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Getting Down to Sixteen
[Posted Sun. p.m., prior to conclusion of late NCAA tournament games]
NCAA Tournament Quiz: Name the starting five for the 2015-16 national champion Villanova Wildcats, 77-74 winners over North Carolina. Answer below.
--I thought Thursday’s slate of games was outstanding. In eight of the 16, we had a great contest heading into the final minutes, and/or a scintillating individual performance worth the price of admission. Power Six schools were pushed to the max by mid-majors, or taken out.
15 Bradley lost to 2 Michigan State 76-65, but it was 58-55 Spartans with just 3:30 left.
4 Florida State needed to play its best down the stretch to hold off 13 Vermont 76-69.
14 Yale opened this editor’s eyes in staying even with 3 LSU to the end before falling 79-74.
The nation learned of Wofford’s Fletcher Magee, who in hitting 7-of-12 from downtown, became the NCAA’s all-time leader in made threes, the Terriers beating Seton Hall 84-68 with a late 17-2 run.
And we had a terrific battle between 6 Maryland and 11 Belmont, the Terps prevailing 79-77. I watched the entire last three contests for Belmont, including their play-in win over Temple, and the Ohio Valley Conference championship game against Murray State, and what a fun team the Bruins are. Easily the most entertaining squad that is more than one individual I saw all year.
We had the coming out party for Ja Morant in 12 Murray State’s whipping of 5 Marquette 83-64, Morant showing the nation what only hoops junkies knew before...this guy is a lock top three in the lottery, along with Zion and RJ. All Morant did Thursday was have 17 points, 11 rebounds, and 16 assists. It was his “Pro Day.”
And then we had the totally bizarre finish to the 12 New Mexico State vs. 5 Auburn contest. New Mexico State lost in the last second 78-77, but the Aggies’ AJ Harris had an opportunity to send the game into overtime when in the closing moments he rushed up court and suddenly had a clear lane for a layup, as if the waters had parted, and inexplicably at the moment he should have been laying it in, he threw it back out beyond the arc for teammate Terrell Brown, who was fouled on a 3-point attempt.
So then Brown, the Aggies’ down 78-76, had a chance to make all three for the probable win, there being about 2 seconds left, but he only made one, yet somehow New Mexico State got the rebound and a deflection set up one last attempt at a game-winner with one second left, only Trevelin Queen air-balled it from the corner and the game entered the Hall of Fame of “What-Could-Have-Beens”.
But then we had 10 Florida’s 70-61 win over 7 Nevada, your season-long Bar Chat “Pick to Click.” Yes, I get there was a reason why the tournament committee gave the Wolfpack a 7 when the last AP poll had them a 5-seed.
I’ve followed the team closely all year and they were a deserving top ten most of the campaign, but, yes, down the stretch they played like crap, including two losses to San Diego State, and coach Eric Musselman, despite a gaudy 86-20 record the last three seasons, didn’t do a good job with a team that was loaded with talent.
--Friday, we didn’t have anywhere near the amount of tight contests, but 12 Liberty picked up its first NCAA tournament win, 80-76 over 5 Mississippi State in perhaps the best game of the day.
Pete M.’s 15-seed Colgate played 2 Tennessee tough to the end before falling 77-70, hoops fans seeing the Raiders’ Jordan Burns for the first time and the guard impressed bigly with 32 points in a spectacular performance.
11 Ohio State defeated 6 Iowa State as Wake Forest grad transfer Keyshawn Woods, who should have been playing his final year in Winston-Salem, picked a good time for his best game of the season, playing all 40 minutes and scoring 19 points (3-of-6 from three) with zero turnovers.
And there was 16 Gardner-Webb taking on 1 Virginia.
I liked this headline in the Washington Post after Virginia, having been down early, and then 30-16 with 6:30 left in the first half, was seemingly on the verge of another historic disaster.
“Before Virginia could advance past Gardner-Webb, it had to survive itself”
Jerry Brewer / Washington Post
“After watching Virginia play another dismal half against a No. 16 seed, Tony Bennett stopped before entering the locker room. The coach huddled with his assistants, discussed a few game details and dismissed them with a strong demand about how to handle the woozy players.
