Oral examination, open-plan loos and the life of Larry.
FROM London to Louisville is a journey of over 4,000 miles, but even here, far from the furore and fury back home, the whip debate rages. You don't even have to ask them about it for the subject to be raised. The cowboy hat-wearing Larry Jones, Kentucky born and bred, owner of a Dukes of Hazzard accent and trainer of leading Breeders' Cup Classic fancy Havre De Grace, is evidently aware of British racing's crisis and refers to it when asked by Racing Post photographer Edward Whitaker to park himself on a chair while being photographed.
"I'm not allowed to sit down, the boss won't let me," explains Jones, casting an eye out for his good lady, Cindy. "They want the stick to be taken away from jockeys but I want them to take it away from wives. There should be a limit to the number of times they can hit their husbands. If I could bring the number down to seven I'd feel like I was getting a break."
Cindy appears to have been misrepresented. Hard to miss in a bright orange tracksuit, she smells better than anyone down the Chuchill Downs backstretch and appears to have a demeanour as sweet as her scent. Also sweet are the cookies and brownies that arrive on two cling film-covered plates at 9.30am, an hour after Havre De Grace has completed her "five-eights" workout in 62 seconds. Havre De Grace, being an athlete, does not allow herself a cookie and instead enjoys not one but two carrots fed to her by owner Rick Porter, who has arrived in town some way in advance of the big day.
"I always love to come down early, have some fun and enjoy the build-up to the big moment," says Porter. "Churchill has a magic about it. It's a special place and there's no more exciting place to race. It would be amazing to win, but I try not to let myself dream about it."
Nobody here knows more about dreams coming true than America's top trainer Todd Pletcher, whose Uncle Mo is very much the one Havre De Grace and So You Think have to beat in the Classic.
A six-time Breeders' Cup winner, Pletcher watches his horses work then walks into his barn sporting a blue coat before emerging from it just seconds later wearing a black coat (successful trainers often possess more than one coat).
At his leisure, and in whichever of the coats he fancied, Pletcher would then have been able to take breakfast in the new owners and trainers pavilion, in which Kentucky hotbrown casserole and other morning goodies are being served.
The new plush eaterie has been installed 12 months on from Sir Henry Cecil's unfortunate encounter with a sunny side up egg in the anything-but-plush trackside canteen. Yet while the canteen can now be avoided, there are still times when you need to use the somewhat primitive backstretch toilets, in which the cubicles have been designed open plan and without doors. To make matters worse, those wishing to fend off germs by washing hands must walk along the line of cubicles while pretending not to notice the men sat on loos with trousers around ankles. In such circumstances, it's best not to exchange pleasantries.
SO FAR removed from this sorry sight is the elderly gentleman mowing his lawn outside the star spangled banner-adorned house number 3326 on Wizard Avenue, the road backing on to the racecourse. "The Breeders' Cup is good for the community," says the man, who introduces himself as a Korean veteran called Oral Taylor.
"My folks knew a guy who couldn't have kids so, trying to make him feel better, they named me after him. It's an odd name, and I can't say that I really like it, but heck, it's a name."
Heck it is and its owner is looking forward to the action coming up on Friday and Saturday.
"The people who come here are like family," says Oral. "During the Derby and Breeders' Cup it's like a big party. Those of us who live here try to clean things up and make the neighbourhood look nice. The problem is the leaves keep falling."
With many leaves and considerable grass still to deal with, Oral makes clear he now has work to do. "I got a whole lot a mowing to do," he says. The time for talking has stopped.
For the horses and horsemen down the backstretch, it will soon be a similar story.
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|Publication:||The Racing Post (London, England)|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2011|
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