Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Real Horse of the Year

Name an elite horse that deserves the name “elite.” I bet you came up with a couple. Havre de Grace, Drosselmeyer (ugh), Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, Coil (ugh), Stay Thirsty, Uncle Mo, Flat Out. In that cluster of “elite” horses rests the 2011 Horse of the Year.


Because the real horse of the year, the one who most deserves it, the one who plugs holes on the leaky room circuit, the one who just wins, baby, won’t win it. I’ve already written about him. He’s won 19 races in a row and by the time the four of you read this he may win 20 in a row.

Since when has a dude in the company of two hot chicks opted to fly solo? That’s right— Rapid Redux. The other two horses he shares the record with are Zenyatta and Pepper’s Pride.

He has run 17 times this year and done it in style ... because he won them all. There’s no Grade 1 money there and he’d be outclassed by many of the above horses, but what’s keeping him off the ballot? Why can’t this guy and his gregarious owner Robert Cole, Jr. take home the coveted Eclipse for Horse of the Year? It wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to the Blue Bloods—Mine That Bird already rained on that parade. Didn’t the late Steve McNair get on the Heisman ballot as a Div. I-AA quarterback?

I Googled that 1994 Heisman ballot and came across a story by New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden (who, get this, occasionally makes an appearance in racetrack press boxes. I swear I’ve seen him.). Rhoden wrote on November 14, 1994, “I tuned into WFAN during a recent drive from State College, Pa., and was intrigued by an intense debate over the issue of awarding the Heisman Trophy. The host, Bill Daughtry, who can be counted on for a thought-provoking show, said that among college quarterbacks Steve McNair of Alcorn State was the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. Hands down.

“You'd have thought he called for the dissolution of the union.

Daughtry's premise -- which is supported by the inscription on the trophy -- is that the award should go to the most outstanding football player in the United States for a given year. Not the most outstanding player in Division I-A or I-AA, or II or III. The most outstanding player. Period.”
Sound familiar?

Rapid Redux certainly meets the most important criteria for award consideration: he’s a horse—and what a year’s he’s had.

He’s 17-for-17. He’s won races at Laurel Park, Charles Town, Parx, Penn National, Timonium, and Mountaineer. He’s gone short (a 5-furlong win on February 11). He’s gone long (a 9-furlong spanking on October 14).

This son of Pleasantly Perfect must be dog-tired. Then again, maybe not. Horses at this level—get this—race! They gallop around a ring or they jog in a machine. They don’t breeze every Monday because they’re too busy racing and putting on a show. They run more than my nose. They don’t run five times a year; they run five times from January 12 to March 3. Rapid Redux’s last published workout prior to tying Pepper’s Pride and Zenyatta? January 8th — four days before he began this miraculous run at immortality. Before that? September 22, 2010. That’s two breezes in 49 and change in 14 months. How’s that for a sharpener?

Human runners often get their speed workouts during races. Same can be said for Rapid Redux. He races into shape and stays there. He wears down all those around him.

But one of those above “elite” horses will win Horse of the Year because of their regal blood lines (uh, what’s this Pleasantly Perfect top side on RR????), their superior competition (those three-year-old colts who couldn’t string together consecutive Grade 1s), and all that prize money (seems like Cole only paid $6,250 for RR and won over $230,000) will, no doubt, leave Rapid Redux off the ballot.

Think his trainer, David J. Wells, who handled this unbelievable win streak, has a shot a Champion Trainer?

He fits the bill. He’s a trainer. The mountain of his and his horse’s accomplishments will, ironically, get in the way.

Brendan O'Meara is the author of "Six Weeks in Saratoga." Follow him on Twitter. Like Six Weeks on Facebook.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

All the pretty pictures

Wow. The unofficial end of the horse racing season weighs heavy, real heavy. Take a look at one of the Top 4 headlines over at The Paulick Report from Monday morning:

“Spotted horses really did exist during Stone Age.”



Cave paintings done by a GEICO spokesman illustrate a horse figure with dalmatian spots. What next? An esquilax? A horse born with the head of the rabbit and the body of a rabbit? Where is the drawing of the discarded betting ticket from the caveman thinking, “Me bet numbers, grays, and spotted horses.”

What would our cave paintings look like? How do you draw “anguish?” It might look like Uncle Mo backing up after his genetics pooped out on him. It might also look like Drosselmeyer winning.

And what would the cavemen have to say about the Life At Ten scandal? It’s only been a year, but the report on what happened that day has been delayed for another 30 days or so.

Robert Layton, the chief hearing officer for the Office of Administrative Hearings within the Energy and Environment Cabinet, said, according to the Blood-Horse that, “While the appeal does not present legally complex issues, there is voluminous and contradictory factual proof to be addressed, which requires substantial time to weigh and address. The hearing officer has also maintained a full docket of hearing cases for the Energy and Environmental Cabinet during this proceeding.”

