Blessings have been bestowed upon us, racing fans. Not only is the weekend finally here, and along with it a duo of prep races for the 2010 Kentucky Derby, but also another chance at capturing a sliver of relevance from amongst the general populace. Take Back Saturday returns, at least in theory, thanks to NBC Sports’ “Road to the Kentucky Derby” broadcast, beginning at 5PM (ET) on the USA Network. One of our most popular racing personalities, Jill Byrne, will be helping to host the activities, along with former jockey Gary Stevens, Mike Battaglia, and a host of other on-air talents.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of Jill’s, and consider her one of the most insightful analysts out there who is capable of bridging the gap between experienced horse racing fans and those who are only novice players (or even first time viewers). In other words, EXACTLY the right person for the job. She’s got the charm, the wit, and all the intangibles necessary for the kind of presentation we need. If you’re out there Jill, here’s hoping you knock ‘em dead.
"I'd just like to say, we're all counting on you, good luck."
Several weeks ago, you may recall the unmitigated disaster that was the NTRA”s attempt to offer live video streaming of the 2010 debuts of the sports’ biggest stars; Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. But you know what? Lost in the shuffle and all the boo-hooing bloggers like myself did in the immediate aftermath was the fact that the NTRA actually rose from the ashes of that disaster like a proverbial Phoenix and wound up delivering a presentation that, at least in my humble estimation, was a quality broadcast whilst covering the Grade 1 Florida Derby.
We need to build on this success, “and that right soon.”
This isn’t just about the NTRA, or NBC, or USA, or even TVG or HRTV. It’s bigger than all of that. All around the country, famous race tracks are closing up shop, horses with impeccable blood lines are winding up in “kill pens”, and countless hard working individuals who have tirelessly toiled, often for meager financial reward, just to put on the show so many of us love are losing their livelihoods. In the midst of the “great recession”, we must find an opportunity, and then persevere through thick and thin to exploit that possibility to the fullest of advantages.
So here we stand, in a familiar place not unlike that which we found ourselves several weeks ago. We stand upon the precipice. Below us are the rocks upon which so many hopes, dreams, and good intents have been splattered to oblivion. If, however, we can summon the courage to gaze our eyes into the glimmering spectacle of the day’s setting sun, we might see a valley that lies within reach filled with the fruits of our labors – one in which our children and grand children will be able to proudly participate in this game that has changed so many of our lives, and given us all enough memories to last a lifetime.
As such, I’m calling on racing fans the world over to step up to the plate this weekend and attempt to make a difference. Sure, we can sit back and continue to attempt to rest on the laurels of our Andy Warhol-esque “2 minutes of fame” each Spring in the Kentucky Derby itself, but if we can give folks a reason to care even more, and ensure that when they do get that stirring inside of them, and that hunger for more marquee racing action, that we are available to them, then perhaps those famed 2 minutes on the first Saturday of each May can serve as a stepping stone towards a hint of national relevance, rather than a denouement.
Back in my brief collegiate days (like Jeffrey Lebowski, I seem to have spent my time “occupying various administrative buildings” rather than applying myself as I should have, such being the idiocy of youth), I spent some time as a “frat boy.” If any of you joined a Fraternity or a Sorority in college, you may remember the insane season known as “Rush” that happened each year. Each “Greek” organization trying to scoop up as many fresh recruits as possible to help sustain the future of their clans.
My group had a little saying during those times: EMGAM – “Every Man Get a Man”, no exceptions. I’m counting on all of you to do something similar here. Give it the old “college try” and take your best shot at sharing our little corner of the sports world with a new and prospective fan.
There’s power in numbers, and if each of us can bring one new person into the fold this weekend, we just might be able to convince the networks that regularly scheduled horse racing broadcasts are a viable niche market.
I’ve spent the better part of 2 years now railing on ad nauseum about “Take Back Saturday” - and now comes the point in time where I need you all. Really it’s more than that. It’s not just me who needs you all – we all need each other for this one. You know the drill. Together we stand, divided we fall. It’s showtime, peeps. Of course, I realize not everyone agrees this is such a good idea.
Now lets’ get on with the selections:
Grade 2 Louisiana Derby (Fair Grounds – Race 10) – 5:48 PM (ET)
I thought the Louisiana Derby came up a little quick on paper to anticipate DISCREETLY MINE being able to wire the field as easily as he did in the Grade 2 Risen Star. Instead, I’m turning my attention to a trio of off-the-pace runners who could be moving well late, and each at a juicy price.
RON THE GREEK is a horse I’ve liked since the season began, although evidently I goofed and left him off the honorable mention list in last week’s Derby rankings. That was a mistake, he belongs in the hunt, and a win this weekend would move him up closer to Ice Box as yet another closer capable of turning the tables on the speedy types that have thus far dominated the Derby trail.
