Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Before the Sun Sets on the Triple Crown

by Fran Jurga | 10 June 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

Before the 2009 Triple Crown series of races fades from our memories, I'd like to share this photo with you, which is my pick for the best of many, many great photos to come out of this year's Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont races for three-year-old Thoroughbreds. Sarah K. Andrew did it again, and I'd like to thank her for being in the right place at the right time and for sharing this photo.

What's special about this photo is that it was taken minutes after the finish of the Kentucky Derby. My guess is that Mine That Bird's camp had not done a dress rehearsal of where to go and what to do if the horse won and would be headed to the winner's circle.

Charlie Figueroa has been Mine That Bird's groom and exercise rider throughout the Triple Crown, as well as Chip Woolley's legs while the trainer has been on crutches. Charlie normally works at the farm back in New Mexico, where he breaks and trains the young horses.

I've seen a hundred pictures of this man in the past couple of months and he's been smiling in most of them. But the smile on his face in this photo, when he's just grabbed his muddy horse out of the winner's circle to bring him back to the barn, is very special. You can almost see the lift in his walk. He's a happy man.

After all that racing has been through lately, the Triple Crown seemed to have an angel looking over it, even though Friesan Fire and Dunkirk are now out with fractures, I Want Revenge has fetlock ligament damage, and we're still waiting for Florida Derby winner Quality Road to get back to the races after recovering from his matching front and hind quarter cracks.

They've gone to the four winds: Pioneerof The Nile with his hot fit flames is back to California. Belmont winner Summer Bird is headed to Louisiana. Mine That Bird's team seems to understandably like it at Churchill Downs, where rumor has it that the Kentucky Derby Museum has asked Chip Woolley for his crutches when he's ready to walk on his own again.

The Triple Crown may be over, but in six weeks, the sun will be glowing through the fog in Saratoga at dawn, the way it always does and the way it always has. With luck, these three-year-old horses we've come to know and maybe even Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra will give the racing tribe some thrills at America's oldest track.

Charlie, his big smile, and his fast little horse would fit right in.

See you there!

Hoofcare Publishing will host a series of informal educational events in Saratoga during the race meet on Tuesday evenings. Watch this blog for more details of speakers and sponsors, or email for more details about attending or sponsoring. The blog will come alive! Most events are held either at the Parting Pub's back room or at the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame.