Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Breeders' Cup - Wishin' and Hopin'

Twilight Eclipse (Photo courtesy of West Point Thoroughbreds)

Do the horse racing gods answer prayers? Well, I suppose you could say yes, as someone's prayers get rewarded when their horse wins a race. But since only one horse can win (except for the rare dead heat), most prayers are not answered. 

I pose this question as this weekend, there will be a lot of prayers sent to the horse racing gods, as there's a little event called the Breeders' Cup, held this year at Keeneland Race Course. There are all sort of stories out there that take this great celebration of racing and make it even more dramatic. Can American Pharoah win the Classic and become the first horse to win the so-called Grand Slam (the Triple Crown and the BC Classic)? Can Beholder win this race and become only the second mare ever to win this race, following in the footsteps of the great Zenyatta? Can J. Larry Jones, one of the best-loved trainers - and one of thoroughbred racing's all-time good guys - finally win his first Breeders' Cup race, after coming so close in the past? (He had two second-place finishes in 2007, not to mention two second similar finishes in the Kentucky Derby in 2007 and 2008).

As I mentioned above, there will be a lot of prayers sent out this weekend, by owners, trainers and fans; so many so that they'll cancel each other out. The best horses will probably win - though not always - and it should be a fantastic weekend of racing, especially given the wide-open nature of so many of the Breeders' Cup races this year. Those of us that love this sport will be winners after watching the races on Friday and Saturday, no matter the outcome.

So while the prayers may or may not be heard, I have a feeling that there will be a few more prayers this weekend for one particular horse, that being Twilight Eclipse, who will be running in the $3,000,000 Longines Turf at 1 and 1/2 miles.

I say that as this is a horse who has had his share of bad racing luck. In fact, that may be an understatement. In 2014, Twilight Eclipse lost three straight Grade 1s to Main Sequence in agonizing fashion, losing by a head, a neck and a neck. That's bad enough, but when you consider that Main Sequence was named the Eclipse Award winner as American Champion Male Turf Horse and American Champion Older Male Horse, you realize just how good Twilight Eclipse was in 2014.

This year, Twilight Eclipse finally won his first Grade 1, when he captured the Man O'War stakes at Belmont Park back in May. But in case you thought his luck had changed, think again. After a rare dud in Grade 1 Knob Creek in June, in which he finished an uncharacteristic seventh, he then recorded three straight third-place finishes in Grade 1 races in New York. The third of these, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont on September 26, was particularly frustrating for the connections of Twilight Eclipse, as he was given a rail-skimming ride down the backstretch and was all set for a big run in the stretch, but soon found himself trapped behind early speed Shining Copper entering the homestretch. Twilight Eclipse finally found some running room between the eighth and the sixteenth poles and made a furious rally, trying to catch winner Big Blue Kitten (whom he will face in the BC Turf on Saturday), who had a free run on the outside. Twilight Eclipse was nosed out for second by Slumber (also in Saturday's race), losing the race by a half-length.

So Twilight Eclipse will try once again on Saturday and despite the close calls and disappointments, he will have a big shot to win this race. Two things in his favor: this will be his third consecutive appearance in the Breeders' Cup Turf, so he has the experience of running against the world's finest turf horses. Also, he still owns the North American record for fastest mile and a half on the turf, when he went 2:22.63 at Gulfstream Park on March 23, 2013. Clearly, he loves the mile and a half distance and is better the longer he goes.

So Twilight Eclipse is ready to run a big - maybe huge - race on Saturday. But just in case, I'm going to offer up a prayer to the racing gods. I wonder if they'll be listening this time.

P.S. In his last race, Twilight Agenda was narrowly defeated by Big Blue Kitten and Slumber, both of whom are listed at 8-1 morning line for the BC Turf. But Twilight Agenda is 20-1 morning line. 

What's up with that?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Worst Breeders' Cup Ever"? - Come on!

(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Sometimes I think a journalist pens an article just to be controversial; his or her emotions winning out over reason. That's my best reasoning for the essay penned by Gary West for on November 7.

I did not have a good day betting this Breeders' Cup - go back over my selections and you'll know this. But that did not dampen my enthusiasm for this year's event, as I was throughly entertained, especially with such big payouts. Who doesn't like to dream they'll hit it big at the Breeders' Cup? Here was a day to do just that.

