The shuttle left in a timely fashion for the post position draw for Breeders� Cup XXIV from the media hotel, headed for Monmouth Park. The Garden State prize race course will dance its first on this huge national stage.
And the people around here act as if they can�t wait.
Since we�re in Springsteen country, we took the backstreets through Long Branch, crossed over Route 36, and there we were, on the new, nearly unrecognizable backstretch. At least to me, anyhow. Every bit of 15 years since I�d been on the backside here.
It was a spiffy luxury coach that carried us, a little over the top considering at the time the 38-seater was carrying only myself and my new best friend, who writes a column for Queensland, Australia�s Country Life called �Down The Straight with Phillip Bate.�
As in �G�day mate.�
His column sounded so cool I considered changing to a pseudonym until I conjured up all the potential choices and figured I�d better play it safe.
In my new role as cheeky American, I presumed to tell him all he needed to know about Monmouth from the time we entered the backstretch gate to the front of a newly spruced up clubhouse, all of about a minute.
�Yeah, see all those satellite dishes and production trucks and tents,� I advised. �That�s the way it works. If a track wants to host the event, they get together with their Chamber of Commerce and make their pitch. The state came up with $30 million for track improvements for this one. If the Breeders� Cup say it�s a go, know one thing: It�s their show."
Phillip and I walked into the tent where the draw was to be held. Bacon and eggs first. Post positions complete the exacta. But the first thing you see were huge banners with reproductions of the horses that distinguished themselves in races run in New Jersey then went on to win the Breeders� Cup that same year.
The two-year-old filly champion of 1988; a Jersey-bred. And older female champion Lady�s Secret, a stakes winner at the Shore track that parlayed her win in the 1986 Distaff into a Horse of the Year title as well. And there were others, many others.
The start of the program was delayed almost an hour before all would learn the Breeders� Cup would have its first cross-entered horse, a rules violation.
But since Forefathers was entered in the Dirt Mile on Friday and the Sprint Saturday, it was determined it was permissible since the races were run on different days. Further, his participation in either event was not preventing another would-be entrant from starting in either race.
Actually, Forefathers could run in both. That�s been done before; a horse racing on back-to-back days. But never at this level. Racing in both would be an extreme longshot, of course. Fun to think about, nevertheless.
Meanwhile, Phillip was leaning over and telling me about his good fortune.
It was his first Breeders� Cup, a true international event. And how often, he wondered, do you get to make your debut and sit down at the same table to share coffee and conversation with none other than Lawyer Ron, the man, not the critter.
The critter, obviously, is the best older horse in training and was made the early line 5-2 favorite to win the Breeders� Cup Classic and title Horse of the Year 2007?
I didn�t have the heart to tell Phillip this doesn�t happen every day.
Lawyer Ron, the man , is managing the estate of his good friend, the owner/breeder of Lawyer Ron. Hines drowned in a pool accident at his home just before the horse ran in last year�s Risen Star Stakes while prepping for the Derby.
Ron Bamberger, Hines� lawyer and long time friend, is the animal�s namesake. Naturally, Bamberger and his wife, Gina, were very interested parties at yesterday�s draw.
�I�d like to see him draw outside [expected pacesetter] Hard Spun,� Bamberger was saying moments before the draw for the Classic. He winced only slightly when pill number 1 was pulled. �So much for [relaxing]. He�ll have to hold his position into the first turn.�
�We�re certainly hoping to have a better finish than we had last year,� added Gina Bamberger. Lawyer Ron finished ninth behind 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor.
Meanwhile the draw was running late, which was probably the reason Mike Tessitore rushed through the process, failing to give the declarations from the races first and never explaining the cross-entry of Forefathers until prodded by the audience. He got a little better as the program wore on, but only a little. Someone should have thought to coach him first.
�You guys are tough,� said a Breeders� Cup representative, assigned to make Bamberger feel at home during the breakfast draw. I explained that I felt compelled, as HRI�s head tweaker, to keep everyone honest. He didn�t seem impressed.
But Phillip Bate from Down The Straight was: �Imagine, you sit down at a table for your first Breeders� Cup and wind up sitting across from the owner of the early line favorite for the Classic and Horse of the Year.�
I didn�t have the heart to tell him: This sort of thing happens all the time over here.