Thursday, April 12, 2012

Leave Luck Out of it

It’s about that time, Derby time, and allllllll that hard work put in my grooms, hot walkers, trainers, and of course the horses, will come to fruition. It started when the horses were two year olds and continued as they developed into what will hopefully be a very, very fast two minute-ten furlong horse.

I’d hate for dumb luck to get in the way. Dumb, foolish, stupid, invalid, stammering, dull, simple, imbecilic, dopey, dozy, half-baked luck. It will be on some sides and against others. I’d hate for the “No. 1 seeds” to get a bad draw, which is to say a bad post position.

Imagine all that hard work, the strain and stress of keeping Gemologist, Union Rags, Hansen, and I’ll Have Another sound through this mess we call the Triple Crown only have a double blind post position raffle ruin what was so deftly earned.
Look no further than the 2010 Kentucky Derby when Bob Baffert had quite possibly a Triple Crown winner in Lookin At Lucky (You think given a good trip provided by a better post position he could’ve defeated Super Saver? Absolutely. How many races did Super Saver win after the Derby? The answer is between -1 and 1. Lookin At Lucky only went on to win the Preakness and the Haskell.)

"I lost all chance at the post position draw when I drew the one," Baffert said USA Today back in 2010. "Since then, I haven't been able to really enjoy. Everything had been going so smooth and great, and then boom, right in the one hole."

Lookin At Lucky went off at 6-1, the most heavily bet horse since Harlan’s Holiday in 2002. Sometimes the best horse gets a great post. Barbaro drew for the chance to choose the 8 in 2006. Big Brown drew 20, exactly what trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. wanted.

So imagine a playoff scenario that puts an otherwise viable candidate, who has a legitimate shot at winning and have that shot in jeopardy due to chance. That’s the Kentucky Derby post draw and it needs to stop.

The horse with the best score, the best summed criteria would rightfully get first dibs on post. So, if Baffert had the first choice and he wanted Post 1, then it was his choice not the a roll of the dice. What if the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament were randomly assigned a high seed opponent in the early rounds? Who wants to see Duke-Carolina in the first round (Sure, this could happen, in theory, if the two schools were either on opposite ends of the rankings, say 1 and 64, or an 8 or 9 seed, but neither would be likely to happen. If they were 8 and 9, I doubt the selection committee would place them in the same region.)? It would invalidate the work teams and coaches sweat over for months and months only to have it come down to chance.

The criteria should be:

1. Points (TBD) for wins at:
Age 2 (less)
Age 3 (more)

2. Points (TBD) for wins at:
One turn (less)
Two turns (more)

3. Strength of Schedule

This last one is predicated on how other horses do with their scores for the first two criteria. These points don’t have to be added up until closer to the Derby because you can gauge who had stronger wins based on who wins the next race. If the horse you beat went out and one its next race, well, then you clearly beat a contender and should be rewarded so.

The incentive gives the horses with the most accomplishments, merits, and stripes the chance they deserve so as not to leave it … you guessed it … to chance.

Brendan O'Meara can be followed @BrendanOMeara.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Hunger Games

I went and saw the “Hunger Games” this past weekend and was gripped by so much suspense that I nearly wet myself. I also did a funny thing in that I didn’t read the book first. This made the movie better since I didn’t know its outcome. Always a plus.

It’s pretty twisted stuff. Not only is Suzanne Collins’s creation sacrificing the lives of 23 people to maintain order in her world a hot mess, but she has that lottery be sampled from a pool of 12-18 year-old boys and girls. The tributes, as they are called, train together for two weeks, fly to the “arena” together, then are separated before surfacing on the periphery of a giant circle lined with mines. Oh, and the best part, it’s reality television and entertainment for the rich people of the capital. Oh, and there’s a tote board with the winning odds for each tribute. Yeah, sick and mesmerizing stuff. Oh, and they broadcast the images of recently slain into the sky so you can see who just died.

