08/04/2009 4:23PM

Dark Day 1: 8/4/09


My apologies for letting some of your questions linger until now, but let's take a dark-day deep breath and get caught up:

--Every time Rachel Alexandra races, important racing history is being made and I for one am just enjoying watching it unfold. I think it's pointless to be arguing during the first week of August whether or not she's wrapped up the Horse of the Year title; ballots aren't due until January, and who knows how the rest of the season will unfold. But she's already done enough to deserve it and already accomplished more than other 3-year-olds who have won that title at year's end. She's probably done enough to deserve Hall of Fame consideration even if she never raced again.


You can carp all you want about her not having beaten her elders yet, or the caliber of the 3-year-old males she's been beating, or that she hasn't faced Zenyatta or Quality Road, but come on: In her last four starts she has won the Kentucky Oaks by 20 1/4 lengths, beaten the Kentucky Derby winner in the Preakness, won the Mother Goose by 19 1/4 and thrashed the Belmont Stakes winner while nearly setting a track record in the Haskell. It already has been a historic campaign by a truly great filly.

It's cracker-barrel fun to speculate about the rest of her season, but some of the suggestions are getting silly. Turf Classic? Arc de Triomphe? Breeders' Cup Classic? If they want to try her on grass once next year, swell, but there is no reason for her to switch surfaces now or ever to run on a synthetic racetrack, and her handlers have made it clear they aren't going down that road.

If her absence from this year's Breeders' Cup has any influence in ensuring that the Cup will never again be run on a synthetic track two years in a row -- and in reminding this industry's "leaders" that greatness in the American racehorse has for centuries been determined by performances on dirt tracks, and will continue to be long after the last synthetic track has been dug up and restored to dirt -- all the better.

--I'll take another deep breath so as not to mention My Man Lars in the same breath as Rachel Alexandra, but for those who found my liking him in Sunday's second race at Saratoga so mystifying, here was my thinking:


Class: My Man Lars already had two allowance-level victories, two more than any of his five opponents, because statebred victories are not counted against statebreds for eligibility in open N1x races. He had run decently in a couple of statebred stakes against horses who would have been 1-to-5 in this field.

Speed: My Man Lars owned the two highest Beyers on grass -- two 95's last year -- in a field where only one other horse had ever cracked the 90 par-level for N1x turfers.

Distance: My Man Lars's two top figs had come at 9f and today's race was 9.5f. The favorite in the race, 8-5 So It Goes, had never been beyond 8.5f and had the look of a one-run closing miler.

Recent Form: Here's where you might not have been thrilled with his prospects, but he'd had wide trips under questionable rides in his first two starts of the year. This was third time off the layoff, often a time for a peak performance, and he was making a positive rider switch to the outstanding Rajiv Maragh.

The original 12-1 on the line was unrealistic, but 4-1 in what scratched down to a six-horse field wasn't bad.

--Odds and ends:

*Commenter bochalls asked about the service at The Grey Gelding. It was outstanding, with quick delivery, prompt refills on everything, and multiple is-everything-okay visits from an outstanding server who more than earned a 25 percent gratuity.

*Commenters bill_douglass and Durkin_fan asked if we're looking into an iPhone app. Yes we are.

*I have to agree with all of you who pounced on commenter rtt's knocks on the opening-week racing at Saratoga. I thought it was excellent. The Saturday card in particular was superb, an old-school lineup of strong maiden, N1x, N2x and stakes races. I know we all grouse about dreary lineups during much of the year, but this week was as good as it gets.

*A few of you including nick_briglia asked about the Beyer Speed Figure for Quality Road's Amsterdam. It has been provisionally given a 103 amid the ongoing uncertainty over the fractional and final times for the race. If you took the clocking of 1:13.45 for 6.5f at face value, and assigned the race the same variant that worked perfectly for every other dirt race on the card, it would get a 119, which seems impossibly high given that Quality Road stumbled at the start and raced wide and that such a winning figure would give Capt. Candyman Can a 113, a 14-point career top in a race where he altered course sharply, and distant third-place finisher Captain Cherokee a 104, a 16-point career top.

