Tuesday, August 20, 2019

It Was Dark and Stormy

If a horseplayer doesn't have a story to tell you, then they're no longer breathing.You'll have to rely on the eulogy. It may not have yet been a dark and stormy night, but it certainly became a dark and stormy afternoon —fast—about the time for the 9th race on Saturday at Saratoga.

Anyone who knows anything about the weather in August around Saratoga, knows there can be violent thunderstorms that seem to fly out of the Alleghany mountains that quickly render a fast track a sloppy, sealed track, or turn a turf course less than firm.

And that's exactly what happened as the 9th race was set to go off. The sky got dark. The rain came. But the race was run at the planned mile and sixteenth on what was initially described as a "good" turf course. A prior night's rain had already moved the prior day's "firm" turf conditions to "good" as the races began the day.

The six horse field had already lost an entrant to an early scratch when the gates popped open. There were basically two horses vying for favoritism: the Graham Motion-trained Varenka and the Chad Brown-trained Regal Glory.  The race was the 36th running of the Grade II Lake Placid Stakes.

Turf races generally end with bang-up finishes. Tight clusters of horses headed toward the wire, with the outcome usually not decided until the final jumps. And this was no exception.

At the end, only 1½ lengths separated the top 5 finishers. And the top two, Varenka and Regal Glory, looked locked in place at the wire, due to Varenka's stretch run surge.  Regal Glory and Varenka both got past Blowout, who was leading in the stretch? But who finished in front? Who, shot past who?

On the slo-mo replay it seemed it depended on who you bet as to who you felt won. Realistically, as the slo-mo was replayed, despite having bet on Regal Glory, it was felt by this long-time observer that Varenka did have a flared nostril ahead of Regal Glory. But Varenka's number is not coming up. Regal Glory's umber is not coming up. And the clock is ticking way beyond the time you wait for a photo finish to be decided. Waaaaaay beyond. Is this the Kentucky Derby all over again, albeit for a different reason?

Another frame-by-frame replay of the finish leaves you still guessing. The image is as dark as the sky is. How can they tell? Where is the light that usually goes on when it's dark out and the horses cross the finish line? The image looks vastly underexposed as a result, as if Fotomat screwed up your vacation photos and you can't tell Uncle Henry from Aunt Bessie as they stand by the Grand Canyon.

Turns out Saratoga has no light! Not for the main track finish, not for either turf course finish. I go back so far that I can remember my early days when I also tried to pick winners at Yonkers Raceway, a harness track in Westchester County, just north of New York City.

Harness racing at Yonkers, then as now, was held at night, and my friend and I once did a double, daytime races at Aqueduct and a nightly card at Yonkers. We only did that once, and I was never so tired in my life.

Regardless, I did go to Yonkers by myself  in the late '60s, and when there was a photo finish they posted the image in a locked glass case for the public to see. A still wet looking 8x10 glossy print was carried down from offices above, and was physically placed in the case by an official, showing the public how they came to declare the winner.

As advanced as things have become, a freeze frame image is still needed to determine not just close finishes, but all placings. In the age of Superfectas, the top four finishers are needed to be determined to pay out the bet. Accuracy counts.

Time ticks away, and it become 10 minutes before the officials determine who won the race. Both horses did! A dead heat is declared. And when a dead heat is declared, there are multiple payouts for win, exactas, etc. I cash my win bet on Regal Glory, somewhat diminished because the win pool payout is shared with Varenka. Half a loaf is better than no loaf.

The above photo is posted on the monitors to show the public a dead heat occurred. How did they tell? It's dark as a cave.

Well, once home on Sunday and watching the FS2 broadcast, I learned that they determined the finish line photo was inconclusive, they couldn't really tell who won, so the in the spirit of not wanting to just settle it with a coin flip, they declared both finishes to have finished first—thus a dead heat.

Image that! An inconclusive finish to a horse race in the 21st Century! It's one half of the Mueller report, and thankfully it didn't take as long to conclude that they couldn't conclude.

