Undefeated superstar Flightline (pictured above), to the surprise of no one, closed as the solid favorite last Sunday in the inaugural Longines’ Breeders’ Cup Classic Future Wager. The Grade I, $6 million race will be run at Keeneland Race Course on Nov. 5.
The BC Classic Future Wager consists of 23 individual horses and an “all others” option. It’s a win wager only. There was no place, show or exotic betting offered.
When betting concluded, Flightline was 2-1. I can tell you that I had absolutely no interest in putting any money on him at such low odds in early August for a race to be run in early November.
I wrote last week that I did have my eye on five horses for a possible bet. In order of preference, they were 3-year-olds Taiba, Charge It, Epicenter, Cyberknife and older horse Country Grammer.
Taiba’s opening price, aka the morning line, was 30-1.
“I will be playing the Grade I Santa Anita Derby winner at 20-1 or higher,” I wrote last week with regard to Taiba.
I was interested in betting Taiba at 20-1 or higher because of what I had done eight years ago. At about this same time of the year in 2014, I made a $100 future wager on Bayern to win the BC Classic at Santa Anita in the fall. He had just recently won Monmouth Park’s Grade I Haskell Invitational by 7 1/4 lengths.
However, that bet on Bayern sure didn’t look good after his next start. He finished 10th as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga, a race he lost by 20 lengths. After that poor performance by Bayern, I pretty much figured my wager on him for the BC Classic amounted to $100 down the drain.
But Bayern subsequently rebounded and won the Grade II (now Grade I) Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing by 5 3/4 lengths at odds of 7-2. Among the vanquished was 4-5 favorite and fellow 3-year-old California Chrome, who earlier in the year had won the Grade I Kentucky Derby and Grade I Preakness Stakes.
Bayern did go on to win a controversial renewal of the BC Classic. He eked out a nose victory, then had to withstand a lengthy stewards’ inquiry as to whether he should be disqualified for causing interference leaving the gate.
Explaining my interest in betting on Taiba “at 20-1 or higher” in the BC Classic Future Wager last week, I wrote: “I can see Taiba possibly winning the Pennsylvania Derby, a la Bayern. If Taiba does that, I would be perfectly willing to have a wager on him at 20-1 or higher in the BC Classic.”
Well, I kept my money in my pocket when Taiba’s closing price of 14-1 was nowhere near his 30-1 morning line. If he had been something like 18-1, I might have been tempted to put some money on him. But at 14-1, I just said no.
I also didn’t feel that Charge It, Epicenter, Cyberknife and Country Grammer were playable at their closing odds.
Charge It’s morning line was 15-1. He ended up being 15-1. No value there, in my view.
Epicenter’s morning line was 20-1. His closing price was nowhere close to that. He ended up being 7-1.
Cyberknife’s morning line was 30-1. Once again, his closing price was much lower. He ended up being 17-1.
And finally, Country Grammer’s morning line was 20-1. He ended up being 12-1, yet again a price that certainly didn’t entice me.
The only horse I contemplated putting some money on was Royal Ship. His morning line was 30-1. He ended up being 51-1.
I considered 51-1 to be a really good price on Royal Ship compared to Country Grammer’s 12-1. After all, Royal Ship recently beat Country Grammer.
Royal Ship won Del Mar’s Grade II San Diego Handicap by 2 1/4 lengths. Country Grammer ran second.
But when push came to shove, I decided not to bet Royal Ship.
Even though I did not get involved this time, let me say that I am very happy that a BC Classic Future Wager is now here. I look forward to possibly participating on down the line when I believe there is a bet worth making. That might happen as soon as in this year’s second and final BC Classic Wager, which will begin on Friday, Sept. 2, and conclude on Monday, Sept. 5. I’m already looking forward to it.
I sure do wish the BC Classic Wager had existed long before this. In fact, when I first learned that it was being introduced this year, my immediate thought was: “What took so long?”
