Thursday, April 18, 2013

Spicer Cub and the Toughest Beat Ever

Jill McKlveen and Sam saw it all go down. The two of them could barely believe what unfolded at the top of the Pimlico homestretch.

Xavier “X-Man” Perez, a jockey already having an eventful trip aboard Spicer Cub, a 4-year-old gelding who believes in the scenic route and probably the smelling of roses, just got his horse under control.

Dr. Tom Jett or Joe Miller radioed to McKlveen, “Got one bolting.” McKlveen, a permanent outrider at Pimlico for four years now, readied for Spicer Cub and her friend Xavier Perez. Up until this point, McKlveen had been watching the race unfold on the television since the infield blocked her view of the race down the backstretch. The field swept around the turn and she turned her focus to the leaders because they’re “going to start the ball rolling here.”

“Oh, crap,” McKlveen said.
Spicer Cub took a physics-defying 90-degree turn and headed right for the starting gate, resting parallel to the outside rail, with a space barely wide enough for a Prius.

“Oh, crap,” McKlveen said, and urged Sam, a 20-year-old retired thoroughbred with five career wins on the Tampa circuit, forward a couple steps.

“They’re going to hit that gate,” McKlveen told me Tuesday. “I go out. I’m dead-set the horse will come out with no rider on it. There’s going to be a lose horse coming.”

Until …

“Really?” she said. “I see him take a hard turn there. I lose sight of him because the gate’s there. ‘He’s gonna hit that.’ That was my worry. My job is to catch that horse.”

X-Man had already lost his irons but grabbed onto the Spicer Cub’s mane. At this point, McKlveen, who is also a volunteer EMT, knew she’d likely have to catch Spicer Cub then peel X-Man off the dirt.

“He’s whipping and driving! Trust me, my mouth was open!” McKlveen said. She backed Sam up and radioed ahead, “He’s got no irons.”

X-Man’s feet hung by Spicer Cub’s rib cage like a couple of earrings. X-Man’s undercarriage was right on the horse’s spine and he was riding him. He had a fist full of mane and the whip out, bearing down on the leaders.

“It was wild. He didn’t give me any warning, especially the second time and went straight for the gate,” Perez said. “My life went before my eyes for a few seconds. I was thinking about bailing but saw there was enough space between the gate and the rail to get through, so I grabbed his mane and hoped for the best. Once we cleared the gate he re-broke again and almost won the race. It was really close. In fact, Forest Boyce (who was aboard Turbin) congratulated me after the wire.”

Stick around the track long enough and you’ll see some weird things. “Mule races, those are funny,” McKlveen said. “They get out of the gate and just stop.” But, what she saw with Spicer Cub? “I’ve never seen anything like that. That’s definitely a new experience.”

There’s a lot of angles to look at in this race. One, how crappy would you feel if you’re Turbin, the winner of the race? Yeah, you won, but the horse you beat by a neck? Yeah, he bolted once. Then he bolted and ran AROUND THE STARTING GATE and angled his away to the wire from THE FAR OUTSIDE. You thought Union Rags had a bad trip in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile?

You can take trip notes for a thousand years a never record anything like this.

What will they write? “Lost his way.” “Checked behind starting gate.” “Second best????”

Track announcer Dave Rodman went Al Michaels-from-the-1980-Winter-Olympics down the stretch imparting a “Do you believe in miracles?”

McKleever and Sam trotted down to the wire after the race, made her routine call to the stewards, no harm done.

Toughest beat ever.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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