Archive for October 2007

Weekend Recap- Horses and Pigskin

October 31, 2007

I have to admit, Saturday was a bit of a blur for me, complete with the eight Breeders’ Cup races whizzing by quicker than I could decide how to bet them, college football games (most of them surprising me) blaring in the background and all the while wearing a Johnny Cash costume in a sports bar for a Halloween party I was heading to directly after the races ended. I persevered though, and here’s what I remember, as chronologically as possible:

  • The chalk won both of the Juvenile races. I had Backseat Rhythm to place and she finished third and paid impressively. Growl.
  • I can’t believe how easily West Virginia handled Rutgers on the road. Most impressive had to be their defense, holding a pretty strong Rutgers offense to only three points. The Mountaineers are certainly still in the national championship conversation.
  • Wow, it was muddy at the Breeders’ Cup. However, the mudders didn’t necessarily get over on the horses accustomed to firmer turf or faster tracks; in fact, no European horse won a single race despite seemingly favorable conditions. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Filly & Mare Turf, where Lahudood pulled a shocker. My pick, Honey Ryder, closed hard to place and make me some money, but I of course had left the winner out of my exacta.
  • Oregon got a huge win at home against USC. I officially withdraw previous negative comments about the Ducks, they’ve simply won too many big games to continue fading them all the time. They’ve got another big one this weekend against undefeated Arizona State for full control of the Pac-10. Who would have thought USC would have two conference losses at this point?
  • Finally, I nail an exacta as Midnight Lute closes hard to win the Sprint in maybe the day’s most impressive performance, and hometown hero Idiot Proof runs basically a flawless race to finish second.
  • Georgia’s whole team ran on the field after they scored their first touchdown in a hilariously horrible display of sportsmanship. Whatever works I guess! Florida’s defense looked pretty shaken from that point on and lost 42-30. The Gators never really had a chance in this one, and I didn’t think they there was any way they could lose.
  • Another exacta! In my best call of the day, Kip Deville wins the Mile as favorite Excellent Art finishes second. Wow, what a great trip Kip Deville had, it was everything I had envisioned.
  • Connecticut has a football team? Apparently so. How quickly South Florida has gone from a national title to a team that just lost to Connecticut at football. Maybe the Huskies are for real though. Their defense certainly looks strong, and right now they might be the second best team in the very confusing Big East.
  • My luck comes to an end with the ponies as pace dominates the Distaff and I finally brick a race completely. My closers were never a factor. At least I had Hystericalady to show, but I was amazed to see Ginger Punch wire this supposedly deep field. It turned out to be maybe the least impressive race of the day. After Nashoba’s Key didn’t fire in the Turf race, I really wish she would have run here, and she probably won’t even get the Eclipse Award now.
  • American hero English Channel pulled away from the Euros and won the Breeders’ Cup Turf in his last career race. Wow, I didn’t see that one coming at all, but I couldn’t have been happier about it, except that some no name horse called Shamadian got up for second and ruined my exacta, which I ended up greedily overbetting. Growl #2.
  • Mississippi State killed Kentucky. Good luck trying to put these SEC teams in order of quality. My best guess is that any one of them can beat the other on any given day, and that they’re quite good actually.
  • Classic time! Hard Spun and Lawyer Ron went to the lead just as everyone had expected, but Hard Spun proved me wrong again by staying the course and getting the distance, while Lawyer Ron was gone by the turn for home. As I imagined, it appears that Lawyer Ron blew all the energy he had in that tough Jockey Club stretch run and will retire without ever having won a 10 furlong race. Hard Spun, meanwhile, will go down as one of the best horses to ever race and never win anything that mattered. He sure did screw up a couple of big exactas for me along the way though, triple growl! But honestly, coming around the turn for home, Curlin was just in a different gear than the rest of the field. It’s amazing what this horse accomplished this year, and is a deserving Horse of the Year off of his past two efforts as well as his impressive Triple Crown performance. As far as George Washington’s breakdown and euthanization is concerned, it was obviously a horrible way to end an otherwise terrific day at a muddy Breeders’ Cup. I have to wonder why he was even running in this race on an unfamiliar surface. I suppose that’s the risk horse owners take to earn the glory, but no one in their right handicapping mind thought the horse had a chance in this race, and he shouldn’t have been in it to begin with.
  • By the evening, things were starting to run together. I can’t believe how good Ohio State is! California is either in a freefall or Arizona State is for real. We’ll see over the next couple of weeks. Oh, and how the hell did Boston College possibly win that game Thursday night? I for one switched it over to the World Series….

TOP 25 OF THE MATTY:

  1. Ohio State (9-0)
  2. Boston College (8-0)
  3. LSU (8-1)
  4. Oklahoma (7-1)
  5. West Virginia (7-1)
  6. Arizona State (8-0)
  7. Oregon (7-1)
  8. Kansas (8-0)
  9. Hawaii (9-0)
  10. Missouri (7-1)
  11. Virginia Tech (6-2)
  12. USC (6-2)
  13. Georgia (6-2)
  14. Michigan (7-2)
  15. Connecticut (7-1)
  16. South Florida (6-2)
  17. Auburn (6-3)
  18. Florida (5-3)
  19. Alabama (6-2)
  20. Texas (7-2)
  21. California (5-3)
  22. Tennessee (5-3)
  23. Boise State (7-1)
  24. Wisconsin (7-2)
  25. South Carolina (6-3)

HEISMAN WATCH:

  1. Matt Ryan, Boston College
  2. Tim Tebow, Florida
  3. Andre Woodson, Kentucky
  4. Darren McFadden, Arkansas
  5. Mike Hart, Michigan

ECLIPSE AWARD PICKS:

2 Year Old Filly: Indian Blessing

2 Year Old Colt: War Pass

3 Year Old Filly: Rags to Riches

3 Year Old Colt: Curlin

Older Male: Lawyer Ron

Older Female: Ginger Punch

Sprinter: Midnight Lute

Male Turf: English Channel

Female Turf: Lahudood

Breeders' Cup Picks- 2007

October 25, 2007

Is there a better time of year for sports than October? You’ve got college and NFL football in full swing, the World Series and of course the often underrated but always exciting world championships of horse racing, also known as the Breeders’ Cup. This year, the powers that be decided to extend the festivities at Monmouth Park into a two-day event, adding three divisional championships to Friday’s race card. Personally, I think that the Juvenile Turf race is a bit much, but I like the addition of the Dirt Mile race because it gives middle distance dirt horses that don’t have the speed for the six furlong Sprint or the stamina for the ten furlong Classic a suitable alternative; and let’s face it, enough races are run on the dirt each year at eight or eight and a half furlongs to justify a separate division. The other new race is the Filly and Mare Sprint, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it will certainly alleviate one of the many difficulties of handicapping the already grueling Sprint. On the other, it takes some of the fun out of that handicapping process, not to mention the awe that resulted from fillies beating the boys at six furlongs.

Whatever your opinion, the fact is that Breeders’ Cup weekend is now two days long and eleven races, and I don’t see too many negatives about that. A few words on my handicapping strategy if I may:

When picking Breeders’ Cup races, one often feels the desire to bet on every horse, since all are so talented to even be running. Obviously, doing so is rarely profitable, so one of the first things I do is single out horses that I think will be overbet relative to their actual chances of performing well in the race, and I try to beat them. This helps to eliminate horses. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a shot, it just means that I like other horses better for the money. Additionally, you’ll notice that I put a lot of stake in Beyer speed figures, which attempt to assess a horse’s speed based on a number of factors including race time, track condition and the type of trip the horse had in the race (i.e., did the horse run the whole race 5 wide or did he get a full rail trip?) This helps to compare different horses across different races, distances and track conditions. I find these numbers important, because my experience has been that the horse that runs the fastest usually wins the race (I’m being completely serious).

