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.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Madness in March

If you had to pick one elite jockey who deserves to win the Kentucky Derby who hasn’t won the Kentucky Derby yet, who would it be?

C’mon. There’s only one correct answer. This supposedly-open-ended question where we debate and have benevolent discourse has but one answer: Ramon Dominguez. He’s a perpetual New York-leading-rider and his riding talents are only surpassed by how unassuming and downright nice this guy is. This guy might be the best jockey on the planet and he is the current rider of top Derby contenders Hansen and Alpha. Well, was the current rider. For as well all know, horse racing success hangs on the fever of a horse, a lip abscess, a bucked shin, and, in this case, one man’s clavical.

Dominguez, 35, dislocated his collar bone, though didn’t fracture it during a spill at Aqueduct. Still, now is no time for injury.

“I’m not in any pain and will follow up with my doctors tomorrow,” Dominguez told the NYRA. “The X-rays showed no fractures and the doctors said I would not need surgery.”
This will, undoubtedly, lead to a speedier recovery. But now the door is open for an opportunistic rider to steal the show. What if Javier Castellano gets the mount on Hansen for the Wood and wins by a Bellamy Road? What if Channing Hill finds the circle with Alpha? We all saw what happened with Animal Kingdom a year ago.


Then-regular rider of Animal Kingdom Robby Albarado, fresh off a dismaying domestic disturbance, gets kicked in the face by a horse a few days before the Kentucky Derby. He looked like a scarecrow. Next, he’s taken off the mount by owner Barry Irwin and trainer Graham Motion and replaced by John R. Velazquez. Albarado wins a Grade 1 sprint aboard Sassy’s Image on the Derby undercard proving he was capable of riding, but has to watch as his live horse Animal Kingdom crush, mash, and destroy the Derby field.

Okay, back to the present.

Now, Albarado’s incident may have been the most concrete evidence there is to date that karma exists and it can look an awful lot like a hoof smashing your face. It also means that though your competent and able, a scarred body is a scarred body.

While in a static position, I don’t see the harm in Dominguez’s injury, but if he has to go to the whip, or let out more rein, any limited range of motion could be the difference between a horse winning a race and a jockey losing it.

And, at this level, the stakes are so high that changing a horse’s bedding is room for concern. My feeling is Dominguez will get better for May 5, but will miss very relevant preps en route to Churchill Downs. My feeling is also that he’ll be honored with whatever mount he wants.

But we don’t own Hansen. We don’t own Alpha. If it was your money, do you take him back? What do you do?


Brendan O'Meara has a Twitter account.

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