All The Pretty Horsies

From time immemorial, I have struggled with procrastination. Here it is, the night before our first window is open and I am just sitting down to write All The Pretty Horsies. Not only that but for the last hour, I’ve been screwing around on Twitter and chatting with my boss’ boss about work and doing nothing related to actually writing this tome that takes hours of reading Past Performances and distilling them down to what I hope are semi-hilarious findings, none of which should be the basis for any bets you place on any horse.

And this year, nature conspired against me in sending a lung eating virus to infect everyone in the household and it is only through the wonder of my Wolverine-like immune system that I’m even able to function today. But enough about excuses, I suppose we should get down to the writing. This quote from last year’s entry should remain at the top of your mind as you read along:

One thing you should keep in mind at all times while reading the following is that I have almost no idea what I’m doing. You will forget this at your own peril. I know next to nothing about horse racing other than what I have gleaned from reading the Daily Racing Form over the past years and while that is likely infinitely more than you know, you should still not trust anything I say. As the evening wears on and the bourbon takes effect, I may become more witty or engaging or funny but at no time will I become a better judge of horse flesh. You have been warned. Horses are followed by odds as of this evening along with trainer and jockey.

If you are a patron of Darly Downs and not a random passerby caught in the glare of the following prose, you should also remember that it’s quite possible one or more of the horses below won’t make it into the Derby, either because of injury or the owner’s failure to pay the requisite fees. If you bet on a horse that doesn’t get in, it’s a donation. In 2015, Stanford was a pretty solid favorite and he got scratched on Wednesday after everyone put their money on him. A word of advice, don’t put all your money on one horse. But then, that goes exactly contrary to one School of Handicapping in another related document so what do I know.

We’ll start with the current favorites and move our way down the list. In the 7 or 8 years I’ve been running this pool, I have yet to write about all 20 likely entrants. In some years, this has caused me great despair like when Mine That Bird and Animal Kingdom won as 50-1 long shots. In other years, like 2016, it just meant I didn’t write about the horsie that came in second (Commanding Curve). I will try to write at least something about all horses but we’re already 500 words and 2 fingers of rum in without any words about horses.

Horses are listed by name then opening odds then trainer then jockey.

Justify 3-1 (Baffert/Mike Smith) – Sigh, I suppose we had to have a Baffert trained horse rise to the top some year but it’s been nice of late hearing less of him. This horse is fast. Really fast. Fastest of the year if you are going on the Beyer numbers in which he ran three triple digits this year including fastest of the year at 107 in his last win at Santa Anita. It’s Baffert so he knows how to win the Derby. Mike Smith is a good jockey though he hasn’t had much luck at the Derby, winning once in 2005. All of that means he should win right? Not so fast. The most damning evidence against this horse is that he wasn’t raced as a 2 year old. Racing a two year old? That sounds like child abuse. But in horse racing, it’s a heuristic that tells you how experienced a horse is. This horse is as green as the Jolly Green Giant. The Derby hasn’t been won by horse that didn’t race as a two year old since 1882. It’s called Apollo’s Curse. The data minded amongst you are mumbling about small data sets and maybe you’re right. But the real problem with unexperienced horses is that the Derby is like nothing man or horse has ever experienced. According to the DRF Derby Fan guide, it says this horse got distracted by commotion on the infield. There were 40K spectators then. At the Derby, there will be 160K all screaming and spilling their juleps and generally being obnoxious. Not to mention, the Derby has 20 horses in it. He’s going to get bumped and crashed into and have dirt kicked in his face a little probably. Maybe this horse has value at 6-1 or something but I just don’t see him being the one that breaks Apollo’s curse.

Mendelssohn 5-1 (Aidan P. O’Brien/Ryan Moore) This horse is a half brother to Justify, both sired by Scat Daddy. If you’re a bloodline bettor, that is probably a good thing. This horse has the second fastest Beyer of the year at 106, run at the UAE Derby. The UAE Derby is run in the United Arab Emirates (hence the UAE) and no horse that’s won there has ever been particularly competitive at the actual Derby over here in the Land of the Free. I like to think that’s because God is a horse bettor but I may be biased. Really what it is is that the UAE Derby is a metric shit ton of miles away from Louisville and there might just be something to the idea that flying a huge horse over here to race isn’t that great for them. This horse, like Justify, has to overcome some serious history to win at the Derby. On the upside, he won the UAE Derby by 18.5 lengths against subpar competition so at least he didn’t let up. His trainer is one of the best if not the best in the business. On the downside, I don’t think you should name your horse after a romantic composer. This horse is talented but not sure there’s much value for him in our pool.

Magnum Moon 6-1 (Pletcher/Luis Saez) – This is another horse that is fighting the Curse of Apollo, not having raced as a juvenile. He’s been pretty good in his last 4 races though winning all four without much challenge. He’s run different styles (fast, pace, stalker) and won them all which bodes well for the Derby. But it’s that experience thing that always comes back to worry me. The Derby is a unique experience. We don’t typically wonder what it’s like to be a horse but imagine coming from your quiet little race track at the Arkansas Derby where you kicked dirt in the faces of the other 8 horses you face and then being led out into the craziness of the Derby where 160,000 people will be yelling at you and 19 other horses will be trying to kick your ass. I just don’t see it happening.

