The Underground Man, two times two, and Justify

So said Fyodor Dostoevsky in his masterpiece “Notes from Underground“:

With the ant-heap the respectable race of ants began and with the ant- heap they will probably end, which does the greatest credit to their perseverance and good sense. But man is a frivolous and incongruous creature, and perhaps, like a chess player, loves the process of the game, not the end of it.

Since the horses crossed the wire in the Belmont on Saturday afternoon, since the end of the “game” that is the Triple Crown season, I felt dread over having to fill out my NTRA All Ages poll.

The three-year-old poll was obvious, of course, at least as obvious as a poll of opinions can be.  There was, as always, a lot of splitting hairs underneath…but Justify reigned supreme.  Winning a Triple Crown makes that obvious.

But, his accomplishment gave me a crisis of conscience about my All Ages poll.

And who knows (there is no saying with certainty), perhaps the only goal on earth to which mankind is striving lies in this incessant process of attaining, in other words, in life itself, and not in the thing to be attained, which must always be expressed as a formula, as positive as twice two makes four, and such positiveness is not life, gentlemen, but is the beginning of death.

Leading into the Belmont Justify was not on my All Ages ballot, and I was seriously considering not putting him on there again.  After all, one thing is positive: he hasn’t faced older horses.  To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best — and on average, “the best” are older horses.  Justify is a freak — but his only foes have been three-year-olds.  How can I rank him better than the older horses if he hasn’t been tested against them yet?

With that question, the thought of putting Justify on my all-aged poll at all makes me sick to my stomach.

It makes sense to base my votes on things I know.  Twice two makes four.  Older horses are, on average, more developed, stronger, better than three-year-olds.  Justify may be the exception, may be more developed than some top-class older horses, but how do we know, if he’s only ever beaten three-year-olds?

Anyway, man has always been afraid of this mathematical certainty, and I am afraid of it now. Granted that man does nothing but seek that mathematical certainty, he traverses oceans, sacrifices his life in the quest, but to succeed, really to find it, dreads, I assure you. He feels that when he has found it there will be nothing for him to look for. When workmen have finished their work they do at least receive their pay, they go to the tavern, then they are taken to the police-station — and there is occupation for a week. But where can man go? Anyway, one can observe a certain awkwardness about him when he has attained such objects. He loves the process of attaining, but does not quite like to have attained, and that, of course, is very absurd. In fact, man is a comical creature; there seems to be a kind of jest in it all.

But, on the other hand?  My search for anything approximating mathematical certainty in the older division has eluded me.  Since “six furlongs on the turf” is a little too specific a niche to be a division (sorry, Disco Partner!), the closest thing any division has to a clear leader is the open sprint division, with Mind Your Biscuits.  His Golden Shaheen (G1) victory was a triumph.  The Met Mile (G1) was a defeat in which he lost absolutely nothing: he missed by just a nose behind lone speed, going a distance longer than his best.  He’s a superstar, but he hasn’t had an unprecedented kind of season.  Heart to Heart has emerged best in the middle-distance turf division, Accelerate is the top of the handicap division…but how far above the rest do they loom?

They’ve had good seasons so far, but none of them have done anything that, if portrayed in a work of fiction, would cause you to roll your eyes and murmur that it couldn’t happen in real life.

Justify has.

If you tried to tell me a horse would go from unraced three-year-old to Triple Crown winner in under four months, I’d have told you that would never happen.  If you handed me a book about a horse whose star rose so fast, I’d have scoffed at the implausible plot.  Yet, I’ve now seen it happen with my own two eyes because Justify did it.

But yet mathematical certainty is after all, something insufferable. Twice two makes four seems to me simply a piece of insolence. Twice two makes four is a pert coxcomb who stands with arms akimbo barring your path and spitting. I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too.

Is Justify better than the older horses?  Will he beat older company later this year?  We won’t know until he tries.  In that sense, I’m still not quite happy about my choice to put Justify on my All Ages ballot at all.

But, he has changed my definition of what it’s possible for a racehorse to do, and has done that while racing a grueling Triple Crown schedule.  I’m more certain of the fact that Justify has done something truly difficult than I am about anything in the older horse landscape right now. When so little elsewhere is stable maybe it’s not such a bad thing to break my rule, surrender begrudgingly to the wisdom of the Underground Man, and let twice two be five this time around.

Saturday Stakes Action at Belmont and Arlington!

Over at Picks and Ponderings, I look at stakes action both here and out east!

Saturday’s card at Arlington features a pair of turf stakes, the Mike Spellman Memorial and the Black Tie Affair Handicap.  Both drew small yet classy fields, but the Illinois turf route division is still such a good group that both should be exciting, competitive contests.

Of course, Belmont’s card also grabs attention.  In addition to the Belmont Stakes — with Justify’s Triple Crown attempt — the card features a full day of stakes action.  At Picks and Ponderings, I look at the Belmont horse-by-horse as well as give picks for all the stakes races on the card.

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Belmont Stakes Point/Counterpoint

We’ve reached my favourite leg of the Triple Crown: the Belmont Stakes.

Perhaps the most consistent part of this year’s Triple Crown season has been Classic Empire’s path being so star-crossed.  Unfortunately, he is not one of the entrants into this year’s Belmont, as he came up with a foot abscess this morning.  However, twelve horses did pass the entry box.  Lookin at Lee will be the only horse to contest all three legs of the Triple Crown.  Irish War Cry takes one more Triple Crown before going back to Jersey for the Haskell.  A couple horses we saw at Hawthorne a month and a half ago, Multiplier and Hollywood Handsome, will try Big Sandy.

