Horse Racing on the Radio ~ How Retro!

I just finished watching the live stream of The Whitney from Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, New York. I love that technology can connect you in real time with your passions no matter where you are.

Early this year I was driving home in the afternoon from a Pennsylvania dog show on Kentucky Derby Day. Most years I’m able to get back to Connecticut in time to tune in to the Derby, dubbed “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” I knew I wouldn’t be able to watch the ultimate Thoroughbred race on TV for the first time in many years, because our showing time at the dog show was late in the afternoon. As post time approached I was heading up Interstate 287 in New Jersey towards the Tappan Zee Bridge when I thought, “Hey, I can listen to the race on the radio, how retro!”

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Fortunately, NBCSports radio came up easily on my car’s display screen. I heard the TV broadcasters analyzing the race until the official race announcer took over for the call. Since I couldn’t see the sleek dark coats of the Thoroughbreds or the brilliant colors of the jockey’s silks as they made there way to the starting gate, I began to listen, really listen. I could hear when the horses got to the gate, each one slamming shut, and when they were all loaded up, the crown roared just before the bell. “And they’re off in the Kentucky Derby,” proclaimed track announcer Larry Collmus.

My mind mesmerized for two minutes listening to the names of the horses trade places “in the early going” and “on the backstretch” as they approached “the crucial first turn” in the “run for the roses.”  Then the excitement began “at the far turn” it was Looking for Lee “digging down deep” but Always Dreaming “was holding on” and then down the final stretch “the dream comes true as Always Dreaming wins the 143rd Kentucky Derby.”

First Radio Broadcast

After the race I was curious as to when the first race was broadcast on radio and who called it. Churchill Downs didn’t hire its first track announcer until 1940, so on that first live broadcast back on May 16, 1925, most likely, the race was called by a radio broadcaster sitting in the grandstand. According to The New York Times: For the first time in history the Kentucky Derby will go “on the air,” three radio stations having announced their intention to broadcast the famous classic tomorrow afternoon, beginning shortly before post time, 4:45 o’clock, Central Standard Time. WGN, The Chicago Tribune station, will broadcast the race on a 370.2-meter wave length. WHAS, the Louisville Times and Courier Journal station, will broadcast on a wave length of 399.8 meters. WHT, Chicago, will pick up the signal from WHAS and rebroadcast them on a 238-meter wave length.”

But how the race unfolded on air during the 51st running of the Kentucky Derby in 1925, we’ll never know for sure. For one thing, the Preakness came first followed by the Derby in mid May.  According to the New York Times coverage of that race, it was listed as the second biggest piece of “Turf” news in the Week in Sports on May 18, 1925. The headline news was that the late Major August Belmont’s famous Nursery Stud of Thoroughbred racing broodmares and sires had recently been sold as a whole to Mr. Widener. That was big news back in 1925, more so than a single race.

From the Times: The Kentucky Derby, unique among American turf fixtures, was more brilliant, more colorful than ever before in the more than half century of its history. But at the end the brilliance was dimmed, the rain putting a damper on the enthusiasm which always characterized Derby Day. A field horse as an easy winner, with the favorite nowhere  – such was the result of the race. It was a triumph for the veteran trainer, William Duke, recently returned from a long sojourn abroad, and one that is begrudged to him by no horseman. That he should saddle the winners of the Preakness and Derby in less than a fortnight is most remarkable under the circumstances. Flying Ebony had never raced more than six furlongs, nor trained more than a mile. Duke was merely hopeful that Sande would be able to hold him together and stick it out. Flying Ebony was stopping at the end, as the last quarter in 0:28 shows. The 1925 Derby winner merely outlasted a lot of poorer horses. 

Radio listeners in 1925 already knew that the favorite, Coventry, who won the Preakness, earning $52,700, trained by William Duke, was not running in the Derby. I imagined they heard the same markers around the track, first turn, backstretch, and far turn in the call. But I wonder if all the horses got a mention on air or if the winning trainer got as much media attention back then. I suspect the owners were more in the limelight than the trainers or jockeys. But in 1925, it would be the last racing season for William Duke, the trainer for Cochran Stables, who not only won the Derby and Preakness, but the Travers Stakes at Saratoga with a horse named Dangerous. Just six months later on January 26, 1926, he died of pneumonia at his upstate New York estate. The inaugural Kentucky Derby radio broadcast was the first and last to have any announcer call a winner trained by William Duke.

What that first live radio broadcaster did was begin something eloquently echoed in a May 1, 2014 New Yorker article “The Voice of the Kentucky Derby” written by David Hill. The piece was about Larry Collmus, the current Churchill Downs track announcer, who said, “We’re not the story. The story is out there. The horses, the riders. We’re just the narrators.

