We ran a few errands and then stopped off at The Hit's house because he and Mrs. The Hit were going to Oaks on Friday and both Solon and I wanted to give The Hit some cash to place a bet on the Kentucky Oaks for us. Immediately upon our arrival The Hit goes into his liquor cabinet and breaks out his special bottle of Basil Hayden 8 year old Bourbon and pours 4 glasses to welcome us to the fine state of Kentucky. Although I am on 1 hour sleep, the current time is 9 a.m. Pacific, and I have yet to eat anything, I take the shot because 1) it would be rude to turn down The Hit's Kentucky hospitality, and 2) The Hit is not a man to whom you object to much of anything he suggests. The Bourbon, is, in a word... stout.
That afternoon I awake from a 2 hour nap to the arrival of the legendary Tasso, who has driven up from ATL like I used to do so many times (one of the great feats of modern driving is to go from ATL to Louisville without getting caught in traffic in ATL, Chattanooga, or Nash Vegas; it is an 8 hour drive and these cities are spaced in such a way as to make it damn near impossible).
Let the drinking of the Yards begin...
Thursday night Brain, Tasso, Solon, The Hit, myself, and a dude named Lalley go to a longtime favorite bar called O'Sheas, for the traditional drinking of yards of black & tan. Storytelling, mass drunkenness, and interaction with other patrons ensues, and at one point a Sharpie is produced and some girls get their bosoms autographed by members of our party. We just told them that we were Orson & Stranko. It didn't take much more than that.
Giving back to the fans is always rewarding
I had way too much to drink but was feeling just fine until at 2 a.m. I got into The Hit's car for the ride home and it began to move. It was at that point I knew trouble was not far away. I staved of Earl throughout he car ride to The Hit's house, a car change, and the trip back to Club Brain, but as soon as I got inside the house damn if Earl wasn't waiting for me in the bathroom. He had his way with me for about 20 minutes before he finally allowed me to go to sleep around 3.30. Did I mention that Brain & I had an 8.30 tee time in Bardstown?
Charter members (L to R): Solon, The Hit, Kanu, Brain
Up at 7, in Brain's car and passed back out by 7.30 for the 40 minute drive to Bardstown CC, where we met up with Ron & Sue, who are 1) Brain's parents 2) my surrogate Kentucky parents 3) 2 of the greatest people you will ever meet. Upon our arrival Sue's first words to Brain are "wow - he doesn't look so good". I explain to them that we had too much fun last night, and then added to Ron "But that's what happens when you go out drinking with The Hit". His response: "Damn, I know that's right", which is meaningless to most of you but downright hilarious to the few of you who witnessed Ron's epic form at a certain family wedding weekend last year. I managed not to barf on the guy in the proshop, but after my first swing on the practice range it was immediately clear that the swift jerking motion of the golf swing was not going to be good at all. My main goal shifted from not running out golf balls (I found a sleeve in my apt and now had a whopping six in the bag) to not fertilizing the green grass of Bardstown CC with my vomit. Walking to the first tee it seemed a 50/50 proposition. At best. I figured a final score of 120 was not out of the range of possibility.
A double bogey at the first and I was on my way. After 3 or 4 holes the clouds in my head started to clear up, and all things considered I was actually playing fairly well. Then Brain and I each hit it to 3 feet on number 6 and it was on. We both birdied, he birdied the next, and I went on to play the next 8 holes in even par. The highlight of the round was that Sober Sue made a hole in one on the Par 3 12th hole. It was her first, and could not have happened to a nicer lady.
Perhaps the red-eye, 4 hours sleep in 2 nights, drunkenness, Earl, and the hangover caught me at last, as I stumbled home on the last four holes. Although a clear 11 shots above my career best, I am as proud of my vomit-free 87 as any round I can remember. Anyone who witnessed Louie on the first tee the morning after the now legendary Braves game during the 2004 Chowdahead-Redneck Invitational had a good idea of the shape I was in on the first tee. Actually the last 12 holes were very enjoyable, and it was wonderful to get to visit with Ron & Sue, since the only flight home I could get was Sunday evening, meaning that I would miss the traditional Sunday Supper and feeding of the horses at their house.
