Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Horse Soccer Moms

What’s with all the one-ups-manship? Breeders’ Cup Classic purse butts up against the Dubai World Cup, so Dubai ups it by $4 million to $10 million. Your neighbor saw you string up a classy Santa Claus so he then lit up the block like Chevy Chase. And maybe the worst of all, Rachel Alexandra has a 125-colt so Zenyatta then has a 130-pound colt. For a couple of mares who never raced against one another, they just won’t let it rest.

The pictures of both colts are endearing. Rachel’s baby runs around like a freak and Rachel seems to be a good mom. Sometimes those rock-steady race mares bottom out as mother’s, but this picture of Zenyatta curling up to her foal shows that she’s been able to turn the page in her career.

I blasted Twitter with the question concerning my column’s topic this week and got one response … consequently from one of my two loyal readers (hey, that’s 50 percent) … and he suggested that to determine who is the best mother, Zenyatta needs to be bred to Curlin. It’s what any good scientist would do. Rachel Alexandra will be bred to Bernardini so the logical extension is to hook up Curlin and Zenyatta for yet another Horse of the Year ménage a deux.

Mothers (fathers too, for that matter) out there doing their baby-engendered activities want their kids to kick the living horse crap out of each other. They won’t admit it (the cool ones will), but every parent thinks their kid is Darwin’s gift to evolution. Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, though not capable our supreme consciousness (that same supreme consciousness that scams people out of billions of dollars, invented the Snuggie, and sends boys to kill other boys) must feel the same, right? You can picture it: Rachel brings orange slices to one soccer game; Zenyatta then brings a keg of Gatorade. Rachel hosts a spaghetti dinner; Zenyatta then brings over a Crock Pot full of brojules. Rachel won the Woodward, Zenyatta won the Classic.

And what’s to stop these mares from dressing their kids up like Ralphy from “A Christmas Story”? Trust me when I say this isn’t too far off. Look no further than Hidez, a full-body equine compression suit “specifically engineered garments [made with] fabrics cut in specific ways, then sewn together and strategically placed around the garment to focus in on certain muscle groups.”


This is worse than your mother trying to clean your ears as the bus approaches at 40 miles per hour down South Pickens Street.

Now, as some of you know, my day job takes me into the bowels of specialty running. We sell compression socks. They deliver more blood to fatigued muscles. Hidez’s science makes sense, it’s everything else that doesn’t.

For $900, this is exactly the kind of thing a horse owner with too much money might buy. It’s hard enough getting a horse’s legs wrapped and getting them to stand in an ice bath. Imagine Michael Matz wriggling Union Rags into his very own compression astronaut uniform. When I see technology like this I wonder what Woody Stephens or Sunny Jim might think. (Just found out next week’s column could be about. You see, creativity hits at such unpredictable times. What a world!)

The Hidez even has an open back end for those uncontrollable bouts of digestion that simply can. Not. Wait.

If I owned a horse I wouldn’t want him looking like a damn Power Ranger. Catwoman? Hmm, now we’re talking.

As for Rachel and Zenyatta, isn’t it great that the two delivered healthy colts? First hurdle jumped, no?

Brendan O’Meara wrote a book. He also tweets riffs on horse racing and writing.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Guess who’s back?

This is why the road to the Derby isn’t a hundred yard dash but rather a 15-round prizefight. This dude, right here, dressed all in white, looks like Gandalf: Hansen. Just when Hansen was written off after his Holy Bull defeat, a one-turn mile, he visited the Big Apple for the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes; ran two tight turns, caught five-wide into the first turn, rated like it was going out of style, and turned for home to kick harder than Hilary Swank in Karate Kid 3.

Just like my buddy the honey badger, he’s pretty bad ass. Of course I just watched the video. I can’t help it. Rob, this guy I work with, all we do is quote the honey badger video. You can tell we have as superficial a relationship as possible. But, really, who needs friends when you have the honey badger? Exactly.

Back to Hansen, because, after all, this is a horse racing web site. Hansen’s Holy Bull was damned from the start as he stumbled was too keen to still press for the lead. He tired and suffered his first loss. People, myself included, wrote him off. How can this horse win the Derby?! He can’t even get the one-turn mile in sunny F.L.A. His Breeders’ Cup Juvenile win was chalked up to one great trip versus one bad one. He’s washed up. Then he did what any rational horse would do: he went out and ran gangbusters.

