Yes, indeed, we’re talking about practice

Big BrownWorkouts are important indicators of potential performance. If a man or an animal put in quality workouts time in and time out, chances are they are going to do well when it comes time for the big day.

Plus, you can really tell a lot about a man (or an animal) based on how much he enjoys practice and his craft. Word is Seabiscuit whinnied and whined every time he saw horses circling the track. Sometimes it took all the might of the stable hands just to hold back the legendary horse from busting through the rails to take off after another horse breezing through a few furlongs.

The same was said about Michael Jordan, too. Legend has it that for as competitive and nasty as he was during a playoff game, he took the battles to another level during every day workouts. It was what made Jordan great, some said.

Allen Iverson? Practice? Not so much.

practice?As a workout fiend known for leaving some of his best performances on the back roads instead of in the big races, I have a special fondness for workout logs and results. That’s especially true this time of year when the Triple Crown stakes races approach. That’s why I spent a little while this afternoon combing through the charts and times for the workouts of the 20 horses set to race in this Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Yeah, I’m sure some of the times are withheld and other workouts are ignored, but I continue to use the workouts as the top criterion for picking a winner in a horse race.

After that, it’s hard to ignore past performances.

Bloodlines? Yeah, that’s important, but not as much as one would think.

So without much more waxing on, here are the three horses I like in Saturday’s big race:

  • Eight Belles – the No. 5 horse is a field pick at 20-1, which means he’s not much of a contender. However, the Kentucky-bred filly has won four straight races this year as well a workout where he breezed through five furlongs in 58.2 this week. Last week Eight Belles did four furlongs in 46.6 and seems to be getting stronger.
  • Colonel John – OK, I like the name, and at 4-1 the No. 10 is the second favorite in the Derby. But the numbers are big – two five-furlongs sessions in 57.8 and 59.4 during the last two weeks coupled with six lifetime races in which the Kentucky-bred colt has four wins and two second-place finishes. Call this horse the smart money.
  • Big Brown – Despite coming out of the 20th hole, the lightly-raced Kentucky native is the favorite at 3-1. However, even with a few somewhat pedestrian workouts, Big Brown is a big monster when the bell rings. All three of Big Brown’s wins were by big margins, including a five-length romp in last month’s Florida Derby. Word around the backstretch is that Big Brown is a big “freak” and very well might roll over the big field for the first jewel of the Triple Crown.

Could Big Brown be the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978? We’ll find out on Saturday. In the meantime, arrange the 5, 10 and 20 in a trifecta and send me a big kudos if this works out for you.

Fearsome foursome

Furyk & TigerCertainly the Masters isn’t what it used to be. The course has changed in order to reign in the game of one particular player and there is absolutely no way the proletariat will ever be admitted past the giant hedges and steely gates that separates Augusta National from all the chain stores, strip malls and sprawl that surrounds it.

The fact is Augusta National and the Masters is mainstream elitism on full display. I suppose folks can take that for what it’s worth, but they sure do know how to put on a good golf tournament down there. Better yet, Masters weekend could be the most properly hyped sporting event out there. Based on the TV ratings the NCAA Tournament doesn’t quite pack them in any more. Perhaps that’s because of the ridiculously tired and hokey “One Shining Moment” malarkey. Come on already, they’re pro athletes… enough with the fairy tales. The TV networks can save those tired old bits for the Olympics lest the protests and attention to China’s human-rights violations make advertisers squirm.

News, apparently, is a product too.

Anyway, Along with the Kentucky Derby, which one can attend and not even see a damned horse, the Masters is a must-watch event.

At least it is here. Hey, clearly I’m prone to hyperbole.

Nevertheless, a big sporting event demands bold predictions. Actually, how bold will it be to pick the best golfer in the world, or a guy who grew up in your wife’s neighborhood to win the biggest golf tournament in the world?

Nope, not bold at all.

Enough blathering. Here’s my prediction for the top foursome at this year’s Masters:

  • Tiger Woods – yeah, going out on a limb there.
  • Jim Furyk – what’s bigger… hitting a 20-footer at the buzzer to beat Lebanon to win the Section 1 title game for Manheim Township, or another Top 5 finish at the Masters?

Hey, at the time it was a pretty clutch shot…

  • Ernie Els – He’s won three majors (U.S. Open twice; British Open), but has finished second at the Masters twice in 2000 and 2004. Maybe he’s ready to breakthrough.
  • Padraig Harrington – the Irishman is the defending Open champ and has three Top 10 finishes in the last eight major tournaments. Then again, he’s also missed the cut in three of the last eight majors, too.

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The London Marathon also takes place this weekend. Here’s a prediction: Ryan Hall will become the first American-born runner to break 2:08.

Hall, of course, won last November’s marathon Olympic Trials in New York City and is coached by former Villanova standout, Terrence Mahon.