Remember when you went out on Halloween night and got a sack full of candy. After returning home it was fun to sort through and hopefully you would find the special piece that was your favorite. As the May 1 Kentucky Derby approaches, Thoroughbred trainer John Sadler is hoping he has a special piece of Candy that he can unwrap for all to enjoy.
Rock Your World is a lightly raced but unbeaten son of Candy Ride that Sadler will send to the starting gates for the world’s most famous race. The California based conditioner’s World punched his ticket to Churchill Downs with an emphatic gate to wire win in the Santa Anita Derby on April 3. Making just his third career start but first on dirt, his romp opened a lot of eyes in the horse racing world.
“Truthfully, he ran beyond our expectations,” says Sadler. “We always thought he had a lot of potential, but we never expected him to run as well as he did in his first start in graded stakes company and his first start on dirt.”
Rock Your World had enjoyed wins over the Santa Anita turf course in the first two starts of his career. Unraced at two, he broke his maiden in a six furlong turf race on New year’s Day. Following that up with a win at a mile on the grass in the Pasadena Stakes at Santa Anita, the stage was set for his dirt debut. The Kentucky Derby was not at the forefront of his racing plans, but after he Rocked it on April 3, it was on.
“Our main goal was to just let him develop as a race horse,” says Sadler, who has saddled four previous runners in the Kentucky Derby. “We wanted to find out if he was a Derby horse and I think we got our answer in his last start.”
Interestingly enough, this will be the third son of Candy Ride that Sadler takes to the twin spires for a Run at the Roses. In 2010 he saddled Sidney’s Candy (17th place finish) and in 2014 it was Candy Boy (14th). Although he never ran on the first Saturday in May, Twirling Candy may have been his best son of Candy Ride as he won seven races with a second and a third in eleven career starts for the Sadler barn.
Of course, the legendary father of these runners will go down as one of the best to ever toe the track. Bred in Argentina, Candy Ride was unbeaten in six career starts and had that special greatness about him that just does not come along every day. Closing his career with a win in the 2003 Pacific Classic, his smooth stride was impeccable.
“We have been fortunate enough to have quite a few Candy Ride horses in our barn over the years,” says Sadler. “He was a really special race horse for sure. I am hoping we have some of that brilliance with Rock Your World.”
Come May 1, we will all find out just how special Sadler’s piece of Candy really is.
The time is here to think Kentucky Derby. Which horse are you riding?…What’s that…you don’t know who to pick?…Here is one to consider and he might just provide a nice payday should things go his way on May 1.
One of the best ways to determine your selection is find a runner that is ready. Obviously talent is very important, but having their horse in peak form for the first Saturday in May is every trainer’s goal. One of those blossoming three-year olds that appears to be on the rise is Helium.
Running out of the Mark Casse barn, Helium stamped himself as a contender with an ultra-impressive run in winning the Tampa Bay Derby on March 6. Coming from off the pace, this son of Ironicus made a 5 wide move at the top of the stretch and captured the lead. Running with a dogged determination down the lane, this grandson of 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch gamely held on to win by ¾ of a length.
The margin of victory was certainly not great, but the way in which he won was what impressed all including his conditioner.
“That was one of the most incredible performances I have seen during my 40 years in this game”, says Casse, who won the 2019 Preakness (War of Will) and Belmont Stakes (Sir Winston). “He had so many things go against him but still found a way to win. The biggest thing was the wide trip which means he ran a lot further than the rest of the horses.”
Another factor that makes the Tamp performance freakish is the fact it was his first start on dirt. The first two races for Helium came during his two-year old season as he won seven furlong events on the synthetic all weather track at Woodbine in Ontario, Canada. In September of 2020 he won by 3 ¼ lengths and then followed that with a 4 ¼ length win in October. Shipping to Tampa for the first start of his three-year old season, Helium gassed the competition with that huge run.
“His works had told us he deserved a shot on the dirt”, says Casse. “We knew he had plenty of talent and his pedigree says grass, but he had given us plenty of signs that says he can be great no matter what surface he runs on. We couldn’t have been more happy with how he performed at Tampa.”
Old school Kentucky Derby thinkers have always thought horses needed to race four to five weeks before the big day. Training has changed in recent times and many of those old “do’s” and “don’t do’s” have been put out to pasture. Knowing his horse and understanding the sport he has been involved in since the mid 1970’s, Casse has decided to train Helium up to the Derby and not run him until that first Saturday in May.
“He came out of the Tampa Bay Derby in great shape and we are cranking him back up now,” says the eleven time Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s top Thoroughbred trainer. “We know he fires well off the bench and we thought it would be better for him to just train instead of racing again.”
In covering the mile and a sixteenth at Tampa in 1:43.55, Helium earned 50 qualifying points. That currently has him sitting 15th on the list with the top 20 earning a berth in the starting gates. Barring some majorly unforeseen happenings in the Arkansas Derby on April 10, that should be enough to get Casse’s charge into the starting gates.
“We feel as if he is headed in the right direction”, says Casse. “Helium is doing very weel and will be at Churchill Downs this week to start settling in.He will be ready to run on the first Saturday in May.”
Rutherford County has been blessed with many fine athletes over the years. Recent times have really magnified this as increased population and more high schools have produced talented kids in many different sports. Mainstream games like baseball, basketball, and football have put plenty of kids in the college spotlight, but in 2021, the athlete that is perhaps shining the brightest is a gymnast from Siegel.
Hannah McCrary graduated as a Siegel Star in 2018 and dove right into college as a gymnast at the University of Missouri. Having been one of the most highly regarded youngsters in her trade in the Southeast, McCrary made the decision to head to Mizzou with big goals in mind.
“Growing up here I really wanted to be in the Southeastern Conference and I felt like Missouri was the best fit for me,” says McCrary. “Our coach (Shannon Wilker) is always pushing the program to be better and the culture here is exactly what I wanted. Everyone gets a fair opportunity and those that work the hardest everyday get the chance to perform.”
Now a junior for the Tigers, McCrary actually committed to Missouri as a freshman while at Siegel in 2015. Having built her gymnastic foundation since first toeing the tumbling mat at age 4 ½, Hannah has put in countless hours over the years with a simple goal of being the best she can be.
Currently, those efforts have earned this daughter of former Oakland high school football standout Johnny McCrary a spot on the NCAA Nationals to be held in Fort Worth, Texas on April 16. A brilliant performance in the Tuscaloosa Regional saw Hannah nail her floor routine and earn the top score with a 9.925. A true demonstration of her outstanding all-around gymnastic skills, McCrary has seemingly found her niche.
“The floor routine just comes natural to me,” says Hannah. “I have learned how to have fun with it and just be myself. Relaxing and just enjoying it all have been very important aspects in developing a good routine.”
Perhaps the most demanding of any collegiate sport, gymnastics can separate contenders from pretenders. Drive, determination, and a lot of faith has helped McCrary reach these lofty heights.
“Most people don’t realize the hard work it takes to be good in this sport,” says the psychology major. “I have practiced between 20 and 40 hours every week since I was very small. I always strive to be at that next level. Looking to take that next step while trusting in God and believing in myself is the goal. I thank God every day for the strength he has given me and the many blessings He has bestowed upon me. That faith has helped me through some tough times and now I have a chance to compete in the Nationals.”
McCrary will represent the Tigers in the individual portion of the Nationals as the Missouri team did not score well enough to advance out of the Regionals. Eager to represent her college and the folks here in Middle Tennessee, Hannah will be a shining example for all no matter what the judges score may read.
“It is an honor to represent Missouri and be part of the progress the gymnastics program has made in recent times,” says McCrary. “I have always tried to do what was best for the team and work hard every day. It has not been an easy road but I am very happy to have a chance to compete doing what I love to do.”
When does a hillbilly turf writer think about the Kentucky Derby?…Pretty much all the time. When does the every day sports fan think about the world’s most famous race? With about a month to go, the time to get behind a horse is upon us all. With that in mind, let’s examine our top ten Kentucky Derby contenders entering the week. As we all know, things in this game can change at a moments notice. The best looking three year old in our eyes was Life Is Good out of the Bob Baffert barn, but an injury last week in training has put him on the shelf for 60 days. For right now, these are the ones hot on our list. As we have asked many times before, “can you pick the winner of the Kentucky Derby? “ Let’s get out of the gate…
1 Concert Tour- He’s got a lot going for him, speed, two stakes wins, unbeaten in 3 career starts, his pappy Street Sense won the 2007 Kentucky Derby, but most importantly he runs out of the Bob Baffert barn.
2 Essential Quality- Unbeaten in four career starts including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Trainer Brad Cox is one of the best in the business but is still searching for Derby glory. Gets his final test in the Bluegrass Stakes on April 3 at Keeneland.
3 Hot Rod Charlie- Two lifetime wins in seven career starts but has been in top three six times including runner up at Breeders’ Cup. Showed plenty of horsepower in recent Louisiana Derby win and conditioner Doug O’Neill has won the Derby twice before (2012, 2016).
4 Known Agenda- Florida Derby win told us this son of Curlin has great tactical speed and is headed in the right direction. Trainer Todd Pletcher has been to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle twice as well (2010, 2017).
5 Caddo River-This son of the hard-knocking Hard Spun looked fantastic in the Smarty Jones but was a disappointing fifth in the Rebel Stakes. Gets a chance to rebound in the Arkansas Derby on April 10 and he needs qualifying points to get in for trainer Brad Cox.
6 Greatest Honour- Three wins in a row had him looking like perhaps THE one, but then the Florida Derby exposed his trip dependency as a closer. Big finishing kick means he is always dangerous for veteran trainer Shug McGauhey.
