April 21, 2010

Remembering ... Bet Twice

For me the story of Bet Twice begins in the early 80’s at Delaware Park. A favorite destination for our family during my childhood, going to Delaware was like a unique vacation day. There was something special about that three-hour drive to the rural racetrack location. Good memories abound. We saw plenty of good horses there over the years, and one that particularly stands out was a beautiful colt by the champion Nijinsky, named Sportin’ Life. Horses for courses was a tag that fit him perfectly. Not quite grade 1 material when he raced elsewhere, there was something about Delaware Park that brought out all of Sportin’ Life’s immense talent. Simply put, I would not have bet anyone racing in those days to beat him at Delaware. Flash forward a handful of years, and the young sire reproduced the talent that I was so familiar with. Foaled in Kentucky, Bet Twice was a strapping son Sportin' Life out of the multiple stakes producing mare Golden Dust. He was bred by William S. Farish III and E. J. Hudson and was born on what is now Kentucky’s Lane's End Farm.

His main owner, Robert Levy, was well known in New Jersey as the owner of Atlantic City Race Course, so it was no surprise to see Bet Twice begin his career under the tutelage of New Jersey mainstay Jimmy Croll. What was a surprise, was to see an untested juvenile come from the clouds to power by his opponents in the Monmouth Park stretch. Not the norm at the speed favoring Jersey shore oval, especially for the babies. Bet Twice was far from a normal Thoroughbred though. I was lucky enough to see two of his first three races in person at Monmouth Park, and today his remarkable stretch running ability in those two-year-old sprints still stick vividly in my mind. After an impressive win in the prestigious Sapling Stakes, Bet Twice would take his show on the road to win major juvenile races in the Laurel Futurity and the Arlington-Washington Futurity. Sent off as a favorite in a marvelous Champagne field that fall at Belmont Park, I saw Bet Twice for a third time in person. He could not get up that day, finishing a competitive third in the stacked field. It would be the last time I would see him until he returned to Belmont almost seven months later.

Bet Twice’s performances after winning his first five races was a bit spotty. Early in his three year-old season Bet Twice looked like a champ in winning the Fountain of Youth for fun, but then returned to run an uninspired fifth in the Florida Derby at odds-on. There was an excuse, but still Bet Twice was somewhat ignored at 10-1 on Kentucky Derby Day. It was not known yet, but a great rivalry was about to unfold in that Kentucky Derby. Alysheba and Bet Twice had met already when they shipped across country to run third and fourth respectively in the previous Fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The Kentucky Derby would be their second meeting, and this time they would be the stars of the show. Bet Twice gained command as the field straightened out, but Alysheba closed in fast. Now a part of Derby lore, Bet Twice came out into Alysheba’s path sending the son of Alydar perilously to his knees. In an instant, Alysheba got up from his knees and soared to superstardom, leaving Bet Twice a valiant, but vanquished second place finisher. The Preakness two weeks later would be more of the same, only without the drama. Once again, Alysheba would collar Bet Twice in the stretch, and run by him rival before the wire. Two down, but the Belmont would offer another chance for Bet Twice to turn the tables.

After narrow losses in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, Bet Twice was now ready for his greatest race. In the 1987 Belmont Stakes, ridden by regular jockey, Craig Perret, Bet Twice absolutely decimated the top notch field. He made a quick and decisive past Gone West outside the half mile pole, and “poof!” Just like that the race was over. His win by 14 lengths was one of the most impressive in Belmont history. Watching in the stands that day, I could not help feel bad for the likeable Alysheba team who had been denied the Triple Crown, but also I felt a sense of pride for the Monmouth horse who I had watched in the very beginning. Alysheba’s quest was not the only thing denied that day, the win by Bet Twice and trainer Jimmy Croll ended the incredible five-year Belmont Stakes streak fashioned by Woody Stephens. With the victory in the Belmont and runner-up performances in the Preakness Stakes and the Kentucky Derby, Bet Twice also snatched the first ever $1,000,000 Chrysler Triple Crown Bonus from Alysheba who finished fourth by virtue of losing a three-way photo with Cryptoclearance and Gulch.