Man o’ War’s 100th Birthday – Let’s Celebrate!

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birthday of Man o’ War. Foaled March 29, 1917, this large chestnut horse was dubbed the Horse of the Century, that’s the 20th Century, with his incredible 20 wins out of 21 starts. Man o’ War was bred by August Belmont, Jr. and sold at auction as a yearling for $5,000 to Samuel D. Riddle. His name originally was My Man o’ War, named by Belmont’s wife since her husband had gone off to serve in World War I. The auctioneer dropped the “My” and his name became Man o’War.

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His two-year-old race year in 1919  started out with 6 consecutive wins. Here’s an example of the grueling pace race horses of the early 20th century faced. He started his career at Belmont Park with wins on June 6th, 9th, then another win on June 21st at Jamaica Racetrack followed by two wins at Aqueduct on June 23rd and July 5th. He had a short break before heading up to the Saratoga Race Course, then the premier racetrack in the nation, for four races on August 2nd, 13th, 20th and 23rd.

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Man O’ War’s only defeat  

It was during his Saratoga appearance that he met his only defeat by a horse named “Upset” during the Sanford Memorial on August 13th. In 1919, there were no starting gates. Horses lined up at a wide ribbon, they would turn around once to line up and then the ribbon would rise up. At this race, Man o’ War’s first jockey Johnny Loftus was late in turning the 16.2 hand horse around in time for the start. He was not off to a good start, back by four lengths. It was a short race, just 6 furlongs, and by the time Man o’ War caught up, he managed to pass every horse but one. He came in second only by a neck’s length. Had the race been another furlong, he would have won.

The 1920 race season was the start of his undefeated 3-year-old career. By now carrying 138 pounds, more than any other horse he competed against, and a new jockey Clarence Kummer, his first race was the Preakness Stakes. His owner did not enter him in the Kentucky Derby because he thought a mile and a quarter was too long a race to start off the season.  Back then the term “Triple Crown”  had not been formally coined or commercialized.  Big Red’s next win came at Belmont Park on May 29th in the one mile Withers Stakes. It’s amazing that Riddle entered him in a race between the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. But then again the Belmont Stakes was only a mile and 3/8th, not the marathon mile and half of today.

But it didn’t matter, Man o’ War went on to win the Belmont Stakes by 20 lengths. A record not broken for 53 years until Secretariat came along in 1973 with a 31-length victory. Big Red had 11 races in 1920, including big stakes races such as the Travers Stakes and the Jockey Gold Cup. He also broke the record for the longest win in a race of 100 lengths in the Lawrence Realization Stakes at Belmont Park just a week before the Jockey Gold Cup. By the end of the season nobody wanted to race against him, and his record-breaking 28-foot stride, so a match race was set up with the 1919 Triple Crown winner Sir Barton in Canada on Oct. 12th. It wasn’t much of a race as Man o’ War led from the start, won by 17 lengths, and took 6 seconds off the track record. And that’s with iron horseshoes! It was the first time a horse race was filmed in its entirety.

Racing Retirement

As with all great racehorses, Man o’ War went off to stud in Kentucky. But his retirement was different. He had become a national sports hero. All his races were broadcast on the growing medium of radio.  Everyone in America knew about this horse. He was so famous people traveled to see him. He had an African-American groom Will Harbut who cared for the horse and coined the term, “De mostest hoss that ever was.” He sired 64 Stakes winners, including War Admiral, the 1937 Triple Crown winner. By 1926 he was named the top sire. In 22 seasons at stud he produced 379 live foals. Even American Pharoah has Man o’ War in his pedigree 17 times.

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Man o’ War and his longtime groom Will Harbut

When Man o’ War passed away on November 1, 1947 at the age of 30, the country mourned. When he died, Faraway Farm called the Associated Press to announce, “Our big horse just died.” He died of a heart attack, but his longtime groom Harbut had suddenly passed away one month earlier, and many said that Man o’ War died of a broken heart. He was embalmed and lay in state for two days so all his fans could come and visit him one last time as he lay in a custom made coffin lined with black and yellow silk, Riddle’s racing colors. His funeral was broadcast on the radio.

He was laid to rest near a life-size bronze statue of him on Faraway Farm. Over the years, fans flocked to pay their respects. In the 1970’s the grave and statue were moved to the newly opened Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington where fans still come to visit. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the greatest horse ever, the park has restored the bronze statue and planned yearlong events around history’s most famous racehorse.

