10/27/2016 3:26PM

Hovdey: Black likes what he sees from What a View

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Emily Shields
Trainer Kenny Black will have a starter in the Breeders' Cup for the first time with What A View.

Trainer Kenny Black, once a jockey of considerable renown, will be running a horse in the Breeders’ Cup for the first time on Nov. 5, when he saddles What a View in the $2 million Mile against the best the U.S. and Europe have to offer.

There will be a brief pause while those familiar with the Kenny Black saga come to terms with this information.

What a View belongs in the Mile. The 5-year-old son of the Danzig stallion Vronsky is 5 for 5 on the Santa Anita turf course, including a victory in the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile over a strong field last March.

Black, 52, has handled What a View with aplomb. The nearly black gelding was a thinker as a young horse and suffered a couple of fluky backstretch frights that gave him the heebie-jeebies. Black and his crew – which includes his brother, the successful journeyman rider Corey Black – have worked wonders putting What a View’s head right, and now they are in a position to reap the rewards on the grandest stage the game provides.

It’s a long way from the back roads and bushes of Montana and Idaho, where Kenny Black spent time in self-imposed exile from the bright lights of the business. Black was a brilliant riding prodigy as a teenager and considered a stone-cold star of the future who sacrificed his best chance at the altar of drugs and booze.

That Black has cleaned up his act and resurrected his career in the sport to stand at the threshold of a memorable Breeders’ Cup experience is a testament to his determination, his ability as a horseman, and the backing of the family of the late Buddy Johnston, a pillar of the California Thoroughbred community.

“Can you believe it?” Black said Wednesday after he saw What a View’s name listed in the main body of the Mile pre-entries. “I’m still pinching myself. Definitely, the dress code’s been lowered a little bit.”

Black, a native of Utah, is cowboy through and through, although he cleans up well and will be looking bright as a new penny on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, when he leads What a View through the gauntlet of fans in the Santa Anita paddock.

“I’m the only trainer I know in Southern California that still works all his own horses,” Black said. “And since it hasn’t been all that long since I quit riding, I like to think I know what I’m seeing out there in a race. I guess that means I’m not too easy to ride for.”

Black tried to resurrect his career in Southern California in the mid-to-late 1990s, but he never could replicate the success of his youth. He ended up working as an assistant, training a few on his own, and even trying his hand at movie work on feature films like “Seabiscuit” and “50 to 1,” in which he played the part of real-life jockey Casey Lambert.

“Jim Wilson, the director of ‘50 to 1,’ said he needed a jock with a lot of attitude,” Black said. “They told him I was perfect. But I had a heckuva time with the lines. We must have tried 50 takes. They told me to just improvise, and I nailed it in one take. The crew gave me a standing ovation, though I think it was because they could finally go home.”

Black worked alongside Don Warren with the Johnston stable, handling 2011 Eclipse champion Acclamation and stakes winner Vronsky, among others. When Warren retired in 2014, Black got the job, and What a View has been his hallmark horse.

After winning the Kilroe Mile, What a View was given time off. Black brought him back to finish eighth in the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland.

“Maybe Frankel or Mandella could have had him dead fit off a six-month layoff for Keeneland, but I’m nowhere near as good as them,” Black said. “No way was I treating it like a Breeders’ Cup prep, though. I wanted to win the friggin’ race.

“My original plan was to take him to Kentucky Downs and run him in a 6 1/2-furlong race four to five weeks before the Shadwell,” he said. “But I missed a couple works at Del Mar when he had that same thing going around that knocked out Melatonin and some others for a while. So, I had to scrap the plan.”

Shortly after the Shadwell, Black let it be known that Kent Desormeaux would be replaced aboard What a View for the Breeders’ Cup. His phone lit up with calls from agents representing top jocks across the land.

“Right there alone tells me we’ve got to be pretty live,” Black said. “At least it makes me think I’m not drinking my bath water for wanting to run.”

Black and the owners turned to Tyler Baze for the mount on What a View.

“He worked him the other day and went outstanding,” Black said. “Tyler’s like a little brother to me. I’ve got a lot of faith in him, and I know he’ll follow instructions.”

Those instructions probably will be a variation on “let him roll,” since What a View does his best work when allowed his head. Standing near Black during the race could be an adventure since this will be a moment like no other in his colorful career. And if the dream comes true?

“You better get the Oscar ready for drama,” he said. “Because you know I’ll cry.”