Monday, May 04, 2009

Wild, unprecedented weekend

A memorable sporting weekend got off under a very dark cloud with the announcement of the death of Sunline, possibly the greatest and most elegant race horse of my lifetime. The girl died much too early, at the age of 13, succumbing to incurable laminitis, and will be buried at Ellerslie race track, a fitting tribute. More information here.

Sunline was already immortalized as the best Kiwi mare-ever, and in a very exclusive class of the best Kiwi thoroughbreds of all time. Chronologically... Carbine, Gloaming (actually an Aussie-bred), Phar Lap, Kindergarten, Rising Fast, Tulloch and Sunline. Carbine and Phar Lap are on a different stratosphere. For sentimental reasons I'd add Desert Gold, Balmerino and Bonecrusher to the list (Might and Power was pretty special, too), but Sunline is closer to the best than they are.

Three-time Australian Horse of the Year and Four-time New Zealand Horse of the Year, both unprecedented, says it all really. An inaugural inductee into the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame, and the only horse to ever be inducted into the Australian Hall of Fame while she was still racing.

I thought Canada's Dance Smartly might've been the best darling of the turf I ever saw ... until I saw Sunline. She has too many great memories to mention, but of particular note mention has to go to her 2000 Cox Plate, the second of her infamous back-to-backs in the Australasian weight-for-age championship. Her race was simply breathtaking (see Pt. 2 of youtube video below). The race wasn't as exciting as Bonecrusher's '86 Plate, but her victory was more awe-inspiring, more devastating.

Her speed and endurance and will-to-win were legendary. The girl didn't muck around, she went to the front, applied heavy pressure and basically said "catch me if you can." Thanks for the memories girl, and Rest In Peace.

WTF? Less than two years after scoring a try against the All Blacks (see video below) and representing Canada at the Rugby World Cup, fullback Mike Pyke "breaks the code" and makes a "miraculous" jump to the AFL:

Canadian Pyke to make his 'crazy game' debut

Richard Hinds May 1, 2009
The Age, Melbourne

WHEN Mike Pyke told his mother that he was moving from France to Australia to further his football career, she was not totally surprised. The Canadian rugby international had played in Edinburgh for two years before joining French club side US Montauban, and so the move to Sydney did not seem unusual.

"I knew there were two types of rugby in Australia, league and union," said Christine Peterson who lives in Victoria, British Columbia. "I just thought he was going there to play one or the other. I really didn't think much about this crazy game you have."

The crazy game is Australian football and, at the SCG on Sunday, Mike Pyke will become one of its most exotic debutants. About 10 months after a friend who was working in Melbourne sent an email to an agent saying he knew someone "who might be pretty good", Pyke will pinch-hit in the ruck for Sydney against Richmond.

While AFL fans have become accustomed to Irishmen making the transition from Gaelic to Australian football, a 24-year-old Canadian rugby player rising to the elite level so quickly is unprecedented. "Miraculous," says Michael Quinlan, the manager who recommended Pyke to the Swans. "It's really amazing that it's happened so fast."

Christine Peterson, who had just returned to Canada last week after spending three weeks with her son in Sydney, will board another long-haul flight and be at the SCG on Sunday. It will be, she says, a head-spinning experience watching her son play a game at the elite level that was a strange novelty when he was a child.

"He had certainly heard of it but we don't even get fully-fledged games (on television) here," she said. "You would just see them jumping and running around some times without really knowing what was going on."

But Peterson is not surprised by how quickly her son has adapted. Having raised Pyke and his older brother and sister alone after being divorced from their father Ian when Mike was four (Ian Pyke died last year), she saw him thrive playing ice hockey, soccer and basketball as a junior before he settled on rugby.

"He's just a really good athlete and he's always done very well," she says of Pyke, who made his debut for Canada at full-back aged 19.

Canadian friend Matt Goodwin set in motion his unusual transition from rugby to AFL. Living in Melbourne, Goodwin was inevitably immersed in the local game and decided the athletic Pyke would be a natural. So he tracked down contact details for Quinlan and sent him an email.

