Orb, Ruffian and the Triple Crown

I didn’t bet on Orb, this year’s Kentucky Derby winner, but I should have.

I should have noticed Orb was wearing the colors of one – if not the – greatest fillies of all time: Ruffian. 

Then, there would have been no doubt where to lay the measly dollar I put down in an informal pool bet.

Since Orb’s win, his ties to Ruffian and Secretariat have been briefly mentioned by articles and turf writers, but the focus has been more on the Secretariat connection, which I fear has left too many without a sense of just who the great Ruffian was.

Ruffian was a tremendous brown filly born in 1972 at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky, the granddaughter of Bold Ruler, Secretariat’s father. Interestingly enough, Orb’s derby win came just one day before the 40th anniversary of Secretariat’s own Derby victory. 

But Orb is not just related to Ruffian and Secretariat by blood; his connections are also related. 

Before that 1973 race, Ogden Phipps had an arrangement at Penny Chenery’s Meadow Stable to breed two of Chenery’s mares to Bold Ruler over two years. A coin toss would determine who would own each colt. The year of Secretariat’s birth (the second year), Phipps famously lost the toss.

Fast-forward about 30 years, and Phipps’ son Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps and his first cousin Stuart Janney III kept horse racing in the family and partner on a handful of horses, including Orb.

This is where the second Ruffian connection is made: Stuart Janney is the son of Ruffian’s owners, Stuart S. Janney Jr. and Barbara Phipps Janney.

Ruffian was voted the Outstanding 2-Year-Old Filly of 1974 and won the Filly Triple Crown in 1975. She was unbeaten in 10 races and lead at every point of every race she ran. Ruffian also set stakes records in eight stakes races. She would soon become known for her heart and drive in racing for as much as her record.  Ruffian refused to let another horse past her. In one race, she popped a splint. She was no doubt in pain, but there is no way she would let the other filly pass her. 

Ruffian’s determination was ultimately her downfall.  In her 11th race, a nationally televised match race between her and Kentucky Derby Winner Foolish Pleasure in 1975, Ruffian broke her sesamoid bones and snapped her right foreleg during the race. Despite her jockey, Jacinto Vasquez’s, mightiest effort to pull her up, Ruffian would not give in, pummeling her own legs until she finally went down.

Ruffian immediately underwent a three-hour surgery, but when the anesthesia wore off, it is believed Ruffian still thought she was on the race track, thrashing and kicking the recovery stall as if trying to finish the race. The determined filly hammered the floor so much, she re-injured herself immediately.

Veterinarians believed Ruffian would not survive more surgery and she was euthanized on July 7, 1975.  

She is buried near the flag pole at Belmont Park, her nose pointing to the track’s finish line. Sports Illustrated included her as the only non-human on their list of the top 100 female athletes of the century, ranking her 53rd. Even Lucien Laurin, Secretariat’s trainer, told reporters, “As God as my witness, she may even be better than Secretariat.” Countless books and movies (which I have never had the heart to watch) have attempted to document Ruffian’s persona. Perhaps the only good things to come of Ruffian’s tragic death were strides made in racing and veterinarian medicine. A match race between two champions has not taken place in America since her death, and a “recovery pool” was developed so that horses now awake from anesthesia suspended in warm water and don’t re-injure themselves.

There are more than the connections to Ruffian that has me starting to believe Orb could be the horse to break the Triple Crown drought. Not only has a Triple Crown victory never been achieved in my lifetime (the last was Affirmed, who won it in 1978), but I think Orb is the first horse I’ve really hoped can do it.

Orb’s owners, Janney and Phipps, along with Orb’s trainer, Kentuckian Shug McGaughey, are old-time,true-blue horsemen. From all media reports, I get the sense they truly are in this heart-wrenching,exhilarating, beautiful sport for the horses. They are racing veterans who know the fleeting exhilaration of winning as well as the feeling of a spinning defeat, like a sucker punch to the neck, from factors that can’t be controlled.  

