My Dad warned me that Prairie Meadows plays to favorites and that there was no money to be made. So, I spent the previous day trying to find a way to beat the favorites on the card, but Dad was right. However in the first two races, the $2 trifecta paid over $200 and $400 each. I hit the superfecta in Race 3 but it only paid $88 and change. If you spent the day playing the winners, you spent the day dusting the chalk off your hands. In fact, the biggest “longshot” winner paid $21 and that was Classy Misrata.
The three-year old filly Classy Misrata got into a head-to-head battle with the favorite Lady Poet and LaReina de Iowa which came down to a photo finish going to Classy Misrata. This little filly had huge strides heading to the wire, the will to win was evident and she did not give up. I’m going to keep my eye on this one going forward as this was a field of seven and a whole lot of zeros in the past performances for all seven. In fact, LaReina de Iowa had never raced, not once, but put in well-fought finish for the first time starter. The most experienced in the bunch, Lady Poet, at least had five races in her career (two second-place finishes), but was outclassed by the gutsy first-time starter and finished third.
My parents used to take us to the track frequently when I was a child. I asked for a pony every year for Christmas until I was 12-years old. My cousin and I used to race quarter horses when we were kids. I have been around horses and racing for as long as I can remember. I recall one incident when I was young when a horse broke its leg coming around the final turn and caused a horrific chain of events sending bodies and horses plummeting to the ground. Back in those days, the horses were euthanized right on the track. It seemed very inhumane and traumatizing to a small girl. I cried all the way home, had nightmares, then insomnia. I refused to go to the track for several months.
In my adult life, I can say that I have never witnessed the break down of a race horse. Unfortunately, my visit to Prairie Meadows over the weekend brought back all those memories of a child scarred by the unpredictable nature of thoroughbred racing.
Sitting just beyond the finish line with my son, the 4-year old gelding Value Trap crossed in fourth place on a very muddy track. I have seen the gallop out thousands of times and the jockeys are mindful of the crowd so close to the fence. But I heard the jockey on Value Trap, the seasoned Ken Tohill, screaming at the other jockeys. He was yelling, “Out! Out! Out!” Value Trap was veering dangerously close to the fence where spectators were watching the races from the apron on a humid Sunday afternoon. Tohill managed to correct Value Trap until the horse fell to its side about 200 yards beyond the wire, slamming itself and Tohill to the muddy track. Fortunately, both rider and horse popped right back up, but it was obvious that Value Trap had suffered a severe injury to his front leg. He was standing on three legs, favoring the injured leg. Tohill stayed with the horse, held its reigns and patted its neck, consoling the broken horse. He even stayed with Value Trap after the outriders and emergency personnel arrived. When the blue tarp goes up, it’s not a good sign. My first reaction was to shelter my son from witnessing the very scary incident that so dramatically affected me as a child. My son is 18, and thank goodness was more interested in his phone than what was happening on the track. I took one last look and saw the top of Value Trap’s head as he was loaded into the equine ambulance (aka trailer), but as the trailer passed by us, he was no longer standing.
You realize at this point how fragile these equine athletes really are. Value Trap ran a credible race, looked in tip-top form and had good, productive works. There was never an indication that this horse would end his short racing career like this. It’s an unpredictable sport, in so many ways. I was literally shaking when this happened. It took me a few minutes to even realize I’d hit the Superfecta.
Ken Tohill is a jockey that I know little about, but his is a name that I will not forget in the vast pool of equine pilots. Ken Tohill immediately went to the injured horse’s side, seemingly unaware of the fact that he was thrown to the ground after the fall and literally covered in mud from head to toe. The compassion of Ken Tohill reminded me that we so often take for granted the individuals who put themselves in unpredictable situations every day for our entertainment.
My weekend at Prairie Meadows did indeed leave an impression on me. I will keep my eye on a classy filly named Classy Misrata. I’ll never forget Ken Tohill. I was also very impressed that we got a “fancy” table on the grandstand’s second level without paying a dime.
Through my research, I saw three horses on Sunday’s card that definitely peeked my interest: Bill of Rights, Bolting Brown, and Tap the Admiral.
Tap the Admiral is a good horse, but the mile 70 is too much for him. He led until the turn for home and then faded badly out of the money. Tap the Admiral finished third in his last try at Prairie at a mile 70, but Bill of Rights never hit the board in that race. Regardless on this day Bill of Rights was a VERY impressive horse and had no trouble with the muddy mile 70 at Prairie Meadows. In the paddock area as the horses were schooling, Bill of Rights stood tall and straight in his stall as Tap the Admiral walked by. The two horses locked eyes several times. They reminded me of two prize fighters about to exchange blows in the middle of the ring. They never take their eyes off their opponent. Hence, the intimidating nature of the ultimate stare-down. Tap the Admiral’s groom intentionally walked the grey horse in front of Bill of Rights, but the classy son of Tiznow never flinched.
As captivating as this paddock display of machismo was neither Bill of Rights nor Tap the Admiral won the race. The favorite (no surprise) Doctor Peter paid $2.80 for the win, but Bill of Rights was a game second. This horse has probably the most impressive resume at Prairie Meadows. (Get ready for some name-dropping.) He’s been with Mike Maker, Steve Asmussen and Chris Richard. He’s also been ridden by some of the top jockeys in the country: Ricardo Santana, Jr. and Julien Leparoux at Churchill Clowns (oops I mean Downs), Jose Ortiz at Belmont and Saratoga, and Rosie Napravnik and Brian Hernandez, Jr. at Keeneland. Bill of Rights was claimed by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, then claimed by Midwest Thoroughbreds, then back to the Ramseys and finally claimed by Steve VeVerka ending up in the Midwest circuit. 2014 has not started out great for Bill of Rights, but he ended 2013 with a win at Churchill with Leparoux aboard and recorded a 99 speed figure in that race.
As most of you know, I pay attention to pedigree. I consistently follow any horse that has been sired by Tapit or Big Brown. Surprisingly, a son of Big Brown was on the card at Prairie Meadows. Bolting Brown spends most of his time training and racing in Louisiana at Fair Grounds, but shipped to Iowa in April. He has one win since that time at six furlongs with Alex Birzer in the irons. Birzer went with the favorite and eventual winner, Melo Mason, in this race so David Mello took the mount on Bolting Brown. He stretched out to a mile 70 in his last race and had a weak finish. In this race, he cut back to five furlongs and finished second. Only one other horse in the race had ever gone over a mile, so the short distances will play in Bolting Brown’s favor at Prairie Meadows as this horse continues in his racing career. I’m crossing my fingers that trainer Ray E. Tracy, Jr. ships this horse up to Canterbury for some stakes races later in our meet. And since I’m crossing fingers, I’d love to see Bill of Rights in the Canterbury paddock too.