With Preakness, Romans adds to his racing resume

I was off the job last week when one of the stories of the year in horse racing around here took place. Dale Romans won the Preakness Stakes with Shackleford.

It hasn’t been that long ago that I was writing a feature story about Romans going into his first Kentucky Derby, in 2006.

Romans grew up at the track, virtually. His dad, Jerry, trained horses and, because there wasn’t a lot of money, he had his sons help him. Dale led his first winner to the the Churchill Downs track at age 12. Think about that. Age 12.

The backside was his homeroom. Jerry Romans chose his barn, No. 4, along the Fourth Street edge of the Churchill backside, because it was close to the track kitchen. Dale spent mornings before school at the track, then ducked out early from classes at Butler High School to catch a bus back to the races.

“As long as I was passing, they didn’t care,” he told me for that 2006 story. “They knew where I was. For me, I never thought of doing anything else. It never crossed my mind to do anything else, nor could I. I spent my childhood learning how to do this. This was school, right here.”

This past Saturday, Romans celebrated a graduation of sorts. A year ago before he saddled two horses in the Preakness, Dale told me that, “There are some holes in the resume. . . . Now that we’re getting into the Triple Crown races, we’d like to win some.”

Romans had won the Dubai World Cup. He had won a Breeders’ Cup race. And he is closing in on the greatest goal, the Kentucky Derby. But winning the Preakness certainly adds another line to that long resume that began with those bus rides down Dixie Highway toward the track.

It’s always good in sports to watch guys win from the ground up. Romans not only grew up in the game, and at the track, but studied it. The winter after graduating from high school, Romans went to his version of graduate school —  four months in Florida working for Woody Stephens. He came back with a bunch of ideas, but also with the confidence that he’d been doing the right things already.

“The big thing it showed me was that the top horses aren’t a lot different from cheap horses,” Romans said. “They all have the same problems. I learned a lot from him in a short time. But I also learned that it wasn’t so different from what we were doing. The big thing was to keep working.”

Of the 211 starters Romans has sent out this year, 43 percent have finished in the money. He’s knocking on the Derby’s door. He finished third with Paddy O’Prado last year, and Shackleford ran well in a fourth-place finish this year. Romans also won the Grade I Humana Distaff on Derby Day, impressively, with Sassy Image, who is owned by his brother Jerry.

Both brothers grew up immersed in the business. Jerry noted to me some time back that Dale’s gift was being able to improve and expand on what he was doing: “I don’t think Dad would ever have dreamed things would be this big,” Jerry said. “But that was always Dale’s strength, I think. He was never afraid to think big.”

Just two weeks earlier, when trainer Graham Motion was momentarily dazed after his Animal Kingdom scored an upset win in the Kentucky Derby, Romans had taken him by the arm and showed him a quicker way to the track to get his horse, and on to the winner’s circle. On Saturday, it was his turn.

Winning the Kentucky Derby would be an ultimate accomplishment for Romans. But that the first time he found the winner’s circle in a Triple Crown race it was away from Churchill Downs is useful in its own way.

When Romans won a piece of his first training title back in 2000, they looked at him a little differently at his hometown track. Same thing happened after the Dubai win, and the Breeders’ Cup.

“I’ve watched a lot of trainers in this gap back here and learned a lot from all of them,” Romans says.

I imagine these days, quite a few of them are studying him. This past Saturday, without question, was another graduation day.

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The Derby Trial is decadent and depraved

All right, maybe it doesn’t rise to THAT level. Hunter Thompson is dead, and I’m not feeling so good myself.

But I never thought I’d see the day (and certainly not the night) when it was as difficult to navigate from press pox to paddock for the Derby Trial as it is for the Kentucky Derby.

Such is the power and draw of night racing at Churchill Downs. It’s a different crowd, certainly a younger crowd, a more diverse crowd, that packs every grandstand club and balcony when the lights go on.

But a crowd it is. (Official attendance, 38,142 — the largest ever at Churchill Downs outside of Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks or Breeders’ Cup days.) At 10 p.m., they were still filing through the gates at Churchill Downs, even younger faces that wouldn’t know the difference between a filly and a furlong, but that know a party when they see one.

Forget the Derby tradition of sneaking booze into the infield. Sneaking booze into this setting would be like sneaking it into Charlie Sheen’s place. There’s really not much point. Many of the patrons in the paddock and turf clubs and on the balconies tonight are the folks you might find in the infield or staking out less-than-forward positions on Derby day. But tonight, they’re gypsies in the palace. They have the house to themselves — and the key to the liquor cabinet.

The kids coming in at 10 o’clock seemed unconcerned that they’d just missed the feature race, The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial. The race is named after a Margaux Farm stallion, The Cliff’s Edge, that is named for longtime Equibase and Daily Racing Form chart caller Cliff Guilliams, who also was the last staff handicapper for The Courier-Journal, and my great friend. He passed away in April of 2008.

Cliff was gruff and rough as gravel. He was so old-school that he thought even the old school was too new. That a race bearing, in some form, his name would take part amid this non-racing revelry would have sent him on a rant of epic proportions.

He hated the marketing side of the game, the public-relations posturing, and more than anything he hated the corporate mentality that crept into the sport.  I’m not saying anything that anybody at the track doesn’t already know, or that Cliff probably didn’t tell them himself. Repeatedly.

But I am chuckling, I’ll admit, at the irony of Cliff’s name being on the centerpiece race on a night when racing is hardly the centerpiece. He’d love the honor of the Derby Trial bearing his name. He’d be honored beyond belief. But if Cliff is looking down at this night, he’s using some language that they probably don’t hear much Up There.

Be that as it may, night racing, particularly as it has been executed by Churchill Downs, has been a stroke of corporate marketing genius and Churchill’s decision to make Opening Day an Opening Night must be termed a success.

One key to Churchill’s night success has been in its staging. Every area of the track is turned into a different kind of night spot.

They hung a series of chandeliers over the Aristides statue. Pat Day’s statue stood off to the side, hands upraised to the heavens, as if to say, “Are you getting all this?”

Maybe He was. In the tenth race, Needadrink finished second, just ahead of Sober Living. The winner? Need an Angel. I’m not making this up.

But night racing at Churchill has also succeeded because of its timing. Churchill doesn’t open the track every night of the week, but keeps the night dates fairly few in number, and therefore still special to the public, which seems to have no problem with plunking down $10 at the turnstiles.

We’ll see how many of them have a problem with the track being closed on Sunday of its opening weekend — even to simulcasting.