The dead heat decision was gratefully received by the public since Varenka and Regal Glory were co-betting favorites. Afterwards, it was reported that Graham Motion, the trainer of Varenka, teased Chad Brown, the trainer of Regal Glory, that Chad got lucky. Just as I thought on the freeze frame replays that it appeared that Varenka was ahead by the membrane of her nostril.

It was a dark and storm afternoon, and two horses each won the same race. And I had one of them.


Friday, August 9, 2019

Rosie Ruiz

Memory is a tricky thing. Before reading today's obituary, if you were to ask me which marathon Rosie Ruiz was the "winner" of, only to be disqualified later for having jumped into the race a mile from the finish, I would have replied. "New York." Nope. It was Boston, 1980. I knew the year, however.

It turns out she was mistakenly awarded a finishing time of 2:56:33 for New York's 1979 marathon when she dropped out after 10 miles with an ankle injury, went to the finish line to watch the race, and was inadvertently credited with a finishing time by a race volunteer. It was then that she perhaps got the idea that you could earn a finishing time without actually running all the miles.

Ms. Ruiz's New York time likely enabled her to qualify for an entry spot in the Boston Marathon, since then, as now, you need to meet qualifying standards to legitimately get a number and start the race.

It didn't take long for suspicious to be raised about her Boston finish. Bill Rodgers, the 1980 male winner, said she didn't look "tired enough" to have completed the race.

Rosie insisted she was legit, but everyone else had her down as a fraud—a pariah. Offers were made to have her enter another race and prove she was capable of the times she had been credited with. She wouldn't.

There were stories she had a "plate in her head," thereby explaining her "odd" behavior. Today's NYT obituary doesn't mention anything having to do with a metal plate in her head.

Fame is fleeting, even infamous fame. It didn't take long for Rosie to recede from the spotlight. Turns out she got her herself into quite a bit of trouble embezzling money from a real estate firm, and selling cocaine to an undercover agent. For whatever reasons, the punishments for these offenses were not lengthy prison sentences.

In the photo above, Rosie is being helped by the Boston police after it was thought she had won the race. Prescient. She later was escorted by the police when she was being arrested.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019


I have read A LOT of obituaries. But I have never read of someone who is described as being so bland that, "if there is single colorful quotation to his name, it has not been found."

Li Peng is described as being without wit. But then again, the clue might have been found in the NYT obituary's headline announcing his death: "Li Peng, Known as the 'Butcher of Beijing' for Tiananmen Crackdown, Dies at 90."

The noun "butcher" is usually reserved for those whose vocation might be chopping pork chops for sale, or Nazi concentration camp commandants. Not that the word is poorly applied in Li Peng's case.

Li Peng is pretty much credited with ordering the bloody crackdown against the demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989 as China's youth was expressing their displeasure with the government. No exact number of fatalities is ever given, but generally "hundreds, perhaps thousands" were killed by Chinese troops unleashed on the crowds to eventually restore order.

Li Peng was a trained engineer who was a professional Comrade who managed hydroelectric plants and who rose in the Party's ranks to eventually serve as premier, and later as "chief of the National People's Congress, the country's party-dominated, pro rubber-stamp Parliament."

The one black and white photo of Li Peng in the print edition of the NYT, shows him standing in front of three microphones in a 1997 ceremony for the Three Georges Dam, a massive hydroelectric project that displaced more than a million people before it was finished. He looks completely expressionless, a cardboard figure with four similar cardboard figures standing behind him. My bet is his lips never moved when he was talking, and he only moved when someone came by and picked him up and put him someplace else. No photo-op shirtless pose on horseback, like the Russian nemesis Putin.

But there is an alternate universe when you take in the digital version of the NYT Li Peng obituary. Scrolling through the text you are greeted with a color, 1995 photo of him taken in Mexico, waving a Stetson, smiling and looking like an Asian Harry Truman campaigning from the back of a train pulling through a whistle stop.

Li Peng is survived by a wife and three children. He must have said something that made someone laugh. Or at least smile.


Monday, July 29, 2019


Fifty years ago we landed on he moon.
Fifty years ago there were 50 years ahead of me.
Now those 50 years are behind me.
Eternity filled in.


