Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Un-Like Mother, Like Daughter

At first I had an idea about writing about the exclusionary tone Mike Watchmaker took in this column about the presumption that turf writers with an Eclipse ballot didn’t take it seriously, by Watchmaker’s standards. So what if some folks wanted Rapid Redux to be Horse of the Year? That’s their choice and just because he’s not a stakes-caliber horse shouldn’t demerit the few who chose to vote for him. I’m sure they’d make an educated case. It’s that type of voice from the older guard of turf writers and handicappers I’ve found disheartening. I guess this means I'm not "reasonable." I like to think I am, but to each his own.

What should happen on January 22, 2012 at 2:40 p.m.? Rachel Alexandra delivered a 125 pound (!) colt at Stonestreet Farm in Lexington, KY. According to a press release he climbed to his feet about 90 minutes after birth and Rachel Alexandra kindly took to him.

Unlike her own mother.

Rachel Alexandra, as famously documented in this story, was orphaned by her mother Lotta Kim. When Lotta Kim dropped Rachel Alexandra she wanted nothing to do with her. The folks at Heaven Trees Farm promptly escorted a nurse mare (a nasty mare, to the humans at least) to Rachel Alexandra and the two hit it off.

“I am thrilled with the good news of Rachel's safe delivery and health of the handsome colt that resembles her. For me and my children, this colt represents Jess’ dream – to raise and race the best,” said Banke in the release. “Co-owner Hal McCormick and I look forward to watching him develop and are excited to see him carry the Stonestreet silks as his Mom and Dad did before him.”

Horse racing has a way of beating you down. Horse deaths, horse slaughter, late odds changes on the tote, uncouth training practices. Maddening though it is, January and February provide new blood. Horse racing forever renews itself, at times ad nauseum, but, at times like these, that renewal couldn’t be more welcome.

The three-year-old stakes are upon us and mares are delivering foals from our favorite champions. If Jess Jackson were alive today he’d be one happy fedora-wearing-mountain-naming-vintner. Everything he stood for in racing came down to Curlin and Rachel Alexandra.

Curlin represented a majestically campaigned three and four year old, a tribute to longevity and endurance while racing. He symbolized a global triumph, and guts (Man o’War, a game second to a Breeders’ Cup Turf champion in Red Rocks).

Rachel Alexandra was a tribute to a capitalistic coup. When told that Rachel Alexandra had the speed to wheel back two weeks later against the boys in the 2009 Preakness, Jackson wrestled her away from Dolphus Morrison to blast this filly into the stratosphere. She sparked an unprecedented debate as to who was better, her or Zenyatta (I think we can all agree who turned out to be the better race mare).

And that’s the kind of debate Jackson was all about. Whether he opined about synthetic “plastic” surfaces or held out to the last second on the projected race of a horse, this new colt shoulders the impossible burden of all his dreams and we are the lucky ones who get to watch it unfold.

Brendan O'Meara tweets.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

‘Grace’ takes cake

The thought of live-blogging the Eclipse Awards crossed my mind for today’s entry, but live blogs or its predecessor—the timed Diary—seem so, bloggish. Twitter has replaced the live blog simultaneously allowing readers to interact in a time line and follow the quips of the author. God bless the hashtag. Also, let’s not forget, it’s the Eclipse Awards. Live-blogging the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet holds more appeal.

The Eclipse Awards had Jeannine Edwards hosting it, but making the all-too-often-used diatribe about her electric eyes and punchy delivery seems so, live-bloggish. That was so one paragraph ago.

The Eclipse Awards feel more stuffed than a turkey, but its purpose must be to celebrate the year that was this way we can take a sledge hammer to the walls, tear down the framework, dig up the foundation, laugh about that time you saw your friend count his gambling winnings (1 minute in), laugh at your other friend who still can’t get over losing a 2008 Pick 4 when Intangaroo nosed Hystericalady; then pour a new foundation, erect another framework, drill up some drywall because you remember that one time you worked with drywall, and do some other things. Put your feet up. You can’t rise up until you’ve hit rock bottom. So to the bottom we must flee, but in recalling 2011, you realize you’re already there. How was it that Animal Kingdom still had a shot at Champion Three-Year-Old male? And then won it. Heck, I think I’d have voted for him too. Ten furlongs never go out of style.

You start to recall the names of horses from earlier in the year: Mucho Macho Man. Twinspired. Brilliant Speed. Toby’s Corner. Sway Away. Comma to the Top. Archarcharch. Twice the Appeal. Soldat.

