The Breeders' Cup and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association announce their new "Breeders' Cup Challenge" with their "Win And You're In" program (see other story at bloodhorse.com)
We're sold on the idea.
The announcement is made at the new Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville. At the podium is Greg Avioli, the interim CEO of the NTRA/Breeders' Cup; Breeders' Cup board chairman Bill Farish; Churchill Downs' president Steve Sexton; Len DeLuca,a senior vice president with ESPN; ESPN's Randy Moss; and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
All get their time at the microphone at the introduction.
Some side notes of mention:
We can't forget that with the increased purses announced this spring, Saturday's Breeders' Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs will be the first $20-million day in North America.
In selling the concept of a "Win and You're In" playoff-type idea, Avioli notes the changes in the sports landscape over the last 10-15 years, with the addition of "wild card" teams in both the NFL and Major League Baseball and the additional interest it's brought to both sports. Also, the NFL changed to four conference divisions a few years ago.
The reach of ESPN is tremendous. It's noted that in any given week, 97 million Americans are "touched" by the ESPN brand, be it the cable channel, their Web site, magazine, mobile phones, etc.
While not as large as the Kentucky Derby, the economic impact of the Breeders' Cup on the city of Louisville is $30 million.-E.H.
Bay Horse for the White Horse
Rev. Ed Donally is standing outside Barn 36 with an armful of new halters, watching as Lava Man cools out from his morning gallop. Donally, with the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, is in from California to coordinate the White Horse Award Luncheon, an RTCA fundraiser that honors unspoken heroes in the racing industry.
Lava Man is walking the shedrow, head down, wearing one of Donally's halters. He is the first of the Classic contenders to do his part for the RTCA event – each horse will wear a new halter, complete with nameplate, before it is auctioned off on Thursday to raise money for the non-profit organization.
Back in his stall, Lava Man tips his head. His groom makes the quick change maneuver – new halter off, old one back on. Donally slides it onto his shoulder. One down. Thirteen to go. -C.N.
Now That's Consistency
Training hours are over. Cleaning tack outside Barn 28 is Lisa Davison and Chris Hall. They're under the employ of trainer H. Graham Motion, who won't arrive in Louisville from his base at Fair Hill, Md. until tomorrow.
Motion has two interesting horses for Saturday's World Championships. Both will be making their third consecutive starts in the Breeders' Cup. Now that's consistency.
Better Talk Now won the Turf in 2004 at Lone Star Park and was a disappointing seventh last year for Bushwood Stables. Don Adam's Film Maker goes in the Filly & Mare Turf for the third time. She was second behind Ouija Board in 2004 and third behind Intercontinental and Ouija Board last year at Belmont Park.
Davison, an exercise rider, was just aboard Film Maker out on the track.
"She felt very good," she says. "I've ridden her some, but her regular exercise rider, Finella O'Flynn, is still up in Fair Hill.
"She's never run a bad race; she doesn't always win, but she's always right there," Davison says. "She can be a little tough, but she's always straightforward. She's a good doer."
"Better Talk Now? Now that's my boy," she says. "That win two years ago still gives me chills.
"He's doing as well as he ever has. How many horses run in the Breeders' Cup three years in a row?" -E.H.
Another wave of the European horses head from the track back to the quarantine barn. They are led by, and followed by, a bevy of camera crews.
Heading back behind the chain link-fenced area is a "Murderer's Row" of Breeders' Cup participants: Turf runner Red Rocks; world traveler and Classic pre-entry David Junior; Satulagi, a daughter of Officer who will be making her 10th start in the Juvenile Fillies; and Mile runner Sleeping Indian.
When you're on the backside, you can't mistake the clip-clop sound of horses' hooves on blacktop.
Guiding them through the backstretch is a lead pony for each. That's eight horses, 32 legs. It's a clip-clop concerto.
Training hours on the main track are about over. Only Filly & Mare Turf entrant Film Maker gallops around the track. The Michael Stoute-trained Rob Roy heads over to the turf course. The Mile hopeful is the only Breeders' Cup horse on the grass this morning. -E.H.
