Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Limerick update, a mention in Sports Illustrated, and upcoming plans

Lim before her health exam--I love her fall dapples.

Limerick had her annual health exam a couple weeks ago--she passed. The vet also took x-rays of her front feet and the sole depth is better than last year. Based upon this information, a week later my farrier and I decided to skip the Perfect Hoof Wear after that day's trim session. So far, so good.

I long-lined Lim again a couple nights ago. This time I did it on my own without Christine there to supervise. I have a lot of practice to do before I can get this down! In a way, it's harder than riding because what my hands communicate to Lim doesn't translate through the long lines the way it does through riding reins. I also need to run behind Lim when she trots, which is fun but tiring.

When Cigar died a couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about how much he meant to me. To my surprise, the post got more attention than I thought it would. Way more. It ended up on Richard Deitsch's Media Circus column on Sports Illustrated. (Skip to item 4.) It means so much to me to know that I played a small role in getting the name of the great Cigar out there.

As for upcoming plans--I'm working on my second Shadwell Turf Mile Day post for Horse Racing Nation. It's a bit slow coming but life has been getting in the way. The Breeder's Cup is October 31 - November 1 and although I don't plan to cover it, I will of course be watching. The next race I'm covering--and the last of the year--is the Hawthorne Gold Cup on Thanksgiving weekend.

I am still thinking about plans for next year but in the meantime I am considering starting a self-portrait project. Self portraits were a key assignment in my high school and college photography courses and I will freely admit that I hated them. I'm not the sort that photographs well (in my opinion) and I prefer to stay behind the camera, not in front of it. This project will be my way of facing my anxieties and (hopefully) creating a series of self portraits that I like. I will share some of the resulting images on here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Cigar: Larger Than Life

1994 was a rough year. I was still regaining my social footing after years of being knocked down emotionally by my deaf peers at school—my supposed friends. Tiger, my beloved feline companion who kept me on the straight and narrow throughout these turbulent years, passed away. And my mother, the glue that kept the household together and running smoothly, was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to endure aggressive treatment for the disease. I entered eighth grade in 1994 and perhaps it’s a selfish, juvenile mindset but back then, by all accounts, my life was upside-down.


Then along came a horse. No—not Limerick, not yet. But this horse was also a bay, with white on his face and one eye ringed with white. It was February of 1995 and in a race expected to be a breeze for the 1994 Horse of the Year, Holy Bull, a torch was instead passed to this bay horse, Cigar. In what would become his familiar style--easy yet full of straightforward power--that day Cigar captured the Donn Handicap (Gr. I), as well as my heart.

I confess I remember very little of 1995 aside from Cigar. He plucked me from the stress of reality and carried me along with him as he won race after race. I came to know his silhouette, his thick mane, his gray-streaked tail, his charismatic white-ringed eye, his beautiful arched neck and balanced conformation. Was there ever a horse more handsome than the mighty Cigar? I didn't think so and although I was only 14, 15 years old, I doubted many would argue with me.


The year cumulated with his phenomenal win in the 1995 Breeder's Cup Classic (Gr. I). Typically uncaring of the closed captioning during horse races, I watched the words roll across the screen as they transcribed Tom Durkin's call of the Classic. I held my breath as Cigar strained against the confines of his bridle on the backstretch. Wet track or not, the horse was ready to explode! Cigar wants to go to the lead, and Jerry Bailey says no, not yet! Then without fanfare, Cigar glided to the lead on the final turn and skipped over the Belmont Park mud with businesslike precision--nothing was stopping him now--and here he is, the unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar!


With 1996 came the introduction of Limerick into my life, and another championship year for Cigar. But the torch was wavering. On an afternoon at Belmont Park in October, in Cigar's next-to-last start, the torch was once again passed--this time to a young upstart named Skip Away. That the arc of Cigar's brilliant career was buttressed by two of the Great Grays of the Nineties was not lost upon me.


In the years since, I've fallen in love with many horses. But Cigar found his way into my heart first, and there he has stayed.


I visited Cigar and John Henry at the Kentucky Horse Park when I could. I even dragged a man I met online and had only known in person for a couple days to the Horse Park. We met up near Cincinnati and, realizing the Horse Park was only an hour away, I suggested that I drive us there for an impromptu date. Once at the Horse Park, after a quick stop at Man o' War's grave, I made a beeline for the Hall of Champions with the bemused guy in tow. After all, a part of my heart resided in the Hall of Champions. To the guy's credit, he didn't run away screaming from this crazy horse girl. If anything, he asked me to marry him less than three years later.


