Monday, October 27, 2008

Breeders' Cup Post Mortem

Thursday, Oct 23, 2:50am. I climb out of bed 10 minutes before the alarm clock rings. My flight leaves at 5:30am from LaGuardia. What was I thinking when I booked a flight at that hour?

Uneventful drive to airport and somehow I manage to arrive before 4:00am -- too early. Passengers are not allowed to proceed to the gate, yet. No chairs to sit in while we wait.

4:30pm -- Finally, security opens up. No hassles from TSA. Flight leaves on time.

I'm about 5'10" and 170 pounds. The seats on Continental Airplanes were built for people under 5'8" and 150 pounds. The coffee was the worst I've ever had on an airplane.

Arrive Houston. Run to the next terminal to catch the flight to Ontario, California. They are already boarding when I arrive. Good thing I'm not elderly or disabled because I never would have made the flight. I had to keep checking to make sure I wasn't on a flight to Ontario, Canada.

Arrive Ontario -- California, not Canada. Beautiful, sunny day. All the rental cars are off-site. Shuttle gets me there relatively quickly. I fill out the paperwork with the Dollar Rent A Car rep and then proceed to my car. I thought for sure I requested a compact car. I always reserve the smallest car because when they run out they will give a free upgrade to a larger car. The rep tells me I can upgrade to a full size for $10 per day more. I declined.

The parking lot rep (who turns out to the General Manager) points me to a Kia. I spot a nice Chrysler Sebring convertible. I ask him if I can upgrade to the convertible for $10 per day. He said, "I tell you what. I will upgrade you for free if you promise to use Dollar again." I said, "But of course" and then offer him a tip. He refuses it.

It's only 11:00am and I drive away with a big smile on my face in a brand new convertible for only $19.97 per day for 3 days.

The Holiday Inn Express is only a mile or two away, so I decide to check-in before heading out to Santa Anita. No problem and the very pleasant woman who checks me in gives me a free bottle of water.

There was a ton of traffic on the drive to Santa Anita. However, I arrived by the first race.

Jim Quinn had reserved his table in the Turf Club restaurant for Dr. Z and me. Theresia Muller, the sensational HANA Treasurer, and her friends were also in the Turf Club. It was the first time Theresia and I had met in person, but I felt like I was meeting a longtime friend. She is a bundle of energy and sharp as a tack. I'm so glad she is part of the HANA board. I didn't know it at the time, but Theresia is one of the best handicappers I have ever met.

Theresia and I chat during the second race. I notice that there is a good Dr. Z place and show bet on the coupled entry 1 and 1A. I don't bet it. Zanda Blue (#1) and Desert Siren (#1A) run 2nd and 3rd. It pays $3.00 for 2nd and the show bet pays more than the place bet $3.20. Dammit.

Theresia and I watch the paddock and post parade on the little TV monitor at her table. The #6 horse, Satellite, looks absolutely spectacular -- just bouncing and prancing around light as a feather. I'm still chatting, so I don't bet it. Satellite wins and pays $20.60. Double dammit.

Dr. Z arrives. We all chat and then go to our table. I bet the next race ( my first bet of the day) and lose. Triple dammit.

The rest of the day is uneventful, bettingwise. I just make small recreational bets and am behind for the day.

The food in the Turf Club was excellent. It was great spending a day at the races with terrific people. Losing some recreational bets could not put a damper on an otherwise fantastic afternoon.

After the races Dr. Z and I walk to the grandstand side of the track to locate our Breeders' Cup seats. They are at the 16th pole. Not terrible. However, for $600 bucks we were hoping to at least have a table on which to lay out our racing data.

We part ways and look forward to Friday's Breeders' Cup card.

Friday 10:00am -- arrive Santa Anita. I walk up the steps to my seat. As I'm walking up, there is a man sitting on a tiered concrete platform below my seat. I ask him what the cost of his seat was. He said, "These seats are free." What? Free? My seats, 7 rows back cost $600! What the #*$&???

OK. So my seat was a folding seat and his was a concrete bleacher. But a $600 difference in price?

Is it any wonder that the stands were empty on Friday and scalpers were willing to accept 1/3 face value?

It was a gorgeous day. The racing was top class. And the betting lines were short. Santa Anita and the BC did a good job of managing the event. The vendor food was substandard, but that is par for the course. However, there was a vendor near our seats that had delicious coffee.

When I went to the 1997 Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park, I seem to recall we got box seats for $75 and that included a box lunch with sushi. The 2008 BC did not include lunch and cost $600 for grandstand seats. My, how times change.

I made mostly small recreational wagers and ended up losing about $100 on the day. I was saving my ammunition for Saturday's card.

Dr. Z and I left the track and met up with Theresia and her friends at a nice restaurant in Arcadia. We enjoyed a good meal and then retired for the night.

