Views to a Thrill
10:45 a.m.It's 35 minutes to the first post, but there's already a scrum going on down at the finish line. All of the credentialed photographers are there, receiving their locations to shoot tomorrow's races. A strip of duct tape is placed on the outside rail with their name or affiliation written on in black magic marker. It's their views to the thrill.There are a lot of photographers and only so much real estate around the finish line. You know what they say about real estate. Not everybody is happy with their locations.Trevor Jones takes it all in stride. The English photographer provides outstanding images to The Blood-Horse of European racing, but he's here at Churchill Downs on behalf of his company, Thoroughbred Photography. His biggest concerned is the light. Post time for the Classic tomorrow is 5:20 p.m. With the loss of Daylight Saving Time, sunset is about 5:40. If there is sun, the shadows will be long by that hour. If it's overcast, it'll be dark.It's not the kind of mood lighting he's looking for. -E.H.
10:30 a.m.Sam Sheppard is carrying three purple "Breeders' Cup" bags through the backstretch. "I'm just the carrier," he says.He's with Michael and Carolyn Waits. Sheppard is chief executive/secretary for the European Breeders' Fund, or EBF, the European counterpart to the Breeders' Cup.They all love it when the Breeders' Cup is in Louisville. "In New York last year, they put on a great show, but in New York, nobody knows about it," Sheppard says. "When you come here, everybody knows about it. It's a horseman's world. Everybody knows about the Breeders' Cup. -E.H.
Breakfast of Champions
9:10 a.m.Riding legend Angel Cordero Jr. and assistant Mike McCarthy leave trainer Todd Pletcher's barn to get breakfast for the crew. With McCarthy driving, they come upon a gaggle of reporters blocking the backside road."Do you want me to yell 'Loose horse'?" Cordero asks. "That worked last time. I was trying to come through to train, and I kept telling the reporters, 'Excuse me, excuse me, I'm trying to come through,' and nobody is moving. So, 'Excuse me, excuse me, horse coming through!' Nobody's moving. Then I yell 'LOOSE HORSE!!!' Man! They picked up them cameras, they run, they clean the place up quick."At a nearby Hardees, McCarthy places the following order:3 Sausage and Egg Biscuits with Orange Juice
3 Big Country Breakfast Platters with Ham
5 Pork Chop Biscuits
4 Biscuits with Gravy
2 Low-carb Breakfast Bowls
2 Medium Cokes
12 Hash Browns (small)
1 Loaded Breakfast Burrito.Total? $65.29"That's too much money," McCarthy says after placing the lengthy order and waiting for 15 minutes. "Can we leave now?"Cordero makes him wait for the food. -C.N.
9:05 a.m.The track closes early today...and tomorrow...for the Breeders' Cup. The backstretch is starting to clear out. In the Horseman's tent is Doug Burge, executive vice president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association. He's excited about the six Cal-breds that are in the Breeders' Cup."It's not just Lava Man," he says. "It's the most we've ever had. When the Breeders' Cup has been in California, usually you see more Cal-breds take a shot, but to ship across the country and to have six running is great for our program. These horses have a shot."We missed them last Saturday on Cal Cup day; it took away some of our big name horses, but at the same time, we're getting some national attention the program deserves."Burge thinks Lava Man has a big shot in the Classic and plans to back him at the windows. He'll box him with Bernardini."It's absolutely impossible not to use Bernardini in the race." -E.H.
Driving Lord Derby
9:00 a.m.The backstretch isn't a "limo" kind of place. Pickups? Sure. SUVs. Yup. A Mercedes or two, perhaps.Leaning against a long, white stretch limo is driver Buddy Jones. He's been driving for Gold Shield Limousines for 10 years. Today he's squiring around the Earl of Derby and the Countess of Derby...and several friends, according to Jones.Lord Derby bred and owns Filly & Mare Turf favorite Ouija Board.Jones most memorable Thoroughbred related gig was in 1999 when he drove Derby favorite Stephen Got Even's owner Stephen Hilbert and his guest, Donald Trump around town."As a matter of fact, it was one of Melania's and Donald's first public dates," he says. "I still didn't get invited to their wedding."Back at the quarantine barn, Lord Derby turns into "Lord Hotwalker" as he helps cool his champion out. "After she comes off the track, I like to have a little conversation with her," he says. "I like to ask her how she's doing." -E.H.
George Washington Slept Here
8:10 a.m.It's a cottage industry on the East Coast, old buildings and taverns luring tourists with signs and placards that declare that "George Washington Slept Here."At Churchill Downs, he truly did. In the quarantine barn. George Washington, the 3-year-old Thoroughbred, not the "father of our country" is the star attraction of the day. The Coolmore horse, trained by Aidan O'Brien takes to the track led by, and followed by, a sizable contingent of camera crews. Coolmore boss John Magnier is on hand to view the exercise.European press types are looking for the spunky colt to put on a show. He disappoints while acting very professional during his first tour of the main track.Perhaps he got a good night's sleep. -E.H.
'Whe' Like That
8:05 a.m.Owner Dave Whelihan is walking back from watching Classic Contender Premium Tap take a morning gallop. The horse looks good, he says. He's eager to go.In the Daily Racing Form's Breeders' Cup past performances, Whelihan's name only appears as "Whe," because there is not enough room to write "George Kline, Peter Alevizos, and Dave Whelihan..." One of them had to miss out.In spite of his partial appearance in the Form, Whelihan will be here 100%, complete, in person, tomorrow. He's ready to make a Breeders' Cup memory."This is my first time at Churchill Downs, and my first time in the Breeders' Cup," he says. "How do you like that?"We think it's wonderful. -C.N.
