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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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lucy’s Football

Well, the electricity went out here at The Carryover homestead, happened when a transformer went ka-boom in this here little Saratoga Springs. I believe I saw the culprit: a squirrel rode the lightning high on that tight wire and hit Catherine Street's pavement as well-done as an overcooked hamburger. And when you’re on a certain measure of deadline with no electricity, well you go and salute that thrill sinking little devil and get on with your writing.

Those horses are giddy-upping themselves into shape and we’re left to wait and see who makes it to the gate in little over two weeks. It’s almost whoopity-do time at the windows. And, in the meantime, it’s nice to see an owner bypass horse whispering altogether and dive right into full-on, double-rainbow-style, win-one-for-the-Gipper, Vince Lombardi-belching, quips to his equine talent.

Owner Mike Repole pitted Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo against each other near trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn asking both whether or they are going to win.

“Stay Thirsty is obedient,” Repole said, “Mo decides to do what he wants to do. It’s emotion.”

Uncle Mo looks finer than Fabio these days and fitter than the finest fiddle the world has ever known, yessiree that was 58.64 on the stopwatch for five freaky furlongs. Not even a WWF sleeper hold could keep him from blistering Belmont’s Big Sandy. Indian Charlie’s boy decided to roll about ten lengths faster than prescribed, well, boy, howdy, you can’t tell Floyd Mayweather how to hit a speed bag when he’s frothing up Gatorade, now can you?

“Todd gave great instructions,” said Repole. “He told Johnny to go between a minute and minute one. Mo misunderstood and decided to go 58 and three. There was a horse working in front of him and Johnny was afraid that Mo decided to go get that horse. I asked Todd if he was a little upset and he just said ‘The horse is doing really good right now. What are you going to do, put him in a choke hold?’ He did it so easy. This is the best he’s ever been. This is better than last year, this is better than before the Kelso. This horse could not be doing any better right now.”

And back in the shadows where he spent every day until the Jim Dandy, Stay Thirsty quenched his need for cruising speed going four furlongs in 48 and pennies. Mr. Pletcher, how’d he do?

“That was a good, maintenance breeze for him,” said Pletcher. “He was moving well and seemed happy.”

Charles Schultz, how did Charlie Brown look to you?

“That was a good, maintenance breeze for him,” said Schultz. “He was moving well and seemed happy.”

Now, who's going to pull the football away from who in a couple of weeks? If Stay Thirsty is the all-too-depressing Charlie Brown and Mo is Lucy, then we have to believe Stay Thirsty will meet an-all-too-eager-fate of coming THAT close.

But this is the Classic! There are 13 footballs and there’s going to be a real horse with female parts and a penchant for teasing the boys. Yep, that there is Havre de Grace, this year’s fastest horse in these global championships held in the country where horse racing is, at best, the 23rd most popular sport plans to rip that ball away and watch all them there boys flip into curlycues on a blustery Louisville night. Perhaps racing's ranking was too generous, but who doesn’t want to watch Biba Golic over Havre de Grace? Swwwwish! Case closed, strike 3, yoooourrrr’e outta he’r!

And if it is the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, why is it hosted in this country every single year? Especially a country as indifferent to horse racing as Europe is to hygiene?

The Breeders’ Cup in Hong Kong would attract 100,000 people. Same with Japan, and, well, anywhere. This is horse racing’s Olympics and it should be paraded around the globe.

It would kill betting on this side of the pond because a live product in another time zone puts a doozy of a damper on the Circadian rhythm of the North American horse player—all three of them.

Though when I go to Vegas to get my Cirque du Soleilon, I get up (or stay up) to catch the Dubai World Cup at 8 a.m. or whenever it’s on. So I suspect the OTBs, the racinos, and the serious player’s Internet accounts would be more than happy to stay open.

Maybe once it’s off American shores, people will realize what’s gone, or, more predictably, won’t even notice.

Oh, Lucy ...

Brendan O'Meara wrote a book.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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