“He really took the step forward as far as maturing,” said jockey Ramon Dominguez. “He actually did it better than I expected – he was so relaxed. Coming to the three-eighths pole when he switched to his left lead and I got after him, he went on beautiful. He really did it as nice as I could expect. I was hoping that he could take the step forward, mind-wise, but he really took it further than I expected. Awesome. Galloped out like a freight train, too.”

The return of Union Rags to the winner’s circle in the Fountain of Youth energized the week of racing talk. The re-return of Hansen will further vault this class of sophomores forward. They were one-two back in November. Some won’t be so hasty as to launch Hansen to No. 2 on the their lists, but I will, at least for a week. Because that’s how things happen in this game—fates and seasons hang as delicately a dried rose petal.

Hansen, a racecaller’s dream with that white coat, learned a thing or two Saturday.

“Obviously, I didn’t like losing all that ground,” said trainer Mike Maker, “but of more concern to me was he didn’t leave the gate as quick as he normally has. But Ramon said it was no big deal, he settled nice and that’s what we were looking for. More impressive, he lost all that ground and wasn’t rank behind horses and settled.”

And isn’t that always the fear for the speedball? Should he not get his precious lead that he become rank with the dirt and the dust and the tugging at the bit for more rein. And those Gotham fractions were Derby-esque: 23.68, 47.51, and 1:11.79, and he just coasted off that like he’d done it all his life. Even more impressive, better than that, he didn’t lose his confidence after his first loss.

I don’t trust any prize fighter who hasn’t taken one in the teeth and failed to rebound, and Hansen did just that.

Brendan O'Meara can be found on Twitter and you can read his Mountain Home Magazine cover story about a real-life war horse.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

‘Union’s’ inception

Since when is 6-5 a helluva deal at the windows? When it’s Union Rags, the best two-year-old in the country in 2011 when he makes his 2012, sophomore debut.

I watched the replay to the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and saw a 4-5 favorite on or close to the lead the entire time. I kept thinking, that’s not Union Rags, because he certainly would be the favorite in every race he runs, right? No, there he rated, three to four lengths off Discreet Dancer, that 4-5 favorite.

Union Rags showed why he’s on top of most horseplayer and turf writer Top 10s. He rated, Barbaro style, Big Brown style, Animal style (In-and-Out Burger reference), just off the pace, then Julien Leparoux gave him reign and let the big bay uncork the bubbly.

“I’m just so happy right now,” Matz told Daily Racing Form. “Julien said he didn’t even touch him with the whip. He did everything on his own. And when he said it was ‘time to go’ he [Union Rags] said okay and just went beautifully. He’s such a smart horse, so easy on himself for such a big horse. I didn’t know after four months if he could do this. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

The turn of foot he exhibited vaulted him into a special category of Derby contender, the kind when you can’t wait for their next start. I can’t say that for many horses this year. Hansen intrigues, but nobody thinks he has that classic-style stamina needed to win at 10 furlongs. (I was looking forward to seeing Hansen decked out like a stock car, but NYRA stewards squashed that.)

The Fountain of Youth broke a promise when Holy Bull winner Algorithms scratched with a splint injury to his right front. Can’t fault the horse, though it would’ve been nice to see the two most exciting Derby contenders.

Union Rags proved, in a loss to eventual Champion Juvenile Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup, he was the best of his generation … early on, by traveling approximately 70 feet farther than Hansen en route to losing by a few whiskers. Trips, what can you say?

Union Rags did something Uncle Mo couldn’t do a year ago at this time: inspire a certain measure of awe. Uncle Mo made his three-year-old debut in a tailor-made ungraded stake against Rattlesnake Bridge and a cast other allowance horses that would get laughed off a B-movie set. Union Rags debuted in a Grade 2.

The prep season has yet to warm; it would make the Abominable Snowman reach for a blanket. But I just watched “Inception” for the second time and I have a feeling Union Rags just planted the idea that this year’s Triple Crown may be worth watching after all.
(Sidebar: I think I know what happens with “Inception” now. Might have to watch it a third time and reach deep into the third dream state. The parallels are too perfect. Is this column a projection of my self-conscious? Who’s dream am I in? Yours? Whoa. When does the new “Batman” come out?)

Union Rags has reached Level One of the dream state. He still needs to reach a deeper level of our collective unconsciousness, two, maybe three levels, but he’s there, turning the combination to our safes.

Our totems spin and wobble. Sure, Union Rags can play the leading man, he can be Leonardo Di Caprio. “The Beach” or “Inception”?

He’s diving deep, planting the idea, and I’m beginning to believe.

Brendan O'Meara rocks 140 characters on Twitter.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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