Finally, the press has been giving the specifics of the Monmouth course a lot of weight in the weeks leading up to this event. It’s a unique racecourse, which aside from having a reputation as a speed-biased track, also has tight turns and short stretches, and is not suited to the running style of some horses. At times when I really couldn’t decide between two horses, I usually gave the edge to the horse that had demonstrated some ability (and sometimes, extraordinary ability) to handle the track and perform well. To add to the confusion this year, it appears likely that the surfaces are going to be very wet, so looking into how the horses have performed on off-track conditions can’t hurt either.

Here’s my careful analysis and expert opinion (ha, ha…) as to how all the races will play out. I won’t be betting the Juvenile Turf, as I find it to be borderline ridiculous, so I did not include any analysis. Aren’t the juvenile dirt races enough of a crapshoot as it is? I’ll be betting the other ten races, focusing on exacta boxes and place betting on my win choices. I might even throw in some dime superfectas for good measure. Anyway, here goes:

FRIDAY:

Filly and Mare Sprint, 3:25 CST, 6 furlongs

As mentioned above, this new Breeders’ Cup race gives the speedy girls a chance for glory without having to go against the always tough male competition in the Sprint. This is actually the race that I’m having the most trouble with, especially after La Traviata’s connections came to their senses and opted to run her here. I’ve got to pick somebody, but I’ll be wagering small on this one because of my uncertainty. Dream Rush has been virtually unstoppable this year, finishing no worse than second in six starts. Her speed figures aren’t showstopping (103 top), but she’s well-seasoned and will be the one to beat in this one. Although 7f may be her ideal distance, I like her combination of closing style and tactical speed to win this race as the favorite, although starting from the #3 post, a lot of people expect her to press the pace. Another horse with a big chance is Oprah Winney, who is likely to offer better value than either of the other two. She’s won her last two starts, both of which where at this distance and one of which was at Monmouth, and hasn’t missed the board yet this year. Her top speed figure of 103 came on this course, which puts her on par with some of the best here. The aforementioned La Traviata is somewhat of an enigma, but I am terrified to leave her out of my exotics. She’s lightly raced, winning all three starts this year and posting a 104 speed figure in her last race which is the highest in the field. She’s faced nobody so I won’t be playing her except in exotics (especially since she’s likely to be the second choice), but she certainly seems to have a lot of natural talent. Handicappers simply don’t have very much information on her, so bet her carefully, but don’t forget about her. Miss Macy Sue has been consistent, winning five of six starts at this distance. Her 103 Beyer speed figure last time out at 6f puts her right in the mix, and her stalking style could be a huge asset if the pace breaks down, which is fairly likely. She’s never won at Monmouth, and she can’t be ignored completely, but I’m going to try to beat her based on her low average of speed figures at this distance (91, 97, 96 and 91 in her last four starts before running the 103) and the general lack of competition she’s faced in her victories, not to mention that a horse that likes to stalk is going to have trouble coming out of the #1 post in a race with this much speed. If the track is wet, a horse to keep an eye on is Wild Gams, who finished a game second to Miss Macy Sue two races back. She boasts a 6f victory on a wet Monmouth track from September of last year and could hit the board at a price. Shaggy Mane ran a 108 speed figure earlier this year when she won the Sunshine Millions Sprint at 6f, but hasn’t been close to the board in two of her last three starts. She figures the be the pace of the pace, and should go to the lead immediately. If she runs to her full potential, she has a shot, but given her inconsistency I like others more here, and think she’ll fade after setting a torrid pace. Winless Rahiyah and Miraculous Miss are probably in over their heads here, while Argentian-bred Jazzy takes a big step up in class, although many like her as a longshot. Maryfield has a win over Oprah Winney from way earlier this year, but has looked a step slower than the rest of this field in her past few starts despite winning the 7f Ballerina. I think she may need more distance, although she could be flying on the close and is another one that stands a chance if the hot pace causes the favorites to fade early. If I don’t like Maryfield, I can’t like Baroness Thatcher either, although she closed hard to nearly capture the Ballerina at the wire.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Dream Rush (2-1)

2. Oprah Winney (6-1)

3. La Traviata (5-2)

CAN’T IGNORE: Wild Gams (10-1)

TRY TO BEAT: Miss Macy Sue (6-1)

Dirt Mile, 4:35 CST, 8 furlongs

The inaugural running of the Breeder’s Cup Dirt Mile is loaded with talented horses that probably would have been seriously up against it in the Classic. Everyone is still waiting for likely favorite Discreet Cat to perform up to his full potential. After winning all five starts in 2006 (three of them at the 8f distance), he finished way off the board in the 10f Dubai World Cup before closing for third place in the 6f Vosburgh. It looks as though those troubles can be attributed to his preference for the 8f distance, and if he can run back anywhere close to the 115 and 116 Beyer figures he posted last year at a mile on the dirt, he’ll be the one to catch in this one. His connections have been gearing up for this one all year, the Vosburgh served as a pretty good prep, and I think he’s going to be ready and will be very tough to beat at this distance. Coming out of the #1 post shouldn’t hurt him too much, and should keep him close enough to the pace to be in position to make a strong move, that is if there’s anyone ahead of him anyway. Home field advantage goes to the underrated Gottcha Gold, who has gone 3-2-1-0 in his last three starts, all of which have been at Monmouth. He’s posted a respectable Beyer speed figure of 108 at 8f on this track, and should offer some value. He’ll have to be careful not to engage in too much of a speed duel as he likes to compete for the lead, but if he’s able to rate a bit off the pace, he has a big chance here. Corinthian looked strong in winning the Met Mile earlier this year but hasn’t been able to duplicate that effort in has last two starts, missing the board in the 9f Woodward and the 10f Suburban Handicap. Certainly this is his best distance, but he’ll need to improve upon his last two starts to have a shot here. He’ll be among the stalkers, so if the pace breaks down in front of him, he should be in position for the kill. Wanderin’ Boy figures to head straight for the lead along with High Finance, who is unproven around two turns, looked awful his last time out in the 7f Forego, and is probably better suited for shorter distances. He does have the highest Beyer speed figure at this distance this year (115), but that was back in May. I expect both of these horses to fade out of the picture on the turn for home. Lewis Michael is somewhat of a question mark for me, as he’s run some impressive races at a variety of distances, is improving rapidly and shows great versatility. I prefer others more as I worry that this race isn’t the ideal distance for him and that he might be a polytrack specialist, but he’s worth a look at a price. Park Avenue Ball and Xchanger are both taking pretty big steps up in class here, but the former has a lot of experience on the Monmouth course and the latter has been improving and stands a chance if the pace disintegrates.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Discreet Cat (2-1)

2. Gottcha Gold (8-1)

3. Corinthian (7-2)

CAN’T IGNORE: Lewis Michael (6-1)

TRY TO BEAT: High Finance (5-1)

SATURDAY:

Juvenile Fillies, 11:30 CST, 8.5 furlongs

I usually only place modest wagers on either of the Juvenile races, as I generally find them to be a complete crapshoot; these are horses that have developed to the equivalent stage of about a 10th grade human. Nevertheless, I’ll have to bet on somebody in order to entertain myself during the race, so there is handicapping to be done. There could be a great deal of value in taking a chance on Backseat Rhythm, who followed up her 8.5 f turf victory with a hard closing 2nd place finish in the 8f Frizette. Her top turf speed figure (92) will blow this field away if she can duplicate it on the dirt, and her last outing definitely showed that she will benefit from the extra half a furlong. She seems to be being ignored, and I’m going to take a chance on her. Whether she will have enough to catch the likely favorite Indian Blessing, who defeated her in the Frizette last time out, remains to be seen. Indian Blessing posted an 87 Beyer speed figure in that one, before which she easily won her 5.5f maiden. She’s a little underseasoned for the price she’s likely to offer, but don’t skip out on her in your exotics. Smarty Deb is undefeated in four starts, including a two turn victory over this distance in her last outing. There are definitely class questions to be raised, but she’s not getting a lot of respect and is worth a look at a price. Cry and Catch Me posted a speed figure of 81 in her hard fought nose victory over Izarra in the Oak Leaf. The former was scratched with a fever, but the latter has a chance to win if she can improve upon that effort. Proud Spell and Phantom Income have both looked sharp as well, but they have yet to run past 7f and therefore I have trouble playing them. Grace Anatomy and A to the Croft appear to have a shot if the can improve on their efforts in the Alcibiades, while Clearly Foxy will be taking their undefeated records into a new level of competition. A lot of people like Irish Smoke as well, but I’m not really seeing it as she was badly beaten in her only start past 7f by a few of the horses running here.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Backseat Rhythm (12-1)

