February 14, 2010 § 2 Comments

Me: I have something in mind that might be fun to do for my birthday this year.
Him: Can I try to guess before you tell me?
Me: Ok, but it’s not obvious.
Him: Ok. … Is it … Do you want to go to Arkansas?
Me: You know me frighteningly well.

Why Arkansas?

Well, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta will face off at Oaklawn Park in the Apple Blossom Invitational at Hot Springs, Arkansas on April 9. The Arkansas Derby is the next day, my birthday, at the same track. It’s kind of a big draw, but yet: As I’ve mentioned on Twitter, I don’t think this race is an awesome idea. The New York Times summed up my biggest fear on this front back in November, evoking memories of the ill-fated Ruffian vs. Foolish Pleasure matchup. Frankly, I’m pretty content with not knowing who’s better; I’m happy thinking both are great horses of their time. The head-to-head (though, has been pointed out and has become clear recently, it’s not a match race, there will be 10 starters in the gate) doesn’t seem necessary to me. (Though, obviously, in my heart, I believe Rachel is the better horse, and I’m obviously not alone in that opinion in light of HoY voting.)

But then again, if it’s going to happen, I kind of want to be there. And you’d think that the fine people who run Oaklawn would’ve considered this — but as yet, there’s not a word on tickets or packages to both days of racing.

So, let’s face it: We’ll probably just go to Miami instead.

I’ve Been Watching Racing All Afternoon and Catching Up on News, So …

July 11, 2009 § Leave a comment

Lawyer Ron was euthanized on July 10 after complications from colic surgery. This bums the hell out of me; he was 6, and to this day I remember listening to the 2003 Arkansas Derby in Scott’s car during a rainstorm. I don’t remember where we were going, but Ron won, and we were hot on him in the Derby that year. Then Barbaro came along…

La Ville Rouge is expecting a filly. This makes me happy because, when we were at Three Chimneys in October, the tour guide told us that the Jacksons were hoping for a filly last season, but sonograms showed another colt. This will be the first full sister to Barbaro; the Jacksons have been naming the Dynaformer-La Ville Rouge progeny after a painting of foxhounds — Barbaro, Nicanor, Lentenor are the named colts so far, so it looks like the yearling colt and the coming filly will be Margano, Sererno or Calypso. (The last seems the most filly-appropriate to me.)

Pioneerof the Nile, second in this year’s Derby, was retired due to a leg injury on July 9. Bob Baffert was heartbroken at the news — and I have to agree. I didn’t feel like we’d seen the best of POTN yet. Hope he lives happily ever after in stud, as well as Monba, last-place finisher in the 2008 Derby, who was also retired to stud on July 9 due to injury.

Steve Haskin wrote an amazing column this week about perennial runner-up Sham — I knew Sham finished a blazing second to Secretariat in the ’73 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but I didn’t know that, at the beginning of the Derby, he smashed his face on the starting gate, cracking two of his teeth. And I didn’t know that his heart weighed 18 pounds when he died … second only in size to Secretariat’s (his was 22 pounds).

I have bet on three races at this point and I haven’t won shit — of course Atomic Rain sucked in the Derby, but won today. I’m done spending my money as soon as I root for Life Is Sweet in the Hollywood Gold Cup, which goes off in about an hour. I love a good girls against boys race, and this looks like a good one.

More non-racing (i.e., non-boring) content coming soon.

