Archive for May, 2008

Rich & Compelling
May 29, 2008

Borrowed from Anchorman’sRon Burgundy, rich & compelling aptly describes the impending battle at the Belmont Stakes June 7th.  Big Brown and his cracked hoof get all the headlines as the undefeated bay colt goes for the first triple crown since 1978, but the growing jockey rivalry between Kent Desormeaux and Edgar Prado makes for a spectacular under card.

Prado was the first jockey to ride Big Brown.  The Hall of Fame rider loved Big Brown in workouts (who wouldn’t) and was the favorite jockey of Big Brown’s trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. 

Exactly why Prado ended up saddling also rans so far in this three year old season as opposed to maybe one of the greatest horses of a generation is open for debate. 

An injury to Prado opened the door for Big Brown’s co-owner Michael Iavarone to make a change at jockey, even though Prado’s injury required little in the way of rehab and even though Dutrow openly admits Prado is his favorite jockey. 

Why the change?

Enter Kent Desormeaux.  Looking for a return to the stardom he so enjoyed during the 90’s, according to an industry insider, Desormeaux called up Iavarone, asking to meet for dinner and to discuss Big Brown’s future.  The source told me Desormeaux schmoozed and lobbied his way onto the mount.  Prado was then dismissed.

The storyline turned soap opera-ish after the Preakness when Big Brown’s camp claimed Prado rode long shot Riley Tucker in the Preakness not so much to win, rather to keep Big Brown from winning.  Insinuations and minor insults were tossed then around from all the players.  The tenor of the quest for a triple crown now starting to feel like the buildup to a heavy weight title fight.   

It gets better.  The layering of this story weaving much deeper.

Experts agree there is just one horse capable of challenging Big Brown at the Belmont.  A Japanese import named Casino Drive.  Who rode Casino Drive at the Peter Pan Stakes, the victory that showed how good this horse can be?  Kent Desormeaux.  Who will ride him at the Belmont?  Edgar Prado.

Prior to the Preakness Desormeaux talked about Casino Drive with a glow in his eyes.  Even before winning at Pimlico, he called the Belmont a “cold exacta”, but wouldn’t commit to who went first and who second. 

Since the Preakness win, Desormeaux has changed his tune a little, calling Big Brown the fastest horse he’s ever been on and when asked how Casino Drive matches up, he said, he doesn’t.  Rick Dutrow has done everything but guarantee a victory on June 7th.

Four years ago, Smarty Jones went to the Belmont also as a prohibitive favorite to win the Triple Crown.  Several horses though were ridden in that race not to win, but to make sure Smarty Jones didn’t either.  They tired him out early and he was caught down the stretch by Birdstone. 

We can expect more of the same as other entries will try everything to keep Big Brown from celebrating a historic win.  And can you imagine anyone more motivated to steal that spotlight than Edgar Prado?  Rich & Compelling.

Harbaugh’s Joy
May 2, 2008

I’m sure John Harbaugh will tell you the most joyful events in his life involve the birth of his daughter, the marriage to his wife, things of that nature.  But I can’t imagine anyone feeling more joy than does he as the Ravens head coach.

His mini camp practices are run with military precision, but also with the youthful exuberance of a teenager given the keys to his father’s car for the very first time.  He loves running the show, but for not for the ego of being in charge, simply for the chance to share all that he’s learned about the game. 

Towards the end of practice today, 2nd year returner Yamon Figurs made a rather bone headed play as he fielded a kickoff near the sidelines marker and couldn’t stay inbounds.  Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg was none too thrilled, making it abundantly clear to never, never, never do that again.  He sounded like a football coach.  The play also happened right in front of Harbaugh.  But rather than verbally accost Figurs as I and everyone I spoke that watched the play expected, he walked up the youngster, put his arm around him explaining how to avoid a mistake like that.  He ended the conversation with a pat on the back and the drills continued.

I wasn’t sure if I was watching the NFL or little league. 

He treated Figurs with patience and respect after a mistake that Figurs in no way should have made. 

I asked Coach Harbaugh about that after practice, if that’s how he always coaches.  He explained that he only yells at players for a lack of effort or if they are disrespectful to either teammates or staff.  Then he thanked me for noticing, offering a fist pound. 

Combined with the other early on impressions of Harbaugh, how he always looks you in the eye during a conversation, his childlike excitement to be in Baltimore, I was left thinking how fortunate he is to have found a calling he so thoroughly enjoys.  And how fortunate the Ravens community is to have found him.

I still have no idea if he’ll succeed as a head coach.  They don’t send you to Canton for being a nice guy, otherwise Ted Marchibroda would already be enshrined.  But in looking for signs one way or the other,  nothing negative has come to light.