25 December 2009

2009: Highlights from the Prairie

At last! Wrapping is done, our bags are packed, and the Christmas lights are twinkling 'round every doorway in the Little Castle on the Prairie. Tomorrow, we battle big snow, long lines, and airport security in an effort to return to Pennsylvania for some pierogies -- and a pint from the East End Brewing Company.

But tonight, as I repose in my kerchief, night cap in hand, visions of the year gone by dance through my head. "How many old recollections, and how many dormant sympathies, does Christmas time awaken!" Dickens asked in The Pickwick Papers, and for me, the answer seems to be quite a few.

As I contemplate the year gone by, I've no sugar plum vision of Rachel or Zenyatta to muse upon this Christmas Eve. We didn't make it to a single "big" track this year. Instead, we frequented Prairie Meadows, followed Mountaineer from afar, and took a weekend jaunt to Canterbury Park. We weren't present for any Eclipse-winning moments, but oh! the dormant sympathies that arise as I recall:

* Our first glimpse of Coach Jimi Lee. The race we caught in July was only an allowance for a field of four, but still, the opportunity to see the track record holder for 6 furlongs was hard to resist. It was his second race back after a dismal end to 2008, but he looked rather jaunty in the paddock, and it was a delight to be among the handful of live spectators cheering him on. (And I do mean "handful"; Prairie Meadows start times for Mondays and Tuesdays -- 1/2 of their race days -- is 3:00 local time. The crowds are always sparse for these.) I've an inordinate fondness for track record holders; it seems there's always a little bit of local greatness around these types -- and DRF reports that he holds track records in Illinois as well as Iowa! Icing on this sugarplum: his name has graced a few Mountaineer cards -- in 2007 (I think) he won the Waterford Handicap and placed 2nd in the Christmas Sprint -- and somehow this seemed like a connection to home. Sun on my shoulders, gentle breeze blowing, and a 9-year old champ making a race of it in the stretch; what more could one want? This was the race that convinced me that I could enjoy racing in Iowa, even though Coach Jimi Lee finished 2nd to Celluloid Hero.

* Proceed Bee winning the Prairie Mile. Proceed Bee is a personal favorite, as his win in the Battaglia Memorial kept me in the game in a little KY Derby contest I play. (This year, I came in 5th, and actually received a prize!) Proceed Bee is one reason I felt like a winner all year long, and it was really nice that he made a stop in Iowa.

* Furthest Land. Who would have thought I'd get to see a Breeder's Cup winner while in the midwest? We traveled up to Canterbury Park for the Claiming Crown (where fellow blogger Ted Grevelis showed us the ropes) and had the opportunity to watch Antrim County trounce the latest BC Dirt Mile champ in the Claiming Crown Jewel.

* Red Hot and Gold. A gorgeous gray who grabbed my attention with a win in the Cyclones Handicap in June. Owner Peggy Shattuck hoped he'd be the first Iowa-bred to win the G2 Cornhusker in late June, but it just wasn't his day. He always looked good in the paddock, and the Quinella Crew always enjoyed cheering for him, no matter what, and he repaid us by winning the Ralph Hayes Handicap for the second time in August.

* Native Ruler. It was really rather cool to see owner Maggi Moss at the races, and she always looked ready for the winners' circle photos when Native Ruler ran. His win in the Prairie Express in May was no surprise (he paid $2.60 to win), but in August's Prairie Meadows Sprint, he had to wear down leader Coach Jimi Lee in the stretch to notch another victory.

* Euphony. What a beautiful horse this one is! And what a delight to cheer her to victory in the Iowa Distaff! After conquering Iowa, she went off to the Claiming Crown high on a six-race win streak. What sorrow to see Happiness Is pass her in the Lady Canterbury at the Claiming Crown.

* Shadowbdancing Before the Cornhusker, I watched this horse enter the paddock like some sort of conquering hero, full of himself and ready to run. He finished a fine second to Jonesboro that day, then in August, he traveled to the hills of West Virginia to win the West Virginia Governor's Stakes at Mountaineer. Sleek and black, this horse is the stuff of dreams. I simply adore Shadowbdancing.

* Uh Oh Bango. A phenomenal run in the Iowa Freshman Stakes earned Uh Oh Bango the season's highest Beyer for a 2-year old: 102. He's gone on to compete in some top-notch races, including a recent 2nd place finish to Rule in the G3 Delta Jackpot. Fingers crossed, we're hoping he'll find his way to the Kentucky Derby.

* Missile Impossible I didn't get to see this one in person, but I've been getting a kick out of watching her races at Mountaineer on the Calracing.com website. (What a wonderful site this is! Thank you, California!) A dead cold closer, win or lose, her Mountaineer efforts have all been a thrill to watch. If you'd like to give yourself a little gift today, take a peek at her race from 10/13. She's 20 lengths off the lead at the top of the stretch, totally out of the picture -- and, yes, she wins! Peter Berry's call is great; I like the way he pronounces "Missile" with a long I, and I love the inadvertent "No way!" he exclaims at the end.

* Mine That Bird. A Kentucky Derby winner raced at Mountaineer! Yes, the loss to Soul Warrior was disappointing, especially for those of us who weren't all that impressed with Soul Warrior's second place finish in the Iowa Derby. But the little horse and his black-hatted connections bucked the common wisdom, and gave Mountie a try. I saw it as a good thing for fans at small tracks everywhere. Whether his Derby win was a fluke or not, in my opinion, Mine That Bird was the blue-collar horse of the year.

Well, the night cap's just about gone, but the visions of 2009 remain, sentimental reminders that even in tough times, life can be good, and victory is sweet, no matter the size of the purse.

"'This,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking round him, 'this is, indeed, comfort.'" Awash in memories of the year gone by, the Quinella Queen concurs.


Teresa said...

Thank for talking about horses that do not get the coverage they deserve, and for sharing their stories. I'll look for them in 2010. And thanks, of course, the little bit of Dickens this Christmas morning.

Merry Christmas and safe travels to everyone in the Castle--

dana said...

Merry Merry QQ! Proceed Bee is also a stakes winning Omnisurface Star!


I thought Uh Oh Bango was really game/stubborn in the Delta Jackpot, I hope he does well too.

Have a pierogie for me too!

Jr. Williams said...

pulled up in grand national?
grand national odds