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Dec 08, 2006

Through The Binoculars

By: JOHN PIESEN


Senior correspondent for "www.nationalracemasters.com"
Former columnist/handicapper for the New York Post and Daily Racing Form

This columnist - sad to say - has been hanging around the racing game long enough to remember when Horse of the Year actually meant something.

When Invasor is awarded racing's top honor next month, it will mark the third straight year in which a Horse of the Year gets rewarded for picking his spots. That is his connections picking his spots.

In 2004, there was Ghostzapper. In 2005, there was the ill-fated Saint Liam. And in 2006 there is Invasor. All fine horses of course. In fact, I have to take credit for discovering  Invasor. When he was dismissed at 6-1 in the Pimlico Special, I gave him out on my phone service (888 612 2283), and rooted my money home from the Pimlico press box.

Call me nuts, but I'll go to my grave believing that Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex deserved Horse of the Year.

As for '06, I haven't made up my mind...despite knowing full well that Invasor is a lock.

That said, years from now, when they review Racing 2006, the name of one horse will jump off the page. And it won't be Invasor. It will be Barbaro. And the second name will be Bernardini.

Hey, the third name may not even be Invasor.

It might be Lava Man.

One racing writer this week presents a case for Lava Man as Horse of the Year. And it's a strong case. If you examine closely the full body of work by Invasor and Lava Man, Lava Man indeed had the better year.

This got me to thinking what if Lava Man had pulled a Mineshaft, and sat out the Breeders' Cup with some phantom injury.

Would Lava Man (7-for-7) now be considered the front-runner for Horse of the Year?

Instead, when ESPN put up its poll for HOTY, its three candidates were Invasor, Bernardini and Barbaro!

Another point worth discussing is the sheik factor.

You'll recall that the sheiks held Invasor out of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, leaving stablemate Bernardini to destroy an awful field. That was the race which got Bernardini that nice $100,000 stud fee.

That done, the sheiks said OK, let's run both horses in the Breeders' Cup Classic. They'll probably run one-two, they reasoned, and let the better horse win, and get Horse of the Year.

As it developed, Invasor was the better horse that day, and won fair and square, although he clearly had the better trip. I would think that if they ran again, Bernardini would be the favorite, and probably win.

Such talk of course is academic. There was never a chance that the sheiks would run Bernardini after the Breeders' Cup. And I wouldn't be surprised if we've seen the last of Invasor...that is until he starts producing little Invasors.

It's also a lock that both sheik horses eventually will have "Hall of Famer" written before their names.

As will Barbaro.

And Lava Man.

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, I would like to submit one name for the Hall.

The name of Chris Antley.

Antley has no chance to make the Hall. At least not next year. Only one jockey will be inducted in 2007. That will be Edgar Prado. And with good reason. Prado is currently the top rider of his era, and a man of flawless character and integrity.

But Antley belongs too.

Before his life was so tragically cut short before his 40th birthday, Antley made an indelible mark in racing.

Despite chronic substance abuse problems, Antley rode 3,480 winners, including a record 171 in 110 racing days at Monmouth, and nine in a single day - four at Aqueduct, five at Meadowlands. In 1985, he led the country with 469 winners, including 39 stakes-winners.

Moreover, Antley won two Kentucky Derbys (Strike the Gold for Zito, Charismatic for Lukas), and no one will ever forget how a teary-eyed Antley cradling Charismatic's head in his lap after the colt, yards from the Triple Crown,  tragically broke down in the Belmont Stakes.

Finally, Antley's greatest achievement was riding at least one winner a day for 64 consecutive days in the winter of 1989 at Aqueduct.

Here's where this gets personal.

As the beat writer/handicapper for the New York Post in those days, I became aware of the hitting streak at 18 days, and started chronicling same in my Through the Binocs column  in the Post.

When the streak reached 30, I mentioned to Antley that he was closing in on Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak of 56.

Antley's response startled me.

He asked me:

"Who's Joe DiMaggio?"

Nevertheless, Antley passed DiMag, and kept going until the streak ended at 64.

Antley's 64-day hitting streak will never be matched, and I was delighted to share in the limelight...although I have to believe that somewhere along the line somebody else would have noticed.

One other point about Antley.

At no point did I ever think that Chris, raised in the backwaters of South Carolina, was the brightest crayon in the box. 

But was I ever wrong!

In addition to being one of the great riders of his generation, Chris was enjoying a lucrative second career - as a day trader in the stock market.

Chris Antley indeed was the stuff of legends. No doubt his short, tragic life would make a best-seller or major Hollywood script.

At the very least, Chris Antley should be in Racing's Hall of Fame.

 Turning the page ---

And now on to football.

Especially Arkansas football.

Has there ever been a dumber play in college football than the Arkansas kid botching a punt in Saturday's SEC championship, and handing the game to Florida?

It certainly was the most expensive bonehead play in football history.

For starters, the play put Florida in - and Michigan out - of the BCS championship game against Ohio State. It also cost Arkansas the SEC title, as well as the Sugar Bowl date against Notre Dame - and the $17 payoff that goes with it.

And I'm not even counting the millions the play cost the bettors who took the three points.

