On Friday, the Philadelphia area artist Andrew Wyeth died at age 91. Horse racing fans will recall that Fox Hill Farm owner Rick Porter’s filly Eight Belles was named for the Wyeth family summer home in Maine.
After the success he enjoyed with Hard Spun and Eight Belles in 2007 and 2008 respectively, Porter looks poised to enjoy another successful three-year-old Kentucky Derby campaign with either (both?) Friesan Fire who scorched the G3 Lecomte Stakes last weekend at Fair Grounds, or the unbeaten Old Fashioned who is scheduled to make his three-year-old debut in the G2 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on February 16.
On Friday, Oaklawn opened its 105th season with a reported 15,863 braving 26° F temperatures on track. The first race was won by Snuck in the Dance under the guidance of Deshawn Parker (left), top jockey at Mountaineer who has shifted his tack south to avoid the winter deep-freeze in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia, made manifest when Mountaineer cancelled its 2009 opening night card Saturday night due to frigid temperatures.
Mountaineer’s track announcer Peter Berry is one of several talented Aussies who now live and work in the U.S., much to our delight. Fellow Aussie and Golden Gate announcer Michael Wrona, considered by some the front-runner for the Churchill Downs job, was passed over this week in favor of a Brit, Mark Johnson. Still, the Aussie invasion continues with trainer Andrew Payne (of the legendary Payne family of jockeys and trainers), who arrives next week in Florida to work for Todd Pletcher, as an exercise rider and then hopefully an assistant trainer.
According to his Wikipedia entry, Todd Pletcher is a member of Pi Kappa Alpha and, sure enough, he is listed on the Alumni page for the Gamma Delta chapter at the University of Arizona. Strange that he is not listed among the “Prominent Pikes” on the national fraternity’s webpage, which includes such notables as Bobby Bowden, Tim McGraw, Jon Stewart and Karl Rove (yes, Stewart and Rove are frat brothers). I guess winning four consecutive top trainer Eclipse awards doesn’t qualify as noteworthy?
Among the many talented horses Todd Pletcher has trained over the year is More Than Ready who was quite precocious, reeling off five consecutive wins at 2, beginning with his maiden effort at Keeneland and including the G3 Tremont and G2 Sanford before disappointing efforts in the G1 Futurity and G1 Champagne. Still, that precociousness apparently lives on through his offspring, most recently in the stunningly impressive debut of 2-year-old filly More Joyous in race 3 at Rosehill on Saturday. She missed the start entirely, but quickly caught the field and cruised along with them until the stretch when jockey Nash Rawiller asked ever-so-slightly for more and she easily pulled away to win by five or six lengths. It was beautiful to watch (if you have a Twinspires account, you can enjoy the replay under Australia B, January 16). Then again, given her bloodline such an outstanding performance was not unexpected—her dam Sunday Joy is the G1 Australian Oaks winning half-sister to multiple-G1 winning mare Tuesday Joy—and both of them descend from G1 Queensland Oaks victress Joie Denise whose dam is the incomparable multiple-G1 classic winner Denise’s Joy.
Both More Joyous and Tuesday Joy are trained by Gai Waterhouse who, before following in the footsteps of her Hall of Fame trainer father Tommy Smith, was an actress in England where she appeared in four episodes of the classic BBC sci-fi series “Doctor Who.” On the right is a photo of her appearing as Presta in “The Invasion of Time” (1978).
While I never got into “Doctor Who” (neither the original series nor the newer manifestation on SciFi Channel), science fiction is one of my all-time favorite genres, so needless to say I am thrilled “Battlestar Galactica” is back with new episodes. Growing up, must-see Saturday night viewing included ABC’s “Fantasy Island” at 10:00 p.m. Its star Ricardo Montalbán died on Wednesday at age 88. While I loved the mysterious (and sexy) Mr. Rouke, Montalbán’s most memorable role for me will always be the genetically-engineered superhuman Khan, first in the original Star Trek television series and then in the movie “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”
Even more than the “Star Trek” universe, I loved “Babylon 5” with its grand arcing story and fascinating characters (don’t even get me started on my “crush” on Ranger Marcus Cole, left). Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski recently saw his first feature film script make it to the big screen—“The Changeling” starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. In 2003, Eastwood was nominated for a Best Director Oscar for “Mystic River”—which starred, among others, Kevin Bacon.
Born in Philadelphia on July 8, 1958, Kevin Bacon is a Cancer—as was Andrew Wyeth, born on July 12, 1917, Todd Pletcher (June 26, 1967), and yours truly (July 13). That was more than six, eh?