Ever hear that nothing’s over until the fat lady sings? Apparently, the phrase has more to do with operatic structure than it does with overeating. And that’s good because when it comes to weight--or an excess of it--yours truly has little room to joke. Residual holiday girth, you see. (BTW, for how long into the New Year are ‘holidays’ a valid excuse?) Forgive me, I digress.
Back to the fat lady and her warbling. The expression is used whenever it’s still possible for a situation to change. Like in last Sunday’s Super Bowl, for example. The situation—Eagles up by eight points—was ripe for adjustment up to and including a few heartbeats after the game clock officially displayed :00. In fact, the contest’s final outcome and accompanying Lombardi trophy were as up-for-grabs as the spiraling, sewn pigskin quarterback Tom Brady desperately had launched into the state-of-the-art US Bank Stadium domed stratosphere.
Ostensibly positioned at the heave’s ultimate destination was ‘Gronk,’--a mountain of a man legally known as Robert Gronkowski. Earlier in the afternoon, a friend had accurately described the Patriot receiver as a ‘Disney character.’ “Look at him,” he expanded, “Shrek come alive.”
On ‘Gronk’s’ trek toward a pre-determined location in the end zone he displayed determination by summarily dispensing of a pesky, outsized Eagle defender with a mere flick of a muscular forearm. Once positioned to contest the pending ‘jump ball,’ ‘Gronk’s’ height, weight and cartoon-strength loomed palpable.
Seemingly in agonizing slow motion, Brady’s ‘Hail-Mary’ projectile descended upon a cluster of large, rapacious men clad in suits of colored armor. The ball tipped, bounced, ricocheted and re-directed before finally harmlessly kissing blue-tinted turf.
A lifetime Eagles fan—yet unborn in ’48 and ’49 when the franchise won consecutive NFL Championships and then completely unaffected by a third title in ’60 at age five--yours truly has waited…no, endured 57 consecutive frustrating seasons. Some were good years. Others not. More than a few were downright horrible. None had produced a Super Bowl victory.
When Brady’s final arrow missed its target, the drought ended. The fat lady finally sang our song. Belted out a celebratory tune as sweet to the ears of Philly residents as was the resonance of a clanging Liberty Bell in 1776. As gratifying as imagined. As gleeful as a child’s Christmas morning.
Perhaps, I exaggerate. After all, pro football’s merely a game played by millionaires for billionaires. Not exactly. In this city it’s also what we do. What we’ve done for decades. Partly who we are. From the Main Line to the hood. A chamber in the city’s heart. Oxygen in its blood. Foolish? Not really. Ritualistic Sunday gatherings of generations of family members to watch, cheer, curse, celebrate and malign the home eleven is arguably the citizenry’s most shared experience.
You may not have arrived here in anticipation of a Super Bowl review. So, let’s talk racing.
The march toward this season’s Triple Crown races progressed in earnest Saturday with three notable 3-year-old prep races—Withers (Aqueduct), Robert B. Lewis (Santa Anita) and Holy Bull (Gulfstream)--worth 10 Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve points to each winner: Avery Island, Lombo and Audible, respectively.
Avery Island got the job done in workmanlike fashion over Firenze Fire without overly impressing this observer. True, it’s early in the Triple Crown chase and the Withers was contested at a mile and one-eighth--both factors in Avery Island’s favor--but he’ll need to get much better if he’s going to succeed at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. Taken back just off the pace while two wide down the backside, Avery Island took over on the turn and kept to the task without being threatened. Runner-up Firenze Fire raced eagerly while inside down the backstretch, angled three wide to chase off the turn, tried in the lane but had no real kick. He’s probably most effective around one turn, but he’s a trier.
Lombo played ‘catch me if you can’ in the Robert B. Lewis. Out of the gate he hopped to the lead, rated expertly for Flavien Prat, repelled a brief challenge down the backstretch and drew clear in the lane. The Lewis was the colt’s first route race and Pratt took full advantage of a decided pace edge. Clearly, there was not much chasing him early and even less pursuing him late, although Ayacara closed some. This should be rated a weak race but is not at all representative of the entire California-based 3-year-old contingent--which is formidable—led by those hailing from the Bob Baffert barn. At this point, next race assignments for Baffert runners are unclear, but his talented 3-year-olds are as plentiful as aircraft waiting to land at LAX. McKinzie, Solomini, Mourinho and Regulate (fourth in the Lewis) already have earned points toward starting in the Kentucky Derby. And those are not all of Baffert’s 3-year-old threats! Include non-Baffert conditioned 2-year-old Eclipse champ runner-up Bolt d’Oro and recent LeComte winner Instilled Regard to the SoCal-based roster and you get the picture.
It’s somewhat fitting that a colt named Audible would take a significant step forward on Super Bowl Saturday. Freshened following a nearly 10-length allowance score Dec. 6 at Aqueduct, the colt’s connections were forced to, well…to call an ‘audible’ at the line of scrimmage and ship from New York to Florida following cancellation of Aqueduct’s Damon Runyon Stakes Dec. 30.
In the Holy Bull, Audible made his first two-turn race a winning one as he posted the weekend’s most impressive sophomore stakes performance. He stalked leaders early while being ridden a bit, took over three wide, repelled a challenge from Free Drop Billy (he may have needed a race), drew clear while briefly switching leads back and forth--reportedly in reaction to spotting track marks. Like so many Todd Pletcher runners at Gulfstream, Audible looked good scampering home and the mile and one-sixteenth distance appeared a mere warm up. Audible will need to move forward again to win the Florida Derby, so this New York bred may already have experienced his shining winter moment.