Friday, June 08, 2012

The Curse of the Slew-bino

By Brendan O'Meara/@BrendanOMeara

I wonder what is better: the foreplay of a potential Triple Crown bid, or the actual thing. Having never experienced the actual thing, in the context of this conversation, of course, I wonder what’s best. In most cases, I’d side with the former because the latter will be a short-lived climax. Within a month things will go back to normal. The wheel in the sky keeps on turning (Tobasco Cat, get goin’!). There’s something special this time around and has little do with I’ll Have Another himself. We’ve been without a Triple Crown winner not for 34 years, but ten, and ten is far too long.

Seattle Slew, the last living Triple Crown winner, died on May 8, 2002, oddly enough 25 years to the day of his winning the Kentucky Derby. We’ve been without one of the 11 icons for ten long years, no living testament to the 11 biggest freaks the sport will ever see. Freaks is the right word and a sober Kent Desormeaux once told the New York Times after easing up Big Brown four years ago, “I was talking in the jockey room, and I can’t fathom what kind of freaks those 11 Triple Crown winners were.”

Seattle Slew died at the beginning of a spree of Triple Crown threats: War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones. Could it be the Curse of the Slew-bino?

From 1973 to 2002, a span of 29 years, horse racing had a living Triple Crown winner. Secretariat died in 1989 and Affirmed in 2001.

Baseball parades around its “Best Player Alive” and gives fans a sense of lore. In my memory it was Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Willie Mays. In baseball’s case there will always be a best player alive no matter the era. Horse racing’s equivalent is the Triple Crown winner.

How many people still watch Secretariat’s Derby, his amazing move in the Preakness, and moving like a “tremendous machine” in the Belmont? How about Affirmed’s battles with Aldyar? Seattle Slew is the red-headed, bastard, middle child of the 70s, but his accomplishments were no less impressive. (Which may be the reason for the Curse of the Slew-bino.) They exist only as video clips on YouTube or in the film reels of memory.

I’ll Have Another needs to win this race because the film negatives are getting old. You can’t visit a past Triple Crown winner unless you want to stand on a grave.

To borrow a term Jess Jackson used more than an acupuncturist uses needles, I’ll Have Another’s legacy continues to unfurl. He won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, Grade 1 Preakness Stakes and will break from the near-outside in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. His post will insure him of as a clean a break as possible, especially if My Adonis scratches. I’ll Have Another will sprint clear with little to no trouble and find himself in a swell tracking position heading into the first turn.

Big Sandy’s theme may as well be Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” because she makes the racin’ world go ’round. Can Mario Gutierez navigate those curves turns and will he have the patience at the 3/8s pole to sit and wait because it’s still a long, long way home.

Lately on Mike and Mike in the Morning they’ve been playing a God-awful sound clip of Jalen Rose singing, “They may be young, but they’re ready!” referring to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Led by a 23 and 22-year-old, they are in the finals. Sometimes too much experience weighs you down. Gutierez has the right mix of experience and youth: he’s won the Derby. He’s won the Preakness. He can deliver us a Triple Crown winner we can watch and visit in the flesh for the next 20 years. There are 11 ghosts. We need a living member of that Freak Fraternity to hold the torch and rush the 13th Triple Crown pledge with a fraternity whip.

Follow Brendan O'Meara on Twitter @BrendanOMeara. He is the author of Six Weeks in Saratoga. Makes a nice gift.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Friday, June 01, 2012

Mid-year Night’s Dream

By Brendan O'Meara/@BrendanOMeara

Hard to believe it, but 2012 is halfway done. Half empty? Nah, let’s go with half full … though it is half empty if you were to look at it literally. Nonetheless, it’s one of those times where it’s fun to see who are our mid-year MVPs.

This could, in and of itself, be premature. If I’ll Have Another wins the Triple Crown in little over a week, he’s Horse of the Year. There cannot be an argument against it, though I’m sure there will be. What scenarios could be in place to unseat the 12th Triple Crown winner in the history of horse racing?

He has three more starts and finishes last, last, last? Bodemeister wins the Haskell, Travers, and Breeders’ Cup Classic?

Since I’ll Have Another hasn’t won the TC yet, I’d go with Shackleford for the mid-year Eclipse. After his electric win in the Churchill Downs Stakes on the Derby undercard, he followed that up with the Grade 1 Met Mile setting Fabulous Strike-fractions. Shackleford is proving tough to beat due to his classy front-end spend. Nothing cheap about this speed at seven-eighths to a mile. I’d like to see this horse keep sprinting with races like the Forego, Vosburgh and the BC Dirt Mile.
I got a text from Good Ol’ Pete the other day: “Caleb’s Posse’s Beyers for 2012: 110, 109, 115 (0 wins). Horse racing is back, baby!”

