I'll start by answering a simple question: What are we thankful for this year?
In Over My Head of course.
We are thankful he has been able to make 11 starts so far this year. We are thankful he is still healthy and going strong. We are thankful for the great care he is getting from the Leonard family. We are thankful Mo and Casey have really hit their stride as a driver/ horse combo. We are also thankful for the surprise drive we got from Marcus Miller.
Since I am on location for Thanksgiving festivities, I have to keep this short, but just a quick comment on the race from last week.
That marks 3 wins in Mo's last 5 starts. He proved (yet again) that he is as fast as about any horse in a short sprint and that he really likes to beat other horses in photo finishes. I'll circle back and post the video link here next week, but I'll summarize the race very quickly.
He got off 4th. Stayed 4th until deep stretch. Casey found a seam and shot him to the center of the racetrack, got him straighten out and he powered by 3 other horses to win at the wire. It was another one of those races where we thought at about the 3/4 pole, "well, we aren't going to win tonight". We were wrong. Again. We love how Mo keeps surprising us.
The other really cool thing about this race was that it was the first race our son Jordan ever watched live. Since Mo was in an early race (the 2nd) and we were in the central time zone, the race went off before his bedtime. Even though he can't talk yet, I'm sure he was saying "Let's Go Mo" in his head.
Danny also had a fun experience as he watched the race on his phone at a wedding with a group of 8, some of which had never seen a race before. That's always a risky thing to do since you never know how a race will go, but when he won, it was a blast for Danny and his table.
It is always fun to go into a 2 week break off a win and we have enjoyed this one. The next stop for Mo is the Invitational and the plan is to enter him next week. He's sharp. Those top horses better watch out.
Let's go Mo!
Many people have asked me what it's like to own a racehorse. This blog is a play by play of one horse in particular. A three year old colt named In Over My Head that I own with my uncle...and although he doesn't have any dollars invested, my cousin is about as emotionally invested as humanly possible. It could end up being a story of success or failure, but if he's like all the others I've owned, it will no doubt be a roller coaster ride.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
In Over My Head accomplished something special on Saturday night. It wasn’t his game effort first over into a headwind on a sloppy track. It wasn’t his ‘never give up’ attitude that propelled him to a third place finish when it appeared that he would be 5th or 6th. It was simply the fact that he finished the race.
Why is that important?
He completed his quest. A quest he has only completed one other time in his six year racing career. It was a quest I laid out for him a couple months ago…the quest for double digits.
Saturday’s race was Mo’s tenth start of the season. While that may not seem like a lot to some of the horses he races against (hats off to Major Monet and Old Man River with 36 and 35 starts this year respectively), ten is a lot for Mo. And he’s still going strong. By all accounts, he came out of the race well and should be in next week.
Mo has no climbed to a level where he simply cannot swoop everyone in the final stretch….and that’s just fine by me (even though he can still swoop most). It means he’s at a level where he is racing against the best Chicago has to offer. It’s where he belongs. While Saturday’s race was technically a non-winners of $12,000 last five races, it was in reality an Invitational field.
Best Man Hanover beat us again, but I still think Mo is a better horse. Best Man was well placed and had the jump on us at the ¾ pole. Mo closed 3 lengths on him, but it wasn’t quite enough. Best Man was drafting behind Time To Roll, who is a legit monster of a horse. He could race anywhere in my opinion and if the connections just happen to be reading this, I think you should give him a shot at the new Meadowlands!
This year marks the 4th anniversary of In Over My Head’s improbable win in the Windy City Pace at odds of 55-1. I’ve covered that topic many times (probably too many) in this blog over the years, but in thinking back I came up with an interesting question. Do other owners/ connections remember a big win like we do? If you think about it, dozens of races each year offer a purse of as much or more than the Windy City did ($225,000), so in theory there are hundreds of people that have had a part of that ‘Big Win’ experience. Do they reflect back every year and remember how incredible that feeling was like we do?