Audible 8-1 (Pletcher/Javier Castellano) Despite being named after an Amazon buyout victim or maybe something Peyton Manning used to do a lot, this horse has some potential, especially at 8-1 or higher. He’s won four straight and has gotten faster with each race. He ran a 99 Beyer in winning his last race, the Florida Derby. Always Dreaming, last year’s winner, also won the Florida Derby, was trained by Pletcher and ran a similar 97 Beyer. This horse hasn’t raced since March 31st so he’s well rested. The main drawback is that he hasn’t really beaten any other horsies of note. Lots of his competition was crummy and so it’s hard to think he’s going to change that here where all the talent is in the same race. Additionally, he’s in the 5 Post which makes it really hard without a good jump to have a decent trip. Both Justify and Mendelssohn have better post positions and so unless Audible can get to the front without being collapsed on, he might get stuck.

Bolt d’Oro 8-1 (Mick Ruis/Victor Espinoza) – Every year somebody’s got to go name their horse something cute like Bolt of Gold. In his defense, his sire was Medaglia d’Oro which roughly translates to Made His Owner A Shit Ton of Money At Stud. This horse has Rachel Alexandra in his bloodline which is a good thing. He also doesn’t violate the Stupid Horse Names Don’t Win the Derby though he slightly flirts with it. The Golden Bolt finished second at Santa Anita to Justify recording a 103 Beyer and was a very strong two year old. This horse was the early Derby favorite but has largely been forgotten by the betting crowd and that’s a good thing. I don’t know who Mick Ruis is (this is his first Derby) but Espinoza has won 3 Derbies, most recently aboard American Pharaoh in 2015. I like this horse at somewhere north of 10-1 and he might get there in our little field of 20 bettors. This horse has heart and heart wins the Derby a lot.

Good God, an hour of writing, two bowls of Rice Chex, a large glass of wine, 1500 words and we’re only 5 horses in. This is why we can’t have nice things. The Royal we of course since I’m the only one reading any of this at this point.

Good Magic 12-1 (Chad C. Brown/Jose Ortiz) – This horsie has heart in spades and will be flying way under the radar after being an early Derby favorite. I hope all of the other fine patrons of Darly Downs has fallen asleep and don’t get too interested in this horse. He had a Beyer of 100 in the Breeders Cup Juvenile way back in November and then had a disastrous trip in the Fountain of Youth where he basically looked like a mob victim in cement shoes. He rebounded in winning the Bluegrass Stakes with a reasonable 95 Beyer and looks to be improving. The notes from the Bluegrass say he came out strong and drove clear which is just what he’ll need to do in the 6 Post at the Derby. The Brown-Ortiz combo is a formidable one and he has Curlin as a sire who has been throwing off sperm that wins big races since 2013. Gregor Mendel might have been on to something with this genetics thing.

Vino Rosso 12-1 (Pletcher/John Velazquez) – This horse has great bloodlines just like Good Magic, his half brother on the sire’s side. His dam is a half sister to Commissioner who was a great long distance racer. So he has the heritage to win this race. He improved greatly in his last race, the Wood Memorial. Alas, he seems to have had trouble with crowds before that and they put new blinkers (the things on the horses head to keep them looking forward, not turn blinkers. They only turn left in the Derby anyway) on him in the Wood. Jittery horses that need blinkers to win the Wood do not engender confidence on my part in the Derby. Plus his name is pretty lame. On the good side, Pletcher and Velazquez won last year’s Derby so maybe they are on a hot streak.

Hofburg 20-1 (William I. Mott/Irad Ortiz Jr.) – This horse is inexperienced but improving. He has a world class trainer and might be a really good value at 20-1 especially in boxes or trifectas or other exotic bets. The problem is, none of those pay off at Darly Downs. We only like winners and for this horse to be a winner at the Derby, he’s going to have to dramatically improve on his second place finish at the Florida Derby where he was beaten by Audible. His sire is Tapit who is known for siring Belmont Stake winners, the much longer race in June. All that said, he seems to be making great leaps towards figuring out how to run races and might be worth a shekel or two at higher odds. But keep him in mind for the Belmont in a month where I really like his chances especially if he skips the Preakness.

Promises Fulfilled 30-1 (Romans/Lanerie) – On the upside, Corey Lanerie knows the Derby and this horse has an affinity for the track. He’s a fast horse who might be aided by a slower pace that he could rest on early and sprint to the finish. Unfortunately, in his tune up race at the Florida Derby, he ran a 47 Beyer (which is as slow as that character from Flowers for Algernon) and decided to start walking in the final turn. Hint: Horses that like to walk in final turns only win the Derby if there’s been a fortunate meteor strike. If you think the pace might be slow for this Derby (which is not the consensus opinion), he has value as a 50-1 longshot. Otherwise, save your money for more important things like dentures or something.

Flameaway 30-1 (Mark Casse/Jose Lezcano) – Flameaway is probably a throwaway but he has won 5 of his last 9 and was second once to the far more talented Good Magic. His Beyer times are increasing rapidly which is a good thing for horsies in the spring and the Derby but there doesn’t seem to be much in his bloodline (though he is another offspring of Scat Daddy making him a half brother to a couple of our favorites) that says he’ll be good at this distance and he struggled in his only start last year at Churchill. However, he is improving and worth a shekel or two at the odds you might see here at Darly Downs.

My Boy Jack 30-1 (Desormeaux/Desormeaux) – His mom’s name is Gold N Shaft which is what I call your mom when we fight. Or something. This horse has a bad case of the thirds. As in that’s pretty much where he finishes most of his races. He’s a closer which is good for the Derby but he hasn’t shown enough heart to make anyone think he can close at the length of the Derby. He is the most experienced in the field (which is also what I call your mom) at 10 races but 10 races of mediocrity does not a Derby contender make. He’s in the field because we need 20 horses, not because he might win.

