Friday, January 07, 2011

Of Tweets and Takeout

A new year squats on us, the weight of twelve unwritten months. What better words are there than those spoken in 140 characters or less?

The Twitter banter between horses, jockeys, trainers, and owners in 2011 promises, to put as lyrically as possible, to rock. Especially interesting will be the venom between horses. Anything can happen and the @replies start now:

Zenyatta19-1: How my Eclipse Awards taste @RachelAlexandra?

RachelAlexandra: @Zenyatta19-1, Nag.

UncleMoMoney: @Zenyatta19-1, What you doin’ in Jan. 2012?

Zenyatta19-1: @UncleMoMoney, Win the Derby ... THEN we’ll talk.

BoysatTosconova: @UncleMoMoney, @Zenyatta19-,1 @RachelAlexandra, What about me?

Zenyatta19-1: @BoysatTosconova, Perhaps if you were named MenatTosconova.

Blame: @Zenyatta19-1, tell me, how does that ‘1’ feel, baby? Sorry to crash your party #kickedyourbutt.

Zenyatta19-1: @Blame, If I had your trip I would’ve won. My jockey choked! They should add that to his Hall of Fame plaque #kickedyourbutt.

LifeatTen: WTF???!!! Have they resolved this ordeal yet? What has Ray Paulick written about me today?

RachelAlexandra: @LifeatTen, something about you once being named Unreadable. Girl, you got dissed! Thaz cold, sistah!

LifeatTen: Hey, @RachelAlexandra, where were you in the Beldame?

RachelAlexandra: @LifeatTen, where were you in the Personal Ensign?

LifeatTen: @RachelAlexandra, where were YOU in the Personal Ensign?

Then, of course, the jockeys. What could they possibly say to one another?

JavierCastellano: Hi everybody! Como estan?

CalvinBorel: @JavierCastellano I’ll #%$&^*# kill you!!!!!!!!

BC2010_Marathon: This never would have happened if I weren’t a race. I hate myself!

BCClassic: @Marathon, Here, here!

I’m not sure what to think of 2011. On the surface there’s absolutely nothing to look forward to. The main beef with this 2011 — and it’s only eight days old — has everything to do with takeout.

Takeout needs to be on the conscience of everyone. When Santa Anita president George Haines tells Daily Racing Form that, “Maybe the top point-one percent of the handicapping world has that in their equation — what the takeout is — but for the most part, people are looking at handicapping winners.”

People need to know about this, everyone from the $2 bettor to the “point-on percenters.” Otherwise positive change for the engine that drives the sport will always play understudy to indifference.

I get that the ones in the one percentile, those who make a living playing the races, really give a damn about takeout, but isn’t this a slight to all horse players when takeout figures creep up even it is by one or two percentage points?

There are libraries books to read about playing the races, of which I have read few. I’d encourage anyone to read “Exotic Betting” by Steven Crist. There’s a well-done chapter on takeout within its covers that taught me a lot about and how the horse player gets jobbed by the business.

Let’s give horse players a holiday this year: Takeout Free Day to make some cash and raise awareness to this ever-growing ignored elephant in the room. Who will step up? What say you?!

To be swallowed by this sport is to own it and more people should learn its nuances so that when Santa Anita bumps takeout it’s not merely skimmed over for the next video of Zenyatta dancing.

Zenyatta19-1: I can dance if I want to! ... Cuz ur friends dont dance and if they dont dance well theyre no friends of mine!

MenWithHats: RT @Zenyatta19-1, I can dance if I want to! ... Cuz ur friends dont dance and if they dont dance well theyre no friends of mine!

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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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Not in the Giving Mood

Maybe the worst idea proposed by anyone anywhere at anytime is this: give fans a vote for the Eclipse Awards.

The word fan gets tossed around like angel hair. The problem with fan is the four letters that are omitted: atic, as in fanatic.

Listen to the callers who phone in on daily sports radio. Fans are myopic and slanted by emotion. As the saying goes, they can’t see the forest for the trees. I root for the Red Sox and should I ever listen to Red Sox fans talk about the Sawx, my stomach turns worse than Donovan McNabb's. The year after the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, a local television program invited a “professional” homer and he said, in effect, that “I don’t see why the Pats can’t go undefeated this year.” Uh, huh. They finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs in 2002.

My point is that when you fail to detach yourself you bring an obvious bias to your already ingrained and unequivocal bias to everything that is.

Go on. Read any comment thread about Zenyatta. Go on. You’ve got five minutes.






Done? Okay, good. How did that go?

What you often see is virulent, venomous zealotry. This deserves a vote in the awards that matter to a horse’s commercial appeal and legacy? If fans voted in 2006 Barbaro wins Horse of the Year, champion trainer, and champion older filly or mare ... and champion steeplechase.