Saturday 9:00am -- arrive Santa Anita. Same seats as yesterday. Great card for handicapping. I love marathon racing. I didn't have the winner, but it was logical. Had I taken time to handicap in advance I'm confident I would have had the winner. But the BC (like KY Derby day) is a recreational day for me. I bet small (unless I spot a bargain) and just try to enjoy the atmosphere.

The crowd was much bigger on Saturday, but there were still a lot of empty seats all around us. There were box seats to our right. Only about 1/2 of them were occupied. I think they cost around twelve hundred dollars, so it is not surprising they were empty.

I wondered why the BC won't use colored saddle cloths. Then I realized that the BC is an industry event. It is not meant for racing fans and horseplayers. That's too bad. If it was geared toward fans and players maybe the attendance and handle would have been higher? The food vendors would surely appreciate the larger crowds.

The one thing that really bothered me was the post parade for two of the turf races. For all but two races, the horses were paraded up to 16th pole on the synthetic surface, turned around and then warmed up. As they turned around, the fans got a chance to see each of the horses without the view being blocked by the lead ponies. However, there were two turf races where the horses were paraded on the turf course rather than the synthetic course and were never turned around to give the crowd a chance to view them. We could only see the lead ponies.

The one big advantage on-course horseplayers have over their off-course brethern is the opportunity to see the horses in the flesh. If that advantage is taken away then what reason is there to attend the live event?

For $600 I want to see the horses in the post parade. Is that asking too much?

I went 6 races in a row without cashing a recreational bet on Saturday. Finally, I saw something I liked. Midnight Lute in the 7th. I noticed he won the BC Sprint last year. He lost his last race badly. But judging from the running line I felt like something happened to him that was forgiveable. (I would find out the next day I was correct.) I noticed he worked a bullet 5 furlongs in 56 and change. I can't remember ever seeing a workout that fast, though I'm sure it happens. So I knew he was fit.

I confidently walked to the window and made my largest bet of the week.

As he pulled to the lead at about the 16th pole -- right in front of me -- he had this beautiful, high front leg action like he was bouncing off the synthetic surface. I don't know if was the surface or if he was superfit, but I've never seen anything like it. I can see why Baffert says Lute is the best horse he has ever trained.

Finally, a winner, and I recouped all my losses from the previous two days plus today.

Jumping forward one day, it turns out Midnight Lute had thrown a shoe in his previous race, according to the cab driver who took me to the airport on Sunday morning. He said he just dropped off the owners of Midnight Lute at the airport and they told him what happened in his last race. A cabbie wouldn't get the story wrong, would he?

Back to Saturday... I walked down to the rail for the Classic to get a good look at Curlin. He was super muscular. The only knock on him was that his coat looked a little dull. Steroid withdrawal? That didn't stop me from making a moderate place and show bet on him. Had he run 3rd I would have broken even on the race. As it was, I gave back some of my Midnight Lute profits.

Theresia had been touting Raven's Pass all day long. Did I listen? No. She also liked Henrythenavigator. Did I listen? No. Did I listen to her tell me about the nice exacta bet she collected on for the Classic? Yes.

I lost a little more on the rest of the races and figure I probably broke even over three days. Could have been worse. It just goes to show you how much those recreational wagers cost. But if it wasn't for the betting then what reason would a horseplayer have for attending the races?

Next year, I probably won't even bet the Breeders' Cup races. My kids' play sports. I missed their games on Saturday because I was at the Breeders' Cup. That will never happen again. I'd much rather see my kids' play sports than watch horse races -- especially races where horseplayers are underappreciated.

As Warren Buffet says, "Price is what you pay. Value is what you get." In this horseplayer's opinion, the price of the Breeders' Cup live event exceeded the value -- not the kind of bet you want to make too often.

From a horseplayer's perspective, here are the grades for the various entities I dealt with this past weekend.

Breeders' Cup gets a "B".

Santa Anita gets a "B+".

Continental Airlines gets a "B-".

Holiday Inn Express gets an "A".

Dollar Rental Car gets an "A+" for understanding the importance of treating a customer well.

John Swetye, HANA V.P.


Anonymous said...

My wife and I represent two of those empty seats-we fully intended to come to the Breeders Cup from Pittsburgh, but the ticket prices put us off. So instead of getting, say, $300 for tickets plus %100 of the takeout from our betting, Breeders Cup got 0+3%. And we wonder why these geniuses are running the game into the ground? I wish I'd had you as a teacher in high school; your B grade to the Breeders Cup was way too generous. Overpriced, questionable surface, putting some of the best races on Friday when most people missed them, offensive name for a race (that's no lady, that's my horse)-what did they do right?

Anonymous said...


You're right. I was probably too generous. I gave them a better grade because of the tradition they've created and the way the large crowd was handled. The vendors could have had more and better food. They ran out of some things. But, I'm not sure if that is BC's fault or the vendors?

As far as fan friendly pricing -- they get a big, bold, red F.