Category Archives: Horse Racing

Matthew Espinosa: Racing’s Newest Fan

Matthew Espinosa’s first trip to the racetrack won’t be his last. After spending opening day at southern California’s Del Mar Thoroughbred Club with friends and family, Espinosa is hooked, “I’m definitely going to go back, I had a lot of fun, a calm day. You can have a good time betting on horses and the people watching is a whole different world!”

Originally a digital star with an army of social media followers numbering in the tens-of-millions, 20-year old Matthew Espinosa is the lead in the 2016 film Be Somebody, and he shares his rise to success in his book, More Than Me. Before hitting the track, his impression of racing mostly came from media, ”The closest I came to horse racing were random clips, like on Entourage.”

AMERICA’S BEST RACING
Matthew Espinosa enjoying the races at Del Mar Racetrack

America’s Best Racing hosted Espinosa and his crew at Del Mar and had handicapper-racing pundit Jose Contreras guide the newbies in the basics. “I brought my friend Q, my sister and her boyfriend and they were talking that it was a lot of fun, a lot more fun than we expected. We didn’t know what to expect, none of us had been there before. It was really cool for all of us, placing bets, understanding how it all works. I won two races, I’m 100% into new experiences!”

AMERICA’S BEST RACING
Matthew being Matthew with a fan at Del Mar Racetrack

Billy Koch of Little Red Feather Racing invited Matthew Espinosa and company down to the winner’s circle if the Little Red Feather horse won. Alas, it was Koch’s horse was nipped at the wire. Koch mentioned there are ways of having fun as an owner in a partnership. Asked about that later, Espinosa didn’t rule it out in the future when he’ll have more time for hobbies.

The opening day fashion parade caught Espinosa’s eye. “I was randomly taking photos of people with really cool outfits. I was thinking this is really unique, I gotta document this. I was very under-dressed. I’m like ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?’ Gotta step it up with a suit the next time. Is there some kind of checkeredsuit.com?”

 

Horse racing will have to wait until Espinosa returns from his upcoming Going Global Tour, where he’ll be appearing in 22 European cities from August 4 to 31.

Senate Bill Seeks to Protect Finger Lakes Horsemen

A legislative bill to protect Finger Lakes Race Track horsemen and New York’s thoroughbred breeding industry has been introduced by state Senator John Bonacic, chairman of the Senate’s Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee. The imminent opening of the del Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, 27 miles east of Finger Lakes Race Track (FLRT) in Farmington, is expected to cannibalize patrons and revenue from gaming and wagering operations at FLRT and neighboring regions of the state.

The more casinos the merrier? Not so much.

Last year Delaware North, FLRT’s owner, lobbied for and received tax incentives for their on-site racino on par with tax incentives granted del Lago. The horsemen, who constitute the backbone of horse racing at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racing, were unsuccessful in having the law revised to protect purses from a projected precipitous decrease caused by the expected migration of players to the new casino.

Racing purses are in part funded by revenue from video lottery terminals (VLT) at the Finger Lakes racino. VLT players siphoned off to the del Lago casino will result in a decreased revenue stream for FLRT purses.

Lower purses mean reduced income for the owners and trainers who populate Finger Lakes’ backstretch. With diminished purses, there would be fewer horses and races; and less need for the jockeys, exercise riders, grooms, hot walkers, farriers and veterinarians who are the fabric of track life.

The races at FLRT are chock-full of horses bred, raised and trained in New York. The robust thoroughbred industry in central and western New York is supported by incentives from the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding & Development Fund that is funded in part by a micro percentage of VLT revenues.

Lower VLT revenues will diminish the funding streams that sustain the incentives that attract breeders and owners to the NY-bred program. Without the protections afforded in S01003, industry downsizing is inevitable. When breeding and training facilities reduce operations or shut down, jobs evaporate. Every horse farm has a web of suppliers – including feed stores, landscapers, small machinery repair shops, lumber mills and farm machinery dealers. When a farm closes, negative outcomes ripple throughout its community.

All is not lost.