What’s another 30 days? It’s only been, what, 380 or so? Jockey John Velazquez, who said that Life At Ten wasn’t warming up properly prior to the 2010 Ladies Classic, already forked over $10,000 for his “involvement.” No one remembers he didn’t force the horse to run harder. What better scapegoat than the man in the irons?

Change comes slow to horse racing and the Good Ol’ Boy Network will look out for its own, but let’s get real here. What more information could there be? It’s painfully obvious what happened: Life At Ten not warming up, Velazquez tells ESPN reporters, said comments not passed along to stewards, thus the 7-2 second choice ran worse than Zippy Chippy, and millions of bettor money went by way of pet goldfish.

At least the stewards got the Goldikova move right. Wait. No they didn’t. They got that wrong too. Churchill Downs, and Kentucky specifically, is the epicenter of North American racing. For such ineptitude to be so prevalent on the sport’s largest stage for two consecutive years should ring the death knell for perhaps the venue, but certainly for those parties responsible for such negative press. Somebody Roger Goodell on the phone.

But the beat goes on and all we can do on our end is chat about it over a libation or two, maybe get a little mad. Maybe cavemen would draw a picture of a puckered bum emblematic of the involved parties:


I think Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. would be proud.

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

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

So long, Churchill …

Oh, man, did you see the Breeders’ Cup? You probably didn’t. I mean, maybe YOU did, because, well, because it’s what YOU do. But viewership was way down from last year. Part of that was no Zenyatta, but a greater part of that dealt with the overwhelming lack of star power as evidenced by Drosselmeyer’s win in the Classic. All his win proved was that somebody has to win these races — 2:04 and change? Yikes. That’s three-toed-sloth kind of slow.

Owner Mike Repole and his two colts made sporting efforts—strike that—efforts. Certainly the most disappointing effort was Stay Thirsty’s over Uncle Mo’s. My goodness, who is the Champion Three-Year-Old? Seems like Royal Delta should be cross-entered.

As I’ve been reading the comments from folks about the retirement of Uncle Mo, it strikes me as a bit sad. He was a wildly talented two-year-old and three-year-old (one turn) and electrified racetracks. Can’t say that about Union Rags. But at three, he got sick. We see this time and time again in athletics. So much hope becomes bottled up in the potential of one special athlete, but through the rigors of sport and the indomitable force of bad luck, potential is rarely realized.

The Washington Nationals drafted Stephen Strasburg only to see his arm burn out faster than Cheech and Chong. The list of quarterback busts taken on the promise they showed as “juveniles” could fill Gatorade cooler with shame. JaMarcus Russell, Akili Smith, Ryan Leaf and Tim Couch.

Sometimes athletes performed terribly, other times they just flat out got sick.
“The decision to retire Uncle Mo was made Sunday after blood tests showed that one of his enzymes, gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT), was elevated,”Repole told Daily Racing Form. “This is the same enzyme that was elevated in the spring – knocking Uncle Mo out of the Triple Crown series – and led to the diagnosis of the liver disease, cholangiohepatitis. Uncle Mo does not have a recurrence of that disease, but the GGT level was the highest it’s been since the colt returned to trainer Todd Pletcher’s care in July A normal GGT level is under 35, Uncle Mo’s was “significantly higher” following the Classic.
“We don’t want to continue down this road where he’s going to get ill again,” Repole said Monday morning. “The vets did say that the stress and rigors of training could always bring about this elevated GGT.”
Uncle Mo was a bad bet and guaranteed off-the-board in the Classic, but his presence in the race felt right. Uncle Mo in the Dirt Mile would be like Dustin Hoffman taking a gig in a horse racing mini-series. Mo’s luck ran out, and now we wait to see what kind of milers and sprinters he’ll sire out of the decreasing foal populations of tomorrow.

Mo spilled his guts and came home looking like a three-legged giraffe juggling on a stalled motorcycle. He looked almost as bad as Churchill Downs stewards.

It’s time to Occupy Churchill Downs. Next thing you know they’ll be able to fill the gate with botched calls. They’ve already got Life At Ten, now add Goldikova to the list.

Her jockey Olivier Peslier nearly decapitated Courageous Cat and jockey Patrick Valenzuela with a move down the homestretch in the Mile. Less people were monetarily harmed by keeping Goldikova in third instead of last since it would’ve been foolish (betting-wise), on paper, to have her off the board. But there are those who may have thought, well, what if she doesn’t get the running room she needs off the fence? Could mean a big pay out. And that’s what should have happened. The stewards looked like the minions in “Despicable Me” plugging away in their crow’s nest.

Life At Ten? Goldikova? Time to go prospecting for a life in California.

Brendan O'Meara is the author of "Six Weeks in Saratoga." Follow him on Twitter.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

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