Thursday, November 07, 2013
Breeders’ Cup 30: Only the Foreshadowing Knows
Los Angeles, November 5, 2013--The term, “foreshadowing,” came to mind with the news that jockey John Velasquez was injured after his mount sustained a catastrophic injury in Saturday’s first Breeders’ Cup event.
My concern for the rider’s well-being was accompanied by the question of who would replace him on the now twice-jockey-jilted Palace Malice; the co-carrier of my schemes to conclude the day successfully with a late running three-year-old in the Classic.
The call eventually went to Rafael Bejarano, the goat of last year’s Classic for failing to get the favored Game On Dude off to a good start. Bejarano, however, proved the difference in Friday’s Dirt Mile when he gunned Goldencents from the extreme outside slip to win the race wire-to-wire.
It was no surprise, then that trainer Todd Pletcher plucked Bejarano from the sidelines to ride Palace Malice as the two had experienced success together with Overanalyze in the Arkansas Derby. But wouldn’t you love to know which other riders were under serious consideration? I would.
My only plays on Friday were in the races comprising the Pick Three starting with the Dirt Mile. My insufficient confidence in the winner’s ability to overcome his dreadful post position against Pletcher’s vaunted Verazzano led me to play trainer Bob Baffert’s win-and-you’re-in entrant, Fed Biz.
The foreshadowing may have already begun with this speed-favoring exhibition, not to mention Golden Ticket’s second place finish which undoubtedly alerted some to the strength of the Awesome Again as a Classic prep. Perhaps Verrazano’s loss foreshadowed the fates of Pletcher’s stablemates.
Saturday arrived and my wagering diet didn’t include the two downhill turf sprints preceding the Cup events. Nor did an undernourished Damascus field whet my betting appetite. Bypassing another non-Lasix event helped avoid the tragedy of a breakdown and a subsequent disqualification, but the stage had been set for my bankroll’s demise in the Filly and Mare Turf as three consecutive favorites produced an anemic $49.60 Pick Three. This failed to cover my losses in the accompanying vertical pools.
The Juvenile was not only another non-Lasix event but the race continued to bury New York shippers--as was the case for the Dirt Mile and Distaff--and which would continue to be the case for the remainder of Saturday’s card. The only exception was Juvenile Fillies, and that came via disqualification. Unfortunately, my success was reliant on New York shippers in the Sprint, Turf and Classic.
I can forgive myself for ignoring Magician in the Turf even though I know European trainers frequently win at much longer distances off mile preps, especially with good Racing Post figures. But I could kick myself for discounting Za Approval who turned back from a 9-furlong victory at 9 to repeat his second-place finish to Wise Dan at Woodbine. Ouch!
Still alive in the Pick Three, I lost the Sprint verticals beneath the winner when I zigged with Vosburgh participants over Phoenix prepsters instead of zagging in reverse. Ugh!
Now came the moment of truth. Alive in the Distaff-Classic Double and Pick Three with both primary selections, the scratch of Ron The Greek already altered my strategy for the upcoming Classic. Since I no longer had to use him to key a superfecta play, I could expand my coverage beneath my prime contenders. By embracing my mounting skepticism of Game On Dude, I could look for chaos in both the third and fourth slots, but doing so with both primaries might not be profitable.
With Bejarano’s unfamiliarity with Palace Malice gnawing away at me --as well as my fear of early speedsters-- I made my final adjustment. Unbeknownst to my friends who were watching all this on SKYPE, I decided to cancel previous superfectas and go with only Will Take Charge on top, using Palace Malice, Game On Dude, Mucho Macho Man, Fort Larned, and Flat out in the second slot, and ALL for third and fourth.
Live by the nose; die by the nose!
I thought all was lost when Will Take Charge went extremely wide on the last turn, but then his incredible surge at the end left my body and soul totally numb. Only the camera knew for sure. For a moment I thought I was a winner until someone said otherwise. Unlike the Travers, I wouldn’t win either way the photo went. This time, the nose of Will Take Charge wasn’t long enough and Mucho Macho Man made Gary Stevens’ comeback the equivalent of Babe Ruth’s home run call.
Here’s my story
It’s sad but true
About a horse that I thrice bet
He stole my heart and ran around
Every other horse but one in town
Last Gunfighter finished fifth as the longest shot at 46-1, beating Palace Malice, sixth at 8-1, who finished of the 13-1 Flat Out. So much for the Jockey Club Gold Cup’s recent hold on the Classic!
