Harry Aleo's secretary, Florence Kaye, arrived at work Thursday and found stickers with the slogan "Bush lies, who dies?" glued to the front window the of the San Francisco real estate office her boss has occupied for the past 47 years.
"I tried to get them off," Kaye said. "He's a staunch conservative, but you don't have to deface the property. If they knew him, they wouldn't do that."
Aleo takes the badgering in his largely liberal neighborhood with a grain of salt. A veteran who fought under Gen. George S. Patton in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II and before that was a minor league pitching prospect who once retired Joe DiMaggio in a pickup game, Aleo, at 85, doesn't care much about what people think of him.
"I believe in traditional conservative values, and what we have in Noe Valley is the home of the left-wing loonies," he said heartily Friday morning on the back side of Belmont Park.
Aleo traveled across the country this week to watch his horse, Lost in the Fog, compete Saturday in the Grade I $1,060,000 Breeders' Cup Sprint. The colt, undefeated in 10 career starts, is clearly the marquee performer among the great horses gathered to contest the eight races that compose the World Thoroughbred Championships. One reason is that Aleo refused to allow the sport's pundits to tell him how to mind his own business.
Last December, when Lost in the Fog won his second start by 143/4 lengths, breaking the track record for 61/2 furlongs at Turf Paradise, the drumbeat sounded to put the blazingly fast colt on the road to the Kentucky Derby. When Lost in the Fog whistled his way into the winner's circle in three subsequent rich sprint stakes in the spring, the call to stretch him out to Classic distances only grew louder. So did the offers, with some rich owners waving as much as $2 million in front of Aleo trying to pry away his horse.
At that price, trainer Greg Gilchrist wanted to sell, but Aleo figured that at his age the money didn't mean nearly as much as the thrill of having the fastest horse in the country.
"Life expectancy is 77 years so I've cheated them out of about eight years," Aleo said. "We did what was best for the horse, not what other people thought."
"Harry Aleo is the one that signs my check; that's the guy I have to answer to," said Gilchrist, 57, a Vietnam War veteran who trains at Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, Calif. "We were never under much pressure. Most of that came around Triple Crown time. There was a hard decision not to go there, but most people -- and I don't know why this is -- are more interested in finding out what a horse can't do rather than dealing with what he can do. I know there's a time to go into uncharted waters, but most of the time it doesn't have to happen."
Gilchrist resisted the temptation to test the limits of Lost in the Fog's cheap, sprint-oriented pedigree and stuck to six- and seven-furlong races. Like the old-time fighters who offered to lick any man in the house, they traveled around winning stakes races at Gulfstream Park, Aqueduct, Gold Gate, Belmont, Calder, Saratoga and Bay Meadows. None of the finishes was even close.
The Breeders' Cup, however, puts Lost in the Fog in with horses faster than he has ever seen. Gilchrist knows there is little margin for error against top sprinters: He campaigned the brilliant filly Soviet Problem, who won 15 of 20 lifetime starts but lost to Cherokee Run by a head in the 1994 Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Lost in the Fog likes to battle on the lead and then surge away on the turn for home. The 10 horses signed up to face him are a combustible mix of front-runners, pace pressers and deep closers. It is not, however, the most accomplished group ever assembled for the Sprint, even with three other Grade I winners in the race.
"There is no question he has been well managed," said trainer Patrick Biancone, who withdrew his runner Pomeroy from the Sprint because of an injury. "He comes to the world championship without any hard fights. Now, we'll see how he reacts to a hard fight."
By all accounts, Lost in the Fog has trained beautifully up to the race and been feisty at Belmont Park. When his owner visited the barn Friday morning, he lunged to bite his chest.
"I slapped him in the mouth," Aleo said.
Gilchrist loves the idea that a horse with modest breeding can take an independent owner such as Aleo, who has run the same small-time real estate operation for more than 50 years, to the cusp of horse of the year honors.
"Everybody has a chance," Gilchrist said of the vagaries of racing. "That's what makes the sport great. You could buy this horse's clone and he might not be able to outrun a fat man.
"We're right where we want to be."
Breeders' Cup Notes: Rock Hard Ten, second choice behind favored Saint Liam to win the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic, was declared out of the race Friday because of continued problems with a bruised right front hoof.