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Handicapping the ESPYs: Will Zenyatta's loss bring racing a win?
On July 13, ESPN will host its annual ESPY (Excellence in Sport Performance Yearly) awards in Los Angeles. Three categories have horse racing-related nominees:
1. Best Jockey. This has been handed out annually since 1994. Calvin Borel won last year’s ESPY based on his winning Kentucky Derby ride on Super Saver, Borel’s third Derby victory in four seasons. This year, one of Ramon Dominguez, Garrett Gomez, or John Velazquez will unseat Borel.
2. Best Upset. Blame’s stunning victory over the previously undefeated Zenyatta.
3. Best Sports Movie. Disney’s portrayal of William Nack’s book Secretariat.
The awards are voted on and decided by fans; no horse racing nominee has won Best Upset or Best Sports Movie to date. So, who stands the best chance at winning these awards? Here is DRF’s handicapping of the 2011 ESPYs:
Category: Best Upset
• Nominee: Blame over Zenyatta
• DRF estimated odds of winning: 3-1
• Other nominees and odds: Fabricio Werdum stuns Fedor Emelianenko in Mixed Martial Arts (3-1), Seattle Seahawks knock out New Orleans Saints (5-1), VCU reaches NCAA Tournament Final Four (2-1).
The case for Blame over Zenyatta winning: Zenyatta, who began her career 19-0, attempted to finish it off with an unprecedented 20th consecutive win before retirement and a second straight Breeders’ Cup Classic crown, a feat accomplished only once before. So, it was no surprise when at post time the tote board showed even-money odds on the mare compared to 5-1 odds for Blame. Zenyatta broke from the gate slowly, however, and ran the first minute at Churchill Downs in last place, several lengths behind the pack. Blame, on the other hand, stalked from the middle of the pack but near the leaders, then took the lead after the far turn – a lead he would never relinquish. Zenyatta mounted an unforgettable stretch rally that brought her within a nose of Blame, and Blame’s BC Classic win would be the only blemish on Zenyatta’s remarkable career.
Why it might not: VCU tied 11th-seeded LSU (1986) and George Mason (2006) as the lowest seeds to reach the Final Four. The Seahawks also shocked the world when, as the first 7-9 team in NFL playoff history, they knocked off the reigning Super Bowl champion Saints in a 41-36 shootout. Werdum’s MMA victory over Emelianenko was remarkable because not only did he defeat the champion who hadn’t lost a fight in 10 years and had a career 31-1 record, but he did so in forceful fashion. Emelianenko was forced to tap out 1:09 into the first round.
Category: Best Sports Movie
• Nominee: "Secretariat"
• DRF estimated odds of winning: 4-1
• Other nominees and odds: "The Fighter" (3-2), "Soul Surfer" (19-1), "Win Win" (2-1)
The case for "Secretariat" winning: Secretariat’s story is an amazing one, as the first horse to win the Triple Crown in 25 years when he did so in 1973. The film receives a stellar performance from Diane Lane as his owner, Penny Chenery. In a sport ruled by men, Lane displays great charisma in showing Chenery’s journey from racing novice to champion owner. Also starring John Malkovich as veteran trainer Lucien Laurin, "Secretariat" received largely positive reviews (64 percent favorable opinion on rottentomatoes.com).
Why it might not: The odds-on favorite for the award is "The Fighter," the story of boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his older brother, former boxer Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). The movie portrays Ward’s rise as a boxer despite his troubled relationship with his family, largely stemming from his brother/trainer’s addiction to crack cocaine. Bale won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. "Win Win," starring Paul Giamatti as a struggling lawyer who coaches a high school wrestling team on the side, was also critically acclaimed for its strong acting and riotous jokes. "Soul Surfer" is the longshot. While it tells the uplifting story of surfer Bethany Hamilton trying to cope with losing her arm in a shark attack, it received mixed reviews due to the extent to which it was Hollywood-ized.
Category: Best Jockey
Ramon Dominguez (3-2) – Ramon Dominguez ranked first in 2010 in earnings, with more than $17 million, and won the Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey. He has built on that so far in 2011 with a number of graded stakes victories and consistent success across the board. Notably, he has won the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap and Turf Classic this year, in addition to the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes. On June 5 he tied a New York Racing Association record for the second time in his career by winning six races in one day at Belmont.
Garrett Gomez (4-1) – Gomez probably has the most memorable ride in recent memory, when he guided Blame to victory in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic over the previously undefeated Zenyatta (see Best Upset above). He won two other Breeders’ Cup races that weekend, the Juvenile Fillies Turf and the Juvenile Turf. Beyond that unforgettable weekend, he also rode Blind Luck to win the 2011 Vanity Handicap, a Grade 1 stakes at Hollywood Park.
John Velazquez (2-1) – Velazquez rode longshot Animal Kingdom to victory in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. He then came up just short of catching Shackleford in the Preakness, and showed great fight after nearly being unseated by a rough start in the Belmont. Velazquez, who won two Breeders’ Cup events in 2010, won 239 races in 1,192 starts that year and earned more than $16 million.
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