Sunday, May 22, 2011


Royal Delta winner of the Black-Eyed Susans going to post.

Thanks to the enthusiasm and endless promotion by Karin De Francis and the Maryland Jockey Club, the Black-Eyed Susans (BES) Day program at Pimlico matches any racing event I’ve attended in the country.  

BES day is also Lady-Legends Day, and I couldn’t wait, rushing out early to meet the gal that was giving me a ride, Christy Clagett. Christy was also taking the ninety-year-old lady-legend, Jane Toal. Jane was a cancer research scientist at NIH for many years and always an avid foxhunter.  When I climbed into the back seat of Christy’s SUV, Jane sat up front wearing a thickly knit wool hat, a leather sun visor, amber racing goggles and a winter coat.

I wondered if we were really going to Pimlico.
Jane Toal

Jane cranked her head around slowly and said, “I wear this to protect my head and eyes.” Then she talked for a while, sharp as a knife and totally with it. I had no doubt she was one tough bird.

Christy was cruising on the Baltimore beltway, when Jane asked me to check through her large, wheeled-bag for her BES ticket. Fifteen minutes later, I still hadn’t found it. I found a lot of interesting stuff, but not the ticket. 

When we arrived at the entrance to the Pimlico parking lots, Christy suddenly had other business to take care of. She hopped out of her SUV and handed me the keys, leaving me with Jane. Christy has long legs, and I couldn’t figure out how to adjust her car seat. Driving with my feet straining toward the pedals, I was waved past numerous parking attendants and finally directed to a designated space. 

I looked over at ninety-year old Jane and her large wheeled bag, then at the Grandstand over half-mile away.  

Jane, not a lady-legend for nothing, insisted on rolling her bag herself. “I’m slow,” she said, “but I’ll get there.” 

We headed off across the broken gravel lot toward the grandstand that loomed like a mirage in the distance. “This isn’t working work for me,” I thought, and jogged ahead to an attendant holding a track radio. I pointed to the old lady creeping toward us with her bag on wheels. 

“We need a golf cart,” I said. “That’s one of the lady-legends.” It was like saying “open sesame.”

Pimlico staff had a golf cart magically appear and ferry us to the entrance, lickety split. Only Jane still didn’t have a ticket. 

Fortunately, Crystal Kimball, owner of the Equiery and another force behind Lady- Legends Day, was near the entrance with a gaggle of staff and other “retired” lady-legends. I stashed Jane with them and rushed over to Will Call to get my ticket, then hot-footed into the ticket office to straighten out Jane’s problem. After zipping back to Jane to ask a few pertinent questions, and a two-minute-lick back to the ticket office, I returned to the group of ladies, proudly bearing a ticket for Jane.

Leaving the gaggle behind, I headed for the entrance gate. Rain had threatened that morning, so I carried an umbrella, only a guard warned me that umbrellas were not allowed inside. I turned toward the distant parking lot, and stuck the top half of my walking-stick-styled umbrella under my coat, and the bottom half into my bag. 

I was busted at the gate. Schlepping back to Christy’s car to unload the dangerous umbrella, it’s possible I said a bad word. Maybe two. At last, I got inside the grandstand, past the paddock and over the tram – a covered walk across the dirt racetrack. Inside the Turfside Terrace tent, I collapsed in a chair.
The Turfside Terrace Tent before the day got started.
Kitsi Christmas and my nephew Bartholt Clagett handicapping.
Me and Karin De Francis
The best act of the day! The Lunabells. Roll over Dixie Chicks.
Pink and hats were everywhere!
Even pink hair!
Alidia Clagett, Crystal Kimball, Kitsi Christmas and Bartholt Clagett

Alidia and Bartholt's other aunt, Christy Clagett with a Budweiser  horse.
Me with a different Budweiser Horse. His head is as big as me!
Me and Kitsi
Immediately after the Black-Eyed Susans ran, the entire entourage of retired lady-legends either walked or golf-carted to Pimlico’s stake’s barn for a tour. All the horses running in the Preakness were in that barn! Except when we arrived, we weren’t allowed inside. 

But I’d seen something really interesting before we’d turned the last corner. A man in dark glasses with a handsome shock of long white hair. Had to be top trainer and mega racing personality Bob Baffert. I hopped off my golf cart and double-timed it back, pulling my camera out as unashamedly as any paparazzi. I admit it – I had someone snap a picture of me with Baffert.

It didn’t take long for the others to catch on, and within moments the golfcart brigade was rolling toward Baffert. A photo session ensued, with cameras popping out of bags, cases, and pockets. But Baffert just rolled with it. No wonder he is loved by the press and the entire racing industry.  

Since I know he has a zany sense of humor, and everyone else was too star struck to say anything, I said, “Bob, you and I were friends on FaceBook . . . for about three minutes.” 

“Yeah,” he said, “it was really fun  . . . I don’t know . . . .” He allowed a look of regret to cross his face. “My wife made me get off. She thought there were too many flirtatious emails.”

I said, “You mean your beautiful blond wife, who provided you with a gorgeous child?”

“That was mostly me,” he said. “I was the sire.”

When you have an opportunity, you keep going, so I said, “Do you remember when Informed Decision was in your barn at Santa Anita for the Breeder’s Cup in 2009?  And Barry Wiseman was leading her around your shedrow and you tried to throw both of them out?” 

