Here’s what I learned over the Breeder’s Cup weekend.
That anybody who said Zenyatta had no chance is a lousy handicapper. You could race down the 405 in LA, and if you won 19 in a row, you would probably have a good chance against anybody, anywhere. Up against a good field and a racing surface that favored stalkers, Zenyatta broke from the gate like a Sunday driver, she broke so belatedly and ran/skipped so awkwardly there at the first, many thought she was injured. But she was just fooling around the way she always does and closed to lose by a set of teeth to a homer, a horse that owned the Churchill surface. All those handicappers, pro, semi-pro and rank amateur, who said that Zenyatta was overrated, are themselves just that.
That closers frequently win sprints on the grass. Anybody playing speed at short distances on the grass should have his or her head examined. Just line up behind me. Speed in tough races is always contested. Contested speed on the turf most always stops. Box the closers, I thought afterward, and carved into my desk.
That horseplayers are, for the most part, a decent lot. I hit a few in the picks listed here for ESPN.com, namely the 7th Saturday, the Juvenile, which turned out the way I requested, 7-2-9-1, for a superfecta of around $850 on a $2 investment. No, I don’t live at 7291 Lucky Lane. The numbers have no personal significance. The first four horses simply performed the way they were supposed to for a change. And soon after the Official lights popped on, stunned yet grateful horseplayers checked in with me to offer their thanks in the form of a gratuity, as it were, a tip. A cut of the take. Here’s the way that has to work. Thanks anyhow. Find a good charity for the acknowledgement of our fortunate stars. It’s not that I’m nice, not even close. It’s just that if a picker starts taking money for good luck, people might want refunds when you’re bad. That the reader knows how insanely lucky it is to hit the first four finishers cold in a Breeder’s Cup race, with the pick made Wednesday morning for a Saturday evening race, well, that’s reward enough.
That horseplayers are a resilient bunch. Friday, many of us got taken to the cleaners again. I say “again” without fear of overstatement. First off, the house skims a stiff cut off all wagering pools for what it deems necessary. Then, sometimes, rascals come after our money, people trying to put a horse over using untoward methods, or inside information. Given the size of purses inspired by slot machines, and zoom lenses, and snoops, and honest people, outright fixes are mostly seen in black-and-white movies. What more could any connection want than the opportunity to run for $25,000 against state-bred plugs.
Sometimes we the horseplayers get skinned just because.
Friday, a horse that had a hard time walking was entered in a Breeder’s Cup race. It was the second or third choice at around 3-1. A ton of money had been bet on it, your money, my money, probably a poor granny’s fixed-income money, money from the ghetto, money collected by a church group, a kindergarten class, everybody’s money.
The television coverage pointed out that the horse had warmed up stiffly, which was a nice way of saying that it looked like Boris Karloff coming down the hill after the townspeople in “Frankenstein.”
When a horse doesn’t feel right, the jockey should tell the vet, who should in turn then do something. Like have a look. But races for millions are high stakes and high stress situations. Sometimes horses that appear sleepy and warm up stiffly run great. Scratch a horse without an obvious limp, an owner will take exception, or worse.
Watching the races on a screen, they show the post parade from the chest up for about 30 seconds, per horse. You could miss an open wound. And oftentimes it’s too late to get out of a wager.
So they stuffed this short-priced horse into the gate, and out it came, moving like somebody who had just had “the works” from a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. It barely moved at all and came around last, soaking those who had wagered on it; and not with Gatorade, with regret.
What the horse player does next is request reform when it comes to checking more closely animals who are obviously not themselves. And then horse players move on to the next race, the next opportunity to outsmart them. Being skinned occasionally, not being given a fair shake, it’s in the background of the horse racing landscape.
It’s like the spouses, partners or friends would say after hearing of this sob story.
It is the game we chose.
Originally Posted on ESPN