Rooting for Everybody
Former jockey Braulio Baeza is sighted near the gap. The two-time Eclipse Award-winner, now retired and living in New York, was unable to attend last year's Breeders' Cup, but is geared up for the competition on Saturday. He's happy to be here.
Baeza began riding in 1955, and came to the United States five years later. He rode Buckpasser. Dr. Fager. Arts and Letters. Foolish Pleasure. In 1976, he retired with 3,140 wins. Now he looks at competitions like the Breeders' Cup with amazement.
"It's the day of racing," he says. "It's something that, in my time, was unheard of – this kind of races, this kind of money – but it's great for the industry."
Baeza doesn't have any hot tips for Saturday. He claims he's rooting for all of his friends. When asked who they are, he just smiles.
"Almost everybody," he says. -C.N.
East Side, West Side
Finally, the PA is silent. The cameras are rolling. Reporters lift their pens. Nick Zito, philosophizing trainer, gets to speak.
"The Classic is shaping up to be a tough race, but it's always been that way. Maybe we can just keep sneaking in there with Sun King, if he stays as consistent as he has been. Who knows? Bernardini, as great as he is – and I've given him all the compliments – I don't think he'll explode like he did [in other races]. If he does, man, you're talking greatness!"
Yesterday, Zito's Sprint contender, Commentator, turned up with an injured shin. His Juvenile contender, C P West, is still training well, as is Classic contender Sun King.
A reporter asks about the highly-publicized East Coast/West Coast rivalry between New York-based Bernardini and California's Lava Man. Is it something real, or is it more of a story line?
"I think it's always been that way," Zito says. "You have East Coast trainers and West Coast trainers, and there are good trainers in California. It's always been a rivalry, but I think that's in sports in general."
If Zito has anything to do with it, the East Coast horse who wins the Classic won't be trained by Tom Albertrani.
"I'm an East Coast trainer too, in case you didn't know," he says with a smile. -C.N.
The siren goes off. That's the sound usually reserved for a loose horse on the track during training. It continues. Then an announcement is made over the loudspeaker not to bring any more horses to the track followed a few moments later for a call for an ambulance.
That's not a good sound...or sign.
The clocker on the backside reports a horse that was breezing broke down at the quarter pole. He says it is a horse named Meet at Jacks for trainer Walter Binder.
At 8: 50, the siren goes silent. -E.H.
Trainer Nick Zito is holding court outside Barn 36. At least, he's attempting to hold court, standing surrounded by a gaggle of camera crews and reporters. But no one is talking, or asking questions, because the PA system is drowning the track in a deluge of information.
"Attention on the backside, attention on the backside..."
In the past 10 minutes, there have been announcements from the track chaplain (daily devotional), the recreation director (rodeo tickets for sale), the security gate (package for Kenny McPeek), the track superintendent ("Do NOT bring any horses to the track at this time"), and the veterinarian ("The track ambulance is needed outside the maintenance barn...")
"Man, they're announcing everything today!" Zito remarks.
He smiles. And everyone waits. -C.N.
Two final horses jog off the gap as outriders clear the track for morning maintenance, and business begins in earnest for a bevy of jocks and agents in search of afternoon mounts.
Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan does PR with one trainer while his agent, Dennis Cooper, moves a few feet away to track down another via his Bluetooth headset.
Jockey Eddie Castro and his agent Mike Gonzalez stroll through the backside, chatting casually, keeping an eye out for potential victims.
Willie Martinez strides by with a flack jacket slung over his shoulder, looking for somewhere to carry on a private conversation. The rider pauses near the press center, cell phone held to one ear, but still manages to smile and wave at anyone who sees him.
Lenny Pike, agent for Robby Albarado, corners Carl Nafzger on his way back from the track. "I got my jock ready if you need him," he says.
Across the backside, countless other agents are saying the same thing, searching for "the Horse." This weekend, eight of them will find it. -C.N.
After a jog on the main track, European import Araafa goes through the gates back into the quarantine barn in Barn 48. Trainer Jeremy Noseda's head lad, John Davis reports the two-time group I winner "just had a jog around; that's basically it."
