LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Not to douse all this excitement about having two Maryland-based horses among the top Kentucky Derby contenders, but have you noticed that the owner of one of "our" horses isn't exactly a local hero?
Concerto, the chestnut colt trained by longtime Maryland racetracker John Tammaro III, is owned by none other than George Steinbrenner.
That's right, we have locked arms and taken a blood oath with the Boss, owner of the New York Yankees.
Sorry about making you spit out your coffee.
What could be worse? Having to cheer for Albert Belle after your team signs him as a free agent? Winning a contest and discovering that the prize is dinner for two with Paul Tagliabue?
Nah, even those odious scenarios aren't as bad as finding yourself in the torturous position of having to pledge your allegiance to Steinbrenner for the sake of a little racing glory.
Talk about selling out your soul.
Maybe we need to re-think this thing.
The other Maryland-based Derby horse, Captain Bodgit, is owned by a California-based syndicate of faceless investors from around the country -- also a far cry from, say, Boogie Weinglass as an appealing local symbol.
But that's still not nearly as offensive as Steinbrenner, the un-Diner Guy if ever there was one.
It's unfortunate, because Concerto's Maryland roots are real; he ran second to Captain Bodgit in the Laurel Futurity last fall, won the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico a couple of weeks ago and is trained by a real Baltimore guy from one of the first families of Maryland racing.
But the horse's jockey, Carlos Marquez Jr., was walking around the barn yesterday wearing a Yankees cap.
"Big Yankee fan, big Yankee fan," he said with a smile.
This is "our" jockey?
And the horse will race tomorrow with a Yankees pinstriped saddle cloth, for crying out loud!
OK, OK, not really. But what's the difference? If we win with Concerto, Steinbrenner wins, too.
How did we get ourselves into this pickle?
Well, Steinbrenner, an avid horse owner and breeder, had four strong 2-year-olds last fall. He gave the top three to his main
trainer, Nick Zito, a New York guy who doesn't choke on the idea of teaming with the Boss.
Concerto, the fourth of the four horses, was given to Tammaro on the advice of Steinbrenner's farm manager, who had known the family from the days when Tammaro's father trained horses.
The three Zito-trained horses didn't make it to the Derby, but Concerto has arrived as an 8-1 shot carrying a five-race winning streak.
And if you think it puts you in a tough spot as a red-blooded Marylander, try being Tammaro.
He grew up around Pimlico, cheered hard for the Colts, cried when they left and calls himself an Orioles fan. He's about as Bawlmer as it gets.
Now, the horse of his lifetime carries him to the Derby -- along with the infamous owner of a baseball team that is reviled in his hometown.
"I've been hearing about it back home," Tammaro told reporters yesterday.
Who is he cheering for these days, the Orioles or the Yankees?
"I think I'll let that one slide," he said with a smile.
A few minutes later, he came back to the question: "I guess you could say I'm an Oriole fan, but I'm gaining a better appreciation for the Yankees every day."
Business is business.
Working for Steinbrenner supposedly is one of the toughest jobs in sports, but Tammaro wouldn't know. Steinbrenner's son, Hank, handles the family's racing operation.
"At no time has anyone interfered with the training of this horse," Tammaro said. "I've had a few conversations with George, all positive. Things have gone well with the horse."
Too bad Steinbrenner isn't playing to type and constantly
meddling with Tammaro. That work at Turfway was at least two seconds too slow! And what are you feeding that horse, anyway? fatter than Cecil Fielder! Next time he runs second, you're toast!
Alas, Steinbrenner apparently is just as quiet and conservative in racing as he is loud and pushy in baseball.
"He wants to win and expects to win," Tammaro said, "but he gives you quality stock and let's you do your job. You can't ask for anything more."
He even relies on home-grown talent by his own sires and mares instead of the high-priced horseflesh available at sales.
That's right, the father of the modern free agent barely dabbles in them when it comes to racing.
"Basically, everything you hear about him from baseball doesn't correspond to racing," Tammaro said.
Not that that makes him any easier to embrace.
A Boss is a Boss is a Boss.
Joining forces with him, even for just a day, is somewhere between a concession and a chore.
But even if we buy into the moment and claim him as ours for a day, Peter Angelos is going to get jealous.
Angelos, owner of the Orioles, was angry last year when thousands of Yankees fans took over Camden Yards during a four-game series after the All-Star Game.
Now, here comes Steinbrenner trying to leverage support in Maryland.
Angelos, a horse owner himself, doesn't like to be outflanked by the Boss in any endeavor.
Look for him to try to sign up Seattle Slew for the Preakness.
Pub Date: 5/02/97