I don’t need to tell you about the history the Chicago Cubs are trying to erase. Even if you don’t know the pertinent dates (1908) or the ghastly figures (Bartman, the Billy Goat) you are acutely aware that this particular Cubs team could be the team that causes a heart to literally break.
No Cubs team — even ones that reached the playoffs — had won 100 games in a season since 1935. This one did.
Vegas has them as prohibitive favorites because Vegas doesn’t factor in the possibility of Kris Bryant seeing the Blair Witch in the Wrigley Field clubhouse.
But these Cubs might just be American Pharoah. Statistically, they simply are better than everyone else. And, the best team should win. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, of course. And because it’s the Cubs, they could have gone 162-0 and the pins and needles would be just as sharp.
So, you need a reason to believe. That reason is Theo Epstein: the mastermind who embraces the curse and sucks the life out of it. Theo did it with the Boston Red Sox, which I’d argue was a harder task.
The Chicago fans love Wrigley … love the Cubs … love day drinking … love Harry Caray. As long as they have a roof to watch the games and a beach ball to play with in the bleachers, it seems that the end result, lose or lose, doesn’t alter their true demeanor. That’s not the life of the Red Sox fan. They’re spoiled now, sure, with the multiple World Series and the dynamic Tom Brady/Bill Belichick New England Patriots duo, but the losing wasn’t what made anything fun. They’d complain, about everything, kind of like what my old surly aunts would do at Thanksgiving.
“This turkey is dry.”
“Can you turn off this stupid football? I see enough of it on Sundays.”
“My knees hurt.”
But Theo changed that. He turned a bunch of old creaky yentas into baseball nirvana. And now he’s in Chicago turning the Cubs into the Golden State Warriors.
The guy who understands what it’s like to be that guy is Victor Espinoza, Theo’s brother from another mother. Near miss on California Chrome to end that decades-long Triple Crown drought? Whatever, he came back and finished the job on American Pharoah 12 months later. Now he’s back with Chrome in a second act for the ages.
So, I believe … in Theo and Victor. It’s why come November when Chrome is being discussed among the greatest racehorses ever after he wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Cubs are hoisting a World Series trophy, just remember, I wrote this.
What? You expected some lame sports/life axiom?
Fine, I’ll make it up to you the old-fashioned way. With a pick at Belmont Park this weekend that’s got some nice odds attached.
Here’s the field for the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes, which will be televised on Saturday during NBC's telecast from 5-6 p.m. ET:
1. Protonico: He’s only run once since late 2015 — an $80,000 warm up — but he got warmed up. The speed figure was promising; the finish was even more so. Out of his 15 career races, he’s won seven. Add on the Todd Pletcher-Javier Castellano combo and I’m starting to get the shakes.
2. Mubtaahij: He’s the King of the Middle East, racking up some serious cash in the United Arab Emirates. He’s run four times stateside, last year’s Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes (not so much) and two stakes runs this year in New York (near misses). I don’t know how you make him the favorite here when he hasn’t won any of them.
3. Hoppertunity: You are going to have to pull out the magnifying glass to find his wins in the form, especially recently. So, he’s constantly competitive and rarely reaches the finish line first. That doesn’t evoke much in terms of confidence, but the shift to Johnny V (jockey John Velazquez) is worth nothing here as it simply feels like he’s just missing the right jockey to push him just a tad harder. Considering the short field, I could make a case that his price is right, too.
4. War Story: He’s overmatched from the trainer, to the jockey, to his typical speed figires. I think he’s fighting for fifth place but easily could finish dead last.
5. Watershed: Let’s start with the distance question … like can he actually get there? I don’t know. He’ll close, that’s for sure, but if the pace is fast, it appears he won’t necessarily be able to keep up. That adds up to the simple synopsis that he’s good, but this isn’t going to be his day.
6. Effinex: When he’s on, no one beats him — as in NO ONE. When he’s off, he’s beatable — as in EVERYONE BEATS HIM. So you are taking the leap if he isn’t your pick that this will be one of those days.
The Pick: My head says take Effinex. Even if he isn’t at his best, he appears to have enough of the goods to win. But I’m feeling like handing out a gift today so here it is: Protonico. It wasn’t that long ago that he could go stride for stride with the best of this bunch. He’s fresh and he looks like he might be back, and getting Pletcher and Castellano for some reasonably long odds is worth it.
The Full Milty: Protonico with ALL with ALL.
Call me Theo or Victor or Bram.