Name Dropping

I don't recall the meeting when it was first discussed, but I remember volunteering. Looking for new avenues of coverage for racing's big events--the Triple Crown, the Breeders' Cup--on, the idea of a "blog" came up. "Blog," short for "Web log," is a relatively new concept and is still subject to debate for its actual purpose and application.

If nothing else, we wanted to provide a "diary" of the events, including interviews with the people surrounding the horses. The diary would focus on the people of the backstretch, the people of the frontside, and many in between.

It would take one intrepid soul to wander the backstretches of Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont Park, looking not only for the usual--that would already be covered--but the unusual. It would take online readers into unchartered territory. Again, I volunteered. If nothing else, it would ensure passage to Baltimore and New York.

Were we ready? What would it be called? How would it work? Well, we had an Internet plug-in card for wireless access anywhere, and had an idea. For the most part we were flying by the seat of our pants. I think the pants fit.

We came up with the "Morning Line" as a title, because the majority of information would come from stories found on the backstretches during the a.m. hours. The log would be updated throughout the items of interest came up.

They came around every corner.

As other reporters and media members zigged, I was allowed to zag. In the end, I believe we found angles, story lines, and vignettes that were equally as interesting as the "big" story of the day. As the Morning Line evolved, one reporter dubbed me the "King of Soft News." On many days, the "soft" news was as good as anything else out there.

There were good days and bad; good interviews and clunkers; friends made, and chance meetings that were better left to chance.

One of the best parts? I got to drop names. Lots of names...and in bold type, to boot.

The best day was one of the first: the Wednesday before the Derby. It followed the Trainer's Dinner that Tuesday night and started with an interview with Hall-of-Fame-jockey-turned-broadcaster Jerry Bailey at 7:05 that morning and ended well after the draw in downtown Louisville that night. After chatting with Bailey, several interviews followed up to 11:30, when the real "draw" was done at Churchill Downs' racing office to see who would select first on the ESPN program later that day. Looking back, it was interesting that eventual Belmont winner Jazil would get the No. 20, or last, pill. I can still hear trainer Kiaran McLaughlin slamming his fist on the counter. He would be slapping high-fives a little more than five weeks later.

The most poignant moment of the Triple Crown came at the stakes barn at Pimlico. Two hours before the race, nervous tension built under the hospitality tent as trainers Michael Matz, McLaughlin, and Nick Zito hung out watching the races on outdated 27-inch TVs while the Preakness winner's celebration cake waited in the corner.

The Preakness also offered a once-in-a-lifetime meeting with Art Donovan, the legendary football player and former Miller Lite spokesman who was holding court at the Pons' family's annual party at their farm near Bel Air, Md.

The mood at the Belmont, without a Triple Crown on the line, was mellow, yet substantial. It allowed me to meet people like Toba Elliott, one of trainer Jimmy Jerkens' Jamacian employees, and to rekindle a friendship with the Harrigan brothers, John and Brad, who were finally home on Long Island after chasing the Triple Crown while behind a camera for months. Hopefully their documentary will make its way to the Sundance Film Festival.

Best interview of the whole campaign? Bar none, 10-year-old Jacob Romans, son of trainer Dale Romans, in the days leading up to the Derby. The kid has it all: skills, confidence, and an attitude.

Was the experience fun? Oh, yeah. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Hopefully, the Morning Line will be back for the Breeders' Cup in Louisville. I've already bought some batteries for my tape recorder. If I ask you an irrelevant question or two in Louisville, please speak up and throw me a "Line."