Second annual Mommy and Me trip to Oaklawn

Train up a child in the way he should go . . . 

The second annual Mommy and Me trip to Oaklawn was all about exposure (read about last year's visit here). I have visions of a lifetime of handicapping together, and I hope these childhood visits give him a taste of the wonders of the track and start us on this path. 

Upon arrival at the grounds, we went to one of the track's top photo ops: the horse statue, painted to match the horse, silks and saddle cloth of the most recent Arkansas Derby winner. During the 2017 season, it represented Creator, who went on to win the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown. Obviously, Case was uncooperative. However, Case became fascinated with Creator about fifteen minutes later. 

We tried another photo after purchasing a program, with the statue in the background, and had slightly better results. 

We arrived just before race 1. We watched it by the rail. He pointed at the picture of Creator on my media credential. "I think this horse is going to win," he said. I tried to explain to him that Creator would not be running, but this prediction became his refrain before every race. 

Oaklawn staff was eager to give Case a first class experience, too. When the opener was over, a team member approached us and asked if he could give Case a horse shoe that had been worn by an athlete at the track. Case loved it. 

We watched the second race from a box with friends, and then we headed back outside. The last five Saturdays of Oaklawn's live meet provide a perfect time to take kids to the track. Weather permitting, the infield is open each of these days, and the park-within-a-park includes bounce houses, live music and a petting zoo. 

But I had a few more spots I wanted to share with Case, including the paddock. We went back inside to check out the horses that would compete in the fifth race. Case was still pointing at my media credential, asking to see Creator. 

When the trumpeter played Call to the Post and the horses left the paddock for the track, I looked up and saw Steve Asmussen, who trained Creator, on the other side of the enclosure (look for his famous locks in the picture above). I knew what we had to do. Case and I booked it over there. 

"He's been looking for Creator all day," I said, after a couple of pleasantries. "Me, too," Steve laughed. And then he graciously posed for a picture, even getting down to Case height. 

After this race, Case asked if we could get Sonic lemonade (he saw the drive-in across from the track when we arrived). In almost any other circumstance, I would have voted against leaving Oaklawn early. But on this day, I couldn't imagine anything happening in the late races that would make our day more complete. 

10th annual Oaklawn Jockey Club Kick-Off Banquet

Oaklawn jockeys, owners, trainers, officials, handicappers and fans reunited last night at the 10th annual Oaklawn Jockey Club Kick-Off Banquet at the Wyndham Riverfront hosted by Frank Fletcher Racing, the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and Oaklawn Racing and Gaming. Old friends greeted each other warmly and celebrated the season that begins tomorrow.

Trainers Ron Moquett and Steve Hobby.

Trainers Ron Moquett and Steve Hobby.

Nancy Ury-Holthus, Oaklawn Racing Analyst, and her husband trainer   Paul Holthus.

Nancy Ury-Holthus, Oaklawn Racing Analyst, and her husband trainer Paul Holthus.

Handicapper Eddie "Pick 6" Pannell and Randy Atkisson. Eddie has a cameo in   this phenomenal piece   by David Hill. Access Eddie's picks   here. 

Handicapper Eddie "Pick 6" Pannell and Randy Atkisson. Eddie has a cameo in this phenomenal piece by David Hill. Access Eddie's picks here. 

Declan Cannon, who is joining the Oaklawn jockey colony for his first season at Hot Springs. Read his impressive bio   here.

Declan Cannon, who is joining the Oaklawn jockey colony for his first season at Hot Springs. Read his impressive bio here.

Jockey Jon Court, who recently won his   4,000th race  , and his wife, Krystal.

Jockey Jon Court, who recently won his 4,000th race, and his wife, Krystal.

Vic Stauffer ,  Oaklawn's Track Announcer, and Jennifer Hoyt, Oaklawn's Media Relations Manager. 

Vic Stauffer, Oaklawn's Track Announcer, and Jennifer Hoyt, Oaklawn's Media Relations Manager. 

Dinner featured keynote speaker Vic Stauffer, Oaklawn’s new announcer. He is Oaklawn’s sixth announcer since the track opened in 1905. Stauffer, who has called races at almost a dozen tracks, most recently commanded the booth at Hollywood Park. And although he has had many opportunities, Stauffer has not been at the microphone since Hollywood Park closed in December 2013.