Not So Sure About November
8:05 a.m.John Shirreffs is back at Churchill Downs. In May of 2005 he won the Kentucky Derby with Giacomo. The colt, along with Hollywood Story will run tomorrow for the laid-back, Southern California trainer."I think the Derby is a little more exciting because it's the first time the horses all get together; the first time they try this, and they're younger and less experienced," he says. "I also love the weather in May," he says with a laugh. "November, I'm not so sure about."Tomorrow, he and his horses will take it easy. "They'll go out early for a little jog," he says. "It's a long time to wait until 5:20."That's post time for the Classic.Shirreffs has more patience than we do. We can't wait. -E.H.
The New Black
7:55 a.m.The gap just off the mile-chute at Churchill Downs is referred to by some as the "Lukas gap" because, when a horse comes off of it, it's facing Barn 44, home of D. Wayne Lukas.This morning, it looks like a merry-go-round of Breeders' Cup horses.Trainer Todd Pletcher has a record number of horses entered for Saturday and they're all getting a chance to stretch their legs this morning.Against a bright blue sky, the grey Wait a While comes off the track. A few minutes later, the grey Honey Ryder goes on.Both are running in the Filly & Mare Turf. On this day, grey is the "new black." -E.H.
7:50 a.m.Samantha Siegel, co-owner of Classic contender Suave, walks down from the clockers' stand after watching her horse gallop.She isn't nervous, she says. She just wants to get a good night's sleep and enjoy the day tomorrow.Suave ran fifth in last year's Classic. According to Siegel, he has a mind of his own."He's kind of a 'my way or no way' sort of guy," she says, "In the past, if things weren't exactly the way he wanted them, it would cause all sorts of trouble. But he's become more focused in the past few months; he's training well. I think the lightbulb went on." -C.N.
"He'll Tell Me"
7:25 a.m.Friday morning, the final pieces of the puzzle, while not in place, are at least taken out of the box. Bernardini, the "big horse" shipped in Wednesday and his jockey got here Thursday. They're both handling the pressure well.29-year-old Javier Castellano is going into what may very well be the biggest race of his nine-year American riding career. He already has one Classic win to his name – the 2004 running, his first Breeders' Cup – with Ghostzapper. Talking about Saturday, he is so relaxed, so confident, that you have to wonder if he knows something more about Bernardini, something the few remaining doubters have overlooked."I saw him work two days ago at Belmont, and he looked impressive," Castellano said yesterday. "I spoke to the exercise rider; he said he's feeling great, he's fresh, and all that."Always I thank God, every day, because I can get on that kind of horse. For me, the horse is special. Everything he does, he does with class. He's in focus, his mind is in the game, completely, 100% in the game."The jockey's strategy for Saturday is simple – let the Big Horse do what he wants."I spoke to the trainer a couple times," he said. "I'm not worried. I know what kind of horse I have in my hands; I'll listen to him. Whatever he wants to do is fine. If he wants to be on the lead, I don't want to fight him. If he wants to be second, third, whatever he wants, I'll try to follow him. He'll show the way. He'll tell me what to do." -C.N.
No Meatheads Here
7:20 a.m.Trainer Gary Mandella walks behind his Mile entrant Silent Name as the son of Sunday Silence comes off the track. Mandella bolts into the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association's office and grabs two cups of coffee. One is for him, one is for Buzz Tenney.Tenney is the long-time assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, trainer of Distaff hopeful Pine Island.At last year's Breeders' Cup in New York, Mandella's runner, Sprint runner-up Taste of Paradise was stabled in McGaughey's barn. Mandella is takinig care of those who took care of him.Steam rises off the cups in the 28-degree air.Across the aisleway, another Hall of Fame trainer, Neil Drysdale, is bundled up in a down jacket. He trains Aragorn, one of the favorites for the Mile."This is the Breeders' Cup," Mandella says. "There are no meathead horses here." -E.H.
Thursday eveningThe Louisville Cardinals defeat the West Virginia Mountaineers 44-34 over at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in front of a national television audience on ESPN. At the end of the game, the fans in the stands storm the field to celebrate with the team.In most sports, it's pretty cut and dried. There's a winner...and a loser.Tomorrow, there will be eight "winners" of the Breeders' Cup events. But in racing, it's not that simple.More than a hundred horses will compete in the World Championships at Churchill Downs. In our sport, just to make to the Breeders' Cup, you have to be considered a winner.Ask any breeder or owner who has put up the money. Ask any trainer or a member of their crew, who have put in the crazy hours, seven days a week, just to get here. -E.H.
One of a KindThe old "press party" has been repackaged and renamed the "VIP party." It's a good move. The Palace Theatre in downtown Louisville is long on "VIPs" in attendance. The party is sponsored by Grey Goose vodka. That's another good move. The musical entertainment is provided by the Spinners. Back in the '70s, the pop group had a heavy presence on the radio. One of a Kind Love Affair. Could It Be I'm Falling In Love. I'll Be Around. Then Came You. The Rubberband Man. The New York Racing Association, the keystone to North American Thoroughbred racing, declared for bankruptcy protection earlier in the day. It's hard to put a positive "spin" on that one. -E.H.