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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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

What it’s all about

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not feeling this Breeders’ Cup this year. And it’s not as if there is a shortage of things to follow:

Havre de Grace—Can she beat the boys and be named Horse of the Year?

Uncle Mo—the 5-2 favorite, can he rise from the ashes?

Goldikova— Can she win her fourth (!) straight Breeders’ Cup Mile?

I started following the Breeders’ Cup in 2006, the year Street Sense and Calvin Borel scooted up the fence. My friends and I said, “Street Sense?!” Pine Island broke down. Invasor won the Classic. The Ladies Classic was still the Distaff. Saturday hosted all the races.

My interest peaked in 2007 with Street Sense, Hard Spun and Curlin. War Pass won the Juvenile. George Washington broke down. Curlin won the Classic. The Ladies Classic was still the Distaff. It was the first year of two days of BC racing.

Nothing grabs me by the collar and shakes me. Was it even that exciting a year? I think what happened was we were deeply spoiled by the previous few. And what did the previous few years have? In two words, Jess Jackson.

Jackson, at the very least, grabbed you by the collar and shook you. He tried to rename mountains; he bought a horse and wheeled it back two weeks later in the Preakness; he kept a mighty fine chestnut in training when most would choose retirement.

This year missed that icon more than it will admit. It also missed iconic horses, the ones you watch and follow the work tab.

Havre de Grace, despite her efforts, is like generic soad: it tastes similar to Mountain Dew, but this Mountain Lightning tastes like citrus toilet water. When Havre de Grace took on the boys in this year’s Woodward, who noticed? I was at Saratoga that day and it lacked the energy usually associated with a gal takin’ on the boys.

The past two years have seen the Kentucky Derby winners burn like cheap light bulbs. No three year old could string together consecutive Grade 1s. Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, Ruler On Ice, Coil, Stay Thirsty, To Honor and Serve. The list unspools.

The older division has, who, Game On Dude. Flat Out.

But then I get an email from Tommy, an avid player who, when he collaborates with his brother, is virtually unstoppable. And by unstoppable, I mean there’s no stopping them from hitting up Taco Bell. Hey-o!

Title of the email: PPs!

Body of the email: It’s so easy this year!

And I laughed my ass off, because who cares if there are no star horses, no thick story lines, no easy-to-grab-onto mares like Z.

I’ve got a bunch of friends converging on Saratoga Springs for the Breeders’ Cup weekend. We got banned from one hotel last year only to (somehow) find hospitality elsewhere. We’re going to drink terrible beer, smoke worse cigars, and somehow handicap even worse than those two horrible prior propositions. The room will look like a crime scene and it will smell like a Fen Way Park bathroom. I will light fire to my latest, terrible reader review of that book I wrote and pour some brownest of the brown over the rocks and down it like Draper.

Why not? It’s Breeders’ Cup and it’s never been about the horses.

Brendan O'Meara has a Twitter feed.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Zenyatta, Pepper’s Pride and … Rapid Redux?????

News exists, somehow, away from the Breeders’ Cup this week. For those who failed to get their Zenyatta fixes out of their systems a year ago, and for those (specifically some commenters here at HRI) who think class in racing fails to exist, then lovely Laurel Park will serve up something fresh.

Enter Rapid Redux.

Starting on December 2, 2010, a day when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was hotter than a Lady Gag concert, Rapid Redux won a horse race at Penn National for trainer David Wells and owner Robert Cole.

So what?

Rapid Redux has since won 17 more races ... in a row ... that makes 18. One more ties him with Pepper’s Pride, and, yes, Zenyatta for the longest win streak in North American horse racing.
“It looks good,” Cole said. “It is a competitive race. They don’t run them on paper but I think we are a little better than everybody else.”

So even with Randall Flagg’s Eye focusing its attention on Churchill Downs for a singular day of racing, this Thursday at Laurel Park should be a smash. Since when will this much attention rain on a seven-furlong $20,000 starter allowance? This isn’t exactly Tim Tebow-type attention, but at least this horse won’t waste everyone’s time for 55 minutes.

“I am very excited but cautious,” Cole said. “I know one day he is going to get beat. I just hope it isn’t Thursday.”

Rapid Redux won races at seven different tracks including Laurel Park and the Timonium Fair Grounds. And get this: he’s 16-for16 ... this year. Since December 2, 2010, he’s run 17 times in 11 months for 1.5 starts a month. This horse is more durable than Cal Ripken, Jr. and has better tires than the Michelin Man. He’s got more range than Pavarotti winning races from five furlongs all the way to nine. And he's won all these races by a combined 84 lengths ... and a nose.

I sat down with Cole five years ago while researching my unpublished book “On the Backside” on Maryland Millions Day. He could have been an owner featured in “Lord of Misrule.” He’s a wheeler and a dealer, claim him here, race him here, value’s high? Be willing to lose him here. Though he claimed Rapid Redux, he rapidly found out that here was a horse he could make some bank on.

Rapid Redux cost Cole $6,250, the price of three nice laptops, or a Chevy Cobalt. He has since gone on to earn $225,609. You do the math.

He lets his trainers do the training, but he admits he’s damn good at reading Daily Racing Form. No wonder why he likes his chances in two days.

Cole led all owners in 2008 with 234 wins and is currently fourth in wins at Laurel with 4 from 16 starts during the fall meet.

Naturally, every win Rapid Redux notches gets more and more thrilling. He’s no Zenyatta. He’s not Pepper’s Pride. He won’t make the cover of Sports Illustrated like Smarty Jones or Mine That Bird (but he’s won more races than they have combined). Still, at a time when big trainers make all the headlines, here’s a horse owned by a regional star and trained by a guy who’s best known for sharing the same name of a former Major League Pitcher, to change the tone of the racing landscape.

“I didn’t even know about this record until he got to about 10 or 12 wins and people started talking about it,” said Cole. “I never thought it was reachable because you need to have so much good luck. We are fortunate to have a shot at tying it but just because we won 18 in a row doesn’t mean you automatically win the 19th. Anybody can have a bad day. I am definitely not counting my chickens before they hatch.”

Brendan O'Meara is the author of "Six Weeks in Saratoga." He is currently working on one of those memoirs: "The Last Championship: Beards, Beer Bellies, Laugh Lines, and the Greatest Tournament the World has Never Known."

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

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