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Mountains and Molehills - part 3


Mark Patterson


Tue, Jun 7, 2016

* Here's hoping 2013 sees you restored to good health, Oz Pereira. Your fans miss you and from all reports just can't wrap their minds around someone so physical and vibrant getting cut down in the crack of a whip strike. Word is you plan to someday ride again. With your courage, who would expect otherwise? Don't. Just don't.

* Aren't America's biggest holiday and most storied horserace a lot alike? In both instances the hype starts earlier and earlier, and the aftermath feels somewhat empty. Even now, some second time starter is being (seriously) written up as a ky derby candidate. Just 356 days 'till xmas, by the way. This year's over/under on stores piping in Johnny Mathis is Oct 15. I'll take the under.

* Just where is it written that a good racing secretary must come equipped with the gift of gab and hug it out with horsemen? Businesslike with a taciturn demeanor, Mnr's own Joe Narcavish avoids self-promotion like the plague, while quietly putting together the best cards possible with comparatively modest purse money. And he's an innovater. Who else would even attempt the sort of all-stakes programs offered up every year here on wv derby day? Or get so many good starter/alw horses to trek TWO laps for their dinner?

* True, there were, like, 37 thoroughbreds in training when the O-R-I-G-I-N-A-L (sorry, Secretariat) "Big Red" blazed his place in eternity. But no horse before or since has engendered nearly the same mystique as Man o' War. And, for my money, he was undefeated. C'mon, did you ever read the chart on his single loss? They should have omitted the narrative and just stamped "stiff job" on it. Can you IMAGINE how much the bookies raked in that fateful day?

*And speaking of those lazy, hazy, crazy pre-parimutuel days; Have you read about Pgh Steelers founder and patriarch Art Rooney Sr. winning enough in a momentous two- day span back in the 30's to start an empire? The much beloved and usually modest "Chief" attributed his score (estimated by some accounts at nearly 400k) to superior handicapping. Is it just me? Or does it sound like there's more to the story?

* Did you notice my partner rasing her game this past season? Not a minute transpired between races without Nancy igoring me (blondes tend to do that) to scribble notes on what just happened, or bone up for the next night's action. And it showed. Great gams, too.

* What IS it about carpet fiber and super-ball bits that make horsemen so insistent on running young stock over the stuff? Even after an animal has clearly displayed an intense loathing for all-weather terrain. Here's a helpful news flash, hot off the wire: IT'S 2013(stop) NOT 2008 (stop) AND SYNTHETICS ARE NO LONGER THE FUTURE (stop)............... Remember Santa Anita peeling off that weird oatmeal-like substance and going back to au natural? Ring a bell?

* The good folks in neighboring Ohio keep threatening to erect a track close enough to go pistols at 10 paces with Mnr. Great. Go on wit' ya bad selves. Just don't expect full fields.

* Barry Meadows, admittedly one sharp hombre and a veritable authority on how-to-bet, proposed recently as part of a thought-provoking wish list that racing be reduced to a handful of "supertracks"-with joints like ours to be rationed a mere 30 dates per season. So much for the ontrack experience, I guess.

* And on the topic of marketing; What if the fruit of our loins can NEVER be convinced to put the hand controllers down and pull TVG up? What if "Call of Duty-Black Ops" is simply more compelling to them than a bunch on herbivores (that aren't even part of a first-person-shooter game) running around in circles? What if-as I've long suspected-just a small percentage of civilians carry the racing gene, and thus are predisposed to contracting the same sweet, feverish affliction that has dominated your life and mine, dear reader? Players always contend there must be SOME way to sell the game and replenish our aging ranks, but I'm not so sure. Not at ALL.

* Not a fan of the whip. Lots of horses quit trying when the stick is applied amidst a strong, voluntary move. And some jocks hit so hard that they must stop and straighten their mounts after every strike. What really irks me, though, is when a rider gets left, checks his mount, misreads the pace, or otherwise blows any chance at a placing, yet still pulls the whip and punishes the poor steed. Riders who do so are in violation of our show's "no tripno whip" policy, and will occasionally be called out on the air.

* Come to think of it, a certain steed from down under just might approach mighty Man o' War in terms of mystique. Thanks, of course, to what could be the best racing movie ever. Sexy foreign land; red horse as big as a house; the world's first 6-figure stakes; heck, even a whiff of murder. But should Phar Lap's self-aggrandizing groom, who served as the film's advisor, have been given carte blanche to slander the horse's long dead trainer? Here's to you, Harry Telford. Your proud legacy can't be contorted by some jealous pitchfork jockey.

