Thoroughbred racing makes a late-century stretch run
Anyone seeking signs of life in horse racing needs look no further
than this Saturday's Belmont Stakes. Sports fans everywhere, it
seems, want to see a Triple Crown winner. Charismatic, the former
claimer and 31-1 long-shot winner of the Kentucky Derby, will be
the 26th horse--and the third in three years--to journey to New
York with a shot at immortality, and even fans who think racing
lacks charisma are asking, "Can he do it?"
Back when swing and cigars were in style, horse racing wasn't
just the sport of kings. It was the king of sports. Then came
the late 1950s, when racing's leaders made a mistake they're
still paying for. Offered the chance to put their product on
television every week, as the NFL and major league baseball were
doing, the thoroughbred industry's clubby, insular brain trust
said no. If racing were on television, they reasoned, nobody
would come to the track. The consequences of that decision are
visible today in the sport's awful TV ratings and in attendance
figures that have been tumbling for three decades. Competing
forms of legal gambling also sped racing's fall into obscurity,
and by the early '90s it was stuck somewhere between billiards
and boxing on the sports barometer.
Things aren't much better now, but at least racing's kingpins
have a plan. In an unprecedented display of unity--and
desperation--track owners and other prominent horsemen formed
the National Thoroughbred Racing Association last year to boost
racing's profile, largely through aggressive advertising and
expanded TV coverage. Their Go-Baby-Go ad campaign may be
gathering steam: In New York, for instance, attendance was up in
'98 for the first time in 17 years. With swing and stogies
trendy again, who's to say horse racing won't be the third jewel
in a Triple Crown of comebacks?
Fans who trek to the track might applaud what they find. In what
other game can you make a dizzying array of legal bets and enjoy
a thrilling two minutes of action 10 times a day? In the era of
the $50 box seat, a day at the races is a bargain, too. For less
than it costs to buy two beers and a hot dog at Yankee Stadium, a
family of four can see a wall of horses turning for home near the
Pacific surf at Del Mar or enjoy the grubbier charms of Pimlico,
shoehorned into a neighborhood overlooking downtown Baltimore.
Better yet, you could spend this Saturday with 80,000 or so other
railbirds at Belmont, the Taj Mahal of American racing, and maybe
watch history unfold before your eyes. --Mark Beech
After Ada (Ohio) High senior centerfielder Nate Ulrey broke his
right arm crashing into the fence early this season, he knew he
could still play the outfield. "I'd broken my wrist when I was a
freshman," he says, "and learned back then how to catch a ball
with my left hand, take off my glove and throw the ball in."
What bugged him as he shagged flies with his right arm in a cast
was that he wasn't getting his cuts. "Hitting, that's my thing,"
says Nate, who had two homers and 13 RBIs in three games before
the injury. So he tried swinging with his good arm during
practice one day. His teammates laughed--until they saw the
results. "I hit the first pitch to deep right center," Nate says.
"After that, none of the guys said much." In his first game as a
one-armed hitter he bunted in a run and doubled down the first
base line against Delphos Jefferson High. "Their team had been
laughing too, but they shut up after I hit the double," he says.
Nate batted .404 for the season with seven doubles and a triple
for the 6-13 Bulldogs. He came within inches of clouting a
one-handed homer, too. "I hit a ball off the top of the 340 sign
in left center," says the only one-armed swinger on the
All-Northwest Conference team. "That one felt solid."
YOU'VE GOT MAIL--AND SEATS
Those pesky day traders aren't the only ones benefiting from
on-line technology. Dallas Stars fans have been snapping up
tickets to their team's NHL playoff games through E-Deals, a free
service the Stars introduced in February. The team sends out
targeted E-mail to fans who can elect electronically to receive
stats, injury reports, info on tickets and merchandise, and now
hot seats at the last minute.
After the league and the Oilers returned 300 tickets for Game 1
of the Stars' opening-round playoff series against Edmonton, says
Dallas executive Brian Byrnes, "we decided to give E-Deals a
shot." Subscribers who had requested E-mails about tickets were
sent a message offering the seats at a discount. "In 20 minutes,
300 fans who never thought they'd get to attend the playoffs had
tickets to the game," says Byrnes, who repeated the procedure to
distribute hundreds more tickets in the days before Game 2. "In
the near future this will eliminate the annoying sight of empty
seats at major sporting events."
