Before writing this piece, I watched video replays of Zenyatta’s previous 13 victories.  What I discovered was nothing short of jaw-dropping.

No doubt in decades to come, Mike Smith’s ride aboard Zenyatta in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic will be remembered as one of the great race rides in thoroughbred history.  Cemented in lore will be Smith’s flawless maneuvering of the massive mare from quarter pole to wire that spelled the difference over turf Horse of the Year Gio Ponti.  Completely forgotten will be a subtle nuance of Smith’s ride the likes of which I can’t recall seeing in 50+ years of watching championship racing, and that stamps it for me the single greatest race ride I personally have ever witnessed.

To fully appreciate Smith’s remarkable performance, one must train a learned eye not on the end of the race, but rather on the beginning.  Following Quality Road’s unprecedented temper tantrum that caused an almost seven minute delay in the start, Zenyatta did something she hadn’t done since the first start of her career way back in November, 2007 at Hollywood Park: she broke from the gate on her left lead!

In each of Zenyatta’s previous 12 victories, she broke from the gate on her right lead, and immediately fell into a perfectly straight, relaxed, smooth and lovely gallop.  On Saturday, in the most important race of her career, Zenyatta emerged from the gate like a drunken sailor.  With her left leg in front of her right for the first time in years and her head cocked in total confusion, she looked more like a first-time starter at Calder than a candidate for Horse of the Year.

Even track announcer Trevor Denman, who has called half of Zenyatta’s career victories and is accustomed to seeing Zenyatta dead last early, nonetheless knew this time something was terribly amiss.  Five seconds into the race and barely after calling Regal Ransom as the early leader, Denman blurted-out, “Zenyatta’s dead last!  Zenyatta’s dead last early!”

Mike Smith knew it as well, and to his Hall of Fame credit didn’t panic.  Instead, he immediately began to “ask” Zenyatta to switch to her customary cruising lead.  His first attempt went for naught as Zenyatta continued to shuffle aimlessly behind the field.  Again, Smith didn't panic.  With plenty of run left to the first turn, he calmly allowed Zenyatta to gather-up, then “asked” her once again, more forcefully this time, to switch to her right lead. 

Zenyatta responded.  Within a matter of a few strides, she made up the stagger on the diminutive Mine That Bird, and fully was into the smooth and gargantuan stride that has been the hallmark of her undefeated career, and that would take her to victory on racing's most important stage.

To be sure, the last half-mile of Zenyatta’s historic Breeders’ Cup victory will be replayed for decades of Classics to come. Utterly forgotten will be the first quarter mile of that historic victory, and Mike Smith's remarkable awareness, without which I believe the outcome may have been entirely different.

O. Jeffrey “Bud” Pettingill

Aka: Octave-the-Rave



Only not the one you’re thinking.  Not even the other one; that “Z” horse.  Not even close.  The fastest horse on the planet right now is Ventura. 

Consider this.

According to the Equibase chart guys, the 6F time for the Woodbine Mile was 1:09.08, or 69.08 seconds.  The final running time was 1:32.04, or 92.04 seconds, meaning the final quarter mile (92.04 minus 69.08) was run in 22.96 seconds. At the ¾ mile mark, Ventura was 8.5 lengths behind leader Grand Adventure.  Mindful that each length equates to a 1/5th of a second, Ventura ran her final quarter in roughly 21.2!  And that was after running a full six furlongs!  Even more remarkable is that the instant she made the lead, she jumped back to her left lead, her ears went straight up in the air, and her entire final 1/16th was little more than a wrong-lead gallop-out!

Add that final quarter mile time to a perfectly pedestrian :44.2 flat for a half mile in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and you wind up with a final time somewhere in the neighborhood of 65.4 seconds for 6 furlongs.

How’s your math?  That would be 1:05.4!  Which begs the question, why the hell is Ventura running in the $1M Filly and Mare Sprint when she likely would be favored in the $2M BC Sprint the next day?

In the “year of the female,” this seems to me the ultimate no-brainer!




Watching the 2009 Belmont Stakes unfold, I was reminded of the classic line from Tom Cruise's break-out movie, Risky Business: "Sometimes you just have to say, 'What the f _ _ k'!"

As in, "WTF was Dunkirk doing on the lead?" 

Are you kidding me?  Is it possible Todd Pletcher got hold of some Tim Wooley kool-aid?  Was that his thinking?  That it worked so well for Mine That Bird in the Derby and Preakness that he'd try it with Dunkirk in the Belmont, only in the reverse?  The far greater likelihood is that Todd Pletcher has lost it.  That the pressure of the Triple Crown, and his continuing legacy of futility, finally has cast him over the edge.  That said, if there was a future book bet available today on the Breeders' Cup Classic, and I could get 10-1 or better on Dunkirk, I'd make a healthy wager, and take my chances on his staying healthy.  His race yesterday was phenomenal -- idiotic, bush-league, mindless and completely unnecessary tactics notwithstanding.  Nor was it the least bit surprising.  For those who don't remember his dam Secret Status, she was a monster, and one of the best race mares of her generation, which is why he cost $3.7M.  As bad as this crop of 3YOs looked on paper two months ago, today they look like one of the worst in decades.  Except Dunkirk.  He may yet prove to be one of the best of his generation, Todd Pletcher notwithstanding.

As in "WTF was Calvin thinking?"

I'll tell you exactly what he was thinking: Rachel Alexandra in the Oaks!  Secretariat in '73!  Something spectacular, monumental, and "worthy" of all the attention and expectations heaped on him over the past three weeks.  It wasn't enough for him just to win.  It had to be special.  Well, guess what?  Had any jockey with more than 10 career wins been on Mine That Bird yesterday, he'd have won by five, and Tim Wooley all but said as much after the race.  Heck, even Borel's agent said he blew it.  For all his wonderful, loveable traits ... his work ethic ... his sheer joy and love for the sport ... Calvin Borel is an illiterate, 7th grade drop-out, and it showed yesterday.  In spades!