Enticed 30-1 (Kiaran McLaughlin/Junior Alvarado) – This horse is enticing at 30-1 because he has the speed and chops to win this assuming he makes a big jump in speed. He wasn’t there yet in his last race but he won the Gotham with a 95 Beyer before that and then came in second (lost in Ricky Bobby voice) to Vino Rosso in the Wood Memorial. There is probably zero chance he makes the leap but with the right trip and a decent pace, he could show some heart and win it as a big underdog.

Solomini 30-1 (Baffert/Prat) – This horse hasn’t decided what he wants to be when he grows up. Right now, he’s been flunking out of school on trust fund money but has shown some flashes of deciding he wants to become a valedictorian with a late flourish. Personally, I don’t see him making the leap until he has a couple more races under his belt but it’s the Derby so you never know. At > 30-1, you’d hate to see him come through with you having nothing on him.

Noble Indy 30-1 (Pletcher/Geroux) – 30-1 coming from post 19? No thanks. Still, he won the Louisiana Derby and has been steadily and consistently improving his speed in his last four races (77, 86, 91, 95). He’s going to have to have a magnificent trip, either a quick first step (which he’s actually had trouble with in several races) or making a beeline for the rail and getting lucky enough to get through the crowd late.

That’s 14 of 20 horses and covers all but the longshots at 50-1. Calling it quits before I die of tuberculosis which is what it feels like I have.

All The Pretty Horsies

Every year, I wrote a small novella on as many horses in the Derby as I can muster. With a tumbler of Fortuna in hand, I embark on what is a yearly exercise in futility trying to decide what horse might win the Kentucky Derby. I do this because A) the fine patrons of Darly Downs, a parimutuel pool I run, demand it (and by demand, I mean mostly don’t even read it but I need to fool myself into thinking I have an audience if I’m going to write 5000 words on the horses in the Derby) and B) because of all the characteristics of the Kentucky Derby, tradition is one of the top three along with decadence and depravity though only Hunter S. Thompson knows in which order they are arranged. One thing you should keep in mind at all times while reading the following is that I have almost no idea what I’m doing. You will forget this at your own peril. I know next to nothing about horse racing other than what I have gleaned from reading the Daily Racing Form over the past years and while that is likely infinitely more than you know, you should still not trust anything I say. As the evening wears on and the bourbon takes effect, I may become more witty or engaging or funny but at no time will I become a better judge of horse flesh. You have been warned. Horses are followed by odds as of this evening along with trainer and jockey.

All The Pretty Horsies returns this year after a hiatus last year when I mistakenly scheduled my yearly fishing trip for the first weekend in May. Perhaps a mistake I won’t make again. If you are a patron of Darly Downs and not a random passerby caught in the glare of the following prose, you should also remember that it’s quite possible one or more of the horses below won’t make it into the Derby, either because of injury or the owner’s failure to pay the requisite fees. If you bet on a horse that doesn’t get in, it’s a donation. In 2015, Stanford was a pretty solid favorite and he got scratched on Wednesday after everyone put their money on him. A word of advice, don’t put all your money on one horse. But then, that goes exactly contrary to one School of Handicapping in another related document so what do I know.

We’ll start with the current favorites and move our way down the list. In the 7 or 8 years I’ve been running this pool, I have yet to write about all 20 likely entrants. In some years, this has caused me great despair like when Mine That Bird and Animal Kingdom won as 50-1 long shots. In other years, like last year, it just meant I didn’t write about the horsie that came in second (Commanding Curve). I will try to write at least something about all horses but we’re already 500 words and 2 fingers of rum in without any words about horses.

The field this year is mostly wide open. There haven’t been any dominating performances and only Irish War Cry has two Beyers over 100 and those sandwich a 63 in the Wood where he basically wore out. So unlike recent years where the favorite (American Pharaoh comes to mind) was incredibly dominant, we have a field that could do practically anything. Should make for exciting times on Saturday.

Always Dreaming (5-1 Pletcher/Velazquez) – Always Dreaming has gone back and forth with Classic Empire this year as the Derby favorite. In his last three races, he’s won by 5, 4 and 11.5 lengths. In short, he’s kicked some ass. In the Florida Derby, he ran a 97 Beyer and stalked nicely in second all the way to the stretch when he ran away with it. This horse looks promising and seems to like to rub other horsies faces in his dust. Here’s the only thing that worries me with Always Dreaming: he’s a front runner. He wins big, never has to have mud kicked in his face and mostly seems to have not had much adversity yet. In the Florida, he was never really challenged. What happens on Saturday when 20 horses start making things much more difficult? If he can get a decent post, he may be hard to beat. But if he has to come from the inside or way outside, I have the feeling he might find it difficult to get to the front and have the inside track. His sire is Bodemeister, one of my all-time favorite Bro horse names.

Classic Empire (6-1 Casse/Leparoux) – If you watched the link I sent in the Further Explanation Of Darly Downs, you know this horse is a stalker with closing power who looked solid in the win in the Arkansas Derby. He’s won 3 of his last 4. That one loss is a little worrisome as it was against solid talent in Irish War Cry and Gunnevera and he was third by over 8 lengths. Still, he seems to have some closing speed, always important in the Derby, the longest race of any of these horsies career. He ran a top Beyer of 102 way back in November but then fell back in the Holy Bull where he got his tail kicked. He won his one race on a wet track but that was his first ever race and probably means nothing. In the end, this horse looks like he might have the required heart and kick to win the Derby. Leparoux has never won the Derby and that might be the one failing of this horse.

