Tuesday, June 11, 2019


Can you pass away if no one knows you're alive?

Such might be the question that can be asked as we learn of the passing of Nicky Barnes, a drug kingpin who is now reported to have passed away seven years ago in 2012, at 78 or 79 years of age.

Apparently his daughters did know he was alive, but since he was in the Witness Protection Program they kept his demise a secret, even as seven years elapsed.

After perhaps 20 years of a lifetime prison sentence, Nicky Barnes started to cooperate with the Federal government and began to supply information which lead to the prosecution and conviction of his former associates, former girlfriends, and even his ex-wife. He felt betrayed by them, and felt his betrayal of them was justified.

Nicky Barnes was released into the Witness Protection Program after his cooperation secured his release from prison in 1998. He lived a thoroughly anonymous life, but did surface in 2007 to meet with a New York Times reporter as a book about his life was being published and a movie, American Gangster was being released about the life of another drug kingpin, Frank Lucas. Despite being every bit as big a dealer as Frank Lucas, Nicky's life is cast in a tangential light. Frank is who the movie is about.

One nugget from the Barnes obituary that I never knew is that Nicky Barnes was the inspiration for Jim Croce's hit, 'Bad, Bad. Leroy Brown.' Nicky Barnes's name was Leroy Nicholas, but he was widely known as Nicky. I will next hear the song in a fresh light.

Why are we now hearing about Barnes's death seven years after the fact? Although unstated, it may have something to do with the passing of Frank Lucas, who just passed away at 88 on May 30. in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. His nephew confirmed his death.

It is thoroughly possible that Nicky Barnes's daughters, one of whom is a former prosecutor, felt it was now time to close the book on their father, one of the two major drug traffickers from the 1970s.

Whatever Nicky and Frank did, they weren't the last to do so.


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

And What Are the Chances of That?

What are the chances I will read about two people with the same surname, Boettcher, on the same day—today—in two very different sections of the same newspaper, The New York TimesI'll let the very serious readers of the book 'Fluke: The Math and Myth of Coincidence' by Jospeh Mazur try and figure it out.

In case you're just awakening from a coma, you should know by now there is a new champ on 'Jeopardy,' Emma Boettcher, who in last night's telecast unseated the reigning champion James Holzhauer.

James Holzhauer was no ordinary champion. He won for 32 straight evenings, nearly setting the all-time record for money won in non-tournament games. Along the way, James set records for money won per game several times, breaking his own single game records.

And due to the advance taping of the show, the episode that just aired was filmed on March 12th, showing the end of James's reign before the start of his streak was aired. Thus, Emma Boettcher was unaware on March 12th that  she was dethroning a 32 consecutive game winner, all because his winning streak had yet to be aired at the time.

If any of this might sound confusing, it's all true. Albert Einstein and his Theory of Relativity and the affect of gravity (or TV taping schedules) on elapsed time might need studying. Or not.

At least for now, that we publicly know, Emma is the new 'Jeopardy' champion, Her story is everywhere.

And where did I read of the second occurrence of the name Boettcher today? In the obits section, where else?

Donald M. Fraser, 95, who exposed a 'Koreagate' plot to buy political influence in the late 1970s has passed away. Fraser, is not Boettcher, but a 1980s book 'Gifts of Deceit' about the Korean scandals is by a Boettcher, a Robert Boetttcher, and is mentioned prominently in the obituary.

Are Emma and Robert somehow related? I have no idea. But if I understand some of the discussions of probability in Mr. Mazur's book correctly, reading about them on the same day was eventually guaranteed.

Sure, today is the day I read their names on the same day in the same newspaper. So this is a coincidence, no? Well...

Mr. Mazur points out that when such events happen—and these types of things happen all the time to people—we tend to think of only the one day that it does happen. We're not counting all the days that have proceeded it when it didn't happen. We're thinking it's a 1-out-of -1 occurrence, when it's actually a one in probably many million occurrences. Given enough chances for it to happen and it didn't happen, sharpens the long odds that it's going to happen sometime.

Thus. if I've been reading the newspaper every day for 58 years, 365 times a year, there have been
21,170 chances so far that two similar names should appear on the same day. Given the population of names, the chances of Boettcher appearing on the same day to my knowledge just means that it was bound to finally happen.

I should have known it all along.


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Billions at 10

The tenth episode of Billions has already aired. Can you believe it? The season is going by faster than a $50 dollar bill at a CitiField concession stand.

No major machinations. Axe has called everyone in on New Year's Day. He's a self-motivated driver, and he expects everyone else to be like him, even if he has to make them.

The episode is appropriately named, 'New Year's Day' and is somewhat prosaic compared to other twists and turns of other episodes. There is absolute comic relief when Wags cuts his vacation in South Beach short and returns for the gathering.

It seems Wags has encountered a young thing that he thought was just right for him. At least while on vacation. They enjoyed each other enough for the young lady to lift Wags's Patek Philippe heirloom watch that his father left him (You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.) and disappear. This has devastated Wags way more than he will outwardly show.

Wendy has the answer and a youthful, cheerleader-looking female appears at the offices and takes Wags into a conference room. Bobby remarks that the floors are a little hard in there, but sex is not what is going to console Wags. Cuddling is.

Wendy has arranged for a professional cuddler to hug Wags and let him cry his eyes out. Which he does. The water works have opened. Wags will be better in no time.

