Thursday, May 24, 2007

Horse Happenings ... and Remember to Fly Your Flag

Occasionally, writers run into "writer’s block" which is something akin to as "I can’t think of a single thing to write about and I would much rather be drinking a bottle of some cheap Cabernet Sauvignon than writing about horse racing." When something like this happens, the best thing to do is take off the reading glasses, close your eyes, and hope that the gifts of the Horse Racing Spirit flows through your veins and actually throws some insightful prose onto your paper or keyboard.


This is what the Horse Racing Spirit has channeled through me tonight [obviously, the Horse Racing Spirit is very lazy]:

1. Great friend, John of Not to the Swift Fame, is going on a much needed vacation to relax on the beach, drink unusual cocktails, and perhaps gain a couple of pounds. I’m sure that he will be on the lookout for either Todd Pletcher, Andy Beyer, or his best friend, Frank Stronach so that he will have something to blog about after his time off.

2. Great friend, Tote Board Brad, is giving up the lucrative career as an accountant to muck stalls in the NorCal fair circuit over the summer. He will covertly be sending 4.2 tons of mucking elements to the CHRB.

3. Superfecta is throwing her hat in as Horse Racing Czar, should someone ever decide to create such a much needed entity. She has vision! And because she is not Frank Stronach, she has my vote. But may I recommend that she promises dime superfectas for everyone who votes for her?

4. Good buddy and Genius, Alan, recently sent me an article that he knew would captivate me. Note that that there is nothing to do with the equine species in the article that he sent to me. Thus, I’m attempting to discern if Alan would think it beneficial to my career if I should write about plastination rather than horse racing. Or basically write about anything other than horse racing, which 99.0% of the time, I'm pretty sure I do anyway.

5. Patrick’s wife is in her 77th month of pregnancy and should be giving birth any second. He’s gonna be busy. Kiss off the horses ...

6. And speaking of kissing off horses, the Texas Legislature has done zilch with every single casino and slot bill. And many were drafted. Note to Representative Kino Flores [who authored most of the bills]: Save Ink, Save Trees, Save Time. Draft a bill that all parties (Thoroughbred Association, Quarterhorse Association, Greyhounds, GottaHaveSlots Group, Texas Hold 'Em Faction, Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys, etc.) can actually agree on and a bill may actually hit the floor for debate and perhaps even a (aghast) vote.

7. Danny over at Centennial Liquors who sold me about 12 bottles of wine. This evening I started to sample a glass or two. This would be my excuse for coherency and/or typos. And is the typo or type-O or Type-Oh.


8. Lone Star Park Gazillion Dollar Day is Monday, Memorial Day. Be sure to honor our bravest first and foremost. Then go to the track.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Peek at the Preakness

Saturday is the 1,257th running of the Preakness Stakes. Okay, that number might be slightly off, but according to historians and other smart people, it's a race that was established somewhere between the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Kentucky Derby. Apparently, a few gentlemen somewhere in Maryland who had way too much money, time, horses, and liquor on their hands, held a dinner party and subsequently had a little race to honor the much ballyhooed soiree, which the decided to call the Dinner Party Stakes because the Wine And Cheese With Port And Cigars In The Parlor After Dinner Stakes did not fit on the race card.

Preakness was the 3 year old unraced horse that won the Dinner Party Stakes. It is not clearly documented as to whether George Bush invited Preakness to a white tie affair at the White House after his victory.

And who will it be this year?

Here are the picks:
    1. Street Sense
    2. Hard Spun
    3. Hard Spun
    4. Street Sense

But let's face it. How can you not want Street Sense to win? How can any horseplayer or racing enthusiast on this planet not want to see Street Sense win the Preakness? I don't care if you're Steve Asmussen's long lost cousin Festus living in the Arbuckle Wilderness of Oklahoma and you've tattoed Curlin on your backside - there is nothing more exciting that going to Belmont with the possibility of a Triple Crown winner.

