JC / Railbird

The Must-Reads, 2010

It’s no exaggeration to say that every year I bookmark, tweet, or link here to hundreds of horse racing features, columns, and blog posts — stories and opinions that catch my attention for a turn of phrase, the quality of storytelling, the depth of research, an unusual argument, or a striking insight. A few each year — like the 10 pieces below — are especially memorable.

The Making of ‘Legends’ (Pat Forde/ESPN)
“The present is another matter. The present stings a bit. The present is Kentucky Derby week, and it offers vivid evidence of how brutally hard it is even for learned horsemen with a lot of money to win a Derby — or to simply reach the starting gate.”

The Linemakers (John Scheinman/Pimlico)
“It is no secret the man gambles with gusto, a word that derives from the Latin gustus, or tasting. Carulli is all appetite and, like the bear he resembles, doesn’t like to be disturbed while concentrating.”

The Best Broodmare of All Time? (Alicia Wincze/Lexington Herald-Leader)
“Though Hasili was a stakes winner on the track and had a solid pedigree in her corner, nothing in her form could have indicated the impact she would have on the sport once she entered the breeding shed.”

What Makes the Great Ones Great? (Jay Hovdey/DRF)
“No question, in terms of personality type, the great ones appear to be happy in their work.”

Why We Love Secretariat (Meghan O’Rourke/Slate)
“In the moment when he pulls away from Sham, his brilliant archrival (who would’ve been a champion in any other year), we have the sense of an animal exceeding the boundaries of the category of animal.”

Forlorn Filly Comes from Nowhere (Bill Finley/NY Times)
“A few days after he bought a modestly bred horse from a friend named Don Hunt, Tim Snyder took a moment to reflect. He had no money, no horse trailer to get his new acquisition to where he needed to go and a filly that had been rejected by nearly everyone else who had come in contact with her. The horse had a clubfoot, a bad shoulder, a reputation for being slow and was blind in one eye, reason enough for Snyder to second-guess what he had just done.”

Who Really Invented Race Charts? (Kevin Martin/Colin’s Ghost)
“Whatever the case might be, it was Brunell who had the foresight to put race charts and later past performances into a daily publication dedicated to racing. While the above puts his role as ‘originator’ in doubt, no one can deny that he popularized the tools that all horseplayers have been dependent on for more than a century.” [See also, Martin’s follow-up post.]

Rachel’s Place in History (Gary West/West Points)
“Most of us had never seen anything like Rachel Alexandra, and for having seen her, I’m grateful.”

Frankel’s Rise No Romantic Dream (Chris McGrath/Independent)
“Despite the present, witless tendency to treat them as characters in search of an author, men such as Frankie Dettori and Henry Cecil could never be adequately prefigured by a script.”

A Vote for Horse Racing (Claire Novak/ESPN)
“For now, suffice it to say it is the opinion here that a vote for Zenyatta is, simply put, a vote for horse racing. To recognize this kind of runner as vital to the sport’s survival is common sense, not emotional gibberish as some would choose to believe.”

What’s missing? Add your must-reads from the year past in the comments …


I thought many of your blog posts were must-reads this year! Happy New Year…

Posted by dana on December 31, 2010 @ 5:04 pm

Darryl Kaplan for a one page harness piece. It was about the death of a hard hitting people’s horse, and how horses affect us. He hit it on the head. I loved this back page.


I love what Zenyatta and the Moss’s represent and they take me back to a simpler time where honor, dignity and doing right by the horse seemed to trump everything in racing. A piece I did not see linked around too much was this one:


It is my favorite piece on the mare (and that says something because I love Claire’s for ESPN). It takes wonderful horses to bring the best out of turf writers, no?

Happy new year.


Posted by PTP on December 31, 2010 @ 6:50 pm

Dana, you flatter me. (And I appreciate it!) From the top 10 (by traffic) Railbird posts of 2010, here are three I particularly liked — Getting It (Zenyatta and the Breeders’ Cup Classic), Scenes from Suffolk’s 75th (celebrating New England’s last thoroughbred racetrack), The Returns of Kelso (a bit about the five-time HOTY).

Thanks for the links, Dean. Kaplan’s piece is wonderful — a reminder that it always comes back to the horse.

Happy new year!

Posted by Jessica on January 1, 2011 @ 10:03 am

It does and that is why that piece grabbed me. I think of it often.

Looking at the awesome picture of JS and Zenyatta hours after the classic brings it to light. There was no trash talk from her in the media about her owners or her rider or her trainer, no excuses, no press conference where she was waxing poetic about something, no demands for a new trainer or contract, no talk of retirement or coming back.

Just a horse who wants a pet on her nose and a carrot. I love that.

Posted by PTP on January 1, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

“The Linemakers” is some excellent writing, indeed.

Urge the author to read A.J. Liebling’s classic, “The Jollity Building” in “Just Enough Liebling.” He, and you all, will enjoy it very much.

Posted by Don Reed on January 1, 2011 @ 10:49 pm

Happy New Year to the intriguing Ms. Chapel. ;-)

Posted by The_Knight_Sky on January 3, 2011 @ 11:28 am

Nice article by Scheinman. And besides horse racing and eating here’s two more things Frank Carulli enjoys: hockey & shooting dice.

Frank’s been know to haunt the craps tables at the Borgata, and I recall seeing him at a Caps game back in ’03. As he walked down the aisle of the Verizon Center, loaded down with a platter full of cheese-laden nachos, I called out, “hey Frank, who’s gonna win the Derby next year?” Without breaking stride, he responded “Tapit.” And if the track didn’t come up sloppy, he might’ve been right.

Frank always sets a good line.

Posted by Steve M. on January 3, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

Jessica, I’m always late to the party. You’re so kind to include me on this list.

Don, I’ve got more Liebling than I can shake a stick at, including that one. Every racing fan should read “The Honest Rainmaker,” but only if they like language that makes them laugh out loud.

Finally, to Steve M., thank you too. At Laurel, we call Carulli “El Presidente.” He has, in my estimation, leaped past boxing promoter Don Elbaum as the world’s greatest man.

Posted by John S. on January 12, 2011 @ 12:07 am