Our Horse, Actually
5:25 p.m.At the rail before the Classic, I am standing next to Barry (last name ungained due to extreme excitement later). Turns out we met in Saratoga, although I can't remember when or where. We strike up a conversation with the typical ice-breaker – "Who do you like?"I like Bernardini. Barry likes Invasor. He thinks the horse is on the muscle, ready to go. Barry should know. He's Invasor's exercise rider, and he's here to watch the horse along with several grooms and assistants."If Bernardini can't win, I hope your horse does," I say.Less than 10minutes later, I am engulfed in a giant mass of jumping, shouting, crying horsemen."Thank you! Thank you!" Barry screams in my ear.Why he is thanking me, I have no clue. It doesn't really matter.If I had to watch Bernardini get beat, this was the way to go. -C.N.
4:50 p.m.Irish-bred Red Rocks wins the Turf, just a half-length over Better Talk Now, who is closing at the end but can't catch the winner. Jockey Frankie Dettori stands in the irons and gallops out, roaring, pumping his fist and waving his stick. In the winners' circle, he performs his classic "flying dismount." He is full of raw, unbridled enthusiasm.Gotta love it.-C.N.
The Low Side4:21 p.m.On the far turn in the Distaff, something goes wrong. Jose Santos takes Fleet Indian wide, allowing her to drift off to the outside fence, before he pulls up completely. The filly's left front is injured. Also on the turn, Javier Castellano is thrown as Pine Island fractures her right front and goes down.Edgar Prado, driving for the finish aboard Round Pond, is completely unaware of the tragic scene developing behind him – but by the time he leaves the winners' circle to return to the jockeys' room, he has heard of both breakdowns and is asking about Castellano's condition.The jockey is fine; he will still ride in the Classic. Fleet Indian will require surgery; will go on to retire as a broodmare. Pine Island is injured beyond repair; she will rest in peace.In this game, the highs are unbelievably intense – but so are the lows.
Bug Boys Take Notice
3:20 p.m.Jockey Eddie Castro had two shots at winning a race while participating in the Breeders' Cup for the first time, and his initial attempt didn't pan out so well. After riding Pomeroy to a disappointing ninth-place finish for trainer Martin Wolfson in the Sprint, Castro tried again in the Mile. The result was a masterful ride, a move to the outside, and a driving finish from Miesque's Approval, who won for Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Plantation. 22-year-old Castro received an Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding apprentice in 2003. He earned that honor while riding in Florida at tracks like Calder and Gulfstream Park, and later moved his tack to New Jersey. Now, just three years later, he's riding in the "big time." "He's very relaxed on a horse, he's almost part of a horse, and ever since the last two years he's ridden every major race for me," Wolfson told reporters after winning the Sprint. "He never really makes any mistakes and if he does make a mistake he'll tell me. He's pretty flawless in every race he rides."Bug boys take notice – this could be you. C.N.
Three in a Row
3:05 p.m.Remember our best bet of the day? Street Sense wins the Juvenile.Remember Hammonds' e-ticket? Ouija Board takes the Filly and Mare Turf.Remember the 11:17 entry, "Subtle Premonition?" Doug O' Neill trainee Thor's Echo sneaks through on the rail to win the Sprint.We're sensing a pattern here... C.N.
12:40 a.m.The Juvenile Fillies is in the history books. A win for Wayne Catalano, the hard-knocking Cajun trainer, and for owner Frank Calabrese, who is celebrating a birthday and crying tears of joy. Billy Rapaport, Field Producer for ESPN, is directing traffic as Dreaming of Anna heads for the winners' circle. Every step is pre-announced, shouted, executed."We're going to bring the horse in!" And there the horse is."Take a little turn, a little turn..." it's done."Sir, please step over for the trophy presentation." Trophy is hoisted high."Clear the path, please, let these people through!" The red sea parts.No one is kicked, stepped on, trampled, or otherwise injured. All cameras remain intact. The owners are happy. Rapaport breathes a sigh of relief. Scene one. It's a wrap. C.N.
11:17 a.m.The opener, the Emirates Airline's Very Subtle Stakes, is won by the Doug O'Neill-trained Maryfield, ridden by jockey Patrick Valenzuela. California connections. The filly scoots through on the rail and gets an early advantage. Hints of things to come? -C.N.
11:10 a.m.Tony Millan, valet for jockey John Velazquez, is standing in the paddock before the first race. Here from New York on a last-minute whim, Millan is enjoying the scene and contemplating his predictions for the Classic."It's hard to go against Bernardini," he says. "But I wouldn't mind if Flower Alley got up there in the final strides and nabbed him."That figures. Flower Alley will be ridden by the boss. -C.N.
