Sunday, November 01, 2015

Peanuts Gang Goes Jaded in Belmont Student Production of "Charlie Brown"

Lucy is a flask-swilling drunk who blows chunks. Snoopy peddles a publication about the homeless while brown-bagging his Muscatel. Sally is an air-headed bimbo in a push-up bra. Linus's security blanket is a pack of Marlboros.

That what it's like in the alternative world of Belmont University Student Theatre's weekend production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the now nearly 50-year-old musical based on the late Charles M. Schulz' classic comic strip Peanuts.

This is a totally student-driven production, performed and directed by a platoon of ambitious and talented college kids, which Belmont continues to produce like the fruit growing on so many Florida orange trees. In fact, there's so much talent in Belmont's music, dance and theater programs that there aren't enough campus productions to accommodate their theatrical urges. Hence, BUST, endorsed by faculty and staff, and, in this case, performing at Bongo After Hours Theatre, across the street from the school and its excellent but apparently overbooked venues.

In at least one way, the BUST kids are taking a liberty with Schulz that's echoed in the new Peanuts Movie that releases this week: Offering us the physical embodiment of the Little Red-Haired Girl, hapless leading man Charlie Brown's perennial crush. Purists will see this as a huge transgression, and it is reasonably certain that deceased creator Schulz will be turning in his grave when the film opens.

Here, LRHG's a fairly quiet presence—mainly because she does not appear in the actual script, so her modest activity has to be trumped up. But that doesn't stop the BUST creative team from taking other huge liberties with the material, performed in arrangement with Tams-Witmark Music Library. The imposed setup deletes the childhood world of Schulz and—in the spirit of Dog Sees God, Bert V. Royal's 2004 spoof that turns the Peanuts gang into troubled teens—recasts them as young professional office workers, poised at their (school)desks, staring at their iPads and dealing with their own brand of dysfunction.

This new universe does not stop anyone from singing the enduring songs, of course, most written by Clark Gesner in 1967, others added in a 1999 Broadway revival. Hard to believe, the program credits none of the original creators. Chalk it up to youthful oversight.

As for Charlie Brown, he's still a lovable sad sack, though his "Kite Song" is somehow transformed into an ode to marijuana. (Flying high. Get it?) Some numbers, like Snoopy's "The Red Baron," are well-played but are absent context (and perhaps simply dated). This happens also with "The Book Report," a rousing and fairly textured company number that makes no sense if we're inside the corporate offices of this reimagined world. Yet it works, as the kids just burst into song as necessary and we find ourselves simply going with the flow. (Among the other great numbers is the memorable "Suppertime," Snoopy's celebration of food, in this case, a McDonald's cheeseburger.)  

From the title song opener to the still poignant closer "Happiness," we experience a lot of wonderful music, including even a cagey but brief little snippet of Vince Guaraldi as excerpted from the 1965 TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas. Credit music director Corwin Davis with keeping it all together with his seven student players, who, on balance, do an amazing job. If all the chops aren't perfect, they are surely good enough, and you can bet the learning experience is invaluable.  (They are still students, after all.)

The irrepressibly appealing cast numbers 12, all eager and willing under the direction of Arik Vega, who is assisted by choreographer Wesley Carpenter. The standout performers include Adam Stecker, Charlie Allen, Jack Tanzi and Chris Lee, the latter seen off-campus earlier this year with Street Theatre Company in their production of Heathers. Cameron Cipolla makes a particularly strong impression as Sally, moving and singing as boldly as the celebrity she seems to be successfully channeling: Kristin Chenoweth, who won a Tony Award in the role in the Broadway revival.

Finally, there's Cassie Donegan, who comes off way hotter than Schulz probably would've ever envisioned his Lucy. Stuffed tightly into her zip-up royal blue skirt, Donegan certainly doesn't lack for crabby confidence, black high heels and all. Perhaps she has potential as an ingenue/leading lady type, yet she seems already to have achieved serious character actress status, never mind her youth. Like Lucy always was, Donegan is in command, and when she leads we follow.

The Bongo After Hours space is a fairly tight squeeze, of course. Nevertheless, the endlessly energetic ensemble performs with no microphones, which should make their teachers mighty proud. And kudos to the prop mistress for summoning up what looks like an original issue Peanuts lunch box from God knows when.

Whether Schulz would approve of college kids monkeying around with the childhood world that meant so much to him—as man and artist—who's to know? But maybe it's a firm testament to his inspiration that even viewing it through the jaded prism of adult life only allows us to better appreciate the child that's in all of us—and never leaves us no matter how old we get.

As of this writing, there's one performance left, today at 2 p.m., with the outside possibility of an evening performance. Catch the show at Bongo After Hours Theatre, 2007 Belmont Blvd., Nashville.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

                                         MARTY'S RACE-A-DAY


Allowance purse: $53,000 (plus up to $15,900 to Cal-bred winners) for fillies and mares three years old and upward which have never won $10,000 other than maiden, claiming or starter or which have never won two races. Three-year-olds, 122 Lbs; Older, 124 Lbs; Non-winners of a race other than Maiden, Claiming or Starter Allowed 2 Lbs. A race other than Claiming or Starter Allowed 4 Lbs. Six And One Half Furlongs. 

