Breeders' Cup Recap- Tragedy Mars Otherwise Great Day of Racing

   On an otherwise spectacular day of racing, a fatal injury to promising three-year-old filly Pine Island drew the most headlines. In a D-for-disaster running of the Distaff, Pine Island trailed the field as expected around the final turn, but took a bad mistep and proceeded to tumble forward at full speed in a summersault-like manner. The jockey was thrown off with great force (although miraculously came back to ride Bernardini later in the day) and Pine Island dislocated her front ankle, piercing the skin- a hopeless injury for a horse as infection is immediately introduced to the blood supply. Commentary suggested that the bone was broken so forcefully that pieces of horse bone lay stuck in the track. Ouch. The injury had eerie consequences for me. I had taken a strong stand against Pine Island as I didn’t think her deep closing style would play well in a race that figured to have so much speed. I liked Balletto’s chances better, as she would be able to stalk and capitalize more efficiently on any of the speed horses tiring. However, as the race drew near Pine Island seemed to be the pick, as she had been bet down to a 3-1 second choice from her 5-1 morning line virtually every televised handicapping expert picked her. One picked Balletto, and none picked the favored Fleet Indian, who ironically broke down as well, although her injury does not appear to be life threatening. But was I missing something? Having gotten off to a pretty good start betting-wise by Breeders’ Cup standards, it appeared to me that I had this race in hand as long as Pine Island didn’t finish on the board. So, I cursed her, somewhat comedically, calling her evil and hoping for her demise. For the rest of the day, the horses I needed to beat I simply wished out loud to run well but miss the board. I’m not a superstitous person at all, but after watching what was easily the most horrific horse-related injury I have ever witnessed, even I had to admit what an awful coincidence my comments were with the horse’s fate, although I clearly did not truly wish for anything damaging to befall the horse. For those who didn’t see it, the injury made Barbaro’s breakdown look like Sesame Street. On the postive side, I suppose, the injury could have been much worse if Pine Island had been running mid-stretch, as she certainly would have taken out a half a dozen other horses and caused her jockey to be trampled. All in all, the shocking live announcement from the vet that she had been euthanized really put a damper on the rest of the day, although betting-wise, this was the best performance of my lifetime, actually making money for the first time ever and missing a few big shots narrowly. Here is a recap of the day:

Juvenile Fillies and Juvenile: I didn’t bet on these races as generally they are a crapshoot. In the Juvenile filles, favored Dreaming Of Anna wired the field. In retrospect, it seems like the favorite wins this race a lot. In the Juvenile, moderate longshot Street Sense destroyed the field and looked to have some gas left. Is he the one to break the Juvenile jinx and take the Kentucky Derby? That is a blog for another day early next May.

Filly and Mare Turf: In a deju-vu spectacle of 2004, I managed to pick the first two in order as Ouija Board put on yet another dominating performance and Film Maker showed that she still has it at the age of 6. Honey Ryder’s strong closing kick was a little too close for comfort for me, although not all that surprising. What was surprising was highly-touted three-year-old Wait A While not running as well as expected. Maybe she didn’t like the distance or maybe this was a day in which a crop of overrated three-year olds failed to perform against more talented, seasoned competition. I’ll cast my vote for the latter, as this theme reoccured throughout the day.

Sprint: Thor’s Echo put on quite a show as he disposed of this field pretty easily, staying just off the expected pacesetters and overtaking them around the final turn. I touted him pretty highly here but wimped out and only bet on him to show, still a profitable bet but one that left me cursing myself as the winner ended up being bet up to 18-1 from his 10-1 morning line. What a steal! Bordanaro ran well as expected, missing the board in a photo for third, and killing my hopes for what would have been a pretty juicy exacta. The lesson learned here is that Beyer Speed figures still matter, as two of the top four had the two highest last-race Beyers coming into the day. The other two, Friendly Island and closer Nightmare Affair, ran huge races at big odds. Favored Henny Hughes didn’t show up at all, furthering a bad day for the three-year olds.

