Monday, January 20, 2014

From Weekend Warrior to TV Warrior

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., January 19, 2014---Florida Sunshine Million Classic winner Mucho Macho Man wasn’t the only good horse in action over the weekend. A synopsis, beginning with the other five Gulfstream Park features for Florida-breds:

To open the program, Todd Pletcher cross-entered Sweet n Discreet in both the SM Sprint and SM Distaff and, not surprisingly, made the right call choosing the Distaff despite the filly’s inexperience at the distance and a sprint-oriented pedigree.

The win might not have been surprising but the manner of victory was. We expected a stalk-from-close-range or perhaps a front-running tack, as Pletcher in the past often has his jockeys ride aggressively, taking the race to the competition.

Considering the size of the field and race shape, Joe Bravo had the filly very relaxed and well behind a soft early pace outside in a comfortably rhythmic beat. Discreet Cat’s daughter simply was too sharp and too quick for the group and likely will, all being equal, continue her present, if belated, development.

Parranda, meanwhile, really as hit her stride as a five year old—at least in Hallandale--finishing strongly late to take the S M Filly & Mare Turf after having won the Preview prep two starts back. Perfectly ridden by Jose Lezcano, it was her fifth win in 10 starts at Gulfstream. Score another victory for the Horse for Course crowd.

Ullapool’s job in the SM Filly and Mare Sprint got a lot easier after the other speed filly, R Free Roll, threw her head at the break, at once eliminating herself and handing her rival a manageably soft easy lead. Eddie Kenneally’s filly gave Lezcano a natural double.

Star Channel gave Kenneally his natural two-bagger and Lezcano his trifecta with a stout stretch run, surviving a stretch-long bumping match with Old Time Hockey to prevail by a head. The stewards look at it, losing rider Gary Stevens beefed, but the judges decided both were equally at fault—this observation coming from a player who lost the Pick 5 by that narrow margin; ouch.

Jason Servis has done amazing work with Ribo Bobo, a gelded six year old claimed three times last year, twice for $6,250 and once for$ 8,000. Only a half-length defeat at Penn National separated this remarkable speedster from winning 11 straight races dating back to February, 2013. A tip of the cap goes to Joe Orseno, who has runnerup Happy My Way racing in career form.

On the Road Again with the Three Year Olds:

Earlier in the day that his Shared Belief would win Eclipse honors for outstanding juvenile colt, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was took the California Derby with Exit Stage Left, ultra-game repulsing speed challenges throughout before repulsing perfect-trip favorite Enterprising by a half-length. Like champion stablemate, Exit Stage Left is undefeated after three starts and never has set foot on dirt. Stay tuned.

On the afternoon Ken and Sarah Ramsey would accept their third Eclipse Award for outstanding owners, their Vicar’s in Trouble stalked the pace of Roman Unbridled throughout, kicked in at headstretch, and drew off to a 6-3/4 length score beneath Rosie without so much as a lead. The son of Into Mischief is talented but might prove distance challenged as the races lengthen.

Exit Stage Left may have impressed with his gameness but Unbridled Forever impressed with her class. Spotting Silverbulletday co-favorite Divine Beauty recent conditioning and a soft pace, Unbridled’s Song daughter of Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever, Dallas Stewart’s filly had her rival measured soon after entering in the lane, lengthening stride the closer she got to the wire. Distance will be a non-issue. This is a good filly beneath a confident Robby Albarado.

Bob Baffert-trained runners finished 1-2 in the Strub Stakes for four year olds at Santa Anita. Super-sharp Shakin It Up beat stablemate Governor Charlie by a clever 2-1/4 lengths, the latter making his first time since May, 2013 at Pimlico. Shakin It Up answered any distance doubts with authority, pouncing on his mate soon after entering the straight to win going away with Mike Smith’s stick pointing south. Hollendorfer’s 7-5 favorite was a non-threatening third after stumbling at the break and angling out wide into the lane. Should benefit, and more ground figures to help.

Must See TV? We'll See

The DVR is set for 10 p.m. Tuesday for the debut of “Horseplayers” on the new Esquire Network. I’m hopeful, but I’m fearful, too.

I’m not sure what the producers and writers ultimately will be going for here. Is it following a bunch of colorful characters as they walk the simulcast plank or more of a look of the entire horseplaying experience a la poker programming?

Will a light shine on the hours of homework, the research needed to find winning angles that work today but not necessarily tomorrow? Or will it about the psychology of gambling, the W’s and L’s associated with making bets that could put a gambler on tilt?

Will it teach the uninformed that every time they see a horseplayer lose two of every three bets he makes that they're witnessing genius in action? Indeed, it should promote the idea that playing the races is fun, even when losing makes a player grumpy and fills him with self-doubt; Losing money has this effect on people..

Making the horseplaying experience enticing will in itself be easier said than done. Becoming proficient, never mind successful, requires dedication, patience and an open mind. Know a lot of people like that? For the most part, America loves its game shows and mindless reality series. Here's hoping that the cerebral aspects of handicapping will be presented and perceived as a rewarding aspect in and of itself.

I hope the producers are not looking to create latter day Damon Runyon characters. Even in the age when something like Duck Dynasty is popular, programming, lowest common denominator thinking won't create lifelong fans. Only love can do that. Some intellectual aspects of the handicapping process, among other storylines, set a pitch-perfect tone in the abbreviated HBO series, “Luck.” It’s what the demise of the show so very unfortunate.

Written by John Pricci

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