The Texas Rangers launched a similar service, Inside Pitch, two
months ago and have signed up 5,200 subscribers. The Rangers are
considering asking next year's season-ticket holders to inform
the club if they won't be showing up for a game. Their tickets
could then be offered to Inside Pitch subscribers on game day.
Dallas-based ROI Interactive, the company behind E-Deals and
Inside Pitch, has provided software for similar systems to the
NBA's Hawks and Mavericks and has deals pending with four NHL
teams. "With this technology everyone wins," says ROI president
John Palms Jr. Now if only he'd do something about parking.
FLEET STREET FRENZY
HUNBELIEVABLE read one. SUPER SUBS SINK KRAUTS roared another.
Faded accounts of the World War I Battle of Jutland? No, those
are English tabloid headlines celebrating Manchester United's
2-1 victory over Bayern Munich for the Champion's League title.
Man U, winner of England's Premier League and F.A. Cup, trailed
1-0 at the end of 90 minutes but stole the May 26 game during 3
1/2 minutes of stoppage time on goals by late replacements Teddy
Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. That made manager Alex
Ferguson's lads the first English team to achieve soccer's
triple--a league title, a national cup and the world's most
prized club trophy.
Fleet Streeters reacted with typical reserve. The Daily Mail
proclaimed the evening THE MOST DRAMATIC NIGHT EVER FOR BRITISH
FOOTBALL. The Sun called the triumph THE BEST OF ALL TIME! The
Mirror deemed the finale THE GREATEST TWO MINUTES IN THE HISTORY
OF SPORT. On the continent, Munich's Suddeutsche Zeitung lamented
THE MOTHER OF ALL DEFEATS.
Lest there be any doubt about the importance of Man U's feat,
consider the Mirror headline ARISE, SIR ALEX. That's an allusion
to the reward Ferguson might get: a knighthood.
DIRTY POOL PARTY
Dale Hunter is a fair enough hockey player--he had 114 points in
167 postseason games coming into this year's playoffs--but the
Avalanche center is best known for racking up the most playoff
penalty minutes in NHL history. Hunter, 38, is the sneaky sort of
s.o.b. who's adept at what players in the league call dirty pool,
and that's why Colorado picked him up in a March 23 trade with
Through the Avalanche's 7-5 Game 5 win over Dallas in the Western
Conference finals on Sunday, Hunter had scored just one goal in
the '99 playoffs. Yet he had played a pivotal role, for his
thuggery helped Colorado survive its second-round series against
Detroit. Near the end of the Avalanche's 4-0 loss in Game 2 of
that series, Hunter plowed into Red Wings goalie Bill Ranford,
knocking him off his skates. The play seemed a mere sideshow as
Detroit took a 2-0 series lead, but that hit incensed the Wings
and rattled Ranford, who never regained his composure. Colorado
shelled him for eight goals in the next two games--he was pulled
early in both--and won four in a row.
NHL players get so jacked at the thought of soothing their
swollen fingers on the cool silver of the Stanley Cup that
they'll do almost anything for the chance. Just ask Stars
rightwinger Pat Verbeek, who dealt a fiendish two-handed slash
to the back of Blues center Pierre Turgeon's left knee during a
second-round playoff game. Ask the Avalanche's usually
mild-mannered Peter Forsberg why he rammed Red Wing Brendan
Shanahan's face into the glass. The lowdown on the Stanley Cup
playoffs is that they're about as low down as it gets.
Through Sunday there had been only two brawls in these playoffs.
Fighting always drops in the postseason, when ice time is so
precious that the league's goons get little of it. That doesn't
mean virtue reigns, however. When Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek
returned to the Eastern Conference finals last week after missing
two games with a groin pull, the Maple Leafs went after him like
wolves on a wounded elk (page 78). They shoved and bumped the
Dominator, hoping to aggravate the injury and knock him out of
Of course Hasek was simply getting the treatment all goalies
receive in the postseason. Ask a forward to explain his team's
playoff strategy and he'll say, "We have to create traffic around
the net." Translation: We're going to slam into the goalie, slash
him, poke him, gouge him and elbow him.
