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Memories make the Breeders' Cup

ARCADIA, Calif. … Thanks to my "Happy Handicapper" column in The Buffalo News, I have been privileged to have attended all 24 Breeders' Cups and hope to survive until this weekend's 25th.

I won't lie and say I remember all 180 races like they were yesterday. But I do have a bunch of good memories.

1984: Assigned to the far end of the auxiliary press box at Hollywood Park, I was fortunate enough to make friends with Ed Fountaine (now with the New York Post) and Wally Hall (Arkansas Democrat Gazette).

Hall and I bet Wild Again, the $64.60 winner of the first Classic. (I liked him because his owners had put up extra money to make him a supplementary entry.) There may be no cheering allowed in the press box, except in the far end of the auxiliary one, where there was a whole lot of whooping it up.

Earlier in the week one morning I was in the hotel coffee shop when a waitress asked Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens if he planned to retire soon.

"What would I do?" was his reply. "Hang around with people who don't know anything about horses?"

1985: Whenever I read about super stallion Storm Cat and his $500,000 stud fee, I remember how he got beat by Tasso in the Juvenile at Aqueduct. I also remember looking out my top-floor hotel window and being able to read "Goodyear" on the tires of airplanes landing at Kennedy Airport.

1986: A certain scribe, who is best left nameless, tipped me that "Manila has a knee the size of a melon." So I avoided betting the champion horse, who won the Turf and paid $19.60. He knows who he is.

1987: I was standing by the finish line for the Alysheba-Ferdinand photo finish in the historic Classic in which two Kentucky Derby winners finished 1-2. Trainers Jack Van Berg and Charlie Wittingham both looked very nervous watching the replay before Ferdinand's number finally went up.

1988: Early Saturday morning, after it had rained all night, I saw Van Berg standing by the fence looking at the muddy track. I said something to him about how bad it was that the track was such a mess.

"Don't worry," Van Berg told me. "Alysheba is going to love this track." I should have bet a lot more on the $5 winner.

1989: I happened to be in the clockers' stand when Shug McGaughey sent Easy Goer out for his final workout before the Classic. I watched McGaughey while he watched the work and I thought I could see in his face that he wasn't happy with it. So I bet on Sunday Silence, who just held off Easy Goer in one of the most exciting finishes in Cup history.

1990: The day after the Belmont Stakes in June, trainer Carl Nafzger told a small gathering of reporters that for the rest of the year, everything he did with Unbridled would be aimed for the Breeders' Cup. Don't worry about anything else that you see, he said.

I remembered his words when in races leading up to the Classic at Belmont, Nafzger ran Unbridled on the turf, where he lost, and in other non-successful preps that summer. While other people may have been faulting Unbridled's non-winning campaign, I bet my ranch and was rewarded with a $15.20 payoff.

1991: Steve Crist, who would go on to run the Daily Racing Form, told a Friday seminar at Churchill Downs that he didn't like Canadian Triple Crown champion Dance Smartly in the Distaff because she'd been beating inferior Canadian-bred competition. She proved him and the other like-minded experts wrong by winning as the 1-2 favorite.

Earlier that day, Arazi's phenomenal move to win the Juvenile took me by surprise, and watching the film today still makes my hair stand on end. I didn't have the winning $6.60 ticket, and the memory of the race cost me more money the next spring when I picked and bet him to win the Derby.

1992: Gilded Time, the Juvenile winner, was owned by Buffalo native David Milch. But I couldn't get to talk to him because I hadn't made arrangements in advance (in advance?) to get into the press conference in the track's tiny barber shop.

1993: I didn't have Arcangues, the $269.20 winner, but I still admire Perry Lefko (then of the Toronto Sun), who back-wheeled runner-up Bertrando and caught a $1,015 exacta. At the breakfast on Sunday morning, jockey Jerry Bailey brought down the house explaining how he couldn't understand the prerace instructions the trainer gave him in French.

1994: A year mostly memorable for Concern's last-to-first victory and Tom Durkin's Classic call at the finish: "Concern from out of the clouds!"

1995: Unbridled's Song won the Juvenile and afterwards owner Ernie Paragallo explained that he told people a year earlier "we were going to win the Breeders' Cup with him and the Triple Crown."  .‚.‚. I also snatched a carnation from the blanket of flowers Cigar got after winning the Classic. For months, I kept it on my desk at home until my wife threw "that old thing" away.

1996: The Cup came to Woodbine in Toronto. I loved Lit de Justice even before he won the Sprint, mainly because I loved the fact that his trainer, Jenine Sahadi, had been a journalism major. I also got a kick out of the Sunday morning remark by Bill Mott when he was informed that the Allen Paulson-owned Cigar, who finished his four-year, 33-race career by running third to Alphabet Soup in the Classic, had boosted his lifetime earnings to just $85 short of $10 million.

   "Don't tell Mr. Paulson," Mott joked. "He'll want me to run him again."

1997: Favorite Trick looked like a cinch in the Juvenile at Santa Anita. So the idea was to find a long shot to run second for the exacta. Dawson's Legacy, from Woodbine, was one of three I wheeled underneath. The 78-1 shot held on for second and paid $30.80 to place and I caught a $190 exacta.

1998: Swain went wide under Frankie Dettori and Awesome Again won the Classic at Churchill Downs. Ed Musselman (aka tip sheeter Indian Charlie) wrote that "The only downer of the whole day was the five photographers who were killed when they were trampled by Swain and jockey Frank Dettori at the wire."

1999: I took my wife to the Cup for the first time. We had nice seats at Gulfstream Park, but I went 0-fer at the windows. Didn't the legendary handicapper Pittsburgh Phil say "A man cannot divide his attention at the track between horses and women?"

2000: I got on the D. Wayne Lukas bandwagon for a change and caught Spain ($113.80). Unfortunately, I didn't box the other Lukas-trained filly, Surfside, in the exacta, so I missed the $664.60 payoff.

2001: My friend, the late Bob Engelhardt, thought he detected an outside track bias in the early races at Belmont Park. So in the Juvenile Fillies, the fourth race on the card, he boxed the three outside horses and caught a 7-9 exacta (Tempera and Imperial Gesture) worth $768.

2002: I didn't hit the $428,392 Pick Six (those who did went to jail) but I did have Volponi, the $89 long shot that unveiled the big past-posting scandal. I bet Volponi because I've always admired his Hall of Fame trainer, P.G. Johnson.

2003: I caught all four of Richard Mandella's winners at Santa Anita. We were on fire, just like the hills around Arcadia.

2004: I thought it was neat that Frank Stronach, owner of both Lone Star Park and Classic winner Ghostzapper, cut short his postrace press conference so he could watch his Royal Regalia run (and win) in the next race. It was even neater because the horse was trained by Fort Erie-based Justin Nixon.

2005: After Stevie Wonderboy won the Juvenile, owner Merv Griffin came into the interview room singing "My Old Kentucky Home." Rarely have I seen a happier owner with a good 2-year-old in the barn.

2006: Street Sense won the Juvenile by 10 lengths and trainer Carl Nafzger said "He's my Derby horse. I'd be a fool to say he wasn't." Remembering my previous experience with Nafzger (see 1990), I cashed at the Derby the next spring.

2007: A couple nights before Curlin splashed away Street Sense's chance at Horse of the Year, Ed Fountaine and I ducked out of the rain to have a drink at the hotel bar near Monmouth Park. We recalled some of the high and low points of our 24 years at the Cup, laughed about Wild Again's upset and his bad information on Manila's knee (oops, I gave it way) and agreed that the years had flown by much too fast.

  --- Bob Summers




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