"It's the first time he's been able to get out," Davis says. Araafa arrived Sunday and cleared the USDA-regulated quarantine yesterday. Noseda arrives Thursday.
While the 3-year-old colt likely won't tour the turf course leading up the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile Saturday, Davis has. "They say it's good-to-firm at the moment. I had a walk around it yesterday, it seems to be on the firm side," he says with a shrug. -E.H.
Under the Radar
Trainer Carl Nafzger saunters down to the track with an early morning set. He climbs the stairs to the clockers' stand and reflects on his career as he watches his horses gallop.
"Someone asked me if I could train any horse, who would it be?" he says. "To tell you the truth, I just enjoyed training the ones I had. I enjoyed what we've done; I enjoyed our relationship with our owners, our grooms... it's been great."
One of the greats was Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Unbridled.
Nafzger runs an efficient team. Some of his grooms have worked with him for more than a decade, some for more than 25 years. They know what to do. They're still turning out solid competitors.
For this year's Breeders Cup, Nafzger has Street Sense in the Juvenile. He likes the colt's mind, says he has it together. They're flying under the radar going into the race. That's the way he likes it.
"That's my plan," he says. "Have we ever changed? No. I always flew under the radar."
Hopefully, things will stay that way... until Saturday. -C.N.
Irishman John Kierans stands at the gap and surveys the horses galloping past. A big racing fan, Kierans has shipped over to the states several times for the Breeders' Cup. While the Twin Spires are historic, he says you can't beat Santa Anita, with the view and Clocker's Corner, as a Breeders' Cup venue. He also liked Texas, but Churchill Downs is good because it's more fair for all the horses.
There are six in his traveling party and this year they have great seats. "Right on the line," he says with a smile.
The head of Anglo Printers Ltd., a printer of race cards in Ireland, Kierans knows a thing or two about betting on horses. His biggest disappointment at the Breeders' Cup was Giant's Causeway 's loss to Tiznow the last time the event was here in the '00 Classic.
He learned his lesson, however, because he said his biggest score was cashing a $1,500 ticket on the Classic the following year when Tiznow repeated at Belmont Park.
"When I got to the window, I didn't know they were stuffing me $410 for taxes," he says. "They handed me $1,100 and I said, 'What are you doing? It's $1,500!' When they told me about the tax, I put up a stink, but they withheld it. When I got back to Ireland, I contacted the Embassy and figured out what to do and got my money back."-E.H.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile contender U D Ghetto saunters by on his way from the track back to trainer Tony Reinstedler's barn. He looks cool, calm, and collected for a 2-year-old. Exercise rider Celia Corcoran agrees.
"He's very happy and very relaxed here; he's been here since he came from the farm when he was broken," she reports. "He knows this racetrack very well."
The gelding, bred and owned by the Makin family's Lucky Seven Stable, is "unusual" says Corcoran. "He's has antics. He has in his mind where he likes to go, it's not always where we'd like him to go."
Mike Makin is on hand to watch the son of Honour and Glory. He, along with his brothers; Jeff, Jay, and Craig are four of the Lucky Seven (along with their parents and one sister) and they run Interlock Industries in Louisville. Work will be on hold for most of this week.
"We're going to have a lot of fun," Makin said. "It's the first time we've been this fortunate. All we can do is sit back and enjoy the ride."
The juvenile's unusual name comes from the nickname for the public housing area near the University of Dayton, where several of the Makins have graduated from. -E.H.
In Da Club
Down on River Road, the Louisville Thoroughbred Club holds their annual Breeders' Cup extravaganza at the Kingfish Restaurant. There are about 80 members on hand. They're here to eat a little fish, share in a little camaraderie, and talk a lot of racing.
These guys know their stuff and they follow the lead of club president Manny Cadima.
Cadima started the club in 1992 with about 25 people. It now boasts 400 paying members. About 200 are locals with the others spread around the continent. The idea was to create events, like tonight, where ordinary people can experience all the stuff that there is in racing.
