaughter would precipitate a major downward market correction in the value of these animals. Wallis argues that this market correction will force owners to turn their horses loose, leading to their death. Meanwhile Brown, while agreeing that there would indeed be a collapse in the value of bottom-end horses, insists that this very collapse would compel breeders to curb the “reckless breeding habits that horse slaughter enables.”

As the fight against horse slaughter marches on, both sides continue to gain momentum. While the pro-slaughter side is generally comprised of individuals and organizations with similar agendas, the anti-slaughter side continues to be challenged by contradictory lobbyists with highly varied agendas. Alex Brown Racing, for example, proposes an end to slaughter, but also supports the sport of horse racing. More extreme organizations, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), propose not only an end to slaughter but also abolishment of horse racing as a sport. In fact, PETA wants to eliminate the entire agricultural sector.

For Brown, this fragmentation in the anti-slaughter lobby has a sad and unfortunate effect. It drives horsemen, many of whom sympathize with the Brown lobby but don’t wish to be associated with PETA and groups like it, over to the pro-slaughter side.

“My focus is to get horsemen behind it,” Brown said. “The way things are structured right now, horsemen are much more apt to believe the pro-slaughter side. The pro slaughter people will say ‘there are all these unwanted horses, we need slaughter. It’s kind of sad but we need it.’ And the horsemen hear that and think ‘it’s probably better that they’re slaughtered than they’re all sick and starving and turned loose. And of course, slaughter is humane. You tell us it’s humane so it must be.’”

Nonetheless, the anti-slaughter movement appears to be gaining momentum, especially through use of the Internet. Social networking tools like Facebook allow people against slaughter to connect and communicate easily, and YouTube lets people broadcast their findings and opinions to the world.

“I do believe with the internet, we might actually be able to end horse slaughter,” Brown asserts.

Like many worldwide phenomena, the Internet can be a blessing and a curse. Wallis sees it as a chink in the armour of the pro-slaughter movement because it attracts the less-informed public.

“There is a great deal of misinformation and manipulated images being spread around. Particularly on the Internet, you will see loads of very graphic horrific stuff that is taken out of context and in some cases may even be completely fabricated,” she said, specifically referencing graphic slaughter videos on YouTube.

Despite the controversial and sometimes discouraging fight, Brown remains steadfast in his anti-slaughter position.

“I know we’re right, and at some point we’re going to get it done,” Brown said. Many will argue that as one horse is saved from the slaughter pipeline, another simply takes his place, allowing the cycle to continue without a moment’s hesitation. Brown acknowledges that this is likely the truth. But it does not deter him from seeing the justice in his work.

“The way I look at this is like the starfish parable: a guy walks up and down the beach all day, finds a starfish on the beach, chucks it back into the sea, sees another starfish on the beach, chucks it back into the sea. Someone comes up to him and says, ‘Why are you spending all your time doing that? You’re not going to stop starfish getting stranded on the beach and dying’. He’s like, ‘Yeah, but for that starfish I chucked back into the sea, it meant the world to him’. That’s the way I justify it. And for that horse, those 3100, it’s pretty cool.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Stone Rocks!

Gainesway farm announced yesterday that the stud fee for leading sire Birdstone will be increased to $30,000 for the 2010 breeding season. Birdstone has stood for $10,000 since he entered stud duty in 2005. During the current economic conditions, a $20,000 rise deserves a standing ovation. Millionaires Mine That Bird and Summer Bird, winners of two-third of this year's Triple Crown, have been instrumental in elevating Birdstone to second place on the second crop sires list, behind only young super-sire Medaglia D'Oro, who will command a $100,000 fee in 2010.

Birdstone owner Marylou Whitney should be applauded for her modesty in marketing Birdstone. Upon setting his $10,000 fee immediately following a year in which Birdstone reeled off two grade I wins, including victory over Smarty Jones in the Belmont, Ms. Whitney explained that she wanted to make Birdstone accessible to all types of breeders. Don't we wish more people like Ms. Whitney owned stallions.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Photo Op!

Here are a few more lingering photos from Breeders' Cup weekend. To see the full album, become my friend on Facebook!

Goldikova returns after her Mile win.

Handsome Zensational, beaten favourite in the Sprint.

2006 Turf winner Red Rocks and Juvenile contender Radiohead on track Saturday morning.

Brilliant Einstein!

Canada's favourite girl, Grade I winner Careless Jewel.

One of Woodbine's former children, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Moments of Zen

A visit with Zenyatta on Breeders' Cup Friday, the morning before the Classic. With female repeat winners Zenyatta and Goldikova both running Saturday, I guess Friday wasn't Ladies' Day after all. For more on Zenyatta, see "The Sport of Queens" below.

