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Liz O'Connell
Liz O’Connell is professional horsewoman and writer. She covers horse racing, politics and among other subjects . She is a graduate of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and was a member of the New York State Task Force on Retired Race Horses. Visit her blog at

Entries by Liz O'Connell

A Tip of the Hat, Kentucky Derby Style

(0) Comments | Posted May 1, 2015 | 10:30 AM

Photo courtesy of goldplaited, hats by Angela Moreno

Hats. Fascinators. Chapeaus. Whatever you call them, women attending the Kentucky Derby plan what hat they will wear almost as much as which horse they will back.

Derby hats come in all shapes and sizes....

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Racing Heads to Kentucky Derby & Beyond

(0) Comments | Posted April 27, 2015 | 7:39 AM

How can it be? The Kentucky Derby 2015 is upon us. The preps are done and the scores have been racked up to identify the 20 horses that will explode out of the starting gate next Saturday. But wait, there have been some interlopers this year, taking the...

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Legendary Native Dancer Honored in Maryland

(0) Comments | Posted November 18, 2014 | 5:26 PM

Eric Guerin up on two time Horse of the Year Native Dancer. Photo courtesy of NYRA/Coglianese

Last Thursday night, Native Dancer became the first horse inducted into the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame. Raised and trained at his owner-breeder

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Jockey Club Shakes Off Cobwebs

(0) Comments | Posted August 6, 2014 | 4:29 PM

Three years ago, a McKinsey & Co. report, "Driving Sustainable Growth for Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding", gave thoroughbred racing a wake-up call: If the Jockey Club and its kin didn't address the main issues facing racing, the sport would decline, becoming marginalized and moribund.

The McKinsey report said...

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Saratoga: The Summer Place

(4) Comments | Posted July 21, 2014 | 11:09 PM

Shackleford kicking up his heels on Saratoga's backstretch. Photo courtesy of Adam Mooshian/NYRA

In American horse racing, the middle of July heralds the opening of the Saratoga Race Meet in Saratoga Springs, upstate New York. Held on the iconic...

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Future Positive for No Nay Never

(0) Comments | Posted February 25, 2014 | 11:53 PM

No Nay Never winning the Norfolk Stakes, Royal Ascot. Joel Rosario up
(Photo courtesy of Coolmore Stud)

On the last day of Keeneland's 2013 Spring Race Meeting, two-year old No Nay Never won at first asking, over four-and-a-half furlongs on...

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New Belmont Gold Cup and Belmont Oaks Races Test For Distance

(0) Comments | Posted February 13, 2014 | 9:16 AM

Under the guidance of Martin Panza, the New York Racing Association is premiering two new distance races during Belmont Park's Spring/Summer meet. Panza, NYRA's new senior vice president of racing operations, is changing things up with the New York racing schedule.

As part of a reinvigorated Belmont Stakes...

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Wise Dan Scores Hat Trick At the Eclipse Awards

(0) Comments | Posted January 23, 2014 | 12:54 PM

It's awards season. While the film community is edging closer to the Academy Awards, last week thoroughbred racing honored it best at the Eclipse Awards for 2013. Individuals and organizations ranging from the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance to owner/sports broadcaster Jim Rome gathered at Gulfstream Park in...

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The Night Before Christmas -- Race Horse Style

(0) Comments | Posted December 22, 2013 | 2:01 PM

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the farm,
Not a creature was stirring, at peace in the barn.

Hay nets were hung, water buckets were full,
An overall feeling of care and good Yule.

The weanlings were flat out, asleep while they grew,
The mares...

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Mike Smith: Ready for the Breeders' Cup

(0) Comments | Posted November 4, 2013 | 2:25 PM

Royal Delta and Mike Smith, winners of the 2012 Breeders' Cup Distaff
Photo courtesy of Penelope Miller/America's Best Racing

Mike Smith has a way with the fillies.

And mares. On Friday, he takes 5-year-old champion Royal...

