Wednesday, October 16, 2013
A Bridge (and horse) to Remember
So Verrazano, Master of Nine Furlongs, turned in what was dubbed a “bullet”
workout as he readies for the Dirt Mile.
The time was only 1:01.08 and was called a “bullet.” 1:01 seems slow to be dubbed a bullet, but it was the fastest of 14 works, so I suppose it’s all relative. After explosive wins at Monmouth in the Pegasus and Haskell, he was handed a win in the Travers. But, as some people thought, 10 furlongs was always too much for this son of More Than Ready. Fail
Verrazano, if he sticks around for another year, could be similar in running style and fan fare to Shackleford. Shackleford was able to win, in dramatic fashion, a race of considerable distance in the Preakness. But after that he was relegated to sprints and miles, right in his wheelhouse. Verrazano could be that.
Verrazano is a bear. Watching his race in the Wood
, he looms a dark shadow before overcoming and overmatching this field.
Shackleford had charisma, a big, white blaze, and a gutsy head-lunging running style that gives him the added look of a horse running his heart out. There was a lot of Rocky in Shack. He was also trained by Dale Romans, a trainer who is more cuddly than Todd Pletcher.
It’s not Pletcher’s style to let people get acquainted with his horses the way others do. Perhaps that has more to do with the fact that after their three-year-old year they’re gone.
Shackleford had groupies. Verrazano can only hope to avoid Groupie Doll.
There’s no reason why Verrazano can’t become an iconic horse to watch, except for retirement. He’s already a proven multiple Grade 1 winner at two turns and a millionaire. Verrazano could be as exciting to watch as Wise Dan, Groupie Doll and Fabulous Strike (maybe the greatest front-end sprinter of all time).
Pletcher horses are more like Nazgul horses
. They don’t seem huggable. They appear to carry Ring Wraiths. That’s likely by design. When was the last Fan Favorite Pletcher Horse? Rags to Riches? And that was only because she was a filly who ran just one more time after she defeated Curlin the 2007 Belmont Stakes. That’s as close as we got to a cuddly Pletcher horse. But that’s how he rolls.
English Channel might have had a chance, but he was a turf router, maybe the only thing less popular than a turf miler. I’d love to be able to see the age breakdown (poor word choice?) of Pletcher’s horses. Every other sport, especially baseball, has stats for everything. WHIP
Horse racing has great handicapping data, but would it be nice to see at a glance who a trainer performs with two-year-olds, three-year-olds, and four-year-olds? I’d love to know how many of each age each trainer has. It's like a following a football coach and not knowing his full roster.
I’d like to see how a trainer performs with older horses, a testament to keeping horses sound and healthy for more than just a flash in the pan.
My point is, Verrazano could be an exciting animal to watch race for six or seven times next year. He could be a top sprinter and the type of industry horse that would please the people already wedded to this game. Just like Curlin. Just like Shack.
But, like many Pletcher horses, they’re gone after three. That’s no knock on him. His brand is two- and three-year-olds. Hopefully we see more of Verrazano and he doesn’t become a forgotten bridge like these from The Dark Knight Rises (minute 2:30)
Written by Brendan O'Meara
Monday, October 14, 2013
Rosario: A Case Study for Off-Seasons
You know the old saying: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. That’s an adage from which horse racing can learn a lesson. I’ve beaten that drum far too much. What used to taste like Boston Lager now tastes like Bud Light.
And with the return of Joel Rosario back to the irons, back to the winners circle, and back to the future, his absence made our hearts yearn for the guy who wins million-dollar races as often as Rick Grimes kills a zombie
Way back in January, Rosario geared up his campaign, a time when Obama began his second term, Colin Kaepernick was the talk of the NFL, and Animal Kingdom was still in the United States.
Rosario had a winter and spring that would make Ramon Dominguez in his prime look like Charlie Brown.
Rosario had Animal Kingdom fall in his lap and rode him to what would be the final win of AK’s impressive career. Ten million Dubai Dollars for passing ‘go.’
He blitzed through the Keeneland Spring Meet
breaking the wins record by six with 38 wins. It helps to be the first-call rider for the Ramseys. Their 25 wins on the meet shattered the previous spring record by 13. Sometimes the racing gods shine on you.
Everything Rosario touched turned to roses. After the Florida Derby, a race won by the once-indestructible Orb and formerly ridden by this rich dude
, Rosario opened his stocking to find a live, Kentucky Derby favorite. The pace scenario took all the contenders on the front end out of the Derby allowing a mud-caked Rosario to charge to victory. He had two more races to run, but he had already won the Triple Crown. Dubai World Cup. Keeneland. Triple Crown.
Then he didn’t.
The son of Malibu Moon was eclipsed in the Preakness and Belmont.
But Rosario took Saratoga by storm. While Orb went to an all-inclusive resort to decompress, Rosario plundered away. He was set to ride Orb all over again in the Travers Stakes, maybe reassert Orb’s standing among the three-year-olds.