*Commenter jpc asked if my Saturday pick-6 play worked out to $1188. That's the right number via a strict TicketMaker play, but I spent a little bit more because I had so many lone B's that it was easier (and not much more expensive) to make out an all-A's-and-B's main ticket than to do a bunch of two-B's-only tiny tickets. The next revision of TicketMaker will include an "all-A's-and-B's" option.

*Commenter andy_scoggin asked if Andy Beyer bet on 44-1 Tri Polar since he had written a column about the horse's trainer (that column is reprinted in the comments section of yesterday's blog post.) I am told by a reliable informant that he did not and "is sick about it."

*Commenter Ralph_Conte is dismayed at the absence of Cheese Waffies from this year's chronicle. So am I. I can't find the little radioactive-orange delicacies anywhere in town this year and have tried two Price Choppers and three convenience marts in vain. Any sightings would be deeply appreciated.

--And now finally, the Saga of Popeye's Spleen:

Several longtime readers of this blog have come up to me at Belmont and now Saratoga, asking about Badger Popeye's absence from this space. The reason is that things were touch and go with him for a while, but since it's a story with what appears to be a happy ending, here goes.

For new readers, here's the quick background. In November of 2002, Mrs. Blog and I adopted Badger Pluto, a retired black racing greyhound who had made over 100 starts at Plainfield in Connecticutt. When we researched his racing career, we found that one of his littermates, the black-and-white Badger Popeye, was still racing at Plainfield and we asked track officials to tell us when he was ready to live the good life. Popeye joined us and his brother in the spring of 2004 and the two of them became mascots for greyhound-adoption efforts and made frequent appearances in this space. (A third littermare, Badger Blimpy, retired a year later and joined the Mike Watchmaker family on Long Island, where he is thriving.)


We lost Badger Pluto to osteosarcoma in January, and Popeye took it as hard as we did, moping around for a month and looking for his brother. When M's Giterdone (a/k/a Donnie or Dondo) joined the family in March, Popeye perked up a bit but never really recaptured his old spirit. We chalked it up to age (he'll ll be 10 later this year), his generally shy and nervous demeanor, and to the fact that any hound would probably look lethargic next to Dondo, a spirited 4-year-old who gallops around the house and yard and whose off-switch we have yet to locate.

Then last month, Popeye began backing off his feed bowl and we sensed something more than age and grief was at work. We took him to the vet, where the scale said he had lost four pounds from his usual 88 down to 84, and x-rays and ultrasound showed that there was some kind of swelling in his internal organs, but it was impossible to tell exactly which organs were swollen and what was going on without opening him up. Much as you hate to put a 9-year-old greyhound through exploratory surgery, we went ahead at the vet's advice. They couldn't believe what they saw.

Popeye's spleen, an inessential organ nestled amid his stomach, liver and intestines, had swollen up to a size none of the veterinarians had seen or even heard of. A greyhound's spleen usually tops out at 3 to 5 pounds: when they removed Popeye's it weighed SEVENTEEN pounds. It was engorged with blood that wasn't getting to the rest of him and pushing his stomach and other organs to the side, disguising a massive weight loss.


He came home after two blood transfusions and two post-op nights in the hospital and spent the next month wearing one of my old sweater vests to keep him from licking at his stapled-back-together underside. After a few woozy days getting over the trauma and anesthesia, a dog we hadn't seen for six months began to reappear. He's eating like a bear out of hibernation, not letting Dondo boss him around, and instigating yard races with his younger companion. The biopsy on the incredible 17-pound spleen came back clean, and apparently greyhounds can get by perfectly well without one. Nobody has an explanation for what happened other than theories about an immune-system infection, but he'll head up to Saratoga with us later this week, the sweater finally off, a happy and healthy hound.

Not to turn this anecdote into a public-service announcement, but if you have a dog and he stops eating, please take him to your vet right away. If we'd waited even a few more days with Popeye, this story might not have ended happily. And if you're in the market for a new best friend or two, please consider adopting a retired racing greyhound.