Tuesday, December 20, 2011

And the winner is …

This race was the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. And what are we to learn from our new reindeer overlords? Might I remind them that while they may enslave us all and have us toil deep into their grassy web, that people will still need entertainment in the form of witty banter involving any and all ungulates.

No race had more drama or was more entertaining than this one in 2011. The indifference these ungulates exhibited was only rivaled by their bastard horse cousins. Well, no horse wanted to win more than Shackleford, so I excuse him. He’ll go down as one of those gutsy sons-of-guns that I’ll be able to watch again and again. Watch the way he lowers his head.

This year has left horse racing no reason to wake up in the morning. Poor Jeannine Edwards. She was handed the burden of hosting the Eclipse Awards in a year that deserves no memorial.

The sad thing is awards will be handed out without a sense of irony. The Eclipse Awards will be worth watching (if they’re worth watching in the first place) if it were tongue-in-cheek. The racing product reeked so bad an elephant would forget them.

A racing year like the one we’ve had does little renew one’s spirits. Does anyone really care who’s coming back from the older division? Animal Kingdom? Royal Delta (I’m admittedly interested in RD)? Havre de Grace? Stay Thirsty? What better time than now to hold the first — and last — Carryover Awards? Which I will call ... the Carryover Awards.

Horse of the Year: Rapid Redux. Go on, read the sixty-three posts I’ve written about this horse.

Champion Trainer: David Wells, trainer of Rapid Redux. When was the last time an “elite” trainer kept a horse sound for more than eight races? Wells has kept Rapid Redux sound for 21 wins in a row.

Best Illustration of what Slot Machines can do for your image: Aqueduct. You can’t really make fun of Aqueduct any more and that’s because poor people with little hope for a better tomorrow go crazy for the ting-a-ling of a video lottery terminal (when’s the next bus heading down to Ozone Park?). Racing gets a sliver of the slot revenue, but it’s like cheesecake— it’s so rich a sliver is all it needs.

Champion Disappointers: The Three-Year-Old Colts. None of them could string together consecutive grade 1 wins. This isn’t the NFL. There’s no parity in the Triple Crown. Every big race anointed a new “freak.” Animal Kingdom! Shackleford! Ruler on Ice! Coil! Stay Thirsty!

Best Performance by a Jockey: Chris McCarron on NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. Host Peter Sagal, who is one of the funniest and sharpest comedians and hosts, came unraveled a bit while interviewing McCarron, mainly because Sagal knows as much about horse racing as I do about comedy. He said that McCarron had once ridden a Triple Crown winner. McCarron corrected him. Still, when asked if McCarron was frustrated when the horse got all the credit he said, “Yeah! They’re bred to run! I’m not bred to ride!”

Best Tim Tebow Impersonation: Drosselmeyer. Let’s face it, Drosselmeyer has no ability, is likely left handed and devoutly religious, scrambles for his dear life, has as good an arm as Tebow, is equally loved and loathed by John Elway, and keeps the game just close enough to win in the final strides. You’ve heard of Tebow Time. Now it’s “My race horse has a first name: it’s D-R-O-S-S-E-L-M-E-Y-E-R.” Ah, forget it.

Best Storm: Hurricane Irene. Cancelled a day of racing at Saratoga and a book signing for yours truly. The racing I can understand, but when a storm got a venue to nix a signing of Six Weeks in Saratoga, you better hope it tore down a covered bridge or two. That’s because it did.

Best Impersonation of an Elite Filly: Havre de Grace. Maybe she was tired from her epic Delaware Cap, or maybe she’s just not as flashy, or maybe she watched too many hours of “Grumpier Old Men,” but HdG’s win in the Woodward seemed about as fun as watching Birdstone beat Smarty Jones.

Best Athletic Performance: These reindeer. You gotta watch it again.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Citation Redux

Today, 2:55 p.m., Laurel Park, Rapid Redux attacks Citation.

Citation, in his Triple Crown-winning campaign of 1948, won 19 of 20 starts to set the record for the most wins in a calendar year. Rapid Redux sits at 18-for-18 in 2011.

The argument against Rapid Redux in any conversation has been his “minor league” credentials, that his penchant for winning has come against inferior competition. But the elite horses’ penchant for mediocrity seems no more deserving of praise than Rapid Redux. I’ll take an A+ minor leaguer over a C- elite horse, especially in 2011.

No one’s comparing Rapid Redux to Citation, that’s like comparing Jackie Moon to Dr. J. Still, the two names share the sentence.
“Citation is one of the all-time greats, just to be mentioned in the same sentence is unbelievable,” owner Robert Cole said. “The Citation record has stood for more than 60 years so I would like to get a part of that and possibly break it before the end of the month. That record might be more impressive, not that the consecutive record isn’t, because how a horse can win 19 races in one calendar year is like going to another galaxy on a space ship. It is beyond imagination.”

This past year of racing was about as exciting as watching a poker tournament at the local Moose Lodge. Just look at the list of top moments provided by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association:

Game on Dude and Chantal Sutherland survive 10 furlongs and a 12-minute stewards’ inquiry in capturing the Santa Anita Handicap.