The same racing gods that gave him such a world-conquering spring, dropped a Thor-hammer on his foot. On Aug. 23, Casual Elegance stumbled and dumped Rosario. The result was a broken bone in Rosario’s foot. No Travers. No Saratoga title. He still finished third the standings with 41 wins
—still more than a win a day. He had 101 fewer mounts than Javier Castellano, who finished with 66 wins.
Not only was he set to ride Orb in the Travers (Maybe he wins. He knows the horse better than Jose Lezcano. Like how many licks it takes to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop: The World May Never Know
.), but he was going to ride Game On Dude, America’s sweetheart, in the Pacific Classic. It’s Murphy’s Law
, and horse racing is Murphy’s favorite client: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. I’d also call it the Pessimist’s Manifesto.
At last, Rosario made his return to the saddle and won at Belmont Park
, just in time for the Breeders’ Cup. It’s an interesting dichotomy with jockeys and athletes in other sports.
Rob Gronkowski, tight end of the New England Patriots, was supposed to play against the Saints this past Sunday. Yet he didn’t. There are conflicting reports, but some say he may be holding out for fear of getting hurt again, for fear of compromising his ability to make a bigger contract.
Derek Rose sat out the entire 2012-2013 NBA season because of a knee injury that didn’t heal to his expectations. I have no issue with either of these two cases. They know their bodies and if they’re not confident in their ability to maximize their physical assets, then, by all means, sit out. Owners and coaches run these guys out to slaughter.
It’s different with jockeys. There’s no incentive to remain on the shelf. Because there’s no off-season, there’s little time to heal and all the time to lose business. An off-season in horse racing would allow jocks to get time off to heal their broken bodies, maybe even have a few months to not incessantly worry about making weight. Maybe have a pizza and a beer.
An off-season would be nice for horses and jocks to mend wounds. An off-season would be nice for people who follow this sport. Because, as we all know, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Written by Brendan O'Meara
Monday, October 07, 2013
Of Hondas and Horse Racing
The Japanese simply do things better than us. They make better cars. They make way better samurais. And they make better horse racing.
In a story by CNN
, it reports on the superiority of horse racing in the Land of the Rising Punt. There was a time when horse racing had a seedy reputation, was muscled by organized crime bosses and harbored no public trust.
American sport fans can relate. Horse racing’s reputation as a horse butchering industry precedes it with many people. Even among the few horse players remaining, the trust among them with the racetrack organizations is jaded and frayed. Yet Japan is thriving.
We can all agree there are too many race dates. We can all agree that it waters down race cards. Winter horse racing in this country rarely has large, bettor-friendly fields. Even in the summer with Saratoga going 40 days and six days a week has watered its product down. Now get a load of what the Japanese do.
Instead of having week-long meets, they race on Saturday’s and Sundays. It effectively turns every weekend into our Breeders’ Cup weekend: Big money, huge fields, great competition, and salty payouts.
Not only that, but trainers condition a maximum of 30 horses. Call it a Horse Cap
. This has a resonant effect of showcasing the amount of talent among horseman all over the country. Think of all the trainers in America who wallow in squalor because they fail to recruit the owners willing to buy better athletes. The playing field is not equal.
There’s two paths for a trainer to break through in this country. One, the trainers grinds away on his/her own and hopes to get lucky with a random horse that propels them to fame. Akin to winning the lottery. Two, be an assistant trainer to “the machine”, go out on your own and take some decent stock with you. Then hope you can carry that momentum. Not a slam dunk either, just look at Seth Benzel. And, according to Equibase, Benzel is no longer training horses
In the CNN piece, Ed Dunlop, a foreign trainer in Japan, said, "It's enormous compared to what we're used to. Horses have huge followings and jockeys too. You'll see posters of them out there, which you'd never see in the UK for a second. At the Japan Cup (the biggest race on the calendar), there's 100,000 people there. The atmosphere is like nothing I've heard before. The noise is genuinely unbelievable."
We see posters of horses and jockeys at the racetracks, but this is merely decorative. Here all you’re doing is advertising to people who already go to the track, few as they are. What about an Orb banner in Times Square leading up to the Jockey Club Gold Cup? (Sure, you would’ve witnessed a dud
, but, hey, you would’ve witnessed it.
) The horse is imposing in person, so throw him up against the biggest athletes in Times Square. Show the world our best athletes are the ones with four legs. That would have to bring in some people.
I’m using arbitrary numbers here, but they’re not too far off. Racing five days a week, nine races a day with average fields of seven horses, makes for 315 entries. Racing two days a week, for 10 races a day with 14 horses in each field is 280 entries of better racing and better betting. The purses are higher and so too is the competition.
I, for one, would love a sport that gave us a week leading up to a full day of Super Saturday-style racing every week. There could be an Graded Stakes Pick 5 every Saturday and Sunday. Or Friday and Saturday so as not to butt up against the other sport that plays once a week and is the most popular watch in the country.
There’s a reason I’ve driven a Honda since 1998, a reason why I pass the Karaoke mike, and a reason I learned from them how to deal with tyrannical dinosaurs:
The Japanese do things better than we do.
Written by Brendan O'Meara