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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Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Not another auction!


I feel bad for turf writers who have to cover the horse sales. I do.

There you are. Sitting atop some platform. In front of a laptop. What do you do? You watch these yearlings saunter into the ring with eyes as big as the baseballs and listen to auctioneer Walt Robertson hibbity bibbity.

And watch as the Fasig-Tipton boys do a Howard Dean "Yyyyyyeah!" when an A.P. Indy goes for $4.2 million. Here’s a made up quote that you will hear in more or less the same for every seven-figure sale, “Striking, just a striking colt with the conformation to go short or go long. He really has the makings of a classic contender.” Uh, huh. Wait till he bucks a shin and goes out drinking a few times with the Green Monkey.

I can’t imagine what the mainstream fan must think of the sales. Actually, he probably doesn’t even know they exist and that’s probably just as well. Here are some headlines:

DISTORTED HUMOR COLD LEADS KEENELAND SESSION

BERNARDINI COLT SELLS FOR $800,000

GIANT’S CAUSEWAY COLT SELS FOR $950,000

The only thing more boring than the sales would be a silent movie on a blank screen.
They really should show some highlights of the yearlings’ sires in action on a screen and have some babes hot walking the horse instead of some shmoe in a suit and bad shoes. Yes, I’ll take that hip, thank you.

Hooters gets away with objectifying women and serving bad food and they are a multi-million dollar enterprise. I demand more objectifying! More objectifying! Why can’t women parade around the ring with a card above their head broadcasting the following hip like the next round in boxing? Hibbity bibbity.

And can I get a free drink? There’s no greater gamble than buying a racehorse so it would behoove Fasig-Tipton to get these bidders loose with their trigger fingers. Works for me in the sports book.

It makes my mind wander. I mean, do you think the horse who played Secretariat in the new movie, aptly titled “Secretariat,” is afraid of being typecast? He could play Curlin or Summer Bird in “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” I’ll get on that screenplay as soon as one of my many unpublished manuscripts hits the BIG TIME. Stay tuned. And, yes, hold your breath, I gotta feeling ...

That horse is like Will Smith playing Muhammad Ali, Denzel Washington playing Hurricane Carter, and Richard Harris playing Marcus Aurelius.

“You’re failure as a man, was my failure as a ... father,” said Aurelius to his weak-hearted son. Didn't he pen a letter to his son touting the virtues of being a man, essentially comparing him to Maxiumus?

I can picture D. Wayne Lukas writing a letter to Mine That Bird about the few virtues of being a racehorse: courage, class, dignity, speed, talent. And then Mine That Bird approaches him and says, “I knew I had none of them. But I do have courage, maybe not courage on the racetrack, but there are many forms of courage. A low center of gravity ... for when I get kicked I will rarely topple. A good sense of self ... followed swiftly by a strong sense of humor.”

Then Mine That Bird smothers D. Wayne and banishes Dublin to be one with the Visigoths.

(This, herein, makes the assumption, based on the story of "Gladiator" that Dublin would bring revenge and triumph back to his name. This is just plain silly.)

Brock Sheridan at The Brock Talk asks the question as to whether Mine That Bird can even make a stab at a comeback. The answer is no, he can’t. What’s sadder? A Derby winner aching to get his first win since a Saturday in May or the persistent efforts for one last photograph?

Maybe all he needs is a little Churchill and a dash of Calvin Borel — the two ingredients that won him his last and best race. Hey, this horse only sold for $9,000 at auction.

Hibbity bibbity.

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 07, 2010


The Hangover


The few unsettling days after the Saratoga meet ends reminds me of my janitorial job on Sunday mornings at U Mass, Amherst. I’d open the bathroom door and know somebody somewhere had a swell time, but at what cost? How’d that calzone go down? Er, how’d it feel coming up?

And if the movie “The Hangover” taught us anything it’s that we must re-trace our steps to make sense of what happened the night prior. We all have some stubble on our faces. Our teeth feel hairy. Our eyes crack red. Our breath smells like a mixture of cigar ash and motor oil and our tongues feel as if they’d been dragged across a used ashtray. There’s a tiger in the room and a chicken clucking by the king size.

The tiger in the room might just be Quality Road. That was a stellar job of training by Todd Pletcher to get this son of Elusive Quality cranked for yet another Grade 1. Now, somebody bring him back to Mike Tyson’s.

And it would also seem that our lost friend is none other than Rachel Alexandra. She went out with us, went atop the roof, and took a shot. When we woke up, she was gone. Panicked by her capricious result in the Personal Ensign the myopic of world of horse racing had a collective seizure. Where did she go? I think she disappeared somewhere in that final furlong, but we’ll keep looking elsewhere; perhaps she and Forever Together are getting a civil union at the House of “Once Upon a Time.”
This proverbial trip to Las Vegas is supposed to be fun and wasn’t there some good memories to be had? Hey! There’s a digital camera! Let’s look at it and do turn it away from the misses.

Boys of Tosconova sure looks like a monster and anything that puts Richard Dutrow, Jr. in the spotlight again is good drama.

And would you look at this!

A photograph from the man who wrote the book on fun and the man who’s living out his legacy. If that trophy were any smaller they’d be sipping Earl Grey out of it. Trainer Todd Pletcher straddles the Saratoga Kingdom yet again. It must feel good to bounce back after Linda Rice turf-sprinted her way to the training crown a year ago. Pletcher did it in style this past meet with babies and with brawn.

Getting back to this picture. They look about as comfortable as being stomach-down in the proctology room. I think NYRA had to Photoshop that smile onto Pletcher’s face. That’s the face of a man who’s been there and hated it. At least H. Allen Jerkens has two cool nicknames: The Chief and The Giant Killer. What’s Pletcher’s?

All the great trainers need a nickname. The closest we came was a name for his entourage of Derby starters, “Todd’s Squad,” but that’s not his name. What about Robo Cop? Flash Dance? Giant? P-normous? My favorite? The Edge.

Hey, we’d better start winning some money at the blackjack table otherwise we’ll never be able to buy back who we think Rachel is. Blame asserted himself as a force and Afleet Express proved that while the Travers is often exciting, it’s also forgettable. When was the last truly memorable Travers? Probably 2004 when Nick Zito pumped his fists to the lightning-strobe-light sky while Birdstone skipped away to $1 million.

Looking at my watch here we have only a few hours to get Rachel to the wedding, um, Breeders’ Cup and ... what’s this!? A mattress in the sky! The roof! There rests the sunburned, washed out hide of Rachel Alexandra.

Rachel, we’ve got good news and bad news for you.

We can get you to the wedding though you’ll have to settle for maid of honor. Thought we lost you there in the final furlong.

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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