Horseplayers on Halloween

Many people will be going as horseplayers this Halloween.

Halloween is the main Breeder's Cup day, featuring what looks like the most competitive Classic ever.

Here is the best and worst of Breeder's Cup weekend, Friday and Saturday at Keeneland in the bluegrass and blueblood section of Kentucky.


It is truly an event open to the greatest horses in the world, with grass champions from Europe showing off, often with dramatic ease.

We get the weekend off from watching football referees. It has been said that they could call a penalty on every play. Well, they've almost started doing that. Referees are on television so much, they should have their own trading cards. Strange calls should be required viewing at Gamblers' Anonymous meetings. The zebras play such an integral part of a football game, their past performances need to be handicapped, like quarterback stats. The point-of-the-foul pass interference penalty in the NFL is the dumbest foul in sports because it is assumed the football would have been caught had there been no flag. How many 50-yard passes are completed, a fourth, a fifth?

The Breeder's Cup races are so evenly matched and difficult to handicap, you don't have to bet much to win all you need. The average payoffs on $2 exacta and trifecta wagers will cover weekend expenses for anybody going to these races. The grass races in particular are like little lotteries. Quadruple-figure trifecta payoffs are in the offing. Hunches on goofy names or birthday numbers often work as well as sound handicapping technique. Two bucks will buy you a lot of hope.

You don't have to watch the Baylor defense. As is usually the case with teams that score 60 a game, practicing defense is not a priority or a skill point. It looks like the defense is playing flag football.

You probably don't have to worry about too much cheating at the Breeder's Cup.

You don't have to watch the Kansas State offense. Down through the years, K-State's Bill Snyder has been one of the greatest coaches ever. He has done a great job of convincing his rough and tumble quarterbacks that the pain wouldn't last forever. This year he's out of bouncers at the controls. Passes look more like souvenirs.

The stewards at the Breeder's Cup will probably mind their manners. The biggest races often operate on the no harm, no foul school of stewarding. If a foul isn't obvious, the officials won't steal the show.

Those watching the Cup races from home will have the advantage of shopping around for bad pickers. When a picker is running sour, simply eliminate his or her top picks from your list of possibilities. Never go against streaks, hot or cold.

The intent of the Breeder's Cup was to rotate the event at different tracks around the country. But the average fall day in So-Cal has made Santa Anita the unofficial home track. New York Met fans in stocking caps and mittens, and a monsoon on Breeder's Cup day in New Jersey, make the northeast a tough Breeder's Cup sell. Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., is difficult to reach. But it is to horse racing as St. Andrews is to golf. There's thoroughbred history worth discovering here.

Thanks to fantasy football, horseplayers have come to be considered studious investors, not wild gamblers. Fantasy football has convinced many states that betting on a football player is a test of skill not a game of chance. So, too, should betting on a horse be considered a thoughtful endeavor.


All the grass races. There's not that much turf racing where I come from, which is the heartland. It is the nature of turf races, which is without a bias that benefits a certain running style, to bring all the horses within five yards of one another at the finish line. Somebody I know has never seen a live turf race has boxed all the European entries for several decades of Breeder's Cup grass races and is well ahead of the game. European form can be difficult to understand and handicap. Also the British announcers and experts who accompany their horses to the Cup seem to regard competition on the dirt as a lower form of racing.

The weather. A long-range forecast around here is day after tomorrow and is iffy. Kentucky weather can be showery in the fall. A perfect day would be dry and with a high temperature of around 60. The thought of rain turns any Breeder's Cup race into a game of Keeno.

There are too many "betting races." A "betting race" is a misnomer. It is one that suggests a big payoff, which is by definition the most difficult to handicap. Some of the Breeder's Cup races are simply too difficult for more than a ten-dollar bill. There are no five-horse fields. Where is all the tape, the front-wraps? There are no claimers. A Breeder's Cup "betting race" should often translate into a "passing race."

The expense. Four tickets to park are offered for sale on StubHub at $135 each. A room at the charming inn accepts credit cards, plural, you wouldn't be the first to spread the Breeder's Cup lodging tab on more than one card.