The gang at Axe Capital is staging a simulated hearing for Wendy's medical license review. Even in simulation, it's not going well for Wendy. She's emotional and potty-mouthed: the word fuck escapes her lips, and once is too much. She's got to cool off. Maybe get Taylor to drop the complaint. 

Meanwhile, over at Taylor Mason's they too are running a simulation of the hearing. They're trying to make sure Taylor presents himself as a patient, rather than a client for Wendy's services. A patient should be accorded doctor-patient confidentiality, and the breach of Taylor's records would violate that. Very bad for Wendy.

Spoiler alert. The upshot of the Medical Board proceedings will become a moot point because Wendy has supplicated herself before Taylor and convinced him enough of her contriteness. Taylor relents, says he will withdraw the complaint, but tells Wendy she owes him one.

Meanwhile, Chuck and his dad are bribing the Secretary of the Treasury, Krakow, to lift sanctions on a bank that is willing to give dear old dad a sweetheart loan to move the stalled development along.

Unbeknownst the the Rhoades family, Briian Connerty in his role as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District has convinced a Federal judge to approve bugs to be installed in the Rhoades household. The walls have ears, and Bryan and Kate are listening.

The approval of the bugs comes with provisos that certain things cannot he listened to. Kate assures the judge that there will be a "taint team" in place to rule on what can and cannot be listened to, particularly anything where the Rhoadeses lawyer is present and their conversations are protected by attorney-client privilege.

Connerty agrees, at least until he realizes from the tapped conversations that there is a paper, signed contract between the Secretary of the Treasury and Rhoades Sr. as to the arrangement and reimbursement for the action of the Secretary lifting sanctions on the bank that is granting the sweetheart loan to Chuck Sr.

The signed contract is the evidence Connerty needs to prove the conspiracy. But it is locked away in a wall safe in Chuck Sr.'s apartment. No joy. No rapture. Connerty has hit a legal roadblock.

The final scene in the episode takes place is an Irish bar of the kind you might still find tucked away in the Bronx, Upper Manhattan, or in small sections of Brooklyn or Queens. The place is full of bruiser guys and gals who pretty much pretend they were born in Ireland and are veterans of The Troubles directly.

(Note: Hitting the pause button at the right time tells you the bar, The Assembly, is at 73rd Street and Cooper Avenue, which happens to be in Glendale Queens. You're going to have to know Queens to be able to get there.)

Bryan easily finds his brother Jackie, who is about to be overtaken in a bar fight until Bryan raises a bottle in the air and orders the pugilists to rethink their actions—which they do.

Bryan's brother is still thrown out by management. He and Bryan are well-known to the owners and they leave willingly.

Bryan might be a Fordham Law School graduate, but the brother is more likely a graduate of Sing Sing, especially when it becomes known to the viewer that Bryan's brother is a safe cracker and Bryan is about to give him an assignment.

All series now have soundtracks, and Billions is no exception. The Irish bar setting is brought to us with a lively rendition of 'The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn' performed by the Pogues.

Bryan is certainly going to find out what troubles he can get himself into.


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Billions and Port-A-Potty

I'm not going to say I'm worried about this, but I wouldn't be at all surprised that given a school curriculum that ignores history and what I once knew as Civics—how a government works—that there will be viewers of Billions who truly believe that there can be New York State Attorney General, and a U.S. Attorney General who engage in frat-house pranks on each other to show who really runs things in the nation.

Chuck Roades Jr, the freshly elected New York State Attorney General, who never sets foot in the state's capital, and Jeff  "Jock" Jeffcoat, the U.S. Attorney General who never seems to be in Washington, D.C., clearly don't like each other. As such, we are treated to tit-for-tats that rival the magnitude of Sam Malone of the Cheers bar, and Gary, of Olde Time Tavern. Chuck and Jeff just play with much bigger toys.

The latest prank sees Chuck trying to get back at Jeff for boxing Charles Sr. in at his development site by cutting off access due to "security" concerns. Chuck has an epiphany when he spots a row of port-a-potties outside the site's trailer. Chuck has become very aware of the port-a-potties' presence because of a sudden change of wind and an open window. If a row of port-a-potties could smell that bad then Central Park would clearly defoliate during a road race. But hey, this is television.

Charles explains to Chuck that he can't explain how construction workers' "night soil" smells worse than that produced by everyone else. "Night soil," come on. They're making works up now, right? Wrong.

Night soil is human excrement that is pumped away from outhouses, septic tanks and and port-a-potties. The show if nothing else is educational.

Chuck, ever the careful researcher, asks his main man amanuensis, Karl, "how do those things get emptied."

Karl is good at getting anything Chuck needs. He could bring back a cache of moon rocks from the Smithsonian and not get caught. If he ran the Watergate break-in President Nixon would never have had to resign.

Karl explains that "long industrial hoses called 'cacasuckas' pump the excrement into specially treated sanitation trucks, where it is dumped into the sewage system, dehydrated into a solid, compressed and loaded onto a train that travels south and then west to New Mexico." Karl has a map showing the route. Hint: Chuck notices that to get to New Mexico you have to go through Texas, and guess who lives in Texas?

Cacasuckas. Are they kidding us? This does not appear to be a genuine word that would get you points in Scrabble. It is however an easily understood word, and that's all that is important.