Bet Twice would return from Belmont glory, to run another phenomenal race in his next start. It was a three horse showdown between the two stars of the Triple Crown and the new hotshot, Lost Code, who had been winning the “other” derbies around the nation as if they were going out of style. The race set up perfectly for a three horse battle. Here is how I described what I call the greatest race ever run at Monmouth Park in an earlier column…

As they turned for home Bet Twice cornered like an Italian sports car and was breathing down the neck of the speedy Lost Code. Alysheba and Chris McCarron had swung out and lost considerable momentum to the other two who were accelerating by the fence. Lost Code with Gene St. Leon aboard was giving Bet Twice everything he had and they would ding-dong it down the entire Monmouth stretch. Alysheba was now finding new gears on the outside. The crowd was deafening. As they approached the wire Bet Twice edged ahead of the gallant Lost Code and Alysheba’s desperate attempt to catch up would fall just short. Craig Perret pumped his fist and whip in exultation as Bet Twice defeated Alysheba by a neck and it was another neck back to Lost Code. The Monmouth horse had won. Bet Twice’s trainer Jimmy Croll and rider Craig Perret were Monmouth through and through and they had done it. What a race. Bet Twice had defended his home turf and in defeat Alysheba and Lost Code proved that they were stars no matter the situation.

In his Belmont and Haskell wins, Bet Twice had his two finest hours in consecutive races. These wins would cement his place in history and in my memories. After them, Bet Twice would have his moments, but never again be able to produce this kind of greatness.

As a four year-old, Bet Twice biggest claim to fame was a win in the Pinlico Special. In that race he beat a quality field that included old rivals Lost Code, Cryptoclearance, and of course, Alysheba. It would not be the last meeting for the great foes, but it would mark the last time that Bet Twice would find himself in the winner’s circle. There would be no wins after this grade 1 score in May for Bet Twice, but nor a lack of trying. He continued to run in all the big races and gave his Monmouth Park fans one more chance to appreciate him, with another spirited battle with Alysheba in the Iselin Handicap. On that day Alysheba would wear down Bet Twice late, much as he had in the Derby and the Preakness. All in all the two would face off a total of nine times with the two-time champion Alysheba getting the best of his dogged rival five times. Meaning that Bet Twice defeated the great Alysheba four times. He really was a special horse.

He finished his career with ten wins in twenty six starts and that consistently against the best competition the late 80’s had to offer. Bet Twice earned over 3.3 million dollars in his three-year career. Coincidentally, I had the pleasure of seeing Bet Twice in person a whopping nine times. Who knew that Alysheba and I had so much in common? After retirement, Bet Twice stood at stud for several years at Muirfield Farm in Maryland, before being pensioned at the age of 12. He passed away three years later at the far too young age of 15 at Muirfield. His young death was a blow to me, as I always felt a strong connection to this horse, in large part because of my fondness of his sire, and his strong New Jersey connections, but more than anything I respected his as a runner. He was a bit of a throwback; he danced every dance and was always a threat to win. A true warrior, I remember you Bet Twice.


C T Coleman said...

I knew Bet Twice was the best NJ based horse ever (da hoss is a close second) but I didnt realize how good that Belmont field was that he crushed. thanks for posting this makes me exicted for racing at ACRC this week and the upcomming Massive MTH meet.

mvlach77 said...

Bet Twice's Belmont victory was devastating! I'll always remember him for that and that he raced in a year where there were several great horses.

railrunner said...

For the longest time I used to not like Alysheba at all. By looking at his record of 26-11-8-2 I just assumed he was over-rated because he hadn’t even won half his lifetime starts. Well I finally took it upon myself to really research him last month and watched all his races I could find and was amazed. He was an incredible race horse.
Bet Twice was equally as impressive on the track especially in his three year old year. Race horse rivalries are always the best stories it seems and those two horses had a very rousing one going.

ja.raymond said...

Thank you, Brian, for writing about Twice.
I was there for the 88 Iselin; as I had become acquaintances with Croll somewhere along the line, I cheered so hard for Twice, wishing that he could beat "Aly" just one more time. And I remember being so sick of Twice getting beat by "that horse"!
In the barn after the race, I hung out with them while Twice finished cooling out, and still to this day, I remember the quiet disappointment. But yet there was an air of pride in the team that they had the one horse that gave Alysheba the hardest run for his money so many times!
I'll never forget that day, Twice.
You were one of the coolest, hardest working horses I'd ever met! :)