2. Indian Blessing (3-1)

3. Smarty Deb (30-1)

CAN’T DISMISS: Izarra (6-1)

TRY TO BEAT: Proud Spell (5-1)

Juvenile, 12:10 CST, 8.5 furlongs

The 8f Champagne Stakes is often the prep race that determines the Juvenile favorite. The same will probably be the case this year, and I’m going to go in a similar direction but pick the runner-up of the Champagne to win the Juvenile. Pyro closed very gamely to make up 5.5 lengths over the last furlong and will greatly benefit from the extra half of a furlong in this race. He should offer some value, and his speed figure of 100 dominates all other runners here besides the horse that beat him in the Champagne. That horse, of course, is War Pass, who is likely to be one of the day’s biggest favorites after his win in the aforementioned race and lightning quick 103 speed figure. He’s a deserving favorite off of that effort, but I’m not quite willing to pick him as the winner without any feel of his ability to go the extra distance; his pedigree leans more toward shorter distances (by Cherokee Run). Wicked Style can’t be taken lightly either, as he enters the race undefeated in his three starts, including a win over 8.5 f. His speed figures are much lower than my first two picks (86) but he’s probably the next best bet. Tale of Ekati boasts the next fastest speed figures (94,95) over shorter distances, so he certainly has a shot, although again I am uneasy about picking horses that haven’t run two turns yet. In addition, his trainer wasn’t happy with a lightning quick 4f work this week that came in about three seconds too fast. In any event, I like him more than fellow sprinter Kodiak Cowboy. Dixie Chatter was impressive in winning the 8.5f Norfolk last time out, beating some of the contenders here, but doesn’t seem as speedy as the best here. The rest of the field appears top be a cut below.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Pyro (6-1)

2. War Pass (5-2)

3. Wicked Style (10-1)

CAN’T IGNORE: Tale of Ekati (7-2)

TRY TO BEAT: Kodiak Cowboy

Filly and Mare Turf, 12:55 CST, 11 furlongs

Most of the racing world is tearing their hair out over the Distaff, a race I will address later. To me, this race appears much deeper and harder to figure out than the Distaff (I actually am fairly confident about my picks in that race). The addition of the undefeated Nashoba’s Key, who probably would have been an even money favorite in the Distaff, just throws another wildcard in a race that is already full of them. The good news is, I really like the horse I’m picking to win, and that horse is Honey Ryder. I’ll start by saying I’m throwing out her sixth place finish in her last start in the 9.5f Beverly D. Aside from being a furlong and a half shorter than this race, a lot of odd things happened there, including eventual Yellow Ribbon winner Lahudood finishing a distant sixth. I was inspired to relearn that Honey Ryder actually threw in a clunker in the Beverly D last year, finishing a well-beaten fourth, before rebounding nicely to finish a charging third in this race a year ago. She’s well-classed and has performed competitively against some of the best males in the country, and has shown ability over her career to win on yielding turf surfaces. She’s had two and a half months to prepare, and I really like her closing style in this race that has only been won by a pacesetter on one occasion. Her second place to male turf contender English Channel on this racecourse was very impressive, and I see lots of reasons to like her the best of these. After that, I like about seven others, but must narrow it down. I’ve learned my lesson betting against the Europeans in this one, so I took a long, hard look at Passage of Time and she ended up frightening me. Although she appears to have been a lot better in 2006, the chances of this turf coming up softer than ideal for the Americans gives her a huge advantage. After a rough start in June at 12f, she rebounded nicely last time out at Longchamp, finishing third to top company at the same distance. She’s still developing at only three years of age, and I’m guessing her connections will have her primed. The undefeated Nashoba’s Key will try her hand at the turf when she likely would have been a heavy favorite in the Distaff. She may well be the favorite here as well, which isn’t completely crazy considering she’s never lost a race in her career. However, the quality of the competition she’s beaten is somewhat of a question, as is her ability to handle a soft turf surface and the distance of the race. She appeared to still have some steam in winning her first start on turf last time out, but that’s still a lot of question marks. Since she’s proven to be a win machine and I won’t be leaving her out of my boxes, but I can’t help but think she’ll be an underlay. If she does win, and the big four in the Classic don’t show up, she’d be my vote for Horse of the Year. The other Americans likely to get some attention are Wait A While, who was a star turf filly last year as a three-year-old, and Lahudood, who’s been consistent and was impressive in winning (somewhat surprisingly) the Flower Bowl last time out. In the case of the latter, she’s never raced on anything but firm turf, and took a pretty big step forward in her last race. Wait A While was on my radar, but trainer Todd Pletcher seems disturbingly concerned about the condition of the turf, and has even gone so far to say that Wait A While could be scratched if the turf is less than firm. That doesn’t sound like a good sign of confidence to me, even if the turf does turn up firm. A horse that’s really been more successful at distances shorter than 10f, I was trying to talk myself into giving her a chance, but Pletcher pretty much talked me out of it. There’s too much intrigue in this race, so I’ll move on. Argentina has been touted as somewhat of a “no-win-machine” as she’s yet to win in her eight career starts. However, she’s shown improvement and most noticeably has finished her races with a strong late kick. She’s yet to run this distance and there is reason to believe that she wants it. She has experience, though no victories, on soft and yielding turf, and she’s run respectably. If you like Passage of Time, then the Irish import All My Loving deserves a look as well. She’s well-classed at extraordinary distances (most on soft turf of course), and beat that one two starts back. She’s hit the board in seven of her eight starts this year. Danzon may be the wise-guy horse in this race off of her fairly impressive finish against the boys in the Turf Classic on Derby Day on yielding turf, but I prefer others. Precious Kitten will be a decent price and she’s been very consistent this year as well, but she’s primarily a 9f horse and the distance of this race poses a big question mark. The other Euros, Arravale, Timarwa and Simply Perfect appear to be a cut below, but you never know in this one.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Honey Ryder (9-2)

2. Passage of Time (7-2)

3. Nashoba’s Key (3-1)

CAN’T IGNORE: Argentina (12-1), All My Loving (15-1)

TRY TO BEAT: Wait a While (4-1), Lahudood (10-1)