I’m guessing that we take it to more of an extreme for a number of reasons. It was so improbable (sometime if you win as a favorite, you almost feel as much relief as pure excitement). He was our only horse and we’ve never come close to repeating that victory in the 4 years since. The next biggest race he was in (from a pure purse perspective) was the final of the Exit 16W series at the Meadowlands that went for $88,000. He finished 7th and shredded his leg that night. That is probably another reason why we hang on so tightly to our one big time win. There is nothing else to get in its way.
The only personal comparison I can make was from my time as a coach at Madison Memorial High School. Over 8 years we won three state titles and were runner up four times. That’s a lot of success and lots of memorable games. I can say that I often do think back to the biggest wins and love talking about them with other people who were involved. I can’t say that they are any less special just because we had more of them (as opposed to the one major win with Mo). Certain wins will always mean more for any number of reasons and I think if I coached another 50 years, nothing would ever top this:
Regardless of the reasons why, we will probably relive that for many more years. Thanks to Danny, it was captured beautifully with the 3rd portion of his 3 year old highlight video. Enjoy:
Look for Mo to race again next week either in the same class or in the Invitational. It just depends on who enters and how Balmoral shakes out the fields.
It’s been a great run so far in 2013 and we hope to keep it going. Let’s Go Mo!
Monday, November 4, 2013
Over the past five years, we’ve covered a lot of ground in the story of In Over My Head. We’ve been with him for 49 races and in some way I’ve covered them all right here on this blog. Soemtimes the focus is just about the race itself. Other times, more focus has been placed on the ancillarily factors surrounding the race. It could be a background story of some sort or memorable scenario that ends in me telling someone, “I have to go watch my horse race.” Here is one of my favorites from 2009 (http://inovermyheadracehorse.blogspot.com/2009/09/exciting-end-to-interesting-day.html). This weekend we added another one of those stories…and much, much more.
Laura and I were finishing up at a neighborhood party on Saturday night when I got a text from Danny who was in Mineral Point watching the races with Greg, “Ya ready?” it asked. It was about 20 minutes to post and my answer at that point was, no, I wasn’t close to ready! We still had to pack up the car and get back home. As Laura could attest, my personality immediately changed from relaxed to semi-frantic as the minutes ticked away and post time crept closer. In the excitement, our friends asked us why we were leaving so abruptly.
“We have to get home so we can watch our horse race.”
It is a common exchange that I haven’t experienced in quite awhile, but one I always find funny. The cool part about the exchange this time was that everyone there was really interested in the whole thing. “How did you get into horse racing?” “Where does he race?” “Is he any good?” “That sounds like fun.” I love talking to people about horse racing and really wanted to answer every question that everyone had, but there was only one problem. At that point we were only 12 minutes to post…we had to move!
In retrospect, we should have just stayed in the Mill Glenn community pool parking lot and watched with everyone on our Iphones. To be honest though, I’m not sure the impression I would have made on our new friends if I started screaming into the phone as Mo was charging down the stretch…which is pretty much exactly what would have happened. And what if he went another bad race? He had finished 1st and 2nd his previous two starts, but had struggled before that. Should we have been worried?
In typical In Over My Head style, his response was “Don’t worry and don’t be so nervous? I’ve got this.”
This race was also special for a totally different reason. It had a very 2012 feel to it. Tyler Butenschon and Penny Perrin were both in attendance. Tyler had one of John’s horses racing the American National elimination and Penny came along…well I think she came along just to see In Over My Head. The other part of the flashback was that Marcus Miller, who happened to be in Chicago for the same American National elim, was available to drive. Our normal driver, Casey Leonard, had another horse in the race and decided to let Marcus drive Mo given their history together. The only thing missing was Danny, Kacy, Laura, Laura’s grandparents, myself and “Call Me Maybe” playing over the sound system.
Since this was Flashback to 2012 night, Mo also decided to stay in character.
Leaving from post 8, Marcus pushed him off the gate a little bit, but a hole never opened up. Instead of falling to the back or charging to the front, Marcus did what he has done many times with Mo: just relax and ride on the outside. Eventually some cover emerged from the rail and turning for home, Mo was 3rd over and ready to make a charge. He was nearly 7 lengths off the lead, but with open race track in front of him (unlike the week before when he was surprisingly knocked off his course by a breaking St. David Hanvoer) it was time to put the pedal to the medal. The result was shocking. Just when you think you know everything you could possibly know about In Over My Head, we learn something new.