You remember Havre de Grace battling—but eventually losing to—Blind Luck in the Delaware Handicap and you nearly let loose your bladder, down the leg, soaking your highwaters; you get the brilliant idea to write a book about her called, “Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Four-Year-Old Filly Havre de Grace Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year,” there’s still time, so you need to pull for this because three females winning Horse of the Year in a row isn’t the kind of threesome you dreamed about but it will do. In fact, they make you think of the great Triangle offense where you’d put Zenyatta in the post, Havre de Grace at forward, and Rachel Alexandra the guard in the corner. Let Chuck Klosterman tell you about it.

But Havre de Grace snatched 166 votes and there wasn’t much suspense abound (Acclamation finished second with 26 votes). Let’s take a look at her curriculum vitae for 2011:

5 for 7

Grade 3 Azeri

Grade 1 Apple Blossom

Grade 3 Obeah Stakes

Grade 1 Woodward Stakes

Grade 1 Beldame Invitational

Her two losses came in the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap to Blind Luck and a game-loss in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Not to mention that she redeemed trainer Larry Jones and finally let this man put to bed the ghost of Eight Belles. A big, heavy ghost.

Havre de Grace had the best year, start to finish, and that’s what an award as lofty as Horse of the Year represents. Many of the other awards default to a winner of a certain race (Hansen) or, strangely, in the case of this year’s three year olds (Animal Kingdom). Her season ends with a period, not an exclamation point (perhaps a question mark?), and maybe that's why it's been so hard to pick the ultimate winner.

Looking at the winners of Eclipse Awards we know that Hansen, My Miss Aurelia, Havre de Grace, Animal Kingdom, and Royal Delta will all be back, among others. So 2012 is looking up already.

Brendan O'Meara is the author of Six Weeks in Saratoga.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Element of Surpise

So, who’s going to win Horse of the Year? C’mon, who? That’s unfair. We should at least look at the nominees this way you can make an educated guess, engage in benevolent discourse, perhaps over hacky-sack. Oh, that’s right, nobody knows the nominees.

Loyal readers of this space know, perhaps all too much, how I struggle to find a topic to write about every week. I sweat, sometimes going to bed without having written anything only to wake up at 4:30 AM on Tuesday morning to post something that, we can all agree, might be the best piece of commentary you read all week.* No use in being modest here. This week, up until a few days ago, was no different, and then the National Thoroughbred Racing Association threw a hanging curve at 50 miles per hour: it’s choosing to sit on the Horse of the Year nominations.

In defense of the NTRA, all the major sports never announce the finalists for end-of-year honors like Most Valuable Player of the Cy Young. However, those sports don’t have a banquet and create it like a ceremony. They also don’t announce the nominations to every other category and hold off on the biggest one. The Eclipse Awards is more like the ESPYs and Oscars than anything else. Double however, horse racing is not a major sport.

Here’s what the Paulick Report’s Brad Cummings got when he asked publicist Jim Gluckson about this, “As agreed by the Eclipse Awards Steering Committee, in certain years finalists for Horse of the Year are not announced until the Dinner ceremony because announcing them today could have indicated which horses were going to win an individual category, therefore, reducing the element of surprise.”

Surprise! Twenty eleven just got worse! Out of the nominees that were announced last week, none, aside from Havre de Grace and Caleb’s Posse, stand out as a potential Horse of the Year threats. You know who didn’t even make the cut? Drosselmeyer. I know, Finders Key has more talent than him, but he did win the Breeders’ Cup Classic over Havre de Grace and Game on Dude, both horses being nominated for Champion Older Sex divisions.

Who are the NTRA trying to surprise? There are three groups of people:

1. Horseman

I’m not sure why they’d care to be surprised. Honestly, they know as well as anyone who has a shot at certain awards and who doesn’t. Larry Jones is happy. Donnie K. Von Hemel, too. The others might have to loosen their bow ties because of the suspense.

2. Writers

I think I speak for most when I say this is just annoying. Most of us have nothing better to write about than the Eclipse Awards in November, December, and January, and instead of writing about our favorite performances ... our girlfriend’s parents just came home early. This is awards ceremony-style blue balls.

3. The Fans

All 3,400** people who have TVG drool over a good surprise. Hold on. I’ll text my two friends what they think about this ... wait for it ... don’t they realize I’m a busy blogger? Should I start talking about Rapid Redux again? Looks as if I’m going to have to start ... There’s a response!

Tommy: “Rapid?”***

Me: “Do you think it’s dumb?”

Tommy: “They should vacate it this year.”

That must be it! And out jumped from the cake: nothing!


*Did I say best? I meant greatest.
** This is not official, though it’s got to be close.
*** Creepy. His response was independent of my above riff on Rapid Redux. Thus proving my theory, to quote Neil McDonald, “Germans love David Hasselhoff.”

Brendan O'Meara is the author of Six Weeks in Saratoga. You can follow him on Twitter.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

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