One Little Push
12:10 p.m.The great Laffit Pincay Jr., now retired but still the world's all-time leading jockey (and winner of eight Breeders' Cup races), is at Churchill Downs to introduce the nominees for the Race Track Chaplaincy's White Horse Award. Before he performs his duties, he pauses to remember a moment of divine intervention."I always prayed before the races," he says. "I asked God to keep me safe, and I was happy that I could always come home to my family. But I remember this day I won the Kentucky Derby on Swale . I was praying and I said..."God, if you're up there looking at me, please do me a favor. I never asked you to win, but today, I'd appreciate if you'd give me a little push.Over the years, multiple jockeys have followed Pincay's example in style, technique, and professionalism.
Attending the luncheon this afternoon: John Velazquez, Edgar Prado, and Javier Castellano. If more than one of them recites Pincay's prayer, we may be looking at a few dead heats on Saturday. -C.N.
11:20 p.m.At a press conference of trainers, the man of the week, Todd Pletcher is asked about his 200-horse stable and how he manages it. For one, he's more than what you would say is "very organized."His relationship with his clients is also a key to his success.While any trainer is under pressure to win races, Pletcher has other pressures and concerns. Time management has to be one. Another, he says, is not what you'd think you'd hear from a trainer: technology:"It's just the communications process has changed so much," he says. "There are times now when the clockers are posting workout times on the Internet as they're happening. And I've got owners that are calling me at 8:30 wanting to know how their horse worked."It's a different information age. Everybody wants to know what's going on. It creates a lot more responsibility in terms of the communication part of my job." -E.H.
11:15 a.m.Aidan O'Brien makes his fashion statement. Stepping up to take part in a press conference to discuss his runners, the trainer turns to show the back of his dark blue jacket. White script spells out "Georgous George" for Coolmore's Classic runner George Washington.In 2000 it was the "Iron Horse" campaign for Giant's Causeway . Two years later they made a splash with the red jackets with "The Rock" on it representing
10:50 a.m.Trainers Todd Pletcher and Doug O'Neill share the podium during a press conference in the Paddock Pavilion just off the paddock. Pletcher, who will send out a record 17 horses in Saturday's Breeders' Cup World Championships is asked a question about if other trainers have shown him any signs of jealousy. "Jealousy? On the racetrack?" he says. It draws some laughter.O'Neill says, "Well, I think you're a piece of crap." More laughter."This is a sound-proof room, right?" O'Neill asks.O'Neill notes that when one trainer says "good luck today" to another trainer, what he means is "I hope you run up the track." "I have a client who has a good way of putting it," Pletcher says. "When some one says that, he says 'I wish you the same.'" -E.H.
9:00 a.m.Part of trainer Wayne Catalano's crew is Gisele Durham and Catalano's brother-in-law Leon Slomkowski. They were with the "Cat Man" at Lone Star Park in 2004 with Distaff runner Tamwell. This year, they're tending to Dreaming of Anna for the Juvenile Fillies and Lewis Michael in the Sprint.They haven't been along for the entire ride. They took some time away from the horses and stayed in Detroit, Slomkowski's hometown.There, they worked as ushers at Joe Lewis Arena for the Detroit Red Wings and at Comerica Park with the Detroit Tigers. Even though they were in first place in the American League Central, Slomkowski and Durham ditched the Tigers in their stretch run to work the Keeneland September yearling sale for Taylor Made Sales Agency. "We were just going to take six days off...and we never returned," Slomkowski says. "During the sale, Wayne called us and wanted us to go to work."The Tigers had a fantastic finish to their season, beating the New York Yankees and Oakland A's on their way to the World Series."I had the choice; the Breeders' Cup or the World Series," Slomkowski says. "I chose the Breeders' Cup."Wise choice. The Tigers lost the Series to the Saint Louis Cardinals in five games. -E.H.
8:50 a.m. Trainer H. Graham Motion stables his horses in barn 28, directly underneath the office that has been commandeered by the Morning Line. It's a quick flight of stairs and two left turns into Motion's shedrow – an extremely convenient interview.Motion has Better Talk Now in the Turf for the second time (the horse won the 2004 running of the race at odds of 27-1) and Film Maker in the Filly & Mare Turf. This is the 42-year-old trainer's third time to start both horses in the Breeders' Cup."I think making it to the Breeders' Cup is something you always want to do as a trainer, but you have to strive to do it, you don't expect to do it," he says. "We hoped at the beginning of the year that we would get here, but in this game you don't necessarily expect it to happen. I'm just really lucky to have these two horses, to have them still and belong here at this moment."He speaks for each trainer – and every owner – with a contender in the Breeders' Cup this weekend. -C.N.
Doing the Right Thing
8:25 a.m.Jockey Jesus Castanon won't be in town for the Breeders' Cup. He's heading to Mexico for a weekend vacation, to visit his family where it's warm. He will, however, watch the races and root for his favorites.In the Classic? That would be Bernardini."Lava Man, he's good, but Bernardini is the one to beat," he says. "The jocks know that Bernardini is a tough horse, they all want to put their eyes on that horse. He's unbelievable. No matter who he runs against, he just goes and shows that he's the best.
"As a jockey, I guess everybody is hoping they can find the same thing, and I'm glad that (Javier) Castellano found it. As a young kid, he's doing the right thing."On Saturday, that might just mean letting the big horse do his thing. -C.N.
