My first article as a correspondent for Blood-Horse Publications was written on Aug. 2, 2005 – “Bejarano Injured in Gate Accident at Saratoga.” As the old Virginia Slims slogan goes, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
Many of you already know I’ll be returning to Blood-Horse as a full-time racing writer starting June 13, this following a four-year stint as an independent contractor (preceded by a period of time as a Blood-Horse employee once before). I’m very appreciative to the editorial team for making the decision to bring me back, and I’m looking forward to doing good things with a company I respect and believe in. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Jason Shandler, who has been in my corner from day one. Never Burn Bridges is almost as good a slogan as Carpe Diem.
To the editors and publicists who supported my freelance career through the past four years, thank you. You kept me in the game and off the bench and on the backside and at the races. The experiences I’ve had and the articles I’ve written are a direct result of your belief in me. Life as a free agent was a challenge but also a worthwhile endeavor. Because of you, I was able to make it work.
Writing on racing is no small task given the current climate. But there’s always been something about mornings on the backside and afternoons on the frontside, about talking horses with the breeders and owners and trainers and jockeys who know them so well, that has been special to me. At the root of it all is a love for these majestic animals, and while that may sound idealistic and romanticized, it’s also true. Telling the stories of figures in the sport is my job, but it’s also my honor – and in a way, it’s become my story, too.
I’m looking forward to the next chapter.
PANAMA CITY, PANAMA – Headed out to morning works today, got to the track a little after six. All the guys are convinced it was too late, so tomorrow we’re leaving the hotel at five. Was the only female (of the human variety) on the backside. All exercise riders, grooms, jockeys, trainers, are male. Didn’t bother me, just interesting to note.
Here are some of my favorite pictures from the morning.
PANAMA CITY, PANAMA – Here to cover the Clasico del Caribe, first day in Panama. I’m a journalist (periodista), not photographer, but when you don’t speak the primary language it’s not so easy to ask questions or do interviews. So I took a gazillion pictures today, met a few guys who speak English and will help me out when I go to morning works tomorrow, smiled a lot, observed.
Going into this thing, I wondered if it would make my writing sharper. You notice a lot of random stuff when you have absolutely no clue what people are saying – during a press conference, for instance. The jury’s still out (ESPN.com content runs Friday), but almost any time a journalist goes into an unfamiliar situation, creative sparks start to fly. It’s so different from the daily grind, it’s inspiring.
I didn’t get a picture of the two army-green-clad “policia” with black flak jackets riding down the center of the street on a motorbike with the back one casually carrying what pretty much looked like an adaptive combat rifle on my way home from the track (just another Monday, folks) – but here’s a smattering of what I found during today’s adventure. More – including some real horses, I promise – to come tomorrow.
LEXINGTON, KY – Funny thing about professional journalists: some of us also like to write for fun. Guess it’s like a jockey who owns a horse or two (see Jesus Castanon, this year’s Preakness-winning rider), or like a professional singer who still belts out tunes in the car on the ride home. If you’re lucky enough to do what you love, it becomes a part of your life in this rich, rewarding, sometimes compelling way.
I read about Stymie Magazine last year in a copy of ESPN The Magazine, was hooked on the idea before I even saw the publication. A bi-annual nonprofit online literary magazine that only runs content focusing on sports – kind of a mix between the Paris Review and The Mag itself – Stymie is as indy/underground as they come. Original and brilliant, it’s something I look forward to reading each time a new issue comes around.
Earlier this year, Stymie launched its first biennial “Trading Card Fiction Contest,” a fun flash fiction challenge limited to 100 words about a sports-related subject. The resulting set comes out at the end of the month, and as usual with Stymie, I’m impatiently anticipating the finished product. My Street Scene is there, along with eight other pieces on various sports from various authors. Best of all, it can be had for just $10.
You should order the set because a) it’s a unique collection of great writing, b) it’s a great deal, and c) the only way you’ll get to read Street Scene is by ordering your own copy. This is also a great way to support an organic and original outlet that publishes some great sports-themed lit fic, and that alone should be reason enough to buy.
“Great,” you’re saying, “she updates her blog for the first time since April and it’s only because she wants to sell us something.” Well, think of it this way. First of all, Chris Jones of Esquire Magazine hasn’t updated his blog since August 30, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been busy writing other great stories for places (like Esquire and Grantland) that actually pay him. Same thing here, here, here, and here for yours truly.
If that’s not enough, think of this as a gift. Why? Because. Trust me, you’re gonna love this set, and you’re gonna love Stymie - almost as much as I do.
LEXINGTON, KY (April 26, 2011) – Earlier last week, I took the opportunity to visit Surfer Girl, a broodmare owned by sports talk radio host Jim Rome. I first heard about the big mare when Rome tweeted about her (@JimRome) and trying to get her bred to Bernardini (she was turned down by the folks at Darley, but Pulpit was happy to oblige). My editor at HorsePlayer Magazine was also quite keen on the idea of talking to Rome about his involvement in racing, and here’s the result of that interview: Louisville Is Burning: An Exclusive HorsePlayer Magazine Interview with Jim Rome.
You can read more about Surfer Girl on the ESPN Horse Racing Blog.