That's My Bird

Special thanks to Steve Haskin for introducing me to Summer Bird the morning before the Classic. We saw him leave the track, and cooling out after at his barn. Also pictured here is owner, Dr. Jayaraman, who fed Summer Bird an entire bag of carrots. Summer Bird finished fourth in the Classic, an impressive result considering his apparent dislike for the Pro-Ride surface. Papa Birdstone would be proud!

The Sport of Queens

Browse the web, read the headlines, watch the races. Horse racing the world over has carried one dominant theme in 2009: fillies and mares beating the boys in important races. In a sport described as male dominated, the fillies are quickly proving it’s a girl’s world, too.

It started with the iconic superstar Rachel Alexandra. An annihilating victory as the overwhelming favourite in the Kentucky Oaks transitioned to male domination in the Preakness, Haskell Invitational and Woodward Stakes. A few weeks after Rachel’s Woodward win, it was the turf sprint master Ventura who shipped to Canada to overtake the boys in the Woodbine Mile, an important Breeders’ Cup prep race.

On Breeders’ Cup Saturday, however, all of this became a sidebar to Zenyatta’s overpowering win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Going into this event, the towering bay Street Cry mare had everything to lose: the race, a perfect 13 for 13 record, and her claim for Horse of the Year.

The most refreshing aspect of this scenario is that Zenyatta could have opted for the Ladies Classic, an event she won last year, and still kept all of the above intact. But instead, owners Jerry and Ann Moss and trainer John Shirreffs decided to test their faith in their champion mare. They experienced the fruition of this decision a thousand times over.

The spectacle put on by Zenyatta both during and after the race was unlike anything I have seen thus far in this wonderful sport. Her entrance into the paddock made classic winning colts and multiple grade I winners look like green broke maidens, and from that point forward she captured the hearts and imaginations of all 37,000 plus present, and thousands more watching on television across the world.

The Zenyatta showcase continued into the post parade. While the rest of the field jogged off around the turn for their warmup, Zenyatta paraded in front of the grandstand, showing off her traditional strut, turning her head to the crowd and throwing out her right foreleg in response to the cheers.

What looked to be a fairytale in the making threatened to come to an end just moments before the race. The controversial starting gate incident involving Quality Road has been well publicized, but it must be noted that the Santa Anita assistant starter is as heroic as Zenyatta herself. In being able to catch the reins and bring Quality Road under control, this man prevented sure disaster; one can only imagine the tragedy that could have materialized had this colt gotten loose while panicked and blindfolded.

Quality Road aside, Zenyatta’s race was much the same as her 13 other wins, but altogether entirely different. Making her trademark sweeping move at the quarter pole, the Amazon mare used the length of the stretch to annihilate her opponents, a style exhilaratingly familiar to her fans. But this race was like none other. None other of Zenyatta’s, none other this year, and none other in history. On this day, Zenyatta waived all criticisms of her previous wins against “inferior” opponents. She provided the crowning moment of a year for females. She marked her spot in history as a dual Breeders’ Cup winner, became the first female winner of the Classic, and with this win soared past Horse of the Year Azeri to become North American racing’s all-time leading money earner. For those watching on scene and across the world, Zenyatta gave us all a reason to believe. To believe in hope and overcoming adversity. To believe that mountains can be moved. To believe that miracles can happen. To believe in the people and things you love, because standing strong can provide the greatest of dividends.

Other Breeders’ Cup Quips

Lost in the shuffle of Zenyatta is Goldikova, repeat winner of the Mile. The French-based mare beat the males in this event for the second straight year, joining the great Miesque as female repeat Mile winners. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) Miesque was ridden by Goldikova’s trainer, Freddy Head.

I think it is easier in hindsight to appreciate that we saw three repeat Breeders’ Cup winners in a row: Goldikova (Mile), Conduit (Turf) and Zenyatta (Ladies Classic/Classic). This is a rare feat accomplished by precious few horses, and the victories by these horses were a testament to the quality of this year’s event.

I have many special memories from this year’s Breeders’ Cup; far too many to list here. From the fan standpoint this year’s event was a success, and the countdown is officially on to Churchill Downs in 2010.

Below: Zenyatta enters the paddock for the Classic, showcasing her trademark "strut".

