05/17/2010 11:00PM

Hype about these horses is warranted


TUCSON, Ariz. - The men and women who write media reviews of movies and shows are artistic, and also a bit artful at times. They have been known on occasion to stretch the language almost to the breaking point, and they spew superlatives like a popcorn machine gone mad.

When they toss around terms like "Breathtaking, Dazzling. Spectacular," it's time to pause, have a drink, and look for a critical review rather than rely on one-line paeans of praise.

Only the really good one-liners are used in ads, of course, and many are as far from gospel as you can get. They should be accompanied by health warnings, like cigarettes, or the cautionary notes that the car advertising agencies toss in about "this commercial used professional drivers," so junior doesn't grab the keys, run out of the house, and try to copy the careening on some nearby dirt road.

I was downright delighted and surprised, therefore, to read towering one-liners covering two full facing pages of The New York Times over the weekend, lavishing praise not on a golfer, tennis player, baseball pitcher, bruising fullback or basketball star, man or woman, but a horse.

More accurately, a lot of them. Sixty-three, to be exact, with 30 mere humans working in close collaboration with them.

If one is to believe what is written, this is a show of superlative strength and surprises. It is being produced under the leadership of Normand Latourelle, one of the co-founders of Cirque du Soleil, which presumably will play Las Vegas forever, in one formulation or another.

Here are a few of those one-liners I was talking about.

"The greatest show I've ever seen." - Larry King.

"High flying acrobatics, dazzling visual effects, a sight to behold." - El Pais, Madrid.

"A total performance full of fantasy, magic, and emotion." - El Mundo, Barcelona.

"A fairytale for the entire family."- De Telegraf, Amsterdam.

"One of the most spectacular hybrids of modern theatre in the world. - Las Vegas magazine.

And the clincher, "Horse Play at Its Best," from the Los Angeles Times.

Richard Ouzounian, reviewing for the Toronto Star, calls the huge cast, equine and human, "a wildly talented bunch."

The second full page of the double truck ad carried a photograph of a gorgeous snow white trotter, with flowing mane, and connected upside down to his hooves, the toes of two performers in silhouette, one male and one female. Pretty stuff.

In a huge billboard above the horse, the words "Cavalia, A Magical Encounter Between Man and Horse," and since this was New York, with New Jersey right next door, the site of the show, "under the White Big Top next to Izod Center, at the Meadowlands."

Ouzounian, in his review in Toronto, confessed that despite glowing reviews "I wasn't exactly galloping down to the waterfront to catch the show. It all sounded a bit old-fashioned and predictable to me. Well, I overcame my initial reluctance and found myself totally transported by a truly magical experience."

That's strong support for horses, particularly these days.

It is time to pause and reflect on the last time you saw a huge touring extravaganza with the horse as star, and humans as the supporting cast. This is not Secretariat or Dan Patch, but 63 of them, as skilled at their business as the big two were at theirs.

It seems likely, from the reviews, that this giant Cirque du Soleil-type production is destined for a long life. Try to catch it where and when you can, and don't take my word for it. Ouzounian, in Toronto, wrapped up his review with this: "It's unlike anything you've ever seen in your theatergoing life."

Expect Garcia to get more good mounts

Speaking of stars, last Saturday's switch of adulation in two minutes at Pimlico from Calvin Borel to Martin Garcia was sort of an instant "the king is dead, long live the king" transformation. The new young king was compelling, both on and off his horse. He gave a live mount a formidable ride.

Borel was no better or no worse than he was going into the Kentucky Derby. He had a fresh runner in the Derby, and a tired one in the Preakness.

As trainers and grooms love to tell you on the backstretch, "These things aren't machines. They are good one start and not as good the next." Except, of course, for those that radiate true greatness, where their consistency is what sets them apart from the rest.

A final thought. In racing, it is the horse that makes the jock, not the other way around. As jockeys and drivers find success, they get better mounts, and it is a self-sustaining and expanding cycle. Martin Garcia is here to stay, and he can thank Lookin At Lucky, as well as Bob Baffert, for giving him his big chance.