I met an old friend the other day. We haven’t talked in years. But there he was right where he had always been when I used to write for the Daily Racing Form and Saturday’s Canadian Derby got closer: in the backstretch of Northlands.
You may have heard of him: Doctor Doolittle. Yes, that guy. The one who talks to animals.
Me: How have you been? It’s been a long time.
Doctor Doolittle: I’ve been around. I could ask you the same question.
Me: Same. Around. Just not at the track nearly as much.
Doctor Doolittle: Well, let’s get to the point. I know why you’re here. Post positions were allowed this afternoon and you want to know what I’ve heard.
Me: Exactly. So have you talked to the horses?
Doolittle: Come on. Give me a break. It’s what I do. Cats. Dogs, horses… They’re all the same. They love to talk. It’s just that people don’t bother to try and listen.
Me: You know what I mean. The Derby horses. Have you talked to them?
Doolittle: Of course. That’s why you’re here talking to me. To get it straight from the horses’s mouths as the saying goes.
Me: Alright then let’s go. In post position order. What did they tell you?
Doolittle: Pull up a chair then.
No. 1. Hold the Giant
“Gerry Olguin is coming out to ride me. What does that tell you? He’s a great jockey and he isn’t coming here for the fresh air. The distance? Yeah, that might be a bit of a problem. I’ve never run a mile and three-eighths before. But no one else has either.
“I’m a pretty big boy you know. I’m stronger than a bad diner’s coffee. We’ll see.
“I’ve got the rail and the filly with all the speed, Onestaratatime, didn’t enter.
“And you know my connections are solid. They won the Derby last year with Academic.”
No. 2. Sorryaboutnothing.
“I’m thinking my class is going to show in here. Yeah my form doesn’t look so hot - just one third place finish in my last seven starts. But those were in California, New York and Kentucky. The big time. I’ve had some excuses too. The last two starts I didn’t break cleanly. And I was pretty wide in my start before that. I’ve been working pretty good. I don’t know what else to tell you? Got any spare carrots?”
No. 3. B.C. Charlie.
“Listen up. I’ve got a chance in here. I lost to Lord Vancouver and Opportunistic in B.C.. But not by much. Look, I don’t have a lot to say. Just don’t count me out completely. You know what I mean?”
No. 4 Law Master.
“Am I ready? Are you kidding me? Did you see me work the other morning? Worked five furlongs in a minute flat. Best of 45 other horses that worked that morning.
“The funny thing is that I came up here from Phoenix this spring and they thought I was just going to be a sprinter. Fooled them.
“And never mind all the excuses that Access This probably whined to you about in Grande Prairie. I won it didn’t I? That’s all that matters my friend.”
No. 5. Access This.
“Have I run a bad race? No. OK. OK. So there was that race in April at Golden Gate Fields in California when I finished last. But listen. That wasn’t my fault. Stupid jockey. He sends me to the top and had me duel with another horse. That’s not how I run. I like to sit close to the pace but not right in front. And not going head-to-head. Look at the rest of my races. First, second or third. Only once was I out of the money and, like I said, that wasn’t my fault.
“Did you see what happened to me in Grande Prairie in the Alberta Derby. Jeez. I would have won that easily if that other horse hadn’t almost dropped me on my head. As it was I went to my knees. And I still almost won.
“I ran third to Barkley twice at Emerald Downs in Washington. And he was undefeated until Opportunistic beat him.
“I’ll be right there at the end my friend. Just watch.”
No. 6. Ruck.
“Do you know who my mother is? Yup, Raylene, who won this race in 2003. She won 13 stakes races including the Derby, the B.C. Oaks and the City of Edmonton Distaff.
“They didn’t send me out here from Toronto to lose.
“Used to be when a horse came from Ontario like I did they were odds-on-favourites and almost always won. Now I’m 10-1? Please. Somebody tell Matt Jukich, the track announcer who set this morning line, that he’s been drinking his bath water.”
No. 7. The Accuser.