7 Medina Spirit- A runner with courage and plenty of fight, this son of Protonico has been first or second in four lifetime starts (2 wins). The only horse to beat him was his highly regarded stable mate Life Is Good. Bob Baffert trained and dangerous for sure.
8 Mandaloun- Another Brad Cox runner with lots of talent. Looked fantastic in Risen Star Stakes win but was flat as a pancake in Louisiana Derby. One of his three career wins came at Churchill.
9 Helium- Unbeaten in three lifetime starts with two on the grass and one VERY impressive win on dirt in the Tampa Bay Derby. Trainer Mark Casse won the 2019 Preakness and Belmont Stakes and seems to have a horse on the rise with this son of Ironicus.
10 Dream Shake- Son of Twirling Candy has only raced twice, a super impressive maiden win over a talented field and a third in the San Felipe behind Life Is Good and Medina Spirit. Will be running for his spot in the Churchill starting gates on April 3 in the Santa Anita Derby for trainer Peter Eurton.
The 2021 Doris Coady Rutherford County Swimming Championships employed an all-new format but the end results were very familiar…Oakland Patriot dominance.
For the first time ever, three sessions were used to allow for the proper protocol considering the world’s current situation. The girl’s events were in one session, the boy’s in another, and the top qualifiers swam in the finals during a third round.
At the end of the day after the final scores were tallied, the Patriot swimmers left the others in the bubbles of their wake. The Oakland boys were easily the best as they tallied 122 point to second place Central’s 52. On the girl’s side Oakland was once again much the best as they garnered 138 points and Central was once again second best with 51. The final team totals were Oakland 260, Central 103, Riverdale 57, Blackman 43, and Middle Tennessee Christian 32.
On an individual basis, senior Colin Tindall was superb as he won the 200 freestyle and set a meet record (51.92) in winning the 100 butterfly. Fellow senior Breaton LaLonde won the 200 individual medley.
The Lady Patriots had huge performances from a number of seniors. Lily Resha won both the 50 and 100 freestyle and established a new meet record (55.65) in the 100. Melissa Maheu took the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly, Kelley Orr was victorious in the 500 freestyle and 100 backstroke, and Katherine Jordan was the 100 breast stroke champion.
With another County championship in the books, the Patriot swimmers will now turn their focus to the Region and State championship meets.
Analyzing the Louisiana Derby
So what really makes a Hot Rod run fast? Is it the dual line double pumping quadrajet carburetor? Maybe the bored 40 over cylinders with an Edelbrock intake manifold does the trick. Perhaps the positive traction rear end with the turbo 400 transmission and the Muncie shift kit plays a factor. Could it also be that Big Daddy Don Garlits is sitting behind the wheel?
All those can play a part, but how in the hillbilly does that relate to the Louisiana Derby? We are going to take a moment and break it down for those scoring at home.
Coming into this $1 million dollar edition of the Louisiana Derby some questions were bouncing around about the West Coast invader named Hot Rod Charlie. Running out of the Doug O’Neill barn, some wondered why he was shipping to the Big Easy. Of course the short answer is there was a million good reasons…but in reality it was a lot more than that. The grade 2 centerpiece of the Fairgrounds race course offers 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner and a likely spot in the world’s most famous race. Also the spacing of the race between his last start and the first Saturday in May were very attractive to the Hot Rod team.
So here it was March 20 and Charlie stepped into the starting gates facing a group of beastly boys that had been hanging on Bourbon Street the past few months. The highly regarded Mandaloun had won the Risen Star Stakes last out at these Fairgrounds. Midnight Bourbon had displayed an intoxicating run while winning the LeComte over this same dirt and Proxy had been a strong second in both of those events. How would this Hot Rod run over this challenging mile and three sixteenths? The gates opened and we discovered O’Neill and his pit crew were bringing a finely tuned machine to town.
First up, we found out about the posi-trac rear differential. The key to a good start is being able to get out of the hole without spinning the tires. Too much gas too early means you get sideways or maybe even redline and burn a valve. Breaking alertly when the gates opened, Charlie motored to the front with authority. Well within himself, this son of 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow was off and running without any slip of his racing slicks.
Moving through the first turn, we found out a little about the fuel intake this Hot Rod has under his hood. Pressured throughout, the dual line double pumper was in full force as he cruised down the back stretch with two of the local boys just off the front fender. Race favorite Mandaloun was just outside while Midnight Bourbon was virtually on even terms through solid opening fractions (23.1 quarter, 47.04 half mile). As the fuel ignited and the visiting race team rolled to the top of the stretch, Mandaloun was the first to taste the exhaust fumes from a revved up Hot Rod.
Powering down the long home stretch of the famous Fairgrounds, the benefit of a strong transmission came to the forefront. The ability to maintain a certain RPM level is always important, but the ability to wind out and then shift into another gear makes for a winner. Only a half length in front in the race’s final furlong, you had to wonder if the wire would come quick enough. Bourbon was the hometown boy and he was still right there. And then it happened. At the sixteenth pole, Charlie rose to the challenge and made the most of that Muncie. Finding even more, he sped ahead and left Midnight Bourbon drinking dust. Winning by a convincing two lengths Hot Rod Charlie left little doubt as to who was the most finely tuned runner in this race.
And finally, the Don Garlits of the day was jockey Joel Rosario. An expert at his trade, this was vintage Rosario. Understanding the wheels beneath him, this winner of over 3,000 races guided his mount to the checkered flag in a fashion that would make Big Daddy proud.
“We are very fortunate to have some real grade 1 talents with the runner and the rider,” says a proud O’Neill. “We are so proud and grateful for this colt.”
The kicker for the Hot Rod in this one is he did a burnout in some other boys backyard and in a track record time (1:55.06) to boot. That means his runner up finish in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at odds of 94-1 was not a fluke and Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing LLC, and William Strauss will all be sitting in the owner’s box at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
There are many components that make a Hot Rod run. If they all come together at the right time, watch out for the white smoke.
When CZ Rocket powered to victory in the Hot Springs Stakes on March 13, what did it really mean?…For starters, it means his conditioner got to enjoy a hugely satisfying drink of a very high octane beverage.
Peter Miller has enjoyed a very nice run as a Thoroughbred trainer in recent years. Multiple training titles at Del Mar (2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018) and a perennial contender at Santa Anita means this hard working golden state guy knows how to get to the circle. Wins in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint with Stormy Liberal (2017, 2018) and Belvoir Bay (2019) along with victories in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with Roy H (2017, 2018) have put the man who was a groom under Charlie Whittingham in rarified air.
When the 2020 Breeders’ Cup rolled around, Miller looked to be loaded as he brought a white hot C Z Rocket to Keeneland on a five race win streak. A bad trip a big run by veteran Whitmore left Miller’s Florida-bred tasting defeat for the first time since being claimed by his current coach at Oaklawn Park last April.
Feeling he had the best horse that day, the competitive California native was eager to get a shot at redemption. The Hot Springs Stakes at Oaklawn on March 13 was the spot. Not only would the Rocket get to hook up with Whitmore again, but it would happen in that old man’s back yard. The now eight year old had won this race the past four years and looked primed to pounce again in a savvy seven horse field.
The signature move for the legendary Ron Moquett trainee has been a big kick in the stretch that leaves others in his wake. He had gotten the jump on Miller’s charge in the Breeders’ Cup and the closing Rocket just couldn’t make up enough ground late. A front-end speed favoring surface at Oaklawn had most wondering if these two late running sprinters would have enough dirt to get it done.
As the race unfolded and fast fractions were set up front (21.65 opening quarter, 44.69 half mile), there was Whitmore looming large. Displaying the kick that has netted him over $4 million in on track earnings, it looked to be his race again. But wait a minute, hold the nannie goat, here comes the Rocket. Displaying his own huge finish, C Z gobbled up ground with every stride and eclipsed his Breeders’ Cup nemesis by a neck at the wire.
It turned out the perfectly timed ride by jockey Florent Geroux allowed C Z Rocket to out-Whitmore Whitmore on his home dirt. Needless to say, this road win says a lot about this Rocket and perhaps even more about the abilities of Peter Miller.
“We could have won at the Breeders’ Cup with a better trip so this was a big race for us as competitors,” says Miller. “We felt like the Rocket was ready to run his race coming in. This was a very gratifying win for us. I have been lucky enough to have some great horses over the years and some really nice sprinters.”
When it was Miller time at Oaklawn on March 13, they were serving up Rocket fuel.
Okay chemistry major…what happens when you mix two powerful elements together? Will we have an adverse chemical reaction that burns the lab down or a euphoric production that yields a valuable compound? Hopes are the molecular equation will yield a valuable product and not a destructive explosion because as we know gold good…fire bad.
The TSSAA BlueCross Basketball class AAA title game was a classic combination of quality elements for the Blackman high school Lady Blaze (24-3). Providing a mix that would have made Einstein proud, a veteran coach and a talented lineup were combined with a gold trophy being the result. The 64-56 defeat of Lebanon was the end result, but the experiment that netted Blackman their third class AAA state title in girl’s basketball began in the lab back in October.
In a year with many challenges, the very proud Lady Blaze program was left without a head coach following the departure of previous coach Wendi Scott and the sudden resignation of her replacement John Stigall in October. Having returned most of the players from a sectional finalist the season before, the cupboard was far from bare. Vanderbilt signee Iyanna Moore was just one of the talented members on the roster, but who could lead this established group to the promised land ?
