Hockey and Horses

by John Furgele

The Pittsburgh Penguins have earned their playoff stripes.  With the Detroit Red Wings up three games to one and poised to skate Lord Stanley’s Cup around the Joe Louis Arena, the Penguins did two things last night that they hadn’t done since the series commenced:  score in Detroit and win a game in Detroit. 

The Wings are still the better the team, and had it not been for Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, the series would be over.  Detroit is too good of team to lose three straight games, but for the young Penguins, getting an opportunity to play Game 6 (and perhaps Game 7) is a very important step in the maturing process.  Losing is still losing, but there has to be some type of psychological boost when you play deep into a series.  Losing a series in five games indicates that you were dominated and sometimes that can carry over to the next season—just ask the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres, who lost the Eastern Final in five games and didn’t even make the playoffs this season.  Ottawa was routed in five by Anaheim in last year’s Cup final and this year were swept out of the first round by Pittsburgh.

Like most playoff series, good defense is beating good offense.  The Penguins talented duo of Evegeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are having trouble finding open ice, which is a testament to the Detroit defense.  But, the more games the Pens play in this final, the better off they will be in the future.

Dutrow the Villian?:  Rick Dutrow is the trainer of the three year old colt Big Brown, who with a win in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes will became the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to capture horse racing’s Triple Crown.  In the past, Americans rooted hard for the horse to win it.  In 2003, when Empire Maker beat Funny Cide, the Belmont crowd of over 100,000 booed the horse and the jockey, Jerry Bailey.  In 2004, when Smarty Jones had the lead the crowd of 120,000 was roaring.  Then, Birdstone made his move and when he passed Smarty, there was a collective groan from the crowd.  Even track announcer Tom Durkin sounded disappointed and crestfallen when Birdstone, trained by Nick Zito spoiled the party.

This year feels differently.  Big Brown is not the touchy, feel good story that the Funny Cide and Smarty Jones were.  Most of that is because Big Brown is owned by a billionaire financier with a shady past and a trainer, who not only has a shady past, but is too arrogant, too smug and perhaps even too appalling and disrespectful to the other owners and trainers.  He says that Casino Drive, who is considered Brown’s biggest threat, has no chance to win and he criticized the handlers of Smarty Jones for losing the 2004 race to the above mentioned Birdstone.

Most Americans want to see a Triple Crown winner because they feel the game of horse racing needs it and it will help prop up a once proud industry.  We all know this won’t happen.  Americans will be excited, but will quickly forget about horse racing until the first Saturday of May, 2009, when another Kentucky Derby is run.  Dutrow, however changes everything.  I’m sure that there are some Americans who will root against Big Brown so Dutrow will have to eat crow before 15 million Americans this Saturday.  When you open your mouth, you open yourself up to the skeptics and bring out the haters.




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