Andrew Beyer: 2013 Breeders’ Cup offers insight into risk/reward of horse …

Viscovich knew this would be a bad gamble on behalf of his 2-year-old Aotearoa. Stanco had a reason for concern bigger than the entry fee. His runner, Princess of Sylmar, had virtually clinched the 3-year-old filly championship. There was one way she could blow it: compete in the Breeders’ Cup and lose.

Both men weighed their options, chose to gamble and run and then awaited their fate at Santa Anita on Friday afternoon.

Viscovich, a software company operator with a lifelong interest in racing and betting, got his first taste of significant success as an owner and breeder when Aotearoa won a minor stakes race at Santa Anita last month. He immediately started thinking about the Breeders’ Cup — and the financial calculations involved.

The Cup funds its large purses principally from nomination fees for stallions and their foals. To encourage breeders to pay these fees, the price to run a non-nominated horse is discouragingly steep. The humbly bred Aotearoa wasn’t eligible, and the cost to run him was $120,000.

Viscovich is a man who understands odds, and he recognized “financially it doesn’t make sense at all.” The winner’s share of the Juvenile Turf is $550,000, minus the $110,000 the owner has to pay to the jockey and trainer. If Viscovich risked $120,000 to collect $440,000, he would be getting worse than a 3-1 return on a horse who wound up going off at 17 to 1. A lousy bet, indeed.

While he was contemplating the decision, fate intervened. Viscovich regularly plays the Pick Six at Santa Anita, and on a day with a carry-over jackpot, he made a $1,200 investment, standing alone with two solid favorites and using at least five horses in each of the other races. His favorites won, he hit long shots in other races and he wound up holding a perfect ticket worth $130,373. “I thought the Pick Six was an omen,” he said. He quickly decided to enter the Breeders’ Cup, knowing this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Aotearoa sat a few lengths behind the leaders, and in mid-race Viscovich heard track announcer Trevor Denman call, “Aotearoa is making some headway!” But as the leaders maintained a strong pace, Aotearoa couldn’t keep up.

Outstrip, carrying the colors of the world’s most prominent horse owner, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, rallied to win the Juvenile Turf over two rivals from world-famous stables. Against such heady company, it was probably a moral victory for Aotearoa to finish in the middle of the pack — seventh place. It was not the ending Viscovich had dreamed of, but he said, “It’s a happy ending just to have a horse in the Breeders’ Cup.”

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