Gunnevera (6-1 Sano/Castellano) – This horse is confusing. He’s been all over the map in his Beyers and his finishes. He’s a little like Shrodinger’s cat in that you really can’t be sure if he’s alive or dead. One thing he has going for him in the Derby is the added distance. If you watch the Florida Derby, you see he basically mailed it in for the first part of the race and then decided he didn’t want to lose. The final kick reminds me of my study habits in college. He’s also had some mud kicked in his face and responded well. He won the Fountain of Youth by almost 6 lengths with a solid Beyer of 97 before taking a little break in the Florida. At 10-1, this horse provides some value. At 6-1, not so much.

Irish War Cry (7-1 Motion/Maragh) – This horse is also slightly confusing in that he won the Wood Memorial (my nickname in college) with a triple digit Beyer (barely, 100). But before that, he basically crapped his pants in the Fountain of Youth with a 63 and a nap in the backstretch. This is very similar to what Frosted did in 2015 which meant exactly nothing. But before that, he ran a 101 in the Holy Bull and won by almost 4 lengths. He’s got a good name for winning the Derby, a three word, single syllable moniker that rolls of the tongue. He’s the youngest colt in the bunch which doesn’t seem like much but then, they are all 3 year olds and any extra time you can have to mature is welcome. I like this horse to finish in the top three but frankly, he hasn’t faced much adversity and when he did in the Fountain of Youth, he essentially mailed it in. I’m probably staying away. You do whatever you need to to think you got value from you $30.

So we’re four horses in, I’ve had three drinks, it’s almost 11 PM and I got 5 hours of sleep last night when the midget woke up at 5 AM thinking it was time to perform her Cute Midget Antics. If I get to 10 horses this year, it will be a small miracle.

McCraken (10-1 Wilkes/Hernadez Jr) – I’m sorry but if you spend a ton of money on a horse that might one day win the Derby, you should spend a little more time naming him. Might as well have named him MacGuffin. That being said, this horse has some history at Churchill Downs and it’s mostly all positive. He’s won 3 races here and clearly likes the track. However, if we’re honest, he hasn’t faced any of the really fast horsies and as we all know, stealing money from the slow witted child on the playground isn’t particularly impressive. He got slower in his final race in losing by 4 lengths to Irap in the Bluegrass and I’m pretty sure that isn’t a good sign. Sorry, no amount of liking Churchill is going to make up for a case of the “slows” and this horse has a serious case of the “slows”.

Gormley (12-1 Shirreffs/Espinoza) – Here’s another instance where we have a big pretty horse named something that sounds like a venereal disease. He’s gotten progressively slower in his last three races, barely beat Battle of Midway (who we know is a pig) in the Santa Anita and never ran a Beyer faster than 94. His only saving grace is that he won his only race on a wet track with his fastest Beyer time. It’s entirely possible that he really likes mud and if so, he’s going to get his wish on Saturday. I’ve been running this pool for several years now and I have never heard of his trainer so unless he’s the next coming of American Pharaoh (another West Coast horse), I don’t see much value here.

Hence (12-1 Asmussen/Geroux)Hence is a pretty horse. And I’ll admit to have a bias towards horses with a single name. He won the Sunland and all the horses he beat in that race improved in their next race including Irap who won the Bluegrass. Asmussen is a Texas local and I have a sweet spot in my poor betting history for his horses. I like this horse to finish strong in the Derby with the extra length. I’m just not sure he has enough to get there for the finish.

Girvin (15-1 Sharp/Smith) – This horse has the most qualifying points of any yet he goes off at a very decidedly not favorite price. He’s a stalker as we see in the Louisiana Derby where Girvin (post 8) runs well back until the final turn and then comes home to win. The question is, against whom? No one really. So even though he has the most qualifying points after winning the Louisiana and Risen Star, I’m not convinced. He’s going off at larger odds not just because he’s faced subpar talent but also because he had a crack in a right rear hoof that required some special attention, not the least of which was having to swim instead of run. This seems problematic. If you can get him at 20-1 either here or at the track, more power to you. Otherwise, this horse reeks of tragedy.

Tapwrit (20-1 Pletcher/Ortiz) – Two months ago, when Tapwrit blew the field away at the Tampa Bay Derby, he was a serious contender for winning the Roses. Then he went to the Bluegrass and caught a case of the Hoffas (nowhere to be found). He may have been running with concrete shoes. He ran a 76 Beyer in that race as his final prep. In other races, that might be ok to ignore but in the Derby, you really want your horsie to be peaking. It’s going to be the longest race of his career and the field will be insane. Still, this horse is sired by Tapit, one of the great sires in North America for this type of race. Can he forget about that horrible trip at the Bluegrass? Beats me. But I wouldn’t want money on this horse unless I was getting 25-1 or better. He is gray and I love gray horses though.

Lookin At Lee (20-1 Asmussen/Lanerie) – Lookin at Lee is what you call a closer. He tends to hang back saving his energy and then makes a mad dash for the finish line when his jockey (Corey Lanerie, a Churchill regular and one of the best to currently race there which is a plus) asks him to. Unfortunately, that hasn’t resulted in any wins in real races. He finished third to Classic Empire only 1.5 lengths back and he may have improved on that if he wouldn’t have run out of room. His Beyers are regularly climbing which is nice but he just doesn’t seem to have the pedigree or the heart to get to the finish line first. In order to bet on this horse, you have to convince yourself the extra distance will allow him to get there. I have my doubts. They weren’t assuaged when he drew the dreaded #1 position this morning either.

