Steamers may make you
hot under the collar
if followed

Mar 7, 2006 4:54 AM

The British call it a "steamer," the "hot horse" who suddenly attracts much attention in the betting.

It’s another example of the language barrier between our two nations. On a week preceding very little action - unless you are so desperate you need to take +600 on Maselino Masoe against Felix Sturm (-1000) in Germany somewhere - I wish to warn everyone about going with the flow.

A hundred years ago, or so it seems, a bunch of us New York Times types were out for some fresh air at Aqueduct when up came a "baby" race, two-year-old maiden special, most of which were first-time starters. One of our senior editors noticed Art Rooney, the Steelers owner and a major player, had a colt entered and sauntered up to the press box and back. The editor informing us that Rooney said the horse was basically just going out for some exercise and wasn’t near ready to win.

It’s always nice throwing out a horse from the equation, but to our surprise the odds on Rooney’s pet dropped dramatically. The senior editor shrugged his shoulders, saying no way would Rooney double cross anyone.

The gates opened, the horse broke poorly and ran lackadaisically along in the back of the pack, leading us to believe who the heck had been driving the price down. I was reminded of this old story upon learning that an old favorite of mine, boxing trainer Richie Giachetti, was going to resurface in the corner of Steve Cunningham, the undefeated mandatory challenger for O’Neil Bell’s cruiserweight title May 6 in Worcester, Mass.

Giachetti was trainer and "manager" (of course, Don King called the shots) of Larry Holmes in the championship days. Holmes was getting to face the remnants of Muhammad Ali and the Times made me spend two weeks of my life on the road in Vegas to prepare for this mismatch. It was clear that Ali, who had lost a lot of weight, was a beautiful shell — but only a shell.

I watched him get beaten to the punch over and over by Marty Monroe, a fringe contender who would be a useful cruiserweight these days. When I asked Monroe’s wise trainer, the late great Bill Slayton, what he thought about Ali, he sadly shook his head.

Saoul Mamby, one of King’s champions and one of the most knowledgeable guys I ever met, watched Ali and said, "There’s nothing there." Mamby was a close friend of Holmes, but he too was saddened by the 1980 version of Ali.

The late Bill Prezant, one of the best cutmen in history and the only one who sounded exactly like the comedian Jackie Mason, watched Ali and said, "Hoo, he’s got nothing."

There were those picking Ali, part rooting, part matter of habit, but this was an out bet if I ever saw one. Imagine my surprise when the odds on Holmes kept tumbling. At one point, I believe the day before the bout, Ali actually touched 6-5 favoritism. I kept wondering what was going on. Yes, Holmes idolized Ali, but there was no way he was going to sacrifice his carefully constructed reputation by taking a splash. No way.

The night before, we went to the fights at the late Silver Slipper and Giachetti was there. I lost a $20 bet to Hunter Thompson (I took the guy who threw up in the dressing room because he was my kind of fighter, drinking before the bout). Afterwards one of the writers suggested to Giachetti that we all zip over to some strip club in North Las Vegas.

I was in one car, driven by a colleague, Tommy Lopes of the local paper, and Giachetti was behind us. We were tooling down the Strip when suddenly Giachetti drove into our car. Again and again. Lopes wouldn’t let the trainer get past so Richie drove right up onto the sidewalk and streaked by, then re-entered the boulevard.

It was then that Lopes and I realized that Giachetti wasn’t very much concerned with all the money going on Ali. He was loose because he too knew there was no way his guy could lose. Ali didn’t win one ten-second span before it was mercifully stopped by Herbert Muhammad, his manager, on a signal to Angelo Dundee. I remember crying as I packed up my computer at ringside; I was silently rooting for Holmes because I knew how a loss would have ruined him, but Ali was pathetic.

I learned two lessons that night. Don’t jump at "steamers," unless they’re clams in melted butter. The so-called smart money is just as dumb as me sometimes. And don’t let emotions rule your wallet — I couldn’t bet against Ali, even though I knew he had no chance. He made millions, why shouldn’t I have picked up a few coins?

Next week: Hasim Rahman and James Toney. A betting fight.