Here Comes the Fog

The sprinter Lost in the Fog is the adored savior of horse racing in the Bay Area. Perhaps God brought him to us.

"He's for real," the Washington Post's turf writer, Andrew Beyer, wrote in February. Beyer is the father of the indispensable Beyer Speed Figure, which provides a standard measure of a horse's relative speed, regardless of track and distance. At a minor-stakes race in Arizona last year, Lost in the Fog posted a Beyer figure of 109, the best by any 2-year-old in America in 2004.

"There's a certain aura about a horse with brilliant speed," says William Nack, a longtime turf writer and Boswell to the great racehorse Secretariat. "The one quality you associate with a thoroughbred racehorse, or when a layman thinks of a thoroughbred racehorse, is speed. This horse has as much of it as about any horse I've ever seen."

Some even have Lost in the Fog in contention for the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year, which would be an upset of enormous proportions. A sprinter, after all, is regarded as a lower class of thoroughbred. In racing, the longer distances, the so-called "classic" distances, are seen as the true test of a horse -- the 1 1/4 miles of the Kentucky Derby, say. Only those races at classic distances carry any sort of mythic juju. (Ask anyone why that is, and the answer is generally the same: That's how it's always been.) Were Lost in the Fog to win Saturday, and then later win Horse of the Year, it's safe to say he'd be the biggest story in horse racing, the biggest in years, in fact.

Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze, atop Lost in the Fog.
Gabriela Hasbun
Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze, atop Lost in the Fog.
The undefeated Lost in the Fog, training here at Golden Gate 
Fields, will face his biggest challenge yet at Saturday's 
Breeders' Cup Sprint.
AP Wide World Photos
The undefeated Lost in the Fog, training here at Golden Gate Fields, will face his biggest challenge yet at Saturday's Breeders' Cup Sprint.

But the question remains: What would that story be, precisely? Even the great horses rarely get to "write" their own stories. That is typically the province of the popular imagination, always quick to grab onto stars or future stars, and in whose hands a horse story inevitably reads like a fairy tale for adults. It is at once wonderful -- a distraction from some of the industry's coarser elements -- and wholly distorting.

Consider the story of Seabiscuit, horse of the people, avatar of a broken but resilient country during the Depression, and -- this is the inconvenient detail that is often elided -- the prized possession of one of the richest men in California. Or Smarty Jones, the reputedly blue-collar horse who came within a length of winning a Triple Crown in 2004, a horse who actually achieved something close to national stardom. When he was retired last year as a 3-year-old -- supposedly because of a few minor injuries, though some suspect it was because his owners didn't want to jeopardize his stud value -- his fans were dismayed; their working-class hero had left and so had betrayed them. Of course, neither the horse nor his owners had betrayed anything but the fairy tale that had been written for them, perhaps in racing's haste to anoint a new savior. As Jay Hovdey, executive columnist for the Daily Racing Form, says, "We're looking for the Seabiscuit story."

This sort of thing, the anthropomorphism, the projection of human dramas onto the horse, is a mug's game: It's easy to forget that horse racing is foremost an industry, that the sport is almost incidental. Horsepeople, by and large, behave according to the imperatives of capital. Inasmuch as it is a sport, moreover, racing is an inherently elitist one, heavily controlled by those noted eugenicists called breeders. In this sort of world, can there be any such thing as a "blue-collar horse"?

The obvious exception, the horse who still seems to defy our best efforts at personification, is Secretariat, who with his name (after the League of Nations' secretariat) and his birth date (1970) might easily have been deployed as some sort of symbol of the Vietnam era. And yet, in the eyes of history, his amazing physical gifts, the 31-length margin -- 31! -- by which he won the Belmont, more than suffice. Secretariat, you could say, wrote his own story.

And what of Lost in the Fog's? His story is being written right now -- most literally by people like Beyer and John Corey, a former producer for KPIX's Evening Magazine who's now shooting a documentary about the horse ("It's a wild story," Corey says. "There are so many interesting elements -- a bizarre kind of destiny"), but also by the people in Lost in the Fog's orbit, the 50-some folks joining Aleo in the winner's circle these days.

Perhaps there's an even greater author. "I really feel like God had a hand in this," says Karen Dodd, who bought the horse as a yearling and broke him at her farm in Ocala. In March 2004, she sold the horse to trainer Greg Gilchrist, buying on behalf of Aleo. "I don't mean to come off as a religious fanatic, 'cause I'm not, but I do believe God's hand has been in all this." She cites the name, ready-made for San Francisco iconography. "We could've called any trainer in the country, but I think it was meant to be that Harry has the horse."

The rough draft of Lost in the Fog's story, as it's being told today, goes something like this: A blue-collar sprinter from horse racing's backwaters -- trained by a guy out of the "leaky-roof circuit" (bib overalls, corncob pipes, the works) and owned by a charmingly crusty octogenarian who once took orders from Patton -- transcends his modest pedigree and fogs up the monocles of the eastern racing establishment. "This is a blue-collar horse," William Nack says, "and he will attract the masses. He's one of us -- we all have questionable pedigrees. We're not all Queen Elizabeth's kids. We're all mongrels, and this horse is a bit of a mongrel." It is a story any racing fan who's not smoking Montecristos in an owner's box can relate to, never mind that it's not entirely accurate.

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