Horse Madness II — Arcangues v. Charismatic

Welcome back to the second round of Horse Madness 2016!  We are through the play-in round, and an updated bracket is here:  Horse Madness 2016

Charismatic v. Arcangues

Today’s matchup is one that features two horses that, in my opinion, would not have been nearly as long odds as they were if the races were held today. Arcangues, trained by the immortal Andre Fabre, came into the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic as a Group 1 Stakes winner over the grass at Longchamp. It was his first start on dirt, but he was absolutely forgotten in the wagering at 133/1. Of course, he won. Similarly, Charismatic came into the 1999 Kentucky Derby off of a win (with a 108 Beyer) in the Grade 2 Lexington Stakes, and with the services of Chris Antley and D. Wayne Lukas. Nevertheless, the wagering public sent him off at 31/1 – the third longest shot in a field of 19. Both of the races in the competition today are eminently memorable. But which one was the bigger upset?

In the normal race, horses at 133/1 are complete misfits, dismissed as nearly impossible. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine that a horse ridden by Jerry Bailey and trained by Fabre could offer those odds under any circumstances. One thing that is so interesting about this particular upset is that, as I reviewed the past performances and the race chart, I could envision myself betting on Arcangues simply as a value proposition (I know, I know, very easy to say 23 years after the race). Nevertheless, the bettors at Santa Anita gave the horse absolutely no chance. Luckily, nobody told Arcangues that he had no chance. He raced like he was the favorite, settling in behind Bertrando and then spurting through a small opening (Bailey was a master) to hit the front in mid-stretch and hitting the wire with a driving win. He paid a cool $269 for $2 to win, and the $2 exacta paid $1,015. The field that Arcangues beat was a solid one, featuring Colonial Affair, Bet Pal and Kissin Kris, in addition to the aforementioned Bertrando – but it’s not a field that jumps off the page as the saltiest renewal of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Additionally, the Classic did not feature the star of that year’s Breeders’ Cup – that was undoubtedly Lure. But any way you slice it, Arcangues’ win was unbelievably memorable and one of the biggest upsets in racing history.

If you were at Santa Anita on February 11, 1999 you could have claimed a future Derby and Preakness winner for $62,500. Of course, as of that date, the horse entered in that claiming contest, Charismatic, had never run faster than an 85 Beyer speed figure and had won exactly one race – his maiden breaker. The connections had tried him in sprints and in routes, on turf and dirt, in allowance company and even in a Grade II stake. He had only won once. He didn’t even hit the line first in that claiming contest on February 11, and wouldn’t hit the line first for the next couple months of his three year old season, failing in a subsequent allowance, the El Camino Real Derby (G3) and the Santa Anita Derby (G1), in which he lost by more than 8 lengths to future Derby competitors General Challenge, Prime Timber and Desert Hero. Luckily, D. Wayne is nothing if not persistent, and he maintained his faith in the horse. He would finally break through in the Lexington Stakes and that win propelled him into the Derby starting gate, where he would unite with Chris Antley for the first time. Dismissed at 31/1, the betting public preferred nearly every horse in the race, including Cat Thief, Vicar, Stephen Got Even and the three horses that had beaten Charismatic in the Santa Anita Derby just a month before. Charismatic prevailed, however, under an absolutely perfectly timed move by Antley – finally getting by Cat Thief while fending off Menifee, who was charging from the back of the pack. It was a gigantic upset at the time, but looked less so two weeks later in Baltimore, when Charismatic took the Preakness, and would head to New York for a Belmont that, tragically, nobody would soon forget.

Here are replays of both races.

1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic

1999 Kentucky Derby

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