Horse Racing

Fans now a part of Super Bowl media day

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Fans now a part of Super Bowl media day

From Comcast SportsNet
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Chad Ochocinco was recounting how much he had changed during his one season in New England, when a section of fans in the stands started to cheer. Startled, he turned his head away from the microphone and tried to see what was causing the commotion at Super Bowl media day, which had a new look this year. For the first time, fans were allowed to sit in the stands and watch the goofiness unfold on the field. What he heard was some of the 7,300 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium cheering Tuesday when a player complimented their city and their restaurants. "It's kind of crazy," Patriots linebacker Tracy White said. "It's a new thing with the fans being able to buy tickets and come watch us do interviews. It's pretty cool." For 25 apiece, they got headsets that allowed them to hear how coaches and players at some of the 14 podiums on the field responded to media questions and everything else thrown their way. They quickly became part of the ambiance. While videographers were setting up tripods at the most popular podiums -- the one for quarterback Tom Brady drew the most attention -- fans settled into their seats, most of them wearing Colts jerseys. One fan dressed like Brady -- blue Patriots jersey, pants, shoulder pads, hand towel and pretend play list on his left forearm -- ventured to the front row and quickly got his desired several minutes of interview attention. Shortly before the Patriots started walking onto the field, a public address announcer told the crowd: "Let's respect all the media, all the players." The crowd applauded, then started figuring out how to tune in the headsets to listen to the interviews. "It's such an intimate experience," said Nick Lowery, a Patriots fan who drove from Columbia, Mo. "This is really cool." Until Tuesday, the NFL had restricted interviews at the Super Bowl stadium to accredited members of the news and entertainment media. By opening it up to fans, the two hour-long interview sessions felt more like the practice sessions before NCAA basketball tournament games, which are open to the public. Fans weren't allowed to get autographs or take photos with players, but a couple of them managed to sneak one in. A fan got Giants safety Kenny Phillips to autograph a football and toss it back. Mostly, they watched a typical media day -- lots of questions, a little bit of strangeness. A man dressed as a caped character from a cable network wandered about with a crew taping his off-beat interactions with Giants and Patriots. A Spanish language network sent a crew with a dance instructor and a disco ball on a stick, luring players into showing their moves to salsa music. Ochocinco's social media network -- the Ochocinco News Network -- prowled the sideline for interviews. Nobody enjoyed the day more than Ochocinco, who reached the playoffs only twice during 10 seasons with Cincinnati and wound up 0-2. When he was traded to the Patriots in July, he knew he would have to keep most of his comments to himself to co-exist with coach Bill Belichick, who doesn't tolerate diva distractions. Ochocinco kept quiet and accepted a reserve role on the team. He was the last Patriot to wade into the media throng on Tuesday, smiling at one of the best moments of his career. "Aw, man, I've dreamed of it," Ochocinco said. "I've been playing this game a long time -- started out at 4 years old. And this is what you dream of, to come to this stage and enjoy it. So that's what I'm going to do." Asked if it was bittersweet because he wasn't a starter and didn't get to sit at one of the podiums, Ochocinco smiled again. "It's not bittersweet," he said. "It's the Super Bowl."

There's no rainouts in horse racing

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There's no rainouts in horse racing

It is playoff time here in Chicago. The hometown Cubs are back to their third consecutive NLCS. The Bears have played in gorgeous weather to open their season. The Bulls and Hawks get optimal conditions indoors. In racing, this isn’t always the case and last Saturday was one of those instances. 

After nearly two months of drought conditions in the Chicagoland area, racing at Hawthorne Race Course to close out the summer harness season was optimal. While the sprinklers were used constantly to keep the turf course green, the pond at Hawthorne had nearly dried up.

All of that came to an end last week at Hawthorne as Mother Nature was not quite as generous to open October. With the fall thoroughbred season commencing, the skies opened as well, with rain falling on numerous occasions to kick off the season. That was clearly the case last Saturday, when over five inches of rain came down during the course of the Hawthorne racing card.

In baseball, there would be a rain delay or cancellation. Youth sports teams get the day off. Outdoor attractions closed as flooding was prevalent in numerous locations. Here at Hawthorne…..we race.

At any racetrack, the equine stars are the showcase, but there are so many others necessary to put on the show. The folks brave the conditions and have to be well prepared.

Five stories above the racetrack, Hawthorne track announcer Peter Galassi provides the play-by-play for the racing action. With over 65,000 races called on his career, Peter has seen it all.

