Manny Uriza ruins Triple Crown parties.
Uriza's grandfather, Laz Barrera, was the trainer of Affirmed, the last horse to claim racing's Triple Crown.
Since Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes in 1978, 11 horses have won the first two races. That created sizable celebrations with people seeking a reason to drink Belmont Breezes in the beginning of June, with a 2 1/2-minute intermission to watch several horses run around a mile-and-a-half dirt track, one trying to make history.
On those occasions Uriza lurks in the back of the party room, quietly watching TV, waiting, just waiting for the favorite to somehow fall short.
This year, when Big Brown became the 11th to fail, Uriza was in the Ascot Room at Canterbury Park, where he is training 10 horses this summer. Uriza's Mr Playwright and Hopetown Hero will run in today's Claiming Crown, the claiming horse owners' equivalent of the Breeders' Cup.
"There's some 200 people around me, screaming, 'Come on, Big Brown! Come on, Big Brown!' " Uriza said. "I'm just standing there, and when he starts to get pulled out, I couldn't help it. It was the only scream that came out of my mouth, but I said, 'YESSSS!' "
Barrera's legacy remained intact, to his grandson's delight.
A licensed trainer since 2004 and self-proclaimed horseman since a trip to the Saratoga Race Track with Barrera the year of the Triple Crown, Uriza couldn't avoid a career in the stables.
"I never had a doubt," said Uriza, 33. "My parents were probably hoping I had a doubt."
His folks, who succumbed to the idea and now follow his races from their home in Mexico City, were fighting a double-sided, double-helix battle.
Uriza's paternal grandfather, Ruben Uriza, won Mexico's first Olympic gold medal, in equestrian. In the 1948 Games, he won the individual show jumping competition and was part of the silver medal-winning Mexican team. He coached the Olympic squad well into his grandson's teenage years.
Then, in a 17-month span from 1991 to 1992, Uriza lost both of his grandfathers, suddenly.
"When I look in retrospect and I try to be very objective about it," Uriza said, "they have to be by far the two best horsemen in their own discipline that ever lived."
"[Losing them] soured me. I left horses for two or three years. I left for [law] school on a soccer scholarship. But I could never really stay away. There was always something to bring me back."
He remembered the tension around the house before the Belmont race in 1978 -- and being photographed for a newspaper with Barrera and reading the caption: Champion trainer Laz Barrera with 3-year-old grandson. And grooming Barrera's horses on the backside of Saratoga.
And if his mind didn't trap him enough, the mementos surrounding him sucked him back in. The Olympic medals at one grandmother's house, the Triple Crown trophy at the other. The picture taken at his parent's wedding of Barrera and Ruben Uriza shaking hands at that moment as proud parents and nothing more.
"But you look at it," Uriza said, "and you think, for the horse people out there, this is just the meeting of two worlds."
Playing host to two sets of equine genes, Uriza said friends joke that if he were a horse, on pedigree, he'd be the most expensive one to sell.
Yet, regardless of the names he can tag to his own legacy, Uriza has broken into the business just as any other trainer would. From 2004 until last season, Uriza trained in Arizona. In his mind, the stable grew out of control -- up to 20-plus horses -- and he wasn't able to focus enough attention on each horse, something he said Barrera took pride in.
With the perfect 10 in Shakopee with him, Uriza has time to examine the personalities of each horse. He said Mr Playwright, running in the $100,000 Emerald today, shows up for the big races consistently, having won on June 19, at 30-to-1 odds. Hopetown Hero, in the $50,000 Iron Horse, is going for his fifth victory in a row. He said Hopetown could be the biggest sleeper of the day.
And while a smile stretches his cheeks almost too wide, he tries to remain calm at the prospect of victory.
"Coming from the background I came from, what I really did understand was this is a game with highs and lows," Uriza said. "It doesn't matter where you learn, or who taught you or how good you think you are."