Saturday, July 27, 2019

GPS Gone Awry

Years and years ago I distinctly remember being in a conference room and telling someone before the meeting started that they looked sad. I asked, "did you just see a Lifetime movie?" "Did a tractor trailer inadvertently pull into your driveway thinking it was an on-ramp to an Interstate and run over your dog or cat?" Turns out, these things happen.

Today's WSJ's A-Hed piece is about GPS systems sending traffic onto people's lawns due to bad mapping that has their greenswards down as thoroughfares.

Back in the day when there were only paper maps, I would occasionally read of the map companies, Rand-McNally, Hagstrom, et al that needed to change a tiny detail of their highly detailed maps when they somehow showed a short road that was really a person's driveway. The owner of the house with that driveway would occasionally get a vehicle, sometimes a tractor trailer, trying to use their driveway as a connecting road, only to find it brought then smack in front of a garage door, or another vehicle parked in the driveway. Backups were often difficult.

Well, the same thing is happening when digital GPS such as Google Maps, Mapquest, or Apple Maps clearly sends instructions to the user that your driveway or cul-de-sac is the back way to the Interstate.  Houston, we have a problem.

The A-Hed piece reports on a flock of stories from across the nation of vehicles being sent down the wrong path and what the adjacent homeowners have taken to doing to correct the situation.

Notifying the creator of the application can result in corrections, sometimes taking a good while, sometime being quickly corrected, and sometimes not corrected at all.

When the situations goes uncorrected for a long time, homeowners have posted signs, such as the ones above, The homeowners have also parked large vehicles in an attempt to prevent through traffic. Sometimes this works; sometimes not.  Mail boxes, front steps and lawns have been driven into and onto before the driver realizes they've made a boo-boo.

A few years I went rock shopping with my daughter and my son-in-law to a rock landscaping concern here on Long Island. I wanted to buy a medium-sized boulder for the backyard to act as a bit of a focal point. I love landscaping, and have learned of establishing focal points.

The stone yard had boulders of all sizes, shapes and colors. River stone, marble, and granite. Everything was priced at 50¢ a pound. The owner would take your chosen piece with a Bobcat forklift and weigh in on a truck scale, then deposit it on the roadbed of the pickup truck you hopefully came in.

Since my son-law works as a land surveyor and is in excellent standing with the owners, he can get access to the company's crew cab Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck. A Godsend for rock shopping.

I even commented on his access to such a vehicle at my daughter's wedding. I said my wife and I were surely not losing a daughter, but were instead gaining a son-in-law who comes with a truck.

The first of the two times we went rock shopping the workers at yard were loading an ENORMOUS boulder onto one of their flat bed tracks using a hoist. The boulder was so big the truck seemed to list with the weight. It looked precarious. We gave that truck a wide berth.

We asked who was buying such a large piece. The story went that a woman whose house was fairly close to a sharp curve was tired of having speeding vehicles take the turn too fast and veer off and come to a stop somewhat close to her house, tearing up the grass in the process.

Her plan was simple. Place the boulder on her property near the curve so that if a driver missed the curve they would whack into the boulder before running up on the grass toward the house. Possibly deadly for the driver, but hey, I guess she thought, you ran into the boulder. It wasn't moving. Hopefully, your airbag is working.

Cars missing the curve is not quite the same as a GPS sending you toward someone's driveway, but if you do come face-to-face with the Rock of Gibralter, you've probably done something wrong.


Friday, July 26, 2019

The Queen is Carrying

It would be extremely rude to say Queen Elizabeth is an old bag. She's up there in age, but she's not an old bag. And neither is her handbag, which for some reason we constantly see on the Queen's arm.

I don't remember ever seeing Hillary Clinton, or any other American female politicians appearing in public with their handbag. Wen Hillary was campaigning, someone in her entourage paid for the shots and beer she consumed when she was "one of the guys" in 2016. Current Democratic female presidential hopefuls also never seem to be seen slinging a purse. For for some reason the Queen of England is different.

