Triple Crown Part 2: Frontrunners

Brett Whitehead
June 22, 2013

Writing for this website is hard. Even Jessie D, who writes most of her articles in a forty-five minute frenzy of giggling and “awwwww”s, has ideas that are unfinished and may never reach the light of day due the rigors of work and family. I bring this up because I have about 3 different articles which discuss English soccer, and specifically how I chose the wrong team to root for. Things would have been much easier for me had I just picked Manchester United, the consistent juggernaut of the English Premier League. Manchester United is like rooting for the Yankees, John Cena, or white people. In an effort to be different, but still relevant, I chose perennial “also-ran” Arsenal, a popular team with a history of playing well and never winning championships. Two years in, Arsenal stinks and Manchester United wins all the time, just like they both always do.

I thought about this again while watching the UEFA Champions League Final between Borossia Dortmund, a sexy, fun underdog, and Bayern Munich, a historical powerhouse supported by the German social elite. Both teams belong to the German Soccer League, which is a league that I am interested in following but don’t have a current rooting interest. As Bayern Munich closed out the title, I started to think that maybe this was my chance to hop the bandwagon and give it a spin. I’ve never rooted for a dynasty, aside from rooting for myself playing sports video games and Hulk Hogan, and honestly, what’s the worst that could happen when you hitch your wagon to the favorite?

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If I spent a full year planning for the 2013 Kentucky Derby, I spent about 3 weeks trying to plan for Brutalhorsefest II. The original Brutalhorsefest took place last May, and it was intended to celebrate Opening Day at Delaware Park and this website, in tandem. In essence, the plan was to drink Blimes at Delaware Park all day and then come back to my house for a BBQ. In an effort to distinguish this from every other time we have a free afternoon, we classed it up with some timely purchases off Joseph A. Bank’s websites.

Joseph A. Bank’s (hereinafter “JOEY ABS”) is part classy clothing store, part gypsy bazaar. Ray and I bought wedding suits at Joey Abs, and we had to beg the salesman not to sell us pants with pleats. All the salesmen are pushy old men who are convinced they knows how to dress you better than you know yourself. Sprinkle in the fact that everyone works on commission, and the entire experience is a battle. Make one wrong move and you’re stuck with three $400 pin-stripe suits that are a size too big and impossible to return.

So somehow Ray discovers that Joey Abs has an online sale on seersucker suits and we both immediately decide that we are buying these suits and wearing them to Delaware Park for opening day/Brutalhorsefest. This experience taught me a few lessons. First, buying a suit online is a terrible idea. I think that everyone assumes you can buy a suit sight unseen and then get it tailored, but tailoring is crazy expensive and there is a reason that only movie stars get it done. The bigger issue we ran into is that Joey Abs was not receptive to tinkering with our online purchases. When I asked the salesman if he could take in some room from my legs, he scoffed “YOU CAN’T DO THAT! YOU’LL WEAR OUT THE CROTCH”. The second lesson learned is that if you ever find yourself saying “I will get plenty of use out of this seersucker suit”, you will be wrong.

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There is no dumber and more anti-climactic sporting event than the Preakness Stakes. In the last hundred years, there have been twelve horses that have won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. The last winner was Affirmed in 1978, and since then eleven horses have won the first won the first two legs, only to falter in the final running.

The Preakness is the worst of the three Triple Crown races because there is no best case scenario. Horse racing analysts wax poetic about the majesty of a Triple Crown winner, but all that pomp and circumstance is just to build up more money that they can win on their own picks. In reality, anyone who is interested in horse racing is first interested in making money, and the Preakness is a terrible place to win money. If the Kentucky Derby allows you profit off uninformed money, the uninformed money underlying the Preakness ruins any chance of winning real profit. The winner of the Kentucky Derby always goes off at ridiculous odds, so betting the favorite isn’t worth anything. Most of the strong Derby favorites bail out for the Preakness, so the remaining field rarely gives you a prospective winner at exciting odds. Even if you are interested in the “history” of the Triple Crown, the Preakness still provides little upside. In the advent that the favorite is defeated, the public interest (and money) in the Belmont Stakes wanes considerably and therefore renders that race useless as well. It is this reason that the Preakness is primarily known for undergraduate alcohol abuse.

After my experience at the Derby, the coverage for the Preakness was just obnoxious. Everyone talked about how Orb was the clear horse to beat, and that the shorter Preakness track would favor Orb’s speed and pedigree. During the ESPN pre-show, Hammerin’ Hank Goldberg was so confident that he stated Orb’s 1-1 odds were overestimating the weak field that stood in the way of Orb’s chance at history. The saddest part was that Goldberg was right. There were only nine horses in the Preakness, most of which ORB had previously defeated. The idea of wasting more money trying to beat a horse I already lost to seemed poised to ruin Brutalhosefest II.

