Saturday, January 21, 2012

The trouble with 'smart' horses...round 2

Trygve -- Part II
As we all know in the Thoroughbred business, sales preparation is about turning sows-ears into silk purses.  Trouble is, when you already have a silk-purse, you're going to be waging an uphill battle.  Yeah uphill.  See, farm managers are simply the concierge in somebody else's hotel and the first person to fall in love with this remarkable horse already owned him.  And believe me, farm managers are all too familiar with the drill.  It begins with an off-hand remark:  "Damn he is well-built.  And look at those nice flat knees!  What'd ya suppose he'll bring?"  This is where I scratch my head and seek out the best possible response:  "Grief if you don't sell him!"
No matter.  The die was cast.  As the two of us (The horse and I -- the other one was hopeless), progressed in our odd relationship, I began to notice how smart this horse really was -- but not in the sense one might think.  See, apparently we both had a case ADHD.  No, I'm not kidding.  I already had decided that cribbers and weavers were smarter than most horses, primarily because science has proven that it takes a degree of skill to develop a bad habit.  Just ask a drunk.  It takes skill and cunning to drink yourself to death without actually dying.  And in case you're wondering, I can testify on the accuracy of the research.

Trygve -- One of my favorites. [image: ajuell]
Now even though this yearling was smarter than most, he didn't develop those kind of habits. Instead, he exhibited a strong need for surprises, something my own teachers had expressed, only not in those same words.  "Fails to pay attention.  Stares out the window too much."  Hell, they were building Interstate 5 at the time which was a lot more interesting than Columbus wandering around the damn Atlantic Ocean.  But keeping a yearling interested in day-to-day life isn't as easy as it may sound.  Sale's yearlings are normally kept up by themselves (so they don't get kicked, bit or chewed on), only turned out at night (to prevent sun-fade or bug bites), and if they are a colt...well, you've got those puberty issues and you are not going to geld somebody else's superstar, even if the idea is awfully appealing.  So that just leaves you as a sort of equine social director.  And since most horses don't speak English, play chess or watch TV, some creativity might be in order.  So every day he lived in a different stall, wore a different halter, had different oats for dinner (rolled, whole, crimped -- most days with a little molasses and cider vinegar), traded carrots for bananas with an occasional Guinness thrown-in (carrots are actually an acquired taste, as opposed to beer which seems to just occur naturally), and every day I'd wear a different hat.  Most evenings I'd take him on a walk to meet different neighbors.  Not sure that was always appreciated, especially since we'd show up around dinner time.
It finally came time for the long-awaited Select Yearling Sale held at the new pavilion adjacent to Longacres race track.  My new friend Trygve and I seemed to get a lot more attention than we planned.  Everybody wanted to stop by and say 'howdy,' often spending more time with the horse than me.  I became a little suspect over their cordiality, but figured that was how it probably went at a sale.  One fellow in particular came around a little more often than I needed, particularly since we had already met on numerous occasions -- the boss.  Most times he visited, he was a little red-faced and sweaty, spoke nervously and kept looking over his shoulder like somebody was following him.  Somebody was it seemed.  A large Italian guy.  No, not the mob.  He was the man who owned that San Francisco treat, not to mention more than a few racehorses, most of whose names ended in a variation on the word:  Roni.  And my boss, well, he was on the brink of some kind of nervous condition.  All Trygve and I could do
The morning of the sale, the two men collided in front of Trygve's stall.  At first, the conversation seemed friendly...and like most, 80% bullshit on the weather.  Then quite suddenly it became a little ominous.  The Italian gentleman sidled up to my boss and said matter of factly, "I'm gonna buy that colt and name him Kiss My Roni!"  Well, if anybody has ever worked on a bomb squad and cut the wrong wire, this was one of those moments.  The boss went from red to plum purple, mumbled something in Norwegian and headed for the sales office.  Over his shoulder, he yelled back at me, "Load him!"  Of course I just shrugged since I was a little busy with a rather predatory looking group of bloodstock agents.  Those boys get a little upset when you piss all over their commission.  I pulled down Trygve's sale sign and shut the top door of his stall -- then went looking for a double Gin & tonic and a disguise.
Yeah, the boss pulled the horse out of the sale.  The sale's committee said something like, "You can't do that!"  The boss said, "Watch me!"  I said, "I don't care what size the sweatshirt is, just make sure it has a hood!" 
Tomorrow: Part III

Friday, January 20, 2012

The trouble with 'smart' horses...

