Let me get this out of the way right now … I’m not a big bettor. That probably will come as a surprise to many of you, as closely as I follow the sport, and as often as I write about it, but it’s true. I live, eat, and breathe thoroughbred horse racing, but wagering is only one part of the game I enjoy. I rarely bet on a weekday, and wagering even $100 on a race card usually only happens on a few big race days a year. A yearly total of betting for me never reaches three thousand. I guess you could say, I am the poster child for betting with my head, not over it. So today, when I shelled out $108 to cover my selections in the Preakness Day Jackpot Pick 5, it represented one of my biggest bets of the year. I “went for it” for two reasons.
First of all I won yesterday. Yes I know it was Friday, but it was an excellent Pimlico Special/Black-Eyed Susan card, and it was my first day of betting since the Derby. By winning yesterday, I felt like it was OK to risk a little more if there were some good bets. That’s one thing I’ve learned to do … not to make a losing day worse by trying to get it all back by betting bigger. When I gamble, I always try to make smart plays, so it makes sense to risk a little more when you are making good decisions, versus a day when you cannot get out of your own way. Betting more on a losing day or weekend is something I simply will not to do.
Finalizing my handicapping last night, it became clear that the Jackpot Pick 5 was a bet I really liked today. As a moderate-to-small player, I rarely will look at things more detailed than Pick 3’s and occasional Pick 4’s, but the Jackpot Pick 5 had two big things going for it. It had a nice carryover going in, and one that I knew would not carryover another day, as this was closing day. That meant the entire pool would be paid out, making the payouts a great value. It also offered excellent quality, with all stakes, closing with the 2012 Preakness, and included races in which I had some strong opinions.
So it was all systems go. The first thing I did was punched in the horses I thought were the key factors in each race of the Pick 5 sequence. When I was done, to no surprise, the bet totaled $216. That was too much, so I had to be creative. I decided to pick out my two best bets of the five races. Even this was not easy, because while I felt there were some horses I liked, I realized that most of these races were pretty wide open. My first choice was Awesomemundo in the Dupont Distaff. A lightly raced Bob Baffert mare that looked fantastic in her only start this year, plus I really did not like the program favorite, Absinthe Minded. My second single was tougher, and in the end I decided on a sprinter destined to flame out, Immortal Eyes, in the Maryland Sprint Handicap.
With my top two plays, I was able to construct two tickets of $54 a piece, with one single used on each ticket. Things got off to a poor start when Immortal Eyes battled on the pace and backed out at the head of the stretch in leg 1. One ticket was dead, but on the bright side, I had co-favorites, Hamazing Destiny and Bandbox on my other ticket, and they ran an easy 1-2.
Leg 2 would not be easy, but this was a race where I really liked a pair of 3-year-olds getting the turf in the James Murphy Stakes, in Skyring and Hammers Terror. I also threw in the horse I thought would take some beating in the favorite, Easy Crossing. Although both Skyring and Hammers Terror had attractive odds on the morning line, only Skyring was bet that way, as Hammers Terror was bet down to the second choice. So Skyring was the one I would root for, and when the first-time turfing son of English Channel doggedly went all the way on the lead, I not only was 40% of the way home, but I was starting to think about a big payoff.
Leg 3 would be my other single, so it was win or bust for me and Awesomemundo. Things did not look good from the start. First she was made a clear favorite, going off at 7-5, and then she got squeezed back badly at the start, trailing the field after the first 50 yards. This was not a good sign for a filly I envisioned sitting just off the early lead. I really thought she was the best going in, so maybe she could rally, I told myself. Rally she did, to a point at the eighth pole where I thought she would run right by. It would not be that easy though, as leader Love and Pride found another gear. It took every stride, but Awesomemundo got there in the last few yards to win by a head. I gladly took this photo, as yesterday’s tantalizing narrow loss by Nehro turned a would-be fantastic day into just a good one for my wagering dollar. It all works out in the end, right?
Leg 4, the Dixie, was also scary. I had my top three picks, but I realized I was nervous about several others. A fresh Straight Story, and a talented import, Forte Dei Marmi, were two horses with odds that I thought could really boost my Pick 5 payoff. My third horse was the one to beat in Hudson Steele, a horse who after missing most of last year, is quickly becoming a turf star. He looked the part as he part ran right by Straight Story and coasted to an easy win. Forte Dei Marmi was flying late, but could not quite get up for second. The Pick 5 is only about picking the winner, and at least I had the easy winner, even if he was another favorite.
Leg 5. The Preakness. The big one. I only thought there were four possible winners and I had them all on my ticket. I was also slightly conflicted. On the one hand I really wanted to see I’ll Have Another win, thereby setting up the possibility of a Triple Crown. On the other hand, I knew I would win a lot more money with either Creative Cause or Went the Day Well winning. Usually I am nervous when I have a chance to hit something big, but this time I was oddly calm. What unfolded from there would be one of the best Triple Crown races I have ever seen. By the head of the stretch it was clear that Bodemeister was rolling with only the Derby winner having a chance to catch him. Bodemeister would be my smallest Pick 5, but that was the last thing I was thinking about as I’ll Have Another dug in and began to real in the favorite.
“Get him!” I yelled as I’ll Have Another showed his heart to the world. I said it several more times as the pair got closer together and the rest of the field fell away. It was nothing against the talented and valiant speedster; it had everything to do with the strong desire to see a Triple Crown winner. 34 years is too long.
With one more, “Get him!” I’ll Have Another had done it. My heart was pounding. Two outstanding horses had run their eyeballs out in the Preakness.
Curlin-Street Sense, Sunday Silence-Easy Goer, Alydar-Affirmed … now we have I’ll Have Another-Bodemeister. It was a helluva race. It was exactly why there is nothing more exciting than racing. And oh yeah, I hit the Jackpot Pick 5 for just under 1,500 clams in the process.
Photo courtesy of Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club