12/30/2004 12:00AM

Ninety lines about the year 2004

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Happy New Year. For those with hangovers, fair warning. Here's a sunny appreciation of 2004 in verse. Apologies to Byron, Keats, Shelley, Ogden Nash, Roger Angell, and all the real poets who write on subway walls. And thanks to the men, women, and horses of Thoroughbred racing who made 2004 so memorable.

Look out below, it's time again
To rifle through the garbage bin
And muse about what just transpired,
Who did the job and who got fired.
And spread the tales of racing's pomp,
Of champions and workers' comp.

Oh look. A ticket . . . can it be
A winning bet on Soaring Free?
Or Kitten's Joy - the cat's meow -
Or Powerscourt, so worthless now
That Irish Jamie steered afield
And lost a Million, unappealed.

A grand on Central, that's the play,
Or Speightstown when fast Pico strayed.
And never doubt Sweet Catomine,
Or Declan's Moon, though now's the time
To wonder what the future brings.
Oaks and Derbies? Diamond rings?
For those who backed pure Lion Heart
It was a year of fits and starts.
Then Southern Image caught the eye
And disappeared, though by and by
Dear Funny Cide came through as old,
And captured that most precious gold.

The dames were grand. Ashado reigned,
While Ouija Board from Europe deigned
To mess with Texas - what a blast! -
Lord Derby's now in Deadwood's cast.
Azeri glowed, but none were blind
To Sightseek's New York state of mind.

Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, it's Rock Hard Ten,
A horse of towering consequence
Who fills the eye and thrills the soul,
But never really took control
Until let loose and truly flew
To win a dazzling Malibu.

Who's this Asmussen? How'd he dare
Break Big Jack's mark with room to spare?
Half a thousand wins and counting,
Both exhausting and astounding.
Although, if asked, Steve just might trade
For all the history Servis made.

As for King Richard, where was he,
The hero of two thousand three?
While Pletcher, Frankel, and the rest
Carved up the booty, east to west,
Mandella played the perfect hand
To take a World Cup in the sand.

Poor California got the shakes
From milk instead of earth borne quakes.
Gone now, banned, but not forgotten
Just in case the next thing rotten
Comes along in something new,
Like NeHi, brie, or Redman chew.

Of politics, we steer well clear
Lest tarnished dark by brushing near
A Spitzer or a Schwarzenegger
(Oh, for Swaps or Dr. Fager).
Still, maybe slots can tame the curse
Of empty stands, or something worse.

Just ask those guys at CDI,
Or MEC, and don't ask why.
They've got the knack. They seize the day.
They want what's best, and that's okay
As long as players feed the beast
And bottom line is e'er increased.

But while accountants toil and dither,
Who takes the case for Gary Birzer?
Or dozens like him, changed for life,
Caught up in some insurance strife.
A wish, not large, just save the game
From trappings of eternal shame.

Then praise to men like John Velazquez,
Cool and classy - all we ask is
Leave some room for Edgar Prado,
Victor E. and Bejarano.
Young Tyler Baze is here to stay.
So's Dominguez, a star. Ole!

Now winter's here to chill the bones,
Though memory warms to Smarty Jones
And how he captivated hearts
From Bloomingdale's to Walton's marts.
He took the game to heights unknown,
Then disappeared, sunk by a stone.

That left a void, filled by a ghost
So fast, so free, so much the most
Of any creature he did meet.
His figs. His Beyers. Behold, the sheets!
Four starts then poof - zip, zap, and gone.
Hey, please come back. The porchlight's on.