Bring on the Cup!

Breeders' Cup Trophy, Churchill Downs

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The most exciting thing on the menu


Personally, it was one of my favorite moments in the decades I have played the horses. It happened in my favorite race on the day that has a greater overall importance than any other day in the world of horse racing. The winner was one of my all time favorite horses; even though many of you will not remember him.

It kicked off Breeders’ Cup Day as in the past. Just seconds after the gate opened Olympic Prospect seized the lead as expected with the swift filly, Safely Kept, remaining very close to him. I don’t know who else was in the next flight but I knew my man would be far back in the early going. If the race was a half-mile or 4 ½ furlongs Olympic Prospect would have been an unbeatable horse. He was extremely as fast from the gate and he could zip a half mile much faster than anything in the world at that time.  But when Tom Durkin announced his sizzling half mile time you could see the leakage from the gas tank and the holes were getting bigger. As expected Olympic Prospect fried himself and the brilliant filly took the lead and looked like a winner since she was made of the stuff found in champions.

But then a black flash appeared on the rail. There was a blur of red on top of the black. It was the silks of Ogden Phipps. An exciting runner was showing what a closing train was supposed to look like. It was just like the vision I had the day earlier when reviewing the race, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint of 1989.

Dancing Spree was his name and on his back was an old pro named Angel Cordero, Jr.  He gobbled up real estate like a wealthy speculator in the old Wild West. Down the rail he came and Safely Kept, who ran a terrific race, had no idea what was about to happen to her. Dancing Spree got up and to the wire and won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at more than 16-1. The whole thing was so exciting I almost couldn’t breathe. Naturally I was quick to remind all my buddies sitting nearby that I had the winner and they didn’t. I reminded them of how they suggested I was insane when I told them, less than half hour earlier, that Dancing Spree was the best bet of the day.   

My old friend Dancing Spree really upset the apple cart all over the world. A son of the great Nijinsky II, Dancing Spree was supposed to run long on the grass but instead he excelled at running short on the dirt. Dancing Spree won some route races too. He could actually run any distance and succeed, but he excelled at terrorizing the competition as a closing sprinter.  

Whenever I recall that race at Gulfstream Park I realize that the race itself did nothing to alter my belief about the best race the Breeders’ Cup offers. The Sprint is and always has been the best race on Breeders’ Cup day.  When players get a Daily Racing Form or other past performances for the Breeders’ Cup they usually go straight to the Classic. That’s okay with me, but I go straight to the Sprint. I know it will always be a great race and that potential bargains wait my discovery.

The Breeders’ Cup Sprint throws everything into the blender. First you toss in a ton of speed, then some class, then surfaces from the past, current conditioning, pour in a ton of pace scenarios and try to figure out the outcome of total madness that will last less than 70 seconds. Yes, all races have a little bit of these things but the Sprint is the toughest to figure out. It is a great challenge for any horse player. I will tell you this…I would rather spend two hours analyzing the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and cash a paltry two dollar ticket than I would sitting in a chair playing a slot machine and winning a $1,000.

It’s not just the challenge that captivates me, but also the opportunity. The Sprint has been the burial ground for favorites much more than the other Breeders’ Cup races and racing in general.  In 27 years the favorite has won only 6 times for a discouraging 22.2% win rate instead of the normal 33%, or 1/3 success rate. (I like this race). The Sprint has a flat bet loss of 30% if you bet the favorite every year (Yep, I like this race). The average payoff is over 9-1 and the median winning odds are 7.70 – 1 (I really love this race). The lowest price ever was in the first Breeders’ Cup Sprint won by Eillo at odds of 1.30-1. The longest price was Sheikh Albadou, at Churchill Downs, with odds over 26-1.

The Sprint is an excellent wagering race and always will be unless we see short fields in the years to come and I do not think that will happen. It is a great challenge and a thrilling race (short, but thrilling). And, it is the race on Breeders’ Cup day that is the closest thing we have to our everyday racing.

The Breeders’ Cup, especially since it has expanded into two days with a wider variety of races, is a special and unique challenge. Still, the Sprint gives us the greatest wagering opportunity and often the greatest racing thrill. I’m excited about this year’s Breeders’ Cup and I can’t wait to grab all the information, pull out my manuals, notes and files and start what I call my private annual handicapping party in the office at my home (a/k/a Parker Downs). And when I start the party, the Sprint will be first on my entertainment menu.

Bring on the Cup!

Handicapper Art ParkerArt Parker is a regular contributor to

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is an 18-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.


  1. Douglas Pond says

    Art Parker,

    I read your article about the Breeders Cup Sprint and agree that the Sprint usually provides value. Normally it is wide open. Do you know of any track bias at this years track? Pimlico had a real hard rail and speed often held up.
    I am going to bet Keeneland today but I suppose it is too late for you to give me any insites on that track.
    I will see Catherine next week in Arcadia, Florida at Eric’s stepdaughters wedding.

    Doug Pond

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