“I’ve called races in every weather condition possible and what we raced in Saturday was one of the tougher conditions to call in,” Galassi said. “When I announced races at Balmoral Park, fog would be my biggest concern. Fog was the worst. We had an occasion where myself, and our track stewards had to go from our location on the roof down to trackside for a race because the fog was so bad. We had to get below the fog to get a vantage point. Here at Hawthorne, dealing with the rain, especially at the rate it came down last Saturday, is very tough. Consider the windows of my announcer’s booth being the windshield of a car, but without window wipers. Streaks of water rolling down the panes of glass in your direct view. Add to that the glare of the lights off the glistening racetrack and thoroughbreds and riders covered in mud. It isn’t always the easiest, but what these athletes deal with on the track and in those conditions are far worse than what I am subjected to.”

Moving trackside, the race begins at the Hawthorne starting gate. Veteran assistant starter Bill Fultz and crew are responsible for safely loading the horses into the gate and keeping the horses calm in preparation for a fair start. While the job is complicated and dangerous on a clear day, the focus needed on a day where the weather conditions are menacing only increase.

“When the weather is tough and we are dealing with rain or snow, additional clothing and gear for our crew is needed,” Fultz said. “This is a physically demanding job as we are in the mud, working with horses, making sure they are safe, while also focusing on our safety. Fortunately we have an experienced crew that takes a lot of pride in their job and I feel it shows in the horses’ clean starts and performances.”

On horseback, the jockeys are limited in numerous aspects. On a good day, a rider has to not only worry about maintaining their weight, but also controlling a 1,000 lbs. thoroughbred, racing at 35 MPH, while balancing on a pair of two inch wide metal stirrups. In harsh weather conditions, limited additional clothing is allowed as the jockeys goggles become one of the most important pairs of equipment. Last Saturday was a good day for Hawthorne’s second all-time leading rider Chris Emigh as he won a pair of races in the monsoon.

“I figure you can either go out there and be miserable or go out there and have fun,” said the affable Emigh. “A lot of dirt and water gets thrown back at you and you just have to find a good spot in between the sprays of water and mud. Goggles are the key, a normal race I may have three pairs on, but on Saturday that amount doubles. We are controlling our mount, keeping balance, and trying to flip down to a clean pair of goggles numerous times each race. I get concerned when I come to that last pair and still have a quarter of a mile to go. When that happens, we just focus on what visibility we have and your finger becomes your window wiper.”

As all of the action takes place, cameramen positioned in towers around the track televise the action. Positioned at the finish line are Ryan Thompson and Nicole Thomas, the track photographers for Four Footed Fotos that work tirelessly to capture the Hawthorne action. When others may choose to wait until the last minute to capture to winner on the finish line, Ryan and Nicole take the weather as an opportunity to capture great images.

Predicting Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 5: 'Why not us?'

Predicting Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 5: 'Why not us?'

"NOT IN OUR HOUSE!" a Cubs coach yelled as he walked through the media throng awaiting entry into the clubhouse.

There was Kyle Schwarber standing at his locker, emphatically saying, "we're not gonna go down quietly."

There was Jake Arrieta, already making plans for what he would do to celebrate after the Cubs beat the Dodgers in the NLCS.

What a difference a day makes.

The Cubs looked completely beat and worn down after Game 3 Tuesday night. Kris Bryant echoed the same line — "why not us?" — he delivered last fall when the Cubs were down three games to one in the World Series, but this time, it just didn't feel the same.

Bryant looked shellshocked and admitted the team was drained after the NLDS and traveling across country to get steamrolled by the Dodgers in the first two games of the NLCS.

Wednesday night, things were different.

Even though the offense still hasn't broken out. 

Even though all the Cubs' runs still came off early homers — they have yet to score in this series not off a longball.

Even though Wade Davis is unavailable for Game 5 Thursday — the Cubs haven't won a game this postseason in which Davis did not pitch.

Even though the best pitcher on the planet — Clayton Kershaw — awaited the Cubs Thursday night at Wrigley Field.

The belief was back in the home clubhouse at Wrigley, even if it was just for one day.

But was it just for one day? 

I've been saying it all fall — the only time this Cubs team has played up to their potential is when they've had their backs against the wall. Your back couldn't possibly get more against the wall when down 0-3 in the NLCS, a deficit only one team in baseball history has come back from.

Conceivably, yes, the Cubs can pull this off. They can climb all the way out of this hole and make a second straight World Series.

If any team can do it, it's the group that erased the longest championship drought in American sports history and did it in the most dramatic way imaginable.

Will the Cubs be able to pull it off? 

I have no idea, honestly. I know that's a cop-out, but screw predictions at this point of the postseason. 

There's a very real possibility the Cubs offense finally breaks out and takes one more step toward writing this team's entry into the baseball history books.

There's also a very real possibility Kershaw comes out and slams the door on any talk of Cubs magic and finally pitches his way into the World Series for the first time.

Either way, the build-up to Thurday night around Wrigleyville is gonna be fun as hell.