You'll have to bear with me. I'm not myself yet. While everyone else is talking about the stirring stretch runs of Pebbles and Proud Truth to win their featured races at the Breeders' Cup, I'm still sitting here at Aqueduct, hours after the last losing ticket has been ripped and tossed, wondering why Fran's Valentine had to lose.
Sure, someone had to lose.
Actually, when you have 81 horses running in seven races, 74 have to lose. And Fran's Valentine was one of them. She came in fifth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Don't get the wrong idea. I didn't want her to win because I'd bet on her. I didn't bet.
I wanted her to win because she is owned by Earl Scheib. Yes, Earl Scheib. And I wanted to be there when they gave Scheib the trophy and handed him the microphone, so I could hear Earl Scheib say, "Ladies and gentlemen, I'll paint any horse any color -- just $29.95."
Anyway . . .
Speaking of owners, there was some serious money represented here. The Aga Khan for one, Nelson Bunker Hunt for another, and for three more, those rock 'n rolling Dubai Brothers -- Sheik Mohammad Al Maktoum, Sheik Hamdan Al Maktoum and Sheik Maktoum Al Maktoum. (Surely you remember their big hit, "Dancing Sheik to Sheik.")
The owner who probably did best of all was Gene Klein, who cleared $1.35 million by finishing one-two in the Juvenile Fillies, with Twilight Ridge and Family Style, and one-two in the Distaff, with Life's Magic and Lady's Secret. Klein is fairly recent to horse racing, having only seriously plunged into it two years ago. But he's no stranger to owning. You probably remember him as the owner of the San Diego Chargers. After he suffered two heart attacks -- one on the courthouse steps minutes after testifying against Al Davis -- his physician advised him to get out of football, because it is so stressful. So he sold his 56 percent of the Chargers for $40.1 million. Cash money. And sunk a bundle into racing, including a 220-acre state of the art training facility in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., a community where you are unlikely to hear the phrase, "Attention K-Mart shoppers." Klein doesn't say how much of the $40 million he has spent on racing. "I wouldn't even tell my wife," he was saying yesterday. But he admits, "When I like something, I decide to do it. When I decide to do it, I do it all out."
How anyone can think horse racing is less stressful than football -- even though it's two minutes as compared to three hours -- is beyond me. But Klein says he does. And maybe that's because he's winning so much. With D. Wayne Lukas as his trainer (they were introduced by Dick Butkus), Klein's horses have won 28 stakes races this year, including a Preakness victory by Tank's Prospect. Certainly success has come easier in racing than in football to Klein. His Chargers were an exciting but flawed team, explosive on offense, implosive on defense. "You held your breath every time we took the field," Klein said rather proudly. But they never reached the Super Bowl, and in recent years it seemed that Klein always was being asked to comment on the Davis trial, a star who was holding out or the latest whereabouts of Chuck Muncie. None of which made him happy.
"The best thing about racing is I can pick my partners," Klein said in an obvious shot at Davis. "In football you can't pick the other owners, whether or not you like them as people, whether or not you think they're good people." As far as comparing the sports themselves, once again Klein's view definitely was that of an owner, a bitter one at that: "The four horses that ran real well for us here, their agents won't call me to renegotiate because they had a good day; they won't refuse to run again next Saturday; they won't ask for more oats, or demand bigger stalls." He laughed, half in derision and half in good humor. "And they won't object to urinalysis."
Klein obviously had found a sporting milieu that pleased him, even if his dream to win the Super Bowl dream had gone unfulfilled. In a sense, Steve Cauthen had to make a similar switch. In 1977 and 1978, "The Kid" was the toast of U.S. racing. When he won the Triple Crown aboard Affirmed, he was 18 years old and a phenomenon, the heir apparent to Arcaro and Shoemaker. He rode so low and so calmly, it was said of Cauthen that you could serve drinks on his back at the eighth pole and he'd not spill a drop before the wire. But a horrible winter in California after his Triple, 110 straight losers, cost him Affirmed and his confidence, and by 1979 he was racing in England, for all intents and purposes hounded into exile.
Six years later Cauthen is no kid. He is 25, grown two inches to 5-5, and as English as it gets, from his high-in-the-saddle riding style, to his accent, a revelation, a young Michael Caine. He had three rides in the Breeders' Cup and finished in the money only once. But if it wasn't a triumphant return, Cauthen no longer was troubled by what he left behind and how he left it. Last year he became England's top jockey, the first American to win that title in 71 years. Whatever he'd had to prove to the racing world, he'd proven on the grass courses of Europe.
It was a brief stay. He'd flown in on Friday, raced on Saturday, and was scheduled to fly back to England on Sunday for the last week of the racing season there. And in his words, "It is unlikely I'll come back permanently. I just happen to like the racing, and I quite enjoy the country." But it is worth noting that Cauthen had come home -- back to the United States, back to Aqueduct, where he'd been such a sensation -- a confident, satisfied man. And if he and Klein should ever meet, perhaps they might talk about what therapeutic effect a change of scenery can have.