A Trip to the Track

by Steve Lancaster4/2/18
Two weeks ago, wife and I made our annual pilgrimage to Hot Springs for the races at Oaklawn racetrack. The drive from Fayetteville takes about three half hours, through gorgeous country. We often travel down highway 71 from Fayetteville to Alma. It is the old route through the mountains and little towns that are now more of a curiosity than settlement, West Fork, Greenland, Winslow, Mountainburg, Chester, and Rudy.

In Winslow the population is about 400, however, there are 15 churches which is one church for every 25 people in town. However, each appears self-supporting and on Sundays, the pews are mostly full. It is the rural folks coming to town that keep the churches up. Winslow has several unique qualities. It was the first town in Arkansas to have an all-female town council and mayor (1925). During the lumber boom, there were several mills in the area, a thriving downtown with three banks. Now all gone due to a fire in the 50s. Before universal air conditioning, Winslow was a destination for people from Fayetteville in the summer, breezes and average temperature about 10 degrees cooler.

The Boston Mountains, just south of Fayetteville were the source of most of the rail ties laid west of the Mississippi river in the 19th century. The bulk of the native white oak were clear cut to draw the nation from coast to coast by rail. Over the last 100 years new growth has covered the hills and dales of Northwest Arkansas, sadly little of the white oaks are left, but nature renews itself, if not in ways we approve.

Mountainburg, south of Winslow is a little larger, although the same fate awaits as most of the small communities in rural Arkansas. The lack of jobs and an increasingly older population will one day reach a breaking point. The only grocery closed recently so purchasing supplies requires a drive to the Wal-Mart in Alma about 20 miles. Not far from Mountainburg, is Chester. It sits on the rail line and has a small operating saw mill. Chester has a post office, elementary school and a B&B that does not have toilets inside the house, rural charm at its most rustic.

Rudy is mostly a suburb of Alma, it has a small community growing around the two truck stops. One of these has a sign in the window warning that the building is not a gun free zone and concealed and open carry is not only allowed but encouraged. It seems the highway socialists have taken the warning to heart. They have never been robbed, while the Pilot just down the street has been hit twice in the last year—go figure.

Fort Smith still is the largest city, at 88,000, in NW Arkansas, but the 2020 census may change that. Fayetteville was 72,000 in the 2010 and if you look at the combined corridor along I49 from Fayetteville to the Missouri border the total exceeds 300,000 and growing rapidly.  Fort Smith sits on the Arkansas river and is an inland port. The river is wide here, about half a mile. 150 years ago, Fort Smith was the frontier and the home of Judge Parker, the famous hanging judge of Indian territory. His courtroom has been restored to its original frontier style, and the buildings in the area provide a sense of what this part of Fort Smith must have looked like to the soldiers serving in the post war years.

The model for Rooster Cogburn is Bass Reeves. Charles Portis used Reeves and other marshals as a composite for True Grit.  Bass Reeves was one of the most famous marshals and was the first Black deputy US marshal in the west. It has been speculated that Reeves was the prototypical Lone Ranger. The US Marshal museum recently opened with tributes to these little-known law enforcement officers.

Heading South from Fort Smith along 71 there are no more large metro areas.  We pass through the Ozark national forest into the Ouachita National Forest (Ok, it is pronounced Wash-it-tau). If your building a home anywhere within 1,000 miles the odds are the pine for the home was harvested here. The years from 2006-2017 were hard on the lumber industry here. Small mills shut down due to the lack of demand for lumber, and the larger mills like Travis Lumber worked reduced hours and only one shift. In the last year that has changed dramatically. Small mills have reopened, and the large mills are running a second shift and Saturdays. There is a feeling of optimism in the small communities along highway 71.

As we turn to the east towards Hot Springs driving through the mountains along the Ouachita River, spring is definably about to happen. There are thousands of trees with white blossoms that Yankees mistake for dogwoods but are actually Bradford Pear trees. Yes, they are pretty but only a Yankee would not know the difference.

Pencil Bluff and then Mount Ida the largest towns between Waldron and Hot Springs. If you’re a collector of crystals or geodes, then Mount Ida is your home away from home. Both communities are slowly becoming retirement and sports destinations and neglecting their farming roots. Cattle are the mainstay among those who still work the land.

Coming into Hot Springs the highway becomes Albert Pike and not far from downtown is McClard’s BBQ. In my not so humble opinion one of the best BBQ in the state, if not the nation. A meal at McClard’s is close-packed, loud and delicious. The furnishings are the 1960s and until recently they only accepted cash, no credit cards or non-local checks, and they still close on Sunday.

Turning onto Central Ave. on one side is the Monument to Confederate soldiers. Four flags fly over the memorial, US, Arkansas, Bonnie Blue, and the First National. The monument and ground are owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). There is not, and I don’t believe ever has been, an Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag flown here. Yankee’s apparently believe the Bonnie Blue and First National are flags from the Revolutionary War, a testament to the poor state of education in the US.

Directly across from the memorial is the “Landmark” building. For 75 years the building was not an office building, but the Como Hotel one of the best brothels in the South. Sadly, it was closed in the 60s and its sordid past aggressively disremembered.

Driving up Central the celebrated bathhouses are on the right. Most have been restored as tourist sites and not operating bathhouses. It’s possible to still take the waters in Hot Springs, but it now takes some effort. The best place for that is the Arlington Hotel.

The Arlington is the grand hotel of Hot Springs. Time and deferred maintenance have had their effect on her from the glory days of the 20s and 30s. However, new owners are investing millions in refurbishing the rooms and fixing items that have been postponed for years. It is too bad that the Trump hotels did not purchase the hotel. I hope the new owners stay faithful to the traditions of the Hotel and Hot Springs. The Rebel Stakes is Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day. The question among professional and those not so skilled; is the Bob Baffert entry going to win again?