Jennifer Grandstaff had long been a staple in the Rutherford County high school basketball community. Having been the driving force behind a hugely successful program at Oakland, the hard-working head coach had knocked on the door with two appearances in the state title game, but was yet to garner the gold plaque. After 29 seasons walking the sidelines she had decided to hang up her whistle. Here is where the beaker is broken out and the formulation begins.
“This all kind of fell into my lap and I met with (Blackman principal) Doctor (Leisa) Justus in the Murphy Center parking lot back in October to let her know what she would be getting with me because I didn’t want there to be any surprises”, says Grandstaff. “I am not a rah-rah coach and am very demanding so the last thing I wanted was her to have regrets if she decided to hire me. I told her then there is a great opportunity for this Blackman team to be playing here in March.”
With Grandstaff in place and the season facing all the challenges of today’s world, the molecular combination began to take place. With a keen eye for talent and a strong work ethic, the new Lady Blaze leader began mixing with a senior-laden lineup that was hungry for success.
“I knew we had the pieces to the puzzle here at Blackman,” says Grandstaff. “We have talent, special leaders, great role players, and just genuinely good kids. A big part of it all, however, is getting them to come together and buy into what we are teaching. Chemistry is probably the most important thing because all the talent in the world will not win you a championship if you can’t bond together and play as a unit.”
As the trials and tribulations of the season unfolded, the equation began adding up. In a season that was starting and stopping early on, the Lady Blaze were 3-3 after six games. At that point in time E=MC2 and Grandstaff ignited her Lady Blaze in a good way. Along with Moore, fellow seniors Kaylee Odom and Victoria Page embraced their roles and started a winning streak that would not be broken. Rolling through the rest of the regular season, Blackman turned their attention towards a post-season run that saw them outscore the opposition 335-155 in the district, region, and sectional tournament games.
“The best thing about these girls are they genuinely care about each other”, says Grandstaff. “They are happy for each other, they hurt for each other, the bond has been so strong. Iyanna Moore is a very talented player but at the same time she is so unselfish and always tries to make everyone better. That mentality is what transformed us into a really good team because when you have kids like that special things can happen.”
Now, after a solid group effort in the win against a very game squad from Lebanon, Blackman high school will place a Gold Basketball in the Lady Blaze trophy case. The experiment with a talented group combining with a cagy coach yielded a result some can only dream about.
“I have been in Rutherford County most of my life and the basketball culture here is good but very tough”, says Grandstaff. “I have had plenty of years where we had a good season but it didn’t end the way we wanted it to and you are not satisfied. To get where we are at is just amazing.”
The Spring and a talented three year old colt usually means one thing for most…Kentucky Derby dreams. As runners roll towards a date with destiny, there is one trainer of a very talented horse that prefers to focus simply on the here and now.
Saturday, March 13, one of the key prep races on the road to the Kentucky Derby takes place at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Long considered a big stepping stone to the world’s most famous race, it will mark the three-year old debut of Get Her Number. Trained by Peter Miller, who is one of the most cunning conditioners on the West Coast, this lightly raced son of Dialed In is certainly getting his feet wet in this one as the field comes up saltier than a slice of country ham.
“I know we are asking a lot of him because we are shipping to a track where he has never run, it’s a six-month layoff, and the field is really tough,” says Miller. “The fact is he really needs to run and we just didn’t have a lot of options. This is a good measuring stick that will tell us where he fits in right now.”
The Rebel is a grade 2 race worth $1 million and also awards 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points with 50 going to the winner. Those factors have attracted some of the top three-year olds to the starting gates. The Brad Cox trained Caddo River along with two horses from the Bob Baffert barn (Hozier, Concert Tour) will line up with highly regarded Keepmeinmind and two horses from the Steve Asmussen contingency (Big Lake, Super Stock).
A grade 1 winner in his last start, Get Her Number will look to build off a superior effort in that American Pharoah Stakes win, which took place back on September 26, 2020. His run that day at Santa Anita was impressive to say the least. Making his first start on dirt, this Gary Barber owned Kentucky-bred was simply dazzling. Rating just off a solid early pace (23.12 opening quarter, 47.07 half mile), the Number came up big down the stretch as he assumed the lead and refused to let anyone pass. Winning by a stout three quarters of a length, Miller’s charge repelled all challenges in gaining his second win in three career starts.
“He really ran super in the Pharoah,” says the California native. “If he can run like that in the Rebel he has a chance to be right there at the end. His first two races were on grass but he had always showed the signs he could be a really good dirt horse. We thought he had something special about him and then he proved us right in that race.”
After some time off for different reasons, Miller is ready to continue his quest of building this Number into a race horse that can be counted on. The Rebel Stakes is the first step towards his goal and that is his only focus at the moment. The Kentucky Derby is not even on his radar as a one step at a time approach is the game plan.
“The Rebel is a big race for us as it is an important step in helping me develop a horse that will be around for the next two or three years,” says Miller. “We love running at Oaklawn Park and I am not thinking past this race. Too many good horses have been ruined over the years because people were too focused on trying to run in the Kentucky Derby. If we make it there and it happens that would be great, but that is not my focus right now with this horse.”
Carded as the 11th race with a scheduled post time of 5:16pm, this mile and a sixteenth race promises to be very competitive. Previous winners like American Pharoah, Smarty Jones, and Sunny’s Halo all found Kentucky Derby immortality after darting over the Arkansas dirt. Should Miller’s Number come up he too will chase the blanket of Roses. But for now, he just wants to be a Rebel.
“Of course everyone wants to win the Kentucky Derby,” says Miller. “Right now all I am worried about is a million dollar race called the Rebel Stakes.”
When hard work comes to fruition the rewards can be glistening. Such was absolutely the case as the Siegel Stars shined brightly in their sectional win in the boy’s class AAA TSSAA basketball tournament on March 8.
The goal of any team in the Tennessee state basketball playoffs is to make the state tournament. A trip to the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro means you have emerged as one of the best eight teams and have a chance at the golden trophy.
For a group of senior shooting Stars from Siegel (27-4), this was their final opportunity at a trip to the glass house on the campus of MTSU. Much to their credit, this bombastic bunch stepped up in a huge way while whipping Warren County 72-58.
“When this group came in as freshmen I knew they had a chance to be special,” says Siegel head coach Dyron Birdwell. “To their credit they put in the hard work and the time it takes to get better. They have matured as a team and to see them get the opportunity to make a trip to the glass house is very satisfying for our program. It’s very heartwarming to see their dedication pay off.”
Balanced scoring has been the strength of these Stars throughout the season and the Warren County win was no different. The three 1,000 point scorers on the roster certainly did their part as Jaylen Wetzel, Matthew Schneider, and Zion Swader each tickled the twine to the tune of 17. Fellow senior Martise Jackson tossed in 13 big points for good measure.
“The thing about this group is anyone in our starting lineup could be the leading scorer in the game,” says Birdwell. “We count on them all and they play so well together. They are an unselfish bunch and all make each other better.”
Now the quest continues as this prolific group of Stars will look to bring home the school’s first ever state title in basketball. No stranger to Tennessee’s elite eight, Siegel has made seven previous trips to Murphy Center (2005, 2006,2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014) but have yet to take home the big trophy. Getting to this spot has been the focus since this group first hit the hardwoods together four seasons ago. Now it is time to seal the deal.
“We will take a day or two and enjoy being the sectional champions,” says Birdwell. “But these kids have their sights set on bigger goals and we will get our feet back on the ground and concentrate on preparing for our first opponent.”
Siegel will take on Oak Ridge in the opening round on Thursday, March 18. Tip time is slated for 7pm on the MTSU campus.
When Siegel travels across town to Blackman for the boy’s Region title game on Friday, March 5, the number three might just be the hardwood harbinger.
The three previous meetings between these district 7 AAA titans have all been decided by three points. Siegel won the regular season brawls 49-46 and 47-44. Blackman came back with a 56-53 victory in the district tournament championship. In the Blackman win some big three’s late helped erase an eight point deficit in the game’s final three minutes. The first contest between the two was decided when Siegel sank a three pointer at the buzzer.
The three that matters the most for the Stars are no doubt their three basketeers. If Zion Swader, Jaylen Wetzel, and Matthew Schneider tickle the twine in the fashion that has allowed them all to score over 1000 points they will likely enjoy win number three over their biggest district rival.
For the Blaze, the three that may matter the most are big guys Josh Alexander (6-foot 6), Dontae Stringer (6-foot 7), and Kevarius Martin (6-foot 3). All three of these players have stepped their scoring up, especially Martin as he has found the range from …you guessed it…the three.
Tipoff at Blackman is slated for approximately 7:00 pm. Think it will be another thriller…I’ll give you three guesses.
If you follow the Thoroughbred racing game and don’t know who Hakeem Olajuwon is you might be figuring it out pretty quick. You see, there’s this three-year old colt in the Peter Eurton barn that hopes to score like his namesake.
For those not in the basketball know, Hakeem “the Dream” is an NBA hall of famer that enjoyed a record setting career primarily with the Houston Rockets. Before joining the professional ranks, this Nigerian born behemoth was one of the centerpieces for the University of Houston and the Phi Slamma Jamma teams. Outstanding athletic ability and footwork allowed Olajuwon to move like a much smaller man. One of his signature moves was a dribble-reverse pivot play that shook off the defender and saw him scoring like a dream. So prolific was this play it was deservedly dubbed the “Dream Shake”.
Dream Shake is a son of Twirling Candy that has toed the racing track just once in his life but oh my what a slam dunk performance. In what was widely considered as the best maiden race of the year for three-year old males, Eurton was throwing his colt off into some deeper water at Santa Anita on February 7.