The final BC Future Wager odds appear below:
6-1 Life is Good
12-1 Country Grammer
15-1 Charge It
23-1 “All Others”
24-1 Hot Rod Charlie
33-1 Early Voting
34-1 Rich Strike
51-1 Royal Ship
62-1 Dynamic One
69-1 First Captain
73-1 Express Train
77-1 Emblem Road
79-1 Tawny Port
99-1 Stilleto Boy
The Breeders’ Cup on Monday issued a press release noting that “a $2 wager on Flightline will pay $6.98 with Kentucky’s penny breakage, which puts him at 2-1 on the odds board.”
The will pays for all 24 betting interests appear below:
$2 Will Pay Horse
15.56 Life Is Good
27.40 Country Grammer
32.12 Charge It
48.36 “All Others”
50.10 Hot Rod Charlie
68.40 Early Voting
71.08 Rich Strike
105.34 Royal Ship
127.60 Dynamic One
141.08 First Captain
148.36 Express Train
156.86 Emblem Road
160.66 Tawny Port
220.46 Stilleto Boy
LIFE IS GOOD PUNCTUAL WHITNEY FAVORITE
Backed down to 4-5 favoritism in last Saturday’s Grade I Whitney Stakes at Saratoga, Life Is Good did not let his many supporters down. He won the 1 1/8-mile affair in front-running fashion by two lengths in 1:48.97 on a wet track termed good in the Equibase chart.
“He’s a super special horse,” Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher said the following day in the Saratoga stable notes. “He’s so consistent, not only in his races, but in his daily routine. He’s eager to please every day.”
Last Saturday, Life is Good had to deal with a surface that wasn’t dry, making it possibly kind of quirky. It also was hot afternoon with high humidity at the venerable Spa.
“We got a downpour and I kind of didn’t know what condition that would leave the main track in,” said Pletcher. “Then it got real steaming and humid and super-hot. The track all meet has been challenging, but he was able to overcome it all.”
This was Pletcher’s fourth Whitney victory, following Left Bank in 2002, Lawyer Ron in 2007 and Cross Traffic in 2013.
Lawyer Ron ranks No. 64 on my list of the Top 100 racehorses of the 21st century so far to have won in North America (active horses excluded). Left Bank is No. 95.
Pletcher is just one shy of the record for most Whitney wins by a trainer. John Gaver Sr. holds the record. Gaver’s five Whitney winners were Swing and Sway in 1942, Devil Diver in 1944, One Hitter in 1951, the great Tom Fool in 1953 and Cohoes in 1958.
Life Is Good now is three for three in the U.S. this year. His lone 2022 defeat came when he squandered a healthy lead during the stretch run and finished fourth in the Group I, $12 million Dubai World Cup at about 1 1/4 miles on March 26.
Prior to his Dubai setback, Life Is Good kicked off his 2022 campaign with a 3 1/4-length win in Gulfstream Park’s Grade I, $3 million Pegasus World Cup at 1 1/8 miles on Jan. 29. Finishing second was 2021 Horse of the Year Knicks Go.
After returning to the U.S., Flightline registered a five-length victory in Belmont Park’s Grade II John A. Nerud Stakes at seven furlongs on July 2.
Life Is Good is expected to make his next start in the Grade I, $500,000 Woodward Stakes at Aqueduct on Oct. 1. With the Belmont Park fall meet being held at the Big A this year, the Woodward will be run at 1 1/8 miles around two turns. At Belmont, the Woodward is run at the same distance around one turn.
“I think in this case, being around two turns, instead of at Belmont around one turn, might actually be more beneficial for the [Breeders’ Cup] Classic,” Pletcher said to Daily Racing Form’s David Grening.
Life Is Good’s main objective is the 1 1/4-mile BC Classic, a two-turn race.
Knicks Go won the 2021 Whitney while on his way to a victory in the BC Classic and the Horse of the Year title. Knicks Go ranks No. 33 on my list of the Top 100 racehorses of the 21st century so far to have won in North America.
Gun Runner won both the Whitney and BC Classic in 2017 en route to being elected Horse of the Year. Gun Runner is No. 11 on my Top 100 of this century so far.
Invasor is another horse in the last couple of decades to win both the Whitney and BC Classic prior to being voted Horse of the Year that same season, achieving the feat in 2006. He ranks No. 12 on my Top 100 of this century so far.