It is possible to drive to Oaklawn but avoid it if possible. During racing season traffic on Central, always a pain, is just not worth it on big race days. They are predicting a crowd of over 30,000 today and taking a shuttle from the Arlington is the better bet. It is $5 per person one way the best deal your likely to get for the day.

Oaklawn is very much like any other major horse racing track in the nation. Admission is free, but it will cost you to get out. Racing form, program, food, and drink will run about 25 dollars per person. If you drove parking will cost another 10-30 dollars depending on how far you choose to walk. On major stakes days, the stands start filling when the gates open at 11 AM for a post time at 1 PM.

One of the advantages for the player going on these days is the large number of amateurs who will bet on anything with four legs. This is especially true in the early races which consist of low-level claimers, conditioned races, and maidens. Careful watching of the odds can produce overlays that are not normal, and the place and show pools do not reflect the true odds. It is possible to get a large payout on a second or third tier horse to place or show than an odds-on favorite to win.

The last three races of the day are the stakes races and the Rebel features 5 times in a row winner Bob Baffert entry, Solomimi with a morning line of 3-2. Attendance is at its peak, this year 37,000, a new record for the Rebel Stakes and the board reflects the large numbers with the handle going quickly to 500,000 dollars in the win pool. The total handle for the race will ultimately cross 1,000,000 dollars. It’s bad news for the Baffert fans. Solomimi does poorly and Magnum Moon wins easily.

We get back in time for prime rib buffet at the Arlington.  A good night’s rest and a leisurely drive back the way we came to Fayetteville. It is an easy drive across a state that has been disparaged by the media as “flyover country”, but it is the heart of America. • (245 views)

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80 Responses to A Trip to the Track

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    A town with an all-female government — somehow it’s appropriate that Hattie Caraway of Arkansas, appointed to the Senate to replace her husband in 1931, went on to serve 2 full terms before being replaced by William Fulbright. She was the first woman elected to serve a full term.

    Boston Mountain’s role in providing ties for railroads reminds me of the role of the asphalt mine in Kyrock, Kentucky in paving the roads of the South during the 30s and 40s.

    Bill O’Reilly had a chapter on Bass Reeves in Legends and Lies of the West. He mentioned the connection to the Lone Ranger, though not Rooster Cogburn.

    A lot of people don’t realize that the standard Confederate flag they complain about was merely one of their battle flags, not a national flag at all. It was mainly used by the Army of Northern Virginia. I recall that Cleburne’s division in the Army of Tennessee had its own separate battle flag.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Growing up in North Texas in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, brings to mind a different time. There were no lotteries, casinos or race tracks. Almost no stores were open on Sundays.

    In those days, Hot Springs would bring to mind horse racing and gambling. Both somewhat exotic and foreign ideas to Texas Bible-Belt country. How times have changed.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      And that’s where Slick Willie grew up. He was born in Hope, but raised in Hot Springs. He seems to have absorbed their mindset well.

  3. Rosalys says:

    “There are thousands of trees with white blossoms that Yankees mistake for dogwoods but are actually Bradford Pear trees. Yes, they are pretty but only a Yankee would not know the difference.

    Hey! I just googled Bradford Pear tree. This is one Yankee (and proud of it!) that would never mistake that for a dogwood!

    I also googled Bonnie Blue and First National flags. I had never heard of the Bonnie Blue (and now I know what it is,) but I would never mistake that First National for the flag that Betsy Ross made.

    So, lookie here, stop lumping all Yanks together into one cesspit. I’ll bet you eat okra!

    But nice article, anyway. It makes me want to visit Arkansas and go to the races – especially since Slick Willy and Dragon Woman (I will not call her “lady”) don’t live there anymore. 🙂

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I’m not sure I could tell the difference between a flowering dogwood (state tree of Virginia, my native state) and a Bradford pear. There’s a large neighborhood in Louisville that has a weekend festival of dogwoods, and Elizabeth and I once took a visit (though without stopping anywhere, as I recall). I wouldn’t recognize the Bonnie Blue Flag, though I seem to recall that there was a song about it, so I’m certainly well aware which secession war it was linked to.

      • Rosalys says:

        The shapes of the trees are different. The flowers are different. About the only thing they have in common is that their flowers are white.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Bradford Pear trees are abundant in our neighborhood. We have a couple of in our backyard. They are very pretty when in bloom, but a pain when they shed their blossoms, which happens within two weeks after they bloom.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      Okra sauteed with garden fresh tomatoes and onions—-yum.

      Bill is a native and although an odious human being we are gracious enough to not insult him to his face. Hillary is from off and always will be. All of the worst characteristics of a carpetbagger and none of the charm. She does, however, know that she is not welcome and never will be.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Did anyone watch Justify win The Preakness yesterday? That’s two legs in the triple crown. The 1.5 mile long final leg, Belmont Stakes, is June 9.

    The Kentucky Derby (which Justify won by 2-1/2 lengths) is 1.25 miles. The Preakness Stakes is 1-3/16 miles. Both triple crown tracks were sloppy wet so I don’t know what that means in terms of expected performances in the Belmont.

    But Justify barely won the relatively short Preakness with other horses starting to come on strong. The Belmont is always a test of a champion. The odds in the Preakness were 1/5 for Justify. Hard to make any money that way. I would bet on a longer-odds horse in the Belmont.

