Archive for September, 2015

Frosted Wins Pennsylvania Derby; Classic Next

September 20, 2015

by John Furgele

Sham was a nice horse, a very nice horse.  The problem for Sham was that he was born in 1970, the same year as Secretariat.  The same can be said for the 1975 birth year for Alydar, who had to contend with Affirmed in 1978.

Frosted was born in 2012 and he, too, is a nice horse, but 2015 has been the year of American Pharoah, who of course, won the Triple Crown as well as three other stakes races this year.  Frosted’s resume is a good one.  A win in the $1 million Wood Memorial, fourth in the Kentucky Derby, second in the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy and then third in the Travers.  In the Travers, he pressed the pace and American Pharoah resulting in Keen Ice’s come-from-behind victory.

In yesterday’s Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby, Frosted got the top billing.  He was the favorite and even though there were some very good horses entered, on paper he was the best.  The question was what kind of race would the son of Tapit run?  Would he go back to being a stalker and closer or would he employ the Travers strategy of staying near the front and pressing?

Ohio Derby winner Mr. Z set the pace, but the pace was tepid as Z cut fractions of 24.1, 48.2 and 1:12.2. Frosted moved into contention at the top of the stretch and when the leaders hit the mile in 1:38, Frosted was ready to go and that he did, covering the last furlong in a very quick 11.97 seconds.  The Pennsylvania Derby, timing-wise, is the perfect prep race for the Breeder’s Cup Classic.  Last year, Bayern won it en route to a Classic win and perhaps Frosted can do the same.  The Travers was just three weeks ago and Frosted showed no signs of being worn out, adding to the fallacy that horses need more rest time.  They don’t.

Frosted has been a contender in every race he has run.  He got a poor trip in the Kentucky Derby, but never gave up and was doing his best running at the end to finish fourth.  On Belmont Stakes day, while nobody was going to deny American Pharoah, Frosted did scare for the briefest of seconds when he came up on the Triple Crown winner at the top of the stretch.  Pharoah dismissed him easily, but Frosted kept running and was clearly second best in the race.  The Breeder’s Cup Classic will be fully loaded, but Frosted cannot be counted out.

The other big race at Parx was the 46th running of the Cotillion for 3-year fillies.  Parx has a reputation for being speed favoring, but that wasn’t the case in the Derby or Cotillion.  Calamity Kate was the pace setter, setting honest fractions of 23.2, 47.2 and 1:12.1.  She fought gamely but when it was time to run, I’m a Chatterbox, the runner-up to Embellish the Lace in the Alabama, surged to win impressively in 1:44.2 for 1 1/16 miles.  The daughter of Munnings pushed her career earnings to $1.3 million and picked up her fourth win of the year.  Unlike the male 3-year-old division, there is no dominant filly, so the Breeder’s Cup Distaff should be a wide-open affair.  I’m a Chatterbox should be a contender.

Trouble Kid took the $300,000 Gallant Bob Stakes.  The gelding, the son of Harlan’s Holiday set blazing fractions of 21.1, 44.1 and then fought off Limousine Liberal to win in 1:10.56.  The win was the first stakes win for Trouble Kid and his third straight.  The gelding continues to improve and it will be interesting to see where his next race will be.

Encryption won the $150,000 Bayern Stakes in impressive fashion, roaring down the stretch in 1:44.1 for 1 1/16 miles.   Uncle Dave took the lead from the gate, and then fought bravely, holding on to win the $100,000 Alphabet Soup Handicap in 1:44 for 1 1/16 miles.

In the end, American Pharoah did not grace Bensalem with his presence, but the crowd was solid and overall handle was $5.8 million.  That’s a good number, but down from 2014 when California Chrome showed up to push handle over $10 million.  In horse racing, it is about star power.

Parx may lack the charm of Saratoga, Keeneland and other tracks, but Pennsylvania Derby day has solidified itself on the calendar for horses that want to run in the Breeder’s Cup.  Could Frosted be the next to pull off the Pennsylvania Derby-Breeder’s Cup Classic double?  We’ll have to wait and see.

