Brocco, No Bull
This is an article from the May 9, 1994 issue
Senior writer William Nack assesses the field for Saturday's 120th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Throughout the history of America's most celebrated race, only 21 horses have successfully dared the Fates and won on the front end, from wire to wire, certainly the gutsiest way to prevail in a 10-furlong race and often the most glorious and memorable as well. A lot of racetrackers hanging around Louisville these days believe that the next front-running Derby winner is presently domiciled in stall 17 of Barn 41 on the backstretch of Churchill Downs. Holy Bull is a large, gray colt with shoulders reminiscent of Secretariat's, the rear end of a ferry boat and enough speed to fry bacon, with toast on the side.
If Holy Bull gets loose on the lead on Saturday, with the 14 or so other horses allowing him to sail along unpressured and unchallenged for the first half mile, he will turn the race into the same kind of tour de force he made of this year's Florida Derby, in which he powered to a 5¾-length triumph in 1:47[2/5] for the nine furlongs, the fastest Kentucky Derby prep of the season. But the Derby has plenty of other speed this year—Smilin Singin Sam, Tabasco Cat, Ulises and Valiant Nature all have lick—and the thought here is that at least one of those horses will entertain the heavily favored Holy Bull on the front end, making an issue of the pace, and perhaps set the race up for a stretch runner.
This Derby has more horses of genuine quality than any in years; more than a half dozen could win if things get too hot for the Bull. Brocco, the Santa Anita Derby winner, is a colt of proven ability who has trained well at the Downs. And Strodes Creek, third at Santa Anita and lightly raced, is flourishing under trainer Charles Whittingham. I like Brocco to win, with the Creek chasing him in the exacta.
He Already Has
A note from Cal's spring football prospectus: "The loss of top receiver Mike Caldwell to graduation creates an opportunity for the talented Iheanyl Uwaezuoke to make a name for himself."
A Champion of Dignity
Over his 10-year pro career, Evander Holyfield gave the sometimes cruel sport of boxing his all, in the ring and in the gym. No heavyweight ever got more from his natural ability than did the soft-spoken Holyfield. "He has a heart as big as his body," says Lou Duva, Holyfield's longtime trainer.
It was sadly ironic, then, that his heart let him down. On April 25, three days after losing his heavyweight championship in a bruising and controversial upset to Michael Moorer, the 31-year-old Holyfield was told by doctors that a cardiac condition would preclude his ever fighting again. Holyfield took the news with characteristic equanimity. "I feel it's a blessing," he says. "For a while I had been trying to decide, Should I just walk away? The desire wasn't the same, and I didn't want to stay around for the wrong reasons."
The 1984 Olympic light heavyweight bronze medalist, Holyfield fought his first pro bout at 178 pounds, went on to unify the cruiserweight title and then, in 1988, began to campaign as a heavyweight. Two years later, at a spectacularly muscled 208 pounds, he knocked out Buster Douglas to win the crown, and successful defenses followed against George Foreman, Bert Cooper and Larry Holmes. But only after he lost the title to Riddick Bowe in November 1992—their 12-round battle was one of the best fights in recent years—did Holyfield, the consummate warrior, begin to gain the respect he deserved. After beating Bowe to regain the championship one year later, Holyfield settled into the role of champ, and in the weeks leading up to the Moorer bout, he talked of hanging around until 1996 and perhaps someday taking on Mike Tyson.
However, the heart condition that would force him into retirement was already making itself felt by limiting his training. "But I believed that when I got into the ring, the lire would be there and I would pull it off that day," says Holyfield.
Yet from the first round against Moorer, he felt a crushing fatigue. "I prayed just to get through, just to finish," he says. Even alter flooring Moorer with a crisp combination in the second round, he couldn't follow up. "Usually, when you got somebody hurt like that, you go on and whup him like you're chopping down a big tree," says Holyfield. "I just didn't have the strength."
The heart ailment is a noncompliant or "stiff" left ventricle, which means that while Holyfield's heart contracts properly, it does not relax and fill as it should. The result is fatigue, particularly during heavy exercise. The cause of the condition remains unknown. A further test revealed what doctors termed "a tiny hole" in Holyfield's heart, a congenital defect and one that is unrelated to the stiff ventricle. Holyfield's physician, Ron Stephens, says that neither condition is life-threatening and that neither requires surgery or medication at this time. But Stephens also insists that Holyfield will never box again.
Holyfield, who made more than $100 million lighting, says he will spend more time with his four children. As for how he will be remembered, he has a simple request: "People always say, 'Good guys finish last.' I'd like to think I proved that wrong."
A Falling King
A year ago Bruce McNall seemed to be a man at the top of his game. He owned the NHL Los Angeles Kings and the CFL Toronto Argonauts and headed one of the most profitable coin dealerships in the world. He was a successful Hollywood producer and a partner in a winning racehorse stable.
Now, however, his empire, estimated at $150 million in 1993, is crumbling. The most recent sign of trouble came last week, when McNall resigned as chairman of the NHL's Board of Governors. He cited personal reasons, but the resignation followed the news that he was being investigated by a federal grand jury for allegedly falsifying loan documents. And that was not the first time his name had surfaced in court. In late March the Republic Bank in Torrance, Calif., won a $2.1 million judgment against McNall for nonpayment of a loan, and the same month the European American Bank sued him in New York City for allegedly defaulting on a $28.3 million loan. (The outcome is pending; McNall has said that the suit is without merit.) Two partners in his stamp and coin business took him to court for allegedly misusing company money, a case that was later settled. Finally, he was accused by an aircraft repair company, a movie studio and a real estate firm of not paying his bills.
