The Sport of Kings (Not Poker) (Or Darts): Handicapping the Breeder’s Cup

Many years ago, three of the more popular sports in the United States were baseball, boxing, and horseracing. You could ask a cross-section of the American public who won the most recent World Series, who was the Heavyweight Champion of the World, and what horse won the Kentucky Derby and they would be able to tell you. While baseball remains reasonably popular, coming in at third place behind football and basketball, boxing and horse racing have fallen by the wayside.

Many people could tell you that the Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series and that the Giants just won this year. Fewer people could name this year’s Kentucky Derby champion, California Chrome, and fewer still 2013’s winner, Orb. I’m not even sure who would be considered the current Heavyweight Champion of the world and I doubt you know either. Maybe one of those huge Russian (Klitchko? Klitcsho? Klisctko?) brothers? According to the Google Machine it’s actually spelled Klitschko and all of the Heaveyweight belts (more than one?) were held by one them until December 15, 2013 when Vitali stepped down. In case you were interested, World Boxing Council (WBC) lists Canadian BermaneStiverne as the champion while the World Boxing Association (WBA) has Uzbekistani RusianChagaev with the belt. Ever heard of either of them? Didn’t think so. Back to the horses.

Even though the Kentucky Derby is probably the best-known race, at least in the United States, it may not be the most important. There are many races through the world with larger purses. The purse for the Kentucky Derby is currently a paltry two and a half million dollars while the Dubai World Cup is ten million. Other races with purses larger than the Race for the Roses include the Melbourne Cup, Japan Cup, and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Some people in the horse-racing world count the Breeder’s Cup Classic as the most important race in the United States; it’s certainly the richest, with a five million dollar purse.

The Breeder’s Cup Classic is the culminating race of The Breeder’s Cup, a two day spectacle with a total combined purse of $25.5 million. The series of races is usually held at different track each year; this year it will be held at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia California for the second year in a row. The Classic is a race for horses that are at least three years old and run on a left-handed dirt track at a distance of one and a quarter miles, the same distance as the Kentucky Derby. Since the Classic is one of the last major Grade 1 Stakes races of the year and has the largest purse for an American race it makes sense that it attracts some of the best horses. The winner of each leg of this year’s Triple Crown — the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont, and unofficial fourth leg, the Travers — will be racing this Saturday along with the winners of other major (if less well-known) races. Since so many of the horses that run in Classic are of such high quality, it is incredibly hard to predict who will win. Which is why I’m going to do just that.

What makes me, Sports Alcohol’s (self-appointed) gambling correspondent an expert handicapper able to predict this year’s Breeder’s Cup Classic? Quite simply, the following two qualifications:

1. I was born and raised in Saratoga Springs, New York. I’ve been around, talked to, and learned from owners, trainers, and jockeys for years. I’ve been reading the racing form since I was about six years old. Basically, horse racing is in my blood.

2. I’m pretty much a degenerate gambler.

In addition to providing a short explanation of how I think each horse will perform, I’ve arranged to provide the picks of other handicappers that I will be going head to head with to predict the results of this race. I will be using my vast knowledge of horse racing along with hours (maybe one hour) of research. These other handicappers will be using the tried and true method of picking horses by name alone. Since this race is being contested by three and four year old horses, I have enlisted the help of three and four year old human beings, children of my friends, to compete with. I will win.

Handicapping the Breeder’s Cup 2014

1. Prayer for Relief: 30-1
Initially I was surprised to see the Morning Line for Prayer For Relief set at 30-1. Prayer For Relief is owned by Zayat Stables, a major stable, and is trained by Dale Romans, who is ranked fifteenth this year in earnings and won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer in 2012. The jockey riding Prayer for Relief, Irad Ortiz Jr, ranked third this year in earnings has simply had an incredible year with over 17 million dollars of winners. Prayer for Relief himself has had a pretty incredible racing career with almost two million in earnings. So why is Prayer for Relief tied as the biggest long shot at 30-1? He hasn’t won a single race this and has never won a race since being trained by Romans. Also in the first post position I would be worried that Prayer for Relief could be pinned against the rail, especially if he doesn’t get a great break out of the starting gate. As tempting as it could be with the trainer and jockey combination and the long odds promising a good payday, I would stay away.

2. Cigar: 12-1
At first glance I really liked Cigar Street, especially with the Morning Line at 12-1. He was sired by Street Sense, the 2007 Kentucky Derby champion, is being ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Johnny Valaquez, and has been trained by Hall of Fame trainer William Mott — considered by many to be the best turf trainer around, though this last bit does us little good as this race is on the dirt. Regardless, Cigar Street looks like a great pick until you see that since 2012 he has fractured both hind legs and has only had 8 lifetime starts. Cigar Street has also never raced at Santa Anita before. Plus, he’s co-owned by Rashard Lewis, most recently of the Miami Heat, so if you think basketball players would be good at picking horses, well there you go.

3. Imperative: 30-1
I know absolutely nothing about the owner, trainer, or jockey for this horse and as the other long shot in the race, I’m not impressed. He did win the Charles Town Classic this year at 26-1 odds which constitutes the vast majority of his $1.3 million in career earnings. He has already raced 9 times this year with almost every race being at Santa Anita. He won’t win.

