Just minutes ago I learned that I am the only winner of the $188 million Mega Millions lottery jackpot.
For nearly four decades Ernie Munick has been giving his heart and mind to thoroughbred racing. He is a writer, a vlogger , a musician, but most devotedly a handicapper and horseplayer. He can be seen twice a week on the NYRA Network's RACEDAY, and his videos for the Breeders' Cup can be found by clicking here.
It's official: Charlize Theron and I are engaged.
Are you ready for this? My dog…he could talk.
Do you notice anything missing at the end of the above sentences?
I am off exclamation points, done - until I'll Have Another crosses the finish line in front on June 9. This means I will not, for the next 15 days, not even once, whether on Facebook, in E-mail, text messages or blogs, employ an exclamation mark. I've borrowed money from dozens of good people over the years, I'm sure I've even borrowed from you, but this is my first ever Lent. Abstaining from exclamation points will not only intensify the joy of experiencing our first Triple Crown winner in 34 years, but will also show a sort of solidarity with the celebrated horse and rider. Mario and "Nutha" are (Joe Hirsch word coming) imperturbable. Remember the training montage in The Right Stuff, when Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper nods off in the simulated space capsule, amid the turbulence of noise and light? This is Mario, and this is his horse.
Giving up exclamation points isn't nearly as drastic and lengthy as other legendary displays of solidarity. At least Marcel Marceau, lifelong Red Sox fan, got to speak again, for almost three years, before passing in 2007. ZZ Top might be unrecognizable after I'll Have Another wins the Belmont Stakes. That's how much they've wanted a twelfth Triple Crown winner.
Dropping the woo-hoo of pronunciation marks might be an easy task for some, but for me this is a demanding sacrifice. I am bred to be noisy. You can't fire off a one-liner at my family's Thanksgiving table unless you're louder than the big mouth next to you. I am by Airhorn out of Megaphone, by Jackhammer. My mother writes in capitals and speaks as if she's always at the back of the room. She could empty a meditation retreat, yet she's always accusing me of screaming into the phone.
"You just punctured my left eardrum" is my mother's standard line.
There will be great temptation between now and the Stakes to lapse into serial exclamation, especially with the looming presence of a robust undercard, not to mention the Metropolitan on Monday. Also, I am known on Facebook for wishing people happy birthday with a row of exclamation points. I often do the same in texts, to save time and thumb labor. This approach can sometimes seem confusing to relatives and friends.
Text from friend: "Hey. Sorry I been outta touch. My turtle finally passed last week. Forty-five years. I know no life without Shelly."
Me: (Row of exclamation marks.)
Well, in the even manner of Mario, or of Stevie Cauthen circa 1978 ("I don't get psyched up, I get psyched down"), I hereby pledge myself to quiet coolness. The bigger the moment, good or bad, the smaller the stress. What about the brutal beats between now and the Stakes? the stirring stretch duels? the terrible rides? the carryovered Pick 6 I win by a schnoz?
And what if I'm assaulted by the voices of gloom who continue to soundtrack our sport???
Maybe I should swear off question marks. Or, like Mario, like Coop, I can keep cool. Cooper famously fell asleep in orbit, as did Nutha between Kentucky and Maryland. Equanimity rhymes with low humidity. No sweating. Albert Collins never lost his cool. Neither did Sondheim and Bernstein, real cool.
The melody of Maryland, My Maryland was borrowed from a German folk song called O Tannenbaum, whose melody was borrowed from Charles M. Schulz’s O Christmas Tree, whose melody was borrowed from the biblical O Finkelstein, whose melody, of course, was borrowed from O Monzonite, that neanderthalic ditty about mist and stones. I asked the Library of Congress if I could borrow the rarest of recordings, and, WOW, its similarity to Maryland, My Maryland is not only eery, but nosey and toothy as well. (O Monzonite).
So, borrowing is OK. But if you borrow without permission, you must attribute, or at the very least allude. For instance, in 1986 I wrote of a meek thoroughbred, who in deep stretch turned certain victory into pathetic defeat, that he "hung like a chandelier." Since then, the phrase has been appropriated many times with neither attribution nor allusion. Zero props. This is not OK. No one's ever said, "Ernie, may I use "hung like a chandelier?" or "Ernie, may I kind of glow in the lingering craftiness of 'hung like a chandelier'?" No one ever asks. They just take. This deserves immediate burial under the three-eighths pole at Aqueduct.
Me, conversely, I have asked and received permission from the National Bartenders Association to use, this one time, for the 2012 Preakness, the Oldest Bartender's Trick Ever: Give every customer a different horse, and one person is likely to come back and tip you. If you do this repeatedly, you will increase your tips. The Trick is absolutely bulletproof, still. The idea is to make every horse sound unbeatable. By starting them with a Tossed Salad (telling them the horses who have no chance, even for the superfecta), I guess I'll be using a modified version of the Oldest Bartender's Trick Ever. I can't share with you my heavy-pocketed clients, but here's what I'll be telling them, in hushed tones, after the Tossed Salad.
