The Great 8, on the Ice and on the Dirt
For 136 years, on the first Saturday of every May, hope and horseflesh have come to Louisville, Kentucky. Today makes it 137.
Each one of those years, the nation’s most talented three-year-old thoroughbreds have met in heroic competition. They’ve given their last ounce of muscle and heart, carrying with them the dreams of their owners and the wagers of their fans.
They’ve been tested on the Churchill Downs oval, pushed on harder and faster by their trainers, their jockeys, and that indefinable drive that makes victors. On this day, for one moment every year, it can be said that horses have wings. In any other setting, with few exceptions, all of these hoofed marvels would be considered a winner. But today, as 136 years before, we’ll learn again there are many ways to lose, but only one way to win. In the end, there’s really only one true winner.
Horse racing is a game of fleeting highs and persistent lows. It is a statistician’s dream – each detail and every moment on and off the track set down for a sharpie’s analysis. It’s history and it’s atmosphere and it’s huge rushes…and above all, it is fast.
We’re reminded of all this as we think back over our Capitals season-gone-by. There’s been, and will continue to be, lots and lots of chewing over the year – what went right and where it all went wrong. Everyone has an opinion…including us.
A lot of blame seems to have targeted the office: Leonsis, GMGM, and Coach B. Especially Coach. ‘He can’t keep his team on plan‘, goes the cant. ‘He’s too sloppy, he makes too many mistakes, he can’t discipline them, he was outcoached, he’s got to go.‘
From our perch, it seems less a Coach’s problem and more a Captain’s one. The coach sets game plans, drills his squad and adjusts the mixture of players until he knows his team can do exactly what he wants it to. The Coach lays the rails; the Captain keeps the team on track. And that’s where things went wrong.
Too often, the Caps derailed in the middle of a game. They dropped their plan, skated with leaden feet and lost heart. They seemed more a collection of individuals out for some fun than a cohesive unit, a team – and when a game wasn’t any fun anymore, they gave up and packed it in. Verizon Center became Boys Town: playful, undisciplined and slapdash. That’s why they always had to struggle for come-from-behind victories, eeking out one-goal wins – their raw talent helped them pull it out of the hole again and again, without anyone bothering to decipher how they got in the hole in the first place.
The only ones who knows what happens in the locker room are the ones inside. But from out here, maybe we might be better off with a team out there less for sport and more for success. One made up of more forgettable grown-ups and fewer rock-star boys. \Sure, as our players earn a little more grey in their beards that will happen naturally, but it seems like the Captain and his leadership team could help accelerate that.
As Captain, Alexander Ovechkin is everything we’re talking about: a white-hot talent, a mischievous boy, a camera hog, a Cap who wants to have fun. Ovi’s the smart kid in the back who cracks the room up and who everybody likes, Knuble and Arnott seem like ones to settle it down. We need – the Capitals need – to settle down.
This year’s Derby favorite is Dialed In – a Nick Zito-trained smallish horse with huge heart. He’s owned by Robert LaPenta, a good friend of Zito. Last year, LaPenta and Zito fielded one of the most talented horses to come along in years – Ice Box. Everything about Ice Box said “winner” – but traffic problems kept him bottled up and he lost in the Derby.
Unlike the Stanley Cup, a horse gets only one shot at the roses. With luck, determination and heart, Dialed In just might do it this year.
Great horses, like great teams sometimes lose. Just-plain-good horses can win. They need luck, stamina, endurance, discipline and drive reinforced by countless hours of training. The Capitals have plenty of muscle and heart. They just need to learn how to dial it in rather than pack it in.
And with any luck, the run for the Stanley Cup will be competing with the Run for the Roses for our attention a year from today. Both will require that stamina, endurance, discipline and drive. That, and a bit of luck.
And for you Derby hunch bettors out there, Dialed In will sport the number 8 jersey today, or saddle cloth as they say at the track. Good luck players.