The TV crew blamed the kid. And not without good cause. After all...the kid blew it. But it says here that he's only a kid.

The real blame goes with the Arkansas coaching staff.

Especially HC Nutt.

After all, nothing good can happen from putting a kid down on his own five to handle a kick from the 50. But if he must be down there, he should be under strict orders from the head coach, or at least the special teams' coach, to run away from the ball.

Like most high-profile schools, Arkansas has at least 20 coaches running the sideline. You would think that at least one of them would have the good sense to tell the kid what the deal was.

Arkansas was back in the news on Sunday.

The NFL officiating crew called 170 yards in penalties in the Cowboys-Giants game, including four personal foul calls against the Giants that coach Coughlin blamed for his team's demise.

That crew was headed by referee Walt Coleman of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Coleman for years has been regarded as the top ref in the NFL. In fact, just the week before, he worked the Bears-Pats game in Foxboro. So that's back-to-back weeks he and his crew worked the No. 1 game on the league schedule.

It was no coincidence that Pats-Bears and Cowpokes-Giants yielded the most  penalty yards of their respective week.

Coleman's crew sure loves to throw the yellow - especially for pass interference.

In the off-season, Walt Coleman, and his father Buddy, are regulars at Oaklawn Park in downtown Hot Springs, Ark. The Colemans run a string of horses with top trainer Cole Norman, and like most Arkansas home boys, they love to gamble.

And the Colemans are very comfortable. They own and operate Coleman Dairy, the biggest dairy distributor in the south.

I found it interesting that Buddy once told me that Walt was informed by the NFL to avoid the track during the football season. The NFL, it seems, frowns on their people being seen at a venue where folks have been known to place a bet.

I wonder if the same rules apply to the Rooney family, which owns the Steelers, a racing stable and Yonkers Raceway.

Along those lines, won't it be interesting if Team Steinbrenner gets control of New York racing, as it looks at the present time?

Finally, if you haven't noticed, this is a quiet month for racing.

How quiet?

Only seven North American thoroughbred racetracks operated on Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday, check out a 3-year-old first-timer in the sixth race at Aqueduct.

The colt's name is Ever Shifting. He is by Tale of the Cat, and he cost the sheiks (who else?)  the princely sum of $5.2 million at a Fasig-Tipton sale. Not quite The Green Monkey country but not too shabby.

Eibar Coa rides from the two-hole in a field of 11.

You notice that if the sheiks don't buy 'em at the sales, they buy 'em ready-made, like Invasor.

Their latest acquisition is recent New York allowance winner Blue Sky God.

Stay tuned.
Senior correspondent for "
www.nationalracemasters.com"
Former columnist/handicapper for the New York Post and Daily Racing Form

This columnist - sad to say - has been hanging around the racing game long enough to remember when Horse of the Year actually meant something.

When Invasor is awarded racing's top honor next month, it will mark the third straight year in which a Horse of the Year gets rewarded for picking his spots. That is his connections picking his spots.

In 2004, there was Ghostzapper. In 2005, there was the ill-fated Saint Liam. And in 2006 there is Invasor. All fine horses of course. In fact, I have to take credit for discovering  Invasor. When he was dismissed at 6-1 in the Pimlico Special, I gave him out on my phone service (888 612 2283), and rooted my money home from the Pimlico press box.

Call me nuts, but I'll go to my grave believing that Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex deserved Horse of the Year.

As for '06, I haven't made up my mind...despite knowing full well that Invasor is a lock.

That said, years from now, when they review Racing 2006, the name of one horse will jump off the page. And it won't be Invasor. It will be Barbaro. And the second name will be Bernardini.

Hey, the third name may not even be Invasor.

It might be Lava Man.

One racing writer this week presents a case for Lava Man as Horse of the Year. And it's a strong case. If you examine closely the full body of work by Invasor and Lava Man, Lava Man indeed had the better year.

This got me to thinking what if Lava Man had pulled a Mineshaft, and sat out the Breeders' Cup with some phantom injury.

Would Lava Man (7-for-7) now be considered the front-runner for Horse of the Year?

Instead, when ESPN put up its poll for HOTY, its three candidates were Invasor, Bernardini and Barbaro!

Another point worth discussing is the sheik factor.

You'll recall that the sheiks held Invasor out of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, leaving stablemate Bernardini to destroy an awful field. That was the race which got Bernardini that nice $100,000 stud fee.

That done, the sheiks said OK, let's run both horses in the Breeders' Cup Classic. They'll probably run one-two, they reasoned, and let the better horse win, and get Horse of the Year.

As it developed, Invasor was the better horse that day, and won fair and square, although he clearly had the better trip. I would think that if they ran again, Bernardini would be the favorite, and probably win.

Such talk of course is academic. There was never a chance that the sheiks would run Bernardini after the Breeders' Cup. And I wouldn't be surprised if we've seen the last of Invasor...that is until he starts producing little Invasors.

It's also a lock that both sheik horses eventually will have "Hall of Famer" written before their names.

As will Barbaro.

And Lava Man.

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, I would like to submit one name for the Hall.