But if Louisville is a town that will embrace any reason for a party, Churchill Downs has tapped into something here, and the attraction apparently has not waned, and in fact is growing.

For a facility built on a sport that is fading in many ways, it’s an enlightening development.

If you haven’t read it, please click here now to read Hunter Thompson’s famous piece about the Kentucky Derby, which the headline for this entry was spoofing. It is regularly voted among the top pieces of sports writing of the 20th century.

A departure: Delbert Crawford, 1909-2011

The offerings have been pretty sparse from these parts over the past week or so, and there’s a reason for that. Last Sunday night, Delbert Crawford, my grandfather, died at a little after 11 o’clock, at 102 years of age.

My earliest memories of him are of his hands. Holding some toy or other we were showing him, they turned it over, examining it slowly, deliberately. They were strong then, and rough, so rough that they would catch on a sweater if you were wearing one.

The morning of the day he died, I held his hand and it was as soft as a dream. A final memory.

In between there is much, too much to set down here.

But this is how it works. At a Senior PGA event the mind wandered to the accomplishments of old men. At Churchill Downs, it sprinted to him telling about riding his horse, Buck, to school, and of how the horse would take off when he had barely gotten onto him. He wanted to be a jockey for a time, but outgrew it. These are the tracks your thoughts gallop onto even when you need them to go elsewhere.

So tonight, a full stop to look back. I have written about him before in this space, particularly on his one-hundredth birthday, but also when I missed his one hundred second birthday party, and at other times.

He was born in the latter days of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, at the tail of the horse-and-buggy era, when this country had probably fewer than twenty miles of paved roads. Several months before he was born the Wright Brothers made headlines for keeping a plane in the air for more than an hour. Several months after his birth, Commander Robert E. Peary was hailed as the first person to reach the North Pole. Six months after his birth, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened for its first race – of hot air balloons. Gas was six cents a gallon.

I have written about how my grandfather went west prospecting for gold as a young man, and worked herding sheep after that venture didn’t pan out.

What I haven’t written about is what kind of man he was, the kind of man, who, as my father, Byron Crawford, related about him in remarks at his funeral, refused a handicap parking tag when my grandmother brought up the subject after he underwent hip surgery at age 99. The kind of man who walked to the hospital the day his son was born because the snow was too deep for driving – but walked off the road, in the woods, so no one would think he needed a ride. The kind of man who, at age 97 when his wife took him to Lowe’s to pick out new kitchen linoleum, listened to the salesman talk about a floor with a 30-year guarantee, then a 20-year, before piping up and asking, “Do you have any with a 5-year guarantee?”

On his next-to-last night, I went back back to the house with my grandmother, Lucille Crawford, his wife of 67 years who truly is the major reason he enjoyed such longevity, and who attended him virtually round-the-clock in his final years. She pulled off a shelf his dictionary, and I leafed through it. It was worn with a duct-tape spine. He would spend hours trying to work “Scramble” word puzzles out of the newspaper, and had placed a mark next to every word he ever looked up. He wrote lists on pages, as if putting down markers for his memory – a list of places he’d lived and worked in Arizona and New Mexico. A list of his brothers and sisters, with numerals beside each name to mark their birth order. The names of great-grandchildren and the spouses of grandchildren.

After he died, my dad fished out a number of notes and letters his father had written to him after he took a job writing for the newspaper, long, thoughtful pages from those same hands.

I won’t be able to quote my dad exactly, and I wonder even if he remembers the exact words he said at the funeral service, except to note that these pages, just days before, had been mere thoughts Delbert Crawford had written down. But today, for us, they are treasures.

In his last days, he had trouble communicating at times, struggling to form the words. Who would have thought in death he would speak so eloquently?

I’m afraid there’s no tidy conclusion here, just a period on the sentence. As a young man, he worked in a movie theater, and said those cowboy movies helped inspire him to head west toward adventure, that trek in a Model-T Ford to search for gold, and later to herd sheep on the southern fringe of the Rocky Mountains. He told of getting lost one day, and of getting plenty nervous until he dropped the reins and let his burro go where it wanted – which was right back to camp. Among the slips of paper we read after he died was one that said the cowboy life was probably best suited to those who grew up with it, not those who chose it for the romance or adventure. Regardless, having lived all that life out west seemed to offer him, Delbert wound up taking a bus back to Kentucky from California

In those last days, I thought about him on that burro. It seemed to me that having lived all that life had for him, he packed up his tired tent of a body, laid down the reins and went on back home.

But as with his dictionary, where the marks of his hands show where he had been, he marked the trail of his long life with enduring expression and a postscript of memories.

Brad Stevens: Calm coach leads the Butler storm

Indianapolis Star photo

In the same spot, on the same night, along the very same sideline, two coaches could not have been more different.

National semifinals, 75,000-plus fans in the stands, close games.

Butler forward Andrew Smith blows a put-back. A point-blank put-back. A bunny. A gimme. A shot he couldn’t miss again on a bet. There are groans on press row. There’s a dead ball. He leaves the game, approaches the bench, and Butler coach Brad Stevens is there to greet him. He is clapping. “Good job,” Stevens says, slapping his hand. “Get another one.”

Game Two. Kentucky and Connecticut. Wildcat freshman Doron Lamb has missed a defensive assignment, and he’s coming out. Kentucky coach John Calipari, too, awaits the player leaving the court. He is shouting, a sarcastic litany: “Don’t get a rebound, get beat on a back door, jog up the floor.” By then, Lamb is well past him and onto the bench. Another time, UK’s Eloy Vargas has missed in close, and Calipari screams, an inch from his ear, “Why can’t you FINISH?”

It’s April, and Brad Stevens, a 34-year-old bespectacled former marketing associate at Eli Lilly, looks like a guy you’d get to do your taxes. In a game dominated by celebrity coaches in four-figure suits with seven-figure salaries, Stevens does not look the part, even if his salary did become the first ever at Butler to top seven figures last year. Nor when he is on the sidelines does he toe the line set by big name coaches. He does not rant and stomp. He does yell. He does direct. But sitting on the courtside stool provided by the NCAA, he watches much of the game the way a guy along Main Street in his hometown of Zionsville, Ind., might survey a checkerboard. The coach with an economics degree from DePauw University studies the game like a guy looking for one more deduction.

It’s April, and Brad Stevens, in fact, is working on a return. But it is a return to the NCAA championship game. In the proud history of basketball in the state of Indiana, no coach has taken a state college even to back-to-back Final Fours, let alone title games. That by itself would set Stevens apart. But that alone is not the heart of his story. He has done it without elite high school recruits, at least as far as the recruiting industrial complex now rates them. He has done it without playing in a power conference — defined these days as those with big-time football programs and the money that goes with them, as if a school’s football prowess should have anything to do with putting five players on a court capable of winning basketball games.

