07/11/2008 12:14PM

Root For, Bet Against


As you can see from the crowded lineup below, Saturday is a feast of interesting racing even beyond Curlin's turf debut in the Man o' War at Belmont, with the Summit of Speed at Calder, the Million Day Preview at Arlington, the Delaware Oaks card and the return of Colonel John in the Swaps at Hollywood:

I'll post some thoughts on the races late tonight or in the morning after travelling to Chicago, where (plug alert!) Mike Watchmaker and I will be doing a seminar and book (Bet With The Best 2) signing from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the Starting Gate Theatre at Arlington.

As for Curlin, my impulse is to root for and bet against. It's great that he's still in training (though regrettable that this is such an upset we need to applaud it) and it's been a long time since a champion was campaigned creatively rather than cautiously (though regrettable that this was occasioned in large part by the selection of a synthetic surface for this year's Breeders' Cup Classic.) If Curlin proves to be as good on grass as on dirt and makes a run at the Arc de Triomphe, it will be a bold and historic bid.

Handicappers know that's huge if, though. He worked well enough on the Churchill Downs course and he's got an adequate pedigree for it (Smart Strike out of a Deputy Minister mare) but it's rare for a dominant dirt horse to be as good on the turf. Nor is this a collection of slouches that has been rounded up to flatter Curlin: Four of his six opponents are Grade 1 or Group 1 winners, including BC Turf winners Better Talk Now and Red Rocks. While none of them is in world-class form these days, they're a sufficiently salty group that a) beating them would be a real achievement and b)Curlin may be an underlay at odds-on.

---Neat historical nugget from DRF Senior Editor Irwin Cohen: "Secretariat also made his turf debut in the Man o' War and finished out his career on grass outside of the country - karma or coincidence...

"The Man o' War was my first and only up-close look at Secretariat as a racehorse...I remember leaning over the rail by the paddock and watching him come out of the tunnel. His chest with rippling and his walk was pure swagger. He ran against Tentam, who was this little thing but had won the UN by five and was at the time clearly the best grass horse in the country. I think Secretariat had a bullet five-eighths in 57 and 4 on the turf, but I was a contrarian even at 18 and I made my big bet -- $5 - on Tentam. Tentam made two runs and I thought the second time, on the far turn, he was going to go right by, but the big fella just shooed him away like a buzzing gnat and won easy without ever getting out of a gallop. Just awesome."

---There are a number of fascinating issues surrounding Curlin's 2008 campaign but steroids is not one of them. Solely because of a completely different sort of use of steroids in baseball, steroids has become the mainstream media's current obsession in racing, overshadowing more important and legitimate medication issues in racing and creating the false impression that this is a new factor in handicapping. Irresponsible speculation that going "off" steroids somehow caused Big Brown to lose the Triple Crown, while not supported by a shred of evidence or common sense, has already prompted similar talk about Curlin -- who, like many if not most champion racehorses of the past 20 years, has been treated, completely legally, with steroids during his career.

Curlin reportedly stopped getting steroids at the end of last year, and it has made absolutely no difference in his performances as a 4-year-old. Racing in Dubai, where steroids are banned, he won the Jaguar Cup and Dubai World Cup, and then returned here to win the Foster without them.

--There's a nicely-written article about racing in Mongolia in today's New York Times. Betcha didn't know that Mongolians call horse racing one of "the three manly sports" along with wrestling and archery, or that:

"Until the 20th century, horses were in the blood of all Mongolians. Their language has more than 70 words to describe the animals’ coloring. When a great horse dies, its skull is placed atop a cairn on a mountain, and Mongolians make offerings there."

