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Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

It always rains at Monmouth Park.

Or so I presume, since 100% of my visits to the Jersey Shore track have involved weather conditions which could most charitably be described as monsoon-like. That said, on this occasion we stayed entirely dry – a welcome change from our Breeders’ Cup experience at Monmouth when our seats were uncovered – by reserving a table in the Garden Room.

Prior to Sunday, my most recent visit to a racetrack was the purgatorial nightmare that is Pimlico – although it was well worth braving the disorganization and general neglect of the physical plant to be present when Rachel Alexandra won the Preakness. Monmouth is a world away from Pimlico – clean, well-lit, a beautiful paddock, friendly staff and there are well-placed merchandise and program kiosks throughout the facility. I felt that the track had done a great job with the Breeders’ Cup – even in the (wet) temporary seating we had on that day, it was easy to bet, find food and so forth – but they really stepped up for the Haskell. True, we had the advantage of sitting in a climate-controlled part of the clubhouse with catering (which was surprisingly good for a buffet – one of our party is still angry about the highly inadequate buffet they endured at the Dubai World Cup, and found Monmouth’s offering much better), but even in our jaunts outside our rarified surroundings, we saw a thoroughly professional organization at work.

Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate and it was a great shame to see the empty paddock and surrounding outdoor areas – under better conditions, the bar/grill next to the paddock seemed like an ideal summer destination. Obviously there were more serious consequences of the extreme weather as well – the two horses who fell over each other in the fourth race (the last turf race of the day that stayed on the turf) were both fine after the incident, but jockey Fabrizio Jimenez was injured. I’m not convinced Tale of Victory’s breakdown in the following race (back on the dirt) was necessarily weather-related, but it’s certainly a possibility – and his jockey also ended up in the hospital. All told, those two races and the accompanying weather comprised the day’s low point.

The next few races were full of scratches – while not surprising for the turf runners whose races were moved onto a sloppy dirt track, it was odd that some later fields stayed comparatively full, while others were limited to three starters. I still managed to pick six out of the fourteen races correctly for the Haskell Challenge, which is entirely baffling to me in retrospect, given all the scratches (and even when accounting for the game’s mechanism of selecting the post-time favorite in case the user’s pick was scratched). Apparently that put me in the black and in 290th place overall – clearly, I should bet actual money more often – it’s a shame I only bet actual money on the tenth race (and on the Haskell itself).

We also had the luxury of watching and betting the races from Saratoga from our seats, which was quite pleasant – even if the weather wasn’t much better there. We spent a fair amount of time poring over Tomlinson numbers for the rest of the day’s card (and it will be interesting to see how that figure is adjusted for Medaglia d’Oro’s offspring as more data comes in).

We had a wander down to the main gift shop in between races (we already had our Haskell hats – the logo for this year’s event was really quite well-designed) and I was especially pleased to see that there was a decent variety of shirts for everyone – toddlers, actual women’s cuts and the usual unisex t-shirts. They even managed to produce two Rachel Alexandra-specific designs (although only one was on a women’s fit t-shirt), which was encouraging. It was certainly a huge step up from what little was on offer at Pimlico (and I hate to dwell on it, but Pimlico typifies so much of what’s wrong with the sport, while Monmouth was getting it right).

Finally, the sky brightened a bit, the rain stopped and it was time for the horses to make their way to the paddock for the Haskell. We moved to a window just above the paddock on the second floor of the clubhouse and had a great view of each horse coming in – and while Rachel Alexandra was the only one to get applause just for showing up (and which she deserved – she has more charisma than any horse I’ve ever seen), many of the other contenders looked great as well. Munnings, in particular, looked bright, well-muscled and ready to go – just as he had on the Belmont undercard when I began to regret not betting him, simply based on his appearance. Summer Bird also looked as though he was going to run a big one – he was full of energy in the paddock. Rachel Alexandra’s ears continued to flick back and forth, but she seemed to take no notice of the other horses – she was all business in the paddock.

As they made their way onto the track to the strains of New Jersey’s own anthem, ‘Born To Run,’ we scrambled down to the other side of the clubhouse and helped ourselves to an empty owner’s box just past the wire. Again, Rachel Alexandra got applause just for stepping onto the track, but it was nice to hear some claps of appreciation for Summer Bird, Munnings and Papa Clem, too, when their names were called out.

They loaded in professionally and it was clear right from the start that this was going to be fast – although it was something of a surprise to see Summer Bird keeping up with Munnings. Rachel Alexandra sat coolly off those two, ears swiveling throughout, before making her move on the turn for home. Once Calvin Borel asked her to go, it was done – she blew past them with consummate ease, and Calvin even had time at the top of the stretch to do a slightly acrobatic flip of his whip. At no time did she appear to be working at all; even though Calvin began his celebrations before the wire, she seemed to want to carry on running – she was around the next turn again when Summer Bird and Munnings crossed the wire. And I must say that both horses ran very creditable races – Summer Bird proved he could run closer to the pace, and Munnings demonstrated that his blazing speed can carry over a bit more distance – but they ran into a monster.

I stand by my earlier statement – seeing her pull away from the field so easily, and with such seeming disdain for the other horses (she had a perpetual look of, ‘oh – you’re here too?’) must be what it was like to see Secretariat in person. And I don’t drop the S-bomb lightly – I’ve been following this sport my entire life, I’ve seen some really wonderful horses live (Sunday Silence and Easy Goer as a kid, and more recently Smarty Jones, Lost in the Fog, Intercontinental, Curlin et al.) – but I’ve never seen anything like Rachel Alexandra.

I do hope to see her take on Zenyatta; and as much as I admire Zenyatta and believe she is in a class by herself, I have but two words for her if she meets Rachel Alexandra: good luck.

2 comments to Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

  • malcer

    Teenage lies catching up with you, obviously. 😉

  • Heather C.

    This is just about the time I knock on wood, pray for lasting soundness and enjoy the show. Rachel is amazing… so glad you mentioned her flickering ears, I love it! It's like watching the radar mast on an aircraft carrier…I could swear they spin all the way around!
    How about a RA/QR match up? Or, "Women Take Dubai," Z. and RA sparking a feminist uprising in the UAE? hmmm…

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