Trygve -- One of my favorites [image: ajuell]
6 Panels in 107.2

Part I

I think everybody who has worked with horses has a favorite.  If you're like me and work with thousands of horses over many decades, you probably have quite a few.  Especially if you hold horses in higher regard than most people.  No, that's not quite as severe a statement as you might think.  See, we all have 'circumstances' in our lives that ultimately cement the foundation of our viewpoint -- good or bad.  Most of these are not of our own choice necessarily, but rather the result of what we can derive from the environment around us.  And if we're quite young, perhaps unskilled in the nuances of human behavior, we may draw the wrong conclusions.  Hardly matters.  We still must draw some conclusion from our experiences.  Survival alone demands that much.  But sadly, that search very  often consumes its own collection of extremely priceless years and in the interim, we could sure use a friend or two.  And some horses just naturally step up to the plate, especially when horse and human discover a common bond:  we were both a couple of outliers. 

Trygve was part of a 3-1 package that the farm purchased from a Kentucky breeder in the late 1970's.  He was sired by Groton and arrived at our farm still on his dam, a Bupers mare that had never raced herself.  She was also carrying a foal by *The Axe II and both ended up half-brothers to a suddenly rising star:  Shadycroft Lady.  Good for us, you could say.

The mother was an odd sort though.  Not particularly fond of humans, though not in the sense of being fearful -- perhaps like myself, suspicious of those intentions that weren't always obvious to a bystander.  And as mothers sometimes do, she shared this skill with her offspring.  Farm managers always appreciate that sort of parental guidance.  So Trygve, unnamed at that stage of his life, became one of my problem children.  And not because he was recalcitrant, naturally stubborn or just a knot head, but because he was smart.  As a rule, trainers don't appreciate 'smart' in a horse.  They figure that for $100 a day or more, one genius in the barn is more than sufficient.  But of course, the racetrack was still two-years off in a future that is always muddy at best.

With the success of Shadycroft Lady, a whole new scenario had opened up.  After a good deal of thought, consternation and downright angst, it was decided that business logic should prevail and the colt would be sold at the WTBA Select Yearling Sale.  I personally disagreed with that decision, though I both understood the reasoning as well as the financial burdens that face most small breeding farms.  By the time Trygve was a year old, he already looked the part and more...much more.  This was clearly substantiated when the inspection scores were revealed for that year's sale.  He was the only yearling in the history of the sale's venue to receive a 10.  That made me nervous and the owner of the farm insane -- well, a little anyway.  Both of us.  It was obvious that he would top the sale and quite likely set a new standard.  Interest was being expressed as far away as California and Kentucky -- agents.  Not the kind of folks who drool over a pretty face and straight legs.  This colt had speed and maturity written all over him.  And the looks.  He shined like black gold -- ultimately to my everlasting chagrin.  You see, the Gods of hubris decided to get playful.

TomorrowJust how playful?

Taking the Girl Out -- Somewhere 'Nice'

8th-Grade French Lessons

Somewhere around the third date, just about every guy (who wants a fourth date), decides to up the ante and take the girl somewhere nice.  Now, you need to keep this in some sort of perspective.  We're talking about farmers here -- people who get sweaty palms over a world's record pumpkin, actually read the fine print on a bag of fertilizer, or have at one time traveled all the way to Wisconsin just to see the 'National Museum of Manure Spreaders.'  Really, I'm not kidding here.  It's just outside Racine, next to the old Massey-Ferguson factory.

This is normally the point where a degree of sophistication runs afoul of farm fashion, but you have already discovered that the girl has nice legs, actually shaves them occasionally and you're pretty sure that the pencil you found in your truck (Blue Lagoon), has something to do with make up.  So you're optimistic that an attractive woman is hiding somewhere under the ski hat, goose-down vest and rubber boots, just waiting to make some waiter envy your incredible good fortune.  But it will never happen at the corner Burger King. decide to take your remedial 8th Grade French lessons (failing to remember that confidence in a foreign language combined with a D+ grade)...well, finesse and common sense are wasted on the young anyway.  But still, you book a table for two at Le Foo Foo Marseilles because the girl has promised to wear a dress if you agree to wear a tie.  No, you don't know how to tie one, but the bartender up the street probably does, though he's less than impressed with your choice:  lavender.  With a blue shirt.  Grey pants...damn.  Where's two black socks when you really need them? 

So you press on hoping for dim lighting...and she does wear glasses sometimes and one of your friends once said that 'Europeans dress funny anyway.'  Good, you'll fit the theme perfectly.  Avant-garde is not for the weak of heart they say, and apparently a fine line exists between 'cutting edge' and what the Salvation Army sells for half-price.  And the restaurant evidently knows that 'intimacy' is on your mind.  The maitre d' takes you to a quiet, candlelit table next to the men's room.  He smiles -- too much.  The waiter suppresses a snicker, but you press on.  Whew!  The menu has English sub-titles and you know what the hell escargot means.  Same slimy bastards that overrun the lettuce patch every spring.  She smiles and decides on the fish.  You frown and look at the price.  That was a $28 fish.  Anything made of a cow was $32, sheep came in at $36.  Then the grinning fool hands you a wine list.  The girl in the dress casually says, "Oh, you order something."  You hear the waiter say something like Chateau Margaux and $56 in the same sentence.  You suddenly have a flashback to your W-2 form -- the part about your yearly salary.  You wonder if the place has a back door.

