Horse Racing

Shots Anyone?

Shots Anyone?

Friday, December 11

Its the holiday season, and what does that mean? Work holiday parties where everyone wants to celebrate to the max. Well, remember, these are your work mates, not your family, and theyll remind you of everything you did. And as always heed the advice of a seasoned professional behind the bar, especially if hes starting to resemble St. Nick.
VILLAINS WANTED: Its easy to bash Notre Dame Football these days for any number of reasons. So easy in fact that it gets kind of boring. When you root for someone, I guess it would make sense that you root against someone else. Having gone to Penn State in the eighties, the school that was most fun to root against was the Fighting Irish. They were an easy target, and because they were usually good, beating them meant something. Now what does it mean? Heres hoping that their new coach can come in and have a little success (not too much!), so I can get riled up again. I mean, how can you develop any venom towards Boise State, T.C.U or Cincinnati? Cmon N.D., get your act together!

GO CATS!: As a sidebar to the N.D. coaching search, Im just glad that it did not include Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. Im a big fan of Coach Fitz. He doesnt strike me as one of these coaching carousel kind of guys. When he talks of his passion for his school and commitment to his players, I believe him. In fact, he fires me up! He would have been just the answer for Notre Dame. Thank goodness they didnt ask the question. I know Ill start my New Years Day watching the Wildcats and hoping they get that elusive second bowl win against Auburn in the Outback Bowl.

ITS OVER! ITS ALL OVER!: Of course since I mentioned Penn State, youd be right to assume Im a Joe Paterno fan, and that Ive been paying attention to what has happened in Tallahassee. Ive always wanted Joe to own the college football wins record, but if Bobby Bowden would have gotten it, what are you going to do? The guys a winner, and their battle to see who would own the record was amazing. Consider that they both are 65 wins past the old record, held by Bear Bryant, and not only that, the next active guy, Frank Beamer, is 155 wins behind Bowden! Ive been asked a million times about how long I thought that Jo Pa should coach, and Ive always answered, as long as he wants! Joes done it the right way and built the P.S.U. program in to a perennial power, he can leave when hes done. Think they didnt want the record, or keep an eye on each other? Bowdens famous line about the record when asked about a few years ago was that he checked the obituaries everyday! This would be a war of attrition and the last man standing would win. That man is Paterno. Im just glad that Joe didnt win because of wins taken away, rather, that it was because of the results on the field. I cant wait for win 400 next year.
WHERES THE BUS?: The 2 things that Lovie said he would do while he was coach was to get of the bus running, and beat the Packers. You can ask Brian Urlacher about how that running thing is going. As far as beating the Packers, hes 7-4 including two season sweeps in six seasons, not bad, especially considering what the Packers had done to the Bears in the decade before his arrival. But, I cant remember a Packer week that had this little enthusiasm. In my 15 years living here, Ive learned to dislike the team from the north in the oldest rivalry in the NFL. You could always tell Packer week at the bar, since the conversation got a little livelier. Its fun making fun of Packer fans! But when your most despised rival comes to town and it elicits only yawns, maybe its time to look in the mirror. I, along with Bears fans, have a bad feeling about this game. Lets hope Im wrong, the cheddar-heads dont mind giving back the abuse.

NVL: One of the things that should be understood about fan-hood is the act of tough love. Showing ones displeasure about a team that you root for is not wrong, its part of being a fan. In fact, if you care, and theyre bad, its un-avoid-a-Bull. The events of the last week have me thinking about our old friend Stormin Norman. I cant tell you how many times, when discussing the Bulls, the phrase, What do you think Norm would have said? has been uttered. I can only imagine his reaction after the shoe-tying incident in last Saturdays Bulls game. I cant think of it without smiling. Bulls fans miss you Norm.

DONT TOUCH THAT STOVE!: Something else not garnering a lot of interest at the bar is Chicago hot-stove talk. Dont get me wrong, its a baseball bar and well always have lots of baseball talk, but there doesnt seem to be a lot of feeling that anything significant will be done. On the Southside, thats understandable due to last seasons Peavy and Rios deals, and the earlier acquisition this off-season of Mark Teahen. The Northside is being held hostage by you-know-who, again. If you ask any fan, ANY, they say just eat the contract and move on. Theyve had enough and so should the Cubs. I understand the benefit of maxing out every deal, but some deals have benefits that arent as easy to calculate. Like taking a 400 lb. weight off your back, you cant imagine the relief. The weight of expectation on this franchise is NEVER going to go away. Its time to concentrate on the many other things that must be done to fix this team for a hopeful run at a 2010 title, and you cant start until that first step.

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.