Thursday, October 28, 2010


George Strawbridge, Sasscer Hill and hall of famer, Jonathan Sheppard, before Bushwhacked's  race, October 23.

Though Strawbridge was absent October 22, his homebred filly, Fugitive Angel, captured the Grade III Pin Oak Valley View Stakes with a flying finish, eating up ground and destroying the competition in the final yards. In doing so, the bay daughter of Alphabet Soup won the Keeneland gold tray, reportedly solid gold and worth $100,000, for her owner, George Strawbridge.

The tray is presented to owners who have won eight graded stakes at the track. It’s been claimed only 15 times previously, and Strawbridge became the first owner to receive the award since Michael Tabor in 2008.

The amazing group I call “Team Sheppard” headed by legendary genius and hall of fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, carefully brought along Strawbridge’s homebred filly, turning her into a powerhouse. 

Maryland’s own Anna Napravnik figures prominently in the victory.
"She is definitely improving. She is a very quality filly," said Napravnik, who was riding the bay filly for the third time. Napravnik also won the day's fifth race aboard another Strawbridge horse, the 3-year-old filly Kitty Love.
Anna "Rosie" Nabravnik

Some might say George Strawbridge needs a $100,00 gold tray like I need a fork in my eye.  Truth be told, the man has done much for the sport of racing. His wealth allows him to own quality horses, and treat them like quality horses.  He is patient, allowing a horse a year or more turn-out time if necessary. Owners like Strawbridge help us fight the negative press racing has been afflicted with in recent years. I’m glad he got a gold tray!
Team Sheppard saddles Fugitive Angel

A jockey change before "Angel's" race had the riders hanging about while waiting on the replacement jockey.

Sasscer Hill and Paula Marie Weglarz celebrate Fugutive Angel's win.
A Matt Wooley photograph.

Monday, October 25, 2010

THE BEST RACE MARE IN HISTORY; Notes from Donny Christmas

As I was admiring the accomplishments of Zenyatta, I was reminded about Gallorette ( trained by my uncle, Edward A. Christmas),and decided to Google "Gallorette", and below are notes from some of the resulting web pages. One has a recent newspaper article comparing their accomplishments. I had forgotten that Gallorette raced 72 times, 55 of which were against males, where she finished in the top three.

Until her retirement at the end of 1948, Gallorette ran most of her races in unrestricted company. Of her seventy-two career races, fifty-five were against males — she had twenty-one wins and finished in the top three fifty-four times. She consistently ran against the best males of her era: Armed, Stymie, Assault, Pavot, and Polynesian, to name a few. Her most significant wins came in the Met Mile and the Brooklyn, Carter, and Whitney Handicaps. She retired as the all-time  female money winner with earnings of $445,535.
In 1955, Gallorette was voted the best filly or mare of all-time in a poll of members from the American Trainers Association. She was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1962.

While we are lucky to have Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta to watch in 2010, caution needs to be given before we call either of them the greatest filly or mare of all-time — neither will match Gallorette’s record or the level of competition she faced on a regular basis. In fact, with the overly-cautious campaigns that dominate modern throughbred training, we’ll likely never see another one like Gallorette. If anyone wants to call her to the greatest race mare ever, you won’t get an arguement from me.

A note from Sasscer Hill:  Now you know why Gallorette figures so prominently in my Nikki Latrelle mystery, 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Author of the "Jack Reacher" series, Lee Child with Sasscer Hill in the book dealers room at the Bouchercon Mystery Conference in San Francisco, on the day FULL MORTALITY officially debuted.

I call this "Jack Reacher meets Nikki Latrelle."

The conference was a blast, and I got to meet so many great people.  Sarah Paretsky, Michael Connelley and a host of others. I still have stars in my eyes. 

Right now I am on a flight somewhere between San Francisco and Minneapolis Saint Paul.  Then on to Lexington and Team Sheppard!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

October 14-17, Bouchercon. Hyatt Regency Hotel, San Francisco, CA.  

October 14, 10:00 a.m. Sasscer joins the "Offbeat Protagonists" Panel.

October 15, 9:00 a.m. Sasscer speaks on 
RACING FROM DEATH: Mysteries From the World of the Racetrack 

Check out BOUCHERCON at

October 17. Borders Books, San Raphael, CA., 1:00 p.m.

