There are no distractions.
At Barry Fey's house, the parrot keeps screeching at the dog. The phone won't stop ringing, and Barry's beleaguered assistant, Leslie, just can't find the wallet-sized photos of the first time he won the big handicapping tournament in Vegas. The guy is here to fix one of the VCRs so Barry and his seven-year-old son, Tyler, and the dog, Dakota, can watch the Richard Dreyfuss racetrack movie, Let It Ride, for the eleventh time in the past two weeks.
There's also the Neil Diamond booking to think about. No big deal--only New Year's Eve at the MGM, that's all. And, of course, there's "the cancer thing." Since the prostate implant surgery, the numbers on Barry's PSA tests keep going steadily down, and that's a good sign. But who knows if they found the tumor in time. Now the dog, which has the girth of a good-sized mule, has knocked everything off the coffee table.
Still, there are no distractions. Right now, Barry Fey is obsessed with one thing and one thing only: the Breeders' Cup Sprint, on November 7 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Well, maybe that's not quite true. Maybe the horse has already won that race in Barry's imagination, and he's starting to think about beating Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet over a distance of ground next season and winning the Breeders' Cup Turf next November and his horse going on to become the greatest of all time.
"See, that's the problem," Fey growls, throwing his hands two inches into the air. "I've already won this year's Breeders' Cup, the Strub Series and next year's Breeders' Cup. We're already the all-time money winner in my mind. We've already done all that. That's the trouble with me about everything. The contemplation. I can't ever live up to what I dream something is gonna be. It's a real drag. I spend the money before I get it. I win the title before the contest starts. I was always gonna do the Stones and the Who together..."
Okay, one thing at a time. No distractions. Barry Fey, the 59-year-old concert promoter, the transplanted New Yorker who electrified a cowtown by importing the Stones and Clapton and the Who and Aerosmith and U2 and Springsteen and has most of the world's autographed electric guitars to prove it--that Barry Fey--is refurbishing his life, pumping up the volume again, through a racehorse.
On September 1, 1997, Fey retired from the concert business in Denver after thirty high-life years. Disheartened by the quality of new rock bands and convinced his day was done, he quit. Four months later the longtime horse player (and sometimes part-owner) risked $102,000--near feed money in the high-stakes world of thoroughbred investment--for 60 percent ownership of a questionable piece of goods named Reraise. A two-year-old son of Danzatore out of Get Us to Paris, Reraise had run just once, in a six-furlong, $62,500 maiden claiming race at Santa Anita. Breaking dead last under jockey Eddie Delahoussaye, he began firing past horses in the backstretch and flashed to the front in the deep stretch, winning by two lengths over Lucky Sandman.
And there his career might have ended, were it not for a bloodstock agent with a sharp eye and a trainer with saintly patience. The agent, James Sternberg: "There were two things. He overcame a very bad start and a very wide trip and came home like a racehorse with a future. The icing on the cake was his Ragozin figure of 8-minus: It's something special when a two-year-old does that in October, breaking his maiden."
Ragozin figure? Don't ask about such arcana. Better to simply heed Sternberg when he says: "Reraise's pedigree says he can win on grass and run a route. I didn't expect to see the tremendous speed he has. Yet he finishes like a closer. In the Sprint, I wouldn't trade places with anybody."
Neither, it seems, would new trainer Craig Dollase. After Fey purchased the horse, he immediately put up a $600 fee to make him eligible for the Triple Crown. But Dollase prevailed over Fey's haste, turning Reraise out to pasture for 75 days, waiting for the green gelding's knees to knit, before even beginning to work with him. In his second start, on May 27, he beat a $42,000 allowance field at Hollywood Park by three lengths. On July 4 he won the Playa del Rey Stakes at Hollywood by six over Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk States winner Souvenir Copy. Fractious and washy on August 20, Reraise ran second at Del Mar. But on September 26, in the six-furlong Kentucky Cup Sprint at Turfway Park, he was crowded at the start by the horse next to him but fired past everyone to score a twelve-length victory in 1:08 2/5--a fifth of a second off the track record. He is now regarded as one of the three or four best sprinters in America--along with Affirmed Success, Gold Land and Wild Rush.
