I wrote this on the evening of Tuesday, June 17, 2008
after a very long day driving around the Upper Midwest. I preface this way because I had a lot of time
to kill. I had time to slip into a favorite American (and most definitely horse
owners) past-time: day-dreaming.
Now that the Breeder's Cup is over and I know I won't jinx my horse, I will
share this dream with you all. Ah, the
superstitions of sports fan/horse owner/former athlete.
The first partnership I formed claimed a horse at Tampa
Bay Downs out of a $10,000 claiming race in late March 2008. He is a 4-year old gelding named Fizzy Pop (Slew
Gin Fizz - Pop Pop B.B. Gun - Red Ryder) and he's currently on R&R awaiting
the opening of the next meet at Tampa.
Our trainer is Bernell Rhone, Canterbury Park Hall of Famer and his
regular rider is perennial top of the standings rider Dean Butler.
Now, The Dream:
Fizzy was racing in an $18,000 allowance race at Canterbury Park in mid-June and
not only wins, but wins easier than we could have hoped. Dean comes back
smiling and I say to Bernell, "A wise man once told me, 'sometimes they
just get good' - and it looks like our boy just got good!!" We're all
stunned and thrilled at the ease of the race. We take a couple of days and then
Bernell and I get together and talk about the future. We decide on a grass
stakes race in mid July (note: I had no idea driving around if there was even was
a grass route Stake in the book for July, but that's the beauty of The Dream,
reality doesn't matter all that much!).
As we lead into that race, Fiz is training well and I dare to start thinking
about the Claiming Crown. The day of the race dawns and Fizzy is sharp again.
How in the world does Bernell keep him so sharp? This race is closer and Fizzy
needs to put out more of an effort, but he still wins by two. He's tired after
the race the next day when the family goes to visit him, but he bathes in the
affection the kids shower on him. When I get close to him I thank him and press
close to his neck and tell him how proud we are and how much we appreciate all
he's given us. Bernell and I decide to supplement him to the Claiming Crown -
$5000 for a shot at the winner's share of the route grass race of $60,000.
August 2nd comes and this time Dean finds himself in traffic into the stretch.
There is no clear path on the outside. A hole opens up late and Fizzy charges
through and wins a photo!! Holy crap - four in a row and we're in the winner's
circle again. I'm know I'll be interviewed after the race, so right there in my
car, I rehearse it over and over again until it sounds right: "I'd like to
thank the Rhones for their care and attentiveness; Dean for riding him picture
perfect and knowing the horse; my partners for their faith and trust; my family
for being there every step of the way for their support; and Fizzy Pop for
being the tiger he is!"
After the race I'm interviewed by the TVG guys (another note: I didn't know at
the time idea if TVG even cares about the Claiming Crown, but what the hell? Again,
my Dream. Turns out, they DID carry it.)
And they ask me what's next for the horse. Would I supplement him to the
Breeder's Cup? (I know, I know, but again - my Dream!) I answered,
"Emotionally I want to shout out 'Yes!', but we'll need to talk a step
back in a few days, see how he came back from the race, get the partners,
trainer and rider together and decide what we want to do next."
What we decided to do was to send him to the Joe Hirsch at Belmont and see if
it has what it takes and then make the decision on the Breeder's Cup from there.
He didn't win, but he had trouble and finished third. The partners, Dean,
Bernell and a few other folks gathered in a back room in a restaurant to decide
what to do. We enjoyed a fine dinner, relived the year and debated on the
wisdom of taking ALL the winnings for the year and letting it ride
supplementing to the Breeder's Cup and if we did, was Dean up to riding in the
biggest race of his life at Santa Anita.
We decided to let it ride, of course. And no way was he going if he wasn't
being piloted by Dean Butler. We ponied up the cash and we became the story of
the Breeder's Cup. A bunch of shmoes that are trying to play with the big boys.
Out to Santa Anita we went for the Cup and it is my birthday weekend to boot!
Reporters are everywhere and my wife is hating life (she's a shy soul), but I'm
enjoying it and we are the latest 'People's Horse'. We reap more in
endorsements than we ever could winning the race and we decide to plow most of
that into expanding our partnership with a several well-bred horses and start
the road to the Preakness (Yes, the Preakness - another one of my little
Dreams, but that's another story).
And the race? Well, after an agonizing wait, our number goes up after the photo
sign comes down. The crowd goes wild and as partners we are almost passed out
from the excitement. We can barely get to the winner's circle. It's like a
Pop winning the Breeder's Cup Turf - or maybe it was a $16,000 Claiming race at
Oh wait, it IS!
So there it is. My day-dreaming for me, my partners and our horse. It doesn't
matter if it's feasible or even possible. That's the point of having a dream.
In racing we all chase a dream. Maybe
it's the Kentucky Derby or the Breeder's Cup or maybe the dreams are more
modest in scope. It really doesn't
matter. If you don't allow yourself the
time to dream, just why are you exactly in this business? We all know it's not about the money. It's tough to make a buck day in and day out
for most of us. The Dream is what keeps
us going. The beauty of my dream? If it
doesn't work out, I can adjust, but I will keep on dreaming.
How did things turn out in the real world?
Fizzy finished the summer for us with a couple of wins and a second in
five summer starts. After a single race
at Remington Park, a $35,000 Optional Claimer by the way, Fizzy turned an ankle
and is resting for a couple of months at a farm. He'll come back to training in December and
we hope to see over the turf at Tampa Bay Downs in January. I'll just adjust the dream for his 5-year
old season and we'll start over again.
Isn't that what we do every year?