USA remains “team of the future” forever

Baboon on rock

In my last post, I had some of the numbers wrong (since fixed) but not the conclusion: Japan goes to the quarterfinals if the Scotland game is played and they win. They did, 28-21.

Scotland opened the scoring with their fly half running through Japan’s defense and it looked like the usual suspects would end up emerging from pool play. But then Japan put on a wonderful show of offloading the ball to open runners, going into half with a 21-7 lead. They added another try and conversion early in the second half before Scotland found its footing and scored two more tries and conversions. Japan held on for the win.

Speaking of mistakes, the USA Eagles made plenty last night in their loss to the Tonga “Ikale Tahi” (Sea Eagles), losing 31-19. The United States led at half 12-7, but fumbled away the ball on offense and could not stop Tonga’s well supported running. Nice to see Seattle’s own Olive Kilifi starting some of the USA’s scoring.

So the USA Eagles, often referred to as the team that will someday become one of the usual suspects in the post-pool play World Cup, didn’t win any of their four games. They were in the “Pool of Death” against England, France, Argentina and Tonga. I thought they had a chance against Argentina and Tonga. Not so. Maybe in four more years. Or maybe forever.

I found another baboon photo to post. It seemed appropriate as I am correcting a mistake I made yesterday, only one of two mistakes I think I have corrected in four years of this blog. I try to be transparent here, letting all hang out, as this baboon is doing.

Missed 20 rugby games to hang out with baboons

Baboon and baby

I missed watching 20 games in the 2019 Rugby World Cup to hang out with a bunch of baboons.

I thought I could watch the games on an iPad while on a 12-day trip to Kenya and Tanzania, but that did not happen. For one thing, NBC Sports Gold streaming service that I paid for is not available outside the United States. Should have read the fine print. Actually it’s in big type under the FAQ, but what male asks for directions or reads the instructions. Another problem was that my international calling plan from AT&T doesn’t cover Kenya and Tanzania. Then there was the spotty wifi coverage in game camps where we stayed. Missed hearing from friends and family, but a nice break from wars, presidential high crimes and misdemeanors and other worldly troubles as we spend our time watching “slavering animals and colorful natives” as Paul Theroux says in “Dark Star Safari.”

Well, sorry Mr. Theroux, but we enjoyed it probably more than you did in your endless bus ride across Africa.

This blog’s future posts will try to introduce those animals, slavering or not, as I edit almost a thousand pictures and videos. Lions, no tigers or bears, but lots of wildebeest, leopards, zebras, cheetahs and birds will come knocking at your door as one baboon did at the Ol Tukai Lodge in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Kathy and I were dressing in the morning when the door suddenly swung open, and there, standing on his two hind legs with his forearms stretched in front of him, was our friendly baboon wake-up call. He stared, we stared and Ian, one of our traveling companions, said from outside, “You should lock your door.” A few yells and Mr. Baboon went away but returned later to peek in the window and eat a small snake just to the side of our porch.

Baboon in window

Speaking of simian behavior, let me tell you about some of it that appeared at the Rugby World Cup before we disappeared into East Africa. The last newspaper we read in the Amsterdam airport was the Sept. 28 edition of The Times of London (lovely to have a paper that covers your favorite sport). Alex Lowe, the Deputy Rugby Correspondent, wrote about the disconnect between World Rugby’s “promised clampdown on dangerous tackles” and the referees and players on the field. In the first week of RWC play, four potential red cards were missed by the referees. Two Samoans got three-game bans for dangerous tackles in their 34-9 win over Russia. But the suspensions came after the game ended when the governing body and judicial hearings used 28 camera angles and Hawk-Eye technology (whatever that is) to spot the offenses missed by the single referee and his two assistant refs (touch judges, as we used to call them).

Reece Hodge, an Australian player, also received a post-game “red card” for a tackle that left a Fiji player concussed. In his hearing that led to his three-game suspension, Hodge “admitted to having no knowledge of the interpretation of rules on high tackles and had not been given any training on it,” according a an article by Steve James in The Times. That seems to have left the Australian coach fuming. Michael Cheika said he coached his players to tackle around the waist and “we do not need a framework to tell them how to tackle.” That framework, he said, is for referees “to decide whether there is a red or yellow cards in a game.”

