12/10/2008 12:00AM

Reflections in a mutuel window as year ends


As we come to the end of another racing season that, other than Thanksgiving weekend, actually ended on the final weekend of October at Santa Anita, my mind keeps drifting over moments, as my bankroll, such as it is, waits for 2009.

Did the game ever seem more glorious than when Big Brown crossed the finish line at the Kentucky Derby? Really, here was a colt who owned the day, a colt with unlimited potential just crushing all these horses who spent months getting ready for this one moment.

And, just seconds later, did the game ever seem more sad? I was watching the horses gallop out when Eight Belles went down, almost, it seemed at the time, in slow motion. I was hoping she was just exhausted. Then, the awful truth became known and the celebration was over.

In just a few seconds, everybody got to see 21st Century racing in microcosm - the incredible highs, the terrible lows. Everybody seeks the highs, but more and more people are wondering if the lows are worth the occasional high. It is racing's ultimate dilemma.

I am still wondering how they could run 14 Breeders' Cup races and I would have so little clue about any of them. It wasn't for lack of trying. I spent the time, watched the tapes, listened to the talk, and was never a factor at any moment.

I went back over everything to see where I went wrong, what I would have done differently. Clearly, I would have upgraded everything from Europe (and I know people who did), but I just didn't see that before the fact. Sadly, it really doesn't matter what you know later. It only matters what you know when you arrive at a window, a phone, the Internet, wherever you make your bets.

And doesn't that sum up a player's life? I was talking to a good friend of mine the other day, a big player with a considerable bankroll, and even he seemed mystified by the ebb and flow of it all.

We all know it. There are times when everything you do is right and times when nothing is right. You can do the same amount of work, pay attention to the same fundamentals, and get completely different results.

That, of course, is the players' dilemma: How to take advantage when everything makes sense and how to survive when nothing makes sense.

Speaking of things making sense or not, why is Big Brown not in the Horse of the Year discussion? Could you imagine another year when a horse won the Florida Derby, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Haskell not even being in the discussion for Horse of the Year.

Is that a reaction to Rick Dutrow or the owners of Big Brown? If so, why? What does that have to do with anything?

I am not going to vote for Big Brown. I am voting for Curlin. I certainly gave Zenyatta consideration, but I just don't see this as a match race.

Not that this should matter in the voting, but, for casual observers, Big Brown was way bigger than Curlin or Zenyatta this year. For better or worse, the Triple Crown races have become paramount in the sport. Given how difficult those races have become to win, I do think they should count for something more than just Grade 1 races. The Derby, to me, is worth three Grade 1's.

All of which brings me to Sunland Park on Sunday, where the great mare Peppers Pride will go for her 19th consecutive win.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially as a charter member of the Peppers Pride fan club. But she might be in trouble this time. Far be it for me to suggest a horse that is 18 for 18 might not win, but it is my solemn duty as a representative of Beyer Central to point out the facts.

Peppers Pride got a Beyer Speed Figure of 73 in her last win. In her other three wins this year, she got Beyers of 82, 87, and 81.

For the first time in a long time, Peppers Pride is going to enter the starting gate without the best last-out Beyer. That honor will go to Negotiablafections (what's with that name?).

Negotiablafections has raced four times and won three, including blowouts in her last three. She got an 86 Beyer in her last race. Worse for Peppers Pride, a confirmed closer, Negotiablafections appears to be lone speed.

This is not a great scenario for Peppers Pride, just a few dollars from a million and another win from 19 for 19 and maybe a Kentucky date with A.P. Indy.

Perhaps, Peppers Pride is just the exception to that racing rule that says nothing stays the same forever or even for a few days. Maybe, Peppers Pride, unlike the rest of us, always wins.