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The Highs and Lows of the Iowa Festival of Racing

The Highs and Lows of the Iowa Festival of Racing


If you’ve heard it once you’ve heard it a thousand times…horse racing is a game of highs and lows.  You also hear this same cliché when it comes to life.  This weekend in Iowa I don’t think it could have been on display any clearer…with both horse racing and life.  It was a roller coaster!  So many highlights, so much fun, yet at times sobering.  A story could be told about each aspect of horse racing: Trainers, Jockeys, Owners, Bettors and even on the Dudes’ end.  We’re here to tell it to you.

To start, you have to understand one thing: When it comes to racing in the state of Iowa, Maggi Moss is probably the most well known name over the last four or five years.  She calls Iowa her home, and she seldom travels outside the state to watch her horses run.  That’s probably why she brought her two super star horses, Delaunay and So Many Ways, to Iowa.  Neither one of her horses necessarily “fit” into the Festival, but she was doing Iowa racing fans a big favor by bringing them, and we all figured she’d be rewarded.  As the first race of the Festival drew near on Friday night, Moss had the locally based Lulu Wong in the Saylorville Stakes.  Lulu Wong looked like the winner turning for home, but hit the wall late in the race and faded to third.  It was a solid effort and probably one that had her encouraged.  Delaunay was up next!  The number one ranked sprinter in the world looked amazing in the paddock and was a heavy 1/5 favorite.  As the gates opened, Delaunay broke poorly but recovered nicely and looked to be the winner in mid stretch.  However, Gentleman’s Bet had other plans and was able to repel Delaunay’s strong bid and pulled away by more than a length.  This had to be a crushing blow.  Saturday started off bright as Moss recovered to win a low claimer early in the card, but So Many Ways was not able to hold off Fiftyshadesofhay in the Iowa Oaks and finished a well beaten third.  The “Maggi Moss Festival” was ruined.  Maggi will obviously recover, but the horse God’s had spoken.  Just because you might deserve to be rewarded doesn’t mean you’re going to when those gates open.

“Just because you might deserve to be rewarded

doesn’t mean you’re going to when those gates open.

The horse God’s were messing with jockey’s all weekend as well.  On Friday Robby Albarado was scheduled to ride Gentleman’s Bet and Ricardo Santana Jr. was set to ride Livi Makenzie.  But at post time, neither had arrived as both had flight troubles.  That left the mounts open for local jocks Israel Ocampo and David Mello, who took full advantage and picked up two wins with nice purses.  The big jockey draws of the Festival were Rosie Napravnik and Calvin Borel, although neither one were able to pick up victories.  For the most part the local jockey’s took the “shippers” to school, which begs a question my Dad always likes to ask: Are jockey’s from the local colony better equipped to win at tracks like Prairie Meadows over “top jockey” racing at the track for the first time?  California jock Martin Garcia was able to pick up a win on Saturday in the Iowa Derby and Santana did win the Cornhusker, but still the question is worth considering.

Kale's Kourage and Bashaar
Kale’s Kourage and Bashaar

From the trainers prospective, we simply must look through the eyes of our friend Kelly Von Hemel.  The local trainer had two horses running in the Festival and one running in a low claimer on Saturday.  On Friday he was all smiles prior to the start of the races and when his Iowa Bred Queen Lily Kay ran fourth in the Iowa Distaff he was still fairly happy.  She had ran a respectable race…just not quite good enough to win.  However the smile turned quickly, as the Queen had been pulled up on the far turn and was being attended to by the track vets.  She left the track in the horse van and several anxious hours passed before we heard the news that she looked to be ok.  Bullet dodged!  Saturday started great for Kelly, as his low claimer Handsome Yansom ran an incredible race rallying from last to first to win by almost eight lengths.  Then it was time for the big one…the “house” horse Kale’s Kourage was running in the Iowa Derby.  It was Kale’s first Stakes try, but the hopes were moderately high that he might run well.  However, Saturday wasn’t his night, as he failed to make much of a rally and finished sixth.  The highs and lows had hit again.

Betting wise this Dude had a great weekend!  Friday was very respectable and gave me a nice bankroll to start with on Saturday.  We got to the track early to try our hand at blackjack, and after three rounds, I had $20 more than I came with!  What a victory!  Now it was time for simulcasting.  Two win wagers later at Churchill and Penn National I was sitting pretty.  I had made my goal for the weekend before the Saturday night racing had began!  While doing a mini-celebration in the simulcast room and enjoying life, I see my wife out of the corner of my eye.  Looking defeated, she walked my way.  I’d seen this look before…blackjack had jumped up and bit her.  I hoped the loss wasn’t much…but I knew better.  I asked the dreaded question, “How Much?” and the answer was sobering.  All my horse profit had been lost…plus a little more.  Highs and lows…they weren’t stopping!

Finally, the highs and lows hit the Dudes’ group of four.  Things started so promising on Friday.  An awesome meal at Jethro’s and a great view of the races at table 306 thanks to the Von Hemel’s and Jake VanOort.  Good times with friends!  Then the races ended and we headed to the Motel 6 across the street from the track to check-in.  When I walked into the hotel I had a feeling things were going to go wrong.  While the hotel looks pretty nice on the outside, the inside lacked a little.  The room was what you expected from that level of hotel.  Not great but not too bad.  Then we used the sink…and soon there was a pond in the bathroom!  Front desk was called.  A guy in pajamas (yes pajamas) arrived with duck tape and towels.  Much to our surprise, he was unable to fix the leak… Shocking, right?  With a full hotel and no other rooms available, we decided a refund and to go somewhere else was the best option.  How hard would it be to find a room in Des Moines, Iowa?  Not hard right?  WRONG!  Two hours later we finally found rooms.  The Days Inn at Urbandale was a savior.  Although it wasn’t exactly the Marriott…it did the job!  We awoke Saturday feeling good and relaxed after a long night.  More great racing, hanging out with friends, and making new friends (thanks Zipse).  Unfortunately an after race illness of one of the racing dudettes (don’t worry she’s ok now) made for another very long night.  Our weekender at Iowa was great…and then it wasn’t….and then it was….and then it wasn’t!  I guess that’s horse racing…and life!

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