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Watching California Chrome Win the Preakness

June 6, 2014 by · Comments Off on Watching California Chrome Win the Preakness 

Last year I was able to attend the Belmont Stakes; this year I was invited to the Preakness. On both occasions, I found myself out of my comfort zone as I mingled with owners and breeders of thoroughbred elite.

 

California Chrome Wins the 139th Preakness

California Chrome Wins the 139th Preakness

The Preakness is held in Baltimore, Maryland, at Pimlico Race Course. The big race runs near the end of the day, pitting top three-year-old racehorses against each other on a mile and three-sixteenths dirt track. The winner receives prize money, a replica of the Woodlawn Vase, and a name in racing history.

 

The story behind the official Woodlawn Vase is fascinating. According to race history it was “Created by Tiffany and Company in 1860 as a trophy for the now defunct Woodlawn Racing Association. The Woodlawn Vase stands 34 inches tall and weighs 29 pounds, 12 ounces and is presented each year to the winning Preakness owner. In 1983, its value was assessed at $1 million, which easily makes it the most valuable trophy in American sports.

 

Woodlawn Vase

Woodlawn Vase

Until 1953, winners were awarded possession of the vase until the following Preakness. That all changed when A. G. Vanderbilt’s Native Dancer won it but his wife did not want to take on the immense responsibility of keeping the solid silver vase safe. Now the winning owner is awarded a $30,000 sterling silver replica while the original is on display at The Baltimore Museum of Art and brought to Pimlico under guard for the annual running of the Preakness.”

 

This year the 139th running of the Preakness on May 17, 2014, was warm and breezy. California Chrome, winner of the Kentucky Derby, was the talk of the crowd. Should he win again, he would be entered in the Belmont and attempt to achieve the elusive Triple Crown title.

 

Preakness Hat

Preakness Hat

I entered the Clubhouse wearing a hat, as most women do. The tables were decorated in yellow and black, the official colors of the race and the state of Maryland. As the afternoon races proceeded, I bet a whopping $5.00 on each race and was actually ahead. We dined on a scrumptious meal featuring Baltimore crab cakes- my favorite. Everyone sipped the official drink, a Black-eyed Susan, in official Preakness glasses. But, honestly everyone was just waiting for the big race.

 

 

The Black-Eyed Susan Drink

The Black-Eyed Susan Drink

 

Seated at my table were breeders of the number 7 horse, Kid Cruz, running in the Stakes. How cool would it be to watch their faces and see their horse win?

 

I placed two exacta bets on what I hoped would be the one-two finishers. My first bet was on Kid Cruz to win and California Chrome to come in second and my second bet was the opposite. If Kid Cruz wasn’t  going to win, I wanted Chrome.

 

Kid Cruz

Kid Cruz

 

The pageantry commenced, Maryland, My Maryland (the state song) was sung, the majestic horses entered the track and paraded around. Then they entered the starting gate, the announcer called, “And, they’re off,” and the race began.

 

Early in the Race

Early in the Race

California Chrome, wearing the nasal strip, got off well–running in second place as he passed my windowed view. He stayed just off the pace as he did in the Kentucky Derby, running in third. He made his move at the three-quarter mile mark, and then pulled away from Social Inclusion down the stretch to win in 1:54.84. Not the fastest race, but the spectators went crazy.

 

California Chrome Heads for a Win

California Chrome Heads for a Win

California Chrome stepped into the winner’s circle and was draped in a blanket of Black-Eyed Susans. Trophies were awarded.

 

I watched as a painter was lifted up to the top of the replica Old Clubhouse copula by a cherry picker crane. He began to paint the weather vane in the colors of the winner’s silks – purple and green. They will remain until the 2015Preaknesswinner is crowned.

 

Painting the weather vane

Painting the weather vane

So, now California Chrome hopes to become the first winner of the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. Race records indicate that 12 other horses have won the first two races since then, but failed to dominate the long course at Belmont. Let’s face it: It is really tough to win the Triple Crown. Winning the Kentucky Derby, coming back in just two weeks and winning the Preakness, and then going 1 1/2 miles three weeks later, a distance few if any horses will ever run again, is no easy feat.

 

California Chrome

California Chrome

But, California Chrome is not a typical million-dollar racehorse. Owners Perry Martin from California, and Steve Coburn of Nevada, named themselves DAP Racing, standing for “Dumb-Ass Partners.” It’s ” a tongue-in-cheek response to those who questioned their wisdom in purchasing the horse’s dam, Love The Chase, an $8,000 mare and mating her with a $2,500 sire.

