04/18/2008 12:21AM

Keeneland Part I


Flashback to 2004.  I was a cub reporter on my first Derby assignment.  Scratch that.  I've always wanted to use the term "cub reporter."  Actually, the DRF needed someone to give seminars at the Corporate Tent area in the infield, and I was the only handicapper without plans for the first Friday and Saturday of May.  At least, I was invited to the Media Party earlier in the week, and I was stoked.  My flight from Newark to Louisville with a Detroit stopover would get me there with plenty of time to get to the hotel, get spiffed up, and get downtown.  Ah, the best laid plans.
The flight was delayed leaving Newark, and I arrived in Detroit just in time to hear "This is the last and FINAL boarding call for the Louisville connector at Gate 60."  No sweat, I thought.  Then, I turned towards the big neon "3" protruding from the gate from which I came. 

"Shug McGaughey!"  I yelled.

No, I didn't happen to see the famous trainer for the Phipps family.  It's just that this is a family blog, and I didn't want to reveal what was really said.  I began to sprint in the direction of Gate 60.  Heck, I won the Miracle Mile in grade school.  How hard could this be?  Apparently, it was very hard.  As I held myself up outside Gate 7 in a losing battle with oxygen, I realized that the Miracle Mile was twenty years prior, and a taste for brownies, cheesecake, and Key Lime Pie had turned my abdomen into a wobbling mess of jelly.  Somehow, I reached the connection with seconds to spare only to be dealt another indignity.  I was in seat 27A.  Red-faced, wheezing, and stinky, I slinked past 26 rows of impatient passengers.
Needless to say, I arrived late to the party.  All the food was gone, and since this event was for the racing industry, all the booze was long gone.  Thankfully, I found a kindred spirit in Bruno De Julio, and we chatted amicably for the remainder of the party.
I hadn't eaten that day, but I knew that my saving graced waited for me at the hotel.  The wonderful staff would regularly bake batches of homemade cookies, and my heart (and tummy) was set on those babies.  I walked into the lobby, and there they were.  Two magnificent specimens filled with chocolate chips.  Birds sang and lovers kissed as I walked to the counter...only to watch TVG's Frank Lyons saunter out of the elevator, box me out, and take the life-giving sweets for himself.  I could have sworn there was a hint of a smirk on his face as he slipped back into the elevator.  I was a beaten man, and I hadn't even made a bet yet.

Nor would I make a wager for the entire weekend.  Despite going on a handicapping tear throughout the day, and telling everyone that Ashado was a stone-cold cinch in the Oaks, I never ventured from the DRF booth.  It's not that I wasn't having fun.  I was.  I love talking to people about racing.  But I was the only DRF employee minding the store, and if any of the papers were unaccounted for, there would be hell to pay.
Derby Day was damp and dreary, but I had an opportunity to go on local television that morning to analyze the race.  I put on my winning smile, and was ready to rumble when I saw Bob Baffert walking into the Racing Office.  Two minutes later, Wimbledon was scratched, and the TV station nixed my segment to cover the "Breaking News."
Back to the tent I trudged wondering why I didn't take up a more satisfying profession like ditch-digging.  The fans were excited, however, and the place was packed with newbies wanting to learn how to decipher the past performances.  I gathered everybody around a circular table, taught them the basics, and thankfully came up with some winners.  More importantly, the folks seemed to enjoy themselves.  As the day progressed, the audience thinned out a bit, and I was sitting by myself when a guy walked into the tent.

"Is this where I can learn how to pick winners?"

"Yep. Have a seat."

Azeri was odds-on in the next race, and I told him that there were two ways he could approach it.  One, he could bet against her, and two, he could pass the race."

"You don't want to bet a 2-5 shot to win," I cautioned.  He looked at the paper, and from the elementary lessons I gave him, he realized he didn't like anyone else. 

"I guess I'll just sit out," he said. 

"I'm with you."

Suddenly, a woman burst into the room. 

"There you are!"  She pointed menacingly at the man, who now was attempting to hide underneath a napkin.  "What are you doing here?  The race is about to go off, and I want to make a bit."

"But dear, the man says we should sit this race out."

I silently thanked the man for jobbing me out to his lunatic wife, but I probably would have done the same thing given the circumstances. 

"He doesn't know anything," she exclaimed.  "I like Mayo On the Side.  You know, like with my hamburger."

"They're off and running..."

Never in my life did I want a horse to win more than Azeri.  But this isn't a Mike Beer story, dear bloggers.  This is my world we're discussing.  Azeri floundered and Mayo On the Side pulled off the upset.  The woman's face turned the color of an eggplant.  The man looked like he was about to flee.  Then, she went apoplectic (great word).  She basically grabbed him by the ear, and gave him a tongue-lashing out the door.

"Good luck," I called after him.

"For what," he answered.  "She didn't give me a chance to learn anything."

I motioned to his wife.  "Oh, I didn't mean good luck at the races."

Right before the big turf race preceding the Run for the Roses, I got a call from the big bosses.  They invited me to come out to the DRF box to watch the race.  As I had yet to see a horse since I arrived in "Horse County," I jumped at the chance.  All I had to do was close up the tent.  As I was finishing up, the skies opened, and a rainstorm of biblical proportions doused Churchill Downs.  The tote board actually malfunctioned, and worst of all, I was stranded in the infield.  Golf carts were being imported to the area to carry people over the lake-sized puddles.  I watched the Derby on television in my tent.  My pick, Lion Heart, went to the front, and gave me just enough hope before Smarty Jones roared by to win.

