Monday, October 14, 2013


Rosario: A Case Study for Off-Seasons


You know the old saying: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. That’s an adage from which horse racing can learn a lesson. I’ve beaten that drum far too much. What used to taste like Boston Lager now tastes like Bud Light.

And with the return of Joel Rosario back to the irons, back to the winners circle, and back to the future, his absence made our hearts yearn for the guy who wins million-dollar races as often as Rick Grimes kills a zombie.

Way back in January, Rosario geared up his campaign, a time when Obama began his second term, Colin Kaepernick was the talk of the NFL, and Animal Kingdom was still in the United States.

Rosario had a winter and spring that would make Ramon Dominguez in his prime look like Charlie Brown.

Rosario had Animal Kingdom fall in his lap and rode him to what would be the final win of AK’s impressive career. Ten million Dubai Dollars for passing ‘go.’

He blitzed through the Keeneland Spring Meet breaking the wins record by six with 38 wins. It helps to be the first-call rider for the Ramseys. Their 25 wins on the meet shattered the previous spring record by 13. Sometimes the racing gods shine on you.

Everything Rosario touched turned to roses. After the Florida Derby, a race won by the once-indestructible Orb and formerly ridden by this rich dude, Rosario opened his stocking to find a live, Kentucky Derby favorite. The pace scenario took all the contenders on the front end out of the Derby allowing a mud-caked Rosario to charge to victory. He had two more races to run, but he had already won the Triple Crown. Dubai World Cup. Keeneland. Triple Crown.

Then he didn’t.

The son of Malibu Moon was eclipsed in the Preakness and Belmont.

But Rosario took Saratoga by storm. While Orb went to an all-inclusive resort to decompress, Rosario plundered away. He was set to ride Orb all over again in the Travers Stakes, maybe reassert Orb’s standing among the three-year-olds.

The same racing gods that gave him such a world-conquering spring, dropped a Thor-hammer on his foot. On Aug. 23, Casual Elegance stumbled and dumped Rosario. The result was a broken bone in Rosario’s foot. No Travers. No Saratoga title. He still finished third the standings with 41 wins—still more than a win a day. He had 101 fewer mounts than Javier Castellano, who finished with 66 wins.

Not only was he set to ride Orb in the Travers (Maybe he wins. He knows the horse better than Jose Lezcano. Like how many licks it takes to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop: The World May Never Know.), but he was going to ride Game On Dude, America’s sweetheart, in the Pacific Classic. It’s Murphy’s Law, and horse racing is Murphy’s favorite client: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. I’d also call it the Pessimist’s Manifesto.

At last, Rosario made his return to the saddle and won at Belmont Park, just in time for the Breeders’ Cup. It’s an interesting dichotomy with jockeys and athletes in other sports.

Rob Gronkowski, tight end of the New England Patriots, was supposed to play against the Saints this past Sunday. Yet he didn’t. There are conflicting reports, but some say he may be holding out for fear of getting hurt again, for fear of compromising his ability to make a bigger contract.

Derek Rose sat out the entire 2012-2013 NBA season because of a knee injury that didn’t heal to his expectations. I have no issue with either of these two cases. They know their bodies and if they’re not confident in their ability to maximize their physical assets, then, by all means, sit out. Owners and coaches run these guys out to slaughter.

It’s different with jockeys. There’s no incentive to remain on the shelf. Because there’s no off-season, there’s little time to heal and all the time to lose business. An off-season in horse racing would allow jocks to get time off to heal their broken bodies, maybe even have a few months to not incessantly worry about making weight. Maybe have a pizza and a beer.

An off-season would be nice for horses and jocks to mend wounds. An off-season would be nice for people who follow this sport. Because, as we all know, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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