A newspaperman is only as good as his sources.
Woe is me.
I was on the phone the other day to one of my lowly placed contacts.
This guy had a tip.
"You'll love it," he said.
"Try me." You have a humor people like this. Maybe he'd seen George Allen eating chocolate ice cream. You never know when you'll find a Big Story.
"Did you read the Derby entries?" he said. He meant the names, owners and pedigrees of all 300 horses nominated for the Kentucky Derby. Reading that list of nags is like reading a phone book of horsedom!.
"No, somehow I missed it," I said.
"Well, you ought to investigate it, because there's a horse named Piece of Heaven," he said.
"No, no, wise guy. The good thing is the horse's breeder. He was bred by - are you listening? - the Florida Agriculture Experiment Station."
Wow. Deep Hoof scores. Truly, a Big Story. Maybe I can crack the National Enquirer with this one. I can see the headline now: Mad Scientist Crosses Greyhound With Appaloosa, Gets Derby Winner.
So I made some telephone calls to Florida, where I reached a Dr. Edgar Ott.
I imagined him with hair recently electrocuted.
Ott said he was in charge of horse research at the University of Florida's Agriculture Experiment Station. Mostly, he deals in nutrition research with foals, he said.
A likely story.
"Nothing to do with cloning?" I said. If a millionaire named Max can clone a descendant, why couldn't Secretarist? "I've been reading a lot about cloning," I said.
"No, nothing like that," the doctor said.
Then he admitted his research also involved thoroughbred reproduction.
Now we were getting somewhere.
They have one stallion, Alhambra, and about 25 mares at the station. The horses are donated to the university and the foals, after 18 months of nutrition research, are sold. That's how Piece of Heaven made it to the race track.
"We sold him to Sigmund Sommer," Ott said.
Ah, hah! Did you ever know anybody named Sigmund who was up to any good? Maybe Dr. Ott sewed this Piece Of Heaven together from spare parts.
"Mr. Sommer paid $2,7000," Ott said.
You have to hand it to this guy. He's filling out this cover story with rich detail. His kind don't miss a trick.
"We didn't do anything special for this colt that would result in him being a good runner," Ott said. "Perhaps just the opposite, in fact. He was raised in confinement on a diet of hay-grain pellets for four or five months after weaning. Normal foals would be out in the pasture in that time. So what's important to us is showing that this program is not detrimental to a foal's running ability."
Very suspicious, this. Hay-grain pellets? Raised in confinement?No pasture?
"Other states have similar programs, but none quite like ours," the doctor said.
"We're real pleased this horse has done this well," Ott said: "As far as we know, he's the first stakes winner to come out of any program at a state university."
Piece Of Heaven has won the Swift and Bay Shore stakes in New York this spring. He'll likley run twice more this month and good performances will cause Sigmund Sommer to run him in the Derby.
And the Florida Agriculture Experiment Station isn't through.
"We have a full sister of Piece Of Heaven for sale this fall," the doctor said.
I imagined his hair smoldering.