...we left off having just left Steve Wolf's place after a wonderful night out. The following day, the Friday was dedicated solely to sightseeing, and in particular a trip to the Everglades with a swamp safari and a chance to get up close and personal with some native animals. Racing at Pompano is Saturday - Wednesday so this was a totally harness racing free day for us (the only one during our stay in Florida). And due to that, I'll not bore you with our adventures but suffice it to say, we had a great time getting lost in the swamp! Although I will share some photos just to prove that I don't just take photos of horses all the time!
Once again Smarty and I returned to the back stretch as Saturday mornings are dedicated to qualifiers. We had wandered around our usual 'haunts' to see if anybody was free but it transpired that most of them were getting ready in the paddock for the qualifiers so we headed over to the race track to find a good spot to watch.
We'd only just made it to the rail when Smarty turned to me and said he'd spotted someone he recognised: John Ball Sr. I asked him if he was sure and he told me he should be considering he comes face to face with him every summer when he's bookying at York! So we walked over for a chat.
We ended up watching the qualifiers together on a bench on the corner of the track, not too dissimilar to the one at Corbiewood's stable bend (who am I kidding? There are no benches like the Corbiewood bench), discussing winters in Florida (he'd been going there every year for 30 years), the horses he's exported to race in the States and also owned in the States, the horses he's due to race in the UK in 2016 (one of which [Samos] is currently stabled with George Carson, who I am pushing to work for Chris Oakes next winter) and the harness racing scene in the UK in general. Super Duke, the trotter I'd jogged only two days before was in a qualifier, finishing midfield but still sub-2 minutes (possibly the fastest horse I'll ever sit behind), and the fastest qualifier of the morning went an impressive 1.52.4 (Scott Rocks), which was the fastest time posted that we had witnessed ourselves. As if qualifiers (technically a workout over there) go those sorts of times?! And people moaned when I campaigned to get Amman Valley's outdated and frankly preposterous qualifying time dropped in line with the other half mile tracks in the UK...people don't know they're living!
After the last of the qualifiers we went for another wander, as Smarty was keen to look out a mare called Palm Beach. We found out which stables she was in and upon locating them were told she was out jogging. John Podres also had Sealark Hanover in his care, who had caught our eye whilst racing a couple of nights previous as she is the half-sister to a mare called Sandfly Hanover who was imported into the UK in December 2013 from Harrisburg sales along with our very own Vain In Spain. Sandfly was purchased by the top breeders John & Grethe Wright of Rhyds Stud, and subsequently produced a American Ideal colt, Rhyds Ideal. The colt fetched £48,000 at the Brightwells Sale in October 2014 and was sold to David Morton, Falkirk, Scotland.
|Sealark Hanover - super friendly!|
|Palm Beach, half-sister to Eagle Luck (Camden Stud)|
That night we did indeed meet up with JB, and I left Smarty and him dissecting each race while I decided to have a go at gambling, the American way. I'll be honest, when I first started I didn't like it. And compared basically with the gambling I'm used to over here, I still don't like it. The main issue I took with it initially was that when I backed my horse, I wasn't getting the odds at the time. So I could bet a horse which at the time the wager was placed was 5/1, but which could potentially return after winning the race at evens. I would receive my winnings based on the odds the horse returned at. No no, this wasn't for Sarah. I have grown up to stand in the betting ring not only watching 15+ bookie boards but also punters in order to snap up the price before the big money comes in. A pointless exercise you may argue considering I bet no more than £10 a time; however I would counter that for a small time gambler like myself, there's a big difference between small changes in prices. I'm trying to make as much as I can from my small stake. My bet won't force a bookmaker to slash a price, and therefore the bigger gambler can still 'get on' after me. The same cannot be said if he gets there first.
In its defence, the American way of gambling, or wagering, does have its assets. The exacta/trifecta/superfecta options available carry good prize money if you can pick the first 2/3/5 etc. home in the correct order, and for a small stake these can really pay off. For someone who gambles in small change for a bit of fun, this is the way to do it. If I had been there for longer I'd have really given it a go (but at this point I was still trying to get to terms with all of the information in the race card).
