11/05/2015 12:08PM

Crist: Imagine that – a formful Breeders’ Cup


The most bizarre thing about last weekend’s Breeders’ Cup was that nothing bizarre happened.

Thirteen races with big fields over two days usually produce some wacky results – a couple of winners who still make no sense after the race is over, some 40-1 shots clunking up to complete gigantic trifectas and superfectas, mystifying no-shows by big names. There was a stretch a few years ago when you could have turned a profit by betting every single entrant in every Cup race because the winners’ payoffs added up to more than $300.

Not this year. A $2 win bet on every Cup starter would have cost $322 and returned only $124.60, an average win payoff of just $9.60 per race. Only one of the 13 winners – Mongolian Saturday at $33.80 in the Turf Sprint – went off at more than 10-1. There were five odds-on favorites over the two days, and three won (Liam’s Map at $3, Songbird at $3.20, and American Pharoah at $3.40), while the other two (Golden Horn at 4-5 and Legatissimo at 9-10) finished second.

Longshots have probably never fared so poorly: 44 of the 161 starters were 30-1 or more, and exactly one of them finished fourth or better – Effinex, who was second at 33-1 in the Classic. Try going 43 for 44 at keeping horses out of the superfecta over 13 races sometime – it’s nearly impossible. This year, you could do it simply by pitching every single horse who was 30-1 or higher. Rarely has the “all” button performed so poorly.

Keeneland’s dirt track was fast and fair to horses from every corner of the country, but it’s unclear that the same can be said of the grass course, which for some reason the European contingent as a whole did not handle well. Other than the Turf, where Found and Golden Horn ran 1-2, races that the foreigners looked likely to dominate instead went to stateside runners. The give in the ground from Thursday and Friday rain should have helped the Europeans, but it did not.

The best, of course, came last. American Pharoah’s victory in the Classic completed what probably is the most accomplished campaign by a 3-year-old since Secretariat’s in 1973. You can argue that there have been better horses than American Pharoah since then, but none of them won the Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Haskell, and Breeders’ Cup Classic. It could be a very long time before we see anything like that again, and the ambitiousness of his season takes some of the sting out of his retirement to stud. Some.

The question now is whether American Pharoah will be able to reproduce himself and how much people will pay to find out if he can. His stud fee, expected to be announced within a week, is sufficiently intriguing that the online sportsbook bovada.com has posted odds on it: 7-5 on under $200,000, 3-2 on more than $200,000, and 2-1 on precisely $200,000.

At that level, some breeders will argue that there is more value and appeal in going to the retiring Honor Code (by A.P. Indy) for $40,000 or Liam’s Map (by Unbridled’s Song) at $25,000 instead of a son of Pioneerof the Nile at four to six times the price. Greatness on the track does not ensure similar results in the breeding shed: Affirmed and Spectacular Bid are exhibits A and B. On the other hand, there were even lower expectations for Seattle Slew, who became the best and most important sire of all the great horses from that era. It will be fun to see how this all turns out when American Pharoah’s first crop hits the track in 2019.

In the meantime, one thing this Breeders’ Cup failed to do was resolve all of the Eclipse Award championship titles. I think there are cinches in 7 of the 11 divisions: American Pharoah as 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year, Nyquist as 2-year-old male, Songbird as 2-year-old filly, Honor Code as older dirt male, Beholder as older dirt female, and Runhappy as sprinter. The four other trophies – male turf, female turf, 3-year-old filly, and female sprinter – are much closer calls and are open for debate between now and when Eclipse ballots are due at year’s end.

Those races are more confusing than the ones at Keeneland last weekend turned out to be.