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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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday, what deals! Free shipping! And look at that waffle maker! And a new job opening in Kentucky!

Sometimes good news comes in the mail (I just won $1 million!, Publisher’s Clearing House), or maybe via an owl ala Harry Potter (that’s the dream), or when you look for something to write about and along comes this slice of two-tiered carrot cake with cream cheese frosting: Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Chief Steward John Veitch was fired. Wait, I don’t like the passive voice. Rephrase: the KHRC fired John Veitch. Ah, more punch. Mmm, pass the almond milk, please.

Three hundred eighty-seven days ago Life At Ten felt like doo-doo while Veitch et al sat back and let her stumble away from the gate looking like she was on the ninth leg of a bar crawl. And, viola, here we are.

Remember the days when Veitch trained Alydar? Probably, at least a little bit, but remember when Joe Paterno coached football? Or when Barry Bonds’s head didn’t mirror his ego? Point is, it takes very little to wipe out a legacy.

Think how bad it must be for the KHRC to can a brother. This is like Kermit firing Gonzo.

Imagine how easy it could’ve been 387 days ago. “She’s not warming up well? No question. Scratch her. Too much to lose: a horse’s life, bettor confidence. Yeah ... I agree. No brainer ... Oh, yeah, maybe, certainly, Rachel Alexandra would eat this field alive ... Well, irrelevant, not our concern, take Life’s saddle and get her home. Job well done, fellas.”

Instead, 387 days later, during a 30-day window where the donut’s creamy middle will spill, the KHRC handed a cause-less pink slip to Veitch. Who knows what the print will read on the chief hearing officer Robert Layton’s report. I think they’re giving Veitch a head start. Haven’t you ever seen the Sopranos? Head starts are about as fun as a rhombus.

We should, but we won’t, reserve judgment for after the publication of Layton’s report. Perhaps Veitch did some things right. Now it seems that he is the poster boy for a scandal gone horribly wrong (as opposed to the scandals that go horribly, right? Stupid, stupid, stupid.)

According to the Blood-Horses’ report, Veitch said that he’s getting raked over the magma over disagreements he shared with former KHRC executive director Lisa Underwood. Beware the person whose name is the alias of Frodo Baggins in “The Fellowship of the Ring.” Just saying. She resigned November 16 to become a partner at a Lexington law firm. Don’t you love how these people always land more upright than a gymnast?

Look at all the connections involved: Underwood leaves for partnership; John Velazquez wins the 2011 Kentucky Derby on another jocks horse, Todd Pletcher wins yet another Eclipse Award, and Veitch will likely find work. Smarty Jones’ spent an unsuccessful stint in Kentucky but found work in Pennsylvania, another proud state that boasted controversy with the owner Mike Gill. Yama hama!

Look on the bright side, Mr. Veitch, 9 percent of the country is right there with you.

There’s always training horses. Worked out once.

Redux Revisited

That’s right. Dual post. I’ll keep this relatively short.

Lots of discussion took place since last Tuesday about whether or not Rapid Redux, a horse that runs in glorified claiming races in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, should be a candidate for Horse of the Year after his 20th straight victory. I lobbied for his chance at Horse of the Year. Many fans agreed, but folks with the votes (for those who think I get a vote, I don’t. I am an associate member of the National Turf Writers Association, I think. I’m a blogger and relegated to the children’s table where we blog about selling Thanksgiving leftovers to family members for a dime. Nobody’s buying.) disagree.

Where are we going? The argument against him is that he’s not “brilliant” enough, he doesn’t run in graded company. If the award for Horse of the Year went to the fastest horse then Fabulous Strike, Commentator, and Uncle Mo would all be Horses of the Year.

The Eclipse Awards and the Academy Awards are identical. The Academy even opened up Best Picture to include ten films, some blockbusters (your graded stakes horses) and some independent films (your allowance and claimers). Normally the independents never have a shot against the “Gladiators” and the “Titanics.” But every so often a “Hurt Locker” drops in at the quarter pole and beats an “Avatar.” “Hurt Locker” It grossed $14.7 million. “Avatar?” $2 billion ... in half the time. That’s a 120 Beyer if I ever saw one.

The class and the year, needs to be factored. If Rapid Redux had this streak during the same year Zenyatta had hers there’d be no question. “Avatar” would be the richest and best movie. With so few standouts in 2011, so few horses unwilling to step up their game, why not let this award fall to the independent?

Brendan O'Meara is the author of "Six Weeks in Saratoga." He will be signing copies of his book at The Open-Door Bookstore in Schenectady, NY on Saturday Dec. 10 from 1:00 to 2:30 PM.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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