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Once a year, everyone gets interested in horseracing:  Kentucky Derby Day.  It's a magical day full of color and tradition and emotion.  But if you're really into horseracing, the day you wait for is Breeders' Cup -- the one day of the year you get to watch the greats go head to head, battling it out down the homestretch.  There's nothing quite like it.

This Breeders' Cup month, we honor one of the great men of horseracing:  trainer turned owner/TVG horseracing analyst Frank Lyons.  Born and bred in Ireland, Lyons eventually made his way to Southern California, by way of Kentucky. 

While still a trainer, Lyons was interviewed by TVG, the interactive horseracing network.  The producer was so impressed by Lyons that he offered him a job, sending him from one of the earthiest and most humble jobs into one of the flashiest. 

There couldn't have been a more unlikely on-air personality.  In a town loaded with Kens and Barbies, all with their own microphone and special filtered lighting, enter:  Frank Lyons. 

He doesn't talk fast with a simulated generic mid-western accent. He doesn't fake smile.  He doesn't condescend.  He's not slick. (Well, maybe a little slick.)  He hasn't been molded into the image of the Hollywood in which he operates.  And he doesn't act like everything is hunky dorey if he loses his bet.  And bet he does!  Watch carefully about one minute to post, and you'll see him handing off trifectas and pick fours, scrawled on napkins to one of the crew members.  

Like that producer, we loved him right away.  It wasn't long before we began to trust him as our personal Magellan of handicapping and horseflesh.  And interspersed with all that insight, he sprinkles Frank-isms...odd, off-the-cuff, dry-witted comments, sometimes spoken so quietly and Irishly that you have only the cadence to go on...yet delivered so naturally that it's somehow funny even if you didn't catch all of it.  If one of his co-analysts steps on his line, don't expect him to repeat himself...he'll drop another one for you in a minute or two.

This summer at Del Mar Racetrack, long after the throngs of fans had made their way down the tunnel to the rail, Frank remained in the paddock where he'd just completed a trainer interview for TVG, watching the race alone on the big screen...and it occurred to me that he belonged in that paddock as much as the horses which had just left it.  As much as the grass and dirt and the white wooden fence.  Even in his usual jeans and blazer and white open collared shirt, he is completely organic and indigenous.  Frank Lyons meets the entertainment industry on his own terms.

While vacationing in his homeland as he does every September, a little bay Irish-bred named Castledale caught his eye.  He and his partner purchased the colt and brought him back to the States.  Another dark horse, not unlike his owner, Castledale left the gate of the 2004 Santa Anita Derby at odds of 30-1.

"I got a win ticket in my pocket that makes me glad he was 30-1,'' Lyons deadpanned after Castledale closed in the stretch to win by a head over Rock Hard Ten. 

Later Lyons said, "A lot of people think that was a one-off thing, but it wasn't.  It was only his second start of the year and he won the race, because the jockey dropped the whip, or the good Lord reached down and took the whip, at the eighth pole. He's won twice [in three starts in the United States] without feeling the stick."

They say you wait your whole life for a horse like that.  Frank Lyons is that kind of analyst...he's that kind of guy...he's our Castledale.

--by Delight Underwood

the back story...
 

Born in Dublin, Ireland, and raised in Dunboyne, County Meath, Frank Lyons was introduced to racing by an uncle who owned several horses. It was his mother Betty, however, who passed down to him her passion for horse racing. She took him as a boy to tracks like Phoenix Park and Fairyhouse, and here the sport captured his imagination.

Frank's hands-on involvement with racehorses began while he was at boarding school. Everyday after class he would go to a nearby horse farm where he made himself useful and soaked up knowledge. His first real job in racing was with Gita Weld, wife of world-renowned trainer Dermot Weld. Next, he spent eight months in a training program at the Irish National Stud and from there went to work for Frank Dunne, an owner-trainer whose most famous horse, Stannera, won two graded stakes races within three days at the Royal Ascot meet. After moving on to a job at Airlie Stud, he was advised to get some experience in the United States.

Frank landed a position as an assistant to Bill O'Neill at Circle O Farm in Paris, Ky. Eventually, after a brief return to Ireland, he moved to the U.S. for good, taking a job as assistant manager at Jonabell Farm. He went on to open his own public stable, and celebrated his greatest day as a trainer in 1995 at the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park, when he saddled the filly Desert Stormer to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Although his first love is still working with horses, Frank has found success in front of the camera. He was among the first to join the horse racing network TVG, signing on as an analyst. He continues to enjoy
horses as an owner--he was a partner in 2004 Santa Anita Derby winner Castledale and he has been an active spokesman for their welfare. 

Though he has lived in the States for almost two decades, Lyons remains a devotee of soccer, both as a player and as a fan. Though he has given up training, Lyons still owns horses. He and his wife, Jodi, were married in 2002.

Visit the TVG Website.

Breeders' Cup airs October 26, 2007 at 4pm EST on ESPN2. 



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