8:20 a.m.Trainer Todd Pletcher is in Barn 34. Doug O'Neill is across the aisleway in Barn 36. In between there is little room for horses; it's filled with the media horde.Most eyes...and plenty of cameras are on Pletcher as he and his exercise rider – retired Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr. --head to the track on horseback.O'Neill has a circle of reporters around him. He's discussing his Lava Man and his chances against Bernardini in the Classic. Lava Man has drawn to the outside, which O'Neill likes."You're able to put the pressure on, instead of having the pressure put on you," he says of being further off the rail at the break. "Lava Man was a horse, early on, that was a lot more impressive putting pressure on than being pressured. But this year, he's had it put on him and he's really responded."The conversation turns to the jockeys: Corey Nakatani on Lava Man; Javier Castellano aboard Bernardini."Any two-turn race is a jockey's race," O'Neill says. "In sprints, you can get away with someone burying their head in the mane and going on with it, but when you go two turns and you have save a horse around that first turn and get position, it's always a jockey's race. "Then you add a five-million dollar purse...you find out who has the ice in their veins and who is the 'Nervous Nellie.'"That's cool.-E.H.
Horsepower, meet Horse Power...
7:30 a.m.The sponsors are in town. Overnight, three John Deere tractors and a matching green "Gator" appeared on the backside near the press center. Across the way, five brand-new Dodge trucks sparkle in the morning sun. The salesman is wiping dew off the gleaming metal.Nearby, two grooms hose down a prancing Thoroughbred. The colt shies at the hose and skitters backwards across the gravel, hooves scraping, muscles rolling. When he shakes his head, water droplets glint through the crisp air and catch on the crest of his slick black mane like diamond facets on a velvet dress.He is steaming, shimmering... stunning. -C.N.
7:25 a.m.Louisville mayor Jerry Abramson is working the backstretch. His hands are stuffed into the pockets of a purple satin baseball jacket. He looks very "Breeders' Cup.""It's exciting," he says of the Breeders' Cup. "It's been too long since it's been here. It's been six years. We're working with Churchill Downs and they're going to be making a proposal. We'd like to see it return here every other year. We'd like to get a long-term contract. "It means about $30 million to the community. It fits in with all the other athletic activities in the community. Once again I think we'll have, if not the largest turnout, one of the top two or three."Tonight, the University of Louisville Cardinals football team, ranked No. 5 in the nation, tangles with West Virginia Mountaineers, ranked No. 3. The game is at Papa John Cardinal Stadium across Central Avenue from Churchill Downs.Handicap the game for us, Mr. Abramson."The Cardinals by a touchdown...maybe 10 points," the mayor says. It's the popular choice. -E.H.
Magic in the Air
7:10 a.m.Exercise rider Jody Giorgo is chatting, rather loudly, on his cell phone. He has three carrots hanging out of his back pocket."It's freezing, it's got to be 40 degrees," he says. Actually, the reports this morning suggest its 30."It's 30 degrees, see, I'm 10 degrees off...but there's magic in the air!"On the other end of Giorgo's phone is Karla Wolfson, wife of trainer Marty who will send out Pomeroy in the Sprint and Miesque's Approval in the Mile."She's sweating down at Calder," Giorgio says. Marty will arrive at Churchill Downs tomorrow; Karla on Saturday. I hope Giorgio tells them to bring a sweater. -E.H.
7:00 a.m.Four gentlemen in a Chrysler PT Cruiser inch up and park to the left of the entrance to Barn 48, the quarantine barn at Churchill Downs.One of the men from the backseat gets out and ambles toward the gate. A few reporter types are hanging around."I'm Lester Piggott...anybody want to interview me?"We pass.We do, however grab a handy sheet printed up by Alistair Donald of the IRB that lists the European horses and their plans for the day. Out on the turf at 9:30 this morning should be: Araafa, Ouija Board, Rob Roy, and Sleeping Indian.Araafa's trainer, Jeremy Noseda heads across the backstretch to the kitchen in search of coffee. After chatting with trainer Bobby Frankel's assistant Jose Cuevas, he confirms his colt's plans for the morning. -E.H.
Wednesday eveningEven though he remains in rehab at the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania, Barbaro, the star-crossed winner of the Kentucky Derby in May at Churchill Downs takes centerstage at the National Turf Writers Association's dinner at the Olmstead on Frankfort Avenue.Celebrating it's 47th renewal, the award's program has become found a home on the Wednesday evening during the weekly run-up to the Breeders' Cup."Team Barbaro," consisting of the 3-year-old colt himself, breeder/owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson, jockey Edgar Prado, and trainer
Charity Event Features Alison KraussThe Breeders; Cup Charity Celebration Friday night features multiple Grammy Award winner Alison Krauss and Union Station. The event in takes place in Louisville at a venue called the The Henry Clay.The evening includes a tribute to D.G. Van Clief Jr., who is retiring as commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and president of Breeders' Cup Ltd. Van Clief will be missed by members of the Turf writing-media for his availability, access, and candor during his reign at the top.Tickest to the event cost $500, but it goes to a worthy cause. It benefits both the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and the Home of the Innocents. For art lovers, the official painting of the 2006 Breeders' Cup, "Going to the Post" by Booth Malone, will be auctioned off. It can be viewed downtown at the Breeders' Cup hospitality room in the Camberly Brown Hotel.For more info, call 502-736-3201.