BUCKING THE SYSTEM
Few developments have spooked the racing establishment more than last week's news that Kentucky Derby winner Spend a Buck would pass up the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, and run instead in the Jersey Derby. The Preakness, which will be run on May 18, has a total purse of $350,000. The Jersey Derby, a renascent race scheduled for May 27, offers a potential payoff of $2.6 million. That's $600,000 in first-place money plus a $2 million bonus for winning that race on top of the Cherry Hill Mile, the Garden State Stakes and the Kentucky Derby.
The decision by Dennis Diaz, Spend a Buck's owner, to bypass the Preakness upset traditionalists, who complained that he's undermining the Triple Crown. Some also suggested that the move will hurt the colt's potential value at stud. But you can't really fault Diaz for jumping on an opportunity to make millions of dollars quickly.
Nor is Diaz necessarily jeopardizing his colt's potential stud value by heading for Jersey. Any breeder who saw the Kentucky Derby knows Spend a Buck was the best 3-year-old in America that day. Besides, he demonstrated brilliantly the one quality that breeders most covet in a sire: classic speed. If Spend a Buck wins in Jersey and comes back healthy in the fall to win, say, a Breeders' Cup race, he will undoubtedly be voted 3-year-old of the year.
For those who fear for the future of the Triple Crown, it should be noted that Spend a Buck became eligible for the $2 million bonus by training and winning prep races in New Jersey, hardly a traditional mustering point for Kentucky Derby contenders. It may be years before another winner of the Cherry Hill and Garden State wins the Kentucky Derby and sets up a similar situation. Most horses go through Florida, New York, California or Arkansas to get to Kentucky.
Nevertheless, there's talk that the three Triple Crown tracks—Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Belmont Park—are thinking of joining forces to offer a $5 million bonus for winning the Triple Crown. That's not such a bad idea. The sportsmen who run the Triple Crown say they love a good horse race, so they certainly shouldn't mind spending some money to compete with the upstart Jersey Derby.
WITH FIVE YOU GET EGG ROLL
A bold attempt to fiddle with basketball is being made by the new International Basketball Association, a Canadian-American pro league now on the drawing boards. The league is considering banning players taller than 6'4". And eliminating fouling out. And awarding four points for shots from midcourt. This is all in the name of innovation.
Well, they laughed at spring football....
A REAL CAN OF WORMS
"It's like something out of the future," says Larry Hogan as he refills the coin-operated Vend-A-Bait outside the Lakeside D & E convenience store in East Tawakoni, Texas. He holds a Styrofoam cup filled with a dozen Canadian night crawlers. "Them are mighty nice worms," drawls Dick Lenz, who's the D in D & E.
Hogan runs the North Texas franchise for Vend-A-Bait, which he considers the greatest boon for fishermen since the invention of the barbed hook. It's the angler's equivalent of the automatic bank teller, a converted sandwich machine that dispenses live bait 24 hours a day. "Till now," says Dick's wife, Elain, the E in D & E, "we'd fill up mornings with guys waiting for the bait shop up the road to open at seven. Them suckers'd stand around drinkin' 20 cups of my coffee. By seven they'd be pretty belligerent."
But then the store got its Vend-A-Bait. For a buck and a quarter, the machine dispenses a water-filled Baggie containing a dozen or so live, slightly chilled minnows or half a dozen goldfish. Feed two bucks into the Vend-A-Bait and you get some mighty nice worms packed in moss.
Fishermen at first greeted D & E's machine with suspicion. "They kept asking how it could count out a dozen minnows," says Elain. "I guess they thought the suckers pop out one at a time." Some plunged in quarters just to see what came out. But now Hogan, who has 25 Vend-A-Baits scattered from Greenville to Texarkana, has to restock the D & E every couple of days to satisfy fishermen, who pour $250 weekly into the machine. Minnows are the hottest seller, and worms are inching up fast. But chicken livers moved so slowly Hogan replaced them with the goldfish. "Chicken liver's time has just not come," he says.
Two Iowa visionaries put out the first Vend-A-Bait a year ago. Today they have franchises in nine states, with bait tailored for the local fish. Iowa Vend-A-Baits carry mealworms, leeches and crawfish. But there have been other bugs in the machines. "In Iowa a few poor worms done froze to death," says Hogan. "But the Vend-A-Baits down here we haven't had problem one with." Some folks even drop coins in to buy goldfish as pets.
The Vend-A-Baiters are now working on a new kind of chicken liver that won't fall off a hook so easily, and a catfish dip bait with a rubber worm stuck inside. "The beauty is that this worm is forever," Hogan says. And he's searching for a way to pack crickets and red wigglers. "Trouble is they won't go in the machine. They won't stand the cool."