"I was the quiet passenger," Reraise's astonished new rider, Corey Nakatani, said after the Kentucky Cup. Two weeks ago Fey and the minority owners put up $120,000 to supplement Reraise to the Sprint, where the purse is a cool $1 million. The other owners? Moon Han, who has 25 percent, trainer Dollase, with 5 percent, and a man named Frank Sinatra, with 5 percent. You know, Frank Sinatra--the dentist. It could be a very good year.
For Barry Fey, it could be a new lease on life. "When I used to do the Stones or the Who and make 50,000 or 60,000 people deliriously happy, that was important. I believe I changed the environment here, affected the state. This horse is a selfish thing. And I have nothing to do with it. I didn't find the horse. I barely know a cracked cannon bone from a bowed tendon. But it's the single most important thing. I mean, I got Neil Diamond coming up on New Year's in Vegas, but all I can think about is the Breeders' Cup...What have I got left to do? What kicks? I'm not a kicks kind of guy--I don't drink or take drugs. But look how great this could be. If he wins at Churchill, they say he'll be the Eclipse Award winning sprinter. And barring injury, he could race the next five, six, seven years and be a huge horse. Where am I gonna buy that?"
At the bargain price he paid, nowhere on earth.
Some thoroughbred owners pour millions into their horses and never come up with a decent allowance winner. Since 1992, Fey has owned parts--a mane here, a tail there--of five horses. Four of them--Free at Last, Star of Valor, Demaloot Demashoot and Reraise--became stakes winners. The speedy Demashoot even ran in the 1993 Breeders' Cup Sprint, finishing a respectable fifth behind Cardmania.
Clearly, the man doesn't know how lucky he is. "If you put a hundred thousand into a horse, you expect to do well," he says. "But it never happens--I know that. It happens to so few. We beat the pants off a D. Wayne Lukas horse [Historic] that cost a million and a half--as a yearling! But I don't feel that lucky, because I'm not in that business. I don't know the odds. In the music business I knew how lucky I was--because I knew how tough it was."
Because he's a broker who makes his living from transactions, Sternberg tried to convince Fey to sell Reraise at a huge profit. No dice. "Barry loves the thrill, he loves the excitement," Sternberg says. "He's sitting on a potential champion with a comparatively small amount of money invested, and that's very rare and very lucky. Only 15 percent of thoroughbred owners make money each year."
Come November 7, don't expect Barry Fey to be hanging out with them--the rich guys wearing $1,000 suits, who can afford to dabble in the Sport of Kings, and their sleek, lion-maned women. "I'm a horseplayer who happens to own a real fast horse," he says. "I'm never going to be with the Bob and Beverly Lewises [owners of Derby winner Silver Charm] or the Phippses, because we have nothing in common. What am I going to say to Ogden Phipps? 'Hey, Ogden, what's up, man?' And the racing-society parties don't interest me. I don't wanna go to parties. Forget about it. I've been to the best parties. I've been to the Who party in Houston when everybody took their clothes off, in '73. The Stones were here for a luau, outside my house, out there on the patio. I've been to parties."
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But he hasn't been to the Breeders' Cup winner's circle, and that's where he means to be November 7 at Churchill Downs, wearing his lucky Keith Richards T-shirt, his purple silk jacket and, quite possibly, long pants. "That's all I can think about," he says. "Before the race, I'll get very nervous and start snapping at people. Tell you, I'm gonna take at least a half, maybe a whole Xanax that day. Forget about it. I'm not the most pleasant person in history anyway. I don't need it, but it won't hurt. The Xanax isn't for me--it's for everybody around me."
He also imagines a time when he won't need a mood-stabilizer on race day. "I don't know a thing about the horse business," he says, "but it could be a stepping stone or a doorway into a new life. The music business kept me young, but that's over. All I've got is the past. No future. Watch the Breeders' Cup and Kentucky Derby and you see the owners--a lot of octogenarians and people in their nineties, preserved by good sun and fresh air. This is the way to age gracefully. Maybe when I'm 85, God willing, and this cancer thing doesn't get me, I'll be standing out there in the paddock with my walker."
For now, though, the parrot is still screeching at the dog. Leslie can't find the wallet-sizes, and while a tough field of fourteen or so world-class sprinters looms up a week from Saturday in Kentucky, Barry Fey feels the need to watch Let It Ride again. He's also convinced the dog that he's Reraise's little brother. In other words, there are no distractions. "I wanna win this thing," he says, uncharacteristically quiet now. "And I'll be happy to take all the praise. Even though I have nothing to do with it.