“ ‘Uplift them,’ Bennett said.
“To avoid a repeat NCAA tournament apocalypse, to avoid deja boo, to avoid eternal damnation as a fraudulent No. 1 seed and reclaim some dignity with a 71-56 victory over Gardner-Webb on Friday, Bennett wanted composure, extraordinary composure, something beyond even Virginia’s normal level of nerveless basketball. It was the coaches’ chance to show their maturation.
“At halftime of the infamous loss to Maryland Baltimore County last season, Cavaliers guard Ty Jerome recalled an assistant barging in and ‘screaming at us.’ The score was tied, but ‘we felt their panic,’ Jerome said. So the Cavaliers choked, ended up losing by 20 and went down in history as the first No. 1 to lose to a No. 16 in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“A year wiser, a year hardened from wearing that epic failure every day, they knew how not to act, if nothing else. They respected, and perhaps feared, the difficulty of having to be Goliath without the aura. Down 36-30 to Gardner-Webb after 20 minutes, the team needed to be charged, not shamed.
“ ‘Don’t panic, but play with fight,’ Bennett told his players.”
After playing a solid second half, the Cavaliers and their fans exhaled. They were moving on.
--Saturday, it was essentially all chalk and save for 6 Maryland vs. 3 LSU, Kentucky vs. Wofford, and Ja Morant’s first half against Florida State, it was pretty boring.
In the Maryland game, the Terps, who will be top six or seven next year if they can get their players to return, let the Tigers’ Tremont Waters drive the lane with 1.6 seconds to play, Waters with a sweet scoop shot for the 69-67 win. So on to the Sweet 16 goes a team that many believe shouldn’t even be playing in the tournament due to the scandal surrounding their now-suspended coach, Will Wade.
7 Wofford then faced off against 2 Kentucky and despite Fletcher Magee going a beyond pathetic 0-for-12 from downtown, after his lights out performance against Seton Hall, the Terriers were right there, down 58-54 with 2:00 to go, when they missed a layup and then a put-back, Kentucky winning 62-56.
But congratulations to Wofford. No doubt applications to the school will soar (in relative terms).
The game I was looking forward to all day, 12 Murray State and 4 Florida State, started out scintillating as Ja Morant hit one three after another, 5-of-5 in the first half, 18 points, but the Racers didn’t show up on defense, the Seminoles scoring at will for a 50-34 halftime lead, on the way to their 90-62 drubbing of Morant and Co.
Ja ended up with 28 and this guy is destined for superstardom for sure at the next level.
I would think if you were Kevin Durant and seriously looking at free agency, you don’t go to the Knicks. But...if the Knicks drafted Ja Morant, Durant and others will be seriously tempted. They know he’ll be fun to play with, and get you the ball for your points.
As in if the Knicks get the No. 2 pick in the lottery, they have to take Morant over RJ Barrett, for starters.
Well after the Murray State game, I went to a local watering hole to quaff a few with Bobby C., the former fireballing left-hander from high school, then fighter pilot, and now commercial airline pilot, and we half-watched the last few games as we dissected the Boeing 737 MAX issue, Bobby having flown the aircraft and explaining to me all the procedures one has to employ when the MCAS software is activated. But I digress....
Anyway, 1 Gonzaga had no problem with 9 Baylor, 83-71, behind forward Brandon Clarke’s 36, 15-of-18 from the field.
And 3 Purdue cruised past defending champion and 6-seed Villanova, 87-61, as the Boilermakers’ Carsen Edwards shined, the junior going off for 42 on 9-of-16 from three.
5 Auburn beat 4 Kansas 89-75, thus ending the Jayhawks’ miserable season, compared to the expectations in the preseason, when they were AP No. 1 in the rankings, followed by Kentucky, Gonzaga and Duke.
Bill Self had his hands full with injuries, suspensions, all kinds of stuff going on at KU.
--Sunday, what a terrific first game...10 Iowa and 2 Tennessee. The Volunteers took a 49-28 halftime lead, having been up 25, and then the Hawkeyes roared back, sending the game to overtime, onto to lose 83-77, as the Vols’ Grant Williams improved his draft status with 19 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks (but 5 turnovers).
