Not Abroad (above) finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Marathon, but the race was about more than just the result for blogger Joe Dougherty. (Photo courtesy of Horsephotos.com)
Just like any other racing fan last weekend, I was excited to see the stars of our sport knock heads with one another in 15 championship races that would decide many of the year-end Eclipse Awards.
As a horseplayer, I was giddy at the thought of playing some of the best betting races of the entire year, with talented fields that produce getting great betting value in nearly every wagering pool. I spent a good week or so planning my assault on the two days of Breeders Cup races, poring through past performances, race replays, and enough statistics to make a rocket scientist dizzy.
I pride myself on being an astute player, one who doesn’t bring personal bias into my handicapping or make rash decisions or judgments. I play the races with my head, not my heart. And yet, when the second Breeders Cup race on Friday rolled around, the Marathon, I found myself throwing my hard work out the window.
The horse I couldn’t resist playing, and more importantly rooting for in the Marathon was Not Abroad. A 5-year-old son of Not For Love, Not Abroad figured to be a major player in the Marathon at 5-1 on the morning line. But it wasn’t recent form that attracted me to Not Abroad nor was it any other logical handicapping angle you could contrive.
You see, Not Abroad is trained by Michael Petro and his regular rider is Nicholas Petro, and if you were wondering, yes they are related. In fact, Mike and Nick are brothers who have been working the Mid-Atlantic racing circuits, namely Maryland and Delaware, for as long as I have been a racing fan.
My grandfather is the one who introduced me to the game and showed me the intricacies of handicapping, but he also made sure he passed along his favorite jockeys, trainers, horses, etc. to his protégé. He was a man who prided himself on being a smart horseplayer and money manager, but he couldn’t resist making action bets on his favorite connections, namely the tandem of Nick and Mike Petro. I never did ask him why he liked the Petro brothers so much; it wasn’t as though he had known them or had some sort of connection to them or their family, but like a good grandson and pupil, I also took a liking to the Petro-Petro connection.
I had seen Not Abroad run earlier in the year in person at Delaware Park in a small stakes race. That race, the Joseph French Memorial Stakes, was on Preakness Stakes (G1) day, and as was the norm during my time at the University of Delaware, I spent the big day with my dad at nearby Delaware Park. However, it was a tough day, not only from a wagering perspective but also because it was the first time my dad and I had been to Delaware Park together for a day of racing since my grandfather had passed away in the winter. We hadn’t cashed a ticket all day and were just waiting on some of the big stakes races at Pimlico to be run when I spotted the Petro presence with Not Abroad in the last Thoroughbred race of the day at Delaware. Coming off of a nearly six-month layoff, Not Abroad soundly defeated a solid stakes field at nearly 9-1 odds.
So imagine my feelings when I saw Not Abroad entered in a Breeders Cup race. Here were my grandfather’s favorite local horsemen on the biggest stage in racing. Two guys who make their livings off of racing at smaller tracks, finally getting their chance to win the big one, the one that gives you that moment of glory that every horseplayer, trainer, jockey and owner dreams about. Two guys who have no idea that they had impacted the relationship of a grandfather and grandson through their craft. That’s why I had to bet with my heart this one time, because in my book, they were already winners.