Rosie Napravnik guides Pants on Fire to victory in the Louisiana Derby en route to becoming the first woman to win a Fair Grounds riding title.

Uncle Mo suffers his first defeat, running third behind Toby’s Corner in Aqueduct’s Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial.

Animal Kingdom runs down his foes in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.

Shackleford overcomes pre-race nervousness to hold off Animal Kingdom in the Preakness.

Blind Luck prevails by a nose over Havre de Grace following a stretch-long duel in the Delaware Handicap.

Caleb’s Posse catches a stubborn Uncle Mo in the Foxwoods King’s Bishop Stakes at Saratoga.

Havre de Grace beats the boys in Saratoga’s Woodward Stakes.

Joseph O’Brien, 18, becomes the youngest jockey to win a Breeders’ Cup race, piloting St. Nicholas Abbey to victory in the Emirates Airline Turf for his father, Aidan O’Brien.

Court Vision spoils Goldikova’s attempt at a fourth consecutive TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile win, upsetting the field at 64-1

Drosselmeyer and Mike Smith edge Game on Dude and Chantal Sutherland at the wire of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, giving trainer Bill Mott his second “Classic” in 24 hours.

Rapid Redux breaks a North American record by winning his 20th consecutive race. (for your very own Pricci’s take on these choices, click here).

Yeah. That’s 2011. Turn the safety back on and put the firearm away and consider your options. Twenty eleven will have a hard time applying for jobs with that resume. In fact, 2011 will have a hard time finding part-time work at Gertrude Hawks for the holidays. I hear Bed, Bath, and Beyond is hiring.

The most iconic moments of the big league horses included the females: the Del Cap, the Woodward, and Chantal’s Big Cap. Two of the three involve Havre de Grace, the likely winner of Horse of the Year.

It’ll mark a third consecutive year where a filly or mare will win Horse of the Year (and Royal Delta will win it next year. You can put it on the boarrrrrrd ... ) but I still put my imaginary vote on Rapid Redux, because until the rules specifically exclude horses of his “caliber” he’s every bit as eligible.

“We are going straight to the lead,” added Cole. “He is as fit as he’s ever been and we think he’ll carry the speed without a problem.”

And by 2:57, we’ll know just how much Citation and Rapid Redux have in common, even if it is just a win streak that bridges the start of the Baby Boom to the iPhone 4S.

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

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Dream Team Cometh

“If you build it, they will come.” Nice line from “Field of Dreams,” but may as well apply to building a casino. And in my lovely home state of Massachusetts a stand is about to take place: who gets the casino.

The piñata split open and out poured the new state gambling law. New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft teamed up with Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn to build a facility on Route 1 in Foxboro, under the shadow of Giselle Stadium. Suffolk Downs, the previous frontrunner, said, “Son of a -----!”

When Kraft jumps in the water, sharks swim away.

Jack planted magic beans and those beans grew into a casino, or so is my understanding. These beans sit protected and await competent bidders. Can you imagine having Patriots tickets and having the luxury of placing your bets down the street? It could happen! New Orleans, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh boast casinos near their stadiums. Kraft owns the land and should he choose to lease it out Wynn, avoids an ugly conflict of owning shares to a gambling facility. The Shield smothers that dastardly overlap.

Will somebody just hold the football for Suffolk Downs to kick? It had to think that once its facilities ding-a-linged with video lottery terminals that horse racing could make some sort of resurgence. I could see the Mass Cap being a million dollar race, at least I did. Boston mayor Tom Menino still likes the idea of a casino in Boston.

“We are the capital city. We generate the economy of Massachusetts,’’ he told the Boston Globe. “I’ve always said my position is [that] I’m in favor of a full casino at Suffolk Downs.’’

Just look at what the Aqueduct casino has done. In a month’s time the casino raked in $42 million with each VLT terminal banking $566, this according to a New York Daily News story. Total purses for the oft-chided Aqueduct winter/spring meets will soar by $8.6 million. The Wood Memorial will be $1 million again! Fifteen hundred horses competed in that meet a year ago and that number could jump to 1,800-2,000. And we all know that bigger fields lead to better betting races and bigger handle. Sure, betting declined 3.47% in November, but the future looks somewhat promising. Which is why Suffolk must be washing out in the paddock. Just when something looked certain, just when you thought you had a chance at the hot chick, in strides a guy who writes Tom Brady’s checks.

At least Suffolk Downs will have company at the loser’s table. Plainridge (harness) and Raynham (dog), which have tracks, the latter of which I cut my teeth at betting on the puppies when I was 18, have put in bids for slot machine parlors. These two cities are very close to Foxboro, so close, in fact, that the state will likely pass on putting gambling facilities abutting one another, assuming the Kraft-Wynn duo closes the deal.

I guess Suffolk Downs will have to look in the mirror and realize, to borrow a phrase: hanging in there just makes you look like an even bigger loser.

Need a gift for that horse racing lover in your family? Try a copy of the hot title "Six Weeks in Saratoga."

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

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