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A print of this painting by Robert Amick of Man o’ War hung in my childhood bedroom and fostered my love of Thoroughbred horses

@TimesSquareDog

“Look, that’s my dog,” Ray said as he pointed to the TV at My Place Restaurant last week. The bartender spun around to see a promo for the 141st Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show which will air on FS1 and Nat Geo WILD on Feb. 13th and 14th. Those seated around the bar saw a few seconds of a Norwegian Elkhound ensconced high above Times Square on the iconic red steps. His smiling face, his purple collar, a stylistic club logo next to his handsome head blipped across the screen. Then he was gone as a multitude of beautiful show dogs strode by at Madison Square Garden.

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Linx on the Red Steps high above Times Square 

A woman seated next to Ray turned and asked skeptically, “Was that really your dog?” Proudly, Ray produced the proof in a photo of him kneeling next to his 10-year-old buddy Linx the morning of the film shoot.

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“Wait ’til you see his solo 30-second promo,” Ray said. This is just the first of several promos he will appear in, which will air on 22 channels across the Fox Sports network from now until the dog show. Did I mention that the Super Bowl airs on Fox Sports?

His 30 seconds of Fame

There were 20 purebred dogs assembled over two days to help promote the oldest, continuously held, dog show in America with a series of TV promos. Each breed was paired with an New York City landmark. A Bulldog on the Brooklyn Bridge, a Portuguese Water Dog in a horse-drawn carriage in Central Park, an Afghan Hound at The Met, and Smooth Collies and a Leonberger on Broadway, among them.

It all began in Times Square one mild morning last December. We drove to Manhattan, parked, and walked Linx into, arguably, the busiest tourist place on earth. It was early when we arrived. Bark, bark, bark, bark all the way down Broadway from 47th Street. Linx was excited to be here! The throngs had not yet filled the urban space. A few looked on as Linx sat for his first picture of the morning with Ray, among empty chairs in the pedestrian walkway, with jumbo-trons, lights, and the New Year’s Eve ball looming in the background.

Then the film crew arrived and we got to work. Put anybody in the city with a film crew  and people will think they are a celebrity. Linx took notice immediately and began to strut his stuff for his new found fans. First, a quick trip up and down the red steps. Then across 7th Avenue. A very talented cameraman on roller blades between two taxis in the middle of the wide avenue captured his stroll across the crosswalk. Next up, weaving through bizarre characters down the great white way. Linx sauntered by the statue of liberty, a snowman, a princess, and a fake Rockette hawking tours. Not to miss out on a chance to expand his territory, Linx marked several light posts, garbage cans, and even a fire hydrant in Times Square. Well done for a dog who’s natural instinct is tracking moose in thick Norwegian forests. He had paused for the curious, asking to take his picture and even did a bit with a hot dog cart. Needless to say that was Linx’s favorite take of the day. I never did trust ‘street meat’ but he had no problem scarfing down the dogs.

The Red Steps 

At one point we popped Linx up on a marble island with the red steps and the TKTS booth in the background. By now, more curious tourists were watching him get ready for his close up. There were two men standing close by who had spotted the film crew, one with a skateboard. His cohort was trying to get the cameraman to film his friend in action. They were trying to get into Linx’s shot, “Yo, Bro, we are working here,” came the kind request from the cameraman to step out of the frame.

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I put Linx in a sit stay. “Can you take his leash off?” came the request. Yes, I had trained my dog in obedience, but remove his leash in Times Square! Luckily, I had packed a long 15-foot leash in my bag, and gladly attached that and snaked it around the back of his body, so it looked like he was just sitting there sans leash, taking in the sights of Times Square, like a dog on a sight-seeing trip. As we wrapped up that take, a man approached us and was thrilled to see a Norwegian Elkhound, not because it was unusual to see a Nordic dog in this urban jungle, but because he had once owned one and had bred a litter. The smile across his face told a story of his nostalgia for his long ago dog. He was then followed by two girls taking his photo to post on social media, where you can now find @TimesSquareDog on Instagram. Now, we were off for one more ascent to the top of the red steps.

While sitting atop the red steps and looking out across the sea of humanity forming below, I could see Linx taking it all in. People sitting nearby, wanting to touch his soft fur, were reaching out to pet him. Sitting next to him, looking at him, with the brilliant display of HD billboards surrounding him, how proud I was of his good-natured temperament after an hour and half of the TV commercial shoot. With Linx’s history with Westminster freshly minted, I thought back nearly 30 years to my first time showing at Westminster. Where Linx’s great, great, great-grandmother Roxanne did us proud. It’s nice to keep it in the family.