That did not work in the England-United States game where Piers Francis was charged with foul play after concussing Will Hooley, a USA back. For Francis there was no yellow or red card or even a penalty in the game. The charge came later, and as Ian points out, getting 10 minutes in the sin bin (yellow card) or ejected from the game (red card) forcing your team to play a man short, could have an effect on the game if referees called them. Given that the United States was beaten 45-7, England might have won with10 men. But in another game? Could make a big difference.

Also in the news of Sept. 28: Wales was trying to figure a way to beat Australia (they did), and Ireland’s coach Joe Schmidt said he “hoped to put more width on the ball” in the their game against Japan, according to an article by Peter O’Reilly. I take that to mean get the ball out to the backs more. It didn’t work. Remember when I said Ireland beating Scotland didn’t prove much about their strength? Losing 19-12 against Japan probably says more. Still hoping for the Irish side to take the tournament, but I’m not laying any green on that pick.

Emerging from Africa and reading the Oct. 10 edition of The Times of London in the Amsterdam airport, we find that Japan and the Rugby World Cup there are battened down as Typhoon Hagibis sweeps over them. So far, there are two people dead and nine missing from the storm.

Three RWC games have been canceled – England vs. France, New Zealand vs. Italy and Namibia vs. Canada. Each of these teams will get two points, as in a tie, in the pool standings. England and France are both going into the quarterfinals and the game would have sorted out seeding. Now England goes as top seed, and France as the runner-up. Italy was going nowhere in a disappointing RWC appearance, and New Zealand will go out as top seed. It would have been nice if Canada or Namibia could get a win in the tournament, but they will have to wait another four years.

Scotland vs. Japan is where it will make a difference. If that Sunday game (starting at 3:30 a.m. in Seattle) is canceled, Scotland will lose its chance to advance out of pool play. Ireland, beating Samoa 47-5, moved into top spot in Pool A. Japan, with 14 points, is second and Scotland with 10 points is third. No game, and Japan ends with 15 points and Scotland with 12. Japan goes on as Pool A runner up, and Scotland goes home.

This, according to Owen Slot, Times Chief Rugby Correspondent, would “discredit the entire event.”

“This is the very stuff of which World Cups are made; it is two teams fighting for survival. To dispatch Scotland from the tournament because of Typhoon Hagibis would make a farce of the event.”

Probably not if players, refs and fans got carried away by flooding rivers, but let’s talk important stuff here: Scotland got screwed in the 2015 by a bad call in their quarterfinal game. The RWC should do all to give them a chance in 2019, even though I am hoping for Japan to go forward as a team outside the usual suspects: South Africa and New Zealand in Pool B; England and France in Pool C; Wales and Australia in Pool D; and Ireland in Pool A.

So far, the United States vs. Tonga game is still on (10:45 tonight). Another rugby all-nighter coming up. And tomorrow, I will sleep like a baboon, as one of the African guides said last week.

Coming up: Rhinos and USA Eagles and “Ikale Tahi” (Sea Eagles).

 

 

Can Trump change the human species? If not impeached

While living in Oxford, England, in 2015 to attend the Rugby World Cup, we did more than attend rugby games. We also took advantage of cultural events in that university city. Museums, art exhibits, musical events and lectures, including the best Kathy and I have heard on Shakespeare. The question that came up then was: “Why don’t we do this at home?”

University dons and students don’t go around in black academic robes as in Oxford, but Seattle is no intellectual desert. But it seems we’re “too busy” to find our way to those events that would exercise our minds here at home. We have season theater tickets, attend an opera here and there, once in a while a symphony and visit museums when friends and family come to visit.

Kathy takes advantage of classes and lectures put on by Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. John? Rarely.

Well, that’s changing. Spurred by the memory of all we did in Oxford, we have loaded up on season tickets to plays, lectures, photo exhibits and book readings. By spring, we may start wearing black robes.

That means, as it did four years ago, the rugby reporter may get interrupted by off-field activities; scrums, rucks and mauls interspersed with things like:

Fenner

“Stories of Human Migrations,” an hour-long talk given by David Fenner from the University of Washington’s Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. Sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the UW and held at the University House in Issaquah, WA, the talk was one of many lectures and classes for those of us over 50. Kathy and I are well qualified.

Fenner’s talk made me realize that Trump is trying to change the human species. (Ed. notes: Fenner never mentioned Trump. I’m to blame for the spin here. Fenner supplied facts, and if they are wrong in this piece, it is because of my faulty note taking and should not reflect on Fenner, an excellent lecturer.)

