In July 2006, I accompanied Harry Aleo, trainer Greg Gilchrist and Lost In The Fog to Florida. The 4-year-old colt was to be the heavy favorite in the featured race at Calder Park’s Summit of Speed.
While I’ve been around professional sports for almost 25 years, the only one that’s kept me as a fan is thoroughbred horse racing. Every horse is a story. Every race is a unique event, and handicapping horse races is as challenging as anything I’ve ever tried. Everything about the sport fascinates me.
That weekend with Lost in the Fog was an all-time highlight. I was trying to write a book about the talented colt who’d captured the nation’s fancy as a 3-year-old, only to lose in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. I’d been following Harry, Greg and the colt around for the previous six months.
I was sure the colt would win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint that fall as a 4-year-old.
A lifelong San Franciscan, Harry never tired of my questions, Greg never flinched when I showed up at the barn. Harry was a man enjoying his passion, and was generous in sharing it. Into his 80s, he was still going to his NoeValley office because, he said, the routine kept him young.
That weekend, Calder’s track was rock hard, and Lost in the Fog came up with sore feet after his first gallop around the track. Greg and the colt’s groom worked around the clock to get the colt ready to race. I’d never seen what it takes to be a first-rate horseman, but Greg showed me that weekend. Something you never see in the Racing Form.
Lost in the Fog would lose the race, which would be his last before being diagnosed with cancer and dying a few months later. Harry and Greg shared every moment with me that weekend like I was family, even the disappointment back at Fog’s stall after the race.
The trip’s highlight turned out to involve a 3-year-old filly named Victorina, who traveled to Florida with Lost In The Fog. She won her race, and Harry had me join them in the winner’s circle photograph. The celebration afterward in one of Calder’s banquet rooms felt to me like what it must be like for the winners after every big race.
I’d seen the game I love from a perspective I could only imagine, experiencing the thrill of the winner’s circle as well as the heartache of losing. All in one weekend that I owe to the generosity of Harry and Greg.
Harry died this week at the age of 88 after a bout with cancer. I hope when I die somebody thinks of me the way I think of Harry.
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner.