Special Moments - by Dan Liebman

The recent passing of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winners Lil E. Tee and Alysheba and Well Armed’s major victory have caused memories to come flooding back, from the world’s richest race in Dubai to the world’s most famous race in Louisville, Ky. Not only that, but of publications worked for in a life of covering Thoroughbred racing and breeding.

My pick in the 1987 Derby was Bet Twice, who, had he finished first in the race, assuredly would not have been declared the winner. Bet Twice bumped Alysheba in the stretch and by all accounts would have been disqualified had Alysheba not gone on to win.

That night a large group from Daily Racing Form was discussing the race while settling down for dinner at a well-known Louisville restaurant. Another large table sat unoccupied a few feet away, but after just a few minutes, in walked the group that was to dine adjacent to us.

Leading the way was Alysheba’s trainer, Jack Van Berg, who was followed closely by Clarence, Dorothy, and Pam Scharbauer, the latter two the mother/daughter team that raced the son of Alydar. Ken Carson and Jay Pumphrey, who advised the Scharbauers, were also in the mix, and took pleasure in discussing the pedigree and recalling the Keene-land sale where the colt was purchased.

Winding up seated next to the winning connections of a Kentucky Derby winner makes for a special evening with special memories.

I have always considered myself the tiniest of footnotes in the story of the horse that won the Derby five years later. The Racing Times was short-lived, but a highlight for this editor was the day trainer Lynn Whiting called to inquire about obtaining the speed figure of a colt that just moments earlier had broken his maiden impressively at Calder Race Course.

“You should call Chuck Streva,” I told Whiting. “Chuck does his own speed figures.”

Whiting did call Streva, and did buy the colt. And about 20 minutes after Lil E. Tee won the 1992 Derby, Whiting had his hand outstretched and recalled that conversation seven months earlier.

I picked Lil E. Tee to win that day, but not just because I happened to answer the phone the day his trainer called seeking information. Rather because in a year in which the Derby seemed to be wide open, Lil E. Tee could not only put Whiting in the winner’s circle, but do the same for the jockey who had won more races than any other at the track, except for the feature race on the first Saturday in May.

As a longtime handicapper of the Kentucky circuit, I found it hard not to appreciate the talents of Pat Day. Watching him glide under the wire first on Lil E. Tee was another memorable occasion.

In March 2000, a trip for The Blood-Horse sent this writer across the world for the fifth running of the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I). A pair of friendly faces appeared in the desert in the form of Eoin and Kathy Harty, who showed me where to eat, where to shop, and where to sightsee.

Eoin Harty, formerly an assistant to Bob Baffert, was living in Dubai and working for Sheikh Mohammed, the man who conceived the race in his native land. 

The day prior to the race, Sheikh Mohammed invited the media to a press conference where he sounded quite certain his colt Dubai Millennium would win the World Cup.

“This is a very special horse,” Sheikh Mohammed said. And, he was right.

Dubai Millennium toyed with his competition in the World Cup much the same way this year’s winner, Well Armed, did. Well Armed just happens to be trained by Eoin Harty, who now has a public stable based in Southern California.

This game leaves one with special memories.

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