Trump is going against the tide of humanity, which started migrating some 150,000 to 200,000 years ago from the Great Rift Valley in Africa – and it has never stopped no matter how many walls, borders and prejudices it ran up against. About 50,000 years ago, homo sapiens reached Northern Europe, where they found another species, the Neanderthal, which they interbred with (Did Fenner say that’s what accounts for rugby players?). About 12,000 to 15,000 years ago humans reached the Americas. Not until 1,500 years ago did they get to New Zealand, the last of the Rift Valley migration.

But it didn’t stop there. The Jewish Diaspora spread the Hebrew people across Africa, Asia and Europe, and the height of the Arab Wars took conquering Muslims from Spain to India in the years from 660 to 750 A.D. Four hundred years ago, slavery emptied 12.5 million souls from Africa and sent them to the Americas with two million of them dying along the way. Of eight million people in Ireland in the 1840s, two million of them left during the Potato Famine. One million of the six million who stayed behind died.

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 moved those who first got to what would become the United States farther West and further along the newcomers’ genocidal path.

Others came to the United States on their own, attracted by self-governing and democracy spelled out in the Declaration of Independence in 1776. And they were welcomed:

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent & respectable Stranger, but the oppressed & persecuted of all Nations & Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights & previleges, if by decency & propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.” — George Washington in letter to Joshua Holmes, 2 December 1783.

With the world’s population now at seven billion, one billion of them are migrants – 250 million trying to move from one country to another and 750 million “internal” migrants moving to better circumstances within their nations.

It’s what the human species does; moving to where the grass is greener. The International Conference on Global Trends predicts an increase in human migration over the next 25 years, no matter what Trump says or does. Some will pick up on their own, like the 250 million (three-fourths of the population of the U.S.) on the road in China, once considered “economic” migrants but now also “climate” migrants as desertification affects parts of that nation.

Others will be forced. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that in 2018, there were 70.8 million forcibly displaced, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan. Closer to home, those coming north from Central America are being “kept in a pressure cooker” by U.S. actions that will only make the situation there get worse with more people fleeing unstable governments, gang violence and poverty. I take that to mean: Increasing aid there, helping those nations keep their people. Trump’s idea is to keep asylum seekers there among those who have threatened them with harm. One more incentive to start north and take your chances at the U.S. border.

The International Organization on Migration holds that migration is inevitable and desirable – if well-governed. That is not the case in the United States, and getting an immigration policy that goes beyond the wall seems impossible with who’s in the White House and this Congress. Right now, Fenner says, we are a long way from that George Washington quote.

We’re all refugees from the Rift Valley, and we have “moving” stories to tell about how we got here. That’s the story of the human species, and we should be telling them to remind ourselves that we are a nation of immigrants and that our species probably won’t change before Trump is gone.

Fenner books

Fenner agencies 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A bad day/night/morning for North American rugby

These are trying times for North American rugby in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Actually, there are not many tries for Canada and the United States in their games in Japan.

By the time I got out of bed and to the TV, Canada was down 10-0 to Italy 10 minutes into the match. Poor tackling, too many balls fumbled forward, too many penalties. At 17-0, the announcer said Canada had “staunched the flow of points.” But that did not last long.

Fifty-eight minutes into the game, Italy gets a penalty try because Canada collapsed a maul – and a Canadian player sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes. We’re up to 36-0 when a Canadian try is called back because it came off a knock on while trying to field a kick.

Canada did get a try at 69 minutes, but Italy scores at 73 minutes and again once more before the game ends, 48-7 for Italy. Canada did not remember how close they came in 2015 RWC, and Italy looked better than when I saw them play against Ireland in Chicago in November.

So I settled in for a hour-long nap before the England-USA game started at 3:30 a.m. Alarm set, I thought. It was not. Woke up at 5 a.m. and the USA was down 30-0. England scored three more tries and the USA got a try with time expired, 45-7 for England.

The score was bad enough, but flanker John Quill got a red card for a shoulder charge, which will keep him out of upcoming games. Will Hooley was carried off the field in the “pitch retrieval” system – a stretcher – with a concussion, and prop David Ainu’u went out with an ankle injury.

The road ahead for the USA looks treacherous:

Oct. 2 against France

Oct. 9 against Argentina

Oct. 13 against Tonga

Another rugby all-nighter, but only 2 games

Getting ready for another rugby all nighter with Canada playing Italy, starting at 12:45 a.m., and then the United States taking on England at 3:45 a.m. I should be a champ at Pilates at 10 a.m.

