The chestnut colt with the white blaze stood in his stall last week and checked out the orange and white cat staring up at him. If Mademoiselle could speak, she might have told California Chrome: "You may be going for the Triple Crown, Mr. Superstar, but you live in a rodent-infested barn. I have my own cottage out back, with three beds and a flower garden."
She would not have been lying, because Mademoiselle is quite the pampered pet. Her owner, Dana Antonczak, admits she spoils her, but Mademoiselle is far from lazy. She's devoted to all the inhabitants of Belmont Park's Barn 26, making her daily rounds to exterminate mice.
"She mouses California Chrome's stall every day, and does it for all the other horses, too," Antonczak said. "She knows where all of the little holes are where the mice live, so she earns her keep. She eats the heads and brings the back halves to me, which is pretty creepy."
Mademoiselle, while lounging on a window sill upon an old horse blanket, Monday refused interview requests in French and English. She stared down the questioner with her striking yellow eyes, the last thing so many doomed mice have seen.
Antonczak is an assistant trainer and exercise rider for longtime Belmont trainer Jimmy Toner, whose barn is hosting "Chromie" and Belmont Stakes rival Ride On Curlin. Antonczak inherited Mademoiselle from a former boyfriend, Frenchman Manu Davy, who named the daughter of a feral cat. Antonczak estimates Mademoiselle's age at "11 or 12," and said she has siblings living nearby.
"She has three or four sisters who stayed feral, and they hang out on the backstretch near a bunch of satellite dishes," Antonczak said. By abandoning the wild life, Mademoiselle dramatically improved her socioeconomic status. Not only does she have her own place, but she spends winters in Florida and summers at Saratoga, traveling in style in horse vans.
"When she sees the trunks being packed, she knows it's time to go," Antonczak said. "Last year when we were getting ready to leave, she went to lie down in her cat carrier. She needs a lot of attention, and she gets it."
Cuisine is a passion of the French, and fittingly Mademoiselle has a special diet because of advanced age and allergies. Besides mouse heads, a delicacy among Gallic felines, she enjoys canned food by scooping it with her paws. No, she's not a girly girl. As a concession to her feral pedigree, she doesn't need a litter box, instead using the great outdoors. After answering nature's call, she returns through a window by climbing a small ladder Antonczak built.
"She can't jump the way she used to," she said. "I really do spoil her."
Mademoiselle is performing a valuable service to California Chrome as his exterminator, so maybe he'll give her a parting gift before he returns to California after Saturday's Belmont. If he doesn't, it won't matter, because this lucky cat's life is one long meow.