It was like the bad old days for New York prepsters. Next year, trainers are likely be take a cue from “Macho’s” trainer Kathy Ritvo and prep in California instead.
If you thought Super Saturday fields at Belmont were small this year …
Consider that Mucho Macho Man prepped in the $250,000 Awesome Again instead of the million dollar Gold Cup. Should California be granted a Breeders’ Cup monopoly, here’s something to consider:
Rather than reward “win and you’re in” one-shot wonders, perhaps it’s worth creating several divisional series with bonuses for multiple top four finishes that reward consistently high performances over the duration of a racing schedule, one that’s kind to both man and beast.
Why shouldn’t Super Saturday, say, close out the Belmont Fall meet with the final legs of several such series with opportunities to determine divisional championships as well? If Churchill Downs objects, perhaps they could offer divisional races that compliment, rather than compete with, those at Belmont. By creating a multi-venue exotic, both tracks can offer their on-track patrons and off-track players something special. That sounds like good business.
I seem to have survived the anxiety and excitement of Breeders’ Cup weekend. Passionate participation is what our sport is all about. After watching the replay a few more times, I think I finally understand the devotion of Classic fans enamored of another closer so magnificent in defeat.
Written by Indulto
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Odds and Happy Endings
Los Angeles, October 28, 2013--One of the pleasures of perusing the advance editions of Past Performance charts for the Breeders’ Cup is the absence of time pressure when trying to isolate contenders without the benefit [or hindrance] of data such as post position, jockey assignment, and morning-line odds.
Every now and again, a horse will find its way to my top tier whose actual late odds appear appetizing enough to risk unauthorized amounts. My last successful application of that methodology involved Drosselmeyer who was trained by the wily William Mott and ridden by the propitious Mike Smith.
My first reaction to Santa Anita’s oddsmaker, Jon White’s, installing Game On Dude as the 8-5 morning-line favorite, is that he must have confused the Dude’s Classic competitors with the California-based creampuffs he usually devours.
Not that the Dude doesn’t deserve respect. Despite finishing out of the money in last year’s renewal as the 6-5 favorite, he is arguably more accomplished this year as the undefeated (five-for-five) winner of four Grade I stakes achieved in front-running fashion with excellent speed figures by anyone’s measure.
In doing so, Game On Dude became only the second horse to complete a sweep of the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic.
Indeed, this could finally be the Dude’s year. A Classic victory would hightly likely anoint the durable gelding champion older horse and Horse of the Year honors as well.
So, then, what justification is there for challenging his credentials as established by those performances?
First, his competition has been suspect. He defeated runnerup Kettle Corn in his last two events and Clubhouse Ride as the in the previous three. Those horses were Grade II middle distance winners at best.
Secondly, there was no early serious pace pressure in those wire-to-wire wins. That will not be the case Saturday, not with Fort Larned, Mucho Macho Man and Moreno; all speedy types that have drawn inside the early line favorite.
Since Zenyatta’s victory in 2009, three consecutive Classic winners have come out of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The Dude’s own preps came on “Super Saturday”, too, but at 9 furlongs, not 10.
But this time trainer Bob Baffert is bringing him back in nine weeks. While it should be noted that the Dude did win at the classic distance following a ten week layoff previously, it did require an all-out effort against lesser foes.
There are jockey switches to contemplate as well. Smith gave up the mount on Game On Dude for the Pacific Classic to honor a prior commitment on Royal Delta. Injury prevented Baffert’s first replacement choice, Joel Rosario, so he gave a leg up to Martin Garcia. A one-shot deal, Smith is back aboard on Saturday.
What was it about Garcia’s ride that convinced Baffert he’d be better off with Smith? Did that burst of speed and subsequent extension through the lane take too much out of the horse? What made Smith give up the mount on Palace Malice? Does he think the Dude is so superior? Was Todd Pletcher going to replace Smith with John Velasquez, anyway?
According to Trakus, when Ron The Greek hit the Gold Cup finish line, Palace Malice had already run farther than the winner given his wide trip. Perhaps Smith’s experience confirms the conventional wisdom that discounts the chances of three-year-olds against their elders here.