I hope Canada remembers how close they came to beating Italy at the Rugby World Cup in 2015. They were behind 13-10 at half but regained the lead with a try. Italy came back with another try, 20-15. Canada added a penalty kick, 20-18, and Italy finished with another penalty to win 23-18. I thought Canada could have, should have.

Maybe having four members on the Canadian team who played for the Seattle Seawolves in the Major League Rugby will help them to a win. Jeff Hassler is starting at wing, and in reserves are two props, Djustice Sears-Duru and Jake Ilnicki, and the Seawolves scrum half and coach, Phil Mack.

Oli
Olive Kilifi at 2015 RWC

The only Seawolves on the United States Eagles is Olive Kilifi, who was also on the team in 2015. Another Pacific Northwesterner is Titi Lamositele, 24, born in Bellingham and an athlete at Sehome High School. He now plays for the London Saracens in the Premiership League there.

If the Eagles beat England this morning, it might knock Trump’s impeachment troubles off the front page (if I were the news editor). ESPN had a good article on the USA chances, noting that the professional league has brought more fit players into camp. The Eagles are in the “Pool of Death,” with England, France, Argentina and Tonga ranked above them. Tonga might be their best bet for a RWC victory in 2019.

Titi
Tit Lamositele at 2015 RWC

One surprise already in the 2019 RWC: Uruguay beat Fiji last night, 30-27. Wales and Australia also have wins in that pool. Can Uruguay beat either one? Georgia, also in the pool, fell 43-14 against Wales. Los Teros also have several team members who played in the Major League Rugby. Maybe that made the difference over Fiji. With several MLR players for the USA, will it make a difference against England?

My new team, Ireland, trounces Scotland. So what?

Irish“Skies growing darker while the prospects for Ireland are growing brighter,” said the announcer during the Ireland-Scotland rugby game early Sunday morning. That may be, as the Irish won 27-3 over Scotland in both teams’ first games in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but I’m not so sure things are bright enough to see an Irish victory over New Zealand if that match ever came about in this tournament.

The Irish forwards looked strong against Scotland, scoring three of their four tries, before a wing added one more and then “Ireland took all the pace out of the game,” the announcer said, as Ireland played cautious ball to protect their lead. Those four tries  win a bonus point for Ireland, but remember this is Scotland, the team that fell to United States in 2018, the first time the Eagles beat a Tier One team. Ireland will advance out of Pool A, but Scotland, figuring they can beat Russia and Samoa, might have a hard time getting by Japan to move into the quarter finals.

Good bet that New Zealand will advance out of Pool B, and a potential Irish-New Zealand match could come during the weekend of Oct. 19 and 20. I’ll be on my couch cheering for Ireland and hoping for a new nation to win the RWC.

Also happy to report that my scrum slumber during the New Zealand-South Africa game had nothing to do with the strength of my coffee, heavy food or even my age. Simply a matter of too much rugby in the middle of the night and early morning. So I skipped English beating Tonga, 35-3, and I’m laying off viewing rugby until the Eagles take on England Thursday, Sept. 26, at a 3:45 a.m. PDT. No Wales vs. Georgia, Russia vs. Samoa, Fiji vs. Uruguay or Italy vs. Canada (might make an exception there at 12:45 Thursday morning).

USA over England? That would be an upset that would lend big time mystery over who escapes Pool C.

A question: The 2019 RWC is being held in Japan. The stadium was filled with Irish and Scot fans, who were loudly singing along to. . .  John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road.” Do they know where West Virginia is and what’s there?

 

My rugby over nighter was a huge disappointment

The rugby all nighter turned out to be a disappointment. It started at 9:30 PDT Friday night with the kick off of the Australia-Fiji match in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Then on to the France-Argentina game and finally the belle of the evening: New Zealand vs. South Africa. Actually, the belle of the morning as it started at 2:30.

What I was looking for was disruption in one of the four pools in which the 20 teams had been organized. An upset. Argentina over France (that’s happened before). Fiji over Australia (could happen). South Africa and New Zealand? Could go either way, but as much as I like rooting for the Kiwis – great country, great haka and greatest rugby – it would be nice to give others a chance. New Zealand has won three of the eight Rugby World Cups, including the last two. South Africa has won twice.

It would be nice if someone besides Tier One nations won this thing – or at least threw in some mystery on where this would all end up on Nov. 2, the day of the championship game.

