Wednesday Morning Line at the Breeders' Cup
Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 2:50 PM
Posted: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 4:39 AM
Lexington radio personality Tom Leach
is the "voice of the Kentucky Wildcats." He's also a big horse racing fan. If it's a Saturday in the fall, it means he's busy with college football. Kentucky plays host to the University of Georgia in Lexington at 1 o'clock.
"My two favorite words this week are 'advance wagering,'" he says from the press box between races Wednesday afternoon. "On game day, I want to stay focused on the game. I usually have all the game prep done by Friday, so Saturday is a day to go back and review and not finish up anything. I don't want to lose focus on the main job, so I'll handicap this week.
"I'll make my picks Friday and TIVO the races on Saturday and come home after the game and sit back and watch the Breeders' Cup card Saturday night; usually that's how it figures out. If I have a night game, sometimes I can see about half of the races."
Leach gets plenty of bang for his buck as a handicapper.
"My father-in-law, my uncle, my mom, and anybody else that wants to get in, we pool our money," he says. "And we usually come up with seven, eight, nine hundred dollars and I do all the picks. I just play pick threes, pick fours, trifectas and an occasional superfecta.
"We swing for the fences. My handicapping is kind of like Dave Kingman: I strike out a lot, but when I hit one, it goes a long way."
Leach will be swinging this year with Mauralakana
in the Filly & Mare Turf; Great Hunter
in the Juvenile; and Her Majesty
in the Juvenile Fillies. -E.H.
In with Woodbine Entertainment, retired Hall of Fame rider Sandy Hawley
is covering the post position draw. During breakfast, he pauses to comment on the Breeders' Cup from a former jockey's point of view.
"No matter what you're doing, it's always tremendous to attend the Breeders' Cup. I love looking at the beautiful horses that are in these races from Canada, United States, Europe, all over the world – it's just a tremendous day that I look forward to every year."
Hawley threw a leg over his share of Breeders' Cup starters through the years (10 of them in all) – including three at the inaugural Breeders' Cup in 1984.
Does he miss the excitement of riding in the races? Well, yes and no.
"You know, for a rider, it's a nervous time," he says. "It's exciting, but at the same time it's nerve-racking. Still, just to be able to participate is really a pleasure and an honor – at least, it was for me when I was riding. I'm looking back now and I'm looking at the riders around here and I'm going, 'well, it's kind of nice not to be in their shoes.' I don't miss the nervousness that goes with it, but the excitement of getting in the winner's circle, there's nothing like that."
For the Classic, Hawley likes Bernardini
"In my mind at least, he may be the biggest favorite that there's ever been for the Classic," he says. "He's been outstanding, he's done everything they've ever asked him this year, and he looks tremendous. I'm looking forward to it."
We all are. -C.N.
Rules and Regulations
Right before the draw of the Breeders' Cup races takes place on the fourth floor of the clubhouse at Churchill Downs, Lisa Underwood
surveys the scene. She's not eating breakfast from the buffet, but that's not to say she doesn't have a lot on her plate. She's the new head of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority.
In her own words, here are some of her responsibilities this week:
"We're in charge of the stewards, we have veterinarians doing leg checks, and we'll be doing TCO2 testing, EPO testing, and our regular drug testing. Since they're all graded stakes, we'll be doing TOBA testing -- the 'super' tests.
"We have our regular backside enforcement of security and the super event team -- the 'Big Event Team' will be here. They are coming in today. We also have some other vets coming in to help, so our vets can be on the frontlines.
"We're also in charge of licensing and have been working hard with all of the European trainers and staff to get all of their paperwork process."
Sounds like a lot. Are you ready?
"Yup; we're ready," she says very authoritatively. "It's going to be a great day. There are a lot of fabulous horses all here at the same place at the same time."
Since we're at the draw, I ask her for a pick. She plays it straight.
"At this point, with this job, I don't bet anymore," she says. "I used to, and loved it, but I don't do it anymore....not right now." -E.H.
