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Podcast #40: BOOK READING: The Preakness Stakes and Summer Squall
Podcast Date:
05-09-2009
File Size: 8.8MB
Download File

At Preakness time we are inspired to reminisce a little bit and think about the Preakness that we won with Summer Squall in 1990. This is an excerpt from my book Memoirs of a Longshot.

The night before the Preakness, the Maryland Jockey Club threw an exquisite party at the fabulous National Aquarium on Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The food and drinks were overwhelming, there was dancing to the delightful Doc Scantlin and His Imperial Palms Orchestra. In the shank of the evening a barge was pulled into position 50 yards away in the harbor, and the mother of all fireworks extravaganzas commenced. Even people on the backstretch at Pimlico, 15 miles away, delighted in it.

We remarked at the time how ironic it was that we were experiencing this superlative occasion of a lifetime, and it was all due to the courage, ability and class of a four-legged animal, dozing in a dark stall on the grounds of a storied, old racetrack in a bad section of Baltimore, Maryland. But, who knows? Perhaps Summer Squall was looking out over the webbing on his stall door, marveling at the fireworks. His personal pyrotechnics would come at 5:30 the next afternoon when about 10 million people would watch him go after victory in one of America's greatest sporting fixtures.

Summer Squall was the pre-race favorite, and would remain so through post time. The theory was that the shorter (1/16th mile) distance would benefit him, and his shiftiness would adapt well to the "tight turns" of Pimlico (Actually they're no tighter than Churchill Downs turns.)

I slipped away from the box section about four o'clock Preakness afternoon, and went to the barn. The ABC Television producer had asked to "mike" me during the running of the race so that the audience could hear my comments (screams, that is). Dave Johnson, the great race caller, was also going to do a pre-race interview with me at the barn for use in a feature during the telecast.

We did the interview and, of course, the bleeding episode was a major topic. I remember saying, "Believe me, the Lasix will hold him, and he will run a bang-up race!"

Finally, around 5:10, we got the call to bring the horses over to the paddock. Actually, they would be saddled picturesquely on the turf course in front of the stands.

There ensued an amusing display of gamesmanship between Carl Nafzger, who would saddle the Derby winner, and Laz Barrera, the brilliant and crafty California trainer who had Mr. Frisky. Laz liked to be late into the paddock, keep everyone else cooling their heels. Carl was determined to wait until Laz and his entourage had left the barn.

Race time, and Anne, Neil and I were seated together in a box, with a hand-held ABC TV camera staring up at us. I checked my ear piece, in place so that the TV anchorman could ask me a question, should the happy occasion arise. The audio mike was in place to record my extemporaneous, candid commentary. A silence fell over the crowd. The starter sprung the latch, and the race was on!

An outsider named Fighting Notion set the pace, with Mr. Frisky stalking him. Summer Squall was in fourth spot, and on the rail where Pat liked to be. The late-running Unbridled was three or four lengths behind us in the field of nine horses.

Leaving the backstretch, Pat nudged Squall a mite, and he easily slipped closer, still hugging the rail. It's funny how some sound bite, completely illogical and inconsequential to the import of the event will be the emblematic one that sticks in your memory. So it was in the Preakness. As the horses turned into the stretch, Summer Squall, now moving on the inside, and Unbridled, rolling hard on the outside, Dave Johnson sang out, "And Fighting Notion leads 'em into the stretch in the Preakness!" Really a meaningless utterance, but for some reason those words conjure up the Preakness for me.

But Fighting Notion's moment was soon over. Tiring, he drifted out a bit, and Summer Squall-waiting again for divine intervention-had room. He, on the inside, Unbridled on the outside, swept past the laboring frontrunner, and looked each other in the eye. Johnson screamed his signature line, "AND DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME! Summer Squall on the inside. Unbridled on the outside." This time Summer Squall was ready for him. They went at it in a ding-dong battle for an eighth of a mile, but then Unbridled blinked! Summer Squall had made him crack. The next memorable sound bite was, "It's Summer Squall by two lengths. Second in the Kentucky Derby, he's gonna WIN the Preakness!!!"

The rest is like a dream. Hugging, kissing, whooping, with the ushers trying to get our sizeable group collected and moving down the steps and across the track, so that I could lead the colt into the winner's circle, and the TV formatted presentation could take place.

Where were those post-race questions from the TV people? I found they had given up when, during the furious stretch battle, I had resorted to my unfortunate reflex of screaming out, "goddam." About 50 times. This was an exclamation high in drama certainly, but not exactly what the network was looking for.

It was Pat Day's first Preakness, and it was one of the fastest ever run. Unbridled finished second and Mr. Frisky third, but the outcome was without excuses, and Summer Squall had clearly carried the day.

For Dogwood and the Campbells it was monumental. Winning the Preakness was like taking the report card of my life and stamping it with a gigantic, indelible "A+," and then erecting a billboard in Times Square to display it. It was like throwing a stone into a pool, and watching the ripples emanate from it. Those ripples would slow through the years, but they have never stopped coming, nor will they ever. In the big scheme of life, winning one of the Triple Crown races will not rank with finding a cure for cancer, but, given this career-and the life I had once led--it was a gargantuan accomplishment.

I led the horse in, midst much clapping and furor, and then made my way up on the presentation stand, where TV luminaries Jim McKay, Jack Whittaker, the president of the Maryland Jockey Club, and the Governor of Maryland awaited. Anne was with me, of course, and so was my long-time partner and wonderful friend, Paul Oreffice.

My remarks reiterated that there would be no Belmont, I managed to get in a plug for the great horse town of Aiken, and I referred to the fact that Summer Squall had "the heart of a Capetown Lion." This was an expression that had struck my fancy years earlier for some strange reason. But it was one that hardly anyone else ever understood. In fact, many who saw the telecast thought I was attempting to strike a blow against apartheid in South Africa!

The logical rubber match would have been the Belmont Stakes, of course. We had declared out, even though whichever horse finished best in that race would receive a million-dollar bonus. Unbridled, also a bleeder, did run in the Belmont, finishing fourth. So he backed into big dough. (I always kidded Carl Nafzger that he should have given Dogwood a ten percent commission.)

This is Cot Campbell and this is my view.

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