Closer and closer we creep to the Breeders’ Cup. This Wednesday was kind of the first step on the serious BC path as the pre-entries were announced. A lot is still to be decided, but at least we can all start looking at the PPs for horses likely to run in the Olympics of horse racing. This upcoming Wednesday will be like Christmas in November when the final entries are drawn. Then it’s down to work.
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Only a few seats remain for our first-ever Breeders’ Cup Party & Handicapping Seminar. I would say if you have any interest in coming, you better get your reservations in by the end of the week or we’re going to be sold out.
A big Breeders’ Cup workout comes to us from Churchill Downs this weekend. The Graham Motion-trained Aruna will work over the main track to see how she handles it. Seemingly a turf/synthetic horse, Aruna will try to follow in the footsteps of a little horse named Animal Kingdom who pulled off the same feat earlier this year beneath the Twin Spires.
For those of you looking for in-depth handicapping info related to the Breeders’ Cup, be sure to check out Mike Welsch’s daily videos on www.drf.com. He’s the best in the business in deciphering who looks good and who doesn’t. He raved about Animal Kingdom’s pre-Derby work earlier this year and I can’t wait to hear what he thinks of Aruna.
Brad Thomas’ Thursday Theories
As the 2011 Breeders’ Cup approaches, there’s still plenty of discussion and debate about the situation involving Life At Ten when that mare performed so abysmally in the 2010 BC distaff feature. And that’s good for the health of the industry. But one thing has disturbed me all along and that’s the insinuations from insiders that the real problem was the public knowing things it customarily would not be privy to rather than the fact that a heavily-bet horse had issues that nobody had the courage to address. Decades ago, another generation of those insiders was against publicizing which horses were using lasix. The ridiculous mantra was that horseplayers were not intelligent and/or informed enough to understand how to use the information. Or that those who did comprehend would have an unfair advantage over those who didn’t. I’ve heard similar rumblings about pre-race candor concerning horse’s physical condition in this current dialogue. Well, I got news for some folks. The people who use one type of past performances might have an edge over those who use another kind. And those who listen to themselves might have an advantage on those who listen to a public handicapper. That’s the game! It’s all about finding the edges! Put all the information out there and let the players figure it out. Some will (Great!) and some won’t (It’s a tough game!). That’s the nature of betting on horse racing and it’s what makes it the greatest gambling game around. And as for the intelligence of horseplayers – I’ve got some even bigger news: the best brains in this game aren’t in the management, official, or employee suites. They’re in the Clubhouse and Grandstand, or in their homes watching on a TV or computer screen.
I’ve always said that horse racing was about making money. Whether you’re a track, a bettor, a trainer, an owner, a breeder, or anything else in the industry. And there’s no shame in believing that and acting on it. But still, if I owned the magnificent filly Blind Luck, there’s absolutely no way I would put her up for sale. Especially right after she’d run the first and only bad race of her life following an intense, years-long schedule that made me plenty of cash. Sure, I’d sell her foals – some of them – but not her. Call me sentimental – or maybe just loyal.
There’s at least one good thing about the national horse shortage and it’s that the pressure to fill races has emboldened some owners and trainers into running their athletes more often. And you know what? The humans are discovering that the animals actually can do it! Now, maybe it’s about tracks sufficiently “incentivizing” more active campaigns in less lean times for horses competing at all levels.
Friday, October 21
Race 2 – Grand Reality ran a career best speed figure on dirt last out when he speed-popped the field on a loose lead. However, there were a lot of other horses with early foot in this contest and the gelding drew a post position outside all of them. Potential problem? Not in reality. The Elizabeth Gray-trainee is versatile enough to adapt to today’s difficult work environment for Thoroughbreds. Jockey Victor Santiago astutely took back Grand Reality to last right out of the gate, attacked on the second turn, split horses adroitly twice, and drew away late like a horse who might be able to stand yet another step up in class.
Race 3 – Favored (7/5) El Hombre Grande was cutting back from seven furlongs to 5 ½ panels and the new distance seemed to be a good fit for a 2-year-old who had finished decently twice when competing at five furlongs. Conversely, co-second choice (5/2) Mambo Bay was stretching out from five to 5 ½ panels for the first time in his life after having lost ground late in each of his previous four starts. Yet, counter to what might be the knee-jerk intuition of some, Mambo Bay proved to be a decisive winner. Why?
Well, one of the beauties of this game is that something seldom is exactly as it seems. Yes, Mambo Bay was faltering going shorter, but in each of his last three races he was under intense pace pressure dueling through the extra-fast splits (relatively speaking for a colt at his level) commonly associated with contests of abbreviated distances. Sometimes, an extra half-furlong makes all the difference in the world, but not in the way it might seem at first glance. At 5 ½ furlongs, under softer-paced conditions going slightly longer, Mambo Bay was able to clear easily, relax on the lead, and stroll home. On the cut-back though, under faster-paced conditions than he had encountered at seven-eighths, El Hombre Grande found himself unable to keep up even with the second tier horses on the turn and did decently to rally, eventually, for the place.
Race 4 – Sometimes it pays - $10,800 in purse money and at 4-1 odds – to be patient. Trainer Dianne Jeannont entered Forensic Edge in a conditioned, $5,000 claimer on October 15 in which the whole world, evidently, wanted to run. Twelve horses drew into the body and Forensic Edge, who got the extreme outside post, was scratched by her conditioner. Was it a mistake? Would it take weeks for another race to go that would fit a mare sitting on ready? Not this late in the racing season. A mere six days later, Jeannont entered Forensic Edge here for about the same condition, but at a superficially higher ($7,500) claiming price. The fact of the matter, though, was that this smaller (seven-horse) field was significantly weaker than the fuller contest at a lower claiming price that was avoided last Saturday. Jockey Victor Santiago contributed his second, superb closing ride of the day by saving ground virtually every step of the way.
Race 5 – When favored (9/5) Todd Got Even stepped out for the post parade with front bandages on, there no doubt were many sharp players both on and off-track who made note of the equipment change. Then the really sharp ones completely disregarded it. That’s because bandage moves by super-shrewd trainers like Scott Volk are so indecipherable as to be meaningless. Which reminds me:
A friend of mine once owned a cheap horse who always wore front bandages. One day he came out late to the track when his gelding was running and saw him warming up by the gate wearing no bandages at all. Elated, my friend went running up to his trainer in the box seats.
“Bill! He looks tremendous! He doesn’t need the bandages anymore! I’m going to bet! He’s going to win for fun!”
“Bobby! Bobby! No! Stop! Come back! Don’t bet! The barn dog ate the bandages!”
Saturday, October 22
Race 1 – Jockey Francisco Maysonett’s greatest strength is his never-stop-trying, vigorously-urging style. His mount here, first-time starter Bernardine’s Gift, broke slowly going an abbreviated sprint distance of 5 ½ furlongs. Maysonett energetically hustled her to a couple lengths off loose leader Torchwood, who appeared to be running well within herself on the turn. The leader stopped on a dime, however, and Maysonett, still whipping and driving, found himself drawing away into the stretch. Meanwhile, jockey Chris DeCarlo was sitting chilly. His ride, firster No Mandate, broke decently despite the rail post and fell into a comfortable third-position early without having been used. DeCarlo and No Mandate settled into a steady, controlled rhythm, angled out into the stretch, and blew by Maysonett and an expended Bernardine’s Gift (who faded to third) in deep stretch. Styles make boxing matches and horse races and in this instance DeCarlo had the right one.
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