    Still, a win is a win. But I don’t think Justify will win the Belmont.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      A couple of horses that had interesting Triple Crown race careers are Tim Tam and Sham. Tim Tam won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and was closing in on the leader in the Belmont when he fractured his sesamoid bone and had to hobble to the finish — still ending up second. He never raced again, naturally. Sham was a good racer who came in second in the Derby and Preakness, with possibly the second-best Derby speed ever (they don’t officially time also-rans, but he was at worst the fourth-best ever). Too bad he was up against Secretariat, the greatest thoroughbred racer ever (he still holds the record times for all 3 Triple Crown races).

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Secretariat was my favorite all-time thoroughbred. I recall following him in the Triple Crown, especially his incredible race at the Belmont.

        Even I got excited as I watched him eat up the track one huge gallop at a time. I have never seen a horse leave the rest of the field so far behind. What a champion!

        • Timothy Lane says:

          As I say, the best thoroughbred ever. The greatest pacer would probably be Dan Patch, as popular a sports figure as any until Babe Ruth came along. (Professor Harold Hill seems to call him a trotter in The Music Man, but he was a pacer, not a trotter.) I don’t know who the greatest trotter would be.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Then it’s time to roll out the video of Secretariat at the Belmont. Gotta love the race announcer in this video. Sham was certainly a gamer.

          Never has a horse run such a race.

          Secretariat at the Kentucky Derby was only a little less amazing, come from behind. I’ve read where the jockey on Secretariat really was a passenger. The horse had its own idea how it was going to win.

          At The Preakness, Big Red went into the first turn dead last. Down the stretch, Ronnie Turcotte didn’t lay a hand to the horse.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            What a fantastic closer — even with the extra length at Belmont. The other horses just didn’t have the stamina to challenge him there — especially Sham, who went from a strong second to just one of the pack. The Derby and Preakness were the right distance for Sham; it appears any racecourse was the right distance for Secretariat.

            I can’t recall if we watched the Derby on TV, but I was at Purdue finishing my senior year (and attending graduation — no way my mother would miss going to the ceremony). We didn’t watch the other 2.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Sham was a darn fine horse who simply ran into something historic. There seems little doubt that Sham spent himself during the Belmont trying to keep up with Secretariat. Might it have at least won two legs of the triple crown if Secretariat had been born a decade later?

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            Thanks Brad for putting up these three videos.

            They brought back old memories and tears to my eyes. To have seen such greatness, as it happened, all those years ago was a wonder and gift.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I generally watch all three races of the Triple Crown, but missed yesterday’s Preakness.

      It is interesting that Justified does well in sloppy conditions. If the Belmont track is in good condition, this might work against Justify.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I’m not expert, but I would think it would be difficult to judge these last two performances because of the horrible track conditions. But a win is a win is a win.

      • Steve Lancaster says:

        It is a tough call, even experienced handicappers throw up their hand when sloppy tracks come into the decision making process. An unexpected longshot win on a sloppy track can generally be thrown out, but a favorite winning on a sloppy track must be taken into consideration as part of the horse’s will to win. However, in the higher class stakes races, all the horses have a strong will to win, some just do not perform well in the mud. You can twist yourself into a pretzel with what if–. The best rule for the Belmont, the fastest and strongest horse wins on a fast track.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          It is a tough call, even experienced handicappers throw up their hand when sloppy tracks come into the decision making process.

          Thanks for that background info, Steve. I sort of figured the sloppy tracks threw a monkey wrench into the works. It will be interesting to see how Belmont shakes out. There’s great honor in winning two of the three legs. But I suspect that’s all it will be for Justify. Having declared that, you all should run out right now and put everything you have on Justify. I so seldom get these right. Still, my hunch is that he’ll run out of steam and be lucky to finish in the top five. You heard it here first.

          • Steve Lancaster says:

            Here is my pick for the Belmont:
            I believe you are correct that Justify will not go the distance.

            Bravazo; Jockey: Luis Saez; Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas

            This horse came out of the mist 7th or 8th at the head of the stretch and nearly caught Justify. On a fast track and at the distance my best bet by at least two lengths.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s a good primer on the 2108 Belmont: Justify bidding for rare Triple Crown sweep in Belmont

    Post time is 6:46 pm ET. And an interesting note that:

    No Triple Crown winner has faced more than seven rivals in the Belmont, so Justify could be the first. He’ll have nine horses to contend with. Justify and Bravazo will be the only horses to run in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      But of course your prediction is that Justify won’t win, or even finish in the money at all.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        That is my prediction….which is exactly why you should hock everything you own and put it on Justify.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Justify. Holy smokes. Wire to wire. Didn’t fade at the end.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Oh, my, even Secretariat didn’t do that. He never started out in the lead.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        A nice win for Justify. But Secretariat would have lapped him. In objective terms:

        Justify: 2:28.18
        Secretariat: 2:24 flat (win by 31 lengths).

        Secretariat also did something unheard of. He ran not only the fastest 1-1/2 miles anywhere, at any track in the world. He ran each quarter faster than the previous. This would have previously been thought impossible.

        Secretariat still holds the track records at all three Triple Crown courses.

        Even more remarkable (to me….especially after seeing Justify just eek out a win) is that Secretariat put that much distance on the other horses without Turcotte putting the whip to him. Literally he just let Secretariat run his own race.

        Most alpha horses presumably want to be at the head of the pack. And the head of the pack is enough. But what was inside Secretariat to run at such a speed even when he certainly didn’t have the hoofbeats or breath of the competition in his ears?

        Bravo, Justify. You join an elite class. But the wire-to-wire thing is only an anomaly relative to the competition.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Secretariat was the greatest ever. According to the wikipedia article, he still holds the record anywhere for 1 1/2 miles — but then, you would expect that of a great closer. Could he have run 2 full miles? And if he did, how far would he likely be above any thoroughbred ever?

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I’m not sure how far you can run a thoroughbred before it drops dead under the jockey or is significantly permanently injured or used up. I think there’s certainly a practical racing length in terms of wanting to see the best of the horses rather than these wondrous beast all limping to the finish line.