And here's where the rivalry with Jeff gets outlandish. Chuck arranged through a series of bribes of key Southern mayors to get the train re-routed and stalled just outside Jeff's ranch and near the house where Jeff, ever the Southern Baptist quotes and read Scripture, and holds hands with his wife while saying grace at breakfast with the window open. Well, at least open until the train, filled with New York City waste arrives, and parks alongside Jeff's ranch.

Why didn't the Democrats think of this when George W. was staying at his ranch in Crawford, or Dick Cheney was at his spread? Chuck is clearly a wizard.

Just prior to the train's arrival, Chuck visits Jeff at his dining table in Texas. Here we have a New York State Attorney General who never sets foot in Albany but who has the means to get himself to Texas to talk of the Pharaohs to Jeff.

Jeff clearly hates all things New York City. When the train pulls up and stops outside his ranch and the odor wafts through the breakfast window, sending Jock's wife to the loo to vomit, Jeff calls Bryan Connerty in New York. " You might be used to the foul and fetid up there in New York, but move that shit train."

Calling NYC "foul and fetid" is a screenwriters' words for how the Daily News portrayed President Ford's response to a bailout in 1975: 'Ford To City: Drop Dead.'

As usual, the word "fuck" and all it's transitive uses gets prominent air time. Everyone utters the word. I've never counted the numbers of times it is uttered, but pretty much every character utters the word, even, or especially, Rebecca Cantu, Bobby Axelrod's financial gal pal who is trying to right the ship of retailer Salers (read Sears). Such a wholesome girl who is waxing nostalgic over the ice cream soda fountains in Salers.

Meanwhile, Wendy is in doo-doo for using confidential client session records to torpedo Taylor Mason. The Medical Review Board has sicced their investigator on Wendy, and she leans into Chuck (rhymes with fuck) to get them off her back.

Wendy, as usual, looks appealing, especially with the current off-the-shoulder fashion look that is all the rage these days. She's always in black, probably the only color in any good dominatrix closet.

And Bonnie. We knew were going to get more Bonnie, and we do as she attempts to crack the inner employee circle for investing, The Flagship Fund.

Bobby has kept inclusion to this high-flying fund only to his tight inner circle, but now Bonnie wants in. She has gotten word of its existence from Dollar Bill who thinks he's in line to get in Bonnie's pants.

Well, spoiler alert, Bonnie does get in the Flagship Fund, and she does encourage Dollar Bill to get in her pants, in the company parking lot in one of Bill's multi-family minivans. Bobby ha managed to fuck Dollar Bill out of his inclusion in the fund—retribution from Bobby—to also literally letting him sample her charms.

And guess what? Just when you think Chuck has scored a major deal-making ploy to get his father's building site cleared of cops, and also get Wendy's license review squashed, he balks at giving Connerty a favor to be redeemed later.

Instead, Connerty gets a tongue-lashing from Chuck who basically tells him he doesn't have the "right stuff."

Connerty is CRUSHED. He can't close a deal with Chuck. This sends him late at night to the Soul Cycle Dr. Gus, who is the motivator supreme, and who told Connerty when Bryan finished second to him in the Peloton sprint, that he needs "to sharpen your dachi and slice a hole in the universe and cut down everything between you and where you're going."

So, look for a new Bryan coming up. With the sharp dachi.


Sunday, May 12, 2019

Comes with All the Feathers

The 8th episode of Billions this season has the usual number of story lines running concurrently across the screen. One thing about the writing in Billions, it is snappy and makes reference to people and events that I know nothing about. At least when they say it. But I watch these shows with a pad of notepaper and a pen, and I take notes when something strikes me as something I'd like to look-up later.

And so it was when a  New York State Indian tribe is introduced as a power base that the governor doesn't want to piss off.

It seems the United States Attorney General, the mellifluous-voice Waylon "Jock" Jeffcoat, doesn't want to allow mobile phone voting in New York State.  This seems to be bending the role of a U.S. A.G. into state election policy, but hey, this is television. Jock of course is Chuck's bète noire and serves as the source of the on-going feud that runs trough the show.

Well, the indigenous people of New York State want mobile phone betting because of the remoteness of their environment. Chuck is a "fixer" so he meets with Council Member Jane Halftown, who is not very receptive to Chuck's entreaty to once again lobby for mobile voting, especially since she feels Chuck's dad has shortchanged them on the casino land deal and literally screwed and fathered a child with a tribal member.

The continued proclivities of Chuck Rhoades Sr. comes as a bit of a surprise to Chuck, but he promises to fix it. The tribe's initial deal with Sr. is sweetened, and a 529 College program for the newborn is started.

Chuck arranges an ambush meeting with the Commissioner of Elections with he and Jane Halftown, who pulls a full headdress out of an enormous hat box and tells the Commissioner she and 30 of "her people" will stage a sit-in at his office in full native regalia to protest being frozen out of mobile voting. The Commissioner capitulates, but not before there is some very colorful language about him sitting on an arrow head and having it go up his ass.

Chuck, ever the fixer, doesn't want the Commissioner to go away empty handed, so he is rewarded with a full-expense paid trip to Aruba for he and the wife to make up for the "lulus" (political gratuities) the Commissioner has seen evaporate ever since Chuck staged the arrests at the church of 30 Senate and Assembly number on corruption charges. Everyone wins.

