Nov 5, 2009


Vince Timphony was frantic. His exercise rider was nowhere to be found and the track would soon be closed to training. He needed a rider to give Wild Again a final stiff workout in the days leading up to the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

He asked me to help him find a rider. I pointed down the shedrow of Barn 64 at Hollywood Park and told him that Jose Martinez might be his man. We all knew each other from our days at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

Jose was galloping for Laz Barrera at the time and was glad to oblige an old acquaintance.

Vince told Jose that he needed to rouse Wild Again who was the type of horse who needed some handling.

“Give him a good seven-eighths”, said Vince. “But, for god’s sake don’t hit him with the whip. He hates it.”

I hung around to watch as part of my duties in the television department was to deliver as much fresh information as I could gather for use of the media hordes. It occured to me at that moment to wonder why Vince did not just take the whip away if it was not going to be utilized.

We took up an observation post on the balcony behind the track kitchen, opposite the five furlong pole. Jose broke Wild Again off at the seven-eighths pole and he went the first half mile in the most excruciating fractions I had ever witnessed. Jose did his best to shake him up, to no avail.

Wild Again and Jose trudged along until Jose ran out of patience. When they reached mid-stretch Jose reached down and smacked Wild Again. He practically skidded to a stop and came up short of a full seven furlongs. Luckily, I thought, there was nobody around to witness the debacle.

Surely that must have ended any chance that Wild Again’s camp would pony up a $360,000 fee to join the field in such a star-studded field. After all, his previous race was a feeble effort to be third in a Bay Meadows turf face.

With such a prohibitive buy in no sane player would risk it on what would return less than 4-to-1. Or would they?

Well, they would. The fee was paid and the Wild Again crew went to betting on race day. I kept looking for the guys in the little white coats to come and haul them to a sanitarium.

TVG showed reruns of the 1984 BC Classic the other day and it reminded me that Pat Day’s ride was one of the greatest horsebacking achievements of all time. Sent away at 32-to-1, Wild Again led virtually all the way. When accosted first by Slew O’ Gold and then Gate Dancer the champion qualities of horse and rider were revealed.

Wild Again was beneficiary of a trademark hand ride, Day keeping the whip uncocked the entire journey until the fateful joust in the shadow of the wire. At that critical juncture Day slapped him with a few backhand flicks of the whip and prevailed.

When I watched the tape again I noticed none other than Jose Martinez smiling at the cameras in the winner’s circle. He looked relieved that he was not tar-and-feathered after the incongruous “workout”.

It was not a happy ending for me. I felt that Gate Dancer could not lose and I would have doubled my wager coming past the eighth pole. Gate Dancer was a notorious bad actor who liked to lug in. He had the perfect partner in Laffit Pincay Jr. who, it was said, could “keep an elephant from a peanut”.

I plunked down my $2000 announcing fee on the nose. It serves me right for betting on a nutcase who needs earmuffs to compete.

While I was licking my wounds the Wild Again party celebrated long into the night. Tales of a trunk full of cash won at the windows grew into the stuff of legend as years went by.

If you told me a tale like that I wouldn’t believe it. Certain things in life we are just not meant to understand