At first blush, the biggest single sports story of the week revolved around the New York Yankees
and owner George Steinbrenner. The
subject matter was the resolution of the Yankees-Devil Rays twin bill scheduled for Yankee Stadium
on Labor Day.
Will they play one game? Two games? Will the Rays forfeit?
Will Lou Piniella get a free hot dog? If they got to play, would A-Rod bat second?
Yes, indeed, there were serious issues at stake.
But this is where this columnist parts with the mainstream media.
Agreed, the biggest story in sports this week revolved around George Steinbrenner. But it had
nothing to do with the Yankees. You see, while George was spending Monday afternoon in his plush
Stadium offices, his thoughts were not really about the Yankees, or Devil Rays, or A-Rod's batting
average with runners in scoring position. His main concern was the feature at River Downs.
The Boss had gathered his baseball people in his office to watch TVG. On all eight televisions.
Steinbrenner, who, truth be told, is a horse breeder/owner disguised as the owner of the New York
Yankees, was waiting for the Cradle Stakes, a $200,000 stake for 2-year-olds at River Downs.
George had an unbeaten colt named Bellamy Road in the race, the 2-1 second choice. With a rooting
section back in the Bronx cheering him
on, Bellamy Road went wire to wire, and won by open lengths. A grand slam if you will.
On Tuesday morning, I gathered all the New York papers to read about George's windfall. Indeed, there
with a gazillion words written about forfeits and such, but not a single word about Bellamy Road.
" They (the press) didn't ask," George told me this morning,"…and I didn't bother to tell them."
George and I go back a lot of years, back to the early '80s when we were bitter rivals in celebrity
harness races, so I wasn't surprised when he called me this morning to bend my ear about
"My dream for years has been to win the Kentucky Derby," he told me, "and this horse is my best shot.
He is by my stallion Concerto. He is big and strong, and he looks like he can run all day. We are all
very excited about him."
"We" are George's racing people - his son, Hank; daughter Jessica; Edward Sexton, his farm
trainer, and his new trainer - a fellow named Michael Dickinson.
Sexton, a recent arrival from Ireland, where he developed a reputation as a top horseman, broke
Bellamy Road last spring in Ocala,
and recommended to Steinbrenner that he purchase the colt. George did so, for $87,000 at the
Ocala sale, and turned him over to Sexton.
Two months later, Steinbrenner sent Bellamy Road to Dickinson in Maryland.
Dickinson had never trained for Steinbrenner, but George was well aware of his reputation.
"When I watched Dickinson out on the track before the (Kentucky) Derby this year, sticking a pencil
into the track, that convinced me that Michael was my man," he told me. "I called him, and told him
I wanted him to train this horse, and a couple of others."
After watching Bellamy Road train at his Tapeta Farm for a couple of weeks, Dickinson told
Steinbrenner that he was "the best horse I've ever trained…and that he will win first time out."
Indeed, Bellamy Road won first pop at Delaware Park, prompting Dickinson to send him to River Downs
for the Cradle. Here's where the story really gets interesting.
On Monday afternoon, Dickinson ran Tapit, his Wood Memorial winner, in the Pennsylvania Derby
at Philadelphia Park, a $750,000 race in which Tapit was favored. But Dickinson sent an assistant
to Philly Park to saddle Tapit. Dickinson, meanwhile, was at River Downs to saddle
Bellamy Road for the $200,000 Cradle.
Seeing Dickinson walk into the dining room at River Downs that day, every sharpie in town rushed
to the window to get down on Bellamy Road.
So what's next for Bellamy Road?
Speaking from Ocala this morning, Sexton said that Bellamy Road likely will go to the Champagne,
on Oct. 9 at Belmont, where he will face pro-tem division leader Afleet Alex…and, if all goes well,
to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Oct. 30 at Lone Star. "We need a race between the Cradle and the
Breeders' Cup," said Sexton, "and the Champagne looks like the best spot."
"John Gaines (the founder of the Breeders' Cup) has been a friend for years," Steinbrenner told me,
"and I'd love to go there with a horse who can win. I believe Bellamy Road is that horse."
The sky's the limit for Bellamy Road, George Steinbrenner and Michael Dickinson. The Breeders' Cup,
an Eclipse Award…and, most importantly, the Kentucky Derby. Then the Preakness. The Belmont.
"The Derby. That's the baby I want," said George.
And, by the way, the Champagne coincides with the first round of the American League playoffs.
What a parlay for the Boss!