Dana Holgorsen Has Never Been More Right

September 10, 2015

by John Furgele

Dana Holgorsen has broken free. The West Virginia coach, in his weekly presser before their game against Liberty has come out and said that FBS schools shouldn’t be playing FCS schools.  Is he right?  Will others listen?

The coach stated that the game against Liberty and its 2016 contest against Youngstown State were scheduled before he arrived on the scene and as long as he is coach, he will no longer entertain FCS foes.  In fact, Holgorsen said that in the future, West Virginia will schedule two Power 5 schools and only one Group of 5 school for its nonconference games.

Holgorsen didn’t call anybody out, but clearly was taking a shot at TCU and Baylor.  Last year, Baylor coach Art Briles cried about his Bears being left out of the College Football Playoff, but his Bears played NOBODY, beating up SMU, Rice and FCS Northwestern State in nonconference action.

Competition is intense for a coveted spot in the CFP.  There are five Power 5 conferences and only four spots and even if there were more teams involved, there is no guarantee that each conference would get an automatic bid.  One could easily see two SEC schools making the field, and if Ohio State were to go 13-0 and Michigan State finished 11-1 with its only loss to the Buckeyes, could the Spartans leapfrog a Baylor or TCU?  The answer is a resounding yes, because MSU would have a win over Oregon on its resume, while Baylor can tout Rice and SMU of the old Southwest Conference on its victim list.

As a fan and more importantly, a booster or season ticket holder, why would you want to see Baylor play Lamar?  Think about it?  You work all week, spend money on tickets, tailgating and driving to and from to see your Baylor Bears cruise to a 63-10 win.  Is that exciting?  Is that riveting?  Isn’t it a waste of time?  Wouldn’t it be better to see Baylor host Vanderbilt, or Temple or dare we say, a Georgia Tech?  I’d rather watch Oklahoma play Tennessee than Oklahoma play McNeese State.

We know why Lamar wants the game—money.  And, we know Baylor can pay Lamar less than they would have to pay a Temple or Cincinnati, but the game needs to have quality matchups each week, not mismatches.  And, what benefit is there for Baylor?  They’re supposed to win and win easily; if they struggle to win, they get knocked and if they lose, they’re laughingstocks.  Didn’t anybody learn that Ohio State’s loss to Virginia Tech actually resonated more than Baylor going 3-0 in their nonconference slate?

Holgorsen is right, but Baylor and TCU are not the only culprits.  SEC teams litter their schedule with FCS teams and often use them as buffers before they play a huge conference game.  Alabama takes on Charleston Southern the week before the Iron Bowl versus Auburn, but “because the SEC it just too tough to navigate,” these breathers go unnoticed.  The exception is Mike North of Fox Sports Radio who has indeed, taken the SEC to task for their scheduling faux paus.  If Baylor is 12-0 and Alabama is 12-1, let’s remind everybody that the Tide played FCS Charleston Southern because everybody will know about Baylor’s game against Lamar.

There are always going to be biases toward the conferences.  The SEC has gotten top billing the last decade, but in the big bowl games last year, the SEC fell flat as Alabama, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Auburn all lost, and for good measure, LSU lost to a Notre Dame team that was reeling.  On the contrast, the Big Ten did very well, with Ohio State winning the College Football Playoff with Wisconsin and Michigan State winning the Capital One and Cotton Bowls.  The time has come for teams to schedule tough, competitive nonconference games.  And, as fans doesn’t Oregon-Michigan State and Oklahoma-Tennessee excite more than Buffalo-Penn State?

The Michigan Wolverines are a good example of scheduling quality.  Last week, they went to Utah and lost and this week, they are hosting Oregon State.  On paper, it doesn’t come across as a marquee game, but Oregon State is a Power 5 team from the Pac 12 and this game is much more enchanting than if the Wolverines and Beavers played Western Michigan and Idaho respectively.