Note: Horses are ranked in ascending order of Morning Line odds. Asterisk indicates predicted winner.  

*Pleasant as Pie--When this Florida-bred, Ron Ellis-trained 4-year-old went off at 33-1 at Del Mar on Sept. 6, who imagined she would unassumingly settle into the middle of an 11-horse field, then suddenly make a sharp outside move with a quarter of a mile to go, and then pour it on for a convincing win with a big $68.80/$24/$12.80 payoff? Same identical kind of  race awaits here, only jockey Joe Talamo takes over from Drayden Van Dyke. PAP is a bit of a mystery, purchased for $125K as a yearling, with no other races on the resume. But somebody up there likes her to repeat that maiden effort: the early line is 9-5.  

Radiant Journey--This 4-year old, Cal-bred D’Amato trainee returns after an 8-month layoff. Her four races around the turn of the new year were strong efforts (2 wins, 2 places), showcasing an aggressive, tireless runner (foxish-rabbit) perfectly suited for sprints on dirt. Martin Garcia was the jock on all of those races; Tyler Baze jumps into the saddle this time, and he will pull a #1 post position, which actually seemed to help Radiant Journey in three of her four previous races. The early line is 3-1. 

Daddy’s Duo--For the past year and some change, 3-year old Daddy’s Duo has been shepherded by the Desormeaux clan. The KY-bred filly is a versatile  runner, with a few turf races under her cinch, but she runs best as a sprinter on dirt, sporting an aggressive style not unlike today’s likely challenger Radiant Journey. The horse has recently been moved into the John Sadler barn, and there’s a new rider: Martin Garcia. This race suits her, though, and she might get into the mix nicely from the outside #7 PP. The early line is 4-1.

Moyo Honey--This Patrick Gallagher filly’s been racing at longer lengths and on turf of late, but clearly her best efforts, both earlier this year, were sprints on dirt (a place in May, a win in June). Drayden Van Dyke had been her exclusive jockey, but James Graham will give it a go with the KY-bred 3-year-old. Early line: 5-1.

Fashioned Gem--Not much data to compute on this 3-year-old Florida filly, with trainer Mark Glatt seeming to be experimenting so far with her on surfaces and distances. But Fashioned Gem’s Aug. 5 win on dirt at 6-and-a-half furlongs at Del Mar was an eye-opener. As soon as Trevor Denman’s call had all but written the horse off, she stormed back on the outside to blow past the field of 12 to pay off handsomely as a 21-1 shot. Still a pretty unknown quantity at 6-1; all-star jockey Rafael Bejarano takes over for Flavien Prat.  

Bennett Jean--An 8-month layoff and a new trainer, Peter Eurton. This 3-year-old KY-bred has done little of distinction since June 2014, and it’s been a year since her only win. Mario Gutierrez rides, taking over from Aaron Gryder, who tried to establish some consistency with the filly over her last four races. 8-1 on the early line. 

Call to Congrats--Once upon a time—Aug. 2014, to be precise—this KY-bred filly looked promising as a sprinter on dirt. Since a trainer switch—Sadler to Gary Mandella—the 3-year-old has only raced once, an unimpressive 7th place finish in a turf sprint at Santa Anita on 6/28. Just trying to round back into form, it appears, and doing so with Mike Smith in the irons. The early line is 12-1. 

Sunday, October 04, 2015


                                    MARTY'S RACE-A-DAY

RACE  3--SANTA ANITA--OCT. 4, 2015

Stakes for fillies and mares, three years old and upward. The winner to receive $60,000, $20,000 to second, $12,000 to third, $6,000 to fourth and $2,000 to fifth. Non-winners of a Graded Stakes since April 4, allowed 3 lbs. Non-winners of a Graded Stakes since October 4, 2014, 5 lbs. Six and One Half Furlongs.

Note: Horses listed in ascending order of Morning Line odds. Asterisk indicates predicted winner.  

*Taris--Kentucky-bred 4-year-old Taris debuted in Dec. 2013 with a 10-length victory at Aqueduct. Seems to have been on a short leash since then, with sporadic appearances in the East, then a single race at SA in Dec. 2014 and more recently at Del Mar (8/15), where she scored a really impressive victory as the favorite in a race that looked a lot like this one, featuring Wasted at Midnight, Uzziel and another strong runner, Baruta, who took 2nd. Gary Stevens will ride the Callaghan trainee again, and the only knock against her is the absence of more evidence to confirm her superiority. Yet Taris passes the eye test, and with her 6-5 ML, it’s clear that others think so too.      

Unforgettable U--A year’s worth of consistent activity marks this 4-year-old as a reliable sprinter but with some erratic results overall. More recently, UU, now being trained by Richard Baltas, has looked very good, with a win last time out (9/7 at Del Mar) and a close 2nd (8/9), edged out at the wire by one of today’s competitors, Ben’s Duchess. Edwin Maldonado has been a regular aboard UU, and he’ll ride her today. 9-5 ML.

