Friday, April 26, 2013

Favorite Oaks Memories - 1996


My wife Sonja and I attend the Kentucky Oaks almost every year. Our spot is usually the infield. We tried the Sports Spectrum last year and had a decent time...that won't be an option this year, since the place is over-run with raccoons and other animals and won't be open.

It's just as well. I prefer my final memories of that place to be those of sitting with our buddy Tom at the Champions Bar...our dearly departed buddy Norma and her brother Ron nearby and Charlotte serving up drinks. No raccoons that day. Sonja picking the winner of the Oaks...choosing the only female jockey in the race...Rosie "Nap" getting the job done.

I don't "do" the Derby. Since the late-eighties, we've attend a Derby Party. It's changed locations a few times over the years...but it's always great fun. I have a job each Derby Day. I can't tell you what it is, but I get to see everyone and write stuff down they tell me.

THE PLAN

In 1996, we were ready for the Oaks. We always parked at Reed's house, right on Central Avenue, next to the BP gas station. With my buddies Chris and his wife Linda, we arrived early that morning to help park cars in Reed's back yard and sample Bloody Mary's. The Oaks is run on Friday, for those not familiar with the event...the day before Derby. Back then, it was day-long affair, attending the races, going back to Reed's after the races and drinking until the wee hours of the morning...either hanging out in the back yard or sitting on his front porch...watching the party people walk up and down Central Avenue. They stopped that human parade a few years back. Reed has passed on, also...so we now park at 80 Under 80 and do our thing there...before and after the races.

I devised a plan to smuggle beer into the infield. Each year, I came with a "fool-proof" plan to get the beverages past the check-point and it usually worked. The "false-bottom" cooler idea worked for years, until I got "popped" in 1995 by an over-zealous cub scout, security guy and my beverages were taken away from me. I needed a new plan for 1996 and came up with one. I called Chris and discussed it with him. He liked it. It was two-fold and we stood a good chance of pulling it off.

The idea was to use the bags that one stores fold-up lawn chairs in. By removing the chairs and sliding beer cans into the bags, we discovered that each bag could hold 19 cans of beer. We packed three of these bags full of Budweiser. 57 cans. We also realized that we would need to keep them cold. Part two of the plan was to have Linda roll a wagon in with a cooler on it...full of ice. Underneath the ice was an additional 12 beer. Just in case Plan A failed. If security wanted to check the cooler, it was pre-arranged that their daughter Samantha, who would be sitting atop the cooler, start crying and raising a fuss and refuse to get off the cooler. Eventually, we figured, harried and frustrated security-checkers would just wave her through. Linda had to go to the 4th Street Infield gate to gain entrance. Chris went with her. Sonja and I were going through Gate One.

I was the "mule" for the 57 cans. I hung a bag over each shoulder and one down by back. To cover the obvious...I donned a military parka/raincoat that reached to the ground. The beers were undetectable to the eye. I also had a ball cap on that read "Floor Warden". Why, I have no idea.

HEADED OUT: THE FUMBLE

Mind you, when we left for the track from Reed's around 11 a.m., it was already 70 degrees and no chance of rain, no clouds in the sky. I looked way out of place amongst the t-shirt and shorts crowd headed to the gates. And 57 beers are heavy. Especially under a rain coat. I was sweating profusely by the time we got to Churchill. I can't tell you exactly how many double glances and weird looks I  got from people...but it was quite a few. One guy even told me it wasn't going to rain, why didn't I take the raincoat off? I told him I was a flasher and had nothing on underneath it. He steered his wife and kids away from me.

We got to the search check-point and I walked right by, since I was not carrying anything that needed to be searched. We headed to the admission gates. Back then, you could use your "points" on your Twin Spires Card to gain admission on Oaks and Derby Day. So, all I had to do was hand my card to the cashier, let her scan it and walk right in. I got to the booth window and handed her the card. She scanned it, smiled and told me to have a good day. She handed it back to me.

I dropped it on the ground.

There was no way I could bend over and pick it up without either exposing the beers on me or having them spill out onto the concrete. I was panic-stricken. Standing at the gate, however, was a older gentleman who was a back-up ticket taker or something for Churchill. I had to think, and think quick. Sonja was behind me. No chance of her picking it up for me.

"Sir, I've recently had back surgery and can't bend over. Could you pick that card up for me?" I politely asked.

