Friday, June 11, 2010


The ‘Mouth hath spoken


Ben and Jerry’s have it right. They’ve always had it right.

Since their inception they have always had the vision to say that less is more. The pint is the largest unit they serve. How often have you wished for there to be half-gallons of Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream or Hannah Teter’s Maple Blondie? Yet when you want more, they give you less, and you keep coming back having never reached your saturation point.

This is the mantra I’ve adopted and proposed for horse racing in pieces at both Carryover 2.0 and Carryover Classic (the original recipe). Why is it necessary to race five days a week especially when the racing product smells worse than a pre-mucked stall?
At long last Monmouth Park has stepped into this role and what a time to do so. Monmouth is in its final year of a $30 million purse supplement from the New Jersey casinos and it had to prove to the casinos that it was viable. Monmouth could have carded out the same conditions with the hope that Rachel Alexandra would bolster its big day. Or it could cut Wednesday and Thursday off the program altogether. It saw its excess belly fat and said enough is enough and put its meet on the elliptical.

Now a leaner meet is stronger, richer, and dammit, a whole lot sexier. Honestly, I’d call Monmouth for a second date. Hell, I’ll pick up the tab. That’s the quality person I am. Coffee upstairs? Please excuse my place, it’s a tad messy.

With $50 million in 50 days, just look at who is in the Top 11 of the trainer standings through June 10.

1. Todd Pletcher
2. Richard Dutrow, Jr.
4. Nicholas P. Zito
11. Steve Asmussen

Wasn’t it Deep Throat who said, “Follow the money.”?

Monmouth Vice President Bob Kulina, contributing a column for The Blood-Horse, writes, “The experiment being carried out now at the Monmouth Park spring/summer meet is exceeding our best expectations. Very conservatively, we had hoped by racing only three days a week and boosting the purses, we could increase everything—handle and attendance—by 20 percent. After the first five days of the meet, ontrack handle is up 51.8 percent ... Total handle on our races sent to other tracks is up 137 percent to $36.4 million, and attendance is up 26 percent to 64,946.”

Monmouth is like the hot and strangely sexy exchange student. By any normal stretch this exchange student isn’t very attractive, yet the mystery, the accent, the newness of her allows you to look past the stained teeth and strange shoes. Maybe Monmouth can teach us some new swear words.

But if the shimmer doesn’t fade, they may have smashed a drive 325 yards right down the middle of racing’s fairway. When the New York Racing Association decided to add four days of racing to its seemingly perfect 36 days, I squirmed. It’s like light beer, the product is watered down.

Take it further: Why not race just two days? Create anticipation throughout the week and increase the purses even more. In essence, you can have a mini-Breeders’ Cup every weekend.

People clamor for the NFL to add games to its schedule. Stop! A guy I work with said he can’t wait for football season and he wishes the season were longer. It’s when that wish is realized that we get Bud Light instead of Boston Lager.

When demand is high, if anything, show restraint. When people want more, give them less. What makes anything special if everyone can have it? Keep the velvet rope locked. Don’t you want what you can’t have?

With 64,946 people clicking through the turnstiles at Monmouth, the exclusivity and the quality product on the dirt makes it special to go the track again. Why else are the Washington Nationals having a hard time filling seats, but when Steven Strasburg starts they sell out? The product on the field matters.

The everyday gambler will argue this into the ground, that the times of the $10,000 claimer aren’t that much slower than a stakes race run at the same distance with supposedly better horses. They will say it doesn’t matter how good the athlete is and that racing, at its root, is a gambling sport better left to the OTB caverns tucked into seedy districts all over the country.

Nickle-claimers are like the Pittsburgh Pirates and the stakes horses are the Red Sox. Both teams have pitchers that throw 90 miles per hour, both have big-league hitters, but, ultimately, one puts on a better show.

Even when we eat, our tongues are most sensitive at the start of a meal. The first bite is the best, the rest is largely empty.

Keep horse racing in pints, and, while you’re at it, serve me up a Guinness, I’m going to Monmouth.

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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Friday, May 28, 2010


Return of the Belmont


Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope, Luke Skywalker finds out who he is, blows up the Death Star.

Star Wars, Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo frozen, Luke loses a hand, Darth Vader owns up to his paternity and foils the Rebel’s chance at the Triple Crown.

