Johnny V and Animal Kingdom come flying past Nehro to ruin another perfect moment….
O horse racing! My love for you is unending. You fill my days with wonder, and haunt my dreams with tattered tales of what might have been, taunts of glory yet to come. But I have loved you with steady ardor and child-like hope, while you play with me like an upstaged toy, tossing me about from ecstasy to agony, promising me the perfect moment, and snatching it away with venomous glee. I love you, horse racing – why won’t you love me back?
A wise friend recently told me this: Forgiveness, in its purest form, is abandoning all hope that you can have a different past. The importance of doing this cannot be understated – happiness, and purpose, have as their prerequisite a resolute commitment to looking forward at all times. But The Past, especially when She offered perfection and then twisted the script at the last moment, beckons us to sit with Her, and rehash the decisions, revisions, and omissions that could have changed everything.
O Love, you rash passion, whence this mortal grievance with Aristotle and Aquinas? I need balance, courage, discipline, and self-denial. And what do you give me? You make me greedy, and erratic, and put upon me all sorts of sloppy wants that I would be better off without. Loving you, to quote another fine piece I recently read, is “a truncation of my humanity” and I really need “to learn to want better things”. But here I am, the Toulouse-Lautrec of moral truncation, careening once again in the sway of the unattainable, following The Past around in pathetic, hang-dog fashion, a prisoner of unmet desires. As the Bard said, “Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps.”
Aquinas and Aristotle both recognize that virtue is not its own reward and has little meaning apart from an ultimate goal. A man is virtuous because his actions correspond to an objective norm, which for Aristotle was knowable by reason and for Aquinas by reason and faith.
I want it all. I want, before I rejoin the soil, to witness a Triple Crown. I want to be there at Belmont Park, in the great seats I’ve earned for myself and my friends by showing up, no matter the weather, no matter the import of the day, for every single Belmont Stakes since Silver Charm lost the Triple Crown to Touch Gold by three-quarters of a length in 1997. I want to watch the champion turn for home snorting and driving, and realize that it’s happening, that the jockey “has horse”, that there are no surprises at hand, that the path to the wire is clear. I want to feel that wave of knowing overwhelm me as the perfect animal runs down the pacesetter in the final eighth and wins by daylight. And in that timeless window, it will be like that mythical moment at the end of “Seabiscuit: An American Legend” when Red Pollard realizes that he and the horse he called Pops were finally going to win the Santa Anita Handicap:
”In the midst of all the whirling noise of that supreme moment, Pollard felt peaceful. Seabiscuit reached and pushed and Pollard folded and unfolded over his shoulders and they breathed together. A thought pressed into Pollard’s mind: We are alone.”
Where is it, you cruel virago? Where is my supreme moment? Why do you torment me so? Take me back, The Past, take me back to the stretch run in 2004 and have Birdstone flatten out so that Smarty Jones can redeem all of Philadelphia forever. Take me back to 2002 and make me listen to my friend Tyrrell, who didn’t want to give up on Medaglia D’Oro – make me put him nearer the top of my superfecta so that we win $200,000 instead of $2,000 on longshot Sarava. Take me back, damn you, take me back to 1999 and let’s find a way to hold Charismatic’s poor leg together through the wire to glory and peace and a moment of perfection, all alone with everyone, everywhere.
This year’s Derby was another karma buster for yours truly, but hardly worth highlighting in the context of 15 years of unrequited love. Yes, my horses, Shackleford and Nehro, were 1-2 at the top of the stretch. Yes, I was certain I was looking at the exacta at least, and I was already trying to remember where we keep the big green leaf bags for all the money I was about to win. No, at first I had no idea who was coming flying because you could barely hear the announcer during the stretch run – I was hoping it was Midnight Interlude (15). And yes, somehow, despite my “friend of a friend”, Animal Kingdom (16) did not figure prominently on my tickets. Ugh.
Well, the road to the perfect moment runs as always through Baltimore. My lovely bride and I will actually be there in Charm City this Saturday to see whether Animal Kingdom, surprising son of turf hero Leroidesanimaux (King of the Animals, for any cretins reading this), can take us to Elmont, NY in June with a glint in our eye.
Baltimore is one of my favorite places, and is just a super fun town. Example: an intoxicated fan at the 1999 Preakness runs out on the track during the Maryland Breeders Cup Handicap and tries to punch Artax. After considerable debate, he was banned from the 2000 event. (The fan, not Artax.)
As it turns out, pace somehow did not make the race at the Derby this year. Shackleford took the field out in an incomprehensibly lazy 48 and 3 for the half mile, and 1:13 and 2 for three-quarters. This is literally the slowest early pace in a Kentucky Derby since 1947 when Jet Pilot went out in 49 flat, 1:14 and 2, and ended up wiring the field. Shackleford, however, did not wire the field like he was supposed to – Nehro finally caught him, and shortly afterwards, Animal Kingdom blew Nehro’s doors down to win by 2-3/4 lengths.