And when asked how he has done it, he serves up answers like this one, which could have adorned the wall of even John Wooden himself: “I think the most important thing is adhering to the standards, whatever you deem to be the standards and values of your program.”

At Butler, that entails “The Butler Way,” a code and philosophy of action that is to govern all aspects of the school. As it regards basketball, Stevens says, “It’s not rocket science. It’s a values-based organization.”

“I think it begins with selflessness, and certainly accountability is very important, humility is very important,” he continues. “You kind of go through those founding principles. We always talk about it this way with the team. The only way we address the ‘Butler Way’ with our team is in this regard: people know they’ve seen and felt something special, they just can’t put their finger on it.”

Selflessness. Accountability. Humility. Who let this guy into the Final Four? These are not the hallmarks of college sports today. In fact, they could be called the antithesis of big-time college sports, if you spend much time watching them at their highest level. For them to show up in the NCAA championship game, not just once as a novelty, but in back-to-back seasons, says something not only about the coach, but his sport.

If a sense of place helps define people, certainly two places lend perspective to Stevens. One of them is the driveway of the home where he grew up in Zionsville, a pleasant suburb of Indianapolis. There’s nothing special about that driveway, but that’s the point. Stevens, who watched tapes of basketball games as a 5-year-old before going to kindergarten in the afternoons, grew up there counting down the seconds and making one, last game-winning shot before heading in to supper, and many of his players grew up the same way. There’s a meeting of the basketball minds, in many cases, from before the time Butler players reach campus. Stevens loves the movie “Hoosiers,” though he tends to downplay its parallels with Butler. The ethos depicted in that film, however, of teamwork, of size not mattering, is one that embodies and emboldens his team.

“I was a kid that grew up 20 minutes outside of Indianapolis,” Stevens said. “Best birthday present I got when I was eight years old was a basketball hoop on my driveway. I think a lot of these guys share that. I know that there is a passion for the game and a passion for a team in a lot of communities that goes beyond the norm.”

The other place that fixes Stevens place in the coaching landscape is Hinkle Fieldhouse, historic home of the Butler basketball team. In his early days at Butler, when he wasn’t making much money, having the key to Hinkle in his pocket was something money couldn’t buy. It’s hard to walk into the place and not feel closer to the foundations of the sport. The way Butler plays is built on that foundation.

Early in his career, Stevens would hear people wander into the gym and shout, “Hickory!” recreating the moment from “Hoosiers.” They’d tell him their stories about the place. He’d tell them his.

Over the past two years, this young coach has written an indelible new chapter in its history.

For Stevens, basketball is a game of pieces. Chess masters learn the game in three parts — opening, middle, and endgame. Butler has become a master of the endgame, particularly in tournament play. Stevens takes delight in the details. And if anything, Butler has become the definitive contemporary program in illustrating that you don’t have to be the fastest player to get to the spot first. You don’t have to be the tallest player or greatest leaper to get the rebound.

“You know, the clips that we show our guys from teams past are all of those little details, our lead steps, closing out great off of a ball screen where you have to rotate, of getting a great hedge, getting back into play, coming over and taking a charge on a drive on the other side of the floor,” Stevens said. “I think all of those things go unnoticed and we want to make them important.”

In the 1990s, Arkansas played smothering full-court pressure and called it “40 minutes of hell.” Against Butler’s physical, tight, rotating defense, an offensive set is the longest 35 seconds of your life. Butler games can take any form for the first 35 minutes, but they normally end up at the same place. With four minutes left, you’re going to look at the scoreboard and the game is going to be in the balance.

Stevens talks about games being “possession games,” as in each possession being a game in itself, crucial. Those are the kinds of games Butler seems to excel in come tournament time. One reason — the Bulldogs practice it. Even when they’re just playing around. Stevens suggested that instead of playing to 12 in their pickup games, they think about playing to 8. “It makes the possessions more meaningful,” guard Shelvin Mack said.

But it’s also a game of numbers for Stevens, who was a promising employee at Eli Lilly for his math skills and his ability to synthesize a collection of numbers into effective proposals. Among his duties with the company were analyzing sales numbers to determine compensation for salespeople and plans for which drugs should be sold where.

He quit that job, which paid well, for an unpaid assistant’s job at Butler. He worked basketball camps to make money. He was about to take a job waiting tables at Applebee’s restaurant when the school’s director of basketball operations was arrested for soliciting a prostitute, and he got promoted.

Stevens left the corporate world, but he didn’t stop crunching numbers. You could hear it in his comments after beating Virginia Commonwealth in the national semifinals, when he described his rebounding goal for the game this way: “We tried to get 80 percent plus back on the defensive glass and tried to get 40 percent plus back on the offensive glass. We were 83-38, and that ended up being good enough.”

Of course, Stevens’ stock may now be the fastest-rising in all of American sports. There’s probably not a job that he couldn’t have, based on his success at Butler. Yet it’s generally acknowledged that there are only a handful that he could conceivably want. He says he’s amused sometimes to hear the speculation regarding him and other jobs when he catches it on television at times.

He seems to have a sense that he has found something special in a place that seems to fit his own style and approach so well. There aren’t many serious basketball schools that could look at a guy like Matt Howard — the eighth child (of ten) of Stan and Linda Howard of Connorsville, Ind., and think, “That’s the guy we want to build around in the middle.” But at Butler, the big man who teammates laugh at as he awkwardly navigates his bicycle around campus no matter how cold the weather is a perfect fit.

“Here’s the point,” Stevens says. “I think people always look at their job and you hear people say this all the time, that the grass is greener somewhere else. Well, I think we recognize that the grass is very green at Butler. Butler’s been terrific to us. Butler’s gone in a lot of ways out of their way for us. We recognize that.

“Certainly we appreciate everything that this place has done for us, even when I first got the job and was not making a whole lot of money but had a key to Hinkle. Certainly there can be green grass at other places. You understand that. You see people go through it. You see sometimes it works out for people and sometimes it doesn’t. . . . It’s such a personal thing for me. I’ve just been fortunate to be in a place that I consider to be consistent with where I want to be and who I want to coach.”

It’s not just a testament to the coach, however, that Butler is in this position, the first small school without a major-conference football program to make back-to-back title games since San Francisco did it 1955 and ’56.