With I Want Revenge Scratched …

May 2, 2009 § Leave a comment

I’ve had to completely reevaluate my Derby lineup. It’s now:

$1 Trifecta
Friesan Fire, Dunkirk, Pioneerof The Nile
Those 3 plus General Quarters, Desert Party
Those 5 plus Mr. Hot Stuff, Hold Me Back, Papa Clem, Chocolate Candy
Cost= $84

Instead of playing the Flying Private exactas, I’m doubling down and boxing all the horses I still have live futures bets on:

$1 Exacta
Mr. Hot Stuff, Hold Me Back, Friesan Fire, Papa Clem, Chocolate Candy, General Quarters, Dunkirk, Pioneerof the Nile
Cost = $56

And because I’ll kick myself if he wins after I wrote a damn article about him:
$10 Win
Chocolate Candy

Total Outlay = $150

Vinegar Tween

April 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

I realize this is lazy, but below is the full text of the horse-by-horse analysis I wrote along with Justin Dew for the official Kentucky Derby site. You can also read it here. (If you haven’t been following Justin’s blog all Derby season, but you’ve been reading this site, you’ve truly been missing out.) Tomorrow I will have another link, which is an in-depth piece I wrote for a non-horse racing site about Jenny Craig and her Derby hopeful, Chocolate Candy. But that’s coming tomorrow. Wait for it.

Now that we know which horses are breaking from which post under which jockey, we can start to give thought to how our wagering will shake out. You really need to go horse by horse before you can come to any wagering conclusions, however. Superfan Meredith and I debated the merits of all 20 starters. Here’s what we came up with, in a blatant ripoff of Daily Racing Form’s Derby Watch feature….

West Side Bernie
Justin: An honest enough horse who’s probably not on the same level as the top guns.
Meredith: I have to agree – I don’t think Bernie will hit the board here.

Musket Man
J: I hope this race doesn’t ruin him because I think he has a nice career ahead of him.
M: Agreed, again. He’ll have a nice career against horses of a lower quality.

Mr. Hot Stuff
J: I think he’s 3rd-best….among the WinStar horses.
M: Ouch! There’s something I like about this one. He’ll be in my wagers somewhere.

J: He’s getting good at the right time, but would need to step it up even more to win.
M: I had no thoughts on Advice before the Lexington and I still don’t. I defer to you.

Hold Me Back
J: The way he’s looked this week, he might be bet more heavily than you would think.
M: He’s the last one standing of my sentimental favorites. I’ll have bragging rights.

Friesan Fire
J: Clearly a talented horse, but with the layoff I won’t be using him.
M: The layoff doesn’t bother me. I would love the see him get that happy ending for Larry Jones.

Papa Clem
J: Good, but I just think others are better.
M: I just can’t drum up any interest in this one in spite of the Arkansas Derby.

Mine That Bird
J: At least he didn’t take someone else’s spot. We almost had a field of 19.
M: I wish he had stayed local.

Join in the Dance
J: He’ll be your early leader, and then likely finish 18th or worse.
M: He’s not one of my last-place picks but, agreed, he doesn’t have the chops for this distance.

Regal Ransom
J: I see him on the lead at some point in the final 3/8 of a mile.
M: And I know you think he might hang on – but I think he’ll fade. To 10th or so.

Chocolate Candy
J: While I don’t think he’s as good as some, he has every right to win.
M: He hasn’t been as good as some … yet … but might be sitting on something explosive.

General Quarters
J: I know it was a year ago, but let’s not forget he debuted for a $20k tag.
M: My other upset favorite. If he pulls it off, my 80-1 futures wager will be a lovely consolation prize.

I Want Revenge
J: If you can stomach taking 3-1 in a 20-horse field, have at it. Regardless, he’s good.
M: Luckily, I don’t need to stomach him at 3-1 – I locked him in at 54-1 in Pool 1. This favorite is my favorite.

Atomic Rain
J: Considering the owners have another, I’m surprised he was entered.
M: My bold prediction here is … last place!

J: Might be a superstar, but with a lack of evidence to support that theory, I’ll pass.
M: Uh oh. You’re going to take a lot of heat in the comments for that one.

Pioneerof The Nile
J: The only multiple Grade I-winner in the race. And look who he’s beaten. Top pick.
M: He’s only beaten them by a length, or a length and a half … or a nose. And revenge is sweet.

Summer Bird
J: Let’s be honest. This would be an absolute shock.
M: I think he’ll have to battle Atomic Rain for last place.

Nowhere to Hide
J: I have a feeling Zito wishes he has somewhere to hide.
M: I’m not going to say an unkind word about this horse. But only because I think Zito is kind of sexy.

Desert Party
J: It’s still too hard for me to pick a Dubai horse on top. He’s a player, however.
M: You wrote a column earlier this year how there’s always a horse you wish wasn’t running in a race – Desert Party is that horse for me. I’m worried he might be a monster.

Flying Private
J: Those who like Lukas will get a big price.
M: I do like Lukas, and as much as I’m tempted to make a ‘flying home coach’ joke, but I will restrain myself.

Superfan Meredith’s analysis and wagers…….
One horse in this year’s field has stood out to me since the CashCall Futurity in December; the wire photo from that race – where POTN is stretching his nose past IWR – was imprinted on my brain for weeks. But unlike Justin, I’m pulling for IWR — I love a good comeuppance story, which led me to make that 54-1 Pool 1 bet. He finishes first, I get a new Louis Vuitton bag. Since the price tag on those isn’t cheap, I’m also playing a few exotics, just in case there’s no revenge to be had — detailed below.

$1 Trifecta
I Want Revenge, Friesan Fire, Pioneerof The Nile
Those 3 plus Desert Party, Dunkirk
Those 5 plus Hold Me Back, Chocolate Candy, General Quarters, Mr. Hot Stuff
Cost= $84

$1 Exacta
Flying Private
Cost= $19

$1 Exacta
Flying Private

It’s Derby Week!

April 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

This will change once post positions are decided on Wednesday, but here’s my current Top 10 list. I’m likely going to play a couple big exactas with a mix of my own personal favorites and my under-the-radar picks — like I Want Revenge + Chocolate Candy or Friesan Fire + Mr. Hot Stuff, but deciding all of that on Thursday once I know who’s lining up where. Not that it matters — as Big Brown proved last year — but I’m a little superstitious when it comes to the starting gate numbers.

1. I Want Revenge — I want to win my big bet, and I believe he’s the real deal.
2. Friesan Fire — Don’t care about the layoff, I’m pulling for Larry Jones.
3. Dunkirk — I had to put a gray in the top three.
4. Desert Party — I’ve been watching the footage over and over again, and he looks like a monster. (Throwing out stablemate Regal Ransom though, I don’t think he can go the distance.)
5. Pioneerof the Nile — He’s hot, but the dirt question worries me.
6. Hold Me Back — Probably outclassed, but he’s still my sentimental favorite.
7. General Quarters — Another sentimental favorite. Also, big money in a win here for me.
8. Win Willy — He could rebound.
9. Chocolate Candy — He moves beautifully, and something tells me he’s sitting on a big performance.
10. Mr. Hot Stuff — Same comment here as with Chocolate Candy … I sense he’s about to explode.

Who I think will finish dead last: Summer Bird.

And Let’s Not Forget General Quarters, at 80-1

April 25, 2009 § 3 Comments

There won’t be a Triple Crown winner this year.

That feels like a bold prediction to make – it’s certainly in complete opposition to what I’d like to see – but, obviously, from a historical perspective it’s not that far-fetched of a prediction.

And, while I don’t think we’ll see a Derby, Preakness, Belmont sweep for at least another year, I couldn’t be more excited about what the next two months hold.

This field is deep – though, with three of my early favorites off the trail entirely (Old Fashioned, The Pamplemousse, and Stardom Bound), it’s gotten a little less deep over the past few weeks. Frankly, I have no idea who’s going to win; I’m pulling for I Want Revenge, but … Pioneerof the Nile could take it. So could Dunkirk, Friesan Fire, Regal Ransom, General Quarters, and Papa Clem. So could any of the other 13 starters who go into the gate on May 2.

Anything could happen, and that’s so much more exciting to me than last year’s overwhelming favoritism of Big Brown – he was everyone’s pick, and everyone was right, up until that moment when *I* was right, and the Big Brown bandwagon came to a screeching halt in the Belmont. Frankly, last season was no fun, from start to finish.

This year is going to be fun – in fact, I have a feeling it’s going to be a lot similar to my favorite season in recent memory – 2007, when Street Sense took the Derby, Curlin took the Preakness, and then Rags to Riches battled Curlin stride-for-stride in the final stretch of the Belmont (a moment I have a giant framed print of on my desk at work – I can’t look at it and not relive that moment). Each race was exciting, each had a different winner and it was a relief to not feel the pressure of hoping to see a Triple Crown win.

That’s what I want this year. Three hard-fought, thrilling races – where, of course, everyone comes home safe.

(And, in the Derby, if I Want Revenge [who I locked in at 54-1 with a sizeable bet back in March] or Take the Points [at 77-1, ditto] or Papa Clem [44-1, ditto] could finish first, that’d be great for my bankroll and also make me look [even more] like a genius.)

Thoroughbred Racing and Me, One Year Later

April 18, 2009 § 2 Comments

As of today, it’s exactly two weeks away from the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby, and I can’t help but reflect on what happened at, or after, the 134th running. Being present at Churchill Downs on the day thoroughbred racing’s most visible tragedy (yes, I think, bigger than Barbaro) threw me (and Scott) into an emotional tailspin that lasted weeks (if you’re a glutton for punishment you can revisit my post from directly after the Derby here, the letter I wrote to the New York Times regarding it here, and my shocked post when the NYT actually published said letter here).

At the time, I just wasn’t sure what to do — did I just need to be tougher, more callous, more unaffected? Should I turn my back on the sport I’d loved since my childhood, in protest? Would that really change anything?

(And, to be fair, the sport has changed in the past year. Steroids are now banned. Front toe grabs as well. And the NTRA created a safety alliance that investigated, and fully accredited, the Churchill Downs facilities. That’s not to say all is well, but change has happened — and, frankly, Ray Paulick’s latest column sums up the current state of the sport better than I could.)

I soul-searched the rest of that Triple Crown season, and I ended up doing the exact opposite of turning my back: I got more deeply involved in horse racing than I’d ever been before.

Scott and I drove to Kentucky.
We visited farms, we managed to not get murdered by Dynaformer, we made amends with Birdstone, we regretfully told Afleet Alex we had no peppermints in our pockets.
We went to Keeneland and Laurel and Pimlico and I whispered “Come home safe” to myself before the start of every race.
We started paying attention to the sport year-round.
I started contributing “race analysis” to KentuckyDerby.com (I use the quotes because that’s mainly meant picking grays and fillies).

No one has come out and asked me this question, but it’s one I ask myself frequently — how can I still be so involved with a sport where such tragic things happen? It’s taken the past year of embedding myself even more deeply in the sport that I’ve come to realize the answer.

Every week, every month, I see an obituary. Secret Savings was euthanized at age 17 due to complications from laminitis. Mine Tonight was euthanized at age 26 after breaking a leg. Alysheba was euthanized at age 25 after falling in his stall and injuring his right hind femur.

I’m not citing these examples to be morbid.

I’m citing them because I’ve come to believe that the circumstances that befell Eight Belles could have happened to her 20 years later, in a pasture somewhere in Kentucky with her final foal by her side. Same with Barbaro, George Washington, and Pine Island (well, except for the foal part).

Horses are thousand-pound animals built on fragile, spindly legs; what happened to Eight Belles was ugly, awful, and tragic, but, sadly, it wasn’t unusual — it’s the nature of the beast. Maybe that’s stating the obvious, but until I accepted that flaw of biology, I couldn’t also allow myself to appreciate the flip side of the coin — the beauty, the determination, and the heart that ride along those spindly legs.

I don’t think, in coming to this place, that I’ve become any less callous — these tragedies will and do continue to occur, and continue to touch me deeply, as I believe they do for players at every levels of the sport — but I have come to a place where I feel like I see the big picture, and not everything in the frame is ugly.

It took a year, and it was a bumpy ride. but I’m here.

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