            According to Wiki: “The first recognised English National Steeplechase took place on Monday 8 March 1830. The 4-mile (6.4 km) race, organised by Thomas Coleman of St Albans…”

            Horses can obviously run a long way for a long time…but not at full tilt. One quickly Goggled source says, “Mounted soldiers would ride their horses 50-60 miles (80-100 km) in a day.”

            Another source mentions that, “A very long time – although it depends on how fit you are and how fit the horse is. Hunt followers often ride at a canter/gallop for more than an hour at a time over fields, hills, etc.”

            Obviously with the Triple Crown races we’re talking about a sprinting event in full gallop, not how far healthy horse can go at a canter or trot. Here seems some good all-around info:

            How long can a horse sustain a gallop? The distance a horse can maintain a gallop depends on their build and physical fitness. A well conditioned horse can easily maintain a gallop for a mile to a mile and a half. At two to two and a half miles most horses will feel fatigued. Lighter built horses (Arabians and Thoroughbreds) can maintain a gallop over longer distances than heavier horses (Draft or Quarter Horse type), and horses with longer strides can travel longer distances with less effort.

            A horse is built to cover many miles in one day, but not at a gallop. A horse can cover more ground, faster, if kept consistently at a trot. While a horse may be exhausted after a three mile gallop, that same horse could trot, with a few walk breaks, 15 miles without extraordinary strain.

            Most people assume the Pony Express riders galloped their entire route. In fact, the speed of a pony express rider averages out to 10 miles per hour- meaning they spent most of their time alternating between a trot (about 8-9 mph) and a canter (12-13mph). The Pony Express riders switched to fresh horses every 10-15 miles.

            It seems likely that you could have a 3-mile Belmont Stakes, no problem. But you’d never see that mad dash at speed through the first turn. Pacing would be key. And when you take a look at the horses after they finish the races as they are, they hardly look completely spent. That’s surely a feature, not a bug. If they’re going to race a lot, there must be a sweet spot in terms of pushing them hard but not wearing them out. Of course, horses do get injured or have accidents.

            Here’s an article that says Thoroughbreds Are Running as Fast as They Can, that basically “From 1949 to 2013, the trend for Derby winning times is completely flat.” It goes on to say:

            Even if racehorses aren’t getting faster in general, assuming random variation in the speed of the very fastest horses would mean that we haven’t yet seen the fastest horse. Denny’s calculations suggest that the current Kentucky Derby record time of 1:59.40 in 1973, held by the legendary Triple Crown-winner Secretariat, could be beaten by as much as 1.5 seconds.4 But theory and reality are different things. Denny concludes that Secretariat “may represent a good approximation of the ultimate individual thoroughbred.”

            I don’t doubt that one day there will emerge another super horse. But the author says that it seems increasingly unlikely from the limited gene-pool they are working with:

            Of course, any extrapolation from observed statistics are based on important assumptions, and Denny admits that his are, too. On the one hand, he concludes the data from the Triple Crown races indicates that “the process of selective breeding of thoroughbreds (as practiced in the U.S.) is incapable of producing a substantially faster horse.” But breeding practices could change, Denny notes, and perhaps greater genetic diversity in horse breeding would create thoroughbreds with faster potential speeds.

            Cloning (now legal again apparently since 2012) could produce an interesting circumstance:

            Imagine a future Kentucky Derby with the participation of cloned replicas of Secretariat, Sea Biscuit and Man ‘O War. Or even a race with identical cloned thoroughbreds in multiple lanes, to showcase the trainers’ and jockeys’ efforts.

            That’s assuming, of course, that Chic Anderson’s comment in the 1973 Belmont of Secretariat “moving like a tremendous machine” is to be taken literally, that there is no horse ambition, character, or even soul that strives and loves to compete, as successful athletes all do. Could you really just clone all the things that went into making Secretariat Secretariat? Was he no more than a horse machine? Simply a bit of dna?

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Training would make a difference, too. This affects the horse’s ability, but probably also its mindset. You probably can’t hope to replicate Secretariat’s training, though you might always get lucky.

              Note that in the Charge of the Light Brigade, Cardigan initially ordered, “Walk, march, trot.” Only very late did they charge. Of course, a cavalry horse is much more heavily laden than a racehorse.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Yes, I would think training, diet, and a whole lot of intangibles would contribute. I suspect you could clone a hundred Secretariats and you might get one or two who were good racers. But who knows? I think it best if we don’t run that experiment.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Yes, though his top rank came in the 2nd Cavalry under Albert Sidney Johnston. The majors at various times were Earl Van Dorn, William J. Hardee, and George H. Thomas. Prior to 1855, the US had dragoons and mounted infantry, but no units labeled cavalry.

                I would think artillery didn’t use the purchase system either (they were always a technical arm like the engineers) but I admit I don’t know for sure.

                Oops — I put this in reply to the wrong posting. It was meant as a response to KFZ, of course.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              All the Sharpe novels I have read which take place in Spain give a far amount of attention to cavalry. Given the state of war-fare technology of the period, it is not surprising that cavalry was so important and glamorous.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                In the US, West Point cadets generally chose engineering first, then artillery, then cavalry, and finally infantry. The higher your class standing, the higher you generally ended up. (I don’t know precisely how well my father did at the Point, but he ended up in the Corps of Engineers.)

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                As I recall, the engineers were the only group in the British Army of the time in which promotion came based on merit, not by purchasing a rank.