Mile: This was an absolute crapshoot from the get-go, although after seeing winner Miesque’s Approval’s odds soar from morning line 10-1 to 23-1 at post time, I considered running back over to the OTB. I decided to stay put and was very sorry. My pick, Gorella, didn’t run a bad race, but got boxed in and as a result had too much ground to make up, even with her famous kick. Miesque’s Approval used a different approach, going five wide around the leaders and risking the loss of a lot of ground. The move worked, and the horse was a deserving winner. Aragorn capped off a great season with a strong second place finish here and helping me to hit the board yet again. Badge of Silver was pretty impressive overall, finishing third after running on the lead, while none of the Euros showed up at all. The lesson learned here is that a closing style from an outside post is still a good value. I just picked the wrong horse this time.

Distaff: The aforementioned tragedy put a serious damper on one of the biggest upsets of the day, as Round Pound rode the #1 post to a pretty unpredictable victory. After being trounced at this distance by 7 lengths by Fleet Indian and Balletto last time out in the Beldame, I didn’t give her a second look in this one. But she ran just off the pacesetters, and when the two favorites went down and the race was up for grabs, she was there to overtake the winded speed horses Healthy Addiction and Pool Land. My pick, Balletto, was in good position late in the race despite being bumped early, only to be bumped again on the backstretch by Asi Siempre, stopping her momentum and effectively removing her from win contention. Happy Ticket closed impressively to finish second, and now was finished worse than second only twice in 20 races. A place bet on her may have been the best bet of the day. But overall, the race was nothing short of a giant disaster that took a lot of luster away from an otherwise impressive race by Pool Land.

Turf: This race proved to as confusing as they come even with a small ten horse field, as European longshot Red Rocks pulled out the win while favored Hurricane Run simply didn’t fire and looks badly removed from his prior form. Top American hopefuls English Channel and Cacique weren’t at their best either, although the former did hang on to hit the board, and my pick of the day with Go Deputy didn’t play out as I expected, to put it mildly. In retrospect, I seriously underestimated the impact of his having two races in two weeks at this distance, and it certainly didn’t help matters that he seemed to get caught up too close to the pace in the early going. Instead, it was old-timer Better Talk Now who put in the best homeland effort, finishing second and nearly stealing the race just as he did two years ago. That would probably have been the highlight of the day, even though I didn’t play him. Instead, the Euros got another one. Sigh.

Classic: The race of the day lived up to expectations, but it was Uraguyan Invasor who laid claim to Horse of the Year honors, as he used a powerful stretch run to overtake favored and seemingly invincible Bernardini. I have to admit, when Bernardini made that big move coming around the final turn, I thought he was going to proceed to wipe the floor with the rest of the field. But then something happened- Bernardini didn’t seem to have that explosive burst that we had seen this fall in the Travers and Jockey Club races. This is probably just relativity, as this field was by far the strongest he has faced. But one has to wonder how Bernardini managed to become such a clear favorite in a race that he lost to a horse in Invasor that was and is simply better. I guess we can put to rest any concern that Invasor’s layoff was going to be a detriment. He looked as sharp and as strong as any horse that ran Saturday, and he deserves the Horse of the Year honors without much debate. Premium Tap ran a huge race to hit the board and save my day as he was my longshot pick to show. Brother Derek also ran very well but as predicted just didn’t have the gas for the final half furlong. The most surprising misfires came from the undefeated Lava Man and the seemingly improved Sun King, who didn’t really ever get close to the leaders. Of the two, Sun King’s race surprised me more. I never saw this as it was billed, as a David vs. Goliath matchup between Bernardini and Lava Man. Clearly this was a two horse race from the beginning between Invasor and Bernardini, and now we have our answer and our deserving Horse of the Year. Boy, it sure feels good to end the day being right.

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