In 2008, my husband and I hung around the Hall of Champions until closing time and watched Cigar in his paddock from the quiet late afternoon shadows. For several moments, it was just us three--my husband, me, and the legendary racehorse that defined my teenage years.


 In 2012, my husband and I were leaving a Hall of Champions show when I saw a freshly-released Cigar preparing to roll in his paddock. As the crowd flowed past us, not noticing or knowing who the dirty horse was, we laughed quietly as we watched Cigar roll away his groom's hard work. I savored these idle moments alone with the horse. He may not have been mine, but he belonged to every one.

Little did we know that this would be the last time we saw Cigar.


Upon learning of Cigar's death, I broke down sobbing. I have cried over the passing of horses before but never like this. To think that such an icon was mortal after all was somehow surprising and I briefly wondered if we were in some sort of horrid alternate dimension. Cigar was larger than life--shouldn't that have conquered all?

Yet I also understand. Limerick was foaled the year after Cigar, making her 23 this year. You can do everything right and still struggle with the pitfalls and hurdles that come with owning a senior Thoroughbred. Cigar may not have lived to the plucky age of thirty-plus like his old comrade, John Henry, but it was a small relief that he passed as peacefully as one could hope for.

And in true Cigar style, he died on a day when ferocious storms ripped through the Bluegrass and a  blood-moon lunar eclipse floated in the night sky. Rest in peace, Cigar, and thanks for being there for me when I needed you the most.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Horse Racing Nation: Shadwell Turf Mile Day in Photos, Part I: The Wise Dan Experience

In looking upon Wise Dan, the senses freeze in startling admiration of his deep shoulders, chestnut sweeps of muscle, and focused no-nonsense attitude. It is not until later, after the haze of time cloaks the experience, that you are able to speak clearly of witnessing the great horse.

Seeing Wise Dan is indeed an experience, and this has been particularly true since his recovery from abdominal surgery in May this year. That the gelding made it back to the races at all is cause for celebration. Yet he has gone above and beyond by winning in ferocious style, having lost none of his competitive fire. If anything, enduring surgery seems to have have lent him more spark.

Two-time Horse of the Year, colic surgery survivor, and lasting legend--that's Wise Dan.

Continue reading at Horse Racing Nation...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Horse Racing Nation: Pucker Up Stakes Day at Arlington Park in Photos

After winter's early arrival brought a week of clouds and cold rain to the Chicago area, it was wonderful to experience the sun at Arlington Park for Pucker Up Stakes (Gr. III) day. 

Continue reading at Horse Racing Nation...

Grooming session and the creep of winter

My husband took these photos of me grooming Limerick last month.

Winter is easing in early and my t-shirt days at the barn are coming to an end. And you know what? We hardly had any of the very hot days that Chicago summers are known for, which disappoints me.

The long range forecast calls for another brutal winter to rival--or exceed--the winter of 2013-2014, so get ready!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A weekend of new memories at Saratoga Race Course (or, the incredible highs and lows of horse racing)

I am the introverted sort with a rich inner life and memories heavy in vivid texture, memories I like to mull over again and again like a dog-eared book. These memories encompass many aspects of my life, but the ones granted to me through horse racing are some of my favorites. And I took away several wonderful new memories from my trip to Saratoga a couple weeks ago. 

The horses suddenly emerging from the fog in full gallop at the old Oklahoma training track, manes and tails whipping in an impossible breeze. The steam rising from the backs of bathing horses and merging with the mist to create a painterly backdrop. The great old trees of the backside--their leaves silver with dew on this particular morning on this particular day--and the timeless hoof prints of the legendary horses they shaded 50, 100, and 150 years ago.

The Saratoga backside on a misty morning.

Stumbling across the champions--and potential champions--of the present era as they are bathed, grazed, or fed--seemingly trivial activities that, as a whole, are vital to the well-being of not just these horses, but horses all over the world. The shining jewel of these particular memories is my husband and I standing in the pink light of the waning sun and watching two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan eat hay in his stall in the quiet and still evening after the Travers.

2014 Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable being bathed.

Standing on the turf course by the wooden photographer's stand/standing on the roof of the grandstand and surveying Saratoga's majestic old grandstand/the sweeping dirt and turf courses as far as the eye can see.

A view of the Spa from the grandstand roof.

And of course--the races! V. E. Day and Javier Castellano mowing down Wicked Strong and Rajiv Maragh in the Travers, granting the James Jerken (son of Allen "the Giant Killer" Jerkens) barn a 1-2 finish in the historic race. Artemis Agrotera running away with her Ballerina Stakes win. Dayatthespa and Discreet Marq--two of my current favorite turf mares--finishing 1-2 in the Yaddo Stakes. Close Hatches dominating the field in a sloppy Personal Ensign.

