The Arabian Jockey Club is delighted to publish the Arabian Finish Line’s long-running and beloved column, Just Talkin’ by Michael Economopolous. We hope you enjoy his moving read that overviews his and Vicki’s experience at Delaware Park this past Labor Day, and we look forward to publishing others whenever Michael feels inspired to do so. Photos by Hoofprints Inc.
By Michael Economopolous
Okay, I think this is my fourth, absolutely last Just Talkin’ column. It’s sad that “Arabian Finish Line” magazine (where this column has been printed for years) is no longer being printed. As I am flying home to Arkansas, however, I feel compelled to write it. Actually, that’s how I started this column 27 years ago.
I was returning from the Darley Awards held in California and I had such a magnificent time, I just had to write it down and share my enthusiasm. I sent it to Jean Streeter, who published it and it turned into a column. So it goes, but I digress.
Let me start at the end. Vicki and I were checking into the Philadelphia Airport hotel for an early morning flight after the Labor Day race. I was chatting with the desk clerk and he asked me how I was doing.
“Fantastic,” I replied. “Our horse, Quick And Rich, just won a big stakes race at Delaware Park.”
I then proceeded to tell him how our beautiful 9-year-old stallion won the last race of his illustrious career, at maybe the last Arabian race at Delaware Park. It was an extraordinary end to a long, arduous, and successful career. In racing, it is not often that you can end things on such a high note.
Okay, so perhaps I misspoke. Quick And Rich did win the Grade 1 Delaware Park Arabian Cup Classic, edging out Easter man in the thrilling duel down the stretch. And Vicki and I did walk the magnificent horse into the winner’s circle and got our photo accepting the trophy. She had tears in her eyes and I was beaming. The discrepancy in this tale, as most of you probably know, is that Quick and Rich is not our horse, but belongs to our dear friends and longtime race supporters, Tom and Joyce Fritz.
Regrettably, they were not able to make the race, and Joyce asked us to stand in for them if their horse won. I might have embellished a bit on the AJC LIVE broadcast when I nudged in, looking for my fifteen minutes of fame, and told Jonathan Horowitz that we were representing the Fritz’s. It might also have been prudent for Joyce to tell Tom that fact before he saw us on the live stream when he thought that I was just pulling one of my usual stunts, seeking attention and trying to be humorous (which I guess I was).
Cheering for Quick And Rich running down the stretch was one of those time-warp things that brought us back in time when our horses were battling for the finish line. It had been a few years, but at that moment we were reliving the thrill and excitement that kept us active in racing for more than 30 years.
Moving back in time to the Saturday night before, it was an honor and privilege to attend the long-overdue induction ceremony of Deb Mihaloff into the Arabian Jockey Club Tent of Honor. Deb (don’t ever call her “Debbie”) along with her husband, Alan Kirshner, have been the backbone of Arabian racing for 40 years.
Even with knowing Deb for that long, Amanda Roxborough’s tribute video that chronologized Deb’s history was breathtaking and as inspiring as ever. From owning her first Arabian horse as a young girl, to her groundbreaking development of Markel’s Equine Insurance division, to the extraordinary breeding and racing operation that she has developed with Alan, it was enlightening and spectacular. (You can view it on the AJC web site.)
The trophies, photos, and awards that lined the walls of the reception hall were a testament to their accomplishments. Since I’ve used up almost all the words in my thesaurus, I can only say that the dinner and award event, which included a roast of Deb by her friends and colleagues, was as enjoyable of an event in our Arabian racing community as I can remember. Thank you, Alan and Deb, for a wonderful time.
As delightful as the dinner and ceremony were, the icing on the cake was the massive attendance by so many who came to honor Deb. I’m not going to try to list them all as there were so many that I know I would leave some out. There were dozens of old-timers and good friends that we hadn’t seen in many years, as well as owners, trainers, jockeys, and track officials who were and are a part of the rich and glorious fabric of Arabian racing in Delaware Park. It was an unexpected family reunion and our joy was shared by everyone in the room.
I can’t finish without starting at the beginning of the weekend, which was the Grade 1 Buzz Brauninger Arabian Distaff. Uptown Sandy Girl, who had not raced since winning the Darley Distaff in March, showed her heart and held off Dance With Me BW in a fierce run down the stretch. Many don’t know that after her Darley Stakes victory only 5 months ago, Sandy Girl with stricken with a severe case of pneumonia and came close to death. You could see as she approached the finish the line that the mare had nothing left and was running on sheer will alone. Much credit goes to her owners, John and Krista Henningsgard, who nursed her back to health, and to the matriarch of Arabian race trainers, Lynn Ashby, who was instrumental in achieving this victory.
As a bonus, and in keeping with a long-standing tradition of racing at Delaware Park, Pam Weidel ran into the Winner’s Circle for the photo. For those that don’t know, Pam has the record for most win photos at Delaware Park (generally with other owner’s horses). There’s a photo out there somewhere of her jumping off the railing to get into one. For the record, Vicki and I sneaked in there too.
So that’s the story from finish to start. We’re on our flight back to Arkansas and can’t help but reminisce about that flight I took from California to Arkansas so many years ago when I wrote my first column. In between, there have been a hundred horses and hundreds of friends. There were thrilling victories interspersed with many heartbreaks.
So here I am retiring for the fourth time. Unless of course, we get a Darley nomination… sorry, I mean if Tom, Joyce and Quick and Rich get one! It will be great to see old friends, make some new ones, and perhaps be inspired to write my fifth last column that may or may not be ever read.