Ben’s Duchess--Impressive Sadler 3-year-old has finished ITM eight straight races, including two excellent wins out of her last four starts (8/9 & 6/14), and a tough 2nd-place finish last time out (9/6), losing to one of today’s challengers, Uzziel. Joe Talamo jumps aboard for his sixth straight ride on a horse who’s never seen a dirt sprint she didn’t like. Good stalking style. 4-1 ML.

Uzziel--The 4-year-old Cal-bred spent the early portion of this year in route races with okay results, but has returned more recently to sprints. She won last time out (9/6) and has now finished ITM in three straight starts—all races featuring a cozy field of battle-tested fillies and mares who like to race fast and hard, and rarely more than six furlongs. Formerly trained by Mike Puype, Uzziel is now in the care of the Desormeaux clan, with Kent D. her exclusive jockey since March of this year. 4-1 ML.  

Wasted at Midnight--This 5-year-old Florida-bred mare set the pace last time out (8/16 at Del Mar), but hit the wall late up against two tough competitors whom she meets again today, Uzziel and Taris. With no wins since February, WAM is a study in a good horse who competes hard for the lead for about five furlongs... and then simply can’t keep up. Martin Garcia has been a steady presence in the irons and he again rides this hard-working lady, who’s been in the Richard Mandella barn since early 2014. 15-1 ML.

Saturday, October 03, 2015


                                       MARTY'S RACE-A-DAY

RACE 2--SANTA ANITA--OCT. 3, 2015 


Note: Horses listed in ascending order of Morning Line odds. Asterisk indicates predicted winner.  

Flat Footed Mama--This Baffert hopeful has spent the last six months in a series of longer races and scratches, never taking better than third and usually fading further from view. One career victory (a route race a good while ago), with all 11 career starts under the command of Martin Garcia, which implies familiarity and consistency but nevertheless has meant mediocre results. Garcia will try again. The 9-5 ML positions FFM as the early favorite in this battle of unknowns and underachievers. 

Wild Street Party--One prior race, at Los Al on 9/11, and scored a nice late sprint victory over a field of 9. Fernando Perez rides again. 2-1 ML.

*Kantina Kowgirl--With 15 starts since Jan. 2014, this aggressive self-starter always hustles out of the starting gate with purpose but rarely scores ITM. A mixed bag of shorter and longer races on dirt have been KK’s world, plus pass-around trainers (Glatt, Belvoir, Papaprodromou) and a succession of riders, including Bejarano, who won with her in Jan. 2015. Kerwin John is today’s jockey. In this company, maybe the Avis approach (”We try  harder”) can pay off. 4-1 ML.

Italian Baba--Veteran 6-year-old hasn’t won a race in two and a half years. She’s a chronic slow starter, who might be classified as a turtle, though that usually implies coming from the back of the pack late to actually win the race. Whatever life is left in the old girl, Felipe Valdez will attempt to parlay it into victory. 4-1 ML.

Beyond Lucky--This 4-year-old Cal-bred Papaprodromou mare (since July; McCarthy before that) is a Fox-style runner, the bulk of whose experience has been dirt sprints. So this is the right race, but the odds of her performing as she did in April, when TBaze rode her to a solid victory on this track,  seem remote. Even this nonplussed collection of misfit challengers should test all of Beyond Lucky’s mettle. Tiago Pereira is the jock. 8-1 ML.

Gold Locket--After three solid starts at Santa Anita early in the year, including a gutsy Mar. 22 at-the-wire winner in a nine-horse field, this 3-year-old was on hiatus five months, finally reemerging under the tutelage of Jeffrey Metz.  She finished sixth at Del Mar on Aug. 29. Another rider change means Ry Eikleberry trying to help recapture that early promise. 12-1 ML, but given the uncertainty of the field, that’s a good price for an adventurous player.  

Thursday, October 01, 2015

                         MARTY'S RACE-A-DAY

Santa Anita--Oct. 1, 2015
RACE 5--Maiden Special Weight--$52,000 Purse--Mile and 1/8 on turf--3-yr.-olds

Big Discovery has six prior races, all routes, none shorter than a mile, and the first four were on turf. Interesting horse. BD has never finished out of the money. He starts every race lagging toward the back, then responds (under various jockeys) almost like clockwork mid-race, steadily gaining on the leaders and then pushing hard to the finish. Yet he hasn't ever completely closed the deal. Mike Smith rides and maybe the slightly longer distance will pay off for this on-the-verge closer. 5-2 ML.

Broken Up has only two races under his cinch. His latest, a 1-1/16er on the turf at GGF, presented us with a patient Hound with a big urgent finishing kick that almost nipped the co-favorite Saxon Lord at the wire—and seemed to have more in the tank. Mandella trainee strives to go 1/16 further for the win with Gary Stevens aboard. Looks to have the talent, but maybe too early to trust? 3-1 ML.

