Horse madness is back! By popular demand, we are bringing back our annual tradition where you, the fan, helps us fill out a bracket of horse racing matchups. There will be upsets, surprises, buzzer beaters, all the excitement of the college basketball version without the gambling losses. This year we are trying to determine the biggest upset in the history of horse racing. We have 18 contenders, seeded 1-18. Here is the Horse Madness 2016 Bracket. Today we begin with the first of our two play-games.
Da’Tara v. Birdstone
We start off with a juicy matchup between two of the unlikelier winners in Belmont history. Both prevailed over Triple Crown aspirants – Da’Tara over Big Brown and Birdstone over Smarty Jones. Da’Tara featured the longer odds, leaving the starting gate in the 2008 Belmont at 38/1 – the longest shot in the field. Big Brown was the overwhelming favorite, sent off at 1/4 over a field where the second choice was Thorobro favorite Denis of Cork at 7/1. Although the race was not particularly dramatic – Da’Tara stole the race on the front end, and Big Brown was eased and finished last – there is no denying that the outcome was extremely unlikely. The upset made Da’Tara’s backers a pretty penny, and also did not deflate those on hand at Belmont Part to nearly the same level as other thwarted Triple Crown attempts. Big Brown was owned by a “horse racing hedge fund,” and had dubious and relatively unlikeable human connections. Da’Tara, a son of American hero Tiznow and ridden by Alan Garcia and trained by Nick Zito, was a true feel good story. The good feelings were limited to that one day in June, however, as Da’Tara’s post-Belmont performance substantiates the magnitude of the upset – he never won another race.
Birdstone also had sterling connections. Owned by Marylou Whitney, trained by Zito, and ridden by our old friend Edgar Prado, Birdstone was a horse that you could really get behind. He was the son of a Kentucky Derby winner, and the grandson of another Kentucky Derby winner. He would go on to win the Travers later in his three year old season, and had won the Champagne at two. How, you may be asking, is this horse the perpetrator of one of the greatest upsets of all time? Because when he entered the starting gate in New York, he was facing a juggernaut – the unbeaten Smarty Jones. Birdstone was sent on his way in the Test of a Champion at odds of 36/1 – the third longest shot in the field. Smarty Jones, on the other hand, was 2/5. In terms of drama, this race offered everything you could want – Smarty Jones, lengthening his stride on the way to a seemingly sure place as an immortal race horse, the crowd briefly letting itself think that this might be the day the Triple Crown drought was broken, Tom Durkin seeing Birdstone commencing his rally, and the realization among the thousands in attendance and the millions watching at home that Smarty Jones was going to come up just one length short. This is a race that nearly every racing fan will remembers watching.
Here are replays of both races.
Please place your votes on Twitter by retweeting for Da’Tara, and favoriting for Birdstone.