Well it has been 10 days since the Breeders’ Cup and now that the proverbial dust has settled, I thought I would digest the debates and the “IMOs” in social media and put in my thoughts.
I will start by saying that I absolutely love my home track, Canterbury Park. It has such a familiar feel to it, it’s like walking in the front door of my house. I know exactly where to go, exactly where the “regulars” will be and exactly where the Chalk Pub is!
I saw the Boss himself, Mr. Randy Sampson, picking up empty drink cups left behind by some less-than appreciative bettor. Mr. Sampson does this frequently. He takes care of Canterbury as if it was his own house, and technically it is. He always greets me with a firm handshake and a “nice to see you.” There’s always a table for me at Canterbury when major simulcast events are being played, which I also greatly appreciate. For the Breeders’ Cup, I was at the table with my friend Tom, whom I met at Arlington during the Arlington Million. We were both standing at the TV screen watching the Canterbury live stream during the races at Arlington. Birds of a feather flock together, as the saying goes.
I am 100% “Team TVG” so before I left for the track on November 1, I watched the preview show and the first two races at Santa Anita. Rich Perloff was on fire that day. I even wrote down Perloff’s picks next to my own before I walked out the door. Both he and I hit the winner in Race 1 and the exacta in Race 2, but it wasn’t that hard to hit, I have to admit. Joe Talamo on the turf is almost a sure-thing. He was on Ocho Ocho Ocho in Race 1 and the favorite, War Alert, was nowhere to be found. Talamo is too tough on turf. Period. If you didn’t see the trifecta coming in the second race, you don’t know Santa Anita. Acceptance, Wake Up Nick and Mischief Clem, all favorites.
There were eight scratches in Race 3, and Mr. Perloff wisely hit the “All button” in this one, as some horse named Amaranth won this race – that should have been a hint for the rest of the day actually! Where were On The Backstreets (Paco Lopez) and Velvet Mesquite (Mike Smith)? At least Velvet Mesquite managed to come in behind Amaranth and of course Talamo picked up the trifecta (on the turf) on Fanticola.
The BC Juvenile Fillies was a very cool race. That’s really all I can say. I love it when the hype falls flat. Nowhere on the board was Conquest Eclipse, Angela Renee or Puca. But a D. Wayne Lukas horse took ‘em gate to wire at 60-1 with the talented Victor Espinoza in the irons. Espinoza seems to find himself on the most-unlikely champions. Take Charge Brandi beat this field by 6 lengths coming into the stretch. Espinoza took a peek back as he crossed the wire to see where everyone else was! The horse that finished second was Top Decile, which Perloff had on top, kudos Mr. Perloff – had Brandi not freaked, Top Decile had this won.
Oh, the BC Filly and Mare Turf! I played two exactas in this race and had Dank on top with Stephanie’s Kitten and Dayatthespa underneath! Oh Dank it! And Castellano, I should have known. It’s funny how the “woulda, shoulda” effect takes place and messes with your focus.
Thank goodness for Judy the Beauty who righted the ship in the BC Filly and Mare Sprint. I hit the exacta in this with Better Lucky. It was good to see Judy and Mike Smith in the Winner’s Circle. She’s a good horse and a fearless competitor. Unfortunately for Money Mike, this would be his first and only victory of the day.
Large fields on the turf are difficult to handicap, and the Turf Sprint was no exception. As most of you know, if you follow me, I keep my eye on Joel Rosario – for a number of reasons. Specifically, he has a patented move of launching from the back of the pack. The “slingshot” move, I call it. I don’t know why I bet against him in any race, but with the turf races at Santa Anita and Rosario being on the East Coast now, I went with the wrong Kitten in this race. From out of the pack emerged Rosario wearing the Ramsey silks and urged Bobby’s Kitten to victory over No Nay Never, literally at the wire, giving trainer Chad Brown his second win of three on the day. Wes Welker’s Undrafted rounded out the trifecta.