It may be worth mentioning that none of the last three Classic winners won their Gold Cups butthe winner of the previous two, Flat Out, returns again, this time without that “curse.”
The JCGC “curse” lands on Ron The Greek, whose runaway victory was reportedly aided by a rail bias. The result also has been subjected to further scrutiny by the race’s ground-crumbling start compromising several contenders, including stablemate Flat Out.
I had to laugh while reading the chart for that race which stated “the start was good for all but Cross Traffic,” but later commenting that “Palace Malice, one of only a few to get away unscathed at the break …” Four survivors from that race are entered here, as are two from the Awesome Again and two from the Pennsylvania Derby. Which event will prove the “key race?”
Last year’s Classic winner is returning off a victory in an ungraded stake at Churchill Downs. Fort Larned’s winning prep was little more than a paid workout.
That leaves two Europeans, which will have to endure quarantine prior to being acclimated to Santa Anita’s surroundings. One is a multiple World Cup also-ran. The other has five consecutive competitive Racing Post Ratings and victories on all-weather surfaces and turf. Either Declaration Of War and Planteur would prove to be an upset.
The following is the BC Classic field in morning-line odds-rank sequence [common last races are indicated via a combination of italics and underscores]:
w – denotes last start won
* - denotes favored last start
w*GAME ON DUDE
w*MUCHO MACHO MAN
w RON THE GREEK
w DECLARATION OF WAR
_ PALACE MALICE
w*WILL TAKE CHARGE
_ LAST GUNFIGHTER
I suspect White’s odds ranking but not necessarily the values. Clearly, White expects the crowd to prefer horses that have won their preps and those with victories over the host track.
I believe Ron The Greek is the closer most likely to prevail at Santa Anita if the early pace is contested as expected. Such a scenario would also enhance the chances of three-year-olds Will Take Charge and Palace Malice.
I doubt that Flat Out can outfinish all three but he should be in the mix. Mucho Macho Man must still prove he can pass a top horse in the stretch.
With such a competitive field, a single win bet is less a demonstration of confidence than a display of arrogance; and that is why the great gambling spirit in the sky gave us the superfecta. My primary play will use the closers I prefer on top:
11,10,8 // 11,10,8,12,6,7,9 // 11,10,8,12,6,7,9 // 11,10,8,12,6,7,9 (3x6x5x4)
My other assumes the Dude outlasts the speed and holds off the closers:
9 // 11,10,8,6 //11,10,8,6,12 // ALL (1x4x4x9)
Finally, I’ll save with exacta boxes using the three-year-olds. May the best horse win and all horses return safely.
Written by Indulto
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Breeders’ Cup Musings
LOS ANGELES, October 20, 2013--According to a Breeders’ Cup press release through the auspices of the NTRA on Monday, here is the television lineup for Breeders’ Cup 30 at Santa Anita Friday, Nov. 1 and Saturday, Nov. 2:
The Breeders’ Cup will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network. (All times Eastern)
Friday, Nov. 1: 4:00 - 8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN
Saturday, Nov. 2: 3:30 - 8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN
Saturday, Nov. 2: 8:00 - 9:00 p.m. ET on NBC
According to a Bloodhorse post last week, this is the tentative schedule for Saturday’s Pick Six sequence, concluding with the centerpiece Classic:
Turf Sprint 2:05 pm
Juvenile 2:45 pm
Turf 3:25 pm
Sprint 4:05 pm
Mile 4:45 pm
Classic 5:35 pm
Although the wagering menu wasn't available at this writing, it appears that the Breeders’ Cup Ultra Pick Six will include the BC Juvenile which, for the second year in succession, will not permit its starters race-day use of Lasix.
Recall that the original plan was to extend the Lasix ban this year from two-year-olds to all divisions. As everyone knows, that will not happen, yet the ban for juveniles continues.
Thus far, no one has asked why, why the failed noble experiment is still a price bettors are asked to pay by placing such a race in the Pick Six. Must it always come down to potential higher handle?
Why are bettors, even those with deep pockets, being asked to spend inordinate amounts to cover as many combinations as possible? The answer, apparently, is that Breeders’ Cup Ltd. believes that one is born every minute and that an effort must be made to ensure that these fools and their money will be parted sooner rather than later.