Who do Paul Mazur and I like?

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read our preview of the Belmont Stakes, and let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Belmont Gold Cup Preview

Friday’s card at Belmont features the fourth edition one of my favourite races of the year: the Belmont Gold Cup (G3).

It’s graded for the first time this year, and it drew a deep field of 13: seven Americans, and six international horses.  It’s exciting to see how far this race has come in just four years.  The race has more proven stayers than ever before, and classier contestants as well.

In addition to a full preview of the Belmont Gold Cup, I also share my picks for all of Friday’s stakes races.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Belmont Gold Cup, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: Belmont Stakes Preview

It’s almost here — my favourite race of the Triple Crown, the Test of the Champion, the Belmont Stakes.  Over at Picks and Ponderings, Paul Mazur and I go point-counterpoint on the entire field of thirteen.

The horse in the field who has my #CurlinBabies heart is of course Exaggerator.  It would be so much fun to see

But, particularly without Nyquist in the field, Exaggerator will be short-priced to the point of underlay.  That hits especially strongly given Exaggerator’s closing style, something that typically does not suit the Belmont so well.

So, though my heart may be with the Preakness winner, my head says to focus on others who present far more betting value.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read our preview of the Belmont Stakes, and let us know what you think in the comments!

Belmont chat with Dane and Ben

Set your clocks: Thursday morning at 9:05am CDT, I will be back on Sports Town Chicago to talk Belmont Stakes with Dane and Ben!

There may be no Triple Crown on the line, but there will be no shortage of intrigue.  The projected field seems to be getting bigger by the day, and we will know the final entries today.  Who is going to get the right trip?  Who is going to stay twelve furlongs?

No need to be in Chicago, since Sports Town Chicago broadcasts online.  Make sure to tune in tomorrow morning at 9:05am Central!

our chapter

eleven names have always hearkened back
to what the books of history have said
mute tones of sepia and white and black
accented with blue checks or devil’s red
illuminated manuscripts of old
bring illustrated tales of hero steeds
though yellowed leaves fall short of making bold
the full extent of witnessing those deeds
our generation clung to history
the only path to that elusive prize
resigned to think that we would never see
the pinnacle of sport through our own eyes
three days, five weeks have coloured the next page
a Pharoah for our place and for our age

soundtrack to a Triple Crown

when you’re thinkin’ you’re a joke and nobody’s gonna listen
to the one small point i know they’ve been missing around here

Yesterday, I was more excited about seeing a horse race in person than I was about seeing the Goo Goo Dolls in person for the first time. I was more excited about catching a glimpse of Keen Ice or American Pharoah than I was of seeing Johnny Rzeznik.

Fifteen-year-old me would have been appalled.

Read More »

post-Belmont on WLS!

American Pharoah has won the Triple Crown, and people are talking.

Tomorrow morning, I will be back on WLS 890 for a short segment about the Belmont Stakes!  I’ll be on a little earlier than I was on Friday: Monday I am scheduled for the quite precise time of 8:18am CDT.

If you’re in Chicago, tune your radio to 890 AM.  From anywhere, you can listen online at

Tune in, and start your week with some horse talk!

Belmont Stakes Day!

Belmont Stakes day is finally here!  Maybe we will see a Triple Crown today, and maybe there will be another spoiler.  No matter what, it will be a top-class day of racing from beginning to end, and Blinkers Off has the information you need.

  • Belmont Stakes Point/Counterpoint: Over at Picks and Ponderings, Paul Mazur and I go horse-by-horse through the Belmont field, and identify who we see as the contenders.
  • Manhattan Stakes Preview: Over at ShapperDaCapper, I preview the Manhattan Stakes, and make the case for my selections — all of whom are bound to go off at a price.
  • Met Mile Preview and Full Stakes Selections: Also at Picks and Ponderings, Paul takes a focused look at the marquee race of the day for older horses, the Met Mile.  Both of us also make our selections for every stakes race on today’s Belmont card.
  • Hello Race Fans! Picks: For a wider range of perspectives on the Grade I races on today’s Belmont card, check out Hello Race Fans!, where a panel of experienced handicappers and writers all share their selections in the top races of the day

If you have any questions about my selections or logic, find me on Twitter at @rogueclown, and I would be happy to discuss it.

Good luck today, and enjoy the Belmont!

Picks and Ponderings: 2015 Belmont Stakes Point/Counterpoint

Eight horses have entered Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.  American Pharoah hopes to complete a Triple Crown…and after the prep season and the first two jewels of the Triple Crown, just seven horses stand between him and history.

As we did for the Preakness, Paul Mazur and I have gone horse by horse, point-counterpoint style, through the Belmont Stakes field.  It turns out we see the race just differently enough to keep it interesting…yet there’s one very long shot who we both think has a good chance Saturday.

Head on over to Picks and Ponderings, see who Paul and I like in the Belmont, and let us know in the comments what you think we got right — or wrong.

talking Belmont on Thursday at Sports Town Chicago!

This Thursday morning at 9:05am CDT, I will be back on the Dane and Ben show at Sports Town Chicago!

I have been fortunate enough to be their guest before the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness as well, and this week I will be back on the show to talk Belmont.  Will American Pharoah win the Triple Crown?  Will a spoiler like Keen Ice or Materiality find the wire first?  The draw happens Wednesday, so Thursday morning will be the perfect time to chat about what to expect from the race.

Tune into Sports Town Chicago Thursday morning at 9:05am CDT, and hear my thoughts about the Belmont Stakes!