Fiji could create some mystery in Pool D if they knocked off Australia. Not to be. Fiji made a good run in the first half, but the Wallabies settled down in the second half, got stingy with possession of the ball, and Fiji got tired, frustrated and resorted to reaching in to grab the ball out of rucks and mauls, resulting in penalties and then, a yellow card. Australia won 39-21 and picked up a bonus point for scoring four tries. And Wales and the Wallabies will probably go on to the quarter finals out of Pool D.

Argentina gave the most exciting game of the evening/morning. The Pumas were down 17-3 at half time but scored 18 points to get to a 21-20 lead over France, who had a three point penalty kick to get to 20. France needed a drop goal in the last few minutes to regain the lead at 23-21. A last minute penalty kick to Argentina wandered left of the posts, and they will have to settle for one bonus point for finishing within seven of the winner.

Only the United States and Tonga are left to keep the predictable England and France from moving forward out of Pool C. The USA Eagles get their chance against England on Thursday, Sept. 26, at 3:45 a.m. PDT. Another early day to rise.

Which leads me to my biggest disappointment of the rugby all nighter. The New Zealand-South Africa game displayed superb rugby skills, great runs, good defense and gritty scrummaging – what you expect from these top teams. The Kiwis prevailed 23-13 over the Springboks, and I can’t tell you much about how they did that because I woke up with my iPad on my chest with Kieran Read, the Kiwi captain, giving an interview on how they held off South Africa.

Narcolepsy may be common in baseball stadiums, and it is increasingly reported in the stands of America’s brand of slow football, but no one – no one – falls asleep during a rugby game, even after six hours of middle-of-the-night viewing. Could be the strength of my coffee. It could be from squinting at a small screen. It could be, I can barely stand to say this . . . It could be age. No, no. Lack of exercise. Too much heavy food. Up the night before for the Japan-Russia game? Maybe.

Only one way to find out what is up with my sleep patterns, or lack of them. The Ireland-Scotland game starts Sunday morning at 12:45 PDT. Ireland may have the best chance of breaking the chain of usual suspects. I’ll be on the couch.

 

Japan, this is no time to follow England

CoffeeJapan’  rugby team looked like it was headed in the same direction as the last country to host the Rugby World Cup: Not finding its way out of pool play and into the quarter finals. The “Cherry Blossoms” (trying to make that name fit into the game of rugby) let Russia’s high kicks fall to the ground, and one of them into the hands of a Russian back who scored the first points of the 2019 RWC.

Cherry Blossoms got over their nervous start in a stadium mostly filled with their countrymen and bloomed later in the game to win 30-10 in the first of 48 games in the tournament. But they will have lots to work on if they don’t want to end up like England, the 2015 host, who failed to advance into the playoff round of the tourney. That was especially embarrassing to England, where rugby got its start. However, England has been in the playoffs before and won the RWC in 2003.

Japan has never advanced out of pool play even though they won three matches, including an upset of South Africa and beating the United States, in 2015. They did not collect enough bonus points then to advance.

Last night — oops, make that this morning at 3:30 — Japan picked up one bonus point for scoring four tries in the match. Bonus points are also awarded to losers who stay within seven points of the winning team. No bonus points for Russia.

To advance, Japan has to pile up bonus points and find a way to beat those in their pool: Ireland, ranked No. 1 in the RWC; Scotland (a chance of an upset) and Samoa (betting on Japan).

Australia vs. Fiji is tonight at a decent time here in Seattle — 9:30, and then I will fill my coffee cup and get into my favorite sweater, blankies and my couch for early morning viewing for the New Zealand-South Africa game at 2:30 Saturday morning. Could be the best game of the tournament.

Now, time for a nap.

2019 Rugby World Cup starts in 5 hours

JBS 2015
Rugby reporter, 2015

I started this blog four years ago when Kathy and I lived in Oxford, England, for two months so that I could have a “once in a lifetime” experience of attending the Rugby World Cup. Probably should have told Kathy that maybe it was a “couple of times in a lifetime” experience.

But I did not, and so I am waiting for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, being held in Japan, to come my way through either TV or some live-streaming app that I paid too much for, but it’s cheaper than living in England for two months.

First game – Japan vs. Russia – starts at 3:30 Friday morning here in the Pacific Northwest, which is not where I will be watching as many of the 48 games as I can. We’re hitting the road right in the middle of the RWC as it continues through the end of October. Will there be wifi in the Serengeti? Not sure, but will report on rugby, lions, elephants and the croc-infested Mara River.

