JC / Railbird

The Must-Reads, 2011

As each year comes to its end, I go through all the racing stories I’ve bookmarked or shared over the past 12 months and pluck together a short list of pieces that stand out, whether for great reporting or great storytelling. If you haven’t read the stories linked below yet, take a few minutes to enjoy some of the best turf journalism from 2011 before 2012 begins:

As 10-year ban hangs over Rick Dutrow, opinions vary about controversial horse trainer.” The definitive profile of the New York trainer, handed a record suspension this year, by Jerry Bossert for the New York Daily News.

For Pletcher, managing a training empire is all in a day’s work” Joe Drape on how he does it, for the New York Times.

Pletcher was an assistant to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, dubbed “The most interesting man in racing,” by Gary West this spring, in one of the last posts published on his Star-Telegram blog. That the formidable turf writer with the superb flapdoodle detector was let go by the newspaper was a loss for Texas racing. Fortunately for readers, West now appears on ESPN.

Claire Novak won her first Eclipse award this year with “Pressure off Durkin at Belmont,” about the announcer’s decision to step down from calling the Triple Crown races on NBC, but I’m biased toward her terrific Kentucky Derby week story, “The Inside Scoop: Why Calvin Borel owns the rail,” which appeared on Kentucky Confidential. For fun, and a touch of Gay Talese, Novak’s recounting of a New Orleans cabbie’s racetrack story can’t be beat.

At Suffolk Downs, a rider reached a significant milestone: “Piermarini gets win 2000 on Sugar Trade.” Susan Salk of Offtrack Thoroughbreds talked to Tammi Piermarini about becoming only the fifth female jockey in racing to crack 2K.

Ryan Goldberg added context and depth to this year’s intense (and ongoing) Lasix debate with his well-researched and matter-of-fact story for the Daily Racing Form, “Lasix: Demystifying the drug, methods of training without it.”

DRF photographer Barbara Livingston shared some marvelous historic racing photos from her private collection this year, as in this post: “Man o’ War’s funeral: Remarkable final tribute for majestic champion.” The great horse was laid out in a casket for viewing; thousands filed past to pay their respects.

In search of the Kelco.” Bill Christine, at HRI, on the handicapping gizmos of yesteryear (which gave me an excuse to post about the Race-o-meter).

Gray Thoroughbreds, a precious relic of the breed’s earliest days, became a rarity on the racecourse for a good part of the 19th century.” I had no idea. Kellie Reilly on the revival of grays in the 20th century, on BRISnet.


Hi Jessica,

You may remember me from times past.

I have a problem, it is that I, not coming from the shores of the USA am unable to communicate with any great conviction about the horse racing world.

It seems to me that the horse racing blogs are so USA concentric that we outsiders have no great say in what should or should not be.

I would truly love to see more articles in these messages/blogs that reflect a truer image of the horse racing world.

I am not interested in the takeout at Aqueduct why should this concern me. Because you and many of your co/bloggers speak in territorial terms we/me are left in the dark.

A blog is a world wide event it as no boundaries.

I say this not to moan at you, but on behalf of the many non U.S citizens that read these excellent blogs. They truly are well written.

To be honest you are the only person i know that i could say this to because i do realise that you will probably have some form of sympathy.

Posted by Bill Milburn on December 29, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

Jessica, thanks for the kind mention. It’s very flattering to be in such esteemed company!
Happy New Year!

Posted by Susan Salk on December 30, 2011 @ 9:10 am

My pleasure, Susan. I enjoy your site and all the work you do spotlighting OTTBs.

Bill, it’s always good to hear from you! Your comment reminds me of a couple of questions that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit this year, and especially this week, as I was pulling together the end-of-year longlist. Why isn’t the racing blogosphere more international? Specifically, where are the fan/amateur bloggers elsewhere? The UK, for instance — many fans, trainers, jockeys, handicappers, etc. are on Twitter, and there are several excellent British turf writers (aside: I thought both Chris Cook and Greg Wood at the Guardian had a great year, particularly re: Frankel, Champions Day, and the whip controversy), but there seem to be very few blogs not affiliated with a publication or written by a pro.

And, given that there seems to be more interest in the international circuit among American fans, why isn’t there more writing by US bloggers about the international scene? (Credit where it’s due: Valerie Grash and Sid Fernando are two independents who regularly post about international racing.) I haven’t come up with answers for either, and wonder if it isn’t just a matter of time — with the elite level of racing becoming more inter-connected, more fan-bloggers will probably take up topics of interest to a more global audience.

Not that a little provincialism is a bad thing! I’d miss people posting about Aqueduct. I’d also really like to read more racing fans around the world writing about the horses and races that matter most to them, close to home.

Posted by Jessica on December 30, 2011 @ 10:47 am

Hi Jessica

I get OTT at times, must be in the genes.

I have always thought that horse race blogging in the USA is top notch. But where are the blogs outside of the USA. Hardly any, i dont help because i do not add any input of my own it’s just videos.

Would love to see more blogs from other countries especially in the U.K they have Frankel to talk about and Australia they have Black Caviar.

Posted by Bill Milburn on December 30, 2011 @ 11:49 am