Ed Musselman is eating his morning oatmeal at the counter of Wagner’s Pharmacy, across the street from Churchill Downs, when he feels a tap on his shoulder. He turns and sees a process server, smiling as he hands him a document informing him he has been sued for libel.
The next morning, Musselman is back at Wagner’s, again eating oatmeal, when he feels another tap on his shoulder. He turns and sees the same process server, still smiling as he gives him notice that he has been sued by a second person for libel.
And they say oatmeal is good for you.
You might be wondering who Ed Musselman is and what he does to make people so mad at him.
The first question is easy. He’s a former Churchill Downs tour guide, groom, jockey agent and trainer who now writes a daily tip sheet during meetings here, drives to his neighborhood printer, runs off 1,500 copies and distributes them free on the track’s backside under the name “Indian Charlie.”
As for the second question, he thinks for a couple of seconds, his eyebrows furrowed, then claims he can’t answer it.
“For every five people who don’t like me, I find 95 who do,” he says.
One who does is trainer Bob Baffert, who started reading the tip sheet a couple of years ago and, probably because he has a twisted sense of humor, thought it was funny.
He told Musselman he’d make him famous, and when Baffert decided he didn’t like the name of a promising young Cal-bred, Rundeeprunsilent, he remembered his promise and changed it to Indian Charlie.
Of course, Baffert had no idea he would make Musselman this famous. But then he had no idea the colt would go undefeated through his first four races, win the Santa Anita Derby and arrive under the twin spires for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby as the favorite.
Now Musselman walks among the barns followed by a horde of reporters, as if he’s Wayne Lukas or Rick Pitino.
Some people here in the cathedral of thoroughbred racing are not amused.
One owner, Tom Gentry, distributes lapel buttons that read, “I Like Indian Charlie--The Horse.”
As opposed to Indian Charlie, the horse’s . . . well, you know.
“It’s unfortunate for the horse,” bloodstock agent Don Alvey says. “He can’t help what he’s named. It’s like a boy named Sue.”
Alvey says Musselman “appeals to the Jerry Springer mentality” but is reluctant to say much more on the advice of his attorney. Alvey is one of many who believe they have been libeled by Musselman but one of only two hauling him into court. Another bloodstock agent, Cecil Seaman, is the other.
Don’t think Alvey can’t laugh at himself. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have adopted the nickname “Hee Haw” that someone gave him 25 years ago because of his resemblance to roly-poly Junior Samples on the television show.
“But it’s not a fun thing to be abused,” Hee Haw says. “He’ll write something, and then I have to hear grooms, owners, trainers, everybody kidding me about it.
“If one person punches you in the ribs, that’s one thing. But if everybody you walk by punches you in the ribs, it could become irritating.
“Well, I’m irritated. A lot of people who don’t want to be his target, they stay out of his way. Some advertise in his newsletter to keep him off of them. But I’m not afraid of him.”
Hee Haw says his lawsuit isn’t motivated by money, one reason being that he doesn’t think Musselman has any.
“I don’t even want to see him go out of business,” Hee Haw says. “He has his First Amendment rights. All I want is for him to get a reality check. This is a tough world back here, and we’ve all got to co-exist. None of us should profit from somebody else’s misery.”
Musselman, 46, says the lawsuits are frivolous.
“I’ve taken a shot here and there,” he says. “But all I’m doing is saying some of the things that other people won’t.”
Two years ago, Musselman took at shot at Churchill Downs’ security director and was banned from the backside.
The press made an issue of it--"They turned him into a cult hero,” Alvey complains--and three days later, Musselman was back.
So, naturally, Musselman goes easy on the press.
Sure he does.
He refers to Louisville’s Courier-Journal as the “Curious Journal” and the Lexington Herald-Leader as the “Herald Misleader.” Favoring the Daily Racing Form’s entry in the annual balloon race, he recently wrote, “That outfit has enough hot air to go to the moon and back.”
But he saves his cheapest shots for Churchill Downs President Tom Meeker, who is an expert on administration, not horse racing.
In last Tuesday’s edition of “Indian Charlie,” Musselman wrote that Meeker “has announced that off his 1:09 flat workout, Cobra Farms’ Old Trieste has already won the ‘pole’ position. . . .”
On the whole, though, Baffert said Friday that Musselman has been off his feed this week.
“He’s mellowed out,” Baffert said. “He’s gone from a wolf to a lamb. I liked him better the other way.
“Of course, if I get Indian Charlie beat, Ed’s going to go after me.”
Maybe Baffert will sue.
But the process server won’t find Musselman at Wagner’s. He’s now touting Nacho Mama’s, which he calls “Louisville’s only Afro-Mexican restaurant.” Oatmeal is not on the menu.