It was a desperation "three" at the buzzer. He smiled, stooped over and retrieved it. "Have a nice day" he replied, and handed me the card. I walked on. Sonja caught up with me, laughing and giddy. We walked toward the infield tunnel. Victorious. Little did we know what laid ahead..

THE GAUNTLET

As we approached the tunnel, I looked ahead and almost soiled my drawers. In front of me was a squadron of uniformed police officers and deputies. In two columns, about 30 yards apart. I had to walk through the middle of them to gain access to the infield tunnel. I looked so out of place with the raincoat on and sweating in rivets. I started babbling in a Cockney British accent to the startled Sonja.

"By jove, dear...look at it. Legendary Churchill Downs. Quite a bit different that the ol' Epsom Derby. And, look. The Twin Spires! Marvelous, quite right, eh?"

The babble continued. The officers started at me. I smiled at them, and continued the dialogue. I walked quickly through them, praying that one wouldn't approach me. They remained in formation.
I kept going. I cleared them. Sonja snuck a quick peek back and told me..."There's still staring at you." I told her to keep walking. They didn't pursue. We were headed to the tunnel.

GOING THE DISTANCE AND REDEMPTION

It was a long, slow walk through that tunnel to the infield. It was humid and crowded. People hooting and staggering. My back and shoulders felt like I had heavy weights attached to them. My t-shirt was soaked with sweat. We headed to the designated meeting place in the infield. I felt like I was running a marathon. Each step harder and harder. Finally, we got to the patch of grass where we were to meet up. Somehow, amazingly...Chris and Linda had already arrived, even though they had had a much longer trek. I got to the spot, saw Chris drinking a beer and I ripped the raincoat off over my head and raised my arms in triumph. Like Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption when he finally finished crawling through the septic tunnel and reached the stream. I got a big cheer from the surrounding crowd as I took the bags off my body and started dumping beers on the blanket.

MEANWHILE...AT GATE 5....

I told the story of my trip to them. They told me of their tale, too. Sure enough, security wanted to check inside the cooler on the wagon. Samantha refused to budge. Started screaming and crying, not listening to the threats and admonishment of her parents. Finally, after Linda assured them that there was only ice, soft drinks and sandwiches inside, they waved her through. We had 69 cans of beer, it was 11:30 a.m. and it was a beautiful day.

EPILOGUE

Sometime shortly before the final race of the day, Chris and I crashed the two final un-consumed cans of Budweiser together, popped the tops and toasted. Between he and I, Linda and Sonja, Mark and Patty and a few new-found "friends" we had managed to drink all 69 beers. Yes, we were blitzed. Even Sonja, who rarely drinks beer. I can't recall much about the day's events after that. I know Chris and I won some races early. I think we both lost on the Kentucky Oaks race. We made money on the day, though....I'm pretty sure. We headed back to Reed's after the races and partied until the early morning. That may have been the year the guy walked up onto Reed's front yard and smashed a half-full bottle of Jack Daniels over the top of his own head and started screaming that he was Jesus Christ. Years tend to run together.

But, the 57 beer mule haul will never be forgotten...

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Paulie looks at the 139th. Kentucky Derby


I've done a bit of Derby prognostication on the 139th. Kentucky Derby already here on this site. I outlined the horses that were gathering my interest at the time. All pretty solid contenders. You can scroll down and check it out. Send it to a relative or bill collector. I care not. It's my site and I write here about whatever I feel like. Today, it's Derby.

Since then, we've had a few more races that have further clouded the waters. So, this is a revised  bunch of three-year olds that I am on the bandwagon with currently. I do believe, like in past years, there is no clear cut, odds-on favorite in this group of twenty-some contenders.

Based on the last two Derbies (I'll Have Another and Animal Kingdom) expect the unexpected and beware the longshots. Since I don't bet or handicap that way as a rule...I won't give much mention to those longshot contenders today. I will look at the top six horses in my selections first. Throw them all out and find something with a price. Derby is only 11 days away.

Pay close attention to Sonja's picks the day before the Oaks and Derby. She routinely has BIG days at the mutual window and does little handicapping. She has a couple of sources she checks every year for her last-minute, "cramming" for the horse racing 101 final and usually does better than me. No early warnings from Sonja, though. She handicaps (if you can call it that) the day before a race.