The Next First Dog of the United States ~ Where Are You?  

This current election cycle lacks any mention of the possible next First Dog of the United States or FiDOTUS as I imagine her friends will call her.  Our country has had a long history of Presidential pets including dogs, horses, cats, birds, and a variety of other livestock and wildlife no longer welcome at the White House such as cows, alligators, and raccoons.

Throughout our nation’s history, there have been the iconic moments for pets of POTUS. One of my favorite stories, according to the Presidential Pet Museum, (http://presidentialpetmuseum.com) about Fala, FDR’s famous Scottish Terrier, “In 1944, Fala was with the President on a sea trip to the Aleutian Islands. Rumors spread that Fala was accidentally left on one of the islands. During the 1944 presidential campaign, the Republicans accused him of spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars in sending a destroyer back for him. The President answered the attack in his famous Fala speech while talking to the Teamsters Union. Roosevelt defended his Scottie, saying, that he, Roosevelt, expected such criticism aimed at himself, and that even his family expected negative talk about themselves. However, Fala had not been the same. Since the charge was made: “His Scotch soul was furious.”

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President Herbert Hoover & Weejie the Norwegian Elkhound in 1935

And as an Norwegian elkhound fancier, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the little known presidential pet fact, that an 8-week-old elkhound puppy from Norway, named Weejie, was sent to President Herbert Hoover as a gift from the Norwegian Elkhound Association of America in 1931. Who knew?

Miss Beazley & Bo 

I’ve been fortunately to have my own history with presidential pets in my former role as an American Kennel Club spokesperson during the last three administrations. I remember the first press release I ever wrote at AKC involved the arrival of a new Scottish Terrier puppy at the George W. Bush White House, home of Barney and Millie. The scottie was bred by none other than former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman. Named Miss Beazley, the funniest thing about her, was that her father’s name was “Clinton.”

In 2008, Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama announced to his daughters, that win or lose, they would get a dog after the election. For the next 10 months, the news hounds could not get enough of this story. It seemed like all the media wanted to talk about was what kind of dog would the Obama’s get.

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First Dog Bo a.k.a. Amigo’s New Hope

I must have made hundreds of media appearances on TV, radio, and in print, educating the public, using the Obama’s search for a dog as an example, to find the right dog for your lifestyle. AKC created an online poll, asking people to choose among five dog breeds we thought would make a great fit for the potential first family. More than 42,000 votes were tallied with the Poodle as the winner. During that time, an AP and Yahoo! poll found that 42 to 37 percent of pet owners favored John McCain over Obama for president. The Associated Press contacted us for a response. On July 8, 2008, in USA Today, my words became the AP Quote of the Day: “From an image standpoint, nothing humanizes a candidate more than seeing him lovingly dote on his pet or toss a ball around on the White House lawn.”

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The “furvor” over the next FiDOTUS peaked in April 2009, with the announcement of Bo the Portuguese Water Dog’s arrival at the White House. Within hours, I was speaking on Good Morning America, CNN’s The Situation Room, World News Tonight, Fox & Friends, and with Michael Smerconish on his radio show in DC. The next day my appearance on Martha Stewart Living with an adorable 6-week-old Portuguese Water Dog puppy, had me answering probing questions from Martha like, “Will this ‘water dog’ learn to swim in the White House fountain?”

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Romney & Seamus

By the 2012 presidential campaign, the media tried to recapture those billions of impressions by focusing again on the candidates’ dogs, including an Irish Setter named Seamus. However, it didn’t turn out so well for Mitt Romney. According to the Associated Press: “The Presidential candidate was traveling with his Irish setter on a family vacation in 1983 when he put the dog inside a crate and strapped it to the roof of his car for the duration of the 12-hour drive from Boston to Ontario.”

Dog lovers outraged at this became protesters in New York City holding signs that said “Mitt is Mean” and “Dogs Aren’t Luggage” and “I Ride Inside.” According to the Washington Post, “Late-night host David Letterman has been giving the dog near-nightly shout-outs. There are parody Web videos and Facebook groups.”  The article continued, “The New Yorker featured a cartoon, with Rich Santorum riding in Romney’s rooftop dog carrier, on its cover last week. In the five years since the story was revealed, New York Times columnist Gail Collins has mentioned Seamus in at least 50 columns.”

The AP called again for me to weigh in, “As for Romney,” Peterson said he was halfway to responsible dog ownership in 1983. “The first step toward responsible dog ownership is putting the dog in a crate when you travel,” Peterson said. “The second step is putting the crate inside the car.”

