Hot off the rail: Your Day 2 Breeders’ Cup collection

Mike Puype, Jim Rome, Mike Smith

Trainer Mike Puype, center, holds up the trophy in the winner’s circle as owner Jim Rome, left, and jockey Mike Smith, right, look on after Mizdirection won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint horse race Saturday at Santa Anita. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

ARCADIA — Talk about rendering a talk-show host speechless.

Jim Rome, with a glass of champagne in his right hand while clutching a giant bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin in the other, went from a photo op with actress Elizabeth Banks to array of backslaps in the
Champions Terrace at Santa Anita on Saturday afternoon, all in a bit
of a daze.

As the majority owner of the new Breeders’ Cup $1 million Turf Sprint winner Mizdirection, he had just finished the required media Q-and-A
session — this time, he was on the receiving end.

Had he been misdirected to this place of Great Race Place royalty by accident?

“Weird, man, weird,” was about the best he could come up with – aside from a few cliché statements that he may go back later and call
himself out for.

“I’m numb. I’m having a hard time believing that just happened. Ask
me tomorrow. This is an awesome, awesome day.”

Rack him.

His Jungle Racing LLC investment, guided by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, came the 11th spot in the 14-horse field at the halfway point of the 6 ½ furlongs, navigated into fifth at the stretch and won it
by a half length over betting favorite Unbridled’s Note.

Huge. Incredible. Phenomenal. Reset that take, and you get the same
result. Now head to the ticket window and collect your cash.

(Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision for Breeders’ Cup/AP Images)

More reason to smile when you consider the nationally syndicated
radio and TV show personality has become horse racing’s most
prominent proponents over the last few years — it wasn’t all that
long ago when Rome would refer to this activity as “not a sport, but a bet.”

The attitude change came in stages as famed jockey Kent Desormeaux would make appearances on his weekday morning radio shows.

Before Rome knew it, he and wife Janet ended up buying a share of
Wing Forward in 2007, an Argentine horse that went out at 15-1 in his
first race, started last and ended up winning. There’s no better way
to swallow a hook.

A year later, they bought a share through Little Redfeather Racing of
2-year-old Gallatin’s Run, who would win three times in 12 starts,
but was lost by mistake in a claim race at Del Mar.

Rome ended up reclaiming the gelding three years later, just to give
him a proper retirement.

“Properly, I was a convert (to horseracing) long before now, but I’ve just had a moment that I’ve never experienced in my life,” he said after receiving the trophy.

Rome’s small horse racing empire wasn’t built in a daze. They’ve got
more than a dozen horses with various ownership stakes.

Mizdirection, who Rome primarily shares with Bill Strauss as well as
a few others brought together recently in a partnership orchestrated
by Alex Solis Jr., put herself on the map winning the Monrovia Stakes
at Santa Anita late last December with Garrett Gomez.

Rome said the decision to get the gray filly pointed for a Breeders’
Cup spot against a field of mares came about three months ago,
as she was amidst a five-month layoff in her racing. The quirky left-turn, right-turn downhill turf event fit just fine, although she was made a 20-1 shot on the morning line.

By post time, it went down to 6-1. Rome said he didn’t sense anything
ominous by the fact Mizdirection went to post next to a horse named
Corporate Jungle.

“I had concerns whether or not she was good enough — I wasn’t
concerned who was on one side or the other,” said Rome. “We wanted to get her in and get her out clean.”

As a result, Rome’s clones could have cleaned up. Mizdirection paid
$15.80 for the win against the boys. As for how much he bet on his
own horse going in, Rome would only admit: “I hit that girl pretty
hard.”

Strauss proclaimed Mizdirection will be back on track soon because
“we want this feeling again and again.” Solis Jr. says he wants her
back to defend her title next year at Santa Anita. Trainer Mike Puype
concurred.

And now Rome, who switched his TV home from ESPN to CBS Sports Network last spring and will go to the new CBS Sports Radio Network this January, has a sure-fire topic on the table, so to speak, for his show come Monday.

Except he plans to lead a misdirection.

“I know the clones will be happy for me, and as big a win this is,
no one’s going to want to hear me talk about this for three hours,”
he said.

The opposite of “Luck”: Of all the Hollywood types trying to look as if they sorta fit into the racing scene in the members-only Trophy Lounge on Saturday, John Ortiz was hardly out of place.

Some may have been more apt to call out to him as Turo Escalante, the role he had in the HBO horse racing-based drama series “Luck,” which was a part based on three-time Breeders’ Cup winning trainer Julio Canani.

But luck wasn’t on the side of “Luck.”

The critics supported the David Milch-written and produced series
filmed in and around Santa Anita after its first season in 2011, with
the star power of Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte and Dennis Farina. But a few episodes into season two last March, production was ceased and the show eventually canceled, the backlash to the deaths of three thoroughbreds involved in the filming.

“Honestly, I’m still not over it,” said Ortiz, a 43-year-old Brooklyn
native who moved to Southern California for the “Luck” series and has
stayed, frequenting the race tracks. “This (Breeders’ Cup) would have
been a great platform to celebrate the series. The passionate fans
were so behind it and kept it going, it was only increasing in
popularity. It makes me sad to think how many people’s lives were
touched by it.

“It never really reached its peak. So, if you want to dwell on it,
sure, it’s bittersweet. Imagine how fun it would have been today to
have been riding that. This could have been a proud moment.”

Late scratches: The announced attendance Saturday of 55,123 was down by about 10,000 for those who attended a year ago at Churchill Downs and about 4,000 fewer than who showed at Santa Anita the last time it hosted this event in 2009, when many arrived to see Zenyatta win the Classic.

Could the decline have anything to do with the fact that down the
freeway, USC’s football game against Oregon, going head-to-head with the $5 million Classic, sold out the 93,000-seat Coliseum, and
another 60,000-plus were expected to be at the Rose Bowl for UCLA’s
football game against Arizona?

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