Outofthebox looks strong for Florida Derby

March 06, 2001 6:52 AM
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Racing toward the Kentucky Derby gets serious this Saturday with the running of the 11/8-mile Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. With a guaranteed purse of $1 million, this Grade 1 event is the richest of all the Derby preps.

This corner’s choice to win Florida’s premier race is, fittingly, a Florida-bred colt, Outofthebox. In his most recent start, the Fountain of Youth Stakes, Outofthebox was fractious at the gate and was virtually left at the start. But he raced gamely to finish second, 2½ lengths behind Songandaprayer, who got loose on an uncontested lead and never looked back.

Given decent racing luck and with the redoubtable Jerry Bailey in the irons, Outofthebox should be like money from home.

NFL players

More than 12,000 yards rushing, more than 450 pass receptions, more than 16,000 total offensive yards (sixth in NFL history). Those are the credentials of retired Buffalo Bill Thurman Thomas. He merits election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame immediately upon becoming eligible.

Besides being a great player, Thomas is also a diplomat. When asked his preference between Doug Flutie and Rob Johnson to be Buffalo quarterback, Thomas adroitly replied, "I prefer Jim Kelly." The Bills, incidentally, finally bit the bullet on their quarterback controversy by releasing Flutie. (This came as a surprise to ESPN’s NFL guru John Clayton, who had predicted that Flutie would be the one retained. But it was no surprise to readers of GamingToday as we pointed out that Johnson, the more talented passer of the two, was more suited to the West Coast offense that new Buffalo coach Gregg Williams is installing.)

Besides Flutie, the list of quarterbacks released to clear room under the salary cap includes Elvis Grbac of Kansas City and Tony Banks of Baltimore.

Grbac’s release left the Chiefs with Todd Collins as the only quarterback on their roster. And that’s a weak reed to lean on. Collins came out of Michigan four years ago as the No. 1 draft choice of the Bills. He’s been a failure every place he’s played.

Quarterback Trent Green of the St. Louis Rams is who new Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil wants. Green would come at a steep price. The Rams are holding the hammer. They have cleared salary cap room so they can afford to keep both Green and Kurt Warner. The Chiefs (or any other team that wants Green) will have to give up a first-round draft choice and another high draft choice to get him.

Banks began last season as the Ravens’ starting quarterback, but lost his job to Trent Dilfer. A one-time first-round draft choice of the Rams, he played for Vermeil in St. Louis and must be considered a possibility for Kansas City.

The XFL

TV ratings for the XFL threaten to set an all-time low for a prime-time program on a major network. The reasons are simple. Football fans recognize the product for what it is: lousy football. And those who tuned in anticipating some sort of sex show can get more of what they want elsewhere on the tube or on the Internet.

The league has spawned the worst group of announcers, headed by Jesse Ventura, ever assembled. They’re nothing short of carnival barkers. Meantime, the nation’s sportswriters and sportscasters are having a field day making fun of it all. The one real casualty that could result is Dick Ebersol, the chairman of NBC Sports. His bosses might want him to explain how he got the network into such a mess.

College hoops

The most meaningless polls are the weekly college basketball ratings. Every week, so-called ranked teams are beaten by unranked teams. That’s because the talent around the country is not only plentiful but evenly distributed. So if you’re considering betting a future on the NCAA tournament, keep that in mind — and also that in a single-elimination tournament, anything can happen. Make your future bet a longshot. The prices on the favorites are way too low.

Earnhardt tragedy

The real tragedy of Dale Earnhardt’s death is not the loss to NASCAR and its thousands of fans. The races will go on. The fans will continue to attend. The real tragedy is the loss to Earnhardt’s family and friends. That’s something that’s irreparable. Speculation as to whether faulty equipment or improper equipment caused the accident to be fatal is nothing more than that —pure speculation. The plain truth is, not much can be done about hitting a brick wall head-on at 180 mph. For better or worse, that’s the nature of the game.

Ominous note

When I hear baseball people discuss what will happen when the agreement between the players and the owners expires at the end of this season, the one word that keeps popping up regarding the 2002 season is "lockout."