Sprint, 1:35 CST, 6 furlongs

The Sprint is always one of my favorite races. It’s always so deep, so quick, so engaging. Many handicappers find this race the hardest to figure out year after year, although I’ve had much more success in this race over time than in any of the turf races. I like a lot of horses in this field and had a lot of trouble narrowing it down. In the end, I can’t dismiss Smokey Stover, a winner in five of his six starts this season at this distance. He’s posted consistently high speed figures (110,111,113) , and has shown versatility in winning races on the lead and from off the pace. He’ll start on the rail from the #1 post, which might be a concern for some, but I think it will give him the perfect opportunity to snuggle up just off the pace for a short trip, as a lot of the speed starts from much further outside. The only concern with Smokey Stover is that his only loss this year came on a wet track. He was also coming off a three month layoff in that race, so whether or not it was the wet track, the layoff or simply an off day remains to be seen. I’ll take my chances simply because he’s shown that he knows how to win, and his last victory was an impressive tuneup over this racetrack. Midnight Lute is the talk of the town after his eye-popping performance in the 7f Forego in which he earned a year-high 124 Beyer speed figure. He’ll be flying from off the pace, and I really thought he might have made the Dirt Mile more interesting, but I learned long ago not the ignore speed figures even if the race doesn’t appear to be a horse’s ideal distance. Trainer Bob Baffert has said that Midnight Lute is one of the top ten most talented horses he’s ever trained, which is no small statement. A concern with this horse is the fact that his Forego performance virtually came out of nowhere; he was somewhat of a nobody earlier this season, losing his other three starts and only hitting the board in one of them against sub-par competition. I won’t be betting him outright, but with speed figures like that, I’m admittedly afraid to leave him out of exotics. Another hot horse is Idiot Proof, who aside from the classic name boasts a victory in his last start at 6f as well as the course record at the 6f distance at Monmouth (1:07.2) from three starts back. Think that matters? It’s probably worth taking into consideration, especially since he’s likely to offer a pretty decent price. He earned a competitive 113 speed figure in that one. His ability to stalk would benefit him most here, and coming out of the #7 post, hopefully he’ll be able to avoid getting into too much of a speed duel. Another horse I like is Benny the Bull, who I have a real tough time leaving out of the trifecta. (I may just have to box four!) He’s one of the most experienced sprinters in the field, although like Midnight Lute, likes to close and could be in a bit of trouble if the course turns up sloppy. He ran a game second in the 7f Forego, posting a blazing 119 spreed figure (maybe that race was just fast for everyone?) He had a bad trip in the 6f Vanderbilt but still got up for fourth, narrowly missing the board. The underlay of the race in my opinion is Greg’s Gold, who is getting a lot of respect for losing narrowly in two of his last three trips. This begs the question, if a horse keeps running into traffic troubles in races, is that something that he is ever going to overcome or is that just an element of his nature? His top speed figures at this distance are a notch below a lot of the horses here, so he’s going to need a perfect trip to get near the board if you ask me. He’s another one who likes to close, and I like others better. On the pace, expect to see Commentator, Bordonaro and Talent Search coming over from outer posts trying to get to the lead. I generally prefer stalkers and closers in this race even though it is very short, but I’ll address each of these horses anyway. Commentator probably is the speed of the race, and has a shot if he can get away from the field on a wet course, but he has generally faded down the stretch, and demonstrated a tendency to stop running once he’s been passed. I picked Bordonaro to win this race last year and ever since then he’s seemed to be only a shadow of his former self. He only knows one gear, and that is to be on the lead, and he’s very susceptible to a speed duel with horses that at this point in time appear to be faster. Of the three, I like Talent Search best. He’s well tested at this distance, and although his speed figures aren’t world-beating, they’re more impressive than Greg’s Gold (108 top) and he also has a very impressive six length victory over this distance on the Monmouth course. He’s at risk to falling into too quick of a speed duel and fading, but if you’re a believer in the Monmouth speed bias or “horse for the course” theories, this might be your guy, and at a decent price to boot. Kelly’s Landing is the only real mystery in the race. The winner of the prestigious Dubai Golden Shaheen at Dubai in March hasn’t raced since and has appeared slightly off in his workouts. He didn’t fare well in this race last year, and I for one think the Dubai race was fairly weak despite its prestige. Winning this race off a seven month layoff would be quite a feat, and while not impossible, there are too many horses that I like in this race to spend too much time on him. Forefathers starts from the furthest outside post, and already had a lot to overcome.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Smokey Stover (7-2)

2. Midnight Lute (2-1)

3. Idiot Proof (10-1)

CAN’T IGNORE: Benny the Bull (6-1), Talent Search (15-1)

TRY TO BEAT: Greg’s Gold (9-2)

Mile, 2:20 CST, 8 furlongs

This is always one of the most difficult Breeders’ Cup races to handicap, and it isn’t made any easier this year by the addition of an extra 70 yards thanks to the Monmouth course. In any event, this race boasts everything from European imports to inconsistent American milers and horses that might need a little more than 8f to race in ideal fashion. You can probably tell by that sentence that I’m not really crazy about any of the entrants; my top two choices in this race, Shakespeare and Crossing the Line, ended up not being able to run due to injuries. So it seems as good a time as any to really go out on a limb. Kip Deville is a pure miler, and was very successful early in the year, winning his first two starts at the distance and winning from off the pace, a tactic that has been successful in this race over time. His stock dropped off after a confusing 6th place finish in the 8f Shoemaker, and his connections chose to run him on the dirt, where he wasn’t successful either. After returning to the turf, he ran a game 3rd on the Monmouth track and then looked back in peak form in losing narrowly to the aforementioned Shakespeare, who happened to be carrying seven less pounds. He’ll offer some value, and I think he’s got the best chance of the Americans because he’s tested at the distance, he’s run at Monmouth recently and has the speed to compete with the top horses here (105 and 106 Beyers at 8f). His tactical speed gives him a real shot to hang just off the pace in a race that is very rarely won wire to wire, and should get a nice spot coming out of the centrally located #8 post. My main cause for concern would be that he experienced some soreness this week which will need to be monitored over the next 48 hours. The favorite here will likely be the European import Excellent Art, who will be tough to bet against and impossible to leave out of exotics, especially on softer turf. All of his four starts have been at this distance, winning once and finishing second twice. He’s been hot of late, running consecutive seconds to top European miler Ramonti, and appears to be the classiest horse in the field. The other European to keep an eye on here is Jeremy, who appears to be a step slower than rival Excellent Art, but if that one demolishes the field, he won’t likely be far behind, and he has a real chance to hit the board (again, especially if the turf is softer than the Americans are accustomed to). He’s also been well classed, battling Ramonti to a photo finish in the 8f Queen Anne stakes. I’ve still got a soft spot for Remarkable News after his solid 8f effort two starts back in the Firecracker, where he wired the competition and posted a field-best 110 Beyer speed figure. His 4th place finish last time out wasn’t as bad as it looks on paper, and if he runs his best he could surprise at a price. Negatives include his two losses to Kip Deville and preference for firm turf, so that may be a red flag if the course turns up soft. Heavy betting will come in on American stars After Market and Nobiz Like Showbiz. In After Market’s case, he’s certainly been successful at 9f and 10f turf races, but he is 0 for 3 lifetime at this distance and may need a longer course to fully realize his potential. At the odds he’s likely to draw, I’m going to have to pass, although his closing style could come into play if the pace breaks down in front of him. Nobiz Like Showbiz was one of the premier dirt three-year-olds before the Triple Crown races, and has switched to turf recently, winning all three of his starts at 9f. I have serious questions about his ability to meander his way around Monmouth’s tight turns with his giant frame, and also don’t really see him as a miler. His speed figures also leave something to be desired compared to the best here, and he’s likely to be a huge underlay thanks to his easily recognizable name. Trippi’s Storm is the horse that beat After Market last time out, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see him in the mix here, but I still think he hasn’t found his niche and don’t have any reason to believe that this is his best distance. He reminds me a bit of Miesque’s Approval though, who won this race last year and burned me bad at long odds. I was kicking myself for weeks.  I’ll also have to throwout the lower-tier Americans Cosomaut and Purim, who haven’t fared as well against some of the tougher competition they’ve faced, and also will have big problems on softer turf. The female My Typhoon is really up against it in my opinion and she would probably benefit from an extra furlong and doesn’t have much experience against world-class male milers. Her 107 Beyer speed figure at this distance makes her worth a look at a price, but I can’t feel good about playing her. Rebellion, Host, Silent Name and Rabatash look in over their heads here, although Host has a great closing kick and could hit the board if the pace totally disintegrates. An interesting longshot here is Icy Atlantic, who comes out of the #2 post. Used as a rabbit for English Channel in last year’s turf, he’ll certainly go straight to the lead, and he has great speed. He usually fades, but this is a shorter race, so you never know. Overall, this race really comes down to how the Euros handle the unfamiliar track conditions.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Kip Deville (6-1)

2. Excellent Art (3-1)

3. Jeremy (5-1)

CAN’T IGNORE: Remarkable News (12-1)

TRY TO BEAT: After Market (7-2), Nobiz Like Showbiz (8-1)

