Riffraff in the Rain

No surprise when the media is treated like dogs, but today we actually looked like mangy mongrels after tramping through the Churchill barn area all morning as monsoon-strength rains passed through, courtesy of a laughing God.

Who needs this? Why couldn’t all the panicky newspapers commit a final mercy killing and lay off the rest of us so we could stay home, sleep in and stay dry?

Did the late entry of Atomic Rain have anything to do with this ? More importantly, why doesn’t Kelly Breen, in his first Kentucky Derby with that horse and West Side Bernie, like us?

“We’d been to the Breeders’ Cup, and it’s a whole lot of people — and the same sort of people,” he said to a small gathering of the same sort of people outside Barn 42. “I thought we’d be hounded a little more.”

“Ben Perkins Sr. was my mentor, and he said, ‘Don’t say anything.'”

With two 50-1 shots, and the best one stuck down on the rail, really, what is there to say?

While this idiocy was going on, Papa Clem went out and whistled three furlongs in 34 seconds. A very fine reporter, actually paying attention, said the horse looked like he wasn’t even trying.

We had waited patiently for Breen to get off his cell phone for this interview. Left to converse among ourselves, we speculated on West Side Bernie, who had his head in a feed bucket.

“He’s kind of slope-backed for a 3-year-old,” I ventured.

Bernstein.”

“What?”

“You’re the pedigree guy. He’s a Bernstein.”

“He’s the only Jewish horse in the field.”

“The composer.”

“Composer was by Easy Goer.”

“No, the composer Leonard Bernstein. Was he Jewish?”

“Was Leonard Bernstein Jewish? Are you kidding? All the great composers are Jewish.”

“My favorite composer was Jewish.”

“It took a Jew to write Easter Parade.”

This line drew disapproving glances from people in the vicinity. Apparently, it was the first time they had heard this.

“So who was your favorite composer?”

“Jim Steinman,” my fellow scribe said, invoking the hack that put the words, and likely food, in the mouth of Meatloaf.

“Do you know what Steinman used to do? At the height of his fame, he would go into ritzy Manhattan restaurants, order every dish on the menu and just take a bite of each.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

While this idiocy was going on, Papa Clem went out and whistled three furlongs in 34 seconds. A very fine reporter, actually paying attention, said the horse looked like he wasn’t even trying…

Tom Law, managing editor at Thoroughbred Times, picks him.

Later on, Nowhere to Hide went out for a gallop at 8:30 a.m. Nick Zito looked embarrassed to be there with such a popgun. All I could think of was the year he ran five and had a plastic fence installed around his barn to keep away the riffraff. This year, he’s running the riffraff.

Asked if he was in to win or just enter, he said, obliquely, “What do you think the other 19 are doing?”

Summer Bird went out to the track at 8:30, too, and this I saw.

“There goes Summer Bird,” I said to a group of writers. They didn’t even look up. I don’t think they even knew who he was. The chasm between the true contenders this year and the rest of the field appears awfully wide.

By 9:30, everyone had had it with the rain. The remaining freeloading swells were huddled in the cramped hospitality tents outside the media center, and the defeated reporters climbed two by two into the courtesy shuttle vans to deliver them to their cars in the Papa John’s football stadium parking lot. I ducked under cover at Todd Pletcher’s barn and found the great man momentarily unguarded.

“I’m not on your horse this year,” I told him.

“Good. I’ve been looking for you to tell you not to pick me. Who do you like?”

“Just kidding, I’m picking you.”

Pletcher went back to reading the final chapter of what appeared to be “The Training Game” by Karen Johnson then looked up. “Seriously, who do you like?”

Friesan Fire.”

He went back to the book.

A man came in to ask about a horse running in a turf race for 3-year-olds, presumably Bittel Road. Pletcher told the guy the horse doesn’t like the soft going and might scratch.

“How about Cowboy Cal?” I asked, injecting myself back into the mix.

“Why do you want to know about him?”

“He’s my horse. I picked him to win the Derby.”

“No wonder he’s been underachieving,” Pletcher said.

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