08/06/2011 1:05PM

Big Bet at Monmouth

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I was at Monmouth Park yesterday (Friday) to tape a couple of videos for this website, so I stuck around for most of the card because I especially enjoy that track. I’m glad I stayed (even though I lost), because I saw something in one of the late races that was, well, weird.

Moments after the prices were posted for the ninth race, a buzz shot through the stands the likes of which made you wonder if The Boss himself was plugging in in the winner’s circle. What really happened was Youland opened up as the 1-9 favorite (there are no such things as a 1-9 favorites; it’s just that old fashioned tote boards like the one at Monmouth can’t display 1-10) for the 10th race, thanks to a $10,000 win bet.

Friday’s 10th race at Monmouth was a weak optional $15,000 claiming/non-winners of two races other than allowance affair for New Jersey bred fillies and mares going a mile. Now, if Youland figured to be a strong favorite in this race, then the $10,000 plunge to win on her might not have raised as many eyebrows. But she didn’t. The favorite in this nine-horse field figured to be Raiders Fan, who was coming off a decisive win for a $16,000 tag at Parx Racing on the turf, which is a good indication of how soft this dirt race really was.

As for Youland, she figured to be closer to one of the longest shots on the board. In fact, she was pegged as the third-longest shot in the morning line at 10-1, which seemed about right considering her record. Youland had made three starts this year, finishing seventh of 11 on a fast track in the first of them, beaten more than eight lengths at 54-1; then was beaten more than 20 lengths at 20-1 when seventh and last in the mud; and then last time out finished third of four at almost 13-1 on a good track in an off the turfer, beaten more than 11 lengths. Youland had not won in 10 starts dating back more than a year, and when she won that race, she was 23-1.

And it wasn’t like Youland was taking a massive class drop. She ran, unsuccessfully, as noted, at a similar level in three of her last five starts. Early in her career, she ran for a lower tag than the $15,000 she was in for Friday. Yet, there she was, sitting up there on the tote board first at 1-9, and then at 1-5, and then for the longest time at less than even money.

That’s not all. To add to the mystery, with about three minutes to post, well after the horses came on the track for their pre-race warm-ups, came the announcement that there would be a change of jockey on Youland. Clearly, her scheduled jockey, Jose Valdivia Jr., didn’t want to ride her, and apparently there wasn’t sufficient grounds to scratch her, so Paco Lopez picked up the mount.

By the time the dust settled and the gate finally opened, Raiders Fan was indeed bet down to favoritism at 8-5. But Youland held in to be second choice at 7-2, below a handful of horses who figured to be bet over her, in some cases well below.

The race itself was almost anti-climatic. Youland was in good early striking position, made a brief little move on the far turn like she might make some noise, but chucked it soon after and finished sixth. Raiders Fan never ran a jump and finished eighth. A 29-1 shot named Miss Tallahassee won by open lengths. A 21-1 shot just lost the place to the 4-1 third choice, with a 20-1 shot and a 43-1 shot finishing fourth and fifth.

This was all very reminiscent of the old days when a big bet in the opening flash on an improbable horse like Youland almost always represented layoff money from a bookmaker who just didn’t want to hold the bet and assume the risk. But who today bets horses with bookmakers when it is so easy to get down on anything anywhere via legal means? In the meantime, I have a call in to Monmouth Park, and if they have any pertinent information on this, I’ll update it here.

2:56 - John Heims, director of media relations at Monmouth, informed that the track's mutuel department is "99% sure" that the big win bet on Youland came from the Las Vegas Hilton.