On Track with Johnny D: Best Laid Plans

The original assignment in this space for this week was for yours truly to analyze a pair of upcoming 3-year-old races: Florida and Louisiana Derbies. After all, the first Saturday in May is just around the corner and this season’s Kentucky Derby picture still is as blurry as an underwater eye chart. That’s mostly because these 3-year-olds are like a bowl of fruit. Act quickly or they’ll spoil. Each week another one seems to turn brown.

On the way to this keyboard to bang out 3-year-old prep race drivel, a funny thing happened to yours truly. He got distracted. Sidetracked. Thrown for a loop. Actually, to be more accurate, moved. Not in the traditional U-Haul sense. Emotionally. Like when one admires a Rembrandt. Michelangelo’s David. The Grand Canyon.

This Saturday marks the 66th running of the Florida Derby. And they’ll probably run it at least 66 more times before they finally stop. The NOLA version at Fair Grounds has been presented 103 previous times. Nothing new there.

Point is it’s impossible for anything to happen this Saturday that could match what happened last Saturday. Period.

We refer to Arrogate’s performance in the Dubai World Cup. That, mis amigos, was a rare experience. Haley’s Comet. An annular eclipse. Yellowstone erupting. In 2:02.15 Arrogate advanced from troubled trailer in a 14-horse field to geared-down triumphant champ and the world’s richest Thoroughbred. Truthfully, it was like nothing this writer has ever witnessed. A world-class field made to look ordinary. Pedestrian. Completely overmatched.

For above stated reasons, discussion of Saturday’s sophomore tussles must occupy the backseat. Suits won’t appreciate it. Marketing geniuses spent good money to brand this week’s Gulfstream extravaganza the ‘Xpressbet’ Florida Derby. Too bad. Consider this week’s blog hijacked. ‘Best laid plans of mice and men…’ and such. Stuff happens.

Heading into the Dubai World Cup, Arrogate, was arguably the world’s best Thoroughbred. Out of the race, that topic is off the table. A new thread measures Arrogate’s historical placing alongside that of…(dare I even type his name?)…Secretariat.

One wonders what sort of arrangement trainer Bob Baffert has with devil? It cannot be pure coincidence that Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and Dubai World Cup champ Arrogate rode nearly back-to-back vans at Baffert’s Santa Anita barn—one departing and one arriving. As witty, charming and talented as the trainer might be, the surrender of Baffert’s mere soul would not have been sufficient collateral to arrange for stewardship of both champions. Clearly, this pact with the devil must also contain a provision for many ‘souls to be named later.’

Immediately after Arrogate’s thrilling Dubai World Cup victory, Baffert’s voice cracked as he reverently compared Arrogate to Secretariat. And that, according to the racing gods, is verboten. It’s the kiss of death. Any owner, trainer or jockey that has ever compared a horse to Big Red has had to eat his words–if not in the very next start, certainly in the one after that. The mere mention of Secretariat’s name in the same sentence as any other horse proves disastrous. It’s like what happens at the mention of Beetlejuice in the movie of the same name. Although, it must be added, no one’s ever been bold enough to utter ‘Secretariat’ three times in succession.

Baffert’s nobody’s fool. He realizes full well the probable consequences of comparing Arrogate to Secretariat. Perhaps, he is emboldened by his deal with the devil. That might include a provision providing Arrogate immunity to the curse.

Or, maybe, like many of us, Baffert is unafraid of the link because, for the first time since 1974, the comparison actually appears warranted.

Profiles in Cashing

If you plan to take down the $20,000 first prize in Xpressbet’s $100,000 Showdown tournament April 8 & 9, you may want to fit a certain profile. For example, winners of Xpressbet’s Beat the Host Championship and Live events—Ken McCarthy and John Servider, respectively, both are 55-years-old males!

Coincidence? I think not. Predictably, older dudes dominate handicapping tournament rosters. That both winners use rest rooms labeled ‘Caballeros’ makes sense. Although, it should be noted, here and now, that fairer sex participants did very well in both events. Three top five finishers in the BTH Championship are female, as are two of top 10 money-earners in XB Live. Plus, Diane Grey, the only player to whip hosts in all seven weeks and earn a $5,000 Sweep the Host Bonus, is female. Those accomplishments far exceed statistical expectations based on participation percentages.

Age and sex are not the only common denominators between 2017 tournament champs. McCarthy and Servider both handicapped the races beforehand and stuck to early opinions throughout the afternoon. McCarthy didn’t have a choice. During the tournament he had to be at work. He entered his selections at nine in the morning and didn’t check results until nine at night when he settled in to watch replays. Servider also did the work beforehand. He had early success ($41.80 winner in the 4th mandatory race) and backed his original opinions at the windows to enjoy one of those rare and wonderful days when the stars align.

“In addition to live $20 contest win wagers,” explained Servider, an attorney who grew up in the shadow of Aqueduct and has been playing the races since he cut school in eighth grade to sneak into the track, “I also cashed a $1,700 Pick 3 a couple of times and a $500 Double a few times.” Add that bounty to tournament earnings of $1,042 and a $10,000 first prize and the total exceeds the sticker price of a 2017 Hyundai Accent.

While neither is a novice horseplayer, McCarthy and Servider each experienced successful maiden voyages of sorts in respective competitions. McCarthy made his initial tournament foray ever in Beat The Host and Servider, in XB Live, appeared in his first Xpressbet handicapping challenge!

Like McCarthy, who worked the day of the tournament, Servider almost missed playing XB Live because of a previous commitment. “I wasn’t going to play,” Servider said. “I looked at the times of the races and thought I’d be distracted around dinner time. Then I became available and decided to play.”

Good thing, for him.

When asked for his most exciting racing experience, Servider doesn’t mention cashing tickets. “I owned a few horses, years ago, and seeing one of your horses win, that’s a real thrill. It was great seeing American Pharoah win the Triple Crown in person. I think I’d been to the Belmont for 25 consecutive years and it was great to finally see a Triple Crown winner.”

Servider also attended the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park earlier this year and was impressed with the event. “It was great to feel that in person. I give Gulfstream credit. I thought they did a great job. Admission prices were high, but it was a major sporting event and that’s what tickets cost. They didn’t take advantage, though, and had reasonable food and beverage prices.”

Don’t know if Ken McCarthy attended American Pharoah’s Belmont or Arrogate’s Pegasus World Cup, but that doesn’t really matter. There already are enough similarities to establish an Xpressbet Showdown profile in cashing.

Race On!

On Track with Johnny D: Best Laid Plans

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