As the horses lined up for the Belmont Stakes on an early June afternoon, I struggled to explain to my 10-year-old daughter why I was now abandoning the colt we selected five weeks earlier as our Kentucky Derby pick.
“You’re a traitor,” Victoria cried.
No, no, no, I’m a handicapper and a gambler, not a fan, I told her. Emotional attachment and loyalty aren’t allowed.
While I still appreciated the ability of our Derby horse, Revolutionary, after he finished third in America’s biggest race, I saw little value in him at odds of 5-1 in the Belmont. Palace Malice, a colt whose bleak past performance lines masked his talent, was the trade I wanted at a price above 13-1.
Victoria was having none of it.
“You’re a traitor,” she snapped again.
Two and a half minutes later, she fell into stunned silence as Palace Malice galloped to a runaway victory in the final leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, returning $29.60 for each $2 wagered by the traitor.
Fast forward to this weekend’s Travers Stakes, the last major race of 2013 for 3-year-old horses, and I’m moving on again to the next trade.
As with Revolutionary in the Belmont, I still believe in Palace Malice’s talent but have little interest in backing him now that the gambling public has awoken to that ability. After the Belmont win, the colt cruised last month to the most facile of victories in a tune-up event at Saratoga Race Course, the track that’s hosted the Travers since 1864 in the foothills of New York’s Adirondack Mountains.
Forget about 13-1 in the Travers.
Count on a price closer to 3-1, odds that will make him one of the race’s top favorites along with Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner, and Verrazano, the brilliantly fast colt whose only blemish in a seven-race career is his Derby flop.
When Saratoga officials set post positions tomorrow for the Aug. 24 race, I’ll be looking for a horse named Transparent.
At odds of about 12-1, the colt, which is owned by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, will offer the best betting value.
His nine-race record may be pockmarked with lopsided defeats, stumbles and disappointments, but he has flashed some hints of raw ability along the way. In his debut win on a frigid January afternoon, he glided past six rivals after being driven toward the outer rail by an out-of-control horse in the early stages of the race.
He’s improving, he’s royally bred and he figures to be rolling by tiring frontrunners as they enter the homestretch of the 1 1/4-mile (2 kilometer) Travers.
Now it’s possible, even probable, that Transparent proves to be a cut below the likes of Palace Malice and Verrazano. But the potential reward, a price of 12-1, compensates for that risk.
It’s a wager on the horse’s untapped potential -- that there’s more to him than we’ve seen.
Victoria, I’m confident, will better understand the traitor this time around. She never much cared for Palace Malice anyway.
(David Papadopoulos, the team leader for Latin America markets coverage at Bloomberg News, has been following thoroughbred racing for more than two decades and was runner-up in 2008 Eclipse Award voting for feature writing on the sport.)