Saratoga isn’t called the “Graveyard of Favorites” for nothing, and last Sunday it proved to the world that there are no mortal locks at the storied track.
Bettors were hurting after the fourth race on Sunday’s card, the Grade 2 Lake Placid Stakes, when heavily bet favorite Winter Memories finished a disappointing fourth after going off at odds of 2-5. The well regarded co-second choice Bellamy Star ended up finishing dead last, leaving a parade of big prices to fill the win, place, and show spots.
Winter Memories is not by any means a bad horse, but did she deserve to be 2-5 at post time? That’s actually not such an easy question to answer. To date her only loss was a second place finish in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf behind More Than Real. However, her status as a mortal lock in the Lake Placid had its origins in an intriguing storyline that started to develop when racing fans noticed that Winter Memories was winning the same races as her beloved dam Memories of Silver. Like her mother, Winter Memories started out her season at Saratoga by winning the Grade 2 Lake George in style and will likely be aiming towards the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland in the Fall. Winter Memories’ sire is no less than the great El Prado, who in addition to being one of the great modern “sire of sires”, remains one of the most striking and beautiful thoroughbreds ever. How ever much we love a horse’s lineage, it’s important to remember that breeding is only part of the equation and every race horse must prove its own worth on the track.
Another red flag that bettors might have been smart to clue into was that Winter Memories was trying the distance of 1 1/8 miles for the first time in her career. While her connections and past performances suggested she should have no problems with the distance, it is still a risky proposition to take such low odds on a horse doing anything for the first time.
The real reason Winter Memories finished out of the money in the Lake Placid was her horrendous trip, and is one of the hardest factors to account for when sizing up a horse race. A quick look at the chart shows that she was forced to race between horses in the early stages and was locked in by eventual third place finisher Dynamic Holiday when she needed to start her bid. By the time she had enough clearance to surge ahead, she needed to head towards the rail but couldn’t last. She ended up a neck behind Dynamic Holiday and out of the money.
Of course when a favorite falls, there are winners and losers. On that Sunday at Saratoga the biggest winners were horseplayers who noticed that over 50% of the show pool was being bet on one horse and placed a small wager on one of the other entries on the off chance that the favorite would finish out of the money. About 2/5 of the entire WPS mutual pool was devoted to show wagering indicating that perhaps a few people made some very large show bets that were never cashed.