Thursday, May 29, 2008

Still Accepting Applications for the Fall Semester

This came in today's mail, and I must confess that I like the sound of it. Who needs a Commemorative Whitney Biennial Artists Edition Gap T-shirt when you could have your very own college instead?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Paintings I Like, pt. 19

Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral, The Facade in Sunlight, 1894. Oil on canvas, 42" x 29."

One of the many things I marvel at about Monet's mature work is the lightness and delicacy he was able to maintain in spite of the fact that his canvases were absolutely encrusted with paint. Caked impasto of that thickness has a real tendency to look like frosting (or worse), which can make a picture feel as heavy as it looks. Monet's high-key palette and trademark depiction of the flecked effects of sunlight make this painting as light as a feather. Instead of calling attention to its topography, the picture's surface seems to dissolve.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Art Blakey, Moanin,' 1962

I haven't done a jazz post in quite some time. When I see a clip like this or pull out one of my favorite records, I immediately miss playing music, which I haven't done in what seems like forever. This gives me the blues in a major way, and having the blues makes me want to hear the celestial Art Blakey playing Moanin.'

Monday, May 19, 2008

Big Brown vs. Big Red

After his dazzling performances in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, everyone wants to know: Is Big Brown really the reincarnation of Secretariat, the Michael Jordan of the thoroughbred world? The first wave of nay-sayers (no pun intended) included me, who discounted his undefeated record going in to the Derby as more of a liability than an asset - only six horses had previously won the Run for the Roses with no defeats. The critics also pointed out that a horse with only three starts hadn't won since Regret in 1915, and nobody had won from the #20 post position since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929. Big Brown clearly didn't read any of these statistics.

An article in today's Times gives voice to a new wave of Big Brown doubters - those that say he is an excellent horse among a less than stellar crop of three-year-olds, but he ain't no Big Red. In the article, Robby Albarado, Curlin's rider, points out that last year, Hard Spun, Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, and Curlin were all three-year-olds at the same time, and he doesn't even mention Rags to Riches (whom I'm sure he'd just as soon forget).

Some numbers shed a little light on the situation, but still leave room for interpretation and ambiguity. Secretariat's fractions for the five quarter-miles in the 1973 Derby were 25 1/5, 24, 23 4/5, 23 2/5, and 23 seconds, each one faster than the last. His final time for the race was 1:59 2/5 seconds, and the record still stands today. His Beyer Speed Figure for the race was a 139, the highest ever assigned (Beyer figures have been around since the 70's, and began appearing in the Daily Racing Form in 1992).

Big Brown's quarters in the Derby were 23 1/5, 23 4/5, 24, 25 2/5 and 25 2/5 seconds, for a final time of 2:01 4/5. Besides the slower time (12 lengths slower than Secretariat's if you assume 1/5 second = one length), this succession of fractions unfolds in a much more typical way; the vast majority of horses, even great ones, run slower fractions at the end of a race than at the beginning - the winner is the one that slows down the least. Big Brown's Derby Beyer figure was a very impressive 109, but placed in context with all of the 21st century Derby winners, it doesn't soar above the pack:

Street Sense (2007): 109
Barbaro (2006): 111
Giacomo (2005): 100
Smarty Jones (2004): 107
Funny Cide (2003): 109
War Emblem (2002): 114
Monarchos (2001): 116
Fusaichi Pegasus (2000): 108

So it sounds like I'm joining up with the new crowd of doubters, right? Not necessarily - this is where the ambiguity and interpretation comes into play. Len Ragozin's "Sheets" are the speed figures that present the most credible competition to Andrew Beyer's more famous numbers. And Len Friedman, the principle handicapper at the "Sheets," calculated Big Brown's performance as the fastest speed figure he's ever recorded. Unlike Beyer's numbers, Ragozin's speed figures decrease for faster performances, with zero being best. Big Brown's "Sheets" number was a -3/4, a quarter-point better than Secretariat's Derby, which was -1/2. Why so different? The most likely explanation is the fact that Ragozin uses distance from the rail in his calculations, and BB raced four-wide at both turns.

And there's another factor that's incalculable: Big Brown never seemed like he was straining in the stretch in either the Derby or the Preakness - especially the latter. If an Easy Goer or a Sunday Silence, or an Affirmed or an Alydar were really testing him in the final furlong, who knows what he would have been capable of? Maybe he would have wilted, or maybe he would have broken all previous records.