Never a collective to act before necessity, last year the legislature left bills similar to S01003 languishing. With the clock ticking – del Lago is scheduled to open February 1, now is time for legislators to tweak the original legislation and counteract the predation of FLRT operations. *

Under current law, race tracks within the same designated geographic region as a new casino are protected. The challenge that FLRT faces is despite proximity FLRT and del Lago are in different regions. The revised law will extend protection to racetracks within 50 miles of del Lago, regardless of region.

Senator Bonacic explains the importance of S01003:

This legislation is necessary to protect horsemen, breeders, and the entire racing industry from the projected loss of revenue at Finger Lakes when Del Lago begins operations. This is a critical issue and that is why the Senate Budget Resolution last year proposed to address it. Unfortunately, it was not resolved in the final budget, but I will continue to fight to protect the horsemen, breeders, and all the jobs created by the racing industry in New York. **

Bonacic’s legislation states:

If an applicant that does not possess either a pari-mutuel wagering license or franchise awarded pursuant to article two or three of this chapter is issued a gaming facility license pursuant to this article, the licensee shall pay:

(a) an amount to horsemen for purses at the licensed racetracks in the region and in the case of region five any licensed racetracks within fifty miles of the licensee’s facility, that will assure the purse support from video lottery gaming facilities in the region and in the case of region five any such licensed racetracks within fifty miles of the licensee’s facility, to the licensed racetracks in the region and in the case of region five any such facilities within fifty miles of the licensee’s facility, to be maintained at the same dollar levels realized in two thousand thirteen to be adjusted by the consumer price index for all urban consumers, as published annually by the United States department of labor bureau of labor statistics; and

(b) amounts to the agricultural and New York state horse breeding development fund and the New York state thoroughbred breeding and development fund to maintain payments from video lottery gaming facilities in the region and in the case of region five any such facilities within fifty miles of the licensee’s facility, to such funds to be maintained at the same dollar levels realized in two thousand thirteen to be adjusted by the consumer price index for all urban consumers, as published annually by the United States department of labor bureau of labor statistics.

* It will be up to Governor Cuomo to sign the legislation into law in a timely manner.
** Senator Bonacic responded to an email query. A spokesman for del Lago Resort & Casino did not respond to an email query.

American Pharoah Is King of the World

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Stallion manager Richard Barry and trainer Bob Baffert with American Pharoah the day he arrived at Ashford Stud, Versailles, Kentucky. Photo courtesy of Coolmore.

In the year since winning the Triple Crown and 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic, American Pharoah has received international accolades, moved to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky, there are over 100 little Pharoahs on the way, and his biography was a best seller. Not bad for the genial bay colt.

American Pharoah is still America’s horse

Part of American Pharoah’s popularity is due to his accessibility. When he worked out, fans were at the track at dawn to watch the colt. When Pharoah had a bath, snaps of him covered in bubbles streamed though social media. These days, special tours bring his fans to meet-and-greets at Coolmore.

While racing, Pharoah’s followers were welcomed into his realm. The colt patiently posed for selfies, with carrots his currency. Pharoah’s gentle amiability allowed fans to get close enough to feed him those carrots, without the mayhem or mischief commonly exhibited by 3-year-old colts.

American Pharoah’s breeder-owner Ahmad Zayat negotiated American Pharoah’s career as a stallion during the Triple Crown campaign. The deal struck was after his racing career, Pharoah would transfer to Coolmore at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky.

Retired, American Pharoah’s fans remain legion. Scott Calder from Coolmore explains:

“The level of interest in American Pharoah is unlike anything we have seen in the past. We are very fortunate to have had a lot of great horses retire to Ashford over the years but interest mainly comes from within the industry.

With American Pharoah it is different, he has celebrity status that goes beyond the bloodstock industry. We have had a lot of visitors, interest from the media, cards from well-wishers etc. Thankfully American Pharoah has an exceptional temperament so he takes all the attention in his stride. He seems very content in his new life and the first part of his stud career has been a great success.”

Pharoah’s life on the farm

Calder shares American Pharoah’s routine:

It’s the offseason at the moment, so American Pharoah’s days are pretty quiet. The stallions are given a grain feed early in the morning by the night person – before our stallion staff arrives at 6.30 a.m.