Saturday night saw the first heat of Pompano Park’s Late Closing Pacing Series for mares, which had been the talk of every stable we had been in during the week. Wally fielded a mare called Godiva Seelster; Chris Oakes a mare called Velocity Vespa; Scott Schwartz had Classic Carpet and Jamie Macomber was fielding Sandysgoldenhour. We had plenty of horses to support.
In the first of the two divisions, Smarty picked out a gorgeous chestnut, which as it transpired turned out to be Totally Rusty, the chestnut mare we had seen at South Florida TC on the Wednesday before. She was as stunning on the track as off it. Her performance matched her looks and she was the worthy winner of the race.
In the second division, a mare called Showrunner beat Velocity Vespa, who Chris Oakes had told us was a couple of runs away from being in peak form as he'd given her some time off to prepare for the series. (Writer's note: Velocity Vespa went on to win the final in a track record for mares).
As far as the betting was going I was having no luck whatsoever, until Katch Kanna (remember Katch? The beautiful trotter stabled with Doo Wop Hanover and Boston Red Rocks) stormed home. I think I picked up all of $16 from my $2 stake, but I headed to the winner's enclosure to cheer him in, only for his caretaker Scott to call me in for the photo. For most of the evening there had been a small group of people sat next to me at the outdoor bar and they too were in the photo. You know one of those moments where you're looking at someone funny and they're looking at you funny and you know that as soon as you all return to your seats you're going to have to talk to each other to find out what just happened? That happened.
Turns out the folks next to us included the wife of the winning driver, and the mother of Ricky Macomber Jr, which led onto a conversation about me wanting to speak to Jamie again before we headed to New York. I was told that she would be at the track the following night as she had two drives in the Sweetheart trot and pace races for lady drivers (seeing as it was Valentine's Day and all).
And that rounded off an enjoyable evening at the races, with Katch giving me my first win on US soil!
Our final day in Florida was spent sightseeing on the coast, heading down to Hollywood Beach and around Fort Lauderdale by water taxi. That night we headed to the track for our final visit after a day in the sun.
After bumping into John Ball again, I left Smarty and him to discuss local trainers, horses' form and driver ability whilst I tried to pick some winners. There were 11 races and in 9/10 of these I had some connection to a horse or owner in some capacity, and within 15 minutes I'd selected my picks in every race. This is where the American system of betting works - I was able to place all 11 of my bets before the first race, safe in the knowledge that I couldn't miss the best price as I was going to get what I was given and that was that. This meant I was free to sit at the bar for the remainder of the evening enjoying the last of the day's warmth instead of going back and forth through the casino to queue to place my bets before each race.
Sunday night was a good night for our friends. Although Jamie had no luck in either of the ladies races, her husband Ricky drove Bluehourpower to victory in the top grade pace, and Scott's Cadillac Phil was another winner for me (having been told he was a certainty!).
Here's the full write up from the night, and you'll note the winner of the Sweetheart Trot, Back To Peace, was the first horse we met all that way back on the Tuesday when we didn't know anyone or any horse at the track! Just a shame I missed to back it...
Smarty and I were in the winner's enclosure for both Blue and Phil's victories, however despite trying to get hold of the photos from the official photographer, I haven't been successful. I did however manage to get photos of them myself:
|Bluehourpower winning with Ricky Macomber Jr|
|Cadillac Phil parading before his win|
We spent the remaining three days in New York where we unfortunately didn't make it to Yonkers on the Monday night due to having been up since 4am to fly there. In hindsight it was a wise decision as the meeting was abandoned halfway through due to the adverse weather conditions.
This is where I should be writing some sort of summary of the trip. I could write a lengthy description touching upon the highlights, but that would be a duplication of everything I've written in all three posts. Every part of the holiday was a highlight. We experienced new things, met new people, said 'yes' to every opportunity that came our way. From eating alligator tail to jogging royally bred 2 year olds, we did it. I cannot wait to go back.
Over and out,
#1 Groom on Tour (but now back home)