This is the time of year where horse racing begins to re-enter the nation’s conscience after a long fall and winter. Stories will begin to filter in, and links to those stories start to appear higher up on your favorite sport websites, as intriguing horse names, such as Nyquist and Mohaymen start to jump off the back pages of sport sections in the daily newspapers. Though the 2016 version of the trail to the Kentucky Derby began last September, for John Q. Public it really starts as the fields begin to bloom. And, it could be argued that it kicked off at the New Orleans Fair Grounds on Saturday with the running of the 103rd Louisiana Derby.
The casual horse racing fans start to show up for the Derbys – Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida. Derby season is a part of spring in the South. For some, it’s the first big party of the year. Men will pull out their blue or tan seersucker from the closet, and the ladies will debut the latest hat. It’s our way of participating, enjoying a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. It’s our way of being part of the show. And, as the crowd packed in, bourbon to beer, will tell you – it’s still a great show.
But, for us it is just that…a show. An entertainment, while completely different from the “new” shows like football, it is still just that. We all come together to see who will win, who will lose, and who is wearing what. It’s fun.
As part of every show, we look at the “stars,” as if, somehow, they are different than us. Their cool exteriors and laid-back manner – I’m looking at you, Bob Baffert – trick us into thinking that they are always “in control,” or can take any shot with an uncommon ease. We create heroes, if not gods.
But that too is part of the show, and a myth. For these are men and women, whose blood pumps just like ours, who want victory…need victory. You want your teams to win, they want their teams to win. So, Tom Amoss is no different than the guy sitting next to you at the bar, shouting at the TV, reaching over and grabbing your arm as time runs out and the winning, or losing, shot descends upon the basket.
Or, as 10 thoroughbreds thunder down the stretch.
Amoss, New Orleans-born, entered the Louisiana Derby as the trainer of the odds-on favorite, Mo Tom (owned by Saints and Pelicans owners, Tom and Gayle Benson). Even with the loss in the Risen Star Stakes, a race where Mo Tom was checked coming down the stretch by a fading horse, the fans and oddsmakers felt like Saturday would be Mo Tom’s day – a day where Amoss and Mo Tom’s connections would stamp their way into the Kentucky Derby. But that was the future, Amoss – with over 3,000 victories to his name – had never won the Louisiana Derby. He wanted it.
And then they were off, and the Fair Grounds was about to add another champion to it’s long list. Unfortunately, for Amoss and Mo Tom, they wouldn’t be the ones standing in the winner’s circle, looking out and smiling upon an adoring hometown crowd.
For the second race in a row, and the two biggest races of Mo Tom’s career, Mo Tom was hit in the backstretch by a fading horse. But this time, it was after a bizarre attempt by Mo Tom’s jockey Corey Lanerie to get to the inside rail, an attempt that halted all momentum by Mo Tom as he ran up the back of Candy My Boy, and could have easily injured both horses.
Mo Tom did his best to catch up, he would rally to take fourth, but it was a lost cause, as Gun Runner easily ran away from the rest of the field for a 4-½ length victory.
Amoss was incensed. “"I don't understand the ride (by jockey Corey Lanerie), to be quite frank with you," Amoss said. "I was not at my professional best with Corey afterward and I apologize for that. It's all the work we put into the horse. To watch that unfold is, the only thing I can compare it to is being present to watch your son get beat up on the playground. It's hard to watch."
And that was the G-rated response, for, as reported by Nola.com’s Jeff Duncan, Amoss lit into Lanerie after the race to such a degree that it, “made anything Saints head coach Sean Payton does on game days seem tame by comparison.”
It’s all blood, sweat and tears on the Derby trail, folks. And the season is upon once again.
The good news is that Mo Tom is still well positioned to get into the Kentucky Derby. As is his stable mate, Tom Is Ready, who would place (finish 2nd) on Saturday. So, we could still have a lot to root for on that first Saturday in May, where 170,000 fans will jam into Churchill Downs, and a worldwide audience will gather around their TV screens to watch the biggest show of them all.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing – Bluegrass Beer Company’s “Bourbon Barrel Stout”
Playlist Recommendation – Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born On The Bayou”
Around the Way
Another big show will go down on the diamond in Alex Box Stadium tonight, as the No. 27 Tulane Green Wave (17-7) take on the No. 20 LSU Tigers (16-7). The Tigers are coming off of a hard-fought series loss to No. 2 Texas A&M, and are coming out of a rough 3-4 stretch, and have won only two of their first six SEC games. Tulane is riding a 5-game winning streak, after winning the Longhorn series, beating Southern Miss, and sweeping Illinois State. J.P. France is listed as the Wave’s probable starter, but I think Tulane should roll out their well-rested ace Corey Merrill and go for glory. But I’m crazy like that. The showdown kicks off at 6:30 p.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network.
A quick shout out to the Green Wave women’s basketball team, who finished their season 23-12, and posted a 14-3 record in Devlin Fieldhouse. Congratulations to sophomore Kolby Morgan, who became the school’s 27th member of the 1,000 point club, and the first to join those ranks as an underclassmen.