A Day at the Races

A Day at the Races
The first Breeders' Cup at Lone Star Park belonged to the Anti-Smarties

The racing magnate stands there in silence, arms folded. His horse is well on its way to winning a $100,000 race at Lone Star Park, but the man can summon only the tiniest hint of a smile. Maybe you get that way when winning is your routine, when, in fact, your company owns the track where the race is run, and another of your horses has just taken the biggest prize in American racing, the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

Frank Stronach watches his second-stringer, Royal Regalia, win on a TV in the media tent, then walks away. And that is that.

The scene is altogether different across the street from Lone Star at Nokia Theatre, where the winning connections from Saturday's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships have gathered for the official post-race party. Billy Koch is mesmerized by replays of the Breeders' Cup Mile. He can't believe that the same horse--his horse--wins every time. He's so enthralled by the minute-37 race that he and his buddies, a bunch of rowdy young guys in sharp suits, take to shushing the crowd as Singletary charges home in the dirt one more time. One grabs a stick and points at the bobbing bay horse, whose rider is dressed in silks stamped with the Chicago Bears "C." They're rubbing shoulders with people like Stronach and England's Lord Derby, the man whose family provided the name for the Kentucky Derby and every other Derby run in England, Ireland, France, America, wherever.

Koch will stay there and watch the replays for hours, then go back to his hotel room and view his race again and again online. He'll sleep an hour and arrive for Sunday's media breakfast unshaven, wearing a Singletary cap, sweatshirt and faded jeans, still in disbelief.

By the end of Breeders' Cup weekend, everybody would know the Singletary guys. A bunch of us near winner's circle wheeled around during the post parade for the Mile when we heard hollers and whoops coming from somewhere above. In a corner of the grandstand balcony, 10 or so young guys--and one woman--were squished up against the railing, hooting, waving and chanting: SINGLE-TARY, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap, SINGLE-TARY...carrying on like anything but a Lord Derby.

When Singletary hurtled past the finish line, with jockey David Flores standing in the stirrups and waving his whip, the men started jumping and screaming. Some of them got so excited they ran down the upstairs escalator to get to winner's circle.

These guys, 13 of them, pitched in as little as $3,000 apiece to buy a $30,000 horse that had just bagged $873,600, winning the most prestigious one-mile race in the world. Some of them, like 35-year-old Joe Rosen, knew Koch, the managing partner of their modest syndicate, Little Red Feather Racing, from high school in Beverly Hills. They were all fans of Mike Singletary, the legendary Chicago Bears linebacker for whom the horse is named. "We live and die with this horse," Rosen explained later. "We all love this horse. When he crossed the finish line, the party began."

Singletary's trainer, Don Chatlos Jr., was elated--and relieved. Winner of only 10 races before this year's Cup, the young horseman, who grew up on Chicago's South Side, would wake up the next morning as The Celebrated Trainer Don Chatlos. He looked around his hotel room, surprised to see that the winner's flowers were still there. "I thought maybe I'd walked off with them or stole them," he said.

Things didn't start out so promising for this year's Breeders' Cup. Smarty Jones, the enormously popular winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, retired from racing after getting soundly beaten in the third leg of the Triple Crown. The official reason was injury, but this wasn't some dangerous, catastrophic thing. No, the group that had syndicated Smarty to stand at stud simply wanted to cash in now instead of waiting for their horse to heal, race again and perhaps demonstrate further that he wasn't the superhorse he was cracked up to be. It was a dollar decision, the kind of shortsighted choice that's taken over the sport to its detriment.

Deprived of their biggest star, Cup organizers came up with other reasons to worry about the single most important day of the year in Thoroughbred racing. Lone Star Park was staging the eight-race event for the first time, and the Grand Prairie track was surely the smallest, least prestigious place to host a Cup. There was hand-wringing about whether the Europeans would ship their multimillion-dollar horses to Texas, which didn't even have real Thoroughbred racing 10 years ago.

When the day was over and the ground was littered with losing tickets, Lone Star had carried the whole thing off brilliantly, a few clueless temporary mutuel clerks notwithstanding. Even the horse-poop scooper assigned to winner's circle handled his job with flair. The track, in fact, appears to have set a Cup record for worldwide handle. And two British horses, Wilko and Ouija Board, took winning trophies, earning more than $1.5 million. "The Europeans are kicking themselves that they didn't send more horses over here," said H. Wayne Hanks, one of the men who helped bring the Cup to Grand Prairie.

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