September 10, 2008

His ears must have been ringing

<a href="">By BOB GRADY</a>

The racehorse Big Brown took America by storm this year. In the process, a little rain fell on Jackie from Chicago.

Jackie was in the East for the last few days of the Saratoga Race Course meet. One of his dear friends in the Midwest is a filly named Gloria, who by all accounts is quite the thoroughbred, herself.

Like millions of other race fans this year, she fell in love with Big Brown, the brawny three-year-old who'd won all his races by historic margins going into the last leg of the coveted Triple Crown, the grueling Belmont Stakes.

At the Belmont, some supernatural force seemed to pull on the reins of Big Brown, making him look like an also-ran. No one knows even now what that force was that day that turned the next Secretariat into a maiden claimer.

Still, even with that desultory performance soiling his previously unassailable record, the adulation of some afficionados remains unabated.

One of those aficionados is Leigh Anderson, a friend of Jackie's who one day last fall in Las Vega bet a wad of money on Big Brown at 175 to 1 to win the Kentucky Derby in May. For that prescience, Leigh was rewarded with $11,000, which, the day after the Derby, was delivered to him in his Vegas hotel room in a satchel full of $100 bills neatly bound in large lots.

Another is Gloria.

So when Jackie came to Saratoga, he had two goals: to win enough money to move the track into bankruptcy and to buy a picture of Big Brown that he'd then ask Big Brown's jockey, Kent Desormeaux, to inscribe with an autograph inscribed "To Gloria." He even stopped at a drug store on the way to the track to find just the right marker that wouldn't smudge or skip on a potentially slick surface.

Saratoga's intimacy allows browsers and spectators to virtually mingle with the jockeys as the riders return from the track after each race to the jockeys' quarters to prepare for their next race.

Photos of horses are available at many outlets throughout the grounds, and Jackie had correctly reasoned that waiting until the last day of the meet would pay off in deflated prices.

He completed step 1 by seizing a fetching picture of Big Brown at the bargain-basement price of $40. Now for step 2: catching Kent after a race.

He went down to the promenade, no more than a furlong away, to await the jockey after Race 2, in which, to Jackie's misfortune, Kent brought his steed home ahead of the pack. That was unfortunate because, instead of returning with the other jockeys to their quarters, Kent was detained by the standard falderal of a winner: weighing in to make sure he hadn't lost any poundage in the backstretch, picture-taking with the owners and accepting gleeful pats on the back. (Jackie wasn't the only one waiting; the horse was getting impatient to get out of the sun and into a bag of oats, but that was his problem.)

Anyway, Jackie figured he'd missed his target and went back upstairs, only to learn Kent hadn't given him the slip but had been delayed and was only now returning to the quarters. Jackie had to plot for Kent's next race.

It was to be Race 5, Kent's last of the day. The pressure was now on, as, if Jackie missed him there, he'd have to chase him down to Belmont Park for his next race, and even one with Gloria's pedigree wasn't worth that much trouble.

At the end of Race 5, Jackie did some racing of his own to get down and stake out a post position where he could consummate his rendez-vous with the jock.

As Kent walked past, Jackie said, "Hey Kent, could I get you to sign something?" and withdrew the photo from its protective bag.

"Sure," Kent said. He couldn't have been more warm and accommodating.

Jackie will never forget his down-to-earth kindness as they exchanged remarks about Kent's ailing son and various other give and take.

"Would you make it out to Gloria?" Jack asked.

Kent looked at the photo of himself guiding his favorite mount to a typically breathtaking win, signed as asked, handed the picture back to a grateful Jackie and strode back to the quarters.

But, when Jackie got back up to his seat, his friends couldn't help but notice a morose dejection on his face.

"What's the matter, didn't you get it?" he was asked.

"Yeah ... I got it," he muttered glumly.

He withdrew the photo and handed it over. It was signed, all right. The inscription read:

"To Murry

"Kent Desormeaux"

"To Murry," Jack moaned.

It's hard to imagine, when you think of it, how "Gloria" could have been translated in the saying of it into "Murry," but we all know these things happen in everyday human discourse. And, while some people may have known a Murray or two, a Murry must be a rare breed indeed.

All Jack's friends assured him Gloria would still love it, and it would make a funny story for years to come. And Kent had been so gracious.

Nevertheless, if there are any Murrys out there who are Big Brown fans, call me, as I may be able to put you in touch with a nice souvenir, cheap.