Basketball, more than any other sport, can combat brute size and strength with team play. It doesn’t always happen. It takes a staggering amount of work and belief. Players at places like Butler talk about trusting each other, and it loses some of its impact because you hear players at places where they don’t really trust each other saying the same thing.

Indiana, in many ways, gave up on that belief in the game when it did away with its single-class basketball high school championship and split the state into smaller classes. It conceded that the small schools couldn’t compete. At Butler, they don’t concede. They believe. And perhaps the best thing to come of its dual championship game appearances is the restoration of a measure of faith in the game, in the belief that you don’t have to have McDonald’s All-Americans or marginal students to get to the highest reaches of college basketball.

“I’ve always said this — you can have three or four players who can play anywhere in the country and surround them with the perfect role players and you’ve got a chance,” Stevens says. “I think in the last two years we’ve at least, you could argue, been in that mix.”

But don’t forget to add a dose of coaching. It takes someone pretty persuasive to get a teenage player to buy into an old-school message like “believe.” But Stevens has done it. And every time his teams achieve the way they are doing in the NCAA Tournament, the next group of guys has all the more reason to believe it can be done again.

“I think you have to have certain guys that believe,” Stevens says. “And it goes back to that. I thought about when we went back to the Sweet 16 in 2007, we had a couple of seniors in Marcus Nellems, Brandon Crone and Brian Ligon. Brandon Crone played a couple years overseas, but Brian Ligon went to dental school and he’s a dentist now, and Marcus Nellems went and got his Master’s of Art teaching, and he’s an elementary school teacher. Those guys gave us a belief that we could do something if we all stayed together and did all our jobs as well as we possibly can. For whatever reason, we’ve kept those rose-colored glasses on.”

Whatever Stevens is doing, he’s enabling people to see college basketball in a new, or perhaps old, light.

Veterans Day remembrance

I was watching the History Channel’s outstanding World War II in HD series tonight, which to me, is an example of the very best of the television medium, and wanted to say a word about Veterans Day. I’ve done this in various ways over the years, whether it be writing about people in sports who served or retelling old stories of where athletics and military have overlapped, even once wrote about U.S. soldiers in the Middle East and what rooting for their teams at home meant to them.

Just recently, in fact, thoroughbred trainer John Shirreffs spent a great deal of time in the news as the trainer of the racehorse Zenyatta, but you may not have known that he enlisted in the Marines in 1968 and served one tour of duty in Vietnam.

At any rate, along with thanks for their service, for Veterans Day today I want to share with you a member of my family, George Garrison, a World War II veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star. George is my great-uncle. He lives in Stanford, Ky., and the following was recorded about a year ago, when he was asked to reflect a little on his military experience.

Zenyatta legacy: Extended column

Often when I’m writing, I’ll put together a full version of what I want to say in a given column, then come back and cut it into a length that will fit in our usual column spot. In the case of discussing Zenyatta’s legacy, I wound up with what amounted to a column and a half. Here’s the uncut version, for anyone interested …

Horse racing has its own way of doing things — its own language, its own literature, its own history, rhythms and even media.
The turf-writer view of Zenyatta and her place in history after finishing second by a head to Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Saturday is a fairly straightforward one.
She built one of the most remarkable records in racing history — winning her first 19 races — and by winning one Breeders’ Cup Classic and nearly two stamped herself as one of the great female racehorses who ever lived, perhaps the greatest.
But even the heretofore acknowledged top distaffer — Ruffian — ranked only 35th on the list of greatest racehorses of the 20th century as determined by a panel selected by The Blood Horse magazine, and it’s difficult to place Zenyatta far above that, based on racetrack accomplishment alone.
She would seem to fit in the class of star of a Seabiscuit or John Henry, horses of longevity who garnered a fervent sentimental following that exceeded even their accomplishment, though she would not likely rank quite on a level with those two.
Certainly, on a list of the greatest horses of the young 21st century she can lay claim to a very high spot, with a good chance to hang onto it over the years.
She also had the misfortune of running at a time when no single campaign of hers ever was found to be more outstanding than a chief rival’s, denying her the most prized award in her sport, the Eclipse Award for American Horse of the Year.
Her owners put all their eggs into the 2010 Classic, then saw it shattered by Blame, who not only won better races leading up to the Classic, but now has a victory over her on his resume. From the traditional horse racing perspective, Blame is horse of the year.
Now join me in leaving the horse racing world. Zenyatta is a horse for the ages. No matter how the Eclipse Award voting winds up, she may well have been the only Hall of Famer on the track for the Classic on Saturday.
Eclipse organizers made a terrible mistake last year in not letting voters split their ballots for Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. For Zenyatta to become the first female ever to win the Classic but not to receive racing’s highest honor was a missed opportunity. For the list of winners of horse of the year not to include her name will be an unfortunate void.
A year ago, I said Zenyatta should win the award because she was the best in the biggest race — after completing an unbeaten campaign. That’s not to say the winner of the Classic automatically gets the award, but that the Classic should count more than other races. Using that same reasoning, Blame should get the vote this year.
Certainly, there’s precedent for sentiment swaying the award — otherwise John Henry wouldn’t have beaten Slew o’ Gold in 1984. Without question, Zenyatta is the sentimental favorite this year. Only three others her age or older have won the Eclipse Award since its inception — Forego, John Henry and Cigar. Special company.
At a time when the sport was reeling over questions of the frailty of its animals, Zenyatta’s huge presence and stature turned the attention of fans once again to the sport’s beauty and possibility.
Regardless, none of these votes or rankings matters as much outside the horse racing world as inside it. For many of us, Zenyatta was as marvelous an animal as we ever watched in person.
Her legacy shouldn’t be reduced to the subjective judgment of an award or any historical ranking. On Sunday morning at Churchill Downs, a crowd greeted her when she came out to graze. Over at Blame’s barn, the scene was quiet.
For many, Zenyatta is more than horse of the year; she’s the horse of a lifetime.

Considering Zenyatta

I know basketball is firing up and football is in midseason but we’re closing in on the Breeders’ Cup and I find myself taking a closer look at the career and place in horse racing history of Zenyatta, the 19-for-19 queen of horse racing who will finish her career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

Just wanted to share this compilation of her 19 come-from-behind victories, as produced by TVG. If this doesn’t make you think about her feat, I’m not sure what will.

I’ll pass this along, just to take us back a year. This is the column I wrote after Zenyatta won the Breeders’ Cup Classic last fall, in what we thought then was her final race:

Horse of the Year should be Zenyatta

By ERIC CRAWFORD, Nov. 8, 2009

ARCADIA, Calif. — Moments after the magnificent mare Zenyatta had run from last in the Breeders’ Cup Classic field all the way into horse racing history, trainer John Shirreffs was asked whether she should be the Horse of the Year.