I think this tells us two things: first, that Shackleford, gutsy as he is, has distance limitations, and second, Animal Kingdom is for real. I am told that many people who watched his victory in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park were wowed by his stretch run – this includes Mike Battaglia, Turfway Park track announcer and nationally televised pre-Derby picker of Animal Kingdom. (Because I am stupid, I did not watch a replay of the Spiral before the Derby.)
Anyone who knows horse racing who saw 48 and 3, 1:13 and 2 thought Shackleford was going to go wire-to-wire. And anyone who knows horse racing was really impressed by AK’s powerful stretch run in the Derby. If AK can get it done into that kind of crawling pace, he should love the likely setup that is coming Saturday in the Preakness.
I can almost guarantee you a hot pace at Pimlico in front of AK. Shackleford will be going once again to the lead, and rocket-fast stretching-out sprinter Flashpoint will be right there pressing him. Also forcing the pace will be Astrology and Dance City – with Concealed Identity, Mr. Commons, and Norman Asbjornson not far behind. (You think I’m making these names up, don’t you? Cruelly, there’s also an Isn’t He Perfect in the race, just to raise my hackles.) My guess at pace is something like 46 and 4 at the half, and 1:11 and 2 for three quarters. Not suicidal, but easily hot enough to cook the front runners and set up the closers.
Saturday’s full field of 14 horses for the Preakness includes a total of 5 intrepid souls soldiering on after the Derby: the winner of course, Shackleford, Mucho Macho Man, Dialed In, and Midnight Interlude. Of the four challengers to AK, the one with the best chance to spoil the magic is Mucho Macho Man, who was grinding down Nehro at the wire. MMM appears to be in top form, and despite his stupid name, he really impressed me at Churchill and I may have to grudgingly concede that he belongs in a high position on my tickets.
But let me not get sidetracked as we search for a finer tomorrow. Having perused the Past Performances and consulted the collective body of Internet knowledge, I offer you this compendium of assessments:
- (1) Astrology – A grinder type who was on the Derby trail and couldn’t get it done in the Sunland Derby to get in. He’s just a cut below what it’ll take here. Could hit the bottom of the superfecta.
- (2) Norman Asbjornson – 4th in the Wood Memorial behind faltering Uncle Mo. He’s out of Real Quiet, who lost the Triple Crown by a nose to Victory Gallop in the 1998 Belmont. Unfortunately, if Norman beats anyone by a nose on Saturday, it’s more likely to be the guy who tried to punch Artax than one of his Preakness rivals.
- (3) King Congie – My top value play for the Preakness. He’s been running admirably on turf and synth (3rd in the Blue Grass Stakes), and is running for Tom Albertrani, trainer of 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini. The big question: will King Congie show us that sweet turn of foot on dirt? If you look at his first two races (on dirt), you’d conclude he’s a turf horse. But you’re getting a price because we don’t know what to expect on dirt. Was he green back then, or is that really who he is?
There is also a Shakespearean-slash-Kevin-Bacon angle on this one. As you may have heard, the owners of AK pulled jockey Robby Albarado off AK for the Derby. Robby broke his nose in a riding accident and was iffy – but Albarado sat out the Thursday and Friday before the Derby to make sure he was ready to ride for the Roses. And then he got dumped. He still rode on Derby day (and won the Humana Distaff on a longshot named Sassy Image), and then had to watch John Velazquez win the Derby on his horse.
Team Valor and Johnny V felt bad enough to offer to share some of their winnings with Robby, but from the press coverage, it feels like there could be a little bad blood here. If there weren’t a lot of classy people in the loop, you might worry that something could end up rotten in the state of Maryland. It brings to mind the complex tension between Red Pollard and George Wolff – Wolff took Pollard’s place and rode Seabiscuit to victory in the grand match race against War Admiral at Pimlico in 1938. Or perhaps even the passionate but chaotic friendship of Dalton and Wade Garrett in the classic 1989 film “Road House”.
In the future I am now demanding of The Past, Albarado and Velazquez find themselves side-by-side in a sun-baked stretch duel that ends in a dead heat, after which the two, teary-eyed and overwhelmed by the desperate beauty of it all, embrace to the wild cheers of thousands of joyous fans. Team Valor and West Point Thoroughbreds consummate a merger in the winner’s circle. Albarado and Velazquez are then declared Co-Presidents of the United States, and China forgives all of our debt, causing the stock market to double in a matter of minutes. Is this too much to ask?
“A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” Shakespeare (on the outside) outduels English Channel (ridden by John Velazquez) to win the 2005 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park.
- (4) Flashpoint – It’s so hard to accept that your 3-year-old is a sprinter when all the action is in the classic distances. But if my mom had wheels, she’d be a sandwich cart. He can’t get the distance.
