You know how you double your money at a racetrack? You fold it over, put it in your pocket and leave it there.
Just a basic old joke that is easy to understand.
One thing horse racing could use, besides a few laughs, is a language that is easy to understand.
I bring this up for two reasons.
One, as a longtime Arcadia resident, I root for horse racing to do well. It is vital part of Arcadia’s economy because of the presence of , and I believe a simpler language might attract new fans.
Two, I recently covered my first horse sale for the Thoroughbred Times, a national magazine headquartered in Lexington, Ky., that I write for on a free-lance basis. To prepare for this assignment, I had to first study up on all the correct terminology.
The name of the sale, which was held at Fairplex Park on the L.A. County Fairgrounds in Pomona, is Barretts. Not sure where that name comes from, but that was the least of my worries.
The most important thing to know when buying a racehorse is who the parents are. But in horse racing, it’s not the mother and father. It is the dam and the sire.
The dam is sometimes referred to as a broodmare – or sometimes just as a mare if the horse is at least five years old.
A filly is a female horse four years old or younger. A foal is a young horse of any sex in its first year of life. A weanling is a foal which has been separated from its dam. A maiden is a horse that has never won a race. A gelding is a male horse who can no longer produce any offspring – no foals, no yearlings, no fillies, no colts, no offspring of any kind.
The Barretts sale I covered was for two-year-old horses in training. That means they have been broken and have learned that when asked to run fast they do so. By the way, running fast in a workout is called breezing.
In horse racing, they don’t break horses like they do in the old western movies and TV shows, where a cowboy gets on a horse and doesn’t get off until the horse quits bucking. In horse racing, it is a long process.
Three days prior to the sale, which was held on the night of March 21, the horses, who all seemed to be well trained considering they were all two-year-olds, breezed for one furlong in front of the racetrack grandstands so prospective buyers could get a look that them.
A furlong is one eighth of a mile.
We could go on and on with our translations from horse-racing speak to the English language. No wonder newcomers to the sport are intimidated. Try reading the handicaps and charts in a Daily Racing Form, or any publications for that matter. It will make your eyes glaze over. It’s impossible unless you have someone teach you.
I was a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Times for more than 30 years. Toward the end of my career there, I was offered the horse racing beat – mainly because I lived in Arcadia. I liked the sport and often went out to Santa Anita – it truly is the . But I hesitated taking that assignment because I didn’t know the language.
I recall that many years ago a very nice and talented young female writer in the sports department at the Times, JoAnne Curran, was assigned to the horse racing beat. Unfortunately, she didn’t know the language, which the late Jim Healy couldn’t resist pointing out almost daily on his radio show. The female writer ended up being fired.
After careful consideration over several days, I accepted the challenge of covering horse racing for the Times. That was in 2007. A year later, I was laid off. But I don’t think it was because I hadn’t learned the language. The day I got laid off, I was one of 350 employees to get the ax because of the economic climate in the newspaper business.
During my one-year stint at the Times on my new beat, I had learned much of the terminology used in writing about horse races, but there was even more to learn as I prepared to write about a horse sale for the Thoroughbred Times magazine. It’s important to write about a horse’s pedigree, and I’ll use the colt that sold at the Barretts sale for $625,000 – the sale’s top price – as an example how to do that, with the translation in parenthesis.
It was a bay colt by Pomeroy (the sire) out of Leah’s Angel (the dam) by Caller I.D. (the dam’s sire).
There are grand sires and great-grand sires and there are also second dams and third dams. But for me, that gets just too “dam” confusing.