May 21, 2019

Horseplayer Confessions: Just Say No To Lifetime Losers

by NICOLLE NEULIST

I’ve never been Catholic, so I’ve never been to confession in a sacramental sense, but no matter your background, there’s a visceral reaction to the act of confessing—forcing us to expose the cracks in our armor and to embrace our fallibility. Instead of seeking answers only in our minds, it lets us bring someone else who shares our common values in.

The closest community I have is horse racing. Of course, horseplayers don’t have any kind of centralized authority to hear our sins and set us right. I can’t express regret to Steve Crist or one of his acolytes when I’m left tearing up some poorly constructed caveman ticket. But if I do go astray, I can confess to you, my fellow horseplayers. Perhaps naming my wrongs clearly and publicly will be better penance, and hold me more accountable, than my usual sort: repeating it over and over again in my internal monologue and wallowing alone in my shame.

This thought of Horseplayers’ Confession occurred to me after I handicapped the 4th race on Nov. 29 at Hawthorne, a $5,000 claimer dirt route for non-winners of 2 races lifetime. A cardinal rule of my handicapping and wagering applies to maiden races: pick (and bet!) against so-called  professional maidens unless they are making a major, substantive change. There’s a close corollary I apply in races for non-winners of two. Since I have seen career N2L types just as determined not to win races as many of those longtime maidens, I turn my back on non-winners of two who have suggested that a maiden win hasn’t taught them how to be a winner.

Despite this — despite knowing that I was walking down the path of violating one of my core principles — I picked Lakota Rose in the aforementioned Hawthorne race. Lakota Rose came into the race off of a strong effort at the same distance and level, rallying into a lone leader and losing by a nose. This time around, she figured to get more pace to close into. No one else in the field appealed: they were too slow, off form, not keen on dirt, not great going two turns. In any other case, I’d have no shame about backing Lakota Rose, even if she was certain not to be the 10/1 that she was in her previous start.

That description of her form leaves out one important fact. Lakota Rose came into that race 1-for-43. Her only victory came in a turf route she wired more than two years ago. Even though I didn’t like anyone else in the field, none of them had such finely burnished N2L credentials as Lakota Rose. Yet, instead of keying her underneath and spreading with some bombers above her, or just passing the race? Here I was, ready to take her in a race where she would be one of the chalks.

So, I posted to Twitter about how much this made me feel like going to confession. That thought should have been my first sign that this was not a good pick, but it wasn’t my last.

On the way down to the paddock, I passed the program seller’s table. The TV behind the table is always tuned to the Hawthorne simulcast feed. This time, Jeopardy! played. I passed the table just as Alex Trebek announced the day’s Final Jeopardy! category:

Catholicism.

As I passed through the doors into the paddock, I wondered if that was a sign that confession was a good idea, that I needed to atone now for picking a career N2L and either pass the race or pick another horse to play. But, I’ve never been much for signs, so I shook that off as my overactive imagination drawing a line that wasn’t there.

Lakota Rose looked just fine in the paddock. None of her foes were gleaming, sparkling, or breathing fire. Satisfied, I left the paddock a minute or two before the horses were supposed to leave for the post parade, and headed upstairs to watch the race. I still felt uncharacteristically at peace with my decision to play a mare who was 1-43.

The rest of the story is that I never got the chance that day because the horses never made it out for the post parade. Hawthorne cancelled the rest of the card due to the thawing-out track before they could call “Riders Up”! for her race.

The race was re-carded on Dec. 6 at Hawthorne, and she faced a field that was similar: slightly bigger, but no better.  The act of confessing this to all of you gave me the resolve to remember my principles and pass the race.  As you can see from the Brisnet.com lifetime past performances for Lakota Rose below, the Illinois-bred Fort Prado mare finished 3rd as the 2.7-to-1 favorite to run her career record to 44-1-4-6.

I had my second chance to go and sin no more, and made the most of it — something I’m not sure I would have been able to do had I not made this confession. Follow Nicolle on Twitter @RogueClown.