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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Friday, November 26, 2010

Say Uncle

I follow Uncle Mo.

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Champion, the first one to win on fast dirt since Street Sense (whatever happened to Midshipman and Vale of York? Oh, that’s right. They stink.).

I follow Uncle Mo because I get to read what he types on his Twitter page (@UncleMohorse). Here’s what he said:

“Uncle Mike and Uncle Todd snt me 2 FL 2 rest. Id much rather b racing but they told me this wud b bst 4 me. Happy Thanksgiving 2 all!”

It’s an uncle threesome! Happy Thanksgiving to you, Uncle Mo!

Well, I follow Uncle Mo because, well, there ain’t nothin’ left to follow.

The older horse division this year was mighty, mighty good. The Breeders’ Cup Classic had all a fan and horse player could ask for. It had Zenyatta. She’s retired (or is she?). There’s Blame. Retired. Quality Road. Retired. Lookin’ At Lucky. Retired. And let’s not forget that Rachel Alexandra, while not in the BC Classic or in the BC altogether is, you guessed it, retired.

Remember that time Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra raced against each other? That was awesome.

I know Gio Ponti is back and, to the best of my knowledge, so too is Paddy O’Prado. But this is America, and, to paraphrase something Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito once said, “Grass is a dirty word to me.” And so too it is for racing fans.

So all we have is a couple turf horses. Doesn’t exactly inspire.

Is it 2007 all over again? That year Street Sense, Curlin, Hard Spun, and Any Given Saturday rose to the top. It turned out to be as exciting a year as any and it was because of the emergence of the three year olds. That’s where the sparks will have to come from.

Sure, in 2007 Lawyer Ron was the top of the handicap division and Zenyatta was still training for a debut race that was a long ways off.

In 2011, Boys of Tosconova will be worth keeping an eye on. He and Uncle Mo are the head of the class as of now. What that means seven months from now is a different story altogether. But at least Uncle Mo’s owner, Mike Repole, who stands to be the next darling of horse racing, is fresh and interesting.

When was the last time you saw trainer Todd Pletcher smile? It was when Repole kissed him on the cheek? When was the second to last time you saw Pletcher smile? When Repole said he was going to get “so drunk tonight” after accepting the trophy in front of the wet blanket that is Jeremy Schaap. Oh, Jeremy, please, lighten up.

Repole, for now, is worth rooting for. He’s an owner you can talk to without feeling like you need a shower afterwards. And in horse racing, that’s saying something. He’s even calling out other owners to be responsible for the life of their horses, not just their racing lives.

In a Q&A with Ray Paulick of The Paulick Report, he openly opined about the assurance that when racehorses no longer race that they are well taken care of. If Willie Mays can avoid a kill pen, so too should Kid Ziggy.

“I claimed him for $40,000 in 2005,” Repole told The Paulick Report, “and the horse was vanned off. I put him in rehab for 15 months and when he came back he won for fun. Next time out the injury reoccurred and I had to get him a home. I gave a good donation to a horse charity and found out he’s now a riding horse with some 13-year-old girl and I’m ecstatic. I’m thrilled. All of a sudden last year I get a call from someone telling me Kid Ziggy is in a kill pen. I didn’t even know what a kill pen was. I said I gave a donation to find him a good home and this person explained to me that some charities don’t have contract for life to take care of the horses. I might have donated to the wrong charity. I then had to pay $800 to get him out of the kill pen and another $5,000 to a charity to save him again.”

So I follow Uncle Mo.

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." It will be published by SUNY Press. You can read more about it at The Blog Itself. His web site is

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Death In Ten

This fiasco surrounding the anti-scratch of the sprightly mare Life At Ten is awfully sour.

My first reaction was subdued. I figured, ‘What’s the big deal?’ But then I got to reading the accounts and realized that there isn’t a bigger deal this side of Gordon Gecko.

For Breeders’ Cup weekend I, along with a few choice friends, played the races at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway ... before promptly leaving for our hotel. We looked around and didn’t see a soul — aside from my good buddy Tommy — under 30 years old. I might even say I didn’t see a soul under 50 years old. This is no slight against the elderly, but this is horse racing’s clientele. They will bet no matter what. Yet what happened with the Anti-Scratch is deeply troubling because these folks who don’t bat an eye at the Anti-Scratch will soon be in the great OTB in the sky (trust me, if you think the take out here is bad ... )

The mare cramped up so much that she was stumbling all over the track. She had a fever of 103 degrees and, according to trainer Todd Pletcher, didn’t take to her Lasix. Her blood was tested for elevated levels of bicarbonate, a TCO2 test, to see if she had been “milkshaked,” but seeing as she was tied up tighter than the Gordian Knot, that seemed a foolhardy examination. Any other tests? Noooooo ....

“It’s because the top four horses in every graded stakes, –— of which there were seven Friday,” Kentucky’s Chief State Steward John Veitch told the Louisville-Courier Journal, “must be tested as a condition of being a graded race. That leaves little room in the test barn for other horses, though stewards can at their discretion require any horse to undergo postrace testing.”

What is this? A club? I got news for you Life At Ten, you’re on the list, come on in! Too crowded? There’s a reason that velvet rope unclips.

You know it’s bad when the owner of the mare — a person who put up BIG dollar to enter a horse in this kind of race — clamors for the Scratch Not Heard Around the World.

“There is an unpleasant reality here,” owner Candy DeBartolo announced in a statement, “the betting public was denied a fair shake and racing nurses an ugly black eye. The fact that we would have been reimbursed $60,000 in entry fees had she not walked in that starting gate, simply underscores the irresponsibility that took place. Mr. Veitch has had a distinguished career as a trainer and as a steward, but that doesn’t excuse what took place that night or since.”

Jockey John R. Velazquez was candid when he told an ESPN reporter that Life At Ten wasn’t warming up well. The ESPN producers then went to the stewards to check on the situation.

“Well, you know, she was a little dull…but except for the dullness, it wasn’t apparent to anyone,” Veitch reportedly said according to DeBartolo’s statement. Get her in the gate. There’s too much money bet on her. And what will possibly come of this? We’re not going to allow on-track interviews anymore!

Brilliant! Better to brew distrust, cloak the post parade like a Stealth Bomber, and wait and see the next fatality. What if Life At Ten broke down?

We need a Commissioner, he or she will set it right. Listen, the idea is genuine, but the person who gets the job will be none other than a pawn to preserve the status quo for the 5-percenters who profit from this sport. It’s just like America isn’t it? Five percent own 95 percent of the wealth. I’d wager (but not for long if this keeps up) that the top 5 percent in racing are the ones who own the wealth, feeding off a racing engine fueled by horse players who are getting hosed.

The Commissioner will likely be someone on par with Senator Palpatine from Star Wars. He was pure and genuine on the surface and had the public and the republic’s best interests close to his chest. But he was always in it for power, personal gain, and for the Dark Side of the Force. He pulled the ultimate coup d’etat ... and built the greatest, planet-destroying weapon man has ever seen. It may be form a galaxy far, far away, but it sure feels close.

My good friend John Pricci might have said it best in his Breeders’ Cup Diary, “If only I didn’t love this game, if only I had another means of earning a living, I, like so many others in the last five years, would walk away and never come back. In fact, if you’re not totally immersed in this, or make your living from it, you might consider doing the same.”

I may make some sort of a living off this sport, but frankly, sometimes I’d rather eat mold.

Brendan O'Meara is the author of the forthcoming "Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year. It will be published by SUNY Press in the summer of 2011. Read more about it at The Blog Itself or at The Carryover Classic.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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BallHype: hype it up!

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