(And don’t come over to burgle my house as it is guarded by boarders and a fierce cat.)

No press credentials this time around, but the off-the-field antics should be interesting.

And who knows? The 2023 Rugby World Cup is in France. So, Kathy, how about two months in gay Paree?

Best day at the track: Thank you, Pick 6 Eddie

Arlington Hotel
Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas

The lobby of the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Ark., serves many purposes. It’s the spillover seating for the bar off to the side. There’s a band shell for music and evening dancing, and during the day it serves as a waiting room for those checking into this majestic and old – mostly old – remnant of the late 19th Century.

Arlington bar
The Arlington Hotel bar

The clerk who helped me check in was enthusiastic about all Hot Springs had to offer, although he mostly rained on my ideas for a one-day visit here. Hot springs out in the wilds? No, all the waters have been long ago captured and fed into spas and bath houses. The only place on Bath House Row that still offers “waters” is the Buckstaff Baths. There are spa offerings available at hotel, which did not fit into my schedule.

Buckstaff

What’s the most popular activity for people to do at this national park? Get out and take a hike, see the natural beauty of Arkansas. Would it match the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest?

Let’s face it, I was only being polite. The clerk didn’t need to feel bad about my refusal to engage in hiking or taking in the waters as he suggested. My real reason for coming to Hot Springs was to attend the races at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort.

I bought a Daily Racing Form (DRF) at the front desk (how many hotels can you do that?) and walked off to my room with the paint peeling from the walls. Clean, but old – mostly old. Studied the form and then headed down Saturday morning to the best use of the Arlington lobby. Every morning before the races, Eddie “Pick 6” Pannell offers his advice on the day’s card.

Pick 6
Eddie “Pick 6” Pannell in the Arlington lobby

He starts out asking if anyone in the crowd bets horse according to the horse’s names. A few raised their hands, and I could have held up a finger or two since it is something I rarely do. But once in a while a name pops up so much like mine that I can’t pass it up. On those races, I accept that I will bet the name, the urge so strong that it will bias my handicapping so much that I can’t get through the past performances without going back and confirming my namesake has the best chance of winning, three-legged horse or not. I settle for the name and hope for the best, which hardly ever comes my way. Johnny Five? How could I pass on that? A moderate bet for a two-dollar bettor like me, and the horse veers immediately out of Seattle’s Emerald Downs starting gate, unseats his rider and hits the rail, rolling over it into the infield. Could be a horse high jumper, but in Thoroughbred racing that is DNF: Did Not Finish. (Next time Johnny Five ran, he won and paid $8.80, and I was nowhere near a track or off-track betting).

Never follow my bets. I could not do what Pick 6 was doing, offering tips on four-legged animals who seem to do what they want not what the Daily Racing Form says they should. I’d feel too guilty about anyone who took my handicapping advice and then a subsequent financial bath.

Pick 6 warned us about betting names and omens:

“I woke up right at five o’clock in the morning, looked out my window and saw five bluebirds singing on the telephone line. I was on the fifth floor of the hotel in Room 555. I put on my pants and found I only had five dollars left to my name. Got out my form and saw that in the fifth race there was a horse named Henry the Fifth. Took the No. 5 bus to the track and used all five dollars to bet on Henry the Fifth to win. Stood in the fifth row up from the rail and watched him come in fifth.”

I paid particular attention to what he said about races two, three and four because I figured on exploring the track on my first visit there, wandering the food stands, restaurants, betting windows and the casino – people watching instead of horse watching. So after a brisk two-mile walk, partly along the Grand Promenade behind Bath House Row, to Oaklawn, I figured I had the info I needed to fill in for what I had not handicapped. I did races one, five through nine, neglecting the last race of the day because it’s usually filled with what’s left over.

Broadwalk
Hot Springs Broadwalk

Race one went with my pick, Audacious Angel, showing no interest in racing today while Pick 6 Eddie’s choice, Heavens Whisper, won by one and three quarters lengths. I lose eight bucks on that race. OK, I’m a two-dollar bettor but sometimes those two-dollar bets are times four. Looking at Pick 6 Eddie’s winner, I figured I could rely on him to see me through the next three races I had neglected.