Some are saying that in the 2008 Belmont Stakes, Casino Drive will give Big Brown the real neck-and-neck, eye-to-eye stretch run that no one else has showed him, like the one that Rags to Riches gave to Curlin in last year's Belmont. Maybe so, but I think that Robby Albarado has it right when he points out that Big Brown's real test will come if his connections choose to put him in the Breeder's Cup Classic in the fall. If Big Brown shows up, he will be facing older horses for the first time, and the best of the exceptional class of 2007 (including defending champ Curlin). It's already been announced that BB won't race as a four-year-old, so if he doesn't turn up for the BC Classic, even with a Triple Crown under his belt, there might always be a tiny question mark in the air.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The 2008 Preakness: Making It Look Easy

I lost my shirt at Belmont and my pants at Pimlico, but it was a pretty exciting day nonetheless. Kent Desormeaux barely urged Big Brown along at all going into the lane; he was just sitting there holding the reins at the end. The only way this horse could lose the Belmont Stakes is if he gets hit by a car in the stretch.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Paulie's Picks, 5/17/08

Two Saturdays ago, Big Brown raced four-wide on both turns and entered the stretch with the inevitability of a locomotive. All of the doubters, including me, were forced to shut our big fat mouths (after we picked our slackened jaws up off the floor, of course).

The winner of the Preakness appears to be a hopelessly foregone conclusion; all of the Derby contestants except Gayego are not going to bother, mainly replaced by overmatched G2 and G3 types, and a few classy allowance horses.

This is all very exciting because of the possibility of seeing the first Triple Crown winner in thirty years, but it's a bummer in terms of trying to find a bet. BB is going to open at 1-2 and his odds are most likely going to get even stingier at post time. The exacta pool should be about as anemic, and I doubt that the correct trifecta will even offer a decent risk/reward ratio, especially if Gayego is involved (which he really should be).

So what's the play? The only thing I can see that's worth a shot is the $1,000,000 guaranteed Pick 4 which starts with the 9th race and ends with the Preakness. Based on a $1 bet, here's the ticket I'm planning to play for $40 (the #9 horse is a likely scratch in the 11th, which would reduce the cost of the bet to $30):

9th race: 3,8
10th race: 2,3,4,5,6
11th race: 2,4,8,9
12th race: 7

If this doesn't appeal to you, you could play ten races at Belmont instead. Here are Paulie's Picks for Belmont's Preakness Day card:

1st race:
5 - Cool N Collective
2 - Mighty Gulch
3 - Ready Read

2nd race:
2 - Saumon Fume
1 - Talkhouse
5 - Golden Weekend

3rd race:
6 - Stonewood
5 - Bailsby
7 - Pocatello

4th race:
4 - Golden Amulet
8 - A Zero Tap
7 - Benny the Waiter

5th race:
3 - Bontempi
7 - Smart Enuf
4 - Piazza Di Spagna

6th race:
7 - Judge William
8 - Ready Enough
3 - Bethpage Black

7th race:
2 - Christmas Kid
6 - Genuine Devotion
7 - Mohegan Sky

8th race:
5 - Winzalot
11 - Fregata
1 - Can't Refuse

9th race:
6 - Wow Me Free
7 - Rite Moment
5 - Carriage Trial

10th race:
3 - Personal Shopper
4 - Too Tough Pete
8 - Dixieland Star

Tune in Saturday night for results.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Great News!

For a limited time, you can get Whitney Biennial Artist Editions T-shirts from the Gap. I'm not kidding. Click here to meet the artists!

I actually view developments like this as oddly positive. When things get this bloated and bad, it means that substantive change is close at hand.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Paintings I Like, pt. 18

Hans Hofmann, Sanctum Sanctorum, 1962. Oil on canvas, 84" x 78."

For a number of years, I've felt that Hans Hofmann was unfairly relegated to the second team of Abstract Expressionists, behind DeKooning, Pollock, Rothko, Newman, and Kline. The fact that many of the leading and less-than-leading lights of the Ab Ex era studied with Hofmann is some indication of the regard in which those painters held him, but this fact aside, some of his paintings are, with the passage of time, looking better and better.

