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Posts Tagged ‘harness racing’

Much was made of the brilliant 4 year old filly Zenyatta today as she won the Ladies’ Classic at the Breeders Cup, bringing her undefeated streak to 9 career starts.  The ESPN commentators were falling all over themselves, with comments like, “The Patriots couldn’t do it, Big Brown couldn’t do it, but Zenyatta did!”

Aren’t we forgetting someone?

It really irked me to no end that comparisons were made without any mention of what may be one of the greatest trotters of all time, Deweycheatumnhowe, who was undefeated through his first 17 career starts with a 21-1-1 record in a total 23 starts, has won every major trotting race, has won all three legs of the trotting Triple Crown, most recently won the Kentucky Futurity requiring him to race three heats and win two in one day, and is the ONLY undefeated winner of the Hambletonian, which has been in place since 1926.

Is it just me, or does that sound slightly more impressive than 8 wins?  Not to take anything away from Zenyatta – she is certainly very powerful and her late-closing style of running makes for a thrilling race – but I’d like to see credit given where it’s due.  Harness racing has always been the People’s Sport, not the Sport of Kings, but that doesn’t mean the horses are any less an athlete.  So my congratulations to Zenyatta’s owners, and when she has a few more wins under her belt – like, say, a dozen or so – then I’ll put her up on a level with Dewey.  Until then, she’s just a very good horse.

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I am sitting in a wood shack, perhaps 6’x4′ and barely large enough for two people to stand in if they happen to be very good friends, with a portable heater running to chase away the wind that is finding its way between the cracks in the wood. There are three small windows: One out to the parking lot, so I can see anyone approaching and check their racing license, one looking out at the soupy, muddy mess of a racetrack, and one looking into the paddock, which is enclosed on two sides by a high hedge and covered by a massive tent. The tent is ripping in the wind.

Actually, the last few storms have already ripped the tent, which has about 36 florescent light fixtures attached to its ceiling, and the tent is being held together – somewhat optimistically, in my opinion – by tie-downs. There are about 20 horses in the paddock at any given time, along with grooms, trainers, drivers, the state vet, and the farrier. The tent is making me uneasy, and the horses don’t think much of the situation, either. The wind is supposed to pick up as the night goes on. Right now it’s settled at 23 mph, and the horses head straight into it as they come down the homestretch.

It’s also cold, but I can’t complain about that because as I am walking through the grandstand on the way to the coffee stand, one of the monitors is showing a track in Chicago, where they’re racing on packed snow. Coffee in hand, I weave my way through the huddled groups of gamblers, so intent on their tickets they can’t see that I’m walking with a limp. The cold and damp are having a real effect on my knee tonight and it hurts to feel the pressure of the asphalt and concrete under my feet. The track has been scraped to try to dissipate the runoff and slop, leaving a bare, compacted surface that echos the sound of hooves all the way from the backstretch to the grandstand. It’s a hard, hollow, metallic sound and not one you want to hear when your horse is running. No doubt their knees aren’t feeling so hot, either. I wonder if there’s a single working individual, man or beast, on the grounds tonight who actually wants to be here.

The grooms pull the hoods of their raingear tight around their faces as they ready themselves and their horses for the trip across to the backstretch and the work that’s just begun once the race ends. The drivers’ colors are indistinguishable with all the mud, and as they walk off the track, pushing their race bikes to the paddock once the grooms have taken the horses away, they spit mud from their mouths and wipe their faces on their sleeves, revealing skin underneath. I can see my reflection in the glare of the window to the track, my head seemingly floating above the horses as they go by, the wheels of the bikes just a blur.

I reach for my coffee and turn the heater up a notch.

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