Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Kid Glove Trend

I’ve been searching for a nickname for Todd Pletcher for years now. I settled on The Edge last year, but even that felt unsettling. Not for it being insulting, of course; it’s actually a somewhat cool nickname to have, but it’s not like The Chief, or The Mig, or The Big Unit.

How about “King of the Kid Gloves”? Now we might be onto something. Uncle Mo makes his second start as a three-year-old in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial before heading to Kentucky to run in that race. If George Orwell’s Thought Police saw what’s happening to the sophomore Triple Crown prep season they may see it as a chance to reduce the “language” of the season down to one single race ... but only after starvation and any number of crude forms of torture.

The number of prep races these horses use to get to Kentucky is alarmingly small. I understand the risk, the pros, as well as the cons of such campaigns.

Risk: Injury. There’s always the hindsight game to play. What if War Pass hadn’t run in the Tampa Bay Derby but instead ran in a nicely catered allowance, then moved to the Wood?

Pro: Keeps them fresher for a better run at the Triple Crown, but, more importantly, keeps them fresher to win the Derby (because, really, that’s all that matters to these connections and the breeders).

Con: Not as much experience. But, then again, not many of these horses even have experience so it’s a wash.

Risk: The Demoralization of the Equine Mind. How long did it take Brad Lidge to come back from that homerun Albert Pujols hit off him in the 2005 NLDS? When that ball lands, let’s have a talk. Sure, Lidge isn’t a horse, but it took him years to recover. Years.

Pro: There really isn’t another pros.

Con: Not a chance to see horses square off against one another multiple times. I know this is a call back to Affirmed and Alydar and Easy Goer and Sunday Silence, but how fun would that be to relive that? How great was it watching Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta run against each other? I remember it like it never happened.

Affirmed raced four times before the Kentucky Derby. Seattle Slew raced three times. When you look at the 2000s you see the Kid Glove Trend. The past four Kentucky Derby winners all raced just two times prior to the Derby — Super Saver, Mine That Bird, Big Brown, and Street Sense. The past two did virtually nothing after the Derby. Big Brown roared in the Preakness then purred in the Belmont, but still came back to win the Haskell as well as defeat Proudinsky and Shakis on the grass before he was retired. He was practically eased while winning the Preakness so all that proves is that freshness is still no guarantee for history. It helps.

Smarty Jones raced four times before winning the Derby. Four times! And he nearly won the Triple Crown. What if he raced one less time? Would he have had enough gas to hold off Birdstone? These things are, no doubt, at the heart of the present-day trainer as they groom their babies into potential stake horses. There’s so much at stake that it’s a wonder they race at all these days.

That’s why we have the claimers, God bless ‘em.

Brendan O’Meara is the author of the forthcoming book Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year to be published by SUNY Press. You can read more at The Blog Itself and follow Brendan’s Twitter feed. His web site is

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Horse Racing: Get a Job!

Horse racing needs to get a job.

Horse racing has been living in its mother’s basement blogging about video games and belly button lint too long. Horse racing’s gut hangs over its stained tighty-whities. It hasn’t shaved in weeks.

Mom calls down asking how it’s doing but not really wanting to know how it’s feeling but rather why it hasn’t seen the sun and eaten anything not packaged by Frito-Lay. Pull your own weight! Pay a bill! Put on a shirt!

Your very own John Pricci wrote possibly his best column just the other day about the powerless numb he felt about the Life At Ten Report where nothing happened. Pricci has been bludgeoned by the apathy, the unaccountability, and the selfishness of a game so indifferent to its horse players.

We would have gotten better answers from an Eight Ball. Reply Hazy Try Again. Sounds about right. At least asking it a question gives you an answer in less than four months. (I heard the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission tried to market a rare Eight Ball with an answer that says “It was Johnny’s Fault” but it wasn’t moving any units. True story.)

In this Choose Your Own Adventure there are two options worth considering to find gainful employment for horse racing. If it is so concerned about money and the un-welfare of its athletes and bettors then quit, yes, you, quit. Turn to the last page: THE END.

Option No. 2—if you have more hope than Pandora—join the Betting Embargo brought to you by The Carryover! And what better statement could be made than by sticking it right to the heart of horse racing and Kentucky? Don’t bet the Derby. Not a dime. Not one freaking penny. So, you like To Honor and Serve? Honor and serve your game by getting the brass to notice by putting your money on two—no three!—Grilled Stuft Burritos instead of Uncle Mo (sorry Mr. Repole, oh, valiant silver lining).

When the 1994 World Series was won by work stoppage that an enema powered by a fire hydrant couldn’t free the fans stayed home. Some never returned. Others took years to come back ... as little as four years in one Clear case of performance enhancement.

