"What are you getting for Christmas?" he said. We never exchange gifts, except the year I sent him a monogrammed doily and he gave me a crested snuff box.
"One of the gifts already came," I said. "A large envelope from Lexington."
"Something from one of the farms?" Kelly said.
"Is your dog bomb-sniffing or drug-sniffing?" Kelly is a former race-track cop, and still can't help thinking this way.
"His sniffer deserted him a few years ago," I said. I couldn't believe that here we were, a few days before Christmas, talking about dog sniffers. "His sniffer was there one day and gone the next," I went on. "But you've given me an idea. I'll put some gravy on it, and maybe he'll think it's his dinner."
"You're going to sucker your dog into eating this package?" Kelly said. "Can you cut to chase on this? What the hell's so foreboding about this package?"
"It's my Eclipse Awards ballot,"
"If that hound gets past the gravy, I can see a trip to the vet coming."
"I've been voting since 1982, and this is the first time I didn't want to tear open that envelope, check off all the horses I like, and be done with it."
"It's the Horse of the Year vote. It's got me bamboozled, and I'm not alone. A lot of the voters are procrastinating. They're torn betwen Zenyatta and Blame, just like me."
"But isn't Zenyatta a shoo-in? I don't follow this like you do, but isn't she one of the few things racing's had to crow about the last two years?"
"You got that right, pilgrim, but she lost her last race. Blame just barely beat her in the Breeders' Cup."
"So? That's all she lost, right?"
"Yes, and except for Rachel Alexandra in 2009, she's been the only real draw racing has had in a long time. They even turned out by the thousands for Zenyatta at Hollywood Park. And nobody goes to Hollywood Park these days, at least nobody who will admit it."
"So open that bloody envelope and vote for Zenyatta."
"If I don't open the envelope, I can't get it wrong. Riddle me this, Kelly baby. Blame beat Zenyatta the only time they met. Blame lost only one race this year, just like Zenyatta. So It's not cut and dried."
"Maybe there's no such thing as a wrong vote."
"I get a little tired of hearing that, but I know where you're coming from. Everybody kept saying the same thing last year, when it was a tough call
between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra.Then Rachel won by a reasonably comfortable vote, and all hell broke loose. Zenyatta fanatics are like the proverbial woman scorned. Now they feel that not only is she the best horse, the voters owe them one."
"But isn't that the wrong way to vote?"
"Precisely. Last year was last year, and should not be a factor this year. But look at it another way: Zenyatta's an automatic election to the Hall of Fame, when she's eligible in five years. So is Rachel Alexandra. Blame will never get in. But even that should have nothing to do with it. One voter, a friend of mine, told me that the best race of Zenyatta's career came the day Blame beat her. He said that racing will always remember Zenyatta, and Blame will only be a historical footnote. He's not too far off in all that."
"Sounds like this might be the closest Eclipse vote ever."
"Well, you'd have to go pretty far to top 1984, when Slew o' Gold and John Henry were up for Horse of the Year. Slew o' Gold, with a bad foot, and, like Zenyatta, got beat by a very small margin in the Breeders' Cup. Wild Again won the race. Slew o' Gold's in the Hall of Fame, as is John Henry. Wild Again will never get in. John Henry got hurt and missed the Breeders' Cup, although I think he would have run in the grass race, not the Classic. In effect, Slew o' Gold was penalized for running in the Breeders' Cup and losing. John Henry, by not running, didn't lose any points with the voters. He was nine years old, and had a legit injury."
"So John Henry won the vote?"
"Yes and no."
"Yes and no?"
"One vote either way, the way I remember it, would have sent the election Slew o' Gold's way."
"So what are you talking about? You're talking with a forked tongue."
"At the Los Angeles Times, I had to write advance stories on both horses, to cover whichever one won. The announcement was going to be at the end of the dinner, very late for our deadlines. They announced John Henry and I ran to a phone and called it in. The guy who took the call pulled out the wrong story. The next day in the Los Angeles Times, we had Slew o' Gold the champion."
"Dewey Beats Truman, all over again."
"And of course some readers thought I blew it, since my name was on the story. I got a letter from one guy who asked me how many beers I had consumed at the dinner."
"He was completely off base. I was drinking manhattans. Straight up. Twist of lemon, no cherry."