Boone Docks has tried it every which way for the past year--sprints, routes, dirt, turf, East Coast, West Coast, as Hound, as Rabbit—and has finished ITM but once in 6 tries (a 3rd at Saratoga in Aug. 2015). In strictly relative terms, he's showing improvement, and he gets some needed consistency here with Santiago Gonzalez riding for the third time in 2015, but Boone Docks' penchant for getting lost in the shuffle looms a liability, especially at this distance. 4-1 ML. 

Lightly raced Carla Gaines trainee Fishel scratched out of his last scheduled race, 8/30 at Del Mar. Only previous two starts (June/July) have yielded inconclusive results, a 10th place at SA and then a better 4th at Del Mar. James Graham rides Fishel for the first time. 5-1 ML.

Paythebank's most recent races include a late-running 5th at Del Mar (8/22), a 3rd place in the slop at Del Mar (7/19), a 7th at SA (6/28) and a close 2nd at SA (5/7). The Kruljac trainee has been out and about since July 2014, through 14 scheduled starts, all surfaces and distances, a few scratches, a 4-5 month mid-career layoff, and a passel of jockeys, including Talamo, Trujillo, Garcia, TBaze and more recently Nakatani, who rides today. Nary a win through all those variables, though the horse has shown some talent and hustle on a few occasions. There IS a scenario where he might break through, wherein the reliable-looking favorite simply misfires and the second favorite proves too green. There WILL be a winner in this race, though, and Paythebank has as good a shot as any of the lesser wannabes. 6-1 ML.

Y's Passion is a virtual newbie with only two races, both sprints on the dirt at Del Mar. Drayden Van Dyke returns to ride the Patrick Gallagher colt, and with no experience on the turf, or at longer distances, he can only be a speculative choice. Yet his most recent 9/7 effort, at 7 furlongs, showed us a horse able to come gamely up to 4th from faraway at the back of a 9-horse field. It may mean nothing here, but the visual was impressive. 10-1 ML.

Radio Silent finished 7th in his only start, on 9/7. Alonso Quinonez will again take him out for a spin. 10-1 ML.

Based on his June 5 performance at GGF—a valiant 3rd, in a 1-and-1/16-mile route on turf—Junior G  Man looks like a hustler. Prior to that, in April, on the same track/distance, he scored a game 2nd place. So he's a competitor. But his one race since being acquired by Art Sherman, on Aug. 22 at Del Mar on the turf at the same distance, was a lackluster 7th place out of 9. Ty Kennedy is the jockey. Inscrutable horse here, but maybe worth a flyer as the longest shot in this race. 12-1 ML.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

On Flags, Forrest and Hysteria in the Wake of Charleston

In the wake of Charleston, my Facebook feed is stuffed full of hysteria about Confederate flags and Nathan Bedford Forrest, including reports that Nashville mayoral candidate Megan Barry wants a Forrest statue hidden from public view and Rep. Jim Cooper wants a bust of the Confederate general removed from the State Capitol in Nashville.

Sorry, folks, but I'm going to have to say no. People, you cannot erase history. If you remove the evidence of history, it does not make history go away. You cannot pretend that things didn't happen or that people did not exist or that deeds were not done. Furthermore, you cannot forbid human beings from commemorating their history (flags, symbols, etc.) or from memorializing their dead. 

I have been a Civil War freak since I was about 7 years old, when my parents gave me The Golden Book of the Civil War. Growing up in Maryland, a Border State, I always had a fascination for and curiosity about the two sides of the conflict, as well as the key issues that went back all the way to our nation's founding. Now, like it or not, hundreds of thousands of Southerners died fighting for their cause—just under a half million, per best estimates—however misguided morally that cause was in regards to slavery. That, people, is the great tragedy of the South, and that also is a part of history. What next? Demolition of Stone Mountain? The forcible renaming of Washington and Lee University? Redaction of A Streetcar Named Desire to remove all mention of the plantation Belle Reve? (In fact, the vast majority of the combatants in the Confederate army weren't even slaveholders, but that's a sad-eyed discussion for another time.)

Are you aware that Confederate monuments memorialize the dead at Gettysburg, and that the state of Tennessee's Gettysburg monument was dedicated only as recently as 1982? Shall we remove those monuments and pretend that the 23,000 Confederate casualties of the battle never happened? Perhaps we should just eliminate mention of the Civil War altogether from our history books and our public consciousness. We could simply choose to forget that nearly half a million Southerners died in that conflict, but I daresay that the descendants of those who perished have every human right to commemorate their forebears as they see fit. I also would suggest that Abraham Lincoln would've allowed the South a wide berth in recovery from the war's brutality and would've seen the need for proper grievance. I doubt Lincoln would've censored icons and ceremony. 

Yes Yes Yes: I understand why this is touchy territory. What happened in Charleston was ugly, and I have been utterly speechless about it, because, like so many others, I was thunderstruck. Truly, there are no words. 

But getting at the heart of racism in America will not be accomplished by removing the statues of dead generals or censoring the display of old battle flags. That journey is a more personal one, incumbent on each and every one of us to better our relations with all our fellow humans in every circumstance, every single day of our lives. 