Janney told a New York Times reporter he says a prayer before every race, “Come Home Safe.” (Admittedly, I have a similar ritual just before the gates pop open.) Both Janney and Phipps were at the racetrack the day Ruffian broke down. Not only does the memory of Ruffian’s last race haunt Phipps, but after the 2006 breakdown of Pine Island, the man embedded in horse racing with enough money to buy three tracks of his own could not return races for nine months. And in interviews, he still seems remorseful of the loss. 

The three men are not plagued by rumors of cheating; their records are not marred with horses that tested positive for drugs, which only further blacken the cloud that has come to grow above the racing industry due to greedy, unethical and unmerciful cads who have lost sight of the lives they are supposed to be caring for. These men, Shug in particular, are known for their patience, caring and understanding of horses. Racing, the horses, it’s all in their blood. It’s not about the money for two families who have plenty. They are not some fly-by-night partnership erupted from disposable wealth with a lust for the limelight of a Triple Crown.

They embody what horse racing should be: an outlet for the spirit of the horse to shine. They embody what the American Dream is supposed to be built upon – hard work, patience and climbing the high road, skipping the shortcuts.

It’s a road I’m hoping will take them and Orb to the winner’s circle on Saturday during the Preakness and again on June 9 at the Belmont.

The Preakness is off at 5:20 p.m. CST.

All the pretty … hats

I love the Kentucky Derby, I do. It’s the one day of the year even non-racing fans generally have an interest in and are excited about horse racing. But I’ll be honest: For me, the fun of the day is less about the race and more about the fashion.

…  And the party  …OK, and probably the drink.

Mint julep anyone?

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching as whomever I can pull along to a Derby-party buttons their lip and lights up their eyes when the gates pop open. (It never fails: a racing fan is almost always born at that moment.) In the meantime, I love seeing the hats of Derby Day. From the infield to the winner’s circle, there are so many creative, beautiful and fashion-forward creations to see.

I’m a hat person anyway. Although I no longer own a cowboy hat (they were thrown out by my teens, and now my dad has enough of those to keep up the family quota), I do have nearly all other types of hats, from baseball hats to fedoras and a few J-Loesque embarrassments in between.

Although it might be too late to order a custom-made chapeau in time for tomorrow’s festivities, it’s not too late to make your own haute headdress.

You can always check out vintage or thrift stores for hats. Otherwise make your own. Target and Walmart, along with other big-name retailers have spring and summer hats out. Start there for a base hat, and then the possibilities are endless with accessories from the crafts department. Feathers and flowers are probably the two most popular add-ons. I’ve found that Hobby Lobby often has hat-specific accessories.

I haven’t gotten this year’s hat fully finished, but I’d love to see any of your hats! Send em in and we’ll post them up.

Post time for the 2013 Kentucky Derby is 5:24 p.m. Saturday.

Get your hat ready: The Kentucky Derby is Saturday

The draw was held Wednesday in Louisville, Ky., giving us the first look at the field of the 139th Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

The draw is when horses are assigned post positions in the race and like the name implies, a good post position depends on the “luck of the draw.”  The No. 1 post position is closest to the inside rail (which isn’t always best since 19 other horses will be clamouring to get there once the gates open) and numbers move out from there.

Below is a look at Saturday’s field. Make sure to take note of #18 Frac Daddy,  whose connections have ties to the North Dakota Oil Patch. Watch Friday’s Forum for a story by Amy Dalrymple on the big grey colt.

I’ve been away from HorseShoes for a bit, but I hope to give some Derby tips through the week and an update on how our horses are doing this season. Post time for the derby will be 5:24 p.m. CST. It is the first jewel of the Triple Crown with a purse of $2.18 million.


