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!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Surprise, surprise, Zenyatta by a nose

Should we be surprised that Zenyatta won Horse of the Year? Nope.

Should we be surprised that she won the award by a nose? C’mon. That would be like being surprised that Count Dracula loves blood. Or being surprised to find out the moon was made of cheese. Trust me. It is.

Out of the 238 votes cast, Zenyatta received 128. Blame took 102 and the others went to Goldikova (possibly the most deserving of the three between the fences). Fitting that such a close vote came in the state of Florida. Not since Bush v. Gore had there been such a close election. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor may have voted for Blame in a 5-4 decision.

I’d wager that of the 102 voters whom chose Blame over Zenyatta are happy Zenyatta won. It was practical to vote for Blame. He had a slightly harder campaign. He beat Quality Road, but he lost to a New York-bred speedster in Haynesfield. Quality Road’s downward spiral started after his smashing Donn Handicap effort and, at last, finished farther back on Breeders’ Cup weekend than Life At Ten.

Blame beat his only true rival for the award head to head.

Zenyatta’s beat her best rival by keeping her off the same surface: Rachel Alexandra. Remember the 1971 movie “Duel”? A businessman passes a tractor-trailer truck on a desert highway. The truck driver angers and aims to kill the businessman by tailgating him worse than a soccer mom in a Suburban texting on her Droid.

Zenyatta was the truck that scared off Rachel Alexandra.

What if Zenyatta had lost this award again? Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Dwyer aptly writes that this one was for the fans. But 102 voters weren’t happy enough to give this one to the fans. The fans shouldn’t feel like their victory was unanimous. Winning just 54 percent of the vote doesn’t exactly rattle the rafters with resounding confidence. Looks like 46 percent of experts didn’t care for the fans. Come to think of it, that may be in line with industry standards.

This is great, too. What could this have said about this sport if its darling wasn’t thought to be its best? Dwyer writes, “The general fan, especially a new legion of females who had come, seen Zenyatta and were conquered, didn't know or care about Blame, even after the Classic. Zenyatta had grabbed their hearts, convinced them that hers was a sport worth watching.” Now, in their eyes, Zenyatta is thought to be the most popular and the best. Fans love a frontrunner, and the irony is that she is the deepest of closers.

Was Zenyatta the best horse in 2010? That was probably Goldikova who beats the boys worse than a Catholic school nun. If you erase her unbeaten record from the previous three years, does she win the 2010 Horse of the Year? The award ended up rewarding her for her career, not her 2010. If ever there was a year she could have won Horse of the Year it was 2009, but Rachel Alexandra’s campaign was more deserving. Same with 2008, Curlin’s campaign was simply awesome.

The Horse of the Year Eclipse Award just got a little muddy. And, perhaps, it has always been so, but especially this year. This year sentimentality and fan pressure were bigger influences than Zenyatta’s win in the Apple Blossom.

Thankfully the fan’s voice can be heard with the Secretariat Vox Populi Award (created by Penny Chenery), which goes to the country’s most popular horse.

Blogs, Web hubs, Twitter, Facebook engage their users. The wall between writer and reader, television and viewer, sport and fan crumbled worse than bleu cheese . The writer is no longer on a holier-than-thou pedestal. He is in the peanut gallery and I, for one, welcome this (just don’t touch my suit jacket with greasy hands, all I ask).

With this Berlin Wall of sorts torn down we are exposed to the passions and vitriol. These days fans seem to be more knowledgeable than ever? If you filter through some comments on blogs you find some incredible research done. That is, of course, if you can dispel of the ones who call you a douche bag, say nasty things about your wife, and say the most vile and baseless drivel.

The Eclipse Awards should be fan free, but thanks to Penny Chenery’s award the fan has in its hands bricks from its own Berlin Wall, tossing it up and down in its hand, waiting to hurl it.

They will be heard. No more shattered glass. Give them the proper bullhorn and lets be done with it.

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 (14)

BallHype: hype it up!

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