Category Archives: Narrative

Guest Blog Throwback: 2014 Pennsylvania Derby & Cotillion Stakes

September 2014, Parx Racetrack

Thirteen races on the day’s card were highlighted by the grade I Cotillion for three-year old fillies and the grade II Pennsylvania Derby for three-year old males. The races attracted some of the best horses from the two divisions, and therefore, about 16,000 people. I was at the Haskell Invitational in the summer and saw Untapable, the top 3-year old filly and Cotillion favorite, and Bayern, who won the Haskell and would be running in the PA Derby. Most exciting for me though and really the reason I made the trip was to see my favorite racehorse, California Chrome.

The third race was a maiden for two-year old fillies. Serious Happiness got the score in her fifth race by a solid margin. In the winner’s circle, the young filly was very antsy.
Monaguska with an authoritative victory over an allowance field in the fourth race.
Post parade for the fifth, the eventual second place finisher.
#4, Bama Bound, would get the allowance victory by a nose.
Bama Bound.
Hello 🙂
Off in the sixth!
A win by Dawly.
Cast a Doubt would cast aside all doubts in winning the seventh race (next two photos).
After a rough trip—slightly impeded in the stretch, taking lots of dirt—Catch My Drift won the eighth, her third win in four starts.
#9, Dancing Lounge, takes a look at #10, Atlantic Seaboard, prior to the Alphabet Soup Handicap.
Prudhoe Bay examines the crowd.

The Cotillion Stakes

Cassatt came first into the paddock, dragging her handler and trainer Larry Jones. Nervous or just high-strung in front of the large crowd, they were doing everything they could to keep her restrained. I heard many compliments about how good a horseman Larry Jones is. One man called someone and said, “I’m here at the paddock, you gotta come down here, you gotta see this horse!”
Final adjustments on Jojo Warrior.
Untapable remained composed and business-like. Rosie Napravnik sat calmly on the filly. The crowd cheered as the pair passed by, so Rosie quickly put her finger to her lips in a shushing gesture—which thankfully worked.

I tried to get good photos of the Cotillion, but unfortunately was not very successful. The field of eight (#9, Stopchargingmaria, was scratched) got off smoothly. Jojo Warrior had the lead in the upper stretch, but Untapable kept bearing down on her. She hadn’t won that way since her victory in the Pocahontas Stakes in 2013 (when she closed in on Stonetastic in the same fashion). The two went eyeball-to-eyeball for a dozen strides or so, but Untapable, urged on by Rosie Napravnik, passed by Jojo Warrior like a champ. Jojo Warrior faded in deep stretch, allowing Sweet Reason (#2) to grasp second money. Untapable, after facing the boys in the Haskell, found the winner’s circle again!

In the paddock stood two statues, painted to the silks of last year’s Cotillion and PA Derby winner. Close Hatches won the Cotillion and Will Take Charge won the PA Derby. Close Hatches was unbeaten so far in the year, while Will Take Charge had been retired due to a minor injury after good performances in big races.

The Pennsylvania Derby

California Chrome’s arrival was met by cheers from the crowd.
His fanbase was very prominent.
Classic Giacnroll.
Protonico.
Bayern.
Noble Moon.
California Chrome detracted most of the attention from the other horses, but Candy Boy, in particular, still inspired some awe when he passed. One woman simply commented, “You’re a big boy Candy Boy.”

When the race began, Chrome was almost immediately boxed in as Bayern surged to the front. The Offlee Wild colt (pun intended) stayed there through increasingly fast quarters—and ultimately, made the eight horse race a solo act. California Chrome toiled some ten lengths behind Bayern, who set a track record for the mile and an eighth. California Chrome finished sixth.

Tapiture’s handler looking at the replay screen.

Despite the disappointing finish, Chrome was welcomed back with a pat on the head from groom Raul Rodriguez, an acknowledgement of the power and intensity of a racing effort. As California Chrome passed by—breathing heavily, veins streaming across his coat glistening with sweat—the crowd cheered. He didn’t win that day, but his fans didn’t care. He had already won their hearts.

