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Backstretch With Gordon: Michigan connection

October 09, 2015

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I arrived at The Red Mile bright and early this Friday morning and was talking to Chris Oakes when Nicola Ryder came by with Roy, a trotting-bred pony who is here as part of the Harness Horse Youth Foundation's Drive For Youth. Chris saw Nicola walking up and jumped up and thanked her for bringing over his new Somebeachsomewhere colt he bought at the sale. Nicola told me former Drive For Youth participants, including Olivia Kimelman, the daughter of Mike Kimelman, and Narissa McMullen, a top driver in Australia, will be behind Roy and another pony for post parades for Saturday's early races.

I also saw Brian Brown, and I asked how Lost For Words was as he heads into Saturday's Tattersalls Pace. Lost For Words didn't draw well, landing the outside post 10 with David Miller driving. "We've got the 10 hole in a 12-horse race, maybe we'll be able to get a third-over trip somehow,” Brian told me.

Dr. Andy Roberts drove by and waved, as he's done a few times over the past couple weeks. Bernie Noren went flying by me—but not on a horse. Bernie was riding a bicycle and he slammed the breaks and asked about Saturday's International Trot from Yonkers being shown at The Red Mile. I told Bernie that it's in the works to show the International on the big infield screen, and he said that was a great idea, especially with all the Swedes in town.

As for yesterday's races, how about that weather? The day started out with Hannah Miller's win in an amateur race and concluded with more than $400,000 bet into the final-race Hi-5. No problem meeting the $150,000 guarantee. It was the biggest pool in track history, and what made it even better is that there were lots of winning tickets. And how about Southwind Frank's 1:52.2 world-record mile? Looked to me Frank had plenty left in the tank too. Easy to see why the connections are already anticipating next year's Hambletonian.

USHWA president Chris Tully had an extra lunch ticket so I accepted his invitation. Being in the clubhouse gave me a chance to congratulate Charles Keller III on his election into the Hall of Fame. Sugar Valley Farm's Joe McLead was there too, joined by trainer Kelly O'Donnell. Jerry Silva walked by and said hello.

After a quick lunch as I had work to do, I walked out to the apron and Doug McIntosh walked by. I saw Doug and his brother Bob the day before, and it was great to see the two of them together. I congratulated Beth and Doug Yontz on the opening of their Anvil and Lace Farm just north of Lexington. Beth has been working at Walnut Hall Ltd. the past six-some years, and now she and her husband are starting a new endeavor. Beth was the breeder of standout pacer Dancin Yankee.

My favorite moment of the afternoon was seeing Erv Miller munching down on a big bag of the kettle popcorn. Erv offered me some but I declined, and then Mark Weaver and Mike Bruscemi came by.

I watched Race 8 from the private box of "Trophy Girl” Whitney Fields, and when the van stopped and trainers Howard and Jessica Okusko jumped out to head to the winner's circle after Sweet Bobbie won, I congratulated them. Howie waved to me to join in on the picture, but I shook my head. But when he then yelled over "What's the matter, is it too far for you to walk?” I had no choice but to join them in the winner's circle.

Speaking of Trophy Girl Whitney, she is my trophy girl. Whitney got up at the crack of dawn to take me a couple of weeks ago for my sinus surgery, picked up my prescriptions afterward, and made sure I was set. Whitney had her daughter Joren with her at the races, but that was because she had lined up a photo shoot afterward with ace photographer John Sannucci. Still in high school, Joren is an aspiring model who has already had parts in a music video and a short film.

While I would have liked to have watched the photo shoot over at the Round Barn, I already had plans to join announcer Sam McKee and Lee and Denna Sattelberg at Columbia's Steak House on Limestone. After battling traffic to get there—isn't the traffic in Lexington the worst?—I was pleasantly surprised to see Patty Wright Robinson also there. Just after we were seated Ron Steck and Joe Shoaf came by on their way out.

Lee and Denna were celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary, which in a sport that has a world record for everything, is a record for Lee. I knew Lee had previously been married to Carol and Meeghan, but didn't know there was also another wife in there too. Congratulations Lee on your marriage longevity record. This was the first time I'd been to Columbia's since the early 2000s, when the late Michigan announcer Jack Riggs came through with his wife Nancy on their way to Florida. Jack owned a great Thoroughbred racehorse named Wampum who won a bunch of races with Pat Day riding. Wampum became a Kentucky broodmare and Jack would stop and see her on his trip south.

While everybody knows Lee, a longtime Michigan horseman, Patty is also a Michigander who now lives just outside of Lexington. Patty and I go way, way back. In fact, she was the outrider at Hazel Park for a time. Although she denies she ever did it, I swear she wore a Betsy Ross costume on the Fourth of July one year. Patty says she still has a winner's circle photo taken that night and she is not dressed as Betsy Ross. But I am wearing an Uncle Sam outfit. Bet somebody would like to get their hands on that photo?

While it was great reliving the old days of Michigan racing, we also talked about the current situation with only Northville Downs open for Standardbreds. I saw longtime owner-breeder Duane Chippi at the racetrack and he told me that after 35 years in the business he recently sold his last horse. Duane said that although he was 80 years old, he thought he'd still be racing horses, but it just wasn't feasible anymore. Trainer Kelly Goodwin and his wife, Gen, were also at the track yesterday, so it gave me another chance to catch up with longtime Michigan friends.

After dinner I swung by Buffalo Wild Wings. Woodbine/Mohawk race secretary Scott McKelvie and his wife, Lori, and son Mark are in town and they told me they'd be there for the Blue Jays ballgame. But I was too late as the game had ended and they were nowhere to be found. Like me, Mark is also a player in Allan Schott's HANA handicapping contest, so when I saw them at the races on Wednesday I bragged about my nice-priced winners, which he also had. By the way, I'm up to fourth in the standings after a big week at The Red Mile—is that considered home-field advantage for me?—and within striking distance of the lead.

Boss Kathy told me Ole Bach's son Cody was at the races and after she pointed him out I went up and introduced myself. Cody came to town so he can participate in the memorial ceremony for Ole that will take place following the second race on this afternoon's card. Hopefully the rain will hold off. Right now the forecast says showers and maybe a thunderstorm between 3 and 8. Hopefully the forecast is wrong.

Gas still $2.37 all around town. Enjoy the races and remember tonight is the last night of the yearling sale, so there's still time to pick out next year's champion 2 year old.

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