So, consider today's posting a tasty appetizer before the main entree. Jeff Walz is not your server, either.

This strange sport of handicapping.

I am still on VERRAZANO as my top pick. He did nothing to make me shy away from him in winning the Wood Memorial in New York and I do believe we saw less than 100% from the Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez trainer jockey duo in their strategy. Saving the big guy, winning and not having to exert much effort while doing so. Velazquez's riding injury is of a bit of concern...but he is expected to return to riding Derby Week and he is a crafty veteran who will negotiate a solid course for the horse.

ORB ran lights out in winning the Florida Derby and is a horse that looks like he can run all day. The mile and a quarter Derby distance shouldn't bother him at the least an he should be contending for the money as they pass the final 1/16th pole down that long, long Churchill Downs stretch. Trained by Shug McGaughey, this one just continues to stronger. Could be there to pick up the trophy if "V" fails. And, Joel (pronounced Joe-Al) Rosario gets the ride. He's made Keeneland his personal pleasure toy this spring, leading the meet in wins and getting VERY LIVE mounts.

GOLDENCENTS. A big win in the Santa Anita Derby. Ah, the connections! Doug O'Neill, he of the hats and loquacious comments. Rick Pitino, part owner of the horse. Unheralded Kevin Krigger in the reigns...a journeyman jockey who is finally getting his 15 minutes in the limelight. And, the horse was very impressive in winning the mile and an eighth on the left coast. Made a strategic move and outran the field to the wire. The only question here is if he can get the distance. I do expect to hear his name among the leaders as they turn for the homestretch at Churchill. The only question is whether he can outfox some very strong closers.

NORMANDY INVASION. I absolutely loved his closing kick (at a huge price) to finish second to Verrazano in the Wood. On that day, if the race had gone another sixteenth of a mile, he would have won. Chad Brown enlists the cagey Javier Castellano for the duties. If "Norm" catches a burn-out pace and can display that same quarter-mile late kick that had spectators raving...he could upset at a decent price. He's also become the "wise guys" pick. Weather conditions might be the only thing keeping him from blowing the doors off the field. A wet, cuppy and deep Churchill dirt...if it rains Derby Day...isn't the easiest to make a lot of ground up in...and "Norm" will be attempting to come out of the clouds as a closer on the first Saturday in May.

ITSMY LUCKYDAY. His second place finish to Orb wasn't a bad outing at all. He was in the lead until the final jumps and will probably sent there on Derby Day to pose as a "come catch me if you can" contender. Calder and Gulfstream Park heroes Edward Plesa and Elvis Trujillo team up on this guy to see if they can "steal" a Derby. He did appear to tire just a little in the Florida Derby at the wire...but given a big enough lead...it may not be a factor. The public probably won't give him much respect at the window and he'll definitely be a part of any "exotic" wagering I consider.

REVOLUTIONARY. Another Pletcher horse, he won the Louisiana Derby as most expected against a so-so field where My Lute, Golden Soul, and Code West were the only serious contenders. All four look to continue the feud at Churchill in the 139th. running. The key change here? Since Javier Castellano has chosen "Norm" ...CALVIN BOREL gets the ride. Repeat. CALVIN BOREL is on aboard. Yeah, that guy. Has won three Kentucky Derbies. Knows the track at Churchill Downs better than I know the contents of a bottle of Bud Select. Calvin Bo"rail"...who takes the shortest distance to the finish line by becoming a hobo and riding the rails. One that cannot be ignored.

These comments are only for entertainment purposes, of course. My buddy J.J. Hysell studies these four-legged warriors much closer than I and you can find her daily reports and updates on line. Just google IN THE MONEY or access her site over at CARDINAL COUPLE on the left side of the site.

I'll be back in a few days with a look at some horses that could surprise at a price. We'll also have Oaks and Derby Picks and Selections over at CARDINAL COUPLE on Friday and Saturday. It's the two days a year we abandon women's sports at UofL and concentrate on horse racing.

Some wish we wouldn't...

-Paulie

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Oh...Hail...no!

Getting pelted by hail isn't an event that I'd heartily recommend to anyone. No, quite the contrary, I advise against it strongly.

I speak from the first person here.

