On Track With Johnny D: Cup Half Empty

Cup Half Empty

When I reflect on the 2020 Breeders’ Cup, I definitely won’t see a Cup that’s ‘half full.’ This year count me firmly in the ‘half empty’ section. Better yet, if you’ve got a ‘Cup is half empty, cracked and leaking’ division, I’m there. The only saving grace from my 2020 BC experience is the horses. There were some truly outstanding performances and, as a lifelong fan of the game, I appreciate that. Otherwise, go ahead and add me to the ‘Cup slipped out of my hand, fell and shattered into a thousand pieces’ group.

Whitmore’s dominating BC Sprint tally at age 7 was heart-warming and provides encouragement to us senior citizens pursuing athletic endeavors. His fourth-time’s-the-charm tally in the event suggests there’s hope for all greybeards and, despite the goose-stepping of Father Time, we can attain our goals.

Not sure if Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien knows much baseball. If he does, then he can appreciate the old adage ‘When you snap a slump it’s usually by hitting a home run.’ O’Brien ‘touched ‘em all’ in punctuating an extended BC/US drought when his horses finished first, second and third in the BC Mile. On second thought, that accomplishment probably was less a home run and more a grand slam!

The Mile winner was #15 Order of Australia, who paid a whopping $148.40—second highest in BC history. Ever heard of the ‘other Baffert?’ This was the ‘other, other O’Brien.’ Arcangues, winner of the ’93 Classic at Santa Anita, owns the top BC $2 win payoff spot at $269.60. That European won on dirt—which horseplayers assumed he wouldn’t handle. Saturday’s surprise came on grass for one of Europe’s all-time great horsemen.

Monomoy Girl belted out a showstopping finale to her 2020 season by winning the BC Distaff and put an exclamation point on trainer Brad Cox’s incredible 4 BC race victories—an accomplishment that tied (or some would suggest surpassed) a similar achievement by Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella–who won 4 BC events in 2003 with one of those a dead-heat. Latest news suggests she’ll be back to race next year.

Gamine sparkled in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint, a race many experts predicted would ‘fall apart’ in the lane because of a pending fierce early battle between her and the speedy and unyielding Serengetti Empress. It didn’t. The pair finished one-two with Gamine stopping the timer in 1:20.20—a new track record eclipsing the one set by Taris at 1:21.32 in 2014.

Euro filly Tarnawa won the BC Turf over the remarkable and consummate mare Magical. The former has had a fabulous season and we look forward, hopefully, to her return to the races and an appearance in Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar next year. The latter, who will be 6 in January, presumably is finished racing. She’s accomplished more than enough with $6 million in earnings.

Overall, Euro invaders fared awfully well this year as 36 horses travelled to BC for 21 different trainers and won 4 races. That’s nice. Breeders’ Cup is best when hosting a solid contingent of Euro runners. Based on this year’s results, they’ll be back for more.

A few Keeneland new track records were established. Such numerical achievements on high-profile days don’t inspire. Track surfaces artificially can be souped up or slowed down by any number of methods. Plus, despite years of experience, the sport can’t seem to figure out how to accurately time races. Incredibly, timing for this year’s Classic malfunctioned! ‘Racing as it was meant to be,’ my hindquarters. Experienced race watchers don’t require a stopwatch to tell them a horse just ran really fast. Final times merely fine-tune observations and, thankfully, expert figure makers then massage numbers to account for glibness or dullness of a day’s surface.

Breeders’ Cup Friday and Saturday, I lost my shirt betting the races. My pants would have gone, too, but I wasn’t wearing any. Trousers weren’t required on my couch in my basement. Guess I also could have lost my shoes but, by the end of the day, nobody would’ve wanted them. I had been gored so deeply at the betting windows that I had blood all over them. And you know how expensive it is to remove blood from suede slippers.

The disaster was painful partly because it wasn’t expected. I was prepared to attack Breeders’ Cup. Thought so, anyway. I put in the effort, beforehand. Did the work. Studied the form of the runners, watched replays, consulted sheets, workouts, listened to podcasts, read expert comments and devoured analysis. I would have consulted an Ouiji board but haven’t seen ours since Halloween. I tried. Really, I tried.

Perhaps, I did too much. You know, ‘study long, study wrong.’ But, going in, I felt confident, prepared, informed and ready to cash. However, once the games began, I just wasn’t seeing the ball. And, as we all know, you can’t hit what you can’t see.

I got behind early and began to press. You know the drill. It’s the worst thing a horseplayer can do. And I already know that. In fact, there’s an old racetrack saw that suggests: ‘Scared money never wins.’ I’d like to amend that to ‘Terrified money has no shot.’ Once a player begins to chase losses, it’s game over. Money management goes out of the window and so does a player’s handicapping acumen. It’s no longer ‘Who do you like?’ but ‘Who do you need?’ Longshots previously considered hopeless also-rans suddenly became prime plays. Pre-race game plans evaporated; replaced by scattershot Hail Mary exotic air-balls.

