10/26/2015 3:26PM

Hovdey: Barber’s script calls for memorable Breeders’ Cup

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Gary Barber, head of the legendary MGM Studios, will be front and center at Keeneland on Friday and Saturday to watch three horses carry his fortunes in Breeders’ Cup events. But unless he wins, and there’s always that chance, the Breeders’ Cup will be only the second-most-exciting event of his week.

On Monday in London, Barber represented MGM at the royal premiere of “Spectre,” the 24th James Bond film and the fourth starring Daniel Craig. “Royal,” by definition, means Princess Kate will show up and be assured of a good seat. It’s a big deal, and the formula worked before with MGM’s 2012 premiere of “Skyfall,” the biggest Bond blockbuster of them all.

To compare the fiscal impact of a Bond film with a Breeders’ Cup is like confusing Sean Connery with Roger Moore. “Skyfall” grossed $1.1 billion worldwide. The record parimutuel handle for a two-day collection of Breeders’ Cup races is $157.5 million, set in 2010, when the event took place at Churchill Downs.

For Barber, the contrast is also stark. It’s the difference between steering a mammoth movie production with a $250 million budget and hundreds of creative talents to a profitable ending, and partnering with a couple of friends on a racehorse with one trainer and one jockey in pursuit of a singular goal.

Not to be greedy, but Barber will take them both.

“It’s the Breeders’ Cup, so they’re all really hard,” Barber said before leaving Los Angeles for England. “I really think that the 2-year-old filly should be one of the top choices. She was very impressive at Woodbine and has really come on since then.”

Barber was talking about Catch a Glimpse, the daughter of City Zip who ran away and hid from her Natalma Stakes opposition on Sept. 12. Trained by Mark Casse, Catch a Glimpse will be running in the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf on Friday for Barber and partner Jeff Begg of Windways Farm.

“I’m very bullish on her chances,” Barber said. “Her numbers are good, and I don’t think any other filly has come close to her 91 Beyer [Speed Figure].”

That last guy talking was the hard-nosed horseplayer in Barber, who puts up his money on all sides of the game. His ample stable is spread out across North America with several trainers and partnerships, while his impact on the handle is commensurate with his thirst for the score.

Barber, a native of South Africa, came to be running MGM the old-fashioned way: He bought it, or at least his company, Spyglass Entertainment, bought enough of the floundering studio giant in 2010 to be able to take the operational reins alongside his partner, Roger Birnbaum. Before the MGM deal, Spyglass was known for movies like “Seabiscuit,” “The Insider,” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.”

Barber’s Kelso Handicap winner, Appealing Tale, was forced to miss the Dirt Mile with an injured ankle. In addition to Catch a Glimpse, that leaves him with action in the $2 million Filly and Mare Turf with Sharla Rae, owned in partnership with Nils Brous and Adam Wachtel, and in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Mile with Tourist, whom Barber shares with Wachtel and WinStar Farm.

“He’s very special,” Barber said of Tourist. “And if you look at his last race in the Shadwell [Turf Mile], when he came third by a neck, he got the best Ragozin number by far. But the Euros always are a super-tough bunch in there, and on top of that, you’ve got to get lucky in a big field going a mile on the grass.”

Sharla Rae and Tourist will be prices, but Barber has been known to take a shot. He ran Comma to the Top on consecutive weekends to win stakes in California and New York. He rolled the dice with the filly Lexie Lou to win the 2014 Queen’s Plate against colts. And he threw Appealing Tale to a wolf like Honor Code in Kelso. They don’t always work out that well, but the point is to give it a try.

“You have to,” Barber said. “What are we in this game for? I do like to wager, and I’m not completely senseless. But I do think that when you get an opportunity with a good horse doing well – like Sharla Rae, for instance, who is doing super right now – you’ve got to take a chance.

“I remember when we ran Ron the Greek in the Jockey Club Gold Cup,” Barber said. “It had been a while since he’d won, and people were asking why would we do that. Then he came in and parked by six lengths at 20-1.”

The closest Barber has come to winning a Breeders’ Cup race was in the 2009 Sprint at Santa Anita, where Cost of Freedom, at 18-1, came up a nose and a head short of a true Hollywood ending. The year before, Cost of Freedom had been a controversial vet scratch the morning of the same race.

No matter what happens this time around, Barber will be boarding a plane Saturday evening for Mexico City, where “Spectre” will have its premiere for the Americas on Nov. 2.

But first Barber will linger at Keeneland because he’s as much a passionate racing fan as he is a man of the movies. He is a not about to leave the theater before what figures to be a spectacular climax.

“Can you believe Beholder and American Pharoah in the Classic?” Barber said. “I cannot wait to see them run. Even if I didn’t own a horse, I’d be going to watch this.”

r More than 1 year ago
Does K Peck still write for DRF? He's burned up more readers cash than you can count.