Here’s to the Also Eligibles

One of the reasons I think this year’s Breeders’ Cup will stay with me a little longer than most is because of the success that a couple of “Also Eligibles” had. During an event that sometimes comes across as one with room for only the most fashionably bred horses, owners and even spectators, Also Eligibles just seem so much more…relatable.

After all, what is life but a seemingly never-ending quest to draw in off the Also Eligible list? If you’ve ever flown standby, then you’ve certainly experienced being an Also Eligible.

If you’ve every walked into a room and had someone look at you as if to say “What are you doing here?” then you know what it’s like to be an Also Eligible.

I’d take it further and argue that anyone who has applied for a job or otherwise tried to improve one’s station in life has also experienced the Also Eligible phenomenon. (That should cover pretty much all of us.)

Some people complain about life on the C list. As far as I’m concerned, that’s still way better than life on the AE list.

If you’ve ever done something really well and later people still couldn’t remember your name, then you should know what I mean…because, let’s face it, you probably can’t off the top of your head name the two Also Eligibles who caught most of the racing world off guard last weekend.

That’s okay, though, because AEs are totally accustomed to life without fanfare. Not only do people not expect them to make it into the race, some of the time we don’t even know they’re there when they do make it in.

Who among us hasn’t handicapped two or three pages worth of horses in the Racing Form, thinking that our work for the race is done, only to flip the page and see the AEs. Typically we view this discovery as a nuisance—an unwelcome reminder that there is more to be done. What do we do then? After silently scolding ourselves for yet again not noticing the tiny “continued on next page” notation at the bottom of the previous page, we cavalierly decide to just ignore these stragglers. Why bother studying horses that are not likely to get in?

On Breeders’ Cup weekend that sort of dismissive attitude would have gotten you in trouble—twice.

Of course, not all Also Eligibles are created equal, and this is never more true than on Breeders’ Cup weekend.

Typically we think of Also Eligibles simply as unlucky saps—otherwise respectable horses who just suffered from misfortune at the draw or who, through no fault of their own, lacked sufficient pull at the racing office due to a lack of “stars” or some other esoteric designation of clerical priority.

In a Breeders’ Cup race, however, being an Also Eligible means not that you are unlucky. It means that you are undesirable…a leper…a horse utterly unfit for such a prestigious competition. Would Kate Upton or Elizabeth Banks ever allow themselves to be seen with an Also Eligible? I think not.

Ever Dangerous (the 74-1 Friday Bryan Station Stakes winner whose name you couldn’t remember earlier) was unlucky. The other horse you couldn’t remember, Order of Australia—now THERE was a true outcast.

Order of Australia was banished to the Breeders’ Cup Mile’s AE list not due to bad luck, but because an august panel of international racing experts determined that, relatively speaking, he stunk.

Not only did the blue ribbon panel state that he was unworthy to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, they concluded that of all the horses in the world that might hope to run in the race, he was the absolute worst.

If that’s not bulletin board material, I don’t know what is.

Not even the implicit endorsement of 12-time Breeders’ Cup winning trainer Aidan O’Brien could persuade the all-knowing, highly-international body to move Order of Australia into the field…or even into next-to-last place on the preference list.

Nope…as Also Eligibles go, Order of Australia was about as “Also” as it gets.

Which makes his Breeders’ Cup Mile win all the more delightful. It’s as though he won twice—once on Saturday and once the previous Monday just by, against all odds, getting into the race.

If we are left with a lesson, I think it may be an innately American one—one that should become a staple in all of our children’s schoolbooks:

The Racing Form may try to hide you, esteemed panels may reject you, Hollywood starlets may shun you, but it takes more than that to keep a good Also Eligible down.