Most horseplayers with an eye on the Breeders' Cup are already poring over charts and replays of the biggest races of late summer and early autumn. They have pre-entry day circled on their calendars, have already downloaded past performances and have likely decided that Uncle Mo is a single. This is a monumental challenge that offers the potential of great reward as well as humbling defeat for human as well as horse.
A personal Breeders' Cup betting highlight reel would include: Ajina ($11.60) in the 1997 Distaff, Beautiful Pleasure ($8) two years later and Ginger Punch ($11) in the same race run in the mud at Monmouth Park in 2007; Johannesburg ($16.40) in the 2001 Juvenile and My Flag ($9) in the 1995 Juvenile Fillies; Miesque ($9.20) in her first Mile victory in 1987 and Lure ($12.0) in his first in 1992; Midnight Lute ($7 and $7.40) in back-to-back Sprint victories; Manila ($19.60) when he won the 1986 Turf, Great Communicator in his wire-to-wire win in '88 and English Channel ($8) in the 2007 renewal; Lahudood ($25.40) in the 2007 Filly & Mare Turf; Proud Truth ($16.80) in the 1984 Classic and Invasor ($15.40) in 2006.
We will spare you the personal lowlight reel. It is longer, though there is a two-year gap during the one-man parimutuel boycott of the synthetic main track at Santa Anita, where the races run on grass failed to compensate for the reduction of traditional opportunity.
Every aspect of the Breeders' Cup landscape has been altered radically in recent years -- two days rather than one, more races, some intended to widen European participation, others to expand alternatives for dirt milers and female sprinters. The Marathon defies both logic and implied significance. The challenge for horseplayers, despite an expansive array of information not available -- or imaginable -- when the event was launched in 1984, remains deliciously daunting.
The personal computer was not yet a household appliance in 1984. The Internet was not part of the vernacular let alone accessible from anywhere by cell phone, each of which weighed about 10 pounds at the time. The Daily Racing Form was available only in print. Simulcasting was in its infancy. European past performances were devoid of useful information, which was available only by word of mouth, provided you knew someone both useful and well-versed in European form. Replays? You're joking.
If the wide array of information now at the horseplayer's fingertips has created a more sophisticated handicapper, some prefer to mine the fields of simplicity.
A note from a reader a few years ago called attention to what is perhaps the most simplistic approach ever devised for betting on the Breeders' Cup.
Bet every horse, the missive explained, that is 20-1 or more as near as possible to post time.
He (or she, but I'm guessing he) claimed that this method has been profitable over time, but what's the challenge? On the other hand, it is unwise to argue with a strategy that results in a black bottom line.
This approach begins with the assumption that any horse running in a Breeders' Cup race has earned the opportunity and therefore, under the "any given Sunday" rule made popular by football bettors, has the ability to compete effectively on its best day. Some of these will fall between the cracks as favorites are over bet. A winner that pays something north of $40 -- some far north -- makes up for many losers. Anyone using this method has enjoyed both very long and expensive losing streaks and very memorable Breeders' Cup days.
How many bettors can say they had Lashkari at $53.40-1 in the inaugural Turf in 1984, Arcangues at $133.60-1 in the Classic of 1993 and Spain at $55.90-1 in the 2000 pre-Ladies Classic Distaff? Far more people bet on none of these than even one.
Three of the first 26 Breeders' Cups have seen three horses win at odds of more than 20-1: Outstandingly, $22.80-1, and Wild Again, winner of the first Classic at $31.30-1 in 1984, when $1.00 was worth more than twice what it is in today's U.S. currency, along with Lashkari, sent anyone employing this approach home with a pocket full of cash. The 2003 renewal at Santa Anita produced a $40.70-1 Distaff winner in Adoration after Action This Day had won the Juvenile at $26.80 and Cajun Beat took the Sprint at $22.80-1. Back at Santa Anita a year ago, the 2009 running saw Vale of York take the Juvenile at $30.60-1, Dancing in Silks win the Sprint at $26.30-1 and Furthest Land upset the Dirt Mile at $21.30-1. Five runnings of the Breeders' Cup have seen two winners at odds of more than 20-1. On the other side of the longshot ledger, 1988-90 and 1995-98 were very long streaks without a winner.
A Breeders' Cup race run in each of the first 26 years would typically have been won by 8.6 betting favorites. The Ladies Classic run under its present and former name, Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies and Mile, have each been won by four horses at odds of more than 20-1 -- just less than half the anticipated rate of winning favorites. Races established recently with much less history, the Turf Sprint and Dirt Mile, have gone to $36.50 Desert Code and $21.30 Furthest Land in the past two years.
Though the approach has limited application, being useful on only two days of the year, it is nevertheless not entirely without merit. Less work, more action. There just may be something worthwhile here.
Paul Moran is a two-time winner of the Media Eclipse Award, and has received various honors from the National Association of Newspaper Editors, Society of Silurians, Long Island Press Club and Long Island Veterinary Medical Association. He also has been given the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. Paul can be contacted at email@example.com.