9:40 a.m.The Blood-Horse has a crew of 23 on their photo "team" for the Breeders' Cup. Chief photographer Anne Eberhardt Keogh does a fantastic job of organizing big event teams. The team is assembling in the Paddock Pavilion and getting their last-minute assignments.Anne has a special assistant today.Michelle LeBlanc...that would be Dr. Michelle LeBlanc dons a purple Breeders' Cup photographer's bib over her sweater. Leblanc is one of the premier veterinarian reproduction specialists and theriogenologists in the world. Today, she's not working for Rood and Riddle. She's a "runner.""The photography, all the behind-the-scenes work that goes on fascinates me," she says. "I think Anne is an incredible photographer and I want to see what a day in her life is like."Today is no ordinary day."Photography is art," LeBlanc says. "There is so much feeling. There is a bit of a soul in it." -E.H.
An Equine God!
9:25 a.m.Jon White has seen a lot Thoroughbred race horses in his time. As a writer, a steward, and now as an analyst for HRTV. He's been in town for a couple of days and he's really excited about this afternoon's races; the Classic in particular. Earlier in the week, he saw the "big horse." Bernardini. He had some high praise for the favorite."I was standing next to Jerry Moss when he came on the track Thursday morning," White weaves his story. "We were chatting and someone pointed out Bernardini was jogging by, and we looked and simultaneously, two jaws dropped. "I see a lot of Seattle Slew in him, which comes from the
9:10 a.m.The gates are unlatched at Churchill Downs and the early birds pour in through Gate 10 to claim their spots. The paddock is bathed in sunlight and the sun glints off the huge Breeders' Cup statue in the middle.Horse racing fan Mike Downey snaps a photo of his wife, Joan, in front of the statue. They live in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and they're taking in their first Breeders' Cup and their first visit to Churchill Downs. While the Downs is impressive, Mike tells me "it's no Saratoga."We can't argue with him. We can't argue with him on his "pick of the day" either."It's the gimme in the last race," he says of even-money morning line favorite Bernardini. "He had some walk-offs this summer at Saratoga." -E.H.
8:20 a.m.Flower Alley stands outside of trainer Todd Pletcher's barn, head drooping, as a farrier taps racing plates onto his left hind. His eyes are at half-mast, lidded by drooping lashes while he dozes in the morning sun. I ask assistant Mike McCarthy if he feels any pre-race jitters. He laughs."We're not nervous, we're too busy to get nervous," he says. -C.N.
8:00 a.m.Jockey Kent Desormeaux saunters through the Press Center, coffee in hand. Sharply dressed in a long black coat and starched shirt, he would fit right in with ESPN's tailored racing analysts during this afternoon's seven-hour broadcast. Still, Desormeaux belongs in the saddle. While the analysts are evaluating horses, he'll be riding – Stormello in the Juvenile and Suave in the Classic. He likes it that way."This is why jockeys do what we do every day, to get to ride the kind of horses that end up here," he says. "I'm very appreciative to be a part of the big show. I wish we did this every month, where we see the best this game has to offer." Today the jockey's odds are high, but it doesn't matter. There's always a chance, and a heck of a lot of memories paving the road that brought him to this day."It's not just a minute and fifty seconds, it's all about how you accomplished even being here this afternoon," he says. "It's all about the memories." -C.N.
The Show Must Go On
7:50 a.m.Trainer Bob Baffert is standing just inside of Barn 32, speaking to his grooms and watching horses walk the shedrow. Usually surrounded by a throng of reporters, he is alone this morning.Does this bother him, since he has a reputation for being somewhat of a showman when it comes to relating to the media? He says it's not a bad thing."People misinterpret having fun for being 'showy,'" he says. "I just like to have fun, and we're still having fun. But nobody knows we're having fun, and that's the only difference."Baffert will start 30-1 shot Malt Magic in the Juvenile, then saddles Too Much Bling in the Sprint. Even though he doesn't have a contender in the Classic and doesn't mention his favorite, he's looking forward to the big race."It's not really the West Coast versus the East Coast," he says. "It's all these good horses finally hooking up together. And they're all good horses, it's just a matter of which ones are tailing off and which ones are still strong. Today we find out who's the champion."For him, the relatively low-pressure afternoon will be a breeze. "It's all practically over," the trainer says. "Now it's just a matter of waiting, going back, and seeing if I can get my wife to iron my shirt."Even with an audience of one, Baffert's show goes on. -C.N.
