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
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
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 Bellamy Road.
"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 Haskell!
"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!