                Never forget, Robert E. Lee was an engineer.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I read that Secretariat’s anatomical geometry was just about perfect for racing. That being the case, one wonders how likely it is that another horse will break his records.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I don’t think there will be or can be another Wayne Gretzky, for instance. The circumstances and achievements utterly blasted away entire categories of what could be done. We could be waiting a while until Secretariat’s record at the Belmont is eclipsed.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Well, it’s been 45 years now, so you no doubt have a very good point. Someday, perhaps, another horse that good will come along. But Secretariat was a random chance, with everything just right, and so will the next Secretariat if there ever is one.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I do not recall ever having seen a horse go wire to wire for a win in any of the Triple-Crown races. This was a beautifully run race. Bob Baffert’s other horse in the race also came out quickly and it was clear the strategy was to let Justify take and hold the lead and set the pace by boxing in the other horses somewhat. This is completely legal.

      Justify ran at a very constant pace and never seemed to push himself until Smith flicked the whip (without actually touching Justify) in the last 1/3 to 1/4 mile. Justify is a incredibly smooth running animal.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I decided to check up the American Thoroughbred Triple Crown on wikipedia, in particular to see about grouping. Amazingly, they already had Justify listed — though he certainly deserves it for that incredible performance. The first (Sir Barton in 1919) preceded the concept. From 1930 (Gallant Fox) to 1948 (Citation) there were 7. Then there was a long wait until Secretariat in 1973 (which might have been shortened if it weren’t for Tim Tam’s broken bone), followed be Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978. Then there none until American Pharaoh. So it looks like we’re in another cluster — but there’s no way of knowing when the next will be.

        It turns out that before the concept was made more-or-less official in 1930, there were variations on when the races were held. Only the Kentucky Derby (the last to start, in 1875, shortly after the Belmont Stakes and then the Preakness) has run every year since it started. In two years, the Derby and Preakness ran the same day, which made a Triple Crown most difficult to achieve. (But that was before the Triple Crown existed. Man o’ War wasn’t a triple crown winner because the idea didn’t exist yet.)

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          If you want to see another star of horse racing, have a look at the link.


          I remember watching the Grand National each time Red Rum won it. The horse was amazing. Of all the racers I have seen, Red Rum is my favorite horse, after Secretariat. He had a lot of heart.

          If you have a chance, look for one of his Grand National victories on Youtube.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Here’s the historic 1997 Grand National. It looks like that can be more than a little dangerous. “Boondocker” sounds too much like “Boondoggle.” Didn’t figure that horse would win. I think nearing the end, the horse refused to jump over a hedgerow.

            Then Andy Pandy takes the lead…only to soon spill. No doubt the strength and endurance of Red Rum was legendary. Wiki states: “He was also renowned for his jumping ability, having not fallen in 100 races.” These are certainly races of just surviving.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              Steeplechases can be brutal. Sometimes you almost want to cover your eyes when a horse and rider go down.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          In two years, the Derby and Preakness ran the same day

          Yeah. That would have been quite difficult. Makes me wonder how soon the horses get a workout after they race on race day. They must run them a little. Probably wouldn’t be impossible to race with a couple days in between. I mean, it used to be usual for pitchers to throw a lot of complete games, sometimes on two or three days rest.

          But, of course, there’s so much money in it now, they need to protect the athletes…human or equine.

          It’s also interesting that the trainers and jockey get all the credit. The owners are really quite far in the background. Of course, they might want it that way. I’m sure if Trump owned a winner, you might never even know the trainer’s name.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Justify ran at a very constant pace and never seemed to push himself until Smith flicked the whip (without actually touching Justify)

        I’m guessing that if another horse would have pushed him a little more, Justify had it in him to maintain the lead. But you never know. But it was interesting that you noticed as well the whipping motion by Smith but the whip never actually touched the horse.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I looked at the race again and it looked like the jockey may have given the horse one tap with the whip. The rest of the time he was flicking the whip and letting the horse see it a bit.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I would love to learn more about the craft of being a jockey. Certainly the whip must have the usual utility. But just showing the whip must still communicate to the horse “We need more speed.”

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Dick Francis, the mystery writer and former jockey (which is why his books always seemed to involve horses in some way), wrote a memoir of his racing career, including the horrible day when he was about to win and the horse froze just before the finish line. He thought the horse was stunned by the cheers of the crowd, particularly since he was Queen’s Champion. But I don’t recall his giving any lessons in how to be a good jockey. And he generally did steeplechases, which are rather different from thoroughbred races.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Wow. What a heartbreaking finish. There’s actually a video of that. (Three horses can’t make it past the first fence.) You’ll see one rider taken out by a riderless horse at a subsequent fence.

                Crap….how did the jockey ever stay on that horse? Did Devon Loch slip or did the horse mistakenly see something in front of it?

                Apparently Dick Francis retired from racing the following year and turned his hand to crime writing. I don’t know which are his best books, but The Edge has a lot of sales at Amazon and is available in Kindle format. His Straight has even better reviews although goes for a couple bucks more. I’ll read the free sample of this one.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                I have read a number of Dick Francis’ books and enjoyed them all. I suggest you start with his early ones if you are interested.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Mr. Kung, the earliest book in Kindle format I could find is Reflex. Because it combines photography in it, I think I’ll start with the free sample of this one and see how it goes.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                What a pity. The first I recall reading were In the Frame, Trial Run (about radical terrorism coming home to Moscow), and Whip Hand. They all precede Reflex.

            • Steve Lancaster says:

              With rare exceptions the jockey does not hit the horse, but hits his boot and shows the whip to the horse. The horse associates the sound of the whip and the urging of the jockey.

              It is considered bad form to actually whip a $1,000,000 horse. Jockeys have been blacklisted and never work again for doing so.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                The more valuable a property is, the less you want to risk it. For example, antebellum slave owners preferred not to send valuable slaves for dangerous. Just hire an Irishman — no one cared what happened to him.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:


              If you like “Reflex”, I would suggest reading “Whip Hand” or “Odds Against.” These are books which have as their main character Sid Halley, an ex-Jockey.