“You tell me,” Shirreffs said.

All right. She is. And those are not easy words to type.

Rachel Alexandra’s historic campaign was the best in history for a 3-year-old filly – maybe for any filly. She destroyed fillies her age, she beat the boys of her age, she beat older female and male horses. She was the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness. She won five consecutive Grade I stakes.

Certainly, she accomplished more from a purely competitive standpoint this year than Zenyatta. And here’s a confession – if it were about personal sentiment, I’d pick Rachel, every time.

But if you win the Super Bowl, you get the trophy.

Zenyatta is Horse of the Year and, with 14 wins in 14 career starts, a horse for the ages. Shirreffs is trainer of the year, after winning the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (with Life Is Sweet on Friday) and Classic back-to-back.

And Jerry Moss is owner of the year, for putting his mare’s perfect record on the line against the world’s most accomplished male horses, nine of them Grade I winners.

Trainer Bob Baffert, whose Richard’s Kid finished sixth in the Classic, said that if Zenyatta doesn’t get at least a piece of the Horse of the Year award, “it would be a travesty.”

If the Eclipse Award folks have any sense of what happened this year in their sport, whichever of these two distaffers doesn’t win Horse of the Year should be honored in some significant way.

It’s rare for athletes to match the moment. Both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra did that all spring, summer and fall.

But Zenyatta’s moment was the biggest.

Give Moss credit for making the moment possible. He knows about the big stage. The record company he co-owns was home to some of the biggest acts in rock history. The success of horse racing, he said Saturday, “is all about building stars.”

His decision to run Zenyatta in the Classic did just that.

Though she was made the favorite, many big-time handicappers had written her off. She had appeared to be slowing down. She hadn’t faced outstanding competition this year and had never faced males.

Saturday, when she overcame a disastrous start and had to shift wide before rallying to win, she changed that.

Her victory was not the product of fluke circumstances or a perfect trip. Perhaps she handled Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface better than some, but it was hard to feel, as she pounded home, that she wouldn’t have won anywhere, even the parking lot if they’d asked her.

For horse racing, it was a crowning moment in a year that featured some historic ones. About the only missing moment was seeing Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra face each other. The latter’s owner, Jess Jackson, felt his filly had done enough and didn’t want to race her on a synthetic surface.

I’m not going to criticize that decision. But sometimes, you must be present to win. And win is all Zenyatta has done.

“She’s sent from God,” jockey Mike Smith said. “I think He wanted a horse.”

Let’s hope He sends some more.

As they led her out of the winner’s circle for the last time, people scrambled around the track to pick up the petals that fell from her garland of flowers. It was a storybook ending to a scrapbook year.

Clip it, mount it, save it. The last picture is Zenyatta crossing the finish line as a champion, and then, after a Santa Anita sunset, boarding a van back to her stall at Hollywood Park, with a Hollywood ending.

Reader email asks, are you a homer?

Jacob Kiper asks the question of the year in a recent email to me:

Mr. Crawford,
I’m writing to you with a question. I’m an incredibly avid sports fan. I follow UK and despise UofL.

Throughout my constant trolling of message boards, I have found that both UofL and UK fans think you are “against them.” I just saw a UofL fan this morning claim that he cancelled his C-J subscription because he was tired of reading your articles. However, I’ve also seen many UK fans claim that you never/seldomly write a bad word about UofL, yet “pick on UK.” How does that work? How can both fan-bases simultaneously think you are a blatant “homer” for the other. The same seems to be true for Bozich. I admit that I am not a fan of Bozich, yet UofL fans often refer to him as “Bozo.” They think he hates UofL, I see it completely different.

Do you have any insight?

Do I ever. Warning, this is a long response. But it’s a complicated issue. Here goes:

Jacob,

You’re absolutely correct. I’m always amazed that I can, within a span of 24 hours, be accused of being a “U of L homer” or a “Big Blue” something-or-other.

It was a revelation to me when I took over the column. I tried to be open about my background regarding these schools. I am from Louisville and, for the most part, grew up here until the third grade. The first basketball player I can remember pretending to be was U of L’s Wesley Cox. But we moved to Bagdad, Ky., when I was in the fourth grade, and I pretty much latched onto UK from that point. I was a UK fan, primarily, through the rest of my junior high and high school days, though I don’t really think I had much animosity toward Louisville. I followed both very closely.

I don’t know if people remember this, but back in the days before the two teams played there was this little board game you could get, with dice that had Wildcats and Cardinals on them, and player cards. I don’t remember how the game worked, but I wore the thing out playing it. I had a little basketball scorebook and I’d keep the stats at home either off the radio or television. My dad grew up a UK fan. He remembered listening to some of Rupp’s great teams on a radio at his grandmother’s.

I kept scrapbooks of the teams, cut out their clippings. The other day in the basement I ran across one of those scrapbooks, with a story about Dicky Beal — one of my favorite players — in it, along with some U of L clippings, a couple of columns by Billy Reed, and a clipping from The Courier-Journal of Tom Seaver’s first game as a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds.

We lived well outside of Louisville and Lexington, so I didn’t go to many games. I do remember once, somehow, my dad got tickets to a UK game and we went to Rupp Arena and sat in about the fourth row on Senior Day in Rupp for a visit from UNLV in 1978. It was UK’s last home game, I think, before winning the national title.

I went to high school at Shelby County, where in the gym were hung two larger-than-life portraits. Both were UK players — Former Rockets Mike Casey and Charles Hurt.

But Shelby County was pretty well mixed in terms of UK and U of L fans, and there in the early 80s was the height of debate between the two. When U of L won the Dream Game, it really ratcheted things up. My mom always followed U of L, and when the Cardinals went to Reunion Arena in Dallas to play for the championship in 1986, she was there.

I wrote, in my first column, about my bus rides from Bagdad to the schools in Shelbyville, arguing with the bus driver Dude Payton — a huge Denny Crum and U of L fan — and the boy I sat by every morning, Jeff Miller. We just loved stirring each other up. But in most of those years, Dude had the upper hand.

Meanwhile, when it came time to go to college, I had a few options, but the only school to offer me a full scholarship was U of L, something for which I remain grateful. In my years as a student there, I worked in different offices all over campus. I was a resident assistant in the dorms. I worked freshmen orientation for three years, introducing students to the campus. I worked in the financial aid and admissions offices. I met people all over that campus that I still know today. I have what I think is a very balanced view of the place, that not only keeps its past in perspective but views the university as a whole and not just in context of its athletic programs. During homecoming week, I’ll still attend alumni events.