This is why I find it upsetting that there are advocates for fan voting on Eclipse Awards. Even HRI’s Vic Zast. But like everything he writes, he makes intelligent points pro and con:

“Anytime a result is determined by human subjectivity instead of by direct competition, an element of interpretation enters in. With the exception of Richard M. Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson, each US president since John F. Kennedy ascended to office for reasons primarily cosmetic. The electorate liked the way they looked and found comfort in what they said. An electoral majority formed from the participation of disparate elements, ranging from individuals who knew the issues completely to those who couldn’t tell you which of the parties each candidate represented.

“It is understandable why the vote for the Eclipse Awards is restricted. Like the Golden Globes and the Oscars, the program is an industry property. As hard as it is for fans of the sport to comprehend the difference between how a professional employed by the sport faces his responsibility and how they might if put in the same place, a difference exists. Moreover, when something’s been done the same way for a long time, changes to that way don’t come easily.”

To his point there are ways to engage the fan that exclude the Eclipse Awards. Look at baseball: that sport allows fans to vote for All Stars. There’s no reason why racing can’t create categories on which the fans can vote and reward whatever horse it is they feel is deserving. Seriously, how did Cal Ripken, Jr. get to be starting shortstop in the All-Star Game several years after his prime? Have horsemen vote for awards too. The 2010 baseball season saw Seattle's Felix Hernandez win the Cy Young while Tampa Bay’s David Price won the Players' Choice as Most Outstanding Pitcher. Interpretation: there’s more than one answer so why not denote another subset of awards: the Fan's Choice where they can vote for Zenyatta all they want.

If another branch is allowed to vote for Eclipse Awards it should be a league of horse players, those who have skin in the game and are ludicrously taxed by takeout. No taxation without representation!

Baseball fans don’t have a say in the year-end honors such as MVP, call it baseball’s Horse of the Year. Throw the fans something, but keep them away from the awards that will have a ripple effect into the post-racing life of several of racing's Select.

I know that the American Colonists fought a Revolutionary War over “freedom,” whatever that really meant (greedy landed gentry!). Let’s just say it’s 1775 all over again and the fans are trapped on the island of Manhattan and there’s no way they’re sneaking off this time.

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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Saturday, December 11, 2010

To the Victor Go Not the Spoils

Since I’m only a bear cub with the National Turf Writers’ Association and don’t have an Eclipse vote I have to vote through silly columns.

Daily Racing Form’s Andy Beyer wrote a granite column that Blame is Horse of the Year over the much-beloved Zenyatta. He is right.

Voting for Zenyatta for Horse of the Year amounts to a moral victory, a pity vote. She deserves it because she lost a year ago! She only lost by a nose to Blame! Should we award the 2007 Patriots the Super Bowl and a 19-0 record because they almost beat the Giants? This is the same idea.

Zenyatta’s undefeated record ended up being her biggest curse. What if she had lost one inconsequential race, say her maiden race or her a-other-than? This undoubtedly would have prompted her connections to try her in riskier spots. The result? Perhaps she beats Blame in the Stephen Foster or Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Maybe she beats Quality Road in the Woodward. But instead she beat nondescript mares by necks and noses to preserve that undefeated record, impressive as it was.
At 19-1, was it worth it? What if she went 16-4-0 but ran against the boys an extra two times? What her connections did was go all-in on the poker table. She had a flush, but Blame had four of a kind.

What the Eclipse Awards can do is honor her the way the Academy awards recognize long-standing prolific actors: Give her a lifetime achievement award. Because people voting for her for Horse of the Year vote for her not because of 2010, but because of 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. What more criteria is needed for a Lifetime Achievement Award?

Zenyatta ran into a buzz saw in 2009 since Rachel Alexandra completed the most grueling campaign by a three-year-old filly ever. Rachel Alexandra would’ve beaten Joey Chestnut in a Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest.

This year who could have predicted that a horse named Blame could stymie the picture. After all, when Rachel Alexandra proved to be flatter than a chess board, all Zenyatta had to do was look good for the cameras, prance a little bit, and collect her award that her owners thought she deserved a year ago.

But you know what? She’s going to win Horse of the Year. Because, as Beyer put it, “In 40 years of voting I cannot recall ever hearing horses' popularity or lifetime achievements mentioned as qualifications for year-end honors.”

That’s why she’ll win even though she lost. To the victor go not the spoils.

Zenyatta captivated her audience. She danced for the cameras. She paraded with that inexplicable show she only performs for the cameras on race day. There’s not a soul that wanted her to lose (maybe Seth Hancock and Al Stall, Jr.). But lose she did in the biggest race on the biggest stage to a horse who had the better year.

When you lose, you lose.

When you win, you win.

Blame won. End of story.

Vote cast. Um, kind of.

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 read more about it at his nonfiction blog The Blog Itself. It will be published by SUNY Press. His website is

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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