              I believe “Whip Hand” was the first Dick Francis book I read. It was so long ago, that I had to look it up.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                The friend who recommended Francis to me especially recommended Whip Hand, particularly that ending. Incidentally, I found on wikipedia that there are 3 later Halley books.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            But slap a woman on the ass and you can get into all kinds of trouble.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Speaking of horses, the amazing thing was how great a horse Sham was. Secretariat set the record for in the 1973 Kentucky Derby at 1:59 2/5. Sham was second in that race at 1:59.90. This is (from what I can gather) the second fasted time ever. But they don’t count second place finishes. (Slowest time by a winner was in 1891 by Kingman: 2:52.25). Sham was with Secretariat most of the way in the 1973 Belmont but according to Wiki

    Secretariat increased his pace and pulled ahead rapidly as Sham sustained a hairline fracture in his right front cannon bone. With Pincay easing back to protect the horse, Sham ultimately finished last as Secretariat pulled away to a win recorded at 31 lengths.

    Secretariat beat Sham by 2-1/2 lengths in the Preakness. Without Secretariat, we might be talking about the great superhorse, Sham. Much like Secretariat, Sham had a big heart, “about twice the size of the average thoroughbred heart.” I still think he would have finished second at Belmont, but not by 31 lengths, that’s for sure.

  8. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I blew through the free Kindle sample of Dick Francis’ Reflex last night. And I do mean blow-through, especially in comparison to plodding through the increasingly dull “The Moonstone,” a book that showed some promise when narrated by the butler but has devolved into a quagmire of what, at best, is vanity writing. Maybe the plotting at the end can salvage the atrocious character of Rachel, but I doubt it. I’m putting this one down.

    And very possibly picking up Dick Francis’ “Reflex,” although I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I’m still working my way through the second Sano Ichiro novel, Bundori, which is consistent in quality (so far) with her first story in the series, Shinju.

    But, holy smokes, in just a few pages Francis sketches some interesting characters, what we would today called a dysfunctional family. Grandma is rich (perhaps dying) but is a horrible woman. Her daughter might be dead. No one knows because no one has seen this vagabond woman in years. The grandson/son is estranged from both. But the horrible grandma promises her grandson 100,000 pounds if he will find the sister he never even knew he had.

    You get some insider horse/jockey knowledge along the way which I find interesting. All in all, this writer has a way of not taking himself too seriously and (thank goodness) just getting on telling a story. So many authors just smother you with several levels of hifalutin pretension. Their stories (such as “The Moonstone”) then become a muddle.

    That’s not to say that this one won’t. But the author does seem intent on telling a story with highly-sketched characters and just getting on with it. “Reflex” is #17 in the publication order according to this list, so it’s not quite an early one in the series.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      That’s a nice list, especially with the ability to download any of them. Wikipedia had a good list in order, but not separated out by series, and you can’t download them from it. The ones I mentioned earlier are among the best, I think. There’s also a nice one with a unique form of blackmail, but regrettably I don’t recall the title.

  9. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    It is considered bad form to actually whip a $1,000,000 horse.

    LOL. Yes, I suppose it would be. Here’s an article on the general subject: Whip use in Thoroughbred racing: Is it necessary? There doesn’t seem to be much consensus, even among jockeys, that whips actually do much to speed up a horse although it might be useful to exert some control. But the thinking on it seems muddled. One jockey quoted in the article says:

    You’re not going to make the horse run any faster with the whip or get any more out of a horse with a whip, but you can encourage it if it’s done properly.

    What use in encouragement if it doesn’t make the horse go faster?

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I have heard that the point of wacking a horse on the rear is to make use of the horse being prey for other animals such as big cats, wolves, etc. The idea is that being touched on the rear brings out instinctual behavior and makes the horse think it is being attacked/chased by one of the many predators out there.

      Not being a horse’s ass, I am unable to judge the veracity of this point.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Nice points, both of you. One thing I will add to this discussion is the matter of spurs. Most of these are sharp, and using them on the horse’s belly is probably very unpleasant to it. (I never noticed if jockies wear spurs, but I suspect not.) Frederick the Great reportedly noted this and didn’t use spurs (too bad he wasn’t as nice to his soldiers). I suppose round, blunt spurs might work. (Putting me on a horse — or donkey, mule, or camel — would be cruelty to animals.)

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          One forum discussion regarding spurs notes:

          We call them hooks and yes they are allowed them. Most jocks will have the rubber end on them. Jockeys are very soft with them, mostly used to just give those horses that build up momentum slower, to egg on a little quicker

          A Seattle Times article from 2015 notes:

          Questions about the whip have figured into the thoroughbred American Pharoah’s pursuit of the Triple Crown. His jockey, Victor Espinoza, was fined $300 by California racing officials in April for breaking the skin of Stellar Wind in the Santa Anita Oaks, a race she won by more than five lengths. And in last month’s Kentucky Derby win, he struck American Pharoah more than 30 times, although he did not rely on his crop in a muddy win at the Preakness Stakes two weeks later.

          Noting that this is a Seattle Times article, you can be sure the “sensitivity” is ramped up to ridiculous proportions. Still, an interesting thought is posited by Migliore:

          Migliore said that if a racehorse does not respond to a succession of strikes, there is no benefit to hitting it again. Trying to explain, he began to channel the animal that has been at the center of his life.

          “You hit me once with a crop, I lunge forward,” he said. “You continue, now I’m confused. Now I feel like I’m getting punished for it.”