Ah!  That's a great story.  Hey, WAKE UP!  Whaddaya mean you're sick of the history lesson?  You want to know what happened with the Surly Russian?  Alright.  I got to the airport without being bludgeoned with a heavy object, but my flight sat on the tarmac for an hour, and my attempt at smalltalk with the mysterious and beauteous lady in red resulted in her changing her seat.  She "needed more space," she explained.  I don't know how she found it sitting next to the 300 lb. man in the cowboy hat, but to each their own.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing anyone that feels like playing hooky to go to Keeneland tomorrow.  Will be back tomorrow evening to update everyone on the losses.



Jose More than 1 year ago
Dan, that was an interesting, humorous read! Are you working on a script? If not, you should! You can't tell me you don't have any more stories to add to one day at Keeneland! How about "The Cooler" meets "Let it Ride?" How about a tragic ending after a great ride? How about a normal day that ends in a spectacular fashion? How about winning it all and losing it all on the same day? How about Dante's Inferno with handicappers' stories as a backdrop for the different levels of hell (I KNOW you and plenty of others could relate!).
Anthoney More than 1 year ago
War Pass injured, out of Derby, crack in back of ankle sesmoid? What a bad deal! Lucky they caught it before he ran again and something terrible happened.
Wes Preble More than 1 year ago
Hey Dan had to laugh my head off as I am a cab driver in Oklahoma City and well I have seen first hand your experience. I'd like to personally invite you to OKC and Remington Park this fall to watch the Oklahoma Derby we may not have the best race track in the world like Keenland but according to Horse Player magazine we are in the top 5 http://www.remingtonpark.com/NR/exeres/899AE95C-0F75-4286-9ECC-3253BE909D40.htm and well if you do decide to come you will have an american taxi driver, not a Russian waiting to pick you up at the airport. Best of luck at Keenland this weekend. Wes in OKC
C More than 1 year ago
Was there really an earthquake in Kentucky yesterday? You won't believe this, but I felt tremors in Brooklyn on Sunday afternoon around 2pm. It wasn't really a violent shake, but it was a very odd vibration-- not the kind of thing caused by a truck or a subway train. The first lasted about 2 minutes, then there was a minute rest, followed by another minute or so of vibration. I was a bit frustrated that no one else felt it... who's crazy now? crash, What's up with the "F-bomb dropping New Yorkers" line? It's about the 5th time I've seen you use it. Believe it or not, some of us New Yorkers actually stay quiet to listen to the call of the race and don't say a word after the fact, win or lose.
Ray Manley More than 1 year ago
C, Do you really think Keeneland will scrap the poly track and the poly track business? Because of the sales they can play the racing game in the red for some time. I would love for them to go back to dirt but I believe someone at KEE has drawn a line in the sand and is going to try to make this work. I bet it will be quite sometime before a NYRA track converts to synthetic. Although the track at Hollywood Park seems to be working quite well. But Holly Park has for the most part great weather.
RocEnite More than 1 year ago
Great stuff Dan. This blog is one of the best sources for insight into racing.I also love the storys everyone shares with us from time to time. I read this blog every day.I still have not figured on my derby horse last year street sense was a clear pick for me.This year I have no clue. I will being having my eyes on the upcomming workouts.I know it tipped Barbaro off a couple of years ago. I fear warpass may get a lead and steal this race on the front end if no one goes with him(thinking he wont get the distance may make others lay off). Colonel John seems interesting.With the new surfaces it has become a real guess.I think the cali runners are the x factor. Who knows I will be paying attention to the works at churchill
crashthe24 More than 1 year ago
the moral of the story is... you got paid to be at the kentucky derby. ok blue boxers, raise your hand if you'd be happy with being at the derby, no matter how bad the weather, not getting a bet down, or missing out on food which you wouldn't have had to pay for. allrighty then, looks like most of the hands in the air except the F-bomb dropping New Yorkers who complain about EVERYTHING. be grateful and thankful Dan, because some of us would trade our jobs for yours in a second. it was a funny story that brought a smile to my face however... crash
Jason in Austria More than 1 year ago
Dan, Not to backseat drive or get off the equine topic, but I used to work at 222 Broadway by J&Rs and I always took the Brooklyn Bridge. My strategy was always that whatever clusterf$%@ might materialize on the BQE to LGA, was nowhere near the risk of the major CF possible in a midtown gridlock meltdown. The fundamental- get off the island first. Often, it was breezing all the way to Shea after Cadman Plaza. Have a good time, and thanks for the laughing. Jason
larryk More than 1 year ago
Some Keeneland Picks: 1:Best 6, Next 11, Exotics 7 and 8..The 7 is owned by R. Pitano and is named Coach Ryan and the 8 is Cardinal Nation...hhhmm..things make you go hhhmm 3:Best 7,5,2 exotics added 4. 5:Top Choice 7, best 11, value 5, next 10(hot j, never underest. mcpeek) 6:best 5, next 4, exotics 1 7:bb 8, next 2,exotics 7 and 3 8:Several of these coming out of the same last race.. 2,3,8,9 9:best 1, value, 7, next 5 exotics 8 and 10 10:6, best 11,value 2, exotics 7 and 9
Laura More than 1 year ago
Wonderful witty start to your Keenelnd meet, Dan!! You had me laughing too! Looking forward to reading more of your trials..er..tail..er..tales as your adventure progresses.