A Horse That Can Self-Endorse
By Andrew Beyer
I have maligned a horse, and now his feelings are hurt.
At the outset of the Triple Crown series, I wrote that the colt Dollar Bill was "as phony as a $3 bill." Such an observation would ordinarily go unrebutted, since horse racing is one sport in which the participants don't read. Or at least most of them don't.
Dollar Bill, however, has a Web site (www.dollarbill.ws) created by his owners, Gary and Mary West of Omaha, and throughout the spring he has offered weekly commentary on his experiences in the 3-year-old classics. He has talked about his emotion upon hearing "My Old Kentucky Home" before the Kentucky Derby, about his pre-race focus ("no interviews, no booze and no broads") and, most of all, about the fact that he is the unluckiest horse in America. He has also offered some prickly responses to criticism in the media. Of the $3 bill remark, he declared after the Preakness: "If Andy still thinks that, I'm sure an adult-sized wager of some kind can be arranged. . . . The Belmont will be the race where I will prove that I'm a big-time horse."
Bill just might be right and vindicate himself Saturday at Belmont Park.
Since he ran in the Louisiana Derby in March, Dollar Bill has endured an almost unimaginable four-race streak of bad fortune. Some people blame his jockey, Pat Day; some think the horse is trouble-prone. Some think the trouble has concealed his considerable talent; others have wondered if much talent is there. In the Louisiana Derby, where he was the solid favorite, Dollar Bill was blocked on the rail in the stretch; Day couldn't extricate him and finished fourth in a race he probably should have won. A legion of bettors put Dollar Bill's name on their "horses-to-watch" list, and they made him the favorite in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. But over that notoriously speed-favoring track, the colt couldn't muster an effective rally.
He was everybody's favorite sleeper in the Kentucky Derby, but at Churchill Downs his bad luck got even worse. He was in the rear of the field when the speedster Keats tired so badly that he looked as if he were running in reverse, backing into the path of A P Valentine. Day said: "Corey Nakatani on A P Valentine wheeled out from behind Keats . . . I know it was a move of self-preservation, but it absolutely wiped me out." Dollar Bill put it this way: "When I recovered, I needed a search warrant and binoculars to find the other horses."
While many horseplayers were eager to bet Dollar Bill one more time, I was dubious. Having excuses doesn't make a horse good. Suppose Dollar Bill had avoided trouble and won a slow Louisiana Derby; so what? The horse who did win it went off at 41-1 in the Kentucky Derby and finished ninth. Dollar Bill showed little of a positive nature in his Blue Grass loss, and nothing positive in the Derby debacle. A phony, indeed. Or so I maintained before the Preakness.
The Pimlico race turned out to be another disaster. This time, Day said the culprit was Griffinite's jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, who "basically lost control" and twice dropped in front of Dollar Bill, knocking him out of contention. But Dollar Bill didn't give up. After losing many lengths, he launched a rally so wide that Day could have grabbed a hot dog from a grandstand vendor. Yet he finished fast enough to outkick Monarchos, the Kentucky Derby winner, and finish fourth. Despite the disastrous trip, he finished less than four lengths behind Point Given, who never had a straw in his path. The performance proved that Dollar Bill is no counterfeit.
But why does he keep getting into trouble? Is this just a freakish run of bad luck? Is Day to blame? Or is the horse (sorry, Bill) suffering from some deficiency that causes his trouble?
It's probably a little bit of each. Day insisted that he has been "a victim of circumstances -- rider error, and not necessarily mine." But he did note that Dollar Bill's style is conducive to trouble. "He's a come-from-behind type of horse," the Hall of Famer said, "and he doesn't have the acceleration to get in and out of trouble rapidly. He travels like a semi truck. Once he gets his momentum, he can run all day, but he's slow to accelerate."
Dollar Bill may be sluggish and trouble prone, but he's pretty philosophical. He absolved his jockey from blame, saying: "Most horses would be complaining about the bad luck I've had in the Preakness, Kentucky Derby, Blue Grass and Louisiana Derby . . . not me. If I had real bad luck, I'd be dead by now. I'm a pretty thankful horse. Truth is, I'm one of the best 3-year-olds of my generation."
If so, the place where he can prove it is Belmont Park, where the sweeping turns, long stretch and a relatively small field in the third leg of the Triple Crown should help keep even a trouble-prone horse out of trouble. "Keep the faith," the horse told his Web site audience. "Bill's gonna make ya proud."
© 2001 The Washington Post Company