Practical Joke (20-1 Brown/Rosario) – This horse is a practical joke on anyone that puts money on him. He just doesn’t have what it takes to win the Derby. He finished second to Irap by less than a length at the Bluegrass but you really have to wonder if he knows how to win. Gunnevera beat him by almost 6 lengths in the Fountain of Youth and he was eight lengths back in the race before that. Derby winners don’t have names like this. Stay away. Though many of you will ignore me when his odds jump to 45-1 or so. Fine.

Thunder Snow (20-1 Suroor/Soumillon) – Every year, some horse gets shipped over here from the Middle East by some idiot prince who thinks he has the next coming of Secretariat. And every year, they get shipped back to the damn desert having finished 142nd out of 20 in the Derby. There are reasons for this. First, it’s a long way from Dubai to Kentucky. Second, they are typically turf horses (most of their races are on turf) and they are being converted to dirt. This doesn’t seem like a big thing but it’s a very different experience when suddenly you’re having dirt thrown in your face. Third, they’ve never seen 20 horses much less had to fight their way through them. They just don’t have the character necessary. I’m not being a horse racist here. Trust me. That being said, this horse ran the fastest ever on dirt for a Dubai horse. So there’s that. But he’s a pig. Avoid him. Still not being a horse racist.

J Boys Echo (20-1 Romans/Albardo) – This horse blew the field away in the Gotham while running a 102 Beyer. The problem with that is that the Gotham is a Grade 3 stakes meaning he ran against a bunch of horses headed for the glue factory of Derby contenders. When he jumped up to Grade 2 last month at the Bluegrass, he finished six lengths back in 4th with a Beyer of 84. The one thing going for him is his lineage. With Mineshaft as the sire who came out of AP Indy who came out of Seattle Slew, J. Boys Echo is bred for the limelight and the distance. I just think he’s missing a critical gene, namely heart. Or maybe speed. Or maybe both.

Irap (20-1 O’Neill/Gutierrez) – This horse was doing nothing for a long time and then suddenly won the Bluegrass as a 31-1 underdog. That threw him into the Derby as the horse with the fourth most qualifying points. The problem here is all his other races. On the upside, this owner/trainer/jockey combo have won two of the last five Kentucky Derbies which is saying something. Is that enough? His Beyer have jumped 10 points in each of the last two races. If he gets another 10 point jump to 103, he might get there. But he’s going to need a slow steady pace at first and with what is likely to be a very muddy track, maybe it’s his exact trip.

The rest of the story
The rest of these horses aren’t going to win the Derby. State of Honor has run completely on synthetic tracks and is a good bet to finish dead last. Patch is a one eyed horse with a lot of guts and heart but without the requisite talent. You should put a $1 on him just in case he wins though so that you can have the feel good karma of betting on a one eyed horse to win the Derby. Battle of Midway didn’t race as a 2 year old and guess what? Horses that don’t do that don’t ever win the Derby. Chester Arthur was President last time that happened. He’s also slow. Really slow. Untrapped is a big time closer who seems to always run out of room. Can the Derby be his breakthrough? Probably not. Sonneteer is like a Keats sonnet, pretty but not something to make money on. He’s never won a race and he’s raced a lot. He is drastically improving speed wise over the last several races but I doubt he can make the jump from loser to winner. Finally, Fast and Accurate is a beautiful horse but there’s no way he wins the Derby. He’s run almost all of his races on synthetic tracks and his one lone dirt race resulted in a Beyer of 27. That’s horse talk for fucking slow. He doesn’t like dirt and the Derby is the biggest dirt of them all.

Well, there you have it. I’m probably the only one who made it this far anyway. Good luck this week and I hope you enjoy the Derby at Darly Downs.

Why I’m Not A Football Christian

Does God know particulars? Before you answer that, take a moment to consider the ramifications of the answer, both pro and con. Like answering the question “Did you ever get caught masturbating in the closet?”, any answer you come up with is a net loss if you’re a Believer (or a closet masturbator). If you answer yes, God does know particulars, the implications are staggering to the concept of individual freedom, choice and whether God is actually very nice at all. If you answer no, you’re implying that God isn’t omniscient, that some things unfold without His knowledge and suddenly you have to be OK with some significant changes to the general understanding of Him. What exactly is my point? I hope to convince you that while God may be intimately interested in Tim Tebow as a human being, his interest in the outcome of particular events that Tim Tebow is involved in, particularly football games, is non-existent if we are to believe God really is a loving God who wants us all to succeed and that if He is not, then we’ve got generally bigger problems to deal with from a religious standpoint. Specifically, any resulting numbers from any football games that loosely correspond to Tim Tebow’s favorite Bible verse are completely coincidental and our noticing them tells us more about our own personal biases than it does about God’s interest in football games.

