Posted in Animal Rescue, Music and horses

Rosecroft Cat Rescue 2010

Success story: 110 cats received veterinary care and in new homes:

Cover photo: The young male was named Stubby, (aka "garbage disposal" because he loved to eat!) He was given to a DC couple.

How do you find homes for 110 barn cats in 5 weeks? Not easy… But Cat Tails Inc, and Alley Cat Rescue, teamed up with the DMV musical community and did their magic for an unparalelled success! The initial flyer, designed by singer and musician Sarah Rasmussen, precipitated a huge email and Facebook campaign, over 6 cat organizations and private entities banded together to save “Rosecroft’s cats”. The emails and networking exploded into action among the cat and animal loving community, beginning with a simple flyer about how cool it would be to get a racetrack cat.

Story:

The Rosecroft cats remained during the summer of 2010 when, on June 28th, Rosecroft Raceway’s owners at the time, Cloverleaf Enterprises Inc., closed the stable area where horsemen had stabled and trained harness horses since 1948. Although the horsemen who could took thier cats with them or found them homes, the cats who remained were the usual racetrack cats that lived in the barns, catching mice and making friends with the horses and horsemen, mostly belonging to non-farm owning trainers, or grooms. Frequently, the displaced horsemen had to go places where they could not take their cats.

Enter Sandy Braskett, a horsewoman and former mutuel clerk who had taken care of the cats for years, supported by occasional donations from grooms, trainers and owners of the harness racehorses. Even after the barns were emptied out, Sandy continued to go daily to the track, caring for those cats. Sandy initially asked the Lisi’s to help first because she had no internet capability, and secondly, she had promised the worried evicted horsemen that she would find them homes. She kept in touch with them, and they were sending money, medications and food. It was too big a job for her to do alone.

To compound the situation, Sandy was suddenly told that in four days, she could no longer come on to the racetrack grounds to care for the cats. They even helped her set out extra food, though she knew that wouldn’t last because it would soon be eaten up by the wildlife from the bordering Henson Creek Park. Sandy was very upset, but was told it was a bankruptcy court order. [the Lisi’s were in court as a Party In Interest and heard no such order] …We needed more time. After a visit to Senator Muse’ office by one of our animal advocate attorney friends who literally stuck his foot in the office door, and the Senator’s secretary’s immediate call to Rosecroft’s office, the situation changed. Management at the track relented, and gave Sandy 5 weeks, until October 7th, to continue feeding them, as long as she could show progress towards getting them adopted. With the extra time, it still was a maybe at best. Like Rumpelstiltskin, wanting straw spun into gold.

How it was done:

100 cats vetted and to new homes in only 5 weeks time was certainly going to be a challenge, what to do?

Publicity Flyer campaign!

How did we find all these homes? The biggest part was done by an email and flyer campaign planned by Sara Rasmussen and Kathy Sweeney, who were members of a large DMV musical community. The flyers were shared, and offers began to pour into my inbox! I was appointed the “point person” (there goes my privacy) ~ Fielding hundreds of email adoption offers was great, but what do we do now?

Catching Cats

Enter Joy Purnell, who saw the flyer from a friends’ email. With her experience, she knew exactly the steps that it would take to save them. Joy hired the ace cat trapper Susan Wolfe, who showed Sandy and the remaining racetrack employee how to trap the by-now wary and frightened cats.

Susan Wolfe cat trapper
Cat’s being transported photo: Sara Rassmussen

Veterinary Fix-up:

Meanwhile, reduced-cost Veterinary appointments were made and paid for by both Alley Cat Rescue, headed by Louise Holton who was able to procure the reduced veterinary costs, and Cat Tails Inc. Joy Purnells’ organization.

—Without Joy “cracking the whip” for us to produce cats in time for these appointments, it would not have been possible to make the deadline of October 7th.

Joy Purnell presenting Robert Swain with a certificate award for aiding in the rescue – he paid for the gasoline to transport.

