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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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mo’ money, mo’ problems

Mo’ money mo’ problems.

The Notorious B.I.G. and P. Diddy said it best. I’d also add to that: as a writer (a freelance rapper (no, not really)) and shoe salesman, No money, mo’ problems also applies.

I know winter brings on seasonal depression (you should have heard my existential monologue on the way to work this morning), but the sports landscape is like the egg from the Zoloft commercials. It’s like Charlie Brown’s tree is eating more than just a bi-polar child’s kite.

Just look at what’s going on:

1. The National Football League is mired in collective bargaining talks.
2. Carmelo Anthony weighs whether or not to sign an extension for $65 million or go along with a trade.
3. Albert Pujols’ self-imposed deadline passed without $300 million inked and
4. Suffolk Downs can’t get no love!
What is going on here? Besides Bostonians losing their jobs, losing their hours, and losing their hope, they’re losing simulcasting and 100 days of racing. That’s all.

The New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NEHBPA) withdrew the simulcasting signal for all tracks of significance nationwide like the New York Racing Association and others. Since no live racing takes place at Suffolk Downs these days this was its only chance at generating revenue. Now it makes the property in East Boston as pretty as Commentator’s rectum.

My good friend, suffolkdownslova, has to drive all the way to Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park to place the bets he so lovingly needs. Frankly, I need them too, because he’s always got a good story about being alive to a 15-1 horse in the last leg of the Pick 4. These stories are never funny when you win.

He’s getting dragged through the muck because the NEHBPA wants 100 days of live racing with an average of $100,000 in purses a day. It maintains that it needs this to pay bills and adequately support the livestock.

Suffolk Downs says it can only afford 67 days. It can increase that number to 76 days if they get alternative gaming — ssssslots — legislation passed. How long did it take New York to do that? See you in 2020.

Reporter Lynne Snierson of The Blood-Horse reported that Suffolk Downs CEO Chip Tuttle wrote in a letter, “'went on to write that the horsemen in New England and around the country have shown a “complete lack of respect” to the loyal customers who raise purse revenue by betting at Suffolk. He termed this disregard as “most troubling” and “most stunning.'”

NEHBPA attorney Frank Frisoli dugs his heals in telling The Blood-Horse, “This appears to be heating up. I don’t know if we’re headed to court or to a resolution.”

The best part is that the 82-year-old owner of Brockton Fair Grounds, George Carney, is circling this carrion like a hyena. While Suffolk consumes itself with war, the balance of power and sovereignty of Massachusetts racing could be slipping into the hands of Gollum. “This might be an opportunity to get back into the ballgame,” Carney told the Brockton Enterprise. “I’m optimistic.”

When it comes to money in sports I’m always in favor of the player. After all, if Alex Rodriguez, Peyton Manning, and Kevin Garnett can make the money they make, just think of how much money the owners go to bed with at night. Wal-Mart CEO Michael Duke makes $35 million a year — more than A-Rod — and nobody brings the pikes to impale his head.

The fans of the sport get mighty mad and I can understand that, but let these guys get theirs.

The difference in horse racing is that major fans — the ones who slog to the track to bet on this game — drive the sport and they’re the ones who get pulled through the manure again and again.

Suffolkdownslova shouldn’t have to drive an hour through traffic to an equally depressing place to throw down money for the early Pick 4.

The Suffolk Downs mess is just another example of misplaced priorities and the sad state of affairs that is this once-cherished sport.

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. You can learn more at The Blog Itself, follow @BrendanOMeara, or go to his web site

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Here, here, Pope Frederick I

What’s not to love about vibrant ideas for change in a stagnant, stale habitat? Failure to adapt often leads to death and that’s where Fred Pope enters the room. He’s not Death. That sounded completely wrong.

His column, which appeared at The Paulick Report on Groundhog Day, ironed out several strategies to make the sport of horse racing better. Ultimately what makes the sport better is to make it better for horse players. And all his ideas feed to this river.

Pope starts by suggesting that the money bet on horses such as Uncle Mo should be distributed among the top connections since it is Uncle Mo (and others) who drive much or all of the handle; so why not reward those connections?
This will drive up field size and create betting opportunities that only existed in two of Zenyatta’s races. Because, as Pope writes, “Today, the incentive in racing is to duck competition. With set purse amounts, you can make good money avoiding competition, even in graded stakes.

That’s why we have Grade 1 races with five-horse fields. The result is a non-competitive race that few people come out to see and few people wager on it. Such a race might generate less wagering revenue than a $5,000 claiming race with a full field.”

Otherwise it’ll be the 2006 Santa Anita Derby all over again. What I find troubling is the reaction by readers to Pope’s ideas. Most consider his piece “nonsense” and fall back on “that’s not how the real world works.” These are also the people who, undoubtedly, complain but never contribute anything worthwhile to the discussion. Out of the two dozen or so comments I skimmed, most bash and only one offered something of substance (this after a typical anonymous insult):

“How about this for the problem of graded stakes with small fields, associate the grading to the field size. Grade 1 must have 10 or more entrants, Grade 2 must have 8 or more and Grade 3 must have 5 or more.

The Grading matches the purse. If the field slots it in as a Grade 3 purse is $125,000 on up, Grade 2 purse is $250,000 on up and Grade 1 $350,000 up.

This way you're not giving up a large purse for a short field that creates limited wagering interest.

The Derby’s 20 horse field certainly has a lot to do with it's appeal to fans and bettors alike.

The ridiculous 4 and 5 horse graded stakes makes our sport look silly.”

What also makes “our” sport look silly is when its patrons spit on new ideas.

I think everyone who follows thoroughbred racing would agree that it is and has been in a sorry state for decades. Every so many years you get a Zenyatta and it’s all bubble gum and rainbows.

As soon Bernardini is done with her we’ll forget about Zenyatta until she delivers a healthy foal. (You thought there was pressure on Nicanor? Just wait until Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra’s first foals hit the track.)

Then it will be onto the three-year-old classics, the summer racing, the Breeders’ Cup campaign, and gyrating about who will win the next year’s renewal of the Eclipse Awards.

Let’s put something — anything — in motion. If this sport is going to die why make the change radical enough to either vault it into a new age or kill it humanely?

I’m sick of running on a treadmill. Are you?

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. You can learn more at The Blog Itself, follow @BrendanOMeara, or go to his web site

Written by Brendan O'Meara

Comments (4)

BallHype: hype it up!

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