Employees at Barn 44 are wrapping up their morning tasks. Each floorboard is swept bare, the shedrow raked to perfection, the surrounding asphalt hosed clean. Shrine of the master D. Wayne Lukas
' backside facility is so perfect you almost expect to see Martha Stewart step out of the well-decorated office.
"...And this morning, I'm going to show you how to hang the perfect hay net..."
Directly across the road, things are winding down at Barn 34. That's Todd Pletcher
's building, nearly a mirror image of his former employer's style.
White. Green. Spotless.
A full-page layout in Better Homes and Gardens
, complete with descriptive text, would come as no surprise.
"The brown cedar footing compliments a variety of fall foliage, including Dendranthema grandiflorum
(i.e. fall mums). With a tasteful selection of dark burgundy and sunny yellow petals, the autumn garden blends perfectly with the barn's exterior of white and hunter green..."
Lukas knows what he's doing. He is the leading Breeders' Cup trainer by money won ($19,645,520) and races won (18, the same number of horses Pletcher has pre-entered for Saturday's races). Lukas starts one, Pegasus Wind
. Pletcher, with two Breeders' Cup victories to his name, is just getting started.
They both have their act together. -C.N.
Outside trainer Dallas Stewart's barn are Ann Britt
and Stephanie Clark
. Clark bred, and owns under the nom du course
Chrysalis Stables, Turf entrant Silverfoot
"I was the first human being that saw him," Britt says matter-of-factly of the With Approval gelding. "He was born on her farm," Clark clarifies. "She raised him."
Clark is a local. Britt's farm is near in Finchville, near Shelbyville, Ky.
"He was very athletic and very easy to get along with," Britt says of Silverfoot's formative years. "And of course he was a beautiful baby."
"We were in last year," Clark says. "But I didn't get to go because I had an emergency surgery. We sent the whole clan to New York and I didn't get to go."
Silverfoot ran sixth in the Turf. This year he has one win from six starts.
"I think my horse is underrated," she says with a laugh.
As a Louisvillian, Clark thinks the Breeders' Cup should always be in Kentucky. "To have it in Kentucky is the most thrilling thing. It is apropos to have it where they're born, where everything started."
Silverfoot won the Louisville Handicap (gr. IIIT) here in late May. In all, he's made four starts over the Churchill turf course and has won them all.
They've Got Youth On Their Side
17-year-old jockey David Borque
, Churchill's newest bug boy, heads for the warmth of his agent's car. They've been out hustling mounts, which isn't easy to do on Breeders' Cup weekend, especially with all the big-name riders shipping into town.
But Borque's agent isn't concerned. So Mecus Guidry
is all of 18 years old. With jockey Mark Guidry
for a father and an older brother (Chicago agent Marcus
) already in the business, the former "track brat" has been around.
He knows the drill.
"I wanted to be a jockey my whole life, until I was about 14 and I got too big," Borque says. "Ever since then, I've set my sights on hustlin' book."
The decision wasn't Mark Guidry's preference – he had college in mind – but he supports his son's decision, because he knows this game is in his blood. After all, he's living his dream, and will be aboard Lemons Forever
, among others, this Saturday.
The boys get frequent double-takes when they walk by, they look so young, but most trainers don't mind seeing some fresh young faces among the grizzled agent ranks.
"I think it throws 'em for a loop, seeing how young we are," Borque says. "But it's workin' out perfect, our business looks really good."
This morning, the bug boy and his bug agent are enjoying the Breeders' Cup experience and excited about their future.
just walked right by us," Guidry says. "To be around all these horses – just world-class Thoroughbreds – it's amazing."
"Yeah, it feels good to be out here," Borque says. "Really good."
Couldn't have said it better myself. -C.N.
Clicking with John McCririck
What's the Breeders' Cup without British race pundit John McCririck
The eccentric prognosticator is leaning against the fence on the backstretch watching horses gallop past the Twin Spires. As always, he has an opinion about the European runners.
is one of the great race horses of all-time, "he boasts. "But
anything that can go wrong, will likely go wrong, from the (post) parade, from the starting stalls, the ground, everything
. He's never been 10 furlongs before. But he is an outstanding horse.
