About Punt King

Punts, Kicks

Churchill Downs hosted the Breeder’s Cup at the world-renowned oval in Louisville for the first time since 2011 last Friday and Saturday. Given the track plant’s size and annual experience with Derby crowds (which double a Cup’s live gate), it was a pleasure to return there with room to roam and no real hassles to be found.

The Cup’s purse sizes and corresponding quality of entrants mean the racing is always great. This year’s Breeder’s Cup was especially exciting because the winner of the Arc four weeks earlier in Paris came all the way here and conquered the BC Turf in impressive fashion.

The four-year-old English filly Enable and her legendary jockey Frankie Dettori ran patiently in striking range for the first two-thirds of the 1.5 mile race. On the final turn before the finish line, she swung wide. Way, way wide. She battled the Irish filly Magical down the middle to outer portion of the course and prevailed by three-quarters of a length. It’s the first time in Breeder’s Cup history that an Arc winner has come to the states and won a Cup race in the same year. Dettori’s insistence that she avoid trouble in the form of congestion had to have a role in the decision to take on so much extra distance on the outer path. Dettori would say after the race he was seeking better, less trampled ground – and that makes sense – but he certainly showed great confidence in Enable by allowing her to run wide.

After the Enable thriller, the day’s feature felt less consequential. The Breeder’s Cup Classic has a $6 million purse (compared to 4 mil in the Turf) and the field of 14 was pretty balanced. It included six three-year-olds.  2018 triple crown winner Justify is retired now so there wasn’t a big name standout or promotion-worthy build-up to the Classic. The five-year-old California-based horse Accelerate was perhaps the top older horse on dirt in the States this year. Leaving from the far outside number 14 gate position, Accelerate benefited from a hot pace and got the job done Saturday in the Classic with a late, steady burst past tired early leaders. Accelerate’s win was his sixth of the year, all in top class races.

Both Jeff and I nibbled on the edges of betting success but lost money on the weekend given the lack of longshot success. The longest win price on Cup race winners was just 5.9 to 1 on Saturday and 5.5 to 1 on Friday.

Credit Churchill’s track superintendent Jamie Richardson for coming up with suitable dirt and turf surface conditions on Friday and Saturday that had been drenched earlier in the week. The rain gauge at nearby Louisville International Airport recorded 2.49 inches over the 48-hour period ending Thursday night.

We were at the track during a cold, steady rain on Thursday. The dirt had been sealed but was a sloppy mess as we exited Thursday. About 20 hours later – without the benefit of sunshine – the dirt track was listed at good before being upgraded to fast before the fourth race Friday.

The turf was labeled “yielding” all day Friday and then deemed “good” after the BC Turf Sprint on Saturday.

Naysayer horse guys on satellite radio Thursday morning were predicting major defections due to track conditions but in fact Shang Shang Shang (Juvie turf sprint) was the only one to come out for that reason. The lone significant scratch was Shug’s Code of Honor from the Juvie dirt race after the colt came down with a fever.

The only controversy of the weekend was action taken by Kentucky’s Horse Racing Commission on the Friday morning of Breeder’s Cup weekend. A state vet working on behalf of the commission claimed Irish filly Polydream appeared lame in one leg prompting the commission to bar her from the Mile turf race. Her esteemed trainer Freddie Head told the DRF he pleaded with the commission to watch her run on the race course – saying she gains fluidity as she moves quicker. Head blames “offset knees” for the mistaken appearance of lameness. He ripped the commission for not trusting his judgment on the filly’s health. Head’s long, successful career at the sport’s highest levels make me inclined to believe him. Polydream would have been the betting favorite in the Mile turf. Instead, she flew out here from France – spent a week in Kentucky – running beautifully according to observers – only to be denied the chance to participate in the event she came for.

Attendance at the track was announced at 42,249 on Friday and 70,423 on Saturday.

After the races on Thursday, Friday and Saturday we checked out small, independent Louisville brewers. We visited Akasha, Holsopple, Gravely and Mile Wide. None of the four knocked our socks off.

Carsoni got us into the races with tickets he received via his participation in the big handicapping contest and we parked for free both days on Fifth Street just south of Winkler. Our lodging was cheap considering the strong demand for a small selection of hotels. We snared a room at a conveniently located Red Roof Inn for 80 bucks a night with a reservation made a year in advance.

Our breakfasts on both Saturday and Sunday mornings in Louisville were fantastic largely due to our server Mary who was working with a smile at Waffle House (franchise #179) near our hotel.

I flew back to New York on Monday from Nashville via Chicago.

Today, I voted.

I understand much of the country views today’s vote as a referendum on the President. That isn’t the case, here. All the contested races on my ballot will be won by Democrats by huge margins.

For me, the significant elections of this cycle were staged back in June and September when we conducted separate party primary contests. It was at those two votes that we could decide if we wanted a true-blue Democrat who sits squarely on the left – or a bought-off, play-it-safe Democrat who wants to obsess about Trump. We got some of both.

Whatever the case, all this talk about using today to let off steam about the Trump agenda has prompted some people to get off their hands – and I guess that’s good. But those same people should have participated in the primary (when it mattered). They of course also need to get excited about the real referendum on Trump which comes two years from now.

NYC had three city charter revisions on the ballot today, too. None were pushed – or discussed much – until it was almost election day. The charter issues made it a two-page ballot which is unusual. And today, given the 100-percent humidity in the air – it wreaked havoc with the ballot reading machines.

In NYC, we fill circles with a black pen and then personally insert the ballot into the reader machine. All over the city there were reports today of the ballot readers malfunctioning. As I saw it in my polling place, the ballots were not going in crisply because the paper was kind of droopy. There’s a long history here of botched performance by election day planners but I must say that I buy the excuse on the humidity.

City council speaker Corey Johnson has called on NYC Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan to resign and Twitter is lit up with people complaining about long lines and distrust over handling of ballots that don’t feed the machine. The obvious easy response to all this is early voting which less progressive states have instituted without a problem.

You are gonna have glitches with any big mission staffed by low-paid, twice-a-year temps sitting in a makeshift setting with equipment that gets dusted off a night or two before.

Yes, both suppression – and failure to quickly impose backup responses to election day miscues are critical concerns when it comes to such a precious individual right. Those are different and important discussions.

But the incessant whining and conspiracy stuff you inevitably get about glitches or waiting in line on big election days – before the polls even close – acts as a form of suppression too.

In Nashville for two nights in advance of this weekend’s Breeder’s Cup which will be staged 200 miles up the road in Louisville.

My pal Jeff and his wife Deborah have lived in Nashville almost all of their adult lives. I love the visits here. The hospitality, a cozy guest room and their deep connection to the city always makes a stop here great fun.

Last night, while Jeff and Deborah rooted their Preds on to victory over Vegas, I had a slice at Five Points Pizza East. The line stretched down the block. You’re allowed just one slice max per person from the takeway window. I had a couple Galaxy dominant brews at Smith and Lentz and then went to the Lemon Twigs gig (pictured above) at Basement East.

The new Twigs LP has been divisive among fans who adored their first record Do Hollywood. Out a few months now, Go to School has some schmaltzy, carousel-at-the-carnival sounds sprinkled throughout. Brian D’Addario has taken a more assertive, adult-in-the-room position on both the new record and on stage.

His wildly talented brother Michael D’Addario has added more oomph to his prance and seems to veer into unhinged mode when addressing the audience between songs. An anecdote about Father John Misty on Tuesday night was hard to grasp.

The audience at Basement East (capacity 400) was supportive and enthusiastic – dancing throughout the roughly 50 minute set. Michael expressed disappointment at the size of the crowd which was no more than 200. Perhaps the new record has slowed the Twigs’ meteoric rise. Given the obvious genius-level musical ability of both brothers, I’d expect the band will do more to exploit the guitar if it wants to fill rooms of the size they played last night.

It should be noted the Twigs replaced bass player Megan Zeankowski and keyboard player (Doctor) Danny Ayala on this tour. Both Megan and Danny were much loved by Twigs fans as the band emerged from humble Long Island beginnings. Enter Daryl Johns on bass, Tommaso Taddonio on keys and Andres Valbuena on drums. While the band may have upgraded proficiency in key roles, I think a majority of fans wish that Zeankowski and Ayala had stuck given the authenticity and connection to the early magic spawned by early Twigs gigs.

The Nashville musician R Stevie Moore joined the Lemon Twigs on stage for a tune late in the set. The Chicago multi-instrumentalist Andrew Smith (DBA as Jungle Green) and his band opened the show.

On Thursday, Jeff and I ride up to Louisville for the Cup.

-The Nashville newspaper The Tennessean reported in this morning’s edition that early voting in the state has produced an amazing turnout. Through eleven days of early voting statewide, nearly 1.1 million people have cast a ballot. That’s already 26-percent of active registered voters with a couple days of early voting left to go – not to mention those who turnout for the conventional election day vote on Tuesday, November 6. With 26-percent turnout already booked, you’d assume the turnout number could hit 40-percent here which is crazy high without a presidency on the line. The bottom line is that voting needs to be easy – however it’s done – and early voting is one of the methods to make that happen.