So here’s the completely unsatisfactory answer for most people. I have positive views of both schools. They are, in my view, the two most important institutions in the state of Kentucky. There are a multitude of good and talented people at both of them. When they do well — in athletics and everything else — it is good for the state.

The problem most fans have is this — it is not enough for them that you say good things about their team. They want you to say bad things about the other team. U of L fans don’t think we run down John Calipari enough. UK fans don’t think we give Rick Pitino enough grief.

I got an email last week from a U of L fan saying, “You NEVER write anything positive about U of L.” This came just days after I wrote a column about U of L defensive lineman Greg Scruggs talking to schoolkids, and a very complimentary column about U of L soccer coach Ken Lolla, who has that program ranked No. 1 in the nation. They were not only overwhelmingly positive pieces, but about subjects that nobody else was talking about. And there are many, many more. I was the first to write the Stefan LeFors story. I was the one who chronicled U of L’s run to the Final Four. Over my decade of covering U of L sports, the positive stories probably outnumber the negative 10-to-1. So why would someone say I “never” write anything positive? Because it’s what they want to believe. And because these days, people only remember the negative. We live in a day when people want their news to line up with their beliefs (FoxNews, MSNBC).

And I believe we live in what is being termed the “crybaby culture.” And it exists in both places (note the howling of UK fans at recent media coverage of issues involving their players). And in far more than just sports. Take a look at the political races.

As for UK fans who say I “pick on UK,” I have written some awfully positive things about Calipari, and as far as I know, I’m the only one to bring up on a regular basis the letter from the former NCAA compliance director clearing Calipari of any involvement in the Marcus Camby situation. In Rich Brooks’ final years at UK, a quote from me was on his bio page of the media guide. I’ve gone out of my way to tell good stories at UK where I’ve been able to get at them — such as my feature on Tim Masthay, or my look at how Calipari’s style seems to fit and get the best out of today’s elite players. I also was a pretty consistent defender of DeMarcus Cousins, who I thought was no different from many other “tough guy” players I’ve covered, including Louisivlle’s Ellis Myles. Which, of course, incensed Louisville fans.

When I wrote several times in my blog that the chances of anything coming from the Eric Bledsoe investigation were slim, U of L fans accused me of being a UK homer. No, I was writing an opinion that turned out to be quite accurate. U of L fans wanted me to blast UK for recruiting Bledsoe, wanted me to rail on the whole grade-change topic as regards student athletes. Which is fine, except that there’s a player on U of L’s football team that had not one, but nine, grade changes. (Oh, and UK fans think I’m a U of L homer for not writing about him — which I did, last fall, before he enrolled.)

Are there differences between the reactions of the fan bases? I’ll only say that I’m more likely to hear from U of L fans after positive stories than I am from UK fans after positive stories. UK fans do not respond to positive stories about their teams. But you criticize them one time, and it seems you get branded, and they let you hear about it.

Now, if you’re not offering some criticism, you’re not doing your job. And I’ve criticized coaches and aspects of both programs. I called UK an NBA farm team and questioned whether Calipari wasn’t flirting with the kind of year North Carolina just had if he’s going to hope for significant numbers of one-and-done players. At U of L, I hammered Steve Kragthorpe pretty hard, and recently have questioned Rick Pitino’s “bridge season” terminology.

The bottom line is that if a reader believes you to be a “homer” to the other guy, then he or she is going to perceive slights in almost anything you write. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece about the exclamation point in Yum! (it really does bother me) and U of L fans thought I was criticizing their program. It had nothing to do with U of L. I think it’s a silly name. It was an unorthodox sports column, and probably was more of a Metro-type column, but generated more positive and widespread national response than anything I’ve written lately. I even noted that the scoreboard wasn’t working right on the day of the scrimmage and retold about Pitino yelling over, “Maybe we should’ve gotten the $3 million scoreboard.” Some U of L fans actually thought I was saying that this state-of-the-art arena had a scoreboard that wouldn’t go over 100. It just wasn’t working that day. People wrote about how stupid it was to write about such a thing. Yet it was one of our most-read pieces of the week. You never know.

(Funny aside, I went onto the boards to look for examples for this piece, but got tired of going through all the stuff. One funny exchange, however, came on the U of L scout board, where some guy mentioned a quote from Bilal Powell in my Sunday column. Then some “expert” chimes in to say it was a quote “provided” to the media and wasn’t one I actually got. Didn’t want me to get credit for “actual work.” Of course, if he’d gone to my blog, where the quote first appeared, he’d have seen the video. And if he listens carefully, he’d note, that the person who asked Powell about what he’s been through at U of L, and the person who elicited the quote in question in that board post was, surprise, me. Which I suppose does prove a point, that lots of times, people just believe what they want.)
People sometimes take things too seriously, especially as regards the rivalry. I’m not buying into that. It’s still a game. It’s still just entertainment. When I give an opinion on Enes Kanter or Gorgui Dieng or Eric Bledsoe or Preston Knowles, it’s what I think. I don’t calculate it for effect with readers or fan bases.

One last thing. Both fan bases like to send me stuff and say, “Why don’t you try to be a REAL investigative journalist?” I’m a columnist. I’m paid for my opinion. You don’t want your opinion writers leading investigations because it undermines the credibility of the investigation. The perception is that if someone has published his opinion on something, his investigation is only going to go after information that will confirm his opinion, not information that could dispute it. Most reputable newspapers don’t allow columnists to be involved in those investigations. It’s a good practice.

Anyway, that’s probably far more than you wanted. But it’s the best I can tell you.

I have an appreciation for both programs. I criticize them both. As long as both fan bases think I’m out to get theirs or that I’m a homer for the other, I feel like I’m striking some kind of balance.

Thanks for the question, and the opportunity to give far too long an answer!

And I guarantee you that fans of both schools will take this response and find evidence in it of why I hate their school and love the other. And maybe that’s just how it works.

What’s that? Can’t stand my work in large doses? Follow me on Twitter @ericcrawford, where I’m only allowed 140 characters, or at Facebook, where if you don’t like the link, you don’t have to click.

U of L media day — long form thoughts

Filed the column from Media Day, but in 550 words, you really only can scratch the surface. So here’s the rest of what’s in the notebook.

THE COLUMN: The thing that struck me about this media day was how many of them I’ve been to where faster-paced play was promised, but never materialized or wasn’t sustained. I explore why that has been the case, and whether this time will be different for U of L. Read it here.