          Channeling animals is always a difficult thing. I wonder if the typical Seattle Times reader ever channels unborn babies.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        It seems intuitive that at least a light whip on the behind would motivate the horse to run….due to that inherent association with prey animals, as you said. It’s interesting that one study said that:

        “urging by the rider had no detectable effect on the average velocity. However, rider urging did cause a significant increase in stride frequency and a decrease in stride length.”1

        One jockey quoted in the article all but says that you have to be a little suspicious of these studies which may have a PETA agenda rather than an objective one.

        Inherent to man-on-horse (racing or otherwise) is the human exerting some fashion of control over the horse. All racing horses uses some kind of bit, for example. Whether vocal or other means of communications besides the whip are sufficient is likely a difficult issue to sort out. I would imagine some horses respond to the whip (whether applied to the hide or the boot) better than others.

        And, of course, some jockeys are better than others at applying the various methods at hand. The amusing part of the opening of Dick Francis’ “Reflex” is that the jockey protagonist had taken a fall with his horse. The well-known dishonest trainer (at least to this jockey) in front of the owner blamed the jockey for the fall. The jockey thought it was the horse’s fault and perhaps needed more training and/or blinkers.

  10. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    In celebration of the excellence of God’s creations (as bred by the astute, trained by the experts, and ridden by the intrepid), I bought a Secretariat USPS Stamp. $4.94 is an inexpensive way to share a piece of history.

  11. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m 51% through Dick Francis’ “Reflex” and I’m enjoying it. This isn’t Shakespeare (somewhat of a relief) but is competent writing. It’s reminiscent of the Spencer novels by Robert Parker, although the attitude of Francis’ protagonist is thankfully not as thick. That gets a little tiring in the Spencer novels and may be why I gave up after a couple, but otherwise they were good stories.

    And thankfully we’re not seeing convoluted Agatha-Christie-style plots. There’s an everyday realism about the stories and the characters lacking in many books whose authors surely think they must make everything larger than life and give every character a 300 watt attitude.

    I’ve seen plenty of books and movies fall apart after the halfway point lately. But I don’t think it’s going to happen with this one. But we’ll see.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I haven’t read Reflex, so I can’t say for sure about it. But I’ve read a fair number of books by Francis without witnessing any such collapse. His books are famously very intense (Murder Ink had a short discussion of this), and that tends to increase as you approach the climax. Whip Hand is an outstanding example of this, which is why my friend particularly recommended it. I don’t think KFZ has seen anything like that either.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        If this one goes well, I will certainly try another, although unfortunately the books you listed are not available yet in Kindle format.

        In Reflex, the protagonist, Philip Nore, is hardly Errol Flynn in disguise. He admits he tends to follow the path of least resistance and just sort of ended up where he ended up without much conscious choice involved. (Hey…I can relate.) He was passed from friend to friend by his mother so that she and her friends could do their drugs. (Thankfully, I can’t relate to that.)

        Nore is becoming tired of horse racing but doesn’t know where to go or what to do next. His path is at least deflected for a while when his grandmother’s lawyer contacts him. The grandmother wants him to find his unknown sister, Amanda. Philip didn’t know he even had a sister. Three different sets of private detectives couldn’t find her and the grandmother thinks Philip can.

        An interesting plot point is (again….can’t escape it) is homosexuality. The only reason the nasty grandmother is even bothering looking for her granddaughter (her daughter is assumed dead) is because the son who is set to inherit her money now is a poof….thus a dead end in regards to the normal expectations of producing progeny.

        We get some mainstreamed homosexuality as well in the back story of two very nice queers who took care of Philip for a few years. (One of about 5 or 6 people who took Philip in for a time at his mother’s request so that she could continue the party elsewhere.) And, of course, the homosexuals were the very model of good parents.

        Philip has also involved himself in the mystery of a possibly blackmailing sports photographer who died recently in an auto accident (or was it an accident?). His home was robbed twice and then eventually burned to the ground. Someone is obviously looking for some incriminating photos that he might have left lying around. Philip has discovered a few and is using his own photography skills to try to find more clues. He got involved in the first place because the dead photojournalist’s son is also a jockey at the same track or tracks that Philip works at.

        So there are a number of things going on, but not too much. And the writing style is straightforward instead of convoluted or hifalutin. I don’t mind high literature. But some of the great “classics” are, to me, almost unreadable. I love good descriptions, metaphors, similes, and such. But many writers become bogged down in the hifalutin and just forget to tell an interesting story with characters fleshed out to the point where you can at least relate to them.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          This reminds me of Isaac Asimov admitting he wasn’t much of a writer — but he considered himself a crackerjack storyteller. Stephen King has said similar things about himself. There’s a lot to be said for that. This was probably also true of Dick Francis.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Yes, storytelling vs. vanity writing. They shouldn’t inherently be at odds. But storytelling is the scaffolding and “high literature” is the veneer. Some forget that distinction. You can’t build much out of a veneer. I ran into that with “The Moonstone.” Maybe that book sorts itself in the end, but for god’s sake, just get on with it and tell a story. But it was bogged down and ruined by the Rachel character.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            Stephen King said something to the effect that Dick Francis was one his favorite writers.

  12. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s a scanned enlargement of the Secretariat USPS stamp I bought on eBay the other day. How neet it would have been to meet the horse or watch it race. Alas, I never got there. But a little memento is better than no memento.

  13. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished Dick Francis’ Reflex last night. It held up until about 80% into it and then it gave signs of the author being bored with it, as I think so often happens.

    Spoiler alerts in order to explain. Philip Nore, amateur photographer, gets hold of some of blackmail material left behind by the recently-deceased George Millace. Millace’s house has already been burgled twice and his widow severely beaten up. The house then later mysteriously burns to the ground. George’s “accidental” death is now put into question. After finding and decoding the blackmail material, Nore knows what someone was so desperately looking for.