The lads: Tasso, Solon, Brain
Got back to the house just in time to
The Twin Spires as seen from the paddock
Waking up on Derby Day is like waking up on Christmas Day when you are 6 years old - you are supremely excitied about the possibilities that lay ahead. Read some of the Daily Racing Form and Program and then we made our way to the Downs. We arrived about 12:30 and made our way to the paddock between the 4th and 5th races, and the handicapping, socializing, and viewing the sheer multitude of beautiful women began in earnest.
In the 5th race, I went $2 across the board on a horse named Trickey Trevor, beacuse 1) I liked him at 10-1 and 2) the phrase "It's tricky..." is the beginning of any explanation of anytihng by Solon, and has established itself as an inside joke in our circle of friends and 3) NoCal horse, NoCal trainer(Hollendorfer), and NoCal jockey(R. Baze). Trickey Trevor did the job, pulling a minor upset and turning my $6 into $38. The day was off to a flying start.
These were on the house, courtesy of Trickey Trevor
I passed on the 6th race and instead opted to eat my Subway sandwich that I brought in, make a bunch of bets for friends who didn't attend, and whatnot. Lost a partial exacta wheel on the 7th race when the massive favorite failed to finish first. All day I was planning on an exacta box with the 2 Baffert horses in the 8th, but then backed off when it became obvious that I was not alone. His 2 horses were 5/2 and 2/1, so I looked for something else, and of course the Baffert horses finished 1-2. I rallied in the 9th race with $2 across the board on English Channel, a nice Pletcher horse who at 4-1 turned $6 into about $18, and I was ready for the Derby. Oh, somewhere in there the juleps started flowing as well. As predicted, the price was raised yet again to a now staggering $9 for a drink that is 70% shaved ice. Oh well, when in Rome...
$18 of strong, sweet, greatness
Before Saturday I liked Brother Derek but he was the morning line favorite at 3-1 and in a field of 20 there's no value in that, so I was looking at Sweetnorthernsaint, Point Determined, and A.P. Warrior who were all between 10-1 and 15-1. Well, by midday Saturday those three had become the wiseguy horses and had all been bet down to between 5-1 and 7-1, while Brother Derek was all the way up to 9-1. Barbaro had become the favorite, based on many insiders raving about how amazingly he had looked and trained all week on the Churchill Downs surface. I was still scared off by the 5 week layoff, especially at 5-1.
Alex Solis waits as Bro Derek gets saddled.
So Bro Derek it was. $20 across the board on him, plus a California Love exacta box with the top 3 California horses, Brother Derek, Point Determined, and A.P. Warrior. Finally a mondo partial wheel $1 trifecta ticket that bought me 72 different combinations for $72. I used this strategy in 2004 to hit the trifecta, where my $72 trifecta ticket hit for a $494 return.
Waiting at the window: the zenith of optimism
Back to the rail of the paddock to secure a good spot to see the horses come in, get saddled, and walk back out to the track for the post parade. We get to be within 10 feet of these horses, and they are absolutely amazing and beautiful this up close & personal. I was also super excited to get a picture of Beverly Lewis, the first lady of racing, as she strolled down to the paddock to watch her horse, Point Determined, get saddled. I have always really liked her and her late husband Bob, who by all accounts are/were the nicest, humblest weathly people in the horse ownership game. They are both Oregon alums, were high school sweethearts, had their first date at the track, and were married for over 50 years. They also have a special place in my heart because it was their horse Silver Charm that I bet on in 1997 at my first Derby at 6-1, who won the race in super dramatic fashion, then did the same in the Preakness and just missed out on the Triple Crown. I loved Silver Charm, and was happy for them that they won the Derby and Preakness again with Charismatic in 1999 before he broke his leg on the homestretch of the Belmont in his bid for Triple Crown glory. Bob just passed away last month. I said "Mrs. Lewis - good luck today!" and she turned, and waved. Then I gave her a "Go Ducks!" and she smiled before walking away. Awesome.