President Obama’s reelection campaign, having a biting sense of humor, also weighed in when Obama strategist David Axelrod tweeted a picture of Obama holding his dog, Bo, in the presidential limousine and wrote, “How loving owners transport their dogs.”

The last two elections were fun and upbeat for dog lovers. This year’s contest lacks any humanizing. In fact, all we have to look forward to is whether the Clinton’s current poodle mixes, Maisie and Tally, can outshine former Clinton FiDOTUS, Buddy, the chocolate Lab and his cohort, Socks the cat.

Linx ~ The Last of the Line Claims Many Firsts

More than 30 years ago, I first stepped foot into a dog show ring with my first Norwegian Elkhound Ledgerock’s Sydney Lief, aka Sydney. This historic event in my life with dogs happened at the most unlikely of venues, the Milford Jai Alai Fronton. It was there that I took a chance at dog shows and the gamble paid off. We won Best of Winners and a single championship point. We were on our way to a lifelong passion for the sport of purebred dogs. We were going to become dog fanciers, a group of people who were dedicated to preserving, promoting and more recently, protecting purebred dog breeds. At the heart of this mission, are dog shows, where breeding stock are evaluated to judge their potential genetic contributions to each and every breed of dog recognized by the American Kennel Club.

Sydney never became a champion, but during his show career in the 1980s, I discovered the joy of being an owner/breeder/handler. I came from the horse show world and as a junior rider, I did everything myself from training to braiding to grooming to trailering my own horse to the shows. I liked doing everything myself. Call me a control freak or an over-achiever, but having an intimate role in all aspects of a competition for me, created a deeper level of bonding with my horse. And when I migrated to dog shows, I wanted to follow the same model. And that meant I was going to have to breed my own dogs.

It all began with a bitch called Mumbles. A knowledgeable breeder had given her to us to start our breeding program. And away we went. During the next 20 years, the Elvemel breeding program (with lots of help and mentoring from Kamgaard Norwegian Elkhounds) produced a direct line of award-winning champion bitches from Roxanne to Brittany to Basia to Stasha to Jinx. In 2006, Jinx was bred to an English sire, CH. Kestos Kriega. The results were a litter of two, a boy and a girl. And the one male puppy we named Linx stayed with us.

Linx’s Journey

Most things in life are a result of “timing is everything” or “being in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time,” or “everything happens for a reasons.” In Linx’s case, the timing for his show dog career was awful. I had started a job at the American Kennel Club that kept me on a long commute to Manhattan, away from my dogs. I quickly became frustrated at trying to do a proper job with Linx without the proper time and resources.

Looking back, Linx didn’t have the best of starts in terms of show dog 101. I didn’t devote as much time to training as I should have, and over the years, it was hit or miss to having a good ring performance. By the time he was three, I’d only showed him a handful of times accumulating three championship points. I decided that Linx would be a great pet and buddy for my husband Ray.

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Hanging out on the couch! Deciding who is going to get the remote. 

Fast Forward to 2014. We got a new puppy named Adele. I was going to show her. Since I was going to show her, I thought, let’s bring 8-year-old Linx to some dog shows. In 2015, I retired from my AKC job and had loads of time for my dogs. An amazing thing happened along the way. Linx was coming into his own.

At this point, Linx was the sole survivor of my 20-year-old breeding program. His 2006 litter, is the last litter I’ve bred in 10 years, and the last direct connection from my foundation bitch going back seven generations. Linx is the end of the line.

But then he began to accomplish a number of firsts for Elvemel. Linx’s first AKC title, the Canine Good Citizen, was accomplished by Ray, the first time Ray had handled any dog to any title. Linx became the first dog in Elvemel history to earn the Bred-By Exhibitor medallion from AKC, meaning all his championship points were earned by his owner/breeder/handler. Linx was the first to earn his championship as a Veteran at 8-years-old, becoming CH. Elvemel Casino Royale CGC. After earning an Award of Merit at this year’s national specialty, Linx became the first Elvemel dog to earn an invitation to the Crufts Dog Show in England. And then this past weekend, Linx, now nearly 10-years-old, achieved the first Specialty Best in Show win for Elvemel with his owner/breeder/handler on the end of the leash. And while Linx may be the end of the breeding line, another number of Elvemel firsts are his include being first in our hearts, usually first on the couch to watch TV, and definitely first in line for biscuits. Good Boy!

