10/03/2010 5:54PM

$100 difference of opinion


When dealing with owners and trainers, newspaper handicappers sometimes cannot win.

A handicapper was introduced to the owner of J P’s Gusto on Saturday at Hollywood Park. “You’re the guy who always picks my horses last,” Dr. John Waken said.

Sure, nice to meet you, too.

Never mind J P’s Gusto was the top pick in the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes.

Yet many others figured J P’s Gusto was vulnerable at a mile and a sixteenth. Horses sired by Successful Appeal are known more for speed than stamina.

One day before the Norfolk, the handicapper had bumped into Mike Mitchell, trainer of Jaycito.

Jaycito was a two-start maiden entered in the Norfolk after a good runner-up finish in the seven-furlong, Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity won by J P’s Gusto. Jaycito, sired by Belmont winner Victory Gallop, finished well in the Futurity despite a wide trip.

“You let me down,” good-natured Mitchell said to the handicapper. “You picked the sprinter.”

“J P’s Gusto is the lone speed,” the handicapper replied.

“Two turns,” Mitchell responded.

“J P’s Gusto was not quitting at seven furlongs,” the handicapper said.

“Different story around two turns,” Mitchell responded.

Back and forth went the debate, then Mitchell had an idea.

“Let’s go horse-against-horse for $100.” It would be J P’s Gusto vs. Jaycito; highest finish position wins the bet.

The handicapper got the best of the deal; J P’s Gusto figured to start at a short price in the Norfolk. A four-time stakes winner, he only needed to finish in front of the two-start maiden.

Mitchell and the handicapper shook hands.

“Two turns,” Mitchell said, walking away. “Don’t forget that.”

The Norfolk did not unfold well for Jaycito. Parked four-wide on the first turn, he was closer to the pace than expected. Mitchell was not concerned.

“He didn’t get him stopped,” Mitchell said. Jaycito stayed wide while forwardly placed.

“I thought he was too close, but then I saw 1:13,” Mitchell said, referring to the six-furlong time.

J P’s Gusto made the lead into the lane, but Jaycito and jockey Mike Smith kept coming.

Mitchell was confident. “Speed has been dying” at two turns, he said.

Inside the eighth pole, Mitchell was proven correct about Jaycito. “Even before the race, it looked like he would go turns.”

Jaycito, a 2-year-old maiden by Victory Gallop and begging for a distance of ground, hit the front and edged clear. His 1:44.17 clocking earned a Beyer Figure of 87 and made him the horse to beat in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs.

Sunday morning at Hollywood Park, it was time to settle the bet.

While handing Mitchell five crisp $20 bills, I could think only one thing.

When dealing with owners and trainers, sometimes newspaper handicappers just cannot win.