Star Wars, Episode VI, The Return of the Jedi, Luke comes into his own, fails to cede his soul to the Dark Side, Vader redeems himself by throwing the Emperor down, down, down.

Things are just better in threes. Trust me, I went to college.
Trilogies, the ultimate three-act play, are the construct for the best drama. First act sets up characters, ends on a high note. The second act puts our protagonist in a compromising position begging the question: How will he get out of THIS jam? Act Three pits good and evil against one another one last time.

The Kentucky Derby gave us a new hero in Super Saver (Super Light Saber?). Well, when Super Saver Struck Back there was no amount of Viagra to spring him back to life. Stablemate Devil May Care said, “I love you.” To which Super Saver was quoted as saying, “I know,” this before being frozen and sent to Pletcher the Hut.

The Third Act can make or break the season. The Matrix Trilogy told us, if anything, that the first movie was head and shoulders the best. Reminds me a lot of the 2006 Triple Crown season. Derby (Barbaro, great first movie). Preakness (Paging, Dr. Richardson). Jazil (Bravo! Neo is Jesus. Nice sunset, by the way.)

Spider Man! He’s always been my favorite hero, he wins by a nose over Batman. Here’s a case where the first movie was decent, followed by a killer second movie, with a third that lost its identity with too many villains and too much hubris. How do you waste a villain like Venom on Topher Grace by sharing the stage with Lowell from Wings? This was one of the all-time worst casting disasters right up there with George Clooney as Batman and Scarlett Johansson as a bad-ass-in-a-push-up-bra in Ironman 2.

The Spiderman Trilogy is a lot like the 2009 Triple Crown season. The underdog comes through the mud in Act One, and he’s a gelding! Horse racing has a new hero who can’t possibly be ushered off to the breeding shed. At least he’s gone on to win more races since then ... hmmm ...

Spider Man 2 is when Mary Jane finds out that Peter Parker is Spider Man. Great, great movie. One of my all-time favorite scenes. Reminds me of the 2009 Preakness with Rachel Alexandra fending off the Little Gelding That Could.

Naturally the 2009 Belmont was somewhat uninspiring with Tim Ice’s former prodigy Summer Bird sweeping past Dunkirk and Mine That Bird to win the Belmont. (Perhaps I’m bitter because I had written down my picks for the Pick 3 ending on the Belmont without placing the bet. For $1 it paid close to $1,200.)
...

...

...

With the Third Act just a week away, what are we to expect? If you love Return of the Jedi, you’re likely to forget about Endor and the Ewoks. If you hated Return of the Jedi, you’re likely to flog George Lucas for Ewoks, Endor, and not enough Princess Leia in her slave bikini.

The casting call for the Return of the Belmont this year would start with Dale Romans as Luke Skywalker. Let’s get him a black robe.

In this instance, with two horses and the likely favorite, Nick Zito has to be the villain with Ice Box, who just whipped through a half-mile at the Oklahoma Training Track in 46.65, and Fly Down.

“He finished with good energy,” said Zito of Ice Box, “and he looked good doing it. That’s the main thing. Sometimes you got to have a little zip in him, even if he’s going a mile and a half. This is the exact workout he had coming into the Kentucky Derby. Hopefully, everything goes good.”

Make Music for Me trainer, Alexis Barba, will play Leia. Fortunately for Barba, she missed kissing her brother in the first act since she wasn’t adequately cast. Romans and Barba? Spinoff television series.

Let’s give Han Solo to Kiaran McLaughlin. Uptowncharlybrown can be Chewbacca.

There was the Bourne Trilogy, Austin Powers, and others. The third leg is rarely the strongest no matter how powerful the story. Matrix Revolutions? The Bourne Ultimatum? Goldmember? Revenge of the Sith? Godfather III?

The precedent for a solid third leg is weak. Will we get Ewoks or Lando Calrissian blasting out of an exploding Death Star? Can there be a harmonious end with the ghosts of Obi Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Anikin Skywalker laughing at the final barbeque?

The last time we saw anything of the kind was a long time ago at a racetrack far, far away.

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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Friday, May 14, 2010


You’re the Preakness, and you’re worth it!


SARATOGA SPRINGS — In response to someone's comment that a Pick 4 was hit on The Carryover: was this a first? I'll give you the short answer-yes.