Polo Returns to Farmington Polo Grounds

It’s been nearly 40 years since the last polo pony dashed across the green field during a match at the Farmington Polo Grounds. On August 13th nearly 40 ponies returned to play on the historic grounds which includes 60 acres of beautiful land adjacent to the Farmington River. And why did the ponies come back? The newly formed Farmington Polo Club International Equestrian Center hosted its inaugural Dream Ride Polo Exhibition. The match benefitted the Hometown Foundation, a charity about inclusion by helping and unifying those less fortunate, in need, or physically and intellectually disabled. The Dream Ride Experience, held on the polo grounds each August, encompasses the entire mission of the foundation. The Dream Ride Experience is an annual fund raiser for the Special Olympics as it celebrates the special achievements of Special Olympians.

Polo Players Extraordinaire

Two teams of four mounted players each included international professional players, several married couples, and women players in this highly competitive, fast playing game. Tailgating spectators gathered at field side to enjoy four chukkers (7 1/2 minute  long periods of play) in the exhibition match. The recently renovated and upgraded Farmington Polo Grounds boosts a 50-stall barn, competition polo field, grass paddocks, beautiful new white fencing, and flags of many nations fluttering along the entrance on Town Farm Road in Farmington.

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Players get ready for their first chukker

During half-time the traditional “divot stomp” took place. Spectators came out on the field to replace the divots made by thundering horses’ hooves during the first half. This activity promotes safety for horses and players as well as socialization, not to mention fashion show-offs, for friends and family. My husband Ray and I went out there and stomped as many divots as we could find. There were many women dressed in lovely sundresses and fashionable hats that could have made the rounds at the Saratoga Race Course or even the Kentucky Derby.

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Ray stomps a mean divot!

Spectators also competed for the Best Tailgate Award based on the creativity, dedication, and decoration of the tailgate set up. (Full disclosure: Our Veuve Cliquot champagne inspired tailgate won the award). Following polo match play, we all enjoyed a Brazilian BBQ, in honor of the Rio Olympics and the international culture of the sport of polo.

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Lisa decorates a mean tailgate!

 

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Ray enjoying the tailgate at the Farmington Polo Grounds!

Farmington Polo Club Manager and Polo Instructor Jennifer Williams recently told me the club is, “Thrilled to bring polo back to the Farmington community after 40 years. We are continually upgrading the polo club grounds to make this a world-class venue for players, ponies and the public to enjoy the fun-filled, action-packed sport of polo.”

The History of Polo 

According to the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame (polomuseum.com) located in Florida, polo is arguably the oldest sport known to man. Its origins in Central Asia date back to around 600 B.C. to 100 A.D. where mounted nomads trained for sport and war on horseback as they migrated to Persia, recognized as the birthplace of polo. Modern polo began in India in 1859 between British military officers and locals on tea plantations. By 1876, New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennet brought polo to the United States after a visit to England where the game was thriving.

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Ray sitting field side with a classic polo spectator beverage

The Westchester Polo Club was the first organized club in the country in 1876. By the 1920’s polo was at its peak of popularity. The Farmington Polo Club was formed in 1929. During the 1920s and 1930s the Meadow Brook Club in Westbury, NY on Long Island was the center of the polo universe. Browsing through The New York Times archive online, one sees just how popular the sport was. Many times Meadow Brook and Farmington played each other. At the 1930 U.S. Open polo match there were 45,000 spectators who came out to support the sport. Can you imagine?

The sport even made it to the Olympics from 1900 to 1936. The last Olympic game played at the Berlin Summer Games in Germany gave the gold medal to Argentina who defeated Great Britain. Mexico captured the bronze.  Today, polo is thriving once again with the United States Polo Association recognizing 275 member clubs with 4,500 players.

Tippy Toes~ A Yankee Doodle Dandy Dog

Tippy Toes, a black Schipperke-Beagle mix with two white front toes, was born in 1972 during the Fourth of July festivities at Sweetbrier Farm in Easton. A litter of two boys and two girls arrived thanks to the barn’s resident Schipperke. Back in the 1970s “Schips” owned by top trainers were all the rage on the East Coast horse show circuit — before the Corgis moved in.

Soon, Tippy’s mother ran out of milk. He ended up at our home at several weeks old. My mother hand fed the little black nugget until he grew into an adorable puppy. Fittingly, I first met “the little captain” — the Belgium translation of the breed’s name — at summer camp in the Adirondaks when my parents came to pick me up in August. He confidently strode out onto the dock overlooking the deep blue waters of Long Pond.

