LEXINGTON, Ky. - The thoroughbred, a genetically engineered marvel, is the animal kingdom's most magnificent creature. The Breeders' Cup showcases the world's best, eye candy for connoisseurs of the breed.
Even cynical horseplayers appreciate the beauty pageant, but the Cup is mainly about betting. It's a two-day pari-mutuel frenzy, 13 races worth $26.5 million, with many times that amount changing hands on the four-legged stock market.
Somehow, the thoroughbred's beauty, power and grace resonate more when you're cashing a ticket. Solving the handicapping puzzle can pay big on Cup days, where you often get 15-1 odds or higher on a multiple-stakes winner.
The 32nd annual gambling orgy began Friday at bucolic Keeneland with four Cup events. The appropriately named Hit It a Bomb started a $1,677.40 pick 4 with a $16.40 payoff in the Juvenile Turf. The extravaganza continues Saturday with nine seven-figure stakes, climaxed by the $5-million Classic, with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah the 4-5 morning-line favorite. Pharoahites will bet him out of devotion. Others will shop for value.
NBC's Bob Neumeier is battling the old heart/head conundrum. "The fan in me hopes American Pharoah wins, because it's good for the sport,'' he said. "The handicapper in me says go the other way, because he'll be bet off the board.'' Neumeier is leaning toward 4-1 Tonalist, last year's Belmont champion and repeat winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
NBC analyst Randy Moss also is looking elsewhere. Weighing risk against reward, he can't play Pharoah after a long season in his first try against older horses.
"American Pharoah almost certainly will control the pace,'' Moss said, "but from a betting perspective, I don't think his odds reflect his chances to win. I think he has the edge, but I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see him lose.''
NBC's Jerry Bailey is less concerned with the odds than with being right. "I think American Pharoah will win. He's training great,'' he said, "and controlling the pace will be very important.''
Thursday's withdrawal of superstar mare Beholder removed Pharoah's main rival for the lead. Don't expect Frosted to sacrifice himself by pressuring Pharoah as he did in the Travers, setting up Keen Ice's winning move. "Hopefully,'' trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said, "Joel Rosario will wait a little longer than Jose Lezcano did.''
Long shot Effinex's trainer, Jimmy Jerkens, expects a peak effort from Pharoah in his final race. "What he's done is incredible by today's standards,'' Jerkens said. "He could [regress] and still be tough to beat. That's how good he is.''
Notes & quotes:Stopchargingmaria ($16.20) survived an inquiry after edging Stellar Wind by a neck in the $2-million, 11/8-mile Distaff. Javier Castellano and Todd Pletcher teamed for their second win of the day . . . Liam's Map ($3) won the Dirt Mile by 2 1/2 lengths for Castellano and Pletcher despite an eventful trip in his career finale . . . Catch a Glimpse ($14.80) took the Juvenile Fillies Turf . . . today's forecast: cloudy, 20-percent chance of rain.