LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When Ray Gandolf of ABC News stopped by Barn 42 Thursday morning to interview Eddie Sweat, Andrew Rosen shook his head in dismay.
Rosen is the president of Calvin Klein Women's Jeanswear and the spokesman for his family, which owns Kentucky Derby favorite Chief's Crown.
"Eddie," Rosen said to America's most famous groom, "we've got to get you into some Calvins."
"That's what you said last week," Sweat said, "but I don't see 'em yet."
So Sweat went on national television in a pair of faded, mud-stained jeans with the name Marlyn stitched on the back.
Can't you see the commercial possibilities?
Nothing comes between Eddie Sweat and his Marlyns.
Eddie couldn't see it.
"I just go buy jeans," he said. "I don't look at the names."
Fortunately for him, fashion wasn't high on the list of qualifications when the Rosens began looking for someone to take care of their racing interests. They hired people with horse sense.
One of them is trainer Roger Laurin, son of Hall of Fame trainer Lucien Laurin.
When Andy Warhol discovered a few weeks ago that the Kentucky Derby's leading contender was owned by a family in good standing with the designer set, he wanted pictures for his magazine.
The photographer Warhol assigned thought it would be cute if he could shoot the $20-million colt wearing a hat.
Laurin thought it would be cute to see the photographer on the seat of his pants. But Laurin resisted the urge to kick the photographer out of the barn and quietly ordered him to leave.
"What did he think this horse was, Mr. Ed?" Laurin said.
Sweat is another no-nonsense kind of guy, which is the reason he's been able to work for the Laurins for 29 of his 47 years.
Although the Rosens, Laurin and jockey Don MacBeth have received most of the attention for the success of Chief's Crown, no one knows the horse as well as Sweat. As the groom, he rubs Chief's Crown down, wraps his legs, feeds him, walks him, washes him and cleans his stall. If he thought it would make a difference, he would read him bedtime stories.
"I'm like his mother, his father and his baby sitter," Sweat said.
Those are the same roles he served for the grandfather of Chief's Crown, Secretariat.
The year before Secretariat won the Triple Crown, Sweat also was the groom for Kentucky Derby winner Riva Ridge.
"This horse has more energy than those horses did when they were 3," Sweat said. "Secretariat was a little bit on the ornery side when he was 2, but he settled down.
"This horse is a fighter, like Ali. He snaps at you, kicks at you. He doesn't want you to do nothing to him. It's like he's trying to tell you, 'Don't mess with me.' "
Chief's Crown, installed as the 9-to-5 favorite, will have to be a fighter Saturday, for he must start from the unfavorable No. 2 post position. Inside posts are considered unfavorable in the Derby because in the long run out of the gate to the first turn, there is the chance that those horses will be shuffled to the back and possibly lack good position going down the backstretch.
Irish Fighter, who will be ridden by Pat Day, drew the No. 1 post and was listed as 30 to 1 by Mike Battaglia, the Churchill Downs linemaker.
After Chief's Crown, with Don McBeth, come, in order, Rhoman Rule, Jacinto Vasquez, 5-1; Tank's Prospect, Gary Stevens, 8-1; Eternal Prince, Richard Migliore, 5-1; Stephan's Odyssey, Laffit Pincay, 8-1; Encolure, Ronald Ardoin, 30-1; I Am the Game, Darrel McHargue, 30-1; Floating Reserve, Sandy Hawley, 20-1; Spend A Buck, Angel Cordero, 6-1; Proud Truth, Jorge Velasquez, 9-2; Skywalker, Eddie Delahoussaye, 12-1, and Fast Account, Chris McCarron, 20-1.
Sweat says the feisty Chief's Crown responds better to sweet-talking than to manhandling. Not that Sweat couldn't manhandle him. Sweat stands only 5 feet 5 inches, but he weighs 170 pounds and has a blacksmith's forearms.
While Chief's Crown's ankles were being taped the other day, the colt was being his usual self, a spoiled 3-year-old.
"C'mon, big fella," Sweat said. "Be nice. We've got work to do."
By the end of the session, Chief's Crown was nuzzling his groom.
Sweat has been fascinated by horses since he was a child, riding the school bus each morning and afternoon past the Laurin's farm in Holly Hill, S.C.
"I used to sneak over there on Sunday mornings before church and peek at the horses through the fence," he said.
"Mr. (Lucien) Laurin caught me one morning when I was 11 or 12. He asked me what I was doing, and I told him that I just wanted to see the horses. He said, 'I'm going to make a jockey out of you.' "
A few years later, when Sweat was 16, he went to work at the farm. But Laurin never made a jockey out of him.
"The first time I rode an exercise pony, he ran off with me, and I couldn't pull him up," Sweat said. "I knew I wasn't going to be an exercise rider. Mr. Laurin gave me a broom, a rub rag and a currycomb, and there you have it."