What a disaster. Not only did Pick 6 let me down, but the teller at the betting window seemed to be in cahoots to make my day at Oaklawn a bust. Eddie liked Rosemary Beach as one to pair up in the Exacta (betting the top two horses to finish in order) with others he thought would be in the top two. I’m sure I told the teller I wanted #11 (Rosemary Beach) paired with Eddie’s five horses. I’m sure I told the teller I wanted #11 (Rosemary Beach) paired with 1, 2, 5, 7, 10. That would be five one-dollar bets (11 with 1, 11 with 2, 11 with 5, etc) or $10 in bets if you reversed the bet or “boxed” it (1 with 11, 2 with 11, etc), which I did. If the 11 comes in first or second, I collect winnings, hoping for the longest odds to pair up with Rosemary Beach to enhance the payoff. Instead, the teller seemed to have written it as all six horses boxed together, or something like that. I still can’t figure out how my $10 bet ended up costing $30. Maybe I did not speak Arkansese well enough. Like the sign says at the window, “Always check tickets before leaving.”

I did not.

The #12 (Dabinawa Dove) came in second to Rosemary Beach, and Pick 6 Eddie had overlooked this 68-1 long shot who had only run one race so poorly it earned no Beyers points (you can look that up). The Exacta paid $56.80, the Trifecta (top three horse in order) paid $325 and the Superfecta (top four horse in order) paid $595. And we had not a cent of any of it. Only a dove would bet that horse.

I had not abandoned all hope in Eddie just yet. He had suggested another bet that seemed worth doing – betting the 50 cent Pick 3, naming the winner in three consecutive races. Put in three horses in each race as possible winners and the total bet is $13.50 (my two dollar bet times 6.75), but the payoff, Eddie said, could be grand if something other than a favorite won one of the three races. My picks for races 2, 3 and 4 were (11-7-1) with (8, 6, 5) with (2, 4, 5). Rosemary Beach came through in the second, Frost or Frippery won the third and all I needed in the fourth race, thanks to Eddie, were to see Trail Boss, Wild Haven or French Dancer cross the line first. Eddie did not recognize the worth of #3, Ludington, who won the fourth race and had me down $51.50 after four races, the Great Recession all over again for a wayward two-dollar bettor.

What would the Pick 3 pay? Who cared? I had none of it, although Eddie and I got two thirds of the way through it before our trio refused to play along. Maybe if I used his bets with my horses. I could climb out of this recession with a few wins, which, as soon as I thought it, struck me as the losing gamblers’ fatal flaw and phrase: ”Stay and win back my losses,” which usually means losing everything in your pocket and, hopefully, never have an ATM card anywhere near you.

There’s always some truth in those sayings about what the “normal” gaming addict would do: Like bet $22 on the next race and win $10.80, a normal routine for me at the racetrack. Flatoutcountry came through to win, but all my horses in my exotic bets (Exacta, etc) never made the tote board thanks to Flashy Biz at 14-1 and Letters to Belle, which “couldn’t last,” according to the DRF. In it’s last race, a DNF and 0 in Beyers. Never finished better than sixth. Will the one person named Belle stand up and share some of the money they won on this 47-1 horse?

Down another $12 and figured out what I could lose: no more than $100 or I would have to check out of the Arlington and sleep in the truck.

In for $10.40 in the race with all depending on B.B. Dude, running his first race since getting gelded. Always bet those horses since now they can keep their minds on racing. The Dude did not abide. He finished sixth, perhaps fretting over love’s labors lost.

We’re up in the 70-dollar range now in money lost, $73.10 to be exact, although they say to never count your money at the table, especially if doing so makes you want to faint or break down weeping. But I bucked up, or maybe start that “uck” word with an F. Time to go all in or go home. Into the seventh race we march, armed with a win ticket on Box of Chocolates and a 10 cent Superfecta boxed filled out by Better Charge It, Kinetic Swagger and Rocknroll Rocket. Plus, we have renewed Eddie’s Pick 3 idea for races seven, eight and nine. In for a total of $27.50, including the Pick 3. We’re 60 cents over saying goodbye to a Ben Franklin, and thank God I have legs enough and don’t need bus fare to walk to my overnight accommodations in my truck.

Eddie had liked Box of Chocolates because of breeding (by Candy Ride – the sire – out of Lady Godiva – the mare). When talking in the Arlington lobby, he hadn’t said anything about breeding until handicapping the seventh race. He said he mostly used it when judging first time starters. This is what he said about breeding:

“Three people were sitting in a bar, each having a glass of wine. When the Frenchman noticed a fly in his glass, he drank the wine right down. When the Englishman saw a fly in his wine, he ordered the waiter over and said this was an abomination and demanded another glass. Then the Irishman noticed a fly in his wine. He immediately reached in, grabbed the fly by its hindquarters and held it over the glass, shouting, ‘Spit it back! Spit it back!’”