“The newspaper game has been my father and mother and big brother most of my life. It has given me great opportunities and the greatest friendships a man can have. I would rather be a successful newspaperman than anything else in the world. It remains the most romantic and glamorous occupation ever conceived.” - Damon Runyon
LEXINGTON, KY, Dec. 14, 2010 — Wrapping up research at the Keeneland Library this afternoon, snow-covered grounds visible through wide arched windows. One little Sparrowish bird likes the spindly tree outside. Yesterday he crashed into the big glass panes but today seems none the worse for wear. He sits on the same branch every time he flies over. Frigid here, temperature dipped to four degrees this morning. Heading home to Chicago tomorrow. Hard to believe it’s warmer there. Harder to believe it’s almost the New Year.
I’ve spent a productive couple weeks in Kentucky – been here since the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on the day after Thanksgiving. It’s been a hectic final one thus far (only Tuesday?!), but good things are cooking. Had a great interview with Vitaminwater guru Mike Repole yesterday morning – he owns 2011 early Kentucky Derby favorite Uncle Mo, impressive winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Wrote about Uncle Mo and stablemate Stay Thirsty for ESPN.com before the Breeders’ Cup a few months ago. This piece will be a Q&A for Horseplayer Magazine, nice pub out of California, slanted more toward the wagering side of things (as one would assume from the name). Sneak-peak quote:
“At the end of the day, the sport does need to change. If doesn’t evolve, we’ll be in really big trouble 10 years from now. And if you don’t want to be a part of the change and evolution, do us all a favor and find another sport. Everyone has to accept the change.” – Mike Repole
I like Repole because he’s enthusiastic, vibrant, passionate about the game and life, outside of the box. He tells it like it is, straight up, politics be damned. This sport could use more owners like him, fewer stodgy good-old-boys. He’s good for the game.
Pulled files on Horse of the Year/Eclipse Awards yesterday as well. Interesting to note that the majority of beneficial information for my upcoming feature was found in the file from the 1970s and 1980s. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is because newspaper opinions pieces and columns on racing, much more prevalent then, slowly dissipated by the ’90s. These pieces are definitely all-but-gone today. Perhaps racing bloggers have slightly replaced the genre of racing print opinions, but few write as the beat reporters did back then – with such craft, flair for literary style. Good thoughts collected and to be shared next week as I tackle Horse of the Year and Blame vs. Zenyatta. One such quote:
“Whether the occasion be an election or a horse race, there can be only one winner – barring, of course, a dead-heat or a tie, either of which is comparatively rare. All the rest must be losers. In many instances, though, the losers seem to deserve a better fate. With no real consensus as to what constitutes a champion, the voting for year-end honors might be considered analogous to a jury’s deliberation on a case without having received instructions from a judge.” – Frank T. Phelps, To The Losers, The Lexington Leader, Dec. 20, 1973
Heading to the Eclipse Awards at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach on Jan. 17 to cover what promises to be an intriguing Horse of the Year presentation. From there, will jet straight to New Orleans for a “writer in residence”-type position at Fair Grounds in the weeks leading up to that storied oval’s key 3-year-old preps. Extremely excited about the opportunity to explore a track and region I’ve never visited before, and looking forward to reconnecting with some of the Louisiana folks like trainer Al Stall Jr. and retired jockey Mark Guidry, who is training now as well. Before then, I’ll take a look back at this season much as I did in 2009.
But first things first. It’s time to meet The Blood-Horse’s Jason Shandler for lunch. Some things never change.
LEXINGTON, KY – I’ve been coming to Keeneland Race Course since I was 16 years old. Got Pat Day’s autograph one afternoon. Picked up a random aluminum horseshoe from under the rail of the old dirt track. Stood by that rail on crisp autumn mornings and watched – and felt – the runners gallop down off the turn, the quick inhale of breath, the rhythmic rush. Then, for me, being here was everything.
Things change and life goes on – now I interview figures in the sport instead of asking for their autographs, and my horseshoe collection includes plates from Churchill Downs, Saratoga, Arlington Park, Monmouth, Oaklawn. But Keeneland will always be a part of me, visits to the Lexington oval as regular as the changing seasons.
That’s the way it is here in the “horse capital of the world.” Racing is engrained in society, written in the history books. From street names to farm signs, references to Thoroughbreds offer a constant reminder of the sport we love. Our friends and relatives are farm managers, bloodstock agents, equine photographers, just plain fans. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who does something with horses, and going to the track is as much a part of autumn life as football games at the University of Kentucky or a cold glass of bourbon barrel beer.
In case you didn’t notice, I love it here. And today at Keeneland, as fans turned out to enjoy the autumn sunshine, a beautiful day at the races, I was struck by the sense of community, by the way the sport brings us together. There was tailgating on the hill and cornhole in the parking lot and pleasantries in the paddock and a crowd that filled the stands, something for everyone, a good time had by all. And even though it was business as usual for the horsemen and jockeys, that business was of the pleasantest kind. Everyone loves a day at the races
Tonight, there’ll be time to dissect wagers lost and won, and to catch the game, UK hosting Georgia. Tomorrow, it’s day 13 of the fall racing season. The tradition continues. There’s nowhere else we’d rather be.