JC / Railbird

The Must-Reads, 2009

The year almost past was rich in surprises and storylines, making 2009 not only a superb year in racing, but a good year in turf writing, a reminder that although the industry may be struggling and there may be fewer correspondents on the beat, greatness remains as possible on track as keen reporting does in print (even if only online). Amid the abundance of the last 12 months, here are 10 pieces that shouldn’t be missed:

Balance’s Little Sister (Steve Andersen/DRF Inside Post)
“Her career will end soon. She may not start again. Shirreffs knows that.”

Death of a Horseman (Bill Christine/Horserace Insider)
“You got it wrong … I’ve never fired Frankel. He’s always firing me. We don’t call him George Steinbrenner for nothing.”

Rubin Recalls Her Tough Ride to the Finish Line (Bill Finley/New York Times)
“I think they felt there would be a stigma if a woman rode, that if a woman could ride, how hard could it possibly be?”

Where Calvin Learned to Ride (Matthew Futterman/Wall Street Journal)
“At the bush tracks in Cajun country where Calvin Borel learned to ride horses for $4 a mount, standards weren’t much higher than the pay.” [A fine complement last spring to Maryjean Wall’s reminiscence, “Calvin Borel: The Early Years,” which appeared on May 15 and is unfortunately no longer online. “Long before Borel became the go-to jockey of this Triple Crown season, I came across him quite by happenstance at the bush races in Louisiana. He was not yet a licensed jockey. He was 14 years old.”]

On Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and Memory (Lisa Grimm/Superfecta)
“… our collective memory will do them a better sort of justice …”

A Glorious Reminder (Paul Hayward/Guardian)
“This was not a bloodstock deal, a betting coup or a prize-money grab. It was flesh and blood and beauty.”

Horse Slaughter: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (Matt Hegarty/Daily Racing Form)
“On the issue of horse slaughter, few people take the middle ground …”

High Noon for the Gunslingers (Chris McGrath/The Independent)
“Sheikh Mohammed must have looked at these deadpan men, up from the banks of the Rio Grande, and pondered his own, unrequited craving for this prize. Who are those guys?”

Old School (Claire Novak/ESPN)
“The legend schools the rookie on a cloudy day at Churchill Downs.”

The Final Furlong (Seth Wickersham/ESPN Magazine)
“She took off on foot, walking the track with her medical tool kit, squinting through the mist until she saw a shadowy figure, already a ghost …”

Do you have a favorite piece of turf writing from 2009 not included above? Please share: Leave a comment (and a link, if available) below.


Ms. Chapel, Thank you for the great list of stories, many I had not read before. My favorite story of the year was “The Greatest Loss There Ever Was” on Zipse at the Track.

Posted by Daniel Bell on December 22, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

Some of my favorites (not necessarily about horses, reporting or great writing but more about the game in general and certain perceptive bits I thought worthy)

Horse Racing’s Digital Historian Behind the handle of “partymanners”.

The Kentucky Derby: Epilogue All of this would be enough, but television cheats what the Kentucky Derby is on the ground.

Fake Plastic Dirt and the follow up. Full of bias but still chock full of quotes from people on the record about synthetics.

Calls for sensational Sea The Stars to duck Classic are well wide of the mark A rational argument for why Sea The Stars should have come to the BC.

A Credibility Gap Measured in Lengths and the follow up Is ‘Supertrainer’ Wolfson for Real? For the stir it caused and also for the horse player perspective.

Posted by o_crunk on December 22, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

Thanks for the links, Daniel and o_crunk. Good stuff! I had the Partymanners profile on my long list, but missed the Greatest Loss and and Kentucky Derby: Epilogue. Nice call on the Beyer columns.

Chris McGrath has been one of my favorite turf writers for some time, but this year he really seemed at his peak with several notable pieces. The Sea the Stars column could just as well have been in my top 10 as the Derby recap (well, possibly … that one has what I think is the best sentence written about the game this year).

Posted by Jessica on December 22, 2009 @ 8:58 pm