Archive for November 2009

INDIANA BASKETBALL MOMENTS- The Best and Worst

November 12, 2009

As another college basketball season begins, those of us that suffered through a difficult Indiana hoops season in 2008-2009 are looking forward to bigger and better things. In fact, I’m so focused on the development and improvement of our team that I’m not even going to write a full blown national preview this year. Instead, I thought it might be more enjoyable to look back on the years that have passed since Indiana last won a National Championship (It’s been 22 years, but who’s counting). There have been many highs, and many lows, but we’re still waiting on another trophy. Hopefully Coach Tom Crean will get us there sooner than later. Good luck Hoosiers!

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THE FIVE MOST MEMORABLE WINS

#5: Indiana 59- Michigan State 58, 2001

This was the defining moment of Mike Davis’ first full year at the helm, as the Hoosiers knocked off the #1 ranked Michigan State Spartans. It was the first #1 ranked team Indiana had beaten since 1993 when they knocked off the hated Kentucky Wildcats. However, this game provided a brief sigh of relief for fans still enraged by Bob Knight’s firing. Trailing by two with the ball, Davis drew up a play to go for the win rather than send the game into overtime at home, a plan that could have easily backfired. Instead, senior Kirk Haston knocked down a three pointer at the buzzer and bedlam ensued as fans stormed the court. Probably the most memorable aspect of this moment, however, was Davis’ reaction, as he dropped to his knees in a combination of relief, disbelief, and probably prayer.

#4: Indiana 76- Michigan 75, 1989

It is easy to forget what a great player Jay Edwards was in his brief time with the Hoosiers, but this was the defining moment of his career. Trailing by two against a Michigan team that would go on to win the National Championship that year, Edwards just barely beat the clock on a three pointer that was nothing but net, and Indiana walked away with a huge victory. This might be the only victory where Coach Knight showed so much genuine emotion at the moment the shot went in; it was a rare occasion indeed to see the General jumping up and down after a win. When I met Edwards a few years back at a bar in the South Loop, I immediately mentioned that this game was one of the high points of my entire childhood, and told him how upset I was when he decided to leave after his sophomore season. He admitted that he regretted that decision, and had nothing but good things to say about Knight.

#3: Indiana 73- Oklahoma 64, 2002

Does everyone remember how overmatched Indiana was coming into this game? I can’t think of a single analyst that picked them, and for good reason; Oklahoma was many people’s choice to win it all, and Indiana was coming in as a big underdog and seeded #5 in the South Regional. But those of us who believed knew that the Hoosiers had one last miracle left in them during their furious charge to the championship game in 2002. Worthy of note is the fact that Indiana actually trailed by four at the half, but went 8-13 from three point land on the game, a statistic that was key to their success throughout their tournament run. Seven and a half years later, it is still tough to believe we were heading to the National Championship for the sixth time in history with this unlikely upset.

#2: Indiana 106- UCLA 79, 1992


Bob Knight didn’t know it at the time, but after winning this game, he would make his last trip to the Final Four. Only five years removed from a championship, this was still an incredibly difficult game for a young but talented Indiana team that was just hitting its stride. UCLA had easily beaten the Hoosiers in the preseason, but IU turned the tables this time, and blasted the Bruins 106-79 after putting up a whopping 62 points in the second half. I was in Orlando, Florida with my family visiting Disney World, and I can’t ever remember having more fun watching an IU game at any point in my life. The combination of the significance of the game, the decisiveness of the win, and the fact that I didn’t expect a win in the first place make this game one of the most memorable.

#1: Indiana 74- Duke 73, 2002

This was the game that I will always remember most of any game I have ever seen Indiana play. The win here catapulted the Hoosiers into the Elite Eight for the first time since 1993 in stunning fashion over the #1 team in the country. At the time, we were all happy just be back in the Sweet Sixteen, and didn’t hold much hope for a win, especially after falling behind 26-8 early. But what made this game so special was the way that we came back; slowly but surely, we chipped away at the lead with threes and smart inside play, and all of a sudden, we were only down by one point with five minutes to play, and then it hit me- we could actually steal this game! The very thought was almost too much to bear, but inched closer to reality when Tom Coverdale hit a layup to take a 72-70 lead with under a minute to play. It was almost happening too quickly to comprehend, but there it was, clear as day- if Duke didn’t score again, Indiana would win the game in an astonishing comeback. But I’d watched way too many IU games over the years to come anywhere near celebration mode quite yet, so instead I braced for the final seconds, which passed like an eternity.

After a huge defensive stop and a forced foul, A.J. Moye knocked down two free throws, and with 11 seconds to play, IU led 74-70. Now, the celebration could begin, right? Not so fast. Any other coach would have essentially pulled his team off the court at this point, but not Davis- the team played defense way to aggressively, and fouled the nation’s best player, Jason Williams, as he drained a three with 4 seconds remaining. Williams, a 90% free throw shooter, needed only to make one free throw to send the game into overtime, which to me would have meant almost certain defeat for the Hoosiers. I was absolutely beside myself, sick to my stomach, but what happened next was nearly an even worse scenario. Somehow, Williams missed the free throw, but in a horrific development, Carlos Boozer out-rebounded Jared Jeffries and threw up a desperation shot that was well within the realm of his accuracy. Now instead of overtime, we were looking at losing the game outright in regulation!! The time that it took for the ball to leave Boozer’s hand until it banked out of the hoop must have taken a year, and Jeff Newton pulled down the rebound as time expired. Then, bedlam set in, as we realized that it was actually, finally, over, and the first of many celebrations on Kirkwood Avenue that spring was the most memorable moment of my senior year, and of the last 20 Indiana seasons. Ironically, it is the same score that gave Indiana their last national title in 1987 over Syracuse in an equally enthralling finish.

THE FIVE MOST GUTWRENCHING LOSSES (watch if you can bear)

#5: Maryland 64- Indiana 52 , 2002

In all honesty, this loss didn’t devastate me as much as it should have, because I had a feeling that my beloved Hoosiers were about to be exposed. But it was obviously a sad feeling when the ride of the 2002 tourney ended with a loss one game short of a championship. They just didn’t have enough depth to knock off another superior opponent once the threes stopped falling. However, this was the first time Indiana had ever lost in a title game in six tries, and it has to make the list just due to the sheer magnitude of the game. Also, we did have the ball when game was tied with just under ten minutes to play, so we had a real chance to pull the upset in this one.

#4: Wisconsin 68- Indiana 66 , 2008

What made this game even worse than the outcome would suggest is that this was also the day that the Kelvin Sampson allegations hit. Indiana was coming off huge back-to-back wins over Michigan State and Purdue, and would be in control of the Big Ten with a victory. The game was tightly contested all the way through, with over a dozen lead changes. Sampson was still at the helm at this point, and the Hoosiers clung to a 66-65 lead with ten seconds left, Wisconsin ball. It seemed that call would be to go inside for an easy two, but instead, Brian Butch, the only polar bear that I have ever disliked, threw up a deep three-pointer that somehow banked into the hoop. Indiana had a chance to go back ahead, but a hurried three rimmed out, and deflation set in. One could argue that it has been all downhill from there.

#3: Illinois 70- Indiana 67, 1989

In 1989, the Big Ten boasted three of the nation’s top five teams throughout the season, and games like this one really were the true glory days of the conference. Trailing 67-65, Indiana went to its star, Jay Edwards, who hit an improbable jumper from behind the backboard, seemingly as time expired to put the game into overtime, and with the crowd and momentum on the Hoosiers’ side. But, before the days of replay or tenths of seconds on the scoreboard, the officials had to rely on their own judgment, and in this case, that meant giving Illinois the ball with one second left. For some reason, Knight chose not to defend the inbounds pass, which turned out to be a perfect one directly to Nick Anderson, who was still well behind the three point line. Anderson had a enough time to catch, plant his feet and throw up a perfect 30-plus foot jumpshot that hit nothing but net as time expired. Ugh.

#2: Minnesota 59 – Indiana 58, 2008

As bad as the Wisconsin game had been earlier in the year, this was much worse, coming in the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals. The Sampson fiasco had played itself out, and Dan Dakich was running a team that clearly didn’t want to play for him. I’ve seen many frustrating losses to the Golden Gophers over the years, mostly when we had ten point leads with under two minutes to play (that happened twice under Davis), but this one takes the cake because we played poorly and trailed the entire game. Until the last few seconds, that is. That’s when trailing by two with 3 seconds left after a made free throw, Eric Gordon intentionally missed the second in a manner so perfect that D.J. White went up and grabbed the rebound and put the ball back up to tie the game at 57. White was also fouled on the play, which meant that IU now had a chance to win the game! He missed the free throw, but recovered his own rebound and was fouled again. He drained one of the two free throws, and somehow, Indiana had a one point lead, and only needed to play good enough defense to stop Minnesota for 1.5 seconds. The ball flew like a laser beam through three Indiana defenders and through the only possible path to Blake Hoffarber’s wretched little hands. He threw the ball up so quickly that I could hardly even believe that he had caught it, much less believe that the ball was now making its way to the center of the rim and throw the net for the Minnesota win. My Hoosiers, once a Final Four favorite in 2008, were then royally screwed by the selection committee and given a #8 seed despite their 25-7 record, and after all of that, lost without much of a fight in the first round to #9 seeded Arkansas. The mass exodus that followed would result in the never-to-be-mentioned 6-25 season last year, but this shot is the moment of that season that completely defined rock bottom. What could be worse than that?

#1: Kansas 83- Indiana 77, 1993

This was actually a tough call, but when I look back over the last 20 seasons, no loss was more painful to take than this one. Coming off a Final Four season in 1992, the 1993 Hoosiers returned all five starters and were ranked the #1 team in the nation heading into the tournament, something than even the 1987 champions could not say. Hopes for a national title were high after a 17-1 Big Ten campaign, but star power forward Alan Henderson’s knee injury prevented him from contributing in the regional final against a pesky Kansas team that had beaten the Hoosiers earlier in the year. Those Jayhawks once again proved too tough for the depleted but determined Big Red, and the most promising season since the last national title ended without even making an appearance in the Final Four. Looking back on that season, I’m not sure we would have won the championship anyway, as Kentucky had also beaten us already, Michigan had the fab five (although we beat them twice in Big Ten play) and North Carolina had it all. But still, it would have been nice to have a chance with a healthy, experienced team, especially considering that Kansas would lose to the eventual champion Tarheels in the semifinal. I still haven’t gotten over this one.

Looking ahead- My Top Ten for 2009-2010

1. Michigan State

2. Kansas

3. Kentucky

4. Texas

5. North Carolina

6. Purdue

7. Villanova

8. Oklahoma

9. Duke

10. Michigan

Others to watch: West Virginia, UConn, California, Tennessee, Butler

WINE OF THE MONTH- November

November 11, 2009

As the year nears its end, I began looking back upon all of the wines I have featured over the previous ten months, and I noticed that one varietal had gone greatly overlooked. Zinfandel is a grape that is as American as it gets; while Italy’s Primitivo is its genetic equivalent, no one tries to make Zinfandel anywhere besides in California, and if they did, they surely wouldn’t be able to duplicate its breadth of flavors. Ranging from dark, chewy and spicy to bright, acidic and fruity, Zinfandel seems to have it all, and is always a favorite of mine with grilled meats and even with pizza. There are literally thousands of Zinfandels to try in the California area, and while wineries like Ridge, Mauritson, Sbragia and Martinelli make consistent examples year after year, there are two wineries, both in the Healdsburg area, that define great Zinfandels, producing several fantastic offerings each vintage from their various vineyards. One is Rosenblum, and the 2003 Rockpile Road Zinfandel that I tasted on Christmas Eve of 2005 is one of many bottles that sparked my interest in this seemingly endless world of wine and took it to another level. The other is Seghesio, one of the oldest vineyards in California. Their 2007 Sonoma Zinfandel is the best example they have ever made of their flagship wine, and the results were outstanding in their other vineyards across the vineyards. Before they are gone, be sure to scoop up what you can find of my choice for November’s Wine of the Month, another Seghesio Zinfandel from that vintage that was released earlier this year:

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SEGHESIO ZINFANDEL ALEXANDER VALLEY HOME RANCH 2007, 91 Points, $35, 2400 cases made

Rustic wild berry fruit aromas. Very pretty, with dark plum, berry and black licorice flavors above tons of black pepper spice. Long, long finish with peppery spice lingering and cinnamon notes adding complexity.

Breeders Cup 2009- Picks and Analysis

November 4, 2009

It is that time of year again, and over the course of Friday and Saturday, 14 championship races will feature the world’s best thoroughbreds and a wagering challenge that is surely the year’s most difficult. At the Breeders’ Cup, anything can happen, especially as the races will remain on Santa Anita’s controversial pro-ride synthetic track for the second year in a row. The rise of synthetic tracks has certainly rendered the already challenging handicapping process even more difficult, but I’ll try get an idea of which horses should take to this track by looking at last year’s results, this year’s trends, and the way the horses have been working over the track. I’m only going to be wagering on ten of these races, so here is a brief analysis of each of those, and the horses in those races that I think will be a factor, as well as an outline of how I’ll wager my $200 target budget. Teaser: I’ve got no love for any Zen in this year’s addition…I’m tossing both Zensational and Zenyatta, the likely favorites in the Sprint and Classic.

FRIDAY:

BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE FILLIES: 1 1/16 miles, 3:45 CST Post

The two year old races are always somewhat of a crapshoot, but in this race we do have the benefit of focusing on some horses that have already run at this distance, and some that have even run the distance over this very track. Blind Luck was an impressive winner here in her last start, closing stoutly to win the Oak Leaf and posting an 88 Beyer Speed Figure. The horse who ran second to her in that race, Always a Princess, ran that race five wide on the lead before being caught at the wire, and stands a chance to get loose on the lead with a better trip and if the track is favoring the speed around two turns. However, she couldn’t win that race on the rail coming out of the one hole, so I question her ability to improve from the wider #11 post, and her workouts over the course have been suspect. Negilgee came home strong to win the Alcibiades over Keeneland’s synthetic polytrack surface, and posted an 89 Beyer in that race at this same distance. She’s also been working like dynamite at Santa Anita. Another interesting horse in this race is She Be Wild, who ran on the lead in the Alcibiades before being caught at the wire. An improvement upon the 88 Beyer in that race puts her among the top of these. Connie and Michael boasts the highest speed figure in the field, and while her lightning quick 7f race at Kenneland earned her a 95 Beyer, I question her ability to cover the added distance on a track that has been bad news for speed horses all year- she’ll probably either win in a romp or finish last. Devil May Care has been improving as she has increased her distances, and was an 8f winner at Belmont last time out, posting an 89 Beyer, but this will be her first try on a synthetic surface. Zilva is tested and improving, but was handily beaten by Negilgee and She Be Wild last time out, although her speed figures have shown solid progression over her last three races (68-76-84). She’ll need to take another leg up to be in the mix here. Biofuel has an impressive grade win over synthetic at 8.5f to her credit, but her 84 Beyer leaves something to be desired. Beautician looks to be somewhat of a “wise-guy” horse in this race, coming off a strong 7f  second place finish at Saratoga (91 Beyer), but she struggled on the synthetic in the Alcibiades while enduring a tough trip, but I’ll be looking elsewhere.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Blind Luck 3-1

