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TrackNotes: Four Quarters And The Perfect Grift

A calendar year in horse racing can be divided into four quarters:

- Two-year-olds, who may have gotten a taste of the bigs in their limited rookie seasons swing into the Spring shakeout and jump onto the Triple Crown trail. Or not.

- Several survivors go to the Kentucky Derby, and perhaps the Preakness and/or Belmont after that. If "selfie" can make it to Webster's Dictionary, so can "elusive Triple Crown."

- The Summer season, where the green and gawky three-year-olds and the experienced horses at four come into their respective own, sometimes crossing paths.

- The Fall season, where trainers look to get their charges ready for the big wrap party, the Breeders' Cup Championships (Oct. 31 - Nov. 1, Santa Anita Park), where it's the most serious kind of racing, no goofin'.

The concept isn't mine. We retain the four-quarters paradigm from the shrewd battlefield tactician Lovie Smith, who was capable of, like Chuck Norris, taking it more than one game at a time.

Breeders' Cup and the month-out preps leading up to it are like the best Batman costume, best sausage stuffing and best Norway pine you ever had. And the 2014 holiday season begins Saturday as we say hello to old friend California Chrome, already checked in at Parx (formerly Philadelphia Park and before that Keystone Racetrack, names that kinda told you where it was) hoping to conquer the nine-furlong, $1,000,000 Grade II Pennsylvania Derby.

Good thing he's a horse. He doesn't know about the $1200,000 bribe his connections are taking to bring him to the outer-ish suburbs of The City of Brotherly Love. 'Chrome's too young to ask how he feels, but "Rippin' the breezes, hey dude?!" would be a perfect bon mot. He's been training faithfully since early August, with two bullets (best of the day workouts at that distance) at his Los Alamitos HQ, including a 1:10-1/5 over the longer six furlongs.

'Chrome should have plenty of bottom from a highly active spring and Triple Crown campaign, but this A-list star will still have to get his dancing legs back under him. It's a tall order to win the Classic with only one prep and against many older horses, and may well illustrate the curse a horse bears when he's expected to run in the Belmont after winning the Derby and Preakness.

Also, he'll be starting from the one hole, difficult to begin with but made tougher by the presence of speed merchant Bayern over in the four post and need-the-lead knockabout C J's Awesome on the outside.

Bayern put on his Pirellis and needed only a rearview mirror in running away in the Haskell Invitational on July 27 by more than seven lengths in what was supposed to be a boy-versus-girl battle royale with three-year-old filly Untapable, more on her later. But then Bayern threw in a bonafide clunker in the Travers Stakes, finishing last. You tell me, but the conversation will start with the opening topic: distance.

Candy Boy could figure, but our finger-tapping gets louder as our patience wanes.

Tapiture comes in off two wins, the Grade III Matt Winn at Churchill Downs and the Grade II West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer. That last score came against Candy Boy and Vicars In Trouble, who later notched an easy victory in the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.

'Chrome can't read bulletin board material but his trainer Art Sherman can. Tapiture owner Ron Winchell ticked off two of his reasons 'Chrome is up against it: the transcontinental plane flight and nine furlongs off an extended break. On the same conference call, Sherman countered the jabs, "Really, where does he want us to run, in the (Grade I) Awesome Again Stakes? I guess they don't believe in Shared Belief." A Peabody-esque observation by Sherman that he doesn't think 'Chrome can beat 'Belief, at least not now. That's some straight talkin'.

It says here 3:30 p.m. on Comcast Sports Net Chicago HD, but check that because CSNCHD isn't exactly known as a go-to portal of TV racing. They may be patching in to the Philly Comcast feed.

Shared Belief, owned by sports gasbag Jim Rome, runs in the Awesome Again next week after taking the Los Alamitos Derby and crushing the Pacific Classic in August. The undefeated two-year-old Horse of the Year is arguably the best three-year-old in the country. Sherman figures if they butt heads in the Classic, so be it. And whatever equine pheromones of Shared Belief 'Chrome hasn't smelled won't hurt him.

Untapable returns in the co-feature, the 8.5-furlong $1,000,000 Cotillion (Grade I). Silver-maned Bob "No Problemo" Baffert says that when it was clear Untapable was done in the Haskell, and it was always clear, jockey Martin Garcia Rosie Napravnik eased her up and saved her for another day. That's good to hear, because she'll be taking on Sweet Reason, stretching out in distance (could be a problem) after wins in the one-mile Acorn (Grade I) at Belmont and the seven-furlong Test (Grade I) at Saratoga. Second favorite is Stopchargingmaria (an inside joke about owner Mike Repole's wife's spending habits), who comes in with haute couture victories in the Black Eyed Susan (Grade II, Pimlico), Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama (both Grade I, Saratoga). Little Alexis is an up-and-comer at a morning line 20-1.