THE COACH: Pitino, for all the negative news coming out of the program, is not how you might think, just from all the coverage. He’s relaxed and enthusiastic. I thought one of the more telling quotes when he was on the podium was this one.

“I’ve always had energy. I’ve been through a tough 18 months, there’s no question about it. And now it’s over. I had to do the right thing in a lot of places. I’m also much more tolerant of certain things.”

He then proceeded on a rant on parenting and how kids haven’t changed but society and parents have, which I’ll spare you. But that little peek, that it’s been a tough year and a half, and he’s come out of it a little bit different, was something that I picked up on.

Later, I spent the last 45 mintues or so of the full scrimmage sitting with Pitino, along with the C-J’s U of L beat writer C.L. Brown. And Howie Lindsey was nearby. So my following take on the scrimmage will kind of weave what I saw and some of Pitino’s toughts.

THE SCRIMMAGE: You’ll see in my column that Peyton Siva said Pitino has been a little different this season. He’s not quite so quick on the trigger when mistakes are made on the court. At one point, Siva said, Preston Knowles took a three and missed and Pitino immediately said to keep shooting it, keep getting that shot, “We want to get you 10 threes a game.” At which Siva said he thought, “Oh, man, coach, last year we couldn’t get five.”

So I was curious to see how the scrimmage proceeded. And I kind of wondered if much had changed in the early minutes, when Pitino stopped the action seven times in the first three minutes:

19:28: Gets on Siva to pass the ball to Mike Marra — “He’s wide open.”
19:23: Stops it to correct Terrence Jennings on a screen
18:14: Gets on Elisha Justice for dribbling too much. “You have it too long. You got anybody open? (Answer from Justice, “No.”) Are you fast? (Answer: “No.”) Then pass and go create.”
17:41: Stops play because of a bad pass
17:23: Stops to tell George Goode where to stop running on his post up.
17:16: Stops because White Team took too long to pass midcourt.

After that, though, the game proceeded pretty much like a regular scrimmage, with no coaching stoppages.

The shot clocks are set at 24 seconds, and Pitino did hold to his rule of no more than 3-4 seconds getting the ball past midcourt.

At one point, assistant Steve Masiello got on freshman Elisha Justice for a mistake. Justice said, “My fault.” Masiello answered, “Stop saying my fault. I know it’s your fault.”

At halftime, the White team (Jackson, Kuric, Goode, Smith, Justice and Henderson) led the Red (Buckles, Marra, Jennings, Knowles and Siva) 67-59. I tweeted the score and former Cardinal Larry O’Bannon answered back, “lol film session gonna be ugly for that one tomorrow lol”

In the second half, Pitino wanders over and sits down. He’s impressed with Kuric, who seemed to have the most bounce of anybody until the last couple of minutes. And Kuric was the catalyst for the White win. He scored 40 points and had 8 assists, going 10 for 11 from the free-throw line despite playing 37 minutes in a frantic pace.

Rakeem Buckles made a pair of three-pointers in quick succession in the second half. “He’s really improved his outside shot,” Pitino said. “It’s the most noticeable thing he’s done.”

Pitino was disappointed that Stephen Van Treese sprained an ankle in practice before the scrimmage and likely will be out for Sunday’s first public scrimmage, to be played before a crowd of 22,000 at the KFC Yum! Center.

“That’s really disappointing, because Stephen was really running the floor for us,” he said. “He beats T.J. up and down the floor. He’s really working hard.”

Pitino asks us who we think will win. C.L. Brown picks the Red. White is leading and there’s 5:28 to play. I say if Kuric and Justice and keep getting to the line, I like them.

The White team reaches 101 points, but the $2 million overhead scoreboard at the Bucket clicks back to “1.” Pitino looks over at Kenny and yells, “I guess we should have got the $3 million scoreboard.”

George Goode hits another mid-range jumper, then fouls on the other end and Pitino yells, “George, you’re playing great, but you’re fouling so much that no one will ever see you.” Goode finishes the scrimmage with 39 points and 15 fouls.

Perhaps in part because they have only five players and no subs, the Red team can’t catch up. White surges ahead by 9, and Red mounts a mini-run. But can’t take the lead.

“In all my playing days, as hard as I worked, I could never do what these guys are doing,” Pitino said. “There’s five guys on that side, playing at this fast a pace, with no subs.”

I don’t know how Pitino’s U of L Final Four team came up, but I said something I have thought about looking back at that group, “The more I look back at it, the more I can’t believe that group got to the Final Four.”

“We had six and a half players,” Pitino said. “Otis had a broken foot.”

“And Juan Palacios was a freshman and expected to be a key guy inside,” I said.

“The thing that team had was that we could really shoot it at the 1, 2 and 3,” Pitino said. “If you can do that, it really makes it tough. And if you have somebody who can shoot it at the 4, then you can be really special.”

With three minutes left, the White team leads by 7 and Kuric is gassed. Pitino yells at Masiello to get him out.

“I’ll take Kyle out so it’ll be close,” Pitino said. “I’m going to give you a chance to be right, C.L. Or else your coaching career ends right here.”

But after Kuric leaves, Justice, who has had an off shooting game, buries three-point daggers on back-to-back possessions.

“You think Bozich will ever write a column saying he was wrong about the Bullet when he turns out to play great for us?” Pitino jokes. He’s given Bozich a hard time about Justice before. I can’t remember Bozich saying anything about Justice — except perhaps he’s not the type of recruit that U of L fans expect.

Still, when Klein brings over the final stat sheet after a 125-112 White team victory, Pitino goes to the assist column and asks Kenny if the number is legit. Justice has 10 assists, 0 turnovers.

Preston Knowles led the Red with 29 points, but had two technical fouls. Siva had 25, Jennings 24, Buckles 23. Chris Smith had 26 and Justice 13 for the White.

What’s to be made of it? Well, this early, who knows?

It’s going to be an uphill battle for this group when you look at the Big East talent. The question — as it was last season — is how good a shooting team this is going to be. Beyond that there’s the question of whether it will be able to sustain its fast tempo, and whether it will be able to develop any defense to go with it.

Siva, before the scrimmage, said that one difference in this year’s team is that nobody is quite so concerned with their own scoring. He didn’t reference Samuels or Sosa.

“It’s a good group of kids,” Pitino said.

The public will get to make its first evaluation of how good a team it could be on Sunday.

Reacting to the exclamation point

Lots of email arrived on my column yesterday expressing my frustration with that exclamation point in the KFC Yum! Center name. Obviously, it is part and parcel of the official Yum! moniker, but that makes it no less annoying for me.