* Hey, whatever happened to handicapping contests? Weren't the hard cases who play (and play and play...) in them supposed to be racing's new rock stars? The ones to show potential converts that handicapping is the ultimate test of mental agility, surpassing chess, poker (and even parchisi!)? Yep, THAT''L appeal to generation x. Some chunky middleaged dude in a snug xmas sweater muttering over thousands of cryptic symbols- and pausing every 25 min, of course, to scream at a monitor.

* Even typing this feels like a betrayal of my true faith, but I don't miss live winter racing nearly as much as I thought I would.

* If Lou Ruberto could hit the curve, he'd be Ted Williams. 3x over. Who else here ever batted 400 over the course of one entire season, let alone three? And did so with stock average at best, often winning with other people's vastly improved rejects? The scary part is there are two of 'em. Junior is dad to just plain Lou. Yeah, that confuses me, too.

* Admit it, the first thing you look for upon cracking the pp's is lone speed, right? Well, so does everybody else. In fact, ANY extreme pace-scenario is just too salivated over these days to offer much value. Everybody bets the raceflow.

* I've seen over half-a-hundred summers, but just three thoroughbreds with half -ahundred wins; End of Street; Silver Fir; and the incomparable Sagely. I'm too lazy to look it up for the purposes of a loosely written piece like this, but I'm pretty sure Sagely scored more than 40 times AFTER turning 7 or 8. What an amazing creature. His likes won't pass this way again.

* But before we go TOO far with the "back when horses were horses" musings, and obligatorily finger drugs as the modern culprit curtailing thoroughbred longevity, let's consider the case of Sir Barton. That erstwhile triple crown winner, it seems, was amidst a long and illustrious handicap career when a suspicious clunker compelled the stewards to call his jock in for grilling. Said rider, Johhny Loftus (I think), in turn accused Sir Barton's trainer, Hard Guy Bedwell, of putting him on a "cold" (drug-free) horse. The jock was held blameless-and the trainer summoned to explain himself.

* The allmighty NFL figured out several years back that eavesdropping on participants could bring the action closer. Let's follow suit and mike up trainers in the paddock. The only pitfall I can think of is that c.h.a.o.s (dig those references to obscure bits of 60's pop culture? )might intercept critical pre-race instructions and use them to take over the world.

* Could we hear those reasons again for not rescinding the rule that prohibits claims from being announced BEFORE the race? Yeah, I know, horsemen would go fist city, jocks would get their mounts scratched in the post parade. Blah. Blah. Blah. Time to pull down the sacred shroud of secrecy and let fans peep at the sport's private parts. Who knows, a bit of pre-race transparency might even stimulate handle. Handicapping IS mostly between the ears, right?

* NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS: #1) Break 80 (without teeing it up from the fairway); #2) Cut back to one half of a (family size) box of cheezits per day; #3-Focus more on alerting viewers when a contender parades for the first time in front wraps

* Back to the topic of lone speed; Don't ya HATE it when jockies sacrifice stalkers or closers to duel frontrunning favorites into the ground? Our euphemism on the show for those particular pilots is "pace police," but I could come up with a few other terms.

* Players who put much stock in workouts put themselves at the mercy of an extremely fallible system. Don't get me wrong. Harried clockers do the best they can, but with the phone ringing off-the-hook, a watch in each hand and no convenient means of verifying a horse's indentity, they must count on voluntary disclosure from trainers. Let me know how that works out for ya.

* My night job does include occasional perks, such as tilting a few one evening with part of the Sopranos cast. Quite unlike his character-or tequila commercials-Christopher was (very) shy and retiring. Tony's bro-in-law seemed pretty full of himself, and Johnny Sachs smoked just like the guy he plays. Chef Artie is quite the partier. Nary a one knew a starting gate from a starter/ allowance. B-O-O-O-O-R-I-N-G

* I'm always amused when self-proclaimed authorities snipe that racinos are a drag on the industry. Do those snoots think for an INSTANT that the bigger tracks they work at or wager on aren't scheming or pouting to get slots of their own? What hypocrisy.

* And on the same topic: I think what REALLY infuriates mountaineer bashers is our enduring popularity. 61 years and still standing with swag. And handling, by the way, about 10x our purse distribution. Deal with it.

* In responce to outcry triggered by an insensitive comment, candid golf-analyst Johnny Miller simply said: " It's very hard to do four hours of live tv without saying something stupid." Amen, brother. Amen.

* The legendary tight-rope walker Karl Wallwenda once said "Life is on the wire. Everything else is just waiting." Somebody wake me when it's March.


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