Monday, September 21, 2009


Not my picture but from the Internet.

I have never been one to seriously bet on the ponies but I did have one close encounter with the inner workings of a race track. I had met Kimmy and Tony years ago at a friends party and we became the type of friends that looked each other up when ever in the other's town. Kimmy and her husband Tony were race horse trainers. At the time in question, they had horses running at Tampa Downs in Oldsmar.

Tampa Bay Downs is the only Thoroughbred race track on the West Coast of Florida, and is known as one of America's oldest and most well-maintained racetracks. Tampa Downs first opened its doors in 1926 and has since had a long and colorful history.

I was heading to Tallahassee and thought I would take a jog in my trip to visit with Kimmy and Tony. I had never been behind the scenes of a race track and was looking forward to it. Kimmy had been with race horses all her working life. Tony, who came from a very wealthy family, gave up going into his family's well known restaurant chain business in favor of his love of horses. This caused him to forgo a well paying corporate position for the dicey one of training horses. If Tony had regrets, he never showed it. He loved working with the horses.

Now I had visited with them at training facilities but never at the track so I was pretty excited. Did not know their day started so darn early however. They dragged me out of bed at 3 and we were at the track at 4 AM. Now I am a morning person, but this was early even for me. It was penetratingly cold as only Florida can get and damp from a heavy fog.

The horses were too valuable and easily spooked to let a rookie like me jump in so I pretty much watched. Now some people may find the track and horse smell unpleasant but I find nothing unpleasant about horses. The sweet smell of hay, the ever present aroma of leather and the distinct smell of a horse, are heady to a horse lover. Throw in a little manure and what is not to love? Ok, it is an acquired taste.

The morning chores were pretty mundane so Kimmy suggested I go to the track and watch the horses being breezed. Breezing is to run a horse easily and carefully under a hold in the morning. Because it was so foggy, it was awesome to see a horse and rider burst from the fog into my vision then disappear again into a damp haze. My field of vision was relatively small thanks to the fog.

Every now and then, a horse would appear out of the fog with out a rider and running free. I learned that somewhere on the other side of the track, was usually a rider with a huge new sore spot on his body and a damaged ego. They stand tall in the stirrups for comfort to breeze a horse which makes them vulnerable to any sudden shift in direction.

The heavy fog gave the grounds a surreal effect. Lots of men, all about my size, would appear, then disappear into the haze. It had a real twilight zone appeal. I went back to see what Kimmy and Tony were doing. I hadn't noticed before but there was a one eyed rooster sitting on the bales of hay out side their stalls. Kimmy told me that he was their rooster and that he was reputed to have mystical powers. If he reached out to a horse and touched its nose with its beak, that horse was destined to win that day.

All the groomers would walk the horses each morning around the barn, keeping them under the overhang in front of the stalls. They would carefully slow the animal as they approached the rooster on his perch, hoping the bird would reach out for their horse. If the rooster did not acknowledge the horse, they would speed up, hoping for better luck on the next trip around. This was serious business.

Gray horses and horses with four white feet are considered unlucky in racing. Kimmy and Tony were selectively superstitious. They were very quiet about the things they believed in. They laughed about the rooster and ignored the gray horse superstition for they had a gray entered in the afternoon race. As it got close to race time in the afternoon, I left them to their jobs and sought a seat in the grandstands after putting a whopping two bucks on their gray. It was so cool to know my horse personally.

The race started smoothly and there were two grays running that race. Not really familiar with racing and without binoculars, I really didn't know which was Kimmy's horse. In the first turn, a gray got bumped, stumbled and threw the rider who was then stomped on by the horses behind him. The field was raggedy for a moment, then they straightened out and continued. It all happened so quickly.

The jockey lay motionless on the track while the riderless horse regained his feet, jumped the rail and ran across the infield, heading right for the still racing field of horses. He jumped back on the track, fortunately behind the group and we all started breathing again. Had he jumped in front of the pack, it could have been even more tragic. Riderless, he flew past all, finishing first but claiming nothing.

