Steve ruined my Derby bets — and saved the day

Steve at Emerald Downs.

When Rich Strike read what the pundits had written about him Saturday morning, it made him so mad he’d run like hell to prove them wrong.

That’s how Steve, my horse-race betting partner for years before he died in 2010, would explain how Rich Strike won the Kentucky Derby on May 7, 2022.

Steve always bet long shots, especially on horses with names that amused him or reminded him of his wife. As a steady reader of the Daily Racing Form and horses’ past performances, I would try to talk Steve out of his more “strange” bets, often by reading what the professional handicappers wrote. Kind of like they said about Rich Strike on Saturday:

“Poor speed figures. Best speed rating well below the average winning speed. Return to dirt might offer some hope for improvement.”

Steve would see such an assessment and say, “When the horse reads that, he’ll be so mad he’ll run like hell to show ’em.”

Nothing could persuade Steve to stop betting the looongest shots available, $2 to show on the least chalky choice. He didn’t hit often. But when he did, he’d signal “loo-ser” with an L to his forehead and wonder why I spent so much time with the racing form.

Nothing can persuade me to abandon the DRF. I can’t watch a race without an overnight session with the past performances. Leading up to the Derby, I had watched all the prep races, bet them, did OK and had a plan for the first Saturday in May: A Pick 3 with one horse in the first race (Jackie’s Warrior), four horses who might win in the second race (Shirl’s Speight, Cavalry Charge, Adhamo, Santin) and six horses who I thought could win the Derby (Mo Donegal, Epicenter, Messier, Tiz the Bomb, Zandon, White Abarrio) for a $24 bet. An Exacta boxed with Epicenter, Zandon and Tiz the Bomb for a $12 bet. And a graduated across the board bet on Epicenter, my fav: $5 to win, $10 to place and $15 to show.

Sixty-four dollars coming into the Derby. More than I usually bet on a race — or in a whole day at the races. But it’s the Derby, and I’m splitting my bets with Michael, my new horse-racing partner.

And things looked good coming into the Big Race. In the first race of my Pick 3, Jackie’s Warrior had gone wire to wire at even odds in the 10th race and in the 11th, Santin won by a neck at 7-1 odds, which would fatten up the payoff for my Pick 3.

Things looked even better when the horses were coming down the stretch in the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby. Epicenter was in the lead, holding off Zandon on the outside. A No. 3 (Epicenter) and No. 10 (Zandon) finish would complete my Pick 3, win my Exacta and pay off all three positions in my across-the-board bet. Just to win three bets on one race would be a first-ever accomplishment in my handicapping career.

My eyes were on Epicenter and not on what jockey Sonny Leon was doing with Rich Strike on the inside. Take a look at the great NBC overhead shot to see what a thread-the-needle ride Leon had on Rich Strike, which ended with 3 and 10 in second and third place. I tried to read the numbers of the winning horse. Was it No. 1, Mo Donegal? A possibility that Michael had bet because that was the hometown of his grandparents. Or No. 2, Happy Jack? A long shot but not out of the realm.

But No. 21? The horse that sneaked into the race at the last moment when Ethereal Road scratched? With odds at 81-1, ignored by betters even though he finished third behind Tiz the Bomb in his last race? This was the horse that destroyed all my carefully laid plans?

It was.

But who cared? Friends of Steve had kept his betting peculiarities going since he died. If we were ever at a track together, we’d place a bet in the last race on the horse with the longest odds. Just before Kathy and I left for the Derby, we had dinner with those friends and agreed to bet the longest odds in the Derby.

That would be No. 21. Rich Strike and Sonny Leon. We had placed a $10 show bet on the horse, which returned $147. Yeah, I lost all my well-planned bets (except for the place and show on Epicenter). But watching this race, having a bet on this uncertain winner and dancing around at the finish was the best race ever.

Thank you, Steve.

After Rich Strike had won the Kentucky Derby.

“The decency of womanhood has disappeared”

“As each player goes through the first hoop, as he undergoes a metamorphosis . . . the male antagonist becomes a creature too vile for language. The decency of womanhood has disappeared by the third hoop.”

  • Living Age, circa 1898, quoted in Croquet: A handbook of all the rules, strategies, techniques, and tips you need to be a better player by Steven Boga

My bets could win money on this race, except they didn’t

“. . . the winner got away well, but the favorites weren’t hampered at the start and either could have beaten the Irish trained horse, only that they just didn’t.”

“The Tale of the Gypsy Horse” by Donn Byrne, collected in The Dick Francis Complete Treasury of Great Racing Stories.

Maybe a silver lining in Seawolves’ poor 2020 start

The Seattle Seawolves, who were champions in the first two years of Major League Rugby, started the 2020 season with a losing record of 1-4 before the coronavirus ended play.