1 North Carolina had no trouble with 9 Washington 81-59, freshman Nassir Little with 20 points in 21 minutes off the bench.
And then we had 1 Duke and 9 UCF. A classic I’ll have more on next chat.
Duke led 44-36 at the half after a rough start adjusting to the presence of 7’6” Tacko Fall for UCF.
But the Knights hung tough throughout the second half and after Duke’s Javin DeLaurier missed two free throws with 1:09 left, UCF was up 74-73.
And then after two UCF free throws from B.J. Taylor with 0:45 left it was 76-73 Knights. Zion Williamson scored at 0:14 to make it 76-75, fouled by Tacko Fall, but RJ Barrett scooped up Zion’s miss at the foul line, converting it to make it 77-76 Duke with 0:11 left.
So UCF called a timeout, and B.J. Taylor missed a jumper at 0:03, rebounded by Johnny Dawkins’ son, Aubrey, and he missed the tip shot. A startling finish.
Zion had 32 points and 11 rebounds. Duke moves on.
Much more on this game next time.
--Another ACC entrant, 4 Virginia Tech, beat 12 Liberty 67-58, as Justin Robinson continues to get back in shape after his foot injury; 13 points, 4 assists. The Hokies might surprise a bunch of folks next week if Robinson, a critical cog, is 100 percent.
And 3 Texas Tech took out 6 Buffalo 78-58. It’s a shame the Bison won’t make the Sweet Sixteen.
--Outside of the tournament, Wake Forest fans are incredulous that Danny Manning is returning to coach a sixth season, the school making the announcement Friday. As I wrote a few weeks ago, our long-time athletic director, Ron Wellman, is retiring after 27 years, replaced by John Currie, a Wake grad and one-time successful AD at Kansas State. I supported the move.
But while Wellman wasn’t leaving until May 1st, some of us assumed the change in AD was a natural time to clear the deck and fire Manning, massive buyout be damned.
Wrong. The buyout was everything and Wellman, apparently without input from Currie, made the move to bring Danny back. What a disaster for all of us, including Currie.
The only possible way we’d have a shot at a .500 season next year is if all of our players, including freshman Jaylen Hoard, return, but that won’t be the case. No way. We’ll thus be even worse next season.
It’s sickening. And what a way for Ron Wellman to go out.
Dan Collins / Winston-Salem Journal
“All along, I assured myself that surely Ron Wellman and the powers that be at Wake had seen what we all have seen over the past five years, that Danny Manning is hopelessly over-matched as a head ACC basketball coach.
“All along, I assured myself that Ron Wellman would at least attempt to clean up the hot steaming mess he created with his last two basketball hires before he rides off into the sunset come May 1.
“All along, I told myself time and again that surely Ron Wellman would not hang a 6-10 albatross around the neck of his successor John Currie, and ensure that Currie’s first basketball season would be chest deep in a raging river of rancor, bile and acrimony.
“All along, I just knew in my heart, Wake would have to cut ties with Manning. All along I knew there was no way he could be retained.
“And all along I was wrong.
“Wellman, ducking the question about the buyout, had the brass to stand up before the assembled media and proclaim that the call to retain Danny Manning as head basketball coach at Wake was ‘strictly a basketball decision.’
“This was coming, lest we forget, from the man who stood before us all to say he was firing a coach with a 61-31 record [Ed. Dino Gaudio] because of his inability to win in late-season and postseason play. This was coming, lest we forget, from the man who told us that only weeks before hiring a coach who had never won an NCAA tournament game [Jeff Bzdelik]....
“No, there’s only one explanation that Danny Manning is still the basketball coach at Wake, and will be for the foreseeable future.
“It’s certainly not Manning’s won-loss record of 65-93, and worse yet, 25-71 against the ACC coaches he was hired to beat [including 1-5 in the ACC tournament.]....
“It’s certainly not any bond or connection the aloof Manning has established with the fan base or media over his first five seasons.
“It’s certainly not the inability to graduate more than one player recruited by Manning over his first five years.
“And it’s certainly not the mass exodus of 18 players voting with their feet by departing the program with eligibility remaining....