The injured rider had been removed from the field professionally and quickly. I later learned he had broken ribs and a concussion but would be good to race again when he healed. These small men and women take their lives in their hands every time they mount a horse. Fortunately it had not been Kimmy's gray that had caused all the damage. However, Kim and Tony never again took on a gray horse to train. Once a superstition is reinforced, it becomes fact to those involved.

Strangely, though not too common, if I am at a track and see a gray, I will not bet on them. Think I caught that particular superstition.

Do you have any superstitions?


  1. I don't celebrate birthdays that fall on Friday the 13t. h.

    My short period of quarter horse ownership including a 4 white stocking foal which was beautiful until grown. It turned out to be very ordinary. I sold mare and foal together-got nearly nothing for the foal. The second foal of that mare brought a lot of awards to its owner.--only one white stocking.

    In the late 80s through the 90s climaxing with my cancer episode, I became closeted at home, because something always bad, sometimes extremely bad, happened when I ventured out the front doof. I still am apprehensive.

    This period of time involved several rapidly deteriorating health conditions which contributed to this: deteriorating knees, uncontrolled asthma, multiple episodes of bronchitis and pneumonia, carpal tunnel made driving miserable.

    Home, with its familiarity and comfort offered a feeling of security I hated to breach.

    Although this apprehension still raises it ugly head, I force myself beyond it, and rationale the most dangerous thing I do is drive or ride in a car.

  2. I never knew that even though I have a Uncle in Hot Springs that trains race horses.

  3. That was really very interesting.
    I don't think I have any superstitions, now my mother, on the other hand, had a whole list of them...if you bought new shoes, you couldn't put the box on the table, no open umbrellas inside...too many to list!
    Sunny :)

  4. I don't have any like that, but I do wish that a one-eyed rooster would peck me on the nose - I could sure use a win!!

  5. I don't think I could win anything by gambling on horses. I get to familiar with them like I do dogs. I just want to pat and pet them and give them treats.

    Thank you very much for visiting Pick a Peck of Pixels and for the comment you left me there. Now I want to invite you to stop and look at my Canon camera photographs. They are some of the best I can or have taken. My Canon Blog

  6. I think I must have all kinds of superstitions that I don't really name, but that dictate in a subconscious way how I live. I think it's human nature to identify patterns, even though it is we who create them.

  7. Thanks for teaching me new things about horse racing. I know next to nothing about it. Interesting. You are a good writer. You know how to keep people's attention.

  8. Nitwit1
    Gee, do you just not age those years that fall on Friday the
    13th? I may have to try that one.
    You poor thing were almost agoraphobic. Thank goodness you were able to beat it.
    Hopefully all is behind you now.

    Ask him, I am sure he may have some of his own. I keep meaning to get down to Hot Springs area.

    That explaines everything. I always leave my new shoe box on the table when I get home. My grandmother had a ton of them but my parents never owned up to any.

    Is that for a personal win or are you a track hound. I guess if it had been true, some one would have hung around the rooster and bet on his nose pecks to made a fortune. Kimmy didn't believe it helped.

    You and me both. Will check out your new site. Ah, when do you have time to sleep?

    You are probably right and I will start paying attention just out of curosity.

  9. Thanks so much Linda. Me too. I love to learn about things that are new to me.

  10. So, I believed if I saw a penny on the ground and did not pick it up, I would have bad luck! LOL!

  11. Hi Patti, I know absolutely nothing about horses or horse-raising... (You can tell that I'm a 'city' gal! ha) ... I do enjoy watching the Kentucky Derby and other popular races--but really don't know much about it all.

    Your post was interesting. I had no idea that there are superstitions --like using the gray horses, etc. Very interesting....

    Glad your rains have quit now. We're in our 7th day.

  12. I have had the pleasure of working down at the track. The morning start is hard but it is great to be home at 9am and know your day is over. Nothing is wrong with a nanna nap at 11am ;-)

    After being bitten and run over by these hyped up creatures i decided the racing industry wasn't for me. I like the calm quite horses.

    I totally get the attraction of the smell of everything horse. I don't think an afternoon goes by that I don't smell Cisco's neck and wonder how i could bottle that aroma :-)

  13. Hi Patti,

    The first time I ever went to the horse races I went with my husband and his brother. Now we weren't horse race people but my BIL was.