That’s what I know about horse breeding.

I liked Box of Chocolates for having the best Beyer numbers in the field at this distance (a mile) and at this level: Maiden race for 3-year-olds with $47,000 in purse money. Also drew the top jock at the meet, Ricardo Santana, Jr.

Whether breeding, best Beyer, top jock or all of the above, Box of Chocolate won, and the supporting cast in my Superfecta also played their parts very well, making it into the top four places. Payoff for that race was $27.09, just 41 cents short of what I needed to cover my bets, including the Pick 3, which as still alive and now paid for.

We’re only down $73.51, but almost winning back what I bet seemed almost even. What would it take to make me even? Eddie asked that question once to another top handicapper he knew. “How far ahead are you?” the handicapper asked right back.

I had No. 3 to win (Bebop Shoes. Who could resist?) in the eighth. Not just for the name, of course, I rarely do that. First, second and third in the last three races, including a stakes for $100,000 and two races at $83,000. The race today is an allowance (you can look it up) for $91,000, and Bebop Shoes has won at a higher level with higher Beyers numbers.

He did not win.

He was beaten by a neck by J.E.’s Handmedown. Which turned out to be a good thing. I had bet J.E. Handmedown, with longer odds, in my Exacta, my Superfecta and in my Pick 3, which had one more race to go. Bebop Shoes and J.E. Handmedown paid $21.60 in the Exacta, and the Superfecta completed by Bandit Point at third and Absolutely Aiden at fourth, a horse I had on my loser list – yes, I keep lists. I had seen his last race when he came in eight out of eight, fading badly from an upfront position. Pannell was high on him because of his first-time-starter win at Saratoga. I included him reluctantly after someone in the Arlington lobby that morning said he saw the loser race and thought he saw the saddle slip when the horse started going backwards.

I won $85.99, which put me $2.08 ahead. As much as I wanted to take credit for this – filling Eddie’s betting system with my horses – I realized that without his backing of Absolutely Aiden in the Superfecta I would have missed the payoff that made me a little bit ahead.

In the ninth race, all I had to do was hope that Nos. 3, 4 or 7 won the race. I didn’t handicap this race because of Classy John, No. 3 in your program. Had to go with him, and forget facing the past performances with a clear head. Back to relying on Pannell’s picks: five of the eight horse in the race got commented on, with this on Classy John: “Maybe. . . maybe, No. 3.” Added his top two with No. 3: Nitrous and Frosted Ice.

Many of the horses in this race had been in prep races for the Kentucky Derby, running in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn and other stakes. None of them had moved on to Louisville and Churchill Downs but were here competing in the Bachelor Stakes for $150,000 in purse money. Classy John had come in seventh in the Rebel and no one but someone named John would bet him.

He got to third early in the race and then started falling behind. I watched him fade to fifth and then saw him cross the finish line in sixth. Frosted Ice was nowhere in the top four, and I said out loud, “What happened to No. 4?”

“No. 4 won. Didn’t you see?” said the unknown person beside me who probably was not named John or busy watching No. 3. Turned out that while Classy John was fading, Nitrous was closing the gap from sixth with a half mile to go, to fourth at the start of the stretch and on to win by one and three quarters lengths.

Thanks, Eddie “Pick 6” Pannell, for the $75.50 Pick 3 payoff.

Lund
Valorie Lund with the red hair.

And there was more to come. Pannell had mentioned Valorie Lund as a great trainer. She used to train at Emerald Downs and is, in fact, a great trainer. I might have noticed that if I ever handicapped the last race of the day. But picking Tie.jpgthis winner would mean overturning some deep-seated belief that horse bettors carry around like ticks embedded in some hidden folds of skin they can’t see; I’ll not say where. Betting Ship it Red, trained by V. Lund, to win added another $12.20 to my wallet for a total winning for the day of $85.78.

A profitable use of the Arlington lobby for that Saturday, and every time I wear my “Bringing Up the Rear” tie that I bought at the Oaklawn gift shop, I’ll thank Eddie “Pick 6” Pannell for my best day at the track and his good advice on horse names, omens and breeding.

Me tie