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Jun 16, 2006

Behind The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


Quickie question:

 

Who was the 2004 Horse of the Year?

 

Gotcha.

 

It seems like light years ago, but actually it was only two years back when the voters (mostly media) anointed Ghostzapper the Horse of the Year.

 

I bring this up in the wake of the TV ratings for last weekend's Belmont Stakes.

 

The national rating was 3.5.

 

By comparison, in 2004, the year of Smarty Jones, the rating was 13!

 

As for comparing the telecasts, I can't do that because, in all honesty, I never got to see the '04 telecast.

 

But I did watch last weekend's ABC telecast from the press box.

 

And it was - to put it mildly - painful to watch.

 

The features were awful. The announcers were awful. The camera work during the race itself was awful. When will TV ever learn that the viewer doesn't need 10 camera switches to follow a race?

 

Thanks to ABC, we never did see Jazil until he made the lead at the quarter-pole.

 

Even when ABC tried to do the right thing, and show the Acorn and Manhattan live, they screwed up.

 

You'll recall the horrible sight of Miraculous Miss rearing up in the starting gate in the Acorn, and getting trapped under the gate.

 

So how did ABC handle it?

 

They switched to commercial.

 

For six minutes!

 

Thankfully, the filly was not seriously hurt, but the viewers never found out for sure.

 

ABC had the right idea to show the Acorn and Manhattan - both Grade Ones - live. I believe this was the first time that TV ever gave us undercard stakes on a Triple Crown program.

 

So what happened?

 

The New York Times blasted the idea. Its TV/sports columnist said it was disgraceful to waste what turned out to be 28 minutes on the Acorn and Manhattan.

 

I guess the Times would have preferred 28 more minutes of Jeremy Schaap, attired in green scrubs and sterile booties, staring at poor Barbaro.

 

Speaking of Barbaro, there was a letter to the editor of the New York Daily News last week complaining about all the attention being given to Barbaro while we are simultaneously engaged at war in the Middle East.

 

It's hard to believe that a real, live human being can take the time and trouble to write such a letter, then find his way to a mail box to mail it.

 

On the other hand, I found three positive racing stories in the news this week ---

 

One -

 

A 91-year-old harness driver, a fellow named Leo Burns, is still competing professionally, and winning.

 

On Tuesday, Burns drove Winsome Wyoming to a wire-to-wire victory at Marshall, Ill, giving our man Leo a perfect two-for-two record this year.

 

Looking like a present-day Stanley Dancer, Leo sent Winsome Wyoming right to the top in the race for 2-year-old trotting fillies, and never looked back. The winning time

(2:11 4/5) admittedly wasn't that fast…but it was fast enough.

 

A month back, Leo won a race with Winsome Wyoming at DuQuoin (the long-time site of the Hambletonian) in 2:04 4/5.

 

Thanks Leo for a great senior moment.

 

You have some of us thinking comeback.

 

Two -

 

Jockey Cindy Noll can walk.

 

It was touch and go there for a while after Cindy went down in a horrific spill on May 11 at Prairie Meadows.

 

Cindy, 42, and the mother of three, announced her retirement this week, but did so standing up. There are thankfully no signs of paralysis.

 

"I still have a lot of arm weakness," Cindy says. "I can do all the day-to-day light stuff, but I can't lift much, and I struggle to grip stuff with my hands.

 

"I'm hoping that with time I'll get back to normal, but you never know. The doctors tell me it could be a month, a year, or never."

 

Cindy retires with 1,833 career victories, fourth among female jockeys. She hopes to return to school to pursue a career in nursing.

 

We hope only that she will be as successful in her second career as she was in her first.

 

Three -

 

To clarify a note in last Tuesday's column, let me remind the readers that Lawyer Ron did NOT compete in the Preakness - contrary to a Boston writer's suggestion that he was "less than impressive" in the race.

 

Now, according to my inside sources, Lawyer Ron is back in training, following surgery to remove a small chip from his right hind leg, and will be pointed for the Breeders' Cup Classic, which will be run at Churchill Downs, his home track, on Nov. 4.

 

"We'll be looking for a race in early September for Lawyer Ron," says trainer Bob Holthus. "We'll try to run him twice, and if all goes well, we'll go to the Breeders' Cup."

 

Lawyer Ron is 7-1-3 from 16 starts, and has earned $1.2 million. His shining moment was a decisive victory in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, a race won the prior two years by Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex.

 

Speaking of Oaklawn Park, the Arkansas track will host a handicapping tournament on the weekend of August 12-13. The entry fee, informs racing secretary Jason Milligan,

is $300, of which $120 will cover the player's tournament bankroll.

 

Incidentally, Buzzards Bay and Spun Sugar, the winners of the Oaklawn and Apple Blossom Handicaps back in April at Oaklawn, return to action on Saturday.

 

Buzzards Bay will be among the favorites in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, as will Spun Sugar in the Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park. Also, Happy Ticket, a hard-luck second in the Apple Blossom and the Azeri (to Round Pond) also returns to action on the Saturday card at Churchill.

 

As for Round Pond, she remains sidelined with hoof issues in the Fair Hill barn of new trainer Michael Matz.



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