Horse racing and NFL fans share similar apprehensions
For the past few months the horse racing world was all agog about the prospects of a three-year old super horse that was winning up a storm on the California race tracks this year of perhaps being the next Triple Crown winner.
And ever since the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl ended in early February and the college underclassmen declared for the May draft, ardent fans (especially those in the Houston area) have been making a case for the Houston Texans to select Texas A&M’s super quarterback Johnny Manziel as their No. 1 draft choice.
Reams of copy have flowed about the greatness of California Chrome, who is owned by Steven Coburn and Perry Martin, trained by 77-year old Art Sherman and ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza.
After winning all three starts this year and the final one he ran in 2013 by a combined total of 24¼ lengths, California Chrome headed the 19-horse field Saturday for the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY. by being installed as the 5-2 favorite.
California Chrome didn’t disappoint, either, as he burst forth from the relatively slow pace at the long Churchill Downs stretch and was leading at the eighth pole by five lengths and held off 38-l long-shot Commanding Curve to win by nearly two lengths.
“I told people this colt will go down in history,” Coburn chortled after the race. “When he wins the Triple Crown, he will be the first California-bred to ever win a Triple Crown. That’s where we’re going.”
The victory made Sherman the oldest trainer to win America’s most famous horse race. Charlie Whittingham won the 1989 Kentucky Derby with Sunday Silence when he was 76.
California Chrome was the 85th Derby horse to start from the No. 5 post position and only the ninth to win since 1930. The last one was New York-bred Funny Cide who won the Derby in 2003.
Now the oldest trainer to win the Derby and his horse are headed to Baltimore for the Preakness on May 17, the next step on the Triple Crown trail. It will be Sherman’s first trip to Pimlico.
Derby runner-up Commander Curve and seventh-place finisher Ride On Curlin are expected to show up at the Preakness along with Pablo Del Monte, whose owner decided not to run in the Derby, Kid Cruz, Dynamic Impact, Bob Baffert-trained Bayern and Social Inclusion. The Preakness has a maximum field limit of 14 horses.
But now all eyes are focused on the three-day NFL Draft that begins tomorrow (Thurs.) with many Lone Star State fans hoping the Houston Texans make the right choice.
And for most fans that right choice is selecting the best quarterback available, who they believe is the 5-11 ¾ and 207 pounds of excitement in Johnny Manziel.
But the Texans General Manager Rick Smith, who is overseeing his eighth draft for owner Bob McNair, is playing it close to the vest.
“The toughest thing about having the first overall pick is what we had to go through to earn it,” Smith lamented to the Houston Chronicle last weekend. “It was very painful to get to this point.”
Smith could possibly select defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or even trade down for additional picks in the most talent-laden draft in a decade.
Smith was asked by the Chronicle how the Texans evaluate a player like Manziel, whose popularity transcends the NFL and would enhance the Texans’ brand nationally.
“Your evaluation is based on the football player, your expectation of what a player can do in your system with his skill-set and his potential growth,” Smith carefully explained.
“What’s his medical? How do you think he’ll be in the locker room? How will he be in the community? You factor those things into the equation. These are football decisions,” Smith continued.
The wide-open offense Manziel ran at Texas A&M gave him significant freedom to ad-lib—the type rarely afforded in the hyper-structured NFL.
But it must be pointed out that Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled all over the field throughout last season en route to the Super Bowl and a huge upset victory.
Manziel was good enough at A&M to win the Heisman Trophy in his first season at quarterback and made a middling program in the Big 12 competitive in the SEC, considered the best conference in America.
In two seasons Manziel passed for 63 touchdowns and ran for 30, toppling dozens of national, conference and school records.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock recently evaluated Manziel to USA TODAY Sports Weekly. “Johnny’s got the arm strength, intelligence and the WOW factor,
“Now he’s just got to learn to win by making some NFL throws from the pocket. And if you can combine the two of them, I think you have a Pro Bowl, Super Bowl-winning type of quarterback.”
If the Houston Texans don’t think that’s enough to make Johnny Manziel their No. 1 draft pick tomorrow night at 7 p.m. on the NFL Network with live coverage also on ESPN, then they probably can figure out who they will pick as their No. 1 draft pick in the 2015 draft next year.
But all of the drafting gurus on NFL Live this week have been touting Jadeveon Clowney as being the first player taken in tomorrow’s draft by the Texans unless they trade away their No. 1 pick.
And Johnny Manziel worked out last weekend with the St. Louis Rams, who are desperate to turn things around after being the losingest NFL team over the last five seasons.
KWICKIES…Before we finish with the upcoming draft, one-fourth of the NFL’s current starting quarterbacks were chosen with the first overall pick in the draft, but of the eight, only Peyton (1998) and Eli Manning (2004) have won Super Bowls. Carson Palmer (2003) and Andrew Luck (2012) have been to two Pro Bowls and Alex Smith (2005) went to one. Matthew Stafford (2009) and Cam Newton (2011) have each had one playoff appearance while Sam Bradford (2010) has yet to see the postseason.
North Carolina high schools passed a “Mercy Rule” for football and basketball games in which one team is leading by 40 or more points by halftime or later. Both coaches must agree to either a running game clock or to just end the game early.
The first round of the National Basketball Association playoffs ended quite differently for the two Texas teams that were eliminated last weekend. The No. 4-seeded Houston Rockets, who were favored to win their best-of-seven series in six games, lost to the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in six games, instead. The crowning blow was a slung-up three-pointer with .9 seconds left that gave the Blazers a 99-98 victory in Game 6. But the No. 8-seeded Dallas Mavericks, after surprising the No. 1-seeded San Antonio Spurs by winning two of the first three games, were blown out in Game 7 119-96. The Conference semifinals began Monday with No. 1 Indiana Pacers hosting the fifth-seeded Washington Wizards and No. 6 Brooklyn visiting No. 2 Miami. The other match-ups have No. 5 Portland at No. 1 San Antonio and No. 2 Oklahoma City hosting No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers.
The Houston Astros already are back in familiar territory as the worst team in the major leagues with their 10-21 record in games through Sunday. Last month the Astros got decent starting pitching, but no hitting. So far this month they are scoring plenty of runs, but the pitching stinks. Things probably won’t improve much during their current four-game series at Detroit, where the Tigers boast the best record in the majors (17-9) through Sunday’s games.
JUST BETWEEN US…The manner in which the Seattle Seahawks rewarded their three-time All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas for all the long hours of extra work he put in to learn every intricate facet of the team’s defense was definitely a touch of class. Last week the Seahawks extended the final year of the former West Orange-Stark All-Stater’s contract four more years, with the extension worth $40 million with $27.725 million guaranteed, making him the highest paid safety in the National Football League at the tender age of 24 years old. Thomas was Seattle’s first-round draft pick in 2010 and has played four full seasons without missing a game.