The machine's temperature is kept at around 38°. And the fish are doped to slow them down. Too much, some fishermen think.
"This 'un looks kinda ill," an angler tells Elain.
"He ain't dead," Dick explains. "He's in a dormant deal."
"He's just restin' up," says Elain.
When the water in the Baggie warms up, the minnow looks alive and the fisherman takes off for Lake Tawakoni to tempt a croppie. "This is like the Hula Hoop," marvels Elain. "It's one great moneymakin' sucker."
WHAT'S ON SECOND?
The bases were loaded with one out when Northeastern University's Chuck Allard smashed a high fly deep to left center, within range of the University of Vermont centerfielder Duke Stump. The base runners were ready to tag up, but Stump misplayed the ball and it rolled by him to the fence.
Everyone ran home except Paul DiPillo, the runner on first. He thought the ball had been caught, and retreated to first. But Allard passed him between first and second, and continued around the bases. The relay went home, and DiPillo wound up at second. He hoped the Vermonters wouldn't notice his team's illegal base running. They didn't.
Northeastern batted another man before the Catamounts figured out that the wrong player was on second. By then it was too late to appeal.
In the 12th inning, with the game tied 10-10, Vermont topped that bonehead play. Catamount first baseman Jeff Meleras walked but was called out for batting out of order. After the next batter singled, Meleras, now batting in his proper spot in the order, returned to the plate and hit into a double play, thus becoming responsible for all three outs in the inning. Northeastern won the game in the bottom of the 12th, 11-10.
GOD SAVE THE KID
You remember Steve Cauthen. He's the kid they called The Kid, who seven years ago rode Affirmed to the Triple Crown. Then the taciturn "40-year-old 18-year-old" went into a puzzling slump. After 110 straight losses he crossed the pond to England and in 1983 became Champion jockey over there.
Cauthen's assimilation has been complete. He has gone from Yankee Doodle to English dandy faster than a cockney can drop an aitch. The once reticent rider has become something of a national treasure. There he is on the British telly, glibly flogging car telephones. He counts among his friends Shakespearean actors, wealthy British industrialists and Her Royal Highness.
"I love it here," Cauthen told London's The Mail on Sunday the other day. "I love the beautiful English countryside. I love the people. I love the racing. I love your royal family. I love your traditions.
"When I first arrived, people thought I was disrespectful for not touching my cap to the owners. I do that now, not because I feel servile, but because it's a rather nice tradition.
"When I first rode for the Queen, I asked [jockey] Willie Carson how to bow, and he nearly had me scraping the ground. But I knew it was rubbish. When it happened, I found her very easy to talk to. Now we talk about anything from the weather to the war in Iran."
THE EMPERORS' NEW COURSE
The duffer you see wielding the wedge—with a grip Vardon never knew—is 77-year-old Wang Zhen of China's Politburo. He's standing on a slope in the Tian Shou Shan hills, 30 miles from Peking. The ground was once so sacrosanct that ordinary Chinese were barred, but now a Sino-Japanese consortium is building a $7.7 million golf course that will nestle up to the sacred Ming Tombs. Gangs of Fore will have a clear shot at Emperor Xi Zong's mausoleum. The simpleminded Xi is perhaps best remembered for handing over his powers to a eunuch.
In the good old days, if you knocked a golf ball into a Ming emperor's tomb, you would probably be made a eunuch. It's unclear what the 16 Ming emperors (1368 to 1644) would have thought about golf, which didn't reach China until about 1930. But the only people who played then were foreigners. None of the handful of courses in China survived the war with Japan. And when Mao took over, he branded golf a "sport for millionaires."
Many oldtime Maoists think the rehabilitation of golf is mildly counterrevolutionary. Some decry the desecration of the ancient burial grounds. Others just find the game confusing. The New China News Agency reports that the Ming Tombs course will have 18 holes and "72 bars."
It meant par.
SAM Q. WEISSMAN
Wang Zhen Wasn't playing Name That Tomb.
THEY SAID IT
•Don Baylor, New York Yankees DH, on enigmatic teammate Joe Cowley: "The trouble with Cowley is that he's in his own world and we're just visiting it."
•Jim O'Toole, former Cincinnati Reds pitcher, who now works in public relations for an Ohio waste-removal firm: "Once a pitcher loses his fastball he has to go to garbage."
•Rick Dempsey, Baltimore Orioles catcher, whose 19 RBIs so far this season are already more than half his 1984 total, refusing to divulge his new hitting secret: "If I tell, everybody will do it, and we'll be out there for five hours because nobody will get anybody out."