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Memorial Day has always been one of my favorite days at the track. I actually make the trip to Hollywood Park to see live racing, rather than staying hunkered down in front of a TV set in the Santa Anita press box. I enjoy watching the good simulcast races from around the country, particularly the Met Mile from Belmont. But this year’s Memorial Day will always hold a special place in my heart and mind because of one particular simulcast race from Golden Gate Fields. The first race of the day was a nondescript 5-furlong maiden turf race featuring seven fillies of seemingly modest ability. But as a part-owner of first-time starter CASCABEL LADY (along with colleagues and long-time friends Jeff Siegel and Jack Karlik), I definitely had the butterflies in my stomach.

Siegel had purchased the filly for $25,000 at the Barretts October sale as part of a Golden Eagle Farms dispersal. By Bertrando out of a Seattle Slew mare, she definitely had the pedigree to be something decent. Siegel thought she had the look of a classy filly and was surprised to get her for such a reasonable sales price. She was shipped to trainer Amanda McKaughan, who trains a small string of Siegel’s horses up north, and began the slow process of learning how to become a racehorse. I had owned small parts of a couple slow horses 8-10 years ago (in fact one of those, THE IKER, who was owned by Siegel and named after me, broke his maiden for $25,000 at Santa Anita in 2000) but had not been involved in the ownership side of the game for nearly a decade. One day shortly after purchasing the then 2-year-old, Siegel came up to the press box and, showing unusual enthusiasm, asked me if I was interested in owning part of a “really nice” horse. He said he was very high on this one and would sell me a share if I wanted. Now, Siegel could sell ice to the eskimos but he didn’t need my money. He has been a major success in every facet of this sport: handicapper, owner, vice president of Team Valor (Breeders’ Cup and Big Cap wins, second in the ’97 Kentucky Derby with Captain Bodgit to name a few accomplishments) and most currently a commentator with HRTV. I thought it over for a few days and decided to take a piece of Cascabel Lady.

Seven months later, after the usual issues with young horses forced a couple minor interruptions in her training pattern, we started looking for a race. ‘Lady was scheduled to have her first real stiff work last Saturday, coming out of the gate while working in company (although she’d had nine recorded works, she had never been set down in the morning and had never done more than pop out of the gate). She would be asked to show something more serious this time. Lo and behold, an “extra” race was written on Friday (for Monday’s card) and it somehow filled with the aforementioned seven runners. We figured rather than work her again, let’s just go ahead and run, setting her up for a longer race next time out.

None of us had any idea how she would run, but our best guess was that she would break slowly, lack early speed, then hopefully she would take hold and finish nicely to get part of the purse and be ready for bigger and better things in the near future. As the horses approached the gate and ‘Lady drifted up to 19-1, Karlik and I wished each other luck (Siegel was up north for the race) and watched as she ran almost exactly how we had hoped. She actually broke fine but lacked speed down the backstretch, hugged the rail on the turn while starting to move up behind the dueling leaders, lugged in at mid-stretch before jockey Juan Ochoa was able to angle her out, then finished full of run to be third, beaten just over a length. Karlik and I were ecstatic, as was Siegel, who called right after they crossed the wire. But wait, the “inquiry” sign was on the board after odds-on favorite Tahoe Dream had been squeezed badly in deep stretch. Maybe we would be be moved up to second, even sweeter, I thought. Press boxer Jerry Antonucci had the audacity to suggest that there might be a double disqualification, moving us up all the way up to first. Yeah right, Jerry. I’ve seen about three of those in my entire career. Well, sure enough, that’s what happened. The stewards ruled that the top two runners had both contributed to fouling the favorite, meaning Cascabel Lady was kissed into the win, returning $41.20 in the process. I didn’t bet a dime, nor did Siegel or Karlik (I can’t speak for fourth partner Mr. Spero—we’ve never met). Apparently our trainer, Mandy Mack, bet $2 across the board. So this was not exactly the betting coup some might have envisioned from three handicappers who have been known to back their opinions at the window.

But what a thrill! I’ve experienced a lot of great things in racing but nothing compared to this. Being in from the beginning—the waiting, the wondering if she would even make it to the races, the optimistic reports on her progress—to then finally running and winning. Is this a great game or what?

NOTES: What a weekend for Thoroughbred Los Angeles radio personalities. Besides my good fortune, Sunday host and Santa Anita publicity director Mike Willman’s MCCANN’S MOJAVE did it again, winning the Grade III $150,00 Berkeley on Monday’s card; and Jon Lindo, Saturday co-host and contributor, is a member of the partnership that owns talented 2-year-old BACKBACKBACKGONE, who ran away and hid in Sunday’s Willard Proctor…BIG BROWN has a quarter crack in one of his troublesome feet (left front) but trainer Richard Dutrow says the horse is doing fine and WILL win the Triple Crown on June 7…tragic news on Wednesday about NASHOBA’S KEY, who kicked the side of her outdoor pen before going out on a scheduled work, fracturing her left hind leg and having to be euthanized at the barn. She won eight of 10 starts and over $1.25 million…Santa Anita cancelled its scheduled flooding and drainage testing of its problematic main track. It was decided that the asphalt base would be torn out and removed. By the way, SA has dropped an $8.4 million lawsuit on the Cushion Track manufacturer…in Monday’s feature races from Hollywood, DAYTONA beat EVER A FRIEND on the square in the Shoemaker Mile and PRECIOUS KITTEN continued her brilliance with another Grade I win in the Gamely…MONTEREY JAZZ came out of his most recent work with a foot injury and is out for the rest of the year…Kent Desormeaux will throw out the first pitch in Sunday night’s ESPN game at Shea Stadium…Tyler Baze will pick up the mount on LAVA MAN next time out in the Whittingham. I’m sure that will turn things around because regular rider Corey Nakatani has done such a terrible job (sarcasm) on him throughout the years.

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