Finally, the meal is over.  You had settled on the cow, figuring the extra money saved could go for bail.  You're wondering seriously about your credit card limit.  The girl's had three glasses of wine -- that's good, she'll probably miss the part when they handcuff you.  God, the waiter's back and he's holding the bill...and smiling again.  Little does he know, but his tip is going to have something to do with Wednesday's fourth race.  He asks, "Anything else, monsieur?"  You're thinking, "Ah hell, why not?"  So, fortified by the other three glasses of wine, you take one last stab at impressing your future cellmate and order in French -- 8th grade French:                   

The coffee is the best you've ever had.  Then you remember that quaint custom at the local penitentiary  -- the one about last meals.  You're resigned to the inevitable and further stalling seems pointless.  You reach for your wallet while you carefully study the bill.  You're thinking it's good for at least 30-days in the slammer when you feel the girl touch your hand.  Her eyes look a little blurry, her speech slightly askew.  "I'm getting this.  I just wanted to see you wear a tie.  It was worth it."

One Other Thing --

The rumor about camels (Bactrian or otherwise), spitting on people is not quite accurate.  Actually, they are more inclined to projectile vomiting.  I have it on good authority (and photographic evidence), that they can telegraph undigested flotsam about 8 feet.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

So...An Explanation is in Order

[image: ajuell]
Somewhere in Central Mongolia:

I've used this photo quite often, mostly because I like it.  That's usually reason enough, especially when it looks better than anything I can produce in my mirror of late.  In fact, that pathetic exercise is getting a little harder all the time.

The gentleman on the right is Mr. Steve Xie of Yixing, Jingau, China.  Among other things, he is/was a guide, translator and an obedient overseer for English-speaking wanderers in the PRC.  I also assumed him to be a bad little communist as he was able to completely absorb the nuances (and rewards), of the capitalist system in under five minutes.  In the vernacular of Chinese bureaucracy, he is what is/was known as a 'national guide.'  His job, among others, was to prevent any American tourists in his charge (custody might be more accurate), from sneaking into secret military bases, stealing chickens, fomenting trouble with local women, getting screwed on cheap T-shirts and most importantly -- not causing trouble around Tiananmen Square.  The Chinese government was more than a little touchy about that one. 

I can honestly report that he failed miserably at most of his assignments.  No, we didn't sneak into any secret military bases, but we sure as hell snuck into everywhere else.  If we'd had another hour and a speedier Bactrian camel, we would have ended up in the Soviet Union.  Imagine how popular that might have been?  Would have made the cover of Time magazine for all the wrong reasons.

Now aside from Steve's deteriorating political loyalties, he was also experimenting with issues involving sexual preference.  China tends to be a little stuffy about these matters, so my assumption was that it was probably safer to explore the possibilities with Americans.  We're generally a little more tolerant over these matters and when you are hopelessly lost in Mongolia ('Lost' can be permanent around there since no matter what direction you take, you're still lost -- just somewhere else.), it is always a good idea not to be too fussy about having your knee fondled in an emergency.  After all, international relations is a tricky business.

I tried to offer a hint or two.  Only sat with the girls in public places, made distasteful comments about female anatomy, showed him a picture of my girlfriend in San Francisco -- and the ones in Boston, Walnut Creek, Bishop, Auckland, Munich, Denver, Saskatoon...well, you get it.  He just figured I had a big family and that Mao probably wouldn't have approved of such a thing. 

I never did figure out Steve's story and of course in the end it didn't really matter anyway.  Sometimes people are just friendly and in a country like China where societal experimentation is discouraged -- even oppressed, identity can be a difficult question to explore.  Particularly in a one-child environment where girls were considered a burden -- or worse.  And of course, the ramifications of Mao's policies are even now creating an unseen fall-out far exceeding the personal questions of sexual preference or identity.  So there is the story -- one of many sidelines offered up by a fascinating world.  And all you have to do is step out the door.            

Monday, January 16, 2012

Jockeys Don't Always Appreciate 'Fashion.'

"I skipped a double-cheeseburger for this crap!"
[image: ajuell]
Couldn't help but notice our jockey's somewhat sardonic expression here.  He was probably thinking how nice his name would look on that trophy.  Seems the horse didn't agree with that early assessment though.  Of course, horses don't really express disappointment quite like their human counterparts.  In fact, they really don't give a shit one way or the other.  Dinner shows up just the same.