Finally, history is there for the learning. Let us learn from it, and not be afraid to confront it. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Santa Anita Park, 2011/Canon PhotoStitch by Martin Brady

Race #1/Santa Anita/June 12, 2015
CLAIMING $50,000-$40,000 PURSE $45,000. (PLUS UP TO $5,400 TO CAL-BRED WINNERS FROM CBOIF) FOR FILLIES THREE YEARS OLD. Weight, 122 Lbs Non-winners Of A Race At A Mile Or Over Since April 27, 2015 Allowed 2 Lbs. Claiming Price $50,000, For Each $5,000 To $40,000 1 lb. (Maiden and Claiming races for $32,000 or less not considered). One mile. (Turf) (Rail at 30 Feet). 

#1 Won’t Be Shaken--This 3-year-old has been regularly raced since December, usually entered in 8F routes and on dirt. Results have ranged from gutsy wire wins to abject defeats. She’s also faced some of today’s challengers previously—Abets Abet, Backstreet Lisa—and has finished well behind them. Her two turf races yielded mixed results—a 6th-place finish on May 21 at SA, and an April 19 win at Golden Gate Fields against lesser competitors. Flavien Prat is the rider. 6-1 ML.

#2 Abets Abet--Another busy 3-year-old with 14 races tallied since May 2014. Won her last outing, on dirt at a mile on Mar. 28, defeating decent competition, but Abets Abet’s resume is a mixed bag of sprints and routes, neither seeming to be an obvious strength. Also, she’s never run on turf, so today’s race poses an extra challenge. The filly should at least feel comfortable with Tiago Pereira once more in the irons. 4-1 ML.

#3 Lookin for Money--Doug O’Neill trainee has good experience on turf, and returned to Santa Anita in January off a turf win in Frisco. Alas, disappointing finishes since. She gives it another go, with a significant rider change—from Elvis Trujillo to Rafael Bejarano. 2-1 ML.

#4 Sound City--Winner of a dirt sprint Jan. 16, Sound City appears to be going against the tide in this turf miler. She has limited turf experience—1 sprint, 1 route—and the results have not been positive. A succession of jockeys have jumped on and off Sound City’s back. Now Drayden Van Dyke will ride the former Richard Baltas trainee. 12-1 ML.  

#5 Backstreet Lisa--Peter Miller 3-year-old won a hard-fought victory in a rainy muck on May 15, to cap a series  of respectable runs on dirt. The horse has a few turf rides to her credit, including an Oct. 2014 victory over a mile against a large field. Some talent here but lacks consistency. Tyler Baze rides a second time in a row following up on the recent win. 5-2 ML.
#6 Housemaker--SCRATCHED

1. Backstreet Lisa
2. Lookin for Money
3. Abets Abet 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Santa Anita Park, 2011/Canon PhotoStitch by Martin Brady

Three Year Olds, 118 Lbs; Older, 124 Lbs
Non-winners Of A Race Other Than Maiden, Claiming Or Starter Allowed 2 Lbs. Claiming Price $40,000. Six And One Half Furlongs.

#1 Micks Miracle--D'Amato trainee has but one race under his belt (Dec. 26). The 3-year-old came into it against a fairly crowded field and impressed with a big finish and a victory. Tries the same distance today with Joe Talamo aboard, and 8-5 on the ML. 

#2 Unblunted--This 3-year-old from the Michael McCarthy barn comes off a five-month layoff. He started strong in Fall 2014 with two second-place finishes, but has disappointed since being tried at longer distances. Should be more comfortable here at 6.5 Fs but loses Talamo as jockey. Able and upcoming Flavien Prat will be in the irons. 6-1 ML.

#3 Stringent--Another 3-year-old with an impressive debut, Stringent won a 5.5 F test on May 17 and won it going away against a crowded field. He appeared to have plenty left in the tank too, which bodes well for today, when he needs to go one more furlong.  Alex Solis rides him again. 2-1 ML.

#4 K Thirty Eight--After three rookie races in early 2014, this 4-year-old was on hiatus until returning in 2015. He has won both recent starts, one at 5.5 F, the other at 6 F, and now attempts to stretch it out just a little bit more. The wins were impressive enough, and can be contrasted with the horse's unfortunate previous tendency to blow leads approaching the wire. Alas, Alex Solis can't be two places at once, and he vacates K Thirty Eight in favor of Stringent here, so Kieren Fallon will ride. 9-5 ML .

#5 Gold Chaser--The 5-year-old Gold Chaser has raced a lot recently, no less than 4 times at SA in April and May. Results are mixed but include an April 19 victory. Gold Chaser runs in decent company generally and has proved versatile enough to make good efforts in sprints and routes. He ALSO loses his most recent jockey, with Flavien Prat aboard Unblunted today. Capable Drayden Van Dyke takes over. Bit of a longshot at 12-1 ML, but if the youngsters panic, the vet might be there to pick up the pieces.  

1. Stringent
2. Micks Miracle
3. Unblunted

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Photo Tour of Nashville's Hillsboro Village

Another leisurely stroll through Nashville's Hillsboro Village, only today I brought my camera to try to document what is old and new about this quaintly hip three-block area tucked in just south of Vanderbilt University and a little south and west of Music Row. 