Informed Decision is the huge, beautiful,  grey mare who won the Breeder’s Cup Sprint a few days later, and Baffert is so quick and so cool, he grabbed the story and ran with it.

“I do remember that,” he said. “I thought it was some raggedy assed European outfit that wasn’t supposed to be there.”

“Yes,” I said. “You told Barry Wiseman he had to get that horse out of your barn.” 

Baffert was nodding, so I kept going. “And Barry looked at you and said, ‘I have to get THIS horse out of your barn?’” 

For any reader who knows Barry, you know this was probably said with the kind of quiet intensity that makes you want to watch your back. But Baffert was grinning now and continued with the story.

“So one of my people comes up to me and says, ‘Bob, they’re with Jonathan Sheppard!’” 

Baffert put his hand over his mouth as if the memory was painful. A word I won’t repeat here escaped him. 

“Barry was so steamed at you,” I said, “and from that day forward he has called you ‘Bob Baffled.’” 

Hard to see behind those dark-glasses, but I think Baffert took the hit really well.
Me and Bob Baffled, I mean Baffert.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


What kind of parents raise there young in a place like this? Vultures do. Reminds me of vampires that sleep in a coffin, werewolves that roam through hell, and zombies who are undead.

On a lighter note, these little birds, about two weeks old when picture was taken, stood up for this picture, spread their wings, and hissed mightily at the photographer. Love the junior chick who is hiding under his sibling's wing.  "If I can't see them, they can't see me."

 Their mom flew the coop, but came back as soon as the photographer left. These chicks are in an abandoned barn in Maryland, and the people who live there say they are getting bigger every day.  Soon, they will be rising on a thermal. Wish I could.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


This post appeared earlier on Derby Day on the Mystery Reader International blog “Mystery Fanfare.”

There are several colts I like in the Derby. A horse named Dialed In, whose trainer is Nick Zito; a horse named Nehro, with Steve Asmussen as the trainer, and finally my emotional pick, Pants on Fire.

How can you not like a racehorse with a name like Pants on Fire? My heart is bound to this colt and his female jockey because of the rider’s connection to my horse racing mystery, “Full Mortality.” My book features the young, female, Maryland-jockey,  Nikki Latrelle.  Two of the themes in the Latrelle series are “fighting the odds,” and “chasing the dream.” In the Derby, Pants on Fire will be ridden by a young Maryland gal who, like Nikki, is competing with the male jocks.  Her name is Anna Napravnik. Fans call her Rosie because of her red hair.

Many believe Pants on Fire has a lot of speed, but not the stamina to go the Derby distance of one and one-quarter miles. His pedigree and improving performances suggest otherwise.

“Fire’s” trainer is a man named Kelly Breen who knew his colt had brilliant speed. But Breen entered Fire into the one-million-dollar Loiuisiana Derby a few weeks back as a “rabbit” – that is, a horse to set a rocket pace that forces the other horses to go faster than they like, and allow a come-from-behinder with a late kick to blow by the field in the last strides. Fire was supposed to do this for Breen’s other entry, Nacho Business.

But Fire blossomed right before the Louisiana Derby, and despite Breen’s pre-race planning, he sensed his colt was sitting on a big race in the Louisiana Derby.

“I told Rosie,” Breen said, “that I thought this horse was coming into his own. So I said to her, ‘Give it a shot. Don’t just think we’re in here because we have nothing better to do. He’s doing awfully well. You don’t have to wing it and be a rabbit. Just be in a spot where you can win it when the time comes.’ ”

And she did!

Now, Pants on Fire is giving Anna Napravnik the chance to chase her biggest dream – winning the Kentucky Derby.  Can you imagine the remarks by pundits and the press if the redheaded, Anna “Rosie” Napravnik beats the boys and wins the Kentucky Derby riding a horse named Pants On Fire?

Expenses and scheduling precluded the Derby for me this year, but I'll be watching this fabulous race from the couch, bourbon in hand, and little purple "fascinator" Derby hat on head!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Three of Five Best First Agatha Finalists Who Didn't Win The Award

Laura Alden, Alan Orloff, and Sasscer Hill upon realizing they did not win the Agatha. Rumor has it that Amanda Flower, who could not be found for this picture, may have thrown herself from the Hyatt Regency roof.  But that is mere speculation and probably not true.

Fortunately, my old pal, award winning writer Vinny O'Neil found me wallowing in self pity, slapped me around a bit, and straightened me right out.

"You're a finalist in the Best First Agatha Award!" he said.  "Get a grip. Since when did the best book always win?  Get over it. Give me a thumbs up!"

So I did.
When a former Army Ranger says give me a thumbs up, I do.
But all was not lost.  I got to meet Sue Grafton and give her a tip for the Derby. I had lunch with the best selling author whose books I devour like chocolate, Julie Smith.

Above: Sasscer Hill, three time Agatha nominee Elizabeth Zelvin, and NY Times best selling author Julie Smith. Below, Julie Smith and Sue Grafton providing the audience with a fabulous and humorous interview near the end of the Malice convention.

Above: At last Sasscer Hill meets her idol, New York Times Best Seller and winner of every mystery award known to man, Sue Grafton!

What an eloquent speaker Sue Grafton is.  She talks as good as she writes, and that's saying something!
Sasscer Hill at Best First panel between finalists Amanda Flower and Alan Orloff

Below, in white jacket, the Winner of the Best First Agatha Award: Avery Aames. Congratulations Avery!
Avery Aames and Sasscer Hill