This past Sunday, the Denver Broncos, led by their quarterback and exceptionally open Christian Tim Tebow, defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in a playoff game. The Broncos were large underdogs in the game meaning no one, not even the very smart people in Las Vegas, gave them much chance to win the game at all. (As an aside, that part about the smart people in Vegas thinking anything about who was going to win or not isn’t technically true but for the matter at hand, we can let it pass.) All week leading up to the game, the focus was on how bad Tim Tebow, and by extension the Broncos, had played in the previous game. He had gone 6 for 22 and 60 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception. In a game that values completions and yards and touchdowns scored, this was not good. All the talking heads assumed that the vaunted Steelers defense would dominate the game even though Ryan Clark, an integral part of that defense, was not playing due to a life threatening blood disease that had forced the removal of his gall bladder and spleen after playing in Denver in 2007. The talking heads also assumed that even though the Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a bad ankle injury and their starting running back was done for the season with an ACL tear from the previous week’s game and their staring center was not playing due to an ankle injury, the Steelers offense would produce enough points to beat the anemic Denver Broncos, maybe 13-3 or something.

Of course, this is not what happened, otherwise I’d have no real impetus for writing this essay. The Broncos scored 29 points including 6 in the overtime courtesy of an 80 yard touchdown to win the game outright and the mighty Steelers were sent packing while the lowly Broncos, led by Tim Tebow, the evangelical Christian, moved on to the divisional round of the playoffs. In the game, Tebow threw for 316 yards. He averaged 31.6 yards per pass completion. And finally, the game’s TV ratings was 31.6 Because we as humans tend to find patterns in everything, it was immediately noted that these were the numbers for John 3:16, one of the most quoted and influential passages in Christianity.

This caused “tebow 316” to blow up on Google and for a lot of what I’m assuming are normally very intelligent people to go slightly, or completely, crazy. People started saying things like “I still think it’s ironic that he threw for 316 yards” on Facebook, displaying for all the world that people still think Alanis Morissette was a poetic genius given the fundamental misunderstanding of irony. Pastors on the web said things like “I don’t know if it is necessarily an act of God, but I don’t think anything happens by accident either”, fundamentally misunderstanding the idea of causation. Things that aren’t accidents imply intention and with intention comes reason. If it wasn’t an accident, Someone came up with a very elaborate mathematical plan. Lots and lots of normal people hungry to find any concrete example that God loves us grasped at the fact that numbers 3, 1, and 6 showed up 3 times in various forms during the game.

Now, before we dive into an examination of whether God really does love Tim Tebow enough (and by extensions hates the Pittsburgh Steelers) to influence the outcome of a human football game, let’s look back at the original question, does God know particulars? This is a thorny question integral to discussions in religion and philosophy for hundreds of years, not only in Christianity but also in the Arabic and Judaic worlds as well. At a high level, the issue is that if God is omniscient and thus, knows particular details of the world, say that someone is going to be raped and killed at some point in the future, how can we reconcile that with our idea of God as a loving and forgiving God? On the other hand, if God does not know particulars and thus is not implicitly implicated in the evil in the world, how can we reconcile that with the idea that God is omniscient? Logicians and scholars infinitely smarter than I am have discussed this idea for generations. Some scholars do some fancy hand-waving and imply that God’s knowledge is fundamentally different from human knowledge and that because of this, it is essentially not ours to reason why, etc., etc., etc. This is good for the internal consistency of said scholars belief framework but not helpful for those of us writing two thousand word essay at 4 in the morning.

When I look at the question and try to answer it (without any real review of the history or scholarly works pertaining, I’m not writing this essay for publication), here’s what I come up with. God has knowledge of particulars in a probabilistic way, Einstein’s belief that God doesn’t throw dice notwithstanding. I think that God has a framework for how things might turn out but that there are hundreds of thousands of events every day that God isn’t that interested in from a global standpoint and that however those things work out are largely left to chance, human interaction and possibly some influence of chaos theory. If we are to believe the text of the Bible, God already gave us the way to get into heaven in the very quote now being used to convince us He exists through the actions of a 22 year old NFL quarterback. I find it exceptionally hard to believe that God feels the need to influence an NFL game just to give those of us with a blog and too much time on our hands a new sign that He does in fact exist. If God truly does know exact particulars of every single human action in some divine knowledge, the implications for His goodness are staggering, at least to my limited human mind. You can hand wave and say He has a reason for everything but that reason in many cases seems to then be at the very least tinged with malice if you consider events that are bad for the humans involved. It’s nice to be able to say “God has a reason for everything” and go on about your daily business but that’s intellectually lazy as far as I can tell. Maybe it’s not our position to know the workings of God’s mind but if He laid out all details long ago for all people, I find it impossible to ever see Him as anything more than a merry prankster at best and possibly actively malevolent at worst.

Instead, I think God has a general framework for how things are going to work out and beyond that, He doesn’t much care or know of any particulars in advance. He may intervene on the part of truly good or truly evil people (see Brett Favre’s fall from grace in particular) but as a general rule, I think He lets us go about our daily business using our best judgment as to the actions we should take and their outcomes. He may have a general plan for our lives but I’m not even convinced that He knows exactly how they’ll play out, because again, the idea that He kicks things off knowing particular people will be tortured and murdered is directly in opposition to any idea that He gives one damn about what happens to us. Thinking God doesn’t know everything is slightly (slightly? Deeply is more like it) heretical but far better to think maybe God isn’t omniscient than that He’s actively evil.