My second job in Nashville was in the Village in 2000, making sandwiches and doing food preps at Provence Breads and Cafe, a charming restaurant/bakery that still does business on the westside of 21st Ave., the Village's main drag. 

Other standbys are hanging in there, in particular Belcourt Theatre, still the artiest movie theater around. Pancake Pantry continues on, catering mostly to tourists but still a lively place to get a nice (if overpriced) breakfast. 

You can still get an alcohol buzz-on at Villager Tavern, and you can smoke there, too, I believe. So that remains a good slice of Music City hardcore. And all hail Bookman/Woman, the used book shop that has been there always in my time. There's something blessed about being there with all those old and important books. 

FIDO remains as maybe the single most important outpost in the Village, a teeming coffee shop that is simply THE place to be—for studying student, laconic lovers, and artists of every type. (I have conducted many an interview at FIDO, and seen many a beautiful person there.) Plus there's the extension of the FIDO empire, Hot&Cold, right next door. Not sure what that is about, but it looked like you can get a Las Paletas (popsicle) there. 

Also still holding down a vital spot on the northwest corner of 21st and Belcourt is Pangaea, a marvelous gift shop that allows you to bring your dog in with you, so long as you provide a little advance warning. (You don't have to call beforehand; just poke your head in and let 'em know, so they can corral their own pooch.) 

One weird development is what has happened to the restaurant/brewery Bosco's. What used to be a pretty busy place—and a regular hangout for theater people—is now attempting to serve beer and also sell jewelry and paintings and scented soaps and a lot of other stuff that seems very out of place. (Good luck with that, guys and gals!) 

Still serving as anchor service spots in the Village, on the northeast corner of 21st and Acklen, are the Shell service station and the next-door Village Cleaners, which has cleaned my only cashmere shirt many times. The well-known Acklen post office is just beyond the cleaners, and it too is an important local structure. 

Of course, there are the chewy-newy establishments in the Village, like the groovy hot-dog spot with tons of hi-def TVs on the wall, plus a few boutiques that looked new to me—not that I ever really notice boutiques much. 

A few new storefronts continue under renovation, so expect some more retail energization in the Village. 

But the biggest change is the descension on the area of the 2100 Acklen Flats, a condo complex whose "urban" (or maybe "pseudo-urban" is more correct) character may take some getting used to. Still, it looks cleanly rendered and somewhat interesting, and it also has a new barbershop on its ground floor off the Acklen side. (Didn't check inside, but a low-income journalist who still has all his hair  is always looking for a reasonably priced barber.)

Enjoy the pics. They were snapped about 1:30 p.m., and yes, the traffic was snagged every moment I was there.    

Lookin' pretty!
Watering hole

Belcourt Theatre
West side of 21st Ave. 

New storefronts in process

New barber on Acklen

Anchor shops: Shell service station and Village Cleaners
New boutique

"Urban  flats" on Acklen

Lookin' healthy

Fido sister store
 A Nashville institution 
New Hot Dog Joint
Pining for Taylor
Salon with Village prices
Bosco's and Sam's on 21st
Dragon mural on Belcourt Ave. 
Sign on 21st
21st and Blakemore Ave.
Storefront doggie refreshments
Corner of Acklen and 21st, looking east-northeast 

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Santa Anita Park, 2011/Canon PhotoStitch by Martin Brady

Race 3/ Santa Anita/ June 7, 2015
The 37th Running of Affirmed Stakes (Grade III) $100,000  
STAKES  FOR THREE-YEAR-OLDS. By subscription of $100 each to accompany the nomination closed Thursday, May 28, 2015 with 12. Supplementary nomination of $2,000 due at time of entry. $1,500 additional to start, with $100,000 guaranteed with $60,000 to the winner, $20,000 to second, $12,000 to third, $6,000 to fourth and $2,000 to fifth. 123 lbs. Non-winners of a Graded Stake at One Mile or Over since December 7, allowed 3 lbs. Non-winners of a Graded Stake at One Mile or Over since June 7, 2014, allowed 5 lbs. A trophy will be presented to the winning owner.One Mile And One Sixteenth.

#1 Gimme Da Lute--This impressive Baffert trainee makes the leap from sprints to his first route. Jockey Martin Garcia has led the 3-year-old to two wins and a 2d place finish in his brief career, all since Jan. 2015. Plenty of talent here, and an equal amount of curiosity about how he'll perform adding two-and-a-half furlongs to his previous regimen. 5-2 on the ML.

#2 Cyrus Alexander--A talented and well-tested Hollendorfer 3-year-old with good experience running route races, including several at this distance. Results are good, too, as Cyrus Alexander rarely finishes out of the money. He has good instincts and a determined stalking style. If there's any critique, it's that the horse sometimes doesn't quite pound it hard enough once he makes his move. That said, he also knows how to cover lots of ground in the stretch, picking off the early speedsters and always putting himself in position to win. Bejarano rides. ML is 4-1.

