As yet another improbable (for me) result flashed up on the tote board during Saturday's Breeders' Cup with Vale of York declared a $63 winner, it dawned on me that handicapping Santa Anita has always been outside my comfort zone.
You see, I don't play Santa Anita with any regularity. I've read the statistics, heard all about the biases (turf speed carries/pace-pressers win on Pro-Ride), and studied the Form - but I just don't have that gut feeling for finding a winner in California.
To make matters worse, I was trying to handicap large fields of horses all with little to no synthetic experience. The odds are stacked against you at the best of times, but on Saturday I was simply asking for a soaking.
While I crumpled up my studied Breeders' Cup wagers, I was having some success playing Woodbine. A second race exactor that paid $47 helped bankroll my pending losses. A fifth race superfecta where I confidently keyed Bobby Frankel's Red Herring over a smattering of horses cashed $253.65.
It was after Vale of York crossed the wire first in front of the favoured Lookin At Lucky, that the hopelessness of the day settled in.
Sitting amongst the punters on Woodbine's third level with my trackies Ted and Randy, we each called Serenading to upset Ginger Brew in the Maple Leaf Stakes. However, since we were saving money to wager on the Classic we simply watched the opportunity balloon down the lane.
During that moment I realized that my focus was completely off. The part of me that loves horse racing was watching Santa Anita as a fan. The part of me that loves handicapping was ignoring his instincts at Woodbine. The major problem with the scenario being that the former had the wallet and the latter was tipping a tin of mood-facilitator beverage.
Races eight through ten at Woodbine offered focused punters a rare chance to cash large. Especially those, like myself, who prefer the exactor game.
In Race 8, Jim McAleney guided Cobrador home first in a field of ten claimers at odds of 15-1. Appalachee Storm thundered home at long odds paying $33 to place. The exactor was worth $613.10. Only the 22-1 upset in the "Dirt" Mile by Furthest Land set up a better exactor payout on the day at Santa Anita.
Woodbine's ninth race featured a bettable $12 winner by the name of Flashy Sports who was chased home by Our Lucky Charm at inflated odds paying $43 to place. The exactor was worth $428.20.
At 5:46PM EST, it became apparent that Woodbine wagering was completely off the charts. Could it be that the locals were focusing their efforts on the Breeders' Cup Classic thereby allowing the Woodbine odds to swell? Something was definitely off as Justin Stein steered Red and Bold home at 25-1. The exactor with Kings Parade paid $297.
Somehow, while the rest of the world was focusing on Graded races in California, exactors at Woodbine were putting children through college. $613.10; $428.20; and $297. You could look it up.
During that time frame, I successfully handicapped the double of Conduit onto Zenyatta and collected $23.20.
What irks me about the payouts above is the following:
1. I didn't score at Woodbine despite circling the paying winners.
2. The confidence I felt finding value at Woodbine versus the Santa Anita guessing game of which Euros to play (Vale of York) versus which to ignore (Mastery, Mastercraftsman.)
3. It was particularly frustrating to not have a penny to place on the above-mentioned Our Lucky Charm. ($43 to PLACE!)
While I enjoyed Zenyatta's exhilarating victory in the Classic, I did not have that same warm and fuzzy feeling fleeing the track as I did after watching Rachel Alexandra win the Woodward.
It's not that I have anything against Zenyatta, (1. I'm not a big fan of The Police . 2. Winning races on one track is not as impressive as Rachel Alexandra's multi-track tour de force. 3. Rachel Alexandra beat fresher horses.) it's just that after that ninth race debacle, the only thing this Irishman could think about while leaving the track was missing out on his Lucky Charms.
Next year as the rest of the handicapping world revels in the Churchill Downs dirt, this is one punter who will happily be spending his money on Woodbine synthetic.