Working Starting Gate Is Hardly Horse Play

The unsung heroes of horse racing are the starting-gate workers. Paul Moran of Newsday, on the dangers they face:

“The starters devote each morning to schooling frightened, inexperienced, highly strung, inbred 1,200-pound horses in the subtleties of being traumatized by a forbidding iron structure that bursts open violently a split-second before a loud bell rings.

”. . . In the afternoons--in the summer sun and on the other side of a February zero--they handle all manner of tightly wound, finely tuned racehorses from the ill-bred and ill-mannered to champions present and future. Nine times a day, they climb inside the narrow, inescapable steel box shared by a 110-pound rider and a skittish, hot-blooded animal capable of killing quickly.”


Jay-bashing: From Tim Kurkjian of the Baltimore Sun: “The media in Toronto have been tough on the Blue Jays. Coach Ellis Clary said: ‘I had to buy an out-of-town newspaper to see if we were still in first place.’ But Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe regularly refers to them as the ‘Blow Jays.’

“Outfielder Lloyd Moseby said the crowd at the SkyDome is too laid-back. ‘Let’s get a hockey crowd in here,’ he said. But there is good news. The Blue Jays lost the coin flip to determine where a playoff game Oct. 2 would be held. Not everyone (in Toronto) was upset about that. Liza Minnelli and Frank Sinatra are singing there that night.”

All that glitters: You might feel as though it’s time to cut Vitamin A from your diet if you watch today’s Tennessee-Auburn football game.

But don’t worry. That really will be a giant carrot circling over the field. As part of a U.S. vegetarian outreach campaign, the giant carrot will pull a banner reading, “VEGETARIANISM . . . A 24-CARROT IDEA!” Fifteen billboards in Tennessee will read, “CUT CHOLESTEROL NOT COWS!”

Trivia time: On Sept. 30, 1927, Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run of the season in the eighth inning of the New York Yankees’ 4-2 victory over the Washington Senators. Who was the pitcher?

It runs (and runs) in the family: Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post reports that Raghib Ismail of Notre Dame was given the nickname, “Rocket,” in the eighth grade when a track coach watched his takeoff from the starting blocks. “I was coming out fast, low and hard,” he said.

The theme has developed strongly in his family. Brother Quadri, a redshirt freshman at Syracuse, is called “Missile,” and the youngest, Sulaiman, a high school star in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., is called “Bomb.”

Their mother, Fatima, once told a CBS reporter, “I guess I’m the launching pad.”

Add college football: Penn State nose tackle Eric Renkey told Steve Halvonik of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he was a Pitt fan as a child. “I hated (Coach) Joe Paterno,” Renkey said. “I didn’t like Penn State one bit.” Renkey said that he had a picture of Paterno on his dartboard until he attended a football camp at Penn State while a sophomore in high school. “It changed everything,” he said.

Easy does it: Former USC basketball star Cheryl Miller says her game now is golf. So what’s she shooting? “I haven’t reached the point where I’m keeping score yet,” Miller said.

Trivia answer: Tom Zachary.

Quotebook: Minnesota Vikings safety Carl Lee, a product of Marshall University, after Monday’s team meeting: “I had these (meetings) when I was in college and we lost every year.”