Pletcher also trains Happy Saver, who ran second in last Saturday’s Whitney. It was the fifth straight time Happy Saver has finished second, all in graded stakes races. In his most recent start prior to the Whitney, Happy Saver was the runner-up to Flightline in the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont on June 11.
Happy Saver, who despite his credentials was not included among the individual 23 horses in the BC Classic Future Wager, won the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup as a 3-year-old in 2020.
The big disappointment in the Whitney was Olympiad, who took a five-race winning streak into the race. He wound up fourth, 9 1/4 lengths behind Life Is Good.
Life Is Good was credited with a 107 Beyer Speed Figure.
Below are the Beyer Speed Figures for Whitney winners going back to 1990 (the first year they were listed in the American Racing Manual):
2022 Life Is Good (107)
2021 Knicks Go (111)
2020 Improbable (106)
2019 McKinzie (111)
2018 Diversify (110)
2017 Gun Runner (112)
2016 Frosted (107)
2015 Honor Code (113)
2014 Moreno (109)
2013 Cross Traffic (108)
2012 Fort Larned (110)
2011 Tizway (111)
2010 Blame (111)
2009 Bullsbay (107)
2008 Commentator (120)
2007 Lawyer Ron (117)
2006 Invasor (113)
2005 Commentator (123)
2004 Roses in May (114)
2003 Medaglia d’Oro (114)
2002 Left Bank (121)
2001 Lido Palace (114)
2000 Lemon Drop Kid (118)
1999 Victory Gallop (116)
1998 Awesome Again (110)
1997 Will’s Way (126)
1996 Mahogany Hall (110)
1995 Unaccounted For (111)
1994 Colonial Affair (111)
1993 Brunswick (115)
1992 Sultry Song (112)
1991 In Excess (116)
1990 Criminal Tupe (115)
LONGACRES MILE SELECTIONS
The biggest day of racing in the Pacific Northwest takes place Sunday (Aug. 14). Highlighting a terrific card is the richest race in the region, the 87th running of the $150,000 Longacres Mile.
Affectionately known as “the Mile” by fans in that area, the Longacres Mile was launched in 1935 at Longacres, a track located south of Seattle. Some of my fondest memories are of going to the races at Longacres with my father in the 1960s and 1970s. That was where I bought my very first Racing Form on July 2, 1966. I still have that Form, though admittedly it is showing its age.
Skywalker won the 1986 Longacres Mile. That was the last day I was ever at Longacres. I flew back to Los Angeles in the plane with Skywalker. The only passengers on the plane were Skywalker, trainer Michael Whittingham, the exercise rider, the groom and yours truly. Later that year, Skywalker won the Grade I, $3 million BC Classic Classic at Santa Anita. I called the official chart of that race for the DRF (in the pre-Equibase era).
Longacres closed for good after its 1992 meeting. Courtesy of my brother, I have a small bottle of actual Longacres dirt scooped up from the racing surface after the final race ever run there.
The Longacres Mile was held at Yakima Meadows from 1993-95, then was moved to its present home at Emerald Downs, which like Longacres is located south of Seattle.
In 1996, I was working as a handicapper in the Phoenix office of the Daily Racing Form. At that time, Phoenix was the DRF’s national headquarters. The DRF sent me to Emerald in 1996 to conduct a seminar on the day of the Longacres Mile. And so it was that I witnessed Isitingood, owned by Mike Pegram and trained by Bob Baffert, win the first Longacres Mile contested at Emerald.
From 2001 through 2003, I was at Emerald to be the television analyst for the Fox Sports Northwest telecast of the Longacres Mile. Bob Rondeau anchored the television coverage, while Joe Withee was the roving reporter. I thoroughly enjoyed my involvement in those Longacres Mile television shows, especially since this particular race means so much to me.
I saw my first Longacres Mile in 1967. Kings Favor won it that year. I have been at the Kentucky Derby, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Melbourne Cup, Japan Cup and a great many Breeders’ Cups. While working as a writer or television commentator at Southern California tracks, I have witnessed numerous Pacific Classics, Santa Anita Handicaps, etc. But to this day, the Longacres Mile remains my favorite race.