"I'd love Ouija Board
to win again," he says. "I'd really love for the old girl to retain her title."
Ouija Board won the Filly & Mare Turf in 2004 and ran second in 2005. Since last year's race at Belmont Park, she raced in group I competition in Japan, Hong Kong, Dubai, England, and Ireland.
She is truly a world-class phenomenon. McCririck isn't the only one that will be rooting for her.
There are plenty "on board." -E.H.
Head of the Class
The main track is open. It has stopped raining...for now. Watching the horses gallop by outside the media center are the entire 11-member class of the North American Riding Academy
. Their headmaster, Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron
, is showing them around.
As good jockeys should, the students are in the right "silks," wearing the their long sleeve, light blue "NARA" T-shirts.
McCarron's inaugural class is based in Lexington, and they've shipped to Louisville for the field trip.
"We got lucky; there was a little accident on the way to school," McCarron says. "I impressed upon them last night that, if they got to the barn at 6:01, the bus would have left. Three young ladies that live together ended up in a ditch on Newtown Pike. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it delayed us in getting here.
"It's a good opportunity for them to come out and see the cream of the cream before the big event on Saturday," he says.
They should listen up. McCarron knows his dairy products. The last time he rode in the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs, he won the Classic on Tiznow
in 2000. -E.H.
The track is now closed for the renovation break. Willis
and Glenda Horton
walk out of the Breeders' Cup racing office trailer by the gap on the backside. They're picking up their tickets and other assorted goodies.
Here in May, they picked up a much bigger prize. They own Lemons Forever
, who came from last to first to win the Kentucky Oaks as a 47-1 shot.
"That's the biggest thing we've ever won," Willis says in his Arkansas drawl. "We were all real enthused
Since the Oaks, their 3-year-old filly has run in four grade I races in New York and at Keeneland. She was a closing fifth in the Spinster last time out.
A prediction for Saturday?
"She's gonna win," Willis says with confidence.-E.H.
Announcing Travis Stone
Louisiana Downs track announcer Travis Stone
stands under an awning, trying to keep dry while he tracks down a friend. It's his first time at Churchill Downs, and he's still figuring out the lay of the land.
"What's Andy Leggio's
barn number?" he says. "45? Where's that?"
On Friday, Stone will be part of Churchill's All Star Announcers Day
, when callers from across the country share the duties of the 11-race card. With seasoned veterans like Turfway Park's Mike Battaglia
, Arlington Park and Fair Grounds' John Dooley
, Stone is in good company. Not bad for a guy who took his first official announcing job – the Louisiana Downs position – just six months ago.
A New York native, Stone is adjusting to the southern way of life.
"It's nice," he says, "great people down there. It's definitely a different culture, but we had a great Super Derby, a great meet. I think I was pretty well-received, and that's what I said at the beginning – I just want to make sure everybody enjoys my calls, is happy with my calls, and we'll go from there. Well, they said I could come back next year, so that's one year down. You have to build a foundation, I guess."
Looks like he's made a clean break from the starting gate. -C.N.
New Sheriffs in Town
Tan cars and SUVs emblazoned with "Jefferson County Sherrif" logos cruise the backstretch. As for the Derby, the crews are on the beat 24 hours a day during event week.
At the Derby, each starter is assigned an officer. That's not going to happen for the eight-race Breeders' Cup, but there is an officer for each barn a Breeders' Cup horse is in. There are 10-12 officers on the beat at this moment.
An officer, who tells us he can't do personal interviews, sits in his parked cruiser outside Barn 17. He did tell us he was assigned to trainer John Shirreffs
two years ago.
"We're here for personal security," he says. "Regular track security will also be here."
The crews are on duty at the request of Churchill Downs' head of security.
On event day, the officer will be on patrol in plainclothes on the front side of Churchill Downs, prowling for scalpers, underage drinkers, and the like. -E.H.
