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Friday, October 08, 2010


Zenluckyfield’s Kid


Land ho! The Breeders’ Cup is on the horizon. There’s a palpable itch unrelated to the fungus on your feet. In my endless, deadline-driven plight to find a topic to write about, The Paulick Report served up a watermelon into The Carryover’s wheelhouse. Listen.

“Which was the most impressive winning performance by a runner pointing for the Breeders’ Cup Classic?”

The answers were Haynesfield in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Lookin At Lucky’s Indiana Derby, Richard’s Kid’s Goodwood, and Zenyatta’s Lady’s Secret triumph.

As of this writing guess who was in the lead? Zenyatta (who got 48 percent of the vote) would beat out Mother Theresa if it came down to it. However, the Zenyatta fans would somehow find a way to complain should Mother Theresa win an end-of-year honor blaming an East-coast bias for the votes. The Blogosphere would light up. Mother Teresa was from India, for crying out loud! It doesn’t get more East Coast than the eastern hemisphere.

The only race I was not able to watch was the Goodwood and with only 5 percent of the vote from readers, he doesn’t merit any such attention. I can do Zenyatta, but Richard’s Kid strikes me as the overachiever who keeps working on his calculus past the bell. Frankly, he’s the kid you cheat off of ... then beat up for having the wrong answers. Richard’s Kid will never get the girl. In fact, he will likely be the one Zenyatta talks to about her jerk boyfriend ditching her, while she listens to “Free Fallin’” and wishing “she could meet a nice guy like you.’

So ... we won’t talk about Richard’s Kid anymore.

Zenyatta’s Lady’s Secret, while a fan favorite, was not the most impressive race. How she gets her sweet can to the line before anyone else is beyond me. With a 1/16th of a mile to go, how does Mike Smith find the acceleration in this mare? You know what I think? I think Zenyatta knows what she’s doing. I think it’s like an infielder scooping up a groundball and waiting.

Waiting.

Waiting.

Then unleashing a pea and getting the runner by a half step. He always knew he had it, but he strung you along. She does close into any pace and stands to be the overwhelming favorite come November. She’s Horse of the Year toDAY. I love her, but rooting for Zenyatta is like rooting for the flu.

Now what about Haynesfield? He did it all on his own with Ramon Dominguez controlling the pace like a pilot. Where was the other speed? Rail Trip gave it the old college try but got a case of senioritis. Dominguez set splits of 24, 48, 1:13, 1:37, and 2:02. He didn’t run a single quarter mile faster than 24 seconds! Not exactly Ghostzapper, but, hey, it wasn’t exactly eatin’ at Arby’s either.

That leaves Lookin At Lucky. Listen. I know it was like Kobe Bryant hitting a jumper in the face of Stephen Hawking, but did you see the ground he had to make up? This son of Smart Strike took the scenic route, the parkway, the back roads (Springsteen’s Backstreets), the dirt roads, spotting the leader some eight lengths by swinging as far out as he did into the middle of that muck. He bulled ahead and won by over a length.

So, Zenyatta put in a charge late. Boring. What’s 19? The impossible hand in cribbage. Can’t get it.

Haynesfield was spirited, but he’ll find much more speed at Churchill Downs.

I don’t know. Lookin At Lucky came off that turn like a satellite in orbit and showed his class. He was wider than Aretha Franklin.

Ooo, now there’s an image.

Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project Six Weeks in Saratoga and The Last Championship at The Blog Itself where he tirelessly awaits a willing publisher. Follow him on Twitter @BrendanOMeara. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Sorry, but I had to


BLACK MOUNTAIN, NC — I can’t remember the last time I wrote a dateline. And no, there is no horse racing in the lovely state of North Carolina. As a matter of fact I believe they abstain from the lottery as well, at least that was the case when I lived down here. People who live close to the Virginia state border cross over to play their numbers. I find this amusing. It reminds me when a buddy of mine’s parents came to Saratoga. She told me to place a bet for her because she thought it was amoral so long as she was placing the bet. She too is Southern Baptist. Must be a trend.

So, I’m in North Carolina for no other reason than to get married. In fact, I GOT married four days ago at Ragapple Lassie Vineyards in Boonville to the Ruffian of my dreams, Ms., now Mrs., Carryover.

We met in Durham six years ago and frequented the vineyards in western North Carolina, Ragapple being the first. It was our introduction to good wine. Prior to that wine had always tasted like vinegar or venom. The chardonnay is buttery, the syrah is peppery, the viognier cuts like metal, the dessert wines don’t make you want to run for the nearest dentist.

It was 90 degrees outside and I was in a three-piece suit. I fist bumped my best man on our way down the hill to the gazebo. I had a brown paper towel to dab my forehead. Sweat rivulets crawled down my spine. My groomsmen were miserable.

Canon in D started and there strolled Ms. Carryover down the hill on the arm of her dad. Before we knew it, it was over, and we proceeded out to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” The Boss has all the answers.

We had only a few mishaps during the reception, which included one drunk friend insulting another’s fiancee. And one bridesmaid had too much wine and vomited in another bridesmaid’s car. (Both of these guests at one point or another were passed out in the winery’s tasting room either on the floor or on a hidden couch.)

After Ms. Carryover, her parents, and I broke down the decorations and ran all kinds of errands the day after we finally traipsed out to Black Mountain and Asheville.