The cats were then transported to the veterinary businesses that did the fine veterinary work for a reduced cost. Brentwood Animal Hospital, a few at Academy Veterinary clinic,, the third was an undisclosed private veterinarian. This work entailed spaying, neutering, shots updated, treatment for fleas and ear mites and any injuries addressed.

Brentwood Animal Hospital

This vet bill was paid for by Cat Tails Inc, and “ACR” Alley Cat Rescue, which the latter recouped much of the money they spent through their savvy fund raising efforts (if you prefer, Alley Cat Rescue is a fine organization which helped greatly in the rescue, and are always looking for homes and donations)

HEALTH OF ROSECROFT CATS:

Because of Sandy “the Rosecroft Cat Lady” and the horseman’s good care over the years, they were surprisingly healthy! Of 110 cats, (far less than other racetracks, because Sandy had spearheaded an earlier spay/neuter drive) Only one had a sore leg, one had a cut on his back that Brentwood expertly operated on, and one had an eye infection which was treated and went to a special care place.

The Homes

A fancy B&B owner in Hagerstown Md built a large shed for quarantining his cats. Cat B&B!

After the visit to the clinic, it was off to the new homes found by the “Cat Cooperative”!. It wasn’t always easy to coordinate such a big job, instructing the adoptees on how to quarantine, picking up cats at the track and transporting them first to the clinics, then onward to new homes from DC and Virginia to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia. Everyone was “all business” with each person doing their job and never letting the others down!

A few places that adopted numerous cats were dairy farms, racing training centers, B & B’s, show horse stables, you name it… but most were simply individuals, couples and families who wanted a cat or two to love.

Val from Justice Snowden riding stable

Cats:

Each cat was unique and and had an individual personality. Here’s just a few. Sandy took most of these photos with her old school phone. Beautiful exotics got new homes. A Himalayan male mysteriously showed up at the track some 10 years before the rescue, and the gene definitely showed up in some of the cats!

Catjam Icing on the Kitteh Cake

CatTails Inc was left without funds after this effort, and the Catjammer Charity band was formed tasked with the impossible…Play for tips to pay Joy Purnell back her $9500. It took a solid year, but they did it! But that story is for another day…

Follow Up

We emailed occasionally over the next two years, and got replies from the adopters. A couple in Upper Marlboro who had taken the last 6 cats on their large property tickled us, saying “oh, they’re just hanging out, just being cats...” …Adding that they still love their quarantine shed that they’d built for them, filled with toys, plush padded shelves and automatic waterers! Others were hunting mice in barns, as they did at the track. A few lived in apartments, one slate grey kitten was growing up with his little girl in Georgetown.

What we learned:

Of course, we learned that even tame cats get “spooked” when their people disappeared from their lives, which necessitates having to trap them as if they were feral. The trappers were only able to pick up a very few without need of traps.

There were disturbing reports of a few left behind, that were seemingly released deliberately by unknown persons at night, before pickup time in the mornings. Once a cat has been trapped, it is nearly impossible to lure them in one again. Fortunately it suddenly stopped happening after only a few traps were opened.

At any racing facility that takes up a large amount of acreage, management should make sure all horsemen’s pets are accounted for, that any pets or animals that show up are dealt with in a responsible and humane way. Calling an animal control to send any wayward animals to a hi kill shelter, or animals simply left on their own is not the optimum way to handle it- We should all follow the Rosecroft Horsemen’s example and be responsible for our feline population.

Closing:

I leave you with Sarah’s slogan when she put out her original flyer. At first, it was a plea for help…. Now, it tells the story of our success. The “catch line” of the flyer which got so many generous offers for homes…

“It could be kind of cool to have a cat from a racetrack -don’t you think?”

…They all do…. every one of them has a home. Give to the cat rescue of your choice.

Thank you all.

Because of changes to the nearly defunct Facebook “Notes” section of profiles, this post is a back up with updated info re: the Rosecroft Cat Rescue project. This all occurred in 2010. Thanks.