Bayern, with that characteristic eye, after a dominating Pennsylvania Derby win.

Guest Blog: The Long, Winding Road to Kentucky

When I decided years ago that I wanted to visit Kentucky, it was to see my favorite racehorse, California Chrome. But before I could, he moved to Japan. I hope he comes back someday (or that I go to Japan, of course); he was a special horse that really got me into racing. I’d later learn that Will Take Charge would also be moving to Japan, so I was lucky to see him near the end of our trip.

Anyway, after 12 hours of driving, I was ready—for fried chicken, Thoroughbreds, racing, and stallions. We had arrived in Louisville. For a city that hosts prestigious Thoroughbred races, has a huge convention center, is the hometown of major companies and Muhammad Ali (AKA The Greatest), the city was rugged outside of a 2 block radius, and not many people were walking around. Nevertheless, we made the most of it.

At Churchill Downs, we went through the Kentucky Derby Museum, which had some cool facts and items. When the race day began, I speedwalked from paddock to rail and back again for 7 races.

This horse got a quick wash in the paddock before gearing up.
Malibu S S, a compact, muscular horse that finished 2nd in his race.
Eleven Central being brought down for the 6th race…
…and after winning, being brought out of the winner’s circle.
Two Minute Drill first, Justifying second.
The statue of the magnificent Barbaro in the stretch of the 2006 Kentucky Derby.

We drove 1 1/2 hours to Lexington (named after the racehorse, whose statue is at Thoroughbred Park), which was more quaint but still had some towering buildings and parking garages. The area in and around Lexington has a plethora of horse farms and 2 universities—yet it felt like being in the movie Inception. Despite what looked like attempts at revitalization (perhaps derailed by the pandemic), there wasn’t much to see or do. The main street had a fair number of people; outside of it, there was practically no one. Once, as someone breezed through a red light, a woman at the crosswalk threw her hands up and expressed her anger: “Fine, just go through the red light, there’s no law here!” Meanwhile, a multinational center advertised Lexington as the city to be. As in Louisville, we tried to make the most of it.

Thoroughbred Park is a small triangular oasis.
This towering statue of Secretariat, horseracing’s GOAT, stands in a roundabout. Wish we had statues like this back home!

The highlight of our trip was Old Friends, which has retired some horses I know and watched on TV, so it really felt like visiting old friends. Among many star-studded residents, the one I was most looking forward to seeing was Game On Dude, which luckily we did AND I got to pet him (though he was more interested in eating carrots and cribbing). Dude was surprisingly unimpressive—small in stature, plain brown, a tapering snout—but a top-class racehorse with multiple stakes wins and $6.5 million in earnings.

Game On Dude.
Game On Dude’s pasture buddy, Little Mike.
Bellamy Road.
Green Mask.
Silver Charm paid no attention to us, then eventually casually walked over for some shredded carrots.
US Ranger.
Draxhall Woods and Exulting.
Milwaukee Brew waited patiently for carrots.
Albertus Maximus stayed in the field across from his half-brother, Nobiz Like Shobiz. He passed away shortly after we got home, at age 18.
Special Ring was eager to show us his lip tattoo. Sun King joined in on the fun.

Claiborne Farm is one of the most historic stud farms because some of the greatest stallions in US history have stood here. They raise horses on another part of the farm, and race their own in yellow silks. We didn’t realize until later that they are apparently very unique in allowing people to pet the stallions and take pictures with them right there.

Runhappy, a fast racehorse, is the most playful according to the guide, though still respectful as he extended his neck to mouth the air or chain. I was amazed by how athletic he looked.
War Front was a decent racehorse, but has really found his stride as a stallion, with the highest fee on the roster. He stood statue-still in the conformation stance.
Only when the guide reached into his pocket for peppermints did he move and let out a soft nicker.
War of Will (a son of War Front) begged by pawing the ground.
First Samurai begged over top of his gate.

The Kentucky Horse Park is a huge place with lots to see. There was even a show jumping event while we were there, so we snuck over to watch. Similar to Old Friends, the Park has been the retirement home of some champion racehorses.

The mighty Man O’ War, described simply by Joe Palmer “as near to a living flame as horses ever get.”
Staff Sergeant Reckless served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, and is known for her actions in the Battle of Outpost Vegas. She is buried at Camp Pendleton. “She wasn’t a horse—She was a Marine!”
Drying off after a bath.
Champion Funny Cide.

At Keeneland, preparation for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships was underway. The energy was palpable. We toured the facilities and watched horses during morning workouts. Opening Day was packed, so we hugged the rail to hold our position.

A young horse schooling eagerly in the paddock as the morning light strikes the old white sycamore.
Horses on the way to start their workouts, while others do theirs on the inside.
The stretch drive of the first race.
She’s All Class after her first career win in the second race.
Crackalacking in the post parade for the third race. They might have noticed me standing taking pictures on the highest ground available.
Olga Isabel (12) passed the finish line first, but was disqualified and placed 2nd behind Jag Warrior (11).
My Uncle Leon, energetic in the post parade for the sixth race.
Manny Wah, eventual winner of the Phoenix Stakes.
I’m not the only one who loves photographing racehorses… here’s Sabalenka.
Delight after winning the Jessamine Stakes.
Wonder Wheel after her Alcibiades Stakes win.
“The losers” of the last race of the day.
Dance Warrior, a job well done after finishing 3rd.

Three Chimneys Farm is another stud farm and was a late addition to our itinerary, where we had extra time.

The legendary Seattle Slew.
Volatile, a sprinter.
Palace Malice taking a nap.

I saw Will Take Charge in the 2013 Preakness Stakes. He finished 7th. By year’s end, he would be champion 3 year old male. Against top competition (including stablemate Palace Malice and old friend Game On Dude) in 11 races that year, he proved himself a tough racehorse. His 2nd—by a late-surging nose—in the Breeders’ Cup Classic is still one of my favorite races, for when the big chestnut started his stretch drive, you were in for a good race. As our large tour group approached, “Willy” turned to face us, ears flicking to and fro as he stood calmly, looking with kind eyes. His flashy markings made him easy to spot both live and on TV. His large, tall frame carried a musculature that exuded strength. Truly a hunk. He is also the friendliest stallion you could ever hope to meet.

Will Take Charge in the 2013 Preakness Stakes, taken with my point-and-shoot camera.

At Stonestreet Farm, which focuses on broodmares and their babies—how life begins for a Thoroughbred racehorse—we saw Mannerly’s weanling, known as the nicest one around the barn and a camera-hog. A future superstar?

Tapit – Mannerly filly.

After that, we started on our 10 hour drive back home, with lots of horse memories and without having had one single piece of Kentucky fried chicken.

The Great Tidal Wave of 1974 (revised)

When I woke up I knew something was horribly wrong. I was in my bed looking at the yellowed plastic window shade flapping and making a thwacking sound; then it would get sucked onto the screen, then it was flapping again. I ran out onto the porch and saw the sky covered with grey clouds, completely covered. They were thick like the cotton padding in the first aid kit and they were rolling super fast across the sky. I looked out to the ocean; it was dark grey, but not the metal or the flannel kind of grey— more like grey mud. There were no waves; the sea was just kind of undulating up and down and it was up way higher than it usually is. That’s when I knew a tidal wave was going to hit really soon and wash everything away. I had just watched a TV show about tidal waves, so I felt pretty sure I knew what to look for; I vividly remember the promo for the documentary showed a ship being swallowed by the wave and then some big city being flooded. I ran to tell my mom—she was still sleeping— but she said we were not going to be hit with a tidal wave because we don’t have tidal waves here. She’s really gonna be sorry.

I ran downstairs to my friend Sheila’s apartment to warn her since they are on the first floor of our apartment building and they are sure to be in much more danger, but she wasn’t home. Maybe they already knew and left for higher ground, so I ran back upstairs. I decided I really needed to get ready for this. I searched the whole apartment before I saw my pink plastic bathtub from when I was a baby. It was filled with toys which I quickly dumped out. I could still fit in it—with some room for supplies—if I sat with my legs tucked up. I decided I would put it on the porch so that when the wave came, I could float out on it; I didn’t want to get stuck and drown in the apartment. Now I had to get what I needed in my boat quickly. I decided to pack a change of clothes, underwear, and an undershirt. I could wear my raincoat and boots and hold the see-through bubble umbrella Aunt Jean got me that was my favorite thing next to my Barbie Dream House. I decided on some band aids, since they don’t take up much room, one row of Ritz crackers, a grape drink, a can of tuna, and a fruit pie— which I didn’t really like because it had fruit in it. I also took one Barbie doll— which took me forever to decide on and then which outfit she should wear. I didn’t have a raincoat for her, but I had a kind of short shiny pink jacket and some little white boots. This was about all I could fit with me in my boat. I was ready.

I sat in my boat and waited; I put it so I could see the ocean through the rails on the porch. I waited a really long time, so I ate some of the crackers and drank a little bit of my juice. Then it started to rain; the wind was blowing the rain onto the porch and all my stuff was getting wet. I decided to bring the boat inside but keep it really close to the porch door so I could get out quickly. I stood there for a while, but I got kind of tired, so I decided to sit on the sofa and draw for a bit. I could still kind of see the ocean and keep an eye on it. My mom came out from the kitchen to tell me that she heard on the weather report that we weren’t going to have a tidal wave today, just rain and wind. I didn’t believe her; grown-ups always lie, always— and she would never tell me if something like this was going to happen anyways. Why would she? I waited and waited. I got so tired that I had to go to sleep. I tried to see if I could sleep in the boat, but my legs fell asleep first and I got pins and needles. Then I decided to lay on a blanket next to the boat, but the floor was super hard so I got in my bed. I decided to keep my boat next to my bed just in case. When I woke up it was almost dark. I was hungry, so I ate the rest of the Ritz crackers and finished the grape juice. Thank god I didn’t have to eat that pie. My mom came in and fished out the tuna. “How were you gonna open this?”

Even though this was a long time ago and I’m all grown up now, a small part of me always feels like some tidal wave is still coming. And I need to make sure I always have a can opener.

Copyright © 2016 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

Shawshook

Last night I went through my nightly security check three times. These so-called ‘Shawshank’ murderers on the loose from some prison in New York could be here, where I live by now. They could. There’s so many places for them to hide around my house it’s insane. A long time ago, I was watching TV with my husband and we saw a couple of police cars go by. That’s pretty unusual in my community. I went outside and looked down the street, but I didn’t see anything and I wasn’t gonna go walking down the street at 10pm in my pajamas. So I went back in and almost as soon as my butt hit the couch, the doorbell rang. The doorbell never rings. Unless something is wrong. It was a police officer; he explained that a state trooper had been shot and critically wounded out on the highway after pulling some guys over and the perpetrators had escaped on foot into the woods between the highway and my community. He told us to secure the premises and report any suspicious activity. So I went through the house and checked all the windows and doors and looked under the beds and in the closets. We debated about putting the lights on in the basement and lower level; would that deter them or help them see how to get in better? We decided no lights. Then lights. Then no lights. Then we checked everything one more time and decided we had to try to get some sleep. I think I might have actually dozed off when all of a sudden the house shook. Whoop whoop whoop whoop whoop whoop whoop. Then bright lights cutting through the side seams of the shades. It was straight outta Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We peeked around the window shades. A helicopter was hovering over the house with a giant search light slowly scanning the our back yard. “Fuck, they’re here!” We watched the search light move to the side yard, then to the front yard. Now we were in the front bedroom peering through the shades when I noticed the the red light on the phone. I tapped my husband and pointed to the phone. “They’re here in the house. They’re making a phone call on the phone downstairs!” I said. He looked at me and said “No, you idiot, they’ve cut the phone lines outside so we can’t call for help.” I forgot how much TV crime stuff he watches. “Oh my god! We have to try to make a run for the front door and get out in the street.” Despite having just called me an idiot, he got right on my plan. Now we’re out in the street, but we’re only out there a minute until a county police car comes by. We flag him down and tell him the perps are at our house. Five police cars skid onto our lawn. Actually four, one was in the driveway. They fling their doors open, jump out, and draw their guns. “Holy Shit, we’re gonna have a shootout.” Without even being told, we move behind one of the police cars. They swarm the grounds, then into the house, all the lights on. Looks like a party. One of the police officers comes to tell us that everything looks clear but tells us to be careful and report any suspicious activity. I ask if a couple of officers could come back in with us; I explain that our phones are not working. This is BCF (before cell phones). We go in the house and the officer picks the phone up in the kitchen. It’s beeping. Maybe another phone in the house is off the hook, he asks. We go down to the lower level. Yes, the phone is off the hook. I hang it back up and explain, in the most non-crazy sounding way I can, that I am very meticulous and would never leave a phone off the hook and could we please look through the house again. We look everywhere, including behind the furnace. All the while I’m thinking ‘I sure hope these police officer’s shoes don’t make any marks on my rugs.’ “Okay ma’am, everything looks okay. You all have a good night and call us if you see anything suspicious.”

