Race tracks across the country may be reviewing their dress codes now that M.C. Hammer has entered the sport.
The standards at some tracks need modernization, anyway. Racing keeps saying that it wants to attract a younger clientele, yet its snooty dress requirements in some areas can be a turnoff for someone born after 1960. Men must wear neckties in Santa Anita’s turf club, and at Saratoga, where 90-degree days are common and the invention of air conditioning is not acknowledged, shorts and T-shirts are forbidden in the clubhouse for any race goer older than 12.
One day a few years ago at Monmouth Park, a resort track on the New Jersey shore, a patron dressed in a coat and tie left his parterre box and was admonished by an usher because his four-in-hand wasn’t knotted tight enough.
Rapper M.C. Hammer was born in 1962, his wardrobe doesn’t remind anybody of Fred Astaire movies. Hammer’s style is baggy pants, leather jumpsuits and frequently no shirt.
At Hollywood Park last Sunday, Hammer wore blue suspenders instead of a shirt. He had nothing else above the waist except a thick gold chain and a small badge attached to the suspenders that advertised Lite Light, the best 3-year-old filly in the country.
Hammer and the rest of the Lewis Burrell Sr. family from Oakland own Lite Light and about 19 other horses, and they plan to buy more, get into the breeding end of the business and maybe even buy a farm. Besides influencing more practical dress codes around race tracks, they have much to contribute to a sport that is losing more investors than it gains.
So far, racing has had no problem with Hammer’s attire, but that of his jockey, Corey Nakatani, has been bothersome. The Hammer colors--a conservative mix of black and gold, with blocks of those colors on the right yoke and sleeve of the silks--have passed muster without comment in California, Arkansas and Kentucky. But in New York, the hidebound Jockey Club has permitted Lite Light to run twice at Belmont Park only after much soul-searching. Something about the Hammer silks not being symmetrical has raised eyebrows. Louis Roussel, the co-owner and trainer of Risen Star, went through similar scrutiny of his colors before his colt won the Belmont Stakes in 1988.
Hammer lets his father, a career horseplayer who waded into the ownership side by claiming a filly for $20,000 at Santa Anita last January, and his older brother, Louis, manage the stable. “We stopped buying the hay for other people, and now we’re buying it for ourselves,” said Hammer, referring to his father’s betting habits. “Now I’ve thrown my hat into the ring, too. . . . Along with my wallet.”
Hammer’s side bets with Carl Icahn, the owner of Meadow Star, Lite Light’s archrival, already are legendary. The money goes to their charities for street kids, and after Meadow Star’s victory by an eyelash in the Mother Goose Stakes, Hammer wrote out a check to Icahn for $35,000, noting at the bottom, “For personal advice.”
Then last Saturday, before their rematch in the Coaching Club American Oaks, Hammer and Icahn discussed another bet.
Icahn proposed putting up $35,000 to Hammer’s $70,000. “My horse has been back home to California, and now she’s had to come all the way back to New York,” Hammer said.
So then Icahn said he would bet $70,000 if Hammer would put up $100,000. Hammer countered by saying that he would put up $200,000 if Icahn would risk $170,000.
“No,” Icahn said, “let’s make it $70,000 for me and $100,000 for you.”
Hammer replied: “If that’s all you think of your horse, why don’t you scratch her?”
The horses were approaching the starting gate, with only three minutes until post time.
“If you don’t want to bet, then just tell me,” Hammer said.
Finally, they agreed that Hammer would bet $200,000 and Icahn $150,000. Lite Light won by seven lengths.
The Burrells have spent millions on horses--Lite Light reportedly cost $1.2 million--and Hammer was reluctant to join his family early on. “This (racing) has been more fun (than the entertainment business), but I was reluctant to get involved,” Hammer said. “I had heard the horror stories about how people had lost money (in racing). But I have a lot of confidence in my brother.”
Late Saturday, the Burrells were scheduled to fly from New York to California, where one of their horses was running at Hollywood Park the following day.
They had to change plans when their original flight was canceled. Their canceled flight was on TWA, Carl Icahn’s airline.
Horse Racing Notes
Flying Continental, who ran a strong second to Twilight Agenda last month, will face him again, along with five other rivals, Saturday in the $150,000 Bel Air Handicap at Hollywood Park. Others running are Timebank, Trebizond, French Seventyfive and Sea Cadet, who as a 3-year-old facing older horses will carry only 112 pounds in the 1 1/16-mile race. Flying Continental, the high weight with 122, will spot the opposition between four and 10 pounds.
Summer Squall’s next race is expected to be the Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park on Sept. 1. Repairing the cracked hoof he suffered in the Hollywood Gold Cup became more complicated when the blacksmith found a second crack nearby.
Because Hialeah’s comeback season will end in early January, the track will run the Flamingo Stakes on Jan. 4. The Flamingo, once a major prep race for the Kentucky Derby, will not draw many top 3-year-olds that early in the year.