And then there's the biggest WTF of all: Birdstone!  Excuse me?  Birdstone?  With 4 percent stakes winners from 293 foals, and average earnings of $54,000, how on Earth did the offspring of that little midget manage to sweep two legs of the Triple Crown?

Simple attrition. 

Just look back at our previous decade of Derby winners, and you'll find part of the answer.  Barbaro is dead.  Giacomo's such a rat nobody even wants to stand him.  Smarty Jones' babies can't be towed two turns.  Funny Cide was a gelding.  War Emblem's making sushi.  Monarchos was a one-hit wonder.  FuPeg, after a promising start, has been a bust.  Charismatic also got swallowed-up by the Japanese.  Real Quiet's offspring, for the most part, have mirrored his own nickel-pedigree.  And Siver Charm has been a collosal bust.  Nor does it figure to get better anytime soon.  Thus far, Afleet Alex's 2YOs have been absolute slugs.  Slow, crooked, or both.  Stunningly disappointing.

The other part of the answer, of course, is Sheikh MoMo.  The instant an American 3YO excels as a racehorse, or shows promise at stud, he winds-up at Darley, and his babies in Dubai or France or England.  Invasor, Jazil, Bernardini, Chester House, Albertus Maximum, Hard Spun, Street Sense, and just last week Medaglio D'oro, sire of Rachel Alexandra.

Birdstone!  WTF, indeed ...



"I'll take CON MEN for $2,000, Alex."

Alex:  "In horse racing, his 'speed figures' have ripped-off more money than Charles Ponzi, Bernie Madoff, and John Dillinger combined."

Rave:  "Who is Andrew Beyer!"


If you haven't seen the Dean's latest, hold onto your ass with both hands.  For reasons that only can be the result of intense fan and industry pressure, finally Beyer has admitted in print what most knowledgeable horseplayers have known since 2006: that his speed figures are a joke.  And while this article speaks only to the fallacy of his synthetic figures -- and does so with shameless aplomb, sans the slightest hint of culpability or apology -- I would remind everyone the extent to which this year's Triple Crown chase made a mockery of his dirt figures, as well, starting with Quality Road in the Florida Derby and his staggering 8-point adjustment six days after the fact, and culminating with Mine That Bird in the Derby.

As everyone knows, the future well-being of every organized sport on Planet Earth depends solely and entirely on its ability to continually refurbish its fans base with new blood.  No sport on Planet Earth does a worse job than horse racing, and a HUGE reason for that is the staggering cost of the Daily Racing Form.  What college kid of sound mind voluntarily would take-up an avocation that requires a $6 daily stipend? A stipend that unlike parking and admission, which any college kid with half a brain can bogue in his sleep, is patently unavoidable, and a mandate for participation?

I'm convinced beyond debate that nothing ... absolutely nothing ... would help the long-term viability of horse racing more than for someone to buy the DRF, get rid of the BSF, get rid of all editorial content - which by the time it comes out in print is second-hand news anyway - and return the price to around $2.50 - $3.00.




You might recall before last year's Kentucky Derby I penned a blog cautioning players to pay close attention to the Oaks/Derby Double probables before pounding-with both-hands what has become a hugely popular wager.  Once again last year, the bet turned-out to be a value-bust.  Proud Spell's $9 win mutual ($8.80 rounded-up) on to BB's $6.80 win mutual produced a straight parlay payout of $30.60, while the DD payout came back $37.60, a profit-over-parlay (POP) of only 23 percent.

This year's payout was better, of course, with a 50-1 Derby winner, but still strangely undervalued.  The straight parlay of R.A. ($3 rounded-up) onto MTB ($103) came back $154, while the Oaks/Derby Double paid $258, a POP of only 60 percent.  In fact, on Derby morning most folks believed MTB would be closer to 100-1 in the win pool than the actual 50.5-1 he went off.

Clearly, something continues to stink with this wager, and I say that purely on the basis of common sense that tells you while the everyday DD wager is the domain of experienced, knowledgeable handicappers, once-a-year pools like the Oaks/Derby double pool typically include an additional 20-30% from once-a-year bettors who don't know which end a horse eats with, and use names and house numbers.  Simple logic tells you the payout on these once-a-year pools should have more value than everyday DD's, yet rarely, if ever, is that the case.

That said, never have I seen anything like this year's Black-Eyed Susan/Preakness double.  Get this.  Payton D'Oro's $7.00 win mutual on to Rachel Alexandra's $5.60 win mutual produced a straight parlay payout of $19.60.  The Black-Eyed Susan/Preakness DD paid $16.80, producing a POP of NEGATIVE 17 percent!

Folks, the probability of such a thing defies all conventional logic. 

There is no logical argument one can make for a filly running against colts for the first time breaking from the 13-post position to be such an overwhelming favorite as to produce something we rarely if ever see in everyday DD's: a negative POP.  The only plausible explanation, of course, is one HUGE or a combination of unusually LARGE, isolated, Payton on to R.A. BES/Preakness Double wagers.  Short of that, the most logical explanation is that the folks at Pimlico kept a whole lot more of our money than the advertised 19 percent takeout.

Wagering pools are not my schtick, so maybe I am missing something here.  If so, I'd appreciate someone clueing me in.  Short of that, perhaps this is something someone like Jeremy Plonk might wish to look into.  Lord knows, we bettors are getting the short-end of the stick on every turn these days as a matter of course.  If it also turns-out we're the victims of criminal activity ...

Knowing how desperate Pimlico is for money, would anyone be shocked?

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