The stallions all have their own paddocks and they are turned out as soon as our staff arrive. We don’t ride any of our stallions, but if they need some extra exercise they are lunged for around 10 minutes in one of our lunge rings.

The stallions spend all morning outside and are brought in before lunch. They all get groomed and then are available for our clients to come and view.

At 2.30 the Ashford Stud tour takes place and American Pharoah is obviously one of the highlights. The tours are booked through Horse Country Inc. and run Monday to Friday for 25 people.

The stallions get their evening feed around 3 p.m. and are bedded down for the evening. All the stallions have cameras in their stalls so they are monitored around the clock, when our day staff leave and night watch begins.

American Pharoah’s your daddy

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Untouched Talent is the first broodmare ultrasound scanned in-foal to American Pharoah. She will

(Above, Untouched Talent in foal to American Pharoah.
Photo courtesy of Coolmore.)

likely deliver one of Pharoah’s earliest foals in 2017. The Merck Veterinary Manual says the average gestation for a mare ranges from 335 to 342 days. Anyone who has waited for a foal to be born knows that mares ignore published guides and foal when they are ready – sometimes weeks early, many times weeks late.

Coolmore purchased Untouched Talent in 2012 for $5 million at Fasig-Tipton’s Fall Sale. Her price, a sizeable sum, reflects the success of her first foal, the Grade 1 stakes winner Bodemeister. As a sire, Bodemeister is proving popular in the sales ring and has runners competitive at the graded stakes level.

 Video courtesy of Fasig-Tipton

Calder shares the rationale for pairing American Pharoah and Untouched Talent:

Untouched Talent is the dam of Bodemeister who won the G1 Arkansas Derby and was 2nd in the Kentucky Derby. Bodemeister is by American Pharoah’s grandsire Empire Maker so the resulting foal will be closely related to Bodemeister. While we don’t know for sure if she will be the first to foal we expect her to be one of the early ones.

Starting in January, expect to see streams of Pharoah foals on racing social media.

The horse and his bard

Joe Drapes’ American Pharoah: The Untold Story of the Triple Crown Winner’s Legendary Rise embeds the reader in the ascent of American Pharoah – from his days as a foal to his transformation into racing icon. Drape is an Eclipse Award-winning reporter for the New York Times who covers the horse racing beat.

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Drape’s narrative lets us peek behind stall doors, listen to trackside banter and delve into the collaborations that enabled American Pharoah to accomplish what had been so elusive for 37

(Photo on right © ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy; courtesy of Joe Drape)

years – winning the Triple Crown, and, to do what had never been done before – winning the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Catching up with Drape a year after American Pharaoh’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, he answered some questions about the genesis of his book:

When did you go live covering AP for the book?

I covered the Triple Crown for the paper (New York Times) and had no intention of writing a book – frankly because I did not think he would the sweep the series. When he did, I went back and re-reported it with the goal being why was his horse different than the eight previous one’s I saw fail, and who had a hand in his development.

Were you embedded with the AP camp? What kind of access?

No, embed. Regular access. In fact, my coverage was at odds with Baffert and Zayat for most of the last seven years. But we have all dealt with each other pretty much professionally, meaning they continue to answer my questions.

What’s your takeaway from covering such a momentous campaign?

You need an extraordinary athlete, which AP was and was identified as such as a weanling. You need a ton of luck, which he got beginning with banging his ankle on the way to the Saratoga Yearling Sale where he failed to be sold.

Knowing what I know about how much talent, luck and magic is required now, I can see why we waited 37 years for a Triple Crown.

Beholder and Songbird Are Brilliant in the Breeders’ Cup Longines Distaff

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Beholder winning the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Longines Distaff, Gary Stevens in the irons. Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders’ Cup Photo©

By a cat’s whisker. That sums up the barely discernible distance between Beholder and Songbird at the finish line of the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Longines Distaff. Beholder was in front when the pair’s skirmish down Santa Anita’s homestretch ended at the wire.

Beholder, race mare regnant

At 6 years old, the Distaff was Beholder’s last race. Hall of Fame Richard Mandella conditioned Beholder for her entire career and Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens was her pilot. The Distaff was Stevens’ 11th Breeders’ Cup career win, and Mandella’s ninth.