Leaving the gates at odds of 20 to 1 was not a major surprise as runners conditioned by Kentucky Derby icon Bob Baffert (Bezos, Tivoli) and west coast stalwart Simon Callaghan (Mr Impossible) were in the nine horse field. The talent level of this race would help provide answers to those asking questions about moving forward on the road that leads to the first Saturday in May. After a scintillating six and a half furlongs, Eurton was happy with his Dream.
Sitting in eighth after an almost pedestrian opening quarter mile (23.4), Dream Shake started to come alive. At the top of the stretch he made a four wide move that had dribble reverse pivot written all over it. Bolting to the lead with big strides there was no one between him and the basket. Opening up with authority after Shaking free from the field, the Dream did exactly as Olajuwon and rolled home with a thunderous slam. His 4 ¾ length score was noteworthy to say the very least.
“The talent level of this field made the race a decent measuring stick for him,” says the California-based Eurton. “That big move on the turn was pretty impressive, but the way he finished down the lane was what really caught my eye. Young horses can often times make a move off the turn but flatten out before the finish. He just seemed to keep gaining momentum and finished up quite nicely.”
Of course a Shake like that by a three-year old male in February starts the Derby thinking. With only one start under his saddle is it too early to Dream about a score in the world’s most famous race?
“I think the Kentucky Derby is always on your mind this time of year if you have a three-year old male,” says Eurton. “He’s a talented colt that really hasn’t done anything wrong so far. He doesn’t have a real quick first step but he has a long stride once he gets going. We are not going to get too far ahead of ourselves. His next start will be around two turns and we will find out a lot more about how good he is.”
Depending on how workouts go in the coming days, the mile and a sixteenth San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 6 may be the target. If not, an allowance race at the same distance will be the next starting spot for this Exline-Border Racing LLC, SAF Racing and Richard Hausman owned colt.
Of course it is way too soon to know if Eurton and this colt can Shake into the Kentucky Derby starting gates. But after that decisive dunk it may not be a far-fetched Dream.
Siegel’s three shooting Stars are (L to R) Zion Swader, Matthew Schneider, and Jaylan Wetzel
Those that are fans of high school sports understand special athletes come along every so often. Unfortunately, the four years seem to fly by so enjoy the magnificence while you can. Local basketball fans have been able to enjoy three comets flashing across the Siegel high school sky during recent times. With the post-season as the here and now, their time in blue is short, but make no mistake, the statistical numbers will keep them as memorable Stars for years to come.
Four short seasons ago three players walked into the Siegel gym for the first time. Zion Swader, Matthew Schneider, and Jaylan Wetzel all brought their skills to the school on Thompson Lane with a love of the game. After lots of hard work and dedication to the program, each has written their name in the record books of a school that has developed a basketball rich tradition since opening in 2003. The Stars have been to the TSSAA state championship tournament seven times (2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014), but they may have never had three multi-talented players with the skills of these hoopsters. With each now over 1,000 points in career scoring, these Stars have brought a lot to the table as Siegel claimed the regular season district title in 2021.
The first to hit the mark was Matthew Schneider. A finalist for class AAA Mr. Basketball, the six-foot four inch swingman is a threat to score from anywhere. A smooth shooter from the perimeter and with deft moves around the hoop, Schneider has been a guy that can flat fill it up every night against any opponent.
“I don’t think of the 1,000 points as just my doing, it’s about the whole team,” says Schneider. “These guys are not just my teammates, they are my brothers and none of this happens without them.”
Point guard Zion Swader was the next to reach the 1,000 point mark in this his senior season. The son of Oakland high school legend and basketball hall of famer Allen Swader, Zion has developed his own identity on the hardwoods. An uncanny ability to get to the rack combined with a lethal outside game has allowed this young Swader to strike fear in the hearts of the opposition just as his father before him . Currently ranked in the top 10 in the state of Tennessee in free throws made, he is one Star that has always focused on making his team better.
“It really is all about the team and none of us could do it without our teammates,” says Swader. “The individual achievements are nice but being able to do it in a season where we went unbeaten in the district regular season makes it so much better.”
The final Star to hit the mark was the hot shooting Jaylan Wetzel. A kid that’s within scoring range as soon as he crosses half court, this six-foot sharp shooter eclipsed 1,000 points in the final regular season game. In tickling the twine on five consecutive three point shots in the first half against Smyrna, Wetzel joined his friends and teammates in a rather exclusive club.
“We all have put in a lot of hard work to get to this point and being able to accomplish this alongside my brothers is very special,” says Wetzel. “The undefeated run through the district is what’s most important for all of us.”
The district tournament will begin this week with the higher seed hosting. Siegel (22-3) could potentially punch a ticket to the state tournament as a host in all of the district and region tournament games. Of course these shooting Stars understand everyone’s record is now 0-0 as post-season play begins. Wetzel has yet to sign with any colleges while Swader and Schneider have both committed to Missouri Western University. But before these guys worry about the next level, these thee Stars hope to shine a while longer for Siegel.
“We are very proud of these kids for what they have accomplished,” says Siegel principal Larry Creasy. “They are great basketball players but more importantly great young men.”
The real world and the sports world have changed in recent times. For better or for worse is totally debatable. One young man, however, has used an old school approach to realize an early-life goal.
In the “old” days, a good high school athlete played more than one sport. With eyes on representing the school colors, the idea was to be all you could be. Merely a stepping stone to regular life, these times were about developing pride, work ethic, honor, respect, and all those important things that can make you a success.
Today’s high school world has become more about concentrating on one sport because that is what will get you to the next level, or so some say. The goal of any athlete is always to move up and continue to play the game. Life should not be just about a game, but rather any game can be about life. The search for the spotlight and the glitz and glamour of professional sports can often times impair the vision of youthful competitors.
Mark Cooper is a young man that walked onto the Blackman high school campus with some traditional values. Having played multiple sports as a little kid, he had eyes on much the same while wearing the Blaze Orange and Blue. Now after four years of being a two-sport star, Cooper has cultivated his efforts into a football scholarship at Emory and Henry College.
“As a kid I always loved both basketball and football and wanted to play both for Blackman”, says Cooper. “I knew it would be tough and take up virtually all my time, but I was good with that. Representing my school in both has been very rewarding for me and I think playing both sports really helped me develop a strong mentality.”
Cooper was a standout for Blackman on the gridiron in all three phases of the game. On offense, his sure hands as a wide receiver were integral to the Blaze attack (30 receptions 541 yards 5 TDs). As a defensive back, his shut-down skills helped stymie the opposing offense (30 tackles, 1 interception 1 forced fumble). On special teams, his time as a punt returner provided another weapon. These overall game skills are what attracted football offers and eventually allowed Cooper to choose the Wasps as his next mascot.
“Emory and Henry always showed a lot of interest and they have coaches on both sides of the ball wanting me”, says Cooper. “I think I can go there and have a chance to play right away and maybe even see some time on offense and defense. I like being versatile and that is one of the things they really seem to like about me.”
A shining example of class on the football field, Cooper’s stats do not tell his entire story. His ability to handle adversity and represent himself in all the right ways are also key elements that make him a desirable college athlete. Interestingly enough, it may have been the influences of his time representing the Blackman basketball program that played a major role in him heading to college as a football player.
“Coach (Barry) Wortman has always impressed upon me to do the right things in both the playing arena and the class room”, says Cooper. “He always tells us to put in the work and your game will do all the talking for you. I have tried to follow that philosophy throughout my time here at Blackman.”
With still some basketball to play, Cooper looks forward to finishing his time at Blackman with a flourish. Making memories while laying the foundation for the future, this young man’s old school thinking has allowed him to realize one of his life goals.
“To be able to say I am playing college football is a big deal for me”, says Cooper. “All the hard work and time invested has paid off. I have a lot of people to thank for this opportunity. Remaining focused and continuing to do the things that got me to this point are very important.”
by Danny Brewer
So here’s a question for you…does Bob Baffert know how to dance?…I think that is open for debate depending on your perspective. If you are talking about the disco lights and techno funk the jury is still out. If you mean tripping the light fantastic towards the Kentucky Derby he’s your Fred Astaire.
One of the greatest things about Thoroughbred racing is the road to the Kentucky Derby and the excitement it brings. The early days of the chase brings barns across the country an all -new excitement as many believe they have the next winner of the world’s most famous race. The early prep races are now in full swing and some will be exposed as a wanna-be rug cutter while others begin to Dab their way to the Derby.
No stranger to this music, Bob Baffert has been better at dancing with the stars than any conditioner in the game. Sending out his first winner in 1997 (Silver Charm), Baffert has since put on his boogie shoes five other times (1998, 2002, 2015, 2018, 20200 and just missed with three other runners (1996, 2009, 2012).
So here we are in 2021 and the music is beginning to bump in the background. Fresh three year-olds are doing the running man as the scramble for Derby qualifying points is on. Normally blessed with talent, Big Race Bob is currently cultivating with hopes he can find some Hammer time (that’s M.C. for those old enough to remember that dancing machine). The most recent race on the Derby dash at Santa Anita has given him another promising pupil.
The Robert Lewis Stakes holds special meaning for the California based conditioner as his first Kentucky Derby winner belonged to Mr. Lewis. Having won the race on eight previous occasions and in each of the past two years, this is a common stepping stone for the Baffert barn. Entering Medina Spirit with hopes of finding out just how good his modestly priced ($35,000 purchase) Florida-bred is, he got an answer.
