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Charlie Appelby. The Japanese. A California-made betting scandal. Baffert won't be going away. Sweet profit. NBC is dead to me.
It could have been a comatose Breeders' Cup this weekend, but TrackNotes took the road less traveled and ended up on a bouncing buckboard hauled by a runaway team of horses. High highs and low lows.
With fog off the Pacific dueling with bright sunny skies all weekend, Friday was just a watching day for me. I don't have a dartboard that picks winners from these inscrutable Juveniles. The cards ended late here with the time zones, so I had the sammich makings pre-prepped.
Bobby Flay didn't look overly confident before the Juvenile Fillies Turf and he looked more concerned with getting the esteemed trainer Christophe Clement his first Breeders' Cup win. Pizza Bianca was running backwards and was even last coming into the turn. As they hit Del Mar's short stretch, with eight horses blanketed across the track, Jose Ortiz dropped to the two-lane and pushed Pizza' through a hole and daylight. It was the best closing job of the weekend.
In the last race of the day, the Juvenile Turf, it all hit the fan when the California stewards and the veterinarians, the most important officials in the house at the start of a race, completely screwed up and caused at least some bettors thousands of dollars.
QUIZ: Who won this race? Answer later.
The one horse, Modern Games, reared up in the starting gate. Frankie Dettori scrambled to get out of there. That set off the two horse, Albahr, a notoriously fractious horse in the gate, who reared up as well and even had one of his legs over the front door. Then he went down on his side UNDER the gate. Somehow, they got him back on his feet, facing backwards.
Meanwhile, they got the three horse out, and they opened the front gate to let the one horse, Modern Games - Modern Games and Albahr are both trained by Appelby - out into safety. That's when the confused incompetence set in.
The California Horse Racing Board set out on their spin quest. Initial reports said the vets thought Modern Games broke through the front of the gate, which happens, but he was let out, wisely, by a gate attendant.
A later report said that an assistant veterinarian, not the head vet Dr. Chuck Jenkins, prematurely called the stewards and advised them to scratch Modern Games. Albahr was already scratched by then. We learned that too many vets have access to the BatPhone to the stewards.
Only then did they examine Modern Games. They found him fit enough to run the race, but because they had already set the scratch in motion they allowed Modern Games to run for purse money only. They pleased the owners, and gave the bettors a big kick in the ass. Anybody who bet Modern Games -think about the multi-race horizontal bets - was given Dakota Gold (2.70-1, finished fourth officially) as he went off the favorite.
But wait, there's more!
Spinning on Saturday, CHRB revealed that Modern Games was reinserted into the wagering pools for more than seven minutes until he was taken out again. They said "consolation payouts" were made to bettors who had Modern Games. Who knows what that means.
QUIZ ANSWER: Modern Games! Big.
While Appleby had good and bad luck on the same coin Friday, Saturday was much better for him.
Japanese connections made a splash with Loves Only You in the Filly and Mare Turf and Marche Lorraine in the Distaff, but more on her later.
The betting day Saturday was like taking a stupid amusement park ride. Starts out sunny, then through the tunnel of darkness, and back out into daylight.
Whenever everybody says a horse is a lock, I stick my head out the screen door and look for somebody else. Such was Bob Baffert's Gamine in the race 5 Filly and Mare Sprint. Sure, she came in nearly undefeated but who had she beaten? Nobody in this race. Plus, it was Del Mar.
Gamine gamed the early lead with Bella Sofia right on her rear quarter. Thanks, Bella! The top four pulled away from the rest but straightened into the stretch when Gamine experienced a little bumping. Gamine, not used to that, started to fade. Ce Ce, running straight and true with Victor Espinoza, who's not far from a year off with a serious injury, took command. Edgeway took Place. I had the top two. I noticed Gamine's Show pool was almost as much as her win pool and tried to jump the bridge. Didn't work, though she did take Show.
Baffert put on his mopey woe-is-me act after the race. I wasn't buying it.
Then I entered the tunnel until race 8, after trying to beat a fantastic Life Is Good in the Dirt Mile. And missing Exactas, some of which didn't pay anyway.
It was the Sprint, and, once again, Jackie's Warrior was touted as unbeatable. Long story short, Dr. Schivel earned the lead as Jackie's Warrior, who had beaten only one of these, started running backwards. But look out! Here comes Aloha West flying from the sixteenth pole. It's all about real estate now and Aloha got up by a nostril in a photo finish. I had the top two, but needed the 11-1 Aloha'.
Former Arlington training king Wayne "Cat Man" Catalano was his nervous self before the race. When asked about his Aloha, with the implication of no chance: "We'll see. They don't just give the thing to you. That's why they run the race! It's horse racing."
Let's move on to the Distaff. With a previous win, it became plausible to me that the Japanese had come to play, and we know their program has been improving.
