Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Nineteen Ninety-Four

Is interleague play good for baseball?

I think that the consensus is that, yes, it is good and it allows people to see matchups that they would not ordinary witness should their teams not square off in the World Series.

I’m one to lean against interleague play since it waters down the National League versus American League rivalry. Beats the strike-shortened 1994 season, I suppose. Just a thought. I mean, even Bayside and Valley got old in Saved by the Bell ... or did it?

Zenyatta ... well, she did it again. She swung wider than a slow-pitch softball bat. She won by a neck and let everyone look at that enormous backside that Sir Mix-A-Lot would be proud to call his own.

Hey Ladies!
Wanna roll in my Mercedes?
Turn around. Stick it out! Even white boys got to shout, Zenyatta got back!

Her thundering win in the Clement L. Hirsch did a few things. One, it means that when Zenyatta’s connections shoot for the Breeders’ Cup Classic they plan to aim for 20 wins in a row—assuming she wins her next start, the, er, Zenyatta Stakes (oh, Lady’s Secret, you’re so 1986.)

Meanwhile on the East Coast Rachel Alexandra readies for the 1 ¼ mile Personal Ensign—a true test as to whether this filly will go to the Breeders’ Cup Classic or the Ladies’ Classic. She turned a 1:12.96 ¾ drill at the Oklahoma Training Track Monday morning. That deserves a Joey Lawrence “Whoa!”

Let’s pause. Think about it. I can hear it now. Say, hypothetically, that Rachel doesn’t put in a monstrous effort in the Personal Ensign, which, let’s face it, she won’t, because the other girls have hit puberty and the competition is tighter. But what if she loses and Mr. Borel comes back and says, “She just got tired at the end.”

Next, the Sportsman JJ comes out and says, “Rachel told us that ten furlongs was too long ... and she is still in the middle of writing her amazing legacy alongside the likes of Curlin.”

He will say that nine furlongs—a distance we all know she relishes—is her race and will thus run in the Ladies Classic and dodge Zenyatta, who opened up Breeders’ Cup Classic Futures wagering as the favorite, this according to A.J. Ryder’s story for bettingchoice.co.uk.

Zenyatta’s win the Clement L. Hirsch also insured that a bout with Rachel Alexandra would happen no sooner than November—a time that I petitioned should have been now. But I got to thinking, and it all comes back to how you feel about interleague play: don’t you want to see the best square off against each other one time for all the marbles and on the biggest stage in their respective sport?

I used to crave for racing to come up with a modern-day rivalry the likes of which haven’t been seen since Easy Goer and Sunday Silence, as well as Affirmed and Alydar. I want to see Rachel and Zen race like anybody else, but would it mean as much in April (Apple Blossom) and August (Personal Ensign) as it would in November? Of course not. So maybe all of our attention when we knew the two would be running in 2010 was misguided. Hey, this is OUR Brett Favre story.

Some proposed that R and Z should run multiple times, others said they wouldn’t race at all. If we get one, let’s be thankful. Maybe Blame will get up to be the sweetest overlay this side of Invasor.

I get the sense that with every waning race a rivalry gets watered down, the Kool Aid gets thin, my Sam Adams morphed into a Michelob Ultra, the ice in my margarita melted.

So what can happen in 50 yards? That’s how much longer Rachel has to run than she has ever run before. Remember, she won by a diminishing head in the 2009 Preakness at 1 3/16 miles. In that 50 yards, perhaps Mine That Bird catches her. But what will happen in 50 yards at Saratoga? A track that will likely be skimmed such that she can burn it up like she did in 2009’s Woodward.

It will be interesting to note. A less-than-stellar effort will undoubtedly point her away from THE Classic and away from the one horse in the one race people want to watch.

It’ll be worse than interleague play. It will be1994 all over again.

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” at The Blog Itself. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Sportsman finally sportsmanlike

Which was the bigger shock? A Jim Dandy-Curlin Stakes double both won by trainer Tony Dutrow or Jess Jackson announcing where his 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra will be racing three Wednesdays before entries are due?

Of course the answer is the latter, though the former was quite impressive, but just when your hopes get up, “That earns him a start in the Travers,” said Dutrow of Curlin Stakes winner Winslow Homer. “That’s what we were looking for. He was impressive and scooted away from them, and he loved the distance. We’re hoping he goes into the Travers as well as he did today. He’s bred to go the distance and I think that he proved today that the distance will be a friend.”

Then a condylar fracture to his left front will sideline him for the Travers. Such is life.

Back to Jackson. The wine magnate who wants to rename a Black Mountain to Alexander Mountain in Cali has seen the peaks. For example, when he announced that Curlin would race as a four year old at the Eclipse Awards. Then he sank to the valley when he pulled Rachel out of the Apple Blossom. The Sportsman was suddenly the Sportsman ... so-long-as-it-works-in-my-favor.
Even a year ago (as documented in the hopefully-soon-to-be-published Six Weeks in Saratoga) Jackson had the racing industry on a string. Rachel had been nominated to four races following her body slam-win in the Haskell: the Alabama, the Woodward, the Travers and the, gulp, Pennsylvania Derby won in 2008 by the demonstrative Anak Nakal.

