This last weekend I visited for the first time Churchill Downs and experienced my first Breeders’ Cup! It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I am grateful that I got to meet in person so many of the friends I have been talking to for a very long time. I got to see world-class equines at a world-class facility. I got to stay up late and get up early. Finally, I got to visit the champion horses of the recent past. Here’s my recap of the event, Chicago style. **WARNING** this is my longest blog ever. If you finish reading all of this, at once, you have earned for yourself a Klondike Bar.
The trip started out with a flight to St. Louis. Yes I know that St. Louis does not equal Louisville but my best friend Jason and I decided to take the road trip from his house to Kentucky. Since there are no major cities in between St. Louis and Louisville, the drive was relatively easy. Overall the day was overcast and rainy, but that didn’t dampen the spirits as we knew what was waiting on the other side of the Ohio River.
Obviously we weren’t smart enough to check and see if there was any major road construction on the way. We had to take quite the detour since it seems as though there are only a couple of bridges into Louisville. Finally, we arrived at the hotel and we had only a few moments to rest before heading to the Bluegrass Brewery for dinner with the Horse Racing Nation team.
(Mental note #1 - remember to not park in the same parking garage that is also connected to the Yum Center while they are hosting a University of Louisville basketball game as it just might take an eternity to exit the garage when you happen to finish dinner at the same time the game ends.)
So I was sweating it a bit as I only had limited time to get back to the hotel to co-host Buck Grottano’s “Pass The Buck” Breeders’ Cup preview show. Yes, that night was the night of many firsts. First time in Louisville, first time hearing the term “hot brown," first time seeing a building with “Yum” in the title, and first time co-hosting a radio show. My media career is growing! I’ve now completed one TV and one radio appearance. Anyway, Buck and I gave our own preview of the 15 championship races (Buck picked Drosselmeyer in the Classic too!). It was a fun experience and I am honored that I have been asked to do it again! CLICK HERE FOR REPLAY
The next day started with a meeting in the paddock of all of the Facebook friends that I have chatted with for a long time. It’s great to put faces with the names! We have such a great online racing community and I am very proud to be a part of it. After chit-chatting for a while, it was time to get to our seats and watch the most exciting races of the year.
The Ack Ack:
Just wanted some recognition for Chicago as Mister Marti Gras (#4) won at almost 3-1! I flashed the four fingers to Jason as he was walking to the wagering window but he didn’t take my advice. His loss. I was too busy talking to Josh Keaton to make a bet. My loss. Great to see MMG close from the rear and take the victory though.
Dang! Secret Circle sure was fast. I’m talking 1:10.2 fast. However we encountered a bridge jumper in this race and I was sure to try to beat them. And why not? You see this was a two year old on a “good” track for the first time, running his first race at Churchill Downs, shipping in from California. The formula was almost too perfect. Well except for the fact that he was the best horse in the field and won easily while drifting out to the center of the track. Technically, I won two show bets in this race and lost $8 in the process of trying to collect a lot more.
Juvenile Fillies Turf:
More love for Chicago as Wayne Catalano-trained Stephanie’s Kitten closed in impressively from mid-pack on Churchill’s turf course to nail 8-1 shot Stopshoppingmaria at the wire. She finished the one mile route in 1:38.4 for the victory at 6-1. I felt a string of winners coming on as I had picked a couple already at this point including this race. Was this a sign of things to come? (Think “Sorenson Factor”…)
Filly and Mare Sprint:
Bombs Away! Musical Romance took this race at an amazing 20-1. She never let the leader, Golden Mystery, out of her sight and won the race by 1 ¼ lengths. Now, you may be asking yourself how this filly was able to handle the company in this race. However when you look at the past performances (to which obviously I need to pay more attention), her record is 8-4-3-1 since April 25th and this was all done against graded and non-graded stakes competition, as well as having some recent bullet works.
(Mental Note #2 - good horses usually win.)
Using my supreme handicapping skills, I landed on Switch who had an extremely bad start yet closed hard to finish second.
I don’t bet chalk. Therefore, I missed out on an easy winner in My Miss Aurelia. She sat just off the pace for the first half mile, then took charge and was untouchable for the rest of the race, winning the 1 1/16 mile route in 1:48 and by three lengths.
On a side note, Jason and I were fortunate enough to sit down to dinner with the very nice owners of Weemissfrankie at Lynn’s Paradise Café after the day of racing. They are very high on this horse and would like to start her down the Kentucky Oaks trail for next year. They are also involved with an organization called After the Finish Line that helps race horses that can no longer run or breed. I suggest you check them out! Also, the bourbon french toast is outstanding and I highly recommend it. In fact, the dude from Man vs. Food (not to be mistaken by Jim vs. Dark Horse) ate the same thing when he visited there!
Filly and Mare Turf:
The Brian Zipse special, Perfect Shirl, upset the field and took the Grade 1 Filly and Mare Turf. At 27-1 she came from the back of the pack to win by ¾ of a length in 2:18.3. Hmmm, pretty large odds considering Velazquez was on the mount. Being the fan of Chicago racing that I am, I was really pulling for Stacelita and Dubawi Heights since they raced in this year’s Beverly D. at Arlington. My high-priced play in this race was defending champion Shared Account, but alas I chose the wrong long shot. Let me tell you, this was a sign of things to come (and there’s no way to sugar coat this).