Except Jeff Jeffcoat, who now has been given the bad news by Bryan Connerty that the Indians have attained the right to take part in mobile voting.

This truly annoys Jeff. He indelicately says that he thought Sam Houston in Texas took care of the Native American problem. He orders Connerty to introduce an "infected blanket" like what "good ol' Lord Amherst did."

Okay, a gap in my knowledge of history. What the hell is an infected blanket, and who was Lord Amherst?

Lord Jefferey Amherst was a British general who was a key figure in the Seven Years War, the French and Indian War that involved British forces against the French and Indians in Canada and the northern portion of what would eventually be New York State.

To help reduce the number of Indians who could fight the British, Amherst came up withe idea of using blankets taken from smallpox patients in a hospital and use then as gifts to the Indians in the hopes that they would be infected with the smallpox virus and die. It was biological warfare. It worked. An epidemic of smallpox broke out amongst the Delaware Indians.

A contemporary review of history has created second thoughts in Canada about the use of the Amherst name in towns honoring Amherst's war achievements. Biological genocide is not meant to be honored.

The Amherst name is also in use in the United States, particularly in Amherst, Massachusetts, home to Amherst College. So far, no name changes there, and the level of discontent with the name Amherst is unknown. You would think it would be substantial.

Connerty does in effect introduce an infected blanket against Rhoades when he manages to waylay the permits for the father's riverside development and gets the police commissioner to close the site. Everyone is on the take for favors, and this time, the Commish has put a boulder in front of the Rhoades family, or risk Jeff pulling Federal funds for the anti-terrorism units the NYPD is so proud of. The influence and power struggle is outsized to real-life, but hey, this is television.

The other main theme of the episode is a boxing match staged for charity between Axe Capital's Dollar Bill and Taylor's Dudley Mafee. After Mafee stormed the castle of Axe Capital and called Wendy all sorts of names, and Dollar Bill had to be restrained from decking Mafee, the idea of a grudge-settling boxing match was hatched.

The Rocky-style training buildup is funny, and allows for 'Eye of the Tiger' to get air time. The match is staged at some hall large enough to allow a significant number of spectators, notably names from finance who are playing themselves. Axe of course knows everyone, and greets these people by name. The credits show that they were playing themselves, just like the episode that the three porno stars were playing themselves. The show covers lots of ground.

The match ends just before the fourth round when Mafee and Dollar Bill are so exhausted that they each collapse in the ring and don't get up. The match is considered a 'double loss',  and a draw is declared, sending the bettors into a rage because the fight in betting parlance is now considered a "push." No winner, unless you bet a push, which one nerdy Taylor employee seems to have done.

The other major segment to the episode involves fracking in New York State, with Taylor successfully baiting Axe to take a pro-fracking stance, a complete opposite to Taylor's declared stand against.

It's a sting on Taylor's part. He gets Bobby to lobby for fracking, when fracking is really what Taylor wants as well. The heavy lifting to get state approval falls on Axe, who unwittingly is actually helping Taylor's interest, since Taylor has bought a huge tract of land to attain the water rights. Water is a key component of fracking, and now Taylor has checkmated Axe. This is a fight to be continued.

The episode has it's usual foul-mouthed "fuck" and "mother fucking" dialogue. You distinctly get the impression that the writers are not creating an episode filled with fiction. New York State has famously indicted several Senate and Assembly members. and the governor has been weighing in on allowing fracking, or not, which right now is not allowed.

So the writers stage a dinner that Axe is throwing at his penthouse aerie for the governor to help fund his Super Pac. The $1.2 million raised should help the reluctant governor to decide for fracking statewide.

Bobby, ever one to sidestep all the posturing, arranged for no one to attend the dinner, but instead gives the governor $1.2 million of his own money, Who needs people eating? The governor's entourage is being fed by Chef Ryan in another alcove of the penthouse.

The real sweetener comes when Axe realizes that perhaps the governor could really use something else. With Chuck hovering as Axe's wingman, Governor Sweeney says he wants to be the keynote speaker at the upcoming National Governors conference, a plum speaking engagement and a stepping stone to presidential aspirations.

Bobby can do. Not easy, but Bobby can do. Bobby's talents and influence are wasted. We need him on the international stage to deal with China and tariffs. There are no parking tickets or jury duty notices in Bobby Axelrod's life.

Bonnie is getting a little more exposure. She is the curly-haired trader who looks like she probably likes men, but might eat them after sex. She gets to be Wendy's companion and helpful listener as Wendy tries to shake off the BDSM exposure Chuck revealed. to the world.

Along the way there are nuggets dropped that you really need to pay attention to. Some I get, others not.

A reference to Vince Neil, who is turns out is the lead vocalist for Motley Crüe.

Chuck, in trying to play to a get on Wendy's good side and back in the bedroom and back in her pants, prepares a nice breakfast to greet her after her morning run. He's gotten the She Wolf bread she likes so much.

The what? Turns out She Wolf is an artisanal hipster bakery in Brooklyn, offering $20 loaves of bread. Artisanal and curated are two words I now hate. And $20 bread will never be for me. Pass.

Another expression is "jazz cabbage" when Mafee offloads his drug paraphernalia, glass pipes, tubes, whatever it takes to get high, because he's now in training for his fight with dollar Bill. Jazz cabbage?

