Win, place and show what you know at Steeplechase

Published 3:07 pm Thursday, April 17, 2008

There&squo;s one in every crowd.

For the past umpteen years, he&squo;s picked an endless string of winners at the Block House Steeplechase races. He has gloated. He has smirked.&bsp; And last year,&bsp; Uncle &dquo;Know-it-All&dquo; got your sunburned nose out of joint by boasting, &dquo;I just knew he was a winner all along,&dquo; right before he took your last dollar and slapped you on the back. &bsp;

Sure, it&squo;s just a little bet between friends. It&squo;s all for fun. Still you ask yourself, &dquo;How does he do it?&dquo;

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Whether you&squo;re an avid steeplechase enthusiast, or simply love the thrill and energy that comes from spending a day at the races, the joy of picking a winner can be the perfect ending to a perfect day. &bsp;

No matter if you rely on intuition, or simply like the color of a jockey&squo;s silks, there&squo;s something liberating about shouting a horse&squo;s name as they slice down the backstretch for home.&bsp; For a moment, you lose yourself in the magic of unbridled enthusiasm, and you scream for your horse until you&squo;re hoarse.

The Block House Steeplechase is the perfect venue for would-be horse enthusiasts to get up-close-and-personal with racing, thanks to its festival-like atmosphere. Because the track is just feet from the spectators, fans can be a &squo;good judge of horse flesh.&squo;

This year, if you want to impress your friends and squelch dear old Uncle &dquo;Know-it-All,&dquo; here&squo;s an insider&squo;s guide to becoming a knowledgeable steeplechase &dquo;railbird.&dquo;

*No, you don&squo;t have to be the wizard of odds or a MENSA mathematician to pick a winner.

1. While everyone is at the tailgate gorging themselves on cocktail wieners and potato salad, sneak away for a few moments and study your official program.

Immediately flip to the first race. Skim through the list of trainers. Remember, good trainers and good horses go together. Look for top trainers including: Jonathan Sheppard, Tom Voss, Jack Fisher, Sanna Hendricks and Kathy McKenna. These are the &dquo;big dogs&dquo; of steeplechase racing. They are in it to win it. Each is a legend in their own right. *Note: Jonathan Sheppard is the NSA&squo;s Hall of Fame, all-time leading trainer. Sanna Hendricks trained the two time Eclipse winner, McDynamo.

2. Great trainers want talented riders in the saddle. Here is a list of some of the jockeys you might see in the irons and the winner&squo;s circle on race day: James Slater, Will Haynes, Robert Walsh, Jeff Murphy, Jody Petty and Roderick Mackenzie. &bsp;

3. Understand your racing lingo. The &squo;Maiden&squo; divisions are for horses who have never won a race. This year, several talented chasers are knocking at the door, hoping to break their maiden status and move up the ranks. Commit these horse&squo;s names to memory: Fogcutter, Zozimus, Auction Watch, Dynaski, Meadow Larking and Be Certain.

4. Know your studs. No, not the one in the starched, white polo and Gucci loafers‐the ones with four legs. Check out the very bottom line of the program key where it lists the horse&squo;s color, sex and age. Next to that will be the horse&squo;s pedigree: Sire (dad) and Dam (mom). Racing is all about breeding. If a horse is by a leading sire, chances are it&squo;s worth watching. The following is a short list of the NSA&squo;s leading stallions: Dynaformer, Northern Baby, Sky Classic, Carnivalay, and Prince of Praise. *Note: Dynaformer sired the late Barbaro.

5. After all this study, you should be sporting an air of irrepressible confidence, bordering on smugness. For added flair, scribble notes in the margin of your program in an illegible, hieroglyphic scroll and refer to it often. Ask your rivals/friends who they like? As if you care. Mere amateurs. Then, right before the race, study the
sky, the wind, the air temperature, the barometric pressure and appraise the turf.&bsp; Close your eyes and rub your hand over your program. Recite an impromptu Buddhist hymn.&bsp; Feel free to add a bit of interpretive modern dance to this ritual until the name of the winning horse comes to you. This should have Uncle &dquo;Know-it-All&dquo; worried. &bsp;

6. Remember to have a great time and big fun ‐ and cheer your heart out. That&squo;s what the Block House Races are all about.