Of course, I'm talking about Saturday, as Friday was rather chalky. Yet both days featured excellent racing, with thrilling finishes and intense drama. Texas Red won the Juvenile on Saturday, which throws the Eclipse award for 2 year-old colts into confusion. He may win it, but even his owner acknowledged the quality of American Pharoah, the early favorite for the race, who had to be scratched. Did the fact that this race did not have American Pharoah or Calculator - the horse who had finished second to American Pharoah in two consecutive Grade 1s - make it any less of an exciting race? Yes, it would have been a better race with those two horses in it and no one's handing the Eclipse Award to Texas Red just yet (I'd be highly surprised if he did win it), but congratulations to the Desormeaux brothers for their great win. It was an excellent race!

West talks about the lack of strength from the European contingent. Why is that? Last year, Treve who won the Arc de Triomphe in 2013, did not race in the Breeders' Cup (nor did she run in this year's Breeders' Cup Turf after again winning the Arc). That happens most years, given the proximity of that race to the Breeders' Cup. But last year, Magician, who was not Aidan O Brien's best horse, did win the BC Turf. So because one of the European horses, such as Flintshire - who placed second in this year's Arc - and Telescope, a highly regarded Sir Michael Stoute charge did not win the BC Turf, it's a disappointing race, according to West. Really? How about some love for the winner Main Sequence, who made this race his 4th consecutive Grade 1 conquest this year and should be one of the three finalists for Horse of the Year. Doesn't his win mean something?

Apparently for West, the Turf is only a worthwhile race if a European horse wins it. Well, we've got some pretty good turf horses in America as well.

I could go on and on about the points brought up by West, such as defections. Yes, it was disappointing that Palace Malice had to miss the Classic, due to injury, as he was one of the top older horses in the country for the first half of the year. But those things happen. As far as Will Take Charge not being the race, due to retirement, I'm sorry, but that horse wasn't the same in 2014 as in his magical year of 2013.

Seems to me that having Bayern, Shared Belief, California Chrome and Tonalist in the race guaranteed a marvelous Classic and that's what we got.

I notice that West did not mention the Friday card, which was rather chalky. Yes, Goldencents (Dirt Mile) and Tapiture (Distaff) ran bang-up performances in their races at very short prices. Apparently, this is what West wanted from the entire BC weekend, the leading horses in their categories winning their respective races. For myself and a lot of bettors, we want big prices and unpredictable races and that's what we got, especially on Saturday. Tapiture and Goldencents proved their status as likely Eclipse-award winning horses - we were treated to that on Friday, while on Saturday we witnessed some major upsets. For me, both cases are what makes the Breeders' Cup such a great event.

Worst BC ever? Try telling that to Roger Brueggemann and Florent Geroux, trainer and jockey of Work All Week, winner of the Sprint. A deserving champion - one who's ten for ten on the dirt. Defending champion Secret Circle placed a hard-charging second. Wasn't that a worthwhile result? How does a race like this make for the "worst BC ever?"

West also brings up the track bias argument for the early races on Saturday. He mentioned the first race won by Ocho Ocho Ocho in 1:14.57 for 6 and 1/2 furlongs on the dirt, after a blistering half mile of 43.96. Alright, the fastest horse went wire to wire - he was the favorite after all. Also, this was a race taken off the turf, with only six horses of the original 14 competing. The favorite shook loose, that's all.

As for the second race won by Acceptance, here was a horse that had won his previous race - his debut - by 13 lengths! Was it a shock that this horse, who started slowly, was able to defeat a field of six other two year-old Cal-breds?

As for 61-1 shot Take Charge Brandi capturing the Juvenile Fillies in gate to wire fashion, that makes a little more sense for making the speed bias argument. But Top Decile made a stout charge from well off the pace to be a strong second, while Wonder Gal also closed well to be third. So there were some horses that closed, but because Puca did not, West reasons that this was an unfair race in which the results were influenced by a speed bias.

Sorry, Gary, your argument is that of someone that wanted different results. I loved what I watched for two days, even if I didn't cash many tickets. There was nothing wrong with year's event, if only one watched the races with open eyes.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Breeders' Cup Thoughts

(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Well, if you read my predictions, you know I didn't have a very successful 2014 Breeders' Cup - I only know a few horseplayers that did (and did they make money!) 

But on to a few thoughts:

"What a memorable Breeders Cup Classic - it's a race for the ages!" - Trevor Denman during his call of the final 1/16th of a mile in the BC Classic.

Trevor Denman had a great day calling the races. I would have written a "brilliant" day, but he did call Karokontie "Karokonite" during the Mile. Given there were so many horses in these 13 BC races, many of whom he had never seen race live, I think we can give him a break on that one.

But was he ever excited during these calls! I suppose if you can't get excited about so many double digit horses winning the BC races, you'll never get excited. But Denman was great throughout the two days, although maybe that shouldn't surprise any of us, as he's been at the top of his game for many years now.