Mo is even faster than we though. And that’s saying something. Check it out for yourself:
At 7 years old and after 2 major ligament injuries, In Over My Head did something on Saturday night that he has NEVER done in his entire life. He came home with a last quarter of under 26 seconds. 25 and 3/5th seconds to be exact. That was enough to leave everyone else in his substantial wake as he won by a length and a half.
Since Laura and I spent some time with folks new to horse racing this weekend they are probably wondering: just how fast is that?
Often times when someone sees harness racing for the first time, they assume that the horses aren’t going all that fast. “It just looks like they are speed walking” is a comment I get pretty commonly. While I can’t comment on what they LOOK LIKE, I can tell you that they are moving at a pretty fast clip. Let’s work though the math on that one.
His last quarter was 25.6 seconds. Over a mile that would be 102.4 seconds. There are 3600 seconds in an hour, which clocks In Over My Head’s last quarter at 35.12 miles per hour. Fast enough to get pulled over in a school zone. Good thing we keep him on the track.
When thinking about how fast that actually is, don’t compare it to sitting in a car. Being in an enclosed area doesn’t do it justice. Think about the last time you were on a scooter for example. When you had that think opened up and you were going downhill, you were probably going about 35 mph. With the wind in your hair, it is a very different experience.
As a comparison to a thoroughbred horse (which many people are more familiar with), they can cover a quarter mile in maybe 22 seconds, which works out to 40.91 miles per hour. While it is certainly faster (16.5% faster to be exact), it isn’t as dramatically faster than it appears to many folks are new to the game.
I have to say, it feels great to be back on a roll with In Over My Head. Saturday’s win was a huge validation for us. It validated this entire second comeback. Think about the time and effort that went into it. He was off from July of 2012 to July of 2013. While he started hot, he tailed off and tested our patience. However, everyone involved stayed the course (with a tip of the hat to the Leonards for some well-placed training changes) and on Saturday we witnessed speed from Mo like he has never shown us before. It is simply amazing. A horse with that amount of talent BELONGS on the race track. It would be a waste to take away that opportunity.
Staying true to our schedule to not over-race him, Mo will get next week off and will then either take one or two steps up in class the following Saturday. He is so razor sharp right now that I’m not sure there are many horses in Chicago that can beat him with one exception. A horse in his own barn by the name of Fort Silky who is also trained by the Leonards. He’s be virtually unbeatable lately and is not only fast but tough as nails. An In Over My Head and Fort Silky neck and neck stretch run would be a joy to watch. Could Mo beat him? Well I think he COULD, but I’m not saying he will. At this point, who really cares? Three weeks ago we thought we were looking at a retirement of our old boy. Now, he writing a whole new chapter to the book of Mo. As we’ve said many times before, it’s best to just jump on and enjoy the ride. And each week that goes by, Mo is picking up new fans. It just makes the whole thing that much more fun.
Let’s Go Mo!
Saturday, October 19, 2013
The ‘horse racing is like riding a roller coaster’ analogy is overused. Heck, I’ve overused it myself on this blog over the years (I can’t believe it has been years by the way). However, it is a very apt analogy for the place we found ourselves over the course of the past few weeks for a whole new reason. It isn’t the ups, the downs, the twists, the turns, it’s more like what these people went through:
(in case you didn’t read the link, it was about some folks who got stuck on a roller coaster at Universal Studios for about 2 hours…)
When someone asks me “why haven’t you written anything in the blog for so long” my answer is that we’ve been stuck on the dang roller coaster and have been waiting for help! Luckily that help came last Saturday night.
You might be wondering what constitutes being ‘stuck’ in racing. To answer that, take a look at these numbers:
4, 5, 6, 6
Those were Mo’s four finishes after starting the season with a win and a second. Each race has its own story as to why he didn’t go well. There are plenty of legitimate excuses. Some soreness one race, getting locked in and getting impeded down the stretch in a race he certainly would have finished no worse than third. In that second 6th place finish, he didn’t have a great excuse. He just didn’t race very well. This was rather concerning because it was very ‘un-Mo like”. Over the course of his entire career, I can’t really think of a time he just was flat for no reason. It opened an unforeseen way to get “un-stuck”…and not in the way we had hoped.
