Thursday, April 26, 2012

Praise for a late friend

I’ve been lucky in my 31 years in that I haven’t been confronted with death all too often, certainly none of a friend or very close family member. That changed this week when a friend of mine passed away. We weren’t particularly close, but close enough that it bears mention here at 2.0.

Richard Hamilton passed away Wednesday April 18 from a heart attack at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, NY. He was 76.

Just a few months ago he had sent an email out to friends that he was moving to a new address—16 Glen St. in Ballson Spa. When I moved up here in 2007, I lived in an apartment on 18 Glen St. We could’ve been neighbors.

I met Dick while researching and writing Six Weeks in Saratoga. I pieced together several articles for my John Morrissey chapter when Victoria Garlanda of the Saratoga Room at the Saratoga Springs Public Library told me a volunteer who may be of assistance should I need a reader. She told me when he volunteered so I came by looking for him and saw him eyebrow-deep in pile of papers before him, his downcast eyes sponging all that information.

A hobby of his, if you can call it a hobby, was scanning through the Saratogian for errors, circling them, then sending them in anonymously to the news or sports editor. He was quick to tell me he found the errors all too often.

He told me he was a former steward for NYRA and what better person—an industry insider—to read your book for content and overall accuracy with regards to racing? He was eager to help.

“As a steward, Dick was very professional and very thorough,” said Carmine Donofrio, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board steward who worked with Hamilton at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course. “He was a very intelligent man, very funny, and a great guy. He really loved horse racing.”

My wife would drop of chapters of Six Weeks for him, a pile of pages as heavy as a watermelon, and he’d devour them in a week. His notes were wonderfully insightful and when I had said that Secretariat won the Belmont by 39 ½ lengths, he kindly wrote, “I think it was 31 lengths, but I might be wrong.” Of course he wasn’t wrong.

He made corrections, suggestions, always saying, “Now, now, you don’t have to change anything. You can throw them out if you want!” I used every. One. Of. His. Suggestions. They were that good and made the book better than it was before he had his hands on it.

Dick made sure I wouldn’t pay him a dime for any of his work. I rode my bicycle to his old house off Gick Road and sat by him in his living room back in the fall of 2009. I pulled out an envelope and he threw up his hands as if I were handing him a bomb.

“No, no, I’m doing it for free!” he exclaimed.

“I know,” I said. “I wish I could pay you, but this is the next best thing.” It was a thank you note for his hard and timely work.

Wherever he is, I hope he’s got a nice pair of binoculars so he can watch some of the greats long gone. He’s in good company, and, likewise, so are they.

Brendan O'Meara can be followed on Twitter right here.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bring on Your Wrecking Ball?

This past Monday I experienced Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for the second time in my life. He told all of us in lovely Alllllbany, "Prepare to be transformed!" And we were for three glorious hours as he opened with possibly the most fitting song in his entire catalog: Badlands.

If my memory serves me right his next song was "Wrecking Ball".

Bring on your wrecking ball
Bring on your wrecking ball
C'mon and take your best shot
Let me see what you've got
Bring on your wrecking ball

That sphere of destruction swung on a tensile string bludgeoning the side of buildings, stadiums, and industry. Kentucky seems to be swinging that wrecking ball directly at itself.
Now when all this steel and these stories, they drift away to rust
And all our youth and beauty, it's been given to the dust
And your game has been decided, and you're burning the down the clock
And all of our little victories and glories, have turned into parking lots

On the surface, the proposed Lasix ban, that old anit-bleeder med, seems prudent. Get the athletes off this medicine, let the bleeders find refuge elsewhere, the non-bleeding winners play on, and there will be generations of horses to come who will bleed less. The idea works only if every other racing jurisdiction adopts it too. Jennie Rees of the Courier-Journal paints a bad picture for Kentucky racing, the Palace of the Sport of Kings, if you will.

"The ultimate outcome of Kentucky becoming the first jurisdiction to repeal Lasix would not be universal trumpeting about how great and courageous the commonwealth’s racing regulators are," she writes. "Instead, it would result in the further exodus of horses to other jurisdictions and heads shaking everywhere by those grounded in reality."

