Saturday, June 21, 2008

Horse names that rock

One complaint that people who name race horses have is that all the good names are taken.

To some degree, this is true. Names of famous horses are officially retired by The Jockey Club, so there will never be another Man O’War or Secretariat. Horse names also cannot be reused until 15 years after the previous horse’s death. There are other rules—no “vulgar, obscene or suggestive” names, and no names of “commercial significance” (although Big Brown apparently slid by).

With an increasing number of common names being taken, one recent gimmick is to string a phrase together as one word (to fit the 18-letter space limit), such as Atswhatimtalkinbout. Occasionally, this works (e.g., current harness phenom Somebeachsomewhere), but it usually results in cumbersome, unmemorable names.

U.S. Trotting Association writer Dean Hoffman has suggested naming horses after classic literature, such as Absalom Absalom, Catcher In The Rye, A Farewell To Arms—you get the idea. This is imaginative, although I would stop short of naming a horse The Idiot.

This got me thinking—why not name horses after classic rock albums?

I’m not the first one to have this idea. There were horses at Beulah Park when I was young named Physical Graffiti and Stardust Ziggy (not sure why they flip-flopped the words). Plus, there was a champion Quarter Horse a few years back named Sgt. Pepper Feature.

But there are many album titles that would not only be short enough, but would sound really cool coming from an announcer’s mouth. (And for all I know, some of these may be in use.) Consider:

Abbey Road
Sticky Fingers
Rocket to Russia
Let It Be
My Aim Is True
King of America
Electric Ladyland
Axis Bold As Love
London Calling
American Beauty
Nashville Skyline
Purple Rain
Wish You Were Here

I could go on. But there were two names that leaped out at me as being especially appropriate.

Who’s Next. That sounds like a champion. Just think of what the headline writers would do if this horse got on a win streak.

Then there’s the perfect rock horse name: Born to Run. That wouldn’t work for a harness horse, though, because “run” is a synonym for breaking stride.

This list makes me grateful for the limit on the number of letters. Otherwise some horse might have been stuck with When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He'll Win the Whole Thing Fore He Enters the Ring There's No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You'll Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won't Matter, Cuz You Know That You're Right.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Myths about the Belmont

I will say this for this year’s Triple Crown—it got people talking.

From the tragic breakdown of Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby to Big Brown’s stunning loss in the Belmont, there’s been plenty of fodder for TV pundits and online message boards—80 percent of which comes from people who can’t tell one end of a horse from the other.

In the aftermath of Big Brown’s loss, two myths have been thrown around the electronic media that need to be addressed.

Myth #1: There is nothing wrong with Big Brown. This was the first thing that came out of the mouths of most of ESPN’s on-air personalities after the race. Even on-air vet Larry Bramlage assured viewers that nothing was wrong with the horse.

Perhaps this collective denial is an attempt to keep PETA at bay, but it’s belied by the running of the race itself. Big Brown was trying to bear out throughout the race, to the point where I thought he might blow the first turn. I’ve seen many horses run the same way, and it’s usually due to some sort of pain in a left leg. Big Brown’s quarter crack was in the left front.

Maybe the quarter crack wasn’t healed as well as trainer Rick Dutrow claimed. Maybe the cause was more mundane—he may have been overheated or have bled. In any case, there was something wrong with the horse. Which brings me to….

Myth #2: The Belmont was fixed. I’m amazed at the number of people online who are making this claim. People actually think that there was a conspiracy to stiff a potential Triple Crown winner in order to cash a big bet.

This was not a $5,000 claiming race. This was one of the biggest races of the year with a $5 million bonus on the line. Are we supposed to believe that Kent Desormeaux would throw that away—not to mention a place in racing history—in order to hit the trifecta?

Desormeaux eased Big Brown because, again, there was something wrong with him. He was doing what he thought was best for the horse, and I applaud him for that.

The problem with Big Brown will eventually be revealed, and I will not be surprised if he never races again.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

All over--or just begun?

The Cup has changed possession once again, but this time is different.

While this year’s Stanley Cup Finals saw the Detroit Red Wings beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2, that stat doesn’t begin to tell the story.

Those who watched saw more than just a series of hockey games. They saw the future of the sport being transformed.

Maybe I’m not seeing the whole picture because I live in Pittsburgh. After all, a poll taken last weekend by ESPN showed that many outside the traditional hockey strongholds found Kimbo Slice beating the crap out of some bum to be more compelling.

But it would be hard for any true sports fan to dispute that the NHL was where it was happening the last few weeks.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs had everything you could want in a championship (well, except the Penguins winning it all). It had established teams who go a long way back with the Cup. It had upstarts in their breakthrough season. It had a number-one seed being knocked off in the second round. It had bitter rivals contending for the Eastern Conference title.

And—at least in the early rounds—it gave you a chill up your spine as packed arenas joined in singing the most euphonious national anthem, “O Canada.”

The reason people who aren’t Canadian, or from a U.S. state that borders Canada, cite for not liking hockey is that it’s boring. That’s why it’s rarely on network TV. That’s why it’s on a cable network that fills the remainder of its time with cage fighting and hunting. Whenever the major networks have tried to take on hockey, they’ve felt obligated to add some gimmick to make it more exciting. Remember Fox’s headache-inducing glowing puck?

Nobody who saw the last two Stanley Cup games could say that hockey’s boring. Game 5 gave us a tying goal from Max Talbot with 34 seconds left, then 50 additional minutes of hockey before a goal from Petr Sykora broke the tie and sent the series back to Detroit. The same scenario almost repeated itself in Game 6, when the Penguins staged a last-minute rally, only to see the puck slide across the crease—just in front of the crossbar—at the last second.

Compare that to the NBA, where the last two minutes of a game often take 20 minutes, or steroid-ridden Major League Baseball, where 26 teams are farm teams for the other four.

If games such as those seen during the Stanley Cup Playoffs are any indication, hockey should assume its rightful place in the sports pantheon in years to come.