2. Negilgee 6-1

3. She Be Wild 8-1

Try to Beat: Connie and Michael 4-1

BETS: ($10)

$1 Exacta Box: Blind Luck, Negilgee, She Be Wild

$4 Place: Blind Luck

FILLY AND MARE TURF, 1 1/4 miles, 4:23 CST Post

The Euros have dominated this race since its inception, but I’m going to take a shot on some American horses this year. Magical Fantasy has looked sharp in winning four straight, two at this distance, and all over the firm turf which she figures to get here. Her speed figures have been consistent (98 Beyer in her last three races) and she might need to improve on those slightly to win here, but her workouts and recent form indicate that she is sitting on a big one. Defending champion Forever Together is hard to dismiss, despite struggling at shorter distances and softer turf her last two times out. However, this is her ideal distance and one has to figure that she will relish the extra two furlongs here (she closed hard in both losses at 8f and 9f), and if she runs back to her 105 Beyer from last year’s win, she will be hard to beat. Of the Euros, Midday is by far the scariest, having not missed the board in six starts this year across the pond against top competition, and should love the distance, although she might prefer the softer going. Racing Post Figures of 111 and 120 in her last two starts at 12f can’t be ignored. Pure Clan has been inconsistent but looked great in winning the 12f Flower Bowl over soft turf and the 98 Beyer she earned is certainly competitive here, but she really struggled over this track last year and I will try to beat her. A live longshot in this race could be Visit (10-1), who ran very close to Magical Fantasy in two second place finishes, losing by less than a length in both with strong closing moves, and ran well to finish fourth here last year. She hasn’t made it to the winners circle this year in seven starts, but comes out of the #1 post in a race without much speed and has demonstrated that she might want more distance. If you like Magical Fantasy at all, you have to like Visit at least a little bit.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Magical Fantasy 3-1

2. Forever Together 5-2

3. Midday 4-1

Try to Beat: Pure Clan 5-1

BETS: ($18)

$1 Exacta Box: Magical Fantasy, Forever Together, Midday

$1 Exacta Box: Magical Fantasy, Forever Together, Visit

$6 Place: Magical Fantasy

FILLY AND MARE SPRINT, 7 furlongs, 5:02 CST Post

Closers have dominated this race since its creation, and two of those types of runners stand out above the rest of this field and will likely be short prices, but pretty sure bets in multi-race wagers. Informed Decision is 6 for 6 on synthetics, and while her top Beyer figure of 105 at this distance at Keeneland has been difficult to duplicate, her numbers have been improving over her last three races (93-95-99, the last two both late closing wins over synthetic and the first a third place finish over a sloppy dirt track). She also has a victory at Keeneland last April over her primary competitor, defending champion Ventura, who is arguably coming into this race in even better form than she did last year despite being lightly raced (only one race since April). Switching between turf and synthetic courses, her steadily improving Beyers (98-104-105-108) over her last four races dwarf the rest of this field, and she should love this surface and distance. It’s tough to imagine any other horse winning this race besides those two, but a personal favorite that I like to hit the board and potentially surprise is Game Face. This tough filly probably prefers a dirt track and was handily beaten by Informed Decision over the synth in her last start, but her field-best 109 Beyer over the dirt in July at a slightly shorter distance, as well as her preference to come from off the pace, both merit a long look at decent odds. Versatile three-year old Sara Louise has looked great in her only two 2009 races, posting a 104 and 103 Beyer, but she takes a big step up in class here and will see synthetic for the first time, making her a bit of a wildcard play in this race. The late running Evita Argentina might intrigue those looking for a closer, but I don’t think she has the speed to compete with these, while turf runner Seventh Street is probably misplaced here and wants more distance.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Informed Decision 5-2

2. Ventura 8-5

3. Game Face 10-1

Try to Beat: Seventh Street 4-1

BETS: ($14)

$4 Exacta Box: Informed Decision, Ventura

$1 Exacta Box: Informed Decision, Ventura, Game Face

BREEDERS’ CUP LADIES’ CLASSIC, 1 1/8 miles, 5:45 CST Post

With champion mare Zenyatta’s decision to run against the boys in the Classic, this race really breaks down to two horses in my opinion. Music Note was third in this race last year, but has been improving by leaps and bounds, posting field-topping Beyers of 108 and 107 in her last two winning races, the last over a fast track at this distance in the Beldame. Three-year old sensation Careless Jewel got lost in the Rachel Alexandra craze for most of the year, but this front-running winner of five straight races posted a 106 Beyer at a longer distance in her last start and boasts two wins over polytrack. Depending on how the track plays, she could get loose from the #1 post and will be difficult to catch. The field seems to separate a bit after those two, but there are still plenty of horses with upset potential who should be a decent price. Cocoa Beach has struggled mightily over a vast array of surfaces this year after an impressive second in this race last year, but her workouts over the track so far have been among the most impressive, and I think she is sitting on a big improvement coming in if she gets a clean trip– she had excuses in her last race as she bobbled at the start, and hasn’t handled soft turf or sloppy dirt courses well, neither of which should factor in this race. Expect strong showings from the Euro invaders in this one as well, as Proviso is a tested winner over the synth at Keeneland, where she posted a 99 Beyer, whereas she did not look as solid on the turf in England. Superstar Rainbow View seems like a better fit in the Filly and Mare Turf, but her placement here merits a look based on her experience. I’ll stick with the speedy Americans in this one again.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Music Note 9-5

2. Careless Jewel 2-1

3. Cocoa Beach 8-1

Try to Beat: Rainbow View 6-1

BETS: ($16)

$2 Exacta Box: Music Note, Careless Jewel, Cocoa Beach

$2 Exacta Box: Music Note, Careless Jewel

FRIDAY MULTI-RACE WAGERS:

$1 Pick 3: Magical Fantasy, Forever Together, Midday/ Informed Decision, Ventura/ Music Note, Careless Jewel ($12)

SATURDAY

BREEDERS CUP SPRINT, 6 furlongs, 2:10 CST Post

To me, this race, as usual, is the toughest pick on the entire board. There are really two ways to look at it: either the speed horses will get loose and wire the field, as has rarely been the case, especially on this track this year, or the closers wear down the speed. From a handicapping standpoint, I’m going with a combination of the two to keep it somewhat safe. Fatal Bullet has all the tools to wire this field if he gets loose, and has also shown the ability to sit just off the pace in his nine wins over synthetic surfaces; he’ll set up perfectly to do that coming from the #3 post outside of the race’s main speed. He ran well to finish second in this race last year, and should win if he can run back to or improve upon that effort, as there’s no Midnite Lute to worry about in this year’s race. Throwing out a sixth place clunker over the dirt in Saratoga (his only non-synthetic start), his last four Beyers are consistent and imposing (108-107-109-104). However, the strong closers in this race have been very successful, and while there are a slough of them, two catch my eye immediately.  Gayego absolutely devoured horses down the stretch in his Ancient Title win over this track, covering 6f in 1:08.1 and posting a competitive 102 Beyer. He’ll certainly be in the mix late, and should be able to run his race and stay off the pace out of the #5 post. My longshot pick in this field is Capt. Candyman Can, a stone cold closer who probably prefers a longer race but could be there at the end if the pace completely disintegrates (which looks like an even more likely scenario after the post draw); he closed impressively in his second place finish to Fatal Bullet over the synthetic Keeneland course last time out, and his last three Beyers of 105, 103 and 103 are certainly competitive here. The horse that scares me the most here is likely favorite Zensational, who keeps winning easily against weak fields on similar surfaces and boasts the highest career Beyer in the field of 110. Nevertheless, I’ll try to beat him, as I can’t justify backing two speed horses in this race the way that the track has played for these types of runners, especially with Zensational on the rail in the #1 post, and while he could easily get loose and win (I’ll be forced to use him in my Pick 3 for that reason), I like Fatal Bullet’s resume and versatility a bit more.  Dancing in Silks (15-1) is an intriguing longshot who should be in the second flight of horses, and actually beat Gayego handily here a year ago. Amazingly, he boasts the best last race Beyer figure in the field, as he ran a 106 in his last start, and over this race track to boot. He’s improving, winning three straight all over synthetic surfaces, and he’ll have a spot in my exotics as well.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Fatal Bullet 9-2

2. Gayego 5-2

3. Capt. Candyman Can 15-1

Try to Beat: Zensational 7-5

BETS: ($20)

