THE 2020 HILLBILLY HORSE AWARDS
Now that the calendar has turned, let’s take a minute or two to recognize some of the best in the world of Thoroughbred racing. Each year we like to shine the flashlight on some of the best performers and performances during the past 12 months. Without further ado, let’s unveil a little hillbilly perspective on the sport of kings in 2020.
THE SHINE RUNNIN’ CHEVELLE
Once upon a time there was this old beat up ’69 Chevelle that sat outside cousin Jimmy Ray’s house. We rabbit hunted behind his place and the beagle hounds usually targeted the tires when turned loose. He’d holler at’em and we often wondered who cared and why in the world was that old heap still hanging around. So one day we found out. Old Jimmy Ray busted out the jumper cables and fired that bad boy up. Roaring with over 500 horses under the hood, we heard the stories about how this hot rod burned up the roads and outran those revenuers toting a full load of moonshine. He white-smoked the tires in front of us and laid rubber for over 100 feet with jaws agape. The 2020 Breeders’ Cup Sprint was a 14 horse field on a speed favoring track. Keeneland had already seen track records fall and some wondered why the seven-year old Whitmore was toeing the track. Having run in this race the previous three years, perhaps it was time for this old fart to break wind somewhere else. Going off at odds of 18 to 1, he settled in 10th place behind a blazing pace up front (21.64 opening quarter). As the six furlongs began to unfold, Whitmore started moving up the rail. When the stretch straightened, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr floored it and that old horsepower roared to the lead. In that final furlong we found out why trainer Ron Moquett sent his old Chevelle to the starting gates. Winning by a widening 3 ½ lengths, Whitmore was much the best and proved it is what’s under the hood that counts the most.
SOME COKE BOTTLE BOTTOM GLASSES
Remember those days when a Coca Cola came in returnable glass bottles. The bottom was extra thick to avoid breakage and we would get them out of the Coke machine at the Tri-Way Market. They were always a treat after playing some pick-up basketball games on the dirt court by Cousin Joe Bob’s house. One old boy was always the last one picked when we chose teams cause the guy couldn’t shoot for squat. One day he showed up with some new glasses that had some super thick lenses. Being the kind hearted kids we were, he was immediately labeled for having some Coke bottle bottomed glasses. Shrugging off the insults, he proceeded to shoot our eyes out and we deduced this poor joker’s vision had been way off. Now that he could actually see the goal, we figured out he had plenty of talent, he just needed to be able to focus. Arklow made his way to the starting gates on September 12 for the $1 million Calumet Farms Kentucky Turf Cup. Having won this race back in 2018, this was a logical spot for one of Donegal Racing’s favorite sons. Riding a five race losing streak, this six-year old had been less than stellar in his previous outings and some wondered why he was here. Trainer Brad Cox decided to make an equipment change and added blinkers to this once powerful striding son of Arch. Hoping to help his horse focus, the Louisville-based conditioner had high hopes Arklow would run better if he kept his eyes on the prize. Breaking alertly, Arklow got into the race early as he stalked the pace while running towards the front of the pack in this mile and a half journey over the Kentucky Downs grass. As the green and gold silks surged to the lead at the top of the stretch things really came into focus. Rolling toward the wire with grass-gobbling strides, Arklow could see the finish line and was not going to be denied. Winning by a length and a quarter, Arklow and his optometrist saw their way to the winner’s circle once again. Like we found out before, good vision can work wonders.
A GLASS OF WELL WATER
One of the great things about some country living on a hot day was the satisfaction a glass of well water would bring. As a small kid I remember going to my great Uncle Ellis’s house. Aunt Ruth would make us go outside and play no matter what the temperature. We’d come back hotter than a hound on a rabbit trail ready for a thirst quenching beverage. She would draw us some water from the faucet in a jelly jar glass that came straight from the well. Clear and crisp, it was way better than some “city” water and man was it thirst quenching. Bob Baffert came into the delayed Kentucky Derby as somewhat of an underdog. Wait a minute…hold the nannie goat… Big Race Bob a training underdog?…In the Kentucky Derby? Baffert had only won the world’s most famous race five times and conditioned two Triple Crown winners since 2015. Nevertheless, his entry, Authentic, went to the starting gates at 8 to 1 while the heavily favored Tiz The Law was at 3 to 5. This son of Into Mischief had been considered Baffert’s third stringer as the powerful Nadal and meteoric Charlatan had both been sidelined with injury. Even though he had four wins and a second in five career starts, most thought nobody was going to break the Law. Carefully preparing his colt off a seven week layoff, the hall of famer has been the best at training for big runs in big races. His five previous Derby wins had come with horses that were running in a near favorites role. Breaking alertly and completely according to plan, Authentic made the lead and guided the pack of 18 around the Churchill Downs dirt throwing down solid fractions. When Tiz The Law came at him in the stretch, the fantastically fit Authentic refused to lose. With pulsating power, he turned away Tiz and gave his coach a record-tying sixth blanket of roses. Leaving no doubt as to who was the best runner in the race, Baffert had beaten the perceived unbeatable. Proving both he and his horse are as Authentic as they come, this Derby win had to be oh so satisfying…kind of like a drink of that well water on a hot day.