Although he has called over 44,000 races, this was only the second speech Stauffer has ever given as an announcer. The first one was at the Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club last week. Despite his claims of being outside of his element, he charmed the crowd with his enthusiasm for racing and his entertaining stories.

“My heart was so broken when Hollywood Park closed. I wondered if I would ever want to call another race. It took a long time to get over that,” Stauffer said. “I knew if I came back it would be only to a situation I felt was perfect in literally every way. And Oaklawn Park is precisely that.”

Saying he still couldn't hear her name without getting chills, Stauffer said he owed a tremendous debt of gratitude to the champion mare Zenyatta, who helped establish his reputation as a announcer. Stauffer called eight of her nineteen victories. He shared clips from some of these calls, including her second race, when Stauffer predicted her success, saying, "Here's a future superstar. Zenyatta." He also shared some of Terry Wallace’s calls when Zenyatta ran at Oaklawn. 

Stauffer also shared a fascinating clip of his call that included the unexpected contender of an earthquake that measured 4.9 on the Richter scale. 

When Stauffer enters the booth at Oaklawn tomorrow, 1,118 days will have elapsed between his live race calls. And based on his warm reception in Arkansas, Oaklawn fans are excited to be a part of this new era. 

My holiday playlist

And now, a post completely unrelated to horse racing . . .

Over the years, I’ve crafted a holiday playlist I’m proud of and enjoy immensely. Here are some of my seasonal favorites, presented in a very loose ranking but definitely with the choicest songs towards the top.

Enjoy with this poinsettia (an Emeril Lagasse recipe). Ditch the ice and the orange peel and garnish instead with a sprig of rosemary and fresh cranberries. 

 

Christmas is the Time to Say “I Love You”—Billy Squier

This may be my #1 . . . or it may be tied with the next masterpiece . . . 

The Pogues.jpg

Fairytale of New York—The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl

An amazing piece of writing that will Rip. Your. Heart. Out. Okay--here's racing tie-in after all. If I Should Fall From Grace with God also features one of the coolest songs about racing ever: Bottle of Smoke.

Queen.jpg

Thank God It’s Christmas—Queen

Seems especially poignant for 2016. 

Queen.jpg

Merry Christmas from the Family—Robert Earl Keen

This MUST be the Robert Earl Keen version. He wrote it. Do not mess with the Montgomery Gentry version. 

Lady Gaga.jpg

Christmas Tree—Lady Gaga (featuring Space Cowboy)

I run to hit the skip button when my parents are in the room, and I thought it was totally inappropriate when the junior high cheerleaders danced to just the instrumental intro, but I can’t help loving this tune. 

Mariah Carey.jpeg

All I Want for Christmas is You—Mariah Carey

With changing phones and technology, I bought this ringtone to use for my husband’s calls at least five different times. And it evokes one of the best scenes in my favorite Christmas movie Love Actually. Speaking of Love Actually . . .

Billy Mack.jpeg

Christmas is All Around—Bill Nighy

Throwing it back to the old school method of purchasing music—I had to buy the entire Love Actually soundtrack for this one song. In 2015. 

Sarah McLachlan.jpg

Song for a Winter’s Night—Sarah McLachlan

Another heartbreaker. And if you need Sarah to break your heart some more . . .

River—Sarah McLachlan

I hope you skated away to a happier place, Sarah.

Bright Eyes.jpg

Little Drummer Boy—Bright Eyes

I purchased A Christmas Album before I was fully immersed in the digital age, and the CD was a little hard to come by. I have enjoyed the fruits of this effort. 

Adam: Cantique De Noel, “O Holy Night”—Luciano Pavarotti

This might be the most beautiful piece on the playlist. 

Amy Grant.jpg

Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)—Amy Grant

My stepdaughter sang this at Searcy First United Methodist Church during advent one year.

Carolina Christmas—Squirrel Nut Zippers

I was introduced to the Squirrel Nut Zippers when I learned they played Bill Clinton’s second inaugural ball. Christmas Caravan is a delightful album, and this is one of my favorite tracks. 

Dave and Tim.jpg

Christmas Song—Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds

I’ve loved Dave since college. Of course this song is on this list. 

U2.png

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)—U2

Bono belts out a strong chorus. 

Christmas Canon—Trans-Siberian Orchestra

We went to a TSO holiday show once, and it was an enjoyable one-time experience. However, they are on the playlist every year. 

Hallelujah Chorus—Handel

This portion of The Messiah is not about Christ’s birth, but we can pretend we don’t know that.  

Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy—Bing Crosby and David Bowie

Try to find a version without Crosby and Bowie’s long convo. More from Bing . . . 

Mele Kalikimaka—Bing Crosby

How much fun is this? 

O Tannenbaum—The Vince Guaraldi Trio

Yes, this is the jazzy version from the Charlie Brown Christmas special. 

The Chipmunk Song—The Chipmunks

Yes, it’s silly, but in my experience it IS a crowd-pleaser. 

Last Christmas—Wham!

A song about the most treacherous of days, December 26.  Yes, I know this is a guilty pleasure. 

Pink Martini.jpg

Auld Lang Syne—Pink Martini

This is the final track on the Christmas album Joy to the World. I listed this song last ONLY because this is a NYE song, but the whole album is pretty stellar. 

And finally, fare that is pretty standard but solid:

  • Blue Christmas—Elvis Presley
  • Santa Baby—Eartha Kitta
  • Baby, It’s Cold Outside—Dean Martin
  • Happy Xmas (War is Over)—John Lennon
  • Please Come Home for Christmas—The Eagles
  • Wonderful Christmastime—Paul McCartney

What have I missed? Let me know in the comments! 

Wrestling with the bottle

This is my third year to go head-to-head with the bottle at Breeders’ Cup. The first year I won. The second year the bottle did.

The challenge: I handicap the races and predict the winners of the 13 year-end championship races. Then, I create a pie chart with fourteen slices and numbered them 1 to 14. Next, I spin the bottle on top of the pie chart. The magic bottle selects the program number of a horse its top is pointing to when it stops spinning. Finally, I place a mythical (or actual?) show bet on my selections and the Magic Bottle’s selections.

Full disclosure: I dialed it in this year and didn’t use a bottle. I used a random number generator on my phone.

I know some of this is chalky, but it is the result of my own honest work, handicapping for hours.

So many of these races were agonizingly difficult to call because the fields are so crazy stacked. This is going to be a memorable Breeders’ Cup. I can’t wait. We’ll be playing the Saturday races in the Jockey Club at Oaklawn Park. 

Please note: This game idea came from the Post Parade blog (postparade.blogspot.com). The author is a witty horseracing fan in Texas. 

The Road to the Kentucky Derby--and a new decade--began last weekend

The starting gate of Road to the Kentucky Derby opened this past Saturday in Louisville. For my husband, Casey, this weekend also marked the beginning of a new decade. We decided to celebrate his birthday ending in zero with a trip to Churchill Downs for the opening of the September meet and the start of Derby prep season. 

The birthday boy.

The birthday boy.

We left Arkansas Thursday after work. We overestimated our abilities as road warriors, and we were drained when we arrived in Louisville after 2 a.m. Our accommodations at the Embassy Suites Downtown absolutely exceeded expectations. This historic property was the first in the family to open with Embassy’s new modern look. It is nicer than any Embassy we’d ever stayed in, and the staff was above and beyond helpful, from being proactive in helping us with transportation to friendliness serving the cook-to-order breakfast. I noticed this is one of the hotels offered through Derby Experiences luxury packages, and I definitely give this hotel a hearty recommendation as well. 

The next morning, we cabbed the four miles to Central Avenue and Churchill Downs (Oaklawn Park, our home track, is also located on a Central Avenue, and I enjoyed this minor similarity). We had never been to Churchill before, and I was in awe of sights: the Pat Day statue, the steps the jockeys walk down before the Kentucky Derby (and every race) and especially the iconic twin spires. 

Pat Day statue.

Pat Day statue.

In fact, the twin spires were a major influence on our seat selection for Friday. We reserved seats in the Stakes Room, where the walk-out balconies afford up-close views of the spires. 

This will be one of the photos on the Dacuses' Christmas card.

This will be one of the photos on the Dacuses' Christmas card.

The Stakes Room did not disappoint. The complimentary buffet was exquisite, and our waitress was friendly and kept our glasses full. I was thrilled to acquire more Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks glasses for my collection. We did not select our tablemates--two couples from South Dakota--but we enjoyed them very much. One of the men is a high school friend of Bobby Petrino, the head coach of the University of Louisville football team, who previously was the head coach at the University of Arkansas. This couple attends one of his games each season and all his bowl games (and were in this custom when Petrino was at Arkansas). They were in town for the game against Florida State University. They must have brought Petrino luck, because the Cardinals destroyed the Seminoles the next day. 

