Friday, May 2, 2014

Feeling Dirty

In a way, I regret the decision to host a Kentucky Derby party on Saturday.

It has nothing to do with the preparation, expense or subsequent cleanup after 50 or so friends and some of their kids ransack my house and/or liquor cabinet.

Hell, I relish the notion of introducing 50+ mostly novices to the sport I truly adore.

Besides, the theme is a chili cook-off as well, so you cannot beat the themes -- socializing while eating and drinking too much, pitching some horseshoes out back, and some friendly bets in the name of camaraderie.

What is disconcerting, particularly in the wake of several disappointing media stories and corporate developments at Churchill Downs, Inc., is the utter lack of respect for people who support thoroughbred racing on a regular basis.

On that note, I plan on muting the TV until race time, for fear of what should be a slew of stories on television centering on corporate greed and the lack of humanity in horse racing -- themes that embellish my view of the host of the 140th Kentucky Derby caring less about racing outside of Oaks and Derby Days.

Churchill is nothing but a casino company, pimping its racing in order to keep its "racino" licenses.


At the same time I want to enjoy the product and share it with my friends, I feel filthy in doing so.

Yet another of the many contradictions of fan of a sport where the customer is constantly getting squeezed, and where conflicts of interest are increasingly the norm.

I would rather not belabor the details discussed in digital media, but the most appalling tidbit to derive from Louisville, KY in the lead-up to the 140th Derby is Churchill Downs' treatment of the legendary jockey Ron Turcotte, 2-time Derby winner on Riva Ridge (1972) and the legendary Secretariat (1973); Turcotte is boycotting this year's race on account of brutally inhumane treatment of him by Churchill Downs.

Legendary trainer Graham Motion did not appear surprised by the news.

Speaking of inhumane, Churchill did nothing to keep trainer Steve Asmussen from saddling horses in Friday's Oaks or Saturday's Derby after startling allegations of cruelty to animals.

Around that same time, Churchill Downs announced an increase in parimutuel "takeout" on wagers at its namesake track, conveniently starting one week prior to Derby 140.  The announcement sparked a boycott of Churchill among horseplayers, who according to some reports helped to dent Churchill's handle (or profit on horse wagers) by 12% alone last week.

In all, the corporation pissed on its own, though I am not even sure that legendary horsemen and the horseplayer public even fit that description anymore, since Churchill's basically a casino operator focused on concepts like "enhancing shareholder value."

Turcotte, along with the folks who actually keep the horse racing business going, can screw themselves, unless of course they are sitting on loads $88 shares of CHDN stock.

Rock and a Hard Place

On the heels of such knowledge, I sometimes wonder why I (or others) even follow the sport, or care at all about the Kentucky Derby.

After all, it is just 1 race, and one increasingly watered down in some cases by horses who have yet to win anything but a maiden race to this point -- a byproduct of the "points system" used to gain entry.

I care because I love the game, and this year the Derby party at my house is the springboard to introduce friends and family to a sport that, despite its warts, remains absolutely brilliant, in my mind.

This summer, in fact, I will be serving as an "ambassador" at Monmouth Park, where I will share my enthusiasm with other patrons at the track in a grassroots bid to revive interest in horse racing.

So, on Derby Day, I am more focused on showing my house guests a great time around the big race.

From a betting perspective, there is no greater intellectual challenge than sitting down to past performances to decipher which of the 19 thoroughbreds scheduled (as of 5 p.m. ET on Friday) has the best shot to finish first in a mile-and-a-quarter classic.

On that note, and in my own bit of protest toward Churchill Downs, I am more than halving my annual Kentucky Derby bankroll and generally focusing on making a sound pick for the 2014 contest starting today at Public Handicapper.

We Miss Artie is my 2014 Kentucky Derby selection.

There are several reasons to dislike this pick -- namely a horse with a grass and synthetic surface pedigree who in 3 prior tries did not seem to like running on dirt.

On the other hand, the more I pick apart the race, the more I can poke as many holes in the other horses I closely considered -- Danza, Intense Holiday and Wicked Strong -- and so decided to stick to my guns off what I thought was the most impressive Derby prep performance.

We Miss Artie, at 50-to-1 and perhaps capable of being sent off at even longer odds, showed glimpses in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park to suggest distance and a "troubled trip" are not a problem, as in the Spiral, We Miss Artie pretty much ran 3-4 paths wide of the others the entire mile and an eighth, and ran 5-6 paths wide down the stretch to nail the winner at the wire.

The Derby, to me...and this is no secret handicapping angle, is about getting a good trip.  See Calvin Borel's ride on 50-to-1 Mine That Bird a few years back.

We Miss Artie might have been unimpressive in training earlier this week, but I have confidence that high-percentage jockey Javier Castellano can keep his horse out of trouble for one big run at the end after half the field burns out on the lead, and surface is not that big a concern as I see it, since there is no dead ringer in this field (despite how some people feel about California Chrome).

So, in much the same way that several others have had dirt kicked in their faces by Churchill Downs the corporation and prevailed, I anticipate that We Miss Artie will not mind overcoming adversity and some dirt in his face to upset the apple cart in Louisville.

1 comment:

  1. Good post NJ horsplayer,
    Enjoy the race with your friends. Easy on the mint Juleps!