#3 Cross the Line--Yet another serious-minded Hollendorfer 3-year-old has nothing to be ashamed of, losing his last two derby races to horses like Dortmund and Metaboss. Prior to that, Cross the Line took first in the California Derby in Frisco as well as a maiden special weight affair just prior to that while still a 2-year-old. Talented horse and will compete here. Gets a new rider: Corey Nakatani. 10-1 on the ML. 

#4 Om--No matter what happens today or anytime else in the future for that matter, Om can always say that, on August 9, 2014, he left Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the dust at the top of the lane at Del Mar, on his way to a dominant victory in a $75K maiden special weight race for 2-year-olds. Om's a decent-looking horse and was a winner last time out in his first try at a 1-mile route. Fernando Perez rides again. Getting some love here at 2-1 on the ML.

#5 Prospect Park--No disgrace to have lost your last two races to Dortmund. Prior to that, Prospect Park finished ITM in 4 straight route races, including two first places. The rider is Kent Desormeaux, who inherited the reins from Joe Talamo for trainer Clifford Sise. Looking good at 6-5 ML.

1. Prospect Park
2. Cyrus Alexander
3. Om


Saturday, June 06, 2015

Santa Anita Park, 2011/Canon PhotoStitch by Martin Brady

Welcome to a new feature. We'll be handicapping one race per day at Los Angeles' Santa Anita Park, and offering Win-Place-Show picks for that race. Here's our first entry, for June 6, 2015.   

Race #1, June 6

#1 Saint Dermot--Dermot is a turtle but has not really ever proved that he can close like a productive turtle should. His first three races of 2015 were his best, ridden by Gary Stevens and gaining a March 5 win, nipping Larry Birdstone at the wire. Dermot lags back, seems to wait for an opportunity, then more than not doesn't fire on all cylinders. His career has been routes but he's never finished higher than 4th when the race exceeds one mile. Tiago Pereira returns here to ride Dermot for a second straight race but there's no evidence that he'll make a significant impact. The 2-1 ML seems unreliable.

#2 Doyouknowsomething--A young horse with an improving track record, Doyouknowsomething comes off a maiden victory and a previous third-place finish under jockey Tiago Pereira. Alas, Pereira has jumped over to Saint Dermot for this longer route race, though able veteran Tyler Baze could be an excellent fill-in. This horse has run both routes and sprints in his brief career, but never over a mile, so this race will present a challenge. Still rather an unknown prospect, so caveat emptor. 7-2 ML.

#3 Derby Glass--This interesting 4-year-old has raced in four consecutive 1-milers, with some impressive results, in particular a March 29 victory won in a rush at the wire. Derby Glass recently switched trainers, moving from Ron Ellis to Doug O'Neill, and heads out here with Rafael Bejarano in the irons for the first time. An adventurous bettor might take a flier on this one. The ML is 5-2.

#4 Fancy Shoes--The 5-year-old has been building a modest resume, finally moving from sprints to routes her last two times out. That includes a nice win April 26 at a mile and a sixteenth with Fernando Perez aboard; that's a solid prep for this race at the same distance. Perez is back and at 5-1 on the ML, Fancy Shoes offers an interesting price.

#5 Warren's Nicholas--Take us back to the days of yesteryear, mainly May 2, 2013 at Hollywood Park, when a callow 4-year-old Warren's Nicholas, racing under the reins of Joe Talamo, triumphed over a field of 11 to break his maiden, and at a mile and a sixteenth, no less. Then followed a 20-month layoff. The return to action in 2015 has not really been encouraging, with lackluster rides leading to an April 2 third-place finish, which was then followed by a soul-sucking May 3 9th-placer. Warren's Nicholas has raced sprints and routes, but in the main has been entered in longer races, including a solid dose of 8-9-furlong events. So races like this one are what he does; problem is, he doesn't do them well. It is doubtful the jockey change to Felipe Valdez will make any difference to today's result. The 12-1 ML is a gift. 

#6 Northern Iowa--Finished 4th in a May 2nd 1-miler that included today's rivals Saint Dermot and Derby Glass. This 6-year-old vet of the Vladimir Cerin barn runs hot and cold and was on hiatus for almost all of 2014. He scored his maiden in his second race way back on Aug. 2, 2012 and has nothing since, his slow-to- start-and-short-to-burn running style marking him as a second-rate talent. However, Northern Iowa displays a propensity for enjoying mile-and-a-sixteenth events well enough, with 2nd- and 3rd-place finishes at that distance studding his otherwise spotty resume. Yet the horse just cannot get over the hump. Flavien Prat has been his rider in 2015 and has one ITM finish. Unpredictable entry. The 5-2 ML seems generous, but possibly works in this field. 

1. Fancy Shoes
2. Derby Glass
3. Doyouknowsomething


Thursday, June 04, 2015

Safarova Powers Way into French Open Final

When most people think of Czech lady tennis players, there's no doubt that Petra Kvitova, the reigning and two-time Wimbledon champ, is the one. But always lurking to the side has been another lefthanded player, Lucie Safarova, a winsome, self-effacing, less physically imposing presence, now vaulted into the international tennis spotlight after earning a spot in the French Open final today, defeating Ana Ivanovic in the semifinal, 7-5, 7-5.

