Racing through January

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Proxy preps for Saturday’s Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup.
Lauren King photo

January ends next week, which closes what might qualify as a quiet month at ST Publishing. The calendars are sold, mostly. The Saratoga Special is six (OK five and change) months away. Other projects grind on, but this time of year offers a chance to breathe, regroup, get tied on for the coming ride on racing’s rollercoaster.

The sport itself even seems to take a bit of a breath, though that gets released with Thursday’s Eclipse Awards presentations and Saturday’s Pegasus card at Gulfstream Park. But let’s catch up. Hopefully this is the beginning of some more content in this space and beyond on the site.

Law Man’s Award
ST managing editor Tom Law will receive an Eclipse Award Thursday. If you know the man, you’re happy for him. He wrote a good story about last year’s Preakness Stakes – Early Voting might not spring into the front of your brain when it comes to stories of the year, but Tom’s coverage in Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred magazine brought the race and the winner’s path to life.

I recall standing next to Tom in the Pimlico infield after the race and just concluding that he should write the main story. I’m not sure why exactly. We don’t follow a plan on these things – they just kind of happen. We had decent stuff about the horse and knew we could tell the story, then jockey Jose Ortiz stopped to talk about his first encounter with the Preakness winner back in the fall. It involved water buckets getting knocked off their hooks in the shedrow by a good-feeling, unraced colt. Ortiz laughed about it then, rode the sun of Gun Runner in a workout and told Brown there was plenty of ability there. Ortiz said Early Voting just might need time. He got it, making his debut in December at Aqueduct to set himself on the path to a classic victory. The jockey’s insight is the kind of detail you love to get as a writer. The same goes for trainer Chad Brown’s thoughts on his decision-making behind staying in New York for the winter and skipping the Kentucky Derby.

Tom covered it all, really well and you can read it at the Mid-Atlantic website.

I was out on a run in Fair Hill when he called with the Eclipse news in late December, but he left a voicemail (hardly ever does that) saying “Give me a buzz. I got some news, some good news.”

The best news. Tom’s Preakness story won in the News/Enterprise category, the second consecutive Eclipse for Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, Tom’s second (for a Thoroughbred Times multi-media piece with Greg Charkoudian in 2011) and the third since ST began editing Mid-Atlantic in 2012.

Tom will pick up his prize at the Eclipse ceremony Thursday at The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Fla. The media awards are somewhere well down the list in importance at the dinner – Flightline, take a bow – but, whatever. Tom gets his moment.

Anybody who knows him is happy, but even if you don’t you ought to be. Tom writes as well as anyone. He cares more. He works harder. He leads, teaches, coaches, sets an example. President of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, he also deals with plenty. When California considered requiring racing licenses for media members, Tom got the call. When a 2021 Eclipse voter went off-script with his votes, Tom got the call. When a racetrack or the Breeders’ Cup or some other entity decides to change a procedure to do with access or credentialing or some other service, Tom gets the call. He’s on the Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards panel, part of the Hall of Fame nominating/voting process and until recently president of The Saratoga Stryders running club (now he’s on the election committee). He’s a mentor, a career advisor, the go-to person for any number of people inside and outside racing.

The Eclipse Award is a writing award, so that stuff shouldn’t matter to the judges, but it matters to me and to anyone who knows Tom. Tell him congratulations when you see him.

The Eclipse Awards presentations will be broadcast live on Fanduel TV and other outlets starting at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Thursday. For more, see the NTRA website’s Eclipse section.

Pegasus Time
It’s not Breeders’ Cup Day, Travers Day, Derby Day or even Preakness Day, but Gulfstream Park’s Pegasus World (I know it’s not really World but whatever) Cup card will do as an early 2023 headliner for racing. Seven graded stakes headline a 13-race program. Seven.

The $3 million Pegasus lured 12 (plus two on the also-eligible list) led by last year’s Haskell winner Cyberknife, who makes his final start before heading off to stud at Spendthrift Farm. Other than the Kentucky Derby (18th) and the Lecomte (sixth), the Gun Runner colt has finished third or better every time he’s run. Saturday, he takes on fellow 4-year-olds Skippylingstocking, White Abarrio and Simplification plus stakes veteran Art Collector, California Grade 1 winner Defunded and improving 5-year-old Proxy.

Nobody in the field will be confused with Flightline, but it’s some race. Proxy will have to navigate a trip from the rail, but is my pick.

The $1 million Pegasus Turf looks like fun too with a mix of horses that only seems to happen in turf racing – new 4-year-olds with major wins, a French import making his American debut, a Grade 2-winning mare, a New York-bred stakes winner and so on. Speaking Scout and Wit, the 4-year-olds who were first and third in the Hollywood Derby late last year, are both interesting. Same with Hurricane Dream, who took on Mishriff in 2020 and just missed in a German Group 2 last year. City Man won four turf stakes last year and tuned up for this with a Grade 2 win over the Gulfstream course Dec. 31.

The day includes five other major races – the 1 1/2-mile McKnight and La Preyovante for male and female turf horses, respectively, the 7-furlong Inside Information for distaff sprinters, the Fred Hooper (I’m old enough to remember Susan’s Girl and Quaze Quilt) going a one-turn mile on the dirt and the Pegasus Filly and Mare turf (one more time, with feeling, for Dalika). First post is 10:50 a.m. so get started early people.

Remembering Tesher
Retired trainer Howie Tesher died last week at 90 (see Dave Grening’s coverage at DRF). I didn’t really cover him much, but I have one early memory that will stick with me. At the 1990 Preakness, Tesher’s entrant Champagneforashley fractured a sesamoid two days before the race. I remember crowding around the trainer with other reporters – Joe Hirsch, Dale Austin, Vinnie Perrone and so on – at the barn as veterinarians attended to the horse.

Tesher was crushed, but also smart and funny and caring. He took his time with us, talked about the injury and his horse. Champagneforashley won his first five starts, finished third in the Wood Memorial and skipped the Kentucky Derby. He looked like a major threat to Unbridled in the Preakness, and then he wasn’t. He went from potential star to ex-racehorse in one step. Tesher just hoped for a positive outcome while putting it all in perspective.

“This was the best he’s been and he was getting better,” Tesher said in Perrone’s Washington Post coverage. “But when you start thinking in those terms, you’ve always got this fear of putting too much of a burden on yourself. [The injury] will happen to somebody in some small town somewhere who isn’t getting the publicity I’m getting and feels just as bad as I do.”

Tesher won Grade 1 stakes with Influent, Lieutenant’s Lark, Bull Inthe Heather, Weber City Miss, Plankton and others, and trained millionaire Bolshoi Boy. The trainer won 1,302 races according to Equibase and was a fixture in New York and Florida for decades. Like anyone with such a deep background in racing, he’ll be missed.