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.

As it is, Lost in the Fog sits at the intersection of the Bay Area's thirst for a redeemer -- experienced turf writers have to think for a long moment before naming a great recent Northern California horse -- and the sport's need for a star, which may explain why he's been pressed so quickly into celebrity despite his owner's and trainer's best efforts at forbearance. His invincibility thus far, which brings with it its own special stardust, hasn't hurt either.

There are doubters, of course, and they are dealt with severely, as heretics. Mike Watchmaker, the national handicapper for the Daily Racing Form, rates Lost in the Fog the favorite in a weak Breeders' Cup field but notes "he has never met this kind." His skepticism, he says, has drawn angry letters from Fog fans, letters calling him a "mental midget," letters saying he's bad for the sport and demanding he be fired. "It's ugly," says Watchmaker, who goes to great pains to say he does not "hate" the horse. "But I can take it. I'm a big boy. ... I'm just saying, 'Wait a second!' Before you say he's the greatest thing since sliced bread, let him prove it against a good horse first. If that makes me a party pooper, so be it."

The crowd at Bay Meadows applauds as Lost in the Fog is led out of the indoor paddock. Outside, as he begins to make his way back to the barn, you can hear one man's voice above the din.

Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze, atop Lost in the Fog.
Gabriela Hasbun
Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze, atop Lost in the Fog.
Artist Tom Chapman, a former jockey, at Bay Meadows with 
his Lost in the Fog print (far left, on wall).
Gabriela Hasbun
Artist Tom Chapman, a former jockey, at Bay Meadows with his Lost in the Fog print (far left, on wall).

"Look at you!" he yells, though it comes out as one word, "Lookatchoo!"

"Lookatchoo!" he yells again.

And then again: "Lookatchoo!"

"That's the status he's reached," says John Corey, the Lost in the Fog documentarian, as we near the horse's stall. "He's kind of a rock star." It's certainly true, and in a way it puts the lie to the popular version of the Lost in the Fog story, all that blue-collar nonsense. There is nothing blue collar about this horse. He is imperious, and people respond to him not as a cuddly mascot of the underclass, but as something regal, almost fearful. You can begin to see the cracks in the story -- the bit about the leaky-roof circuit, for instance. The only things I've seen Greg Gilchrist put to his lips are his wife and a glass of Crown Royal, never a corncob pipe.

As Gilchrist says: "The horse has made it all fall into place. It's all about the horse. It's not about Mr. Aleo. It's not about myself or the people who work for me. It's about the horse. You can make a human interest story about everything else, but what's actually going on here is about him."

We put so much weight on our great horses -- not just the rent checks bet on them, or the perfection demanded of them (there've been three Triple Crown winners since 1950, and yet it's not until a horse flirts with one that racing hits the front of the sports page). It's also how we freight them with metaphors and deeper meanings, and express through them base human feelings like class anxiety (all this talk about modest pedigrees and "blue-collar" horses) -- quite a load for the impossibly thin ankles of a thoroughbred. But now here is Lost in the Fog, a horse who might be something else altogether. He is an imposing thing. He outruns the metaphors. He can write his own story, and when he does, that story will likely not be a paean to the common man.

I ask around if anyone has ever heard of a horse being applauded for defecating. No one can recall -- with one exception. There was a horse, years ago, at the Preakness, William Nack remembers: "Secretariat was walking from the barn to the paddock ...."

Lucas is cool. This is his job, you see. Everyone else is half-crazy right now, following the horse out of the paddock and into the fading afternoon. Not Lucas. Lucas just stays behind with his shovel. "I have to peek up all the horse sheet," he says in fractured English. I look at his shovel, which is indeed full of horse shit. Not just any shit, mind you. The shit of the most exciting racehorse in America. The big horse's shit, which I'm mildly disappointed to report is not at all different from your garden-variety horse shit. "Everybody say thees is the best horse, you know?" Lucas says. "Maybe he's gonna win. You never know. I think he's a good horse, you know?"

It's the first day of October at Bay Meadows, a big day not just for Lost in the Fog, who gets to race in front of his hometown fans, but also for Bay Meadows and Northern California racing in general. Both could use some help: There is a proposal before the San Mateo City Council that would replace the 70-year-old facility, the state's longest continually operated track, with office complexes and condos; the near-empty grandstands on race days have not aided the preservationists' cause. There is, more broadly, the matter of the thoroughbred industry in these parts. It's no secret Northern California does not produce many great horses. Why it doesn't is up for debate -- it might be the hard dirt or the smaller purses or the low-rent tracks -- but some seem to feel there's at least a snooty eastern provincialism in play. Lost in the Fog, then, is Northern California's response, though it's curious that a horse who was sired, reared, and broken in Florida, with the occasional stop in Kentucky, can be considered anyparticular region's horse at all.

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