Breaking alertly from the inside post in a talented six horse field, this son of Protonico went right to the lead. Challenged virtually every step of the way, this gutsy Zedan Racing Stable owned colt simply refused to lose. With the strobe lights in full force in deep stretch, the Spirit of a winner was evident. Even though a tough running Hot Rod Charlie and rolling Roman Centurian came at him, in the end it was the Funky Cold Medina by a neck.
Now with two wins and a second in three lifetime starts, Medina Spirit has stamped himself as one of the early dancers in the Derby lineup. His only loss came to another Baffert barn dancer (Life Is Good) in the Sham Stakes. The first Saturday in May is still a long way off, but the jams are starting to pump up.
The investment game can be tricky. Everyone wants a nice return on their money. Much like the Thoroughbred racing game, Stocks are judged by their past performances. That is exactly why the folks at Middle Tennessee State University have decided to double down in their football Stock market.
Recently it was announced that former Blue Raider standout Brent Stockstill will join father Rick Stockstill’s staff as the wide receivers coach. Having spent the past two seasons on the staffs of Florida Atlantic and South Florida, the younger Stock has gotten his coaching feet wet. Assuming the role of wide receivers coach at his alma mater, Brent will once again toe the Floyd Stadium turf.
Father and son combinations are nothing new to the college football world. Bobby Bowden, whom the elder Stock played quarterback for, enjoyed having three of his sons on staff and of course Lane Kiffen had father Monte as part of his coaching crew. Make no mistake however, blood was not the deciding factor in this hire, it was all about qualifications.
“We went through the interview process with several candidates trying to fill this slot,” says Rick Stockstill. “This was not a slam dunk by any means because we want to do what’s best for the program. Doctor (Sydney) McPhee (university president) and Chris Massaro (athletic director) were both involved in the decision making process. After analyzing it all, Brent was the most qualified.”
Knowledge of the game, a competitive desire, and of course Middle Tennessee roots will help the younger Stockstill. As the all-time leader for the Blue Raiders in passing yards (12,495), touchdown passes (106), 300-yard passing games (19), 400-yard passing games (3), average passing yards per game (277.7), completions (1,055) and attempts (1,610) his playing credentials cannot be questioned. Of course, great players do not always make great coaches, but in leading the Blue Raiders to four straight bowl game appearances as their signal caller, it is obvious he has a winning mentality.
“I think Brent’s leadership qualities are a major plus for our program,” says Stockstill of the kid that quarterbacked from 2013-2018. “He is an important piece to our puzzle and I think he can be a major recruiting asset. Most every high school coach in Tennessee will recognize his name and a lot of the players will remember him because it was not that long ago he was making it happen on the field.”
The younger Stockstill’s glowing qualifications made him a logical choice, but the older Stockstill’s past performances also perhaps played a factor in the University’s decision making process. For sixteen seasons, the former Florida State honorable mention All-American has guided the Blue Raiders through the sometimes turbulent waters of mid-major division 1 college football. Forced to play the pay-day games against heavyweights while knocking heads in competitive leagues, the Raiders have rocked their way into eight bowl games and seen their leader be named coach of the year six different times.
As the years have rolled by since he first strode onto campus back in 2006, Rick Stockstill has learned to adapt to the ever changing climate of college athletics. Rule changes and a landscape that features far more bowl subdivision teams means things are not getting any easier.
“I think the one-time transfer rule has really changed how you manage your roster”, says the MTSU head coach. “Players can go to a different school and play without having to sit out so that means you always have to be aware there may be players looking for greener grass. That means you can add experienced players or you may lose them. I think it really affects high school players because now as a coach instead of recruiting a kid out of high school, teams are looking at the transfer portal to fill needs.”
A college head football coach has to wear many hats as these impressionable young men are forging their way into adulthood. One of the things that has helped the head Stock rise in the local market is a commitment to academics. With a full realization that “college” comes in front of the word football, Stockstill has engineered a meteoric rise in graduation rates and grade point average since assuming control of the Blue Raider program.
“One of the first things we tell our players is you must learn to win off the field before you can learn to win on the field”, says Stockstill. “I have always placed a lot of emphasis on academics because you will live longer than you play football. The day will come when football is over and having an education is what will carry you through the rest of your life. I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish academically with our football program.”
Teaching his team to win off the field was perhaps never more important than during a Covid filled 2020 season. Forced to alter many of their normal methods, the university and Stockstill instituted many innovations in finding a way to play a nine game season. Although the Blue Raiders finished 3-6 overall, three losses were by three points or less. Most importantly however, the Blue Raider roster had zero hospitalizations due to the virus and of course no fatalities. A huge life lesson in dealing with adversity, the head coach was a shining example in leadership.
“I am disappointed in our record because at the end of the day that is how you are judged,” says Stockstill. “We did finish by winning three of our last five games and if we had played just a little better the record would have been flipped. Not having spring practice or summer workouts really hurt us as we just had no continuity early. I am very proud of our players for how they handled all the changes and challenges of 2020.”
Recognizing the need for improvement now that the calendar has turned to 2021, the hiring of the younger Stockstill is viewed as a major step for the program. Once hired, a new offensive coordinator is expected to breathe life into a what had become a somewhat predictable offense. Recruiting is in full force and behind the hard-working positive force that is now Stockstill squared, the Blue Raider program has a brighter horizon.
“I am the forever optimist”, says the veteran football coach. “We were pretty close to having a good record in 2020 and now it is time to turn our focus on moving forward. We will have some new blood on the coaching staff and I am excited about what the future holds for us here at Middle Tennessee State.”
In this uncertain world we are living in, local high school basketball is trying to tip towards normalcy. And with a little luck, we will be able to enjoy a real postseason that has helped define the greatness that we call high school hoops.
As the calendar creeps towards February, basketball fever is beginning to spike a bit. Locals are limited on attendance, but there is some excitement brewing as our Rutherford County district has diligently worked to get games in. The bad news is the gyms have not been rocking with overzealous crowds as neighborhood brawls take place twice a week. The good news is the players are getting to play a game that often times provides valuable life lessons.
“Normally we are a very routine based program that has a timeline for certain things,” says Smyrna head coach Mike Wright. “Perhaps a silver lining to this year has been our kids have to be able to adapt and change quickly. You can’t try to be normal this season so our players have learned about the different bounces life can throw your way and you have to be able adapt and move forward.”
With the second half of the boys schedule beginning to take place this week, the normal focus this time of year is district tournament. Likely to have a different look as one school will not host all the games for social distancing reasons, teams will jockey for position and hope for home court as higher seeds will host.
“With all that has been going on it is hard to believe we are about to start the second half of the district season,” says Blackman head coach Barry Wortman. “It’s time to really start fine tuning your team and try and get ready for the tournament season. All of our schools have done an excellent job of working together and trying to make the season happen.”
A perennial state title contender, Blackman is again near the top. Trailing only Siegel in the standings, Wortman hopes to get his team ready for another run. Unlike years past however, there are more hurdles for all.
“A more simplistic approach has been our philosophy,” says Wortman. “Try and control the controllable and just deal with all the other things. Our kids have done an excellent job of exercising great commitment.”
Of course the challenges are different for different teams, but all are facing obstacles like no season before.
“We have had to deal with a young team that had no summer of preparation and no pre-season scrimmages,” says Wright, who has no seniors on his Bulldog squad. “Coaching during game timeouts has become even more important for us because we have not been able to go over certain situations due to limited time together. I really like our team, we just are still trying to figure ourselves out.”
If things can continue moving in a forwardly direction, a completion of the basketball season is likely. The cancellation of last year’s TSSAA tournaments hopefully will be a distant memory as things are in the works for a different site should MTSU not allow the tournament to be held at Murphy Center.
“I really hope we can continue to progress and make the post-season happen”, says Wortman. “I am confident the TSSAA will handle things in a first class manner and make every effort to have the tournament if at all possible.”
by Danny Brewer
Now that the calendar has turned, let’s take a minute or two to recognize some of the best in the world of Thoroughbred racing. Each year we like to shine the flashlight on some of the best performers and performances during the past 12 months. Without further ado, let’s unveil a little hillbilly perspective on the sport of kings in 2020.
THE SHINE RUNNIN’ CHEVELLE
Once upon a time there was this old beat up ’69 Chevelle that sat outside cousin Jimmy Ray’s house. We rabbit hunted behind his place and the beagle hounds usually targeted the tires when turned loose. He’d holler at’em and we often wondered who cared and why in the world was that old heap still hanging around. So one day we found out. Old Jimmy Ray busted out the jumper cables and fired that bad boy up. Roaring with over 500 horses under the hood, we heard the stories about how this hot rod burned up the roads and outran those revenuers toting a full load of moonshine. He white-smoked the tires in front of us and laid rubber for over 100 feet with jaws agape. The 2020 Breeders’ Cup Sprint was a 14 horse field on a speed favoring track. Keeneland had already seen track records fall and some wondered why the seven-year old Whitmore was toeing the track. Having run in this race the previous three years, perhaps it was time for this old fart to break wind somewhere else. Going off at odds of 18 to 1, he settled in 10th place behind a blazing pace up front (21.64 opening quarter). As the six furlongs began to unfold, Whitmore started moving up the rail. When the stretch straightened, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr floored it and that old horsepower roared to the lead. In that final furlong we found out why trainer Ron Moquett sent his old Chevelle to the starting gates. Winning by a widening 3 ½ lengths, Whitmore was much the best and proved it is what’s under the hood that counts the most.