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I have two reactions when I unsuccessfully plan a party. The first is to hate everyone with legitimate scheduling conflicts and the second is to vow to go harder and faster at the party to make up for low attendance. The reasoning being that a smaller amount of people would for some reason be more inclined to want to deal with a drunk Brett than a larger group, which history has proven not to be true.

Brutalhorsefest II was immediately plagued by the fact that the majority of attendees from last year had previous commitments before Delaware Park planned their opening day. New recruits were hard to come by, since most people didn’t want to wear a suit, let alone go to Delaware Park. As the week preceding Brutalhorsefest hit its halfway point, it became clear that it was likely just going to be Jess, Neal, Ray and I, which is fitting because that represents 4/7ths of our writing staff and probable reading audience. The suits were shelved in favor of spending a long day at Delaware Park in normal clothes. Fifteen people dressed in nice clothes is charming, but two morons in obnoxious suits gets weird. In an environment of second hand smoke and crippled old men, I’m trying to attract the least amount of attention as possible.

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Delaware Park is not a high-class race track, and I’m not talking about the quality of the facilities, the general clientele or the location. All of those things are poor, but I am primarily referring to the quality of races and horses. There are four general types of races: Stakes races are the highest quality of races with the highest monetary pay-outs, allowance races and maiden races are introductions to stakes races, and finally, at the bottom, are claiming races. Claiming races are for has-beens and never-will-be’s. Every horse in a claiming race is eligible to be bought at the end of the race and there are many different monetary hierarchies for claiming races. Almost all the races at Delaware Park are low money claiming races, which means there’s a good chance you can go home with a low quality horse if you’ve got $5000 burning a hole in your pocket. Without access to a horse stable, I often dream of buying one of the losers and setting him loose on 95. Run free, sweet prince!

My quintessential story about the quality of horse racing at Delaware Park involves Rusty Charlie. In August of 2011, we celebrated Ray’s birthday at the race track, and going into the ninth race, it was a fairly normal afternoon. It was very hot and humid, and the stands were pretty crowded despite the uncomfortable weather. I commonly get cranky toward the end of an unsuccessful betting afternoon, and I remember the heat doing me no favors. I saw Rusty Charlie earlier that afternoon and thought the horses’ pedigree, along with his vaguely sexual name, made for a worthwhile bet.

For 6 furlongs it appeared my expert handicapping was right, as Rusty Charlie had a decisive lead coming around the final turn. Unfortunately, the race was a mile long, and Rusty Charlie went backwards while the rest of the pack raced forward. The race was unremarkable, until Rusty Charlie collapsed as he crossed the finish line and writhed on the track. A hush fell over the crowd, as the handlers poured water on Charlie and tried valiantly to get the horse back on his feet. As the whole ordeal progressed passed five minutes, my anger at Charlie for losing was supplemented with curiosity over whether we were about to see a horse get euthanized. Would they bring out a sheet? Would that cancel racing forever? The grim reality of what we were watching slowly dawned over everyone who showed up to celebrate Ray’s birthday. The strangers next to us started crying. Just when we all thought Charlie was on his way to the IKEA concession stand, Charlie found the strength to stand up, and walked off on his own. Ray leaned over to me and said “If that horse didn’t get up, I don’t know that we really could have come back here”. So thank god for that.

Luckily, this story has a happy ending. Fast forward a few months to the start of next season, and wouldn’t you know it, Rusty Charlie was racing again. As we decided whether nostalgia warranted betting on him, we checked Charlie’s history in the past performances. The past performances give a one sentence recap of all the races, and Rusty Charlie’s history included the race on Ray’s birthday. Most recaps say things like “showed strong effort,” or “faded down the back stretch.” Charlie’s recap said “vanned off.” Needless to say, we didn’t bet on him. Rusty Charlie finished in last, but on at least on all fours.

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Our success at the track on Brutalhorsefest was one of good news/bad news. Bad news was that our crew was a little thin, but the good news was that it allowed us to pool our money together to make one group bet. Usually, Ray and I bet two $1 pick three ticket that considers three horses for each race. Both of our tickets share one horse we both like, and then we both pair the favorite with a different horse so our tickets might stay alive. These bets cost $8, and we split the winnings regardless of what gets cashed in. On this day, we pooled in three ways with Neal to create one monster Pick 3 ticket that included all three horses from the start. The total cost was $27 and we would split the purse three ways if we won.