Ah, Race 8, the BC Juvenile … the baby boys …and stars of the future. Such pressure for young colts on a major stage. Enter Mr. Perloff and his discussion of Texas Red on the TVG preshow. I wrote down and underlined “Texas Red” on my sheet, but Carpe Diem was all I could think about. I thought, “Pfffft. Perloff.” I stand severely humbled and corrected, Mr. Perloff. Immediately after Texas Red embarrassed this field of would-be-stars, the broadcasters and social media erupted with Derby talk. Yes, yes, we all fell in love with the campaign of California Chrome last year, but let’s just relax for a minute and take a deeper look at this race, if that is all people are basing Texas Red’s Derby-worthy talk on. Carpe Diem finished second, a distance second, I give you that. But he also had a bad trip. Upstart was third. I did not expect Daredevil to live up to his billing to be honest. He wasn’t even on my radar. Also, consider the scratches in this race: Calculator and American Pharaoh. Would the speed have been different upfront with either or both of them in the race? Definitely. Would American Pharaoh and, if Carpe Diem had gotten loose, been the speed upfront and be too much for Texas Red to catch? Unfortunately, we will never know. Maybe the dueling speedsters would have opened up the opportunity for Calculator and Upstart to steal the glory from the favorites. Again, woulda, shoulda, but that’s not how it went down. Texas Red exploded in the stretch, but Carpe Diem was buried and Texas Red came flying – a joy ride for Kent Desormeaux. As the 2-year old campaign plays out in the next six months, I will be keeping an eye as to where these three horses are placed before I start getting all giddy-up about the 2015 Kentucky Derby.
Thank you, Main Sequence, for righting the ship again. There is just no better horse racing right now at this distance on turf than Main Sequence. I am sad that Rajiv Maragh did not get his opportunity on Main Sequence but no one could pilot a horse better on turf than John Velazquez. Johnny V has had some success on the turf with another beast of a turf horse — Wise Dan of course. Main Sequence was just simply in a class by himself in this race. Main Sequence could possibly get Horse of the Year votes to stack up as we progress toward the nomination deadline. For me, when voting, you have to look at the horse’s complete resume, not just the Breeders’ Cup results. Obviously, Grade 1 wins against Grade 1 company is the top tier on a horse’s resume, and Main Sequence has four of them. All four starts in 2014 were in Grade 1 races. Four Grade 1 starts and four Grade 1 wins. That’s an impressive resume folks and one that deserves this industry’s top award.
When the Xpressbet BC Sprint came up as Race 10, I turned to my friend Tom and said, “You know which horse we have to take, right?” Roger Brueggemann and Midwest Thoroughbreds raced horses at Canterbury Park for many years. Tom and I watched Work All Week run at Arlington and other tracks, and I met jockey Florent Geroux at Arlington. We have a common friend in Alex Canchari so Florent stopped to talk to me and was very nice and normal. You always wish for good things to happen to the most deserving people. I am so happy for Florent’s success on The Pizza Man and Work All Week. He has spent many years in the Midwest circuit riding horses in the cold and snow of Chicago. It’s about time the Midwest circuit got a little respect on the biggest stage in racing, and I can’t think of a better set of connections than these. I had Work All Week on my ticket. I also had a set of exactas with Secret Circle because you just don’t mess with the mighty connections of Martin Garcia and Bob Baffert in California. For personal reasons, I also had Salutos Amigos to win, but for personal reasons only, not handicapping reasons. The ticket that paid me was the Work All Week/Secret Circle exacta. This was a very proud moment.
However, my least proud moment as a handicapper came in the next race, the BC Turf Mile. After the elation of seeing Work All Week in the Winner’s Circle, Tom said to me, “I’m not even gonna look at the next race. I’m going with the horse from Japan.” And then …. It happened. I have learned a great deal from some of the most brilliant handicappers in the biz. I have heard many of the “bigs” (Lee Davis, Jonathan Stettin to name drop) say, “as a handicapper, you never talk someone off a horse” you simply make suggestions based on your education and research, and occasionally a gut-feeling. We are more like “horseracing consultants.” I was about to open my mouth and make an extremely regrettable flippant comment. After Tom’s bold and confident announcement, I looked at him and said, “Really?” I even uttered something to the effect, “I’ll die if that horse wins.” And, well … we all know how this ended. Karakontie came out of the pack and took no mercy on the rest of the field. I literally wanted to find a hole and crawl into it. I was on the verge of tears. I don’t know who Tom placed his bet on, but it wasn’t the 14. I tried to soften the sting by saying the field was full of Euros and no one could have known, to which Tom responded, “I did.” Ah, daggers. Surprisingly, we are still friends.