I'm pretty sure when I would watch her entrance at the Royal Closure at Ascot this past June she was toting her bag. And being outside like that might still give her a need to keep her bag close by. You never know when someone is going to steadfastly refuse to serve you alcohol no matter how old you are. My wife, who is 72, has been proofed at a state store in New Hampshire for id.

But what just hit me now is that even when the Queen is pictured meeting someone in Buckingham Palace—her home—she is seen with her bag on her arm. I mean, the Queen is indoors, where she lives, and she's walking around with her purse. Quite honestly, I don't get it.

Is it product placement? Some leather goods concern loaded with Royal Warrants, in business since the age of Cromwell, has insisted that she parade their goods, whether it be saddles, or pocketbooks?

Being male, and American, I can't tell who made the Queen's handbag. It looks practical, but is it really necessary for her to carry it around the palace when she's greeting dignitaries?

I'm sure the queen doesn't answer her own front door when someone comes-a-calling, but what American woman, politician or not, would answer the door with their handbag?

She reminds me of Ruth Buzzi so many years ago on Laugh-In, who was always slugging Arte Johnson on a park bench with her sack of leather when he tried to get fresh with her. Is the Queen similarly prepared to whack someone who she feels is aggressive?

Joan Rivers, when she was making a name for herself as a comedian and appearing as a guest on the Johnny Carson show in 1965, was always schlepping out to the guest chair carrying her handbag. Even when she became quite established she would appear on Carson with a small clutch bag. (Check her and Carson out on YouTube. Humor as it once was.) I suppose Joan, being a native New Yorker, never felt comfortable leaving her bag somewhere out of sight.

The above photo is just the latest example of the Queen, in this one greeting Boris Johnson, the new prime minister and the 14th one to come on duty during her reign, with a leather satchel swinging on her arm.

I did hear a news clip of a press conference of someone asking Mr. Johnson when he was Mayor of London, "how long have you cutting your own hair?"

Boris doesn't quite look as disheveled as he once did, but it just might be that the sly old Queen, rather than beheading Johnson, will whip out a pair of barber shears and give him a haircut.

Now that would be news.


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Morgenthaus

Ever wonder why 96th Street is an express stop on the Broadway Line, and not say 88th Street? If Jimmy Breslin is to believed in his biography of Damon Runyon, then it was due to Robert Morgenthau's grandfather, Henry Morgenthau Sr., who, as a NYC developer around the turn-of-the-last-century, among other things, lobbied the Interborough Radid Transit Company (IRT) to make 96th Street an express stop because he was going to be building apartments in the area, and what better appeal could there be to time-sensitive New Yorkers (even then) than to tell them they could live within a traffic light of an express train stop that would whisk them downtown faster than ever?

I love reading about the famously departed whose grandfatherly ancestry predates the light bulb. Robert Morgenthau, Federal and NYC prosecutor, has passed away at 99. His grandfather was born in 1856. That is some stretch of time to only go back two generations.

Robert M. gets the full-Monty obituary treatment in today's NYT obituaries section. Or, very nearly the full-Monty. Sure it's a six column full-page narrative of the highs and lows, but there was no front page obit placement, or even a teaser that his obit would be found further inside the edition. Perhaps it was the late Sunday passing that kept the 21-gun salute off the front page.

Regardless, I remember his father's signature on United States currency still in circulation in the '50s and '60s, because Henry Jr. was FDR's Secretary of the Treasury from 1934 to 1945. Turns out the grandfather, along with building buildings in Manhattan, was President Woodrow Wilson's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, that very large tract of the globe that existed prior to
World War I. You need an old map these days to find the Ottoman Empire.

If Texas Governor Ann Richards said of George H.W. Bush that he was born with a silver foot in his mouth, then it would seem Robert Morgenthau would have been born in a voting booth. But election to any office other than District Attorney of New York was never where Mr. Morgenthau found employment.

Over the years there were always stories in the paper about Robert's non-official life. His living upstate near where he was born and raising chickens. His boat ride with his second wife through the Erie Canal locks. How, despite his leading major prosecutorial offices in New York, he never prosecuted a case himself.

Some of us are just born to be administrators.