After they left, I checked every lock again. I drew curtains, shades, and put on lights. Maybe we should leave the TV on? My husband said we need to try and get some sleep and, “Oh, remember when Barbara called and I came up to get you? I think I might’ve left the phone off the hook. I can’t remember if I went back down or not.”

They were caught two days later behind a convenience store twenty plus miles from where I live. The only suspicious thing here was my dang mind.

Copyright © 2015 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

Mrs. Ajemian

Mrs Ajemian lived in a giant old house across the street from the apartment building where my mom and I lived in our decayed beach town. Through my nine-year-old eyes, she looked not just old, but ancient, like something out of a history book; this was possibly because she dressed like a character out of a Dickens novel. I went over there quite a bit until we moved because I didn’t have any friends— I had what my mother called fair-weather friends. My mother would say “why don’t you go over and help Mrs. Ajemian.”

She’d open her big wooden door and I could never tell if she was happy to see me or annoyed that I was there again. She wore slippers with big socks that sunk down around her ankles. Her legs had lots of brown spots on them. She had on a dress with small flowers all over it; I don’t remember her wearing anything else. On top of that was a sweater and on top of that was an apron with ruffled sleeves and a pocket that didn’t match. She had her glasses around her neck, but when they were on her nose, they sat there crookedly because she had what looked like bits of tissue wrapped around the nose pads. Everything in her house was worn-out and threadbare: paint worn off every corner, a bare path through every carpet.

Some days she would be sewing. Most of this was really mending now, but she told me she used to sew all her clothes. I can’t even imagine this. She had this kind of round muslin ball thing that she would use to mend socks. If she would have used the same thread color, you wouldn’t have been able to tell the sock had ever had a hole in it, but she had a whole shoe box full of odd threads and when she found one long enough, whatever color it was, that was the one. When something was finally too worn out, the buttons where put into a jar and everything else into a basket— these were ‘spare parts.’ If it was too worn out to be a spare, the last stop was a cleaning rag. Once, we cleaned windows with newspaper and vinegar. I tried this one time when I was all grown up, but all I got were two extremely black hands. Newspapers must have been different then.

The most amazing thing was how she could turn one chicken into a week’s worth of food. First, she would roast it in a pan with carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, and some other stuff that I didn’t recognize. Turnips, maybe? She would cover it with foil that she had washed and saved. She never threw out foil until it completely fell apart. Dinner would be the roast chicken with the vegetables. Then she would take almost all meat off. This would become chicken salad. She made a chicken salad sandwich for me once, but I didn’t like it at all— the bread was slathered with butter and the salad had raisins in it which I thought was super weird. I told her I was full, so she packed up what I hadn’t eaten in one of the bread bags with twisty ties she saved. She probably never had to buy a plastic bag. The rest of the chicken carcass went back into a big pot with some more stuff and boiled away until it became soup. She even rolled out her own soup noodles and cut them haphazardly; these would be rustic artisanal noodles now.