Sanctum Sanctorum, included in the small but nice Action/Abstraction show at the Jewish Museum, is an example of Hofmann's "push/pull" theory of pictorial space at its very best. The earthy oranges and reds of the ground and the bright, impastoed rectangles could easily lapse into a rudimentary figure/background relationship; "apocalyptic wallpaper," as Harold Rosenberg would call it. But at the top of the picture, a semi-transparent orange-brown stroke embeds the uppermost blue figure into the painterly ground, and because their similarity in shape and scale, integrates all of the other rectangles into the ground. A simple but brilliant device.

Besides its formal excellence, the painting has a surprising newness about it. Ab Ex paintings, even the best of them, often look old, like historical paintings. This is not a dig, paintings by Titian and Velazquez look kind of old, too, and this doesn't diminish their greatness. But when I came upon the Hofmann at the show, it looked like a new picture, painted this year, and had the visual urgency of a new idea as well.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

I'm Convinced

Big Brown didn't come anywhere near Secretariat's record, but he drew away with such ease in the stretch. The pace, the distance, the post position, the hustle and bustle of Derby day all left him completely unfazed.

Click here for the result chart. The fractions weren't brutal, but I'll be curious to see what Big Brown's quarters were - I'm pretty sure he was accelerating in the stretch.

Uh... Wow

Ok, I take it all back. He can go wire to wire, he can rate, he can beat G1 horses by open lengths. This might be a Triple Crown year after all. Check back later for video and result charts.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Churchill Downs, 10th Race, 5/3/08

Trainer Steve Asmussen (left, wearing grey clown wig) and Pyro (right, wearing horse stuff).

The Kentucky Derby is a notoriously difficult race to handicap, but this year, the usual questions are made more complex by two additional X-factors. First, many of the current crop of three-year-olds have had all or nearly all of their races on polytrack, which makes their dirt form difficult to predict. And clouding this issue even further is X-factor number two: Mother Nature's impending wrath. This morning, I went to, typed in "Louisville 40208," and got this:

"Thunderstorms... some strong, especially early. Damaging winds, large hail, and possibly a tornado with some storms."

The pollen count is unusually high as well, but I'm not going to worry about that too much. Track concerns aside, here's the Really Big Question for tomorrow's Derby: Is the inexperienced and tender-footed Big Brown actually the reincarnation Big Red? He's a hell of a horse to be sure, but can he win from the far outside post position, which hasn't been done since Clyde Van Dusen did it in 1929? And can he win with only three career starts, which hasn't been done since Regret did it in 1915? The experts are lining up on both sides.

Pace makes the race, and few races are more exemplary of this than the Derby. When the pace melts down, long shots come home - remember Giacomo? Big Brown, marooned in the 20 slot, has three speed horses to his left (Gayego, Recapturetheglory, and Cowboy Cal). He's certainly faster than all three - with War Pass out, BB is the clearly the best speedball in the bunch. But this doesn't change the fact that he's going to have to come out of the gate like a rocket, blast by three horses who are trying to crowd him out for the early lead, and find a path all the way over to the rail before hitting the first turn.

If he can do all this and lead the pack all the way home, I'll bow down in reverence. But I'm betting that he can't, and I don't even think he'll crack the superfecta.

After his dreadful 10th place finish in the Bluegrass Stakes, the prognosticators dropped Pyro like a bad habit. The race was so awful, though, that I think there had to be a mitigating factor; polytrack, bellyache, or otherwise. I'm willing to draw a line through that race and assume he's still the same horse that he was in the Risen Star. I'd like Pyro's chances even more if War Pass were still in, because he and Big Brown would have certainly run each other into the ground, but there's still enough speed in the race to set up a big late run. Pyro is my pick to win.

But I'm the greedy type, and planning to play some exactas, trifectas, and maybe some supers (the Giacomo superfecta paid $1.7 million on a $2 bet). So who do I see rounding out the top four? As I said earlier, I think that running styles and pace are going to dictate the outcome, so with that in mind, here's Professor Paulie's Kentucky Derby Superfecta (play at your own risk):

9 - Pyro
6 - Z Fortune
8- Visionaire
10 - Colonel John

Tune in tomorrow night either for some gloating and bragging, or for some particularly lame excuses.