However, race tracks sometimes get a little carried away on the winners.  See, they put the trophy right next to the scales as a way of rubbing it in on the also-rans.  Even the ninth-place jockey has to walk up there and see his reflection in that shiny little monument of pagan idolatry that's destined for the mantel over somebody else's fireplace.  And you might notice that the other half of this abysmal experiment is nowhere to be seen.  He's off looking for his waiter.

But the real subject of this post is the jockey's outfit.  Silks as they are known.  This could also have something to do with the expression he's wearing.  Around our farm, the mistress of the estate was put in charge -- no, took charge is more accurate -- of this department.  And we all know how much women enjoy dressing up men.  Hell, they even picked out our very first diapers for us and have micro-managed our bad taste ever since.  So it should be no surprise that far too many jockeys end up looking like a Salvador Dali misprint.  And if you're looking for a conspiracy -- yes.  Who do you suppose is running the sewing machines?  Yeah, Mrs. Dali.

And up in the Turf Club, the conversation among owners always follows the race...

The Mr:  "Yeah, we got to that son of Bold Ruler pretty cheap.  You notice he's got that same high croup."

The Mrs:  "The polka-dots are a rayon/silk blend.  Amazing stuff.  Doesn't fade at all!"

The Other Mrs:  "You don't think the sequins are a bit...say gauche?"

The Other Mr:  "Some of those Bold Ruler's come up a little short goin' a distance."

The Mrs:  "Look through the glasses.  See them sparkle!  Always know where the horse is running."

The Other Mrs:  "Oh dear, not well I'm afraid.  I think the one with the lovely mauve sash and matching...filigreed's going to win I think.  Lovely color combination, don't you agree?"

The Mr:  "Damn!  Well, think I'll drop him back to a flat mile next out.  See what the trainer thinks."

The Other Mrs:  "Think I'll try the sequins.  Red, white and blue maybe.  The Fourth is coming up and how perfect would that be!" 


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Winning is Everything!

[image: A. Juell]

So I've Been Told

Afraid that I've always been a hunch-bettor -- worse yet, a dyslexic hunch-bettor.  And the epitome of all worseness:  self-delusion combined with a jinx or two.  See, having raised these young super-stars, I feel it to be a matter of honor that I only wager on the home team.  I mean, how would it look if the guy with the most inside information had his mouth and his money occupied elsewhere?  And if the boss found out?  "Well, you see Doc, I bet $400 on the other horse figuring it would raise the odds on your horse."  Doc's eyebrows would rise an inch or two, followed by, "You flunked arithmetic...what, six times?"  Five actually.  But aside from a few jinxes, misguided loyalty issues, blind love and what not, around a race
track it remains critically important to embrace a 'system.'  Serious punters respect that sort of thing.  Besides, you've got all that time to kill between races while the track's accountants add up the profits from your last bet.  And believe me, they never got less than a B+ in arithmetic.

So one afternoon the cat and I decided to develop a system of handicapping based on what the two of us were familiar with on a day to day basis.  Naturally, I wanted to name it after myself.  Maybe "Andy's Superhot Guide for Finding the Losers First in Order to Bet on What's Left."  The cat thought it was a little wordy.  He/she (You ever try to determine the sex of a cat?  Not worth it.), preferred "Intestines."  No, I don't know why.  Assuming some kind of metaphor is involved, but the cat wasn't giving it up just now.  We did finally compromise on the number system itself, hoping to settle on the semantics issue later.  Personally, it was my kind of science:

"I added the number of times the tractor broke down, multiplied that by the number of moldy bales of hay I was forced to throw away, deducted my salary from the total and added in the inches of annual rainfall for western Washington.  I also factored in the dead pheasant count (the cat insisted), promised to start going to church (the cat, not me), and when I figured God was busy elsewhere, threw in a little Haitian black magic."

Okay.  That took care of the first race.  So, how about the daily-double!

"I would use the firing order on the tractor multiplied by Chet's weight (our neighborhood mechanic), divided by the number of goats that escaped over the summer (you'll have to buy the book to find out how badly that went), subtract the number of dates that Jesse was forced to suffer through (sorry, details are not forthcoming), and subtract the exact number of 16 ozs. beers it took to convince the van driver to help load the yearlings.  I was going to use his blood-alcohol level, but the trial's still pending.  Believe an 'insanity defense' is in the works.  Funny though, they didn't want me to testify.

Well, now you have my our system.  Oh, we finally agreed on a name:  "Andy's Cat has a Superhot System to Find Intestines or Whatever is Left."  That's what happens when you compromise with a cat.