Peb's mural of Derby-winning riders.  Check out this amazing article. 

Peb's mural of Derby-winning riders. Check out this amazing article. 

It was great to see live racing again and some of our favorite racing personalities. The jockey colony at Churchill is strong, with emerging superstars Florent Geroux and Ricardo Santana, Jr. and veterans like Jon Court, who was unfortunately injured on opening day, and Calvin Borel, who recently returned to racing. We saw Julian Leparoux ride to victory. The next day at Woodbine, he guided Tepin, the Queen of the Turf, to her eighth straight win. Long shots came in all day. Unfortunately, the Dacuses missed out on the large win payouts of $43.20 in the third race and $42.80 in the sixth. We didn’t cash many tickets, and I finally gave up picking horses and spent the last race on the patio, basking in the glory of the twin spires. 

That night we enjoyed dinner and entertainment at the 4th Street Live district, which is next to the Embassy Suites. 

We started our second day at the track with a visit to the Kentucky Derby Museum. We went on the walking tour of the grounds. 

Day two at Churchill. Note my poor shoe choice.

Day two at Churchill. Note my poor shoe choice.

My favorite part of the museum was the movie “The Greatest Race” in the 360 degree theater. The theater is an oval, and the screen stretches around the room. The audience sits in the middle on swivel chairs. Several times, the screens show the full track at Churchill Downs, and the audience feels like they are in the infield with the track all around them. The film chronicles the day of the Kentucky Derby from multiple perspectives. I am a stoic who rarely cries, but the experience made me weep. I thought it was a powerful film. 

Winning colors at the Kentucky Derby Museum. 

Winning colors at the Kentucky Derby Museum. 

The museum had appealing interactive exhibits. A video talked us through calling a race and gave us a chance to call from a race replay. In a simulated race, we struggled to maintain proper jockey stance. We declined the opportunity to weigh in on the Toledo scales to see if we could make weight (spoiler alert: we can’t). Casey beat me in a heated, close game of Derby trivia. 

To round out our Churchill experience, we booked our seats for day two in the grandstand, under the twin spires. A bachelor party was seated in our section, and these gentlemen upheld the tradition of bringing style to the races. They seemed to have a lively time, and when a horse named Two Stepping Groom raced, we all bet it. The gelding ran last, but I trust our groom’s marriage will be more successful. 

The Two Stepping Groom and his entourage.

The Two Stepping Groom and his entourage.

The featured races of the day were the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes and the Grade 2 Pocahontas Stakes, the first races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and Road to the Kentucky Oaks. These are the first of the 35 and 30 races that grant entry into the respective races. I was thrilled to be present for the beginning of Derby season. Not This Time and Robby Albarado were victorious in the Iroquois, and Daddys Lil Darling and Corey Lanerie finished first in the Pocahontas. Perhaps we will see these horses in the starting gates the first weekend in May, but they have a highly competitive road ahead of them. 

Not This Time and Robby Albarado, winners of the Iroquois Stakes.

Not This Time and Robby Albarado, winners of the Iroquois Stakes.

I made a poor shoe choice for Saturday, so after resting up a bit after the full card, we had one final quintessential Louisville experience: devouring a Hot Brown at The Brown Hotel, which was also within walking distance of the Embassy. The Hot Brown is a unique open-faced sandwich of delight. This opulent hotel is glamorous, and we would love to stay here on a future Louisville trip. 

The Hot Brown. 

The Hot Brown. 

On our way home, we followed the Sunday Churchill races online and cheered Calvin Borel’s first win after his comeback. We analyzed the possible contenders in the Breeders’ Cup races. We discussed the Road to the Kentucky Derby. We selected racetracks to visit in Casey’s next decade. In short, we dreamed about the future.  

