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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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.

Sadly.

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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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.”

?

>:-0

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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