Colorado's siccing Hunter on Ranford was part of such a plan. Yet
for all Hunter's success in goalie goading, his claim to infamy
will always be his patented "face-washing." In this maneuver,
Hunter drives an opponent to the ice, leaps on top of him and
vigorously rubs the victim's mug with his sweat-soaked glove. His
epic facial of Detroit's Steve Yzerman during last year's Red
Wings-Capitals Cup finals was perhaps his most memorable. After
that game, in which Hunter was not penalized, he explained, "I
was just playing hockey." That's right--playoff hockey. --Kostya
Adcock's Last Mile
Joe Adcock's family and friends couldn't believe their bad luck.
After Adcock, the former Milwaukee Braves star, died last month
at 71, the hearse carrying his coffin to Holly Springs Cemetery
in Martin, La., had a flat tire. Adcock's coffin was loaded into
the back of a pickup truck for the last mile of the procession.
"After the service we were talking to Mary Ann Brown, Joe's
sister, about how we were sorry about what happened with the
hearse," says Bill Walters, one of four of Adcock's former LSU
basketball teammates who were among the mourners. "She said,
'You're not going to believe this, but before he got real ill,
Joe said that when he passed along, he'd just as soon we put him
in a pickup truck and take him to the cemetery.'"
--That CART and the IRL bury the hatchet before NASCAR buries
--That Heather Locklear dug Greg Maddux's homer on Sunday.
--That Charismatic wins.
Age of Gerry Bloch, the oldest climber to scale Yosemite's El
Years since Mark McGwire hit a triple.
Years after Jim Chones left Marquette for the ABA before he
graduated with a degree in philosophy.
Underclassmen from Cal State-Northridge, the nation's
157th-ranked college basketball team, who declared themselves
eligible for the NBA draft.
Pounds of sand used to build a giant Castle of the Kings in
Rank of biathlon among fan favorites this winter on the Eurosport
Specialists consulted about Reds lefty Denny Neagle's injured
shoulder last week.
Sweeps suffered by L.A.-area teams in recent playoffs--two each by
the Dodgers, Lakers and Mighty Ducks and one each by the Clippers
Months that skating champ Tara Lipinski will spend playing a
premed student on The Young and the Restless.
TV'S KNICKS-HICKS FIX
This year's NBA Finals may be no picnic for NBC. Unless the
Knicks eliminate the Pacers--"the Hicks," in New York tabloid
headlines--the Finals could feature the two lowest-ranked
television markets since Syracuse beat Fort Wayne in 1954. If
that happens, the network may have to get creative in plugging
the series' best matchups.
The nation's top TV market vs. No. 23--the best NBC can hope for.
TV households: 7.8 million
Matchup: Latrell Sprewell against Isaiah Rider
TV promo: It's the Choker vs. the Toker!
No. 1 vs. No. 37 could mean two million fewer viewers than
Portland-N.Y. if the Finals go 7.
TV households: 7.5 million
Matchup: Patrick Ewing-David Robinson
TV promo: Come see what's washed up at center!
The 25th-biggest market vs. No. 23 won't do the peacock proud.
TV households: 1.95 million
Matchup: Antonio (left) and Dale Davis against Brian Grant
TV promo: Dynamic Duo vs. the Dynamic 'Do!
Forget the Alamo--here's a ratings massacre even the WB network
TV households: 1.6 million
Matchup: Rik Smits vs. Tim Duncan
TV promo: Dunkin' Dutchman meets Dunkin' Duncan the Demon Deacon!
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
High jumper Amy Acuff and other track stars will pose nude for a
2000 calendar to raise money for disadvantaged children.
NBC basketball analyst and UCLA alumnus, on Bruins sophomore
Baron Davis's entering the NBA draft: "He's walking away from
the most important asset he'll ever have: the ability to train
his mind at UCLA. If it was USC or Notre Dame, I could