Saturday, May 24, 2008
Big Brown is already in New York as I write, getting set for his attempt to become the first US Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Big Brown has dominated every single horse that has ever raced against him. The case can be made that we have yet to truly see Big Brown at his best because he has never been truly challenged. And I will be honest, as impressive as Big Brown looked in the Preakness, his competition was truly atrocious. Andrew Beyer put it best in his article when he said "[r]arely do a horse and rider win any kind of race...with such obvious disdain for the competition." That Big Brown was able to win so easily should not have been a surprise. (Heck, I essentially stated that Big Brown could win this race in essentially the way in which he did and I am clearly no expert - please ignore those picks for second and third place.) However, there still appear to be many people who refuse to acknowledge the quality of races that Big Brown has run (irrespective of what the "competition" might have done in the races), and continue to grasp at straws for why Big Brown should be unqualified to win this Triple Crown.
Before the Kentucky Derby, the story was that Big Brown was too lightly raced and that no horse since 1929 had won the race from post 20, Big Brown's assigned post in the Derby. Of course the naysayers seemed to heavily discount the quality of Big Brown's prior starts when assessing his Derby chances. In Big Brown's maiden run in 2007, he won the 1 1/16 mile turf race in a very fast 1:40.33, while setting quarter-mile fractions of 23.19, 47.54 (24.35), 1:11.84 (24.3), and 1:34.46 (22.62). Now turf (grass) times tend to be faster than dirt times, so on dirt one would expect slower times, however, notice that the second half mile that Big Brown ran (46.92) was faster than the first (47.54). He won this race by 11 1/4 lengths.
In Big Brown's second race, and first of this year, he ran a mile on dirt and set quarter-mile fractions of 22.95, 45.31 (22.36), 1:09.87 (24.56), and finished in 1:35.66 (25.79). This might seem like a disappointing time, but watch the race. The race was a joke. Kent Desormeaux never had to ask Big Brown to run hard and he just cruised in for the win. Nearing the top of the stretch you can see Desormeaux looking around behind him for other horses - something that would become a familiar sight in later races. The key is that if asked Big Brown probably could have gone two seconds faster in this race. He won this race by 12 3/4 lengths.
The next race for Big Brown, and the one that installed him as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, was the March 29 1 1/8 mile Florida Derby. The Florida Derby was the last Kentucky Derby prep race that the great Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro contested in 2006. In that Florida Derby, Barbaro did the seemingly incredible, winning the race from post 10 in a time of 1:49.01. The fractions for that race were 23.45, 47.35 (23.9), 1:11.37 (24.02), and 1:36.08 (24.71). Barbaro won that race by about a quarter length. When Big Brown ran the race, he won from an even more impressive post 12 in 1:48.16, setting splits of 22.76, 45.83 (23.07), 1:10.08 (24.25), and 1:35.18 (25.1). Big Brown won the Florida Derby by five lengths. Clearly Big Brown's Florida Derby was more impressive. He broke from a more disadvantageous position, set faster fractions in leading from wire-to-wire, and his final eighth of a mile was nearly as fast as Barbaro's (12.98 for Big Brown versus 12.93 for Barbaro) even though Big Brown had the race in hand and was not being pushed to finish.
Then we come to the Kentucky Derby. The race has been discussed widely because of the ill-fated run of Eight Belles. Despite this tragedy, the run by Big Brown was truly spectacular. Again starting from post 20, Big Brown won the 1 1/4 mile race in 2:01.82 in which the fractions were 23.3, 47.04 (23.74), 1:11.14 (24.1), and 1:36.56 (25.42). What may not be immediately obvious, and if you do the math (and I've done the math), you will realize that the last quarter mile, in 25.26, was faster than the second to last quarter mile. Essentially this means that the pace to the mile mark was not an overly taxing pace for Big Brown as he still was able to accelerate late in the race. Big Brown won by 4 3/4 lengths over Eight Belles, with another 3 1/2 lengths back to third place Denis of Cork.
And finally we come to the Preakness. There is no secret that Big Brown won the race. As stated above, he went the 1 3/16 mile course in 1:54.86, with fractions of 23.59, 46.81 (23.22), 1:10.48 (23.67), and 1:35.72 (25.24). Big Brown was able to win this race by 5 1/4 lengths with Desormeaux slowing him down well before he had crossed the line. Big Brown probably could have won by more than 10 lengths had Desormeaux allowed him.
Two weeks from today is the Belmont Stakes, the 1 1/2 mile race that has doomed ten Triple Crown contenders in the last thirty years. Many have said that Big Brown has the best shot at winning the Crown since the great Spectacular Bid in 1979. The new horse that everyone is talking about that supposedly has a shot at derailing Big Brown is Casino Drive. There are three main factors that the "experts" point to when assessing Casino Drive's chances. First of all, he is half-brother (sharing the same mother) to the last two Belmont Stakes winners, Jazil in 2006 and Rags to Riches in 2007. And second of all, people point to Casino Drive's victory at Belmont Park in the 1 1/8 Peter Pan Stakes on May 10 in 1:47.87. Casino Drive won this race by five lengths with Kent Desormeaux as his jockey. It's a very impressive time, better than Big Brown's time at the same distance in the Florida Derby, with quarter mile splits of 23.08, 46.31 (23.23), 1:10.47 (24.16), and 1:35.26 (24.79). The third main factor that people use is that Casino Drive will be the more rested horse.
Casino Drive hasn't received nearly the same scrutiny that Big Brown has. Would you care to know how many lifetime races Casino Drive has completed as he prepares for the Belmont? Two. The Peter Pan Stakes was Casino Drive's second lifetime race. Why is there no talk about whether such a lightly raced horse such as Casino Drive able to win such a demanding race as the Belmont as there was for Big Brown heading into the Kentucky Derby? Additionally, is the fact that Casino Drive is half brother to the last two Belmont winners really that strong of a piece of evidence? Put in another way, might it not be more chance than anything else that Jazil and Rags to Riches happened to win the Belmont? Surely there have been well-bred horses born from the same mare who have shown varying abilities to perform over the last several decades. Why should it be the case that simply because Casino Drive's two half siblings won the last two Blemonts that Casino Drive should have a reasonable chance to upset Big Brown? Oh, that's right, Casino Drive did have that big performance in the Peter Pan Stakes. However, that performance is somewhat deceptive, and is in my opinion not as impressive as Big Brown's Florida Derby victory.
One of the things that I have never heard discussed is the dimensions of the tracks on which the horses have run. The Belmont Park main racecourse, on which the Belmont Stakes will be contested and on which the Peter Pan Stakes took place, is a 1 1/2 mile racecourse. The straights of the Belmont course are 1940 feet, which leaves 2020 feet for each of the curves. The Gulfstream Park course, where the Florida Derby took place, is a 1 1/8 mile racecourse, and as nearly as I can tell, the straights are about 1370 feet while the curves are 1600 feet. (This is a rough estimate based on using the Gmaps Pedometer, but it is close enough for qualitative and quantitative purposes.) Casino Drive ran a single turn in his Peter Pan win while Big Brown ran two turns in his Florida Derby win. Anyone who has ever run in races knows that it is harder to maintain a high speed on a tighter curve than it is on a more gradual turn. That Big Brown ran a longer distance on tighter curves (3200 feet versus 2020 feet) and actually had to run a few horses wide on the first turn as a result of the disadvantageous 12 post start position (actually increasing the distance that he ran), and only ran .29 seconds slower than Casino Drive, who was able to stay along the rail for pretty much the entire race, is impressive. Each horse won by five lengths and so it is unclear as to whether either was going all out as the race ended.
The biggest that I see with those who are discounting Big Brown's chances is that it seems virtually everyone ignores the fact that Big Brown seems to listen to and obey Kent Desormeaux's every command. From all appearances, Big Brown will not go off chasing an insanely fast pace on his own, and I doubt that Kent Desormeaux would direct him to do so. From what I've seen, the only way to defeat Big Brown is to set some pace that is fast enough that he will have his kick taken out of him. So far, none of these other horses have demonstrated this ability. In the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, Big Brown was positioned just off of the pace as he reached the quarter pole, and then once Desormeaux gave him the green light, he accelerated away from the field, gapping them by three to four lenghts in a matter of a few strides. I don't think any of the horses that ran against Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness are good enough to set such a fast pace that will break Big Brown. And in those last two races, once Big Brown pulled away the distance widened without Kent Desormeaux asking for the full effort out of Big Brown. (This was certainly the case in the Preakness, but I believe it was also the case in the Kentucky Derby.) I don't think that Casino Drive would be likely to set the pace in the Belmont and I have not seen anything out of this horse to suggest that he can handle that Big Brown acceleration when it inevitably comes.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I had seen the movie in the theatre ten years ago, and then as no, something really disturbs me about the film. Well, at the very end of the film... Oh wait, maybe I should not spoil how the movie ends... No screw it; the movie has been out for ten years and so you have had plenty of time to see it. At the very end of the film, Jake Shuttlesworth, after fulfilling his end of a bargain whereby if he convinced his son to attend Big State, the alma mater of the governor, the governor would shorten his prison sentence, finds himself still imprisoned with seemingly no change to his sentence. Concurrent while Jake is out playing basketball in the prison yard, his son is playing basketball states away in the gym of his new school, Big State.
And then the symbolic (I guess) but truly perplexing occurs. Jake begins to walk while holding a basketball toward one of the goals and beyond into a section of the grounds labelled "Out of Bounds." Now I know what you're saying; what's so wrong with labelling the part on the basketball court that is out of bounds with "Out of Bounds?" Behind the basket is out of bounds after all. Now that's a good question except for the fact that this out of bounds section was the out of bounds section in which the prison guards evidently shoot you. Now Jake is walking out toward the shoot-me-please out of bounds section while the guards call him back as they simultaneously aim their guns at him. What does Jake do? Well, he tosses the basketball high up into the air and over the prison wall.
The scene shifts, and we are now back in the gym at Big State with Jesus Shuttlesworth alone getting some practice in. He's about to attempt a shot when seemingly out of nowhere a basketball flies onto the court. Now this was no ordinary basketball (of course it wasn't, I've just told you that it came flying in from seemingly nowhere) as when Jesus picked it up, we the audience could see that it was the same basketball that Jake threw from within the prison yard those many states away. The movie ends with Jesus staring up toward the arena ceiling in amazement as he holds the basketball and Jake walking back onto the court at the prison.
Now I always swore to myself that if I ever got the chance to meet Ray Allen, I would have to ask him about this scene. This is how I would envision this going:
Me: Hey Ray, how's it going?
Ray Allen: Great.
Me: Hey Ray, can I ask you a question?
R.A.: No, you can't have an autograph.
Me: No, I have a different question. It's about He's Got Game.
R.A.: Yes, I do get annoyed when people call me Jesus.
Me: No, it's about one of the scenes from the movie.
R.A.: Yes, the scene with me and the two porn stars was as awesome as it looked.
Me: No, I want to ask about the final scene in the movie - the one where you stand there when the ball magically flies into the arena from nowhere.
R.A.: Oh, that scene.
Me: When you read the script or when Spike Lee told you about this scene, did you think that he was a crazy person?
Me: I mean, did Spike bother to explain exactly what the symbolism behind this was.
Me: Was your character in the movie even supposed to know that your character's father threw the basketball because I couldn't see the ball closely, but I don't recall seeing "Property of Attica State Prison" on it?
Me: Oh, did Spike even tell you that a scene with Denzel throwing the ball was juxtaposed with the ball flying into the arena? Wait, did you even see the movie?
R.A.: Look, do you want my autograph or not?
And that's exactly how it would play out. Well, I wish to inform you that I did encounter Ray Allen on one occasion in early April of 2004. And how did things play out? Forgive me, but that is a story for another day...
Friday, May 16, 2008
On paper and with full rest, Big Brown should crush these other horses, especially since at the Preakness, as opposed to the last two times that Big Brown has raced, Big Brown did not draw the far outside post, and thus should not have to swing so wide on the first turn. Breaking from the seven post, I would expect jockey Kent Desormeaux to take Big Brown to the lead from the start to avoid getting jumbled with the other horses. Big Brown has already shown that he can win races wire-to-wire, as he did at the Florida Derby. In the Florida Derby (March 29), Big Brown set quick fractions early and was still able to easily pull away from an overmatched field. With no real credible threats in this race, I would expect Desormeaux to set really controlled fractions early on (i.e., relatively slow fractions), daring any of the other horses to take over the lead. Big Brown appears to be talented enough that he can respond to any challenge made by these horses without wasting too much energy. Big Brown should be able to then pull away from the rest of the field when Desormeaux calls on him to do so. If you look at the recent races in which these horses have run, for all races reasonably close in length to the 9.5 furlongs the horses will run on Saturday (so I'm excluding Macho Again's 7.5 furlong race), all of Big Brown's competitors were fighting to the very end to run times that were inferior to the times that Big Brown ran at both the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby where in each case he had more to give if needed. Big Brown should not have much trouble winning this race.
As for the rest of the field, originally I was going to pick Behindatthebar for second and Yankee Bravo for third, but with the scratch of Behindatthebar, I'm promoting Yankee Bravo up to second and moving Gayego into third position.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
I understand that one does not show much bravery by picking the favorite to win, but some of the reasons that people gave for why Big Brown would not win seemed somewhat asinine. In this article, Paul Moran points out that no horse so lightly raced (Big Brown had only had three career races completed heading into the Kentucky Derby) and undefeated entering the Derby had won since Regret won in 1915. Do you see what the key is here behind Moran's questioning of Big Brown's chances? It wasn't because Big Brown was so lightly raced heading into the Derby or that he was undefeated heading into the Derby, it was because Big Brown was lightly raced and undefeated heading into the Derby that allowed Moran to go all the way back to 1915 to question Big Brown's chances. Because if you throw out the whole lightly raced criterion (i.e., only having had three prior starts), you would have to go all the way back to 2006 to find the last undefeated horse entering the Derby to be victorious on that first Saturday in May (Barbaro). And before Barbaro in 2006, you would have to go all the way back to 2004 to find the last undefeated horse entering the Derby to win (Smarty Jones).
The question of Big Brown's experience is crucial to Moran's argument and is essentially the only part worth exploring. Who cares that Big Brown was undefeated heading into the Derby? Would this really seem to be a legitimate reason to question his ability to win? In this article, Bill Finley does a better job, in my opinion of explaining the flaw of examining Big Brown's limited amount of starts heading into the Kentucky Derby. He indicates that only nine horses since 1955 had even entered the Derby only having completed three or fewer prior races. Let's say that on average ten horses enter the Kentucky Derby each year (the maximum that are allowed to race in the Derby is twenty so this seems like a reasonable estimate) and that we are looking at fifty-two races (I'm assuming that Finley meant that since the completion of the 1955 Derby, which would make the 1956 Derby the first in the span that he is referencing). So zero of those nine out of 520 horses with only three lifetime prior starts had won the Kentucky Derby since 1955? Wow, that certainly seems to be a significant statistic...
But going all the way back for a moment to the last undefeated horse to win the Kentucky Derby before Big Brown for a moment, I want to discuss something of real (or at least greater) statistical significance and Barbaro. Just as was the case with Big Brown, Barbaro's last prep race before the Kentucky Derby was the Florida Derby. Here is what Daily Racing Form said about Big Brown's chance of winning from post 12 (the extreme outside post) heading into the Florida Derby:
And if you would like to read what Bloodhorse.com said about or actually see the race, check it out here. The point is that Big Brown completed a more impressive feat than did Barbaro in winning his Florida Derby. From the quote above it is clear that the person speaking has placed Barbaro on quite a lofty pedestal (watching the video of Barbaro's Kentucky Derby victory makes you understand why), so if Big Brown was able to complete a more impressive feat than did Barbaro, take the same amount of time off heading into the Kentucky Derby, and by all objective viewings appear to be vastly more talented than his rivals, then why did so many experts so easily talk themselves out of predicting a Big Brown victory? I suppose those experts might be lacking in experience.
"Ah, posts 11 and 12. Going 1 1/8 miles on the main track at Gulfstream, with a
short run to the first turn, the outside posts are like the Bermuda Triangle.
Since Gulfstream reconfigured its track four years ago, posts 11 (0 for 18) and
12 (0 for 11) are a combined 0 for 29 at 1 1/8 miles, the distance of the
Florida Derby. Barbaro won from post 10 two years ago, but he was Barbaro."
And now on to PETA. This year's Kentucky Derby of course ended tragically with the death of place horse Eight Belles. After having finished the race, she collapsed after a quarter mile of her cool-down following the race, shattering both front ankles. It is quite tragic whenever one of these impressive horses has to be euthanized due to such an injury, and if PETA wants to take on the entire Thoroughbred racing industry, I would say that this would be their prerogative. There are certainly legitimate arguments that can be made that the breeding of Thoroughbreds leads directly to animal suffering. However, this is not what PETA has done. Oh no, they want Eight Belles's jockey suspended. As the the letter that PETA faxed to the Kentucky racing authority states, Eight Belles was obviously injured before the end of the race and so jockey Gabriel Saez should be suspended while Eight Belles's death is investigated. So why even bother investigating? PETA already clearly knows that Eight Belles was injured before the race ended, so what will more silly investigating tell us? Let's just stop wasting time with a silly suspension and just throw Saez in prison for a long time. Right now. This instant. Because obviously Saez knew Eight Belles was hurt before the race ended and just wanted to see her break both front ankles and have to be euthanized. You don't have to interview anyone or investigate anything to know that...
With that covered, some of you may be wondering why I waited so long into May to publish this first post. I will answer that wonderment by saying stop riding me and stay out of my office. Besides, if I had published this on May 1 for example, there may have been somewhere else on the planet where it was still April 30, and don't forget that April 30 still occurred during my April Boycott. (Yes, it has risen to the level where I am giving it a proper noun.)
And so what can you expect from this (we)blog going forward? Can you expect a new and improved quality of rambling? Do you think that I'm still at the top of my game? Well let me answer those questions sequentially: the same sort of crap you saw before, I would say to expect the same quality of rambling crap that you saw before, and I would say that if you liked the crap I wrote before (or if you hated the crap that I wrote before) then you certainly should like (hate) the crap that I write from here on out (except that I will not be writing during the April Boycott).
Now there you have it, leave me alone, and B, stay out of my office.