by Frank Vespe
It’s an occupational hazard of writing about racing: write glowingly about a horse (or a person) and, often as not, next out they’ll, for want of a better word, puke.
In sports that are mostly not horse racing, the Sports Illustrated cover jinx has become almost a cliche. Today’s cover subject, meet tomorrow’s upset victim.
And so, in the days leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, we turned our attention to some of the horses bred or based in the mid-Atlantic region in hopes that we could catch just the right wave. We visited with top contenders and no-hopers, trainers with a big shot and others with none. Then we crossed our fingers.
And then the racing started.
Friday began with high hopes and ended with, well, not much of anything.
International Star was never a threat in the Juvenile Turf, befitting his longshot status. In the Juvenile Fillies Turf, neither Rainha Da Bateria — a horse the wise guys liked a little — nor Nicky’s Brown Miss — a horse they liked not at all — offered much resistance, finishing ninth and 13th, respectively.
Trainer Kelly Breen entered the weekend with two legit shots, the first of them, Pants on Fire, in Friday’s Dirt Mile. He ran well against a tough group, but as jockey Paco Lopez put it, “The leader never stopped running.” Goldencents was too good, and Pants on Fire finished third.
Cover jinx? Nah.
No need to panic; Saturday’s another day. Right?
Breen’s other runner, Stonetastic, tackled the Filly and Mare Sprint on Saturday. Sent off as the 3.10-1 second choice, she led early but could not withstand the closers late and finished fourth. Virginia-bred Thank You Marylou, the only region-bred in the Breeders’ Cup, surprised most by rallying into third at 39-1 — but our spotless record remained intact.
And so it went. Tightend Touchdown, second in the Turf Sprint a year ago, ran sixth. New Jersey-based Souper Colossal stumbled at the start and ran seventh in the Juvenile. Parx-based Private Tale ran well to be third in the Sprint.
In the Classic, Tonalist and V. E. Day largely avoided the worst of the beginning bumping, but it didn’t help. Tonalist finished fifth, V. E. Day 11th. “He just wasn’t up to the top horses,” V. E. Day’s jockey, Joe Talamo, said ruefully afterwards.
Yet it wasn’t a complete loss. The cover jinx — if there could ever be such a thing — could not muster up a clean sweep.
For there, rallying on the outside in the Turf, besting the place horse from the Arc de Triomphe, was Graham Motion’s Fair Hill-based Main Sequence — a horse we’d covered three Grade 1 wins ago.
“Main Sequence!!!!” Doug McCoy, that story’s author, texted me in the aftermath of the race, and, yes, all four of the exclamation points were his.
To which, the inevitable reply: Main Sequence!!!
And also: No cover jinx!