Tips, Lukewarm and Otherwise
7:45 a.m.Jockey James Graham has plenty of hot tips for anyone who will listen. Unfortunately, they don't have anything to do with the Breeders' Cup. Standing outside of the Press Center, he shares his strategies for living a successful life."Hot tips? Don't go out in the rain without an umbrella, and plant your cabbages in spring," he says.Graham is relaxed; he is not riding this afternoon and doesn't have to worry about strategy and handicapping. And even though he's looked at all of the Breeders' Cup races like any good horseman would, he still can't – or won't – divulge any hot tips."I don't know, there's too many good horses," he says. "You can't just single out one, because if you do he's probably going to get beat anyway. I'll tell you who I do like, though. I like Aussie Rules [in the Mile], because he was impressive at Keeneland and he won the French 2000 Guineas, which is actually a pretty stiff race. But the only problem is, he's only a 3-year-old. Other than him and Gorella, that's it."One last question from the reporter – "Can I catch you later for a separate interview?""Only if you can run fast enough," is Graham's reply. -C.N.
Got the Horse Right Here7:30 a.m.Five hours until the running of the first Breeders' Cup race – the Juvenile Fillies. Anticipation is mounting. By this evening, the puzzle will be complete.An exercise rider scoots by on a rambunctious filly."Street Sense is the best bet of the day!" he yells. "I'll see you tomorrow and you'll say, 'Oh, thank you, I won, I won, I won!'"Everybody has a favorite. Trying to pick a winner? Now that's the real challenge. C.N.
Horses of a Lifetime
7:15 a.m.Trainer H. Graham Motion is watching as a groom saddles Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf contender Film Maker for a race-day jog. Motion is reflective at this early hour; he is remembering the highlights of the 6-year-old mare's career, knowing this Breeders' Cup – her third – will also be her last."I was very lucky to train her this year," he says. "Mr. (Don) Adam considered selling her last year, we kind of contemplated it, but felt like she was doing great, so why not give her another year? I'm lucky he made that decision."Film Maker, Motion says, is a straightforward performer with experience on her side. She's started 26 times in her career. She finished second in the 2004 Filly and Mare Turf, was third in last year's running. From 10 different tracks under 11 different jockeys – Belmont to Pimlico, Arlington Park, to Lone Star – she knows what it's all about."To me she's very willing, she's always been very willing," he says. "I think she's only run two poor races in her life, and I'm sure there were legitimate reasons when she did that. She's just one of the ones that always goes out there and runs hard."Motion also saddles Better Talk Now in the John Deere Turf. The hard-knocking gelding, winner of the race in 2004, is also making his third start after finishing seventh in last year's running. "Running the two same horses in the Breeders' Cup for three consecutive years has been amazing," he says. "With Better Talk Now, it's hard to believe he's coming back as an eight year old; I mean, you know, if he's good enough, he'll be back."Regardless of what happens this afternoon, it's been a remarkable ride."It's going to leave a huge hole in my operation when they leave," Motion says.He smiles."I try not to think about it too much, I get too emotional. These are both horses of a lifetime." -C.N.
Online, the Breeders' Cup and the NTRA have teamed with Earthlink to offer the "$1-Million Pick 8 Challenge." I'll share my e-ticket. If you plan on taking any of these "singles" to the windows...be sure to back them up:Juvenile Fillies: Cash Included
Filly & Mare Turf: Ouija Board
Sprint: Too Much Bling
Distaff: Pine Island
Classic: Lava Man
Breeders' Cup MemoriesThe Oct. 28 edition of The Blood-Horse--the Breeders' Cup Preview issue--featured "Memorable Moments" of the biggest day in racing. It's also a feature that has been running on the Web site throughout the last week.The Morning Line has a few memorable moments stashed away. Claire Novak's "moment" took place at Belmont Park in 2001: Unbridled Elaine swinging to the outside after taking up in traffic during the 2001 Distaff; rocking, driving, stretching, slicing into Spain's game lead and battling with every ounce of her imposing grey frame as they skimmed down to the wire.It was one of those moments where viewers could say, without hesitation, "Now that was a horse race!" My personal "moment" also came at Belmont Park, but in 1990:Go for Wand breaking down at the sixteenth pole in the Distaff was, without hesitation, the most horrific thing I've ever seen in racing. The Belmont grandstand, that was once shaking to the foundation as she and Bayakoa dueled in the stretch, was quickly filled with tears. We all shared a sickening feeling of helplessness and despair. Less than 30 minutes, the show still going on, our spirit was resurrected. An entire sport was lifted off the floor and dusted off by racing legend Lester Piggott as he swung Royal Academy wide in the stretch of the Mile and roared to the finish to pip Itsallgreektome in an epic finish.That one legendary stretch run -- a 20 second burst -- delivered by a legendary rider, carried us through. -E.H.