Turns out the phrase means marijuana, and uses the word jazz because jazz musicians were always, and probably still are, marijuana users. Makes sense now.

Look for more horse-trading and influence peddling, because that's makes the world go round for the two major protagonists. Look for Bonnie to emerge with an expanded part in an episode.

But tell me, will the governor, or the attorney general, ever be seen in Albany? Will we ever see them pow-wow at a upstate famous eatery? (Are there any?)

Will "Jock" Jeffcoat ever be seen on Acela headed to Washington? And those unpolitically-correct insensitive remarks about Native Americans and Sam Houston...will the New York Times ever find out about them?

As always, stay tuned. It ain't over till it's over.


Thursday, May 9, 2019

Gary and Mary West, Meet Peter Fuller

The first Derby disqualification was in 1968, but was completely different than the one on Saturday.

That first Saturday in May saw Peter Fuller's Dancer's Image finish first. No one objected, and the track paid out on Dancer's Image. All was right with the official order of finish until a few days later when the lab results came back on Dancer's Image and "Bute" was found in the horse's system, then a banned drug.

Down goes Dancer's Image from being considered the official winner. Up goes Calumet Farm's Forward Pass. There is no change in the mutuel payout. People still collected on Dancer's Image. There were no refunds for anyone who bet on Forward Pass. There are no do-overs in racing.

The Twin Spires betting platform announced after Saturday's disqualification of Maximum Security that they would refund, up to $10 in win tickets on the horse. That is unprecedented, and made possible by Advance Deposit computer wagering, something that did not exist in 1968.

The year 1968 was my first year of attending the races. And I've never stopped. The introduction came when myself and two friends, brothers, and their father's barber, James Kelly, went to the Belmont Stakes. By then, there was actually a chance for a Triple Crown.

James Kelly is the only Irish barber I ever knew. He was a regular racetrack-goer, and it was through him we met the other members of his posse, Dino, the Greek manager of The Baron, a high-end steak house of the era, much like The Cattleman. And of course Les Barrett—Mr. Pace—who mentored us in handicapping skills.

Poring over the Morning Telegraph, a significantly sized broadsheet, then priced at 75¢, I came up with two horses for my single Daily Double bet (the only exotic bet of the era) and for $2 cold, hit the double, paying $22. Okay, so they were favorites, but I just turned $2 into $22 and was inoculated for life.

Forward Pass had been awarded first place in the Kentucky Derby, won the Preakness, and with a victory in the Belmont Stakes would actually be considered to have won the Triple Crown. Talk about needing an asterisk.

Forward Pass does not win the 1968 Belmont, despite a front-running effort by Ismael "Milo" Valenzuela, finishing second. Stage Door Johnny with Heliodoro Gustines reels Forward Pass in inside the sixteenth pole. So the drought of Triple Crown winners going back to Citation in 1948 continued.

Peter Fuller, the owner of the disqualified Dander's Image spent a long time trying to be declared the winner because of faulty drug testing. Added to the primitive drug testing of the era—no split samples taken—were other conspiracy theories that Fuller was denied the win because he wasn't liked. Bill Finley wrote extensively about the 1968 disqualification on the 50th anniversary, in 2018.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has already dismissed Gary West's appeal of the disqualification, saying it is not subject to appeal. Absolutely no surprise there.

The stewards' review of the race after the jockeys' objection took 22 minutes, a lengthy deliberation for a jockey objection. They were running the race backwards and forwards from the five-sixteenths pole. Maximum Security did change lanes, but did he do enough to keep the other horse, War of Will, from winning?

That is the opinion part of the review. A different racing jurisdiction of stewards might have seen it completely different and dismissed the objection. Stewards are boxing judges. They don't all see the same thing.

Gary West has expressed a desire to file a lawsuit. Where, will remain to be seen, but without even being a lawyer, the chances for success has to be slim, to none.

Peter Fuller at one point did manage to convince a court that he should be awarded the win and the purse. That was overturned, and the name of the winner on the Derby souvenir glasses for 1968 remains Forward Pass. And the purse money went to Calumet.

Gary West took to the news programs after the race to complain. This is America way these days. He contends, and perhaps not without some basis, that War of Will got in his horse's way. A horse can bother another horse from behind, as well as from in front. In fact, a horse can bother another horse from just about anywhere, even, in rare instances, "savaging" the opponent, which is to say being alongside the other horse, turning their head and taking a bite out of them. J.K. Simmons in the State Farm insurance commercial would say, "Seen it. Covered it."

And Mr. West, certainly still boiling over, has called Churchill Down "greedy" for allowing as many 20 horses to start the race, when other premier races, like the Breeders' Cup, only allow up to 14.

Say what you will about field size, the up to 20 has been around for a while now at Churchill. The "greedy" part would stem from an entry fee and a starting fee of $25,000 each. A little heavy.

Racing didn't always have 20 starters in a race. In the old days, the pari-mutuel machines couldn't punch out a number beyond 12. So, when there were more than 12 entrants, the overflow were assigned to the pool created with No. 12 used to designate "the Field."

A field bet was like an entry bet: choose the number, get all the horses assigned to the number. When Cananero II won the 1971 Derby he was part of the field. But here in New York, with the inauguration of Off-Track betting in March 1971, each horse was assigned a letter, so you could punch past 12 betting interests. The more betting interests, the more handle, simple as that. The "greedy" part of the equation since the track gets a percentage of the handle.

