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Nov 05, 2004

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


The baseball post-season is over. The Breeders' Cup is over. The election

 is over. Trick or treating is over.

Is there a reason to live?

Of course.

The NBA!

I watched parts of four NBA games the first two days of the season, and every

 one landed within two points of the number. What's better than sitting through

 two and a half hours, and waiting for the last shot to tell you if you're a winner

 or a loser?

The only thing better is hockey, and the last-minute empty-net goal that beats

 you. But, alas, there is no hockey. And, if we're lucky, there never will be hockey.

I'm talking of course about professional hockey. Pee wee hockey down at the

 neighborhood ice rink is fine.

But back to the NBA.

When one thinks about the NBA, you think quite naturally about multi-million

 dollar contracts. For example, Houston of the Knicks. Houston has made one

 all-star team in his career, and he gets $100 million. And he's always hurt anyway.

But the best NBA story of the week came out of Minneapolis.

In case you missed it, old friend Latrell Sprewell told the Twolves that if they

don't sweeten his $14 million per contract, he wants out. Yes...he called the $14

 mill an "insult."

But Spree's best line was: "I've got a lot at risk here. I have to feed my family."

I did some quick math, and discovered Spree could purchase three million Happy

 Meals for $14 million!

Otherwise, the New York papers are saying that the no-name Knicks should

play .500 ball this year, which would be good enough to win their division

because the other teams in the division are awful.

Maybe yes. Maybe no. But the point is that the average yearly wage for these

players on "awful" teams is seven or eight million, give or take.

And need I remind that it's the public that subsidizes those salaries?

In the meantime, you need to know that -- in the wake of the Red Sox winning

 the Series -- you will be seeing some baseball-related names for 2-year-old

 thoroughbreds in the year 2005.

Such Red Sox-inspired names as Red Sox Parade, Sweep the Series, Bambino's

 Curse and Walkoff Homer already have been approved by The Jockey Club.

But my personal favorite is Curse Reversed.

The name seems a natural because the colt is by Grand Slam. He was purchased

for 180K by Don Little Jr. at the Keeneland Yearling Sale in September, and he

 will be stabled next year in -- of all places -- New York.

Curse Reversed, natch, is owned by a proper Bostonian, Don Little Jr., who races

under the Centennial Farm banner. Little has had some nice horses, notably 1993

 Belmont Stakes winner Colonial Affair, and '92 champion sprinter Rubiano.

Elsewhere in racing, Topic A is the Horse of the Year battle between Smarty Jones

 and Ghostzapper.

Since this is one race that wasn't settled on the racetrack, it comes down to records

 and politics. It's not exactly the red states vs. the blue states, but there are a lot

 of politics involved.

Frank Stronach, the owner of Ghostzapper, is universally hated, and trainer Frankel

 is regarded by many in the heartland as -- you know -- one of those brash

New Yorkers.

At the same time, husband and wife Chapman, the owners of Smarty Jones, lost

the respect of much of the racing community and the public when they took the

 money and ran.

The ripple effect happened already. Normally, John Servis, Smarty's trainer, would

 have been a cinch to win the Good Guy Award from the turf writers. Instead the

 award went to some obscure jockey, the name of whom escapes me at the

present time.

Hey, I know I'm not the most objective person going when it comes to this

controversy since I was a fringe member of Team Smarty. But to me, it's a

no-brainer. Smary deserves horse of the year. If the public had a vote, Smarty

would win in a landslide.

Hey, I'm taking nothing away from Ghostzapper. He went four-for-four, and

put up big numbers. His 1:59.2 in the Breeders' Cup Classic is as good as it

gets, but still it would have been nice to see Roses in May hook him early, instead

of sitting back, and run for second money.

The Breeders' Cup was Ghostzapper's third two-turn stakes win of the season,

following the Iselin, in which he beat a bunch of tails and manes at 1-10, and

the Woodward, in which he was all out to beat Saint Liam, the Saint Liam who

 was no match for the Frankel-trained Peace Corps last spring in the Oaklawn

 Handicap, and who hadn't run is six months.

In making his pitch, trainer Servis makes a compelling argument. He points out

 that Smarty "had" to run in certain races, obviously the three Arkansas races

and the Triple Crown (six races in 14 weeks) whereas Frankel could pick and

choose for Ghostzapper, who had two months to prepare for the Breeders' Cup.

Incidentally, I just learned the other day how Ghostzapper wound up running

in the Iselin at Monmouth Park.

Frankel had pointed Ghostzapper for the Alfred Vanderbilt Handicap, a sprint,

 back in August at Saratoga. But Frankel, who never met a set of weights he

 liked, balked at the Vanderbilt weights, and so ran the Ghost in the Iselin instead.

Now, in looking back, the Iselin is looking a lot better on Ghostzapper's resume

than the Vanderbilt would have looked.

And one other thing about the Breeders' Cup.

Everywhere I went, the Classic was billed as the greatest Classic field in history.

 I disagreed then. And I certainly disagree now. Sure, there were a lot of big

names in the Classic, but most of them never ran a lick, notably Funny Cide and

 Birdstone.

In case you missed it, Birdstone won the head-to-head. Birdstone finished

seventh, Funny Cide 10th. The margin was a length and a half.

Two days later, it was announced that Birdstone has been retired. The irony is

 that -- unlike Smarty's farewell -- the announcement barely made the news briefs.

Tis a shame because Birdstone was a helluva runner. You don't win the

Champagne, Belmont and Travers by dumb luck. But Birdstone will always be

 rememberd for being "the horse who beat the horse" and that's not quite fair

 to his legacy.

Speaking of the Belmont, that reminds me: Is jockey Bailey going to

hang 'em up?

I would say no.

Bailey's agent, Ron Anderson, for weeks begged trainer Ritchey for the mount

on Afleet Alex for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but Ritchey chose to remain loyal

to jockey Rose.

Let me quote the Afleet Alex footnote:

"...bobbled at the start, bumped with Roman Ruler and Consolidator, shifted

four wide on the initial turn, engaged the leaders while five-wide leaving the

 backstretch...dropped to four-wide midway through the (second) turn..."

All that, and Afleet Alex got beat three-quarters of a length for the money while

 beating horses trained by Baffert, Lukas, Pletcher and Zito.

It would be a crime if Alex doesn't make juvenile champion.



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