Soon after his brother Floppy Ear joined our family. He was the last pup at the barn that nobody wanted. I identified with his lot in life, since I too had always been picked last to join the kickball team. One day, while visiting the Newtown building lot of our new home the brothers took off in tandem. I ran after them down West Farm Ridge Road.  As fast as my long legs could carry me, I hung a left down Hundred Acres, but I was no match galloping dogs on a mission. I stopped, gasping for breath, and watched them disappear down the middle of the road deep into fox hunting country past some of my favorite stone walls jumps. I eventually gathered them up. But before we moved to Newtown, Floppy escaped the property in Trumbull and was killed by car on a nearby busy street. For some reason, Tippy didn’t go with him that day.

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Tippy on vacation in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine circa 1981

Best Friends Forever 

Tippy became my constant companion. For fun I set up an obstacle course of lawn chairs and broom sticks in the front yard, jumping him around like a grand prix horse. Today, they call it the sport of Agility. I even made a Puissance high jump. My Dad built standards with little nails as the jump cups so I could easily raise the striped bar, an old croquet post, to nearly three feet. My parents even drove me to obedience classes where we trained and eventually earned ribbons in class competitions. I remember one score of 198 out of 200. Not bad for a barn puppy born out of wedlock.

Once I began driving, Tippy became my co-pilot. Sitting in the front seat, head out the window, as we drove to yet another barn to ride yet another horse. At one barn, he used to pop out of the car and hop into my open tack trunk to sleep nestled among saddle pads. He learned a large vocabulary. I spoke to him like a friend communicating with full sentences. He always seemed to know exactly what I was saying to him. Going off to college in California was difficult. Tippy stayed behind.

Chow Hound

Fortunately for Tippy, I didn’t stay on the West coast for long. I enrolled in a local university and he came back to live with me. By this time Tippy was known in our family as the “whiz kid.” He had this knack for knowing who the male head of the household was, whether at my Mom’s house, my Dad’s house or my house. He’d sniff out the patriarch’s bed pillow and leave his wet, yellow signature. Even to this day, when I visit my Dad, he points out Tippy’s signature on an old brass plate on a wooden trunk.

During college I lived about a mile from my Mom’s house. Each morning I would feed Tippy, let him out in the front yard to spend the day, and drive off to college. Within the hour, he trotted back to Mom’s for yet another meal. Then midday, he would commute back to my house, even crossing the busy street that took his brother’s life, and be sitting in the front yard for my arrival. This went on for months, until one day a friend driving to my house spotted Tippy mid-commute, stopped and opened his car door. Tippy jumped in for the ride home. Once home, we found him rummaging through discarded brown bag lunches in the back seat. He loved food so much, he once surprised me by leaping across the room and taking a slice of pizza from my hand. All I was doing was sitting on the floor, pointing at the front door with the hand that held the pizza, so someone would go answer it. Tippy answered the call!

Tippy’s most harrowing escape out of the back seat of a car was detailed in a November Newtown Bee column when my hatchback flew open on Interstate 95 as we crossed the Merrimac River Bridge from New Hampshire into Maine. Here’s an excerpt:

Most Harrowing – We had just stopped at the rest stop for gas on I-95 in New Hampshire just before the bridge heading to Maine. We had three people and three dogs in my compact Datsun. My schipperke/beagle mix Tippy traveled in the hatchback area and I had just put him in his cubby and closed the hatchback after a dog walk. Off we went back on the highway and across the bridge. Halfway across the bridge, sitting in the back seat with my two other dogs, Rodney and Allision, I felt a breeze. The windows weren’t down. I turned to look behind me and saw that the hatchback was open! 

“Tippy’s gone!” I screamed. I feared he’d fell out of the car, off the bridge and plunged hundreds of feet into the icy Merrimac River. “Slow Down!” I said still screaming, not knowing what I would do stopping at mid-span. Then looking back across the bridge towards New Hampshire I saw a little black blur round the corner onto the bridge approach. In the middle of the highway, running as fast as his little legs could carry him, was Tippy in pursuit. “Stop! It’s Tippy!” I watched as my little dog got bigger and bigger. It was a miracle he wasn’t hit by traffic. In another blur, in the middle of the highway in the middle of the bridge a car door opened, a little dog jumped in, and a hatchback was slammed shut – twice.

That vision of him running down the middle of the bridge toward the car was the mirror image of his Hundred Acres Road dash years earlier.

IMG_5751

Tippy as he approached 18 years old, circa 1990

As Tippy aged, he switched gears from the horse show to the dog show circuit, where he found a whole new flock of friends who thought he was a purebred Schip with a tail. His antics even prompted me to buy a purebred and start showing and breeding Schipperkes. But all good canine friendships come to an end, and four months shy of his 18th birthday, his life ended peacefully. His final resting place? Beneath my favorite jumping stone wall at the end of Hundred Acres Road. It was officially named, “The Tippy Memorial Jump” as we popped open the bottle of champagne.