$1 Exacta Box: Fatal Bullet, Gayego, Capn. Candyman Can

$1 Exacta Box: Fatal Bullet, Gayego, Dancing In Silks

$8 Place: Fatal Bullet

BREEDERS CUP JUVENILE, 1 1/16 miles, 2:49 CST Post

I’ll stick with the same philosophy with these youngsters that I used with the two-year-old filles, and that’s to look at horses that have had two turn experience and especially over synthetic surfaces in this wide open race. By that measure, Lookin at Lucky seems like the horse to beat, as he posted an 89 Beyer in winning his last start over this course in the Norfolk. His speed figures aren’t the most impressive here, but he looks like a horse for the course after some professional-looking works this week, and his experience should be very valuable against this field of horses. He’ll start out of the #13 post, which isn’t great news, but I think that he can overcome that positioning at better odds than the morning line implies, but he’ll certainly have a lot to overcome, as starters out of the #12 and #13 post are 0-28 over the last two years. That stat took him from being one of the surest singles of the day to a horse that might be worth playing against at these odds, but I’d be terrified not to use him. Aikenite closed hard to finish second over the synth at Keeneland in his last start after running five wide the entire way, still posted a 90 Beyer, and should improve on that effort with a better trip. Noble’s Promise won that race with a 91 Beyer, the highest here over two turns, and can’t be ignored. The Euros always make this race tricky, but I like Radiohead the best (aside from the obvious fact that I’d have to bet on any horse with that name). He’s never raced beyond 6f, but his pedigree is a plus (sire Johannesburg won this race) and he is very seasoned, racing six times and posting a 117 Racing Post Rating. Pounced looks interesting as well as he has run well over 7f on the turf, but his speed ratings are a bit lower, and with these Europeans horses that is about all I have to go on. D’Funnybone will be the center of a lot of buzz as his 93 Beyer over 7f is tops here, but he hasn’t run on synthetic or over two turns, and the combination of those two facts along with his straight-t0-the lead style lead me to try to beat him. Pulsion made up ground on this course in his second place finish in the Norfolk, but is he fast enough to compete here? (86 Beyer in that effort)

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Lookin at Lucky 8-5

2. Aikenite 8-1

3. Noble’s Promise 8-1

Try to Beat: D’Funnybone 5-2

BETS: ($12)

$1 Exacta Box: Lookin at Lucky, Aikenite, Noble’s Promise, Radiohead

BREEDERS CUP MILE, 1 mile, 3:38 CST Post

The Mile is always a fun race to handicap, but it is also always a challenge to compare the field of half American runners and half Euro runners. I’ll play it safe this time around, and stick with the monstrous defending champion filly Goldikova, who has been in top form this year outside of her third place finish at 7f last time out, but this 8f race should be more to her liking. Her top Racing Post Rating of 131 is world class and there isn’t much reason to think she is vulnerable here besides her outside #11 post, especially after her dominant win in this race last year. The pace here should be pretty hot, so the outside posts might actually be beneficial in this race to avoid traffic and wait for the right time to make a late move. If an American can upset her and claim the crown, the most likely candidate is Justenufhumor, who won six straight races at 9f before a 6th place effort last time out over a soft turf course, which I see as a “toss’ race. Besides, if his increasing Beyers of 94-99-103-106 before that race were indicative of a bounce, he picked the right time, and should be ready to roll in this race coming out of the #10 post. It is difficult to separate the Euros after those two, but I’ll give Zacinto the slight edge over his more seasoned rival and morning line second choice here Delegator (3-1), although I plan to use them both. They’ve traded wins in their last two races, but Zacinto got the better of Delegator in their last outing and has never finished worse than second in five career starts, posting a 125 Racing Post Racing at this distance in a narrow loss the the highly regarded Rip Van Winkle. The Irish bred Fernely posted a career best 106 Beyer in a narrow loss to Ventura last time out, and will be a factor if he runs back to that effort. Another American with a shot is Cowboy Cal, winner of the Oak Tree Mile over this course in his last start (104 Beyer). However, he’s a likely pace casualty in my opinion along with Gladiatorous. I’ll try to beat Court Vision, who may take some betting after his upset win in the Shadwell Mile, but I’ve never been impressed with his speed, and he needed a soft turf course to win that one, and he is unlikely to get that in sunny California.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Goldikova 8-5

2. Justenufhumor 10-1

3. Zacinto 8-1

Try to Beat: Cowboy Cal 6-1

BETS: ($16)