Can he do it? I hope so. Can’t wait to watch the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes – 4:30pm on Saturday, June 7, 2014.

 

Disclosure: Attendance at this event was made possible by the generosity of a good friend.

 

My first, but the 145th Running of the Belmont Stakes

July 17, 2013 by · Comments Off on My first, but the 145th Running of the Belmont Stakes 

The Finish Line at Belmont

The Finish Line at Belmont

Torrential rain hammered New York on Thursday morning and continued unabated through Friday night. Taxi queues snaked so long the idea of sloshing on foot appealed more than the wait. If only I brought my galoshes. I kept thinking that racetrack conditions on Saturday would be mud-bowl miserable.

Entering Belmont Park

Entering Belmont Park

However, sunshine blessed Saturday morning and the Big Apple awakened with delicious looking dry skies. A limo scooted us out to the Belmont Stakes grounds, not far from LaGuardia Airport. We arrived early to get the lay of the land and watch the event come to life. As we strolled in, we discovered booths of festival food, craft beer in an outdoor bar, tents selling horse racing memorabilia and the paddock area where horses were being saddled.

Belmont Stakes Trophy

Belmont Stakes Trophy

 

 

 

 

My pass permitted me into the Belmont Club where I found impressive sterling silver trophies shining with aged patina. Who would win the title this year and add their name to the prestigious list?  No Triple Crown possibility; Orb captured the Kentucky Derby and Oxbow the Preakness, but both would compete in the race later in the day.

 

In addition, there was a talented field of twelve others and plenty of possibilities to consider like the jockeys such as Rosie Napravnik riding the filly Unlimited Budget. At Belmont, the question of endurance is paramount as the course is the longest race of the three.

As a historical back note: Twenty-six horses have been eligible to win the Triple Crown coming into the Belmont Stakes and eleven have succeeded. In the last three runnings, horses that won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and Charismatic) were denied racing immortality in the Belmont Stakes. Racing has not seen a Triple Crown champion since 1978, when Affirmed swept the three-race series.

 

 

Box Seat at Belmont

Box Seat at Belmont

Back in the clubhouse, gentlemen arrived in coat and tie and women gussied up in fine dresses, many with hats. They helped themselves to a sumptuous buffet and dined over horsey conversations at linen-clothed tables. Tuxedoed waiters scurried to bring champagne, refill drinks and open doors.

Patron boxes sat directly in front of the finish line outside the Club’s glass fronted room. These were the best seats in the house and one was mine for the day!

Races run a half hour apart and the big race was scheduled as number 11. The minutes between pass as bets are placed at a slew of teller windows. White ticket stubs record bets and offer the chance at big payoffs or end up as trash. Up to the moment odds are reflected on the official board. All this frenzied hubbub drew me in; it’s rather addictive.

As a newbie, I attempted to learn how to read the program and race records as well as interpret the complicated lingo used to handicap the horses. While the stats appear to lend an edge, to me, it all seemed like pure chance. I could bet on my favorite number or the color of jockey’s silks with about the same chance. I didn’t follow the rules or wasn’t very lucky because all day long I never picked a winner.

Belmont Paddock-3

Belmont Paddock

Belmont Paddock

Belmont Paddock-5

But, I was captivated by my surroundings and had fun listening to the bugler call everyone to attention. Then, the announcer would report that the horses were entering the track. Best of all, I admired the pageantry of the gorgeous parading thoroughbreds in front of the stands. Before the official Stakes, “New York, New York” blasted through the speakers and many in the stands joined in song.

The escort horses eventually trotted off and the racehorses and jockeys entered the starting gate. “And they’re off,’ shouted the caller. The cheering voices in the grandstands rose as the competitors completed the final turn and the volume accelerated as they neared the finish line. Folks jumped up and down, clapped their hands or pulled their fists through their hair. Many of the races were won by a nose- a photo finish displayed on the jumbotron and frequently followed by jubilation or harsh words.

This time Oxbow finished second, three and a quarter lengths back, and Orb was third. Palace Malice surprised the crowd and completed the mile and a half distance in 2 minutes 30.70 seconds on a track that was upgraded to fast. The winner paid $29.60 on a $2 bet to win. As a comparison, Secretariat’s amazing 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes established the world record for a mile and a half at 2:24.

No doubt about it, horse racing is a thrill. On this day, Belmont was the place to be and this time I was indeed lucky; I was there.

Here’s a short 15 second video of the start of the Race:

Disclosure:  Attendance at this event was made possible by the generosity of a good friend.

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