The name of Chris Antley.

Antley has no chance to make the Hall. At least not next year. Only one jockey will be inducted in 2007. That will be Edgar Prado. And with good reason. Prado is currently the top rider of his era, and a man of flawless character and integrity.

But Antley belongs too.

Before his life was so tragically cut short before his 40th birthday, Antley made an indelible mark in racing.

Despite chronic substance abuse problems, Antley rode 3,480 winners, including a record 171 in 110 racing days at Monmouth, and nine in a single day - four at Aqueduct, five at Meadowlands. In 1985, he led the country with 469 winners, including 39 stakes-winners.

Moreover, Antley won two Kentucky Derbys (Strike the Gold for Zito, Charismatic for Lukas), and no one will ever forget how a teary-eyed Antley cradling Charismatic's head in his lap after the colt, yards from the Triple Crown,  tragically broke down in the Belmont Stakes.

Finally, Antley's greatest achievement was riding at least one winner a day for 64 consecutive days in the winter of 1989 at Aqueduct.

Here's where this gets personal.

As the beat writer/handicapper for the New York Post in those days, I became aware of the hitting streak at 18 days, and started chronicling same in my Through the Binocs column  in the Post.

When the streak reached 30, I mentioned to Antley that he was closing in on Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak of 56.

Antley's response startled me.

He asked me:

"Who's Joe DiMaggio?"

Nevertheless, Antley passed DiMag, and kept going until the streak ended at 64.

Antley's 64-day hitting streak will never be matched, and I was delighted to share in the limelight...although I have to believe that somewhere along the line somebody else would have noticed.

One other point about Antley.

At no point did I ever think that Chris, raised in the backwaters of South Carolina, was the brightest crayon in the box. 

But was I ever wrong!

In addition to being one of the great riders of his generation, Chris was enjoying a lucrative second career - as a day trader in the stock market.

Chris Antley indeed was the stuff of legends. No doubt his short, tragic life would make a best-seller or major Hollywood script.

At the very least, Chris Antley should be in Racing's Hall of Fame.

 Turning the page ---

And now on to football.

Especially Arkansas football.

Has there ever been a dumber play in college football than the Arkansas kid botching a punt in Saturday's SEC championship, and handing the game to Florida?

It certainly was the most expensive bonehead play in football history.

For starters, the play put Florida in - and Michigan out - of the BCS championship game against Ohio State. It also cost Arkansas the SEC title, as well as the Sugar Bowl date against Notre Dame - and the $17 payoff that goes with it.

And I'm not even counting the millions the play cost the bettors who took the three points.

The TV crew blamed the kid. And not without good cause. After all...the kid blew it. But it says here that he's only a kid.

The real blame goes with the Arkansas coaching staff.

Especially HC Nutt.

After all, nothing good can happen from putting a kid down on his own five to handle a kick from the 50. But if he must be down there, he should be under strict orders from the head coach, or at least the special teams' coach, to run away from the ball.

Like most high-profile schools, Arkansas has at least 20 coaches running the sideline. You would think that at least one of them would have the good sense to tell the kid what the deal was.

Arkansas was back in the news on Sunday.

The NFL officiating crew called 170 yards in penalties in the Cowboys-Giants game, including four personal foul calls against the Giants that coach Coughlin blamed for his team's demise.

That crew was headed by referee Walt Coleman of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Coleman for years has been regarded as the top ref in the NFL. In fact, just the week before, he worked the Bears-Pats game in Foxboro. So that's back-to-back weeks he and his crew worked the No. 1 game on the league schedule.

It was no coincidence that Pats-Bears and Cowpokes-Giants yielded the most  penalty yards of their respective week.

Coleman's crew sure loves to throw the yellow - especially for pass interference.

In the off-season, Walt Coleman, and his father Buddy, are regulars at Oaklawn Park in downtown Hot Springs, Ark. The Colemans run a string of horses with top trainer Cole Norman, and like most Arkansas home boys, they love to gamble.

And the Colemans are very comfortable. They own and operate Coleman Dairy, the biggest dairy distributor in the south.

I found it interesting that Buddy once told me that Walt was informed by the NFL to avoid the track during the football season. The NFL, it seems, frowns on their people being seen at a venue where folks have been known to place a bet.

I wonder if the same rules apply to the Rooney family, which owns the Steelers, a racing stable and Yonkers Raceway.

Along those lines, won't it be interesting if Team Steinbrenner gets control of New York racing, as it looks at the present time?

Finally, if you haven't noticed, this is a quiet month for racing.

How quiet?

Only seven North American thoroughbred racetracks operated on Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday, check out a 3-year-old first-timer in the sixth race at Aqueduct.

The colt's name is Ever Shifting. He is by Tale of the Cat, and he cost the sheiks (who else?)  the princely sum of $5.2 million at a Fasig-Tipton sale. Not quite The Green Monkey country but not too shabby.

Eibar Coa rides from the two-hole in a field of 11.

You notice that if the sheiks don't buy 'em at the sales, they buy 'em ready-made, like Invasor.

Their latest acquisition is recent New York allowance winner Blue Sky God.

Stay tuned.



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