Manes & Tails and Odds & Ends By Bernard Kroviak, CDC Gaming Reports September 14, 2019 at 6:00 pm Now that the summer racing season has ended with both Saratoga and Del Mar concluding their meets, the racing world turns its attention to the Breeders Cup World Championships weekend in November. Usually these Cup races go a long way in determining the Eclipse Award winners, given annually for the most outstanding horse in each of several categories: best 2 year old male and female, best turf horse, best sprinter, and so forth. They are the Oscars of horse racing, and the biggest award, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Horse of the Year, the pinnacle of each racing year – although the Three-Year-Old of the Year garners much excitement, as well. Besides the prestige of this honor, the stud value of the winning horse will increase considerably. In the past, a couple of horses usually would stand out as favorites in this category because of their victories in the big 3-year-old races, like the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont, the Haskel, and the Travers Stakes. Not in 2019, however. This year, if you recall, a different horse won each of these events: Country House took the Derby in a controversial decision, War of Will won the Preakness, Sir Winston the Belmont, Maximum Security the Haskel, and Code of Honor the Travers. This uncertainty leaves about 7 weeks for owners and trainers to make the case for why their mount should be named Horse of the Year. Some people will use racing statistics, others will point to total winnings, and a few will likely make excuses for why their horse didn’t win this or that race. And some few others will try it the old-fashioned way – by running, both before the Breeders’ Cup and then in the Breeders’ Cup Classic itself. The mile-and-a-quarter Classic is one of the richest races in America, and open to horses of all ages and genders, but the last big race for three-year-olds is the upcoming Pennsylvania Derby, slated to be held this year on September 21 at Parx Racing and Casino in Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Derby is the last chance for these contenders to show their stuff against members of their age group. A victory there – in some voters’ minds, at least – isn’t as impressive as winning the Kentucky Derby or the Travers, but it certainly won’t hurt. But should any of this year’s previous winners win the Classic, he would most likely lock up that three-year-old title – and, conceivably, put himself into consideration for Horse of The Year. Only the great three-year-olds have won the KY. Derby and the Classic, like AP Indy and Sunday Silence. Just remember the Breeders Cup did not start until 1985, so great horses of the previous years did not have the opportunity that is afforded the horses of today. This year’s Breeders Cup races will be held at Santa Anita, in California. The safety issues there have come under much scrutiny this year, due to the high rate of horse breakdowns in the spring. But the industry has worked hard to address these issues in recent months and assures every horseman, fan, and critic that Santa Anita has taken myriad steps to prevent these tragedies from continuing. At the recently concluded Del Mar meet, stewards there utilized many of these methods, and there were zero serious injuries at the meet as a result. I bring this up now simply because I have not heard a single TV news program mention this fact. The safety issue of the Breeders Cup races is not simply a U.S. concern. Owners and trainers from all over the world will travel here for these races, and the protection of their horses is everyone’s top priority. As it should be. Odds & Ends Speaking of books – we were speaking of books, weren’t we? – I have put together a small library about horses and racing over the years. Many of the titles originally focused on being a better handicapper, like the very popular Picking Winners and Beyer On Speed, both by handicapping titan Andy Beyer, and the classic The ABC’s of Thoroughbred Handicapping, by James Quinn. Having digested these, I moved onto Betting Thoroughbreds, by the legendary Steven Davidowitz. These titles, obviously, speak to my interest in doing a better job of making money at the track, an art I have not come close to mastering. But as I read, I became aware of how little I knew about racing history, and the people who’ve made it into the wonderful sport it is today. So I decided to dig a little further into this literary world. Soon I was reading books like Tales from the Triple Crown, by Steve Haskin, and collections like Horse Racing’s Top 100 Moments and Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century. Talkin’ Horses was a wonderful collection of chats with some of racing’s most prominent personalities, and May the Horse Be With You, by Harvey Pack, should be on any fan’s must read list. I began to discover dozens of works of fiction centered on horse racing, as well. Many of these fabulous stories captured the world of horse racing from an entirely different perspective. Pulitzer Prize-winner Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven, for example, which featured among its characters a horse named Justa Bob, was a New York Times best seller in 2000. And then there was Dick Francis, still probably the most widely-read writer of horse racing fiction. Francis wrote over 35 novels, included such representative titles as 10 LB. Penalty, The Sport of Queens, and Flying Finish, and he’s well worth a look. But my all-time favorite author of horse racing fiction is William Murray, who is unfortunately neglected today and deserves a much wider reputation. Murray wrote dozens of books of all types, but his novels featuring Shifty Lou Anderson, a washed-up, down-and-out private detective who loves the racing game, are the best. These works were centered around Del Mar, where the turf meets the surf, and Murray’s books about Shifty Lou and his degenerate buddies try to beat the game – complete with the usual bad betting and the occasional big win – all while Lou’s trying to solve crimes, were most entertaining. The characters were funny, silly, and got involved in the most unusual capers that you could imagine. Murray wrote ten novels about Shifty, starting in the 1960’s. Most are now, sadly, out of print, but thanks to the Web I’ve been able to find almost all of them. I’ve since added Murray titles like Tip on a Dead Crab, When the Fat Man Sings, and The Hard Knocker’s Luck to my shelves. Soon I was sharing them with my degenerate buddies, who also found them irresistible as well. My latest find is the biography of a New York-based trainer whose connection with famous people made him a celebrity outside of horse racing as well. The book, From the Streets of Brooklyn to Trainer to the Stars, is about trainer John Parisella’s connections to celebrities like Bono, Mickey Mantle, Howard Stern, John Gotti, and Frank Sinatra. These stories are more about John than about horse racing, but it’s a fun read, especially if you’re familiar with Parisella’s background. In Memoriam And, finally, I’d be remiss, especially in light of my recent articles on Saratoga, if I didn’t mention the July passing of 93-year-old Marylou Whitney, the “Queen of Saratoga.” She married Cornelius Vanderbilt “Sonny” Whitney in 1958, whose grandfather bought the land and built the current racetrack at Saratoga. After Sonny’s passing in 1992, Marylou used part of her nine-figure inheritance to buy much of his racing stock in order to keep the Whitney name in racing. But her influence went beyond racing, per se. The Whitneys founded the National Museum of Racing and the Horse Racing Hall of Fame, both of which are located across the street from the track today, and Marylou was an integral part of other philanthropic endeavors like the Back Stretch Appreciation Program and the Museum of Dance. She won numerous awards and accolades – including this year, when Saratoga named an entrance at the track in her honor- and was noted for her fabulous parties. Many credit her for keeping Saratoga alive when things faltered in the early 1970’s. She will be missed by all who love “The Spa” and the sport.