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Handicapping - Pedigree - History - Dosage

Track Conditions and Italian Cuisine

You may be wondering, "What the heck is she writing about now?"

Since this is the 200th article posted at the Dirty Horse Club, it seemed fitting to "spice things up" a bit with something different as we discuss Tracks and their Conditions when it comes to handicapping. Of course, you are welcome to skip straight to the bottom to get to that portion.

As I binge-watched a series on Netflix the other night, I could not help but see the parallels between what I was viewing and its relation to Horse racing. It couldn't have been any more perfect (and enjoyable) as the wheels started turning in my head.

The series is called "Searching for Italy" hosted by one of my favorite actors, Stanley Tucci. He wrote and starred in one of the best independent movies I've ever seen, The Big Night, as well as supporting roles in many hit films. Midway through the first episode, the notebook came out and I was mesmerized. Thirteen concurrent episodes later, I was finally off to bed when the sun began to rise. Being Italian on both sides myself, maybe the series took on a different allure, however, the message was so striking in its resemblance to our sport.

You may want to grab yourself an espresso or two before venturing into it. Indulge me if you will, there is a means to an end, and I hope you enjoy...

... Italian Cuisine.

Each region of Italy possesses it's own specific conditions for producing the certain elements that goes into the dishes that we all have come to know and love, regardless of nationality. Pizza, Pasta, Sauces, Cheeses, Meats and Seafood Dishes, Pastries, and even beverages, contribute to the whole. Each is specific to their own region based on the perfect conditions of the land it was born from. The reputation of the entire country extends from each individual region, stamping Italy as the Premier in Culinary Chef-d'oeuvre.

The Campania region:

The most loved and replicated meal in the world is Pizza. It is argued that Naples, off of the Amalfi Coast, is the birth place of the Pizza and the region which serves up the best. The freshest mozzarella cheese is made from the abundant milk from the buffalos who graze its hills.

Known for their light acidity, thin outer skin and the balanced sweet juices, the infamous tomato from nearby San Marzano, is perfectly crafted in taste and texture because of the mineral rich soil and clay of the area. This tomato is a product of Mount Vesuvius within its view. This specific "volcanic enriched" soil also produces the freshest, most aromatic basil to be found. Buffalo Mozzarella, San Marzano Tomatoes, Basil, Olive Oil and Dough. Italy's Premier Pizza was born from the land.

The tiered Lemon Groves that rise above the sea in nearby Minori, gives way to the most luxurious lemons in the world. These lemons are used in everything from enhancing poultry dishes and Pasta sauces, to cream for pastries and gelatos. Limoncello. They have the perfect strike of the sun and the salty sea mist that permeates their outer skin making the zest sweetly unique.

The Piedmont Region:

Half the rice grown in Italy comes from this area because of its location. Thriving in the Floodplains in the valley and irrigated from the melting glaciers flowing from the alps, this spot created the perfect setting for harvesting rice. The warm air from the south pushes back the cold currents from the alps and the summer rainfall on the slopes in the forest hills allows for the perfect conditions for the wild white truffle. Rice and Truffles. Risotto is born.

The Umbria Region:

The mountain air, the wild forest herbs and the overpopulated wild boar who thrive in this area are perfect conditions that the locals took advantage of. This is also the area where Black Truffles are cultivated because of the direction of the sun and the rain conditions each season. Home of Salami.

The Lazio Region:

The countryside of Rome is home to Pasta Carbonara, Prosciutto, Pancetta, and smoked meats because of the sheep and pigs who graze on sun drenched grasses in the hills just outside of the city center. Sheep's milk replaces buffalo milk in this area. The pastures and grass that the sheep forage on give a sweet flavor to the whey for production of Ricotta Cheese. Unforgettable rich taste of so many famous Italian dishes. Lasagna, anyone?

Veneto Region:

The brine from the salt water of the Adriatic Sea permeates the surrounding soil because of cyclical flooding and affects the taste of the vegetables, herbs and spices. Cod that is harvested from the very salty water of this sea is preserved and dried in the Norwegian cold breeze - Bacala. When the fishing season in the Adriatic ceases, fall duck hunting begins because of its overpopulation of mallards and ducks that have thrived here for centuries.

The Emilia-Romagna region:

White Cows that populate this area produce a specific type of milk, which is used to make the very best Parmigiano Reggiano in the world. Bologna is situated between the base of the Apennines Mountains and the Reno and Savena Rivers, which forces fog and humidity to drench the area, giving it the perfect conditions for the Porcini Mushroom to thrive.

The area of Parma, famed for its ham. The area of Modena, the world's finest balsamic vinegar from the grapes that are grown here. Each specific to the thriving conditions that allowed for the formation of these perfect ingredients.

