His success as a brash sports talk host gave him a chance to get into the expensive business. When it comes to his thoroughbreds, though, he gushes about falling in love with all of them and the ”gut-wrenching” decision to sell his biggest star.
He’ll be just as enamored with Shared Belief no matter what happens in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday at Santa Anita. But the oddsmakers predict Rome will be celebrating in the winner’s circle: The undefeated 3-year-old gelding is the morning-line favorite.
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”I’ve been lucky,” Rome said in a phone interview this week. ”I’ve had more success than people who are smarter than me and spent a lot more money than me. But it wasn’t overnight.”
He used to describe horse racing on the air as a bet and not a sport, though Rome says now that shouldn’t be construed as disdain. After all, he has been far harsher on other pastimes.
Plus, he was simply ”pushing buttons,” a specialty for a guy who still may be most famous for a decades-old confrontation with former NFL quarterback Jim Everett. After Rome repeatedly called him ”Chris” – in reference to women’s tennis star Chris Evert – on a live broadcast in 1994, Everett flipped over a table and knocked Rome out of his seat.
These days, Rome hosts a syndicated radio show, a television show on CBS Sports Network and specials on Showtime. Guests and callers are entering ”The Jungle,” hence the name Jungle Racing, which he owns with wife Janet.
And, yes, Rome now thinks it’s a sport. He just didn’t know much about it before his first foray as an owner. But when his 15-1 long shot came back to win, he was hooked, and that was that.
Too hooked, in fact.
”I wanted to buy everything put in front of me,” he said.
”The problem is,” he added, ”you fall in love with every one of the horses.”
Soon, he was ”hemorrhaging money.”
Then came Mizdirection. The mare won her second straight $1 million Turf Sprint at the Breeders’ Cup last year.
”Miz saved my racing life,” Rome said.
Two days after she defended her title, she headed to the sales ring in Kentucky. It was the right business decision, which didn’t make it any less agonizing.
Before he got into horse racing, Rome said, ”I didn’t understand the highs were so high and the lows so low.”
He’s had plenty of both with Shared Belief this year.
Based at Golden Gate Fields in the Bay Area, the gelding appeared headed on the Triple Crown trail. Rome tried to keep himself from catching what is commonly known as ”Derby Fever.” No such luck. He jokes that his temperature soared to 106 degrees.
Then a hoof problem kept Shared Belief out of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
But when he won the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita in September to improve to 7-0, Shared Belief was back in contention for champion 3-year-old male honors and a shot at Horse of the Year.
He was made the early 9-5 favorite Monday.
”It’s good that I got my face punched in those first few years,” Rome said.
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, one of the horse’s co-owners along with Rome, describes him as a low-key partner.
”Jim just texts me every once in a while,” Hollendorfer said.
For a few moments Saturday, Rome will be the sports figure other commentators are analyzing.
”The whole thing just seems very surreal,” Rome said. ”Very, very bizarre.”
AP Racing Writer Beth Harris in Arcadia, California, contributed to this report.