Another interesting horse in this race is STAY PUT. The son of Broken Vow could be forgotten a bit on the tote board, despite showing obvious signs of talent late last year and early this winter. It’s ironic that he actually finished ahead of RON THE GREEK in the Risen Star, yet is listed at longer odds on the morning line. I wouldn’t sell this guy short – he might wind up being a better horse than ‘Ron when all is said and done. If nothing else, he’s got just a good a chance.
Lastly, I thought Nick Zito’s FLY DOWN might be a sneaky play here. Apart from a bad start in his debut, this horse has done all he’s been asked to do, and he could get first jump at whatever pace RON THE GREEK and STAY PUT are closing into courtesy of DISCREETLY MINE.
Of course, if the front runner does get loose, the whole thing is academic.
Two other horses worth considering for the exotics would be DROSSELMEYER (who has to break from all the way out in the 13 hole), and A LITTLE WARM, who has some impressive speed figures but will be stretching out beyond a mile for the first time.
- #6 Ron the Greek (6/1)
- #9 Stay Put (10/1)
- #7 Discreetly Mine (7/2*)
Grade 2 Lane’s End (Turfway Park – Race 9) – 5:12 PM (ET)
The Grade 2 Lane’s End kicks things off for the day at Turfway Park and features a field of 10 runners travelling 9 furlongs over the main track, in search of much needed graded stakes earnings from the $500k purse that is up for grabs. I thought this race looked a little too obvious on paper, with CONNEMARA coming up as the obvious selection. Todd Pletcher has been having a sensational season with his bevy of 3-year-olds this year, and this appears to be a good spot for the son of Giant’s Causeway. He’s the one to beat and should get a chance to renew his rivalry with the speedy RANGER HEARTLEY in the stretch. These two have banged heads 3 times already, with CONNEMARA getting the best of RANGER HEARTLEY twice.
For those looking to catch a better price than CONNEMARA is sure to offer, consider using the other Giant’s Causeway colt in this race, NORTHERN GIANT. The D.Wayne Lukas trainee was whipped by Discreetly Mine and others in the debut, but made up roughly 20 lengths against that rival last out in the Grade 2 Risen Star. Yes, it took him six tries to break the maiden, but he also ran into Stay Put along the way. I thought his 3rd place finish in the Risen Star was a sign of talent, and this could be a guy improving at just the right time.
I must take a moment to pause and note that RANGER HEARTLEY is named in honor of a fallen hero, Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Hartley, who was killed in action when his vehicle encountered a roadside bomb in Khargulia, Iraq on 4/8/08 during Operation Iraqi Feedom. I think it’s appropriate to share an image of the real Ranger Hartley, as I think the man should be remembered whenever the horse named in his honor is discussed.
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey L. Hartley - heroic namesake of the horse "Ranger Heartley"
Sue Dowling, credited with selecting the name, has done a great service to the memory of her nation’s fallen heroes. I happen to concur with her assessment that names can be more than just trivial details. If I hadn’t already told you this, Amy and I actually named our first born son after a fallen soldier as well for the same reasons – to honor his memory, and in the hope that somehow our son might acquire some of those qualities that set his namesake apart as a man amongst men.
The hero we chose? Delta Sgt. Randall Shughart, killed in action in Somalia in 1993. What’s left of Randy Shughart, who along with Gary Gordon became the first posthumous Medal of Honor winners our nation had recognized since the Vietnam War, is buried not far from us in the cemetary at Carlisle, PA. A picture of the gravesite that my parents took hangs on the wall in our house, as a reminder of the terrible price a chosen few are called to pay “that their nation might live.”
I’ve secretly held onto the notion for years that if I eve got a chance to name a thoroughbred, I’d likely name him “Shughart” in Randy’s honor. Honestly, is it possible for those of us who have never had to shoulder a weapon or endure such horrors ever do enough to properly recognize those who have? I think not – but I’m damn glad there men out there like Jeffrey Hartley and Randy Shughart who do so, and I’m damn proud to be able to call them countrymen.
For this reason, regardless of where my selections wind up – I’ll be rooting for RANGER HEARTLEY with everything I have.
“…Tho’ all the world betrays thee, one sword at least thy rights shall guard, one faithful harp shall praise thee.”
– The Minstrel Boy by Thomas Moore
Didn’t mean to dampen the mood – just thought that story had to be told.
- #1 Connemara (7/5*)
- #7 Northern Giant (5/1)
- #5 Ranger Heartley (6/1)
Best of luck to all of you.
If you get a chance, take a moment to stop over and say hello to our newest members of the TBA.
(and don’t forget – “EMGAM”, and say a little prayer for the family of the real Ranger Hartley and others who have suffered for us so that we can enjoy moments like the Triple Crown chase in relative peace and harmony)