The final year that I was on the Longacres Mile broadcast, Southern California shipper Sky Jack and Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze won by 6 1/4 lengths. Sky Jack broke the record for the race’s biggest winning margin of six lengths that had been set in the 1946 renewal by Amble In and later matched by Quality Quest in 1955 and Chinook Pass (the lone Washington-bred Eclipse Award winner) in 1983.
Doug O’Neill trained Sky Jack. O’Neill kindly gave me two of the shoes worn by Sky Jack from when he won the 2013 Longacres Mile.
Another Longacres Mile that I will never forget was the 2016 edition. I watched that one in my dad’s den at his home in Spokane, Wash. I bet $200 to win on Point Piper, who won by 4 3/4 lengths. Completing one mile in 1:32.90 to break the track record, Point Piper paid $12.20 for each $2 win wager, or $1,220 for a $200 win wager. Why that particular Mile means so much to me is it’s the last one I ever watched with my father, who passed away in 2017.
Working alongside Rondeau on those Longacres Mile telecasts was a real pleasure. Talk about a pro in terms of broadcasting. Prior to his retirement in 2017, Rondeau was the longtime radio voice of the University of Washington football and basketball teams. He was named Washington State Sportscaster of the Year a total of 11 times.
Rondeau and his wife, Molly, race Thoroughbreds as Giddyup Stables. They won last year’s Longacres Mile with Background, who rallied from sixth to prevail by a head as the 2-1 favorite. Bob had virtually no voice left after the race due to cheering so loudly for Background.
Background is my choice to win this year’s Longacres Mile. He is the 2-1 favorite on Vince Bruun’s morning line.
A 5-year-old Florida-bred Khozan gelding, Background has faced some tough company this year while racing at Oaklawn Park and Churchill Downs. He won at Oaklawn in early April and at Churchill in late May.
I like the fact that Background, who drew post 4, has demonstrated that he’s capable of winning from off the pace. This is important inasmuch as speedster Papa’s Golden Boy is likely to be gunned to the early lead from post 12.
Background is bidding to become just the fifth horse to win the Longacres Mile more than once. The four two-time winners have been Amble In (1946 and 1948), Trooper Seven (1980 and 1981), Simply Majestic (1988 and 1989) and Stryker Phd (2014 and 2015).
Mike Puhich trains Background. Puhich’s all-time favorite horse is the same as mine, Turbulator, who became a world-record holder and huge fan favorite in the Northwest during the 1970s.
My selections for the 2022 Longacres Mile are below:
2. Majestic Eagle
3. Slew’s Tiz Whiz
4. Five Star General
THIS WEEK’S NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
There is a new No. 1.
Following Life Is Good’s Whitney victory, he takes over the top spot in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. He was No. 2 last week.
Flightline moves down a notch to No. 2. After he won the Met Mile on June 11, he supplanted Country Grammer at No. 1 on June 13. Flightline held the top spot for eight consecutive weeks through Aug. 1.
Olympiad drops from No. 3 to No. 7 this week after finishing fourth in the Whitney.
The Top 10 is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 346 Life Is Good (19)
2. 337 Flightline (17)
3. 291 Jackie’s Warrior
4. 158 Clairiere
5. 148 Epicenter (1)
6. 139 Country Grammer (1)
7. 130 Olympiad
8. 103 Nest
9. 94 Regal Glory
10. 67 Hot Rod Charlie
LONGINES BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC RANKINGS
Life Is Good’s Whitney triumph was not enough for him to overtake Flightline in this week’s Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings. But Life Is Good does move up one notch this week to No. 2. Olympiad drops from No. 2 to No. 6.
Flightline received 27 first-place votes this week compared to just 4 for Life Is Good. Epicenter received 2 first-place votes, while Country Grammer got a single first-place vote.
This week’s Top 10 is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 323 Flightline (27)
2. 292 Life Is Good (4)
3. 216 Epicenter (2)
4. 215 Country Grammer (1)
5. 148 Hot Rod Charlie
6. 130 Olympiad
7. 109 Happy Saver
8. 86 Royal Ship
9. 79 Cyberknife
10. 37 Charge It