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 espn.com 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!