    A rather obnoxious fellow (den Relgan) wants to take control of the stewards at the racetrack and make them paid under his direction. Lord White (one of the unpaid and most influence overseer of the racetrack) goes along with this because this fellow has a beautiful “daughter” (Dana) who is throwing herself all over Lord White. Philip Nore discovers in the blackmailing information in his hands that George Millace had blackmailed den Relgan, threatening to publish naughty pictures of him and his “daughter” who is really not his daughter.

    Millace dies before this den Relgan fellow can be blackmailed. However, Philip Nore doesn’t want to see den Relgan take control of the stewards so he goes to Lord White with the information he has. White is very embarrassed for being fooled (he had really fallen for Dana) but it causes him to remove his support from den Relgan and thus den Relgan doesn’t get what he wants.

    I don’t know if the following is a MacGuffin or just a sign that the author wanted to wrap up his novel. But it went from an interesting and believable narrative to one that didn’t make much sense and seemed rushed. Everyone knew that Philip Nore was helping his fellow jockey friend (son of the deceased blackmailer) and his mother (who had previously been brutal beaten by someone obviously looking to retrieve some blackmail material). They also knew Nore was a photographer like the dead blackmailer. And everyone knew who the blackmailer was. He had made no secret of that in his letters to the four or five people he had blackmailed.

    den Relgan, like surely anyone else who had been blackmailed by George Millace, knew immediately that the source of the information used against him was Philip Nore. This had to have been easily known by whichever blackmailer (possibly den Relgan himself) had burgled the Millace home twice, beaten up the widow, and burnt the place down. Whoever it was was extremely dangerous and motivated.

    So, of course, Philip Nore takes zero precautions and answers the first knock at his door by opening it without a care and promptly gets the bejeezus beaten out of him by hired thugs. And for me that destroyed that fine edge of comfortable believability that Dick Francis had built up in the 80% of the novel that preceded this. No longer was this reading like a smooth novel with realistic characters and drama. It was a fudge. And the novel clearly went downhill in tone and content from there regarding other things. It just seemed like the author had tired of it and wanted to get it over with.

    Nore’s romance with the lady publisher is rushed as well. One moment she says she can’t get involved with him because she stands to be promoted to the board of directors of the company she works for. The next (and it is rather sudden) she agrees to move in with him. There is no literary foreplay in between.

    And Nore may be a quick healer, as he says (a useful trait for a jockey), but he raced four or five days after his severe beating. I don’t think so. So maybe there was a time limit or a page limit to “Reflex.” But it went from a fluid narrative to very MacGuffinesque.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This doesn’t sound familiar. I do remember a Francis novel about a blackmailer of sorts who was murdered. The protagonist, a jockey who works for an owner who cheats (often by throwing races, which definitely doesn’t please the jockey), finds some letters the blackmailer sent. He would cite some serious violation of the racing rules that the target was guilty of, point out how he could report this and his evidence to get him into trouble. Or he could call on him with an alternative solution — which turns out to be nothing like the jockey expected. (Let’s just say that unlike most blackmailers, the murder victim did NOT deserve it.)

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        The blackmailer in “Reflex” generally demanded that people donate to the Jockey Relief Fund. He was a blackmailer with high standards. He didn’t apparently take any money for himself.

        This was actually an odd plot point because we don’t learn much about this fellow.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Ah, then that is the one I remember. He also would demand that the recreants stop misbehaving. The jockey narrator finds his employer, in effect, trying to find out if he can do as well honestly as he can dishonestly (and as I recall, he could).

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Yes, this particular blackmailer sometimes gave the option of the blackmailee to quit their bad behavior. But mostly it sounded as if a donation to the Retired Jockey Fund was required.

            There was surely an interesting core of a story there about the blackmailer — mostly not written. And at the end (where there seemed to be a rush to finish the book), Philip Nore did have a talk with his boss, brief and more than a bit stilted. This is another section that has no foreplay and seemed condensed. But, anyway, the owner does admit to Philip that he has made more money from win/place/show than through fixing races. That’s a small victory for Philip’s character but doesn’t do much for the novel but make a somewhat virtue-signaling point for the reader.

            After being let down in this novel, I admit that I’m not altogether ready to pick up another one by Francis. I thought the first 80% was smoothly written, unhurried, with the story unfolding logically and believably. And all the characters were acting plausibly. And then it seemed as if Francis either had a deadline, was approaching the agreed-upon page length established by his publisher, or (due to the nature of churning out a series), just didn’t want to include a longer book “for free,” and thus it was rushed and condensed.

            As much of a darkroom veteran as I am (including dabbling in color), Francis probably delves a bit too much into the details of this in the latter part of the book (the stuff in the front part is right-on). I would have taken time away from this to elaborate on his dealings with Clare (the daughter of Samantha….one of the women he was dumped with as a child by his vagabond mother). Clare (I think that’s her name) works for a book publisher and spies some of Philip’s work chronicling his life as a jockey that she things is good enough to publish. A trip to the publisher’s offices where she shows him the inside scoop of the trade would have been interesting.

            And although the death (murder, as it turns out) of the blackmailer is certainly a hinge plot-point from which everything else flows, I’m not so sure that killing the blackmailer was the thing to do. He was from the description we get of him a rather cranky old fart very protective of his status as a premium photography of sporting events (mostly racing, I guess). Who would have known of this double life? It would have been interesting for Philip to have found him out and have a few conversations and conflicts with this blackmailer. Maybe he even becomes a sort of sorcerer’s apprentice. They dabble in that a bit with Philip using some of the dead blackmailer’s material. But it’s out of character for Philip.

            But it was what it was, more of a ticking-off-points dime-store novel. But it didn’t start that way.

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