Post Horse Jockey Trainer
1 Black Onyx Joe Bravo Kelly Breen
2 Oxbow Gary Stevens D. Wayne Lukas
3 Revolutionary Calvin Borel Todd Pletcher
4 Golden Soul Robby Albarado Dallas Stewart
5 Normandy Invasion Javier Castellano Chad Brown
6 Mylute Rosie Napravnik Tom Amoss
7 Giant Finish Jose L. Espinoza Anthony W. Dutrow
8 Goldencents Kevin Krigger Doug O’Neill
9 Overanalyze Rafael Bejarano Todd Pletcher
10 Palace Malice Mike Smith Todd Pletcher
11 Lines of Battle Ryan Moore Aidan O’Brien
12 Itsmyluckyday Elvis Trujillo Eddie Plesa, Jr.
13 Falling Sky Luis Saez John Terranova II
14 Verrazano John R. Velazquez Todd Pletcher
15 Charming Kitten Edgar Prado Todd Pletcher
16 Orb Joel Rosario Claude R. McGaughey III
17 Will Take Charge Jon Court D. Wayne Lukas
18 Frac Daddy Victor Lebron Kenny McPeek
19 Java’s War Julien Leparoux Kenny McPeek
20 Vyjack Garrett Gomez Rudy Rodriguez

Something new: A racehorse of my own

Earlier this month, I ventured into new territory: I actually bought my own racehorse.

Well, sort of.

A good friend and I have partnered up to run a horse next year. It will give me my first shot at managing a horse and it gives him a taste of the business. It’s a deal we struck over martinis about a year ago, so of course, we plan to call our partnership “Martini Racing.”

This might not sound like a big deal, especially when I’ve had horses that are “mine” for years. But, this is the first one I’ve picked one out myself and will be calling the shots – officially.

Unofficially, there’s always been a horse or two at my parents’ house that has been “mine.” Well, usually one I’m at least designated to ride. I haven’t always had the best of luck with horses bought especially for me.

There was the Paint horse: the first horse my parents bought just for me. She was also the first horse to ever throw me off. My parents didn’t mind that so much, but when she also managed to buck my dad off, well, she moved on to another home fairly quick. 

Blackjack, the Shetland pony I wanted when I was about 7 convinced me those little 3-foot-high horses are not as fun as they look. If he didn’t want to ride on any given day, he was prone to just lie down. He lay down anywhere and at anytime whether I landed below him or not. Or, if he knew it was just him and I for the day (and I was wearing shorts) he would find a way to slink between a barbed-wire fence and thistle weeds. He’d then stay there and mockingly sway back and forth, with me perched on his back, knees at my chin, until someone much taller than the both of us would come to help.

Then there was the horse I got for Christmas. I don’t even remember his name, but I do consider myself lucky to say I once got a horse for Christmas. Alas, I never got to ride him. He went in reverse great. Moving forward was the problem.

It’s a problem I’m confident won’t be an issue for my latest endeavor. My mom has agreed to be our trainer, and I will be helping at the track.

I’m excited for the new venture and to spend the winter helping train.

Wish me luck. As you can see, I might need it.

The season is almost over but there’s still time for a win

Horse racing takes a lot of back-breaking work, and a lot of faith. The latter is what is needed the most, because in this industry, Lady Luck can turn around and drop kick you in the face when you least expect it.

Winning is exhilarating and fulfilling, usually making all the blood, sweat and tears worth it. When your horse runs an honest race and loses, those losses are a lot easier to take than the kind that come just as often: a loss due to something completely out of anyone’s control. Your jockey is off because they got hurt the race before; your horse gets trampled by another during the race and has to slow; a horse that has always been healthy hits a temperature days before the race you’ve been working toward all year and is scratched.

Those are just a few examples of the bad luck that jump in front of the finish line. It’s those uncontrollable circumstances that break your heart and can bend your spirit.   

It’s been awhile since I’ve written in this blog, and for that I apologize. Especially since I’ve gone nearly all summer and our racing season with barely a peep. It’s simply been a whirlwind of my first summer at a new job, a new schedule and the insipid Minnesota shutdown that put more than 1,000 people at Canterbury Park out of work for three weeks. Well, it all had me a little off my game.

Despite what felt like was craziness, I made it to Canterbury quite a few times, and even managed to bring a few new fans to the track along the way.  Coin (our 2-year-old racehorse) is unlike most of our horses. She didn’t spend the winter at home, and Mom just bought her at Canterbury from a breeder she used to train for at the beginning of the season. Flash, the 3-year-old we planned to run seemed to get sore in training so my Mom was taking no chances and decided she would not be a racehorse after all.