The odds of winning are about as strong as breeding a Derby winner. Imagine a world where rich people cheer on tributes in a circular arena where there can be only one winner. As in the case of the “Hunger Games” it was a dead heat with Katniss and Peeta, kind of like Brother Derek and Jazil in the 2006 Kentucky Derby … if Katniss and Peeta were to finish fourth.
The movie features Lenny Kravitz as a fabulous stylist. He was one of two characters I kept asking, “Is that Lenny Kravitz?” Which, of course, makes you remember these epic dreads of “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” Funny comment from the Youtube link, “I listened to Lenny Kravitz before he was in the Hunger Games.” Didn’t we all. Which, of course, makes you think of the long fall of those locks and “American Woman”.

The other character is Elizabeth Banks’s Effie Trinket. Who is that? and why am I strangely attracted to her? She, of course, played Marcela Howard in “Seabiscuit”.

There’s a third character and, wait, no, there’s no mistaking it, that’s Woody Harrelson playing a damn fine drunk. The parallels to horse racing are everywhere, just everywhere.

Katniss ended up being the favorite to be the last one standing after the teenagers and pre-teens slaughtered each other, and, according to one Todd A. Pletcher, Union Rags is the Katniss heading into early April.

“I would say that Union Rags would be a one seed, Gemologist would be a one seed, Hansen would be a one seed, and Creative Cause would be a one seed,” he said during an NTRA teleconference.

The Wood Memorial gets Gemologist, an undefeated son of Tiznow, your classic one seed, and possibly No. 2 overall.

As Effie Trinket might say, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

Brendan O'Meara is the author of Six Weeks in Saratoga. Follow him on Twitter, please.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Eleventh Commandment

I, no, we, have been wronged.

A great injustice has occurred, worse than someone coveting thy neighbor’s wife, worse than stealing, worse than, dare I say, coveting his ox or ass. No, the greatest injustice is violation of the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt tell thy bro when thy hits a Pick 6.

That’s right. I have a buddy who was in Las Vegas last week and on Day 1 of his trip hit the Pick 6 at Santa Anita for $2,500. I found out about it from a secondary source. I had been speaking to this source (who doesn’t play the races) for a half hour before he even brought up the Pick 6. Who are these people?
For years and years all I had heard were the misses, the 4-of-6s, the 3-of-4s, the missed Pick 4 on Derby Day in 2008 when Intangaroo nosed Hysterical Lady. Perhaps it’s modesty (no, can’t be), or maybe because losers are so much more interesting, that these tales of woe strike a resonant chord. Given the choice, which locker room would you rather hang out in (now, this may just be a writer thing)? I’d pick the losers. They are most vulnerable, the most raw. Gay Talese wrote a piece about Floyd Patterson called “The Loser”. And it’s never to poke fun. Never.

In one of the 37 stories Talese wrote about Patterson, he notes the entourage, “These were battered guys. They were 4Fs. They were military rejects. There were all beaten at one point, maybe just from neighborhood fights, but they were all battered. They were a disreputable group of rejects. What I thought was so wonderful is they had great humility even though they were walking weapons. There’s a sadness about them and when someone would talk to them decently, as I did, they sort of opened up to me.”

Which isn’t to say winning doesn’t come without scar and burden. Just take the 1982 Duel in the Sun between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley. Salazar was never quite the same after thwarting a late Steppenwolfer-esque rally by Beardsley. Who wants to see Michael Jordan hugging a trophy when you can see Mike Smith crying aboard Zenyatta? Both ooze of human emotion but it’s the old adage of the “agony of defeat” that is so beautifully raw.

I’ll never miss the times when my buddy, the violator of the Eleventh Commandment, has a story to share about the miss on the shoulders of a 30-1 bomb he didn’t have on his Pick 4 ticket. But he always comes back, time and again, changing tracks more than a nickel claimer.

So what did I do? I emailed him the link to the 2008 Humana Distaff. Punishment fit the crime.

Brendan O'Meara is the author of this Twitter feed.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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