Winter is Coming…

Betting on horses is a funny business. Even when one can identify that vulnerable favorite to bet against, there’s still that little bit of business of finding the actual winner. So it went in the Queen Elizabeth II at Keeneland on Saturday (replay). The chatter before the race was near universal among respected handicappers that Winter Memories wasn’t just vulnerable: she wasn’t even as fast at her best as many of her opponents in the race. So who exactly was betting her on the nose to 7/5? As Andy Serling pointed out, she wasn’t bet in the doubles or pick 3’s. Winter Memories ran her prototypical race – last early, closing wide late – but this time it wasn’t good enough, and she finished a non-threatening fourth. I guess you could say she didn’t encounter much trouble, but six wide coming home isn’t quite ideal. No matter, even if her performance wasn’t ideal, she was not catching the top two under any circumstances.

The winner, Together, got a lot of ink after the race off the one week turnback; on October 8, she was second facing older in the First Lady (replay). More interesting to me was that the QEII was Together’s fourth race in seven weeks, all of which were Group or Grade 1’s with only the QEII restricted to three-year-olds. So while all the attention was paid to Summer Soiree as the logical alternative in the race, this classy filly got some deceptive class relief and slipped by the bettors, myself included, at 9/2.

Up in smoke too should be the once profitable “toss the overbet Aidan O’Brien horse” angle. Together’s win brought O’Brien’s total wins to five from eleven North American starters in 2011. O’Brien had only ten winners in North America from 112 total lifetime starters before this year according to Equibase; many of those starters were in Breeders’ Cup races. This year represents a slight change in recent strategy from O’Brien: instead of swooping in just for the Breeders’ Cup, he seems to have gotten wise to stealing some of the richer pots over the summer. This far-flung strategy has paid more dividends than some of his recent clunky adventures like abstaining from Lasix for his Breeders’ Cup string in 2009. I would imagine we’ll be seeing more of the purple and white at Belmont, Monmouth, Arlington and Saratoga in summers to come.

Marketing Mix ran a tremendous race, staying on for second, and she’ll go on my watch list for a couple reasons. This is a new horse since moving to the green, having blown away two stakes fields at Woodbine and Arlington, and she’s now moving forward again on the class rise. She’s fresh off a brief mid-summer break and who knows where she’ll pop up next? Don’t know if there are any more rich, restricted races left on the calendar for an Ontario-bred filly up at Woodbine, but if there are and she’s switched back to synthetic, I’ll be playing against her at what are likely to be an odds-on price scenario. However, if trainer Thomas Procter is adventurous and decides on the Breeders’ Cup, then this daughter of Medaglia d’Oro out of the Kris S. mare Instant Thought could be a nice price underneath, having already dispelled any distance concerns when she won at ten panels on Woodbine turf.

One more note that the betting on the QEII highlights, while I tear up tickets along with those many who did bet on Winter Memories. I sometimes wonder if our game couldn’t just be as simple as bringing these two together and at least making a winner out of one of us. How would you like to book all that money on Winter Memories’ nose? I would. It seems racing has no shortage of exotic widgets, from the now en vogue pick five, to the super hi five no one plays, to the as-yet-unveiled-but-much-talked-about “quadruple superfecta,” but none of these wagers can be making many long-term bettors. Sure, the big pot can be taken down, though I’ve never actually bothered trying. Racing desperately needs to make winners at the track, even if they are not jackpot winners.

It also needs to represent itself as a game of skill. I’m not sure what kind of skill it takes to pick the fifth place horse in a race, but I’m pretty sure about the skill needed to identify an overbet favorite. While exchange wagering seems to have been greeted with a shrug of the shoulders from the powers that be stateside, the technology is there as another avenue of revenue. There’s nothing funny about betting against the favorite, but I had to laugh when my play against the favorite ran no better than her Saturday.

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