Let Me Run!
At the gap near the press center, the clockers' stand is full – but only two or three actual clockers are present. Horsemen, reporters, and photographers huddle under the sheltering roof as the rain patters down. Traffic on the track is brisk in spite of the weather. It's a grey day, but color abounds on the turns and in the stretch.
A red flack jacket with "JUAN" cut boldly into the leather. A helmet with a pink pom-pom. A neon orange saddle towel.
Across the track on the frontside, where yellow rain slickers seem to levitate along the rail, Distaff contender Baghdaria
skitters through the mud. By the time she reaches the turn she is reaching, head high, so that her exercise rider has to take back.
She fights the throttling hold; let me run!
. An assistant trainer on a stable pony comes to the rider's rescue. They run on past. -C.N.
In the distance, church bells chime; it straight up seven o'clock. It begins to sprinkle at Churchill Downs...then the rain picks up a bit. It's amazing that a little rain seems to make the temperature drop. After a pair of nice warm days, it's cool in the 'Ville.
Fall in Kentucky is a little different than fall in Southern California. Just ask Aimee Dollase
. Her father, trainer Wally
, moved the base of his operation here from sunny L.A. last year. She's now based here for seven months before warming her bones in California in the deep of winter.
"I enjoy it, it's nice," she says of her new Kentucky home. "The racing's good. The pace is a little different.
"It's nice to see the crowd and stuff at Keeneland and Churchill. It's a different feel. It's a nice place to live and the horses seem to enjoy it."
Aimee's brother Craig
, who trains in Southern California, has three Breeders' Cup runners. He has Oak Leaf (gr. I) winner Cash Included
for the Juvenile Fillies; Dancing Edie
entered for the Filly & Mare Turf; and Courtnall
is pre-entered in the Mile.Sergio Martin
hits the wet track aboard Dancing Edie. They splash by, out for a little jog, maybe a gallop.
"Hopefully the fillies will do well for Craig," Aimee says. "He did well here in '98."
Craig sent out Reraise to win the Sprint under the Twin Spires in 1998.
"It's always fun," Aimee says of the Breeders' Cup. "The whole city here celebrates it. In California, people don't even know what it is. It's kind of neat that way. It makes it exciting for everybody. It changes the pace a little bit." -E.H.
Aaaaaand They're Off!
Tuesday evening, 6:30 p.m.
Back at home, my 7-year-old daughter and four of her friends break from the gate Trick or Treating in the neighborhood. There are plenty of Breeders' Cup analogies.
The first 10 minutes is a pure version of the TVG Sprint
as they hit the mean streets of Versailles. Soon it turns into the Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf
, as the four girls, ages six to nine, skip across the grass courses of the neighbors in a full out drive to hit the next doorbell first.
All in all, they cover at least a NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile
while being burdened with an increasing scale of weight. The finish in many ways is like the 12-furlong John Deere Turf
, with several straggling behind as they make the last bend into the stretch for home.
Neighbor Terry Burns
is as strong as Laffit Pincay Jr.
in carrying his youngest daughter across the wire.
This year's event was certainly a Classic - Powered by Reese's
Sports Capitol of the World
Not only is Churchill Downs the home of the 2006 Breeder's Cup World Championships, but two of the top 10 college football teams - the Louisville Cardinals and the West Virginia Mountaineers - will do battle Thursday night under the lights at nearby Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
That's a big-time daily double for ESPN and the Falls City.
With a captive media audience, everybody's getting in on the act.
Now comes an official e-mail from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It's from Chris Gilligan
, the executive director for communications for the Kentucky Commerce Cabinet.
It tells us about an ad campaign dubbed "Now You Know" and reminds us of all the things to come to the state in the next five years. Things like the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park, the 2008 Ryder Cup, this year's Breeders' Cup - with the potential for another - five Kentucky Derbys, five Rolex Three-Day Events, and five Ford Ironman Triathlons.
For the foreseeable future, Kentucky is the horse "sports capitol of the world." -E.H.
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