Lombardy Region:

Northern Italy, with a climate that gives way to fertile pastures and irrigated lakes on its outskirts, perfect conditions for raising cattle. Unlike the dry climate of the south, Northern Italy is marshy and wet, which is where rice and grains thrive. Here you will find Risotto and Polenta replacing pasta. Clarified butter replacing its southern counterpart, Olive oil. The Orobie Alps is home to cows who graze on alpine grass at different altitudes throughout the season. Each altitude produces a slightly different taste in the cheese that is Parmigiano Reggiano.

The Tuscany Region:

This area has three main contributions. Meat from the abundant cattle who thrive in the hills and the soil that creates the richest grains and wheat in the country. BREAD, BREAD and MORE BREAD. Locality of the sun at the perfect time of day along with the slopes of the landscape that ensure the rains are dispersed evenly and gently during the season of planting. Home of the olive groves where Olive Oil and capers are produced.

Outside the city in the Tuscan countryside, "Peasant Country" where poverty was forced to use the humble and abundant ingredients; beans, bread and richly herbed broth dating back centuries still thrives. Beans in Italian cooking can be traced back to these very hills. Grains turn into Pasta, add the beans and broth. Minestrone soup is born.


The volcanic soil, a product of Mt. Etna, created mineral rich soil which produces the finest and richest tasting vegetables and herbs, peppers, zucchini, and eggplant. The well-known popular Eggplant Parmesan, a direct descendent of volcano eruptions.

Southern Sicily - Frappato grapes. Limestone in the soil gives flavor, scent and acidity to these specialized grapes and used in distinct light-bodied wines.

Lampedusa, the furthest southern Italian Island is the highlight of all dishes utilizing the bounty from the sea. Rare to see rain in this area, farming had to be replaced with fishing. Most of the dishes that were prepared years ago for the aristocrats of the time used birds and meat, which had been changed by the poor residents and replaced with the bounty of the sea, using the same recipes. Making due with what they had turned into even more infamous Italian dishes over the century and known the world over. Linguine Pescatore, Anchovies for the pizzas, Sardines, Cuttlefish, Shrimp dishes, calamari in all forms and Blue Fish add to the delicacies of Italian fare. A product of its land and prepared in the most memorable way as to be duplicated and loved around the world.

Lastly, I would be remiss if not ending with Palermo, birthplace of Timpano. Timpano is shaped like a timpani drum and it is filled with the greatest ingredients of Italy. It is an opulent masterpiece wrapped in a very thin dough and filled with homemade pasta, various pork and cattle based meats, Salami, eggs, Italian cheeses, San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, etc., served and sliced like a large cake. This was made many years ago for rich aristocratic families, with the very best of ingredients ushered in from the whole of Italy and offered into one complete dish. If anyone wants the recipe, I have saved and made a very good one from Stanley Tucci's mother herself many years ago. Beware, it costs a small fortune to make and it takes a full day or two to prepare. But after you eat it, you'll swear you tasted heaven.

Highlighted in the movie, The Big Night, brothers Primo and Secondo gently caress and kiss the massive main course before serving it to their guests. Here's a 2 minute excerpt where Timpano takes the starring role. The best in cinema history, start to finish. I smile every time I watch it.

Yes, all of this to illustrate one simple point.

When we think of Italian food, everything gets lumped together but the reason why this country is best known as the world's culinary giant is because each region produces certain conditions that allows each sub-category to thrive.

The slope of the land here. The minerals from volcanos over there. The sun angle in another. The fog in the mornings across a stretch of green grass in the south. The breezes from the mountains in the north. The dampness and perfect cover from the leaves of the central forests. The brine from a flooding salty sea. The altitudes and tiered landscapes up on the hills to the flow of water across another. The protection of elements from perfectly situated mountains to rivers that naturally quench an otherwise dry patch of land.

Each area giving birth to the perfect conditions and producing what it naturally wants to give.

When you understand the land and its conditions, you can begin to discern a simplistic relation to race tracks across our country. The location of each race track will dictate it's underlying conditions prior to anything that man can manipulate through its bias. Of course, weather aside, the land that the track is built on will give a common sense approach to the purest make-up of a dirt or turf surface and the conditions outside of the manipulated parameters. A base to understanding natural conditions and its effect and how the surface becomes a product of it and then, ultimately, what type of horse will thrive on it.

Map used from


Florida - Gulfstream Park, Gulfstream Park West, Tampa Bay Downs

The warmer, lower air from the Gulf is moving north, constantly adding more heat and moisture to this area. The warmth of the Gulf and the Caribbean Sea to its south keep moisture at a constant. During the summer, persistent ridges of high pressure keep the southeast sticky with a moist southerly wind. This, in turn, deflects most weather systems approaching from the west, basically locking the Southeast into a state of constant humidity. This aids in the drastic and persistent "blanketing of moistness" which caters to speed on these tracks.