Next week is Super Saturday at Belmont with the - breathe deeply - Beldame, Flower Bowl, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Joe Hirsch Turf, Kelso and Vosburgh. It becomes even Super-er with the Awesome Again and Zenyatta Stakes from Santa Anita later in the day.

* * *

Let's throw kudos to some other Summer winners: Wicked Strong in the Jim Dandy, Palace in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt and the Forego Stakes, Moreno in the Whitney Stakes (one of three straight exactas for me that day), The Big Beast in the King's Bishop, Artemus Agrotera in the Ballerina Stakes, V. E. Day in the Travers (boy, was that sweet, and with Wicked Strong in the exacta), and Itsmyluckyday in the Woodward, capping off a very "enjoyable" August. We must also congratulate Hardest Core, earlier beset by serious health problems, for his impressive and stylish win in the Arlington Million, over the higher class Magician and Side Glance.

* * *

Rest in peace to 16-year old Street Cry. After winning the Dubai World Cup (!) and Stephen Foster in 2002, he sired Shocking, winner of the 2009 Melbourne Cup (that's a national holiday in Australia!); Grade I winners Street Boss and Street Hero; Street Sense, the only winner of both the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby, and the 19-and-1 super mare, Zenyatta. Zenyatta has foaled three times and Street Sense has already sired a two-time Grade I winner, the aforementioned Sweet Reason.

* * *

As Fearless Leader said on The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour, it seems everyone with a forum feels compelled to explain to us once and for all the complex issues now confronting the National Football League. Not here. All I'll say is that spanking or beating your kid with a belt or switch is not the answer. Believe me.

And I'll add that I am turning away from all interest in the NFL and most certainly have stopped wagering on its games.

The NFL has ceased being a sport and is now an institution, an insidious institution that acted completely predictably in these events. These problems became inevitable because of the too-big-for-serious-scrutiny, too-big-to-be-wrong, too-much-money-to-be-made leviathan the NFL, and sports in general, has become in this country.

The NFL is now an opiate of the masses, dulling the senses to the point where people mindlessly spend a couple hundred bucks on a Cade McNown jersey, continue to wear a Ray Rice jersey, or bring a switch to a game. I used to chuckle at Wisconsin, where I once lived long ago, as media coverage of the Packers evolved into a 365-days-a-year proposition.

Now, this disease is in every NFL city, including witty and urbane Chicago, A Bears Town. It's become a mindless cult, an indoctrination, a worship of "warriors" whose faces we don't see and whose hearts and souls we won't ever know, garbed in clannish colors. Displays of machismo, bodies breaking, brains scrambled.

With all of this going on, a breaking point was Jay Cutler and Marc Trestman, in various degrees, of their unique and polished degrees of passive aggressiveness, telling the people of the city of Chicago to fuck off after yet another one of the hundreds of bumbling losses their team has inflicted upon its fans to open the season.

This ingrained, pathological insult has persisted acutely for 11 years, through Lovie Smith and now Trestman. How's this, Jay and Trest and Lamborghini 55 and good ol' Number 54? FUCK YOU! And take your mediocrity with you when you slither away. I see the numbers these guys wear and remember the gentlemen who imbued in them true excellence and sportsmanship.

As for the wagering, these are no longer games. They are television shows, plot lines, shoehorned between thousands of commercials, fixed and scripted to give the viewers what they think we want.

It's 11 minutes of actual play in a four-hour black hole of wasted time. It's the perfect grift. A vehicle for consumerism.

It is no longer two groups of professional football players hitting the field and seeing who's best, fair and square. A mysterious force we see, the officials, and one we don't, the video black hand, exert their own special influence. So many things are not what they seem. What you just saw is not what you saw, because we said so. Don't ask, it's complicated. Trust us.

This season, it is woefully obvious that these squads have not even bothered to practice together to be prepared for the season. Why should they? Pigeons, along with their money, will keep roosting. They're starting to get more and more dishonest with injury reports. And now we learn that we may never know who's really going to play any given week. Defense, the spiritually satisfying aspiration in any sport, is not allowed. So they don't play it, won't play it, can't play it.

The cultural stupidity of the Detroit Lions or the New York Jets, the arrogance of the Chicago Bears, the thuggishness of so many of the teams is certainly distasteful. But from a gambling point of view, it's not a game, not a true contest, not a best-foot-forward in a true sporting sense. As a wagerer, you have to have at least some faith it's on the up-and-up, square, game. I don't.

Don't need the action that bad.


Thomas Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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