The Wolverines certainly scheduled tough for Jim Harbaugh’s first season.  After Oregon State, it’s UNLV, a home game against Brigham Young, and then on to the Big Ten.  Should the Wolverines finish 10-2, they will certainly earn more CFP votes than a 10-2 or even an 11-1 Baylor.

It certainly sounds like I’m down on Baylor and that’s because I am.  After last year’s parade of cupcakes, the Bears had plenty of time to drop Lamar and find somebody willing to play a home-and-home, but they stayed arrogant, going as far to say that they will continue to play games against creampuffs.

College football is the best of all regular seasons.  Each season there are 12 “auditions” and if those 12 go well, there may be a 13th in the form of a conference championship game.  The margin for error is small, quite small.  People believe that there is more parity than ever in the game and if that’s the case, then teams should knock each other off in conference play.  There will come a time where a 9-3, regular season team finds its way into the CFP.  In reality, if an Alabama or Florida State goes undefeated in conference play, what does that say about the conference?  Of course, it’s always been that way, but with parity, shouldn’t the SEC West winner be 7-1 or even 6-2?

What Holgorsen did was a good thing for college football.  It should lead to serious discussion about the future of scheduling among Power 5 schools.  If you’re a fan of FCS football, you might not like what he or I say, but P5 schools should stop scheduling FCS schools.  If Furman can’t play Virginia Tech, perhaps they will schedule a Delaware or an Illinois State in what would promise to be a competitive contest.  FCS schools should do their part and stop scheduling Division II schools. If it’s good for the goose, it has to be good for the gander, and FCS schools often stray away from their kind, too.

The game is too good right now and like I said, there are only 12 to 13 chances to see teams play.  Wasting one week for FBS-FCS blowouts takes away a precious week and the time has come for it to stop.

Football, The King is Back

September 5, 2015

by John Furgele

If you live in the Northeast or the Midwest, Labor Day can be a sad time. The warm summer days are fading fast. If you have a swimming pool, you will be closing it shortly after September 7. Soon, the cooler temps arrive and before too long, winter is here. And, even though there is the same amount of days in winter as there is summer, winter seems to take twice as long.

But with the arrival of fall comes perhaps the best time of the sports year. Baseball heads to the playoffs and for most of the nation, their favorite sport, football, returns. I’m still not really sure when football moved ahead of the others and I’m less sure when football began to dominate. Ratings for football continue to rise, in fact, as other sports see their rating decline, football ratings continue to climb.

For the NFL, the regular season cannot come soon enough. The league decided to make a mountain our of a mole hill with Deflategate (a word I despise). The act calls for a team fine of $25,000, yet Roger Goodell and the shield decided to fine the Pats a million dollars, steal some draft picks, and suspend Tom Brady for four games. Judge Berman decided that Goodell went above and beyond and vacated the suspension. Most organizations would accept the court decision, but Goodell has vowed that the league will appeal. He works for the owners and let’s hope that they call Goodell and tell him to simmer down, drop the appeal and get back to the…..game.

The NFL for years has gotten a pass from the media. The networks were always afraid to criticize the league for fear of reprisal. There was always the notion that the arrogant NFL would take a TV contract back, or move them to another network if criticism was too harsh. ESPN paid billions for games, but their Monday night package was second tier compared to NBC’s Sunday night slate of games. They also went a few years without having a playoff game. And, that’s despite the fact that ESPN generally kisses the ring of the NFL. Eventually, the issues became too big to ignore. The Ray Rice saga, as well as those of Ray McDonald, Greg Hardy were simply too tough to ignore. The concussion problems aren’t going away either so the networks in gingerly fashion have decided to confront the NFL on some of these important topics.

The NFL has been criticized for threats and dictation. The soon-to- be- released movie “Concussion,” starring Will Smith details the story of the doctor that discovered CTE, and there are rumors suggesting that the NFL told the producers to tone down the story, and though the producers denied that this happened, where there’s smoke, there is usually fire.

