This Side Up: Do You Know The Way to San…Felipe?

Burt Bacharach at Santa Anita | Horsephotos

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How apt that one of Burt Bacharach's very first hits was The Story Of My Life. Because reading the tributes prompted by his loss a couple of days ago, it turns out that his music was pretty well a soundtrack to the lives of millions who–especially in the Sixties, an era of profound societal tension between materialism and idealism–wanted assurance that the essential bonds of humanity still united them all. He transcended those divisions much as he did musical genres, knowing that the middle-aged hosts of suburban cocktail parties and their rebellious adolescents both ultimately shared an abiding weakness for romance, optimism and style.

Though somewhat later on the scene, I too am indebted to Bacharach for a literal soundtrack of one particular evening. I was young and foolish, and had no real sense of my privilege in hearing him at a piano in a London venue that now strikes me as unbelievably intimate for a star of such magnitude. If the only real change since is that I am no longer young, my regret is compounded, by since having discovered that it must have been right around that time that he could have gone back late to his hotel room, and exploit the time zones to call Richard Mandella in California about one of the Derby colts he had bred in consecutive crops.

Both looked authentic contenders in the GII San Felipe S., each thwarting a Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner: Soul Of The Matter turned over Brocco (Kris S.) in 1994, while Afternoon Deelites saw off Timber Country (Woodman) the following year. Glitzy days for our game, those, when Burt Bacharach could win a big Derby trial with a homebred, from a rival owned by the Bond movie producer Albert Broccoli. (It would be nice to think that someday we might restore all that glamor, but I'll leave you to decide whether we first need to demonstrate a collective commitment to getting syringes out of our barns; or simply to heed the intricacies of constitutionality to which our attention has been so kindly drawn by so many interested parties, from Alaska to Mississippi).

 

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It's impossible for us to put a value on the enthusiasm of a man like Bacharach. He didn't just give us kudos, with all the headlines he generated on the Derby trail and elsewhere; he also gave us belief in what we were doing. It's always gratifying when somebody like that embraces our arcane way of life and exudes a sense that he is taking a step up in the world, and not the other way round.

Soul Of The Matter remains best remembered for nearly tearing up the script in the inaugural Dubai World Cup, but had earlier made history as the first West Virginia-bred to contest the GI Kentucky Derby, running fifth to Go For Gin; while Afternoon Deelites promptly became the second, though only eighth behind a horse he had thrashed at Hollywood Park the previous December in Thunder Gulch.

Soul Of The Matter was out of a half-sister to Bacharach's first star, Heartlight No. One (Rock Talk), who broke her pelvis and basically colicked weekly for the rest of her 18 years. The mare was indebted for that span of life to the round-the-clock devotion of a young lady named Catherine Parke, now familiar in the Bluegrass as the exemplary owner of Valkyre Stud. Catherine says that this was the experience that sealed her vocation; so you might even say that Bacharach wrote the story of her life, as well.

Who knows, then, what tendrils of fate may be quietly extending from the current renewal of the Derby trail? It does, regrettably, already feel as though this year will consolidate modern trainers' renunciation of everything that made the Derby the ultimate proving ground for the breed. The most accomplished juveniles have largely either disappeared or remain lurking in the wings–the champion not even scheduled to appear until March–while the later-developers will still have their races spaced out, leaving them with minimal competitive experience; and the fans with minimal engagement.

One thing that does tickle me about the emergence of Tapit Trice and Arabian Knight is that they are respectively out of mares by Dunkirk and Astrology. Other names high on my Derby list at this stage include Blazing Sevens, out of a Warrior's Reward mare; and Practical Move, whose dam is by Afleet Alex; while the Brad Cox team includes a couple out of daughters of Repent and Giant Oak. As I've noted before, with so many of the most expensive mares at auction similarly by unfashionable stallions, I'd be very wary if I were throwing millions at a breeding program and my advisors kept telling me that I need to pack out the broodmare band with the daughters of elite sires.

The Derby rehearsals this Saturday cannot measure up to the startling convergence of Wonder Wheel (Into Mischief) and Julia Shining (Curlin) in a non-graded stakes at Tampa Bay. Prairie Hawk has certainly been revving up for the GIII Sam F. Davis S., however, and it's obviously a home game for him. And I am really intrigued by Litigate (Blame) who traces to Numbered Account (Buckpasser) and must have a ton of talent to post a big number sprinting on debut with such a copper-bottomed two-turn pedigree. He had a bit of shock on his second start but was raised by one of the best small farms around (actually one of the best farms, period) and Pletcher has chosen him from eight nominations for a race he has harvested a record six times.

With the GII Remsen S. winner also in the field, and the runner-up lining up for the GIII Withers S. back at Aqueduct, we should at least get a firmer grip on the state of play in New York and Florida. Last week the GIII Holy Bull S. was dismally undermined by the performance of Cyclone Mischief (Into Mischief), who had looked so exciting against Litigate. It would be typical of the rate these young horses alter perceptions if Cyclone Mischief and Litigate were so swiftly to exchange the respective futures they were allotted on their sophomore debut.

Whether any of these can take us on a Derby ride as uplifting as the ones Bacharach shared not only with our community, but also with a curious world beyond, remains to be seen. At 31, Afternoon Deelites is actually the oldest surviving resident at Old Friends in Georgetown, Ky., a sanctuary long supported by Bacharach. In fact, there's a corner of that facility reserved for contemplation of his tragic daughter Nikki. And though himself blessed with a generous lease of life, even Bacharach would acknowledge the line from his collaborator Hal David as applicable to us all. “Weeks turn into years, how quick they pass.”

But if the story of our lives is told far too quickly, at least the soundtrack is pretty good.

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