By Ed McNamara
There’s always a hangover after the Breeders’ Cup, the final exam for horseplayers. If you did well, you have happy memories. If not, like me, you soured on the game temporarily. As Frank Sinatra sang in “My Way”: “Regrets, I have a few.” Here’s why I’ve been beating myself up lately.
After obsessively researching the turf races, I spoke with my friend Craig, also a connoisseur of grass racing. He mentioned there was a Saturday pick 4 linking the Turf Sprint, Filly & Mare Turf, Mile and Turf. “This is right up our alley,” he said. No doubt about it, but …
November 6 was a busy day at our house because my wife and I were babysitting our beloved 2 1/2-year-old grandson, who’s a double handful. By the time the Breeders’ Cup races began at about 3 p.m. ET, I was tired, distracted and preparing to write. With all that going on, I forgot about the all-turf pick 4 and didn’t play it.
Oh, you know what happened. I had named all four winners in my usracing.com column, including 8-1 Yibir in the Turf. A $40 investment would have paid $457.30 on a 50-cent base wager.
I gave it out. I shoulda had it! It was my worst woulda, coulda, shoulda in years, a big one that got away and shouldn’t have. Not winning hurts a lot more than losing, but it’s time for me to let it go and shake off the malaise. Thanksgiving weekend offers plenty of high-quality racing, and I’ll try to get back on track with a few winners.
The Clark, the highlight of Churchill’s fall meet, shapes up as a two-horse battle between Midnight Bourbon (1) and Maxfield (8). Both skipped the Breeders’ Cup Classic to wait for this spot, and I prefer Maxfield.
It’s his career finale, so Brendan Walsh will have him fully cranked, and he’s a horse for course. Maxfield is 4-for-4 at Churchill, and I think the classy 4-year-old can stalk and pounce on front-runner Midnight Bourbon.
I never like trying to beat a talented horse who’s almost sure to be alone on the lead, but Midnight Bourbon is a special case. He’s 2-for-12 lifetime and in a 1-for-10 slump, losing ground in the stretch in all 10. He’s also 0-for-2 at Churchill.
Midnight Bourbon’s best chance to beat Maxfield would be to wait in front. That’s what he did in the Travers, when he set plodding fractions (48 4/5, 1:14 2/5, 1:38 4/5) and lost by a neck to superstar Essential Quality.
Maxfield is 7-for-10 lifetime, with legitimate excuses for all three losses. In his last two he was second to standout Art Collector and Classic hero Knicks Go, the Horse of the Year. In March, Maxfield suffered his first career defeat in the Santa Anita Handicap, whose 1 1/4 miles were a furlong too far.
Walsh is optimistic he’ll go out a winner for all-conquering Godolphin.
“This horse just cruises over this racetrack,” he said. “He simply loves it at Churchill. He’s doing everything great leading into this race and we’ll be ready to go come Friday.”
Breaking news: Trainer Chad Brown has an excellent chance to finish 1-2 for the umpteenth time in a grass stakes. Likely favorite Sacred Life (7) is the best closer in a race that should set up his powerful finishing move. His stablemate Flop Shot (3) figures to set a quick pace, with Field Pass (2) probably pressing him. Both are multiple-stakes winners, so they’re not cheap speed.
Sacred Life is 14-for-21 in the exacta and comes off one of his best performances, a come-from-behind victory by a head over Field Pass in Belmont’s Grade 3 Knickerbocker Handicap. Sacred Life blasted through the final furlong in about 11 seconds, about as fast as thoroughbreds can go. A repeat of that finish puts him in the winner’s circle at a short price.
$400,000 Hollywood Derby (G1), 1 1/8 miles, turf, 3-year-olds
Public Sector (6), another Chad Brown horse on the upswing, goes for his fourth straight graded-stakes win and looks very tough. He zipped his final eighth in 11 1/5 seconds to win by a neck last time in his first try at 9 furlongs. He projects for a favorable trip, while speedy stakes-winners Camp Hope (11) and Subconscious (12) are hung out wide and may compromise each other up front.
Cathkin Peak (3) won’t be 26-1 this time after a troubled second behind perfect-tripper Subconscious in the Twilight Derby. The Irish-bred gelding picks up grass ace Flavian Prat. He should get a ground-saving trip and could inflate the exacta again.
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.