Hindsight is by definition 20/20, but as a horseplayer, valuable lessons can be gleaned from retrospection.
Take, for example, the “surprising” victory of Dakota Phone in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, a win that rewarded his supporters with a generous payout of $77.40. Unfortunately, I was not among them, but looking over the past performances more closely today I see that Dakota Phone and third-place finisher Gayego were the only two horses in the field to have raced—and placed—in three G1 races this year, and Gayego did so in only one of his G1 races, while Dakota Phone finished third in all three of his—all routes over one mile (Gayego’s was in a sprint). That fact alone should have placed Dakota Phone above all other entrants here instead of the longest shot in the field, but obviously bettors saw that those races were all on synthetic surfaces in California—and in his one dirt effort at Oaklawn he stopped badly to finish dead-last. However, contested at 9-furlongs, the G2 Oaklawn Handicap was probably a tad farther than he wants to go, so the Dirt Mile turned out to be the perfect spot. The favorite Here Comes Ben (whom I admit to having selected myself) had impressively won his sole G1 race this year, the 7-furlong Forego, and his narrow victory over Hamazing Destiny in the Kelly’s Landing at Churchill in June was complimented by that horse’s runner-up performance in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Yet, his only mile win was a maiden effort last year, while his 4-race win streak this year was accomplished in 7-furlongs races. Another factor to recommend Dakota Phone: his narrow runner-up finish to The Usual Q.T. in a mile turf allowance race at Hollywood in late June significantly gained in form when that one finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile—just a neck behind runner-up Gio Ponti and in front of G1 winners Paco Boy, Court Vision, Sidney’s Candy and Proviso (among others). I think you get the point. I, for one, feel a fool for not seeing what was clearly before me in the past performances—Dakota Phone was the class of the field, and proved it.
In the Filly and Mare Turf, Shared Account paid a whopping $94.00 for upsetting returning champion Midday which, admittedly, no one could have predicted considering that filly’s three impressive G1 wins this year. However, Shared Account should not have been 46-1. Toss her last race, the G1 Flower Bowl where she led then weakened to finish fifth on yielding turf, and you have a filly whose previous three races included: a fourth-place finish in the G3 Gallorette where she was actually only 3/4 length behind the winner Rainbow View (later, favorite for G1 Beverly D before being injured pre-race) and Flower Bowl winner Ave; a win over nice G2 winners Dynaslew and Tizaqueena in the G3 All Along; and a narrow runner-up performance behind Proviso in the G1 Diana—and that filly defeated males in the G1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile. Shared Account deserved more respect.
In the Juvenile Turf, the winner Pluck and runner-up Soldat provided little surprise considering their terrific wins in the G3 Summer Stakes at Woodbine and G3 With Anticipation at Saratoga respectively. However, third-place finisher Willcox Inn had never run on turf before, having captured his maiden in an off-turf race at Arlington before finishing third in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, both going farther than this 8-furlong event. His 23-1 odds appeared justified, until you looked more carefully at his pedigree—which I didn’t do in advance. By Harlan’s Holiday out of a Gone West mare, nothing particularly screams turf—until you consider his dam De Aaar not only was stakes-placed (Ontario Colleen) as a juvenile, but was also later a G3 runner-up on turf. Her full sister Somerset Wish produced the G3 turf winner Seaspeak, while her dam Aletta Maria (Diesis) also produced G1 turf winners Cetewayo and Dynaforce, as well as G1 turf runner-up Bowman Mill. Now that is some turf breeding, albeit hidden if one doesn’t look beyond the immediate sire and damsire.
As for Todd Pletcher-trained More Than Real going off at nearly 14-1 in the Juvenile Filly Turf, and paying $29.20 for the win...well, that just defies logic. Seeing that New Normal who defeated her in the G3 Natalma also drew long odds at 12-1, I can only assume that it was the Canadian turf stakes form that garnered little respect from bettors. Third-place finisher Kathmanblu went off at 7-1, but had much lower Beyer figures than those two, and no graded stakes experience. More Than Real's Beyer figures were also higher than those of Winter Memories who finished second, but went off at even odds.