V. E. Day runs down Wicked Strong in the Travers.

I couldn't have acquired these wonderful new memories without a few people, namely Bud, Teresa, and my husband, who is the best racetrack companion I could ask for.

(L to R) Dave from the Blood-Horse, Bud Morton, and Bob Mayberger by the photographer's stand.

The weekend was marred by tragedy, however. Thanks to Bud, I was presented with the opportunity to shoot a race from the wooden photographer's stand on the inside--no simple feat on a big race day as each step of the stand is claimed by freelance photographers and publications (I can't count how many times I tried to subtly crane my neck and read the faded writing on the tattered strips of duct tape marking each step).

It was race four of Travers Day--a maiden for two-year-olds. One couldn't find more promise anywhere than in such a race, on such a day, at such a track. I stood on Bud's step on the photographer's stand and as the horses came into view at the top of the stretch, I lifted my camera and focused on the leaders. With my lens acting as a telescope, I vividly saw the commotion halfway down the stretch--a rough jostling that resulted in two horses swinging wide and a jockey falling hard to the track. It wasn't clear what had happened but my stomach sunk. I tried to focus on the unharried race leader but my heart wasn't in it, for the number two horse--Ludicrous, a well-bred son of Medaglia d'Oro and Victory Ride--was clearly in awful distress. As his jockey laid in the dirt, Ludicrous hobbled towards the outside rail on three legs, the fourth severely broken. It was as bad a break as you can see in racing and undoubtedly fatal. The outrider rushed up to the colt and leaped off his horse, offering support to Ludicrous. The distressed colt tried to lay down but the outrider pressed against his disabled side to get him back up again, and I turned away with my heart in my stomach. The vibe on the photographer's stand was grim.

Bud--bless his heart--choose that moment to ask me if I wanted to go to the infield. I had expressed interest in photographing the Travers canoe so I agreed readily. I glanced once more at the growing scene around Ludicrous and sent silent prayers to the colt before stepping off the photographer's stand.

Ludicrous (Feb. 3, 2012 - August 23, 2014)

However, once in the infield, Bud made an unexpected stop at the grave of Go for Wand. Foaled in 1987, the bay filly started 13 times, winning ten and placing in two. Along the way she garnered wins in the Breeder's Cup Juvenile Fillies, Ashland, Mother Goose, Alabama, Test, and Beldame Stakes. In the 1990 Breeder's Cup Distaff, she locked horns with the tough distaffer Bayakoa and tragically broke down in the homestretch.

The grave of Go for Wand and the quiet NYRA flag.

Quietly, Bud told me that she had been his favorite filly. He paused then said he had been at Belmont Park "that day"--the day she broke down. After the horror of witnessing Ludicrous breaking down badly, the moment was poignant and bittersweet, and not one I will ever forget.

Turf writer Paul Moran was one of Go for Wand's biggest fans and he wrote an Eclipse Award-winning article about the race. Moran passed away last fall and his ashes were scatted on Go for Wand's grave this summer. I also recommend Barbara Livingston's lovely photographic tribute to Go for Wand, 'Remembering Wanda'.

Go for Wand

I am dedicating this post to the memory of Ludicrous, who--through an awful twist of fate--gave his life to this sport that so many of us romanticize. For among the memories of the champions, the misty mornings on the backside, the thrilling races, and the beautiful views of horses and history alike, there are the fallen, and they should also be remembered always.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

You know those viral videos of deaf people hearing for the first time? I dislike them--here's why.

The following article from Wired was published in March but I came across it for the first time this morning--and I absolutely love it.

Why You Shouldn't Share those Emotional 'Deaf Person Hears for the First Time' Videos - by Lilit Marcus

I don't care for these videos because each deaf individual is different. You don't know the backgrounds of the people in these videos, or what they're hearing (it could be static for all you know--and hey, even static can be fascinating if you're accustomed to profound silence). These videos are of one or two moments taken out of context--context that encompasses months to years of personal, individual cases and choices.

In addition, thanks to these videos, a few people have told me that I should get a cochlear implant because they saw one of these videos 'and the baby/kid/woman could hear like new', implying that I don't know just how flawed I am and hello, here's an easy solution.

I know these people mean well but frankly, unless you're my audiologist, it's insulting to imply that I don't know what's best for my individual case. If you are personally deaf and these videos inspire you to talk to your audiologist about getting one, then great. But I know from past research that they are not for me. I currently wear a hearing aid that helps me tremendously; however, I still--and will always--rely upon lip-reading and will never use a telephone. And that's just a part of who I am--I am not "broken".