Distaff, 3:05 CST, 9 furlongs

This is one of the deepest Distaff fields in years, as virtually every entrant has a chance to win. What will weigh the most interesting as this race plays out is how a seemingly talented group of three year-old fillies (minus likely division champ Rags to Riches) stacks up against the older horses. My success in playing this race basically depends on the accuracy of my conclusion that the three year-olds are all collectively a notch below their older competition. Unbridled Belle seems to be the hottest filly right now in this wide open field, having won her last start at this distance narrowly over tough competition. She has improved a great deal over her 2006 season and is well seasoned at the 9f distance. She’s yet to finish worse than second this year and her top speed figure of 104 puts her in contention for sure, although she gets a tough assignment coming out of a wide post. Narrow morning line favorite Indian Vale has lost her last two matches with Unbridled Belle narrowly, but this is surely her ideal distance. She struggled a bit in the middle of the year with 10f races, but she should feel comfortable here. Being on the pace in this race hasn’t traditionally been a bad thing (Round Pound and Adoration both pulled upsets recently running on the lead), and a horse to watch could be Hystericalady. A tough filly at 7f and 8f, she’s unproven beyond the 8.5f distance, but her connections chose to run in the Distaff instead of the 6f Sprint, which is probably too short for her. She’ll almost certainly try to get to the lead out of the gate from her tough #12 post, and whether or not any horses will catch her after she gets there is anybody’s guess. Her narrow loss last time out can be blamed on her general inability to handle polytrack surfaces. After her previous loss on polytrack, she rebounded with a stunning sixth length victory over this racecourse, and posted a 105 Beyer Speed figure to boot, which is tops in this race. I don’t think she’ll be able to hang on quite long enough for the win, especially after losing a lot of ground to get there, but they’ll all have to run her down at some point. As for the 3 year-old contigent, it is awfully tough to separate Octave, Lady Johanne and Lear’s Princess if you ask me. Octave and Lady Johanne have traded victories while both have beaten Lear’s Princess, who then added confusion by knocking off the star (but possibly not 100% at the time) filly Rags to Riches her last time out. I suppose I like Octave the best of the three as she’s been the most consistent and seems to relish the 9f distance, but without a speed figure above 100 between the three of them, I’ll be passing on the whole three-year old contingent. The same goes for the versatile but niche-less Panty Raid and polytrack specialists Tough Tiz’ Sis and Bear Now. Ginger Punch was one of the hottest fillies in training before her 3rd place finish in the Beldame, and now I’m starting to wonder whether or not she can get the distance. Her top speed figure (100) leaves something to be desired, and I’m not sure her rise to prominence was the result of beating very strong competition. Balance was hot early in the year on the west coast but has struggled since then, losing her last four races to some of the better horses here and not showing much fight. Teammate is classed but several steps slower than the best here, and Prop Me Up is really up against it.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Unbridled Belle (9-2)

2. Indian Vale (3-1)

3. Hystericalady (8-1)

CAN’T IGNORE: Octave (10-1)

TRY TO BEAT: Ginger Punch (7-2)

Turf, 3:50 CST, 12 furlongs

This race is comprised of the smallest field of the day with only eight entrants, so value is a little tougher to find. Dylan Thomas is likely to be the biggest favorite on the day, probably less than even money, and for good reason. He’s run against the toughest horses in Europe, winning five of his eight races and finishing second in the other three. His consistency makes him very tough to bet against, especially since Europeans have typically owned this race over time. The only real concern is how well he’ll handle the new surroundings; his only trip to America didn’t work out so well as he finished a well-beaten fourth in last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, but that was on dirt. Especially if the turf comes up softer than the Americans are used to, he can’t be left out of exotic bets for any reason and is probably the surest Pick-6 single of the day. Searching for value, I came upon Grand Couturier, who was very impressive in winning the 12f Sword Dancer two starts back over top American turf horse English Channel. He came up short last time out in the Man O’War but closed nicely and was gaining. I think he’ll benefit from the extra distance here as long as there is some sort of a pace for others to chase after, and also should have an edge due to his seasoning from having raced in Europe last year. If he’s anywhere near his morning line odds, he could be the overlay of the day. Speaking of English Channel, it’s hard to dismiss his chances. He won the 11.5f United Nations Handicap over this course which gives him a huge advantage, and posted a field-high 106 Beyer speed figure in winning the Turf Classic in his last start. He’s experienced and an old-favorite, and this could be his final race. Another old-favorite is Better Talk Now, an eight-year-old gelding who will be making his fourth straight start in this race after winning on his first try back in 2004. After missing the board in 2005, he finished a game second last year, and it’s tough to count him out. It does seem like he’s lost a step this season, as English Channel had his number last time out, but he’s raced very lightly and it wouldn’t be any surprise to see him steal the race, let alone hit the board. Last year’s winner Red Rocks returns to defend his title, although he hasn’t looked very good at all in Europe this year. Last year’s race was strange and wide-open enough for me to almost write it off as a fluke; he’s missed the board in three of his four starts in Europe so unless there’s reason to believe he was sandbagging to fool us crazy Americans again, I think there’s better places to look based on the odds he’s likely to offer. After those five, all we have to work with are Shamdinan, Transduction Gold and Fri Guy, who all look at least a tier out of their league in this one.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Dylan Thomas (7-5)

2. Grand Couturier (10-1)

3. English Channel (5-2)

CAN’T IGNORE: Better Talk Now (9-2)

TRY TO BEAT: Red Rocks (7-2)

Classic, 4:35 CST, 10 furlongs

The highly anticipated marquee race of the day features a four way battle for Horse of the Year honors. Any Given Saturday has made vast improvements since his eighth place finish in the Kentucky Derby, a race in which he sustained a foot bruise. Since then, he’s been impressive in winning his last three starts, including a convincing victory over this course in the 9f Haskell. The 113 speed figure he posted in that win puts him right in the mix. He’s still yet to win at the 10f distance, but there isn’t much reason to doubt his stamina. He’s easily the most improved three-year-old since the Triple Crown season, and if he continues to improve upon his past three races he will be the one to beat here. I also think his win over the Monmouth course two starts back gives him a huge advantage; he isn’t a deep closer and should be able to stalk the pace and make his move so I don’t worry as much about the track condition. Curlin is one of the most physically imposing racehorses of the past decade, an absolute monster of an animal that has accomplished a lot this year without any seasoning as a two-year old. He looked very strong in his stretch-running victory over Lawyer Ron last time out at this distance, and his stalking style should put him in perfect striking position. The only causes for concern include his lackluster showing two starts ago on this racecourse in the Haskell, where he was soundly beaten by Any Given Saturday, and the fact that the pace scenario doesn’t exactly set up perfectly for his grinding running style. I suppose one could wonder about how well he will maneuver his massive frame around the tight turns and short stretches of the Monmouth course on his second attempt as well, but the fact is that he has monstrous strength and might just be too talented for the rest of the field. He’s proven he can get the distance, and after the steps forward he’s taken this year I don’t worry that the Jockey Club took too much out of him. A sentimental favorite here has to be Street Sense, who I correctly picked to win the Kentucky Derby earlier this year. I’m sure his connections are happy with his #2 post, as Calvin Bo-Rail will have an opportunity to hug the rail as he loves to do and save ground for that patented closing kick. His narrow loss on polytrack in the 9f Kentucky Cup Classic is eerily familiar to his 2nd place finish in the Blue Grass before his Derby win, and his recent works have been stellar and reminiscent of his pre-Derby works as well. He’ll certainly be a factor, especially if he gets a good trip, but the other two three-year-olds have made bigger strides forward since May, and I think he’ll fall just short of the win unless he stays a little closer to the pace than he normally does. Lawyer Ron boasts the highest Beyer Speed figure in the race as a result of his Woodward triumph (119) and has proven his invincibility at the 9f distance. However, that final furlong has always given him trouble and is a major cause for concern here. He showed improvement last time out and nearly held off Curlin in the 10f Jockey Club Gold Cup, but finished 9th in last year’s Classic and 12th in last year’s Kentucky Derby in his only other career attempts at this distance. He has a tendency to be rank and try to bolt to the lead too early, which won’t bode well with such strong closing speed in this race, and I think he’s susceptible to getting caught in a speed duel with Hard Spun considering his #1 post, and that could be his downfall as he’ll be burnt out pretty quickly if he tries to keep up with that one. I also worry that his hard fought second place finish last time out took a lot out of him. Nevertheless, his speed figures alone give him a strong shot on his best day and if he’s able to rate and then get loose, the mud could play to his advantage. Hard Spun has run quite a campaign, and finally got a victory last time out, beating Street Sense in the 9f Kentucky Cup Classic. Still, I don’t think he’ll ever win at this distance, although he probably would have been my pick had his connections chose to run him in the Dirt Mile. It will certainly be entertaining watching him and Lawyer Ron battle for control of the early pace, and if either one of them gets loose in the mud, who knows; we all remember what Ghostzapper did in this race three years ago in a similar pace scenario, although I don’t think either horse is nearly as gifted as he was. Tiago is another three-year old who has shown much improvement and probably has the most dangerous stretch kick in the field, but I still think he’s a few steps slower than the top three-year olds and am going to avoid taking a deep closer in this race. European invader George Washington will try his hand again at the Classic after finishing sixth a year ago. While talented, he still has yet to demonstrate any success over such a long distance and would probably have a much better chance in the Mile; I can’t like him too much in this one. I still think that Diamond Stripes had a big chance in the Dirt Mile and can’t imagine why his connections chose to run him here against this field, although maybe they see something I don’t. Sure, he’s hit the board in all five starts this year (all 9f), but has never raced 10f in his career, and has been beaten twice by Lawyer Ron without really showing much closing kick. Awesome Gem has had some success on the West Coast and also finishes well, but he is a bit overmatched here.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Any Given Saturday (4-1)

