06/11/2011 1:20AM

Master Blasters


I could live to be whatever I'll be next year and still not have this social network thing nailed, especially when it comes to self-promotion. To wit:

In the moments immediately following the running of this year's Kentucky Derby, before Barry Irwin called anyone a liar or Robby Albarado felt his first wave of Animal Kingdom-induced nausea, I announced to anyone who cared to listen that Master of Hounds was my Belmont horse no matter what happened in the Preakness or anywhere else on the Triple Crown scene. Unfortunately, those within shouting distance were too busy having way too much fun at a Kentucky Derby party, and now that the race was over the real celebrating was about begin. I believe I told the host's 10-year-old son, his dog, and whispered it in the ear of a guy passed out on the sofa: "Pssst....Belmont. Master of Hounds. Believe it." 

As it turns out, I should have tweeted those sentiments immediately, logged them onto this blog, and maybe even rented the Goodyear blimp to broadcast my point of view. I figured, at my mid-1990s pace, there would be plenty of time to hype the Coolmore colt down the line, as the Belmont approached, at which time I would set myself apart as making a daring choice in the face of the conventional wisdom aligning with the obvious candidates -- Animal Kingdom, Shackleford and Nehro -- who had emerged as the most consistent and durable members of the generation.

I figured wrong. In these fast times, the slow and shy are roadkill. Here we are five weeks down the line from Derby Day and the snowball is rolling. Somehow, Master of Hounds had become the most popular fifth-place Kentucky Derby finisher in history. (Forego did not get this kind of bounce finishing fourth to Secretariat, for pete's sake.) Suddenly, it's become hip to go with the horse from Ireland, a colt who has not slept in his own bed for more than a few nights over the past month. A horse who has won exactly one race in his life. A colt who, being generous, is probably about No. 6 or 7 on the Ballydoyle depth chart.

The guy at the local surf shop, where I buy my wife's board wax (don't ask), told me the other day he was sending 20 bucks to his aunt in Massapequa to bet on the "Hound horse" on Saturday. The mailman, who is not supposed to care, wondered aloud if Garrett Gomez fit the horse and that maybe Johnny Murtagh should be riding. The lady who ruins my dry-cleaning asked if that nice young Mr. O'Brien would be attending the Belmont to greet the winner. I got grief from the neighbors when I was late getting them the Belmont draw, and then had to wait while they argued about the inside post, and whether or not Master of Hounds would break.

The paid experts have lined up as well. I know why my Racing Form colleague Steve Andersen picked Master of Hounds. He'd always rather be in Ireland, and besides, O'Brien used to train jumpers. ESPN's Kenny Mayne, another Hound man, will do anything for a laugh. But how do you explain a bandwagon that also includes the Racing Form's Kenny Peck and Byron King, as well as such geographically diverse observers as Paul Daley, Brendan O'Meara, Bill Heller, Ed McNamara, Bob Mieszerski, Howard Senzell, Ellis Starr, and Bob Fortus. I'm sure there were others, and they can thank me later for not mentioning their names.

I blame the whole thing on Triple Crown emotional overload. Much was promised and little delivered this year until Animal Kingdom's stout-hearted Derby performance brought him from the chorus line to the footlights. He became the hero everyone settled for, and he has worn that dubious crown with honor. Little wonder, though, that opinion-makers are willing to jump ship at the slightest whiff of something new.

Make no mistake -- Master of Hounds could win. But he will need to be ridden aggressively, sitting no worse than two or three lengths back of Shackleford after three-quarters of a mile, and then get the jump on Animal Kingdom by kicking for home early to take advantage of his depth of pedigree and condition.

I've never been on the cutting edge of anything. I suppose I should be grateful I wasn't out front on the rush to Master of Hounds. The strain would have been too much to bear. Anyway, it goes without saying I'm never to be taken seriously when it comes to predicting the outcome of races. That is neither my job nor my inclination. We've got some very good minds at the Form to play that role, and they always deserve attention. But when I saw that my boss, Steven Crist -- he of the rigorous, mathematical mind and cold, hard logic -- picked Master of Hounds, I knew we had passed through the looking glass. I am now wondering if I was watching the horse I thought I was watching in the Derby, and who put what in my strawberry margarita.