Saturday, January 23, 2010


Now this is a rivalry


Now there is a rivalry.

For anyone who has had a chance to see Jess Jackson’s acceptance speech for Rachel Alexandra winning the 2009 Horse of the Year award, you know it’s on now.
All you had to do was look to the face of Jerry Moss during the frequent cutaways. The look on his face said it all.

1. I’m not pleased that I lost.
2. I don’t like you that much.
3. See you in 2010.

His face lacked all joy. His jaw was locked so tight you could hear his teeth cracking. His jaw was so squared off you could have forged Excaliber on it. Though nobody with any inkling of intelligence would say that, ‘Aha! Zenyatta is no longer unbeaten,’ Moss still defended her with an edge that could blunt a diamond.
“Zenyatta’s never lost. She’s perfect. Nobody’s beaten her on the racetrack. So they beat her by proxy as far as I’m concerned. This doesn’t take away anything from the just enormous job done by [trainer] John [Shirreffs]. I can’t say enough about what he and his barn have done. I obviously congratulate Mr. Jackson and Mrs. Jackson. They have a great horse. Someday we’ll meet, and we’ll decide at that time who is the best. Frankly I wouldn’t trade with anybody. I’m looking forward to the encounter.”

This makes IEAH’s 2008 taunts sound like the ‘Too Light’ half of a Bud Light commercial.

This was like Patrick Roy saying, “I can’t hear what Jeremy says because my ears are blocked with my two Stanley Cup rings.”

This is blood that the ‘Twilight’ vampires might shy away from. Maybe this is what was meant when the Police sung, “Don’t stand so close to me.”

Twenty-ten has potential written all over it. Keep in mind that all it would take is for Rachel to come back from a breeze with chips in her ankle or for Zenyatta to clip her own heels to slay this rivalry before it ever gets physical.

For once we see that the gloves are off and Rick Dutrow is nowhere to been seen. Not since the movie ‘Up’ could we have a geriatric action sequence to write about.

When was there a rivalry this salty? You’d probably have to go back to Easy Goer and Sunday Silence. Before that Affirmed and Alydar. Before that? Not sure, but perhaps we can agree that horse racing’s first true rivalry was Seabiscuit and War Admiral. One has horse California cool, the other has sovereignty over the eastern seaboard.
But what these prior rivalries had was multiple attempts at each other. It will not suffice to have Rachel and Zenyatta — should they meet — to race only once, no matter how big the stage and how big the purse.

The Yankees bludgeoned the Red Sox for what seemed like centuries and that was still a rivalry. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, Hemingway and Faulkner, Frost and Nixon, Yin and Yang.

The recipe for a rivalry has a few parts. One, the two parties must hate each other. Now we can never know the true nature of these Golden Year-Californian’s, but it seems they dislike each other enough to want to beat the other into an early grave.

Two, fan bases need to be rabid and more polarized than a magnet. To read comments on Rachel Alexandra columns is to read some of the most adiment Zenyatta supporters and all their venom. The dialogue is brutal, brutal but passionate.

Three, the media hooks on. Since the Breeders’ Cup Classic no topic has been covered like the Rachel-Zenyatta debate for Horse of the Year. Dozens of turf writers opined on this until readers were bloodshot. For anyone in the racing press to hark on such a topic for this long over so many months proves that the perennially jaded have found something that, in all their years of covering this fine sport, truly moves the meter.

Moss is more subtle and subdued, much like the Red Sox John Henry. Jackson throws his plumes around more in the manner of Hank Steinbrenner. His presence in the game is the stirrer that agitates the White Russian. Around the time of the Woodward you got Claire Novak calling him a poor sport and Ed DeRosa applauding him for the same behavior.

This rivalry has the chance to be bigger than Lincoln v. Booth. Revenge is a dish best served cold. Minus the death of course, one can imagine Moss yelling to Jackson, “Sic semper tyrannis. I have done it! Zenyatta is avenged!”

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Saturday, January 09, 2010


Trim the fat


I used to love organic chemistry. It was one of my best subjects in college. For whatever reason it clicked in my brain, all the chemical mechanisms, Fischer Esterification, SN1 and SN2 reactions, chair diagrams, you name it.

One thing you learn is that to move a chemical reaction along, that is, to move the ingredients into a higher yield, you have to remove product, otherwise the reaction stalls because reactions must be balanced.

Horse racing has too much product thus stalling innovation and losing its specialty. If stuff, whatever that stuff may be, is too numerous, if it loses its allure, if I can go to the track every day then why would I go? There’s not enough exclusivity.

It’s as if Count Dracula not only sucked the life out of the tracks, but left them shells of their former selves, walking Un-Dead, nosferatu.
Every other major sport takes a break. Baseball is off from November to February. Football is off from February to July. Basketball is off from June to October. Hockey ... do they still play hockey?

At least the off-seasons of the major sports leave some anticipation, a lag time when you have to think about the upcoming year. Horse racing seems like the over-anxious boyfriend doting over the hot chick. Buddy, she liked you but you wouldn’t leave her alone. There’s something to be said for playing hard to get.

My God! Why is egg nog so good? Because we can only drink Hood Golden (the only egg nog worth drinking, for all you Garelick or Southern Comfort people, just stop it. Stop it.) for 25 percent of the year it makes it special. Starbucks Egg Not Latte is the treat of treats. To quote the Steep and Cheap Web site (for all you campers and hikers, I highly endorse their products), “I think we only drink egg nog around the holidays because it would kill us if we drank it all year.” Horse racing seems to be drowning on horse racing.