Royal Delta took this race, as expected; however the thing I was most excited about in this race was how well Pachattack ran. She saved ground and tried to make a bid, finishing third and paying $6.00 to show. I was just glad that I was there in person to see her run a great race.
After dinner that night, we proceeded to the Galt House for some beverages. This is when Brian Zipse, Dave Zenner, and Scott Dick proceeded to explain the finer points of the “Sorenson Factor” to trainer Tim Ice. Want to know what that is? Let’s just say you don’t want me to join you in a multi-race horizontal wager as it’s guaranteed you won’t win. Tim decided that the “Sorenson Factor” would also carry over to his horses when they lose. Great.
Thus ends day 1 and onto day 2. The second day didn’t quite go as planned. So as Jason and I were driving to Churchill for the day, we decided to stop at a local coffee shop for caffeine and breakfast (which ended up being closed anyway). When we got to the intersection where the coffee shop was supposed to be, I noticed Jason’s car was smoking. Yes, the thermostat failed! We proceeded to find an open car dealership in the area and decided to go for it and drive there. The car ended up being repaired, however we ended up missing the first three races. I really wanted to watch Giant Oak run! I’m glad he ran well and just missed second.
No surprise that Irish horse Wrote took this race by a convincing 2 ¼ lengths and at 11-1. Pretty good price for a Euro on turf. I went after Chicago-connected Coalport in this race. Hey, at least I’m putting my money where my mouth is (and that’s the problem)! Shame on me for going against the Europeans on turf.
There’s nothing like being talked off of your winning pick. For some unknown reason, as I was talking with Wes White, he convinced me that I should be playing exotics because they pay more. Already knowing my extremely low winning rate on exotics, I decided he was right and boxed Amazombie with some other horses to go after the payoff. Well, that was not the best move I have ever made as Amazombie did end up winning at decent odds. As a consolation, Wes did purchase a Bud Light for me as his penance and he recognizes that he owes me a few more of those in the future.
(Mental Note #3 - Stop betting exotics. I never win those - no matter how much Joe DePaolo explains that the mathematics work out in my favor.)
I’m really good at picking winning wagers and not betting on them. In this case, I had Regally Ready (the chalk) over Country Day written down on my paper and left a $188 exacta at the track. Sorenson factor perhaps? I simply put a win bet on Country Day who paid $24 to place. However, it was a great ride by James Graham and Chicago was once again well-represented.
Ah yes, one of the only other winners I had chosen on the day. Caleb’s Posse was impressive as he closed in from the rear to win by four lengths over Shackelford and Tres Borrachos. The race kind of fell apart and set up well for the winner as speed burner The Factor set early fractions of :22.2 and :45.1. Caleb’s Posse is my choice for three-year-old horse of the year!
Three of the four top finishers were Europeans in this race. St. Nicholas Abbey also closed in from behind and won handily by 2 ¼ lengths. Jason has picked the winner in this race. My choice Sea Moon finished second. Maybe I ought to try more win/place bets instead?
All I can say is WOW. Did you see Hansen in this race? Sure, most people thought he was a synthetic horse only, but he proved everyone wrong by wiring the field and beating heavy favorite Union Rags by a head. I must say, not only is Hansen a beautiful horse (love the grays or in this case whites), but his performances in his three races thus far have been nothing but spectacular. This was my favorite race of all the Breeders' Cup races.
I am so very happy that I was in attendance for Gio Ponti’s final race. The horse is a champion throughout and although he may have finished fourth in this race, he is always a winner in my eyes. Anyway, this race featured the dominant Goldikova as she attempted to win her fourth straight Mile. She was boxed in on the rail and really couldn’t find the opening she was looking for. Once she did get free, the cavalry came and took the lead right from her. Instead 64-1 bomb Court Vision won by a nose making a few exotics players very, very happy. I wouldn’t have picked this horse in a million years, honestly, but it was a great ride by Robby Albarado.
Here was the night’s main event. It was the return of Uncle Mo, the arrival of So You Think, the speed of Game On Dude, and the grace of, um, Havre De Grace. The top horses in the world competing on the iconic racing strip were a sight to see. I was right on the rail and had the privilege of watching these runners speed by me twice. The finish of this race was the most exciting part as Mike Smith on 14-1 Drosselmeyer blew by Chantal Sutherland on 14-1 Game On Dude. The superfecta only paid $47,000.
The Breeders’ Cup experience was fantastic, but the fun was not over. The next morning Jason and I decided to take the trip to Versailles to see former champions at the Lanes End open house. This was by far my favorite part of the trip! I couldn’t have been happier as I got to visit with the likes of Twirling Candy, Mineshaft, Rock Hard Ten, Quality Road, A.P. Indy, and of course, Curlin. The horses were brought out of their stalls so that the fans could get up close and say hello. I got my picture taken with a couple of the champions and took pictures of just about all of them. The crew at Lanes End was incredible as they had hats, mugs, drinks, and lunch for everyone who took the time to visit. This is certainly something that I hope to do again soon!
I could go on and on, but as you can tell my first ever trip to the Breeders’ Cup is one I’ll never forget!