Congratulations to trainer Wesley Ward for a great weekend - not only at the track but at home. He won the first and second BC races of his career, but decided to attend his teenage son's cross country meet back home. What a classy thing to do! He was quoted as saying that his horses "aren't going to run any faster if I'm there," so he made his family his number one priority. No one would have blamed him if he did attend the races at Santa Anita, but his decision instantly won him a lot of new fans.


Congratulations as well to trainer Roger Brueggemann for winning the BC Sprint with Work All Week. Brueggemann has been a solid trainer on the Chicago circuit for years, but that has meant his profile on the worldwide thoroughbred scene has been rather limited. 

That's what I love about the BC - all sorts of trainers, be they famous, such as Bob Baffert or Chad Brown win races and then so does someone such as Brueggemann. Maybe he'll be a factor in future BC races. Regardless, he's a champion trainer and no one can take that away from him!


Take Charge Brandi winning the Juvenile Fillies at odds of 61-1! Wayne Lukas, take a bow! The man owns this race - it was his 6th win in this contest - and at a youthful 79 years of age, he appears as though he'll never slow down!


Finally, a few words about the inquiry of the Classic. Like almost everyone who watched the race live, I thought that the stewards would take a look. I also thought that given the magnitude of the race, the only way for a disqualification would be an obvious bump or two (or three) that would have had direct influence on the finish. 

Yes, Bayern did come over and bother Shared Belief, who in turn bumped into Moreno (interesting how we've heard so little about Moreno, who finished last. He clearly needs the lead to be effective). And of course, Toast of New York did come over a bit after the start and bump into Shared Belief and Moreno, so that was something to consider as well. There could have been a double disqualification, meaning that California Chrome could have been put up as the winner (what a scenario that would have been).

Did the bumping out of the gate affect the ultimate finish? You'd have to say yes, but given how many possibilities there are in a mile and a quarter race, no one can say for sure that Shared Belief or Moreno would have won. I would have taken Bayern down, but as Bob Baffert notes, you have to give Bayern credit - he just wouldn't quit and willed his way to the win.

Bottom line, the stewards went with the California regulations that state that if "an incident occurs in a part of the race where the horses interfered with were not cost the opportunity to place where they reasonably expected to finish" (CHRB rule 1699).. there would be no change. 

The stewards played it by the book - and they played it safe. Maybe the rule needs to be changed, otherwise, as Richard Migliore said on HRTV, "you're going to see a lot of rough riding going on."


Finally, while the two year-old colt Eclipse award is up in the air - given the victory by Texas Red, how much does that win legitimize the performance of American Pharoah in a previous stakes race at Santa Anita? - the two year-old filly award should go to Lady Eli, who dominated the Juvenile Fillies Turf race. No offense to Take Charge Brandi and her win in the Juvenile Fillies on dirt, but Lady Eli was dazzling.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Breeders Cup Saturday

Photo ©Tom Hyland

There's nothing like the Breeders Cup to get a horseplayer excited. There's also nothing like a bad day of handicapping at the Breeders Cup to get that same horseplayer frustrated (to put it mildly).

So today, I bet less, knowing I'll lose less - but hopefully, we'll translate that into a profitable day- I'd be happy to make $100 today. My problem is I always dream big at the Breeders Cup; nothing wrong with that, except that I'm out of my comfort zone. I start looking for a big payout instead of handicapping. I'm guessing that I'll do better on Sunday at Santa Anita (closing day) with a regular card.

So only a few picks today:

Juvenile Fillies: Difficult to choose between Feathered, Angela Renee, Conquest Eclipse and By The Moon. One of these four will win - I'll go with Conquest Eclipse and Feathered on top. If the former wins, it will be the first BC victory for Mark Casse, a trainer who's won about everything else. If the latter wins, it will be the first win for Todd Pletcher in this race.

Juvenile: A single for me with this race - Carpe Diem, who has looked brilliant in his two races to date. 

Filly and Mare Turf: Wide open and will go against defending champ Dank. Either DayattheSpa or Secret Gesture.

Filly and Mare Sprint: Stonetastic or Artemis Agortera

Turf Sprint: Incredibly difficult race. Box six horses: Undrafted, Caspar Netscher, Dimension, Home Run Kitten, Sweetswap, No Nay Never.

Sprint: Another incredibly difficult race. Box seven horses: Palace, Salutos Amigos, Mico Margarita, Rich Tapestry, Fast Anna, Private Zone, Work all Week.

Classic: Either Shared Belief or Tonalist on top with V.E. Day second or third.

Good luck to all!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Breeders' Cup - Friday

Mike Smith looks to build on his record 20 Breeders' Cup wins (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Just a few thoughts on the 2014 Breeders' Cup races, as there is way too much written already.

A Pick 3, starting with the 5th race, the $100,000 Damascus Stakes. Bob Baffert has three horses entered, but as usual when a trainer has more than one horse entered, go with the highest price. So I'm taking a pass on Midnight Hawk (#2) and Chitu (#3) in favor of his other entry Declassify (#7).

I also like the #11 Bahamian Squall, trained by David Fawkes and ridden by Rafael Bejerano. He comes off of one of his best races ever and can still improve. He ran in last year's BC Sprint at Santa Anita and was not embarrassed, finishing 6th, beaten only 2 and 3/4 lengths for the top spot.

For the 6th race, I think that the favorite Hootenanny (#5) can be beat, as he's stretching out. He has looked great so far and I read that his trainer Wesley Ward says the horse is "fully cranked" for this race, so he could be very dangerous. But he's going up against some very tough horses in this race. It's very wide open - as are most BC races, but particularly this year - so I'm going with Commemorative (#4), Conquest Typhoon (#6), War Envoy (#7) - Aidan O'Brien - first lasix - how can you not like this horse? - Offering Plan (#8) - Chad Brown at 20-1 morning line - and finally Imperia (#11), trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, who's looked excellent in both of his turf starts.

For the 7th, the BC Mile, I can't throw out the chalk Goldencents, who will probably be the lowest-priced favorite today and possible tomorrow. But I'm going to also include several other horses in this race, namely Carve (#2), Vicar's in Trouble (#3), Pants on Fire (#4), Handsome Mike (#5) - a 30-1 shot, Fed Biz (#8), Tapiture (#9) and Big Bane Theory (#10).

So the Pick 3 for races 5, 6, 7 is:
7,11 / 4,6,7,8,11 / 1,2,3,4,5,8,9,10 - total for a 50 cent bet = $40

Last Pick 3 of the day - races 8 (BC Juvenile Fillies), 9 (BC Distaff) and 10 (allowance race, 7 furlongs)

8th race - 4, 5, 6, 11

9th race - 1,4,7,9 - note, I am throwing out the two favorites, Close Hatches (#10) and Untapable (#11). Call me crazy, but I think these two horse will get beat, as this is a more competitive Distaff than in recent years.

10th race - 1,2,3,7,8,11 (11 is my top choice, but the race is too wide open).

So the Pick 3 for races 8, 9, 10 is:

4,5,6,11 / 1,4, 7, 9 / 1, 2,3, 7, 8, 11 - total for a 50 cent bet = $48

Good luck and we'll see you tomorrow!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Keys" from Del Mar

Another exciting Del Mar season is in the books and besides excellent racing as always, this year, it seemed to me, was as good a meet as they've enjoyed in years. The fields were larger and there was great balance; evidence of that is the fact that Jerry Hollendorfer and Peter Miller tied for the most victories by a trainer. Bob Baffert, by the way, wasn't even in the top five in the category, although he certainly had a fine meet, ending with a bang by winning his 12th Del Mar Futurity on closing day, September 3rd.

As a handicapper, I also loved the fact that there were a good number of double digit prices that won, especially with the 2-year old races. I mention this, as this certainly was not the case - once again - at Saratoga. I love that track not only for the history, but also the quality of racing, but when Todd Pletcher continues to seemingly win every other 2-year old MSW race at the Spa, well, it gets a little boring. Yes, he has great horses and top clients, but you'd like to see someone else win a few of these races from time to time.

So spreading the wealth at Del Mar (or any track) when it comes to the leading trainers is a good thing, so great for Hollendorfer and Miller as well as Bob Hess, John Sadler and Doug O'Neill, all of whom enjoyed more victories at the meet than Baffert. Nothing against Baffert, but it's nice to see things even out a bit. Besides, no one is going to feel sorry for BB, at least not for some time.

Baffert had the last laugh anyway when he won the Del Mar Futurity with American Pharaoah, a colt he had labeled as one of his best 2-year olds. He was favored to win his first race, but ran into a buzzsaw named Om, trained by Dan Hendricks in the 4th race on Saturday, August 9. Om, from the three hole, took the lead immediately and was able to shake loose from American Pharaoh, who stalked him three wide down the backstretch. The race was over by the eighth pole and American Pharaoh faded to fifth, losing by 9 and 1/4 lengths.

For that race, American Pharaoh was equipped with blinkers, but for the Futurity, Baffert had removed them. He had the rail, which didn't hurt his chances, but for this race, he was sharp as could be, taking the lead after a few strides and then taking command of the race after two furlongs. His final time for the seven furlongs was 1:21 and 2/5 seconds and his winning margin was 4 and 3/4 lengths.