All this brings us back to our little football game (I know you were wondering if it would. Or maybe you’re asleep by now anyway, like I should be at 5 AM). The people like the aforementioned pastor who believes everything happens for a reason also has to believe the following things:

  1. God gave Ryan Clark a devastating blood disease AT BIRTH that caused him to lose his spleen and gall bladder after a 2007 game in Denver JUST so he would be prevented from playing in this game in 2012 negatively affecting the defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers and allowing Denver to win. Almost no one with any football knowledge would assume that the outcome would be exactly the same if Pittsburgh had been able to play their starting free safety.
  2. God intentionally hurt Brett Keisel, the Steelers’ starting right defensive tackle, during the game to affect the outcome. Keisel went out in the first half with an injury that undoubtedly affected the game plan and effectiveness of the Steelers defense.
  3. God intentionally hurt Maurkice Pouncey months ago, preventing him from playing in this game. Pouncey was the starting center for the Steelers and without him, Doug Legursky filled in. He had several terrible snaps including one before half that moved Pittsburgh out of field goal range.
  4. God intentionally hurt Ben Roethlisberger who was extremely hobbled with an ankle injury, drastically limiting the Steelers game plan. This one might actually be true since Roethlisberger might have some atoning yet to do for his violent incidents with women not so long ago. If you said God knew the particulars of this one, I might agree with you.

In all, the number of things that had to align perfectly for the various 316s to happen and have significance are astounding. Now, you might say that Tebow is some sort of super Christian or a prophet for the times and thus has been picked out in advance to further the message of God. Or you might say that God can do anything and thus He had Tebow throw for 316 yards including one 80 yard play at the beginning of overtime that mathematically manipulated Tebow’s average such that it too was 31.6 (realize that if the Broncos had won with an 80 run, Tebow’s passing average would not have been 31.6. Of course, I don’t think this would have affected the crazies that much) AND had exactly the right number of people tune in to guarantee a TV rating of 31.6. If you argued these things, I’m not going to argue with you because those are not particularly arguable points. However, I would assume that you attribute almost everything to God and thus, we’re not going to have a lot in common to talk about anyway, in the grand scheme of things.

Suffice it to say, I find Tebow slightly hypocritical (sometimes the author’s bias comes out in the beginning, some times at the end) in that he openly prays for his own success on the football field which necessarily implies the failure of others at his expense which seems to me a not particularly Christian thing to do. Let’s be honest, Tebow plays a particularly vicious and violent game, one that often entails gruesome injuries and long term bodily effects on the combatants and to assume that God has a rooting interest in your team because you pray harder is a level of tribalism that exceeds all possible generous explanations for your faith. Of course, I have no idea what Tebow is praying for on the sidelines but since he is often seen kneeling before coming into play, I can only assume he’s asking for protection from people like Brett Keisel who actively want to hit him as hard as they possibly can, this after voluntarily choosing to play a game where people on the other side of the ball want to hit you as hard as they can. This is tantamount to the Crusades and we all know how that worked out for the heathens.

In the end, Tebow is a polarizing and engaging creature. It doesn’t seem likely to me that he’s a messenger from God, only that he’s a particularly open and flamboyant Christian who has engaged two fan bases, the Broncos and crazy people on the internet looking for signs that God really does exist. I don’t begrudge him either of those. I just don’t think God is going to be quite as interested in his success this weekend on the road against New England.

Thoughts on the US Open

Watching the final holes of the US Open plus the post play interviews, I was struck by the difference in the Europeans who were interviewed and the Americans, specifically the number one player in the world, Tiger Woods. Frenchman Gregory Havret, in a consolation interview, was gracious and personable. He talked about playing well, about being let down by his putter in the closing holes but mostly he just talked. He described his experience at Pebble Beach and his thoughts on the course as well as his play on it.

Graeme McDowell, the winner from Northern Ireland, was equally talkative, discussing the course, thanking the greenskeeper and grounds crew and giving us an insight into what it was like for him to win the US Open. He was personable and friendly. Granted, he had just won the US Open but still, he treated the questions from Bob Costas seriously. He appeared genuinely happy to answer questions.

Contrast this all with Tiger Woods who answered a single interview question curtly and shortly, saying he would take nothing positive out of his performance and acting generally like a petulant child, not a man who just finished tied for fourth in this country’s greatest championship in the sport of his choosing after a long and protracted episode of marital infidelity and personal disaster. He has apparently learned nothing, still assuming that happiness only comes with a win. His interviews were never particularly enjoyable to listen to but one would hope that he had gained some perspective over the past months. Instead, he can’t hardly be bothered to honor the tradition of the championship, can say nothing good of the winner or potential winners at that point and answers a single question as if it was the dumbest thing he had ever heard.

I didn’t ever really have an opinion on his troubles over the past few months. I think he made a huge mistake but I had hoped that maybe it would help him gain perspective on life, open up as a human and maybe give back to some of the fans who clearly still honor him. Instead, he is as stony and withdrawn as always. It is too bad that the best player in the world can’t be bothered to honor and respect the tradition of the Open and its fans as well as his fellow competitors.

Our Idiot Representatives

We are living in what can lightly be described as trying times and our Senators think it is of utmost importance to hold hearings on the Bowl Championship Series. We are represented by buffoons and self-serving ego maniacs, creatures who must insert themselves into every conversation in a vain attempt to yell louder than their neighbor under the false impression that we, the people who elected them, expect that. The BCS is of so little concern right now in the minds of Americans that it might as well not exist and yet these idiots feel compelled to waste taxpayer money in an attempt to make things right, whatever that means.

In announcing the hearings, they say “The current system leaves nearly half of all the teams in college football at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to qualifying for the millions of dollars paid out every year”. Maybe it’s because half of all teams in college football suck and are rightfully disqualified. Don’t think for one minute that Utah, this year’s annual poster boy for killing the college bowl system, didn’t make a killing in the bowl they played in. This isn’t about teams not making money in bowl games or deciding a national championship. This is just about idiots needing to see their names in the paper.

