Sunday, February 20, 2011

Watching a racehorse learn to win

Sittytwofitty, number 6, leaps out with the pack

We've watched Big Filly (aka Sittytwofitty) race for nearly two years now, since she started as a 4-year old. In addition to her style and grace on the track, she is one of the sweetest, most well-mannered horses I've ever met--she could even teach Bar a few things about snuggling--and has become one of my favorite horses to be around.

That mellow temperament made us to wonder if she'd ever be fierce enough to do more than place in the money, which she does consistently. She'd come close a lot of times, but hadn't picked up her first win despite having the speed and power to do it.

She's a distance horse, very often coming from behind the pack to swoop around wide and make up ground with her huge strides. She's big, she lays her huge head on your arms, and that makes her a very physical experience for a rider. Watching her races, it always seemed (to us laymen) like they asked her just a little too late as she was still gaining ground at the finish line.

A couple Friday's ago, she got her first trip to the winner's circle.

She was entered with a jockey who hadn't raced her before and is one of the top names in Northern California. He brought her around the outside, gave her daylight, and goosed her at the half mile. She never looked back, winning the race by 2.5 lengths and moving like a graceful freight train.

Sitty's winner circle picture from February 4th, 2011

Yesterday, she had another good shot, but had to use a different jockey, one they'd used before and who was excited to race her again. She was calm and cool before the race, the only tell an occasional grinding of teeth while she waited in her stall. She strolled up to the gate, then turned as if she knew the camera was focused on her. They loaded her first and she went right in, ready to do her job.

Are you getting my good side?

She broke well, her big head one of the first out of the gate, but things started to go a little wonky when another horse lost her jockey at the start. The jock was okay and the horse (number 8) ran the whole race with the others. That (and a couple other things) led to some maneuvering to get Big Filly out of a hole or two. Like said freight train, she does not spin on a dime and momentum was lost. Apparently the jockey was also sick, so didn't have the strength to ride her at the end.

That's the story, anyway. I think she could have had it with just a little more input, but I'm biased and opinionated, if not well versed in the way the races work.

She still came in second by a head, losing to the favorite jockey up here, and ran a really great race. She danced all the way back to the barn, tossing her big head, nosing her groom, as confident as I've ever seen her.

Did you see me?

The transformation in her is relatively subtle. She is still sweet and steady, watching as race preparations go on around her and yet able to catch a nap before hand. But there was a bounce in that big girl's step the whole way back to the barn, a bounce I hadn't noticed before. She knew she'd run a good race and wanted to be sure we all knew it, too. I swear it looks like she's asking her groom, "I did good! Did you see me? Did you??"

Sitty smooches

Unfortunately, I was so busy watching at the end of the race, I didn't get any pictures of the finish. I know. Fail! But I did get a shot of her cool down walk in the shed-row.

It is pretty cool to know people who love their race horses and to be privileged enough to watch one of those horses find her own way to the winner's circle.

Go Big Filly, go!

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