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Eclipse Watchers Awarded on Day of Totality

On Racing

The total solar eclipse captured at Horseshoe Indianapolis

The total solar eclipse captured at Horseshoe Indianapolis

Coady Photo/Kurtis Coady

The Great Solar Eclipse of April 8 has passed, but the impact lingers, especially in that wide swath of the United States located beneath the path of totality, where the moon lingered most completely in the face of the sun. More than 30 million Americans resided in that path, which provided those of us on the outer reaches of the eclipse plentiful opportunity to appreciate the phenomenon by proxy. Once the shadow bands had dissipated, this moon-age daydreamer made a few calls to places along the path that included:

Dallas, where Linda and Michael Stinson invited friends to their suburban home for a backyard viewing at around 1:40 p.m. local time. The Stinsons are veteran horse owners and breeders who were part of the group that campaigned California Chrome  through his second Horse of the Year season in 2016. You would think, after watching Chrome shine in the 2016 Dubai World Cup (G1) and Pacific Classic Stakes (G1), staring at the sun might be a letdown.

"Maybe it's the artist in me, but I'm just goofy over a thing like that," said Linda Stinson, an accomplished sculptor. "I had a visceral reaction as it was going on.

"The thing that is so otherworldly is the quality of light," Stinson said. "A photographer will tell you that you'll never see that kind of light anywhere. It is an anomaly that only a total eclipse can create. Eerie. Beautiful."

Stinson noted that approximately 400,000 tourists descended on the Dallas area for the eclipse, filling local hotels to the brim.

"There were people watching from a rooftop around the corner from us," she said. "When the eclipse was total, we could hear them yelling. We yelled back. It was crazy. Crazy good."

Next was Hot Springs, Ark., where Oaklawn Park management threw an infield party for eclipse pilgrims with bands, magicians, and food aplenty. Out on Lake Hamilton, Oaklawn track announcer Matt Dinerman kicked back on a dock with friends and their eclipse viewing glasses to enjoy a special four minutes of totality.

"It was awe inspiring," Dinerman said. "There was a breeze on the lake during the first parts of the eclipse. But then when the sun was covered, the breeze just went away. It darkened, and it felt like deep dusk. The temperature dropped maybe 5-7 degrees.

"As far as what it sounded like," Dinerman said, "with the birds and everything, as soon as it reached totality and we took off our glasses, the people in the house across the street started to play the national anthem. They were ready."

Talk about twilight's last gleaming.

Horseshoe Indianapolis is in Shelbyville, Ind., smack in the path of totality. Ordinarily, Monday would have been a dark day, with or without a total eclipse. Racing there was not supposed to start until April 16. But in celebration of the eclipse, management put on a special eight-race mix of Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses that afternoon, pausing after the sixth to celebrate the celestial event.

Eclipse at Horseshoe Indianapolis
Photo: Courtesy of Horseshoe Indianapolis
Racegoers take in the eclipse at Horseshoe Indianapolis

"It's really not my thing, or at least I didn't think it was," said Eric Halstrom, Horseshoe's vice president and general manager of racing. "But watching from the apron with other people, that four minutes when the sun was completely covered was really cool."

Horseshoe turned the racing day into a party with a lawn chair giveaway and the popular local band Endless Summer, featuring the vocal stylings of Faith Marie and Brian Marshall Goodwin.

"The prognosticators scared a lot of people away with predictions of 12-hour traffic jams in the area," Halstrom said. "You could have shot a cannon through our casino, but it was a good day at the track. That band brings 500 to a thousand people wherever they go."

For those of us watching vicariously, the Horseshoe simulcast provided spectacular views of a grandstand glowing with artificial illumination, then snapping back to sudden daylight.

"It was interesting that even with 98% of the sun covered, there was enough light that we still could have run a race," Halstrom added. "Then it was like somebody hit the light switch and it was totally dark."

Ohio got a healthy dose of totality, including the racetrack at Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course near Cleveland, where Ferrin Peterson and her fellow jockeys gathered in the paddock to gaze at the sky during their share of the totality.

"It was kind of a team-bonding experience, passing around viewing glasses as the eclipse progressed," Peterson said. "We were lucky with the weather, because we could clearly see the halo around the sun. There were ponies in the paddock as well, but they didn't really react. For them I guess it was more like a cloud passed over the sun."

Eclipse, the undefeated racehorse and bedrock stallion, was foaled on the afternoon of April 1, 1764, during an eclipse whose path of totality touched the southeast corner of England. Mares normally foal at night.

"I think there's a lot to the idea that circadian rhythms come into play, and the fact that horses are prey animals and darkness offers protection during birth," said Peterson, who is also an equine veterinarian. "So I wouldn't be surprised if there was a foal delivered at a farm somewhere in Ohio or Indiana."

Then there was Norwalk, Ohio, (pop. 17,069) located at the dead center of the path of totality, as well as the home of retired jockey Frankie Lovato Jr., winner of 1,686 races and, appropriately enough, the Eclipse Award as the outstanding apprentice jockey of 1980. Lovato is also the inventor of the Equicizer, the popular riding simulator.

Frankie Lovato Jr., and his personal Eclipse
Photo: Courtesy Frankie Lovato Jr.
Frankie Lovato Jr. and his personal Eclipse

"In addition to being a once-in-300-years experience, it was also great to see it with my youngest son, Timmy," Lovato said. "He's a tech wizard, and he had everything timed down to the second it would happen. He launched a drone with a camera and parked it about a thousand feet over our property, so we have video of the effect on the ground. He also brought me viewing glasses, which I forgot about.

"The day could not have been more perfect," Lovato continued. "Blue sky, 70 degrees. We watched from the back deck. I had a couple beers. It started to get gray, you could feel whatever breeze there was, then it got colder. When it went dark, all the lights on solar sensors popped on. It was nighttime for a solid four minutes. In the distance we could hear people setting off fireworks. Definitely cool.

"We had family come over later for a party," Lovato added. "But for the eclipse it was just me and Timmy, and that was fine. It might have been one of the best days I've had with my son."