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Monday, June 13, 2011

A Shmegegee Belmont

When I get home from the Belmont, there was a voicemail from my mom.

You wait three hours for them to all line up, and talk and carry on; then a minute and a half, and some shmegegge horse wins. Did you ever? I thought that poor Animal Kingdom was going to fall. However, that's how it goes.

(Did you really go? It's disgusting out!)
Well, first of all, yes, we really went. But it wasn't really that bad, though there was barely a moment when there wasn't at least a fine mist descending upon the area. Didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits in the crowd of 55,779. That figure was below the 60,000 that NYRA was hoping for, but I think they did extremely well considering the elements, and the lack of bling in this year's big race. The crowd was up over 23% from last year, and ontrack handle was up by nearly 33% to $10,098,573, from around $7.6 million last year. (And the overall numbers were up as well.)

Of course, much of that on-track increase is due to the closure of NYC OTB which, as Matt Hegarty succinctly suggests, has limited the options for New York City residents to wager on races. Nonetheless, NYRA deserves much credit for the way they've filled that vacuum by providing transportation options - including and especially their deal with the LIRR to bring back the Belmont Express - and promoting and growing their lucrative online wagering platform. And not to mention, once again, the efforts by the energetic marketing department which continues to do a great job.

Now, shmegegge is a Yiddish term meaning, according to, baloney; hot air; nonsense. Of course, the connections of Ruler On Ice may dispute those characterizations. After all, not like he was a bad horse; in fact, he'd never finished out of the money in the five races since his debut, ran third in the Sunland Derby (just behind Preakness show horse Astrology), and second in the Tesio at Pimlico on Derby day, his last start. As Teresa pointed out, he was the only horse in the field with a win in the slop (a fact which, back in simpler days, might have been enough to bring me to land on him; now, I didn't even notice amongst all the other handicapping noise). Had a couple of really sharp five furlong works for this at Monmouth too.

On the other hand, Ruler On Ice is not that fast (ha ha to his 100 Beyer for the Belmont), and had significant questions of class to answer. Who was he facing? was the skeptical question in the Form's Closer Look blurb. (And that's probably what racing scholars of the future will ask about this Belmont field.) Whatsmore, he's a son of Roman Ruler, not exactly considered to be a source of stoutness.

However, that's how it goes. So while we won't disparage tho horse, I think we can say it was a Schmegegge Belmont. Baloney (Test of Champions); Hot Air (Animal Kingdom vs. Shackleford, blah blah blah); Nonsense (single digit odds on Nehro, Mucho Macho Man, and Master of Hounds [no redboarding here, disparaged each one's chances before the race]). The race and its results carry no implications for anything, be it divisional honors or the results of three-year old stakes races to come, especially having been run on a sloppy racetrack which threw an already muddled field of horses running an unnatural distance into utter handicapping chaos.

What it was, was a big fun stakes race on a big fun racing day, with the kind of result which makes the game the confounding paradox we all know and love. And that's about it (though isn't that enough?).

(The Shmegegge Exacta returned $928 on a $2 bet.)

- We can all surely understand John Velazquez's frustration at being knocked offstride on Animal Kingdom by Mucho Macho Man courtesy of Isn't He Perfect; but those are some really serious charges he leveled at Rajiv Maragh.
Before the Belmont, Maragh lost the mount on Mucho Macho Man to Ramon Dominguez. Velazquez said he thinks Maragh was looking for payback against the Mucho Macho Man camp, and Animal Kingdom, the Kentucky Derby winner, wound up being an innocent victim.

“That’s what I think, and that’s why I was so frustrated,’’ Velazquez said. [Times Picayune]
That's quite an accusation; the idea that any jockey given a chance to ride in a classic race (even on a truly shmegegge horse like Isn't He Perfect) would instead take the opportunity to endanger the health and welfare of fellow riders over a matter of petty retribution. We know about things said in the heat of battle, but these remarks took place the next morning. The three jockeys involved have a meeting with the stewards on Wednesday, and if they don't have a credible case against Maragh, they should have a few extra words for Johnny V.

Barry Irwin seemed more sensible, absolving Maragh ("I think that horse is a tough horse to ride."), but criticizing the owners for running the horse in the Belmont in the first place.

Irwin also said that Animal Kingdom will now remain on dirt.
“Now is no time to be adventuresome,” Irwin said. “We need to win the 3-year-old championship to increase the value of this colt for the partnership. We got to stay on dirt.” [NY Times]
It's certainly not unusual for these decision to be based purely on economic considerations. At least in this case, it works out for the best. Not only will the Derby winner (hopefully) forge on to the Travers, now we can bet against him as the favorite again too...especially given the excuse he had in the Belmont (even as he had none whatsoever in the Preakness). Funny how some people who stumbled upon him in the Derby just really really got hooked on this horse. Not just enough for some to have the Derby winner; I suppose it feels more legit if it doesn't turn out to be a fluke. And we'll just see about that.


Anonymous said...

I think Animal Kingdom is quality and if he can stay in one piece he's going to have a good year and prove himself to be the best three year old.

Now, what is up with these Beyer figs? Did he assign a split variant? The reason I ask is that Trappe Shot ran a hole in the wind and got a 112 Beyer for his 1:08 and 4/5ths performance in the True North and once again the Belmont could have been timed by a sun dial and the winner gets a 100. I guess you could argue the track was slowing down but I don't know if that's accurate. We just assume since the times were slower in the King's Bishop and Belmont relative to the Acorn and True North that the track was slowing down? Not so sure about that. I think Trappe Shot ran more like a 120 and Ruler On Ice more like a 95. Trappe Shot was an absolute maniac before the race, btw, galloping off ahead of the post parade and doing a jig before they loaded him. -jp

Figless said...

I think Animal Kingdom will prove to be like Mine That Bird, compare their pp's and figs. He may not win another race, at least not on dirt.

Can anyone provide a link to the Larry Colmus race call, Durkin was horrible, his best days are behind him I fear. I used to love his calls but he is very shaky lately.

El Angelo said...

Exactly one horse in this entire Triple Crown series provided anything resembling notable performances, and it was Animal Kingdom. His Derby was very good, he rallied well (if in vain) in the Preakness and his what-the-hell-let's-try-this-anyway move on the far turn in the Belmont was actually quite impressive.

Despite only winning one race, to me, he's clearly the best horse in the crop, and I look forward to getting inflated odds on him in the future if people agree with you that he's overrated based on one win. Yes, he's not Silver Charm or Street Sense, but he's not a one-and-done phenomenon like Super Saver or Giacomo. If he stays healthy, he strikes me as a good one.

Figless said...

Doubt people will agree with me, I am expecting him to be huge underlay when he returns. He IS the clear cut division leader, I just doubt his true quality.

Hopefully they will all stay healthy and the debate will be proven on the track the way it should be.

Anonymous said...

I was alive in big doubles to brilliant speed an stay thirsty. Ouch.