Every week clicked by and the steam in the press box shot from the ears of turf writers, most notably Claire Novak, who was most prominent in her disdain among writers about Jackson’s vagueness.

The brass at the New York Racing Association suffered from impatience as well. Rachel deserved a good show—one being denied her by the short notice. And racing secretary P.J. Campo had trouble filling races since the presence or absence of Rachel determined where a slew of other horses would be running.

Whatever the reason Jackson decided to announce her next race in timely fashion. Perhaps he threw a bone to NYRA to give folks like Neema Ghazi, Dan Silver and Campo a chance to effectively do their jobs.

Also, in so doing, Jackson turned the table on Zenyatta’s owner, Jerry Moss. It was just a few months ago that the Apple Blossom was bumped to $5 million pending the attendance of both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra and eight other horses and a partridge and a pare tree.

Moss committed thus putting the pressure on Jackson. Jackson ducked (which, let’s face it, was the right move. Rachel wasn’t fit and she would have been demolished. Would she have hit the board???).

Not since “Charlie’s Angels” have two or more females looked so good together and the time is now. Why? Anything can happen to these athletes. If they are sound and fit, run them against each other now. We can’t bet that they’ll be ready or healthy in November (remember Big Brown v. Curlin?).

Jackson put the pressure where he likes it: on other people. And he put it right on Moss’s nose to bring his mare to New York sans Security Barns.

Meanwhile, Zenyatta’s trainer John Shirreffs readies his alpha mare for the Clement Hirsch.

So NYRA must also ratchet the pressure by making the Personal Ensign a run for $1 million. Should that lure both connections and handful of others, fans may have their dream race.

Too much can happen between now and November. Let us not forget that.

Thanks to Jackson, at least we actually have three weeks instead of three days to think about it.

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” at The Blog Itself. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Was It All a Dream?

I saw “Inception.”

I nearly had a seizure when I left the theater—that’s how much I liked it. Was it ALL a dream? And who was the main inception performed upon?

All intense questions for the movie-goer that I hope to answer with greater depth when I see the movie again.

Still, for those who haven’t seen it, the idea of “Inception” the movie, and inception the noun within the movie, is to slip into the unconscious of your target and plant an idea—inception—such that the target believes it was his idea all along, not some invisible hand pushing the target one way or the other.

So, what’s my point?
It was so, so long ago that Rachel Alexandra won the Kentucky Oaks by 20 ¼ lengths and we became so unbelievably mesmerized by her open-length-style of victory. She does, believe me, have a compelling narrative (to be told in the hope-to-be-published-before-I-pass-away Six Weeks in Saratoga).

She then won the Mother Goose by 19, then the Haskell by six, and finally the Woodward by a diminishing neck. Rachel set the bar so high that even when she comes back and wins by 10 ½ lengths in the Fleur de Lis, it wasn’t quite enough. Not smashing. Then she sits nicely off Queen Martha at Monmouth and doesn’t kick clear by 15, rather she wins by only three lengths.

Could somebody have planted the idea that she was better than she is? Could a Dom Cobb have put us to sleep and so majestically orchestrate a dream in our own subconscious that she was too spectacular for reality? It would seem so because since we have awoken from such a sparkling campaign, her 2010 2-for-4 —which would be a pretty nice year for any horse of any caliber—just doesn’t garner enough attention and leaves people saying things such as:

“Let’s see: Four races so far this year. None of them Grade 1s.”

“It certainly didn’t leave me breathless.”

“Mr. Jackson should retire his horse now before her value plummets further. She has absolutely no chance of beating horses in the Classic or the Distaff.
Comments courtesy of The Paulick Report.

The idea, the lore of Rachel Alexandra is dead, along with the lore of Tiger Woods or Alex Rodriguez. The latter two look very human and for Rachel, she looks very equine. It’s not enough for Woods to win a tournament; we want to see him win by 15 strokes as he did at Pebble Beach in 2000. Racing fans expect no less from Rachel Alexandra.

I’d like to see the Patron Saint of Horse Racing, Jess Jackson, enter his filly in the Personal Ensign. Then, awaiting his trump card, Jerry Moss throws down the hammer and chases Rachel in a race where Zenyatta will be the overwhelming favorite. Jackson will have nowhere to turn and no excuse: the training is right, she will be entered and her withdrawal will be solely on the gutless act of a spoiled child taking his ball and going back to the vineyard.

A year ago we saw a freakishly talented filly take on very ordinary colts and fillies her own age. Then came the Woodward where Rachel ran into multiple Grade 1 winners. The Woodward was her Dubai.

Curlin, Rachel’s future backpack, was still a monster but, let’s be honest, not the same horse he was when he left the United States. He grinded out victories in the Woodward and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. They lacked the shock-and-awe of his 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic and his 2008 Dubai World Cup wins when his turn of foot was as swift as Baryshnikov.

To the best of my knowledge nobody knocked Curlin the way people knock Rachel. It’s her turn to have to grind out victories and get it done. Gone are the days when she would win by so much daylight you could drive a cruise ship between her and the second place horse.

Gone are those days ... or were they ever there.

Was it all just a dream?

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” at The Blog Itself. 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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