Hardly a good thing until MLR announced that the team selections in its first college draft would be based on the finish of the interrupted 2020 season. That puts the Seawolves picking fifth and 17th. If the order had been based on the 2018 and 2019 championship seasons, the Seawolves would have picked 12th and 24th in the draft’s two rounds.

“We get to keep the championship shield and pick fifth,” said Shane Skinner, owner of the Seattle rugby team.

He would not reveal whom they might pick or what position they were most interested in. But he said that being in the first five picks would assure them of getting a quality player out of the more than 400 players who have signed up for the draft.

“We’ve been doing a ton of research, talking to coaches and players who have played with these players,” Skinner said, “We feel our picks are within fulfilling our needs.”

Teams in Dallas and Los Angeles, who are joining the league for the 2021 season, were selected to pick first, but Los Angeles traded away their No. 2 spot to New Orleans. Houston has also traded away their two spots in the draft to Utah, who will have four picks. There could be more trades before the draft starts Saturday at 4 p.m. PDT on the league’s Facebook page.

The Toronto Arrows are not participating in the draft, depending on their own efforts to develop Canadian player. According to the MLR, “The Arrows decided to opt out of the 2020 Draft because of the strength of their own programs and the complications around collegiate athletes acquiring international visas to go to or come from Canada, especially during the current COVID-19 restrictions.”

Two players with Washington state connections are featured on the MLR website. Cole Zarcone, 23, from Camas, WA, played at Central Washington University, and Tommy Hunkin-Clark, 23, from Olympia, WA, played at American International College in Springfield, MA.

Any Seawolves interest in keeping them here?

“If I said anything about what our picks might be, the other teams would try to make sure that didn’t happen,” Skinner said.

 

A Seawolves win without me

Thanks to Ben Cima, Peter Tiberio, Siti Tamaivena, Nakai Penny and the rest of the hard charging Seawolves, I can no longer credit my not being at the game for why they won. That means I can go back for the rest of the games at Starfire this season. Thanks to the rugby gods.

Missed last night to honor a theater date made with friends some time ago. Won’t happen again. Also added Tribe app to my phone, which kept me updated, sort of. I did not sneak a look during the play. A nice reward when the curtain fell.

Ian, my source inside the stadium, sitting in my seats, said the “team looked like last year. Exciting open running. Fly half back and played great. Did not miss a kick.”

I would have been worried when the Seawolves were down 0-14, but Ian says, “They had more possession in the attacking half.”

Coming back for a 44-29 win after being down two tries and conversions shows a nice bit of character. Gotta like that.

My predictions for this weekend as a 2-2 split between the East and West Divisions were right on. Should have bet it instead of Kentucky Derby prep race, the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, where my horse came in fourth:

San Diego over New Orleans: Yes, SD 25-21. West wins

Old Glory over Austin: Yes, DC 28-19. East wins

Seattle over New England: Yes, Seawolves 44-29. West wins

New York over Houston: Yes, RUNY 31-23. East wins

A happy and an unhappy thought after watching the New York-Houston game Sunday afternoon. Happy that New York made the last minute try to win by more than seven points. Houston would have gained a bonus point before that, leaving them tied with Seattle for third place in the West.

Unhappy that Houston’s Stadium, a rugby only facility with no lines on the field except those devoted to rugby, had many, many empty seats. Didn’t look to me like there was a row of seats with all of them filled. Obviously the owners there are committed to rugby and the Sabercats, but some work on attendance needs to be done.

Utah is one point ahead of the Seawolves in the West Division. A Seattle win against Utah on Saturday would put the Seawolves in second place, which, if this were May 31, would mean playoffs.

March 7, 6 p.m. at Starfire – I’ll be there.

Now let me tell you about the play . . . R. Hamilton Wright is no longer braying like he used to. He’s mellowed out some and fit well as a character whose mistress shows up at his house to chat with his wife before asking if these two retired scientists at a failed and leaking nuke plant would agree to risk their lives to . . .

 

 

What’s wrong with MLR’s Western Division?

Major League Rugby’s Eastern Division, with three new teams this year, makes you wonder what happened to the Western Division.

The six teams out here on the Left Coast and points inland have been in the league since it started in 2018. Yet the division has three teams with no wins, Austin, Colorado and yes, the Seattle Seawolves. All of the teams in the Eastern Division have won at least one game, including the newbies: Washington, D.C. Old Glory, New England Free Jacks and the Atlanta Rugby ATLs (gotta be a better name than that).

And in matches between the two divisions, the East has won eight of 10. The only Western wins came against the New England team, Utah on Feb. 15 and San Diego on Feb. 23.