As we all know, In Over My Head is a hell of a racehorse. He’s proven it many times. However, even the best athletes will eventually lose their edge. When that happens, retirement is not too far down the road. Think of Michael Jordan with the Wizards. 16 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists is a solid line…but not for the greatest ball player to ever live. His skills were fading due to the unyielding pursuit of father time. You can’t escape it. After that set of finishes, especially that no excuse 6th place finish, we were beginning to fear that time was maybe starting to catch up with Mo.
Back to the being stuck analogy. When you are a very good older horse and you begin to sit in middle-of-the-pack land, you have two ways to go. Start getting into the top 3 again or fall to the bottom 3. Being in the middle is what I mean by being stuck. You aren’t making much money, but aren’t doing washing out either. While we originally just assumed Mo would pop for a big win during one of those four races, the other option was becoming more real. As we had talked about after his last start, while you can always have an excuse, eventually you have to come to the realization that excuse upon excuse upon excuse is something totally different. It means that things just aren’t the way they used to be. That was our fear going into last Saturday’s race. Mo had faced races like this a few times in his past. It was really becoming kind situation where he had to SHOW us he could still do it…or we just had to assume that he couldn’t anymore.
Despite that fear, we were really pretty optimistic. We put Mo on Lasix, thus losing the crown of “Only race horse in America over the age of 7 who is not on Lasix” (that’s a joke for horse people, the rest will have no idea what I’m talking about) and Casey decided to sharpen up Mo’s training regimen a little bit. He thought he could handle it at this point because his leg is really in great shape (all things considered) and the extra work would hopefully help him.
So there we were. On one side, you have the sad fade into retirement staring us straight in the face (which was magnified by the fact we were dropping down in class…a class Mo really has to be able to handle or there isn’t’ much sense racing him). On the other side you have some new ideas and some legitimate hope that the old boy can turn things around yet again. Either way, we were about to be “unstuck”.
And how did Mo respond to this situation that became almost unmanageably tense as the horses were going to the gate?
He said, “Do you have rocks in your head? How many times do I have to tell you to never, and I mean NEVER doubt me!”
Enjoy because we sure as hell did.
That right there is what Danny and I like to refer to as “Old Mo”. Our enthusiasm has to be tempered a little bit. Like I said before, he had to be able to handle this class to even be racing so there isn’t huge cause for celebration, but it felt dang good to see him win. And he earned that win. That little Texican was a heck of a lot tougher than I thought and the rest of the field was a full nine iron behind. He ended up with the fastest time of the night as well as the fastest last quarter (26.1). He got us “unstuck” and gave us some great hope for the near future.
This whole exercise did force us to think about something interesting: Mo’s retirement. You might say, ‘he’s suffered 2 major injuries, how have you not thought about retirement?’ and you’d be making a good point. This, however, is a little different. I’m taking about the kind of retirement where his abilities start to fade and he just can’t do what he used to do. In some ways, that is even harder to watch than an injury. It poses a lot of questions. How far do you let him drop in class? At what point do you pop off the shoes and just stop? Those are tough questions, and ones that we luckily don’t have to think about coming off an impressive win. One thing we all agreed on was this. He is living a great life right now. He gets great care. He gets to get turned out during the week and races on the weekends. Life is good. When it’s over, it’s over. We’d have to find a home for him somewhere. As much as we want him to be a stallion, I’m just not sure it is going to be feasible. We’ll try, no doubt, but he’s really in a good place right now. Let’s just hope he can keep racing well and enjoying life….and we can keep enjoying it right along with him.
Thanks (again) Mo for teaching us to never give up hope. Your inspiration is more important than you’ll ever know.
Look for the next race on Saturday the 26th. Let’s go Mo!