Tuesday night was my encounter. A brutal one at that. I was in my back yard, looking at some potted vegetable and flower plants that I suppose I'll eventually get around to sticking in the ground. A very light rain was falling...not enough to send me ducking for cover yet...but the skies were brutally dark and I figured something nasty could be headed my way.

I was right.

I heard what sounded like gravel being dumped in the distance. Or popcorn popping. This should have been my warning cue to get under shelter or head to the house.

I only had a few more plants to move, though....and I get stubborn sometimes about completing a job, regardless of the consequences.

I looked up and saw it coming. White pieces of ice falling rapidly from the sky. Most about the size of a pea or small marble. I headed toward the back porch...about 50 feet away.

Then, it was if I was being poked and prodded by round objects. And, I was. Rapidly falling hail stones. Off the shoulder, on the leg...two on the arm and one right in the face. I covered my face with my hands and started running (at my age...more like a leisurely trot) toward the enclosed porch.

I was getting pummelled. Top of the head, legs,arms, torso and one big golf-ball sized sucker that nailed me on one of my hands that were protecting my face. I was running, cursing, laughing and hooting all at the same time. It seemed like a minute or so, it was probably less...before I reached the safety of the back porch door and went stumbling in.

One hailstone had even landed in my shirt pocket.

I didn't suffer any injuries. A few stings during the assault, but no permanent damage. (Depending on who you talk to, I suppose)

It true that you never forget the sound of a tornado when it is approaching. I'll never forget the sound of the one in 1974 when I lay on the ground fearing for my life under my golf bag on the seventh-hole fairway near Brownsboro Rd. on Crescent Hill Golf Course.

I'll also never forget the sound of approaching hail as well.

Battered but not beaten by the frozen frenzy, I can chuckle now a day after it. It wasn't too damn funny at the time, though.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen, the saying goes, don't have the sense to come in from the rain. Or sun. I always forget which.

Paulie now has acquired the sense to come in from the hail. All you have to do is listen.

-Paulie

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Destiny ahead? Lady Cards look to shock again tonight


SUNDAY CARDINAL COUPLE

-- TIME TO SHOCK THE WORLD AGAIN...

-- SOFTBALL SWEEPS ST. JOHN'S

-- LACROSSE TODAY

The University of Louisville men's basketball team sent home the Wichita State Shockers last night in come-from-behind fashion to advance to the NCAA Championship game Monday night.

The University of Louisville women's basketball team looks to do a bit of shocking themselves tonight...a win over the #2 seeded California Bears would put the #5 seed Louisville squad into Tuesday night's NCAA Womens' Championship game. Have the Cards rode the redemption train to its final destination? What does the train engineer think?

"No one expects us to win now. I'm sorry, we're seeded fifth. So my thing is, I know we won two games, but we're seeded fifth...and if they expected us to win...we'd be seeded second or third. California is 32-3. They beat Stanford. They're a great basketball team, so we're going to have to figure out a way to win."  -- Jeff Walz.

If the goal is to advance and the advancement has come against two of women's basketball powerhouses over the last two games...could the path to the end of the rainbow be slightly easier now? Cal was expected by many to bow out to #1 seed Stanford in the West Regional finals. Stanford failed to show up, though...and Cal came back to beat a gritty, determined Georgia team to earn a shot in New Orleans.

"I definitely agree that a lot has to go right in order to get to this point, but I also think there's a huge impact that our players have in making things go right. The teams that were in front of us at each stage were really formidable and we had to get the job done."  -- Lindsay Gottlieb

So, how does Louisville fulfill the unthinkable (by some) destiny of playing Tuesday night? Here's five things we hope the Cards can do that will help make the goal attainable:

1) Continue to play loose. The Cards went into the Baylor and Tennessee games thinking they had nothing to lose, since no one expected them to win. The same philosophy needs to be in place tonight. Go out, have some fun, play a little ball and see how it goes. We're the underdog. No pressure, no expectations. Let's hoop!

2) Be effective early. Louisville hopped out to dominant early leads against MTSU, Purdue, Baylor and Tennessee and weathered the storms later. Can we get a refill here?

3) Follow the game plan. Coach Walz and his assistants have had four days to develop a strategy for tonight's game. That's like giving Teddy Bridgewater 20 seconds in the pocket to find an open receiver. Listen to what the man has to say.

4) Go to the boards. A team that earlier in the season avoided rebounding like I avoid beets has shown they can muscle it up inside and grab missed shots. This needs to continue.

