Tom LaMarra accepts the Old Hilltop Award.

Tom LaMarra accepts the Old Hilltop Award.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Alibi Breakfast a Little Something for All

Annual breakfast featured gathering of media and Preakness connections at Pimlico.

The 2011 Alibi Breakfast at Pimlico Race Course—held annually two days before the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) to honor media and others that have made contributions to Maryland Thoroughbred racing, and which also features interviews with the connections of upcoming Preakness starters —had a little bit of everything, including laughter and tears.

Scott Garceau and Keith Mills were master of ceremonies at the May 19 event, while Maryland Jockey Club president and chief operating officer Tom Chuckas made opening remarks.

Those honored at the breakfast were state of Maryland chief legislative officer Joseph C. Bryce (Special Award of Merit); Los Angeles Times writer Bill Dwyre (David F. Woods Memorial Award); Blood-Horse news editor Tom LaMarra and Daily Racing Form photographer Barbara Livingston (Old Hilltop Award); and The Associated Press photographer Mike Stewart (Jerry Frutkoff Preakness Photography Award, sponsored by Nikon). The honorary postmaster went to the "Lady Legends," a group of eight retired female riders who came out of retirement  to participate in a race on Black-Eyed Susan day in 2010.
The Alibi Breakfast began in the 1930s and was officially named about a decade later.
Though the awards (and the food) are a big part of the morning, many come to the breakfast in hopes of soliciting race predictions from the Preakness connections. This year, local connections were a big part of the program.
Astrology  co-owner George Bolton, a Maryland native, jumpstarted the question-and-answer portion. In addition to honoring the memory of the recently deceased Jess Jackson, whose Stonestreet Stables also co-owns Astrology, he hinted his horse would give a nice showing of himself—or at least he hopes for that.
“I don’t know if he was lying to me or not, but (assistant trainer) Scott (Blasi) said he was going to run pretty good,” Bolton said with a laugh.
Other local connections to speak were Chris Grove, trainer of Norman Asbjornson, and Sheldon Russell, Pimlico’s leading rider who will be aboard longshot Concealed Identity. Grove, a Maryland native who grew up about 40 miles from Pimlico, will saddle his first horse in the Preakness.
“I’m very excited. Hopefully I can make everyone proud,” Grove said.
The man that Grove’s charge is named for, Norman Asbjornson, came in from Montana for the event and spoke briefly. Asbjornson is a prominent businessman and philanthropist.
Russell, an English native, will ride for 80-year-old local trainer Eddie Gaudet and his wife, co-owner Linda Gaudet. Russell is currently dating the Gaudet's daughter.
“Sometimes it is kind of awkward,” Russell quipped when pressed.
Mike Masiello and Kathy Ritvo provided the most sentimental moments of the morning. Masiello, a partner in West Point Thoroughbreds, spoke about the namesake of Preakness starter King Congie. The colt was named after a former West Point employee, Congie DeVito, a lifelong paraplegic who recently passed away.
“He was an outspoken, wonderful personality, and just a great story,” said Masiello, who fought back tears during his speech. “I’m so proud to be part of this horse. It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me—except marrying my wife, of course.
“We have an angel helping us (in the Preakness).”
Ritvo’s story is well-known by now. The trainer of Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) third-place finisher Mucho Macho Man , Ritvo underwent a successful heart transplant back in 2008.
“It made me appreciate every day,” Ritvo said. “I don’t believe anyone will enjoy this experience as much as I will.”
As always, trainer Bob Baffert was good for a few laughs. The five-time Preakness-winning trainer will saddle Midnight Interlude, who was a disappointing 16th in the Derby.
“It’s good to be back eating chicken for breakfast; I do once a year,” said Baffert, referring to the traditional fried chicken served at the Alibi Breakfast. “I have to find out how they make that stuff.
“Hopefully (Midnight Interlude) will make up for his dismal (Derby) performance and run a little bit better. As someone said to me, ‘He had a lot of gun but no powder.' ”