2016-11-05-1478362354-4251543-a161104_eclipsesportswire_aeb_176551.JPG Left: Gary Stevens on Beholder Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders’ Cup Photo©

Winning her third Breeders’ Cup race, Beholder joined the rarefied level of Goldikova. Beholder previously won the Juvenile Fillies in 2012 and the Distaff in 2013. Altogether, over four seasons Beholder raced 26 times, with 18 wins and six seconds. She was the Eclipse 2012 Champion 2-Year Old Filly, Eclipse 2013 Champion 3-Year Old Filly and Eclipse 2015 Champion Older Mare. It’s not a stretch to believe that Beholder will be in contention for further Eclipse Awards for the 2016 season, as well as an eventual place in the Hall of Fame.

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Right: MareMatch pedigree of Beholder and Uncle Mo. Courtesy of © 2016 Wek Thoroughbred Consultants.

Retiring with a $6+ million dowry, Beholder will join the broodmare band at Spendthrift Farm, Lexington, Kentucky. Formalized plans have been announced, rest assured her connections had their choice of racing’s leading Lotharios. A quick look at Werk eNicks MareMatch pedigree analysis that lists top stallions in the United States and Europe as compatible including Tapit in Kentucky and Fastnet Rock in Ireland.

That being said, Coolmore America has announced that Beholder is booked to visit their brilliant young sire Uncle Mo in 2017, for a 2018 foal. The pairing ranks high with MareMatch as well as with the physical traits and abilities of Beholder and Uncle Mo.

Songbird eager in the wings

Songbird‘s second place in the Distaff is the first time she failed to win. At 3 years old, half the age of Beholder, Songbird has run 12 times, winning 11 races and earning $3.7 million. Rick Porter, her owner, has indicated she will run in 2017. Depending on how she comes out of the Longines Distaff, Songbird could run in the new $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, Florida, on Jan. 28, 2017.

Porter is no stranger to bringing along a maturing filly. His Havre de Grace was a major 3-year-old filly. In 2011, as a 4-year-old Havre de Grace took on the “boys” winning the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga and earning the Eclipse Horse of the Year title.

Video courtesy of the Breeders’ Cup
 

Bookkeeping and statistics
Beholder’s win in the Longines Distaff earned Rick Porter $1,100,000. Her connections received the Distaff trophy and timepieces from Longines. Typically, the winning trainer and jockey each receive 10% of the purse. The team back at the barn may also earn a percentage.

The 2016 Breeders’ Cup Longines Distaff, held over 1 1/8 miles, clocked in at a reasonable 1:49.20. Beholder paid $8.60 to win. The Beholder-Songbird exacta paid $12.60. The trifecta of Beholder-Songbird-Forever Unbridled paid $40.40.

Note: all earning and handicapping data supplied by Equibase

She is Simply… Zenyatta

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Credit: Matthew Stockman, O, The Oprah Magazine Getty Image

She Dances … Zenyatta

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Credit: Coady photo

 

She Guzzles Guinness … Zenyatta

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Credit: jonshfs05

She Is a Premier Athlete, Winning Over $5 Million

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Credit: Breeders’ Cup

 

 

 

She Is Profiled in O, The Oprah Magazine as one of O’s 2010 Power List Personalities

“She’s absolutely perfect at her profession, and that is very rare–not just in sports but in all things. It’s difficult to win even one race, let alone 18.

“She always makes me think of those great war beasts of Greek sculpture, or the beautiful horses carved on the Parthenon. She is absolutely enormous–not only very tall [more than six feet from the top of her head] but also very broad, very muscular. She is simply drawn on a different scale from other racehorses.

“In just about every race, she starts out last and then comes flying at the end, breaking her opponents’ hearts. The crowds love it. She clearly knows exactly where the wire is. And she has such a huge stride, it looks like she’s moving slowly when she’s actually covering a lot of ground very fast. We haven’t seen how fast she can really go, because she only goes fast enough to catch the other horses at the wire!

