Looking Back at Breeders’ Cup Weekend

A memorable weekend it was. Let’s review some of the big winners at HorseTourneys, and then I’ll offer some general thoughts about the Breeders’ Cup itself.


Dave Fowler was the winner of our $12,500 guaranteed tourney on Friday. Without question, the key to success was to have final-race cap horse Frank Conversation (a 3-year-old coming out of a pace duel with elders Obviously and Om…apologies for the red boarding) in the Twilight Derby. But Frank Conversation, alone, wouldn’t have gotten it done for Fowler. He registered several other cashes for a final total of $101.20 — well above the $64.00 provided by Frank Conversation).


Dave Nichols crushed it in our $25,000 Guaranteed tourney on Saturday with a score of $141,20.  And our $5,000 All-Optional tourney where players picked seven horses from the day’s 12 races proved very popular.  Especially with Vince DiMura.


Vince zeroed in on three solid-priced (but nothing too crazy) winners on Saturday, tabbing Fair Point in the Ken Maddy Stakes, Queen’s Trust in the Filly & Mare Turf and Tourist in the Mile.  Vince is clearly good at grass races. And kudos to Geoffrey Schutt who played two entries and finished second and third behind Vince. Perhaps most interesting is that Geoffrey played two entries in this Pick & Pray and used the exact same horses in both entries with the exception of just one race. Now that’s what I call confidence in one’s selections!

Other big winners on Saturday were Sean Nolan, Joe Jarvie and Harlan Malter in our Twin Spires Online Championships qualifier


And a couple of familiar names — Joe Jarvie and Geoffrey Schutt — plus David Johnson in our Horse Player World Series qualifier.


Sunday after Breeders’ Cup always has a bit of a hangover feel attached to it. But not so for Gary Gristick, Phillip Millstein and David Conover.


The trio hung up big scores in our 2-seat Guaranteed NHC qualifier on Sunday. Gristick had already qualified twice, so he was in it for the Tour Points. The qualifying packages, meanwhile, slid down to Millstein and Conover in second and third.

Scores were considerably lower in our Last Chance qualifier for this week’s Del Mar Fall Classic.


Mike Lynn won the pitcher’s duel here with $60.80. But he’ll be tied for first when the Del Mar tourney begins this week!

Lastly, we congratulate Bob Dwyer, whose $61.90 was good for a full package to the Hawthorne Fall NHC Super Qualifier.


Moving on to thoughts from Breeders’ Cup…

A friend mentioned on Twitter that this had to be one of the top two Breeders’ Cups ever. I thought this year’s renewal was terrific, but I think he might be succumbing a bit to recency bias. I tentatively have this year’s renewal as 4th-best all-time. My top three are:

  1. 1984. The inaugural event for me was the equivalent of going out on a blind date and falling in love. You watched it hoping it would meet expectations…and it vastly exceeded them.  From Chief Crown’s stage-setting win…to Walter Guerra tussling with Patrick Valenzuela by the weigh-in scales after the Juvenile Fillies…to Princess Rooney’s tour de force…to Wild Again’s supplemental entry and implausible victory over the fearsome Slew O’ Gold. The only downside of the 1984 Breeders’ Cup was the knowledge that we would have to wait a full year for the next one.
  2. 2001. You had to be there. And maybe it helped if you were a New Yorker like me. It was the first international sporting event anywhere since 9/11 and, while the races were important, there was also this overriding sense among all present that, dammit, we are going to pull this event off and pull it off successfully. And I say that every bit as much on the part of the fans and bettors as I do on the part of those of us who did work the event. The day just made you proud to be a racing fan and, of course, when Tiznow won the Classic in the fashion that he did — and the great Tom Durkin called it the way he did — you left with the feeling that horse racing had gone above and beyond…not just entertaining us but, in some ways given the times, sustaining us as well.
  3. 1988. This was a pretty damn good Breeders’ Cup. What I remember most is Wayne Lukas sweeping the Juvenile Fillies with something like 17 entries, Gulch turning back in distance to win the Sprint, Personal Ensign’s unforgettable nailing of Derby winner Winning Colors at the wire (another primo Durkin call) and Alysheba winning the Classic in the dark, avenging, in some respects, his gallant loss the year before in the Classic to Ferdinand.

I’ll place this year’s Breeders’ Cup fourth on my personal list. And I think it makes it almost solely on the strength of the two featured races, the Distaff and the Classic. It’s not often when one race, let alone two, is even more exciting  than we hoped going in. They were somewhat different in texture, I thought. Beholder vs. Songbird had a touch of Affirmed vs. Alydar, I thought, in terms of it being a significantly long stretch duel where neither horse seemingly wanted to give an inch. It’s impossible to get inside the minds of horses, but it sure looked like neither one wanted to lose.  Arrogate vs. California Chrome to me was more like Personal Ensign vs. Winning Colors, only this time the younger one was the chaser and the elder was the chasee. The question was “would the leader be caught?” which generates a different feel than two horses running abreast. But it was every bit as great. I felt bad for Victor Espinoza after the race in that he seemed to wonder aloud to NBC whether he had done something that got California Chrome beat. I don’t think he did. He gave him an advantageous, stress-free trip. And part of me still can’t believe that Arrogate ran him down.

I really doubt that, 10 years from now, we will remember this Breeders’ Cup for much more than the Distaff and Classic. But, truthfully, that’s probably enough. More than enough. They may have been two of the four most memorable races so far this century, along with the Blame-Zenyatta Classic and American Pharoah’s Belmont Stakes.

From a tournament standpoint, I thought this year’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge was particularly interesting. It was nice to see Breeders’ Cup kick in an extra $10,000 in prize money to get the event up to an even $1 million in value. But what I liked best about this year’s renewal was that, because Arrogate and California Chrome ran true to form, it put a greater emphasis on what players had accomplished prior to the Classic than the Classic being sort of the be-all, end-all to the competition. Joseph Appelbaum was a very deserving winner ($364,000 in all) …and it should be noted that runner up Charlie Davis (3rd in the most recent NHC) was down to $1,000 at the start of Day 2. But a bold bet on Champagne Room got him right back into the thick of things in a hurry. I’m always doubly impressed by guys like Davis and Christian Hellmers who have had high success in both mythical-money and live-bankroll tournaments. To me they are different animals and it is totally normal to expect that a player would do better in one or the other.

Unfortunately, we again have to wait a year for the next Breeders’ Cup.  But not for the next major tourney. On to the NHC!