Friday, March 24, 2017

Dubai World Cup

The former "Richest horse race in the world" (Prior to the Pegasus Cup) is going to be ran Saturday morning and there's very little buzz around it.

That's too bad.  Because the Dubai World Cup is, on paper, a very entertaining race and will be featuring what I think is a very special horse in Arrogate, the 1-3 Morning Line favorite.  Running against him is a pretty strong field including Gun Runner,  a talented horse that hasn't lived up to his potential in big races, Hopportunity, a horse that's scored some big, big wins in the past over good horses, Keen Ice, who is "gritty" in horse terms, and Mubtaajij, a horse from Ireland who always seems to be in with a chance.

None of these horses are as strong, on paper, as Arrogate however. The late-blooming Bob Baffert horse who has made a mockery of the field in every race he's ran.  Most recently you saw him beat the great California Chrome in the Pegasus, and he won the Breeder's Cup as well.  In fact, had he not developed so late he might have been a Triple Crown winner in 2016.  He's that good.

Locally, Sam Houston Race Park is opening their doors at 6:30 AM to allow for simulcast betting.

I'll be there.  Look for the guy wearing throwback checkerboard Vans.

Let's talk ponies.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Houston Texans: Is it time to question O'Brien?

Stories like this make you wonder.

The fact is that Bill O'Brien is not the "quarterback whisperer" that he's been advertised to be. In fact, most of the quarterbacks who have left the Texans, Hoyer, the Fitz, etc. have played BETTER with their new teams than with Houston's professional football team.

For a supposed "offensive guru" O'Brien's offenses have been a consistent embarrassment during his tenure. On any team serious about winning he'd be on a seat so hot you'd feel the warmth in Beaumont.

But these are the Texans, owned by Crazy Bob McNair who is seemingly content to have the team win the pathetic AFC South some seasons and exit meekly in either the first or second round. He can afford to do this because he has one of the bat-shit craziest fan bases in the country, who continually sell out NRG stadium despite having a product that can only be defined as mediocre.

The reality that is starting to emerge is that, unless something changes, O'Brien's best work as coach of the Texans will be some funny monologues in Hard Knocks.

We all know that the Texans are lacking quality in the front office.  GM Rick Smith appears over-matched by his peers, but this trade (undoubtedly dreamed up by an increasingly clever looking Browns team) probably gives him something to point to for years now as evidence of his brilliance.

The question is whether or not the dysfunction at NRG has pervaded the entire team?  We know what the owner's priorities are, and it doesn't seem like anyone on Kirby has a real plan on how to win, and win big.

MAYBE the Texans don't get taken advantage of by Jerry Jones and the Cowboys in their pursuit of Tony Romo but the odds are not in favor.  And MAYBE the team starts 2017 with someone other than "Tom Savage" penciled in as the starter at quarterback.

But, if it IS Tom Savage and hope time for the team then the fans should riot.

They won't though, which is why their team is allowed to continue to court mediocrity on the backs of their unfailing loyalty.  Find something else to do on Sundays Texans fans, until the team gives you reason not to.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Gamble Blogging: A lifetime of running cold (Part VII) Vegas is a cruel, cruel mistress.

It's been a while since I added to this series but a lot has changed since I wrote this:

A lifetime of running cold series.

For one, I now have a hand-pay to brag about (later) but no Royal Flush yet.  I also have a ton of tales and some new locations to add to the story.

But first, let's pick up where we left off.

After my last trip to Vegas (in 2014) the wife and I started 2015 planning to hit Vegas several times.  We visited in March, June, August and December right after Christmas.  We stayed at TI, Mandalay Bay (again), NY/NY and Excalibur.

The first trip, in March, was going to be the trip where I finally got to do some serious sports betting for March Madness.  I had also decided to dip my toes back in the live poker well and play in one of their $40 buy-in daily tournaments for fun.

As is our custom, we arrived on a Thursday evening, ate dinner, hit the bar hard, lost just a little bit playing video poker and went to be somewhere around 2AM.  The next morning I was up and about early (around 8AM) I went and ate breakfast and settled down at a slot machine to play a little prior to the tournament starting.

It was at this time I ordered a cup of coffee with creamer from a cocktail waitress, sipped it, thought it tasted funny, but finished it regardless.  This, as it turned out, was a huge mistake that pretty much cost me the trip.

Thinking back I'm not sure if it was the coffee, but I'm pretty certain it was.  Because 1/2 way through the poker tournament I started feeling ill.  Very ill.  My vision was blurring, I was dizzy and my stomach was doing it's best impression of an over baked pretzel.  I wouldn't tell you anything about the last three hands I played in the tournament but it was pretty bad.  I started walking away from the table before the last card came out because I knew that something was wrong.

What was wrong was food poisoning.  A fairly hideous case of it.

For the next 38 hours I was confined to either bed or the restroom on the occasions that I needed to puke. I was also cold. So cold that my wife set the room temperature at 75 and still had to go down to the gift shop to by me a pair of sweat pants and a zip up hoodie.

