The misadventures of Dollar Bill
By Ed McNamara
Special to ESPN.com
Know anybody like this? He never shows up on time, and if you're dumb enough to lend him money, you never get it back. He always has an excuse, and he can turn on the charm to convince you that circumstances beyond his control really did cause his latest screwup. He makes you want to believe that the next time will be different. It won't.
There are horses like that, too. They look like champions, work out like demons but never deliver when the money's down. There's one on the Triple Crown trail this year, a star-crossed colt who is the sucker horse of his generation.
Say hello to Dollar Bill, who has burned millions of them this spring. He's a four-legged version of a dot.com stock. His theme should be Marvin Gaye's old song "Trouble Man" because he's always getting into it. In the Louisiana Derby, he almost fell and came in fourth. In the Blue Grass, he was bumped at the start and ran a distant third. In the Kentucky Derby, he was taken up sharply and staggered in 15th. In the Preakness, he was fourth after being steadied and shuffled back in traffic.
We see a pattern developing here, and it indicates this cursed animal is a bet-against for the ages. Yet respected handicappers (well, they used to be respected) keep picking him to win, and his legion of fans can't wait to empty their wallets on him. They figure he's "due" for some good luck, and so does his Hall of Fame jockey.
"I just wish I could get this horse a good trip," said Pat Day, who's ridden Dollar Bill in his four amazing journeys. "He's probably a little bit more trouble-prone only because he doesn't have quick acceleration. He's a come-from-behind kind of horse. He doesn't have the acceleration to get in and get out of trouble rapidly. He travels much like a semi-truck. Once he gets his momentum, he can run all day."
Dollar Bill's sire is named Peaks and Valleys, but his notorious son hasn't been to the mountaintop. He's never won a race that matters. He's lost six of his last eight, all stakes, including flops as the 8-5 and 2-1 favorite in the Louisiana Derby and the Blue Grass, respectively. That didn't stop his zombie followers from making him the 6-1 second choice in the Derby.
Now he's back for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes on June 9, going for the Triple Crown of Traffic Trouble. Day is optimistic that fate will be kinder. When asked if he can win the finale of the classics, Day said, "I believe he can, yes. I believe he has the ability to run with the best 3-year-olds in the country.
"He's due for a good trip, and he's due for a trip to the winner's circle."
No, Pat, he'll just figure out another way to torment you and his fans. There are few sure things in this world, but I feel certain that this error-prone critter will find a way to be blocked or checked or steadied or taken up. North America's largest track, with its wide, sweeping turns, isn't big enough to keep Dollar Bill from getting into a tight spot. He could find gridlock in an empty parking lot, something his backers haven't figured out.
Day is a devout Christian, but Dollar Bill's misadventures have caused him to doubt that their partnership was made in heaven. Now he knows how it felt to be Job, a designated victim in the Old Testament.
"After the Preakness, I was very distraught," said Day, who suggested to trainer Dallas Stewart that another jockey might be a better fit. "I was sorry for the horse. I know he is considerably better than what he's had the opportunity to show. I talked to Dallas and said, you know, maybe it isn't right. A little later I called him back and I said I want to retract that statement. You know, I really like this horse."
But not nearly as much as the "Billsters," who follow Dollar Bill's sad saga on the Internet, where owner Gary West ghostwrites his colt's diary on www.dollarbill.ws. In his latest entry, Dollar Bill says, "I'm goin' to go out on a limb and predict this: The Belmont will be the race where I will prove that I'm a big-time horse. If I don't, ya' ought to find a new horse to fall in love with."
They won't. These true believers are hooked.
Listen to Elaina from Tennessee, who writes, "It's hard to believe Lady Luck frowned on you yet again in the Preakness. Every time you set foot on the track, you impress me more with your heart and courage. Your time will come, Bill, and I'll be keeping the faith 'til then."
And this epic poetry from "Devoted Missouri Billster Suzan":
"You'll see a path that's perfectly clear,
"And you'll show them all as you charge from the rear."
And finish fifth.
Ah, they're all in denial. For these misguided souls, three words: Maybe it's him. Looks like an impulse disorder to me, a negative genius for zigging when he should zag, for lurching toward openings that turn into black holes where he disappears. Maybe Dollar Bill needs a psychiatrist more than a trainer.
Or could he be possessed? Could this be a case of ... demon power? Instead of a horse whisperer, should we call in an exorcist? If Dollar Bill spins his head around like Linda Blair in the movie and loses a photo in the Belmont, we'll know it's the work of The Man Downstairs.
No matter what the diagnosis may be for the horse, I can help his cult of deluded masochists. Eddie Mac at the Track is offering his services as a deprogrammer, and the treatment is simple. After drinking six cups of espresso, each Billster will be tied to a chair and forced to watch Dollar Bill's last four races over and over from midnight until sunrise on Belmont day.
If that doesn't show them the light, nothing will. My fee is only 100 dollar bills, a bargain if it keeps the Billsters from throwing more good money after bad. Ah, but I know they don't want to help themselves. For some there is no cure.