Jenny Kellner is an award-winning journalist and educator who has written about horse racing for more than 20 years. She has been a media specialist with NYRA for the past four years.
So, in one corner you have Preakness runner-up First Dude, who indeed is named after the First Dude himself, Todd Palin.First Dude Palin is a four-time winner of the Iron Dog competition, a 1,971 mile (!) snowmobile race in Alaska. Palin is known as a superb navigator in the snowy wilderness, and we trust this means his namesake will have no trouble navigating “The Big Sandy.”
And in the other corner you have Lone Star Derby winner Game On Dude, simply referred to around the barn as “The Dude,” famously played by Jeff Bridges in “The Big Lebowski.”
Not surprisingly, this has led some people to starting calling the Belmont Stakes the “Battle of the Dudes.”
But most of these people aren’t from around here, and they are forgetting something very very important. (And no, it’s not where they left their car).
Seriously, in New York, there is only ONE dude.
Go on. Make his day.
It's getting closer, and as I write this, we still don't know if we'll have a Triple Crown try on Belmont Stakes Day. Nonetheless, let's not get ahead of ourselves (Todd Pletcher going for racing immortality with Super Saver on June 5 with 120,000 fans packed into the joint -- wait! Wait!).
Anyhow, back to 2003, the year New York's Funny Cide came into the Belmont Stakes after winning the Derby and the Preakness and with a chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Three weeks talking to sometimes cranky, sometime irritable, but usually amusing trainer Barclay Tagg was one thing. But getting to the track that day was a whole lot of fun.. With a view of the track from my front yard (I know, that's pretty cool), the decision was made to take the NYRA shuttle from the back parking lot to the front of the track. Never did it before. So when I walked through the Mayfair Avenue gate, there was a long line of yellow school buses, with dozens upon dozens of fans waiting to pile in. Briefcase, computer in hand, and a little overdressed for this crowd, I stepped up onto the bus, and figured I'd make believe I was one of the Sackatoga gang, led by Jack Knowlton, who owned Funny Cide. The guys made the yellow school bus famous by taking one to Churchill Downs the day of the Derby. And the Preakness. And they did it again at the Belmont.. But this was me in a yellow school bus with many already inebriated people (OK, the Sackatoga people probably were, too, but in their private bus).
I sat down, the bus revved up and made the short drive around the track and about the 3/8ths pole, I pretended I was Funny Cide and I was in the lead and wasn't going to blow it like some many others who have tried and failed to get the 1 1/2 miles. C'mon bus, keep on movin', the other buses are closing in! Well, it went on like that in my mind for the next 45 seconds, and lo and behold, the bus was not passed and I considered this a sign that I would witness a Triple Crown. About eight hours later, Funny Cide didn't take to the track, made a brief run at the lead and faded back in the pack, leaving me and 100-plus thousand fans very unhappy.
Then again, at least I had a winning ride in a yellow school bus.
All week, people have been asking me, “Jenny, who do you like in the Kentucky Derby?”
Today, I have the answer.
Let me preface my selections with the following: Last year, I made it my business to carefully sift through the past performances, analyze pedigrees, peruse the weather forecasts and weigh my sober conclusions against what various Professional Racing Analysts had to say.
I didn’t come up with Mine That Bird.
But many, many people did, and they did so not because they were great handicappers but because they: a) liked birds, b) liked Calvin Borel, or c) thought the No. 8 was meaningful in some form or another.
So, by the time the Belmont Stakes rolled round, I had thrown out all the traditional handicapping tools and was open to anything. Inspiration came in the form of a pair of hummingbird earrings, which, along with the late, spontaneous addition of Dunkirk, provided the basis for a very healthy trifecta.
Yesterday, Derby insight came to me as I was contemplating a pint of Guinness. If you didn’t already know this, unlike all other beers, bubbles in Guinness go down (I am not making this up). This flouting of the laws of physics was exactly the kind of contrary, non-linear, irrational jumping-off point I was in search of.
Herewith, my Derby bet: a $2 trifecta box consisting of:
(where many people drink Guinness)
(named after someone who drinks Guinness)
(where Guinness is kept cold)
Lookin at Lucky
(because Irish people are lucky, especially if they drink Guinness)
Here’s mud in your eye!
There are many reasons I love the Belmont Stakes. Here’s one:
It’s the first Saturday in June of 1982, and as the Belmont horses are parading in front of the grandstand, Ed Schuyler, then the Associated Press’s racing writer, looks up from his computer and announces to the assembled media that his favorite horse in the field is a 44-1 shot named Anemal (pronounced kind of like the Italian word for “animal”). Anemal, a New York-bred, has no business whatsoever being in an actual stakes race, much less the Belmont, and promptly goes out and proves it by trying to keep up with Conquistador Cielo through a half in 47 and change. To no one’s surprise, he winds up stopping as if he’d run into a brick wall, beaten something like 50 lengths, but despite this pesky detail Schuyler keeps chuckling and yelling “Anemal!” in a fake Italian accent all night. No one ever hears of the horse again, except when Schuyler brings it up.
So, years later, I’m sitting with seven total strangers on a catamaran a couple hundred yards off the Cayman Islands. The first mate is handing out vases full of this lethal concoction called a “Painkiller,” and somehow I let slip that I’m a sportswriter and the one guy, who in retrospect looks exactly like Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino from Jersey Shore, turns to me and says, “You ever cover the Belmont Stakes?” I nod. He says, “Did you ever hear of a horse named Anemal?” and I spit my Painkiller all over the bow. “I owned him,” he says, proud as punch. “Did you now,” I say once I stop choking. “Yes,” he beams. “He got the first call in the 1982 Belmont!”
I didn't have the heart to tell him it's the last call that counts.