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Let's Talk Breeders' Cup

(1) Comments | Posted October 25, 2013 | 5:03 PM

The Breeders' Cup is more than two days of elite international horse racing, it's a gathering of racing's tribe. This week, horses, trainers, owners, breeders, barn staffs, racing industry players and media are descending upon Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., for the 30th running of the Breeders'...

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Saratoga Mixed Sale Offers Gateways to Racing

(0) Comments | Posted October 7, 2013 | 2:28 PM

The eyes of New York's thoroughbred racing and breeding industry will be on the Saratoga Fall Mixed and Horses of Racing Age Sale, at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Springs sales grounds, Monday. Unlike the better known August yearling sales, this sale offers a broad spectrum of horses: 110 weanlings,...

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A Fresh Look at America's Oldest Sporting Venue, Saratoga Race Course

(1) Comments | Posted September 27, 2013 | 11:09 AM

Preview of The Track at Saratoga, America's Grandest Race Course
Clip used with permission of Elevation Films/WMHT

As the opening of The Track at Saratoga, America's Grandest Race Course unfolds, tales of the lure of Saratoga -- the setting, the characters, the horses and the legends -- are promised. By the time the closing credits roll, the tales are told, the promise fulfilled. The hourlong documentary, celebrating 150 years of thoroughbred racing at Saratoga, whizzes by in a blend of history, reminiscences and visuals that raises the bar for the genre.

The brilliant first scenes detail the inaugural 1863 races by using stunning three-dimensional representations. There are no documented photographs of those first races; they were run in an era on the cusp of photojournalism. Instead, Saratoga Springs-based producer Patricia Lane, Elevation Films and Marty Bohunicky, Erik Sacino and the crew from Working Pictures drew from source materials to conjure evocative imagery for this WMHT-partnered production.

Demonstration of the opening scenes' production process, The Track at Saratoga, America's Grandest Race Course.
Clip courtesy of Working Pictures

Emmy- and Tony-award winner David Hyde Pierce narrates throughout, engaging viewers with his familiar nuance, ably chronicling the rise of what is now America's oldest sporting venue. By the way, Hyde Pierce is a native son of Saratoga Springs, beginning his performing career as a church organist and on the high school stage.

A cast of racing personalities propels the story of Saratoga. Tom Durkin, Saratoga's race caller and ebullient fan, shares his first visit, when as very young men, he and his buddies hit the road from Illinois for an overnight trip to see the Travers Stakes at Saratoga ... all under the guise of a fishing trip. Too bad he left the Travers program in his parent's car ... "Busted!" Later on, Durkin describes calling the race when the crowd's roar shook the rafters of Saratoga's Clubhouse.

Racing historian/author Allan Carter, Saratoga raconteur Hollis Palmer, schoolteacher/writer Teresa Genaro and preservationist Samantha Bosshart share Saratoga history and insights into the races and the characters. Watching Carter talk about Jim Dandy trumping Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox by winning the 1930 Travers Stakes at odds of 100 -1, you get the feeling he still can't believe Jim Dandy won.


Patricia Lane and Paul Roberts filming, The Track at Saratoga, America's Grandest Race Course.

Photo courtesy of Patricia Lane/Elevation Films

Paul Roberts consults at racing facilities across the globe. Much like Alistair Cooke on Masterpiece Theater, Roberts offers us his worldly perspective - the facilities and customs of Saratoga Race Course are unique and need to be cultivated as the times and demands change. Who knew that the architectural influences for the Saratoga's iconic grandstand came from Boston?

Although just a lad when his father's homebred Native Dancer ran at Saratoga, Alfred G. Vanderbilt III gives a sense of what it was like to be, well, a Vanderbilt in racing's 20th century heyday. Vanderbilt is the sixth generation of his family, starting with Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt (a founding member of the Saratoga Association), to attend the races at Saratoga. And Native Dancer? He ran at Saratoga four times as a 2-year-old, winning the Flash Stakes, Saratoga Special Stakes, the Grand Union Hotel Stakes and the Saratoga Special Stakes. He came back the next year to win the Travers Stakes.