    He would take every minute between races to select his next bet. Who was the Sire of the horse, had he run in the mud before.etc?. I was betting my address in the Daily Double and the kid's names or finally I decided about the third race to bet the horse with the highest odds. If I was going to win, I wanted to win big. Well, I LOST every race so far. I took a lot of razzing and laughter about the horses I bet on. "You know, they will be out there tonight with flashlights looking for your nag,etc." and then it was time for the last race.

    There was a gray horse named Zeeland and the odds were 99-1. They were actually higher,I was told, but that's as high as the board went.

    Long story short, Zeeland WON. My BIL got all excited and told me to go collect my money. I could have cried because,I had NOT bet that race so they would stop kidding me about my picks.

    That was the end of my horse racing days..That was 35 years ago and I have never forgotten that horse's name.

  14. Cheffie Mom,
    Gee, I pick them up cause I am cheap and believed Ben Franklin. Didn't know luck was involved.

    You are best to stay away from the ponies except on TV. It is an expensive sport.
    The sun came out to day and hurt my eyes. At least got some mowing done. Maybe we are finished? Weather man doesn't have us clear till Sunday. Oh Well. Hope your area dries up soon. Gets old,huh.

    Race horses are a hyper lot aren't they. If you work around horses or ride a motorcycle long enough, you will get hurt. I got out of both with all my parts though some are bent funny.
    Agree totally on horse smell. Leather is a close second.

    Aw, that was a darn shame. Guess Greys are unlucky---for you on that day anyway.
    When I mentally bet, I am 100% correct. Put actual money down and I may as well throw it in the wind.
    Kind of makes you wonder if Zeeland went on to bigger and better things or was a one shot wonder.

  15. That was very interesting. I know nothing about horses or racing and have never even been to a racetrack. Superstitions are in every walk of life, I bet. I can't think of any that I have at the moment, except maybe for the black cat thing. I would rather they not walk in front of me.

  16. Again a great story, Patti! You don't need photos to illustrate your post. I can see the fog and the horses emerging out of the fog and disappearing again into the foggy unknown.
    Have a great week!

  17. Janie B
    You are right, they are everywhere. As far as I know, I have none. If I break a mirror I can laugh and say, "Well there goes the next seven years." I do find them interesting though.

    Reader Wil
    Thank you so much. I do like your version better though. As I retell these stories, I wonder, where was my camera? That particular shot of the horses emerging from the fog would have been awesome. Thank goodness the images are still in my mind.

  18. I am not a gambler...I love Vegas where else can you sit and people carry you free drinks? When I go there I gamble only enough to get free drinks...I have never been to a horse race but I'll bet I could really get hooked on them....

  19. I can't really say I have any. I can remember my one Grandmother had quite a few of them. I always thought they were rather silly. I think a lot of hers was to keep us kids from doing things she didn't like. She would say, don't make the rocking chair rock if no one is in it, I think she said that means someone was going to die. Same with opening an umbrella in doors.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. Still working at my computer trying to get everything back to the way it was. Some things I won't ever get back, they are gone.

    Watching Dancing With The Stars tonight, the ladies dance tonight, the men danced last night.

  20. 4th Sister,
    I'm just the opposite. Gaming in the Bahamas showed me I could have a problem with slots. But horses and dogs, I just like to see the animals run. Fortunately no temptations here.

    I am so sorry you are having computer problems. My computer guy said that unless the hard drive was smashed, he could retrieve anything. Haven't had to test him yet. Good luck.
    That puzzle site you gave Reader Wil and she passed on is addictive. Thanks a bunch.

  21. Fasacinating! You have had so many interesting experiences with Animals....And I so enjoy readiug about them.
    I did not know about Gray Horses and that superstition, but I must say I don't remember ever seeing a Gray Horse on The Track....

  22. That was really very interesting.
    I don't think I have any superstitions, now my mother, on the other hand, had a whole list of them.
    How to make a website

  23. OOLOH
    Thanks, so glad you like them for they unfortunatley make up a good portion of my life.

    Thank you and welcome to TNS. My grandparents were the superstitious ones in my family.