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No rap at Hammer, but keep night job


lt may be difficult to design a model that would fit every racehorse owner. But there's at least this: If the owner is a guy, he'll usually be wearing a shirt.

But if he's sipping his Black-Eyed Susan bare-chested, you can be pretty sure you're in the company of Hammer.

Just Hammer.

Not Mr. Hammer, as the young woman trailing after him near the Pimlico stakes barn insisted until she got his autograph.

Hammer. Like Madonna. Or Slash. Or Charo.

It used to be M.C. Hammer. It used to be Sonny and Cher, too. Things change. That was never more clear than when Hammer stopped by to see his horse, Dance Floor, who is running in the Preakness.

Let's just say Hammer is different from the people who owned, well, Calumet Farm. Let's just say that nobody from Calumet Farm ever visited the stakes barn accompanied by a bodyguard with a hammer sculpted in his hair alongside the lettering, "2 Legit," which, for those who don't follow rap music or the Atlanta sports scene, is part of a song title.

Your typical owner of a Preakness-style horse falls into one of several categories:

* A sheik. Often from Dubai.

* An elderly woman, still running her late husband's stock, who can't quite remember the name of the horse when Jim McKay interviews her after the race.

* People who have what are known as "interests." For example, they own all the trees in Arkansas.

* Mostly, though, owners are people who don't know hip hop from sock hop.

What you have to understand is that when they say that racing is the sport of kings, they aren't talking about Elvis.

Hammer brings an entirely new look to the sport. He came yesterday in a cream-colored suit, no shirt, a megawatt pinky ring, no socks, one outsized diamond earring, a ponytail, a necklace that I know just wouldn't look right on me, dark shades and with a style and exuberance that is pure show-biz, if not exactly traditional horse-biz. He came to the barn with two bodyguards, Deion Sanders' father and a couple dozen TV minicams trailing.

"Where's my big, old, strong horse?" Hammer said.

Dance Floor is owned by Oaklawn Stables, of the Burrell family. (Don't tell anyone, but Hammer's real name is Stanley Burrell. He tried being M.C. Stanley, but all the music came out sounding like Al Green.) Dance Floor is trained by the high-profile D. Wayne Lukas, who is nearly the perfect trainer for Hammer.

But while Hammer was feeding a carrot to Dance Floor as the minicams rolled and the cameras flashed and Hammer was saying of his horse, "He's bad. I like 'em that way," I asked Lukas to name four other favorite rap acts. "Umm," Lukas said.

Then: "Umm" again.

He snapped his fingers to jar his memory before finally confessing that his tastes in music tend to run toward Merle Haggard. Trainers like Merle Haggard. Owners like Vivaldi. Hot walkers love Hammer.

"Did you hear what the guy asked me?" Lukas said to Hammer. "He wanted to know my other favorite rap groups."

Hammer said: "Tell him Run Baby Run."

Hammer was loving this. He was loving the whole business. He told the story of how Chris Antley, who rides Dance Floor, showed up at a Hammer concert in Albany.

"I look up and the next thing I know, he's dancing on the stage," Hammer said. "I look again, and he's gone."

Antley had fallen from the stage. That's what the music can do to you.

But Hammer, who seems to show up at every major sporting event, isn't just a song-and-dance man. He said his family got into the horse-owning business after figuring they'd wagered and lost enough to pay for several horses. Now, he gets to do it close up. And, from his vantage point, he may have changed the course of the Derby, where Dance Floor finished third.

"Just before the race, when everyone was gone, all the media and everybody," Hammer said, "I gave Arazi the stare."

He did the Ali-style stare for the cameras, which he might do for Lil E. Tee later. OK, he's a performer. Do you love him? You have to wish more owners were like him.

Last night he was in D.C. for a concert. Tonight and tomorrow it's New York. He's 36 shows deep into a 136-concert tour. So, he's flying back to Baltimore tomorrow morning for the race and then to New York for a concert tomorrow night. "I've got to be back at 8:30 for a 9:30 show," he said.

Won't he need time to warm up?

"When you do six shows a week," he said, "you're always warm."

By that point, he was hot. He offered up his race-day outfit: "I may go back to basic black. Go low-key. I don't want to steal the thunder from my horse."

But then there was the draw, and Dance Floor pulled the 14th slot, probably dooming his chances. That's racing. It's a good thing Hammer's still got his night job.

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