- (5) Shackleford – He made me proud trying to wire the Derby. My heart almost stopped in the process. But the pace scenario in the Preakness will be too much for him. He’ll re-emerge later this year as a really solid miler.
- (6) Sway Away – This son of Afleet Alex seems bred to go longer, but his last two races make it look like he has the same limitation as the two horses to his inside. With the right trip, he could possibly hit the board, but winning seems like a pipe dream.
- (7) Midnight Interlude – Are you in a forgiving mood? If you can forgive the Derby effort, he still looks intriguing on paper. Worth including at a big price.
- (8) Dance City – Good effort in the Arkansas Derby considering the hot pace. But this is not a good spot for a presser. Can’t include this one.
- (9) Mucho Macho Man – Like I said, he looks like the Derby horse going in the right direction. I don’t think he can win, and I won’t like his odds (6 to 1 on the morning line). But he’s a good bet to be in the top 4. You can’t leave him out.
- (10) Dialed In – His top-notch trainer, Nick Zito, thinks he’s the best 3-year-old colt in the country right now. He could be right. But the horse reminds me of Circular Quay. I don’t think his one big run is going to get it done. I see him 3rd or 4th at best.
- (11) Animal Kingdom – Before the Derby, he looked like a thinly-raced horse who might like the dirt. Now he looks like a thinly-raced horse that’s peaking at the right time and was rested enough to get him through the Triple Crown races. The pace setup should be perfect. He’ll probably be 8 to 5 at post time, which is bad value in a 14-horse field of 3-year-olds. But he’ll be a deserving favorite.
- (12) Isn’t He Perfect – No, he’s not. I’m sure he’s a fine horse, but he doesn’t belong with these.
- (13) Concealed Identity – There’s always an intriguing local horse you know likes the track. Magic Weisner leaps to mind. His performance in the Tesio was solid if unspectacular, and the mid-pack running style should have him in the mix on the final turn. He could spice up a trifecta, perhaps.
- (14) Mr. Commons – My hunch horse. I bet him to win the Santa Anita Derby, but he ran kind of goofy and couldn’t sustain his bid in the end. But he’s been working very eagerly, and I just have a feeling about this one…. He’ll be in my exactas.
So it’s “huzzah” for King Congie and Animal Kingdom, “let’s see what you got” to Mucho Macho Man and Mr. Commons, and “I have a feeling” with Midnight Interlude and Concealed Identity.
O fleeting fortune! Grant me the wisdom and charity to forgive The Past. Here are the odds and stats for the Fortunate Fourteen who will make their way to the gate in the 136th running of the Preakness Stakes!
Purse $1,000,000. For Three-Year-Olds, $10,000 To Pass The Entry Box, Starters To Pay $10,000 Additional. 60% of the purse to the winner, 20% to second, 11% to third, 6% to fourth and 3% to fifth. Weight 126 pounds for Colts and Geldings, 121 pounds for Fillies. A replica of the Woodlawn Vase will be presented to the winning owner to remain his or her personal property. First closing January 22, 2011 Second closing March 26, 2011. One And Three Sixteenth Miles.
And for the love of everything decent, don’t take my word on this wafer-thin review. Ask Tyrrell – you should always get a second opinion. Here are four particularly good ones:
- Steven Crist sizes up the field, and we overlap somewhat. How dare he pick Dialed In?
- Privman and Watchmaker roast the field with their time-tested aphoristic romp
- Jay Hovdey has also fallen for King Congie, and understands the importance of karma
- The DRF Staff really did some good work here collecting up lots of useful info and videos for you
And here are your free Past Performances from DRF. Be a sport and buy something from them, like the full card of PPs for Saturday, or maybe even the Ultimate Preakness Guide. Pay it forward a little!
Ready to send out your love and see if it comes back? Get your Preak on and pick a track! $50 times whatever factor correlates with your hunger level.
$10 to win on the 3 ($10)
$2 exacta box with 3,9,11,14 ($24)
$2 exacta box with 3,11 ($4 — you get paid both directions on a dead heat!!!)
10-cent superfecta with 3,11 over 3,9,11,14 over 3,7,9,11,13,14 over 1,3,7,9,10,11,13,14 ($12)
$10 to place on the 3 ($10)
$1 exacta box with 3,7,9,11,13,14 ($30)
10-cent superfecta with 11 over 3,9,14 over 3,9,13,14 over all the horses ($9.90)
10-cent superfecta with 11 over 3 over 9 over 14 (10 cents!!!)
Let’s abandon all hope of a different past, and cast our lots together on Saturday as we hurtle forward to a lifetime of tomorrows, whatever they bring. “We that are true lovers run into strange capers; but as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly.” – Shakespeare, As You Like It
Your faithful ambassador to the future,
Defender of the Faith