Nick Zito, Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher, all three Racing Hall of Fame members, confirm what every racing fan and track-rat knows, admit it or not, a win at Saratoga carries more weight and prestige than wins at other tracks.

That the Saratoga Race Course reigns as the oldest sporting venue in the country is testimony to the determination of founder John Morrissey, who after the first successful race meet reached out to a coterie of high stakes businessmen and horse owners to form the Saratoga Association. The Association guided the race course through expansion, mismanagement, wars, the criminalization and decriminalization of betting and bookmaking, until the 1950s when Saratoga became part of the New York Racing Association. Today, the Saratoga Race Course routinely outdraws NYRA's downstate tracks, Aqueduct and Belmont, and is the jewel of New York racing.

About 50 years ago as Saratoga was celebrating 100 years of racing, Red Smith, America's leading sports writer, advised to get to Saratoga, "From New York City you drive north for about 175 miles, turn left on Union Avenue and go back 100 years." For the next 50 years, may The Track at Saratoga, America's Grandest Race Course take up that mantle and make it manifest with images and words.

To watch The Track At Saratoga check your local PBS listings, or trot yourself over to WMHT to purchase the DVD or live stream the...

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John Morrissey: Saratoga's Irish Visionary

(0) Comments | Posted September 19, 2013 | 5:45 PM

Portrait of John Morrissey as a young man. Image from the Saratoga Room, Saratoga Springs Library. Note the shape of his right ear. The abnormal shape characterizes a "cauliflower ear" stemming from trauma to the tissues; in this case most likely a...
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A Lesson in Horse Sense From the Distant Past

(3) Comments | Posted August 26, 2013 | 6:45 PM

By the time I was 15, I had ridden and taken care of my own horses and ponies every day for five years. Along with devouring every book available and weekly lessons from esteemed riding teachers, I learned about horses from the horses. I was stepped on, pushed over, hip...

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Rumble on the Race Course: John Morrissey Stakes

(0) Comments | Posted July 31, 2013 | 12:04 PM

Saratoga Snacks winning the Shy Groom Stakes, Joel Rosario up. In the upcoming Morrissey, owner Bill Parcells and trainer Gary Sciacca will be looking to reprise Saratoga Snacks' win over Saginaw the last time they met.
Photo courtesy of NYRA/Joe Labozetta


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Welcome Back, Paynter

(0) Comments | Posted July 23, 2013 | 2:10 PM

Haskell Invitational (Gr. 1) winner and runner-up in the 2012 Belmont Stakes (Gr. 1) Paynter had a solid work over five furlongs on Del Mar Thoroughbred Race Club's all-weather surface in Del Mar, Calif. on Sunday morning. Posting the morning's second-fastest time, the work confirmed Paynter's readiness to...

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New York Legislators Learn About Horse Slaughter From the Horse's Mouth

(3) Comments | Posted June 5, 2013 | 3:28 PM

Fritz the miniature horse pleads his case at New York State Animal Advocacy Day with Assemblymembers Jim Tedisco (center) and Mark Johns (left) with Summer Brennan from Little Brook Farm
Photo courtesy of Nancy Andrews

As the 2013 session comes to an...

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Kentucky Derby: Fairy Tales Can Come True ...

(0) Comments | Posted May 9, 2013 | 6:50 PM

Orb winning the 2013 Kentucky Derby with Joel Rosario onboard
Photo © Penelope Miller/ABR

It can happen to you, if you are Shug McGaughey, Dinny Phipps, Stuart Janney III and Joel Rosario, and your horse is Orb. The fairy...

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Champion Rachel Alexandra Recovering From Emergency Surgery

(0) Comments | Posted February 19, 2013 | 4:26 PM

2009 Horse of the Year and Champion 3-year-old Filly, now broodmare, Rachel Alexandra is recuperating after emergency abdominal surgery.

The superstar mare birthed her second foal, a Bernardini filly, in the early hours of Feb. 12, at Stonestreet Farm, in Lexington, Ky. Monitored...

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