Let Me See the Colts by Smog

Knocked on your door at dawn
With a spark in my heart
Dragged you from your bed
And said let me see the colts

Let me see the colts
That will run next year
Show them to a gambling man
Thinking of the future

Have you been drinking no
Nor sleeping
The all-seeing all-knowing eye is dog tired
And just wants to see the colts

We walked out through
The dew dappled brambles
And sat upon the fence
Is there anything as still as sleeping horses
Is there anything as still as sleeping horses

 

 

Hot Springs with kids

Even when the live season at Oaklawn Park has concluded, Hot Springs is one of my favorite destinations for a weekend getaway with my husband or a quick girls' trip. Although Casey and I took our son for a day trip to the track, Case had not experienced any other aspects of the town. So I was excited when my friend Anne invited us there for a mommy and me trip.

Our big outing was a visit to Mid America Science Museum. This summer, the featured exhibit is Dinosaurs Revealed, composed of fossils, full-size dinosaur skeletal replicas and animatronic dinosaurs. Case has re-entered a Curious George phase, and Dinosaurs Revealed is advertised before each episode. We had plenty of time to talk up this visit, and Case was wildly excited to see the dinosaurs. I was also eager to visit the Mid America. I had not been there since I was in junior high, and the museum re-opened after a major renovation project in March 2015. 

The much-anticipated day arrived, and the kids were very eager to get inside the museum. 

Case vacillated between utter fascination and fear of the dinosaurs. 

MId America Museum received a $7.8 million grant from the Reynolds Foundation for the renovation. The Oaklawn Foundation sponsored the Digital Dome Theater, which our party seemed too out of control to try. The Advertising and Promotion Commission of Hot Springs sponsored the Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk, which takes visitors in the canopy of the woods. 

The skywalk play area is a magnificent addition to the museum. 

DSC_0327.JPG

Our kids spent a lot of time at the museum's other exhibits and thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Case asks us about thirty times a day to go see the dinosaurs again, so we will return before the exhibit ends, and this time we will make sure we visit the Oaklawn Foundation Digital Dome Theater, because apparently we really missed out by not going. 

The evening of the Mid America Museum visit, we ordered take-out from Deluca's Pizzeria. Case and I headed downtown a bit early so I could show him some of my favorite sights. First stop: The hot springs, which really are hot. 

Since the Democratic National Convention was in progress, and Bill Clinton spoke extensively about the history he and Hillary have in Arkansas, this sign caught my attention. 

I love a walk down Bathhouse Row, and It was very special to experience my first one with Case. 

The next day, we decided to visit an attraction I had never been to before: The Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo. It has been in business since 1902. It is definitely a small-time attraction, but I found it to be charming in a kitschy, campy way. A sign by one alligator pond ties the attraction to Hot Springs's baseball history: in 1918 Babe Ruth hit a 579 foot shot from Whittington Park into the pond.

Each child had the opportunity to hold a baby alligator that had its mouth temporarily banded shut. No one in our group was game. The kids could also feed the babies a bit of hot dog or chicken, and our kids were willing to try this. Feeding was the highlight of our visit (I thought we were visiting on a big alligator feeding day, but I misread the website. Next time we will make sure we are present for this event). 

Hot Springs with kids is more exhausting than a trip with my husband or my best girls. Case was a party to breaking a TV that Casey and I helped replace. I constantly worried about him pushing other kids or throwing rocks (I witnessed him doing both). But sharing Hot Springs with my son was a tremendously rewarding experience. We have so much more to explore together, including Garvan Woodland Gardens and Magic Springs.  I look forward to many more trips with him to Spa City. 

A visit to Hazel Park and a little love song to Detroit

A few years ago, my birthday gifts included this amazing map of Thoroughbred Racetracks of North America. It hangs in our laundry room and serves as a dreaming station/late-night handicapping reference when TVG covers tracks that are less familiar to the Dacuses. The most gaping hole is in the Mississippi/Alabama/Georgia/Tennessee/Carolina region (I frequently contemplate how miserable it must be to live in this area, although I know the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition  is trying to change this sad state of affairs). And in this map, Hazel Park in Michigan is not included.

My parents and sister moved north of Detroit in 1998. I was midway through college, and I stayed in Arkansas. I’ve visited the area at least once a year since then. During this time, I’ve gained an appreciation for this great city that weathered enormous challenges. Some of these obstacles damaged Detroit and its reputation. But its positives add up to an impressive resume. I am fascinated by the history of Henry Ford and the auto barons who made Detroit the automotive capital of the world. Detroit heard Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech two months before he gave it in Washington, D.C. The Motor City is the home of Motown and the Diego Rivera murals. Native son Jeffery Eugenides beautifully brings the city’s rich history to life in the 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Middlesex. The fascinating dichotomy that is Detroit is succinctly and magnificently rendered in (of all things) the 2011 Chrysler Super Bowl commercial that struck me as more as an ad for the city than the vehicle and made me immediately text my sister in pride. 