We threw down $60 apiece to tour the Biltmore House in Asheville, gulped a bit, and drove in. The Biltmore is magnificent, worth it. We went over to the petting zoo where there bounced some chickens, lambs, goats, and horses. The two horses were named Bert and Chester. Bert stood nearby.

His coat was the color of caramel and his mane belonged on the cover of a smut romance novel. Bert is 21 years old. His hooves were the size of a human head. His handler was a petite woman, about the same age, weighing all of 120 pounds.

“What kind of horses are these?” I asked.

“Belgians, all the horses we have here are Belgians,” the girl said.

“I haven’t spent a ton of time with horses, but I have spent some time with thoroughbreds.”

“They are flighty. They are run to death. This one I worked with didn’t even know how to eat grass. We had to pull the grass up from the ground and say, ‘You can eat this!’”

I told her that I know several trainers, one personally, that know to give horses time to graze and time off in general to connect to their equine heritage. I hadn’t intended to make her back pedal, but she did. I hadn’t even realized I was wearing a Saratoga t-shirt.

We continued to pet Bert, his head the size of a television right up in our faces. His massatter cheek felt as warm as baked bread. His handler went underneath his belly to apply some cream to soars. “No, this isn’t the safest position. My mama got kicked and knocked out cold.”

“Well, in case you get knocked out who should I call?”

She laughed, “911! Or my supervisor.”

“OK, good, that’s who I had in mind.”

Having made it this far in this installment you may as well know that I did my best to insure your breakfast stayed in your gut and that there would be a horse.

At least there was a horse.

Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project Six Weeks in Saratoga and The Last Championship at The Blog Itself where he tirelessly awaits a willing publisher. Follow him on Twitter @BrendanOMeara. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Tasteful remembrance or tragic nostalgia?


The seventies had it all.

Disco, fat Elvis, short shorts on NBA players, and oil embargoes. What’s a decade without a quality embargo?

And the thing that concerns most folks who read this itty-bitty column is the horse racing. Affirmed, Seattle Slew, and BIG Red —Secretari-WHO?

(When I get a whiff of strong cinnamon, say, a stick of Big Red, I’m a kid again riding shotgun with my Dad who is drinking a Busch Light. We are on our way to Building 19 (a place that makes Wal-Mart look like Macy’s) to buy God-knows-what. Hmmm, in the time to read that paragraph the flavor of a stick of Big Red expired faster than me on Prom night. OK, I went home on Prom night, but part of that is believable.)

Still, you know who did have staying power? Secretari-HUH!

Turfdom is talking up, down, and around Disney’s take on the 1973 Triple Crown winner. There will never be another horse like him. He is the greatest horse of all time (And, get this, he lost a few races.)

There’s a saying I’ve heard a number of times from different folks that when they describe horse racing that, ‘Secretariat’s not coming through that door.’ Yet here he is.

I don’t know whose idea it was to make this movie, which, mind you, I haven’t seen. Is it better to share in the past of Seabiscuit and Secretari-WHAT!? Or is it best to move on.

Big Red even makes curmudgeon turf writers think about roses, babies, puppies, and rainbows. The horse did make the cover to TIME Magazine, checkered blinkers and all.

Everyone in this game wishes it could be mainstream. It’s probably safe to say that every turf writer came into the sport thinking, ‘Why don’t more people like this?’ then try to convey that in their writing. Soon enough they get beat down by its culture and tada! a seasoned turf writer is born. The only saving grace is the late Pick 4 on Derby Day or Breeders’ Cup Day(s).

Secretari-UH HUH embodies and encapsulates a time when people turned to racing for inspiration, yet I still can’t escape the idea that maybe all this reminiscing is bad. The game can’t move forward with a boot in 1973.

This movie has given Blood-Horse writer Steve Haskin a platform through which to revisit his relationship with Big Red. Most of the big writers all were enamored with Claiborne’s gem (Haskin has some wonderful art from the farm). William Nack’s piece, “Pure Heart,” remains one of my favorite stories of all time (except for his crying over Secretariat’s death, could’ve done without that, not because of machisimo, but for the undue attention it shines on the writer as character instead of responsible narrator. Pretension ends ... here.)

Where is the line between tasteful remembrance and tragic nostalgia? When it gets blurry our tires start to spin. We think that there is no day better than yesterday.

I have to think that racing was pretty darn crummy before Secretariat came along, probably not unlike how it is today. There hadn’t been a Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948. Disco balls still had seven more years of twinkling glory, and there’s only so much cocaine to go around. Then along came this monster and set the world on its proper axis. He was Jack Shepherd taking one for the team in “Lost.” What Sec did most of all was restore energy and faith to the equine athlete and fan. And maybe that’s why there’s so much buzz around a movie about a horse who died the same year the Berlin Wall came down.

Casual fans will flock to the movie (Oh, I remember him, won the Belmont by 73 lengths!). Racing fans will stampede to the movie if not out of excitement than to point out its obvious flaws.

All I know is that when I saw the close up of Secretariat’s eye in the starting gate it made me feel like I’d fallen into a vat of brownie batter.

Haskin writes, “ ... This is Disney, and on the feel-good meter, it registers a "10."

Secretari-YES!

Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project Six Weeks in Saratoga and The Last Championship at The Blog Itself where he tirelessly awaits a willing publisher. Follow him on Twitter @BrendanOMeara. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.


Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!
 
 

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