…and down the stretch they come: ALDLAND’s 2012 Kentucky Derby Preview

Horse racing is an intriguing pairing of human and bestial talent. And money. The preparation that lasts years is tested in two minutes. Like any endeavour that involves large amounts of resources, extensive preparation, and flashpoint testing, predictability is highly prized. Here, however, it remains elusive. It is that absence of ultimate predictability, however, that keeps the sport and its accordant culture alive.

Since my only possible qualifications for writing a substantive post on horse racing at this juncture come from an evening watching harness racing at Vernon Downs five years ago and spending last week in Lexington, during which I saw plenty of horses and horse farms, but no horse racing, let me direct you to a collection of stories and other online features that will help you get ready for this year’s Kentucky Derby:

Beyond this pre-race coverage (such as it is), we will be live blogging the event beginning sometime on Saturday afternoon. Stay tuned for more details.

Finally, my win-place-show prediction, based on the same thing for which war is good, is:

  1. Union Rags
  2. Gemologist
  3. Take Charge Indy

Two other horses to watch are Daddy Long Legs and Bodemeister. Of course, you can watch all of them at once, and I’d advise that. It isn’t too difficult.

No matter what your style, be sure to check back here on Saturday afternoon for ALDLAND’s live blog of the 2012 Kentucky Derby.

ALDLAND’s March Madness Challenge: Final Results

Last night’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament championship game gave us two champions. Most publicly, Kentucky’s 67-59 win over Kansas handed the 2012 national championship to the Wildcats.

Most importantly to readers of this site, John Calipari’s first national championship sealed Bingo_Bango’s victory in the inaugural ALDLAND Mad as a March Hare March Madness Challenge, a result even casual observers knew for weeks was a lock. A 99% accuracy rate is impressive. Bingo_Bango should email us at aldland[dot]com[at]gmail[dot]com to negotiate a worthy prize.

Here’s the rest of the top ten:

Honorable mentions go to mjpascha 1, who turned in a consistently solid second-place performance, and Goulbourne Supremacy, the winner of the best-entry-name division for the combination of nomenclature and performance.

Finally, dishonorable mentions to your two writer-participants, Brendan and I, who finished outside of the top ten.

Thanks to all of you for playing.

Picking a Friday Jam

I woke up this morning without a Friday Jam in mind, but I was thinking about the fact that the Final Four gets underway tomorrow in New Orleans between two Midwest teams and two Kentucky teams, and then it come to me. It came like a flash; like a vision burnt across the clouds! I wrote it down, but I learnt right away that it wasn’t an Arlo Guthrie song.

What better than a newgrass tune from a Midwest band about Louisiana? And if you don’t like that, at least you can gawk at the people trying to figure out how to dance to it, or not, as the young gentleman’s preference may be:

Of course, what we really ought to have for you in this spot is a nod to the recently departed Earl Scruggs. Click here for a song and a brief tribute.

Bluegrass breakdown: Kentucky defeats Vanderbilt 69-63

After a rough opening period, Vanderbilt erased a thirteen-point halftime deficit to twice take the lead in the second half, but an inability to score any points for the final 4:09 of the game doomed the Commodores to defeat at the hands of the #1 Wildcats. Complete postgame coverage is available here, here, and here. My impressions of the game were 1) Kentucky is a very good team; 2) Vanderbilt showed it could overcome obstacles and come back in a game, playing the best team in the country better than anybody has since an early season ‘Cat loss to Indiana; and 3) UK and Vandy at Memorial Gym is one of the most exciting sports scenes out there.

After a late arrival into Music City Friday night, I couldn’t get myself to the gym for the early taping of ESPN’s Gameday program, but things got on track quickly with a lunch of the best fried chicken in all the land with with 2/5ths of the VSL Brain Trust, among many other notable persons. Follow that up with afternoon honky-tonking– the live sounds of Tootsie’s and Robert’s– and a fresh growler from Jackalope Brewery, and I was primed to enjoy a pregame treat in the form of watching Michigan State defeat Ohio State over some fresh brats. A Sunday morning visit to St. Augustine, and I was Northbound again. Traveling through Kentucky, picking up WKU Radio’s Barren River Breakdown program dulled the sting of the previous night’s loss just a little bit.

The ‘Dores get another regular-season chance against the Wildcats this weekend when they travel to Rupp Arena, where Kentucky has won forty-nine straight.

For more of my pictures, click here, here, here, and here.