$1 Exacta Box: Goldikova, Justenufhumor, Zacinto

$1 Exacta Box: Goldikova, Justenufhumor

$1 Exacta Box: Goldikova/Justenufhumor/ Zacinito, Delegator

$5 Place: Justenufhumor

BREEDERS CUP DIRT MILE, 1 mile, 4:12 CST Post

What had been shaping up as a very intriguing race is now probably the day’s least exciting race after the seemingly ill-advised decisions of the connections of Quality Road, Girolamo and Regal Ransom to run in the longer, deeper Classic race. With the field as it stands, it looks like it will be very hard for any of these horses to knock off the seasoned Euro invader Mastercraftsman in this race. He has raced all over the spectrum, but won his last start over a synthetic surface in his only try. He was most successful earlier in the year at shorter distances on the turf, winning twice at 8f and posting 124 Racing Post Ratings in both of those starts; I don’t anticipate that the switch to pro-ride will be too difficult given what seems like a preference for firmer turf anyway, and he should handle coming out of the #1 post as the biggest favorite on the day. After that, the picture gets a bit murkier. Midshipman won the Juvenile over this track a year ago, but has been sidelined for most of 2009 with an injury. He was impressive in his return, winning over 6.5 furlongs at Belmont and closing impressively, improving his career best Beyer to 98. He appears to have the best shot at pulling the upset from a logistics point of view, as he figures to be the lone speed on a track that he is already proven over, and could get away early without any challengers from the perfect #3 post. An interesting longshot is Furthest Land, who made a giant improvement in his last start after switching to synthetic, a surface which he had won on previously, but his Beyer jumped from 91 to 106, which certainly merits a long look at decent odds. The second choice here is Bullsbay, an impressive winner of the 9f Whitney at Saratoga. I’ll try to beat him, as there are questions about his ability to handle the track, and I think that he might prefer a bit more room to stretch out than 8f.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Mastercraftsman 6-5

2. Midshipman 6-1

3. Furthest Land 20-1

Try to Beat: Bullsbay 3-1

BETS: ($10)

$1 Exacta Box- Mastercraftsman, Midshipman, Furthest Land

$4 Place- Midshipman

BREEDERS CUP TURF, 1 1/2 miles, 4:57 Post

This race has long been dominated by the European horses, and there are again a strong contingent of contenders from across the pond to provide the bulk in this small eight horse field. Defending champion Conduit had a rough time in the Arc de Triomphe, finishing fourth behind some of the world’s top thoroughbreds, but gained steadily in that effort, and won his previous start at this distance in impressive fashion (127 and 124 Racing Post Ratings in those starts.) His 116 Beyer in this race last year is far superior to anything that the rest of this field has accomplished, but something tells me that he won’t have as easy of a time as he did over last year’s weak field. America’s best hope appears to be front runner Presious Passion, who figures to get the jump on this bunch and has a shot to go wire to wire if they give him too much slack. Throwing out the Arlington Million, which seemed to produce several bizarre results, this veteran gelding has posted three straight 100+ Beyer figures, including a 104 at this distance in his last outing, a victory in the Clement Hirsch. He’ll almost certainly go to the lead, and it will be up to the Euros to run him down, which won’t be easy as he is likely to benefit from the firm turf. The horse with the best chance to do that might be Spanish Moon, a lightly raced but steadily improving five year old who is 3-2-1-0 at this distance in 2009, posting competitive Racing Post Rating of 119, 120 and 121. Highly regarded filly Dar Re Mi probably would have had a better shot in the Filly and Mare Turf, but instead she’ll face the boys in this one, but I’ll take a pass, as her figures don’t compare to Conduit and Spanish Moon, although she did finish fifth just behind the former in the Arc. Red Rocks won this race in 2006 and took third place in 2007, but has been in a downward spiral since.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Presious Passion 4-1

2. Conduit 7-5

3. Spanish Moon 5-2

Try to Beat: Dar Re Mi 3-1

BETS: ($18)