A couple of things I failed to mention. One is that my view on the exclamation point was fueled early on by E.B. White and William Strunk’s “Elements of Style,” which states, “The exclamation mark is to be reserved for use after true exclamations or commands.” Or maybe I’m influenced by being old enough to learn to type on a typewriter that had no exclamation point — they didn’t start to put them on keyboards until the 1970s. For me, it was apostrophe – backspace – period. By which time you’re no longer so excited about what you were saying.

Is this a serious issue? No. Is there bigger news? Yes, certainly. Yet I’ll never get over the number of people who will call such a column a “waste of time” when thousands more readers read the exclamation point column than read a column I did about U of L player Greg Scruggs speaking to a group of schoolkids.

They do protest too much! Nonetheless, it was a great group of emails, pro and con, that I got on this column, and I’ll share some here, and thank everyone for reading and writing, whether you liked it or not.

RICK FREEMAN writes: “I despise the name but it’s emblematic of the Almighty Dollar culture in which we live. And Louisville Municipal Arena is a little dry. I haven’t been in the place but I hope there’s a big, fat, photo of Jim Host in there somewhere with words to the effect ‘without this guy you wouldn’t be here’ prominently displayed. Do you s’pose we could coerce Mr. Host to head up the Ohio River bridges project? One of ’em anyway? Get Long John Silvers/Taco Bell/Dominoes Pizza to sponsor it.”

KENNY BLAIR says: “Is news so slow, all you can right about is ! This has got to be about weak of a story I have ever glanced at!”

CINDY SMITH didn’t like it either: “I’m sure you will get flack over this article! Hard to believe you get paid for writing such nonsense! I know everyone has the right to their own opinion, but really! Isn’t there something more important to write about than punctuation? I’m proud of our new arena no matter what name, punctuation, or whatever is on it! I guess you are one of those people that just likes to stir things up and hear yourself talk! Good Luck on your feedback. I’m sure the only agreeable comments you will hear are of course, from U of K fans, go figure.”

Several writers wondered how Yum! would respond, and there were several emails from folks there:

JONATHAN BLUM (Senior VP and chief public affairs officer for Yum!): “Hi Eric! I just read your article, and I must say, I found it very amusing! Congratulations!!! You are a very talented writer! All of us at Yum! Brands and KFC are very proud to have our name associated with this spectacular new arena! We had thought of naming it the KFC! YUM! Center! because we’re so proud, but thought better of it!!! Based on your article, it sounds like you’re in complete agreement with our decision! Thanks again, and all the best, Jonathan! Blum!”

A YUM EMPLOYEE (whose name I won’t give) empathized with me: “I completely understand your hatred of the !. It drives me nuts when I type ‘Yum!’ and Office thinks it is the end of the sentence and capitalizes the next character when it is not the end of the sentence!”

AND ONE MORE, FROM U OF L PROFESSOR BILL STOUDT, who doesn’t work for Yum!, but has a relationship with the company through the school of business: “Because we have many students who do internships at Yum! Brands, I find myself typing that word/punctuation mark combination often. If it makes you feel any better, I think what’s happened to me is that I now use the exclamation point much less frequently in my normal communications. So, maybe Yum has had a positive effect on my writing as a result. Hope it works for you, too.”

Now, a few more non-Yum! responses

DAVE McGUFFIN says he didn’t get his money’s worth:
“I’ve heard about s-l-o-w news days, but a whole column to the YUM! exclamation point? How about at least a couple paragraphs to the question mark. And let’s not forget the colon and his almost twin brother, semi-colon. On a really slow day, you can always depend on the old standard, reliable, and always present: period. I really enjoy your column, but I think you short changed your readers today.”

MATTHEW REYNOLDS: “Eric — this is the worst article you have written in your career! … lol”

SOME GUY NAMED BILLY JOE: “What a stupid article! Maybe! You! should cover some stories in some other city. (Lexington!) I don’t know if you were trying to be cute, or WHAT! But it didn’t work.”

HAROLD FREEMAN was more charitable: “Today’s column was clever and delightfully acerbic. It’s those things because I heartily agree with you, of course. Such a way with words and wit is what sets you apart from legions of sports columnists who merely analyze and pontificate with regard to sports and players, coaches and games, strategy and recruiting.”

ELIZABETH GLASS (via Facebook) writes: “I lived in Hamilton!, Ohio, for two years while in grad school at Miami. Yes, the city has an exclamation point on it. We would always scream it like we were mad or excited whenever we said the city’s name, then quietly and calmly say Ohio. I didn’t even realize the KFC Yum! Center has an exclamation point. It too leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and since I’m a vegetarian, the taste of chicken in my mouth makes it very unpleasant indeed.”

JOE NEIL ROE may be the first person ever to compare me to Rush Limbaugh: “I read the Courier and the sports page every day, and I even read your column, believe it or not; and if negative articles sell newspapers, you must be the most popular person at the Courier. But you are really searching when you can dedicate a column to an exclamation point. It seems that even when you TRY to write something positve, you have to insert just a little negativism in order to make your column readable. Please don’t try to copy Fox and Limbaugh and just tone it down a bit.”

DAVID J. McCLUSKEY SR. says: “That’s the best you can do? Insult a LOCAL company for how it Brand’s its name? That was by far your worst article I have read. You are a better journalist than that and never should have printed that story. Why take a cheap shot at what is probably the lone positive factor going for the UofL (Your cities) Basketball team? The timing and the article for that matter make no sense, unless there is a motive I am not seeing.”

And thanks to TAMMY CURLIN over at The Blood Horse for this: “Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your !!!! Column Wed. I laughed and laughed. Always enjoy reading you. Keep up the good work.”

And finally, a Facebook note from JIM MITCHELL, who Louisville folks will remember as one of the top news anchormen ever to grace the city: “Query: why do sports stories need the name of the arena, anyway? To answer the “where?” question, put “Louisville.” I don’t give a hoot what building a game is played in. The flackery-exclamation mark seems a perfect candidate for that old news maxim: when it doubt, leave it out. . . . My theory is that they bought the naming rights, but they can’t buy the news. Quaint, huh?”

Also appreciated hearing through Facebook from BOB EDWARDS (“Good one, Eric”), CD KAPLAN and everybody else who weighed in on Facebook and Twitter, and to C-J colleague JOE GERTH, who sent along the reminder that, alas, the Chick Inn is no more. If you haven’t already you’re welcome to join me on Facebook and Twitter for discussion and updates through the day.

Thanks to all for the comments.

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