For example, late Saturday afternoon, with three races to go, I crafted this gem:
I figured (correctly, by the way) that this 2020 BC edition was going to be a big one for invaders, so, in the BC Mile, I decided to exacta box all European horses. There were 6 of them and a $2 box would cost $60. Now, this is not a wager I normally make. In fact, in over 40 years of playing the races I don’t think I’ve ever made a 6-horse exacta box.

I still haven’t.

That’s because I left one horse out of my 5-horse exacta box and that was #15 Order of Australia, the winner who returned $148.40. The $2 exacta with fellow Euro-invader Circus Maximus came back $2,117.80–which would have immediately righted the sinking ship.

Why didn’t I include #15 Order of Australia in the wager? I still don’t know. At 70-1 odds he promised to deliver exactly what I desperately needed: a monster payoff. He should have been the first horse on my ticket. Maybe I didn’t use him because I figured there was no way he’d win from the 15-hole going a mile on turf at Keeneland? Maybe it was because his trainer Aidan O’Brien hadn’t won a BC race in forever? (But I used two other horses in the race trained by O’Brien.) Maybe it was because the 3-year-old colt hadn’t ever even won a graded stakes race?

Want to know the real reason I didn’t include him? Because I was pressing and that caused me to be careless. My vision was clouded. I was like the coach of a football team down by 30 in the fourth quarter with the clock ticking away. I kept dialing up flea-flickers and triple-reverses—plays my team hadn’t even practiced–hoping for something to connect. Instead, we promptly fumbled the pigskin which was recovered by the enemy and returned for a touchdown to increase an already embarrassing losing margin.

After the race, I heard from a friend via text who also had considered the BC Mile a wide-open event. Unlike me, he didn’t leave any runners off the first leg of his ticket and had used ‘All.’ His other horses finished third and fourth, but not second. The correct superfecta returned $15,280.48 for a dime. His near-miss ticket was for $1. I suppose misery really does love company. I didn’t feel nearly as bad.

I’ve had some wonderful days wagering on BC races. Friday and Saturday aren’t among them. Opportunity knocked but I didn’t bother to get up from the couch, put on a pair of pants and open the door. Saturday night, I didn’t sleep very well–tossing and turning, upset because I had poured so much time and effort into the event and come away with a Cup shattered into a thousand pieces.

The pain was somewhat muted by Sunday morning when I promptly climbed back aboard the horse to hit the Del Mar early Pick 5 for over $2,100! The entire episode illustrates how crazy horseplay can be. Through it all I didn’t learn anything new but got several stiff reminders about why they don’t play this game in short pants…even if they’re at home on the couch.

Below is one man’s opinion regarding Saturday’s late Pick 4 at Del Mar.

Race 6
This appears as a real head-scratcher. A lively pace seems likely in here and that should give #8 Kiss Today Goodbye a chance to use his late run. He departs stakes company for this optional claimer and that should help. However, he is drawn wide, will have to drop back and wait to make a long late run.

#6 Canadian Pride exits a quick maiden sprint victory and #7 Mystery Man held on going a mile last out against allowance maidens. #3 Divine Armor also won a maiden allowance mile here last out after 6 previous tries.

A pair of Del Mar strip lovers step up out of the claiming ranks: #5 Secret Touch was claimed for $32k by Bob Hess last out and is a sparkling 4-for-7 ‘Where the Turf Meets the Surf’ and is 5-for-11 at the distance. #4 Oil Can Knight is a razor-sharp sprinter stretching out after winning convincingly for $20k.

Race 7
See an abundance of speed in this heat. That should set things up nicely for #2 One Flew South, adding blinkers for trainer Doug O’Neill. He was highly regarded earlier in his career when facing Gr. 1 competition, travelled to Dubai to chase rich purses and was a closing third last out at this level. Prat departs for the 2-for-21 #7 Factorial and Cedillo rides.

#4 Preaching Trainer, from the Carla Gaines outfit, has a win in as many starts over the Del Mar turf and at this distance. This 4-year-old is a stone-cold late closer but there’s plenty of speed to set the table for his charge. Rispoli and Gaines are a strong combo.

Race 8
#2 Private Mission is the one to beat off a strong maiden performance where she set the pace and pulled clear in the lane. She has a bullet work since.

#4 Varda, Baffert stablemate to the top one, finished a well-beaten second to Princess Noor, another Baffert, routing in the Gr. 2 Chandelier.

#5 Queengol finished a grinding second while stalking the Anoakia pace.

Race 9
#11 Warren’s Candy Man has been close twice and figures as the one to beat but he drew the far outside post again, this time 11 of 11 (before scratches). He probably will lose ground and can’t be singled at a short price because of it.
#7 Circleofchampions makes a second start for Carla Gaines (solid stats) and Umberto Rispoli (strong combo) and should improve off an initial voyage that had minor inconveniences along the way.

#2 Whiskey Vision rode the rail and finished full of run first time out. He should enjoy another ground saving trip as he attempts to extend his ability around two turns.

The Wager
Saturday $.50 Del Mar Late Pick 4 ($24)

Race 6
All – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Race 7
2, 4

Race 8

Race 9
2, 7, 11

Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Cup Half Empty

On Track with Johnny D |