“No, there’s one explanation and one explanation only that makes sense as to why Danny Manning is being retained as head basketball coach at Wake.
“Ron Wellman, early in the 2017-18 season, signed Manning to a contract extension that contained a buyout so exorbitant that the school, two 20-loss seasons later, couldn’t see its way to pay. And this is not only on Wellman, but on anyone and everyone who approved the extension.
“Think for just one second about what Manning had proven when the extension was offered and signed. At that point Manning was 83-86 as a head college basketball coach and had managed only two cameos in the NCAA Tournament. Yes, he had secured a recruiting class that some were saying would turn the program’s fortunes around, but, again, lest we forget, some were saying the same thing about the recruiting class of J.T. Terrell, Travis McKie, Tony Chenault, Carson Desrosiers and Melvin Tabb back in 2010 and the one of Devin Thomas, Codi Miller-McIntyre, Tyler Cavanaugh, Madison Jones, Aaron Rountree, Arnaud Adala Moto and Andre Washington in 2013.
“No, on the day the contract extension was announced, Nov. 25, 2017, Manning was 2-4 in the new season having already lost to Georgia Southern, Liberty and Drake. He had proven nothing – other than he was hopelessly over-matched as an ACC coach. There was no college program in the country that wanted to hire Danny Manning away. And there were precious few people at Wake the least bit concerned that some school might.
“And that’s when Ron Wellman locked Danny Manning to an extension that two 20-loss seasons later, the school couldn’t find a way to pay itself out from under. And because of that Wellman and the powers that be (and I’m talking here about Nathan Hatch [the school president] and the board of trustees and one particular well-heeled alum who has his name on the brand-spanking new building) have resigned anyone and everyone who ever cared about Wake basketball to at least one more season of hopeless misery and rank despair.
“I always thought the hiring of Jeff Bzdelik as head coach was the dumbest decision of my lifetime of covering basketball.
“And I hate that for Ron, a man with whom I built a strong and at times really warm relationship during my days on the beat, and who now will be doomed to Wake basketball infamy.
“I hate it for the new guy, John Currie, whose honeymoon as Wake’s new director of athletics is doomed before it even begins.
“I hate it for any player playing basketball at Wake who still harbors the fantasy of ever playing in the NCAA Tournament or finishing better than 10th in the ACC standings.
“I even hate it for Danny Manning, the coach nobody wants who will be coaching Wake next year. With every loss, of games and/or personnel, Manning will sink ever deeper in the pit of ignominy.”
2018-19: 11-20 (4-14...ACC)
2017-18: 11-20 (4-14)
2016-17: 19-14 (9-9...lose in NCAA Tournament play-in game)
2015-16: 11-20 (2-16)
2014-15: 13-19 (5-13)
24-66 ACC, 25-71 including ACC tournament play.
Sunday morning, I was driving around doing errands and getting pissed off all over again with Wellman’s move. I demand that Robert Mueller, now finished with his special counsel duties, be appointed by Wake fans to do a probe of Wellman...and the big money behind the extension.
--I have to add another....I just love the Jay Wright (Villanova coach) Lowe’s commercials and his delivery of his lines. Perfect. The already very rich dude has an amazing future in advertising land.
--It’s really pretty amazing the Lakers, having been eliminated on Friday in a loss to Brooklyn, will not be in the playoffs for a sixth straight season. My Knicks are also missing the playoffs a sixth straight year, though us fans knew this back in November.
But to think that the Lakers, 31-41, will likely finish with a worse record than last year’s team, 35-47, only that one didn’t have LeBron, is rather staggering.
James had 25 points Friday on just 8-for-25 from the field, with eight turnovers, in what he described as a “s---ty” performance.
But former Lakers lottery pick D’Angelo Russell had 21 points and 13 assists for the Nets against his old team.
--The amazing James Harden had 61 points on Friday, as Houston beat San Antonio 111-105...61 of 111. [19-34 FG, 9-13 from three, 14-17 FT]
This came after Harden had 57 in an overtime loss at Memphis on Wednesday. The combined 118 points over the two tied Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant for the most points in a two-game span over the past 50 seasons, according to Elias.
