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Monday, November 12, 2007

Without G. Stevens, TVG Forges On

- The 6th at Hollywood Park on Sunday was named in honor of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, who were on hand for a Meet the Players event. On TVG, Christina Olivares interviewed the team's Derek Armstrong, a center who was in the Rangers' farm system around the turn of the century, and played seven games for the parent club spread out over three seasons. It turned out be some fortuitous scheduling to have the team there on Sunday, as the Kings scored a spectacular comeback victory at home just the night before. They were down 4-0 with less than eight minutes to go, but scored five goals in just over five minutes, surrendered a tying goal with a minute to go, but ultimately winning in OT! I'm sure it must have reminded some of the so-called Miracle on Manchester playoff game against Edmonton in 1982, considered to be the greatest comeback in NHL playoff history.

Unfortunately, the race itself too closely resembled a hockey game. We like hard body checks, but not on the racetrack. It featured a nasty spill involving two horses, and jockeys Fernando Jara and Jose Valdivia, Jr., both of whom were reported to be conscious and alert, but taken to the hospital. Horse racing being the mere blip on the media radar it is these days, no further information on the riders is available as of this writing on Monday morning. The horses were said to be OK, which is pretty amazing if you see the spill.

The accident occurred in upper stretch when Garrett Gomez, aboard the well-bet first-timer Dee Dee's Legacy, steered his mount, who was dead last after a quarter mile, out a path (or two) in search of racing room. In doing so, he came out towards Jara's mount Stretching the Take. Jara then reacted to what he may have believed was imminent contact by directing his horse wide; and the horse appeared to overreact, turning his head sharply to the right and bearing out. This put him in a path directly behind another runner, causing Stretching the Take to clip his heels and tumble to the ground. Dewey's Special then fell over the fallen horse, sending Valvidia hard to the track, as Gomez and Dee Dee's Legacy went on to win. Hopefully we'll learn that the Cushion Track helped cushion the blows. The horses were both reported to be OK, which is surprising if you saw the accident.

I watched that race and a couple of others on TVG. If you missed it, Gary Stevens has defected to HRTV, where he'll start on Jan 1. It seems at first glance like a curious career move, considering that he's going to a network with a smaller audience, and one owned by a debt-ridden company seeking to sell off assets. Who knows, Stronach could sell it off to the Scripps company, which could merge it with HGTV, and Stevens could end up hosting a show on how to renovate barns in preparation for sale.

HRTV's gain is certainly TVG's loss. Stevens has proven to be an excellent listen, and was an important part of the chemistry amongst the sometimes volatile crew on The Works which created some compelling TV. But, at least during the short time I watched on Sunday, TVG showed that it can carry on without him just fine. While I get on the network's case from time to time, they consistently do fine work when they are on location, and perhaps I don't give them the credit they deserve. So today I will.

Before the race, Christina Olivares spoke to the owner of Dee Dee's Legacy, and there was a very nice story behind the horse, though I must admit I didn't pay full attention to the schmalzy details. But it sounded like a nice tear-jerker involving the man's late mother. Unfortunately, the ugly accident overshadowed the result, as well as an ultimately intuitive piece of reporting by Ms. Olivares. The stewards put up the inquiry sign to probe Gomez's role into the spill; adding to the drama, all four numbers on the result board flashed simultaneously. Frank Lyons opined that the question was whether Gomez had caused the accident by drifting out.

But that ultimately was not the key issue in my opinion. Gomez certainly did not keep a straight path, and his steering outside undoubtedly was at least the indirect cause of the crash, since it triggered the reaction by Jara and his mount. There was no contact though, so Lyons argued that the horse should stay up. Todd Schrmmppff, doing his usual good job playing devil's advocate in order to spur his analyst partners (Simon Bray replacing G. Stevens in this case), suggested that the reason there was no contact was only because Jara tried to avoid it.

But that's not really clear watching the head-on. Either Jara, his horse (who was wearing blinkers and therefore presumably did not see the approaching horse), or both seemed to overreact. There was no visual evidence that any bumping would have occurred. So the stewards left the winner up, and the result chart notes that they ruled Streching the Take contributed to his own trouble. Seems like a rather cold way of phrasing it considering the frightening consequences and potential injuries, but that pretty much sums it up. Lyons amplified his point after the ruling, saying that it was Jara's decision to anticipate the contact, and that he didn't have to assume it would occur. He asked if a rider should be DQ'd if he says 'boo!', thus causing a rival to react. It was an interesting discussion, and I'm sure that Stevens would have had his own strong opinion. Mine is that the decision was the correct one. It's unfortunate that the horse clipped heels, but had that not occurred, I don't think there would have been even a thought of conducting an inquiry.

The network scored a homerun on the 8th race as well, the Moccasin Stakes for two-year old fillies. Spring Awakening was favored for trainer Mike Mitchell; she was second in the G1 Del Mar Debutante two back, but faded to third as the 4-5 favorite in her last when ridden much closer to the pace than previously by Joe Talamo. Schrupp and Lyons spoke about how Mitchell was dissatisfied with that ride, leading him to replace Talamo with Garrett Gomez. Ms. Olivares jumped in from the paddock right on cue with an interview with the trainer. "Joe is a good little rider, but he just used kinda bad judgment, pushed on her a little too early, and she ran off," Mitchell told her.

She also alertly pointed out that Mitchell had trained Sindy Jacobson, the apparent main speed in the race, prior to her being purchased privately after her last effort. Mitchell acknowledged that she's the lone speed, but said he doubted she could last for seven furlongs on the Hollywood surface.

So, as the race shaped up with Sindy Jacobson setting the pace, and Spring Awakening rated off the lead (though really not too far behind) in perfect striking position, the pre-race discussions certainly enhanced the viewing experience. And when Gomez and Spring Awakening wore down the leader and headed to victory, Vic Stauffer exclaimed that it was the rider's record-setting 71st stakes victory of the year.

Spring Awakening is by In Excess, out of a Carson City mare, and another interesting pre-race comment by Mitchell was that, while her owners want her to stretch out, he believes she's a sprinter at heart. Perhaps the trainer is a dosage guy, because her number comes in very high at 7.0. Certainly some stamina in her pedigree though, as her second dam is a half-sister to the Belmont winner Editor's Note. So we'll see who prevails between owner and trainer.

Sindy Jacobson was making her first start for a partnership including Team Valor, and I'm always interested in following these private purchases of Barry Irwin. The filly had won her two career starts coming into Sunday's race, though in a 40K maiden claimer and a starters allowance. Though beaten in this race, she took a big jump in class and ran on very well to hold second in a quick race (1:21.53, on a Cushion Track said to be made quicker by a light rain), showing the kind of athleticism on the turn that seems to attract the interests of her new owner. She's by More Than Ready, out of a Rubiano mare, is inbred to Halo 3x3, to Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector, and sports a distance-leaning dosage of 2.25. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them try to stretch this filly out.


ljk said...

I prefer TVG because the analysts at least make a selection. I can't handicap every track, so it adds a little interest if the on-air guy has a pick or a live pick-4 or pick-6 ticket.

Saw where Santa Anita says HRTV will soon see a "huge increase" in distribution. I assume that can only mean DirecTV.

Anonymous said...

Very nice analysis.

Michael said...

How long before Todd Schrupp starts taking pot shots at Stevens for leaving? He always seems to wear on his sleve the fact that he takes TVG vs. (insert anyone here) very personal.

SantaBarbarian said...

Gary was always easy on the eyeballs, too.