Coin and I really haven’t had time to get to know one another and she seemed a little stand-offish when it came to me.   

But on one of my last visits there, I had the chance to catch a few minutes with her in the stall.  She suddenly just leaned in toward me, letting her head rest against my shoulder and nestled her soft nose into my hand. It was the smallest of gestures, but for some reason, her quiet “hug”  suddenly made my own world slow down and the noise in my head quieted. It was just what I needed.   

The season is not over. Mom is now in Iowa, at the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino, our “home turf” as she calls it since we generally have Iowa-bred horses.

Last week Mom called and said Coin was sick, again. She seemed to have the flu bug a couple weeks ago and Mom scratched her from racing over the weekend. Coin has spent a few days at the equine clinic, and she is doing well now.  Scratching from one race is not that big of a deal (although not great). But, Coin is paid into the Iowa Stallion Breeder’s Futurity to be run Oct.1, the last weekend of the Iowa meet. In order to run in the futurity, she will have to qualify by running trials this weekend.

We especially wanted her to qualify, not for the purse but because the breeder we bought her from said  we chose the wrong horse when we chose her. He’ll be running some of his own horses in the futurity, all geldings.

So, it would be nice to see our girl beat the boys. More than that, we have faith in her that she is talented, but she hasn’t had the chance to prove it, yet.  Like I mentioned before, trying and failing is much better than never getting the chance to try. It’s one more of those “horse lessons” I have a feeling transcends the dirt track.

As of today, Coin is feeling much better, although the cause of her illness has not wholly been explained. If by tomorrow, she does not look 100 percent, we wouldn’t take a chance and still run her. In the meantime,  I can’t wait to get back down there and give her a little hug of my own to make her feel better. The same thing she did for me just a few weeks ago.

Thanks for nothing shutdown…

Thanks to the Minnesota shutdown, there were no races at Canterbury Park over the Fourth of July. Lucky for us, training hours and the backside is still open. 

No races meant no spectacular fireworks show with pizza delivered to all the barns and no picnics after long days of racing.

I spent the holiday weekend on the backside, and although the afternoons were a little depressing, the shutdown hasn’t harmed us much, since we have younger horses that won’t be ready to run in a race until later this month. Still, it’s hurting a lot of others there and across the state, as most already know.

The park closing is all over the Twin Cities-area news. However, most people don’t understand why it is closed, including the politicians.

A friend and horse dentist at the track approached her representative over the weekend and broached the subject of Canterbury. She lives a half-hour away from the track, and her district is next to Shakopee.
However, when told of the hardship the shutdown has caused horsemen, she said, “Well, why can’t they just run and Canterbury can pay the purse money later?”

The representative’s negligence is appalling.

Horse racing is regulated by the state racing commission, which appoints veterinarians, stewards (the judges of races) and other officials who oversee the many components of racing. Horses must be checked out in the morning, during saddling and even at the gate before they run. After a race, all first- and second-place finishers are taken to the test barn to be tested for any performance-altering substances (which are illegal). The stewards act as judges, making sure there is no misconduct on the part of the jockeys and horses during the races. Stewards also handle any complaints that may come from the backside as well.  

Purse money is generated by betting and by the horsemen themselves by breeders’ funds. Minnesota will offer extra money when a horse born in Minnesota wins a race. The only state involvement in purse money is when Canterbury pays (very high) taxes and fees.

Sadly, Canterbury actually already paid its dues to have racing services of state officials through the end of July and has argued in court it should not be subject to the shutdown for that reason.

So, until a judge rules it can remain open like it did during the 2005 state shutdown, 1,100 employees of the park, such as custodians, vendors, college kids, betting attendants, etc., are out of work.

Canterbury’s card club is also closed since it is regulated under the state gaming commission. Racing and the card club are not connected.

Like I said before, we’re lucky since we don’t need to race yet. Still, I can’t help but feel for all the good people across the state of Minnesota who would have never expected how this shutdown would affect them.

