“Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.”
That is a rather famous quote I’ve heard a number of times over my life. If I told you it was taken from Hemmingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” would you believe me? That seems reasonable given that the book was about someone out on a boat trying to reel in a huge fish with his bare hands. He was probably thirsty. Can’t drink seawater. Makes sense. However, just because it makes sense on the surface, it doesn’t make it real. We will get back to that later. For now, onto horse racing.
I’m going to spend a little time talking about drivers. It is always a hot topic from those that ask me about our horses, but I’ve always been somewhat reluctant to write about drivers. Getting a good drive is a huge part of winning a race, but if the race doesn’t meet expectations the blame usually starts with the driver. He didn’t try hard enough, he was too passive, too aggressive and so on.
While there have certainly been times that I’ve been frustrated with a drive, I’ve usually kept it to myself. These are my own personal feelings regarding drivers.
1. You can’t race without one, so show respect and encourage more than criticize.
2. Like most things in life, results tend to even out over time. Don’t get too high off a great race or too low off a bad one.
3. These guys are sitting in a two wheel bike going ~35 mph. When the gate folds, they have to make quick decisions. Sometimes they make mistakes, just as any professional would. Be reasonable in your analysis of the race.
4. Horses aren’t race cars and you can’t accelerate and brake whenever you want.
5. If a driver is able to consistently drive your horse he will become more familiar with its strengths and weaknesses. That knowledge leads to familiarity with your horse. Familiarity builds a driver’s confidence in your horse. Confidence often leads to maximum results.
6. If a certain driver’s actions bother you enough, just move on and try someone else. There are better fits for your horse that others.
The reason I’m bringing up drivers today is that last Saturday night In Over My Head had his third different driver in as many starts. That lack of consistency can be a challenge, but like many things, you need to dig deeper to understand how we ended up here.
The expectation was that there would be two high level events on Saturday night. The first would be an Illinois bred only race, in which Fort Silky (Mo’s barn mate at the Leonard farm) would enter. The second would be for the rest of the higher level horses in Chicago (Mo would enter this one). Assuming there were two races, we didn’t have an issue. Casey Leonard could drive both horses and all would be good. If they ended up combining the classes, we would request Todd Warren, who did a great job driving Mo last race. Unfortunately, neither happened.
Wires got crossed and the end result was a combined race with Casey listed to drive both. Casey is good, but barring a “Multiplicity” like cloning event, he couldn’t drive both. Todd Warren was listed to drive Ice Scraper, so we were left scrambling. That is always a tough place to end up because most of the top drivers have already been accounted for at that point. You just have to look to see who’s left. Chicago’s driving colony is pretty thin at this point, but we saw one name we knew well: Dale Hiteman.
That happens to be the same Dale Hiteman who drove Mo to the biggest victory in his life in the Windy City Pace. However, that was four and a half years ago. When Mo was three, Hitemen had some familiarity with him. At age eight, not so much.
In the end, Mo finished the race a hard charging third. It was another solid race for him and another defeat at the hands of Al’s Hammered (Ice Scraper was second). There is no doubt in my mind at this point that Mo is as good as anyone in Chicago, but he has yet to put up that elusive win. That begs the obvious question: Was it the driver’s fault?
My personal take is that and it comes back to my #5 above. Put yourself in Dale’s shoes. His last drive on Mo was four and a half years ago. He’s known that Mo has suffered multiple major injures between then and now. How would you choose to driver a horse like that? Probably more conservative than if you had sat behind him or the last 5 starts. That is basically what happened. I have no doubt that if Dale drove Mo more often, he would feel comfortable taking a few more chances. Do I wish that Mo was a little more forwardly placed with a chance at a better finish? Sure. I can tell you that right after the race was over, I was kind of worked up about it. However after spending some time thinking about it, my attitude has not surprisingly mellowed. Am I mad at Dale for what he did? Not in the least. It’s part of racing. The best thing to do is take our third place check and move forward to the next race.
Unfortunately, that next race won’t be this week. Mo banged a knee at some point during the race (very rare for him) and he going to have to miss his next start. Everyone thinks this will be just a one week setback and he’ll be ready to go on the 19th. That is also part of racing.
What I’ve tried to do in this post is get you to think beyond what is right on the surface. In almost every situation (race related or not), there is often a deeper story and you can find it if you just dig a little bit. It will help you understand reasons why races end up the way they do and will keep you from spending so much time complaining about drivers for no good reason.
Let’s go back to the original ‘famous’ quote. Want to know the truth about that quote? It isn’t from “The Old Man and the Sea”. It is from the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, a written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798. Here is the actual passage from the poem:
“Water, water, every where
And all the boards did shrink
Water, water every where
Nor any drop to drink.”
Lack of knowledge can be an albatross around your neck (take some time to study the poem to understand that reference). Don’t settle for surface level information and you will usually understand why drivers do what they do. It will make the races much more enjoyable as an owner or as a fan.
And one more thing…
Let’s go Mo!