There was a moment late in the Travers Stakes when I swore that I had the game of horseracing in the palm of my hand. I owned it.
Just a half-hour earlier, I had pulled off one of the biggest betting coups of my life when a 28-1 longshot blew by a 7-1 frontrunner in the stretch at Saratoga Race Course, extending a gambling hot streak that began two months ago.
And now in the main event at Saratoga on Aug. 24, the Travers, the horse that I wagered on and touted publicly was cruising effortlessly behind the leaders with a half mile to go. Watching the colt, Transparent, gallop along without any urging from his jockey, I envisioned him swinging to the outside and drawing away from his rivals in the race’s final 50 seconds to win at odds of 14-1.
This is going to be some encore to my Belmont Stakes pick, the 13-1 winner Palace Malice, I tell myself.
How easy is this game?
Everything that I dial up is unbeatable.
And then something funny happens. As the field sweeps around the turn, Transparent starts to show signs of duress. The jockey, Irad Ortiz Jr., shakes the reins at the colt, urging him forward. He struggles to hold his spot in the pack.
And it hits me. However confident Ortiz looked earlier in the race aboard Transparent, however menacingly he may have loomed behind the leaders as they approached the turn, he is now officially out of horse. And the whole Saratoga stretch run still awaits him.
This is going to be bad.
Thoughts of “please just don’t come in last” quickly turn into “ok, if you’re going to come in last, at least finish the race.”
He does, barely, jogging across the finish line some 15 lengths behind the winner, Will Take Charge.
Horseracing has a way of striking you down, of reminding you that, while its riddles at times may seem simple to decode and its treasures ripe for the taking, it is merely a mirage. It’s why the Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, a wiser man than I, likes to say that horseracing is a game that will humble kings.
And Bloomberg handicappers.
(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.)