THE BEAR BRYANT
It is hard for a Tennessee hillbilly to say this, but Bear Bryant is probably the greatest college football coach ever. Some of the things that made the man that led Alabama to six national championships so great was his courage, dedication, and ability to make decisions. Never afraid to make a call, Bryant always coached with supreme confidence. His courage had been on display for quite some time as he played for the Tide in the 1935 game against Tennessee with a broken bone in his leg. Brad Cox came into this year as one of the best in the Thoroughbred training game. We don’t think he had a broken leg, but he doggone sure made some courageous calls that yielded lots of paydirt for his vast array of runners. The first flea flicker Cox called was with Shedaresthedevil. A gutsy filly that stung her highly regarded opponents in the Honeybee at Oaklawn Park in March, this daughter of Daredevil took an unconventional route to the delayed Kentucky Oaks. Coming to Churchill Downs off an eight week layoff, this fleet-footed filly powered past the highly regarded Swiss Skydiver and freakish Gamine in the stretch to win by a length and a half. Establishing a new Stakes record for the mile and an eighth (1:48.28) Shedaresthedevil executed her coach’s game plan and proudly wore that blanket of lilies. Knicks Go was a perceived one-hit wonder that had shocked the world in the Claiborne Breeder’s Futurity at Keeneland as a two-year old and then was winless in his next eleven starts. In February of 2020, this son of Paynter made his first start for Brad Cox and immediately rewarded with a score at Oaklawn Park. The statue of liberty play, however, came in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile when the rejuvenated Knicks Go returned to Keeneland and won in track record time. That same day, Monomoy Girl scampered home in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff off a double reverse. After winning this race in 2018, she sat out the entire 2019 season due to injury. The patience of her coach paid huge dividends as Cox nursed her back to health and then began a run towards the 2020 Cup in May. Three wins and a play call later, she was back in the Distaff winner’s circle. Cultivating talent is the key to coaching success, but having the courage of Bear can make for greatness and keep the Tide rolling.
SOME BISCUITS AND GRAVY
When you wake up hungry, a good breakfast can be a thing of beauty. Country ham, bacon, and sausage would light up the kitchen with some wonderful smells, but nothing was quite as tasty and fulfilling as a plate full of those biscuits and gravy. It was normally prepared late as the sausage grease was key and you want to get it on those fluffy cathead biscuits when it was good and hot. You had to be patient, but my oh my what a reward it was. Got Stormy has been one of the stars in the Mark Casse barn for some time now. Always running with courage, she has enjoyed grade 1 wins against both boys and girls during her 26 race career. In September, Casse decided to run his flashy female in shorter races on the grass and he was immediately rewarded with an impressive win at Kentucky Downs in the Ladies Sprint Stakes. A month later, Casse wanted to see what he could get cooking at Keeneland in the Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes. Run at 5 ½ furlongs, this dash over the Kentucky bluegrass would provide a good test for this brilliant runner. Breaking from one of the outside posts in a ten horse field, the normally pace stalking female was shuffled back as the frontrunners threw down fast early fractions. At the top of the stretch it looked as if Casse might go hungry this time as the biscuits were done and Stormy was sitting in sixth. But then it happened. The patient ride of jockey Tyler Gafflione yielded dividends as he swung her to the outside and gave her the go sign. Pouring the milk in the hot cast iron skillet and whisking them with the sausage remnants, Stormy unleashed her powerful stride. Gobbling up ground with massive strides, the five-year old phenom coated the catheads at the wire. Delivering a delectable win when it looked as if she was cooked, Got Stormy proved once again she is a beautiful thing…kinda like an early morning plate of biscuits and gravy.