OUT OF LEFT FIELD
THE AWFUL, AWFUL PREAKNESS
This artist's rendering of a news photo shows injured Barbaro
being treated at horse veterinary hospital, where prognosis
is better than expected for the horse's survival.
The Barbaro tragedy put
a real damper on the race
By STAN ISAACS
There are two wrenching images from the Preakness Saturday that stick with this viewer.
After Barbaro had been pulled up with a broken leg and was being tended to by horse people, he raised and lowered his injured back right leg. Five times the injured member rose and lowered. Slowly. Painfully, it seemed.
At about the same time the NBC cameras caught the image of jockey Edgar Prado and assistant trainer Peter Brette, who exercises Barbaro, in an embrace consoling each other.
This 131st Preakness goes down as one of the lowest moments in the sport. Barbaro joins the list of top horses injured in big races---Ruffian, Charismatic, Prairie Bayou, Go For Wand and Timely Writer. Barbaro probably will top the list--even over the valiant filly, Ruffian--because of his high profile as a horse who looked as if he could win the Triple Crown.
About the Triple Crown. Any time a horse wins the Kentucky Derby, the first of the Triple Crown races--followed by the Preakness two weeks later and the Belmont Stakes three weeks after that--there is conjecture about his chances of winning the next two. This was particularly so because Barbaro looked so strong running away with the Derby.
My friend Bob Creamer, the former Sports Illustrated sage, made what I think was an astute point before the race. He said:
I read the other day a line saying flatly that America will be deeply disappointed if the Preakness fails to produce a candidate (meaning Barbaro) for the Triple
Crown. I must confess I am getting tired of the overemphasis, spurred by TV, on Triple Crown, Triple Crown, Triple Crown. Sure, if a horse does it, its great, but what I want to see Saturday is a great race between Barbaro and Brother Derek in which, on the backstretch Derek takes the lead with Barbaro following him, the two moving away from the pack, and, like Affirmed and Alydar, race the last half mile of the race alone together, with Derek ahead but with Barbaro closing hard and Derek just holding him off. Then the Belmont is set for the rubber match, two great horses going at it. The hell with the Triple Crown. I want great horse races.
On reflection I found myself agreeing with Creamer. Yes, like the majority of people, I wanted Barbaro to win the Preakness, but it wouldnt have been such a bad thing, I thought, if he was beaten by Brother Derek, which would have set up a wonderful showdown in the Belmont. One of the most thrilling races of all time was the head-to-head duel almost all the way around the track between the winning Affired and Alydar in the 1978 Belmont.
There was no such luck any which way in this Preakness, of course. Not only did we have the tragic finish of Barbaro, but Derek turned out to be a dud. He ran a lackluster race, fading from second to third before finishing fourth. He has not run well outside California, and it would be a surprise to see him in the Belmont now even through Barbaro is out of the picture.
In an odd way, the Belmont might now shape up as an interesting betting race. Kudos to Bernadini for winning the Preakness, but I doubt he will scare other owners from having a crack at the Belmont now that there is no Barbaro overwhelming presence. The more horses in a race, the more attractive a betting proposition it becomes because there are more betting options--not only for win bets but for exotics--exacta and trifecta bets.
Just before the running of the Preakness, the Belmont publicity staff sent out a release of possible Belmont runners. They numbered nine: Bluegrass Cat, Steppenwolfer and Jazil, second, third and fourth finishers in the Derby; Deputy Glitters, Bob and John and Point Determined, Derby also-rans; also Sunriver, Lewis Michael and High Cotton. With a dominant Barbaro out of the picture, some more trainers may come out of hiding from the barns.
One other point: Barbaro broke through the starting gate before the actual start. The attending veterinarian, Larry Bramage, said he didnt think that had anything to do with Barbaros breakdown. I am not so sure. Mightnt the horse have weakened his back leg by hitting the gate as he lurched forward? A puzzlement.
* * *
Hardly in the class of the horse tragedy was the agony experienced by the Mets--and Mets fans like me--in a collapse to the Yankees on national television a few moments before the Preakness. The Mets, who had won a thriller the night before, went into the ninth inning with a 4-0 lead. Usually, a manager does not bring his closer specialist relief pitcher into the game with anything more than a three-run lead (saving a three-run-or-less lead nets a save for the pitcher), but this was the Mets playing the Yankees--the rivalry that invigorates New York City--and Mets manager Willie Randolph had a victory, not saves on his mind.
Billy Wagner, the relief pitcher ace the Mets paid big bucks to lure from the Phillies, proceeded to implode. Not only did this $10 Million-Plus Man allow the Yankees to tie the score with four runs, but he did it in such a manner that should make Mets diehards like me wonder if he could be turning into a disaster that would affect the whole season. He gave up a single, walk and a single and then seemed to lose it as he walked two more batters to force in a second run and then hit Bernie Williams to force in another run. He looked like a lost soul out there and suffered the ultimate indignity for a closer ace: He was replaced.
It seemed only fitting that the Yankees would go on to win, scoring a run in the 11th inning to win 5-4.
* * *
Saturdays other notable event: Barry Bonds hit his 714th career home run, tying Babe Ruth for second place on the all-time homer list behind Henry Aarons 755. On the basis of Bonds comments, which have shown him up to be a racist, I am of the opinion that Bonds has wanted to just best Ruth, who he sees as the white mans hero, and that he will not make a serious attempt at Aarons record. His beat-up body might make that impossible in any case.
©2006 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The illustration is an artist's rendition of a news photo. This column first posted May 22, 2006.
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