Does the Classic ever really disappoint?! Last year the threesome of Mucho Macho Man, Declaration of War and Will Take Charge brought us all to the edge of our seats and this year was no different. However, I felt the anticipated build-up was more enticing than last year… after all the 2014 Triple Crown hopeful California Crown was in this race, as well as the “it” horse Shared Belief and the horse that broke a track record in the Pennsylvania Derby, the speed figures’ darling, Bayern. It was one of the best finishes I have seen in a long time. Last year, it was Declaration of War splitting horses between MMM and WTC. This year, it was California Chrome charging up the outside of Toast of New York. I love this game.
But, let’s back up to the start. The bumper car effect out of the gate by Bayern could never have been predicted by the best psychic, telepath or horse whisperer. Well I suppose it’s possible that Bob Baffert and Martin Garcia knew, but I can’t even entertain that notion. Bayern may have done the bumping, but at the risk of injuring himself, one of the BC Classic favorites in the process? I doubt it. I really doubt it. That horse is worth too much money for anyone to put him at risk. It was a crazy break. It effected all the speed to the left of Bayern, which was helpful, but was Moreno or V.E. Day really ever gonna win this race? No. Shared Belief on the other hand was surely thrown off by Bayern’s hard left. The same unfortunate event happened to California Chrome in the Belmont. The debate of disqualification for me was pointless. The stewards at Santa Anita DQ horses for the strangest things. They rarely do it during the Breeders Cup, however. I mean let’s look back again to last year, where Ria Antonia ended up in the Winner’s Circle for the most miniscule infraction by She’s a Tiger. That “bump” was not even in the same category as the mess that Bayern caused out of the gate. But remember, the stewards took so much heat from last year’s DQ, I knew they would not take down Bayern.
In my opinion, he deserved to be taken down, and Martin Garcia fined for reckless riding. The amount of money, quality of horses and the safety of the best jockeys in the world should have come into consideration when the stewards made this decision. For the record, I had Bayern, California Chrome and Toast of New York on my tickets, but I would certainly have tossed that away to protect the safety of the equine athletes and the integrity of this sport.
I had California Chrome across the board. I believe in this horse, and have believed in him and Victor Espinoza since Day 1 at Los Alamitos. I thought he ran a beautiful race and all the connections should hold their heads high. As far as Bayern, this horse is a warrior. He can run, he can race and there is no better fit than Martin Garcia for this horse. It was a remarkable finish to this race, and we have to remember that for all the trouble out of the gate, Bayern was involved in that as well and yet he won the race. So basically, the bumper cars did nothing but put the other horses in a bad position to win the race. However, Bayern went to the front after the very poor start and won. That’s a warrior my friends. He was going to win no matter what the adversity. I can also openly admit that the poor placement by V.E. Day, Shared Belief, Moreno and Tonalist certainly helped Toast of New York. I watched the Dubai World Cup that Toast won, and I’ve been keeping tabs on his works and progress since he shipped to the U.S., so Toast was on the ticket as a hopeful, and there was no way I was putting Shared Belief on a ticket at the price he went off at. I was hoping for Rosario to engage the slingshot with Tonalist, but again he simply did not run a good race and was not even a factor. The way the race finished with the top four horses is probably exactly the way most people thought it would go, with the exception of Toast getting the place honors. Shared Belief, even after the rough beginning, finished fourth, and a few strides more in distance and California Chrome would be our Breeders’ Cup Classic champion.
This has been thoughts on the Breeders’ Cup from the mind of the Miz.