SOME COKE BOTTLE BOTTOM GLASSES
Remember those days when a Coca Cola came in returnable glass bottles. The bottom was extra thick to avoid breakage and we would get them out of the Coke machine at the Tri-Way Market. They were always a treat after playing some pick-up basketball games on the dirt court by Cousin Joe Bob’s house. One old boy was always the last one picked when we chose teams cause the guy couldn’t shoot for squat. One day he showed up with some new glasses that had some super thick lenses. Being the kind hearted kids we were, he was immediately labeled for having some Coke bottle bottomed glasses. Shrugging off the insults, he proceeded to shoot our eyes out and we deduced this poor joker’s vision had been way off. Now that he could actually see the goal, we figured out he had plenty of talent, he just needed to be able to focus. Arklow made his way to the starting gates on September 12 for the $1 million Calumet Farms Kentucky Turf Cup. Having won this race back in 2018, this was a logical spot for one of Donegal Racing’s favorite sons. Riding a five race losing streak, this six-year old had been less than stellar in his previous outings and some wondered why he was here. Trainer Brad Cox decided to make an equipment change and added blinkers to this once powerful striding son of Arch. Hoping to help his horse focus, the Louisville-based conditioner had high hopes Arklow would run better if he kept his eyes on the prize. Breaking alertly, Arklow got into the race early as he stalked the pace while running towards the front of the pack in this mile and a half journey over the Kentucky Downs grass. As the green and gold silks surged to the lead at the top of the stretch things really came into focus. Rolling toward the wire with grass-gobbling strides, Arklow could see the finish line and was not going to be denied. Winning by a length and a quarter, Arklow and his optometrist saw their way to the winner’s circle once again. Like we found out before, good vision can work wonders.
A GLASS OF WELL WATER
One of the great things about some country living on a hot day was the satisfaction a glass of well water would bring. As a small kid I remember going to my great Uncle Ellis’s house. Aunt Ruth would make us go outside and play no matter what the temperature. We’d come back hotter than a hound on a rabbit trail ready for a thirst quenching beverage. She would draw us some water from the faucet in a jelly jar glass that came straight from the well. Clear and crisp, it was way better than some “city” water and man was it thirst quenching. Bob Baffert came into the delayed Kentucky Derby as somewhat of an underdog. Wait a minute…hold the nannie goat… Big Race Bob a training underdog?…In the Kentucky Derby? Baffert had only won the world’s most famous race five times and conditioned two Triple Crown winners since 2015. Nevertheless, his entry, Authentic, went to the starting gates at 8 to 1 while the heavily favored Tiz The Law was at 3 to 5. This son of Into Mischief had been considered Baffert’s third stringer as the powerful Nadal and meteoric Charlatan had both been sidelined with injury. Even though he had four wins and a second in five career starts, most thought nobody was going to break the Law. Carefully preparing his colt off a seven week layoff, the hall of famer has been the best at training for big runs in big races. His five previous Derby wins had come with horses that were running in a near favorites role. Breaking alertly and completely according to plan, Authentic made the lead and guided the pack of 18 around the Churchill Downs dirt throwing down solid fractions. When Tiz The Law came at him in the stretch, the fantastically fit Authentic refused to lose. With pulsating power, he turned away Tiz and gave his coach a record-tying sixth blanket of roses. Leaving no doubt as to who was the best runner in the race, Baffert had beaten the perceived unbeatable. Proving both he and his horse are as Authentic as they come, this Derby win had to be oh so satisfying…kind of like a drink of that well water on a hot day.
THE BEAR BRYANT
It is hard for a Tennessee hillbilly to say this, but Bear Bryant is probably the greatest college football coach ever. Some of the things that made the man that led Alabama to six national championships so great was his courage, dedication, and ability to make decisions. Never afraid to make a call, Bryant always coached with supreme confidence. His courage had been on display for quite some time as he played for the Tide in the 1935 game against Tennessee with a broken bone in his leg. Brad Cox came into this year as one of the best in the Thoroughbred training game. We don’t think he had a broken leg, but he dog gone sure made some courageous calls that yielded lots of paydirt for his vast array of runners. The first flea flicker Cox called was with Shedaresthedevil. A gutsy filly that stung her highly regarded opponents in the Honeybee at Oaklawn Park in March, this daughter of Daredevil took an unconventional route to the delayed Kentucky Oaks. Coming to Churchill Downs off an eight week layoff, this fleet-footed filly powered past the highly regarded Swiss Skydiver and freakish Gamine in the stretch to win by a length and a half. Establishing a new Stakes record for the mile and an eighth (1:48.28) Shedaresthedevil executed her coach’s game plan and proudly wore that blanket of lilies. Knicks Go was a perceived one-hit wonder that had shocked the world in the Claiborne Breeder’s Futurity at Keeneland as a two-year old and then was winless in his next eleven starts. In February of 2020, this son of Paynter made his first start for Brad Cox and immediately rewarded with a score at Oaklawn Park. The statue of liberty play, however, came in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile when the rejuvenated Knicks Go returned to Keeneland and won in track record time. That same day, Monomoy Girl scampered home in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff off a double reverse. After winning this race in 2018, she sat out the entire 2019 season due to injury. The patience of her coach paid huge dividends as Cox nursed her back to health and then began a run towards the 2020 Cup in May. Three wins and a play call later, she was back in the Distaff winner’s circle. Cultivating talent is the key to coaching success, but having the courage of Bear can make for greatness and keep the Tide rolling.
SOME BISCUITS AND GRAVY
When you wake up hungry, a good breakfast can be a thing of beauty. Country ham, bacon, and sausage would light up the kitchen with some wonderful smells, but nothing was quite as tasty and fulfilling as a plate full of those biscuits and gravy. It was normally prepared late as the sausage grease was key and you want to get it on those fluffy cathead biscuits when it was good and hot. You had to be patient, but my oh my what a reward it was. Got Stormy has been one of the stars in the Mark Casse barn for some time now. Always running with courage, she has enjoyed grade 1 wins against both boys and girls during her 26 race career. In September, Casse decided to run his flashy female in shorter races on the grass and he was immediately rewarded with an impressive win at Kentucky Downs in the Ladies Sprint Stakes. A month later, Casse wanted to see what he could get cooking at Keeneland in the Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes. Run at 5 ½ furlongs, this dash over the Kentucky bluegrass would provide a good test for this brilliant runner. Breaking from one of the outside posts in a ten horse field, the normally pace stalking female was shuffled back as the frontrunners threw down fast early fractions. At the top of the stretch it looked as if Casse might go hungry this time as the biscuits were done and Stormy was sitting in sixth. But then it happened. The patient ride of jockey Tyler Gafflione yielded dividends as he swung her to the outside and gave her the go sign. Pouring the milk in the hot cast iron skillet and whisking them with the sausage remnants, Stormy unleashed her powerful stride. Gobbling up ground with massive strides, the five-year old phenom coated the catheads at the wire. Delivering a delectable win when it looked as if she was cooked, Got Stormy proved once again she is a beautiful thing…kinda like an early morning plate of biscuits and gravy.
Questions, questions, and more questions…that’s what travels down the early road to the Kentucky Derby. After the Sham Stakes on January 2, some may be wondering if Bob Baffert is now in the fast lane to the Derby 147 starting gates.
The answer to that is an unequivocal “yes”. Big Race Bob earned his record-tying sixth Kentucky Derby win in 2020 with Authentic. The hall of fame conditioner knows a thing or two about getting a horse to the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May and the Sham told us he has another real contender. What we must wonder now is will he follow an “Authentic” plan?
Last year, the California-based Baffert won the Sham with a front-running Into Mischief colt in his second lifetime start. This year, Baffert won the Sham with a front-running Into Mischief colt in his second lifetime start. Last year it was Authentic, this time it is an appropriately named Life Is Good.
The comparisons will come naturally because of some of the similarities like same pappy, same trainer, and like running style. Both won the one mile Sham with a geared down effort in the stretch. A stable-mate ran second as well in compact fields. The good news for Baffert is Life Is Good covered the distance quicker (1:36.63 compared to 1:37.57) and the second place finisher, Medina Spirit, was much closer (3/4 length versus 7 ¾ for Azul Coast).
If Baffert follows the same path with this vastly talented colt, the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 6 will be next. A stepping-stone to the Santa Anita Derby, the San Felipe is a mile and a sixteenth race that would be a logical choice for Life.
As we know, the 2020 road to the Kentucky Derby incurred many detours. Baffert did run Authentic in the Santa Anita Derby, but then was forced to develop an alternate plan. A ship and win effort in the Haskell at Monmouth Park happened before enjoying a third blanket of roses in the past five years.
Of course hopes are there will be no detours and the Kentucky Derby will be again run on that first Saturday in May. In the game of Thoroughbred racing those five months can seem like an eternity. Never looking to far into the future, Baffert likely has not mapped out the path for Life Is Good or Medina Spirit for that matter. Race spacing and the ability to have a horse peak at the right time has been a real strength for the one-time quarter horse conditioner. Rest assured the wheels are turning in the Baffert barn. Whether his latest charge runs in the same races as last year’s champ remains to be seen. The end goal, however, will be the same, run fast and bring home the hardware.
by Danny Brewer
For those that wondered just how good the lightly raced Charlatan is, they got their answer in the grade 1 Malibu Stakes on December 26.
A seven furlong dash over the Santa Anita dirt, the Malibu has long been a year end target for top three-year olds. This year has been a bit different in many ways, but a race that was first run in 1952 was still in the cross hairs for some top sophomores.