1st Lady of Racing & Oregon Duck Beverly Lewis
On the walk into the paddock, Barbaro stopped right in front of us and was jumping around, which either meant that he was completely overwhelmed by the massive raucous crowd, or that he was so full of energy that he was about to run the race of his life. I din't think much of this at the time but after the race it sure stuck out in my mind.
Barbaro: doesn't know it yet, but about to be a champion
Steppenwolfer: hoping for a magic carpet ride
(he came in 3rd)
Anticipation builds all around us, and also with everyone within 15 feet of our group whom we have become freinds with over the course of the afternoon. As the horses walk past us again and make their way onto the track, "My Old Kentucky Home" is played and sung by the crowd. You can always tell the natives from the out of towners because this moment is an emotional experience and often produces a teary eye for native Kentuckians. To prove my point, Brain goes 6'7", 240 yet is no exception to this rule.
Brain weeps as Point Determined exits the paddock.
Tasso had disappeared a while back, and we were wondering where he was. Right about this time Solon gets a text from him "I am in the grandstands right at the finish line". Only Tasso could have pulled this off, as there are only 50,000 seats at Churchill Downs, so actual ticketed seats are near impossible to get, and trying to get in past the ushers is no small feat either. In perfect Tasso fashion, he wasn't even trying to sneak in - he wandered into the wrong place trying to get back to us in the paddock from visiting his friend in the first turn, ane he found himself at the top of a ramp and the entrance to the grandstands. In all the prerace excitement there was no usher to be found, so he moseyed on in. Oh, and he just happened to be right at the finish line, so he stayed and watched the race for free where others paid up to $1000 to do the same. 100% pure Tasso, that.
This could only happen to Tasso.
(white pole in background is the finish line)
We watched the race on the giant screen above the paddock. Along the backstretch we were all amazed that Sinister Minister looked like he was actually rating behind Keyed Entry. Hell, if he can rate he might win the thing. Then around the far turn and at the top of the stretch Barbaro just blew everyone away. Very impressive, and nice to once again have a completely worthy Derby winner. I took pleasure in watching the dude climb up his ladder, remove "2005 Giacomo" from the paddock facade, and replace it with "2006 Barbaro". I also must take time out to say that I was completely wrong about this, and also applaud Edgar Prado for not taking my advice.
Order is restored: a legit Derby winner
So I lost all my Derby bets, and did everyone in our group. Brother Derek finished in a dead heat for 4th. The only winner I knew was my frined Sunny, who via me had $2 across the board on Barbaro, which netted her $28.20. The best part is that she chose Barbaro while slightly tipsy on Friday morning at about 2 a.m. after a night out on the town, proving that handicapping genius comes in many shapes and sizes.
All day I had been loving a horse named Barbados in the 12 race, so as we prepared to leave after the Derby I went and put $5 across the board on him and we left. Upon arriving at The Hit's house for a backyard barbecue dinner, I was elated to find out that Barbados had won the 12th race at 5-1 turning my $15 wager into $38. That took the sting out of losing big on the Derby and also made me feel pretty good about picking the winner in 3 of the 6 races that I bet on, because by no means am I that good of a handicapper.
Kent Desormeaux, 7th on post-time favorite
Sweetnorthernsaint, talks about his trip with the media
A really fun day with amazing scenery at Derby, as always. We didn't make it out on Saturday night. Sunday we all went to lunch for some real deal southern BBQ, and I gorged myself on legit sweet tea for the final time. Then off to the airport that evening and finally to bed at about 1 a.m. Another great weekend - I'm already looking forward to Derby 133 on Saturday, May 5th, 2007.
Oh, and anyone wondering whatever happened to Kid Rock, The Hit saw him in the infield at Oaks on Friday.
How quickly they fall