The Carryover 2.0's most recent column gave you this year's winner of the Kentucky Derby. It would seem that The Carryover plus Good Ol' Pete is the exacta you've been waiting for.

My man! Calvin Borel. He's a stud. He's a Derby hit man. You want to slay that race you best get him on your horse. Also, here's a clue to other jockeys with live horses: try riding the shortest distance around the track. It takes NFL coaches one week to start copy-catting their competition. What's taking riders with live mounts so long to figure out that the rail rules? I'm no scientician, but c'mon people.

I feel bad for The Preakness. It's seems to be the red-headed stepchild of the Triple Crown, the estranged middle child. This despite the fact that it almost always gets the Derby winner.
The Kentucky Derby is the confident older child, has intelligent conversations with the adults, occasionally babysits.

The Belmont simply hangs out. It gets more attention should there be a Triple Crown on the line. I should say that it demands the most attention as the baby of the family. The parents had their tubes tied, or severed, or abstained, or found something better to do than sleep with one another after the Belmont. As a result there is no Quadruple Crown with a fourth leg being a quarter-mile sprint. Maybe Spanish Chestnut could win that race.

Oh, but the Preakness. It sits around, lights fireworks, fires bottle rockets at squirrels, gives wedgies to the Belmont, and gets the hand-me-downs from Churchill—namely the Derby winner, but also Gayego. Sounds like a too-small pair of Osh-Kosh overalls.

So what if the Pimlico grandstand looks like Shutter Island. So what if Tiger Woods couldn’t find a mistress there. However, there is one monster that shows up year in and year out.

Mike Gathagan, press secretary for Pimlico and Laurel, is a stud. He puts on a helluva show for media types like myself.

Is the Preakness really that bad? Hell, no. (Why is it so easy to make fun of? Am I alone? Despair.com: If you find yourself struggling with loneliness, you’re not alone. Yet you are alone. So very alone.)

How about the last ten Preaknesses?

2009: Rachel ... mmmm, hmmmm.
2008: Big Brown romp, Kent Desormeaux looking through his legs.
2007: Street Sense v. Curlin.
2006: Bernardini win overshadowed by Barbaro suicide attempt.
2005: Afleet Alex clips heels with Scrappy T.
2004: Smarty Jones breaks a record.
2003: Funny Cide makes Barclay Tagg even MORE uncomfortable.
2002: War Emblem makes his infertility even more staggering.
2001: Point Given bounces back.
2000: Fu-Peg flops.

This is a great race with epic stories and memories. How spectaculous have those runnings been? Four had Triple Crown bids, two won the Preakness and Belmont (Afleet Alex and Point Given). Curlin nearly did.

And this year it looks as if there will be yet another full field. New shooters, Derby returnees and the perfunctory Maryland-based horse (hey, the Pittsburgh Pirates are given a slot on the All Star Team, right?).

It looks like Mr. Bo-Rail will have yet another shot at winning this thing with the Derby winner. He won on Rachel from Post 13 yet got nosed by the Rick James Superfreak Curlin in 2007.

What are we to make of this year’s renewal? Seems kind of boring. Super Saver isn’t exactly this eye-popping specimen. His name is lame and he came into the Derby out of the Pletcher Machine, which automatically makes him speak in monotones. Perhaps I should be rooting for WinStar since, it is my belief, WinStar folks or WinStar sympathizers live right near me here in Saratoga Springs. The SUV’s that pull out of the driveway all have that logo on their front license plates.

This I do know: if Super Saver doesn’t win this race the Belmont will be the weakest edition since Barbaro wussed out and Bernardini said, “Eh,” in 2006. Who remembers that wonderful little tike named Jazil. That’s right, only Kazua Fujisawa, the trainer of Casino Drive who shares the same Muddah, Better Than Honour, as Jazil and Rags to Riches. How’d that work out? Sweet hoof problem morning of the 2008 Belmont. Big Brown looked mighty scary that day. By the way, nice bid in the Dubai World Cup.

Is it in bad taste to taunt a horse?

The Preakness should not be known solely for its party. It's time we give it some self esteem and take it off its medication.

So what if you're shorter than the Derby and not as big as the Belmont? You're the Preakness, and you're worth 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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