This is a special guest post by listener Bad Beat Brad (@badbeatbrad23), who uses a pseudonym as he’s currently forward deployed in the U.S. Army.
For every horseplayer, it starts with a horse.
Andy Beyer tells the story of Sun in Action in Picking Winners. Steven Davidowitz recounted Flying Mercury in Betting Thoroughbreds. Pete has told the story on the show many times of how Silver Charm drew him into racing. My horse was Battle of Midway.
By some weird symmetry, his Breeders Cup Dirt Mile and recent resurgence coincided with my two most successful spells as a semi-serious, part-time handicapper. After Sunday’s tragic news of Battle of Midway’s breakdown, many wonderful tributes to Battle of Midway appeared in print and on social media from owners, trainers, writers, and fans. I felt compelled to add a few words of my own to Battle of Midway’s legacy from the perspective of one emotionally involved handicapper.
A $100 win bet on Street Sense at my first Derby was all it took for me to first get the itch. Over subsequent years, I played with some regularity, but learned quickly that the amount of work required to be successful at the game was much more than an active-duty Soldier could produce when coupled with a growing family, multiple moves, and a demanding work schedule. There were some scores here and there, but I never felt that I could handicap at a consistent level to compete with good players. The only thing consistent was red on the ledger at the end of the year, and mid-pack finishes in tournaments.
In 2017, a nine month deployment overseas offered me the opportunity to finally put in the work. The deployment offered 3 uninterrupted hours most evening to handicap before bed. I listened to the DRF Players’ Podcast and Steve Byk regularly, began to use Formulator’s notes feature, read the workout reports, watched replays, and tried to incorporate as much of Andy Beyer’s trip and bias ideas from “The Winning Horseplayer” into my handicapping as I could.
Initially I wasn’t having much success pari-mutually, but some low stakes tournament success in late summer showed a glimmer of hope that these techniques were working. Similarly, Battle of Midway had some success early in 2017, but by mid-summer of his three-year-old season, and a disappointing 6thin the Haskell, it was clear that a change in plan was needed for Battle of Midway. A victory in the Shared Belief at Del Mar seemed to indicate a glimmer of hope going into the fall.
Which brings us 2017 Breeders Cup Dirt Mile. My handicapping plan was simple: watch the last race of every runner entered, follow the workout reports, and do the work. Here’s Battle of Midway’s last prep for the Dirt Mile, the Oklahoma Derby:
The chart caller noted the trouble in the first turn, but I was more impressed with the wide move in hand entering the far turn. It screamed Beyer’s “Move into a Hot Pace” to me, one of the trip angles Pete is always discussing on the show.
Battle of Midway took the lead authoritatively at the top of stretch despite the early trouble and wide move, but Untrapped, who sat chilly for the first mile in the pocket saving ground, angled out to get by in the last furlong with a perfect trip. Battle of Midway’s trip alone was enough to convince me to use him in the exotics, but then I looked down his pp’s and saw he won the Shared Belief at Del Mar at a mile and felt that same lightning bolt of clarity and certainty that Beyer and Davidowitz described. The Dirt Mile WAS the plan all along after the Haskell flop. He didn’t seem to want the classic distance, so it made perfect sense to prep him at 9f and then cut him back. The running line comment of “hung” is a kiss of death for most handicappers, so I knew he’d be a price. He was going to be my key to Breeders Cup weekend.
When 14-1 Battle of Midway made that four-wide, in hand move on the turn in the Dirt Mile, I thought we had a big chance. When he collared and passed a very game Sharp Azteca in the stretch, I knew we were home, but didn’t celebrate. I just felt vindicated. Sure, Battle of Midway raced in the best part of the track that day, and Sharp Azteca was probably a classic JK “One Turn Horse,” but Battle of Midway won and proved that he was serious G1 miler. He proved to me that doing the handicapping work does matter. That I could find value and longshots, and I could play the game in a serious manner, be rewarded, and compete with other good handicappers. That $2,375 Pick 4 jump started a furious late 2017 wagering rally that culminated with a Santa Anita opening day for the ages (thanks City of Light), and my first ever profitable year at the races.
When it was announced that Battle of Midway was retired, I was bummed, but hey, that’s the game nowadays right? A few weeks later, I was back home in the US, moving my family again, and preparing for another deployment. In other words, I was off to my next job like my man Battle of Midway.
I was somewhat amused at the irony of Battle of Midway returning to the races around the same time I deployed again in August 2018. I wasn’t exactly optimistic that he could recapture the form of the Dirt Mile, or that I would recapture my handicapping form of late 2017. His first starts were not the same class as we saw in late 2017, but he kept working and racing and improving. I started to handicap and play regularly again with little success. Taking trip notes didn’t seem to be enough anymore so I began incorporating Race Flow and Timeform into the tool kit.
In November, Battle of Midway won the G3 Native Diver. In January, I qualified for the Pegasus World Cup Betting Challenge, my first major handicapping tournament. After a gutsy performance by Battle of Midway to beat McKinzie in the G2 San Pasquale, it was clear he was back. Could he win another Dirt Mile? Could I qualify for the BCBC? My handicapping goals seemed to be magically aligning with my old pal Battle of Midway’s racing goals – Breeders Cup 2019 at Santa Anita. The band was back together, and the dream was crystal clear: I was going to qualify for the BCBC, and he was going to run in the Dirt Mile or Classic. Battle of Midway would be the key for my entire weekend once again. But I guess that perfect symbolism was too much for this game. Do you want to hear God laugh? Make a plan. Racing always keeps you humble.
It was about 2pm on Sunday when I read Jeremy Balan’s tweet that Battle of Midway was euthanized after shattering his hind pastern entering the stretch during a work at Santa Anita. The news stung then and it continues to sting. It stings because he was a cool horse that didn’t succeed in the breeding shed but came back to regain top level form just as I was regaining my handicapping form. It stings because he’s the horse in MY story of when I knew I could play this game. It stings because as with all equine fatalities over, you wonder if it might have been prevented. Most of all, it stings because you always tell yourself that you know better than to become emotionally attached to the horses. After all, playing the horses is sometimes describes as “a game with numbers.” But of course it’s always been much more than that. Horses have a way of finding you in the past performances, and Battle of Midway found me.
He will be sorely missed.