Previous Live Coverage:
Beale Street recap: Vandy falls to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl, 31-24
Bpbrady’s Long Overdue Sugar Bowl Writeup

Windy City recap: Red Wings fall to Blackhawks 3-2
Michigan’s unfriendly welcoming of Nebraska
B1G Roadtrippin’: Michigan at Illinois

Nashville recap: Georgia escapes, 33-28

B1G Roadtrippin’: Michigan at Northwestern
The Little Brown Jug stays in Ann Arbor
Recap: Detroit Red Wings’ Red & White Game
Motor City recap: Tigers win, 2-1
Music City recap: Vanderbilt wins, 45-14
Concert report: Lyle Lovett and his Large Band
Concert report: An evening with Bruce Hornsby, Béla Fleck, the Noisemakers, and the Flecktones

Monday child (slight return)

Saturday night’s primetime college basketball matchups saw both visiting teams come away with victories. In the early game, Michigan State beat Ohio State, ending the Buckeyes’ thirty-nine game home winning streak with a comfortable ten-point victory. In the late game, Vanderbilt erased a thirteen-point halftime deficit but were unable to close in the final minutes, losing to #1 Kentucky 69-63. (More on this game later.)

We’ve so far resisted the seemingly linfinite opportunities to write about New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin– he isn’t even my favorite Lin brother— but his 38-point effort against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers deserves mention.

Finally, while MSU ended OSU’s home win streak, the cross-state Detroit Red Wings came from behind to beat the Flyers in Hockeytown for their twentieth consecutive home win, which tied the record set by the 1929-30 Bruins and matched by Philadelphia’s 1976 crew.

ALDLAND takes you live to ESPN College Gameday: Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt

ESPN’s College Gameday returns to Nashville this Saturday, with the focus on an 8:00 pm Central game between Vanderbilt and top-ranked Kentucky, following a 6:00 Eastern game between Michigan State and Ohio State in Columbus. It’s a big night for college basketball– particularly ALDLAND’s brand of college basketball– and because I’ve been to Columbus once and have no immediate desire to return, we’re taking you live to Memorial Gym for the late game.

Both Kentucky and Vanderbilt had high expectations before the season started, ranked #2 and #7, respectively, and while the Wildcats currently are surpassing those expectations, the Commodores have faltered. There are two main donkeys on which the tails of their struggles can be pinned: 1) knee injuries to big-man Festus Ezeli, and 2) a lack of bench support. These two rationales also provide good (and mostly legitimate) smokescreens for what Vandy fans fear may be behind their team’s difficulties: the apparent mental weakness that has kept this group from rising to its physical potential in past years. One sign that this spectre is fading is the pleasantly aggressive and frequently commanding performance of Jeffrey Taylor.

UK comes into Saturday night on a tear. They are 11-0 in SEC play, and they generally have been demolishing their opponents. I saw their most recent game, which was a comfortable win over Florida, a team that itself had a mostly comfortable win over Vanderbilt just last weekend. Vandy, meanwhile, comes limping– literally, in Ezeli’s case– into this game, with Wednesday night’s home win over LSU lukewarm comfort after consecutive eight-point losses to Florida and Arkansas. (The Razorbacks’ 81-59 loss to Georgia on Wednesday doesn’t help either.)

Before handing this post over to more accomplished previewers, a note on one similarity and one difference between these two teams. First, many have cited the Wildcats’ size as a factor in their success this season, but Vanderbilt actually matches up well with them physically. Second, Kentucky’s coach, John Calipari, is known for favoring young players, and this year’s starters– three freshman and two sophomores– track to that preference. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, starts a veteran crew: four seniors and one junior.

For an extended, thorough analysis of Saturday night’s game, read this preview at Open ‘Dores. For a Vandy pep talk, watch Jay Bilas’ video hit.

I’ve seen these two teams play twice before with mixed results. In 2008, the Commodores avenged a 79-73 double-overtime loss in Lexington by stunning the Wildcats 93-52 at Memorial Gym. I stunned myself with my own foolishness when I realized, after the game, that I’d locked my keys in my car and that, even in the Mid South, February is a cold month. Two years later, I saw these two again, when Vandy dropped a heartbreaker at home in 2010, losing by two points after missing multiple opportunites to seal a win or send the game into overtime. That was the most exciting game I’ve attended where the team I favored did not win.

Tomorrow’s game presents an even tougher test for Vanderbilt. I know Bilas is a Dookie of the first order, but if he says they can win, then it can be done. Plus, Vanderbilt has recent experience knocking of #1-ranked rival teams: they did it it to Tennessee in 2008.