By all accounts, most college football players and coaches prefer the bowl system. With the exception of the top tier teams, it’s a chance to go somewhere nice (unless it’s Boise, who in God’s name thought there ought to be a bowl in Boise?), have a nice vacation and play a little football at the end of the season. On top of that, certitude is fleetingly rare in life so why in the hell would we expect it in our sports? Do we really want to subject college athletes to 4 or 5 more games at the end of an already long season? What about kids who get hurt in game 3 and ruin their chances of playing in the NFL?

This is more legislation for the sake of legislation, as if we can achieve salvation through it. We elect people to represent us in things that matter. Fixing the unbroken does not matter. This is ridiculous.

There’s No Crying In Football

It’s starting to look more and more like Jay Cutler is a big crybaby He hasn’t done anything in Denver to warrant being a diva but that isn’t stopping him from crying to the media over the supposed slights that Josh McDaniels has hit him with. Football is a tough sport, you’d think he’d man up and show he was the real deal instead of being a passive-aggressive little baby and putting his and his parents’ house on the market. My parents would kick my ass if I did that.

You can’t have a cry baby diva as your starting QB so it wouldn’t surprise me of Denver did trade him but they’re going to have to get something pretty special in return. Though Michael Vick ought to be available this summer assuming he gets reinstated and Atlanta agrees to send him to Denver. That would be fun.

Cognitive Dissonance

By now, I would imagine that most people around the country who are tuned into news at all have heard about the 100-0 butt kicking that the Covenant School of Dallas’ girls basketball team put on Dallas Academy last week. Now, Covenant fired their coach over the affair which I find to be the most ridiculous, asinine thing they could have done. Instead of standing by their coach and team, they are groveling before the public, making an already awkward situation worse. Apparently, they even apologized for winning the game:

“It is shameful and an embarrassment that this happened. This clearly does not reflect a Christlike and honorable approach to competition,” said the statement, signed by Kyle Queal, head of school, and board chair Todd Doshier.

Unfortunately, these two fellows don’t seem to understand that a Christlike approach to competition is an oxymoron. Christ said “Turn the other cheek” not beat the other team into submission. The two concepts just don’t jive. The point of competition is to play hard and win. Competition isn’t about making both teams feel OK about their self-worth, it’s not about spreading a Christlike attitude, it’s not about giving everyone the opportunity to contribute. Competition is about two things: playing hard and winning.

On the other side of this story, we have Dallas academy and their idiotic administration. If you field a team that can’t win a damn basketball game in 4 years and you can’t manage to even score a single point in a full game, you shouldn’t be playing at that level, if at all. Sorry, but this is the state we’ve come to today where people seem to think that everyone deserves an opportunity. Guess what, not everyone deserves to play varsity basketball. This quote from the Dallas Academy coach in the Dallas Morning News is telling:

“Most of these girls would never play on any other school in the state,” he said. “But they can say they were high school varsity players here. And they can say it with a sense of achievement.”

What sense of achievement can they get from losing every game for 4 straight years? The achievement of becoming really good losers? What good could come of this, of fielding a team for 4 seasons that regularly doesn’t score double digit points? There is nothing in human rights that says everyone has the right to do whatever they want, even if they are terrible at it. If you want to give girls who can’t possibly play basketball on any other team in the entire state the chance to play basketball then you fully deserve any result that might occur including getting beaten 100-0. You have no right to expect the other team to be a part of your complicity in doing something stupid.

As much or more blame for this entire fiasco falls on Dallas Academy and its administration. They are the ones who should be fired for being so boneheaded as to not see a result like this. They insisted on fielding a sham of a team and insisted on playing superior opponents. This result was practically a foregone conclusion at some point. Yet, they will receive no condemnation for it as we live in a world where the winners are often punished far more severely than the losers.

Definition Of Cache

Look, Plaxico Burress is a bloody idiot. Let’s get that out of the way right now. If you don’t know who he is, no worries, just know that he’s a football player who shot himself in the leg. Further proof of his below-average IQ is that he makes somewhere between a zillion and an assload of money and yet he didn’t pay his auto insurance premiums and thus had his policy canceled. Dumb, right?

OK, glad we got that out of the way. My problem is the idiotic media reporting of any incident that involves celebrities/athletes and guns. To wit, this ESPN story about Plax getting his house raided by the New Jersey police detailing the seizure of a “small cache of weapons and ammunition”. That sounds like he was hoarding guns getting ready for the apocalypse. Read a little farther into the story and you find out that they found 1 rifle, 1 pistol and ammunition that didn’t fit either weapon. Ahem. 2 guns and some ammo that don’t fit any guns in the house is not a cache. I have more guns than that in the spare bedroom, much less the house and I don’t have a cache. The media has to sensationalize anything related to celebrities/athletes and they make any story involving guns even worse.

Being stupid doesn’t relieve you of your 2nd Amendment rights. Of course, living in New Jersey does though that is pretty much voluntary. I find it hard to believe that owning unregistered guns even in New Jersey is illegal but then I suppose nothing should be surprising about New Jersey which has to be the armpit of America.

Let’s not forget that Sean Taylor was murdered last year in his home by thugs who knew where he lived and had broken in to steal from him. Professional athletes have good reason to be afraid for their safety. I have no problem with any of them carrying or owning guns. I just wish they weren’t represented so poorly by an idiot who shoots him self in the leg with his Glock and then gets his home searched 3 weeks later and still has guns around. Moron.