Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Arkansas Derby Winners
Acacia Courtney with Mike Penna (left) and Jude Feld on set with the Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN). (All photos courtesy of Acacia Courtney)
The well-known saying “time flies when you’re having fun” certainly applies to summer at Saratoga Race Course.
We’ve now reached the halfway point of the 2015 Saratoga meet, and it’s hard to believe that it’s already been three weeks since the giddy excitement of the night before opening day, back when a good night’s sleep was as impossible as a child getting 10 hours the night before Christmas.
From the first race at the Spa, to the unforgettable Whitney Stakes, to the parade of yearlings at the Fasig-Tipton sale — Saratoga does not disappoint. Day 20 just got here kind of quickly.
Now, in a “glass half full” manner of thinking, we still have an entire other half of the meet to look forward to. I mean, no matter who ends up running in it, this year’s Travers Stakes will be something special. I am not spending the entire six weeks here in Saratoga, but I have been spending enough time here to know exactly what it feels like to be totally and completely consumed by this world. I have described it as a vacuum, in which your thoughts and actions, day and night, are of horse racing or something related to it. This industry is a small one, and it is easy to spend every day without a thought of the outside world.
On Sunday, I am scheduled to emcee an event for the Miss Connecticut Scholarship Organization, and I will leave the horse racing world for the pageant world for a day. And yet, as I get ready to head home tonight, I am realizing how much I have changed as a person since my first weekend in Saratoga. Not only do I feel like my skills have improved as a handicapper, as an interviewer and as a reporter, but I think that I have, as cliché as it may sound, changed my mindset. My confidence has grown, and I owe a great deal to my mentors in the horse racing industry, as well as to my friends and family. It only makes me that much more excited for what the next three weeks at Saratoga will bring.
Here are some of my favorite moments of the 2015 Saratoga meet so far:
5) An evening at Saratoga polo – Seeing a polo match has been on my bucket list for some time now, and it was even better to do it in Saratoga. As a bonus, my friends and I decided to go on the day of the Whitney Cup, the biggest match of the Polo Association’s tournaments this summer. At halftime, patrons get to walk onto the field and stomp the divots – pressing clumps of grass and dirt that have been dislodged during the match back into place. I never knew that #SaratogaDivotStomp was such a big thing. Needless to say, I took this part very seriously. Saratoga Polo is an excellent backdrop for a Friday or Sunday.
4) Being a surprise part of TVG’s Whitney Walk – TVG’s Mike Joyce described it as “Miss Connecticut popping out of the ground like a leprechaun during the walk.” What actually happened was that I happened to be in the right place at the right time, standing outside Lillian’s in Downtown Saratoga waiting for brunch. Joyce and Paul Lo Duca walked by me as I was thinking about just how much I needed a cup of coffee, and before I knew it I was teaching Joyce how to do a pageant walk during their walk through historic Saratoga on the morning of the Whitney Stakes. Always fun with those guys!
ACACIA’S FRIEND SNAGGED A PHOTO OF THE TV
3) Dinner with my family – The best part about loving something is sharing it with people that you love. As I mentioned in a previous blog, my parents celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary this year, also on the day of the Whitney Stakes. After an incredibly exciting day at the track, I was able to have dinner at the Brook Tavern celebrating the people who have made everything possible for me.
2) The Fasig-Tipton sale of selected yearlings – This was my first time at any kind of Thoroughbred horse sale, let alone the prestigious select yearling sale at Fasig Tipton. I was moving around the sale grounds on both Monday and Tuesday nights, acting as the eyes for Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN). The session topper this time around was Hip #70 on Monday, a Tapit colt out of the Galileo mare Dress Rehearsal, who sold for $2-million. It was an incredibly fascinating experience and I think I found my calling in the process – guessing which horses will sell for the most money as they come into the walking ring before entering the sales pavilion. Growing up riding and training horses, I have come to know Thoroughbreds and their physicality very well. I am a very visual person, and when I bet on a race I like to be in the paddock looking at the horses and their movement and actions before putting any money down. It was a lot of fun to put my skills to the test!
1) The Whitney Invitational Stakes – I’ve already talked about enough in this blog alone, but Triple Crown aside, I think this year’s Whitney was the race of the year. I again had the opportunity to be in the paddock and winner’s circle, giving prerace and post-race commentary and interviews for HRRN. Throughout the morning, there were buzzes of concern as to whether trainer Shug McGaughey’s Honor Code would be able to go two turns at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Stakes. With jockey Javier Castellano aboard, he did just that. In a brilliant stretch run, Honor Code overtook the leader, Liam’s Map, to cross the finish line first in a race that will be permanently etched in my memory.