Cananero paid a wholly different amount when he won at the track vs. what he paid at OTB. Being a founding inductee to telephone wagering in 1971, I took the bets in the office for a few people. One women I worked with, whose husband was Spanish, picked Cananero for $4 to win.

My memory is telling me I had to wait to make a withdrawal from the account and give her the $118 for the win bet, twice, thus $236. I was nervous that the money would actually show up in my account. It did. She got me a gift.

The introduction of the point system to be able to enter the Derby has of course not lessened the number of starters below 20, but it has guaranteed that those in the race have at least done something on he "Road to the Derby" to warrant their inclusion in the starting gate.

This at least has kept the truly peripheral entrants from getting a spot. Handicapping the field on Friday and Saturday I came away with the conclusion that sure, a favorite, second choice might prevail, but with 20 entrants and skewed betting creating long shots amongst decent horses, it wouldn't surprise me that a bomb would win. And even if Maximum Security were not moved down in the results, Country House would still be a whopping amount for second.

Racing is in another teeth gnashing phase. I've lived long enough to pass through at least three "future of racing" phases. Attendance dwindles, but handle can be up. Racing has always been fueled by dollars gambled, whether through discretionary recreational wagering, or deep-pocket wagers made by true gamblers.

The blue bloods that used to run NYRA could never see themselves as a sport that exists because people came to the track and plopped money down. They treated the patrons like an assumption and the great unwashed. They now know they are in a business that has to compete for the gambling dollar.

And like a weak entity that they are, they are looking to make consolidations with sports wagering. But the gambling dollar is stretched thinner than Twiggy was. Video machines were supposed to prop up racing in New York, until they didn't. Horses were actually named after video lottery machines (VLTs), like those that are now part of the Aqueduct campus.

Racing's future will not be perpetuated by bans on riding crops, or even drugs, or even the hope that televised exposure will create new fans. (It won't.) Without gambling action, there will be no racing. Dollars, owners, trainers and jockeys make the horses go around the track.

The Wests had two horses in the race, top-flight runners in Game Winner and Maximum Security. Country House just crawled into the race  with enough points, despite having only won a maiden race. Points were attained by the second, fourth, and third placings in The Risen Star, the Louisiana Derby, and the Arkansas Derby, all graded races. A nice way to amass $260,175 going into the race. But any horse trained trained by a Hall-of-Famer like Bill Mott, has to be seriously considered. 

Will the Wests ever bring another horse to Churchill Downs? After all, the Derby is not the only race there.

People are mad, and tempers have flared. Peter Fuller never had the racing stable the Wests have, but along the way, before passing away in 2012, was asked, would be bring another horse to Churchill? (He never did.)

"Yes," he said, "if I had one named Dancer's Revenge." The Wests still have time.


Sunday, May 5, 2019

The First Saturday in May

"When is the Kentucky Derby run this year?" is a question only the  uninitiated can ask. It is always the first Saturday in May.

And here we are again. The 145th running of "run for the roses"..."the most exciting two minutes in sports"...As Joe Drape points out this morning in his piece in the NYT, the Derby predates baseball in the United States. Subtract 145 from 2019 and you get you get 1874. I'll bet Jim Holzhauer from 'Jeopardy' knows who the president was then. And maybe even the name of the first winner. I'd go all in that he does.

It is also the guaranteed time when my family will have some event I'm expected to be at. But not to worry. The race is late in the day, there are televisions everywhere, and I have a phone that has XpressBets on Speed dial. I won't miss a thing.

I don't really know they first year I ever saw the Derby, but it must have been sometime in the '50s when our upstairs tenants had the race on television and I remember remarking, "all those people come out there for one race?"

The Tramplers, no betting neophytes, explained there were many races on the card, and that the Derby was just the feature, and the biggest race of the day. I've understood ever since.

The family tradition of having must-attend events started with my oldest daughter's wedding on Belmont Stakes day in 2004. Understandably, I was expected to attend the wedding. And I of course did, but not before I started handicapping in the morning and got the results that Nick Zito's horse won the first race on the card. I didn't have it.

I can't really rattle off all the Derby winners during my lifetime, but I certainly know the winners on these special days. Smarty Jones was going for the triple Crown in 2004, but the timing of the reception but us outside the Old Mill at the Bronx Botanical Gardens where the reception was, at about 10 minutes to post time.

"Do you guys have a TV in there?" Jesus, back to the car to listen to race on the radio in the parking lot. We all know the result and what happened "in the shadow of the wire." Birdstone, trained by none other than the trainer of the first race winner, Nick Zito, upsets Smarty Jones. No Triple Crown. Again.

Little did I know then the seed for the family tradition was planted.

First there's love, then there's marriage, then there's  a baby carriage, and in 2007 the first grandchild is born, a girl.

And when is the christening celebration? Why the first Saturday in May, of course. I remember things because of who won certain races, and Big Brown's victory in 2008 is remembered as when the christening celebration was held.

Twice is not a trend, right? When was Emma's First Communion? You're getting good at this. The first Saturday in May, 2015. Who won? American Pharoah, the only horse who can win the Triple Crown that year. And after that year's Belmont Stakes, they did win the Triple Crown.