For those who want to be owners, there is Thoroughbred Racing Nation, a racing and breeding syndication deal headed by Cadima. Shares are pretty modest, with each horse broken into in 100 share units.
For the club, Cadima organizes seminars, trips to places like Del Mar, Saratoga, and even Ireland and Newmarket in England. There is also a betting syndicate for big race days ...like the Breeders' Cup. This year Cadima guesses they'll total about 10 grand for various exotic pools.
To help the members with their handicapping and knowledge of racing, a pair of local guest speakers take the microphone after the buffet. Murray Johnson, trainer of Classic mainstay Perfect Drift, and Eddie Kenneally, who'll send out Bushfire in the Distaff and Kelly's Landing in the Sprint, talk about their background, and their horses.
Both trainers spoke about ownership, and how important it is to a trainer's career. As Kenneally was speaking, Johnson turned his back and hunched his shoulders. "I'm just taking notes," he quipped. He then added, "A good horse with a bad owner isn't a very good recipe. It's not going to help you, and it's not going to help the horse and you don't wind up staying together very long."
Seven-year-old Perfect Drift will make a record fifth start in the Classic. He'll also be making his 10th start at Churchill Downs. In his last outing under the Twin Spires, he was pipped by a nose by Seek Gold in the Stephen Foster Handicap.
"He's a special individual," Johnson said of the Churchill Downs' fan favorite. "He has a great constitution; very healthy. He doesn't get sick very often, and if he does, he recovers very quickly. He heals quickly from injuries.
"Everybody knows he has a tendency that, if he does get to the lead too early, he eases up, puts his ears forward, and says 'hey, what's going on?' It's cost us quite a bit of money, actually."
But the old-timer has also made a lot of money. He has am 11-13-6 slate from 41 starts and has earned more than $4.6 million. That's earning your keep. -E.H.
Trick or Treat: It's in the Bag
There are plenty of scary things in Thoroughbred racing. That's an every day occurrence. What about Halloween? Now this is a day for ghosts and goblins, not Ghostzapper.
Halloween is a great day to be a kid. What's wrong with dressing up in a costume, then after dark, going door-to-door in you neighborhood and get free candy...or else.
We asked those on the backstretch at Churchill Downs getting ready for the Breeders' Cup World Championships to recall their best wardrobe moments:
Trainer Wally Dollase's angelic wife, Cincy, recalls dressing up as a witch for Halloween in her youth.
"I was always a witch, I don't know why," she said. "I think it was the costume we could afford because we'd use the same costume every year. I was one of seven children. I was always the witch...with the nose and the wart."
Another witch wannabe was Kim Zito, wife of trainer Nick Zito. "It wasn't very sophisticated, just a hat, the costume, and the shoes. I did use some make-up. Black. That costume was my favorite for years."
Dollase ratted out one of the community:
"Corey Nakatani dressed as jockey and went trick or treating with his kids, and he got as much candy as they did because he stands this tall," Cincy said, raising her arm to about the five-foot level. It was 10 years ago or so, but he's always been the biggest kid of all. It was funny because no one would know he wasn't a kid."
John Asher, vice president of communications for Churchill Downs was the "Dark Knight." "Batman. No question," Asher said. "I had a little cowl, the cape, and everything. I don't remember any other Halloween costume. I was probably eight or nine."
Todd Pletcher's assistant Mike McCarthy had a pair of favorites. When he was four or five, Spiderman was Halloween memory. Later, daredevil Evil Kievel, complete with the white cape and cane, was a favorite.
Frankenstein was the character of choice for a young Damon Thayer, vice president of marketing for the Breeders' Cup and a state senator for the state of Kentucky. "I was in fourth grade," he said. "I was a big fan of all of the Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman movies; all those old black and white movies."
Now once these Trick or treaters got home, what did they seek out most in their bag of treats?
"Chocolate," Zito said. "I was always impressed with the people that gave out candy bars like Milky Ways and Snickers."
"Snickers," said Asher. "I'm a brand man."
Thayer liked "the same thing I like now, peanut M&Ms. It is, after all, the world's most perfect candy." -E.H.