2. Curlin (3-1)

3. Street Sense (3-1)

CAN’T IGNORE: Lawyer Ron (5-2)

TRY TO BEAT: Hard Spun (8-1)

College Football Recap- Week 8

October 22, 2007

Les Miles may have officially lost his mind Saturday night. Nevertheless, another in a series of incredibly ballsy calls resulted again in an LSU victory and kept the Tigers’ national title hopes very much alive. For those that didn’t stay up to see the conclusion, this might have been the best game of the year so far. LSU battled back from a 17-7 halftime deficit to take a 23-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Auburn put together a strong drive on their next possession and scored the go-ahead touchdown with two mintues left in the game. LSU benefited from a very, very generous spot on 3rd and long during their first drive, but almost certainly would have converted on 4th down and short, right? Auburn didn’t challenge the spot, which was probably a big mistake. LSU was able to drive the football to the Auburn 22, had a timeout left and a 3rd down play coming up. Common sense would usually dictate a running play to center the ball for a potential game-winning and season saving field goal.

Oddly, the clock kept running. LSU lined up to run another play. Did they know that the clock was running? It was amazing how the announcers basically ignored this very unusual development. 15 seconds, 14 seconds, 13 seconds…they still haven’t snapped the ball yet! What are they doing? They’re going to run out of time and lose the game! Then, the unthinkable unfolded. Matt Flynn dropped back and threw a perfect pass to an incredibly well-covered Demetrius Byrd in the end zone for the winning touchdown as time essentially expired. Looking back, if the pass was immediately incomplete, LSU might have been able to get a second or two back on the clock after a review, but had the pass been bobbled, tipped (or heaven forbid-intercepted!), it would have meant a season destroying loss and a lot of questions for Miles. In the end, it worked out, and Miles showed an unprecedented amount of confidence in his offense (albeit at the expense of showing a complete lack of confidence in his field goal kicker Colt David, who had already made three kicks earlier in the game). I loved it, but still found the decision to be completely wacko, which is probably why it worked so well. No one expects anyone to shoot for the end zone when a field goal will win the game.

Meanwhile, Rutgers knocked off South Florida at home in another great football game Thursday night, keeping the Scarlet Knights in the hunt for a BCS berth. South Florida’s cinderella hopes for a national championship game are gone now, but that win over Auburn is starting to look better and better, and this is not a team that should be taken lightly. Kansas and Missouri kept rolling as well in what is turning into a surprisingly exciting Big 12 North race. After Oklahoma’s struggles Saturday with 1-6 Iowa State, they’ll need to step it up if they hope to beat either of these hot teams in the Big 12 championship.

In other SEC action, Florida’s offense proved superior in a battle of Heisman candidates  in a 45-37 win over Kentucky. Both Tebow and Woodson through in amazing performances and threw for nine touchdowns between them. They certainly have to be considered the front-runners in the Heisman race after this weekend. Alabama football is officially back as they thrashed a defenseless Tennessee squad 41-17, and South Carolina finally showed their true colors in losing to Vanderbilt at home. In the Pac-10, California has more people scratching their heads as they lost a second straight game, this time against the most bipolar team in the nation, UCLA.

Ohio State remains the #1 team in the nation after holding on for a 24-17 victory over Michigan State. Things are finally going to get tough for the Buckeyes, who have surprised no one by winning all eight of their impossibly easy games. Steve Spurrier’s post-game comments about how Vanderbilt would be #1 in the BCS if they had played Ohio State’s schedule certainly got a laugh out of me. Anyway, the point is that a lot of these undefeated teams seem to be moving up by default, and by the end of the season I imagine the top ten picture is going to look very much different that it currently does after all schedules are played out in their entirety. The Buckeyes get Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan to end the season.

GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK:

#3 Boston College at #5 Virginia Tech, 6:30 CST ESPN, Thursday: The second consecutive Thursday night contest with championship implications will be Boston College’s first real challenge of the season. Virginia Tech is finally starting to play like the team that many expected to see, and will be a very tough foe at home on a Thursday. Boston College has played well, but anticipate that Matt Ryan won’t have as much success against a stout Hokie defense.

#9 West Virginia at #21 Rutgers, 11:00 AM, ABC: The Scarlet Knights get another important Big East battle at home. This is the game that I expected to decide the Big East champion and it still very well may.

#7 USC at #15 Oregon, 2:00: Here are two one-loss Pac-10 teams that are both still kicking themselves for losing home games that they probably should have won. Each team still has life in the title hunt, but this game will eliminate one and likely determine the conference champion. I’m still not completely sold on Oregon’s defense, but they’ll have a chance to prove me wrong against a USC offense that appears to be clicking again.

#6 Florida at #25 Georgia, 2:30 CBS: The world’s greatest outdoor cocktail party figures to be a lopsided affair if the Bulldogs don’t find some answers on defense in a hurry. Florida remains the best two loss team in the country by a considerable margin.

#18 South Carolina at #24 Tennessee, 6:45 ESPN: Two middle of the pack SEC teams will try to turn things around after painful losses last weekend.

#1 Ohio State at Penn State, 7:00 ABC: The Buckeyes finally get a moderate test after managing their way through an incredibly soft eight games of their schedule. Happy Valley at night will be a huge wake-up call after what the Buckeyes are used to playing, but with one of the toughest defenses in the nation, Ohio State will probably find a way to win here.

#14 California at #11 Arizona State, 9:00: California finds itself in a surprising must-win situation just three weeks after winning a huge game at Oregon and entering the national title conversation. Those hopes are officially gone now after last week’s loss to UCLA, but now they have a chance to salvage the season by winning tough upcoming games against Arizona State and USC. This road test will be the first challenge, as the Sun Devils look to stay undefeated and work their way into the national title debate. They still face Oregon and USC after the Bears come to town.

