How often do you have a guilt-free chance to get sloppy drunk and chow down on an honest to goodness Maryland breakfast of fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and scrambled eggs? At least once a year if you come to the Alibi Breakfast that is part of the Preakness tradition at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
(Actually, I'm not sure how many people are drinking the Black-Eyed Susan signature drink. It seems more of those in attendance are dumping out the souvenir glass contents in the nearby bathroom sink and saving the glass to take home.)
Legend has it that the breakfast began at Old Hilltop in the late 1930s when trainers and other horsemen would gather to shoot the bull about the chances of their horses in the upcoming Preakness. It's grown to be a major media event in the clubhouse of the rickety racetrack. Trainers of most Preakness horses show up to be interviewed, but the concept is to give them a chance to make an excuse ahead of time in case their horse loses. It's also an opportunity for the Maryland Jockey Club to honor members of the media for their contributions. This year's winners are Tom Pedulla of USA Today, recipient of the David F. Woods Memorial Award for best Preakness story of 2008; Old Hilltop Awards for longstanding coverage of the sport with excellence to Jeannine Edwards of ESPN and Bob Fortus of the New Orleans Times-Picayune; and the Jerry Frutkoff Preakness Photography Award to Rob Carr of the Associated Press.
The late, great Jim McKay, an icon of sports broadcasting and one of the greatest all-time supporters of the Maryland horse industry, used to host the event. Then along came Chris Lincoln, the longtime voice of horse racing on ESPN. The duties this year were handled by local broadcasters Scott Garceau and Keith Mills, who frankly had a hard time filling the big shoes of their predecessors.
The live blog begins shortly….
10:15 a.m. … This could be better than expected. One of the hosts said their job was to keep this from becoming the Alibi Lunch. The invocation used to be about 30 minutes long, but this year's blessing given by Reverand Monsignor Robert J. Jaskot was quick and to the point. Bless the horses and those around them.
Tom Pedulla's award winning story focused on Kent Desormeaux and his son Jacob, who suffers from Usher syndrome that cost him his hearing at birth and is taking away his sight. Very touching acceptance speech by a gracious man who asked that we all keep Jacob in our prayers. These guys are going to have me in tears pretty soon.
Bob Fortus said as a racing fan all he ever wanted was to have his ticket paid for to come to such events as the Preakness and to win an award was just gravy. Groovy.
As for Jeannine Edwards, I'm thankful for the work she's done in both horseracing and college basketball for ESPN. Her halftime interviews with former University of Kentucky coach Billy GIllispie were classic, and his insulting were a sign that he was a bad fit for the program. When the UK program comes rolling back under John Calipari, we'll have Jeannine in part to thank!
10:25 a.m. … On to the interviews of the trainers and owners. Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird is up first. Trainer Chip Woolley called the last two weeks a whirlwind, saying he's gotten a lot of phone calls from many of the unsung trainers in the business. “He's a real patient rider and has great instincts,” Woolley said when asked about the change in riders from Calvin Borel to Mike Smith. Woolley thought the police escort given to the van bringing Mine That Bird was pretty cool. “Last time the police were after me I went to jail,” said Woolley. Co-owner Mark Allen (pictured left), who hatched a short-lived plan to keep Rachel Alexandra out of the Preakness and appropriately wore his black cowboy hat, did his talking before the breakfast as he was a popular guest of local television crews.
10:30 a.m. … Bob Baffert, trainer of Pioneerof the Nile, was welcomed back to the Preakness after an extended absence and then asked about being elected to the Hall of Fame this year. Baffert said he was happy it happened while both of his parents were still with him. He said he thought he was going to win this year's Derby until Mine That Bird rallied from last to win in a romp. “I'd heard stories that having a bird crap on you is good luck, and said owner Ahmed Zayat had a bird make a mess on his glasses in Louisville early Derby week. “But I think having two birds crap on you (Mine That Bird being the other)” wasn't so lucky, Baffert said. Baffert said part of him was happy Rachel Alexandra was in the race and part of him wasn't.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas asks Baffert “what part of you wants (Rachel Alexandra) in the race?” Lukas claims Marylou Whitney's Luv Gov is named after the disgraced New York governor “Ed Spitzer.” Wayne doesn't get off the sports pages much, I'm afraid. “We don't have any grandiose plans here,” he said, referring to his two 50-1 shots.He said he was going to seek advice from the Mine That Bird connections, who won the Derby at 50-1.