“I’ve seen 40 or 50 thousand racehorses in my life, and I’ve never seen any other horse do that (the dance). I think she’s playing around. She’s definitely enjoying herself–psyching herself up before a race.”

— Laura Hillenbrand, author of 2001’s best-seller Seabiscuit, “The 2010 O Power List”, O, The Oprah Magazine , October 2010.

She is Zenyatta

The iconic six year old Thoroughbred race mare who has stormed down every homestretch to victory, eighteen times. And twice in the World Championship Breeders’ Cup series. She’s preparing to take an unprecedented third Breeders’ Cup World Championship title in November.

Clearly besotted with his charge, trainer John Shirreffs strapped a camera to the helmet of Zenyatta’s exercise rider so her fans can experience the view from the back of a champion. Enjoy the ride!


Credit: jonshfs05

Top photo courtesy of Photos by Z

 

Uptick in Equine Deaths at Belmont Park in June

Between June 1 and June 20, 2016,  there were eight equine deaths while in training or racing at the New York Racing Association’s Belmont Park. Over the same time frame in 2015, there were two equine deaths while racing at Belmont Park; in 2014 there was one racing and one training death at Belmont over the same time frame.

According to the NYS Gaming Commission’s Equine Breakdown, Death, Injury and Incident Database, two of the breakdowns were on Belmont’s training track, the remaining occurred on the Main track.

The horses that suffered fatal, catastrophic breakdowns are:

  • Todo Onota
  • Escape to Vegas
  • Bonita Luna
  • Majestic Joe
  • Rose Bern
  • Riding the Rails
  • Mordi’s Miracle
  • Noble’s Whim

 

Lady Aurelia Vanquishes Royal Ascot: Twitter Reacts

 

Saratoga Alliance Puts Cuomo Racing Plan Out to Pasture

According to a coalition of Saratoga Springs racing, political and business interests, the New York Racing Association’s reprivatization options presented in a plan to Governor Andrew Cuomo have been set aside. In their place is an outline that cedes control of NYRA to the state via an executive board stacked with public appointees, and financial and operational controls spread around the state’s bureaucracy.

What was. What is.

In 2012, irregularities in takeouts of exotic wagers were the tipping point that brought NYRA into a forced partnership with the state; the governor and legislators enacted the New York State Racing Franchise Accountability and Transparency Act of 2012. Originally scheduled to return to private ownership in 2015, NYRA produced a plan the governor elected not to pursue, and instead, extended state control for one year.

Earlier this year, NYRA submitted a reorganization plan with three options for going forward:

  • An option where the board of directors was made up of private sector members
  • An option where there were four publicly appointed members of the board of directors
  • An option to extend the current status of NYRA for another year

Shhh!

In Albany, nary a peep has been said on the record about the proposed reprivatization plans. Queries to legislators in both houses confirmed they had not been apprised of the Cuomo version.

However, the Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing has been monitoring the matter. It maintains that Cuomo is seeking to hold public control of NYRA and raid NYRA’s legally designated coffers to boost the general fund.

In a statement from the Concerned Citizens, released over the signature of Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus, the leadership group made its position clear:

We are vehemently opposed to the transfer of funds legally designated via prior agreements to support our state’s Thoroughbred racing industry into the state’s general fund. This change ignores the fact that New York State was given $1 billion in real estate at NYRA’s three tracks in return for the granting of a 25-year franchise agreement and a legislatively-approved revenue sharing formula from the VLT at Aqueduct. The VLT revenues are like mortgage payments for the land.

The Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing has been able to parse out these points of the Executive Chamber’s reorganization plan:

The Governor’s proposal will:

  • Allow the Governor to appoint one-third of the members to the new NYRA board of directors or 5 of the 15 members;
  • With one member also appointed by the Senate and Assembly, there would be at least 7 of the 15 members appointed directly by our state government;
  • The Governor would also appoint the new Chair of the board of directors;
  • Transfer VLT funds away from NYRA that were previously designed for Capital improvements at Belmont, Aqueduct and the Saratoga Race Course as well as funds for NYRA operations;
  • Provide sweeping new powers to various public agencies expanding their role from oversight to protect the public good, to empowering these agencies to be able to manipulate NYRA’s budget and operations.

Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing Rejects Governor’s NYRA Re-privatization Plan

(Press Release)

The Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing rejects a re-privatization plan now being circulated by Governor Cuomo that seeks to retain public control of NYRA and to unilaterally transfer funds legally designated for our state’s Thoroughbred racing industry into the state’s general fund.

The Governor’s proposal will:

  • Allow the Governor to appoint one-third of the members to the new NYRA board of directors or 5 of the 15 members;
  • With one member also appointed by the Senate and Assembly, there would be at least 7 of the 15 members appointed directly by our state government;
  • The Governor would also appoint the new Chair of the Board of Directors;
  • Transfer VLT funds away from NYRA that were previously designed for Capital improvements at Belmont, Aqueduct and the Saratoga Race Course as well as funds for NYRA operations;
  • Provide sweeping new powers to various public agencies expanding their role from oversight to protect the public good, to empowering these agencies to be able to manipulate NYRA’s budget and operations.

Four years ago, this Governor promised to return NYRA to a not-for-profit corporation in three years. He did not keep that promise last year. This year, his plan is another means by which he is seeking to exert his control over NYRA and the future of our state’s Thoroughbred racing industry.

We are vehemently opposed to the transfer of funds legally designated via prior agreements to support our state’s Thoroughbred racing industry into the state’s general fund. This change ignores the fact that New York State was given $1 billion in real estate at NYRA’s three tracks in return for the granting of a 25-year franchise agreement and a legislatively-approved revenue sharing formula from the VLT at Aqueduct. The VLT revenues are like mortgage payments for the land. If they can change the agreement this year, they will change it next year too.

We’re seeing a renaissance of racing in Saratoga and New York State. Here in Saratoga our race meeting is one of the most successful and most popular in all of the world. The Saratoga Race Course is the oldest sporting venue in the United States and the transfer of funds away from NYRA as proposed by the Governor could harm our plans to improve this facility so that it succeeds for another 150 years.

We greatly appreciate the efforts of Saratoga’s local legislators working collaboratively with the Capital Region’s delegation and the Chairs of the Assembly and Senate Racing Committees to re-privatize NYRA as a not-for-profit corporation. They clearly want to keep this promise before the legislative session ends this June. We hope that they will provide a clean stand-alone bill for the Governor to sign.
Members of the Executive Board of the Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing include: Maureen Lewi, Chair; Todd Shimkus; Charles Wait; John Hendrickson; Matt Jones; Cindy Hollowood; and Rod Sutton.

Todd L. Shimkus, CCE
President
Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce
28 Clinton Street, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
www.saratoga.org

Footwear For a Wet Day at the Track

Make a rainy day at the track a breeze with these weatherproof and waterproof shoes. There’s a style for everyone from stiletto heeled mavens to walk-over friendly flats.

If you like to prepare ahead of time, many shoe-soles can be rubberized by a cobbler!

Aquatalia's "Harlee" weatherproof pump. $395 at Nordstrom
Aquatalia’s “Harlee” weatherproof pump. $395 at Nordstrom

 

100% waterproof Breezy Ballet from Muck Boot Company. $70 from Muck Boot. Available in solids and floral, too.
Aquatalia's "Shelby" in Bark suede, also in black calf or black suede. $495 at Zappo's.
Aquatalia’s “Shelby” in Bark suede, also in black calf or black suede. $495 at Zappo’s.
Bogs Urban Farmer Shoe. Comes in black and teal, too. $80 at Zappo's.
Bogs “Urban Farmer Shoe” in red; comes in black and teal, too. $80 at Zappo’s.

Cole Haan "Kelsey" waterproof pump. Also comes in a nude neutral. About $200 at Nordstrom.

Cole Haan “Kelsey” waterproof pump. Also comes in a nude neutral. About $200 at Nordstrom.

Muck™ Women's Muckster II Ankle Boots; $99 at Cabela's.
Muck™ Women’s Muckster II Ankle Boots; $99 at Cabela’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ADDENDUM

As suggested on Twitter, there are those who like to MacGyver their own footwear. With that in mind:

macgyver

 

 

 

 

 

ziploc

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