Going into the day, I felt pretty good about my handicapping. Every horse racing book I have states that you should keep a log of your previous betting experience so you can notice trends in your handicapping. I started doing this last year, but I have limited data, because I usually forget my copy of the program after having too many blimes. The data I do have vacillates between being helpful:


Good data
Figure 1: Good data!

and not so helpful:


Bad data
Figure 2: Bad data!

We arrived at the track in time for the second race. The first race in our pick three was won by a favorite at 2-1 who pulled away from the pack during the back-stretch. The second race was won by another favorite, only at worse odds of approximately 1-1. We had both horses in our pick three and things immediately got exciting, as they often do in that scenario. The time between the second and third race is all anticipation. There is nothing you can do to change the bet at this point, as you’re locked into your horses. All you can do is watch the big screen at Delaware Park which scrolls through the current odds and the potential pay-outs for exotic bets like the pick three. What appeared on the screen would set the stage for possibly the most maddening day I’ve had at the race track.

As stated earlier, we had three horses in a seven horse field to cash our ticket. Since the horse track runs on a paramutel system, meaning that winners split the pot of all available losing bets, the pay-outs differed for each horse. The horse with the worst odds paid out approximately $60, which wasn’t a huge win, but still enough to buy everyone hot dogs. The second horse paid $35.00, which we could at least pay forward into the next bet. The favorite, however, showed a mocking win projection of $8-fucking.00. It is a generally accepted principle at the horse track the favorite wins 30%, and considering the luck of the favorite to date, we held out hope that the odds would balance themselves out. Of course though, things never go the way you want them to when you’re gambling. The favorite pulled away in the last couple feet, leading to a bittersweet victory. We were three races in with three winners, and we were $19.00 in the red.

I wish I could say that our luck changed, but it oddly stayed exactly the same. Starting in the 5th race, we started another pick three bet and won the first race, again with the favorite. As an aside, correctly picking a pick five bet, which is five winners in a row, usually wins tens of thousands of dollars. We instead added to our deficit, when the first non-favorite, and first non-ticket winner on our part, won the sixth race. This horse was a 10-1 longshot that started out in front and never faded through the length of the race. As I looked at Ray, I could tell we were wearing the same “you have got to be fucking kidding me” face. We tried our luck once more, only to find the same fate, winning the first race with a favorite and then getting blown out by a long-shot in the 8th. After correctly picking six of eight races, we left the track shaking our heads at our success/terrible luck. I remembered to make a half-assed Preakness pick, but per usual, I forgot my program so there was no chance of learning from the experience. The only chance we had of tasting true victory today was Ray’s tiny collection of Powerball tickets.

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Seems like a wash, right? Turns out though, the day was fantastic. Losing money at the track is never a big deal. On days that we break even or win money, most of it goes to hotdogs and beer, so it’s not like anyone is missing their mortgage payment. After the track, we BBQ’ed some food, enjoyed some Settlers of Catan, and then made a late night trip to Dead Presidents. Somewhere in the midst, I heard on the news that Orb was crushed in the Preakness, relegating the quality of that race the interest it deserved. Although Ray ended up not winning the Powerball, the intent of Brutalhorsefest was honored and upheld.

In addition, two good ideas came out as a result of Brutalhosefest II. The first idea was a way to combat the ever present specter of hangover depression. As the night at Dead Presidents came to a close, Ray and I thought that a great way to track yourself after a long night out is to use a “Map My Run” app to monitor your progress. After 11 pm, have your iPhone track your progress, that way in case the night gets blurry, you’ll have a good track of your path so you don’t get anxious the next day. (Unfortunately, my phone battery died that night -ed.)

The second great idea was a little more permanent. Inspired by our camaraderie, Ray, Neal, Jess and I decided to get matching tattoos. Neal and I watched the CM Punk DVD a few months ago which strongly advocates getting matching tattoos with friends to commemorate your friendship. After tossing out a few ideas, Jess and I pushed hard for a Rusty Charlie tattoo. I sketched the following as a template. (Incidentally, Neal assumed that the following was the exact tattoo we were getting, no doubt contributing to his backing out -ed.)


Rusty Charlie sketch
Figure 3: Rusty Charlie sketch.

After Delaware Park, we went to a local tattoo parlor and scheduled the appointment. Five days later, we sported sweet commemorations of the weekend that was. God bless the good people at Agaru Tattoo for making what looked a hotdog with legs into a very cool design.


Rusty Charlie tattoo
Figure 4: Rusty Charlie tattoo.

In the end, you should always leave Brutalhorsefest with lessons to take with you. Don’t be a frontrunner, as they are called lovable losers for a reason. Don’t sketch your own tattoos, but also don’t let a little day buzz stop you from making awesome tattoo decisions. See everyone next year for Brutalhorsefest III, even though there is a good chance no one will be invited.

brett.whitehead@brutalhorse.com
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