If horses could speak their minds, the general tenor of Sea Hero's conversation this week at Pimlico would run along these lines: "&%#$! And ya mutha's too."
We're talking about one angry, complaining Kentucky Derby winner.
It's just that there is this weather thing with the horse. You can look it up. He doesn't just dislike a hot day. He hates. Despises it.
So, he goes and wins the Derby and shows up in Baltimore as the big shoulders in the barn, and what greets him?
A summer-in-the-city spring. The hottest Preakness week in memory.
"Dadblasted cotton-picking infernal heat," the horse would mutter (if he could speak his mind).
The good news for owner Paul Mellon and trainer Mack Miller is that it's supposed to be cooler the rest of the week. But it's supposed to head back toward 80 by Saturday, and that's no igloo. And in any case, who can say that the early-week scorching hasn't already psyched the horse out of the second leg of the Triple Crown? You have to understand the history.
Sea Hero lost his first three races in the summer heat last July and August in New York, where Miller is based. Then he emerged as a star when autumn arrived, winning the Grade I Champagne Stakes in early October.
The big win encouraged Miller to try the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in Florida, where late October is still summertime. Sea Hero ran so miserably in finishing seventh that the Daily Racing Form grader felt compelled to sum up the performance with a succinct and caustic "No excuse."
The horse was given the next three months off to train in Florida, at Gulfstream, through the winter. He went backward.
"It's just so hot and humid," said Danny Furr, Miller's assistant, yesterday at Pimlico. "You were always sweating. I'd walk down to get a Coke, maybe 200 yards, and by the time I got back it was time to go again. Horses are no different than people about having likes and dislikes, and this horse just didn't like that heat at all. He got kind of languid."
Just another snowbird tourist from New York, overcooking in the heat.
"Ha-ribble weath-a," the horse would have said (if he could speak his mind).
Miller brought the horse back to the races for a Grade III stake in early February at Gulfstream. The result? Ninth place, 12 1/2 lengths back. A third-place finish in an allowance race a few weeks later was more encouraging, but Miller finally decided just to ship the colt out of Florida to a training center in South Carolina.
Sea Hero just "blossomed," Miller said, back in the dying days of winter.
This is no horse. This is a penguin.
"You could see it from the day he got [to South Carolina]," Furr said. "It's not that unusual, really. A lot of horses don't like the heat. But he just got to looking so great in training that [Miller] decided he deserved another shot."
The rest, as they say, has been in all the papers. Sea Hero zipped through a hole and came charging down the stretch to win the Derby by 2 1/2 lengths. But check out the weather: it was chilly in the mornings during the week leading up to the race, and rain fell an hour before. Sea Hero's cold-lovin' bones were not violated.
Welcome to Bawlmer, hon.
"So far, so good," Furr said yesterday, giving a small smile. "It's pretty hot, but it's not as bad as Florida. [Sea Hero] doesn't seem to mind, at least not yet. We may know more when we [work him]."
The hope in the barn is that he has outgrown his aversion to heat and humidity, that it was just a youthful whim and no longer a factor. That had better be so if the colt is to stand a chance at winning the Triple Crown, as some have suggested is possible in this mediocre year for 3-year-olds. For if the heat doesn't get him here, the Belmont -- New York in June -- won't be a climate-controlled picnic.
What to do? At the risk of presumption, perhaps it's time to fool the horse a bit. Put his mind at ease. You want to win a Triple Crown with Sea Hero? Here's what you do:
Put a window unit in his stall and close the door.
Cover the walls with winter scene posters. ("Visit Oslo.")
Make the grooms wear overcoats and wool hats while putting in the feed tubs.
Find one of those beers in the TV commercial where the room turns into a tundra when you pop the top, and stick one in the hay.
Tell him, "Boy, the Jets hadda play in the snow at Buffalo yesterday."
"Beautiful," the horse would say (if he could speak his mind).
Got a better idea?