Oh joy, oh rapture, there's a trend going on here. When did my second daughter get married? On a Friday, but which Friday? The Friday before the 2018 Belmont Stakes. A Montauk, Long Island destination wedding.

And who won the Belmont that year? Why Justify of course, completing the Triple Crown. The phony Triple Crown I believe. A boat race Belmont Stakes guaranteed the win for the lightly run Justify, and the retirement from racing after the Belmont gave us a horse whose career didn't last as long as some hangovers. Boo.

After Emma comes Olivia. And when is Olivia's First Communion? Why today, of course, the first Saturday in May, 2019. Who won the Derby? Unknown, because it is 9:30 a.m. E.D.T.

Okay, who do like? Game Winner/Tacitus exacta, with some savers thrown in for good measure depending on odds, etc.


And now it's Sunday morning, and after a fitful night's sleep, I come to write the rest of the story about this year's First Saturday in May.

The lyrics to a very early Simon and Garfunkel song, 'Bookends' go:

Time it was
And what a time it was
It was a time of innocence
A time of confidences

The next most cherished assignment in journalism won't be covering the White House, press briefings or Senate hearings. It will be covering the Kentucky Derby which yesterday turned the fastest two minutes in sports into the longest replay deliberation, approaching 25 minutes, that delivered racing into the age of the Mueller report: was it collusion? (read collision); was it obstruction (of justice) in interfering in the path to the winner's circle? At least the Russians weren't mentioned.

Future Derby reports, at least the televised ones, might now not concentrate on the A-listers, the bourbon swilling swells, and the hats that 90% of the women wear, looking like a flying saucer has made a bad landing, but still adding style and appeal.

The time it took to come to a decision was unprecedented. Normally, a jock's objection sends it back upstairs to the stewards, who interview the jocks on the phone, rewatch the race and come to a decision. Quickly. To take nearly a half hour to decide the outcome is analogous to counting chads in the 2000 presidential election.

Churchill has lights now, and does offer night racing cards. It was convenient they have lights, because the delay sent the final two races off at 8:06 and 8:39, surely in the dark, despite Louisville's western edge in the Eastern time zone.

Stewards' rulings are unanimous amongst the three. But they are a jury, and perhaps don't have a unanimous opinion immediately. They talk, they review, they keep going. We're not going to know, but there might have been a holdout who just felt DQ Maximum Security because of peer pressure.

In today's NYT Melissa Hoppert gives the most cogent report of what happened in her piece, 'Upon Further Review.'

Yes, Maximum Security crossed the finish line first, but the jockeys on Long Shot Toddy and Country House, John Court (the oldest rider to ever compete in the Derby) and Flavian Pratt, neither of which of is considered top tier jockeys, but rather solid riders who can boot home a winner. Their presence on a horse should not discourage backing the horse.

They alleged interference by Maximum Security at the five-sixteenths pole. For those perhaps bad at math, that is 110 yards before the Quarter pole, (which itself is 440 yards before the finish) which usually signifies the start of the stretch. It was on the turn for home.

Again, for those who don't know much about racing, claims of foul, or "objections," can be made by jockeys, trainers, patrol judges and owners at the conclusion of the race. All claims of foul are ruled on by a triumvirate of Stewards, appointed by racing ruling bodies, who review replays from lots of angles and render a decision.

Another source of an "objection" can come from a Stewards Inquiry, an announcement that in their initial viewing of the race, the stewards find there is a reason to review the race and see if there was anything that was done that warrants changing the order of finish that was just witnessed.

Any racetracker will tell you, a Stewards Inquiry, flashed before anyone has even gotten back to weigh out, usually results in a changing of the order of finish before the race is declared official. But not always. A second look might confirm that what happened, if anything, was not enough to decrease the fouled horse that chances of winning the race. Therefore, the order of finish will stand , and the race will be made official.

Those holding what might be cashable tickets "sweat out" the time it takes for the stewards to make the race official. I have had my tickets DQ'd and I have moved up into a cashable ticket due to stewards' ruling. It happens.

But the important thing to remember is once the stewards declare a race official, money is paid out that is never retroactively taken back if someone thinks a different ruling should apply. A race can be declared official, money paid out, and after failing a drug test, a horse can be removed from getting whatever purse distribution might be related with their placing. But the payout is like a Forever stamp. The pricing stays the same.

As Melissa Hoppert points out, The stewards in racing are essentially in a "job that has existed for ages in America's oldest sport, essentially making stewards the pioneers of video review."

Taking nearly 25 minutes to rule on a jockeys' objection is something I've never witnessed. Usually a jockey objection is reviewed, just like a steward's inquiry, but dismissed fairly quickly after the jockeys have gotten on the phone and described to the ruling body what happened. Plead their case, if you will.

Thus, a national television audience, and 150,000 people at he rack, had to wait while Maximum Security and Country Home were walked around the track, somewhat like George Bush and Al Gore in 2000, awaiting the ruling from the judiciary as to who the winner really is.

Say what you will, the connections of each horse did not go George Brett crazy and charge the officials (They are up in the stands. Access is not easy.) when it was finally announced that yes, Maximum Security did interference with horses at the five-sixteenths pole, and needed to be placed after whatever finish the horse they fouled had attained.

This meant Maximum Security, the second choice in the betting at 9/2, had to be placed behind the placing of Jon Court's Long Range Toddy, resulting in an assignment to 17th place, clearly out of any purse distribution.

