Yesterday I must have re-watched the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at least a dozen times.
There were a lot of excellent performances in the Breeders’ Cup this year, but as a Chicago racing fan? This is the one I keep coming back to. It does not get any better than seeing an Illinois-bred horse run well on a world stage, and it never gets old to see Work All Week run his race.
I agonized over it when I was handicapping the race: as someone who was writing analysis of it, I didn’t want to come off like a homer, suggesting him just because he was Illinois-bred. There were some questions going in: he was taking a monstrous class rise, having only once raced in graded company before (the Grade III Phoenix at Keeneland). The outside post was not great, either.
But, there was a lot to recommend him, too. His speed figures fit right in with his competition, and he had enough early pace to get near the lead. I didn’t think he would get the early lead, but he had shown in the Phoenix a new side of himself. In that race, he rated outside Zee Bros early, and won off of a stalking trip. He looked fast enough to be able to do that again in the Breeders’ Cup. Furthermore, there is a lot to be said for consistency: he went into the race nine-for-nine on dirt. He had not travelled to California before, but he had taken his show on the road to Oaklawn, Prairie, Indiana Grand, Fairmount: he did not need to be at Hawthorne or Arlington to get the job done. He always found a way to run his race on the dirt.
In the balance, he was not a horse you could take chalk on, but he was one I found interesting for a price. A price seemed certain. He was 10/1 on the morning line, and I figured he would be closer to 15/1 by post time. He was certainly overlaid at 19/1, which were his post time odds.
My top selection in the race had been Rich Tapestry, with Work All Week second. Rich Tapestry was attractive around 4/1, 5/1, thereabouts…but he opened at 5/2, and stayed right there. Given the top quality of the field, it was hard to take 5/2 on anyone, even one who looked as strong coming in as Rich Tapestry did. From a wagering perspective, given that my low-roller Breeders’ Cup strategy involved laddering single horses instead of doing much with exotics, the question was simple: did I want to take an underlay on my first choice, or an overlay on my second? My ticket construction still leaves much to be desired, but this was an easy answer. Work All Week it was.
Then, I could finally take off my analysis hat and put on my fan hat.
I watched the race from a TV in the Hawthorne paddock…it was 1:08.28 of nervous energy. Work All Week got the perfect stalking trip, overtook Fast Anna entering the stretch, and had enough gas left to hold off Secret Circle. It could not have looked more like how I envisioned it in my head, if Work All Week was going to run his race from that 13 gate. After the race, my head was spinning. I was a dancing, squeeing mess…but I didn’t care how ridiculous I looked. I was not insane to think he had a real chance. Work All Week had won, and the Breeders’ Cup Sprint trophy was coming to Illinois.
Both as a fan and as a handicapper, this race made Breeders’ Cup for me. I’m still grinning like an idiot whenever I think of it. Of all the moments of the weekend…this race is the one that will stick with me through time.