Commentary

Favorite Cup

Updated: October 1, 2012, 8:00 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

The Breeders' Cup is the best relatively new invention in sports.

The FedEx Cup?

Isn't that a series of golf tournaments aimed at spoiling the players even more?

What was up with some of those USA guys at the Ryder Cup? Steve Stricker grew paler than his white hat with each passing missed putt. Did Phil Mickelson know exactly what was transpiring? Smiling Phil was running around grinning and applauding the foes like he was the head pro at the Stepford Country Club. Tiger appeared to have not felt this much pressure since his ex-wife asked him where he had been until 5 a.m. The Euro golfers may come to our country and hone their games at our universities and buy our mansions and marry some astoundingly pretty women. But the hard-working blood of their ancestors runs deep; while many of the American golfers are probably out inheriting.

The Sprint Cup?

Doesn't that signal either the start or the end of the car racing season?

The business with many of the new-cup sports inventions is that the same people will be doing the same things in the same places in a month or so.

This is not the case with the Breeders' Cup, which is only a month out, hardly enough time to build a stake. But that's why they make credit card cash withdrawal clauses, Christmas and the Breeders' Cup. The Breeder's Cup brings together a few old favorite horses, but mostly fresh and sassy newcomers in a half a dozen races Friday, Nov. 2, and nine more the day after, highlighted by two races -- the $2 million Juvenile and the $5 million Classic.

The people in charge like to rotate the Cup site from year to year so the hotels and motels that charge $75 a room can ask $400 a pop with a three-night minimum. But what's not to like about a two-year run at Santa Anita, where the palms meet the stars. On the Cup website, people like Bo Derek are on hand expounding about the greatness of our sport in general and the Cup to be specific, BD, who was a 10 for the longest time before the unfairness of time knocked her back to a low 8, high 7.

Great site aside, spectacle aside, world-class horses and trainers aside, danger aside, regal owners aside, perfect climate aside, great bodies aside, and great TV ratings aside, ratings that traditionally make stuff like the Ryder Cup seem paltry by comparison, what really makes the Breeders' Cup special is what makes the Kentucky Derby special, and the $5,000 claiming race Wednesday night at Penn National special: pari-mutuel wagering.

During a day or night at the races, anything from a hunch to brilliant handicapping can be rewarded.

What makes the Breeders' Cup a special wager is that sometimes a small bet will get you lottery-type money.

The problem with the Breeders' Cup from a handicapper's perspective is: Few if any horses are hurt, or sore. Few trainers are incompetent hacks, or probably crooked. Few jockeys are bums. Oftentimes during the two-day event, all the horses appear remarkably similar in ability. What it often comes down to is eliminating horses that shouldn't win because of personal handicapping preferences, long layoffs, surface changes, jockey changes, running styles. That should pare each field down to eight or nine that look exactly alike.

Besides getting lucky, here's one way you can prepare for Breeders' Cup weekend: Get used to avoiding favorites.

Playing favorites can be habit-forming. There's so much company with which to commiserate after a rummy favorite runs fifth. There's little embarrassment to be incurred when playing favorites, always lots to criticize. So-called idiots lost on 20-1 shots that ran sixth. People who got cheated lose on favorites running sixth. Playing the favorite requires the least amount of thought.

The obvious problem is, of the third or so of the favorites that win, some pay 1-5. Another problem is, even money isn't always enough, even when hooked to a double or a pick 3.

At the Breeders' Cup, some favorites in the races involving young horses make for good singles in exotics.

Playing a favorite in a turf race or a contest involving older bones is like buying a souvenir.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.