Memo to anybody planning to bet the Breeders Cup races at the Pikeville OTB or, for that matter, anyplace else: It’s better to be lucky than smart.
I’ve bet on just about every Breeders Cup program since the first one in 1984, and I must admit that I’ve had some good days. But it’s never because of my handicapping skills. It’s because I tossed away the Daily Racing Form and just went with hunches.
Take last year at Churchill Downs, for example. I hadn’t cashed a ticket through the first five or six races. It was too tough. I had much too much information. So I wasn’t feeling very confident when I got in line with my last few dollars in hand.
I struck up a conversation with a young lady in the next line. When I asked her who she liked in the upcoming race, she gave me three horses I hadn’t even considered. But I said, “What the heck, why not give it a try?”
So I bet her three horses in some exacta boxes and doggoned if they didn’t finish 1-2-3. I won enough to get out of the trap for the day and I even had a couple hundred to take home.
I’ve had several similar experiences at the Breeders Cup. Sometimes I bet jockeys or names. A friend of mine always bets gray horses. Serious handcappers sneer at such unscientific and unsophisticated methods.
But I swear, they’re as good as any at the Breeders Cup, which now consists of 11 races, each with a purse of at least $1 million, spread over two days. The program culminates with the world’s richest race, the $5 million Classic for 3-year-olds and up.
At the Breeders Cup, you see, you have horses coming from all over North America and Europe. They have been racing on all sorts of surfaces, both natural and artificial, at all sorts of distances against all sorts of competition. Only a handful have ever run at Monmouth Park in N.J., the site of this week’s big event.
If anybody picks more than three winners of the 11 races, that person is either a genius or else the luckiest stiff in the world. But the good news is that the Breeders Cup always delivers upsets that produce huge payoffs.
It’s the only place you can get prices of 30-to-1 or higher on some potentially Hall of Fame horses. I usually want to bet five or six horses in every race, it’s so hard to make a decision.
After that lengthy disclaimer, here we go. If I don’t pick any winners, don’t blame me. Blame Ben Gish of The Mountain Eagle. He’s the one who talked me into inflicting my opinion on you good folks.
Filly and Mare Sprint – Oprah Winney will get a lot of play and could win. I’m playing her in my three-horse exacta boxes with Mayfield and Miss Macy Sue.
Juvenile turf – This is one of the new events, and a few trainers must decide between this one for a $1 million purse and the $2 million Juvenile on the dirt. I’m going with Ibn Khaldun and Domestic Fund, both from foreign-based stables.
Dirt Mile – I’m going with Commentator, trained by Nick Zito, in honor of Cawood Ledford, the late “Voice of the Wildcats” who was a dear friend for many years. But if Zito opts to run Commentator in the Turf Mile, I’ll take Corinthian.
Juvenile Fillies – For some reason, I’ve always had good luck in this race. For personal reasons that I’d rather not explain, I’ve going to box Backseat Rhythm (I had a ’54 Chevy in high school, and I remember…never mind) with Grace Anatomy and Proud Spell.
Juvenile – This year Street Sense became the first Juvenile winner to also win the Kentucky Derby, so the so-called “Juvenile Jinx” is officially dead. I’m going to box three horses by trainers I like – Wicked Style (Rusty Arnold), War Pass (Nick Zito), and Old Man Buck (Kenny McPeek).
Filly and Mare Turf – Trainer Bobby Frankel figures to have a couple of live ones in Precious Kitten and Argentina, but I think Pletcher beats him with either Honey Ryder or Wait a While.
Sprint – At only six furlongs, it’s important to break well and not get caught in traffic. I like Idiot Proof. I always thought that’s what manufactures meant when they put “Minimum Assembly Required” on kids’ toy boxes.
Mile – Nobiz Like Showbiz wins for trainer Barclay Tagg, who won the Kentucky Derby with Funny Cide in 2003.
Distaff – Lady Joanne gives trainer Carl Nafzger his first victory of the day.
Turf – Dylan Thomas will not go gently into the good night. He wins over English Channel and Icy Atlantic (if he goes here instead of the Sprint).
Classic – Nafzger gets win No. 2 with Street Sense, the Derby winner. In 1990, the exrodeo cowboy won both the Derby and the Classic with Unbridled, so he knows how to do it. In fact, I see a repeat of this year’s Derby finish – Street Sense, Hard Spun, and Curlin, in that order.
Good luck. Trust me, you’ll need it.
Billy Reed is an award-winning sports writer and political columnist who has worked for the The Courier-Journal in Louisville, The Lexington Herald- Leader, and Sports Illustrated magazine.