MIAMI, Oct. 25, 2013--Horse players love deep, full fields. Television loves touchy-feeling, heart-tugging stories. All will be well served next weekend at the Breedersâ€™ Cup.
The 14-race carnival is going to be a bettorâ€™s delight with more ways to part with your money than at a brothel with a casino.
Twelve of the races have at least a dozen starters pre-entered. One of the exceptions, the Distaff, might be the most anticipated race of the two days. The other, the Marathon, is almost as much a novelty event as the Arabian race shamelessly tacked onto Fridayâ€™s card.
If there is a favorite who will go to the post at less than 2-1, I donâ€™t see it. Some might suggest Game on Dude in the Classic. But the field is quality laden, including the first four finishers from last year, surging Graydar and highly touted Euro Declaration of War. Itâ€™s also the get-out race, so there will be a lot of beat-the-favorite shopping. If there was an over/under on 2-1, I would tap out on the over.
Reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan might have been close to odds-on had he not had his winning streak broken in the Shadwell Drenched Kitty Litter Mile. That utterly excusable blemish on his record and the presence of some well regarded Euros should push his price out of the blinking lights zone.
Groupie Doll was 70 cents on the dollar in the 2012 Filly and Mare Sprint. Off her mediocre resume this season, she should be at least five times that as she seeks to repeat.
Solely because it is a six-horse field, the Distaff could produce the lowest priced favorite of the two days. However, itâ€™s not obvious who the public will settle upon as favorite among the Big Threeâ€”Royal Delta, Princess of Sylmar and Beholder. (My guess would be Royal Delta.) Close Hatches is also going to pull a lot of support. So itâ€™s hard to foresee anyone going off less than 2-1.
Itâ€™s also going to be a joy for Team NBC with sufficient heart-tugging sagas to ensure there wonâ€™t be a dead spot throughout the two days. The Classic alone, the only BC race reserved for the NBC broadcast network, should provide a treasure trove of TV gold. (If the prime time telecast draws good ratings, it will be another nail in the coffin of Belmont Parkâ€™s chances to ever host the event again.)
The saga of Paynterâ€™s comeback from the near-dead to not only race again but to be considered among the contenders in the marquee event, is the stuff of big screen movies. Should Paynter make it to the winnerâ€™s circle, screenwriters all over Hollywood will begin tapping out scripts, if they havenâ€™t already.
Kathy Ritvoâ€™s inspiring tale of rebounding from a heart transplant to resume full-time duties as the mother of two children and the trainer of Mucho Macho Man bears retelling. The Classic falls less than two weeks before the fifth anniversary of her life-saving surgery.
The return of D. Wayne Lukas, at age 78, to racingâ€™s center stage, is sure to garner NBC's attention. Several years after it seemed The Coachâ€™s time had passed, he could be on the verge of sending out a couple of champions, 3-year-old Will Take Charge and 2-year-old Strong Mandate. D. Wayne has his detractors but put him in front of a camera and racing has no finer ambassador.
Also camera-friendly Bob Baffert, Paynterâ€™s trainer, has another comeback story with Secret Circle, who won the 2011 BC Juvenile Sprint and was on the Kentucky Derby trail the following spring until an injury sent him to the sidelines for 18 months. He goes for a second Breedersâ€™ Cup title in the Sprint, coming back quickly off one dynamite win at Santa Anita on Oct. 14.
This time a year ago, Gary Stevens was in the seventh year of retirement, talking about racing on TV. He comes into this Breedersâ€™ Cup back at the top of the game, looking to add a Breedersâ€™ Cup score to his Triple Crown triumph in the Preakness aboard Oxbow, among many other stakes victories. He might even rejoin his old colleagues at NBC between mounts.
Point of Entryâ€™s comeback from what seemed to be a career-ending injury isnâ€™t as dramatic as Paynterâ€™s renaissance but the tender love and care it took from Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Shug McGaughey and his staff to get him back to the races at the highest level is sure to be prominent in the run-up to the Turf.
Jim Rome works for another company but this wonâ€™t deter the NBC people from getting him on camera when his Mizdirection goes for a second Turf Sprint title. â€śRomeyâ€ť is another stellar advertisement for the game. He loves to talk about how in spite of his voluminous knowledge of most sports, he knew almost nothing about racing until he was coaxed into it and now he is having the time of his life.
Great racing, great television; it should be a great weekend.