My Final Arabian Finish Line Column (For Now)

If you haven’t seen the news, Arabian Finish Line announced it has suspended publication due to a variety of factors.

The magazine did a lot for me personally and professionally over the near-decade that I wrote for it, and when editor Stephanie Ruff informed me a while back that the next issue of the Finish Line could be the last, I wanted to make sure what could be the final installment of my “Making Claims” column hit its mark. Now that the issue is looking unlikely to see the light of day, I got permission from Stephanie to share what would have run.

If and when Arabian Racing’s foremost publication comes back, I will take great pride in being there to write for it. Until then, here’s one for the road…


Joe with Arabian Finish Line editor Stephanie Ruff at Churchill Downs

Joe with Arabian Finish Line editor Stephanie Ruff at Churchill Downs

It’s hard to find things to get excited about in horse racing these days.

There’s a cloud hanging over Southern California that, if the ball takes some unlucky but realistic bounces, could consume the entire North American sport as we know it. It’s heavy stuff and I deal with it enough in my day job. Instead, I’ll use this space to focus on something positive – namely, the idea of gratitude, with a focus on the Arabian racing industry.

I’ve been writing for Arabian Finish Line in some manner or another since 2010. That’s longer than my combined full-time stays with Thoroughbred Times (went bankrupt and shut down), Daily Racing Form (got laid off), and Paulick Report (so far, so good).

Arabian Finish Line has been there when I was out on the figurative street, and it’s been an outlet for the stuff rattling around in my brain when the other places I have written for couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give it ink. It’s helped develop my voice, both on the page and behind the microphone.

None of this happens if Don and Bobbi Patscheider don’t take a chance on a wet-behind-the-ears recent college graduate on the recommendation of the Arabian platoon at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

The first time I was ever on an airplane was because they bought me a ticket to attend the 2011 Darley Awards. When I moved from Central Michigan to Kentucky to start my job with Thoroughbred Times, they flew up from Florida to attend my going away party at MPM. The level of faith and trust they put in me to give me my own column and let me run wild with crazy ideas like having championship belts in horse racing (which should absolutely still happen) and writing silly haiku about the Darley Awards is something for which I’ll always be indebted.

Joe with Bobbi and Don Patscheider at Mount Pleasant Meadows

Joe with Bobbi and Don Patscheider at Mount Pleasant Meadows

Just as important to my journey in Arabian racing was the next Finish Line head honcho, Stephanie Ruff. I’m so proud of the work she’s done to bring the magazine and its brand into modernity after a sudden and unexpected handing over of the reins.

A key cog in that transition was the Arabian Racing Radio podcast, and I remain honored that Stephanie chose me to be her co-host. The level of confidence and discipline I gained as an on-air personality over the year of the show’s run has spilled over into everything else I do, and it was just fun to find new people to geek out with each time we had a new guest on the show. 

And, for crying out loud, Stephanie had enough trust in me to let me pen a two-part epic about a Wisconsin-bred blue-eyed horse that only ran twice at the lowest level the racing breed has to offer. Arabian Finish Line has always meant freedom for me, and that freedom has produced some of my favorite stories, both on the printed page and over the airwaves.

Staying on the podcast front, Jemmy Legagneur and Glenn Hebert were invaluable guides for me in my growth from an incompetent radio presence into a barely competent one. That’s a pretty good jump. Their patience with two writers with zero radio experience and glitchy equipment made the process a joy. You might not have heard their voices on Arabian Racing Radio, but without them, you’d have never heard ours.

I got into Arabian racing because the breed ran at one of my home tracks, Mount Pleasant Meadows. From nearly top-to-bottom, the track’s residents were willing – or at least tolerant – participants in my professional development, but the Arabian folks went the extra mile to make me a part of their world and give me opportunities to grow and succeed.

