The Brock Talk

Monday, June 7, 2010

Belmont, Triple Crown, Thoughts Comments and Questions

Can anybody tell me what happened during the first eighth of a mile in the Belmont Saturday? As the race started, ABC Television decided to use the camera at ground level in the winner’s circle to show the break. A more dramatic angle, perhaps, but it makes it difficult for the viewer to follow their horse. Then ABC decided to switch to a ground level head-on camera to shoot the field running into and around the first turn. Again, it made it nearly impossible to find or follow the horses until the overhead blimp camera picked up the field half-way around the clubhouse turn. I’m okay with ABC trying to utilize the beauty of the sport to create a more dramatic telecast. But I’m not okay with doing so at the expense of failing to report on the event by taking beauty over content in their camera angle selection.

Triple Crown Format Debate: Safety Over Tradition
Regarding changing the format of the Triple Crown: I agree with former jockey and current ESPN/ABC analyst Jerry Bailey. Limit the field size of the Kentucky Derby to 14 and offer a million or multi-million dollar bonus to a horse that wins the Triple Crown. Money talks, so the bonus will take care of itself. But the field size of the Derby needs to be reduced from 20 for a reason much more important than the Triple Crown – safety. Nobody likes the wagering opportunities and the romance of 20 horses breaking from the Churchill Downs starting on the first Saturday in May more than I. But that cavalry charge into the Clubhouse turn in the Derby is dangerous. And an accident there would be catastrophic to racing on many levels.

Moss and the Magic Board
I liked Randy Moss and his magic name board. It was an effective and fun way to bring horse names, facts and jockey changes into the telecast… I thought replacing “New York, New York” with “Empire State of Mind” as the official song of the Belmont Stakes would work. I thought I was wrong watching the ABC telecast that cut the song short with a break to commercial. But apparently the Belmont crowd corrected me. Again I bow to New York racing fans… A salute to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin who immediately took responsibility for Uptowncharlybrown losing his lead pad during the running of the Belmont. Uptowncharlybrown was disqualified from fifth and placed last by the track stewards immediately after it was learned he did not carry the assigned weight during the entire course of the race… Anybody notice that Jack Conway, recent winner of the democratic primary for the Kentucky U.S. Senate seat, was in the left side of the Belmont Park paddock while Sarah Palin was in the right side?

I’m Slow But I’m Sound
All source handle, attendance and television ratings all dropped significantly for the 142nd Belmont Stakes. Money wagered on the Belmont was nearly $74 million, down 17.2% according to Daily Racing Form. Attendance was down 13.2% to just more than 45,000 on a hot and humid day in New York while television ratings plummeted 38% to a 3.1 overnight rating… Drosselmeyer’s (photo right) winning time was the slowest Belmont in 15 years with his final clocking of 2:31.57 for 1-1/2 miles on a fast main track. Thunder Gulch finished in 2:32 in 1995… It is a mediocre group of 3-year-olds. Okay… I think of the character Jimmy Rabbitte in the 1991 Irish rock movie the “The Commitments” who said “the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud.” To this much maligned group of sophomore thoroughbreds say it loud: “I’m slow. But I’m sound.” This group isn’t making any American Idol headway and their participation level is obviously weak with no Derby or Preakness winner in the Belmont, but other than Eskendereya, they’re not retiring either.

Decreases in Belmont numbers may be met with increases in Haskell Invitational, Travers Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup popularity. This group is not flashy, but they’re deep and relatively injury free. How many championship teams in other sports can you think of that have used that formula? They might even be deep enough to have a positive impact on minor late season derbies in the local markets of California, West Virginia and Louisiana.

Belmont Stakes Greatness Regardless
Onto the greatness of the Belmont regardless: It was just more than two Hall of Famers winning the Belmont in trainer Bill Mott and jockey Mike Smith. It was obvious that Smith was quite moved by his first Belmont win after riding in New York for the majority of his great career. Mott, despite his success as the trainer of Cigar and other greats, may be the most under rated trainer in thoroughbred racing today.

Betting Strategy Revisited
I had the right idea but the wrong horse. Keep the favorites in the top two of my exactas and find that mid-level long shot to take the race. I mistakenly got on Uptowncharlybrown and Interactif and left off a horse that I liked all Spring – Drosselmeyer. And I’m not sure I regret too much getting off a horse with published foot ailments, a jockey change and the owners deciding not to attend the race… But a big Brock Talk acknowledgement to those that hit the $144.50 exacta, $766.50 trifecta or $10,658.00 superfecta.

For those that thought the Belmont Stakes would not be exciting… Whoops!


John said...

Brock, you're forcing me to re-evaluate my own feelings about the 20-horse Derby field (LOL). I've already done it once, but after listening to Bailey, maybe I should do it, yet again.

Originally I felt that a 20-horse field was just too many horses, posing, as you mentioned, a safety concern. Later, I changed my stance, figuring that this race is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and if you have a horse that has what it takes to get there, but the field is limited to 14, and he's number 15, there goes his chance forever. Regarding the safety issue, in all the decades of running the Derby, there has never been, at least not to my knowledge, a fatality due to the size of the field. When Eight Belles broke down in 2008, she was in front of the field, only trailing Big Brown. However, just because it hasn't happened, doesn't mean in the future it won't. So once again, I now find myself looking back toward a smaller field. I never liked the auxillary gate anyway, and for me, the Kentucky Derby is the hardest race to follow because there are just too many horses. I never really know how it's going to play out until they're closing in on the wire. So now it's time to maybe adjust my thinking again. If we took all the grade 1 (and maybe a few select grade 2s) three-year-old Derby preps and put the first two finishers of these races automatically in the Derby, would that be sufficient to have the best horses and still have a field of 14?

Lookin At Lucky is, IMO, a rising star, and the quality of the three-year-old group. Winslow Homer has been back on the worktab and is doing well, so hopefully with his return, this may put some muscle back into the crop. I will defer however any criticism of this group until much later in the year. Many, or perhaps most of them, are still relatively young, still developing, and learning how to compete. I was pleased with First Dude's performance on Saturday. For such a big guy, he can motor and has heart. Maybe he'll blossom more as we head into summer and fall.

With all due respect to the young lady, I hope they bring back "New York, New York" next year.

I'll cut my discourse here, as it's already too long.

Brock Sheridan said...

I, like you, hope this group of 3-year-olds begins to improve as the year goes on. They may not be the fastest group at this 1/2-way mark of 2010, but they are competitive and look to have some considerable depth. And I'll take that.

The 20-horse Derby issue is not an easy one on the quality issue. (i.e. Mine That Bird would not have qualified for a 14-horse Derby or even a 19-horse Derby for that matter.) It would be interesting to research if other Derby winner would not have qualified.

And for the record, your discourse at any length is always welcome.