Rulings are always judgments formed from opinions. And sometimes the evidence that forms the opinions is not very conclusive, but rulings are made anyway (unless you're Robert Mueller and kick the topic of obstruction of justice to the U.S. Attorney General to rule on.)

The Kentucky Stewards are not Robert Mueller, and therefore ruled on everything and acted accordingly.

Stewards have been derisively called the 'Three Blind Mice,' especially by those who believe a foul was committed that wasn't called and their ticket didn't become cashable. These are not the most objective people.

But what did they see? They didn't flash the inquiry sign right away. Oh joy, oh rapture is going on with the connections of Maximum Security. The trainer, Jason Servis, is the older brother of John Servis, who trained Smarty Jones who won the 2004 Derby and nearly won the Triple Crown, losing in "shadow of the wire" to Birdstone. An official race will make it the first brother combination to win the Derby. Not to be

As Joe Drape reports in today's NYT, the steward's ruling was "not a popular decision, but was a brave one that is certain to keep a battered old sport in the national consciousness for a little longer. Never before had a foul voided an apparent win at the Derby."

The chart of the race, the official recording, the court transcript if you will, states of Maximum Security: "veered out sharply forcing War of Will out into Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress nearing the five -sixteenths pole, respond when challenged..." Country House is mentioned in the chart as being effected by the veering out of Maximum Security.

Missing from the narrative is any mention of contact. No horse went down, no jockey was thrown. A 19 horse field is a crowded field, and did you ever see commuters "jockey" for position to get on the escalator? Slight contact might be made. Someone might change course.

What did the stewards now see that they didn't originally react to? The upshot irony of the whole race is that War of Will, ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, did not claim foul. Anyone who set their DVD to record and didn't extend the time window for a live telecast probably missed seeing the ending. But by then, it was national news.

Does anyone remember the Zola Budd, Mary Decker showdown in the women's 800 meter Olympic finals in Los Angeles in 1984? Tight packed field, goes around the turn, and down goes Mary, clipping heels with Zola. Mary rolls into the infield and starts to wail and hold her leg. Do they DQ Zola? No, well because she didn't finish first.

Track and field are not the same sport, but they both involve running and jostling. I remember getting jostled in cross-country races I competed in. I was never good enough to be near the top, but there were no claims of foul.

So personally, how did this revised order of finish effect anyone I know.

Reports are coming in from affected friends. Bobby G., from The Assembled, had $10 on Maximum Security, only to be denied entry into the winner's circle Now, at 82, Bobby G. has now lived long enough to witness the first revised order of finish in the 145 runnings of the race. The hope is his longevity continues, and he lives long enough to get even. Several times, for the pain and suffering.

For myself, I was unaffected. But at the First Communion party for my granddaughter my son-in-law cleverly and generously created a $100 Derby pool—with no buy in—for all the guests. He
pre-assigned each horse to either a single guest, or a pairing of guests and printed out a purse distribution matrix they would receive if their horse won, placed, or finished third.

Alongside each name was a blurb that had something to say about the person. I was assigned 'Grey Magician' in recognition of some minor repairs I helped them with, and my "touch of gray." (An understatement.) It was a clever matrix, with some people in line for an $80 payout if their horse won. Work must have been incidental they day he put this together.

So, like the people at Churchill Downs, after the unofficial order of finish was posted, my son-in-law started handing out money. Hus father, a retired NYPD detective had been assigned Maximum Security, wit the comment "no one gets out ,except that one window." Cryptic, but referred to a family incident when one of Tim's younger brothers, Kevin, at 15, one night made his bed to look like he was in it, and snuck out the bedroom window to go to his friend's house.

The friend's mother didn't like Kevin coming over so unexpectedly, and for some reason called the police on Kevin. Why she escalated it to the police rather than just calling Kevin's parents is unknown, but she did. The ensuing recovery from the police is now of course family lore and is just now being made public. Kevin is now over 40.

Even with the race being unofficial, Tim starts to distribute the party purse money. His father gets the lion's share, $80, and Johnny M, one of The Assembled got $10 for Code of Honor finishing third.

Time goes by. Lots of time, Lots of hot walking on the track for George Bush and Al Gore, awaiting the decision from the tribunal.

Once announced, Tim had to retrieve the money he gave his father and now give it to another younger brother who just bought a summer home near Saratoga and was assigned Country Home with the blurb: 'Saratoga here we come.' Clever.

The revised order moved Johnny M's assigned horse, Code of Honor to second, and now qualified John for an additional $10, making his winnings, with no outplay (the best kind) $20. Nice work when you can get it.

Maximum Security front-running performance—a brilliant control of the race and pace by Luis Saez—now of course doesn't count. At least in the record books. But the horse was steered to a fast opening quarter of :221/5, a suicidal pace for a 1¼ race.

But Saez is not a leading jockey because he is reckless. He slowed the field down to a  463/5 half, held off challengers mightily, and won by a 1¾ lengths. A truly great performance.

Winners and losers, and new winners all around. At the party for the First Communion, Tim assigned the older daughter Emma, Plue Que Parfait, a long shot that Tim hoped would not win, because winning would mean he'd have to get Emma an iPhone xs max. Cleverly, if he did have to get the iPhone, no one else was winning any money. Emma is still lobbying mightily.