Keeping Score: CC That
Paul Matties says there’s a bettor at Belmont Park today who will wager $10,000 on California Chrome — all in $2 tickets. “He thinks he’ll be able to sell them as souvenirs,” laughed Matties, who lives near Saratoga and is a professional gambler.
That’s one way to get more value out of a 3-to-5 shot. California Chrome is seeking to be the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed did it in 1978, and un-cashed tickets from that race are selling for about $150 on eBay.
Jockey Victor Espinoza gets the assignment, and although his horse is the heavy favorite there are 10 other jockeys just as eager for that ten percent share of the $800,000 winner’s purse.
Ten years ago, Smarty Jones was just as much everybody’s darling, a storybook tale that was coming true when jockey Stewart Elliott opened up a four-length lead at the top of the stretch. But the Belmont Stakes is a daunting mile-and-a-half distance and Smarty Jones was gassed. While other contenders fell by the wayside, a 28-to-1 shot named Birdstone began closing from fourth on the outside. Smarty Jones gave it up about 150 yards from the finish and Birdstone won by a length.
The disappointment in track announcer Tom Durkin’s voice was palpable when he declared Birdstone the winner. The record crowd of over 120,000 fell silent except for a few boos. “I’m very sorry but I had to do my job,” said Birdstone’s jockey Edgar Prado. “This is a business.”
It’s hard to avoid the hype. Sports Illustrated calls California Chrome a “monster” and a “beast.” In 2004 it called Smarty Jones “the hottest horse on the planet.”
The Belmont Stakes is the “consummate jockey’s race” wrote racing analyst Brad Telias in Sunday’s New York Times. Indeed, there’s not a horse alive that can race full-out for 12 furlongs. Espinoza will need to know when to let out the throttle and hope his horse has the most stamina.
California Chrome has won six straight races with Espinoza in the saddle. He’s a West Coast jockey but his brother Jose raced the New York circuit and can tell his 42-year-old kid brother how to handle the track.
In his only workout at Belmont, California Chrome ran a half-mile in 47.69 seconds and five furlongs in 59.93, suggesting he’s still sound and likes the racing surface. Critics noted California Chrome’s modest 97 Beyer Speed Figure in the Kentucky Derby and that his winning time was the slowest since 1971. Two weeks later he won the Preakness with a 105 Beyer, and in the third-fastest winning time since 1999.
America loves a racehorse saga, and NBC expects 17 million viewers will be tuned in when the horses are loaded into the starting gate shortly before 7 p.m. Depending on the outcome, the racing world is ready to either party like it’s 1978, or in one case, wallpaper the bathroom with 5,000 losing tickets.
John Dobrydnio: “We know the obvious but if people are playing gimmicks the angle horse in here is Medal Count . I’m looking to use him with the outside horse Tonalist in case California Chrome falls apart. I’m also going to enjoy the day, it’s a great race card from top to bottom.”
Paul Matteis: “If this race was on a Thursday afternoon the New York handicappers wouldn’t fall for it. California Chrome , Tonalist and Wicked Strong would all be going off at about the same odds. There’s a 50-1 horse I do have an inkling for, that’s Matterhorn . I see him with a series of bad trips and was looking (to bet him) his next race, I just wish it wasn’t the Belmont Stakes.”
Derek Pratt is home after nine months playing for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the U.S. Hockey League. “It’s something I’ll take with me, the whole experience of playing in different cities,” said the 20-year-old Pratt. “The grind, the bus drives, sometimes not feeling into it but still being ready, it’s going to help me on the next level.”
Pratt — the son of NMH athletic director and varsity hockey coach Tom Pratt — has been gearing to play for coach Mike Cavanaugh at the University of Connecticut. A 6-foot, 190-pound defenseman, he played 68 games at the blue line including the playoffs and season finale on May 20, when the Black Hawks lost to the Indiana Ice, 3-2, in the fifth and deciding game of the USHL championship.
“It was awesome having Game 5 with that crowd in our rink,” he said of 3,000-seat Young Arena. “Our ceiling’s low and there was standing room only and they’re banging cowbells. It got incredibly loud.”
The next phase of his hockey journey begins after the Fourth of July weekend when he’ll enroll at UConn and take two summer courses. “... to lighten the load during the season.”
UConn, which joins Hockey East this season, begins its independent schedule on Oct. 10 at Penn State. Other road games are at RPI, Brown, Colorado College and Army. The rest of the schedule hasn’t been released, but Pratt said the Hockey East opener is against Boston College and that UConn will play an annual home-and-home series against its natural rival UMass.
Dennis Eckersley learned of Don Zimmer’s death while he was in the NESN studios during Wednesday’s rain delay. “He was like a father to me,” said the Eck, who was stunned by the news. “He was Mr. Baseball. Salute Don Zimmer ... He had a great life, a great baseball life.”
I covered the Red Sox during the Zimmer era. He was brusque, to the point. One time he barked at me, “Don’t ask me those questions!” after I’d apparently asked something stupid about one of his catchers.
Another time I walked into his office while he was reaming out a New York Times reporter. The next day he was sitting back in his chair, eating a cold chicken leg and denying everything about the incident to Murray Chass, another NYT sportswriter-in-a-suit to whom the underling had gone crying. Both times I’d opened the door, watched what was happening and quickly backed out.
Zimmer would sit in the dugout and boast he could still put one over the left field wall, and despite reporters’ attempts to get him to do otherwise he never disparaged pitcher Mike Torrez after Bucky Dent hit the three-run homer off him in the 1978 playoff game. “He goes to the post,” said Zimmer, a horse racing fan, about Torrez’s ability to make every start.
Zimmer was fired late in the 1980 season. The following year he managed the Texas Rangers. Before a game in his first return to Fenway Park, he walked over and shook my hand.
It made my day because, like Eckersley said, Don Zimmer was Mr. Baseball.
Chris Kingsley’s parents were spotted walking past Wilson’s Department Store on Monday wearing Los Angeles Kings T-shirts. Makes sense, considering their son Chris has been the Kings’ head trainer for eight years. The last time the family reunited was in January, when the team was in Boston and his brother Steve came home with a Kings-autographed hockey stick.
“It’s nice to be part of it,” said father Bud. “We’re proud.”
Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.