A Day at the Races

Plus: D-Day at the DMN; Dirty Deed

The day, in fact, belonged to the men and women who dared--guys like Billy Koch; Corey Johnsen, president of Lone Star Park, who had envisioned a Cup in Grand Prairie from the track's earliest days; trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who passed up easier competition to race his great mare Azeri against boys in the Breeders' Cup Classic. (She finished a decent fifth in the best Classic field ever, beating Birdstone and Funny Cide, among others.) Even Lord Derby, who ignored Osama bin Laden's scowling face on every television screen and shipped his world-beating filly Ouija Board to Texas to win the $1.3 million Filly & Mare Turf.

Call them the Anti-Smarty Joneses. They're all about the challenge.

You knew the Anti-Smarties were taking risks if you got a chance to watch the British, Irish and French Thoroughbreds arrive at Lone Star on a soggy October 25. Horses are precarious things: They have muscles and tendons and tiny bones you never knew existed, and those long, spindly legs support an unwieldy mass of flesh. All kinds of things can go wrong on a charter plane across the Atlantic, let alone a slipping, sliding, bumpy race on a mushy wet turf course.
Singletary takes the Breeders' Cup Mile with rider David Flores.
Singletary takes the Breeders' Cup Mile with rider David Flores.

I came to see Six Perfections, the sensational French filly who charged from behind to win last year's Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita Park in California. She steps off the van encased in protective gear: knee pads, hoof guards, a mesh coat and some kind of leather carapace strapped to the top of her skull. She's an incredibly striking creature, a shimmering black with a white blaze and wild eyes, a little more delicate than the boys. Last year, she refused to enter the starting gate for the Mile. Had a giant snit, in fact, rearing several times and forcing her rider to bail out. The track handlers locked arms across her rump and literally shoved her into the gate. The amazing thing is that she still managed to come from behind and win--against males.

She was back on Saturday for her final race. On the way to the gate, she did a little bit of the sideways-walking thing, but she was otherwise composed.

The Mile is a tough race; there's little time to recover from errors or mishaps, and Six Perfections had to check her stride when she was boxed in by other horses on the final turn. She turned on the afterburners deep in the stretch and closed fast, but it was too late to catch Singletary. She finished a more-than-respectable third, earning $184,800. Now it's off to Kentucky, where she has a date with the stallion Storm Cat.

The most impressive performances of the day came from Sweet Catomine in the Juvenile Fillies division--she ran faster than the juvenile males--and Ghostzapper in the Classic. (D. Wayne Lukas, who's had more success running fillies against males than any trainer in history, speculated that Sweet Catomine might be "the next Azeri.") Ghostzapper led all the way in stakes-record time, establishing himself as the best horse in America, probably in the world.

Sometime afterward, his 27-year-old jockey, Javier Castellano, sat in near-silence in the media tent, seemingly in awe of the animal he'd just ridden. When it was Castellano's turn to speak to the press, he was hushed and humble. And pretty darn near incomprehensible. He kept referring to Ghostzapper as "De Whore." He meant "the horse," but that's not how it came out. Turns out Castellano grew up in Maracaibo, Venezuela, where the S's are often dropped in the local Spanish dialect.

We didn't learn much from Castellano, only that De Whore won and won big. Ghostzapper's trainer, Bobby Frankel, described Castellano as an "up and coming" rider who gained the mount on Ghostzapper when Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey decided the colt wasn't quite good enough for him. But Frankel had it wrong; when Castellano won the Classic, he'd arrived. --Julie Lyons

D-Day at the DMN

Even if it's not a surprise, it's always a shock. That was the sentiment from the newsroom Wednesday after The Dallas Morning News let go 60 some-odd reporters, editors and designers. They knew it was coming. (Belo announced a month ago that it would lay off 250 companywide.) But because a newspaper enjoys status as a government watchdog and public-policy setter, they thought it shouldn't act like any other gray corporation that is slave to its stock price. They were wrong.

Some stories from the day left untold:

··· The entire horse racing community was dumbfounded that longtime DMN beat writer Gary West was let go four days before the biggest horse racing event ever in North Texas, the running of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Lone Star Park. To protest this, Bob Sambol, owner of Bob's Steak & Chop House, notified the paper that, beginning next week, he was pulling all advertising.

"The racing community is outraged," Sambol said via cell phone from Lone Star Park three days before the big race. "They will never get another dime from me. It's not that much money to them, but I'm trying to make a point. What they did was despicable."

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