01/27/2016 3:36PM

Hovdey: Lost Bus joins long list of stakes shockers


Even those readers who have been the most loyal, thanklessly suffering followers of this column will have forgotten that the potential of a filly named Lost Bus was touted here long ago. So long ago, in fact, that your reporter thought it was some other filly named Lost Bus entered in the Santa Monica Stakes last weekend instead of the one who made such an impressive maiden splash during the summer of 2014.

But when Lost Bus didn’t pan out, when she went from ingenue to just another pretty face in the chorus, this fair-weather racing writer jumped ship and moved on to the next shiny object. Her comeback win as a 3-year-old a year ago caused a brief ripple of recognition, but the rest of the 2015 season was a forgettable slog and rightly ignored, ending as it did in a $32,000 claimer that she could not win.

But she was claimed. And now, three starts later, Lost Bus has won the Santa Monica, one of the West’s best races, at odds of 64-1 no less.

Gary Sherlock won the Santa Monica before – with Intangaroo in 2008 at 26-1 – but what he has done to resurrect the kernel of class deep within Lost Bus makes him more than a talented trainer. This piece of work qualifies Sherlock as a first-rate archeologist. Give that man a metal detector and a stretch of deserted beach.

The Santa Monica of Lost Bus now takes its rightful place on a list of major race stunners that keep the hopeful coming back for more. There are always explanations – every horseplayer carries a handy redboard to help explain the inexplicable – but only those hearing voices could have come up with some of these:

“I was very much surprised by the odds as we got ready for the race. I thought to myself, ‘This is ridiculous.’ ”

That was Harold Young, the trainer of Sherluck (no relation to Sherlock), after Young’s colt beat Carry Back and seven others in the 1961 Belmont Stakes at odds of 65-1.

“I couldn’t stand that 65-1,” Young went on, rubbing it in. “I hadn’t bet on Sherluck before, but those odds did it. I put $20 on him.”

Eddie Arcaro, who could have ridden Sherluck in the Belmont, looked at that $104,000 winner’s purse and moaned.

“I couldn’t see him going a mile and a half, so I went golfing instead,” Arcaro said. “I won $4 in golf bets and blew the $10,000 I would have made riding Sherluck.”

Sherluck was a known – he already had won the Blue Grass Stakes – but Croeso was a relative mystery when he descended upon Hallandale Beach for the 1984 Florida Derby. Steven Crist, then writing for The New York Times, wondered what the underachiever was doing there, especially at a cost of $5,000 to supplement. Steve DiMauro, who was deputizing for Croeso’s California trainer, Jerry Fanning, supplied the answer.

“He’s a speed horse, and he’s got a stablemate named Desert Wine who’s also a speed horse, so the trainer wants to keep them apart,” DiMauro told Crist.

This does not qualify as a strong push. But then Croeso led all the way under Frank Olivares to beat the heavily favored Copelan at odds of 85-1.

“Speed is dangerous anywhere,” DiMauro said.

No kidding. High Tribute was 78-1 when he hit the three-quarters in a wind-aided 1:08 and change and went on to beat In Reality in the 1967 Jerome Handicap at a mile under the young Laffit Pincay Jr. Three years later, Virginia Cracker rocked the Delaware Oaks and the favored Office Queen at 75-1. Weight spreads helped explain why the favorites lost but not why the winners ran so well.

Henry Moreno, the jock who beat Native Dancer with Dark Star, capped his long career by winning the 1978 Del Mar Handicap on the 69-1 Palton. There were cries in the Jersey night after Great Normand won the Meadowlands Cup and someone noticed he was 181-1. Wise heads blamed the sloppy track, but they had no such refuge when Ive Struck a Nerve took the 2013 Risen Star Stakes in New Orleans at 135-1, with the track fast and the weather fine.

If nothing else, a winner like Lost Bus in a race like the Santa Monica provides horseplayers with a teachable moment. Enter Jeff Siegel, a veteran handicapper and a partner in the ownership of Martial Law, the winner of the 1989 Santa Anita Handicap at 50-1.

“Stakes races are usually the least likely to provide these kinds of upsets,” Siegel said. “They’re good horses, they’re sound, they’re consistent, and their form is established.”

In his prerace analysis of the Santa Monica, Siegel tried to prepare his Xpressbet audience for the unforeseen.

“There is a handicapping term that describes a race like that,” Siegel said after Lost Bus won. “We call it chaos. If you go through every horse to find the positives and negatives, and you come up with more negatives than positives for each horse, that means nothing that happens can be called surprising. They all can’t lose.”

This, for lack of a better description, sounds defeatist.

“Not really,” Siegel said. “If a horseplayer can recognize a chaotic race on paper, then they can more easily justify the unconventional selection. That’s what I tried to do in the Santa Monica. I was wrong with my selection, but I was not surprised.

“A lot of things had to happen for Lost Bus to win, and they all did.”