Harden then had 28 tonight in a 113-90 win over Sacramento, the Rockets improving to 47-27.
--The Knicks lost today 123-114 to the Clippers (44-30), New York 14-60. Oh yeah, we need Zion, Ja, or RJ....plus KD.
--I can’t believe the baseball season is really here, Thursday.
Sports Illustrated has the Astros over the Phillies in the World Series. I’ll go with Milwaukee over the Yankees.
The NL East is clearly going to be the most competitive, as I agree with SI that four of the five will finish over .500, making each division contest a tension convention, especially come July/Aug., let alone September.
SI has projected....
For my Mets, 84-78 sounds right, though I think the Nationals will end up on top. I just want us to be playing meaningful games in September.
--But the past few days, the big story has been the contract extensions some of the stars are receiving, clearly a combination of reality and necessity, on the part of both management and the players.
The Cardinals reached an agreement with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt that will keep him with St. Louis for another five years, $130 million, beyond 2019 (ergo, thru 2024), after the Cards faced losing him to free agency after the season.
Goldschmidt, 31, a .297 career hitter, has been an All-Star each of the past six seasons and has four seasons with at least 33 homers, including last year with Arizona.
Boston and Chris Sale agreed to a five-year, $145 million deal that keeps the All-Star lefty out of free agency after the season. The soon-to-be 30-year-old will make $15 million this season, the final club option year of a five-year, $32.5 million extension he signed with the White Sox in 2013, and then the new five-year deal begins in 2020. As Ronald Reagan would have said, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’
Sale has finished in the top six in the Cy Young Award voting the past seven seasons.
The Astros reached agreement on a two-year extension, $66 million, for 36-year-old Justin Verlander, covering the 2020-2021 seasons.
Tampa Bay pitcher Blake Snell signed a five-year, $50 million contract extension. Good for the Rays.
And Tampa Bay signed Brandon Lowe, a second baseman/outfielder, to a 6-year, $24 million deal. Lowe, who they must think highly of, had all of 129 at-bats last season in his rookie campaign.
--Meanwhile, highly-regarded outfield prospect Eloy Jimenez, who has yet to make his major league debut, signed a six-year, $43 million contract with the White Sox, nearly double the amount of the previous high for a player under club control yet to play in the big leagues (that of the Phillies’ Scott Kingery, who last spring inked a six-year, $24 deal).
In the case of Jimenez, who was optioned to AAA on March 13, if the 22-year-old is kept in the minor leagues for the first 20 days of the season, it would push back his free agent eligibility by one year until after the 2025 season. But his contract has team options for 2025 and 2026 that if exercised make his deal $75 million over eight seasons.
Jimenez was a key part of the trade that sent pitcher Jose Quintana to the crosstown Cubs during the 2017 season. He hit .337 with 22 homers and 75 RBIs at AA and AAA last season.
--But with all the above, especially Chris Sale’s deal, the Mets have yet to reach agreement on an extension for their Cy Young winner, Jacob deGrom, deGrom telling the team over the winter that he wouldn’t talk contract during the course of the season if a deal wasn’t struck by Opening Day.
It’s true, the Mets have club control through 2020, but there is zero reason not to give the team’s leader a solid deal. However, there is no evidence the Mets have made an offer, though negotiations continue.
The Mets have been stung by their last three nine-figure deals, as Johan Santana ($137.5 million) and David Wright ($138 million) were medically unable to complete their contracts, and Yoenis Cespedes ($110 million) has spent more time on the DL than in the field since receiving his new deal after the 2016 season.
--Seattle and Oakland teed off the regular season in Tokyo this week, the Mariners winning both, as Ichiro Suzuki, who it was thought retired last season after being released, amicably, by Seattle, unretired so he could play in his native Japan, and then ‘officially’ retired again. He did receive the kind of sendoff this superstar deserved.
At 45 years and 149 days old when he started in right field on Wednesday, he became the oldest position player to start an Opening Day game in the AL since at least 1908. Julio Franco, 45 years and 227 days old is the oldest starter in the NL.
