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Jan 26, 2006

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


What a bummer!

Like every sports fan in the universe, I was looking forward to last weekend. Two championship football games. And the Eclipse Awards.

We all know what happened. Blowouts at every turn. Even an awful episode of Desperate Housewives was better than the second half of Seattle-Carolina. Anytime a team's penalty yardage exceeds its rushing yardage is not a good sign. And that was the case with Carolina.

The second half of Pittsburgh-Denver was no better. But at least I had the right side. Isn't it interesting that a six-seed is a four-point favorite over a one-seed for the Super Bowl? But you do have to incorporate the home-field advantage, whatever that means. Half of the Steel City will be in Detroit, a short hop, waving their terrible towels, and Bettis will be the top story line.

At least there was no zebra factor in the two games. I wouldn't be surprised if word came down from the ivory tower to the officials to call 'em straight. And whatever happens, please, no screwups!

At least I think there were no screwups. As I said up top, I didn't bother watching the second halves.

Announcers are only a cut above zebras on my least-favorite lists. But I do have to give Phil Simms credit. After the Steelers scored to make it 14-3, and the crowd went nuts imploring Jake Plummer to the points back, Simms warned that the Broncos should play conservative, thereby avoiding a game-busting turnover.

And, on the next play, the Steelers picked Jake off to set up the clincher.

You got to give the man the credit. Simms. Not Jake.

And was it ever a bad day for the Jakes!

No one was really surprised that we finally saw the old Jake Plummer. But it was a shocker to see Jake Delhomme look so bad.

Delhomme came into the Seattle game 5-1 in the post-season, and 6-0 against the number. There was no way to suspect he would fold in this spot. You can't put all the blame on Jake, not by a long shot, but he played as though he had never picked up a football before.

Jake's performance was really disappointing down in this part of the country.

Southcentral Arkansas is a hot bed of racing (Oaklawn Park) and football, and Jake is a local hero in both venues. Jake hails from a small Louisiana town, not far from the Arkansas border, and he, and his family, are heavy into racing as breeders and owners.

In fact, Jake's closest friends are jockeys, notably Robby Albarado. Lifelong friends from their hometown of Lafayette, La., they still speak by phone two or three times a week.

Albarado by the way had an interesting weekend himself. He rode three winners on Friday at Oaklawn, six winners Saturday at Louisiana Downs, and three winners Sunday at LAD. The bad news is that he got DQ'd from No. 6 Saturday, and is looking at days.

Albarado and Francisco Torres have the same agent, which brings us to the highlight of the opening weekend at Oaklawn.

Torres was riding a maiden named Ermine, and was five in front at the eighth pole. For whatever reason, Torrez whacked the filly right-handed. The filly ducked in, dumped the jock like a bag of wheat, and took off as the crowd gasped.

No wonder. The filly was the 5-2 second choice in a field of 12. That's a serious bad beat for a lot of folks.

Fortunately, the filly was pulled up OK, and the prognosis on Torres is good.

That capped a tough weekend for trainer Ronny Werner. Werner trains Big Time Cat, the horse who got DQ'd at Louisiana Downs and Ermine.

That brings us (finally) to the Eclipse Awards.

In case you didn't make last night's black-tie dinner, or you don't get - or bothered to watch - the TVG broadcast, you did get extensive coverage on the sordid affair this morning on ESPN Sportscenter.

Well maybe not that big.

The one-hour program concluded with the following announcement from the desk: "Saint Liam was voted Horse of the Year."

That's right. That was ESPN's coverage of the Eclipse Awards.

And, yes it was a blowout. Saint Liam received 194 votes, compared to 56 for runnerup Afleet Alex. Sad but true. Twenty per cent of those who received ballots didn't bother to vote.

This marks the second straight year that those who voted got it wrong. Smarty Jones should have been Horse of the Year in '04. Afleet Alex should have been Horse of the Year in '05.

Also, Cash Is King - the owners of Afleet Alex - should have won the Eclipse for top owner, not Slots Stronach.

And Round Pond should have won the Eclipse for 3-year-old filly, not Smuggler. In fact, Round Pond finished fourth in the voting, which makes me wonder why she was included in the top three finalists. Indian Vale, who was not included in the top three finalists, actually received the second most votes.

Every other category was a blowout except grass male where Leroy edged Artie Schiller, 119-116. Good for Brooklyn Bob. Maybe it makes up for his daughter getting beat in the Apprentice finale.

Most of the talent on the TVG broadcast were pros, notably Gary Stevens, the only one of the lot who actually displayed morsels of a sense of humor about the proceedings.

But the on-field talent was brutal. A blonde in a red dress was attractive, but that was about it. And the funky guy interviewing the winners didn't have a clue.

The guy asked the owner of Lost in the Fog if he was surprised his horse won Eclipse sprinter. The fact that the horse was one of the three finalists for Horse of the Year should have been the first clue he wasn't surprised. And the guy didn't know the names of half the people he was interviewing, notably Penny Chenery's daughter. No, I don't know the woman's name either, but then again I'm not interviewing the lady on national television.

Not all the news is distressing.

Rockport Harbor is training and looking good, and he'll make his 4-year-old debut in the Essex Handicap on Feb. 11th at Oaklawn.



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