It’s race time

It’s time to dust off the ratty tennis shoes, break out my scuffed up jeans and crappy T-shirts because this weekend Mom leaves for the track, which means racing season officially begins ­– for us anyway.

Sorry, I’ve been a little lax in this whole blog business. It’s been a busy month and I totally missed out on rattling off my take on the Kentucky Derby or the sad Preakness effort. I was rooting for Animal Kingdom, and pretty disappointed he missed a shot at the Triple Crown by just a length. I’ll circle back to that eventually.

In the meantime, I’m trying to wrap my head around this already an anomaly of a race season for the Rocking Diamond Ranch (that’s my parents, by the way). It’s a little different this year because it’s the first time in a long time I’m not in The Cities to meet Mom at the track when she gets there. Of course, I wasn’t around at all when I lived in California or as a kid when it was my job to stay home and take care of the horses …but still.

What is the same is what my mom will be up to. Every year, she packs up feed, tack, supplies, our race horses, horses she is training for other people, and a couple of pony horses.  She loads up the trailer and heads off to Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn.  She eventually moves them all to Iowa for the Prairie Meadows season where she will be until nearly October. Each year, the number of horses she has at the track varies. It can be anywhere from three to 15, which for one person, is quite a lot.

On the backside, there are dorm rooms built above the barns. The dorms are basically 10X10-foot cement block rooms. No air conditioning and communal showers. Mom makes it a home with a refrigerator, a twin bed and a little television. She always makes sure her room is close to her barn and she can see the horses from the single small window.

While there, she is up at 4 a.m. each day. She heads down to the barns to feed, clean stalls and ride once the training track opens up. She’s busy with all of that until mid-afternoon when it’s time to feed and pick stalls once again. On race days, she is busy working: either ponying, racing or helping other trainers, until after midnight. I wouldn’t call it glamorous but I’ve always admired my mom for what she does. She basically eats, sleeps, and breathes her horses for five months out of the year. She doesn’t just know about her horses, she knows everything about them, sometimes even better than they know themselves. Yet, she is always willing to learn, to hear other ideas and try something new. At the same time, her horses are her priority, her passion.  It’s a lot of hard work and it can be heartbreaking when it comes down to simply bad luck. Other times, entering that winning circle is a reminder of what dreams are supposed to be made of.

Of course, it’s no picnic for my dad either. He remains at home and cares for the horses and cattle left behind. They’re both pretty strong willed to do what they do, but it works.

For me, well, I just fill in somewhere in the middle. I help on race days and learn on training days when I’m there. If I go home, I either give my dad a break so he can visit Mom at the track, or I’m forced out of bed in the wee morning hours to go check cattle with him. I complain, but it’s almost always fun.

It’s our family’s official start to summer, even if this weather doesn’t want to agree.

Hollywood, The Derby and Minnesota

Gary Stevens

Retired jockey Gary Stevens will once again be appearing on the Kentucky Derby pre-show this year. Although many may not have heard of his three-time Derby winning career, a lot of people still recognize him from his starring stint in the movie Seabiscuit. Stevens played George “Iceman” Woolfe, aka, the guy who takes over for Red Pollard (Tobey McGuire) in the match race scene after Pollard/McGuire gets hurt.

What even fewer people know, is that Stevens is the younger brother to Scott Ste

vens, jockey at Minnesota’s Canterbury Park. It’s a fun Hollywood tie I like to let others in on.

Scott Stevens is just as accomplished, and still riding. He holds the Canterbury record for most starts (5,710), and is just seven wins behind Derek Bell, the all-time winningest jockey there.

Stevens is an incredible jockey, and an all-around nice guy. He was my favorite to watch and every once in awhile, will still ride a Quarter Horse. In fact, he has ridden some of our horses. Both Scott and Gary learned to ride on the

Scott Stevens

Quarter Horses and eventually moved to Thoroughbreds.

Last July, the then 49-year-old Scott, was airlifted from the track to North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale, Minn. after suffering multiple injuries during a ride in the sixth race. Although he was initially listed as in critical condition, Scott rallied was eventually released.

Although he has batted around the idea of retirement in the media, all on the backside of Canterbury are hoping he returns this year, once again.