All day Friday and all day Saturday I laid in the bed in the room half sleeping and half getting up to the bathroom.  My poor wife, who hates college basketball, stuck by my side in the room with nothing to do but watch March Madness while I came in and out of sleep.

This was, without a doubt, the worst trip to Las Vegas that we have ever experienced.

On Sunday I was finally feeling marginally better, at least enough to get out of bed, so our last day was spent slowly walking around the Strip.  At this point I was pretty much limited to drinking Pedialyte and eating some saltine crackers that we got from Walgreen's.

I didn't gamble, I didn't watch much of March Madness, we didn't see any shows.  It was all around just a horrid trip.

The remaining trips in 2015 were better, no one got sick, but nothing to brag about.  I was scared to drink coffee now but I did gamble and we had 3 trips with a succession of small wins and small losses that pretty much made gambling in Las Vegas just about a wash.

We didn't gamble much however because my wife was on a horrid losing streak and would just clam up and stop gambling after $20 or so. Then she'd get in a bad mood and so we'd just walk from casino to casino doing not much of anything but just ambling around.  We spent all of 2015 in this funk, a funk brought on by extreme sickness and some pretty rotten action.

Because our gambling had dropped, so did our comp offers.  We needed something to get us back on the beam and we needed it quickly because our Vegas passion was flailing and we really didn't know how to get it back.

About the only saving grace for this period of time were the shows that we saw.  We saw Penn & Teller and loved it, Zarkana before it went away, Mystere, a show at the Venetian called "Panda" and the Dancing with the Stars road show at the Tropicana.  We also dined well, when we ate, eating at all of Wolfgang Puck's places, Mesa grill, Gordon Ramsay's Steak and Pub, and we discovered the Crown and Anchor Pub for the first time.

The irony of the year was this:  In 2015 we spent more time in Las Vegas than in any year prior, we also gambled a hell of a lot less.

In 2016 that would change, not always for the better.

Combined Blogging: Las Vegas Central

For a while I toyed with the idea of creating a blog that was Las Vegas based, focusing on gambling, eating, drinking and just generally having a good time in the city.  This led to the creation of Las Vegas Central which I fiddled with in fits and starts but never really found the time to pay attention to full time.

So I'm combining the two and bringing all of my gambling stuff here.

I'll also be posting on the Vegas Fanatics forum where I go by the moniker: Nick Pappageorgio after the character from Vegas Vacation.  There I'll be attempting live trip reports and some other stuff so if you're into Vegas and want to see how a low-roller does it then join me.

Outside of that, this will be my main blog going forward.

Simplicity y'all.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Thoughts on the Super Bowl from someone who didn't watch it.

Just so you know, I did live up to my raindrop in the ocean protest pledge on Sunday by refusing to tune into the NFL's sort-of football related party in Houston.  Did it matter? Did I accomplish a damn thing?

Of course not.

Because the NFL doesn't care that one guy with a lightly read blog and zero influence decides to tune out, there are 300 and something Million people who tune-in. My refusal to watch was not about the NFL, but about what I chose to support as a sports fan.

So, did I miss arguably the "greatest Super Bowl ever?"


Do I have any regrets?


Because I spent a wonderful weekend with my wife as a guest of the L'auberge du Lac casino and resort in Lake Charles where I, miraculously, ended up about even (+$48 less expenses) for the weekend. I ate some fantastic food (the Ember Steakhouse at L'auberge is the best restaurant, food-wise, for drunk people watching that I've ever seen.) got a nice shave, haircut and (my first ever) pedicure and just generally had a nice time with about 5,000 other Houstonians who decided to flee the chaos for calmer waters.

I even had a positive gambling take-away from the Golden Nugget next door.

But this is, ostensibly, a sports blog and there was a sporting event played last night of historical significance so I did, through the wonder of the Internet, spend some time early this morning perusing video clips and highlights (I thought Lady Gaga did an outstanding job on the halftime show. Also: the commercials sucked) from which I'd like to share a few thoughts.....

1. Tom Brady is terrific, but his supporting cast played good as well.  Especially the Patriots defense who, had a rough start but dominated the Falcons in the 2nd half for the win.  DC Matt Patricia is going to be a hot HC prospect next year methinks.

2. I want a Julio Jones for my team. Even with an injured toe it's obvious how much of a handful this guy is to cover consistently.

3. Every team needs a Julian Edelman as well. His catch has now bested David Tyree as the best catch in Super Bowl history and it's not close.

4. I'm an avowed 49ers fan, and therefore I pledge allegiance to Joe Montana.  Saying all that, Tom Brady is the best NFL quarterback of all time and the argument is not a close one.

5. Roger Gooddell needs to go, but he won't because he's making the owners a ton of money.

6. Josh McDaniels did not have a good game calling plays, and he's not near ready to take another stab at being a Head Coach.  He was, in fact, bailed out by Tom Terrific and New England's bevvy of quick WR's.

7. Think the 49ers are feeling great about Kyle Shanahan today?  Because, as a fan, I'm not. His play-calling in the 2nd half was atrocious, as was pretty much every other decision the Atlanta Falcons coaching staff made.  It still appears that they're going to hire Shanahan as head coach which tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the state of the Franchise under Jed York.