The Holst-Ruvalcaba clan won a lot of races in those days, and their purple and orange silks gave my photographs a nice “pop” when their horses did something worth photographing. Nicole and Rafael were constant supporters as I developed from my homemade blog, The Michigan-Bred Claimer, into my national-scale endeavors, helping me become about as active a member of Michigan’s Arabian racing community as I could be without actually laying my hands on a horse.

One of my favorite pieces of memorabilia on my office wall is the “2” placard that hung above the coinciding paddock stall at Mount Pleasant Meadows. There were only 10 to go around when the structure was torn down after the track closed, and Nicole saved that one for me. The track had a small population compared to most, but it meant a lot to those who endured it. When you have that shared unique experience, a simple board with a green “2” on it can carry a lot of weight. 

Joe with Quick and Rich at Churchill Downs

Joe with Quick and Rich at Churchill Downs

Of course, one of the greatest artifacts of Mount Pleasant Meadows, and perhaps of Michigan Arabian racing as a whole, is still in training.

I’ve beaten this story into the ground on the printed page and over the airwaves at this point, but watching Quick and Rich go from a first-out maiden winner at sleepy Mount Pleasant to a Grade 1 winner in North America’s richest race at Churchill Downs has been one of the most satisfying experiences of both my professional career and my personal fandom of horse racing. It can get easy to feel disconnected from racehorses when you cover them for a living because they tend to come and go so quickly, but the pride I feel in that horse gives me the kind of energy I haven’t felt since my own family’s horses ran.

I don’t consider myself a true “fan” of very many horses, the way some militant followers of the sport might feel about California Chrome or American Pharoah, but I absolutely feel that way about Quick and Rich, and will fight anyone that disagrees.

I’ll forever be grateful to Tom and Joyce Fritz for not only campaigning their star runner at the world’s highest levels, but for letting me be a hanger-on for the experience. The Fritzes were the subjects of my first feature for Arabian Finish Line, back before the start of my column, and it pleases me to no end that I’m still able to tell the stories of them and their horses nearly a decade later when so many other parts of my early days in racing have fallen by the wayside.

To the rest of Michigan’s Arabian racing platoon, scattered as you might be, I miss you guys. Nobody in the state deserved what ultimately happened in the end, but I wish things had gone smoother for you after the move to Hazel Park so you could have at least made to that point with the rest of the horsemen.

Looking nationally, Kathy Smoke is due gratitude for recommending me to join the Arabian Jockey Club’s Graded Stakes Committee. As someone whose connection to the Arabian racing breed is largely limited to this column, I never expected to even be in the conversation for a responsibility like this, but the experience has been invaluable for learning the nuts and bolts of the sport and the breed, and it’s been a pleasure interacting with the other people on the board.

I’ve gotta say, though, it feels pretty boss to tell my friends and acquaintances that I’m on the Graded Stakes Committee when the President of the U.A.E. Cup comes to Kentucky. Being the designated “guy who knows things about Arabian racing” among my group of turf writers never gets old.

Jonathan Horowitz and Ashley Gubich, thanks for having me on AJC Live when you’re in town and putting up with my corny jokes and shameless fandom of Quick and Rich. Your broadcasts are how guerilla marketing of the sport should be done, and I can’t wait to see what directions you take the show in going forward.

Thanks to my parents and grandma for being faithful subscribers to Arabian Finish Line and for letting me chase dreams instead of making me go out and get a real job, and to my wife Natalie Voss and cohort Nicole Russo for pinch-hitting with the column when pesky things like appendicitis get in the way.

If I’ve corresponded with you over phone, email, or in person for a column, story, or podcast interview, that piece of the page or sound file was there because you put it there, and I couldn’t have done it without you. I’ve gotten to tell some really cool stories in Arabian Finish Line over the past decade, and that wouldn’t be possible if the racing breed weren’t filled with really cool people.

This sport is my life. I have a house, a car, my wife, and my career because of it. The racing Arabian breed has played a vital role in that, and has given me something to get excited about since I placed my first bet on an Arabian named Fast Dance before I was even in grade school.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we need things to get excited about. If you’re reading this right now, thank you for doing that for me.