Alibi Breakfast

Today marked only my 3rd attendance of the Preakness Alibi Breakfast. But this one moves to the class of unforgettable.

Some background first, the Alibi Breakfast is a nearly 70 year old Preakness tradition. Originally, to quote the program guide, “a group of trainers, owners, and greater and lesser dignitaries would gather in the mornings to expound on the merits of their horses.”

It has evolved into (pick your favorite health expert here, I’m going with) the Surgeon General’s worst nightmare. Exorbitant sums of food (including fried chicken and chipped beef on toast) washed down with Black Eyed Susans (1 – 1/4 cup vodka, 4 cups orange juice, 1 – 1/4 cup light rum, ice ring, 3/4 cup triple sec, 1 tbsp fresh lime juice, 4 cups pineapple juice). The old saying, it’s 5:00 P.M. somewhere, never seemed more appropriate.

Fare aside though the event is a celebration of all things Preakness, of all things Maryland. Maryland Jockey Club President Joe DeFrancis offers a state of the sport speech. Other dignitaries like Maryland’s First Lady Kendal Ehrlich and Cardinal William Keeler offer praise of the Preakness and racing in Maryland. The Preakness horse trainers take turns praising each others horses, and explaining how well their horse looks in warm ups.

That last part, when the trainers get the microphone, in years past that’s when things got interesting. You give D. Wayne Lukas a microphone after a couple of Black Eye Susans and let the party begin. Bob Baffert absolutely loves the stage. However, neither has a horse running this year. Brother Derek’s trainer Dan Hendricks, while a compelling story, doesn’t exactly light up the room as a public speaker. Same for Perry Hall native Mike Trombetta, the trainer for Sweetnorthernsaint. Great guy, but not compelling at the mike.

So at this point, my 2nd sentence has made little sense. Unforgettable? How about unremarkable.

Ah hah. Enter Kenny Mayne. The ESPN, well off the beaten path, sportscaster earned the broadcast side of the Old Hilltop Award given to those that cover thoroughbred racing “with excellence and distinction.” Mayne knows how to hold court.

From the opening line of his acceptance speech, “Obviously there’s been a terrible mistake”, to his view on slots, “thank you to the Maryland Jockey Club, of which George Washington was a member. You don’t think George Washington would have installed slot machines? He just didn’t have the technology.”

Mayne speaks with irreverence that comes straight from the heart. His sense of humor so dry camels are jealous. A true maverick in the world of broadcasting, he is a main reason I wanted to talk sports for a living. We chatted for a while after his award presentation. He is very happy with the glass bowl trophy but isn’t sure what yet will fill it (he promises though the bowl will hold a prominent place.)

Mayne not only entertains and informs, he’s a good guy. One of the bright spots in our profession. And certainly one of the reasons people other than die hard horse fans tune in to thoroughbred coverage. His presence this morning gave the event a huge boost of energy and left people talking. And until we have the return of the celebrity trainers, let’s hope Kenny Mayne wins an award every year at Alibi Breakfast.

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