Hazel Park Raceway, located a few miles north of Detroit, hosted both thoroughbred racing and harness racing beginning in the 1950’s. I’ve read that in its heyday the scene was lively and robust. However, in 1984, thoroughbred racing ended and harness racing continued.

In 2014, after a thirty-year absence, Hazel Park started racing thoroughbreds again. I was eager to check it out, but I was unable to make it happen until this year. My husband and I made plans to attend Friday, July 1, when we were in town for the holiday weekend.

A few days before our trip north, The Detroit News published this article about the track’s comeback: Hazel Park serving to restore racing’s luster. 

I was especially captivated by these lines:

  • You spend any time around Hazel Park, and you can’t help but feel the optimism.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking. Maybe it’s misguided hope.

But maybe it’ll be close to what it was – soon.

  • Phillip Bridges Jr., a shed foreman, loves what is happening in Detroit, the resurgence and people excited about living and working in the city, and sees similarities at Hazel Park Raceway.

“It’ll get better,” he said. “Just like Detroit. Just like the old days.”

I knew Hazel Park’s fields and purse sizes would be small. I was mentally prepared for a track fighting for a comeback. I wanted to fall in love with the racing scene there, but I didn’t want to expect too much.

My husband and I invited my sister and her husband, who do not have much racing experience, to accompany us. Our visit happened to coincide with the evening of Hazel Park’s fireworks display.

My sister, Anne Nichols, and me at Hazel Park.

My sister, Anne Nichols, and me at Hazel Park.

When we arrived, a band playing a cover of the Cavalier’s “Last Kiss” welcomed us. Incredible sidewalk chalk celebrating the holiday weekend echoed the greeting throughout the track.

I went exploring. I checked out the grandstand. I visited the clubhouse, the paddock, a newer outdoor seating area and an outdoor bar. The mutual windows were hopping with transactions. Friends greeted each other on the apron. These Yankees—whose reputation had wrought them cold and uncaring—were friendly and welcoming, both to familiar faces and to outsiders. People seemed genuinely happy to be at Hazel Park.

Local track supporters were hosting PDJF (Permanently Disabled Jockey Fund) fundraisers. They worked the crowd and made cheerful small talk. I was six tickets in on their raffle and stopped by their dunking booth.

My visit to Hazel Park was extremely positive and exceeded my expectations. The track had a lot of energy and a positive vibe.

Perhaps a few more people were on hand for the firework festivities than the track usually hosted on a Friday night. I wanted to know how many. I asked several regulars for a comparison. The answers were mixed, but eventually I ascertained that a few more people were probably present for the special event. Which was okay. Perhaps these newcomers would recognize the splendor of thoroughbred racing and return to Hazel Park.

The next evening, Zac, a friend of mine from high school who has made the area home, came to my parents’ house for a cookout. We told him we had been at Hazel Park the night before. He said he was going there the first time for a diaper party the following Friday night (apparently, a diaper party is a dudes' version of a baby shower). I immediately enlisted his help in project determine-if-fireworks-night-was-an-anomaly. And then I realized it didn’t matter. Zac was going to Hazel Park for the first time for a guys’ night out. The track was increasing its reach.

And I cheered the comeback racetrack in the comeback city. Hazel Park is out of the gate running, and I’m betting on it to regain—or perhaps even surpass—its former glory.

Scenes from a Kentucky Derby party

Several years ago, my friends Bill and Phillis invited me to one of the coolest parties I've ever attended: a Kentucky Derby party. I was completely in awe of the festivities. And when Phillis decided to pass on the torch after ten years of hosting, I became her legacy (The full background of this party and transition can be found here: Accepting the Honor as New Derby Party Host). 

Phillis, the founder of the party, who taught me the ways of hosting this event.

Phillis, the founder of the party, who taught me the ways of hosting this event.

This was my second year to host the Derby party. Since my husband plays in a golf tournament that is also held every year on the first Saturday in May, I changed the party to a ladies only event. 

The first order of business was to find a fabulous invitation. 

I also decided I needed new door swag.  

