Monday, October 26, 2009

The Quick Six

At the urging of some kind friends, I did write up a version of the big beach adventure of August. It was therapeutic. I felt I exorcised something, maybe a sense of guilt at not pulling it off for the others.

I sent the piece off to six or eight publications, both print and on-line. So far I have received TWO rejection letters! One from a publication which last week featured both T. C. Boyle and Joyce Carol Oates. I feel successful already.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

GVH Steepelchase Photos

Steeplechase Racing at Geneseo

I will be the first one to admit that I know very little about horses, less about Thoroughbred racing, and even less about steeplechasing. I am interested in all three and have spent some time this year trying to teach myself about them and trying to absorb the lessons others have generously given me.

I was going to be in western New York last weekend anyway, so I thought I would go to see the races at the Genesee Valley Hunt in Geneseo. This was facilitated by Joe Clancy of The Steeplechase Times and by the folks at the National Steeplechase Association. I was of two minds about wearing my freelance journalist hat. I had the concerns expressed above, and the consideration that this was partly a social event for me and I would not be entirely free to do as I wished.

Thus arose the problem of how to dress. I know what I wear to the track, but this did not seem right. I know what journalists wear, but I hardly had anything shabby enough. I had no idea what this kind of hunter/horseman might wear. As it turns out I needn't have worried. No-one cared, almost everyone was dressed for comfort, and besides, I have no idea where to buy those wide-wale corduroys in that particular shade of deep gold.

We arrived ahead of the NSA sponsored (and non-wagering) events and watched the young Cara Peters win the Stockhorse Sprint aboard Ace, a 13 year old gelding. That the trophy was presented by her grandparents typified the low-key and friendly atmosphere of the day.

The next race was the $10, 000 Martha S. Wadsworth Memorial run over two loops of the course and over 15 or 16 timber fences. These are emphatically not the kind of thing you see watching racing from England or Ireland where the horses scrape through some brush. It is also very much not the kind of thing you see at the Olympics where even a slight touch will knock down a lightly poised rail. These are sturdy constructions of horizontal poles on a frame about four feet high. They are SOLID.

The listed field of six had some pre-race scratches and only four starters went to the line. Steeplechases are run at a very different pace than racing on the flat. Longer distances, jumps, bigger jocks, all slow things down. The course seemed even longer than the 1 1/2 miles it was supposed to be. All of the spectators were clustered at the finish line, on both sides of the course. A small stand for officials and others was on the outside of the course at the line. Spectators stood or sat in lawn chairs. Some sat/stood on the beds of trucks both in the infield and the "outfield".

The normal racing dangers to riders and mounts are intensified by the jumps. A jockey was unseated in the Wadsworth, though he appeared to manage it alright. Since this was partly a family occasion, I did not handicap the entries or pay all that much attention to finish times. The first picture below shows Justin Batoff aboard the winner, Prospectors Strike as they clear the fence at the judges stand.

The other NSA event was the $25,000 Genesee Valley Hunt Cup. Even more scratches in this one, leading to a three horse field. Again, some (to me) slow going along more than two circuits of this very long, undulating turf course. I would guess that only from the judges stand could anyone see the whole course. Another rider unseated on a jump. A terrific crack as a horse hit the fence in front of me, breaking the top rail. The second snapshot below has the winner, Irish Prince with Jody Petty up, preparing to take a fence.

Steeplechasing in a hunt club setting will never be confused with thousands of fans at Saratoga rooting their choices home, or with the bleak emptiness of Suffolk Downs on a rainy Monday. These each have a charm of their own to me. I guess I will have to try jump racing a few more times and see if there is a fit. It certainly qualifies as a fun day out with nice people.