Otherwise, it’s a stuck record: Atlanta over Utah, Toronto over Austin, New York over Austin, Toronto over Houston, Washington, D.C. over Seattle, New Orleans (the only East team that is in its third year) over Colorado, Washington, D.C. over Houston and Toronto over Seattle.

There are four East-West matches the weekend of Feb. 29 and March 1: San Diego at New Orleans, Washington, D.C. at Austin, New York at Houston, and yes, New England at Seattle.

So far, New England has been a punching bag for the Western Division, but their only win came against Rugby United New York, a team that ended up in the playoffs last year and on Feb. 21 signed Hanco Germishuys, a U.S. Eagle back rower who played for Colorado the past two years. And don’t forget Mathieu Bastareaud, a 285-pound center, come over from France. Free Jacks blew away Austin and squeaked out a win against Atlanta, 22-19.

Not a pushover for the Seawolves on Sadie Hawkins Day this Saturday, Feb. 29. Reading the Free Jacks’ account of their game against San Diego – which was interrupted on my TV by people driving cars in a circle and announcers with Southern accents – is mostly about mistakes, a comeback and further mistakes for a 30-21 defeat. Their roster is loaded with players from Japan, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia.

My bet on East-West rivalry this coming weekend: a 2-2 split with San Diego over New Orleans, Old Glory over Austin, New York over Houston and Seattle over New England. Don’t make me wrong.

What’s wrong with the Seawolves?

So if you had a newspaper covering the Seattle Seawolves instead devoting space to a bunch of second stringers playing slow football or a hockey team that isn’t here yet, a beat reporter would be asking the question, “What’s wrong with the Seawolves?”

The two-time champions have started the year with a 0-3 record, and the home opener Saturday, Feb. 22, a 39-17 drubbing by the Toronto Arrows, has diminished our hopes here that the Seattle team can make the playoffs, still months away.

But before we get there, someone has to answer the question: What’s wrong with the Seawolves?

Possible answers:

  1. Injuries. Lots of them, which have kept most of the team’s overseas signings off the field.

    Ross Neal
    Ross Neal

    Ross Neal from England has a broken hand. Harry Davies from Wales is hobbling around in a walking cast after surgery to his foot. I asked him if he came here for USA healthcare, and he said, “No, it was better from where I came.” (It’s Trump’s fault!).

    Harry Davies
    Harry Davies

    Ryno Eksteen has been out from the beginning with a cut foot. David Busby from Ireland played last night, but there was no sign of FP Pelser, another South African.

 

Cima
Ben Cima kicking

And then there is Ben Cima, on a concussion protocol after a nasty collision in the Tasman Mako game on Jan. 26. Scott Dean came in for Cima at stand off and kicked his way to glory and a win. He started there in the first two games in the regular season, both defeats. So the coaches tried Shalom Suniula there last night. He’s a better inside center where he has more time to distribute the ball and set up plays. And Jeff Hassler is a better wing than he is a center. But nice to see him back on the field after recovering from his injury. Also good to see Stephan Coetzee back out there.

  1. What’s missing? Besides Cima, who isn’t there this year who was there last year? Olive Kilifi? The USA Eagle prop is now an assistant coach with the Seattle Saracens, the amateur club in town. (And he reminds us that the Saracens play Glendate, CO, Merlins on Feb. 28, Friday at 7 p.m. at Starfire Stadium). Kilifi was injured much of last year, and as another prop on the Seawolves pointed out, they still won games.

    Front rows
    Front row props Tim Metcher, Djustice Sear-Duru and Jake Ilnicki

    Front row 2
    Prop Kellen Gordon

    And putting Tendai Mtawarira on the Team of the Week after the Seawolves-Old Glory game was an insult to the Seawolves front row who pushed, lifted and dominated the set scrums against Washington on Feb. 16. Bring up No. 2, Mr. Producer, and let’s see the Old Glory front row pedaling with their feet off the ground.

Apisai Naikatini? Api always gave the team at least a strong half. That allowed Brad Tucker to play wing forward (who says he likes playing second row and wing forward, finding challenges in both positions). Tucker, Riekert Hattingh and Nakai Penny at back row with Vili Toluta’u and Eric Duechle coming in as reserves. No drop off in talent there.

Phil Mack
Phil Mack

Phil Mack? He has been the coaching steadfast since day one, leading the team as player-head coach after last-minute call-up the first year and then as player-assistant coach last year. Now he’s the full-time assistant coach. Time to get back on the field? He’s a steady influence there, and he could play scrumhalf with JP Smith at No. 10 until Cima reappears.