$2 Exacta Box: Presious Passion, Conduit, Spanish Moon

$6 Place: Presious Passion

BREEDERS CUP CLASSIC, 1 1/4 miles, 5:45 CST Post

This is world’s greatest race year after year, and the 2009 edition certainly won’t be lacking for depth, featuring everything from the best older horses and three-year-olds in America to an undefeated mare, champion Euro turf horses and the best American turf horse in years. It’s a hard race to even begin to handicap, but before doing so I think it is important to take a long, hard look at what happened last year, when odds-on favorite Curlin finished fourth and two seemingly unknown Euros took first and second place; it is clear that the track surface in such a long race will make a huge difference, and can pose a huge obstacle for even the most accomplished dirt horses. Still, Curlin had not ever run on pro-ride, so it is worthwhile to take a look at some American horses as well that have shown an affinity for this track. The experienced seven-year-old Einstein made his name on the turf early in his career, but turned heads when he won the 10f Santa Anita Handicap over this track back in March, posting a 104 Beyer. Since then, he’s raced twice on synthetic, finishing a hard closing third in the shorter 9f Stephen Foster and losing a hard fought battle down the stretch in the 10f Pacific Classic at Del Mar, bettering the aforementioned figure as he posted a 107. He’s been a model of consistency and seems to love this track, and this appears to be his ideal distance. The likely favorite in the Classic will be a European, Rip Van Winkle, who comes off back to back 8f turf wins which is reminiscent of the form of last year’s winner, Raven’s Pass, coming into this race. He’s raced against the best in Europe at this distance and has posted a spectacular 132 Racing Post Rating, and figures to have no trouble switching from turf to pro-ride. The horse that clipped Einstein at the wire of the Pacific Classic is Richard’s Kid, a live longshot who seems to have found his form recently after switching from dirt to synthetic, complete with some eye-catching works this week. This seems to be his best distance, as his hard closing third place finish over this course in his last start, the Goodwood Hcp,, seemed to indicate that he prefers a bit more distance. After a wild Triple Crown season, Summer Bird has emerged as America’s best three-year-old following steadily improving victories in the Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup (100, 110 and 111 Beyers). As impressive as his late kick has been, I can’t help but think he wasn’t assisted greatly by the sloppy tracks that produced those last two numbers, as his pedigree indicates a strong affinity for mud but has been noticeably ineffective on synthetic surfaces. So far, he has worked quickly if not comfortably over the surface, but I think he’ll have a lot to overcome, and the very fact that he was cross-entered in the Turf race is a head-scratching means for pause. Another intriguing Euro is Twice Over, who doesn’t boast speed figures as impressive as his counterpart Rip Van Winkle, but has won three consecutive races at this distance over good turf. I’ll pass on the undefeated mare Zenyatta, who will attempt to close her incredible career with an unlikely upset that figures to be way overbet; despite an impressive second gear and success over this exact track, the horse has never run beyond 9f or faced males, and this is a really tough time to try to do both against the best in the world, especially when her string of victories has come at the expense of lackluster company and slow (sub 100 in her last two outings) figures. Colonel John has always been a personal favorite of mine and this is his home track (career best Beyer of 106 came in last start here at 9f), and he could be sitting on a big race. He faced a difficult wide trip when he was easily bested by both Einstein and Richard’s Kid at this distance in the Pacific Classic. I’ll be using him in exotics because I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if he won this and I had nothing on him, and actually, as I look over his profile, there aren’t really any question marks (proven on synthetic, proven at the distance, improving Beyers, sire won this race twice, etc). Gio Ponti shoots for the win here despite almost certainly having a better shot to win the Turf, as his most recent race over this course was not nearly as promising as his later ones on the grass proved to be, and with a lot of questions marks from a style perspective I can’t give him too much backing here. Mine That Bird’s Kentucky Derby win still feels somewhat flukey to me, and while he has certainly run better since then than I ever imagined he would, he’s in a pretty tough spot here, and may have benefited in that race from a crop of three-year-olds that was much weaker than anyone thought at the time. Besides, the two worst races of his career have come on this pro-ride track, which doesn’t exactly bode well for his half brother Summer Bird who has yet to give synthetic surfaces a try. The horse that intrigues me the most of the three-year-olds is Quality Road, who has posted three 110+ Beyers in his career and just recently made the jump to the 10f distance, finishing third in the Travers and then second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, both over sloppy tracks that were not to his liking. I don’t think we’ve seen his best yet, but I still believe that he would have had a better shot in the Dirt Mile; in fact, I probably would have picked him to win that one. The icing on the cake is the fact that he drew horribly, and a horse that wants the lead but starts out of the #12 post is going to struggle to get comfortable, especially on a new surface. The same goes for Regal Ransom coming out of #11, except he’s already proven that he can’t handle the distance. While I’m essentially playing against all of the three-year olds and calling this a weak crop relative to the older horses, the one that could completely fly under everyone’s radar is Girolamo. This late bloomer is yet to run past 8f but has been explosive, and is a serious wildcard with strong distance pedigree (A.P. Indy/ Get Lucky (Mr. Prospector). I’m not sure how to actually play him in a race this deep, but you’ve been warned. There’s so much depth here that anything could happen and it wouldn’t surprise me, but I’ll lean toward the older, synthetic experienced horses in this year’s Classic.

PICKS SUMMARY:

1. Einstein 12-1

2. Richard’s Kid 12-1

3. Rip Van Winkle 7-2

Try to Beat: Zenyatta 5-2

BETS: ($22)

$1 Exacta Box: Einstein, Rip Van Winkle, Richard’s Kid, Colonel John

$6 Place: Einstein

$4 Place: Richard’s Kid

SATURDAY MULTI-RACE WAGERS:

$1 Pick 3- Fatal Bullet, Zensational, Gayego/ Lookin at Lucky, Aikenite/ Goldikova, Justenufhumor ($12)

$1 Pick 3- Mastercraft, Midshipman/ Presious Passion, Conduit, Spanish Moon/ Einstein, Rip Van Winkle, Richard’s Kid, Colonel John, Summer Bird ($30)

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UPDATE: For having lost $140 on $225 of bets, I feel pretty good about myself. I missed two exactas in a photo finish, literally, (the Juvenile Fillies and the Sprint) and missed another two by less than a head (the Mile and the Dirt Mile, back to back I might add, and the latter with an excruciating jockey objection that would have resulted in a $100 exacta. No such luck). Considering I hit two others, I was really, really close to hitting six out of my ten exacta boxes, which would have been huge. The only race where my handicapping completely fell apart was the Classic, which either played like a massive pace disintegration, or Zenyatta really is that good. In any case, due to the combination of how far off I was on the outcome of the biggest race of the day, as well as having the chance to witness live what might have been one of the most climactic performances of the decade, I couldn’t get too upset about it.