Above photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire. All others by Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing.
After a few days of doing lots of work that’s not quite so photogenic (i.e. typing away), I was back in action this morning, getting myself psyched for a great weekend of racing by heading to Oklahoma. Before you get confused as to why a trip to the Midwest is in a Saratoga blog, allow me to explain: Oklahoma is the name of the training track that’s located across the street from the main racetrack. Way, way back in the day, trainers would grumble that the training track was located so far away from the racetrack that they might as well be stabled in Oklahoma; and the name stuck.
The Oklahoma Training Track is a fantastic place to go visit, whether you’re a lifelong fan of the sport or new to the game. This year, in honor of the track’s 150th anniversary, a new viewing stand has been installed so that fans can come and watch horses work out in the morning. It’s based off of an old viewing stand that was there years ago and was given by the Whitney family in honor of their long history at the track.
The stand is open to the general public, and it gives a tremendously good view of the action during training hours.
Not only can you see the horses going through their paces, you can spot some of horse racing’s celebrities. Here’s top trainer Nick Zito giving instructions to an exercise rider.
After taking in the beauty of the morning from the viewing stand, I headed down to the gap – the area where horses come on and off of the track, to see the action up close. As I made my way there, I ran into a friend of mine: Bruno DeJulio, who is a clocker. That means that he has to identify, out of the thousands of horses on the track, which ones are “working” (meaning training at top speed) and record those individual times in sixteenth of a mile increments. Pretty intense, right? But it’s a really important job, because it helps bettors understand how the horse is training leading up to a race. Bruno also has a pretty cool perch in the mornings: he’s set up in the back of his truck like a boss.
After chatting with Bruno for a bit, I wandered over to the rail to watch some horses. There really is nothing like this experience: there’s a controlled chaos to the scene, but it’s also strangely serene. The horses are clearly at home here and thrive in the country setting.
While I was there, I also caught a glimpse of another racing celebrity – the four-footed kind. I spied Eblouissante heading onto the track, and I got very excited. For those of you who don’t know her, Eblouissante is a half-sister to the legendary Zenyatta; and it was really, really cool to see her in person. She looked fantastic: big, strong, and focused. I was a huge fan of Zenyatta, so seeing her half-sister in person was very cool indeed!
I also noticed this pair in the infield. It took me a while to figure out what they were up to, since at first it looked like they were just galloping randomly in small circles all over the grass; but then I figured out that there were a ton of Canada geese all over the turf course and training hours for grass runners were about to begin. Dude, I want this job! I’ll get business cards printed up: Penelope Miller, Mounted Goose Harasser. It will be awesome.
Geese aside, Oklahoma is a really tranquil place. This horse, coupled with this sign, sum up the atmosphere at Oklahoma: it really is a haven for horses and the people that love them, and I hope you have a chance to see it soon.
After heading home to grab a shower and get some work done, I hustled to the racetrack to catch the first race. It’s a steeplechase, a race with jumps in it. It’s a pretty rare thing to see at major race meets these days, so it’s extra exciting for me to be able to see one in person.
I went to the paddock beforehand to watch the horses get their saddles put on, and got a photo of this guy getting ready to run. Love the expression on his face!
Here are the horses before the race getting warmed up. Part of that process for steeplechases is letting the horses have a look at the fences so that they know what to expect during the race.
Then they were off! Steeplechases are pretty long – this one, the Mrs. Ogden Phipps Stakes, was two miles - so it was very cool to see these amazing horses and jockeys jump so high while maintaining racing speeds for that distance.
After the race was over, I had to hustle up to the Press Box to get some work done, and this afternoon I will be heading to a baby shower. Saratoga: it’s definitely always exciting!
Thank you so much for stopping by, and I’ll be back tomorrow with more diaries to share.