Posted in Music and horses

Training Wheels

…Picture a boy.
A skinney, pre adolescent boy with dark hair and eyes, jogging his first horse.

Jubilee Tina was not a great Racehorse by any means. Tina was sired by Tuxedo Hanover, when everyone hoped he would make a successful sire. The game Curly Smart champion Protégé unfortunately would not distinguish himself in the breeding ranks.

Tina had a 2:09 record at the age of ten, finishing last in $2500 claimers.
One thing about Tina, she was a “free-legged” pacer.
-There were getting to be fewer and fewer free-legged pacers around, and Jubilee Tina was one of them.

Most horsemen know the term free-legged describes a pacer who wears no hobbles.

There just happens to be a few pacers who are so steady that hobbles weren’t necessary. Some would actually perform better without them. Frequently, this tendency ran in families. Steady Star frequently begat “Free-leggers”.
For those new to the sport, here’s a nice article from Scarborough Raceway http://www.scarboroughdowns.com/HarnessRacingHistory.php

The Lisi Stables were fortunate enough to have a few free legged racehorses. Starry Night, and one colt Tommy Cugle and I broke ourselves, Passing Zone, … and Tina.

The Lisi Family Stables leased Tina from Paul Ruffino, who had to go into the hospital for a hernia operation. Paul was a holdover from the old days of racing…representing those who trained at the long defunct Pillsbury Driving club, near Elkridge Maryland. The track was active before pari mutuel racing was legal in Maryland. Billy Hubbard was running around in knickers at Pillsbury. George Warthen and many others enjoyed harness racing there as a hobby, caring for their horses, learning about harness racing from the older trainers, and participating in amateur racing. The Pillsbury Drivers sparred against other driving clubs, such as the ones in Parole, Brightwood or Oxon Hill on Sundays, trading locations with them, and sharing potluck meals spread out by the womenfolk.

Paul, like a lot of the old timers, competed because of his love of the sport. He sure wasn’t winning anything. Over 80 years old, He drove his own, still using a conventional sulky. Tina was a tallish plain looking bay mare. She was lazy, not particularly friendly, with a matter of fact, “don’t care” attitude.
…“Sure Paul I’ll take her for you, you can have her back end of the summer”

But that’s just background.

…Picture a boy.
A boy sitting in his mother’s lap, who’s feet can’t reach the stirrups yet, but braces them against the crossbar.

The boy had been sitting on her lap a lot since the springtime at Rosecroft Raceway, starting with a trotter named Carrie Dill. He’d have his hands in the hand holds, she above them on the lines ahead, on the metal buckle where the lines attached to the hand holds, actually holding the horse. Each time they jogged, she was holding the trotter less and less…until she was not really putting any pressure on the lines at all, but only there in case the son’s grip slipped. Sometimes telling him “wow you’re holding her completely now” or some such encouragement. She could tell he had a nice touch for driving.

Next was Freestate Raceway. Frank DeFrancis had revived the old Laurel Raceway (not to be confused with the Thoroughbred track Laurel Racecourse still existing today as Laurel Park) in a big way, with big time advertising, special events, and revamped barns. Meanwhile Rosecroft’s owner Mark Vogel was converting that half mile oval into a five-eighths, so all the Rosecroft folks moved their stables up to Freestate during the summer time construction.

…Picture the boy.
In the the summer sun, just getting over the trees at Freestate Raceway’s back jogging track.
Getting a little lanky fast. Now he’s sitting on the seat in front of his mom, who’s hanging off the edge of the seat. Jubilee Tina swinging along on the pace.

“You got her Art”

…She slips off the back of the seat, running so as not to fall when she hits the soft sand of Freestate’s back track.

She watches him jog away, the image forever, like a slo-mo video, engraved permanently in her mind…in her heart.

His training wheels were off.

————————————-
Two Afterthoughts:
1: Jubilee Tina won for the Lisi’s, a trophy race for the Wigginton Birthday pace in 203.2 lowering her record at the age of 10 years. Paul was able to get around after his surgery and was in the winners circle, his eyes quite wide as he was given a beautiful silver trophy.
Arthur Lisi Sr also cashed a nice across the board ticket on Tina, as she went off at 77 To one.

2: Arthur Lisi Jr after driving a few schooling races, made the decision to become a blacksmith and attended Oklahoma Shoeing School. He has developed ground breaking Horseshoeing techniques and is a top blacksmith of all breeds.

3: Nowadays with many backstretches having discontinued stable areas, trending to Ship in racing, there’s an option for young people to learn about participating in harness racing through the Harness Horse Youth Foundation. (HHYF) Check it out!

http://www.hhyf.org/page/Default.aspx

Jubilee Tina Free Legged Pacer
Jubilee Tina Win photo Freestate Raceway

Pictured left to right: Shirley Warthen, George Warthen, Paul Ruffino, Arthur Lisi in back, Arthur Lisi Junior, Trainer Nancy Lisi holding Jubilee Tina, driver Walter Callahan, and race sponsors the Wiggintons.

Posted in Music and horses

Bing Crosby look alike, A trotter born at Rosecroft 1970’s, a New Years Message

No, Bing wasn’t at Rosecroft that I’m aware of,,although I know Carol Channing was. As part of a 1960-ish promo, she had dinner with George Warthen, (not understanding Hollywood types, he said she about “talked me to death”)I also know that Bing Crosby did love the track on the Thoroughbred side, you can read more about that here 

This is about Calvin Gidcumb. 
In my previous blog I wrote about the barn where I landed in the mid 70’s. Pete Wathen put me to work rubbing Basil Hough’s horses, at $60 a week. Now Mr. Hough was tight. (Wayne Smullin “do I hear something squeak? Why it’s Mister Hough!” Mr. Hough – “Wayne Smullin!!” ..respect) For a guy approaching his 90’s, he was a sharp, hard working and capable horse trainer. His flame red chestnut JC’s Helen was a top flight local mare, and he had a number of other luminaries in his barn. He’d throw me up on Helen’s back and send me to Henson Creek to soak her for an hour in the cold water up past her knees and hocks. Mr. Hough trail rode JCs Helen himself in the off season. 

To continue, here comes Calvin in the barn on a gray winter day. Dead ringer for Crosby, down to the tipped Fedora hat. ..Except not.. 

He was full of double entendres, dirty remarks and “wink wink”… then a big laugh….I despised him immediately. I avoided him and kept working every day. Everyone else really seemed to like him. 

One night all that changed. Mr Hough decided he wanted 6 coats of Neatsfoot on all the equipment. So after dinner I came back to the tiny heated tack room to do it. It was a long job, the harness was getting pretty funky as the winter wore on. 

In comes Calvin. “Mind if I sit awhile?” Didn’t wait for my answer. He begins talking, talking about what it was like to land in Normandy on D-Day, how scared they were, how he had to save his “boys” that got in trouble, (yes, he had medals) -his adventures in Germany after the war was over. Talking about how he got his Regal Pick trotting stallion, Drexel Steve, a stunning 17-2hand liver chestnut, with four white stockings past his knees and hocks, a big flashy blaze, plus flaxen mane and tail. He was an imposing and proud animal.

Calvin kept him for breeding, and really more as a pet, up on the Miller Farm overlooking the track. Bonnie and Sherwood had a good trotting mare that they bred to him, and she had two tall colts, Stevie Two and Captain Rock, the latter being Drexel Steve’s youthful mirror image, at this point a two year old. 

In any case, Calvin sat there and talked until I was done. It was nearly 10pm when he got up and stretched and says “well I got to go see the Red Headed Widder, she’ll be wondering where I am” -Calvin often spoke of her. 

The next day, Mr. Hough told me that Calvin had fed the barn, and saw I was working late and thought he’d better “keep an eye on me” – back in those days there was no guard for the backstretch during the off season. 