The Tossed Salad
Tiger Walk, Pretension, Zetterholm, Daddy Nose Best, Optimizer, Cozetti. Tossed.
The Five Sure Things
Bodemeister, bang, zoom, gone. Loosey goosey Landaluce. If I'll Have Another challenges Bode early, he's fried. If I'll Have Another shadows him, above his natural cruising speed, he'll peter. There isn't a horse in the crop who could do what Bode did in both the Ark and the Derby - especially the Derby. That pace was too hot for heat. He's not that big of a horse, Bode, but there's no one in this group who can boogie with him for nine-plus furlongs. Not even close. Before the speed poppage of 1982, trainer Butch Lenzini told jockey Cowboy Jack Kaenel to "break good and find the wood." Jack and Aloma's Ruler obliged. Mike Smith aboard Bode might employ a different strategy, though, the same he used with Lion Heart, floating Smarty Jones wide on the first turn. But Bode's better than Lion Heart and I'll Have Another's no Smarty, so better Mike keep a straight line. Bode's on the right end of a LOSE/WIN/LOSE/WIN/LOSE… pattern. Baffert will wear the Susans yet again and then, unfortunately for New York, he'll point his son's namesake for a race that fits the colt like Speedos, the Haskell. He cannot lose on Saturday.
I'll Have Another will beat Bode by twice the margin he did the first time. I'd advise against eye-balling Bode a la Canonero (Eastern Fleet), Slew (Cormorant) and Rachel (Big Drama), in favor of the stalking strategy of War Emblem (Menacing Dennis) and Shack (Flashpoint). Obviously, Bode will be three handfuls till headstretch, but, at that point, the only horse ever to win the Kentucky Derby with a nasal strip will dig down with an underrated heart and deliver us the second of the three straight Jewels we so desperately need. Some say I'll Have Another has enjoyed three consecutive perfect, traffic-free trips. Special, agile horses make perfect trips. You can put him anywhere; he is mature beyond his years. Heck, he even tolerated Creative Cause's incessant cheeriness on the flight to Louisville. I'll Have Another, perfectly named, cannot lose on Saturday.
Went the Day Well, NY, NY, is ready to Funny Cide this field. His trip in the Derby wasn't as brutal as Rags', but his excuses are legit. "Welly" was steadying almost immediately and repeatedly, was steadied again and bothered around the first turn, then rallied very wide before closing fastest of everyone. He way outran my pre-Derby statement, that there's only one Animal, and that dirt might be his third best surface. Did you see him play-training in the thick open brush of Fair Hill? There there's a happy Classic-meant horse who's peaking in the masterful hands of a future Hall of Famer. Bode and I'll Have Another can lean on each all they want. And, just in case, expect Teeth of the Dog to keep the early pace honest. Welly will be there to pick them all up. He cannot lose on Saturday.
Creative Cause needed to get out of Louisville. He just doesn't love Churchill Downs. He also needed to be noise-toughened; the mad Derby atmosphere has prepared him for his best race since the San Felipe, when he wore down Bode despite carrying five more pounds. CC projects for an ideal second-flight trip. With less pace and fewer runners in Pimlico, he can keep Bode and company in his crosshairs without having to extend early to stay close - the exact circumstances of his best performances. You can't keep a good man down, or a good horse, and both the supremely talented Joel Rosario and Creative Cause are sitting with big odds on the performances of a lifetime. They cannot lose on Saturday.
Teeth of the Dog is cresting for a trainer who deserved better in Kentucky. Michael Matz, like Graham a traditionalist with a patient agenda, has gradually raced this guy into preparation for the big time. Teeth of the Dog has position speed that was severely compromised into the first turn of the Wood Memorial, when Joe Bravo was forced to ease back from that piling front end. While this might've discouraged a lesser thoroughbred, he troopered on for third with a finish that said, NEEDED IT. Bravo's ride on Little Mike at Churchill was so Hall of Fame it hurt, literally (cost me 31 grand by not using him in the Pick 4), and Matz will find that winning a Classic with the second string is almost as tasty. This here's your real Pimlico Special. He cannot lose on Saturday.
With the Arc de Triomphe, Grand National, Snake River Canyon and the recently discovered Super Earth dubbed GJ 1214b by NASA as his immediate goals, Trinniberg (20) is the first toss. A red and yellow aircar will be hovering for him about the quarter-pole, and with aviator goggles and a smart trailing scarf he shall Jetson the leaders through the world's most famous stretch.
Named after the fragile yet elegant Phalondirtus species, Daddy Long Legs (19) seeks to become the first high earner to beat only one horse in both the Juvenile and Kentucky Derby. Overhyped, misleading, YouTubed gallop-outs in nondirt preps only add to his yeah-right appeal.
The Tampa Bay Derby, an anti-key race won by Prospective (18), has produced zero next-out winners, and six of its 11 starters have yet to race again.
So far this season, Liaison (17) is earning - I did the math - about four times the minimum wage.
Optimizer (16) would be a far more respectable Derby character if he had taken the routes mapped out by Motion (Went the Day Well) or Romans (Dullahan). English Channels can dirt, sure, but this year has mostly been a waste of opportunities. Optimizer should be in tomorrow's American Turf, with the other English Channels, three of them, right before the Oaks. Hope there's still horse left for the Jamaica.
With Johnny and Graham, Went the Day Well (15) brings about the finest corner possible. Dirt, however, might be his third favorite surface. Only one Animal.
From Blind Luck's trainer/manager comes Rousing Sermon (14). This is a Hail Mary, for sure, but Hollendorfer has earned those frequent flyer bonuses.
Done Talking (13) has a sort of suck-up allure that cannot be dismissed in the 20-horse wilderness.
Daddy Nose Best (12) and Sabercat (11) have improved from race to race this year, classic Asmussen, and the barn's instinct for taking on bigger game is often spot on. Daddy's also been many a railbird's darling this week, and that bulging New Mexico speed figure and fast-finishing style will also draw support. Thing is, I don't trust that speed figure; Isn't he Clever followed that near-miss to Daddy with a nowhere nothing, reinforcing my suspicion that the feeble competition that day should be given greater consideration than the mighty figs. I wouldn't be shocked to watch Sabercat finish in front of Daddy Nose Best. The Nakatani revival remains in effect.
I don't foresee a trip with which Take Charge Indy (10) will be able to settle into a comfortable rhythm, even under the greatest Derby rider of modern times.
El Padrino (9) shot the loudest blank of the year in Hallandale. Even if you dismiss the race, citing jock-riding-jock and the outside trip, you have to wonder if he's better on a wet track. And that terrific throw-down at the Fair Grounds might've starched him and Mark Valeski.
Never at any point, during this season or last, has Hansen (8) impressed me as a major Kentucky Derby contender. While there is much skill here, and toughness, and love for the track, he like Indy will probably be hounded at all calls - unless a horse or two break slowly. This can happen.This has happened (1985 a great example, Spend a Buck left in charge). I'm still surprised Ramon chose gray over bay.
The fireballs up front, if they call break cleanly, almost assure the incineration of anyone in the first-, second-, and maybe even third flights. Though a stalking winner in both scores at Santa Anita, I'll Have Another (7) was very relaxed and amenable; he appears to have the equilibrium to handle a mad first turn, a hot first mile, and I imagine he'll allow his jockey to drop further back Saturday, if necessary. He also has a pedigree that stays till next year.
Alpha (6) is nearly undefeated with Lasix. He'll get exactly the pace scenario he covets, but avoiding all that congestion and body contact under a new partner seems an extra large mission for a smallish colt.
Bodemeister (5) has yet to prove he can fire a magic bullet from off the pace.
Dullahan (4) is awfully ominous. Kent, Dale, pedigree, race shape. That wasn't the prettiest opening quarter last November, and he was till beaten only six lengths.
Creative Cause (3) is obviously a Classic-quality colt - blinkers or not (I think he's straighter without) - but Harrington's words (from DRF) concern me: ""He doesn't like to be crowded…(this) horse is a stalker…(he) hasn't got a deep close." If instructions are to shadow Bodemeister, for example, that could result in early backpedaling.
I'm rooting for Union Rags (2). I love his face, his prideful dark eye. Wiseguys are quick to mention that he hasn't earned a triple-digit Beyer. (What route did Union Rags take out of Florida? I-95). But Matz, a great trainer and a true gentleman, has him primed for the special and Julien is hankerin' for redemption. I hope he doesn't overreact to the Florida Derby, scrubbin' on him too soon. This time, he will need to drop back: staying clear and saving ground will be paramount.
Finally, who better to appreciate the import of the three Jewels than Gemologist (1). I love his gate speed. Five starts, five sharp getaways, particularly his last two. He is nimble and powerful. He is professional, unexcitable. In the Wood he allowed The Lumber Guy to cross his path into the clubhouse turn, then was carried about six wide there, but never lost spirit. There were three distinct moves in this race: for position in the opening, for the lead turning for home, and for the gold with the pugnacity of his two-time come-again sire.
Post 15 is sweet. He has good memories of Churchill, and it's Javier's time. He and Julien, as they have been in so many races and will in so many more, could be shoulder to shoulder into the sonic thrust of a hundred thousand horseplayers. Elite jocks must check their testosterone, be careful to keep their eyes on the prize.
Louisville in young May. Only the perfection of Big Brown could shatter the sheer imperfection of my Derby record, now 1 for 39. Take me home, Gemologist, perfection again, six for six.
It's the most important day of the year for New York racing, with the largest crowd spread across the mother of all racetracks, the beauty, the grandeur blah blah blah here's the problem, according to newbies and infrequent players: Too much time between races. I think you're cry babies but still, I bring you four gifts. One is this. Two three and four are below this paragraph. These are my gifts to the graphics guys on the NYRA Network every Monday and Tuesday, or Tuesday and Wednesday, depending on the nonracing days in New York. The show is formally called Raceday but I call it the Dark Side of the Noon. We cover the simulcast action. I'm thinking an overhead view of Parx, Delaware and the Finger might be the best way to entertain you lightweights while you're being spoon-fed Gerber's between races. Here you go