Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Madness in March

If you had to pick one elite jockey who deserves to win the Kentucky Derby who hasn’t won the Kentucky Derby yet, who would it be?

C’mon. There’s only one correct answer. This supposedly-open-ended question where we debate and have benevolent discourse has but one answer: Ramon Dominguez. He’s a perpetual New York-leading-rider and his riding talents are only surpassed by how unassuming and downright nice this guy is. This guy might be the best jockey on the planet and he is the current rider of top Derby contenders Hansen and Alpha. Well, was the current rider. For as well all know, horse racing success hangs on the fever of a horse, a lip abscess, a bucked shin, and, in this case, one man’s clavical.

Dominguez, 35, dislocated his collar bone, though didn’t fracture it during a spill at Aqueduct. Still, now is no time for injury.

“I’m not in any pain and will follow up with my doctors tomorrow,” Dominguez told the NYRA. “The X-rays showed no fractures and the doctors said I would not need surgery.”
This will, undoubtedly, lead to a speedier recovery. But now the door is open for an opportunistic rider to steal the show. What if Javier Castellano gets the mount on Hansen for the Wood and wins by a Bellamy Road? What if Channing Hill finds the circle with Alpha? We all saw what happened with Animal Kingdom a year ago.


Then-regular rider of Animal Kingdom Robby Albarado, fresh off a dismaying domestic disturbance, gets kicked in the face by a horse a few days before the Kentucky Derby. He looked like a scarecrow. Next, he’s taken off the mount by owner Barry Irwin and trainer Graham Motion and replaced by John R. Velazquez. Albarado wins a Grade 1 sprint aboard Sassy’s Image on the Derby undercard proving he was capable of riding, but has to watch as his live horse Animal Kingdom crush, mash, and destroy the Derby field.

Okay, back to the present.

Now, Albarado’s incident may have been the most concrete evidence there is to date that karma exists and it can look an awful lot like a hoof smashing your face. It also means that though your competent and able, a scarred body is a scarred body.

While in a static position, I don’t see the harm in Dominguez’s injury, but if he has to go to the whip, or let out more rein, any limited range of motion could be the difference between a horse winning a race and a jockey losing it.

And, at this level, the stakes are so high that changing a horse’s bedding is room for concern. My feeling is Dominguez will get better for May 5, but will miss very relevant preps en route to Churchill Downs. My feeling is also that he’ll be honored with whatever mount he wants.

But we don’t own Hansen. We don’t own Alpha. If it was your money, do you take him back? What do you do?


Brendan O'Meara has a Twitter account.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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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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