10:40 a.m. … David Hawkes, trainer of Big Drama, said his colt got “real comfortable right away” after being the first Preakness starter on the scene. He said the presence of Rachel Alexandra makes the race “real tough.” Blinkers are coming off Big Drama, who is expected to be the speed of the race.
Vic Carlson, Musket Man's co-owner said “we'll probably be betting him to show,” since he's never been worse than third in seven starts. Carlson said Musket Man will be vanning to Pimlico the day of the Preakness from Monmouth Park. He said he got a good trip the first half of the Derby, in which he finished third, but in the Preakness he hopes “Pioneerof the Nile will stay in his own lane” down the stretch. Apparently, Eibar Coa considered claiming foul against Garrett Gomez, rider of Pioneerof the Nile, for interference in the stretch of the Derby, but the race was made official before he could.
Larry Jones: “We just glued him back together,” he said of Friesan Fire's cuts and scrapes suffered in the Derby. How about his trip, he was asked. “Well, it wasn't what we were looking for,” though he said some of the problems were “self inflicted. We just hope the other horses will leave him alone.” Asked about the speed of the race, Jones said, “I'll bet David wishes he could put those blinkers back on.(Big Drama) … The field is very tough, but that's what the Triple Crown is supposed to be about.” What about the retirement talk? “I don't get (sentimental). If this horse runs like he did in the Kentucky Derby, that (retirement) may come on Sunday.”
10:45 a.m. …Trainer Al Stall is starting his first Triple Crown runner in Terrain. Nice prank by the emcees to introduce him as Art Stall. (Except I don't think they were kidding.) Al is happy to be here. We'll check in with him Saturday night to see if he still feels that way.
10:50 a.m. … They got Gary Stute's name right as the trainer of Papa Clem, then asked him where he was when his father Mel won the Preakness 23 years ago with Snow Chief. “I was standing right next to him, and four strides before the wire, I said 'congratulations' to him,” Stute recalled. He got the meanest look from his dad he ever saw, Gary said, in reference to the old tale about never giving someone a “you got it” until the horses cross the wire. “Once he passed the finish he let out a big smile,” Stute said of his father. Both of Gary Stute's parents will be in attendance for hte Preakness. Stute mentioned that he won't give any riding instructions to Rafael Bejarano.
Tom McCarthy, owner and trainer of General Quarters, has been around the racetrack a long time and said it was a tough thing to tell his wife and kids so many times that he couldn't be with them on a Saturday because he had a horse running. They didn't know much about racing, he said, adding he “made up new words” to explain some of the losses his horses suffered. Talking about the Derby, McCarthy wasn't happy with the messy, wet racetrack on Derby day and said he likes the sandier strip at Pimlico. Referring to Mine That Bird's stretch run along the rail, McCarthy said, “He was flying while we were swimming.”
10:55 a.m. … Don Lucarelli, co-owner of Take the Points, apparently is a sports gambler, saying he “takes tthe points” when betting on games. He likes longshots, which Take the Points will be, as he's 30-1 on the morning line. Take the Points is vanning in on Saturday morning, from Belmont Park. Take the Points is adding blinkers, Lucarelli said, on the advice of Alex Solis, who rode the colt to a fourth place finish in the Santa Anita Derby in his last start in April.
11:00 a.m. … Scott Blasi wonders why he's doing the interviews as he had to do with Curlin so many times “because Steve (Asmussen) misses his plane.” What about the 13 post for Rachel Alexandra? “I talked about it with Steve and we think it's a great post. We just hope Calvin doesn't get confused about the outside rail and get too close to it.” Borel loves riding the rail, but it's the inside rail he takes. “Calvin knows more about her than anybody. He was a big part of her development at Hot Springs (Oaklawn Park) and knows more about her than any of us. We're just excited to be running her off (former trainer) Hal Wiggins' training.”
That's a wrap, from what in my memory was the fastest Alibi Breakfast in recent history.
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