The Sure Thing From California

All right, Miss Colorado 1985, put up the nail polish, we got an urgent letter. Address it to the Hard Boots Racing Assn. of Kentucky. Mark it confidential and not to be photocopied or mimeoed. Slug it: Attn. Losers. Ready?

Dear Losers:

OK, fellows, it’s time to get the case money out. The spot you been waiting for all your lives is here. Hock the car. Sell the house. Cash in the insurance. Tell the landlady the overdue rent is on its way. Your ship is coming in. Call in all your markers.

California has--get this--a horse it thinks can’t miss!


Is that money in your pocket? Is that the best news you’ve heard since Dempsey was even money? Let me ask you--is this like having your own deck? Is this like tossing dice in your own hat?

You know how those movie dudes are. They’ll come here in all those gold chains and loafers with tassels and no socks and they’ll be drinking all that white wine and riding around in stretch limousines with phones in the back seats and they’ll go around talking about their dinners with Cary and Elizabeth and what the bottom line is and where to get the best quiche. Man, they’ll make this town smell like a slow leak in a Chanel factory.

They think the world is a Busby Berkeley musical and the Kentucky Derby is just a remake of “Broadway Bill.” They’ll be looking around the barns for Loretta Young without a hair out of place.

They believe in happy endings, these people. They think the Derby is just another Disney movie. Their horse is the star. Kind of like the Black Stallion. Black Beauty. The other horses in the race are just dress extras. And stars don’t get knocked off in Hollywood. I mean, you ever see John Wayne get hit with an arrow in Reel 3? I should say not.


So, they got this horse called Snow Chief and he’s the greatest thing since Rin Tin Tin. They figure he can pull babies out of burning buildings.

You know how they get. How many times we seen this scenario, eh? Surely, you remember Wonder Horse I, Your Host, that Louis B. Mayer came back East with in 1950. They bet him down to 8-5. Less, maybe. I mean, the horse was a burro. He should have been carrying frying pans up a gold miner’s mountain, but Hollywood thought he was a combination of Trigger and Man o’ War.

I don’t think he beat a horse. What’d he finish, ninth? Quit like a dog at the quarter pole. That Hollywood crowd acted as if someone had kicked Lassie or stolen Shirley Temple’s lollipop.

I mean, Middleground and Hill Prince didn’t even know Your Host was in the race. They thought he was just a kind of complicated rabbit. But, did Hollywood learn? You got to be kidding!

They came out here with horses owned by disc jockeys, dance directors, cowboy actors. There were television detectives, talk-show hosts. You know, the kind of people who feed lumps of sugar to their horses. You feed a lump of sugar to a real horse and all of a sudden they’re calling you Lefty, or Wingy.

They dealt in fantasy, these people. They had a horse one year came from 46 lengths off the pace, Silky something-or-other. I mean, that’s the kind of horses they have out there. You can spot them 46 lengths. Like, this horse tried to spot the Derby field 46 lengths and he gets run over by the next race on the card. I mean, like, he was out of the money in the next race.

We all know the tracks out there run downhill. You can’t take California time with anything but a grain of salt.

But do they learn? Now, they have this little black horse out there named Snow Chief and their breathing is getting shallow again and this film is coming over their eyes and they think they got Garland singing “Over The Rainbow” again, or Cagney going to the electric chair or Bette Davis smoking.


I mean, you know Hollywood. This horse, Snow Chief, he’s won a few races. He’s the youngest horse ever to win a million dollars, but you know how purses are out there.

This horse doesn’t even run fast. Or often. He goes like 1:51 4/5 for a mile and an eighth. So you have to wonder what he’s beating.

He’s owned by a guy who used to be a vaudeville hoofer. Ben Rochelle was part of one of those acts where you think you’re getting Veloz and Yolanda and all of a sudden they start throwing each other over the furniture.

He’s ridden by a rider no one ever thought to write poems about.

The trainer is good, Mel Stute, but Mel has trained so many horses that had to stand in buckets of ice all week to make the post parade that he can be pardoned for thinking he’s got a horse that’s going to be a statue in the park one day.

The breeding is not exactly out of Burke’s Peerage. No one ever mixed up Reflected Glory’s foals with Bold Ruler’s. And Snow Chief was foaled in California, and I don’t have to tell you what that means. They’ve run 111 Kentucky Derbies and only three of them have been won by Cal-breds. You can’t get a real runner in a place where they have to import the water.

So, get ready to Dutch the book. These California types will be so hyped up, you can bet on everything else in there and still make money. They’re not even going to run the horse between now and the Derby so there’ll be nothing to wise up Hollywood and Vine.

Put me down for a bundle. It’s going to be like stealing. The surest thing since the 1919 World Series or Sharkey-Carnera. Hooray for Hollywood!