Ichiro, who went 0-for-5 in the two games, ended his career with 3,089 hits over 19 years in the big leagues after getting 1,278 hits while starring for nine seasons in Japan. The combined total of 4,367 is a professional record, though not exactly apples to apples.
--Patriots owner Robert Kraft spoke for the first time since he was charged with allegedly soliciting prostitutes at a Florida spa. The 77-year-old billionaire denies the misdemeanor charges of soliciting back in January.
“In deference to the judicial process, I have remained silent these past several weeks. To correct some of the misinformation surrounding this matter, my attorney made his first public comments on Friday night. I would like to use this opportunity to say something that I have wanted to say for four weeks.
“I am truly sorry. I know I have hurt and disappointed my family, my close friends, my co-workers, our fans and many others who rightfully hold me to a higher standard.
“Throughout my life, I have always tried to do the right thing. The last thing I would ever want to do is disrespect another human being. I have extraordinary respect for women; my morals and my soul were shaped by the most wonderful woman, the love of my life, who I was blessed to have as my partner for 50 years.
“As I move forward, I hope to continue to use the platform with which I have been blessed to help others and to try to make a difference. I expect to be judged not by my words, but by my actions. And through those actions, I hope to regain your confidence and respect.”
As for his legal team, they said they were “surprised and disappointed” that prosecutors have denied their request to stop the “sexual and graphic” videos from inside the spa going public.
According to Kraft’s lead attorney William Burck: “We put in a motion for a protective order of the evidence in this case, a standard request in any case to keep evidence protected until trial...we’ve been surprised and disappointed that the state attorney did not sign on to the protective order, because it is a standard procedure in a criminal case. They declined to agree to the protective order.”
Sheriff William Snyder, who oversaw what he announced was a human trafficking investigation, says he expects the videos – which he described as ‘explicit, sexual and graphic’ – to go public. “There has to be a specific reason not to release a public record. And the fact that there is sexual activity is not an exemption.”
Kraft’s legal team asserts the video surveillance is illegal under privacy laws.
--Kraft was no doubt unhappy to get a call from All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski today, telling him Gronk was retiring....though to no one’s surprise. I’m glad he is.
--Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins held his Pro Day workout and the Giants were represented by head coach Pat Shurmur, offensive coordinator Mike Shula and assistant GM Kevin Abrams, meeting with Haskins prior, so if the team is selecting a QB, as they should, with the No. 6 overall pick in the draft (or at No. 17...which would perhaps be Duke’s Daniel Jones), Haskins would be it...assuming he was available.
But the Jets could trade their No. 3 overall pick for more selections, if another team, including the Giants, wants to ensure they get Haskins.
Otherwise, it seems all but certain Arizona is taking Kyler Murray at No. 1, and San Francisco Ohio State’s Nick Bosa at 2.
One thing is for sure, it looks like fireworks the first 30 minutes or so of the draft on April 25.
--The Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Beaton reports:
“Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, the NFL stars who alleged the league’s teams colluded to keep them off the field after they led protests during the national anthem, will receive less than $10 million to settle grievances with the league, according to people briefed on the deal.
“The confidential agreement was widely celebrated as a victory for the players. But the settlement is far less than the tens of millions of dollars Mr. Kaepernick, especially, would have likely been owed if his grievance had prevailed. It couldn’t be determined how the payment is divided between the players and how much they will net after legal fees....
“If Mr. Kaepernick had won his grievance, the league’s collective bargaining agreement with its players would have entitled him to damages worth up to three times what an arbitrator determined he lost as a result of the collusion. If Mr. Kaepernick’s market value had been judged to be a total of $30 million over the two seasons he was sidelined – a ballpark price tag for a player of his caliber – he could have been awarded $90 million from the ruling.
“If the league didn’t settle, it faced the possibility of costly litigaton had Mr. Kaepernick lost and taken the case to court.”
--Paul Casey successfully defended his title at the Valspar Championship today, barely, Casey’s third PGA Tour title. Jason Kokrak, who has never won, choked on the final hole to finish one shot back.
But this is the third consecutive win on the PGA Tour by a European...the others Francesco Molinari, Rory McIroy and now England’s Casey.
--Robert Garrigus became the first PGA Tour player to be suspended for abuse of a drug.
