The humble roots of a Triple Crown contender
By Jay Cronley
Special to ESPN.com
I have a story that should make horse players in out-of-the-way places look at the Triple Crown races in a different light.
First, I would like to suggest that people with $2 win bets on Funny Cide hold onto their tickets just a little while and see what the Miami Herald does with the Preakness story. If the Herald reports that jockey Jose Santos went around the Pimlico track with carrots up his sleeve, a win ticket could become a collector's item and be worth more than the pari-mutuel payoff on down the road.
Here's the story that should make handicappers everywhere feel closer to the major league horse racing game.
A few years back, a couple of friends and I were trying to work a little magic and stay ahead of the break-even line at the track in the city where I live. The track is Fair Meadows in Tulsa. The meet does not run during the fair or take place in a meadow. But what are you going to do. Image is important in the Sport of Kings.
This track is what's known as a bull ring because it's small and a lot of bull is shot there by railbirds trying to figure out the sharp angles, two hard left turns to a six-furlong race, around and around they go on a route.
On what turned out to be a very special night, I am almost positive that I was supposed to be somewhere else than at the races. It's the way of my life. I went back through my notes. I think I had to choose between the races and a ballet performance.
The charm of a small track is that, like a golf green, a local knowledge of the lay of the land is very important and can result in considerable profits. You can play the bounces. I'm not kidding. To the immediate right at this track is a water park. Just left is a Double-A baseball field. Pilot error can take an animal off the property.
One of the most terrifying races imaginable takes place here, an 880-yard sprint involving usually quarter horses, many of which are racing around a sharp turn for the first time after a number of 350 or 440-yard rocket runs. Try to imagine a drag racer being required to make a left at the point where the finish line used to be. Turns are not only blown here. Sometimes turns are not even seen.
The biases at a small track can be so numerous that you have to bring notes from home so you won't miss anything valuable.
On the memorable night some years back, there was a thoroughbred race for non-winners of two.
Thoroughbred shippers to a small track like this can be in for a big surprise the first time out.
You can routinely be eight-wide with only one horse inside of your position.
Occasionally horses on the lead find themselves unintentionally nine-wide.
I have witnessed horses wobbling along on the rail ten back only to find themselves suddenly on the lead when a field carries wide en masse.
The race for non-winners of two came off without incident.
The winner was Belle's Good Cide.
The spelling of Cide is self-explanatory.
This was the Oklahoma-bred dam, or mother, of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide, just out there running around a dinky track, with a handful of people looking to get lucky right along with her.
Bell's Good Cide didn't do much noteworthy running after that, or, if she did, I didn't notice.
But the way things turned out, it was like having been at the minor-league baseball park when Barry Bonds began hitting them over the light towers.
With all due respects to the racing Sheiks and breeding factories of the world, it's good to see the roots of a champion come from the area between the water slide and first base.
The Triple Crown suddenly has legs.
There at the rail at the home town track, I saw four of the most important.
Write to Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org