What can the game do to reclaim a sense of experience? Isn’t the NFL a drama fix condensed into neatly packed three-hour pills? Though I think the college’s Bowl Championship Series would be better suited with a playoff system, it has made Week 1 at the end of August every bit as compelling as Week 11. Every week there’s anticipation and every week there is a payoff.

Let’s make every weekend, let’s say Saturday’s, like a major stakes day, bump up the admission, enforce some sort of a dress code and turn every weekend into an encapsulated Travers Day, Derby Day, Ascot, and, a shout-out to my friend Phil Schoenthal, who used to train Digger in 2007, the winner of the 2009 Grade 3 Gravesend, down in Bowie, Maryland, Maryland Millions Day.

Could this squeeze out some people? Yes, and I hope so. Because it is the exclusivity that makes something special, that brews anticipation. The NFL Network steals a few games away from the general public and it infuriates fans, but you still tune in every week. You’re still talking about the NFL.

Your very own John Pricci wrote that a dress code at the track would add to the overall experience, a throwback to the days when the track was a place to see and be seen. When I go, granted under different parameters than most, I’m in a suit and I don’t necessarily want to be brushing shoulders with the meatball in a Queen tank top sloshing around his eighth Coors Light by the time Thursday’s weekly steeplechase race goes off.

Run the claiming races as simulcast-only during the week so trainers can swap horses and keep their strings afloat, but turn it over on the weekend to a card with a continuous loop of stakes, change $15 to get in (children under 12 get in free!), men where pants, a blazer, (and please, leave the mustache in your bathroom’s S-pipe), women, well, use your imagination (have we ever had to really worry about you?) Men, grab a fedora too, a very underrated look. If you’re dressed to the nine, imagine it like the Italian custom of the passeggiata, where the men essentially dress above their means and parade themselves in the town’s square to impress the women hanging outside their windows.

By turning the track into an experience instead of a wasted piece of property, it will be special again, the place to be, a nip of nog at the perfect time.

As always I encourage comments, but if you shy away from public participation and want to voice an opinion, feel free to e-mail me at .


Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Friday, December 25, 2009


Horse Racing’s Big Resolution


It’s time to step up in a major, major way. It’s the end of the year and while many Americans plan to join gyms to lose all that weight, or promise to keep in touch with friends and family better, or stand up for themselves a bit more, might I suggest another New Year’s resolution. And this resolution is aimed right at the horse business as a whole, not just the racing end, not just the breeding end.
Every horse that is born is guaranteed a retirement.

Breeders offer live-foal guarantees so let’s take it a step further. Now that the foal is alive let’s ensure that after it weans, breaks, races, and retires that the horse doesn’t end up in nickel claimers until it kills itself or ends up on a meat hook.

Some people might balk at the expense, even the property to house all the retired horses, but it has to be done. This is the only humane thing to do for these animals that were born so we could watch them run, so that we could bet on them, so we can curse them out and then revel in their glory.
There are over 35,000 foals born every year, give or take. Some get to the racetrack, other don’t. Of that size of a crop, how many Grade 1 winners are there? That is, how many horses who win those races do have a guaranteed and lavish retirement at Lane’s End, Three Chimney’s, Vinery or Coolmore? An infinitesimally small number compared to the rest of the crop.

These horses don’t know how much they are worth. They are born horses and most run their guts out. Whether they want to or not, they run as fast as they can for as long as they’re asked. Many times they are asked for too much for too long.

The NFL is finally recognizing that concussions are a real and prevalent cause of worry for current and former players. The NFL is funding research and will hopefully care for the players that made it the richest sport in the country. Players aren’t just meat. The veterans of the sport who went brain-dead from trauma to make a hit or dive for a first down need the support of its employer for the long term.

Why is it that this country fails to see that the here-and-now is only that, the here-and-now? Battles are waged long after careers are done. Just look at the post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide rates of soldiers returning from the Middle East. How often are they left behind?

But this is horse racing and perhaps this sport can get it right because these animals cannot speak for themselves. States must open their land to these animals when their knees are so swollen and their ankles so chipped that another step would be and should be considered murder on the part of its handlers.

Money needs to be set aside from the breeders who deliver the horses, who pay $50 million for Big Brown, $39 million for Smarty Jones, $30 million for Lemon Drop Kid or $60 million for Fusaichi Pegasus. It all starts with them, doesn’t it?

Let’s see a penny from every betting dollar go to retirement, retirement being a new branch of the business the same way racing and breeding are. One Abe Lincoln profile-penny per dollar on the 2009 Travers Day from Saratoga Race Course alone would have put close to $69,000 in the retirement’s coffers. That’s from one day, albeit one of the richer days, but just one day. The money would need to be used to hire extra help since more horses need more hands and more feed and more hay, more everything.

Use the dreaded “T” word, taxes, call it what you want, but “tax” the purses, because if you benefit from a horse in action, a horse out of action should benefit from you.

I’m not smart enough to come up with a plan that appeases all those who have needs and those who would be angry at the prospect of shelling over extra dollars to fund something of this magnitude.
But if you have anything resembling a heart, know that the race doesn’t end at the wire. The wire is out in a field with grass where the seven-year-old winner of one $10,000 claiming race can let his hair grow long the way Bernardini and Curlin can.

They didn’t ask to be born, but they were bred for our entertainment.

People are in this business, largely, because they love the horse. Let’s prove it. We owe that to the horse.

Before you cash another winner and harvest the benefits that its four hooves gave you, keep in mind that his or her retirement, if any, at this point, is from charity and should be mandatory.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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