Cup of Coffee: Paying Tribute

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Today’s column is about Eric Guillot.

Laugh. Scoff. Scream. Run. Hide.

Finished? OK, let’s move forward.

In the eclectic world of horse trainers, Guillot is on his own continent. Born in New Iberia, Louisiana, 30 miles southeast of Lafayette, Guillot looks like a bouncer at a college bar and acts like the bounced from the college bar.

Guillot and his posse hosted their annual jambalaya party for anybody who wanted to come Friday morning, the day before the Whitney. Guillot asked us to run an announcement in the paper – for all horsemen. Attendees included Barry Irwin, half the staff at The Special and Scott Blasi. Now, that’s a guest list. Earlier in the morning, Rusty Arnold heard a clattering – perhaps the wooden oar stirring the gumbo – and worried about his horses. None of them moved. “He’s having a gumbo party, I hope it doesn’t upset my filly in the Test Saturday. Of course, he’s got a horse in the Whitney, I guess if he isn’t worried…”

Guillot doesn’t worry. At least, publicly.

About the time the jambalaya was ready, Moreno was returning from schooling in the paddock. Guillot at his side.

People who know him say his brash and bombastic public persona is simply an act, a cover up for a hard-working, good-hearted horse trainer.

“If you don’t know him you will think different, but he is a very great person,” said Junior Alvarado who rode Moreno to win the Whitney.

Mike Moreno, who owns Moreno, has known Guillot forever.

“Eric is as good a horseman as there is out there,” Moreno said. “Most people don’t take the time, to peel the onion and see what kind of person he is, he’s hard working, he’s loyal, he’s colorful.”

The Special met Guillot in 2010 when he won the Test, right after he fled California, calling synthetic surfaces, “Kryptonite for horses.” He’s been entertaining for sure.

After the Whitney, he pulled out his phone to a barrage of texts. On his phone, there’s photo of him in his 20s, he looks like Paul Newman.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Pizza,” he answered.

He’ll make you cringe and laugh in the same conversation.

After the Whitney, he started thanking his help, rattling off names like he was ordering po boys in the bayou. …

“I want to thank Sixto…I want to thank Marlin… I want to thank…Jose 1, Jose 2, Jose 3, Jose 4…I want to thank Juan 1, Juan 2, Juan 3… I want to thank all my guys, they’re second to none,” he bellowed from the bottom of the clubhouse stairs.

Guillot hung a photo of Marylou Whitney in a tree by his barn, with “I HEART MORENO” scrawled on it. He has indeed pulled out a voodoo doll of Todd Pletcher and others perhaps, we aren’t sure and won’t ask. And, yes, he did accuse jockey Luis Saez of using an electrical device aboard Will Take Charge when he beat Moreno by a nose in last year’s Travers.

Underneath all that, Guillot is a horse trainer. Love him or hate him, he pulled off a training coup Saturday. Moreno entered the Whitney on an eight-race losing streak. They weren’t just races, they were wars – the Jim Dandy, Travers, Pennsylvania Derby, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Charles Town Classic, Pimlico Special, Met Mile and Suburban in that order. He finished second, third or fourth in all of them but the Breeders’ Cup (when he got hurt) and in the Met Mile (when he was outgunned).

Most horses would have turned the other way, Moreno stepped up yet again and won the $1.5 million stakes. It was a stellar training job. And a brutal training day.

Earlier in the day, Guillot ran a first-time starter in the fifth race. Sir William Bruce finished fifth, came back, was distressed, wobbled and died.

“That colt hurt, a homebred, he ran well, he was just going to get better and better. I thought he was having heat exhaustion, we hosed him down, cooled his head, looked like he was going through it, then he fell down…” Guillot said. “Heart, I guess. Valve problem. Artery problem, I don’t know. Talk about the ups and downs. Man, I loved that colt. I loved that colt. That hurt my emotions.”

The day after the Whitney, Sir William Bruce’s name was still on the set list, on the dry erase board hanging on the tack-room door. A capital W written next to it. The 2-year-old colt was scheduled to walk, the day after making his debut. Instead he was gone. Three stalls from the tack room, two down from Moreno, his stall sat empty. Well, empty of Sir William Bruce.

Moreno’s Whitney saddle towel and blanket of pink roses, drying but still fragrant, lay across the straw. Arranged delicately, precisely.

Guillot looked at the stall and shook his head.

“It just seemed right,” he said. “A tribute, you know.”