4. Moreno: 20-1
Coming off at 20-1, Moreno is not expected to do much and has only won one race this year out of seven starts. That one race, however, was the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap in Saratoga Springs, which he won wire to wire. The only reason why I’m taking a second look is that he is being ridden by Javier Castellano, who is ranked number one this year in earnings with over $20 million and is a fantastic jockey. Despite being ridden by Castellano, I’m not expecting much.

5. V. E. Day: 20-1
V. E. Day has decent value at 20-1. He is a three-year-old who never actually raced as a two-year-old. Out of his seven starts this year, he has won four times and placed once. Of those wins he surprised many people as the 20-1 longshot at the Travers. At the Travers he beat both Bayern and Tonalist who he is racing against today both. They are coming off the morning line at 6-1 and 5-1 respectively. Although he was initially considered to be a Turf Horse V.E. Day has been doing well on dirt.

6. Shared Belief: 9-5
Although Shared Belief did not compete in any of the Triple Crown races this year, he is currently the favorite in this race. Last year he was named the American Champion Male Two-Year-Old which as you can probably imagine is given the the best American male two-year-old colt. He likely won this award due to his perfect four-for-four record for the races he entered. In fact, Shared Belief has won every race that he has been entered in, including the recent Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita. Shared Belief is being ridden by Mike Smith who was ranked seventh this year in earnings and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003. Shared Belief deserves to be the favorite here and I think he has a good shot to win.

7. Bayern: 7-1
Bayern has had a pretty fantastic 2014 with nine starts, five wins, and one place and show. This record, 1.6 million in earnings, and the fact that he is trained by the alliterative Bob Baffert (number six this year in earnings for trainers) is probably why he is at 6-1. I’m not a fan, though, as he never even threatened in the Preakness and faded after the final turn of the Travers. It probably doesn’t help his case that he was in every bet combination I had for the Travers and I’m bitter.

8. Zivo: 15-1
I want to like Zivo, I really do. He has a fantastic name and a great trainer and jockey. He also has performed well in every race he has run this year. Out of seven races, he won five, placed once, and came in fourth once. In 2013 and 2012 he finished in the money in EVERY race he was entered in. The competition in the classic is just too good. I think he will finish middle of the pack.

9. Toast of New York: 9-1
I’ve got nothing to say when it comes to Toast of New York. I suppose it is impressive that he won the UAE Derby earlier this year. That UAE Derby is nine and a half furlongs, just slightly shorter than the this race’s ten, so maybe that is a reason to bet on this horse? You know, if you’re the superstitious type without being a stickler for exact math.

10. Footbridge: 30-1
Another longshot that I don’t know anything about having never heard of the trainer, jockey,or owner. He won’t win.

11. Tonalist: 5-1
Most recent Triple Crown spoiler Tonalist was the horse that everyone loved to hate after he beat California Chrome in the Test of the Champion, the longest leg of the Triple Crown, and the Belmont Stakes. At twelve furlongs the Belmont is one of longest Grade 1 stakes races there is and Tonalist was very impressive. A third in the Travers and most recently a win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes, where he beat out Moreno, V.E. Day, and Zivo (all returning opponents for the Classic) is why he comes off as the third favorite. It doesn’t hurt to have Joel Rosario as the jockey. I expect Tonalist to certainly be in the money, unless the other horses are particularly fixated on revenge.

King Candy
12. Candy Boy: 20-1
While not as much of a longshot as Prayer For Relief, Imperative, and Footbridge, Candy Boy comes across as another middling horse in this race. He came in thirteenth in the Kentucky Derby this year — but I’m pretty sure that neither I nor fellow degenerate gamblers has any recollection of this. The one thing that might put Candy above his fellow 20-1 horses V.E. Day, Moreno, and Majestic Harbor is a slight home field advantage. He has more experience running at Santa Anita and his trainer John Sadler is an institution at the various Southern California tracks.

13. California Chrome: 4-1
Coming off at 4-1, California Chrome is still trading on his victories in both Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Those victories were hard-fought and certainly deserved but against this field at 4-1 as the second favorite is ludicrous (not Ludacris although that would be cooler). After winning the Preakness, California Chrome came in fourth at the Belmont and sixth in the Grade II Pennsylvania Derby. He is not going to win. He is tired. Let him rest.

14. Majestic Harbor: 20-1
This is another horse/trainer/jockey combination I know nothing about and therefore will not win. Middle of the pack at best. He has already raced 25 times in his career. Time to put him out to pasture.

Bonus Picks for Handicapping the Breeder’s Cup: Bring It On, Children

Jason Forman, 33; Seattle, WA
1. Tonalist
2. Shared Belief
3. V.E. Day
4. Cigar Street

Ella W., 3; Olympia, WA
1. Candy Boy
2. Shared Belief
3. California Chrome

Evelyn S., 4; Littleton, MA
1. Shared Belief
2. California Chrome (former teacher recently moved to CA)
3. V. E. Day

Marnie P., 3.5; Sandy, UT
1. Candy Boy
2. Moreno
3. Toast of NY

Nora D., 4; Athens, GA
1. Footbridge
2. Prayer For Relief
3. Tonalist

Ellie B., 3; Lake George, NY
1. Candy Boy
2. Tonalist
3. Moreno

James M., 4; Littleton, MA
1. V. E. Day
2. Toast of NY
3. Prayer For Relief

Good luck! Remember to think of these kids’ college funds when you profit off of their expertise.
Let It Ride 21