On Track with Johnny D: Good Thing He Can’t Read

Old fashioned press clippings, newfangled Internet blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook posts all claim he’s best in the world. Anointed king of the turf on the third rock from the sun. Better even than ice cream. All that and a bag of chips.

Sometimes, such lofty plaudits, even if accurate, spoil athletes. An inflated opinion of one’s ranking in the universe can foster arrogance, breed overconfidence and produce an uncharacteristically flat performance.

Don’t expect that to be the case Saturday in the Dubai World Cup. This superstar can’t read. And, for once, a well-greased, four-year, free ride through an institution of higher learning while wearing a helmet, gym shorts or a baseball mitt isn’t to blame.

Arrogate’s a Thoroughbred. And this time that’s not coach-speak for a speedy running back or an unstoppable power forward. He’s an actual Thoroughbred. A horse. An equine. The kind that relishes hay and thinks carrots are candy.

The last time Arrogate went to work in the afternoon he ran a mile and one-eighth around the dirt oval at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, FL in under one minute and forty-seven seconds. For that he earned $7 million.

If successful Saturday, on the other side of the globe, in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan racetrack, he’ll earn an additional $6 million. Which is a bad deal. In fact, he ought to fire his agent, immediately! You see, the Dubai World Cup is a mile and one-quarter in distance and will take roughly two minutes to complete. That’s more work for less money! Decidedly un-American.

Shed not a tear, though. Win Saturday and, since November, Arrogate will have made as much money in three races as Dallas Cowboy quarterback Tony Romo did for the entire 2016 NFL season. Of course, these days Romo plays about as often as Arrogate runs—three times a year.

How they got 13 other horses to line up against this equine version of Usain Bolt is a mystery. Guess it just goes to show how popular all-expenses paid trips to Dubai are these days. A $2 million second place purse, with $1 million to third, doesn’t hurt, either. The old yardstick for ducking a race says that if there’s one horse to beat, enter. If there are two or more hides you can’t outrun, stay in the barn!

None of these human connections actually think they have a chance of upsetting Arrogate, do they? Were they watching when he demolished the 2016 Travers field, setting stakes and course records at the ancient spa?

Were they dialed in to the Breeders’ Cup Classic when, in the race’s final furlong, Arrogate ran by the richest horse in the world like he had just stopped to tie his shoelaces?

And what on earth were they doing when Arrogate shipped from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast and absolutely squashed 11 foes worthy of a $1 million investment each?

To paraphrase a line from The Godfather: If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can beat any horse. Marketing mopes for decades boasted that ‘on any given Sunday any NFL team could defeat another team.’

In horse racing, upsets have been around since the 17th century when the English imported from the Middle East a trio of stallions: the Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian and Godolphin Arabian. They wanted to breed a breed a better mousetrap, or at least a faster one.

The only sure thing is this sport is that there is no sure thing. To prove it bridgejumpers routinely tear worthless show tickets on one-to-nine shots into pieces.

All that being said, Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup Saturday is about as close to a ‘sure thing’ as you can get.

Especially since he can’t read about how great he is


McCarthy Breaks Maiden

Ken McCarthy has been playing the races for about a decade. He enjoys it. Likes the challenge. Approaches the game the way a fellow 55-year-old Chicagoan might the Sun Times crossword. Except with a few bucks riding on the outcome.

Over the years, as a loyal Xpressbet account holder, McCarthy has noticed announcements for a variety of handicapping tournaments. However, he never considered himself skilled enough to participate. Enter a lion’s cage armed with a folding chair and a whip? Why? He imagined tournament veterans would eat him alive.

Until he noticed Xpressbet’s Beat the Host competition.

Challenged to defeat at least one host in seven weeks–based on ‘live’ $5 win wagers in eight total races from Gulfstream/Santa Anita ($40)–successful Beat the Host qualifiers then meet in a similarly constructed Championship Round, this time competing against each other instead of a host.

“I thought it (Beat the Host) looked real simple,” McCarthy said, partly by explanation for why he chose Xpressbet’s offering as his first ever tournament foray. “Economical, too. Sort of a beginner’s tournament that might ease you into it (tournament play). I played three, maybe four weekends. I did okay, nothing ridiculous and I hit some other (non-contest) wagers on the same days.”

One of those Saturdays, McCarthy, who pays the bills in freelance sports television production, went head-to-head with a familiar face. “I’ve worked with Eddie O. (Olczyk–week 7 host) a lot, but he wouldn’t know me if he saw me. He’s a great guy and a real horseplayer.” McCarthy actually qualified for the Beat the Host Championship by defeating host and Santa Anita VIP concierge Tom Quigley in week six.

Previewing the eight mandatory Championship Round races, McCarthy had mixed feelings about his chances, “I felt strong in the Gulfstream races (4). At Santa Anita (4 races) I wasn’t as strong, there was more luck involved.”

He turned to veteran Southern California handicapper Jeff Nahill for help deciphering the Arcadia puzzles. “He’s got a web site with selections and one in the contest paid $9 (precisely $9.40, worth $23.50 for $5).”

Turns out tournament maiden McCarthy didn’t need much help at all. He hit six of eight mandatory races and captured the $5,000 first prize by about as far as you can throw a rock– $33 clear of runner-up Danielle Holbrook—$143.50 to $110.50! Rhonda Perlroth and David Worley tied for third with $105.

One would imagine that winning a $5,000 tournament prize first time out of the gate would be an experience jam-packed with excitement, strategy, tension and, finally, elation. But, for McCarthy, events unfolded a bit differently.

“(Championship Saturday) Because I was working a Big East college game, I submitted my picks at 9 in the morning. I didn’t watch race replays until around 9 at night. Five or six (races) in, I realized I was doing pretty well. I had hit an earlier race (race 4 at Santa Anita) with a Doug O’Neill horse (Bronzino) that paid $20 (precisely $20.20, worth $50.50 in the contest).”

McCarthy’s self-imposed, delayed gratification included ignoring a congratulatory e-mail from Xpressbet. “I noticed an Xpressbet e-mail,” he explained, “but I didn’t read it. Then, when I finally did, all I did was stare at it.”

McCarthy notes that one advantage with Xpressbet tournaments is that because wagers are ‘live’ money goes “back into the system so there’s a payoff for owners, jockeys, trainers and breeders.”

McCarthy notes that his score came at an appropriate time. Starting in April/May, he expects to be involved in KCA (Kick Cancer’s Ass), a horse syndicate with a philanthropic concept: they plan to donate a percentage of earnings to St. Jude’s American Cancer Institute. According to McCarthy, Chicago stalwart Chris Block will be the group’s trainer.

Asked how he might respond to tournament pros, feathers ruffled by his ‘beginner’s luck’ triumph, he sympathized, “They should be mad. I was really fortunate.”

It happens. Sometimes correct responses to ‘down’ and ‘across’ numbered clues just flow easily.

Race On!

On Track with Johnny D: Good Thing He Can’t Read

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