Not So Super
HALLANDALE, BEACH, FL., February, 9, 2016—I don’t usually wander off message, knowing the HRI Faithful doesn’t like it when I do, but even straight-laced Newsday permitted me to write a Super Bowl column as its public-handicapper-in-residence.
Whenever I stray into NFL-speak, I recall what Andrew Beyer once said to me about the Super Bowl. “I consider it my patriotic duty to bet the game,” he said. And that was long before the Air Force buzzed stadiums and mega-stars replaced marching bands at halftime.
From a handicapping perspective, I had no feeling for Sunday’s game and said so last week to the best sports handicappers I know: Trainer John Parisella, HRI’s own Tom Jicha and two New England best-buds, Vin O and Tony P. All liked the Broncos, as did sports maven Marc Lawrence.
But I saw no way the Broncos could outscore the Panthers. And Carolina had a strong defense, too, just not #1: I’ve been a defense-first guy ever since the New York Jets beat the mighty Baltimore Colts in Supe III, the day I married Toni Bresha, January 12, 1969.
I’m embarrassed to admit this but it’s true: I made a token $10 bet on Carolina to win the first half at -3½. I bet sports for entertainment, bragging rights, not for income. If critics want to say I bet this game “like a little bitch,” I’d be defenseless.
A Jim Donn-dy of a Weekend
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., February 7, 2016—Saturday at Gulfstream Park, a horse called Mshawish beat everything thrown his way.
• He beat the handicapper who assigned him a pound less than a stablemate who has never come close to winning a career Grade 1.
• He beat Keen Ice, the only horse to defeat the 2015 Horse of a Lifetime, the field’s only other Grade 1 titlist.
• He beat the odds of becoming one of those rare animals to earn Grade 1 status on both turf and dirt, like he's some kind of 21st Century John Henry or something.
• He beat the bettors, including this one, who disrespected him at a dismissive 9-2, as if Pletcher and Velazquez were strangers to the bright lights.
• In taking command in the shadow of the high-beam lighting at the finish line, he even beat the darkness, winning the last event on a 13-race program in what his trainer thought was the
performance of the six-year-old's lifetime.
Anyone familiar with Todd Pletcher understands that he knows his horses and the competition very well, and when talking about either he’s quite correct, politically and otherwise.
But even Pletcher somewhat lowered expectations this week on one the barn’s stable leaders, which made yesterday’s nine furlong Donn score in 1:47.89 so gratifying:
"I loved the way he finished up at a mile and an eighth," Pletcher said. "That was the one thing we were looking to prove--that he could stay a mile and an eighth on the dirt. I actually thought he ran the best race of his career, really.”
Meanwhile, at Gulfstream’s sister track out West, an undefeated champion with nothing to prove, Songbird, was devastating in her three-year-old debut, winning the one mile Las Virgenes by 6-1/2 eased lengths after first opening 10 at the top of the lane. And jockey Mike Smith never once sat down in the irons.
To answer the burning question on the mind of most fans, owner Rick Porter said: “It would be nice to win the Kentucky Derby, but I'd like to do it with a nice colt... I don't like the point system. We'd have to run in the Santa Anita Derby… I think it'd be great for your ego, but the smart move is to stay on the path we're on to the [Kentucky] Oaks."
"At least now we got a race in her and we can try to make some more plans. We want to run here at Santa Anita.” trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. "What we do in between now and the Santa Anita Oaks, I don't know."
Rightfully, that answer is anything that Hollendorfer wants his filly to do.
But, of course, there’s another reason why there will be no Derby run for Songbird. The elephant in Porter's shedrow is Eight Belles.
Immediately after the Las Virgenes, HRI colleague Tom Jicha put Songbird’s performance in proper perspective. “Three of the fillies behind her are now pointing for the Kentucky Derby.”