24 October 2005

The Greatest Show on Turf

As we gear up for our trip to Belmont, I picked up The Greatest Show on Turf: A History of the Breeders' Cup, a 1996 book by Perry Lefko. A writer with the Toronto Sun, Lefko gives a detailed look at the origins of the event, from a mere glimmer in the eye of John R. Gaines to a media event complete with television coverage and sponsors. (Yes, I now know that De Beers Consolidated Mines sponsored the first Turf, while Mobil Oil sponsored the Distaff.)

After covering the first Breeders' Cup day, Lefko then devotes chapters to Pat Day, D. Wayne Lukas, Jack Van Berg, Shug McGaughey, Andre Fabre, The Paulsons, and Angel Cordero Jr. A few of the horses are highlighted in chapters titled Go for Wand, Dance Smartly, Arazi, and Cigar.

This organizational scheme forces each chapter to skip around in time, so there is no linear chronology to anchor the reader. Worst, there are no tables listing the fields or even the winners of the various runnings of the BC races, which means it is no help if you'd like to find out who won the 1988 Distaff. (Answer: Personal Ensign.) The race is covered in the chapter on Shug McGaughey, but it's a challenge to find it. Subheadings throughout the chapters would've helped.

Overall, I was rather disappointed by the book, though it does have a few strengths. Tons of quotes from the owners, trainers, and jockeys provide glimpses of the personalities of those involved with the races.

And the chapter on French trainer Andre Fabre was interesting, as it focused on how frequently Fabre horses win in the BC while going off at longshot odds. One example: Arcangues, the 1993 Classic winner, paid $269 on a $2 win ticket.

So, yes, you can bet that I'll be watching the odds on the Fabre entries this weekend: Valixir in the Mile and Shirocco in the Turf.