Thursday, March 25, 2010

Running of the 59th Florida Derby

The Robert V. LaPentas, of Westport, Connecticut, photographed minutes before winning Saturday afternoon’s 59th running of the historic Florida Derby. Robert and Laurie LaPenta probably could not have imagined that before the afternoon ended, their horse Ice Box, a 20-1 longshot trained by the legendary Nick Zito, would be in the Florida Derby Winner’s Circle and on its way to the Kentucky Derby.
by Augustus Mayhew

Saturday’s running of the 59th Florida Derby was my first visit to the New Gulfstream Park. The Gulfstream Park I remember — the grandstands, trackside open terrace dining and upper-level Turf Club — is gone. Horse racing is now the centerpiece of a Vegas-style multi-entertainment gaming and retail development. The Finish Line Casino, no photos allowed, is wall-to-wall with slot machines and poker rooms.

The complex also features a Silks Simulcast Center, VIP penthouse suites, and a village-type shopping center with a Pottery Barn, Cadillac Ranch and a Lamborghini Café. And, in what has become a familiar scenario, Gulfstream Park’s owner, Canadian auto-parts titan Frank Stronach's Magna Entertainment Corp., has filed for bankruptcy protection. Did MEC actually think they were going to trump the Seminole Indian’s Hard Rock Casino?
Although published reports indicate MEC has “liquidity issues,” Gulfstream was experiencing tsunami-sized cash flow on Florida Derby day. And while I tend to like the Old Gulfstream much more, there were several thousand race fans glued in front of simulcast screens and slot machines. As usual, there were maybe only a few hundred in the crowd, at most, of more than ten thousand who went a little further than tee shirts and shorts. After all, it is Florida.

Here is a look at some of the characters and scenes that caught my eye.
The show ring before the first race.
“The grandstand isn’t so grand,” said one security guard to another. “The old grandstand was unbelievable,” said the other guard. “There was a terrace on the rail where you could have lunch right at the track,” he said. The crowd begins to gather.
Atop the third floor, Christine Lee’s also caters the twenty penthouse suites.
Christine Lee’s sushi prep station.
The Florida Derby orchestra.
Regine Borger and Lilly Borger. Too crowded and moved too fast for me to get her name but I thought among the afternoon’s more fashionable looks.
Linda Brown, Susan Chapman, and Mary Jane Rubley.
Mike and Yvonne Corbin with Todd and Diane Lary.
Brandi Goode, Lee Patterson, and Jessica Hill.
Joan Bardik. Seanna Paul-Hus and her daughter, Kaitlin Paul-Hus.
Adam Roberts and Emery Warren.
VIPS arriving too quickly to stop
Horse Race Network’s Alyssa Ali with, left, Joe Kristufek; right, Bill Finley, horse racing writer for The New York Times.
Jerry Bailey, the phenomenal Hall of Fame rider, and a familiar network sportscaster.
Stepping inside the show ring: Trainers and Owners
  Trainer William Mott and protégé.
Anstu Stables owner Stuart Subotnick, center, with jockey, John Velazquez, and trainer, Todd Pletcher. A former Metromedia-Kluge exec, several years ago in Palm Beach Mr. Subotnick sold his oceanfront house, The Reef, to Stephen Ross for $30+ million.
John Velazquez and Todd A. Pletcher.
The one and only Nick Zito, left, with Robert V. LaPenta. Last minute words from Nick Zito.
In the first race, Bimini, owned by Phipps Stables, finished third.
Last look before the race.
Inside the press/trainer’s room, Jennie Rees, race columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal, and veteran trainer, Dale Romans.
My peeps, snapping far more professional pix than I could ever imagine.
Seen before the first race, Kent DesOrmeaux, a Hall of Fame rider, won the 2008 Kentucky Derby and last year’s Belmont. Kent DesOrmeaux seen on the third floor before changing into his work clothes. Later, with trainer William I. Mott, snapped in the winner’s circle after the 31st running of The Rampart in the 8th race.
Kent DesOrmeaux, at work, nears the finish line on board Unrivaled Belle, owned by Peter Vegso and Gary Seidler.
Sam Gordon, chairman of the Florida Horsemen’s Protection Association, with a security guard, Juan.
After a race
Winning jockeys are interviewed by HRN’s Alyssa Ali. The Horse Race Network (HRN) broadcasts the winning words.
Losing riders are not interviewed.
Trainer Danny L. Miller with the Calabrese family stable of Chicago. After a race, Nick Zito walks back to the paddock.
The incomparable Todd A. Pletcher
A Texas native and former protégé of D. Wayne Lukas, Todd A. Pletcher heads up the Todd Pletcher Racing Stables. Having begun his career as a hot walker at the age of 7, Mr. Pletcher has accomplished an enviable list of stakes winners and champions. Here are a few views of Mr. Pletcher, who at age 42 some consider the world’s #1 horse trainer, at work on Saturday.

The 59th running of the Florida Derby
6:05 pm: Awaiting the horses, the center ring is mobbed; the crowd is SRO. By now, the cigar smoke has pretty well blinded me.
Moments later, the first horse, Soaring Empire, enters the ring and the race is minutes away.
Shortly after 6:20 pm, they’re off. Ice Box, #8, the winner, is in last place.
During each race, owners and trainers take to their exclusive staircase to watch the race.
On the right, Christophe Clement, trainer; to the left, William I. Mott.
Minutes later, Ice Box, #8, ridden by Jose Lezcano and trained by Nick Zito, will win in a photo finish.
The winners! Ice Box’s owners, Robert V. LaPenta and his wife, Laurie Winters, being photographed in their private box. They seemed to actually be having fun. You will see them again at the Kentucky Derby.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.

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