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 I’ll get on that screenplay as soon as one of my many unpublished manuscripts hits the BIG TIME.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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Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Rocky VII


I recall a story of a recent defeat that was more disheartening and sickening than a Lady Gaga display — caught at the wire with thousands of fans hanging like icicles on every stride.

I watched the race from atop a chair in the restaurant at which I worked. I told my tables that, to loosely reference “Good Will Hunting,” ‘I had to see about a colt.”

It was the 2004 Belmont Stakes. That’s right. Smarty Jones. This guy had no problem getting 10 furlongs. In all honesty, he had no problem getting 12 furlongs.

Right now he’s having a hard time getting laid.

Once upon a time his stud fee was $100,000. When Birdstone, the horse who beat him in the Belmont Stakes, went to stud he sold his swimmers for $10,000. Paul Krugman take note: don’t follow the Dow, follow Smarty’s stud fee.
When Smarty’s runners hit the dirt it was the summer of 2008. Back then Big Brown was all the rage, Larry Jones was less popular than Saddam Hussein in the eyes of PETA, and Pyro flamed out worse than Wayne Gretzky’s Olympic torch. Also a creatively-starved Kid Rock took riffs from “Werewolves of London” and “Sweet Home Alabama” and parlayed them into his own Top 10 hit. The television show “Lost” taught us that you can go back home ... until you’re summoned back some island to fulfill your destiny. And in politics the “mission” had been “accomplished” for five years. Glad that got settled.

Who would have thought that Smarty Jones — winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes — would be a bargain just six years into his breeding career? Ten grand for Elusive Quality-type bloodline? Just ask Quality Road’s backers if they like the world’s best miler.

Breeding champions ain’t fast food. There’s no drive-up window. However at 10,000 clams, that’s a value meal and Smarty’s majority owner, Pat Chapman, aims to get this disciple of Rocky Balboa back to the state that throws batteries at Dallas Cowboy wide outs.

"I want him in Pennsylvania," Chapman told the Philadelphia Daily News. "It just depends on [finding the right farm] and the right partners, work out some financial things. I would like to see it happen."

Smarty Jones has sired 23 more winners than Birdstone but what Birdstone had was one of those freakishly good years that makes him look like, well, a stud. Think of how serendipitous Birdstone’s 2009 “Big Three” ran. First Stone Legacy finishes second to Rachel Alexandra in the Kentucky Oaks. Then the gelding Mine That Bird gets the ballsiest ride and water-skied over the mud to beat far classier horses in the Derby. His best finish has been second in the Preakness. He hasn’t been close since. And yes, Summer Bird was a monster to win the Belmont, gets second in the Haskell, wins the Travers, wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and finishes a challenging fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. What’s to keep Smarty Jones from having the same fortune?

In a way, he already has.

In Japan Smarty sired his first millionaire, the filly Keiai Gerber. The Japanese love a good horse —whether on the track or on their dinner plates — and they are pitching harder than Roger Clemens to get Smarty to settle in the Land of the Rising Sun.

"The Japanese really, really want him," Chapman said. "We've turned down some nice offers from Japan. I keep saying, 'No, he's not leaving the country.' "

As far as horse racing goes, Smarty Jones is an American Hero. You know who goes to Japan? Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball, Bobby Valentine, and Ferdinand. Each of their careers has been toasted.

What’s the worst that can happen for Smarty Jones if he moves back to Pennsylvania? Perhaps he gets inferior mares. I don’t see Rags to Riches being hauled to the Keystone State, but then again he is the Derby winner and came a length away from winning the Triple Crown.

This is a story right out of Rocky. He was the underdog (in spirit, not at the windows) and a people’s champ once. He’s blue collar through and through. Let the Kentucky Boys have their A.P. Indy and their Ivan Drago’s. We’ll take Smarty back with our black coffee and steal-toe boots because he’s one of us.

Give him a pair of Wrangler jeans, four Red Wing boots, and we’ll sing “Glory Days” till at the mooooooon.

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. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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