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Scores of horses have come through the barn over the years
One thing has remained constant
Standing in back, doing his work when asked, beating back those younger and more brash
He is the Warhorse
The other stalls are empty now
Young horses befallen by a myriad of afflictions
Some worse than others, but all are gone for the season
He is the only one left
The men are talking at the end of the barn
Shaking their heads. No doubt lamenting about what has happened
Bad luck, fluke injuries, unrealistic expectations on horses that had never proven themselves
The Warhorse has proven himself. Time after time
Through his own injuries, he has remained strong
He hasn’t been perfect. Has missed too much time, but he always battled back
He battled back and he won. Again, again and again
They now look down at him. A mixture of sadness and hope in their eyes
He meets their gaze from down the row
Not with the tired eye of a weary veteran
But with a flicker and fiery glare
The look of a champion. He knows it is his time to shine
He needs to carry the weight of the stable on his shoulders and he welcomes this challenge
As he walks out of his stall, he starts with a limp. Years of battle have left him stiff
As he reaches the halfway mark, the limp is barely noticeable
By the end he is moving as fluidly as ever, old joints lubricated by the impending thrill of competition
As they load him on the truck, he stops and looks back at them
He can make no promises of health, his body has failed him before
He will promise to battle until the end, reaching for every last inch of racetrack
He is the Warhorse and his connections are forever grateful for him
Monday, August 5, 2013
It’s like Christmas morning as a kid.
Is there anything better than that? The anticipation builds up for weeks and what makes Christmas morning extra special is that it never disappoints. Santa showed up as planned and those toys you asked for have magically appeared under the tree. Genuine happiness. That’s the only way to describe it. It is probably that way for parents too when they get to watch their kid’s expressions. We can’t wait for that moment when Jordan is old enough to appreciate Christmas morning.
You know what Christmas morning is for this big kid? Having the opportunity to watch In Over My Head race. And much like Santa Clause, he never disappoints.
Before I get into the race, I a confession to make. I violated rule #1 on Friday night. Actually it is the only rule you must abide by when following In Over My Head. It is so easy to remember and I’m embarrassed that I forgot.
Rule #1: Never doubt Mo. Ever.
I doubted him at the half mile mark. “Well, he’s not going to win tonight,” I said to Laura. Word from Maywood Park is that Danny wasn’t feeling very optimistic either at the half mile mark. I’m sure most people watching felt the same way. We all violated Rule #1. It won’t happen again with me. That I
I won’t say any more about the race. For those of you that just read this blog and have not seen it, follow the instructions below and watch the replay. Any description I write just can’t do it justice. Remember Rule #1 when you watch it.
Click on the like below, then go to Friday August 2nd. In Over My Head was in race #12. He was number 5. If you lose him during the race don’t worry…you’ll know who he is by the end.
While you always hope for a win as an owner, Friday was at least a little bit different. We felt pretty strongly that Mo would race well. But he had been off for OVER A YEAR. That’s a long time. The horse who finished 2nd (the #4 horse) was a solid competitor. My thought going in was the #4 might get loose on the front end. While I expected Mo to be closing hard, there was a chance he might have too much ground to make up. It played out pretty close to how I expected it would. Only the phrase “too much ground to make up” apparently doesn’t apply to In Over My Head.
The feeling after the race was just amazing. Genuine happiness. Talking to Danny, who was at the track with Kacy, Kim, Jamie and Andy. Seeing the feedback from some of Mo’s fans on Twitter (including Marcus Miller and Tyler Butenschoen who were watching from Pennsylvania). It felt like we won a major race of some kind and not a conditioned race at Maywood. Heck, it’s Monday and I’m still flying high. If you take a second and go back to the Christmas analogy, it isn’t about receiving the biggest or most expensive gift out there that brings the excitement. It is the total experience that makes it so special. That was especially true for all of us on Team Mo on Friday night.
The winner’s circle was extra special because it was the first time Danny’s sister Kim and her husband Jamie had ever been in the winner’s circle (not including Danny’s wins as a driver at the Iowa County fair of course). It is a uniquely fun experience and an experience that Mo delivers quite often. That win gives him 19 victories in 49 lifetime starts with a win percentage of 39%. Very impressive.