"Basically it said he knew this guy who would be worth taking a look at," says Quinlan. "The thing that caught my eye was that he was 200-plus centimetres and 105 kilos. So I got in contact (with Goodwin) to see if he was legitimate athlete, looked at some footage and then I spoke to Mike."

Quinlan contacted the Swans because of their reputation for developing left-field recruits.

The Swans were impressed both by Pyke's physique and that he was already a mature, elite athlete. A program was put in place to fine-tune his skills.

"It's pretty amazing," says Brett Allison, the Swans assistant who has overseen Pyke's development. "When we first saw him (last August) I though he might have been pushing for a game at the back end of the season … but he's picked up the game really fast."


In the first Heineken Cup semi-final of the weekend, played in Dublin on Saturday, Leinster stunned rugby fans the world over conquering arch-nemesis and defending HEC-champs Munster in front of a record crowd at Croke Park.

Five years ago it would have been unthinkable sacrilege that they'd ever allow rugby to be played at Croke Park, but now the Irish are going insane for rugby in a way I've never seen in my lifetime:

Record crowd at Croke

Saturday 02nd May 2009

82,208: World record crowd witness Leinster win

The Heineken Cup has reclaimed the world record for a club crowd after 82,208 fans turned up at Croke Park to see Leinster beat Munster 25-6 and reach their first final.

Sources: Here and here.


Rags to riches Hollywood stuff for Mine That Bird.

Bought for $9,500 and comes to the race after a gruelling 2700 km roadtrip in a stall and steals the Kentucky Derby to win going away by seven lengths after uncorking one of the deadliest finishes I have ever seen in a major classic.

Not sure if he's the real deal (he was the Canadian 2yo champion last year) or won simply 'cos he's a superior mudder. Doesn't matter - he's the Derby champion, and the 2nd-longest shot to ever win.

Check out the aerial replay starting at 9:30 where horse and jockey Calvin Borel go from last to first squeezing along the rail in a few incredible hoof beats.

On Saturday night, Filipino national hero Manny Pacquiao obliterated Ricky Hatton in Las Vegas to win IBO and Ring Magazine World Light Welterweight Titles and retain his crown as the world's best "pound-for-pound" boxer.

The look on Hatton's face when he was down-and-out was seriously scary. Just glad he got up and was able to walk out under his own strength. Pretty much the dictionary definition of getting "laid out," Hatton looked like a carpet being unfurled onto that mat.

And yesterday (Sunday) saw for me an epic 2nd semi-final in the Heineken Cup, with Cardiff Blues stealing a pair of tries in tghe last pair of minutes, with spectacular sideline conversions from Ben "Hobbit" Blair to snatch an unlikely draw again Leicester Tigers. Alas, it being a playoff game, two extra-periods were added, without scoring, so the game went to a penalty shootout - the first time I have ever seen a rugby contest decided in such a cruel manner:

Utterly remarkable. Leicester Tigers will face Leinster in the final of the Heineken Cup after resisting one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the game to win on a place-kick penalty shoot-out after grinding out a 26-26 draw in 100 minutes of play at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

A game as brilliant as this one should not have been ended by such ludicrous means, but it did add a fittingly dramatic coda to the legend that this contest is sure to become - it was a jaw-dropper from start to sorry end.

Poor Martyn Williams.

The dramatic penalty shoot-out here:

And lastly, for the time-being, the All Blacks have unveiled a new kit. Presumably the shitty silver thing introduced during the RWC 2007 debacle will be discarded to the dustin of really bad ideas.

A new all-white All Blacks jersey was unveiled to be used as a second kit to complement the traditional, famous black apparel. The white jersey includes a white collar and New Zealand’s national symbol, the silver fern, on the left breast in black. As well, for the first time ever, both the black and white strips will feature a fern pattern across the front of the jersey fabric, enhancing the New Zealand look and feel of the most famous rugby jersey in the world. The All Blacks will wear the white jersey with their traditional black shorts and black socks with white stripes.

The white jersey will only be worn, as required, when the All Blacks are playing outside of New Zealand, in line with the IRB’s revised policy of the away team needing to change jerseys in the event of a clash. It will be worn for the first time against France in Marseille this November during the All Blacks’ end of year tour.


Bonus... uh-oh!


Double-Bonus: Dan Quinn cuts a promo:


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