Unraced at two, Charlatan was a serious Kentucky Derby contender earlier in the year until injury put him on the shelf. Brilliantly fast and under the care of hall of fame conditioner Bob Baffert, this son of Speightstown was coming in off basically an eight month layoff. After crossing the wire first in one of the divisions of the Arkansas Derby on May 2 in his third career start, this grandson of Quiet American suffered an injury in training. Later he was stripped of that win due to a medication violation.
The layoff, the injury, and the violation caused question marks to fly around the Baffert barn as this head-strong colt prepared for another run at grade 1 glory. Stepping into the starting gates as well would be another speed merchant in the unbeaten Nashville. Fresh off a track record run at Keeneland on the Breeders Cup undercard, this Steve Asmussen trainee was lightning quick out of the gate. Also a son of Speightstown, Nashville had dropped more jaws than a mini skirt contest on Music Row.
The other four entrants in the gates were also far from chopped liver. Independence Hall had also been on the Kentucky Derby trail, Thousand Words had won the Shared Belief Stakes, Collusion Illusion was a Breeders Cup Sprint runner, and Express Train had been knocking heads in Stakes company all year.
Of course Nashville was considered the most dangerous runner, but was he ready to withstand the challenges of shipping West and facing grade 1 company for the first time?
“Charlatan has never faced a horse like Nashville,” said Bob Baffert in the days leading up to the Malibu. “But Nashville has never faced a horse like Charlatan either. It should be interesting.”
The gates opened and it was certainly interesting. As expected, a charged up Nashville bolted to the lead. With Charlatan just a length back, the opening fractions were Cheech and Chong like numbers. The opening quarter mile was a smoking 21.81 and the half-mile was a blazing 43.96. These fractions were slightly slower than Nashville’s last race, so as the two heavy hitters turned for home question was could he maintain the pace under the pressure from a horse like Charlatan?
Under the brilliant booting of veteran jockey Mike Smith, Charlatan rolled right past Nashville as they straightened at the top of the lane. Leaving the front runner in some second hand smoke, the powerful stride of Charlatan allowed him to buzz right on by. In a matter of a few jumps the cream of this crop rose to the top. Leaving no question as to who was the best on this day, it was not if but by how much.
As Nashville dropped like a bottle of Jack Daniels in Hank Jr’s dressing room, the class of Charlatan was on full display.
“At the top of the stretch I knew I had plenty of horse under me,” says Smith of this his first ride aboard Charlatan. “The way he kicked by Nashville so quick was really amazing. That turn of foot was just incredible and proves he is an exceptional talent. I knew he was a good horse but I sure do think a lot more of him know.”
Smith is not alone in thinking highly of Charlatan after that magnificent Malibu. After clearing the frontrunner with ease and opening up by about 7 lengths, Smith geared this pulsating power down a bit as they rolled home. Winning by 4 ½ lengths, Baffert’s boy covered the 7 furlongs in 1:21.50.
As a lightly raced bolt of lightning, the natural question now is where does he strike next? Having already proven he can go two turns, the mile and an eighth Pegasus or mile and a quarter Saudi Cup might be next for this talented colt.
“He pulled up after the Malibu and was not even out of breath,” says Smith. “He showed me he wants to go longer. Winning a race like the Malibu aboard a horse like him was fantastic and I am very thankful for the opportunity. I hope I get to stay on him.”
This time of year means lots of things to lots of people. The celebration of Christmas is always a real biggy. The ringing in of a new year is also high on the charts. But this year especially, opening day at Santa Anita should be up there in the rankings as well.
Obviously, the opening paragraph deserves a bit of an explanation. For years, this hillbilly turf writer has said the omens of Thoroughbred racing ring true in everyday life. With that in mind, we will quickly explain how all of us could use the Great Race Place as a shining example in the Derby we call life.
It wasn’t that long ago the rock throwers were slinging boulders at this historic track because of some unfortunate tragedies. Athletic injuries occurred at an alarming rate during both training and racing. Far too many Thoroughbreds lost their lives and we still have more questions than answers. The bottom line, however, was something that nobody wanted.
Armchair quarterbacks and second guessers are always front and center in these situations, but seldom does their criticism contain corrective action. Refusing to hide from the challenges presented, the horse racing community knew this thing wouldn’t just go away if they tried to crawl under a rock or point fingers at others. Instead, proactive measures were taken and the choice to wrestle the situation like a wild animal was made.
After changes on many fronts, Santa Anita enjoyed the safest racing season of any track in the United States during their 2020 run. Through diligence and dedication to the thousands of people involved in this wonderful sport, a thriving year produced many highlights.
“My hat is off to Belinda Stronarch and the management team at Santa Anita,” says Doug O’Neill, a four-time leading trainer at Santa Anita. “They have all worked very hard to make things safe not only for the horses but the people too. During a very trying year they really stepped up to the plate and the results are proof their plan was executed with great integrity.”
O’Neill himself was very active in voicing concerns about the well-being of a sport that has been a staple in Southern California since the 1930’s. Seeking to protect all those involved, the two-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer made like Andre the Giant in body-slamming falsehoods about the viability of the sport of kings in today’s world.
“I am proud to have maybe played a small part in preserving the sport as we have known it,” says a humble O’Neill. “So many families depend on this sport for their livelihood . Their way of life was at stake. Many people choose to make this their living because they love these animals and enjoy being a part of something big. Once again I think the track and many others have done a brilliant job of handling a tough situation and really turning things around.”
As is the case with most sports, our what have you done for me lately world means this latest opening day starts everything over. With six stakes races scheduled for December 26 including three grade 1’s, the pressure to produce is once again the here and now. When Dr. Charles Strub opened this piece of heaven beneath the San Gabriel Mountains on December 25, 1934, he absolutely knew what he was doing. After a lot of hard work and dedication, it is apparent the people in charge now have an idea about handling big challenges too.
“Opening day at Santa Anita is always a special time,” says O’Neill. “It truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world and it marks the start of a new racing season here in California.”
First post at the Great Race Place on Saturday, December 26 is slated for 11 am Pacific.
If we turned back the clock to early August there were serious questions about any type of high school football season. And a playoff was even more in doubt. But thanks to the concentrated efforts of many, we were able to witness a remarkable run by the Oakland Patriots (15-0) all the way to the class 6A state title.
When dissecting the 2020 campaign, “run” is the operative word for a school that claimed it’s second state title under current coach Kevin Creasy (2018) and fifth (1984, 1998, 2008, 2018, 2020) in school history. A believer in the basics, the sixth year Patriot leader adopts to the “pass to score, run to win” philosophy. After running roughshod over the opposition through a regular season where the smallest margin of victory was 16 (Warren County), Creasy and his crew continued to sport their New Balances. Making like Usain Bolt, the Patriots pounded Rossview, Mount Juliet, Riverdale, and Maryville in the first four rounds of the playoffs by a combined score of 186-38.
Their outstanding “run” was completed on December 5 in the TSSAA class 6A BlueCross Bowl in a 56-33 beat down of the Brentwood Bruins. In fitting fashion, Oakland amassed an incredible 468 yards rushing in the contest and averaged 10.8 yards per carry…that’s right we said “averaged”.
Make no mistake, Brentwood coach Ron Crawford brought his bunch in ready to play. The Patriots, however, were just too powerful. Four carries in particular encapsulate Oakland’s fleet-footed foray to another gold trophy.
On the opening drive of the contest for Oakland quarterback Ian Schlacter surprisingly dropped back to pass on third down. It looked as if the Bruins had him trapped, but a pump fake and 33 yards later it was first and goal Patriots and the stage was set.
Junior running back Jordan James flat toted the mail in amassing 230 yards with six scampers to paydirt. His second trip to the end zone was an 81-yard juke and jive jaunt that answered a Brentwood touchdown and made everyone aware of the lethal Patriot playmakers.
James struck again in the second quarter. After closing the gap to 28-12, Brentwood held hopes a stop would have them right back in the game. Up jumped James with a 59 yard flash to the promised land. Breaking tackles and then leaving defenders in his wake, even MC Hammer would have been dazzled by this dance.
As the third quarter ticked away, Brentwood again found the end zone and held on to some hope. Having held Oakland scoreless in the second half and seemingly able to stop the ground game, there was a flicker of hope. Back to back penalties appeared to stall the Patriots, that is until Schlacter likened himself to Carl Lewis. Scrambling out of the pocket, the senior signal caller weaved his way through traffic. Some 33 yards later he landed at the Bruin 5 yard line setting up the final score for his running buddy Jordan James.
“Jordan James is one really special player and all I can say about his performance is WOW,” says Creasy. “Those runs by Ian Schlacter were huge momentum changers for us at critical times when Brentwood had a full head of steam. He’s a great story because for the last three seasons he was the long snapper for us. He hung in there and waited for his chance to play quarterback and then made the most of his opportunity.”
For those scoring at home, junior running back Antonio Patterson ran for 176 yards and two touchdowns in the BlueCross Bowl as well. On the season Oakland rushed for over 3500 yards and averaged 8.8 yards per carry. All that sounds like it was a pretty good run for Oakland in 2020.
“This one is really special when you consider everything,” says Creasy. “We weren’t even sure if there would be a season but to the credit of the TSSAA and a lot of others it happened. We have a really good coaching staff at Oakland and our kids were able to do the right things throughout the entire season. The staff kept them focused and I am very proud for our school and all those involved.”
by Danny Brewer
The world of high school football always contains peaks and valleys. Climbing the mountain of success can be very difficult, especially in an ultra-competitive Rutherford County. Staying atop Kilimanjaro is even tougher, but that’s what Oakland hopes to do as the Patriots play for the class 6A state title on December 5.