dud dew More than 1 year ago
Steve: John Henry was before my time as a player - so that replay was a treat! beerbelly: liked your scenario a bunch. Saarland: I was with Steve and others on this one: a clear bet-against. Not playing just now for med reasons, but urged friends to throw out Curlin and Better Talk, and hit the next two hard to win. Perfect op, I thought.
bochalls More than 1 year ago
Bernardo Callejas again! I believe Better Talk Now will run very well Saturday.
art More than 1 year ago
Has anyone found a youtube video of Secretariat's 1972 Hopeful Stakes? A last to first quick far turn move you won't forget!
ml/nj More than 1 year ago
Re 2002 Test: I've long wondered if Carson Hollow would have come down if she had prevailed.
ml/nj More than 1 year ago
Re Buckpasser, I screwed up. After the BGH, he won the Suburban and then ran second in the Brooklyn before his final race in the Woodward. As for races I watch over and over, I like this one best. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCuJjhBBCSs .
yuwipi More than 1 year ago
Forgot this last post. Anyone interested in an amazing 653 race rich collection on Youtube might want to check out the posts of "partymanners". I don't know who the person is, but I'm extremely grateful for all his/her hard work. When the day gets you down and the batteries need recharging it's a nice place to go.
yuwipi More than 1 year ago
minj: Nice tip on that video. Couldn't get it to load at first, but have had that problem with Youtube before. Was well worth keeping after it. The 2002 Test, what a race. I'd also recommend it to any blog visitors - courageous speed, a brave closing rail move, and a great call. Nice one! The Test was the feature on my first visit to the Spa in 1974. It was the opening Thursday fixture back in those days if I remember correctly. It's been a favorite of mine ever since.
buffalo joe More than 1 year ago
Minji, I saw one of them, I may have bet on a horse Fires was riding, that particular day. Also I believe Braulio Baeza recently wed Janice Blake, who has been riding most recentlt at Charles Town WV, I think she rode with the bug around Philly and Garden State before that one was closed
buffalo joe More than 1 year ago
To Minj, Please refresh my memory as I don't have access to Buckpasser's PP, and it sounds like you may have. It seems to me as a young newly wed I tricked my pregnant wife into a 10 day vaction in the middle of the winter to get some relief the COLD Buffalo weather. After spending the first day on the beach off Colins Ave I dragged her out to Hialeah every afternoon thereafter. My memory tells me during that period I had pleasure of seeing some very nice horses run. I believe Buckpasser was one of them, I also think Earlie Fires rode him with the bug, and finished 2nd that day. While I will by 65 on my next birthday and stll have the same wife (she no longer accompanies me to the racetrack), and at times can not remember what I had for dinner last night, but I'm pretty certian of most of the facts. Please let me know if you can. do we really need short term memory?
ml/nj More than 1 year ago
You guys should get a copy of DRF's =Champions= book which has modern PPs for all of the 20th Century Elcipse Award (or would have been Eclipse Award) winners. To str3268: Riva Rdige did not run in the Man o' War. He may have been entered. I cannot tell. But Secretariat ran uncoupled that day, so whomever he was coupled with was withdrawn. And buffalo_joe: It's sort of ironic that when I posted my Buckpasser recollections I was first relying upon my memory and then the actual Woodward Day Telegraph PPs. But for your question I had to get out my copy of =Champions=. Buckpasser ran three times at Hialeah all in 1966 as a 3Y0. He was ridden by Willie Shoemaker in all three of those races. The first was a 7f Allowance where Buckpasser ran second to Impressive. The second was the 9f Everglades which started the winning streak; and the last was the 9f Flamingo. (The Flamingo was a non-betting race with nine starters!) If you had seen the Flamingo, I doubt you would have forgotten it. Shoemaker never rode Buckpasser again; and Fires never rode Buckpasser at all. (The Great Braulio Baeza - "doubly influenced by Mars"! - took over for his next race, which was the first time I saw Buckpasser run in person, and for each of Buckpasser's subsequent races.) Earlie Fires shows up with surprisingly few rides on the top horses of the 60's according to my quick scan of the PPs; five rides total. The first two were on Furl Sail at Keeneland in 1966. (There was no apprentice allowance claimed in the one race where it could have been claimed there.) The other three were on the somewhat forgettable Mocasin in 1967, one at Keeneland and the other two at Arlington. Question for Steve: Any update on Baeza? (I was really sorry I didn't drive up to Saratoga for the verdict.)