The tour announced Friday that Garrigus, whose only PGA Tour victory was at the end of the 2010 season, has been suspended three months for failing a drug test for marijuana.
While legal in some states, it is on the banned substance list under the PGA Tour’s anti-doping policy.
Garrigus has spoken openly about his addictions and said after nine years of sobriety, he had a relapse and failed a test.
--Brad Keselowski led 445 of 500 laps at Martinsville today, his 29th NASCAR Cup victory, second this season, with Chase Elliott second. Your editor finished 1.5 points from the money line in DraftKings. Very upset and thinking of rioting tonight, though there is a chill in the air and I may be coming down with a cold, meaning I should stay inside.
--Santa Anita is projected to reopen, again, March 29, after having closed for live racing on March 5 following a dramatic increase in the number of horse fatalities; 22 since Dec. 26 either in racing or training. When the track reopens, you can be sure the eyes of the racing world will be on it. The stakes are immense for the sport.
The Los Angeles Times’ John Cherwa conducted a roundtable the other day of experts in racing, including Alan Balch, executive director of California Thoroughbred Trainers.
Q: Are horses any different than those of the past that might contribute to more breakdowns?
Balch: “I believe today’s horse is more precocious, more brilliant at 2-years-old and 3 than they used to be, but they’re also more fragile. Even saying that, it can’t explain the spike we’ve had here in injuries the last couple months. The media has in general put a lot of emphasis on the 3-year-olds. Some horsemen have too. ...But, Santa Anita used to have a whole series of races for 4-year-olds the following year. So, the auction market then was much more based on horses that would stay sound and race into their maturity. Now there is a collision of market economics, the breeders’ market and the sales market. What people want is a horse that’s going to be brilliant at 2, and win the Triple Crown.”
Others, when looking at the track and California’s rainy winter, point to the track being “sealed and unsealed,” which I hadn’t thought of but makes sense.
But Alan Balch notes that Golden Gate Fields went through the same winter, “maybe worse, with the same medication rules, the same racing rules, the same everything with a relatively lower purse structure and have five [deaths]. We’re not saying that’s great, but it’s five versus 22. What’s the difference? It’s not medication, it’s not the rules. The principal difference is their racetrack, which happens to be an all-weather synthetic. They’ve had a much safer time of it and that points my attention to the race track.”
Ryan Carpenter, a top equine surgeon who works at Santa Anita: “Injuries occur where are inconsistencies in surfaces. Dirt is a very dynamic material. It does not stay the same. In an environment where you have to pack it down and seal it, where it takes on moisture, that is very difficult to create a one-mile surface that is consistent. The race track at Santa Anita has been sealed about 20 times, which sets things up for an inconsistent surface and was probably a contributing factor on the injuries we were seeing.”
How close to extinction did horse racing come over this latest crisis? Racing has a $13.3 billion economic impact just in California alone. Huge numbers of employees.
As a lover of the sport, I pray come March 29 and the weeks after there is a period of normalcy at Santa Anita. We desperately need it.
--Congratulations to Steve Politi, the sports reporter for NJ.com and the Star-Ledger that I quote frequently. He just picked up the Associated Press’ sports columnist of the year award.
Top 3 songs for the week of 3/27/71: #1 “Me And Bobby McGee” (Janis Joplin) #2 “Just My Imagination” (The Temptations) #3 “She’s A Lady” (Tom Jones)...and...#4 “Proud Mary” (Ike & Tina Turner) #5 “For All We Know” (Carpenters) #6 “Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted” (The Partridge Family) #7 “What’s Going On” (Marvin Gaye) #8 “Help Me Make It Through The Night” (Sammi Smith) #9 “One Bad Apple” (The Osmonds) #10 “What Is Life” (George Harrison...love this one...not a bad week, A-...)
NCAA Tournament Quiz Answer: Starting five for Villanova in 2016 national title game against North Carolina...Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson and Daniel Ochefu. Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges and Darryl Reynolds came off the bench in the contest for Jay Wright.
Brunson, Booth and Bridges then picked up another title two years later, as did Donte DiVincenzo, who didn’t play much in 2015-16.
Next Bar Chat, Thursday.