I wrote back, “!”

The combined losing margin for Caleb’s Posse this year could fit into a Snickers wrapper. The problem with deep closers is traffic and not staying close enough to a speed ball, especially when that speed isn’t cheap. Still, it must be irritating to be second best with speed figures like that leaping off the page.

“These two have had a good rivalry,” trainer Dale Romans said. “It’s their fourth time against each other, and they’re 2-2. Caleb’s Posse is a great horse, and it’s a good rivalry. Let’s see each other again. It was the race of the year, and it’s exciting to have been part of it, win, lose, or draw, with all of those good horses. And it lived up to its billing. To be a nose apart at the wire, I think it lived up to the hype.”

And it was the race of the year. It proved that even a six-horse field makes for an outstanding sporting event.

Even beaten favorite To Honor and Serve’s trainer was eloquent, long-winded, and not the least bit sour after the race, “I don’t think the inside post helped us, that’s all.” That’s Bill Mott for you. That’s just how he rolls.

(That inside post is a killer in a six-horse field when you have the known-pace setter sitting to your immediate right. That’s all.)

The only older filly and mare I know is Havre de Grace and Royal Delta and the former retired and who knows what’s up with the latter (still recovering from Dubai). I’ll Have Another is a lock for champion three-year-old today, irregardless of the Belmont Stakes (unless Bodemeister does what I mentioned above).

For now the colts and horses have seized the reins back from the fillies and mares of the past three years and they look good, damn good, and fun as hell to watch.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Google the word Google

By Brendan O'Meara/@BrendanOMeara

So I had to Google the term Google. Not really, though.

The past two trainers who have had a horse going for the coveted, elusive, dare I say IMPOSSIBLE feat of winning the Triple Crown have been two of the most checkered trainers. This, of course, being media darling Doug O’Neill, and babe-spewing Ricky Dutrow, Jr. It was steroids four years ago and now it’s, well, we’ll have to Google it.

O’Neill’s brother, Dennis, the famed man who “found” I’ll Have Another and bought him, for, like, super cheap was on CNN. You know it’s great when the mainstream press gets its hands on horse racing. Like on ESPN the morning after the Preakness, a sports caster said I’ll Have Another stormed down the backstretch to win. Back, home, who’s keeping track?

But Dennis O’Neill’s claim that he and his brother had no idea what a “milkshake” was is about as believable as Snooki having to Google the term “promiscuity.” Mark McGuire Googling “steroids,” Tony Soprano Googling “whacking,” Pete Rose Googling “gambling,” Dolly Parton Googling “implants.” (Sadly, I have more, many, many more.)
Here’s a part of what he said, “We've never milkshaked a horse," said Dennis O'Neill. "We wouldn't know how to do it."
All he had to do was stop at the first sentence. But the more he kept going the more he discredited himself. Whether they have or have not is still an alleged act, but don’t say you don’t know what it is. Heck, if all us horsey writers out here standing on our crumbling soap boxes know what it is, then horsemen who spent their lives on the backsides sure as hell know. But, hey, we’ve got a Triple Crown on the line.

I don’t think it’ll give racing the boon everyone thinks. All it will do is give people who are already into racing reason to feel warm and fuzzy, like a shot of tequilla. Should I’ll Have Another pull it off he’ll get the Sports Illustrated cover and Tim Layden will get the story. For about one week he’ll be a star but with the Stanley Cup Finals and the NBA playoffs and baseball and every other sport, I’ll Have Another will be about as successful as drawing new blood into the sport as John Locke was at initially getting the Oceanic 6 back to the island.

What would add to the draw of the Belmont Stakes would be if Bodemeister made the trip. Even with Union Rags looming as a dangerous threat, IHA and Bode are the modern day Affirmed and Alydar, Easy Goer and Sunday Silence. It would make all the more sense having former jockeys Steve Cauthen and Jorge Velasquez in attendance signing with IHA and Bode running, but two out of three ain’t bad as the ’Loaf says.

The odds are against I’ll Have Another. There’s a reason this thing hasn’t been done in 34 years. There’s a reason the past few winners of the Belmont Stakes (Ruler on Ice, Drosselmeyer, Summer Bird, Da’Tara, Rags to Riches, Jazil) won. They all had at least four weeks rest. You’d have to go back to Afleet Alex to find a horse who ran in all three legs of the Triple Crown and won the race, this after nearly doing a somersault at Pimlico.

If anything, it’ll give all the people who whine and complain about this great and maddening sport reason to cheer and hold up another because unlike every other sport, if I’ll Have Another wins, we all win. Can’t say that about the NFL, can you?

Brendan O'Meara is the author of Six Weeks in Saratoga.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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