The NFL has seen its share of domestic abuse, fast drivers (Sheldon Richardson) and its normal under-the-radar substance abuse suspensions and to complicate matters, has seen way too many players go down with serious season-ending injuries. The league will continue to focus on concussions, but they also need to look into why a Jordy Nelson rips up his ACL by planting and running. NFL players work out hard all year and some say because they practice less in training camp, that injuries have increased. I tend to believe that the players spend too much time practicing and working out. Because they are so tight, ligaments and tendons are snapping at an alarming rate.

Will this stop players from working out so hard in the offseason? Of course not, but it is something that the league should look in to. I’m not sure four pre-season games are necessary, but unless the league gets an agreement to have 20 total games, the status quo will remain. The CFL plays 2 pre-season games and then 18 regular season games. The NFL would like to go to 18, but the players will have to be given something for that to happen. The logical compromise is 3 pre-season games and 16 in the regular season, but logic seldom prevails in professional sports. And, don’t expect the players to give in on anything in future negotiations. After the Brady fiasco, you can bet your bippy that the players association is going to want new rules with regards to the personal conduct policy. They gave Goodell the right to be judge, jury and to hear appeals, but that won’t happen in the next collective bargaining agreement. Nobody would be surprised if there was a work stoppage or a lockout. The players are the game, something that other sports recognize but not the NFL. The league believes that “The Shield,” trumps the players and they will find out soon that they’re wrong.

The perception is that the players association has been weak; that in the end, because an NFL career is short, that they will sacrifice long term for short term. That may be changing in the future. Judge Berman exposed the league. I’m not sure I’d call what happened to Brady a victory, but it had to give the NFLPA something to hang their hat on for the future. And, the owners are already thinking about changing Goodell’s role as the dean of discipline. Goodell remains the ultimate enigma. Yes, he makes the owners, the people that employ him billions, but truth-to-be-told, he hasn’t been a great commissioner. Calling for his job is not appropriate because nobody knows how he interacts with his employers. The owners may like him, in fact, before the Brady fiasco, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Goodell were regular old pals.

The NFL is the undisputed King of Professional Sports, but they have relied on greed, arrogance, an adoring public and a forgiving media for far too long. But, they are the King and when the Thursday night opener between Pittsburgh and New England takes place, the ratings will destroy every other program on television. So, there has always been a reason for this arrogance. One can only hope that wisdom going forward will prevail.

College football, which begins this week is the clear number two sport in the land. Baseball and basketball and even hockey are doing alright, but we have become England. That country loves soccer so much; they can’t get enough of it and now, with our passion for football, we have become one-sport centric. The College Football Playoff semifinals and title game almost doubled in viewership Game 7 of the World Series. Think about that? The former national pastime getting trounced by amateur football.

The bad part of our love for football is what it has done for sports shows. Rather than talk about baseball games, they talk about air pressure in footballs. Rather than talk about basketball games, they talk about how long it will take before Jim Harbaugh rules college football Is this wrong? No, but every show discusses the same topics. It gets old and sure, the simple thing is to turn it off, but if you like sports, you want to listen to and talk about sports.

That will happen now because football is here. Rather than predict Harbaugh’s success, we will dissect how his Wolverines played against the Utah Utes. Rather than predict greatness for newly anointed Buffalo Bills’ starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, we will see him play and summarize from that.

Like many old-schoolers, I hate to give football its ultimate due. I still cling to the hope that all sports deserve attention; that hockey is just as relevant as football, but I have conceded. Football is the king and despite its many wrongdoings, can’t be topped. I still don’t think it’s the best game out there, but Americans feel that it is. I don’t believe in fantasy football. I find it silly that grown adults spend so much time pouring over stats to decide “who to play,” on a particular Sunday. But, I have softened there, too. I don’t want to hear whom you’re playing, but no longer will I make fun of you.

I’ll take college football over NFL football, so I guess there is some rebel left in me. I find the college atmosphere intoxicating and I prefer Saturday over Sunday. But, it’s still football and for the next six months it will dominate, drowning other sports in its wake.

The King has indeed, returned to the throne.