Late last Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park, as Tabasco Cat raced past the wire to the beat of jockey Pat Day's right fist pumping in the air, the inhabitants of the victorious owners' box all seemed to be reaching for one another at once.
Sitting in his seat, one of the colt's owners, David Reynolds, turned toward his co-owner, William Young, and cried, "Oh, what a horse!" Young was repeating, "We got it! We got it!"
Leaning inside the box to embrace Young, D. Wayne Lukas, Tabasco Cat's trainer, was saying, "I'm very happy for you, and thank you for staying with me."
Their emotions hovered somewhere between delirium and disbelief after watching this latest performance by the shared object of their affections. Tabasco Cat, after stalking the pace of Go for Gin through most of the 1½-mile Belmont Stakes, had charged to the throat of the Kentucky Derby winner as the two horses raced through the top of the final straight, outfought him as they neared the eighth pole in midstretch and finally pulled away in the final yards to win the third leg of the Triple Crown by two lengths. In so doing, the Cat had not only reaffirmed his May 21 Preakness victory over Go for Gin, but he had also stamped himself as the leading 3-year-old colt in the land.
As Day steered Tabasco Cat to the head of Belmont's victory lane, a track security guard stepped forward and asked of Young and Reynolds, "Who's going to lead him into the winner's circle?"
"We'll both lead him in," Young said. So there they were, with 79-year-old Reynolds on the colt's right and 76-year-old Young on his left, leading the handsome liver chestnut on separate lead shanks down the lane. Young's insistence that they both accompany the winner was less a concession to ceremony than it was an acknowledgment that they have shared equally in producing the colt. Indeed, the Cat has become a kind of public symbol of a long, private friendship between Young and Reynolds that was forged decades ago when Reynolds asked Young—who had made fortunes in the peanut butter (Big Top and Jif) and soft drink (Royal Crown) businesses—to serve on the board of his company, Reynolds Metals, the world's third-largest producer of aluminum cans and the manufacturer of, among other things, Reynolds Wrap.
Reynolds has been involved in racing for 40 years, and one of the best race mares he ever bred was Barbicue Sauce, who won more than $200,000 during her five-year racing career. By the time Reynolds retired Barbicue Sauce in 1989, Young was pouring millions into Over-brook Farm in Kentucky, a 1,500-acre spread that now supports 40 mares and a host of stallions, the best of whom is Storm Cat. In the spring of 1990, Reynolds and Young agreed to breed Barbicue Sauce to Storm Cat and share ownership of the foal.
Barbicue Sauce dropped a colt in 1991, and they called him Tabasco Cat. The Cat was one of the best 2-year-olds in America last year, but he became far better known as the fractious colt who, on Dec. 15, got loose in the Santa Anita stable area, trampling and nearly killing Lukas's son, Jeff. At the time, Wayne was mired in a two-year slump during which he had not won a single Grade I race, and he was still smarting from the criticism leveled at him when Union City, one of Young's horses, had to be destroyed after breaking down in last year's Preakness. But Young stuck with the trainer through all his travails. "He's had a pitching slump," Young says now, "but he's snapped out of it."
Lukas has never concentrated harder on training a horse than he has on Tabasco Cat. "I had 32 days of pure hell, when Jeff was in a coma, to think it over," Wayne says. "I told my staff I was going to drop out of sight for 10 to 12 weeks, to work on this horse.... I owed it to Mr. Young, to Jeff and to the horse to do the best job I could with him."
His efforts have paid off nicely for the colt's two owners. On their way to a champagne celebration in the Trustees Room at Belmont Park after Saturday's race, the lean, white-haired Young leaned over to the portly, gray-haired Reynolds as they were about to step off an elevator. "I don't think we have to win anything the rest of the year," Young said with a twinkle in his eye. "And I don't know if our hearts will take much more of this."