After that Calvin was alright in my book- I often went with him up the hill to help with “big Steve” .. sometimes you can’t judge a person on first acquaintance. He always had a wink, a smile and a great open laugh. 

We used to watch Sherwood train those two trotting brothers. I used to help Bonnie get him ready, he was a good feeler and it was challenging to handle him. Calvin said “I like Captain Rock much better, he’s got fast legs!” ..And so he was right, Stevie Two became just an ordinary Racehorse, while Bonnie was able to sell Captain Rock for $33,000, which was an astounding price for a local Maryland harness racehorse at that time. 

They are gone now, some tragically, some naturally. Rest In Peace Bonnie and Sherwood Haines, Basil Hough, Wayne Smullin. Pete Wathen and Darlene Heber.

For my friend Calvin, I leave you with a video of a horse, a tall beautiful liver chestnut with big white socks and blaze. Every Christmas for years this commercial was played on TV, it is, according to a few, Captain Rock, born at Rosecroft. I was told that after he was sold, he spent some time in New England before he was exported to Italy. In New England is where this commercial was filmed for the Miller Beer company.
I get tears in my eyes when I see this video, I hope they never take it off of YouTube. 

Miller Beer Commercial “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And days of auld lang syne? 

And days of auld lang syne, my dear, And days of auld lang syne. 

We’ll take a cup of kindness dear, for Auld Lang Syne.”

Happy New Year.  

Posted in Harness Racing

Catching the Harness Racing Bug

It was winter in the late 70s. I found myself with two children, and needing a job. Arthur had given up his teaching studio and had begun to work for Van McCoy, doing arranging and lead sheets and delivering the music to New York City. Van liked Arthur’s work and was starting to use him more, but it was not enough just yet to pay the bills. Living in Alexandria Va, Rosecroft Raceway was nearly within sight across the river, accessible by the Woodrow Wilson bridge. Having developed racehorse caretaking skills from working for Mr Sims on Beulah Road, then for Raymond B Archer Jr at Laurel Race Course, I went to Rosecroft in the dead of winter.

There was no racing there during that time of year. (everyone raced at Harrington)  it was gray, bitter cold, and the trees were bare, but somehow it was attractive, going down to an oasis of hillsides which looked rather bucolic, bordered by the Miller Farm  on one side and Henson Creek Park on the other. It is still configured that way to this day.

I saw my first Standardbred at that point at Pete Warthen’s barn. He was standing out  in the cold breeze on cross ties with hair hanging from his belly and a long beard…I was faintly shocked, I was unused to seeing any racehorses tied in such a manner after working with Thorougbreds. “That must be a pony” I thought to myself,  referring to the lead ponies used at running horse tracks. Nope, it was Skip B, one of Pete’s better pacers.  One came off the track, and I immediately began to wash it and scrape it off,… They saw that I knew what I was doing, and I was given a job.

That very first day, to Bonnie Haines consternation… I was allowed to jog a horse. The horse was a raw boned tall black mare name Mandy Crain.  They told me I could go anywhere I wanted with her, so I took her the long way and ended up on the main track. I was the only one there. I looked over at the empty grandstand,  The gray clouds were reflected in the glass windows on the top floor … To my right was the infield,  with brown grass.  Mandy’s hips were swaying to and fro, lazily,. first one hip bumping up, then the other, the lines leading back  from her mouth to me… I swung her around the half mile track one time and looked at that grandstand. I pictured the stands full, and people cheering as I went into the winners circle, clapping for my horse, clapping for me. “Yeah… This is me”

Little did I know  what I was in for,… But that is another story for another day. My point is that racing horses is part of the entertainment business. As Horsemen we would tend to get so wrapped up in the daily chores, the care, the rubbing, catching stall after stall, now miles on the road, that  we would forget, that we are putting on a show. It is a show for the public that they will judge and they will either come and enjoy, or reject.

But that too is for another day.  A lot has happened since I jogged that first horse.  

I hope you enjoy my blog, and journey with me through our travels with horses and music. Cheers, Nancy