Breeders' Cup finale might decide Horse of Year; bettors' options abound

Hard-core horseplayers look forward to this day every year.

The Breeders’ Cup is being run at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., and after Friday’s five-race warmup, which included Beholder’s win in the Distaff at 5-2 odds, today’s nine-race card could settle the Horse of the Year debate.

Each race today has a minimum purse of $1 million, highlighted by the $5 million Classic.

The Classic field is headed by Game On Dude, defending champion Fort Larned and Palace Malice, who all are contenders for Horse of the Year. Game On Dude has won six straight races, most recently the Pacific Classic at Del Mar by a resounding 8½ lengths. Fort Larned took the field wire-to-wire last year at Santa Anita at odds of 9-1. And 3-year-old Palace Malice won the Belmont Stakes in June but has struggled in his past two races.

Another Horse of the Year contender is Wise Dan, a 6-year-old gelding who had won nine straight before losing at Keeneland last month in a race that was switched from the turf to the main Polytrack. He’ll head the field in the Mile.

Two things are certain at the Breeders’ Cup: There will be no lack of opportunities to wager and make money, and expect the unexpected.

Dave Tuley of the Daily Racing Form has had his share of success on Breeders’ Cup day, and the 15-year Las Vegas resident said whatever bettors do, demand value when making wagers.

“You’re going to get horses that are 10-1, 15-1 who are never this price springing the upset,” Tuley said. “Last year on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, six of the nine horses that won paid $20 or more. So there’s going to be value out there.”

The sharp players took a lot of the value out of the Breeders’ Cup future book at Wynn Las Vegas. John Avello, the Wynn’s director of Race and Sports, said he’ll be rooting against Dank, who opened at 22-1 to win the Filly and Mare Turf and was bet to 9-5. He’ll also be rooting against The Fugue, who opened at 25-1 in the Turf and closed at 2-1.

“I also don’t need Wise Dan and Game On Dude to win, either,” Avello said of the other horses he’s heavily exposed on. “But we’re going to be very busy all day, and that’s what matters.”

Along with offering the usual menu of wagers on each Breeders’ Cup race, many books have head-to-head matchups, giving the person who might not know how to read a racing form a chance to be involved.

“It’s popular because it’s horse A vs. horse B, a 50-50 shot, just like a football or a basketball game,” Avello said. “Your horse doesn’t even have to win the race. He just has to beat the horse he’s head-to-head against.”

Wynn is offering at least two head-to-head prop bets for each race. In the Classic, fans can wager that Mucho Macho Man will beat Game On Dude, with Game On Dude at minus-155 and Mucho Macho Man at plus-125. There’s also a prop bet in the Classic between 3-year-olds Will Take Charge and Palace Malice, with Palace Malice at minus-120 and Will Take Charge at minus-110.

Tuley likes the idea of having the head-to-head prop bets, though he usually doesn’t play them.

“I don’t do very well when I bet them,” he said with a laugh.

But he will try to build some exotic tickets with Pick Threes, Pick Fours and Pick Six bets. Those wagers require hitting three, four or six races in a row, though sometimes there are consolation payouts if no one hits all the races.

“The pools are usually huge, and it’s a chance to win a lot without having to bet a lot,” said Tuley, whose best bet today will be Fort Larned in the Classic. “It’s horse racing’s version of Megabucks.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.


ARCADIA, Calif. — Beholder won the $2 million Distaff by 4¼ lengths Friday at Santa Anita, spoiling Royal Delta’s bid for a third straight victory at the Breeders’ Cup, with veteran jockeys Gary Stevens and Mike Smith dominating on opening day.

Stevens, who at 50 began a comeback in January that included winning the Preakness Stakes, earned his ninth career Cup win and first since 2000. Smith, a 48-year-old Hall of Famer, won two of the five Cup races, and will be aboard early favorite Game On Dude in the $5 million Classic today. He and Royal Delta finished fourth as the 7-5 favorite in the Distaff.

Beholder ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.77 on her home track, where she is trained by Richard Mandella. This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of Mandella winning a record four Cup races in a single day at the 2003 world championships.

Beholder paid $7.60, $4.20 and $3.20.

Four jockeys and five trainers won each of the Breeders’ Cup races in front of 35,833 fans. Attendance was up 1,214 over last year’s Friday total.