One other person got a very well deserved trip to the winner’s circle with Mo and that was Casey Leonard. Mo’s driver/ trainer (with his father Terry) has done an incredible job getting In Over My Head back to this point. While most of Mo’s racing career has been spent with the Butenschoen’s as trainers and Marcus Miller in the sulky, the most recent comeback has been at the hands of the Leonard’s. We are very grateful and thankful for the work they have done. They have been patient and have In Over My Head back to his winning ways.
The obvious question now is: What’s next?
We are still in the infancy of this latest Mo comeback and for the next couple races, we need to keep some perspective. He’ll step up in class and race in 2 weeks. If he does well there, he’ll graduate to the Invitation again. IF he can go a couple more races and stay healthy, there is no reason to think he can’t race for an extended period of time. He can achieve the ‘Quest for Double Digits’ I talked about last blog entry. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves at this point, though. Just enjoy were we are, enjoy watching Mo race and if you really want to think ahead don’t get into specifics. Just remember Rule #1. Mo will write his own itinerary. The best thing we can do is just follow along.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
This is a big weekend for harness racing. The eyes of the harness world will be on the Meadowlands this weekend and for good reason. Our sport’s most prestigious (and important) event, the Hambletonian, will be contested on Saturday afternoon. The $1.2 million trotting classic has returned to its roots and has brought back heat racing. I’ve always been a proponent of heat racing as a way to promote our sport. For those that don’t know what heat racing is, the general gist is that for a horse to capture the Hambletonain crown, they have to win twice in one day. It is a monumental task and one that is uniquely harness racing. Like harness racing fans all over the world, I can’t wait to watch the “Hambo” as well as the awesome undercard.
But there is more to this weekend than just the Hambo. At least for Team In Over My Head.
In a much less publicized event (unless you are a loyal blog reader), In Over My Head will make his return to racing after just over 12 months on the sideline. His last race was in July of 2012. We made t-shirts and brought down a crew of about a dozen people to watch Mo try and make it 6 in a row. It obviously didn’t go well, but as I texted our friend Brett Wheeler (who was there that night to watch his first ever horse race) it was time to bust out the t-shirts…Mo is racing again. His response was great, “I never stopped wearing it!” That’s a true fan.
We aren’t quite sure what is going to happen when Mo gets back on the track. Based on his qualifier, he has all the speed he ever had. He came down the Maywood stretch like a bolt of lightning. Danny was down watching and said it reminded him of the Windy City Pace and a long forgotten night nearly 5 years ago when he also flew home on that same piece of dirt as a 2 year old. In looking at the race lineup, he certainly has the credentials to win. It is just a question if he is in sharp enough racing shape to pull it off. He may need a tune up. The number 4 horse certainly has some back class. His lifetime mark is 1.50.0. We will see what happens.
Beyond this race, though, there is another goal that I am going to throw out there. I was looking back at Mo’s career starts per season and one thing really stood out. Here is what we have.
8, 23, 3, 7, 7
Only one time in Mo’s career has he raced more than 8 starts in a season (when he was 3 years old). This time around, I’m not going to apply pressure on the old guy to win races. The fact of the matter is that if he is healthy, he will win. He’s just that good. This year we will have a different goal…I’ve even given it a catchy name:
The Quest for Double Digits
Double digit starts that is. At least 10 in 2013. If he stays healthy that shouldn’t be a problem. Then he can turn around and put up another double digit in 2014. Now that would be sweet?
Friday night at Maywood Park isn’t only special because Mo is back. Friday night also marks the first time in multiple decades that our family has 2 horses racing on the same night at the same track. Don’t Tell Wayne is making his 3rd lifetime start in race number 5. He’s facing a much tougher group than he did for his first lifetime win two weeks ago. That’s OK though, it is time to test him just a little bit. In case you are wondering when the last time was we had more than one horse racing, we would have to go back to a time when Thrifty Kirk, Race On Carey and Race Time Carey all battled on the Sportsmen’s Park 5/8 mile oval in the early 1980s. While I’d love nothing more than to be there, I’ll likely be watching from Atlanta (baring a good last minute flight). Luckily, Danny will be on the ground. It will be exciting to see him in the winners circle…twice ;)
Let’s Go Mo!