TOP 25 OF THE MATTY

  1. Ohio State (8-0)
  2. LSU (7-1)
  3. Boston College (7-0)
  4. Oklahoma (6-1)
  5. Virginia Tech (6-1)
  6. Florida (5-2)
  7. USC (6-1)
  8. South Florida (6-1)
  9. West Virginia (6-1)
  10. Hawaii (10-0)
  11. Arizona State (7-0)
  12. Kansas (7-0)
  13. Missouri (6-1)
  14. California (5-2)
  15. Oregon (6-1)
  16. Auburn (5-3)
  17. Michigan (6-2)
  18. South Carolina (6-2)
  19. Kentucky (6-2)
  20. Alabama (6-2)
  21. Rutgers (5-2)
  22. Virginia (7-1)
  23. Texas (6-2)
  24. Tennessee (4-3)
  25. Georgia (5-2)

HEISMAN WATCH:

  1. Tim Tebow, Florida
  2. Andre Woodson, Kentucky
  3. Matt Ryan, Boston College
  4. Mike Hart, Michigan
  5. Darren McFadden, Arkansas

MUSIC REVIEWS- Radiohead!

October 21, 2007

Radiohead/ In Rainbows, 9.8/10

Anytime Radiohead has an album release within sight, general mayhem ensues within its widespread, almost cult-following of a fanbase. The five piece superband from England has arguably turned itself into the world’s biggest (and greatest) band over the past decade, slowly evolving and innovating after 1997’s landscape-changing OK Computer (the greatest album that will ever be recorded, by anyone) and 2000’s experimental masterpiece Kid A. So when the band announced on the first day of October that they would be releasing a brand new album nine days later, and without a label, it isn’t hard to imagine the frenzy that resulted from hard-core fans and the music industry at large, with some speculating that the peculiar release style was somewhat of a cover for the band’s inevitable musical decline. Leave it to Radiohead to shock everyone, in every way possible, once again. With In Rainbows, Radiohead achieves its most beautifully calculated collection of songs to date within an arrangement that flows as though it were a symphony, and the end result is their greatest album since Kid A. Thom Yorke’s voice has never sounded better, and the addition of string elements on many of the tracks flow together brilliantly, demonstrating the band’s reborn focus on the music itself and away from the experimentation that drove some fans away in recent years (although not this fan…).

Still, to say that In Rainbows is a retreat back into the realm of the band’s beginnings of The Bends would a vastly incorrect assessment. The album is certainly more musical than Amnesiac, Hail to The Thief or Kid A, but still sounds completely different than anything the band has ever recorded. Instead of retreating back to the arena-rock guitar that gave the band its beginnings, Radiohead enters new territory on this album, focusing on the pure beauty that they have always been able to create and stringing it together over an entire album. Opener “15 Step” begins with syncopated drum beats that initially render memories of past experimental tracks, but once the catchy guitar riff comes in, we know we are in for a treat. The track isn’t as immediately gripping as something like “Everything in Its Right Place” or even “2+2=5”, but it accomplishes its purpose in setting a great tone for the album, subdued and dark but still upbeat, complete with the sound of cheering children mixed into the background. After that, the album’s only “rocky” track follows. “Bodysnatchers” reminds me of “Electioneering” off of OK Computer in that the song is good, yet seems out of balance with the rest of the album. Midway through, the song switches pace into an atmospheric, soaring guitar line. For those awaiting a return to the rock-style tunes of the band’s early material, this is as close as this album gets, but even this somewhat perplexing track manages to move into the future rather than sinking into the past.

What follows is arguably the most amazing twenty minutes of consecutive music that Radiohead has ever recorded. The onslaught of fantastic tunes begins with the long-awaited recording of crowd-favorite “Nude”, a song that I can remember playing on my acoustic guitar in my fraternity room back in the year 2000. The song has undergone quite a transition since then, but Radiohead nails it by recording a version that is hopelessly pretty beyond explanation. We get a full blast of orchestral string notes through the soft, intimately produced track, which carries itself on the strength of some of Yorke’s best vocal work to date. I was a sucker for the old glockenspiel version which was more chorus driven, but I have to admit that boys really nailed it with this one. “Weird Fishes/ Arpeggi” follows with its rolling percussion, submerged-underwater guitar rhythms and some more great vocal work by Yorke, eventually building into a classic Radiohead crescendo and one of the album’s greatest surprises. Leave it to Thom to make a strange and simple line like “I get eaten by the worms/ And weird fishes” so heartbreaking. And then there’s “All I Need”, which is probably my favorite song on the whole album. The track opens with a deep string arrangement, heavy bass and a dancy drum rhythm and rolls along with suave persistence. What could have been a simple romantic tune succeeds as one of the band’s greatest songs ever behind glockenspiel notes, deep strings and an eerie simplicity before exploding into a piano-based crescendo supporting Yorke’s soaring vocals the likes of which we haven’t heard from these guys since “Let Down.”

When the tracklist was made public, serious fans were able to easily recognize the titles of almost every song as a result of the band’s 2006 tour. The lone mystery was a two minute track titled “Faust Arp”, which almost everyone wrote off as something that almost certainly had to be an instrumental interlude in the same spirit as “Treefingers” or “Hunting Bears.” Again, leave it to Radiohead to surprise everyone. This little Beatles-esque acoustic tune integrates some of the album’s best use of string instruments and serves as the perfect glue for In Rainbows. The shocks continue on the next track, which is titled “Reckoner” but bears no resemblance whatsoever to the unreleased track of the same name that the band has played on numerous occasions live. And to say that the new “Reckoner” is better is a massive understatement. Yorke sings in falsetto on a high octave throughout the seemingly redundant but impossibly beautiful first half of the song before the tune slows down to a crawl and picks back up again with more strings, tambourines and more great vocal work by Yorke.

If the album has a weak link, it has to be “House of Cards”, not because it is a bad song or because it doesn’t fit from a continuity point of view. I just don’t think that Radiohead should ever sound like this– not this jazzy, this mood-musicy, this carefree or soft, nor should Thom ever sing the line “I don’t want to be your friend/ I just want to be your lover.” Some people love it, so to each his own I suppose. Moving along, the band hits us with a jangly, upbeat tune called “Jigsaw Falling Into Place,” which outdoes previous post-Bends attempts at guitar-rock such as “Go To Sleep” in terms of intensity and musical quality while still flowing wonderfully with the album’s somber tone. Yorke adds a classic vocal rant at the end after repeating another decidedly un-Radiohead-like line, “The beat goes round and round!”

In Rainbows lets us down softly as all Radiohead’s great albums have (see previous closers, “Street Spirit”, “The Tourist”, “Motion Picture Soundtrack”, “Life In A Glass House” and “A Wolf at the Door”. Wow…) with “Videotape”, a tune that isn’t necessarily as good as any of those previous closers but one that couldn’t fit the album any more perfectly. That’s the beauty of Radiohead; you don’t always get the ten best songs from a recording session, but you can bet your life that you’re going to get the songs that work the best within one another. The band looks at music as a piece of art, the sum of its parts. This is the reason why the band refuses to sell its music on iTunes, because they don’t subscribe to the idea that music should be purchased as individual pieces. The band puts a great deal of time, effort and work into their album arrangement, and this is something that they take very seriously. As for “Videotape”, a simple piano line opens underneath Yorke’s haunting lyric, “When I’m at the pearly gates/ this will be in/ the videotape.” The song is almost frustrating in its simple beauty and almost intentional lack of building into anything that resembles the crescendo that listeners have come to expect from previous closers. Again, the beauty of Radiohead lies within their ability to shock and amaze and always keep the listener guessing as to what they possibly have up their sleeves next.

“Videotape” ends on a note that almost seems like a swansong. With its obvious references to death, it almost feels as though the band is saying goodbye. And after reaching that conclusion, one has to look back at the overall tone of the album and realize that the entire feel of In Rainbows seems to suggest an underlying sadness. I certainly hope that the band isn’t done making music, but if they are, they’ve certainly gone out on quite a high note. This album is simply crushing, and I’d be amazed if anyone makes anything better for at least five years.

College Football Recaps- Weeks 6 and 7

October 17, 2007

Well, I’ve been awfully busy lately and haven’t had time to update this blog much. In the meantime, the 2007 college football season has completely lost its mind. Who could have ever in their wildest dreams imagined that when the first BCS rankings were revealed that it would look like this?