And then I waited for the post position draw. After it was held, I prepped for the party's horse auction. More info on how to conduct this is here: Adding Ownership Excitement to Your Derby Party.

Several of my friends helped me create the tablescapes.

And then my fabulous friends came, ready to enjoy the Derby and each other's company. 

Several members of the first generation of the party were able to attend. 

And then we auctioned off the contenders. 

We did pretty well! We put $640 dollars in our Kentucky Derby purse. 

We had time for a group picture before the big race. 

And when the most exciting two minutes of sports occurred, I was pretty pleased to see Nyquist heading to the winner's circle. I think his 8-0 record is pretty impressive, and I look forward to seeing what he has for the Preakness in two weeks. 

So then it was time to hand out some CASH to our auction winners. 

I love my friends, and I appreciate them contributing to the festive atmosphere for one of my favorite days! And I also appreciated some creative, themed hostess gifts! 

We had so much fun, we even discussed planning a Preakness party. We now have two weeks to talk about a Triple Crown . . . to be continued!!!!!

Snapshots from Oaklawn 2016

A hefty 279 days elapsed between the 2015 Arkansas Derby and the beginning of Oaklawn’s 2016 meet. I think I can safely say I thought about the track each of these 279 days, but I might’ve taken a day or two off.

So obviously, anticipation was high for the beginning of the season. The Oaklawn wreath went on the front door.

My next-door-neighbor, good friend and fellow race enthusiast Julie and I attended the Oaklawn kick-off banquet hosted by the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and Frank Fletcher, car dealer, horse owner and Oaklawn ambassador extraordinaire (Julie and I pictured below at Breeders' Cup 2015).

We were reunited with fellow fans, jockeys, trainers, owners, handicappers and track friends. Pete Aiello, Oaklawn’s new track announcer, gave the keynote address. I had interviewed him over the phone for an article the week before he arrived from Florida (Aiello Excited About New Oaklawn Role). I was intrigued to learn he had never been in the state of Arkansas. I was looking forward to meeting him after a very genuine and warm interview. Throughout the season, I enjoyed hearing his reactions concerning Hot Springs and Oaklawn. It was fun to experience the two through the eyes of someone enjoying the season for the first time. Pete’s vivacious approach to racing and life in general make him an excellent asset to the Oaklawn community.

Arriving at the track is always a joyous reunion: seeing track friends again after seven months. It’s comforting and exciting to see everyone in their expected places. But nothing beat hearing "RACING AT OAKLAWN!!!"

And then the first corned beef of the season is DIVINE (actually, I prefer the dressed up cousin, the Reuben, from the Sports Tavern on the second floor).

My husband Casey and I traditionally begin the racing season with our friends Ted and Carrie. 

Opening weekend fell on the holiday weekend of Martin Luther King Day, and this was the first year that the junior high where I teach had this day on the holiday calendar. So for the first time, I was able to witness the running of the Smarty Jones Stakes. I was also STOKED to be present for the American Pharoah bobblehorse giveaway.

During 2015, I collected quotes from people I interviewed about why they love Oaklawn Park. And then I made a few calls to other people before the season began to add to my collection. I was shocked and elated when D. Wayne Lukas answered my call and spoke to me. And I was even more ecstatic when I had the chance to meet him several weeks later and thank him for his help. He was very pleasant and solidified his position as my octogenarian crush (Quotes piece found here: Oaklawn Park a Favorite with Fans and Horsemen).

Oaklawn is for lovers, and we were one of three couples in a group who were Hot Springs bound for Valentine's day. This year, I wanted horse racing valentines to catch on. Some suggestions:

Other can't-miss suggestions:

  • “You’re EXACTA who I want to be with.”
  • “My HEART is HAPPY when we HANDICAP together.”
  • “I don’t need to PICK 6; I only need to PICK ONE: YOU!!!!”
  • “Through inquiry at Delta Downs, a lost ticket at Oaklawn and the Uber line at Breeders’ Cup 2015, your love sustains me.”

Perhaps this trend will catch on next year? 

Casey and I had the distinct pleasure of introducing two extraordinary men to live racing. The first was my stepdaughter’s boyfriend Tom. Of course Emily, who graduates from Colorado State University next month, had been to Oaklawn. But Tom had never been to a track. Casey and I showed them a few things we look for as we read the program and the Form, and they picked up on it very quickly. The four of us had an amazing day picking the ponies.