By the way, the second and third place finishers were Calculator, trained by Peter Miller and Iron Fist, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer. I mention this as both of those horses came out of the same race that American Pharaoh ran in on August 9 against Om. Talk about a key race! (If you'll allow me a moment to gloat, I did catch the $227.60 exacta that race- I wrote about it here.)

If that isn't enough evidence to get you to realize that the Om race on August 9 was a key race, consider what happened on closing day in the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf Stakes, that went off as race 6, just an hour or so before the Del Mar Futurity. The winner of this race was Daddy DT, trained by John Sadler and ridden by Corey Nakatani. Daddy DT had run in one previous race, that on the polytrack, finishing sixth by ten lengths. Guess what race that was? You got it, it was race 4 on August 9, the race won so convincingly by Om. Yes, the switch to turf was the right call for Daddy DT, but clearly, his effort in the August 9 race, was much better than looked on paper, due to an overwhelming foe.

So the evidence is overwhelming - the 4th race on August 9, a 6and 1/2 furlong sprint for 2-year olds was as "key" a key race, as you'll ever find!

By way, I can't wait to see Om race again. Nor can I wait to see what is in store for the first-ever fall meet at Del Mar; named the Bing Crosby Season, the meet runs from November 7-30.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Price at Del Mar

I caught a big price last Saturday at Del Mar when Om wired the field of 2 year-olds at 6 and 1/2 furlongs. Om, a Dan Hendricks charge, was 15-1 in the morning line and went off at 22-1. The fact that Bob Baffert had a first timer from Zayat named American Pharoah had a lot to do with Om's odds (American Pharoah, coming off some typically fast works for the trainer was the morning line favorite at 5-2 and was bet down to 7-5).

Om had run one race and finished fifth, beaten by 11 and 1/4 lengths; to the casual handicapper, this looked like a horse to take a pass on. However, the race he ran was a 5 furlong sprint run in June at Santa Anita in a very fast time of 57.2. Om showed some speed out of the 6 hole, but couldn't keep up with the winner, as he was 3 wide into the stretch, as noted in the form. Also, while Om did finish 11 and 1/4 lengths behind the winner (BadReadSanchez), that horse won by 10 lengths, so Om really turned in a fine performance the first time out. The fact that he was sent off at 5-2 was another positive sign.

Om, out of the three hole, did grab the lead right away in last Saturday's race with American Pharoah stalking him to his outside. It was those two horses on the lead all the way down the backstretch, but by the time the horses entered the lane, Om had put away American Pharoah and all of his challengers, winning by 7 and 1/4 lengths. Thankfully, I made a $2 exacta with a few horses, so I collected $227.60, as the second favorite Iron Fist, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, got the place spot.

Today could be a similar story for the 6th race at Del Mar, a 5 and 1/2 furlong sprint for 2-year olds. Once again, there's a talented Baffert firster, this one named Abusive Power, co-owned by Mike Pegram. He's had some fast works and is ridden by Baffert's go-to jock Martin Garcia. All systems are go, as they say (he's 4-1 morning line).

The favorite is #8, Kantune, trained by Mark Casse. Kantune ran an excellent first race at Del Mar on July 19, a 5-furlong dash in 58 seconds flat. He just missed, finishing second by a half-length when bet down to 7-2. No doubt a deserving favorite today at 3-1.

However, inside speed has been very good at Del Mar lately, so look out for the #1, American Sailor, a Cody Autrey trainee. He also had a fine first race at Del Mar on July 19, that was run in a very quick 57.4. American Sailor showed early speed, but according to the notes in the form, was three wide in the lane and weakened; he finished ninth, beaten by eleven lengths. The fact that he was sent off at 5-2 is a positive sign for today, as is the fact that he has the one hole, so his early speed should mean a great deal in this race.

To complicate things even more, there's the #7, Discreet Prince, conditioned by Robertino Diodoro. This horse ran in the same race as American Sailor, but was not favored by the public, going off a tick shy of 40-1. However, this horse beat American Sailor that day, also showing speed, finishing 5th, beaten by 5 and 3/4 lengths;  his morning line is a much more reasonable 5-1.

Add to the mix some beautifully bred firsters such as #2 Pappou (Tapit, out of a Saint Ballado mare, trained by John Sadler and #5 Film Freak (Fusaichi Pegasus, out of a Dynaformer mare), trained by Tommy Proctor and you've got a pretty contentious race. How I love these two-year old races at Del Mar!