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Mountains and Molehills


Mark Patterson


Sat, May 21, 2016

* Have so many training wizards ever plundered purses here? Amoss; Cowans; Davis; Englehart; Gorder; Ruberto; Shanyfelt; Woodard: Several flirting with 40% seasons, three ranked nationally in number of wins, all capable of incredible hot streaks. Makes you wonder how the mere mortals amongst their peers managed to put turkey on the table this Thanksgiving.

* Many of those peers are quick to attribute the success of super trainers to superior stock. That self-comforting rationale doesn't fly far when you realize that each of those mentioned routinely improves on other people's horses.

* Is there another track on earth where the riders steer so wide? You'd think they were remaking Duel at Diablo, and the shadow path was Comanche burial ground. In fact, the term "pro-rail" should probably be replaced here with "pro-4-path." Good movie, by the way.

* Why do people bet win on horses showing two scores and twelve places? Can you spell h-a-n-g-e-r?

* Players who whine for consistent standards in determining DQ calls ask for the impossible. Since no two incidents of interference are quite alike, the most fans can expect from any board of stewards is consistently good judgement.

* 22 days shy of three years since an unparalleled career came to an abrupt end on some remote stretch of mid-western highway. One unfortunate aspect of the tragedy is that Dale Baird might have lived-and kept winning races-forever. Still spry and mentally acute at 73, the man had an uncanny sense of what it took to win here and was never quite toppled despite increasingly stiff competition. And our purses were larger then.

* Not a fan of carpet fiber, but kudos to the parent company for installing Tapeta at Presque Isle Downs. It's the class of synthetic surfaces and contrasts usefully with its sister track's speed-favoring dirt. Word is that Pro-Ride was never considered.

* Win percentages that fluctuate wildly from state to state for certain conditioners are attributable, at least in part, to varying medication rules. Nobody is calling anybody a cheat, but when some 2/48 trainer ships to someplace offering equal or higher purses, steps into a stall and emerges, cape and tights, as (drumroll, please) " THIRTY PERCENT MAN," it's a good bet that (er ah) loopholes in drug regulations have been exploited. Boy, did I try to phrase that tactfully.

* Name 10 racecallers better than Peter Berry. Forget it. You can't.

* Speaking of decreased purses; People who lament the priority placed here on gaming should realize that, without it, the hoofbeats would have long since ceased. Look, casinos and racing will always be a shotgun marriage. We aren't talking June and Ward Cleaver. But I was here before slots and remember the trickle of incoming cars being counted before each card got the green light.

* "Gee Wally, is Zenyatta really the greatest mare ever?" "Maybe Beev, but I still think Ruffian woulda socked her a good one."

* Jockeys are the gamest people on the planet. Bravely, they ply their trade in the face of just one certainty: sooner or later, each of them will fall. Hard.

* Even so, if riders really ARE professional athletes, why can any bantamweight willing to gallop horses become one? Sorry, but you can't play tight end for the Steelers simply because you're the right size and it's your lifelong dream.

* Why is it that only horseplayers call for stricter penalties on bad tests? Doping hurts rule-abiding horsemen far more than it affects bettors who can wager on whatever animal they wish. Yet rarely a peep of indignation from trainers who run clean.

* The world's all time winningest trainer continues to be shunned by racing's hall of fame. Sadly, sentiment in his favor seems to have ebbed and may evaporate altogether when, inevitably, somebody with two dozen clients, assistant trainers at 20 tracks, and a blackberry in each hand surpasses Baird's total. Ain't progress grand?

* It was unprofessional of Trevor Denman to call the BC Classic as a one-horse race. It's all up for grabs once those gates pop open. That's the timeless appeal of our sport, and it transcends any animal, even one poised for immortality. If you put Denman on sodium pentathol, I think he'd admit he regrets that call.

* How come bad ticket builders invariably annoint themselves great handicappers? Easier on the ego?

* How remarkable that a once average jockey of DeShawn Parker's height (5'8?) has gradually refined his skills to the point of contending for a national title. What's more amazing is that he can pass the scales. Parker's dad, Darryl, is a wellrespected steward in Maryland and fights super-heavyweight. Didn't know that, did ya?

* Why do mediocre trainers insist on haltering horses from 35% outfits? It just NEVER works out. Clint Eastwood's best known catch phrase has to be "Go ahead, make my day," but the claim- box brigade would do better to heed another Dirty Harryism: "A man's GOT to know his limitations."

* Come to think of it, why do super-trainers claim from other super-trainers rather than pick on people who couldn't condition me to eat pie ala mode? Peach, please. * Even the Roman Empire fell, and when Parker is displaced, it will be by a smaller rider who needn't fold himself to sit a thoroughbred. Probably one with more natural talent. * Don't hold your breath for that to happen as long as centurion Billy Johnson stands guard over Parker's book. Billy LIVES to keep the barbarians out of his rider's business. And Rome did rule for some 500 years. All hail DeShawnus Augustus!

* Ever suspect that some handicappers who pontificate about the game's grand complexities get seduced in secret by the Beyer numbers? Too bad for them, because no data so widely disseminated can possibly boost the bottom line. Here's a challenge you should accept: Blot out those hypnotic little integers and proceed for one week sans speed-figs. You'll probably cash fewer tickets, but owe Uncle Sam for the ones collected on.

* To have any hope of attracting young fans, racing must revamp its musty terminology. Try explaining to a newbie what an allowance race is, and how the name could POSSIBLY apply.

* With all respect to the gallant Zenyatta, perfection IS attainable. In fact, somewhere, in some horsey heaven, right after Blame gutted it out, a colt named Colin (taking his cue from Mercury Morris) popped open the bubbly and poured himself one. Personal Ensign also tipped a glass.

* Baird never owned a computer, much less some pastel device named for fruit. Periodically, to keep track of conditions, he would sit down with his foal papers, pull out a quill, and record them on a piece of parchment. Yet I can't recall him ever entering an ineligible horse. You are privileged as an ast. racing secretary to see from behind the scenes which horsemen are on top of their business.

* Tough beats don't stick with me as long these days. Is that a horseplayer's first sign of aging?

* If Justin Jensen were 10 lbs lighter........

* I'm a DRF- reading dinosaur who used to scoff at handicappers reliant on paintby- numbers past performances that push power ratings, class ratings, and pre- assigned running-styles. Nosireeee, not for me. I cook from scratch. Except, at some point, through trolling various racing forums ("pace advantage" is the best by far), I realized that lots of those handicappers know their stuff. And just might be further evolved than us pteradactyls. (Of COURSE I had to look up that spelling.)

* Even so, how can self-avowed DRF devotees (who shall remain nameless) do an about face and endorse Brisnet after winning the National Handicapping Championship?? Why don't they just shout: "I'm going to Disneyworld!!" ? It would have the same gravitas.

* Watching the jocks test the surface with their tootsies the other night-just prior to the card being cancelled- brought back memories of a legendary rider who used to trod the track for a far different reason. Funky hat and pipe, Dave Gall would walk a furlong or so, often in frigid weather, and win five that afternoon, darting for whatever path, outside fence included, he'd deemed most favorable. He's the only jockey I ever held in awe.

* Believe it or not, I'm also a bit in awe of any competent thoroughbred conditioner. The horse is a mysterious machine, and whatever makes the species tick surpasses my understanding.

* Far the better for Mountaineer's simulcast show, nature's modern take on Messohippus does not surpass my cohost's understanding. I wonder sometimes if people realize just HOW successful a trainer McMichael was? Banquest; Cherokee Treaty; Downhill Harry; Mr. Confectioner- Any of those names ring a bell? Ok, how about Wintu; Surprise Me Not; Rocky Edge or Bet the Pot? And there were more. Lots more. The woman spent her entire career butting heads with one of the greats. Nancy was Flying Paster to Baird's Spectacular Bid.

* As a track with lights, Mountaineer has long been synonymous with short sleeves, lawn chairs and soft summer evenings. For me, though, the best memories stem from skipping school and sitting under those old hotlamps as the wonder of thoroughbred racing unfolded on a snowy stage. THAT'S when my fate was sealed.

* To ride with Baird was to get out and walk. No matter how far from your destination you had implored him to pull over.

* "Wally?" "Yeah Beev." "Hows comes you know so much about horses that ain't even been born yet?" "Because it's a blog Beev, just a blog."


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