(Okay, the suggestion here is that in order to get people to believe in that unemployed slob is to juice up the game to draw the horse player back. Even Big Brown would disagree with that.)

We writers write, but as much as the Pricci’s, the Paul Morans, the Joe Drapes, the Bill Finleys, and the Ray Paulicks expound about the changes this game needs to stay viable, how much has all those miles of sentences accomplished?

I’d wager—wait, bad pun. I’d bet— dammit! ... We all stand at the lectern and lecture to whom? It sounds like each other. We have these discussions amongst ourselves about the sorry state of affairs and have a good laugh or a good talk about how only if Secretariat would walk through that door ...

He did! If the sport can’t capitalize on back-to-back years where a female horse became Horse of the Year, years when Rachel Alexandra beat the boys to become Horse of the Year, or when Zenyfreakingyatta won the Classic, won 19 in a row, and was the width of a betting ticket away from another, then I’m sorry, there’s no hope at all.

Hold onto George, Abe, Hammy, that Indian hater, Ulysses, and Benjamin. Hit the game where it matters.

Maybe this is as bad an idea as Take Your Kid to the OTB Day, but what if handle took a 50 percent whack on Derby Day? What if NBC and its Eclipse Award-winning coverage team took note and broadcast our little movement and the Preakness took an even bigger hit (sorry Maryland, oh, red-headed step child)? Same for the Belmont.

Could it work?

(Shaking sounds)


Brendan O’Meara is the author of the forthcoming Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year to be published by SUNY Press. You can read more at The Blog Itself and follow Brendan’s Twitter feed. His web site is

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Saturday, March 05, 2011

Dial tone

Curious goings in the stable of the one, the only, the Hall of Famer, Nicholas P. Zito.

Dialed In, the Paulick Derby Index’s No. 2 horse, has been entered in one of those a la carte two-other-than allowances run at the same distance as the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, that nine-furlong scamper won by the impressively-quick Soldat.

Who isn’t going to throw Mr. Zito a bone?

In Zito’s and the colt’s defense, this is only the son of Mineshaft’s third race. He’s about as tested as a pre-schooler, but look who he beat:

Mucho Macho Man — came back to win of the Risen Star.
Gourmet Dinner — came back to place second to Soldat in the Fountain of Youth.

And as we all know the Kentucky Derby will get a Tabasco pace from a horse who has no business being in the race from an owner wanting the golden saddlecloth to dab his or her chin.

Dialed In’s Holy Bull showed us something. It showed us that he can turn any race into a quarter sprint. He dropped fifteen lengths off Mucho Macho Man and blitzed up the fence, skipped five-wide, bombed left-leaded, switched to the right lead at the sixteenth pole under Julien Leparoux to win going away.

The only other jockey that could make similar use of this horse would be Calvin Borel. Leparoux has the best clock this side of Edgar Prado and will know how and when to unleash Dialed In. There’s a Street Sense hidden in that Mineshaft coat — and it’s not just Mr. Prospector DNA. Leparoux’s timing on grass is, how should we say, European, and he knows just when to get serious, like a matador toying with his bull. The others in the prescribed field? More like the ivory-clad men running down the streets of Pamplona.

Dialed In will face four other rivals Sunday as Zito had to enter a stablemate to fill the race run at these conditions:

For Three Year Olds And Upward Which Have Never Won Two Races Other Than Maiden, Claiming Or Starter Or Which Have Never Won Three Races Or Claiming Price $62,500. Three Year Olds, 116 Lbs.; Older, 123 Lbs. Non-winners Of $24,000 At A Mile Or Over Since January 1, 2011 Allowed 2 Lbs. $20,000 At A Mile Or Over Since Then Allowed 4 Lbs. Claiming Price $62,500 (Races Where Entered For $50,000 Or Less Not Considered). One And One Eighth Miles.

Without looking at past performances I haven’t an idea of the pace, but I imagine Zito’s 4-year-old Equestrio will be sent to the front because Dialed In needs something to close into. However, in such a small field he will likely be just a few bounds behind the leaders.

The nine furlongs is key but his blood will like the distance and Leparoux will know how to handle his speed.

It is also that blood that could cut the line on Dialed In. Mineshaft did his heavy lifting at age four, becoming the 2003 Horse of the Year winning such prestigious races as the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Woodward Stakes, and Pimlico Special.

It’s a soft spot for one hard colt. Didn’t we see a Zito horse owned by Robert LaPenta disappoint in a similarly easy spot? How does War Pass’s 2008 Tampa Derby sound? Even though the spot is easy, the anxiety is high.

No call waiting if he fails.

Brendan O’Meara is the author of the forthcoming Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year to be published by SUNY Press. You can read more at The Blog Itself and follow Brendan’s Twitter feed. His web site is

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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