Linda Ronstadt made big news last week in Las Vegas. The big news this week is
Wednesday"s grand opening at Saratoga. I mean thoroughbred racing at Saratoga. Not
the 1,300 slot machines going full-blast across Nelson Avenue at Saratoga Harness.
What, you are asking, is the connection between Linda Ronstadt and Saratoga?
You need to go back to 1978 to find out.
Steve Cauthen, at the ripe old age of 17, was Da Man. He had just won the Triple Crown
on Affirmed (in case you missed it - no one"s done it since), and was riding at Saratoga.
Linda Ronstadt, young (28), gorgeous and talented, was Da Girl. She was knocking out gold
record after gold record, and was at Saratoga to perform for a sellout crowd at the
Performing Arts Center.
On the first Friday of the race meeting, Cauthen scored front-row tickets for the Ronstadt
concert. He was joined by Albert and Larry Barrera, racetracker sons of Affirmed"s
trainer, Laz Barrera, and various gal pals.
Following the concert, Cauthen and the Barreras went backstage to meet Ronstadt, and
invited her to drive over to see Affirmed at the barn. Which they did. At midnight.
The next morning, I made my usual stop at the jocks" room, and found Cauthen sitting
comatose at his locker, his face buried in his hands.
"You look like you lost your best friend, Steve," I said with the wisdom of my years.
"Worse, John," Cauthen replied.
"I"m in love..."
"Who"s the lucky girl?"
I commended Cauthen for his good taste, but I pointed out he would have to overcome
a rather large age gap.
"What do I do?," he asked me.
"I don"t have much experience in courting rock stars," I said,
"but I guess you need to get her phone number. I have some contacts at SPAC. I"ll see
what I can do."
I got Cauthen the number, but he never followed up. A week later, he broke some bones
in a spill, and missed most of the meet. Needing a rider for Affirmed in the Travers, Laz
Barrera tabbed old friend Laffit Pincay Jr.
As it developed, Pincay rode what he called "the worst ride of my life" and Affirmed was
DQd from first for fouling Alydar at the half-mile.
Meanwhile, Cauthen and Ronstadt went their separate ways. Ronstadt kept knocking "em dead
in the States, while Cauthen went to California with the Barreras, rode 103 straight losers, and
finally departed for England, where the weights are more lenient, and he became the biggest
star in Great Britain since the Beatles.
That "78 Saratoga meet was also a memorable one for this writer, who was then toiling for
the New York Post.
Late one afternoon I called my office to file a race lead, and no one picked up. It was clear
why. The Newspaper Guild had struck all the New York papers. As a result, I found myself
out of work, and basically broke. No fat check coming in. No expenses.
Saratoga is not a good place to be when short of green. More so now. I understand that
Grade 3 joints on South Broadway are charging $469 a night. At least you get a good view
of Dunkin Donuts and Saratoga Diner.
But back to "78. Fortunately, I was hired by The New York Press, the best of the "strike"
papers, so I stayed on at Saratoga, and covered the meet for the Press.
I said "thank you" with one of the best scoops of my career.
In the above-mentioned Travers, Pincay (on Affirmed) was hammered by Angel Cordero
(riding the no-chance Shake Shake Shake) going to the first turn. That"s why an angry
Pincay responded by trying to drop Cordero"s buddy Jorge Velasquez (on arch-rival Alydar).
It turned out I was the only media type to make the Cordero connection, and wrote
the "conspiracy" story for the Press, which ran it on Page One.
Cordero somehow found a copy of the piece, and didn"t talk to me for six months. Or
six years. I don"t remember.
Now, back to the present...
I was not at all surprised with the announcement yesterday that Smarty Jones will
miss the Pennsylvania Derby.
When Smarty was declared from the Haskell, I knew there had to be a problem. And
then jockey Elliott was scheduled to go down to Philadelphia Park to work Smarty.
The work was scrapped. Then trainer Servis said he planned to work Smarty yesterday
On Sunday at Monmouth, I asked Joe Rosen, Elliott"s new agent, what day Stew was
going to work Smarty. Rosen told me that Stew won"t work him, and, after a significant
pause, he said "(exercise rider) Bobby Diaz would work him."
Obviously, Rosen did not want to pursue the subject. Servis doesn"t use exercise riders
to breeze Smarty. Joe just didn"t want to spill the beans.
So the beans were spilled yesterday. Stable foreman Foster said that Smarty indeed will
miss the Pa. Derby with a foot bruise (in addition to a fever and an elevated
What did surprise me was that the media blew off the story. In the space of seven weeks, Smarty
went from the biggest sports story of the year to a non-issue. The story was buried in most
papers, and overlooked entirely by the electronic media.
My only hope at this point is that we do get to see Smarty under silks again. His people are
saying that the horse is fine, nothing serious, and that he will run in the Pegasus or Super
Derby, and in the Breeders" Cup Classic.
If I had a buck for every time a trainer or owner has told me his horse is fine, and the horse
never ran again, I"d be set for life.
The best scenario would be for Smarty to run in the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs, and
train at nearby Oaklawn Park for the Classic. The Oaklawn racetrack is not open in
October, but I"m fairly certain that Oaklawn management would be happy to open the track
to accommodate Smarty.
Finally, another story came down yesterday that came as no surprise.
With Alex Solis sidelined with major back and ribs injuries sustained in a Del Mar spill last
weekend, trainer Mandella naturally tapped Jerry Bailey to ride Pleasantly Perfect in the
Pacific Classic and Breeders" Cup Classic.
Does Jerry Bailey get to ride every good horse, or does it just seem that way? Fact is
Bailey"s not even the best rider in New York these days. He"s not even one-two. See Prado and
And for every great Bailey ride, there"s a stinker. See Sweet Return in last Sunday"s Eddie
Read at Del Mar.