8. Funny thought:  Mirroring the College Football Playoff Championship.  Atlanta was Alabama, New England played the role of Clemson last night.  Wrap your head around that one.

9. Final thought:  Evil. Always. Wins. Always.

And now we turn our eyes to College basketball, March Madness, the NBA and hey....pitchers and catchers report in about 8 days.

Glory be.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Brent Musberger: "You were looking live" at a great career.

News coming out today that Brent Musberger will be retiring to Las Vegas January 31st prompted me to spend just a minute thinking back on both his career and what it means for us going forward as sports fans.

Most young folks will only remember Mr. Musberger for two things. his tone-deaf comments regarding OU running back Joe Mixon and his hilarious comments about Katherine Webb, girlfriend of then-Alabama QB A.J. McCarron.  And that's too bad.  Because for those of us with considerably more gray hair, Musberger WAS sports in an era where we didn't have near the access and outlets we enjoy today.

Back in the old days, major college sports on TV was limited to ABC, CBS and NBC period. Whereas today we have ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, WatchESPN, ESPN Classic, Fox, Fox Sports1 & 2, NBCSportsNetwork, CBSSportsNetwork, the regional Fox sport's networks, B1G TV, PAC-12 TV, the SEC Network, the soon-to-be ACC Network, CSN, Root Sports, BeIN sports, the WB and a host of other channels that carry live games, all available through your cable box, dish network, U-verse service or, increasingly, streaming online. And that doesn't include NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB networks, TNT and other outlets for professional sports. There are a bunch more sports available for live viewing today than there has ever been in the past. This is a good thing.

It also means that the audience for live sports is bigger than it's ever been. This is a good thing as well.

A bad thing from this is that the old guard, those that are used to the 'old' way seem to be having a tough time adapting to the new reality of things. As such, it's probably time for them to go. I knew an older gentleman once who had spent his entire life working as a school superintendent where he presided over racial integration efforts and advocated for them. As he got older he never did stop calling Black people "colored". He meant no malice by this and, in fact, when he was much younger this was considered a non-offensive term. But he wasn't on social media, he wasn't trendy and he wasn't up with the politically correct movement. In short, time had passed him by.

Mr. Musberger's comments about Katherine Webb remind me a lot of that man. In that I don't think he meant them to be disparaging but he also didn't really understand the cultural zeitgeist at all. We now live in an age where even compliments toward attractive women are frowned upon, especially coming from men who are old enough to be their grandfathers. We also live in a society where looks are (supposedly) not something that should be taken into account when judging someone. This works better in theory than in practice, but it's there nevertheless.

I think his Mixon comments spring from the same ignorance, although many people have taken it upon themselves to proclaim him a "bad man" without giving it a second thought. The fact is that society has a much healthier attitude towards women, and women's issues, than it has in any time in history. But there are still pockets of resistance on both sides of the aisle. Some of that resistance springs from hate, some from ignorance, and some from just wanting to tear everything down for the spite of it. And those people are sucking up the oxygen in many areas of the discussion.

Sports is one of those areas, where the lynch mob mentality has lead to travesties like the Duke Lacrosse Team, and the win at all costs crowd gave us the tragedy in Baylor and Joe Mixon doing bad things resulting in only token punishment. In both of those cases there were extreme opinions. You would like to think that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Sadly, as with most things in society these days, it doesn't.

Brent was, ultimately a victim of a society changing (for the better) and him not changing alongside it. ESPN is pinky-swearing that the Mixon backlash has nothing to do with this, but I think we all know better. Musberger's Mixon views meant that he had to go, that he was a man out of time and out of step with popular thought regarding 2nd chances and who should receive them. Fooball, and the people who cover it, still have a long way to go when it comes to women's issues, and it will be the next generation of commentators who are going to have to do a better job negotiating that mine field than the last generation has done.

From a "fan of sports" perspective however I can tell you that I'm bummed . Not because I agree with Musberger on Mixon (I don't, not entirely but that's a different post that I'll probably never write) or because I think hitting a woman is not wrong (I do, in polite society hitting in general is unacceptable) but because I'm going to miss his calls, I'm going to miss "You are looking live" and "our friends in the desert", I'm going to miss his asides and even his awkward moments. I'm going to miss a play-by-play caller who is not so desperately corporate that not toeing the company line is as unthinkable as slandering Nick Saban.

In short, I'm going to miss the personality, and the individuality that Mr. Musberger brought to his calls. I'm going to lament being saddled with the current corporate group of announcers who never say a controversial thing, ever, and whose delivery is somewhat wooden, but solid. I'm going to miss the individuality and 'wow' moments that the great announcers of the past brought to the sports watching experience. I'm going to miss the fun.

So thank you Mr. Musberger, for a lifetime of memorable moments, and doing your best to explain them to me in the most colorful manner possible.  On my next trip to Vegas I'm going to look for you, I'm going to introduce myself and offer to buy you a drink.  I hope you'll be willing to talk sports and betting and tell Vegas stories to me for a while. Even if I have to buy you two drinks.

Sports Section