5) Score. Louisville had 80 points plus in wins over Baylor and Tennessee. It's a pretty simple concept. Score more than the opponent and you'll win. Shoni needs another 20 point + effort, Nita's threes need to find their mark and double digit efforts out of Sara, Bria, Jude and Mo would be most welcome. Keep the official scorers busy.

Tip is at 6:30 p.m. EDT. We'll be back later tonight with a recap of what we feel confident will be a CARDINAL win.

Let us know what you are thinking and what you are doing in NOLA, at home and even in Atlanta in our comments section! CARDS! CARDS!CARDS!CARDS!CARDS!CARDS!CARDS!

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Louisville softball took two from the St. John's Red Storm yesteday in Queens, NY to improve to 31-6 on the season an 4-1 in BIG EAST play. They survived a 2-run STJ attack in the seventh inning of the first game to win 6-4 in eight innings and quelled the Storm with a 15-0 white-wash in the second game.

CARDS 6 - SJU 4.

It was both a "Good Carl and Bad Carl" performance for the Louisville junior in the pitching circle yesterday...but the bats brought the victory in extra innings.

Connell allowed two first inning runs to the Red Storm and the margin held up for SJU while Louisville looked for a way to dent the Red Storm defense. The fireworks didn't arrive until the fifth innning for the Cardinal bats. Maggie Ruckenbrod started the inning with a deep double and Whitney Arion's fielders choice tapper advanced her to third and Arion was safe at first. Hannah Kiyohara connected for her second home run of the season...barely clearing the left-center fence to give Louisville a 3-2 advantage.

Louisville added a run in the sixth when Taner Fowler reached on an infield single and rode home on a Kayla Soles single.

The Red Storm blustered back in the bottom of the seventh. An opening home run narrowed the gap and two walks and a single loaded the bases with no outs. A sacrifice fly tied it and the Johnnies later had the bases loaded again with two outs but Carl delivered a strike out to end the rally and send the game into extra innings.

The Cards got Kiyohara help again in the top of the eighth. After Soles reached on a grounder and Jasmine Smithson-Willett drew a walk, Kiyohara drilled one down the left field line. Soles scored and a wle. ild throw from left trying to pick her off at the plate allowed JSW to score from first.

Connell shut SJU down in the bottom of the eight to improve her record to 20-2 on the season. Kiyohara has 5 RBI's for Louisville.

LOUISVILLE 15 - SJU 0

Rachel LeCoq took to the pitching stripe for the second game and delivered a four hit, six strike-out performance in five innings for UofL. The Cardinal bats went wild in this one.

One run in the first when Katie Keller led off with a walk and scored on a Jordan Trimble single. Louisville made it 2-0 in the third after Jasmine Smithson-Willett singled and reached the plate on Katie Keller's double.

The Cards blasted four runs across in the four. Singles from Kiyohara and Arion and a walk to Katelynn Mann set the stage for a JSW double off the wall in left to make it 4-0. Keller's sacrifice fly scored Mann and Trimble's single brought JSW home to give Louisville a 6-0 cushion.

The Birds really flew high in the fifth with nine runs. Walks to Fowler, Kiyohara, Arion and JSW produced a run. Keller singled to score Kiyohara for an 8-0 lead. Trimble cleaned the bases with a grand slam home run over centerfield (the second of her career) to push it to 12-0. Wolny got plunked by a pitch next and Fowler singled to set it up for a double from Kiyohara that scored both. The Cards tacked on their 15th run when Arion singled to score Kiyohara.

The two will face again today at 2 p.m.

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Lacrosse gives you a chance to get your shouting an early test today with a noon game against Marquette at the Louisville Lacrosse field. It's the first season for Marquette lacrosse, so the cheering for Red and Black scores should come pretty often.

Louisville comes off a heartbreaking, double overtime 16-15 loss to Notre Dame. IT does show, however...how far Lacrosse has come this season...taking #7 in the nation to two extra sessions and actually leading by three goals midway through the second half.

Get out and give our fantastic freshmen "All the way" Kay Morissette and Cortnee "Racy" Lacey some love and see Nikki Boltja and Katie Oliverio send shots past the mis-matched Marquette defenders.

Big fun, that Lacrosse is...go get some!

-Paulie

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