Even if the consistency and competitiveness of the affected equines isn't compromised by a change in their medication regimen, their true form is still unknowable except perhaps for a handful of insiders.
Last year's Lasix-free Juvenile field was a short one; a situation likely to recur. The highly regarded Honor Code will await the Remsen instead, but his Champagne conqueror, Havana, will be one of the Juvenile choices.
It appears trainer Todd Pletcher believes he’ll be charmed a third time should the classy speedster emulate predecessors Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby and complete the Champagne-Juvenile parlay, Shanghai Bobby racing Lasix-free, of course.
As usual, Pletcher's barn is loaded with potential champions, but by pointing Verrazano toward the Dirt Mile he seems to be conceding the three-year-old championship for his multiple Grade I winner while it’s still within reach.
(Even if the connections won’t run him in the Classic, a win over Wise Dan in The Mile on turf would get him more respect than another victory over Grade 2 competition).
The diminished status of the Dirt Mile is confirmed by its exile to Friday, which now includes only five Cup races as compared to nine on Saturday. Since the "Filly Friday" fiasco was finally euthanized - and the original name for the older female division event restored - the Filly & Mare Turf and Distaff should have led off Saturday's Pick Six in place of the Turf Sprint and Juvenile, respectively.
The final Breeders’ Cup Pick Three (Sprint-Mile-Classic) offers an intriguing sequence that is potentially lucrative. The Pick Four, which includes the Turf, is a similar opportunity. A sequence starting with two routes for older females could have been promoted as an All-Champion Pick Six.
In contrast to this proposed "Sequence of Excellence" for Saturday, let’s take a look at Friday's "Series of Shortchangers."
Marathon 1:45 PM
Juvenile Fillies Turf 2:25 pm
Dirt Mile 3:05 pm
Juvenile Turf 3:50 pm
Distaff 4:35 pm
Whether a sixth non-Cup race will be added at the beginning or end of the above sequence, only the Distaff represents racing at the top level in North America.
The Marathon is a mediocrity whose purse mirrors the lack of stamina that characterizes its contestants. It shouldn't be part of any Breeders’ Cup Pick Six. Does anyone else wonder why no legitimate all-Breeders’ Cup Pick Six for Friday was configured from among Saturday’s surfeit? Are the Arabians coming?
If the Cup's official position is that Lasix-free competition represents racing’s best, then why not flaunt that decision by featuring the freshmen on Friday? The Juvenile Turf races are already there. Add the two on dirt to the sequence, culminating with the Juvenile.
As an aside, I was surprised to see it reported that Pletcher is planning to enter Graydar along with Verrazano. It would seem unlikely that two speed proponents would actually start. Who knows, maybe we'll get a chance to see if the former can extend his front-running Donn performance a furlong farther without having to fight Cross Traffic for the lead?
Furthur, wouldn’t it make sense to ensure a fast pace in the Classic for the Belmont winner who seems poised to become the poster boy for Trakus. Palace Malice finally gets the stable's go-to guy, and would seem no worse off for Smith's defection back to Game On Dude.
Assuming the front-running "Dude" breaks well this year under Smith, he might finally face some continuous quality pressure.
HRI columnist Tom Jicha opined that HOTY "shouldn’t go through Moreno" to justify his case against Will Take Charge. I would argue better Moreno than Clubhouse Ride.
Another three-year-old hoping to salvage his reputation in the Dirt Mile is sprint-sharpened Goldenscents, returning to the track where he twice triumphed around two turns. This should encourage Pletcher to consider running closers Capo Bastone (who will run on grass) and Forty Tales. It's hard to visualize either one reeling in Private Zone or Pointsoffthebench in the Sprint.
This year's Classic could crown either of two divisional champions. If the "Dude" were to win then both champion older horse and Horse of the Year would be his. But if either Will Take Charge or Palace Malice wins, that colt becomes champion three-year-old.
Back-to-back victories over stellar fields by Ron the Greek should ensure older horse honors, as should back-to-back Classics by Fort Larned. Any other result leaves everything up for grabs.
The preceding five contenders--with more at stake than purse money--suggest a possible superfecta box. I’d rather play a six-horse box that included Verrazano than work Mucho Macho Man, Flat Out, and/or Moreno into the bottom slots in the mix.
But it’s possibilities such as this that makes the event worth viewing and betting on.
Written by Indulto