So, since I have efficiently handicapped the Preakness, let me dole out a little more history.

The Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) were introduced as the race flowers in 1940. Conveniently, The Black-Eyed Susans are also the state flower of Maryland. And of course, Pimlico would be in Maryland, not Mississippi. And Mississippi would have probably have noticed if Pimlico would have indeed been there since there is no horse racing in that state. Although they do have a very nice state flower, the Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).

A tidbit of information: the blanket of Black-Eyed Susans draped across the withers of the Preakness winner are not Black-Eyed Susans at all. They are actually Viking daisies with black lacquered centers to resemble Black-Eyed Susans because Black-Eyed Susans do not bloom in Maryland until June.

The Gardener's Network states that Black-Eyed Susans are very easy to grow.
They will do well in average soils and even poor soils. They also tolerate dry soil conditions. While you do not need to water or fertilize Black Eyed Susan, a little care will be rewarded with more blooms.

Once your Black Eyed Susan are established, they will grow well unattended.

And finally, according to Aggie Horticulture, the Black-Eyed Susan is "a true sunshine worshiper that forgives neglect." I wish the same could be said for horse racing in Maryland.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Divine Intervention Saves Jockey Robby Albarado from Potentially Banal Interview

Saturday was a great racing day at Lone Star Park. The feature race was the Lone Star Derby (gr. III) and a very competitive field was assembled. The favorite was Slew’s Tizzy, winner of the Coolmore Lexington (gr. II). And Slew’s Tizzy regular rider, Robby Albarado, would be on board.

After I arrived at the track, I ran into Post Time Pavilion Manager and Friendliest Person on the Planet, John Records. He is part of the network that I refer to as Friends in High Places. Might there be an opportunity to meet Robby Albarado? John made a quick phone call, made the request and was told, "Sure. But he’s taking a nap right now." I could meet him one hour before the race.

We synchronized our watches. John and I would meet back at the Post Time Pavilion in two hours.

I sauntered through the simulcast facility, in good spirits, chatting with individuals, taking time to congratulate Steve Asmussen on Curlin’s Derby performance, and contemplating my Pick 3 strategy. And there was the anticipation of meeting a notable jockey who could potentially provide me with a wonderful opportunity to actually write something serious and informative about horse racing, instead of my usual ne’er-do-well ramblings of a turf writer wannabe.

Things were looking up. Unless you looked up.

The big white puffy clouds that had dotted the sky earlier were beginning to congregate and turn dark.

Gary West came strolling through the teeming millions spending their afternoon along the rail. We engaged in a little dialogue. You know, the usual, "Who do you like in today’s derby?" And as usual, I attempted to string together some kind of coherent thoughts that would make me sound at least halfway intelligent in the Sport of Kings. And I failed. Yes, I like Slew’s Tizzy, but there is real possibility that I might have said, Seattle Slew or Tizzy Slew or something completely irrelevant. In a feeble attempt to sound confident and knowledgeable I continued, "I like that Asmussen horse. Oh, what is his name ... you know, the 1 horse." That would be Reporting for Duty, he informed me. It was shortly thereafter, as the Professor was describing the attributes of another entry, Reata’s Rocket, that he lost my attention: a big drop of rain hit my shoulder. And then another drop.

I looked at the sky. The throng of railfolk looked up at the sky.

Gary proclaimed nonchalantly, "Don’t worry. This is nothing and will quickly pass over."

It was about 30 seconds after he made that comment that I concluded that Gary West may be an expert handicapper but he is a lousy weatherman.

The North Texas skies opened and the rain came in torrents. The track instantaneously went from Fast to Sloppy. Fans and horseplayers milled about the grandstand or slogged around the Courtyard of Champions to reach shelter. Racing forms with all too important handicapping notes were now completely illegible and useless, assuming they were going to be useful to begin with. And then, 45 minutes into the thunderstorms ...

An Act of God.

Lightning knocked out the simulcast signals.

