My oh my, twelve glorious months have passed and for the third consecutive year we are faced with figuring who will be recognized with a Hillbilly Horse Award. When adding up the qualifying points, we have discovered it is easier to count past ten if you don’t wear shoes. The envelope please…
THE BIG BUBBA
So, we all remember that big old boy that really filled out his overalls. Biceps bulging and walking with a swagger, this Bubba was blessed with some fine physical attributes. Well, there was this two-year old that offered up something similar. The scene was the paddock at Keeneland with the Claiborne Breeder’s Futurity on tap, Looking for a Kentucky Derby contender, there was one Juvenile that stood out. Maxfield had been to the starting gates on just one previous occasion, but man, this colt was packing like a prime-timer. And then the gates opened and this sizeable son of Street Sense got even bigger. Sitting in eighth in a field of ten at the three-quarter mile mark, this Brendan Walsh trained behemoth hit the gas pedal and began unleashing his powerful stride. Sweeping past the frontrunners with ease as they turned for home, Maxfield did his pappy proud as he rolled to the wire five and half lengths in front in this mile and a sixteenth journey. As he flexed to the finish my thoughts were simply…”Doggone it that’s one Big Bubba”.
THE GEORGE JONES
Hillbillies with any sense of history usually have a bit of admiration for country singer George Jones. Here was a man that would do things he shouldn’t, like drive his John Deere to the liquor store after his wife hid the car keys, but would then rally himself and make his way to the top of the charts. The Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs saw a performance that made us think of one of country music’s greatest crooners. Snapper Sinclair had proven to be a real racehorse as scores on both turf and dirt sang his praise. A win over the challenging Kentucky Downs course previously gave his connections cause for optimism heading into this $750,000 race. After an alert break, Snapper appeared to have one of those lawn mower moments and was shuffled to the back of the pack. As the runners rolled down the hill and around the far turn Snapper began swerving through traffic like old George after a few nips. But this was a good swerve as he closed the gap on the leaders. Inside the eighth pole, Sinclair seemingly sung that old Jones hit “the Race is On”. Making his move under jockey Julian Leparoux at exactly the right time, Snapper topped the chart by a half-length. It turns out, Snapper was not looking for hidden keys after the start but instead clipped heels with another runner. Regardless of the reason, Snapper overcame adversity and produced a hit for Bloom Racing. Sort of like old George.
Have you ever had a slice of buttermilk pie? If not, you may have questions about it simply because of its name. It’s okay to wonder about it because buttermilk is not normally on the list of delectable dining for most. Once this delightfully sweet treat is tasted, you’ll realize the pie is smack your momma good. The 2019 Kentucky Oaks winner gets the nod here as she answered a lot of questions with a fantastic effort while securing the blanket of lilies. Serengeti Empress came into the Oaks as a question mark. She had enjoyed some wonderful runs and some head scratchers in seven previous starts. Many thought her chances were derailed after a seventh place finish in the Fair Grounds Oaks and some ensuing health issues. Much to his credit, trainer Tom Amoss nurtured his prized filly back to health. Hesitant to risk the well-being of his Empress, the veteran conditioner waited until her final work to decide if she was ready to run. As it turns out she was ready alright. A scintillatingly sweet gate to wire win saw her royally repel all challengers in crowning herself as Oaks champion. Any questions about the sweetness of Serengeti Empress were answered that day in a fashion befitting the first time you taste that buttermilk pie.
THE BARBECUED GOAT
If you have never enjoyed it, barbecued goat is a widely recognized hillbilly delicacy…if it’s cooked right. Of course, I too was skeptical before enjoying it the first time. My pappy told me we were going to a cookout and that was the main course. As a young, smart-lipped whippersnapper, you can only imagine my comments. But then I learned my Great Uncle Onzie was going to prepare the feast. I had tons of respect for this man. He couldn’t read or write, but was one of the smartest men I had ever met. His guiding hand meant it was going to be good eating. Turns out, it lived up to the modern definition of GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). Dale Romans is the all-time leader in training wins at Churchill Downs. I have never doubted his abilities, and he too has made a habit of wowing folks. The Louisville native brought the well-traveled Mr Freeze into the one mile Ack-Ack at Churchill on September 28 with a focus on finding the innermost talent he knew this grandson of Tabasco Cat possessed. Not considered a prime-timer in this balanced field, he needed to get cooking. Working the horse to perfection, Romans gave his trusted jock Robby Albarado the game plan. Breaking alertly and guided into the clear by his rider, Mr.Freeze put on a show in the home stretch. Rolling past the leaders at the quarter pole, this four-year old tasted victory for the first time in over a year. Romans had once again mixed the ingredients and cooked up a tasty victory. The Ack-Ack was another fine example of training excellence and has made Dale Romans our barbecued GOAT.
Just in case you are not familiar with the term, it usually refers to that homemade liquor your hillbilly cousin stored in those reused Miller pony bottles. Stout and clear, a big glug told you exactly why it received the moniker. It could you hit you faster than light from the sky and make you forget all about your troubles of the past…and everything else too for that matter. The Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint featured a performance that equaled a double shot of cousin Joe Bob’s mountain dew. Belvoir Bay came into the 5 ½ furlong dash for cash as a real “feel good” story for simply making the race. Having suffered injuries in the horrific San Luis Rey fire back in 2017, the fact she was racing again was cause for celebration. And here she was on the sport’s biggest overall stage taking on the boys. Nursed back to health by trainer Peter Miller being here was worth an overfilled shot glass. But here is where it gets really intoxicating. The gates opened at Santa Anita and away went Belvoir Bay. The British-bred six year old broke like a streak of lightning and never looked back. As she rolled through a suicidal opening quarter mile (21.47), only a drunkard would think she could maintain the lead. Defying rationality, this mighty mare just kept going. Establishing a new speed record for the distance (54.83), Belvoir Bay’s length and a half win made us all feel good in a hurry as we forgot all about those dark days. Same as what a big ole drink of that white lightning does for you.