Updated on 09/15/2011 12:17PM

Beware the wonderhorse


Newcomers, network executives, potential sponsors, and other children of all ages seem to have trouble warming up to horse racing. It's really not surprising given the gap between what they are promised and then delivered. Consider the last three times that the national spotlight was turned to racing and the storylines that were presented to the general public:

o Fusaichi Pegasus, the winged wonderhorse, syndicated for more money than any steed in planetary history, is 6-5 to nail down Horse of the Year in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He finishes sixth with absolutely no excuse.

o Point Given, the winged wonderhorse, surely the first Triple Crown winner in 23 years barring illness or injury, is 9-5 to win the Kentucky Derby. He finishes fifth with absolutely no excuse.

o Monarchos, the winged wonderhorse, winner of the fastest Derby since Secretariat's, need only beat the same horses in the Preakness that he whomped in Louisville and then surely will become the first Triple Crown winner in 23 years barring illness or injury. He finishes sixth with absolutely no excuse.

So what's a potential new racing fan left to think? Are the horses undependable, the game unpredictable, the trainers clueless, the prognosticators delusional, or all of the above?

There may be nuggets of truth in each of those propositions, but the whole is a lot more complex. There are no sure things in racing, and sometimes horses just don't fire and unfortunately can't tell us why. Favorites lose twice as often as they win, and the handicapper who can pick 40 percent winners has yet to be born. Horses can fool you, disappoint you, and break your heart.

For those of us who already love racing, this all adds up to a richer and ultimately more rewarding game. Disappointment, loss, frustration, mystery, and chaos are more interesting than the Yankees winning another World Series or the Lakers winning 17 games in a row. Unfortunately for those looking to woo new customers, it's not a very sexy message, and it's a challenging sell. How will NBC hype the Belmont Stakes showdown between the Derby fifth and the Preakness sixth? "Monarchos. Point Given. Maybe they'll both show up this time!"

Dollar Bill's mournful epic

Speaking of disappointment, loss, and frustration, the best story of the Triple Crown might be neither Point Given nor Monarchos but Dollar Bill, a.k.a Mr. Unlucky. His last four races are the stuff of long, mournful epic poetry, or at least whining, tiresome bad-beat horseplayers' laments.

His saga began in the Louisiana Derby, when he was stopped cold making what would have been a winning run up the rail, almost fell down, and somehow recovered to be a fast-closing fourth There was no such drama in the Blue Grass, but he again was valiant in defeat, the only horse in the race to do any late running behind two loose front-runners on a speed-favoring treadmill of a track. In the Derby, he probably was too far back to win, but he was again forced to check hard and drop back in traffic, losing any chance.

His Preakness was astounding. Well placed early and eager to get into the race, he once again was stopped so badly that he looked as if he were being eased entering the far turn. He fell back to last in the blink of an eye, but then began running again and launched a move as visually impressive as the winning ones at either Churchill or Pimlico. He circled the field extremely wide and mowed down seven of the 10 horses in front of him. He finished fourth, beaten just 3 3/4 lengths after enduring at least four lengths' worth of misfortune.

He was no bargain at 6-1 in the Derby or 8-1 in the Preakness, and he could be an underlay again in the Belmont. Everyone but NBC saw his bad trip in the Preakness, and his one-run style doesn't necessarily fit the Belmont. Still, unless you believe in jinxes and curses, how can you get off him now? He gets one more chance with my dollar bills in the Belmont to prove that he's as good as any of them over a track too big and a race too long for yet another shipwreck.

Maybe that's how NBC can promote this Belmont: "Dollar Bill: It can't happen again - can it?"