And it was at the appointed time that I was to rendezvous with John Records to meet Robby Albarado.

One look at all the blank simulcast screens throughout the facility brought the realization that I would not be meeting Robby Albarado today.

Since there would be no photo shoot, I went to an Emergency Back-Up Plan: I stood at the rail during the post parade and waved to him as he passed by. And I bet on Slew’s Tizzy.

Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to ask him serious racing questions, such as "Do you think that Curlin can beat Street Sense in the Preakness?" or "Does that titanium mesh in your head cause you any problems when you go through airport security?" However, I can speculate that his little venture to Lone Star Park was pleasant. He took a nap on the couch in the jockey’s room, woke up, won a $300,000 Grade III stakes race, pocketed a sizeable paycheck – enough to send Mother Albarado some flowers and buy something very nice for his wife for Mother’s Day – and then fly back to Louisville to his regular gig.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Another Day, Another Derby

Good things about the 133rd Kentucky Derby:

1. Street Sense won. I had Curlin and Street Sense all over the place in my wagers however I disregarded Hard Spun because surely one of those Pletcher horses were going to hit the board. Anyway, my consolation prize was at least the Daily Double, my gratitude extending to that North of the Border turf horse, Sky Conqueror, winning the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. 1).

And when I think "North of the Border" it is only natural to also think "South of the Border" which brings me to ...

2. Derby Day was also Cinco de Mayo. Forget those silly mint julep concoctions. Lone Star had Jose Cuervo Margarita specials on the patio. Come to think of it, I believe they named a race on the card in honor of Jose Cuervo. Isn’t that a great idea? Jose needs to be honored more often, in my opinion.

And speaking of honored ...

3. Ragin’ Cajun jockey extraordinaire, Calvin Borel, received a "last minute" invite to a White Tie dinner at the White House. And if you are a practicing member of the Church of Emily Post, you already know that a White Tie affair is the mother of all formals. My thoughts are that there are very few jockeys that have tails stuffed in their lockers for these types of events. So how would one – especially a fellow that is 5 feet tall and weighs about 100 pounds – secure such formalwear on such short notice? Well, according to Mary Ann Akers' blog at the Washington Post,
The owner of Scogna Formal Wear in downtown Washington has pulled the smallest white tie and tails he has for perhaps the lightest and fastest guest attending tonight's White House state dinner: Calvin Borel, the jockey who won his first Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

Borel got a last-minute invitation from the White House to attend the dinner for Queen Elizabeth after he guided Street Sense from next to last place to the front of the pack and across the finish line by 2 ¼ lengths.

Scogna assistant manager Jerry Morris says they "didn't get any measurements" but guessed that the store's smallest tails -- a 35-short -- should do the trick. "That's the smallest size we have."

Owner Israel Scheinbein says he guesses Borel is "about a 28-inch waist, so this should work."

Speaking of notable jockeys ...

4. Curlin's jockey, Robby Albarado, will be here on Saturday to ride Slew’s Tizzy in the Lone Star Derby (gr. 3). I will make a concerted effort to ask him serious questions, such as, "Do you think that Curlin will improve in the Preakness?" and "Why in the world are you wearing a Breathe Rite strip across your nose in your NTRA bio photo?"

Not-so-good things about the 133rd Kentucky Derby:

1. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, home to the preeminent turf writer and probably the only person who can casually use the term a priori in a horse racing article, Gary West, featured QEII on the front page instead of Street Sense. I found it somewhat disconcerting that visiting British royals were deemed more newsworthy than the winner of the 133rd Kentucky Derby - a great American tradition. I cannot fathom why this would receive more press as I’m pretty sure the Union Jack was never part of the Six Flags over Texas.

