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Jan 28, 2005

RACING TODAY

By: JOHN PIESEN


Hey, there's no reason to complain. While the folks back home are

digging out from two feet of snow, I'm down here in the sunny south,

enjoying 65 degrees of Arkansas sunshine. I'll go hit a bucket of balls

 later, and maybe the outdoor jacuzzi.

But the sports events of the last couple of days I find disturbing.

First, the football.

Don't call me a sore loser because the Patriots were my best bet Sunday.

 I just have to wonder what coach Cowher was thinking when he made

 the dumbest call I've ever seen.

You remember the situation. Despite everything that went wrong, the

 Steelers actually were in the ballgame. Down 14 early in quarter four, but

 first and goal at the 4. The best offenseive line in football leading the

 baddest runningback in football. The biggest game for the Pittsburgh

franchise since Terry and Franco and Mean Joe. The biggest game for

 Cowher ever.

We all saw what happened. A 20-yard fade pass. Now fourth and 2. And

they take the field goal!

Of course, the announcers agreed that was the proper call. Wonder how

Simms could have been a pro QB all those years, and want to take three

down 14 in the fourth quarter. He actually did say "take the three..now all

 you need is a TD, a two-point conversion, and a field goal to tie the game."

Yea. And I'm the next pope.

Everyone else knew this was a bonehead call. CBS even caught

 a kid crying when the field goal team came out. Even the kid knows

 that if they don't make the two yards, they have the Pats backed up

against the goal line, and they'll get the ball back at the 40.

Of course, I couldn't find anything about that call in the papers the next day.

Now game one. The Eagles are up, 14-10. First drive of the second half.

 They are third and long at the Atlanta 20, and McNabb throws a

wounded duck toward the sideline. The Atlanta DB had an easy pick in

his hands, yards of open field ahead of him, and he drops the damn ball.

Ballgame.

Again, nothing in the papers the next day. The DB makes the play, and

it's a whole new ballgame. This time it really hurt. I had Atlanta.

That brings us to Monday night and the Eclipse Awards on TVG.

Somehow, I made it through the longest four hours in the history of

television because I had to see with my own eyes Ghostzapper get

Horse of the Year, which, as anyone who has been reading these

pages know, was an absolute disgrace.

Two-thirds of the Ecplise voters are journalists, and most of them never

 forgave the Chapmans for retiring Smarty Jones. Their revenge? Vote

against him for Horse of the Year. Give the award to whoever won

 the Breeders' Cup Classic, and who had the best Beyer.

Virtually every media award went to a writer or a TV station or a radio

 guy that covered Smarty Jones. Yet when it came to Team

Smarty itself, neither the owners, the trainer, nor the jockey made the final cut.

In case you missed it, the final vote was: Ghostzapper 174,

Smarty 95. In sharp contrast, the ESPN.com poll of the public last

 week called it: Smarty 61%, Ghostzapper 39%.

Horse of the Year! What a joke!

The second biggest joke was the vote for 2-year-old male:

Declan's Moon 188, Afleet Alex 44. If those two horses ran a match race

 today at nine furlongs at a neutral site, Alex would be 1-5, and name the margin.

Here's class for you. Tim Ritchey, the trainer of Afleet Alex, made the

 trip to the dinner knowing his horse had no chance.

"I went," he says, "out of respect for the voting process. Alex made the final

 three so I thought it best for me and my owners to be there. Plus there's

 the chance that next year Alex will win it all."

It's not like anyone knew Ritchey was there. He, and his party, never

got on TV.

Those who did get on TV were Frank Stronach and Ken Ramsey. And

it's pick 'em as to who was the more embarrassing.

Stronach was on camera every five minutes picking up some award or

another, and among the idiotic things he said, was: "Someday, you'll

 look back and realize all the great things Frank Stronach did for racing."

Ramsey broke into tears several times apologizing for trying to bribe

 a trainer to scratch her horse from a cheap race New Year's Eve at

 Turfway so that Ramsey's horse could get in from the alsos.

Ramsey actually never did apologize for his misdeed. He really only

apologized for getting caught.

Then finally, sometime in the fourth hour, Stronach rose to

Ramsey's defense. "Stuff like this happens all the time," Stronach said,
"...it's no big deal."

How ironic is is that Ramsey was serving the final day of his

suspension while at the dinner?

Otherwise, the telecast was a study in tedium. The show was aimed at

 the MTV generation, up to and including the announcer whose

name escapes me. When he introduced Julie Krone, he called her

 "hot". Needless to say, Krone was only one of several presenters who were awful.

This was the first time the Eclipse Awards was telecast. It will be a

good thing for racing -- and all of us -- if it's the last time.



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