October 22 and 23. Borders Books, Nicholsville Road, Lexington, KY,

November 5. Kentucky Derby Museum, Churchill Downs on “Breeder’s Cup Friday,” 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. 

November 5. Borders Books, Shelbyville Road, Louisville, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Breeders Cup Week, date to be determined. Horse Radio Network, morning show.

November 13. “The Surrey,” Potomac Maryland.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

MARYLAND MILLION DAY: Sasscer Hill Goes To The Races

 A jazz band greeted arriving patrons.


The 25th annual Maryland Million drew a crowd of 23,367, the ninth best in its history. I’ve never seen more perfect weather –  sunny, very light breeze and upper sixties. In the past, I’d be on the rail, or at just outside the paddock, staying close so I could soak up the action – hear it, see it, feel it.
This year, I was chained to my table selling copies of FULL MORTALITY.  My personal philosophy of life: everything’s a trade off. I was thrilled to be signing my mystery book, but sad to be away from the horses.

My lifelong friend, Kitsi Christmas, showed up to help manage the cash during the sales. 
 John Scheinman meets Kitsi Christmas

 She is a member of the famous -- or infamous, depending on which Christmas you are talking about – family of Maryland horsemen.  Her father was the trainer of the legendary Gallorette, her aunt was the first woman racing columnist in America and there’s more to say, but I’ll stop here.
Laurel had a Maryland Million hat giveaway yesterday, and Kitsi and I spent much of the day pointing toward the location of hat distribution and/or the closest restroom. We felt useful. 
I’m accustomed to this sort of thing, due numerous book signings.  But Kitsi, sitting at a table with a display of books and two signs explaining, “NEW HORSE RACING MYSTERY ON SALE NOW!” was incredulous. About the time the fiftieth person asked us if we were giving out the hats, she finally snapped.  
“No.We are selling books!” The poor man did not buy a book; he bolted. 
Around twelve-thirty we got hungry, and I got us two dubious looking slices of pizza from the track’s food court. We ate some at the book table.  We did not feel elegant. 

Then John Scheinman brightened our day tremendously by showing up and rescuing us from the pizza.  

He parked himself next to the table, yelling like a newsboy in a Sherlock Holmes scene, “FULL MORTALITY.  Get it here.  FULL MORTALITY.”  More people scurried away.
But Scheinman got Tom Ventsias to give me a pass up to the press room. Following Tom’s directions, I found a narrow doorway with a tiny sign and pointing arrow that said “Press Box.” Inside and around a corner, I faced what looked like a small freight elevator door.  I pushed the button – there was only one.  Noise, distant banging, and a thump later the door opened.  Wow, a real live elevator operator with a cap.  He opened the door by hand and was concerned when I wasn’t on his pass list. I convinced him I was legit, and up we went. 
News media, chart makers, and stewards closely watch a Million race. Notice the chain across the window? Is it there to keep newsmen from throwing themselves out the window when they bet the wrong horse?  Or is it because they didn’t know my book is finally published and they were afraid I would jump?

Boy did those press guys have a spread – crab cakes, salad, deli-ham, sliced beef, and cheese.  Fresh fruit and Dove bars. I was so excited to finally make it into the press box, I could hardly stand myself.  Probably nobody else up there could either.  But I was in rare air, high in a place where the likes of Beyer, Haskin and other journalistic greats get to hangout. 

Chart maker and chart caller respond to Sasscer’s annoying photo taking.

 I ran around taking pictures, then loaded a plate up with crab and coleslaw.  Back in the tiny, jolting elevator,  when the operator slammed us to a stop at the bottom, I was afraid the food had become a hair ornament. It hadn’t, and Kitsi’s eyes lit up when she saw those crab cakes.
After tossing the remnants of the pizza into the trash, we scarfed down the cakes and slaw.  Several people stopped at the table and wanted to know where they could get crab cakes. 
“I don’t know anything about crab cakes,” Kitsi said. “Would you like to buy a book?”  
Happily, we sold a healthy number of copies, while Maryland pulled in a good handle and experienced a most excellent day of racing!

A tractor trailer rolls in a rock band to please the crowd.