In what has been a season of shifting sand schedule wise, Oakland has toed the turf twelve times this season without being defeated (also three Covid forfeits are listed officially). Despite a little bit smaller team physically, the Patriots have been as big as ever in dominating the opposition. The closest regular season contest in which they were involved was a 36-20 road win at Warren County.
The post-season always brings new challenges, but Oakland has more than flexed their muscle. Four decisive wins left little doubt as to who was the best team on the field. Opening with a 49-0 win over Rossview was a great start to the second season. However the man-handling of Mount Juliet (49-17) and wrestling of rival Riverdale (39-14) were more impressive. But the real measuring stick of this team might have been the 49-7 mangling of playoff nemesis Maryville in the TSSAA semifinals.
“Obviously we felt confident going into the Maryville game, but I didn’t think we could beat them like that,“ says Oakland head coach Kevin Creasy. “I am really proud for how this team put it all together and rallied after losing one of our best players, Victor Stephenson, to injury.“
Coming off such an emotional win can be good news-bad news as the four-time state champion head coach (three at Trousdale County one at Oakland) is well aware. Maryville ended the Patriots season last year in the semifinal round, so a woodshed whipping was especially sweet. But now it is on to another challenge and the BlueCross Bowl.
“Our challenge is can we get up one more week,” says Creasy. “The playoffs are a different animal and you have to be ready or your season ends with a loss. This group has done an excellent job of preparing the last four weeks. Now we just need to turn it up one more time.”
Confronting the Patriots in the class 6A state title game will be Brentwood (10-3). These two schools met during the regular season in a late-scheduled contest due to Covid. After both the regularly scheduled opponents fell out the two agreed to meet. Oakland went to Williamson County and beat the Bruins 37-0.
A couple of quick facts the calculating Creasy is adding up are Brentwood avenged one of their other regular season losses with a post-season win over Independence and that Brentwood won the 2002 state title with a huge upset of heavily favored Riverdale. The Bruin leader that orchestrated the 10-7 win over the Warriors for all the marbles is current coach Ron Crawford.
“We understand the regular season game means nothing here,” says Creasy, now in his sixth season at Oakland. “We have a lot of respect for Brentwood and their coaching staff. Our players have to be ready to accept the huge challenge a game like this presents.”
Kickoff for the 2020 class 6A BlueCross Bowl is scheduled for 7 pm in Cookeville at Tucker Stadium on the Tennessee Tech campus.
by Danny Brewer
The Clark is no doubt one of the top races in the sport of Thoroughbred racing. A grade 1 event worth $500,000, this mile and an eighth run over the main track has been the centerpiece of the Churchill Downs Fall meet for 146 years. Featuring some of the best classic distance runners, this has long been a showcase for the sport of kings. In recent years it has been a great spot after the Breeders’ Cup for top talent. This year is no different. In fact, a field of fourteen means the starting gates will be as loaded as that plate you made at Aunt Wilma Jean’s house on Turkey day. Let’s take a look at the prospective field and decide who is the ham and turkey and who might be the show-stopping green bean casserole. Get an extra-big plate and don’t forget the buttermilk pie!
1 Craft Daddy-Trained by Kenny McPeek, this son of Scat Daddy has Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons. Having run mostly on the grass, his last start was a win over the Downs dirt. We say he’s like some sweet potato pie- attractive to some but not on our plate.
2 Title Ready- Son of More Than Ready has run a lot in Stakes company but hasn’t gotten there. Was 7th last out in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Trainer Dallas Stewart has a way of making stuff happen. Like the cornbread dressing, you need a little for your exotic wagers because he could kick’em up.
3 Code of Honor- This Shug McGauhey trainee is supposed to be the honey baked ham. His last 11 starts have been in graded stakes company and his Travers triumph a year ago was delectable. Got to have him on the plate in all your exotics.
4 Multiplier- Trainer Peter Miller says there are 500,000 reasons to start his veteran here. No wins this year and only 3 in 31 lifetime starts may cause you to ask why, but a fourth place finish in the Stephen Foster back in June says he could make the superfecta pay big. Like some honey roasted carrots, you may want a little on your plate.
5 Aurelius Maximus- Two wins and a second in three starts this year coupled with all-time Churchill leading trainer Steve Asmussen means this son of Pioneerof the Nile might be like the fudge pie. Something you need to leave room for because with the other dishes, may be forgotten by some but tasty as can be.
6 Plus Que Parfait-Winless in six starts this year, this well-traveled son of Point of Entry may be the Jello dish with the marsh mellows in it. Not many people trying and most of it left on the table.
7 Mr Freeze-Here is the white bread stuffing your granny makes. An absolute must because it is sooo tasty. Winner of the Fayette two starts back and an Ack-Ack triumph in 2019 sandwiched around some other prime time efforts means this Dale Romans trained son of To Honor and Serve will be all over our plate.
8 Bodeexpress-Always thought to be talented, this son of Bodemeister has only found the winner’s circle 3 times in 16 starts. Like the corn soufflé, you want some on your plate because he has been in the top three 10 times, just don’t take up too much room as there are other potentially more tasty treats.
9 Owendale-Having finished second in this race in 2019, this son of Into Mischief is conditioned by one of the hottest chefs in the kitchen. Brad Cox has been cooking up some fabulous things of late and he might just get a grade 1 here with some green bean casserole.
10 Bourbon Calling- Let’s get real for a second. There is usually something that’s not on the table, but most of the men are searching for so they can hang with the relatives. Ian Wilkes trained and in the money in half his starts this year, he might be the brown bag for a celebratory superfecta.
11 Coastal Defense- With all eight of his career starts coming this year, this four-year old son of Curlin has only raced in stakes company once. Can trainer Dale Romans make an unlikely starter into some broccoli cheesey rice casserole that everybody wants some of?…Dale has won a whole bunch at Churchill and set off bombs before.
12 By My Standards- The star of the show at our feast has long been the Fried Turkey and that’s where this son of Goldencents comes in. Trainer Bret Calhoun has guided this fabulous four-year old to 4 wins and 2 seconds in 7 starts this year. A nice win in the Alysheba at Churchill on September 4 means he smells like that wonderful deep fried goodness.
13 Phantom Currency-A winner of a turf switched to dirt race in his last start means trainer Brian Lynch wants to roll the dice. Also a son of Goldencents, this four-year old has 3 wins in 11 career tries but is the cranberry sauce. A dish that’s there but nobody really wants.
14 Silver Prospector-The lone three year old in the race, this Steve Asmussen trained son of Declaration of War might be our buttermilk pie. Early in the year he looked like a player on the Triple Crown trail but a 7th place finish in the Arkansas Derby squelched that. Two wins and a third in three lifetime starts at Churchill means you better make space on your platter.
The Clark is the 10th race on an 11 race card that is to be run beneath the twin spires on November 27. Prospective post time is 5:27 eastern.
by Danny Brewer
A quick glance at the final score of the Oakland-Riverdale third round playoff game kinda says “blowout”. But those in attendance understand the game was still highly in question over halfway into the fourth quarter, That was until Patriot coach Kevin Creasy put on his chef’s hat.
Rolling into the third quarter of a post-season edition of the battle for the Boro, it appeared as though the Patriots were in complete control. Using all facets of their game, Oakland was leading their crosstown rival 26-0. Refusing to go down without a fight, Riverdale put up two scores and trailed 26-14. With a little more than five minutes left in the contest and all their timeouts remaining, the Warriors were far from scalped.
Normally in a situation like this, a coach will implore a game plan to “not lose” the game. Run the ball, try and eat some clock, and depend on the defense. A turn of events, however, caused the highly successful Patriot leader to make a trip to the kitchen and deliver the dessert.
With 4:59 remaining and the clock stopped the call was made. Backed up on their own 10 yard line after a penalty, Oakland faced a “second down and Shelbyville” situation. Those that have seen the crafty Creasy in action would normally think a run was in order to keep the clock rolling. The Patriots had made their cake with a nice balanced offense predicated on running the football. A staple of his winning ways, the sixth year Oakland leader believes in the basics.
Lining up in a box stacking formation, Riverdale looked to stuff their rivals, get the ball back and make a real game of it. But wait a minute, the Patriots emptied the backfield in a field spreading formation. Surely the conservative thinking Creasy would not pass in this situation. When you throw it three things can happen and two of them are bad. A pass would go against the “not lose a fourth quarter lead” theory.
This is where Duncan Hines jumped to the forefront. Creasy made a daring call as he was looking to “win” the game. From the spread formation, star running back Jordan James slipped into a wide-open section in the middle of the field and hauled in a perfect strike from quarterback Ian Schlacter. After juking a would-be tackler, James jolted 90 yards to paydirt. Now up three scores with under five minutes to play, the Fat Lady began warming up the pipes.
“The penalty put us in a bad predicament with still a lot of time left,” says Creasy. “People don’t realize Jordan James has some really good hands and our quarterback made a perfect throw in that situation. Of course some bad things could have happened, but we were very fortunate it worked out and Jordan was able to catch it and outrun everybody to the end zone.”
The cake-icing call by Creasy was one of those plays that can make you look like a five star chef. Of course it also can allow all the arm chair cooks to nay say if it does not work. Having the confidence in your team in critical times makes for a champion’s mentality. Having won three state titles at Trousdale County and garnering a fourth at Oakland, the man obviously knows the ingredients to a winning cake. And as Riverdale found out…he knows how to ice it as well.
Oakland will host Maryville in the TSSAA class 6A state semifinals on November 27. Kickoff at Ray Hughes Stadium is slated for 7pm.