On the Road with Linx & Adele

Read Part I of “On the Road with Linx & Adele” as featured in The Newtown Bee

Part II “Barking Nights for Linx & Adele”

There are some things you just don’t think about until they happen. Day one on the road to Illinois was a long trek, 14 hours, including three stops for potty and water breaks,  from Newtown to Elkhart, Indiana. As we nestled into the Red Roof Inn for a good night’s sleep, it was anything but continuous. A group of camo-dressed hunters held a tailgate party right outside our room until the wee hours. Every time they laughed, my Norwegian Elkhounds, Adele & Linx, barked back. Have I mentioned that elkhounds are notorious barkers? Finally we were all fast asleep when someone was banging on our door at 5 a.m. Amidst more barking than before , I opened the door a crack, “Taxi,” said the driver.

“Taxi?” I said to a cacophony of canine vocalization.

“Yes, Taxi,” the driver offered again.

“No, Taxi,” I replied.

“No Taxi?” came his response as I closed the door.  Bark. Bark. Bark. Boy, this was going to be a long trip.

Mr. Sock

Linx hadn’t been on a long overnight road trip since 2007 when I took him to Canada as a puppy. This would be Adele’s first extended trip. Overall, they were really good dogs, but at night, the demons arrived to deprive us all of sleep. The next night was our first night at the resort, the day before the big national specialty dog show started with the Veteran Sweepstakes for the older dogs.

Crash! Bang! Rattle! Clang!  I woke up with a start in the dark. No barking, but I knew that Linx had exited the bed, the wrong side of the bed. He opted for the tight space on the right side next to the wall. He had somehow hit the metal dolly (what I use to pull cargo around the dog show) that I had propped up against the wall at the foot of the bed for storage out of the way. I guess it wasn’t out of the way enough. Linx settled back into sleep on the floor across the room.

Next morning, we all woke up, and I noticed Linx had some dried blood on his left rear paw. Upon closer inspection, he had actually pulled off his toenail. I went to investigate and found it on the floor next to the dolly. Then I got out my first aid kit and cleaned his paw. Next up, with the help of friends, we managed to get him bandaged in a donated clean sock and started him on antibiotics. He was no worse for the wear. But I needed to keep him from licking his paw, so the sock would stay on unless he was in the show ring. That night he proudly picked up a second place in his age group at the sweepstakes.

Crash! Shatter! Rumble!  That night, a bottle of Pellegrino I had in the mini-fridge froze solid and exploded! Woke us up and set off the dogs barking. Three nights, three disruptions. But we tried to sleep on.

A quick trip the next morning sent me to Target to purchase a 10-pack of clean socks. Linx  garnered the nickname “Mr. Sock” among his friends and looked quite fashionable in a rainbow of colors, until someone made fun of him wearing a lady’s pink ped on his paw. I kindly informed them it was for good luck. His next class the following day was a large competitive Veteran Dog class with an entry of 10 and that the first place ribbon in that class was pink and it had his name on it.

The next day as predicted, Linx, at 9 and half years old, the oldest dog in the class, walked proudly into the show ring, performed his best, and walked out with the first place pink ribbon under a Norwegian judge. It qualified him for the Best of Breed class the next day. That night all three of us enjoyed one long uninterrupted slumber.

Best Brace in Show

Refreshed, we were ready to tackle the final day of the national specialty. Early in the day, Adele captured a first in the Open Bitch class. Then came Best of Breed, where Linx gained an Award of Merit, one of only 15 given among nearly 200 elkhounds. But the real fun was just about to start. The last class of the show is called Brace. According to AKC rules, A brace is defined as two dogs of the same recognized breed or variety that are similar in appearance, performing in unison, and presented by a maximum of two handlers. Both dogs competing in brace competition must have at least one common owner. I’ve always opted to show my brace a single handler. I must be crazy!

Adele and Linx stepped into the ring. Our first test was around the ring.  Then we had to stop and stack. Linx on the outside, Adele on the inside. Then the individual exam, showing their bites. And the big test, down and back across the diagonal of the large ring with an outside turn. Stop for the judge for one last look and one more time around the ring. Then months of roadwork and training paid off as Adele & Linx became Best Brace in Show with the point of the judge’s finger. After another two days of a regional specialty and two days traveling home, Adele and Linx, finally got to sleep in their own beds. And there was no barking. Good dogs!