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Jim Murray

Breeders' Cup: Seven-Way Parlay That Doesn't Play

November 06, 1986|JIM MURRAY

I like ketchup. And I like ice cream.

But not together.

I like pizza. And I like maple syrup. But not on my pizza.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, you can get too much of a good thing. I like lobster. But not for breakfast. In fact, not for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The richer the fare, the quicker it cloys. I like "Moonlight Sonata." But I can see where Horowitz could get sick of it after a few thousand concerts. I like "New York, New York" sung by Sinatra. But by the seventh game of the World Series, hearing it in Shea Stadium, I was ready for "Moon Over Miami." Or "Mexicali Rose." I was becoming a fan of Utica.

What brought this on is, I was thinking of last Saturday's Breeders' Cup racing program and what made me uneasy about it.

I think I know. Too much ketchup. Too much whipped cream. Too much maple syrup. The same song played too loud.

It's like a movie with seven stars. Who gets the girl? For the race fan, it was like a kid locked in a candy store overnight. Where do you start?

But for the real horseplayer, the $2 bettor, it was a nightmare. A frustration.

On the track were the elite of the world's horseflesh. They were all trying. They were all fit. They were all superbly mounted.

Where's the fun in that? Who needs a card with 50 Man o' Wars on it? Who wants a field to bet that isn't full of "horses in trouble last time out," or horses who have equipment changes, like blinkers, to see if they can keep their mind on business for a change, horses who get three pounds off because they haven't won in a year--or ever?

The lure of racing is pitting the intelligence of the horseplayer against the horse. It is an intellectual struggle most frequently won by the dumbest of God's creatures, the horse. Correction: The second-dumbest.

Class on the track is not at all the dream of the guy who sets out to outwit horses, riders, trainers and racing surface using only a pencil and his own mammoth intellect. He wants horses out there with something wrong with them that only he can detect because of his shrewder knowledge of the game.

He wants horses that lug in, lug out. Horses that are rank, willful, inconsistent. Horses that the stable is sending out only to get in a complicated work, horses that work out in the dark.

He wants cheap horses, is what he wants. He wants to make a score. Psychiatrists say he really wants to go home in a barrel--or a Rolls-Royce. Either way is all right with him. He wants horses that sweat, bleed, bite, jump shadows or otherwise try to frustrate the rider on his back. And the bettor on his nose.

What the dedicated horseplayer secretly wants is a crooked race. That he's in on, of course, or stumbles across. Somewhere in those hieroglyphics of the Daily Racing Form, he wants to pick out the right set of telltale fractions and occult decimals that tip him off to a boat race and establish him as one of the top analysts of his day.

It's an ego thing. No one brags very much when he picks a 3-2 shot and wins. He crows far into the night when he picks a 90-1 shot out of a field because that ranks him as a man who is part of a very special smart minority on whom no one can put anything over.

Quite apart from the fragile egos of the dedicated horseplayers and their unhappiness at seeing a race without a set of bandages or a horse shipped in overnight from Caliente, there is the matter of publicizing a cornucopia instead of a race.

It is a journalistic truism that one puppy on an ice floe is a bigger story than 200 men trapped in a mine. You diffuse the focus with numbers. One ship hitting an iceberg, one ark in a flood is historic. Sixteen ships hitting a reef is just a big accident.

Probably the tensest moment in all sports is the minute or so before post time in the Kentucky Derby. The only thing that may top it is the moment before the bell in a heavyweight championship fight.

That's because the nature of the event, and the singleness of its attention, endow it with an aura of glamour unmatched in the sport.

It doesn't come in septuplicate. Seven Kentucky Derby winners take seven years, not one day.

There's only room for one tenor in an opera. I personally find it more interesting, and certainly easier, to concentrate on the million-dollar Hollywood Futurity Dec. 14 as a test for next year's Triple Crown racers than on the Breeders' Cup, where the victor of the Juvenile Fillies race, Brave Raj, overlooked in the multiple result listings, may have been the best horse of the day.

The Breeders' Cup is a nice idea. So's ketchup. So's ice cream.

It's like a dinner with all desserts, a date with a harem. You get diabetes. Or jaded, which is worse.

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