Lucie Safarova
Safarova, 28, is no slouch, of course, having earned more than $6 million in a pro career that began in 2002. Always a serious presence on the tour—and a personal charmer—Lefty Lucie has suffered her share of disappointments in big tourneys. This time around she created a career-making opportunity by defeating five-time major winner Maria Sharapova convincingly in the quarterfinal and now outlasting the cool, steely Serbian beauty Ivanovic in a spirited semifinal, which, once it was over, never seemed in doubt at all. Ivanovic, 27, was making a bid to return to the French Open final, an event she won in 2008.

Falling behind 2-5 in the first set, Safarova battled back to win 7-5, aided by her consistent service play, easy, gliding movement and knack for placing solidly accurate corner finishing shots that caught the veteran Ivanovic flatfooted.

Ana Ivanovic
Serving for the match in the second set at 5-4, Safarova struggled with her serve and failed to exploit Ivanovic's unforced errors, eventually losing the lengthy game after a series of deuce-advantage exchanges. But Safarova came right back, breaking Ivanovic's serve and again seizing control at 6-5, finally finishing off her higher-profile opponent with a potent, unreachable forehand corner shot. The highly appreciative packed crowd at Court Philippe Chatrier roared, and the likable young lady with her characteristic purple headband fell to the court in surprised relief, then bounded up to acknowledge her worthy opponent and accept the well-deserved applause of a growing legion of fans.

In the championship match, Safarova will play the winner of the other semifinal between Serena Williams and surprise Swiss challenger Timea Bacsinszky.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Schiavone-Kuznetsova French Open Match Recalls Their Epic 2011 Aussie Battle

Age is a relative spiritual thing, of course, but in tennis how old you are draws a lot of attention. The closer you are to 30, the further you are assumed to be away from seriously contending for a major championship. With the exception of Serena Williams, of course, who apparently did not get the memo.

But in a little slice of what you might call "old home week" at the French Open today, two lady veterans squared off in Round 2 action, demonstrating that you are always as young as you feel.

Francesca Schiavone
With her 6-7 (11), 7-5, 10-8 victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova, Francesca Schiavone, who will turn 35 on June 23, gave tennis fans a little nostalgic dose of the Fountain of Youth, while also dredging up the memory of the combative Italian veteran's biggest win in her entire career, which happened here in Paris in 2010, when she won her only major in a surprise defeat of the Australian Samantha Stosur.

Schiavone's career, both before and after her 2010 French Open triumph, has always been respectable, and she can throw down with anyone, though her career win percentage in singles play is a good but not great 57%. She's won $10.3 million since turning pro in 1998, and that's not nothing. Still, Schiavone has never advanced past the quarterfinals in any of the other majors, and in recent years she's been mostly invisible, hampered in part by a shoulder injury. (And, the fact is that, as tennis players age, we tend to expect the gradual waning of their skills.)

Svetlana Kuznetsova
Kuznetsova, who turns 30 on June 27, is a relative youngster, still younger than Serena (33) or her sister Venus, who turns 35 on June 17, which makes her the grandest old lady of them all, save for Kimiko Date-Krumm, the Methuselah of women's tennis at 44, still competing in majors, though without the success of her heyday in the mid-'90s, when she appeared in three major semifinals.

But maybe what was historically most important about today's 3-hour, 50-minute match is how much it mirrored one of the greatest matches in modern women's tennis, when Schiavone and Kuznetsova squared off in the fourth round of the 2011 Australian Open and lay one down for the ages.

Through three tumultuous sets, covering 4 hours and 44 minutes (including a three-hour finale!), Schiavone and Kuznetsova bellowed, shrieked, grunted, groaned and otherwise set the standard for prolonged guttural vocal calisthenics, as the Italian outlasted the Russian, 6-4, 1-6, 16-14, with a third set that had no tie-breaker formula and had to be played out in games (as always, win by two).  

Here's the link: If you're a true tennis junkie and have a spare half hour, the match highlights are must viewing. Never have two lady tennis players tussled with such animal ferocity. The match could've gone either way, but the wiry, court-savvy Schiavone somehow outlasted the powerful and aggressive Kuznetsova, who turned pro in 2000, has career earnings of $19 million, a singles W-L record at 68% and two majors to her name, the 2004 U.S. Open and the French Open in 2009.

In the glamor-saturated world of women's tennis, where Sharapova, Bouchard, Ivanovic and others earn as much money modeling or doing commercial endorsements as they do from playing the game, Schiavone and Kuznetsova can't compete in any way other than what they do on the court. They tend to be among tennis' forgotten "aging" ladies, but in their brief, shining moments, they've represented women's tennis at its admirable best.

So Sveta is out, off to lick her wounds. Next up for Schiavone is the Romanian Andreea Mitu, a relative unknown, ranked #99 in the world, and a mere 23 years old.

To visit the French Open website, go here: