Derby on Speed Dial

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It’s raining. Hard.

It rained yesterday. Hard.

Today is Derby Day at Churchill Downs. Get out the wellies and trilby, it’s proper chasing weather. At least the trainers will have a built-in excuse; didn’t handle the track, couldn’t stand up out there, was slipping and sliding like a fat man on a frozen pond.

Ah the trainers. The men who weather the storm and make the decisions (well other than Larry Jones) for this wild and wooly ride through the Triple Crown. Like Churchill Downs-based Al Stall said this week, “It’s the phone calls that get you. The rest is easy. It’s the phone calls.”

One trainer’s cell phone will begin vibrating at about 6:07 this evening and will go through the night. His voice mail will go on tilt. Every owner, every assistant, every exercise rider, every cousin, every writer, every bell hop will want a piece of the Derby winner. One man will have trained the 2008 Kentucky Derby winner, the rest will limp home, trying to handle the let down. The buzz over.

If it’s Nick Zito, trainer of Cool Coal Man and Anal Nakal, well, you’ll probably get a Thank God first, then a I love my country, then a long, circular half rant, half apology about how it all happened.

If it’s Barclay Tagg, trainer of Big Truck and Tale Of Ekati, his cantankerousness will only be heightened, but then he’ll loosen up and wonder what took him so long to get good horses on a big stage.

If it’s Bill Mott, trainer of Court Vision and Z Humor, callers first have to slice through his universe shield and then it’ll be the same old Bill Mott, the steady man who just won his first Derby and is already thinking about a maiden turf horse at Belmont Park next week. He’ll barely know your on the phone.

If it’s Larry Jones, trainer of the filly Eight Belles, the connection will have a distinct cowboy hat echo and then the Kentucky twang will get rolling, “I’m just a country boy …” With a Kentucky Oaks/Kentucky Derby double complete.

If it’s Steve Asmussen, trainer of Pyro and Z Fortune, chances are you won’t get through (he’s got lots of owners, assistants and cousins), but once you get his attention, his eyes will go wild and he’ll tell you about the talent and speed of the horse. That simple. And no, he’s not Curlin – yet.

If it’s Michael Matz, trainer of Visionaire, he’ll answer his phone like he always does and then just don’t ask him to compare Barbaro and Visionaire. Or the ill-fated Chelokee from Friday. The man’s had a tough week.

If it’s Eoin Harty, trainer of Colonel John, his confidence verified and his exacting life approach perfectly complete. And there might be some drunken Irish cousins singing in the background.

If it’s Bennie Stutts, trainer of Smooth Air, first you’ll get tears. And then more tears. He nearly balled at the trainers’ dinner on Tuesday. The Derby will give him five career stakes wins. Five. And everything will feel right with the world.

If it’s James Kasparoff, trainer of Bob Black Jack, well jockey Richard Migliore will probably answer the phone and tell his story, then eventually Kasparoff will start explaining who exactly he is and how he got here.

If it’s Todd Pletcher, trainer of Monba and Cowboy Cal, he’ll sound more like a court stenographer than a Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, but wait it out, go back to his barn and he’ll eventually come around on his first Derby, to go with all the other accomplishments and accolades.

If it’s Graham Motion, trainer of Adriano, it will be total shock, almost embarrassment for winning a Kentucky Derby. You’ll need to call him every day for a week, just to get through the amazement, then watch Fair Hill Training Center explode again.

If it’s Dave Carroll, trainer of Denis Of Cork, you won’t get any reference to sheet numbers or bounce theories but good old-fashioned horsemanship. His Irish brogue will be loud and clear, and he’ll probably try to sell you a horse before it’s over.

If it’s Louie Roussel, trainer of Recapturetheglory, it’ll feel like a first-class ticket back to New Orleans, in time to eat a Po Boy and throw down an Abita (or several).

If it’s Paulo Lobo, trainer of Gayego, hopefully you won’t hear a Farda Amiga chant like after the Brazilian-born Lobo won the Kentucky Oaks in 2002, but you will get an impassioned story from a man who made it big in America.

If it’s Richard Dutrow trainer of the undefeated Big Brown, sure, you’ll get a, “Hey, Babe” but only after he gets past the wad of cash in his pocket. He’ll tell you about how he overcame the lowest of the lows and then invite you to join him in all-night Derby rave.

Let the games begin – and the phones start ringing.