It's as if Pennsylvania (slots), Indiana (slots), West Virginia (slots), and Ohio (possibly slots) are lobbying to get this bill passed so that they can benefit from said exodus.

A commenter on Bill Shanklin's Horse Racing Business Blog said, "Clean up racing and its image and start in my Old Ky. Home." I merely replied with Ms. Rees's column. It's not that simple. The Kentucky Derby could turn into a blood bath with horses who use Lasix in every other state they train and race in, then come to Kentucky and have what looks like a collective brain aneurism at the finish line.

I'd love to see horses race without chemistry. But if Kentucky is hoping other states will follow suit, I think they are greatly mistaken and greatly underestimate other states' desire to survive even at the cost of the Bluegrass State.

Hard times come, hard times go
And hard times come, hard times go
Hard times come, hard times to
Yeah just to come again

Bring on that wrecking ball.

Brendan O'Meara tweets.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Leave Luck Out of it

It’s about that time, Derby time, and allllllll that hard work put in my grooms, hot walkers, trainers, and of course the horses, will come to fruition. It started when the horses were two year olds and continued as they developed into what will hopefully be a very, very fast two minute-ten furlong horse.

I’d hate for dumb luck to get in the way. Dumb, foolish, stupid, invalid, stammering, dull, simple, imbecilic, dopey, dozy, half-baked luck. It will be on some sides and against others. I’d hate for the “No. 1 seeds” to get a bad draw, which is to say a bad post position.

Imagine all that hard work, the strain and stress of keeping Gemologist, Union Rags, Hansen, and I’ll Have Another sound through this mess we call the Triple Crown only have a double blind post position raffle ruin what was so deftly earned.
Look no further than the 2010 Kentucky Derby when Bob Baffert had quite possibly a Triple Crown winner in Lookin At Lucky (You think given a good trip provided by a better post position he could’ve defeated Super Saver? Absolutely. How many races did Super Saver win after the Derby? The answer is between -1 and 1. Lookin At Lucky only went on to win the Preakness and the Haskell.)

"I lost all chance at the post position draw when I drew the one," Baffert said USA Today back in 2010. "Since then, I haven't been able to really enjoy. Everything had been going so smooth and great, and then boom, right in the one hole."

Lookin At Lucky went off at 6-1, the most heavily bet horse since Harlan’s Holiday in 2002. Sometimes the best horse gets a great post. Barbaro drew for the chance to choose the 8 in 2006. Big Brown drew 20, exactly what trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. wanted.

So imagine a playoff scenario that puts an otherwise viable candidate, who has a legitimate shot at winning and have that shot in jeopardy due to chance. That’s the Kentucky Derby post draw and it needs to stop.

The horse with the best score, the best summed criteria would rightfully get first dibs on post. So, if Baffert had the first choice and he wanted Post 1, then it was his choice not the a roll of the dice. What if the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament were randomly assigned a high seed opponent in the early rounds? Who wants to see Duke-Carolina in the first round (Sure, this could happen, in theory, if the two schools were either on opposite ends of the rankings, say 1 and 64, or an 8 or 9 seed, but neither would be likely to happen. If they were 8 and 9, I doubt the selection committee would place them in the same region.)? It would invalidate the work teams and coaches sweat over for months and months only to have it come down to chance.

The criteria should be:

1. Points (TBD) for wins at:
Age 2 (less)
Age 3 (more)

2. Points (TBD) for wins at:
One turn (less)
Two turns (more)

3. Strength of Schedule

This last one is predicated on how other horses do with their scores for the first two criteria. These points don’t have to be added up until closer to the Derby because you can gauge who had stronger wins based on who wins the next race. If the horse you beat went out and one its next race, well, then you clearly beat a contender and should be rewarded so.

The incentive gives the horses with the most accomplishments, merits, and stripes the chance they deserve so as not to leave it … you guessed it … to chance.

Brendan O'Meara can be followed @BrendanOMeara.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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