  1. Culture. The team talks about that a lot, from owners, coaches and players. Ask Toluta’u about bringing new players into the fold, and he will talk about “getting them into our culture.” Second paragraph in the team’s media press kit defines that as:

“The organization strives to develop, cultivate and expand the sport of rugby in the US while empowering discipline, duty, respect and the spirit of inclusion both on and off the pitch. The Seattle Seawolves aim to foster a winning culture by enabling its members to meet their true potential while pursuing excellence in the MLR competition. Community outreach is a key tenet (not “tenant,” Rebecca and Kate!) of the Seawolves’ philosophy, and the organization strives to continually help enrich and give back to the greater Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest.”

Mack seems to bring that onto the field. He probably would not say much, but meeting his eyes when a player was not meeting “their true potential while pursuing excellence” would not be a pretty sight.

And no one connected to the Seawolves ever talked more about culture than Kevin Flynn, who served last year as team manager. Now he continues that with the Seattle Saracens where he has been president for many years. Is there some one with the Seawolves who can get them re-connected to the culture where they do community outreach, help enrich us and start playing together?

Getting everything right is going to take some time, but time they have. The Seawolves can come in third in their division over Utah, Austin and Colorado. They beat Houston, the second place team in the Western branch of the league, in the playoffs. Hand San Diego, the first place team, their second defeat against the Seawolves this year and then go on to meet the winner of the Eastern Division (which is looking very strong these days).

What could go wrong?

 

 

Rugby World Cup ends, back to normal sleep patterns

First hopes were on the United States Eagles. Just win a game, maybe get beyond pool place in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. A hopeless cause, and unfulfilled.

Then I turned to Ireland. They could win the whole thing, until they could not. Then Wales, another hopeless cause when South Africa destroyed them.

Lastly, I turned to England, who played so well eliminating New Zealand from the finals.

That hope died this morning when South Africa took the championship by overpowering England’s scrums, containing their running game and out-kicking them in penalties. The score was 18-12 at one point, all on penalty kicks, which makes a boring game. Then at 66 minutes into the game, the Springboks opened up scoring with two tries before the game ended, 32-12.

A more interesting game was Friday morning when New Zealand clobbered Wales 40-17 to take third place. One of the announcer said of Wales’ desperate effort to get back in the game, “it’s not tidy, not pretty, but there is a certain freedom in that kind of rugby” — throwing the ball around recklessly like kids on a playground playing keep-away. That’s what keeps me glued to this form of football.

No more 2 a.m. start times for rugby games, at least not until 2023 when the Rugby World Cup moves to France. Or, we could be in that time zone, just down the road a piece to queue up to get into the stadium. Maybe not a hopeless cause.

Down they fell: Ireland, Wales and now what?

Ireland looked like a contender in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but they fell to Japan and then New Zealand.

I thought Wales could become a winner that had never taken home the Webb Ellis trophy before, but they lost to South Africa, 19-16, this morning. The Springboks head for the finals next Saturday, while Wales plays for bronze against New Zealand, who were stopped by England in their attempt to win the RWC for a third time in a row.

Both England and South Africa have captured the RWC championship before, but I’m probably going to root for England, who played an excellent game against New Zealand and did so poorly in the 2015 RWC when they became the first host nation that never advanced beyond pool play. Winning the World Cup might help English fans get over that lingering malady.

Wales and South Africa kicked and kicked, the kind of game a former teammate calls “Ping-Pong.” Back and forth when running seemed a good option. Even the scoring was mostly from penalty kicks with the game tied 9-9 on penalties until the 44th minute when the Springboks scored a try and conversion. Wales answered with seven points 10 minutes later, and the 16-16 tie held up until the last five minutes of the game when South Africa kicked another penalty for the 19-16 win.

So I’ll be singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” which the English fans sing in the stands, which does seem an odd choice. but so did “Bread of Heaven.”

 

England in the finals; rooting for a matchup with Wales

“England started well and never gave us a chance to get into the game,” said New Zealand’s captain Keiran Read in a good summary of their 19-7 loss to the English side.

Manu Tuilagi scored 1:37 minutes into the match and George Ford added four penalty kicks. England had two tries called back because of infractions, one for obstruction and one for a call rarely seen: a ball slipped forward in a maul.

England’s defense kept the New Zealand running game bottled up, and we saw more missed passes and penalties from the Kiwis than we have seen in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Their only try came on a poorly thrown or lack of communication on where to ball was supposed to end up in an England lineout. It ended in the hands of a New Zealand player who went untouched five yards for the score.

It’s the first RWC game the All Blacks have lost since 2007, and they will not three-peat.

Tonight’s game — make that 2 a.m. tomorrow in Seattle — could bring a non-RWC winner into the finals if Wales can get by South Africa. Then beat England in the finals, and the Welsh will win their first RWC championship. A tall order, but we’re still singing “Bread of Heaven.”