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

You're Always in My Heart, Always on My Mind

I realize that a lot of people may not have seen the obituary I wrote for my friend Ruth Young about a year ago. Ruth died on October 24, 2008, a year ago Breeders' Cup weekend. Ruth gave me my first job working with Thoroughbreds, was a constant friend and resource, and most importantly, she believed in me as much as anyone I know. She was thrilled by my stories published in The Game, and I hope that she was able to see my first story in The Blood-Horse a few weeks before she left us. I'm still in awe over my dream internship placement at The Blood-Horse and living arrangements at Lane's End Farm, and I know that Ruth had something to do with this. She loved to talk more than anyone else I know, and I'm sure she subconsciously yakked off the necessary ears until the deeds were done.

I wanted to post this before I left for California to mark the anniversary, but ran short on time. Here it is now.

Ruth Anne Young

February 8, 1969-October 24, 2008

On October 24, horse racing in Ontario suffered a great loss. Ruth Young, a lifelong horse enthusiast and supporter of horse racing, lost her battle with liver disease at age 39.

Being an eternal optimist, Ruth would want to be remembered for the wonderful things she accomplished in her life. Ruth harboured a boundless belief that things work out the way they should. This belief took her to many places to do great things. Ruth overcame many challenges, including a liver transplant at age 18 and a lymphoma diagnosis three months later.

In 1989 Ruth graduated first in her class from Humber College with honours in Equine Studies and Level One Coaching. That fall Ruth traveled to Singapore to compete at the World Transplant Games, finishing fourth in swimming. She returned to the event two years later in Hungary where she won a silver in track and two bronze medals in swimming.

Ruth had a great interest in and outstanding knowledge of horse conformation and nutrition. After working for a year with Dr. Darryl Bonder, Ruth studied animal sciences part time at the University of Guelph for three years.

Ruth’s love of horses knew no boundaries. After being told she should not be around animals during her illness, Ruth would return home and head straight to the stables. When Ruth broke her wrist in a riding fall, doctors were quick to guess the cause of the injury. Their exasperation with Ruth caused them to further explore the affects of animals on their patients. Their search came up empty, and the restrictions were dropped.

After working at various farms coaching and riding, Ruth started Castleview Farm near Ancaster, Ontario in 1999. A breaking, training and layup facility for thoroughbreds, Castleview was the starting point for many winners, including 2003 Canadian Champion two-year-old filly My Vintage Port. Castleview was also where my special friendship with Ruth began.

As a 15-year-old racing enthusiast, I would do anything the creative mind could conjure just to be around Thoroughbreds. So naturally, when I learned racehorses were being trained at a farm a mere 10 minutes from my home, it was all I talked about until my parents dropped me off at Ruth’s doorstep on October 25, 2003.

In my two years working at Castleview and the time following, I grew to appreciate the special type of person Ruth was. She treated her staff like family. In taking me under her wing Ruth gave me my first job with racehorses; the start to my career with thoroughbreds. For that I know she was always an angel.

When I remember Ruth there are two qualities that stand out: her beautiful smile and her compassionate character. Ruth could talk for hours. She never failed to share stories, advice or simple words of encouragement. In the words of her companion Jimmy McLaren, Ruth “always had that smile on her face.”

Perhaps the only thing Ruth loved more than horses was her daughter Ainsley. Three years old when I began working at Castleview, Ainsley was the epitome of a horse lover in training: bold, determined and impossible to keep clean. I have no doubt that Ainsley will embody and carry on all the wonderful qualities that define her mother.

Ruth strongly believed Jesus Christ helped her overcome adversity, and she encouraged faith in those around her. She wanted everyone to be aware of organ donation, the importance of signing a donor card and informing family of one’s wishes. After living for almost 21 years with the gift of another’s donation, Ruth herself is now an organ donor.

Ruth was so fittingly described at her funeral with the following words inspired by William Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one (woman) in (her) time plays many parts. To her colleagues and business associates, Ruth was a devoted and hard working rider, coach, trainer, business owner and mentor. To her family, a loving daughter, mother, sister, niece and companion. To every life she touched, a friend. To Ruth I say thank you. Thank you for making me your colleague, family member and friend. Thanks for the start. I will miss you, my friend.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bird Watching

The following is a link to the Live Cam on Mine That Bird at Santa Anita Park:

I discovered this yesterday, and I'm absolutely fascinated by it. Even just watching the Bird eat or hang his head over the door is so amusing. This is the type of thing the sport needs to do way more often: racetrack backstretches (and racetracks in general, really) are very closed off from the public. For obvious safety reasons, horse racing cannot allow all the inside access that other sports can. But this gives fans access right into the stalls, and they can monitor the athletes 24/7. Also, and perhaps more importantly, it adds credibility. If this view of the horse is being streamed to the world 24/7, it dispels the notion that anything dishonest could be being done with the horse.

Huge kudos to the connections of Mine That Bird for sharing this with us.