1. Ohio State (how are they scoring so many points anyway?)

2. South Florida (is that a typo? Don’t you mean Florida? Miami? Florida State? Eh?)

3. Boston College (didn’t Doug Flutie graduate in 1985?)

I’m still not giving South Florida the credit that they probably deserve as I have them just outside the top five still despite their undefeated record and road victories at Auburn and West Virginia. Honestly, has a team ever skyrocketed up the polls as quickly as the Bulls have? I suppose they’re worthy, but can’t justify placing them ahead of either LSU or Oklahoma just yet. LSU lost a heartbreaker in triple overtime against a very game Kentucky squad on the road, and Oklahoma continues to roll on after losing their focus and losing narrowly to Colorado two weeks ago.

As far as Boston College and Ohio State go, I still see them losing this year at least once, especially in the case of the former, who still has to visit Virginia Tech and then win the ACC championship game. Ohio State has an easier road, but going into Ann Arbor to finish the season won’t be easy with the way Michigan has suddenly turned things around. And how much would the Wolverines love to spoil the Buckeye’s chances at earning another trip to the national championship? Actually, it might mean even more than that for the Wolverines; it could mean a trip to the Rose Bowl in what would be one of college football’s greatest season turnarounds ever.

But honestly, let’s not make the initial shock of this particular top three into that big of a deal. What is surprising isn’t that any of those three teams are undefeated, but rather that several other teams that were supposed to be ahead of them lost a lot earlier than anyone expected. If we still had an undefeated contingent of LSU, USC and Oklahoma like everyone thought we would going into week 8, no one would be nearly as surprised to see Ohio State, South Florida and Boston College at #s 4, 5 and 6. And as a sidenote, we’ve still got undefeated Hawaii, Arizona State and Kansas hiding underneath the top 10. (Yes, Kansas). The way this season is going so far, crazier things have happened.

That’s why they play the games I guess. Did I mention there are more games to play?

GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK:

#6 South Florida at Rutgers, 6:30 CST Thursday, ESPN: Okay, so the Bulls aren’t very happy with me for keeping them at #6. Rutgers has a virtual must-win game on its hands. Remember what they did last year against an undefeated title contender in Thursday night action? South Florida’s defense has been stout, but Ray Rice and crew will be a handfull at home, and I’m expecting Rutgers to pull the upset here and get back in the mix.

#19 Tennessee at #23 Alabama, 11:30 AM: Aside from being a great SEC rivalry matchup of storied programs, this game is intriguing based on the current state of each team. Both at 4-2 and trying to rebuild, the winner takes a big step forward. The Tide will benefit from the homefield advantage, but I still think the Vols have too much firepower.

#8 Florida at #12 Kentucky, 2:30 PM, CBS: The Cats are still riding high off of arguably the biggest win in the history of the program last week against LSU. Can they possibly knock off the SEC’s two biggest foes in back to back weeks? If they do, they’ll have a strong case at a BCS bowl game and maybe even the national championship. I’m still betting that Florida will find a way to win, but can’t believe that Kentucky is a 7 point dog at home.

Texas Tech at #18 Missouri, 2:30 PM, ABC: Missouri didn’t lose any respect from anyone last week as they played Oklahoma pretty much to the wire on the road. Texas Tech is starting to look pretty sick offensively, and are a triple overtime loss to Oklahoma State away from being undefeated themselves. This is a great matchup of star quarterbacks in Graham Harrell and Chase Daniel. Expect to see some points.

#9 USC at Notre Dame, 2:30, NBC: This is worth mentioning only because of the history involved. Wow, this game sure has lost a lot of luster. I can’t imagine it will be very close, as USC has a lot to prove if they want to get back into the title hunt, and we all know how much they love beating up on the Irish.

#21 Michigan at Illinois, 7:00, ABC: The Wolverines can officially get back on track if they can pull out a victory on the road against a pesky Illini squad that has already upset Penn State and Wisconsin. Mike Hart leads the nation in rushing and is expected to play despite being injured in the first half last week against Purdue. Illinois’ loss at Iowa last week proved that they’re still, well, Illinois, and they’ll have their hands full here with a a team that might end up being as good as they were supposed to be by season’s end.

#16 Auburn at #3 LSU, 8:00 PM, ESPN: Another LSU night game? Sign me up! This should be one of the day’s best games, as two stellar defenses collide in one of college football’s greatest settings. Auburn was incredibly impressive last week in holding the two-headed monster of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones to only 83 yards rushing, and actually are starting to look a lot better on paper if South Florida is really the 2nd best team in America. On the other hand, LSU is still very good and is going to be very angry. I wouldn’t want to be in Auburn’s shoes for this one.

TOP 25 OF THE MATTY

  1. Ohio State (7-0)
  2. Boston College (7-0)
  3. LSU (6-1)
  4. Oklahoma (5-1)
  5. Virginia Tech (6-1)
  6. South Florida (6-0)
  7. California (5-1)
  8. Florida (4-2)
  9. USC (5-1)
  10. Hawaii (6-0)
  11. South Carolina (6-1)
  12. Kentucky (6-1)
  13. West Virginia (5-1)
  14. Oregon (5-1)
  15. Arizona State (7-0)
  16. Auburn (5-2)
  17. Kansas (6-0)
  18. Missouri (5-1)
  19. Tennessee (4-2)
  20. Georgia (5-2)
  21. Michigan (5-2)
  22. Maryland (4-2)
  23. Alabama (5-2)
  24. Kansas State (4-2)
  25. Cincinnati (6-1)

HEISMAN RACE

  1. Andre Woodson, Kentucky
  2. Mike Hart, Michigan
  3. Matt Ryan, Boston College
  4. Tim Tebow, Florida
  5. Darren McFadden, Arkansas

College Football Ramblings….

October 14, 2007
Another crazy day in college football– #1 and #2 go down. LSU had a better excuse as they fought hard and finally succombed to a tough road opponent, while Cal lost an unthinkable home game to an Oregon State team that had seemed all but dead. I have to collect my thoughts…

The Heisman race took another upside-down spin today. To me, Andre Woodson is still the frontrunner. Darren McFadden and DeSean Jackson took big steps backwards. Mike Hart rushed for over 100 yards before leaving with an injury. Tim Tebow was off. We’ll see…

In the meantime, my Hoosiers entered the day with a huge chance in a winnable game, but once again the defense was disastrous. As a requiem, I have attached last week’s AP Poll because I didn’t even even realize that Indiana was as close to the Top 25 as they actually were. In fact, if they had won today they probably would have entered the Top 25, which is absolutely insane. Anyway, just for the sake of future hilarity, please take note that they somehow had more votes from the AP than Michigan did! That is just silly and worth noting; unfortunately, it will no longer be the case tomorrow morning.

We Hoosier fans take what we can get though when it comes to the pigskin. It’s not over yet, Big Red!

 

MISC. UPDATE

October 11, 2007

Loyal readers,

I’ve been out of the city for awhile, on a five day trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley. I’m hitting the Interpol and Spoon concerts the next couple of nights and won’t have a ton of time to update the blog. Might I point out a couple of exciting developments that I hope to elaborate upon further in the coming weeks:

– RADIOHEAD released a new album out of the blue. Considering I’ve had to wait THREE long, grueling years for this to happen, there couldn’t be much bigger news in my world right now. I just got the album, gave it a first listen. That’s all I’m going to say about that for now.

– USC lost to the lowly Stanford Cardinal at home! The Trojans were 40 point favorites! How does that happen? Meanwhile, Les Miles pulled possibly the ballsiest thing I’ve ever seen and went for it on 4th and 1 on the Florida five, trailing by only three with under two minutes to go. You’d think that the Tigers would like their chances at home in overtime and wouldn’t want to risk giving the game (and effectively the season) away with such a chancey play. But Miles had confidence in his offense, and they pulled off a remarkable comeback victory that has them positioned firmly as the team to beat.

I tasted over 100 wines in the past week and ate pretty darn well in the process, so there’ll be more on that as well.