“People are going to write me off. Just like they did last time when I finished second at 20 to one when I came from so far behind I thought I was in a different race. Don’t make the same mistake again. I’m bred to run long. So the distance isn’t going to bother me.
“I was the first horse pulled out of the entry box and my owners could have taken any post they wanted.”
No. 8. Ready Intaglio.
“The farther the better my friend. The farther the better. I can run all day. I was just getting warmed up in the Ky Alta and the Count Lathum. Especially the Count Lathum. Whoo hoo. Did I pass all those other guys or what? Swoosh.
“You saw what No Hesitation did in 2010. I’m his clone. Just ask my trainer, Amber Meyaard. She’ll tell you the same thing and her husband, Jim, was No Hesitation’s trainer. Winner of the 2010 Derby.
“The funny thing is nobody wanted me when I was a baby. Everybody thought I was too small. They put me in a sale and nobody put their hand up in the air. So, after the sale, Robbin Martens’ husband, Eurico, offered my previous owner a thousand bucks and the guy took it. A thousand bucks? Ha. I wonder what he’s thinking now?
“I’m just a little guy. Probably the smallest horse in the field. But I’ve got a huge engine. You’ll see on Saturday. I don’t care who they bring in for this race. It’s mine.”
No. 9. Lord Vancouver.
“There’s not a lot of speed in this race so my post isn’t going to hurt me.
“Don’t sell me short. I beat B.C. Charlie last time out. Before that I was second to Opportunistic, who would have been the favourite if he had come out for the Derby.
“For that matter I’ve won three of my last five races.
“The distance? I dunno. But it’s the same for everybody.”
No. 10. Northernlocomotive.
“Hmm. I’ll be frank with you. I’m really not sure what I’m doing in this race. I just broke my maiden a week ago and now, eight days later, I’m in the Canadian Derby and running a mile and three-eighths.
“You can throw out my race in the Count Lathum because my jockey lost his stirrups. But, geez, the Derby?
“Have you got any Tylenol? I’m getting a headache just thinking about it.”
No. 11. Solve.
“Sure. My buddy Inside Straight beat me last time. But that was in the slop. Inside Straight loves that crap. Not me. The only other time I ran in the slop I didn’t even finish the race. Hate the stuff. And I’m not all that crazy about grass either. They thought I would. I tried to tell them but, unlike you, they wouldn’t listen.
“When they put me on dirt - fast dirt - I showed what I can do. I lost by a nose at Churchill Downs in a $50,000 starters allowance. Not too shabby. But then they put me back on the grass for some reason and I still ran pretty good. Then I got the wet stuff last time and to tell you the truth, I wasn’t feeling 100 per cent that day. I think I was catching a cold.
“I’m the sleeper in this race. Just don’t go telling everybody because I might want to bet a few oats on this race myself.”
No. 12. Inside Straight.
“What kind of a post draw was that? I get the outside post and my stablemate, Solve, gets the 11? My trainer, Robertino Diodoro was incredulous. Two horses in the race and he gets the two outside posts? What is it? They don’t like us anymore?
“Do you know any good rain dancers? I could use a big dump of rain. Some horses don’t like getting dirty and having mud kicked in their face. But me? Love it. Absolutely love it.
“But if it doesn’t rain I’ve still got a big chance. That first race in Winnipeg. Throw it out. I wasn’t ready. And the fractions were ridiculously slow. And I was too far behind. And… well, just look at my last race. The Manitoba Derby. That was the real me.
“You talked to Diodoro. He told you a different horse would show up in the Manitoba Derby. And he was right. As usual. He’s a sharp cookie that guy. He’s won this race twice in the last three years with Edison and Broadway Empire.
“Before Winnipeg, I raced in New York. The Big Apple. Won by 10 lengths and then they sold me. Yeah, yeah. It was in the mud which, like I said, I love. But I don’t need the rain. But it wouldn’t hurt. You know what I mean?”
Doctor Doolittle: “Need anything else?”
Me: “Yeah. The winner. Who do you like?”
Dolittle: “Weren’t you listening?”
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