A gorgeous Saturday at the end of a painfully torturous work week saw me hop in the Subaru alone and zip one hour and 15 minutes from Brooklyn to Monmouth Park, a dowager of a track, for some relaxation. No sleeves and collar, no clubhouse, I heard an attendant tell a 30-something exiting a black Range Rover destined for valet-parking as I smugly strode in wearing a long-sleeved, button-downed shirt beneath a blue blazer. And that dress opened a lot of doors and gave me clout all over the track, from Pat, the little ol’ Irishwoman (she called herself a tough Irishman) who operated the clubhouse elevator, to Ed, her very friendly husband who operated the elevator that went up to the press box (I didn’t go in, but did take a ride up, looking for Steve Haskin), to everyone else I ran into that worked at the track and went out of her way to be politely helpful.
Monmouth is a terrific racing destination, and I spent a very pleasant afternoon playing some horses, having a few beers and crab cakes, and looking at some specific horses—one reason why I made the trip, too. I also saw some familiar faces by chance. One was Ron Turcotte’s; he had a booth outside the paddock where he was signing various items, including limited-edition prints of Secretariat, the colt he rode to a Triple Crown before an injury in 1978 limited him to a wheelchair. Sporting a goatee but otherwise very recognizable to me from his riding days, Ron, who doesn’t know me from Adam, really, took time out from signing—and making money—to chat a bit, and he patiently answered questions put to him from passersby, too. Someone once called Ron a great ambassador for the sport, and that he is; it’s fitting that he was Secretariat’s rider, I thought, as I left him to sign.
Among others, I ran into Team Valor’s Barry Irwin in the paddock before the start of the Continental Mile Stakes on turf for 2-year-olds. Barry had an attractive More Than Ready homebred—Pluck—in the race, but we spoke about an international stakes rule addendum that had made a travesty of the black type rules surrounding his homebred Swiss Derby winner Brigantin.
Black-type placed in France before the Swiss Derby, Brigantin’s Swiss Derby didn’t count for black type as Switzerland is a “Part III” country in International Cataloguing Standards; however, after the Swiss Derby, Brigantin won a Listed event in France to become a proper black-type winner, but that status was short lived. Barry said that an obscure rule was recently put in place requiring starters in black-type Listed events in Part I and II countries to carry a penalty for winning a Group 1 race in a Part III country—which the Swiss Derby apparently is. Because Brigantin had won the French Listed race without carrying the penalty, he was disqualified—and lost his status as a black-type winner. I felt for Barry. “Can you believe that?” he asked while eyeing Pluck in the walking ring.
Pluck ended up running a big race, dead-heating for second, a neck behind the winner, but Barry’s luck was bad again: the colt was DQ’d for lugging in. Nevertheless, he showed enough to suggest that he’s going to get his black-type win soon enough. Hopefully for Barry, Brigantin will, too.
In the paddock for the next race, the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks, were Gov. and Mrs. Brereton Jones of Airdrie Stud with their homebred Canadian Frontier filly No Such Word, and Mr. and Mrs. Dallas Stewart, with owner Chuck Fipke’s Seeking the Gold filly Seeking the Title.
Governor Jones—he’s no longer the Governor of Kentucky but he keeps the title in my world—is one of racing’s good guys, and he’s also one of the sharpest horsemen I’ve observed over the years. He knows how to make stallions and sell yearlings, and lately he’s had a penchant for racing some very good homebred fillies. Larry Jones trained Gov. Jones’s Proud Spell to an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly in 2008, and Larry’s wife, Cindy Jones, is the trainer of No Such Word, who defeated Seeking the Title in the Monmouth Oaks. Canadian Frontier, sire of No Such Word, stands at Airdrie, as does Proud Citizen, the sire of Proud Spell.
Dallas Stewart’s filly ran a huge race, too. “She didn’t get a hold of the track early,” Dallas said, “but she made a good run.” Dallas ought to be proud with the result because Seeking the Title, a homebred for Chuck Fipke, was never destined to race, if the vets had had their way. Fipke, however, persevered, and gave her to Dallas to bring along with the proviso that she be retired if she couldn’t stand training. That hasn’t been the case, and she has added considerably to her value with black type. Before today, she’d won the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks.
I watched the Monmouth Oaks with Steve Haskin, the celebrated writer at The Blood-Horse and a one-time colleague of mine at Daily Racing Form. I’ve been trying to get Steve on Twitter for some time, and as the field headed to the gates I gave him a quick demonstration on my iPhone. “Wow,” he said, and promised to look into it. “But I don’t know if anyone would be interested in what I did,” he said.
They would if he tweeted the news and information that he’s noted for, such as who won the feature at Monmouth today and what the connections had to say. Or what Ron Turcotte, decades removed from the saddle but still pertinent and poignant to racing, had to say.