McNall, 44, who would not elaborate beyond a prepared statement about his resignation, in the past has denied having financial difficulties, but those claims are growing increasingly weak. The Argonauts are losing money. The Kings didn't make the playoffs this year, which robs McNall of much-needed postseason revenue, and regular-season attendance at L.A. games was off. Says Michael Megna, an independent franchise appraiser, "I valued the Kings at $75 million last fall, but today I'd put them at about $60 million. The NHL doesn't have a big TV contract, and teams need strong attendance to make a buck."
As of Monday, McNall's plan to sell 65% of the Kings to a pair of California businessmen was still on hold as a result of the grand jury investigation. The deal was expected to go through, but if it doesn't, the franchise could be in trouble. The Los Angeles Times has reported that one of McNall's prospective partners has already paid $4 million to help cover the Kings' payroll. Further, that same person is said to have paid for the $275,000 Rolls-Royce that McNall gave Wayne Gretzky when Gretzky broke Gordie Howe's career-scoring record in April. McNall would have to cover those expenses if the deal is disallowed. Further complicating the situation is an estimated $17 million in long-term deferred payments that are outstanding on current King contracts.
McNall has long been fascinated by the life and times of the ancient Romans, so he knows that empires rise and fall. Perhaps that knowledge will help him prepare for the fate that seems to await him.
The link between the world of sports and the world of pop music (SCORECARD, Feb. 28) continues. Tim McGraw, a son of former big league reliever Tug, tops the country charts with his brazenly un-P.C. hit Indian Outlaw. The cloyingly catchy song, which includes such lyrics as "You can find me in my wigwam/I'll be beating on my tom-tom," has drawn heavy criticism from Native American groups, but McGraw, whose father was known for his irrepressible enthusiasm, says that he's "flabbergasted" by all the attention and that he means no disrespect with the song. He actually said that some of his best friends are Native Americans.
Drawing less controversy—and fewer sales—is Bud Collins, a Frank Zappaesque band from the University of Connecticut named, for no apparent reason, after the smooth-pated tennis commentator. Also from courtside: Bettie Serveert, an Amsterdam-based quartet whose name derives, with a little topspin, from that of former Dutch tennis star Betty Stove. Stove has an instructional TV series airing in Holland that's entitled Bettie Serveert, which means "Betty Serves" in Dutch. Says drummer Berend Dubbe of the band's name, "It's very stupid, but it is too late to change it."
And there's still another tennis connection: A German band with the unsavory name of Run-Over Schoolchildren was recently ordered to pay Steffi Graf $35,000 in damages for using lyrics suggesting that she had an incestuous relationship with her father. A court in Karlshruhe, Germany, threw out an appeal by the four-member band of a ruling in Graf's favor last year. The offending lyrics were included in the song (which was later banned in Germany) called I Wanna Make Love with Steffi Graf.
Of much gentler stuff is the homage paid by two other bands to a pair of former New York Mets. Yo La Tengo, which is not a mariachi band but a Hoboken, N.J.-based alternative-rock group popular with college audiences, takes its name from Elio Chacon, the shortstop for the original 1962 Mets, who was given to shouting, "Yo la tengo!" (Spanish for "I got it!") whenever he prepared to catch a pop-up. And a four-member rock group is named after Chacon's lovably incompetent teammate at first base. If you're ever in Cincinnati, we urge you to check out Throneberry.
For some of us, it's tough enough already.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Mitch Gaylord, who won a gold, a silver and two bronze medals in gymnastics at the 1984 Olympics, has a starring role in the "erotic thriller" Sexual Outlaws.
They Said It
The Birmingham Baron manager on doling out Double A meal money to his rightfielder: "There's something odd about going up to Michael Jordan and slipping him $16 a day."
The Sunshine Boys
Wayne Peace, Florida
Finished career in 1983 as the second-leading total offensive player in SEC history.
Shunned the NFL for Tampa Bay of the USFL in 1984; was cut by the Chargers after a tryout in '86.
Vinny Testaverde, Miami
Won Heisman Trophy in 1986.
In six seasons with the Buccaneers, who made him the first pick of the 1987 draft, and one with the Browns, he has never lived up to his promise.
Kerwin Bell, Florida
SEC Player of the Year in 1984.
Drafted in the seventh round by the Dolphins in 1988; last year he was a backup for Sacramento in the CFL.
Steve Walsh, Miami (above right)
Led the Hurricanes to a national championship in 1987.
First pick of 1989 supplemental draft by the Cowboys; played sparingly for Dallas and the Saints before being signed by the Bears as a free agent.
Craig Erickson, Miami
Led Hurricanes to 1989 national championship.
Bucs' fourth-round pick in 1992, he will likely caddie for Tampa Bay's first pick this year. Trent Dilfer.
Casey Weldon, Florida State
Heralded as the next Joe Montana going into his senior year; finished second to Desmond Howard in the 1991 Heisman balloting.
Drafted in the fourth round by the Eagles in 1992; had only 11 pass attempts last season for the Bucs.
Shane Matthews, Florida
Two-time SEC Player of the Year; still holds 18 conference offensive records.
Undrafted in 1993; failed free-agent tryout with the 49ers; will battle Walsh for second-string job in Chicago.
Won 1992 Heisman Trophy.
Drafted in the seventh round by the Vikings in 1993 but played little; starting chances dim after acquisition of Warren Moon.