Kentucky - Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Ellis, Kentucky Downs, Turfway

Arkansas - Oaklawn

Louisiana - Fairgrounds, Evangeline, Delta Downs

West Virginia - Charles Town

Kentucky has a climate that is affected by factors like wind currents that come from the north that bring winter temperatures down, and a tropical front from the south that creates humid summers. This, in turn, will affect each meet schedule differently with no constant between the two. It has its high humidity and exaggerated thunderstorms because of the Southern most rim, but it is also "protected" from the west. Arkansas gets 57 inches of rain on average which is about 20" more than average. Still with humid conditions that cater to speed, but not to the extreme extent of Florida. The further north you go in this region, the "fairer" it plays.


California - Santa Anita, Del Mar, Los Alamitos, Golden Gate

The 4 sub-divisions of the Rocky Mountains; the Canadian Rockies of Montana and Idaho, the Middle Rockies of Wyoming and Utah, the Southern Rockies of Colorado and New Mexico and the Colorado Plateau condenses water vapor. Depending on the elevation and proximity of the ocean, barriers are formed which trap mist caused by the sea breezes. High and low tides within the area will also cause greater affects which produce greater speedier conditions. All 4 tracks yield a very strong speed bias based on their geographic location and enhanced even further by man's manipulation. Extreme speed bias daily which goes even further during exact timing of the high tide.


Washington - Emerald Downs

Oregon - Portland Meadows

The Crest of the Cascade Mountains creates the wettest part of the country. Rainfall is abundant throughout the entire year. Foggy conditions hold the wetness longer in the earlier parts of the day, slowly drying out later - a process that continues almost daily. The spread of weather conditions, from moist to heavy rains will highly affect this area creating different "weather-related biases" on a daily basis. It sees about 5" more rain than average and over half the amount of sunny days throughout the year. Because of its very low elevation it attracts a very minimal amount of snow with less probability of the surface hardening.


Arizona - Turf Paradise

New Mexico - Ruidoso Downs, Sunland Park

Texas - Lone Star

Oklahoma - Remington Park

The arid warm temperatures of the Southwest result from its position between the mid-latitude and subtropical atmospheric circulation resulting in very low precipitation. Because of its location between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, major rains occur July through September and then again between November and March. Little to nothing in the other months. Meet schedules are highly influenced by this reoccurring pattern which produces extreme differences on the surface throughout the year. Dry and hard during some months, wet and easier in others.


Colorado - Arapahoe Park

Idaho - Les Bois Park

Colorado's position far inland and great distance from any large bodies of water, results in a usually dry climate. There are no oceans to moderate daily and seasonal temperatures, Colorado typically has hot summers and cold winters with relatively large temperature differences throughout each day. The San Luis Valley in Colorado has a mountain-desert climate and is one of the driest areas of the Rockies. In Idaho, two dominant climate types are a maritime climate most evident in the winter, especially in the northern part of the State, and a continental climate that prevails in the summer.


Iowa - Prairie Meadows

Indiana - Indiana Grand

Illinois - Arlington, Fairmount, Hawthorne

Ohio - Belterra Park, Thistledown

The Great Lakes border many Midwestern states. The Midwest is subject to extremely cold air masses from the far north, and warm, humid air masses from the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in a wide range of both temperature and precipitation extremes. Because of the extremes, this area will produce "fairer" conditions, playing to both sides throughout seasons.


New York - Belmont Park, Aqueduct, Saratoga

Pennsylvania - Parx, Penn National, Presque Isle Downs

New Jersey - Monmouth Park

Delaware - Delaware Park

Maryland - Pimlico, Laurel Park

Each state in this region is not "as affected" by its geographic location, but rather due to more strategic and planning of surfaces to a greater degree. In some cases, the locality and the surrounding land formations will have its affect if it rises to an extreme, but the "man-made" attributes prosper here. Saratoga was always known as the "Graveyard of Champions" because of its host to many "speed-advantaged" champions who fell to its high slope to the stamina bias created by it colder location in the North. This has changed with the drastic manipulation of the surface. It does rear its head still because nature overrides anything that man can do on his own. None-the-less, the change has occurred and is manipulated to cater to the strong voices of opposition. Parx is 101% manipulated to cater to extreme speed daily. Belmont remains neutral, but Aqueduct and Monmouth does not. Pimlico is affected by its water masses and the Appalachian Mountain barriers. The prevailing westerly winds have barely any influence, however, the easterly winds associated with cyclonic storms off the sea with more pronounced surface heating. It funnels up the Chesapeake where more moisture tends to rest. Laurel Park, located inland, does not have the same.


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