Again, we had a superstar, Letruska. Typically, she got into an early lead mode with Shedaresthedevil. On the turn, Irad Ortiz appeared to ease Letruska. The Japanese Marche Lorraine, who had come from way back and made her wonderful move on the turn, took a three-quarter lead in the middle of the track, but in the two/three lane, Dunbar Road chugged up on the inside.
Man, was I screaming for the wire. Marche was 45-1 and I had her! I tossed Dunbar Road, who hadn't won since July last year. Calm down, all you can do is wait for the photo. Wooo! Marche won by half a nostril and I was in the money. She paid $101.80, $41.00 and $18.80! What a way to end the season. I didn't care what happened next.
The Classic was very anticlimactic.
Knicks Go took the lead and never looked back. Hot Rod Charlie pumped a run after the sixteenth pole, but there was no way. Medina Spirit, the tainted Baffert horse, had a good run to finish second. Essential Quality, the $1.90-1 favorite, finished third. A tale of two races, the wiseguy "upsetters" might still be running.
However, Knicks Go was $3.20-1 on the board and I'll take that any day. So I did. So I won a few bucks there.
It was an interesting weekend, with so many speedy races, but not up to the hype of "the greatest racing ever." There were too many frontrunners who couldn't be caught. There were some closers. They were running fast and that had differing outcomes. I won with a combination of those.
NBC is horrible.
Remember, the Peacock network also ran My Mother the Car.
NBC opened Friday's coverage saying the Breeders Cup starts "right now!" Instead, it jarringly jumps to a screaming announcer yelling about some Olympic swimmer winning a medal, who says, "I know what it's like to race against the whole world."
"And this idea that the winner is, without dispute, the greatest on the planet . . . I mean C'MON, how much better does it get?"
Um, no, Mike Nelson. A horse earns his greatest-in-the-world status over a number of races, or years. Sustained excellence. In any single race, an inferior horse can still win, as we saw.
I do like Britney Eurton, whose father Peter is a trainer, and Donna Brothers, a former jockey who gets the best out of the emotional winning jockeys in the on-track interviews. They both ask the right questions - although I don't think either of them interviewed Baffert; that was left to the guys. Baffert should have been turned over, shod by a farrier and asked the real questions.
Steve Kornacki runs the interactive big screen like it's the Utah primaries. Our friend Eddie Olczyk and the other guy made their bets. I don't know how well Eddie was doing, but it didn't look good. Again, Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey were stiffs, also defending the Breeders' Cup committee on its non-action toward Baffert.
But NBC is not for horseplayers. They scroll the odds on the bottom, you can't take them in, they barely show the splits, and they pop up the payouts faster than you can read them.
Early Saturday, they once again went to race announcer Larry Collmus to ask him how he keeps track of all the horses. Yeah, WE KNOW! Every damned year! He has flash cards. Want the insider's scoop? Larry also STUDIES the horses and silks all week! Howboutthat!
Plus, NBC is close to a minute behind the track feed. They don't show the odds enough, so using it as a visual accompaniment to wagering is impossible. They also show a lot of commercials and cross-promote all of the other bogus sports, like NASCAR, Notre Ugh Dame, and all the rest, that they show on TV.
That's what I did. I logged into the track feed. No commercials, although the in-program FanDuel promo torture was getting to me. Odds all the time.
Now, we were rubbing elbows a little to much with the TVG crowd, but their best were there. Simon Bray is honest. Acacia Courtney interviewed the top players and Michelle Yu was also all over the place. We got a little too close to the corpulent Todd Schrupp's pink sherbet jacket. He started out subdued and serious enough, but ended up losing it. If I hear him say "The Jimmy Durante Turf Course" one more time, I'm going to lock him in a room with a loop of all those bad Jimmy Durante movies and variety show appearances
But it was still better than NBC.
I'm sick of this guy, but another Baffertarian episode!
He's like dog shit that gets on your shoe. As unpleasant and however long it takes to get off of you sole, you'll still smell it for a long time.
The problem is that Baffert has not yet been banned by any official racing jurisdiction, which should domino to being banned everywhere. He's only banned from Churchill Downs.
Like a Mike Madigan, he's got his stooges on the board of directors of the Breeders' Cup itself to cover for him and do his bidding.
Joe Drape reports that he does or has trained for many of them, or owns interests in horses with more of them.
I'm not naive, but couldn't Kenny Rice or Laffit Pincay III have asked him how Medina Spirit was going to do without drugs? And there was also no lasix (an anti-respiratory bleeding medication) in this Breeders' Cup.
But for NBC, the Olympics are great, NASCAR is great, Notre Ugh Dame is great.
And Bob Baffert is great. With that white hair, he must be God!
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.
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