I arrived in Louisville early Thursday morning, and was promptly greeted by gloom and torrential rains that were making their way through the area. After a brief visit to the Churchill Downs press box, I headed over to check into my hotel and ready for the evenings festivities. On my dance card was a cocktail party hosted by celebrity chef Bobby Flay and TDN Publisher Barry Weisbord. Upon arrival, guests were greeted with a refreshing Vodka-based cocktail (Grey Goose, of course). Held in a local airport hangar (I know it sounds odd, but one would never know where they actually were once inside), the event featured live music in addition to an international panel of chefs (reportedly hand picked by Mr. Flay), who were offering delectable creations from 15 countries. With tremendous flags arranged in a cubic shape hanging from above, each mini stage was adorned with white lights and linens, making it resemble something right off the planet Krypton (yes, I’m referring to Superman’s birthplace). Each station presented food from a particular country on one side of the platform, while the opposing side offered a corresponding cocktail meant to compliment the fare. I must admit, I’ve been to quite a few pre-race press parties along the way, but this definitely was the most novel and inspired. Many industry notables were on the scene and Bobby, who was in fine form, was as good a host as one could ask for.
After a couple of cocktails, a group of us headed over to the renowned Louisville-area French restaurant, Le Relais. Among those in the party were CHRB Chairman Keith Brackpool, Coolmore’s inimitable Richard Henry, Bo Derek (looking great, but minus the braids--sorry guys), Bloodstock agent Patrick Lawley-Waklin, who has been associated with such powerhouses as Sam-Son Farms and the Evans family, and the connections of Miss Match, who was slated to run in Friday’s GI Ladies' Classic. The mare, who won last March’s GI Santa Margarita S., was represented by trainer Neil Drysdale, his wife Shawn Dugan (who gets a special shout out as an entertainment director extraordinaire), in addition to the Australian contingent--the mare’s owner Matthew Cloros and Arrowfield’s Jon Freyer, who secured the filly for Cloros before her Grade I score (insert applause here). An amusing side note: Having called North America my home since birth, and having visited Australia only once, I had never laid eyes upon the Sydney-based owner of the mare, so I had always imagined somebody born in the era of the second World War. In fact, Matt is a young entrepreneur (he is the master behind the ultra- successful Australian company Redback Boots), and who, I’m told, is quite attractive (that’s an affirmative ladies). But back to the restaurant. Although a little tricky to find--as Mr. Henry might attest--the venue’s food and wine definitely lived up to all the hype. But in my mind, my dinner company was, without a doubt, the best feature of the evening. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by an amazingly accomplished group of people that are not only razor sharp and seriously passionate about our sport, but who are also as down to earth and fun as anybody you’re ever going to meet. Good times.
With Thursday’s rains having passed through, Friday dawned dry, albeit cloudy. It was just a typical fall day in Kentucky, cool but not frigid. By the time the first Breeders’ Cup race of the afternoon went off, however, the sun had broken through and warmed things up considerably. Stationed in the Turf Club with many of the principals from the night before, we were greeted by a good day of racing, punctuated by a seriously impressive performance by Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton’s My Miss Aurelia. It represented a bit of a full-circle moment for me since I was actually at Keeneland and covered the story for the TDN when she sold as a yearling for $550,000 in 2010. Even though I don’t have a vested interest in these horses, I always find myself so appreciative of watching them grow and develop into top shelf performers, and even more so, when they become champions. My Miss Aurelia’s performance definitely made it difficult to vote for anybody else at the end of the year, that’s for sure.
|Left to right: Reiley McDonald, Patrick Lawley-Wakelin, Shawn Dugan, Jon Freyer, |
Matt Cloros & Christina Bossinakis
While everybody in the Miss Match camp was having a good old time early in the card, it became increasingly evident as the anticipation and nervousness began to mount as the final Breeders’ Cup race of the day approached. Even with the sun’s appearance earlier, the track still retained a lot of moisture in it by the time the Ladies’ Classic went off. In the moments leading up to the race, the excitement among the Argentine-bred’s connections was palpable. While horses had shown they could come from off the pace during the day, Miss Match--a well-reputed closer--seemed like she might belie her 8-1 odds. As it turned out, she didn’t have the cleanest of trips and took more than her fair share of mud in her face, prompting a mud-caked Garrett Gomez to conclude that she had no way of seeing through the all the muck and mire. It is my understanding that the mare will head to the breeding shed next season, and she has certainly done enough to warrant it. One side note: you can often gage the merits of a person by the way they handle victory as well as defeat, and the 6-year-old’s connections, above all her owner, showed exemplary class after a pretty tough result. While things might not have gone quite as planned for some of the other participants in the race as well, the connections of Royal Delta were certainly rewarded generously, which continued into this week when she brought $8.5 million at the Keeneland November sale. It reminds me of earlier telecasts of Wide World of Sports that kicked off with the phrase ‘The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.’ I guess if you’ve been in this game long enough, you have experienced both in good measure.
Following the race, the Miss Match team lingered for another drink (or maybe it was two?) before adjourning to a very enjoyable dinner. I must admit, the whole experience underscored something that I’ve known for some time but sometimes forget. There is so much time, not to mention a boatload of preparation, put in to get a horse to a Breeders’ Cup race, so it goes without saying that losing is a real drag (I actually had another word in mind here). But for so many that devote heaps of energy and resources to the game, it is obvious that people’s love of the sport and, simply being part of a great day of racing like the Breeders’ Cup, makes it all worth it, win or lose.