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Now, we wait.
Play it cool, bide our time. But always alert. On the stakeout for developments big, small, or small that could get big.
As the Breeders' Cup World Championships fission towards the Nov. 2-3 big blast at Louisville's Churchill Downs, there's not a helluva lot an experienced horseplayer can do except calmly keep an eye on things. Mine the increasingly banal conversations for truly unique tidbits that might be said only once. Like, Flicka was sneezing all day Wednesday. Fury had his head down all the way out to the morning jog. Or, Trigger looks like he's lost weight. Buttermilk looks feisty and on the muscle.
It's just like a meal at Tommy's Ma's house. "Henry, you don't talk much." Just listenin'. That's what you do, eat your rigatoni and listen. It's delicious.
There's not much talkin' these days. Trainers ain't sayin' squat, horses are truly scattered across the country to honor their training preferences, at least as defined by their connections, and workouts are not yet official. There is a difference. It will become a fluid locomotive of energy and scrutiny. Just not quite yet.
In the wide-eyed early days when you really thought you were going to hit the two-day festival but good, the major preps would be over and you'd envision the ensuing starting gates and maybe even start constructing wagers. STOO-pid.
A so-and-so - or four - drop out, there could be musical chairs with jockeys, or Wonder Horse would opt for the Classic when we damn well know he should be in the Dirt Mile. Or a super filly would foolishly take on the boys, skewing the prices sometimes good, sometimes bad. One year, I forgot to check the weather until after the post position draws and had to re-handicap the whole damn thing. The Tomlinsons (wet track ratings for a horse) danced in my brain. And keep in mind TrackNotes loomed colossal in those frenetic hours.
Then there's the question of the amount, source and depth of information you seek out. Thankfully, I've never heard the term "Win the Breeders' Cup War" like they do on TV with cupcakes and storage lockers. The big one is "CRUSH! the Breeders Cup," with any other marketing term you can think of by as many touts as there are miles between the planets. They will help me profit for a small sign-up fee, of course.
One wrinkle, although I can't say they did it last year either, is that TVG's The Works show doesn't look like it's on this year. What with wagering from Pocono harness commanding more attention. They used to show all of the workouts, ranging from official timed to gallops to just visiting the track, that would occur anywhere from seven to five days out. With expert commentary and when it was in the dark, surreal cool. It was good in a few different ways, including pumping horseplayer adrenalin. The Daily Racing Form shows works, which I will have to binge stream. Not so fun.
Of course, there is the "Bible" of horse racing, The Daily Racing Form. They offer a package of information that I will admit I buy each year. Do I sound sheepish about it? I just remember an old-timer telling me once "Do that and you kill your ROI before you even effing start!" Sure, I guess, but it puts all those horses in one place to allow me to recall their exploits over the year and I can keep redownloading updates. And I've got a couple racing buddies with whom I share my "insights." That makes the price tag worth it.
The funny thing is that columns, podcasts, buzz, limited radio, the collective experts always seem to distill the favorites. Nine guys in The Form picking three horses in a race, there may only be fives horses between them all.
In fact, go to the BC homepage, and right there, they're touting Accelerate. He's already the buzz horse and that insinuates itself.
The biggest thing I've learned is to not listen to all the experts and paid race-pickers. They pick the same suspects anyway and your head could explode if you let them get inside.
Yakkin' up the individual runners is premature this week, but we did have one very good bit of news. Enable, the English superfilly coming off her second straight win (!) in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Group I, 12 furlongs turf [1.5 miles], ParisLongchamp) will travel to America to run in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Watch the Arc and be patient; it is as deeply satisfying a horse race as you will ever experience.
While waiting, minds wander. There are memories.
There was a time when it was at the OTB on Jackson Boulevard. Smaller crowd, actually, than the Derby, but intense. I remember one time betting the last few races, then going home to watch. Computer access today is pretty seamless.
We'll never forget 2002, when Big Shoulders Arlington Park hosted. A roll of the weather dice BC poohbahs are mostly unwilling to spin today, it was the track implied by one of the biggest race betting scandals of all time. Pick Six. Volponi 45-1. Bet architecture. Suspicion before sundown. It would have happened at any track that year, but it happened during racing here. Draw your own conclusions.
Money had to have exchanged hands, it being Texas and all, when the 2004 BC was awarded to Lone Star Park in somewhere called Grand Prairie, which I think is a one-campfire bedroll horse ride outside of Dallas.
That whole weekend felt heebie-jeebie. It didn't help when Singletary - yes, he was named after our own beloved Samurai - thwarted me at 16-1 in the Mile over the likely Artie Schiller, who might still be running. David Flores even sported Da Bears silks. As you could have easily guessed, Singletary, the horse, didn't do much of anything after that.
And that year's Classic truly was. One of my all-time faves, Ghostzapper, showed the powerful greatness I came to love in running the classic 10 furlongs in 1:59.02. Secretariat ran the same distance in the Kentucky Derby in 2:00 flat, still the record. And the 'Zapper beat the 'nother fave Roses in May and Pleasantly Perfect with Funny Cide and Smarty Jones Triple Crown spoiler Birdstone also in the field.
But we were lied to. We heard later that Lone Star drained so badly - it rained heavily during the week and every night - that the backside of the track was spongy. First thing I thought was "quicksand," which was not far off, anecdotally. It was not mud or slop.
2007 at Monmouth Park on the Jersey Shore was a total washout. Rained, hard, the entire time. But we did get to see the fantastic Curlin weave his magic in the Classic. Today, he is a great sire.
Remember Goldikova, the little Euro filly who won the Breeders' Cup Mile on the turf three straight times, 2008-2010? I thought The Beachwood chronicled her quite nicely at the time.
Zenyatta relaxed last and patented her Breeders' Cup Classic win with the late charge in 2009. Brother Mike and me were in the Gold Cup Room at Hawthorne, both to immerse in the track atmosphere and watch the Breeders' Cup. On a 10-inch TV and the monitors all around. I remember yelling "She did it!" three or four times.
Zenyatta lost the race, her first loss ever, a year later to Blame.
And we'll never forget American Pharoah chiseling his legacy into racing's tablets in his Breeders' Cup Classic win in 2015.
This year, they're going to run all of the Juvenile races on Friday. That takes some pressure off of me because I find it difficult to wager on the kids. Who knows what they'll do? I'll probably wet my beak in the Friday shootaround, but I'll need to be convinced. Save the bulk of the bankroll for Saturday. Maybe take a Euro on turf, if there is one. Or a Todd Pletcher two-year-old.
We don't have a single matinee idol this year . . .
Nip it, in the bud, right now! Just listen.
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.
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