2. Todd Pletcher. Expected better. Disappointing finish.

3. Dallas Mavericks. See Todd Pletcher.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Experts Provide Kentucky Derby Selections

Left at the Gate is probably the best horse racing blog in the universe, although there’s always the chance that Dan Illman of the Daily Racing Form would challenge Alan to an arm wrestling match (as opposed to a duel because those have a tendency to be somewhat messy as well as dumb) to prove otherwise. Genius Alan has taken great lengths to provide insightful information for Saturday’s 133rd Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands. Recently, an individual commented on his blog, "I like the blog. It has far and away the best content of any blog in the TBA."

When I read that comment, I snickered and thought to myself, Of course 'Left at the Gate' is the best blog ... hey, wait a minute ... Does that comment mean that perhaps there is little or no content in this blog? Can one speculate that I do not, in fact, provide any useful information to horse racing fans around the globe?

The fear that the answer was a resounding Yes! inspired me to rectify the situation quickly. And what better time to provide hard-hitting, fact-finding horse racing news than during the week leading up to the Kentucky Derby.

My first idea was to cut and paste and/or link to every word that Steve Haskin or Dick Downey wrote, but I was pretty sure that they would not be appreciative. Nor did I think that it would be very original. Next, I was inspired to obtain a Guest Blogger who would be hanging around Churchill Downs during the week – sipping morning coffees with Todd Pletcher or evening martinis with Mike Battaglia, however my list of potential sources dried up.

Finally, I decided that I would poll a group of individuals that would happily share their views and intellects. I feel that I have assembled the most eclectic group of horse racing fans and handicappers to provide to you their picks for the 133rd Kentucky Derby.

The (predictable) question that was posed to the panel: Who do you think will win the Kentucky Derby?

Gary West
(Sports Columnist, Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
I've seen just about all the Derby horses, and Curlin is the most impressive. I believe he's simply better than these.

(Railbird at Lone Star Park)
Oh, I don’t know. I’ll take a good long look at the form and say a prayer and see what happens.

Randy Galloway
(Sports Columnist, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Radio talk show host, 103.3 FM ESPN. Owner, Wimp Free Racing Stables) horse going in and I see about a $9 win ticket on til your hands bleed....ed, and I like him and his family....

Lara Hughes
(Owner, Component Electronics. Expert horsewoman)
I think the fastest horse will win the derby! ;)

(My brother. Self-proclaimed expert handicapper who is still gloating about his $1 exacta at Santa Anita last December)
I'm putting my money on Floyd Landis.

Dave Barry
(Humor columnist. Okay – the guy does not accept emails therefore I had to spend seconds of intensive research to obtain important published information that would provide you, the reader, with that extra "edge" in selecting your Derby winner)
I began the process of educating my son, Rob, by showing him how to pick a horse to bet on. The key is to have a system. I use what is known as a "two-step" system, as follows (you might want to write this down):
1. I look at a list of the various horses.
2. I pick one.

(Horse racing blogger)
I love Street Sense and with Curlin down on the rail I love Street Sense even more. I will have Nobiz to complete the exactas. My long shot pick is Stormello.

(My neighbor)
The Derby is this weekend?!? Oh my gosh, when did it become May?? I need to get my lawnmower repaired!

(Co-worker, Scientist. Youth spent hanging around the backstretch at Ellis Park)
I don’t even know who’s even running in the Derby this year. I guess I’ll have to use the ol’ Standby Method: What color is the horse and how does he look in the post parade.

(Mom. Scientist. Horse racing blogger – apparently not a very informative one, either)
I’m going for the Asmussen Exacta: Curlin and Zanjero, a consistent guy who I’m hoping will get overlooked and inflate the exotics. I’m such a homer. By the way, I still have my Pool 1 Derby Future wager on Great Hunter tucked safely in my lingerie drawer.

As you can see, this poll is highly informative in assessing the potential winner of the Kentucky Derby. All this, without pace scenarios or published workouts. However, if you found this entry lacking, may I suggest Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Let the Mind Games Begin. Man, that guy can write a lot.

Now, fix yourself a Mint Julep and enjoy the Derby!