Nov 05, 2004
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?
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
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
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
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
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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