The only beautiful thing she had was a lace tablecloth. It had a few stains on it and some tears, but I remember it because she said her mother had made it and I couldn’t believe that someone could make something so intricate. She came from Armenia, and, as my mother pointed out, she and her husband arrived in America at the worst possible time: the dawn of the Great Depression. All she would say was “hard times, hard times.” I asked her about Armenia all the time. I probably don’t remember everything she told me, but I do remember three things: she didn’t have indoor plumbing, so they had to fetch water and use an outhouse, they didn’t have electricity, and their ‘car’ was a donkey and a cart. I didn’t realize until I grew up how ingenious (and of course eco-friendly) a life of scarcity had made her.

Everyone I have ever told this story to says they wish they could be like her.

Copyright © 2013 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

The Great Tidal Wave of 1974

When I woke up I knew something was horribly wrong. I lie there in my bed looking at the yellowed plastic window shade flapping and making a thwacking sound; then it would get sucked onto the screen, then it was flapping again. I ran out onto the porch and saw the sky covered with grey clouds, completely covered. They were thick like the cotton padding in the first aid kit and they were moving super fast. I looked out to the ocean; it was dark grey, but not the metal kind of grey— more like grey mud. There were no waves; the sea was just kind of rolling and it looked like it was up way higher than it usually is. That’s when I knew a tidal wave was going to hit really soon and wash everything away. I had just seen a show about tidal waves, so I felt pretty sure I knew what to look for. I ran to tell my mom in the kitchen, but she said we were not going to be hit with a tidal wave because we don’t have tidal waves here. She’s really gonna be sorry.

I ran downstairs to my friend Sheila’s apartment to warn her since they are on the first floor of our apartment building and they are sure to be in much more danger, but she wasn’t home. Maybe they already knew and went somewhere safe so I ran back upstairs. I decided I really needed to get ready for this. I searched the whole apartment before I saw my pink plastic bathtub from when I was a baby. It was filled with toys which I quickly dumped out. I could still fit in it with some room for supplies if I sat with my legs tucked up. I decided I would put it on the porch so that when the wave came, I could float out on it; I didn’t want to get stuck and drown in the apartment. Now I had to get what I needed in my boat quickly. I decided to pack a change of clothes, underwear and an undershirt. I could wear my raincoat and boots and hold the see-through bubble umbrella Aunt Jean got me that was my favorite thing next to my Barbie Dreamhouse. I decided on some band aids, since they don’t take up much room, one row of Ritz crackers, a grape Little Hug, a can of tuna, and a fruit pie, which I didn’t really like (we didn’t have any Yodels). I also took one Barbie doll— which took me forever to decide on and then which outfit she should wear. I didn’t have a raincoat for her, but I had a kind of short shiny pink jacket and some little white boots. This was about all I could fit with me in my boat. I was ready.

I sat in my boat and waited; I put is so I could see the ocean through the rails on the porch. I waited a really long time, so I ate some of the crackers and drank a little bit of my juice. Then it started to rain; the wind was blowing the rain onto the porch and it was getting kind of hard to keep my eyes open with the rain heading right into my face. I decided to bring the boat inside but keep it really close to the porch door so I could get out quickly. I stood there for awhile, but I got kind of tired so I decided to sit on the sofa and draw for a bit. I could still kind of see the ocean and keep an eye on it. My mother came out from the kitchen to tell me that she heard on the weather that we were not going to have a tidal wave today, just rain and wind. I didn’t believe her; grown-ups always lie, always— and she would never tell me if something like this was going to happen anyways. I waited and waited. I got so tired that I had to go to sleep. I tried to see if I could sleep in the boat, but only my legs fell asleep and got pins and needles; then I decided to lay on a blanket next to the boat, but the floor was super hard so I went to my bed. I decided to keep my boat next to my bed just in case. When I woke up it was dark, I was hungry so I ate the rest of the Ritz crackers and finished the grape juice.

Even though this was a long time ago and I’m all grown up now, a small part of me always feels like the tidal wave is still coming.

Copyright © 2013 MRStrauss • All rights reserved