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Andrew Beyer: Sporting gestures don't always have happy endings
ARCADIA, Calif. – Owning racehorses is an expensive and risky enterprise, and at the Breeders’ Cup it can be especially daunting.
Just ask Paul Viscovich of Los Angeles or Ed Stanco of Malvern, Pa., who operate modest-sized racing stables that rarely get a chance to compete in the sport’s year-end championships. Both have worthy horses this year, but both needed to pay a six-figure supplementary entry to run.
Viscovich knew this would be a bad gamble on behalf of his 2-year-old Aotearoa. Stanco had a reason for concern bigger than the entry fee. His runner, Princess of Sylmar, had virtually clinched the 3-year-old filly championship. There was one way she could blow it: compete in the Breeders’ Cup and lose.
Both men weighed their options, chose to gamble and run and then awaited their fate at Santa Anita on Friday afternoon.
Viscovich, a software company operator with a lifelong interest in racing and betting, got his first taste of significant success as an owner and breeder when Aotearoa won a minor stakes race at Santa Anita last month. He immediately started thinking about the Breeders’ Cup — and the financial calculations involved.
The Cup funds its large purses principally from nomination fees for stallions and their foals. To encourage breeders to pay these fees, the price to run a non-nominated horse is discouragingly steep. The humbly bred Aotearoa wasn’t eligible, and the cost to run him was $120,000.
Viscovich is a man who understands odds, and he recognized "financially it doesn’t make sense at all." The winner’s share of the Juvenile Turf is $550,000, minus the $110,000 the owner has to pay to the jockey and trainer. If Viscovich risked $120,000 to collect $440,000, he would be getting worse than a 3-1 return on a horse who wound up going off at 17-1. A lousy bet, indeed.
While he was contemplating the decision, fate intervened. Viscovich regularly plays the pick six at Santa Anita, and on a day with a carryover jackpot, he made a $1,200 investment, standing alone with two solid favorites and using at least five horses in each of the other races. His favorites won, he hit longshots in other races and he wound up holding a perfect ticket worth $130,373. "I thought the pick six was an omen," he said. He quickly decided to enter the Breeders’ Cup, knowing this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Aotearoa sat a few lengths behind the leaders, and in mid-race Viscovich heard track announcer Trevor Denman call, "Aotearoa is making some headway!" But as the leaders maintained a strong pace, Aotearoa couldn’t keep up.
Outstrip, carrying the colors of the world’s most prominent horse owner, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, rallied to win the Juvenile Turf over two rivals from world-famous stables. Against such heady company, it was probably a moral victory for Aotearoa to finish in the middle of the pack – seventh place. It was not the ending Viscovich had dreamed of, but he said, "It’s a happy ending just to have a horse in the Breeders’ Cup."
Like Viscovich, Stanco and his partners in the King of Prussia Stable have a modest operation – they own seven Thoroughbreds. Stanco has been a racing fan since he was growing up near Saratoga, N.Y., but he also is a pragmatist; he is the CEO of an insurance business and an actuary, i.e., a numbers guy, and one of the rules for the stable is "to get the economics to work."
The economics have been delightful since Princess of Sylmar won four straight Grade I stakes and established herself as the top 3-year-old filly in the country. Her supplementary entry fee of $100,000 is a pittance compared to the $1.6 million she has already earned.
But there is another issue involved, as Daily Racing Form national handicapper Mike Watchmaker wrote recently: "The risk-reward ratio for Princess of Sylmar feels all wrong. . . . No horse in this Breeders’ Cup has more to lose and less to gain than Princess of Sylmar."
If she stayed in her barn Friday, Princess of Sylmar would have been a cinch to win the Eclipse Award as the champion 3-year-old filly. She narrowly defeated the second-best filly, Beholder, in the Kentucky Oaks. But if Beholder – the winner of three Grade 1s this year – won the Distaff over Princess of Sylmar, she could wrest away the title. And the title is more than a piece of hardware – a 3-year-old championship significantly boosts the value of any horse in the marketplace. "We thought a lot about that," Stanco said. " ‘What’s her value? What’s the Eclipse worth to us?’ But we decided that the value of the Eclipse is secondary in this situation. She’s racing for history here, and we’re not giving up that opportunity."
The Distaff shaped up as an exceptional confrontation involving the two 3-year-olds and 5-year-old Royal Delta, winner of this event in 2011 and 2012. But it didn’t materialize the way most people had expected.
Royal Delta and Beholder chased a lightly regarded front-runner, but Royal Delta faded midway on the backstretch as Beholder surged to the lead. All eyes at Santa Anita were watching for Princess of Sylmar’s big stretch run – but it never materialized. Princess of Sylmar struggled home a badly beaten last.
The horses had barely crossed the wire when national TV commentators were speculating Beholder had taken away the 3-year-old filly title.
Racing fans always deplore the tendency of many owners to shield their horses from risks instead of risking their reputations. Everybody in the game applauded the sportsmanship of Stanco and his partners. But as Viscovich had demonstrated early in the afternoon, sporting gestures do not necessarily produce happy endings.
Still think POS should get the eclipse mostly because she won at several tracks and importantly won at 1 1/4. Horses should be rewarded for an aggressive campaign. Beholder is a great filly though.
Rachel was the Best 3 yr old filly ever period end of argument. Go to YouTube and watch her replays. Her times at 8 different tracks will say all that needs to be said while also being geared done in most of her races. Rachel at 4 was the Royal Delta at 5. Still good just not elite.
Marc, understand your point. Again I'm a huge very huge fan of Beholder she is a great filly. But all I was saying was when she did race outside of Cali she got beat plain and simple. I would like to see her do it at different tracks. Simple enough Marc? I don't know if she is in the class of the great " Z " I need to see more. Also I'm sorry but Beholder would not beat Rachel as a 3 yr old. Maybe the Rachel at 4 not her 3 yr old campaign. Rachel at 3 won the Mother Goose at Belmont in 146 and change ( track record) broke Ruffian time. Won the Haskell in 147.1 on a sloppy track over Summer Bird by 6 lengths who won the Belmont and JCC that year. Won the Woodward in 147 4/5 while spitting out fractions of 22 &4 First 1quarter and 46&8 the half sorry but Beholder wilts against those fractions going a mile and 1/8 th
These owners paid the supplement fees because they couldn't lose on the proposition. If their horses won, they receive the purses and any residual value from breeding. If their horses lost, they can use it as a tax write off for the year. It's good for players that they entered their horses, but we should not canonize them. It was not a large risk.
Allow me to shed some light on this argument with basic facts that a biased person overlooks. As a 2 YO the B earned 1,200,000, POS earned 68,000. Class wise, the B has an advantage, and finally POS lost to Hatches; a filly that has not been anywhere near the B. And as far as the B's loss to POS that was by 1/2 length....POS loss to the B was by an outstanding 16 1/4 lengths.....POS would need to sprout wings to be anywhere near the B. In conclusion the B in a class with Zenyatta. POS in a class with Rachel Alexandria and that's being extremely generous.
I'm a huge fan of Beholder but I'm sorry she didn't win the 3ry old filly title division title. Yes Beholder has 3 grade1's but all of those came over her preferred track. When she did travel outside of Cali she lost in the Oaks to POS the biggest race of they're generation. POS defeated older Mares in 147 and change at (Belmont) what is usually a slow track. 4 Grade1 to 3 and won those at 3 different tracks. Sorry but POS did more IMO!
Great Breeders Cup races ! Thank you Santa Anita! See you next year!
I think some guy named Lukas said something like this . You can't win them if you don't run them. Kudos to all those that ran them, condolences to those that did not win congrats to the winners. Owners and trainers in need to run them to win them, without that be way to many match races of 10 grand claimers
Although the owners of Game on Dude didn't have to pay any fees, theoretically they could have bypassed the BC(claiming something like the horse wasn't showing his usual zip in the mornings), sat back, and awaited the results. They would have concluded the year with a perfect record, and his HoY candidacy would certainly look better without that 9th in the Classic. A healthy Holy Bull bypassed the 94' Classic when a loss in the race could have clouded a certain HoY award. The folks owning Mineshaft wanted nothing to do with running at Santa Anita in the 03' Classic, and the horse's eventual injury ended up providing good cover. In the very first BC of 84', Slew o' Gold risked what would have traditionally been a sure HoY campaign in that year's Classic, and his loss in that race opened the door for John Henry, who won HoY after bypassing the BC. But there were also clear rewards in running for the owners of Game on Dude and Princess of Sylmar. In additon to the huge purses, both knew that with a win they would have excellent chances at the HoY and they could end any debate about the divsional awards(still think both PoS and Dude should win Eclipses). It was a gamble, and it didn't work out. That's racing sometimes. But as a fan, I'm glad we didn't see owners duck the sport's championship day(s).
another way to look at this is that PRICESS had an ally or rabbit in her stable mate Authenticity and still could not capitalize. And BEHOLDER had home track advantage. I think we should always go with the real results as opposed to the moral victories or speculation on what ifs.