Upset and upsets By Bernard Kroviak, CDC Gaming Reports January 25, 2021 at 8:00 pm “To disturb the balance or stability”, “to overthrow from an upright position”, “an unhappy or worried mental state”: these are just few examples of the definition of the word upset. It can be used as a noun or a verb. I find it a very curious word, especially in light of the events of 2020. Odds are, we’ve all used this silly little word, some of us probably more than others. For me, the definition of upset that resonates the most is “an improbable or unexpected victory”. In some ways, you can view ‘upset’ as something of a microcosm of the complexity of the English language. It allows one to understand why English language can be so difficult to comprehend. These upsets can occur in many areas: political, social (sports, mostly), or in everyday life. Several major upsets come to mind immediately: first, the Presidential Election of 1800, for one, in which Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr were the candidates of the same party due to the fact they were not separated on the ballot. Of course, they then received the highest – and same – number of electoral votes. The party expected that Jefferson would become President and Burr the Vice President, but Burr objected and forced the election into the House of Representatives, as per the Constitution in case of a tie. At that time, the House was controlled by the opposition party, and Alexander Hamilton influenced his colleagues to vote for Jefferson. Soon after that, the 12th Amendment was passed, which required a separation of the vote for those two offices. The situation ended with an unhappy Burr challenging Hamilton to a duel and ultimately shooting him dead in Weehawken, NJ on July 11, 1804. Then there was the 1824 Presidential election where John Quincy Adams defeated Andrew Jackson in the electoral college and became the leader of our country, even though Jackson got more popular votes, a scenario we’ve become somewhat familiar with in recent decades; and, of course, the huge – nay, Biblical – upset of David over Goliath. This is of course just a representative sample of the ones that leapt to my mind; there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others to choose from, and you’ve probably got your own list brewing in your head right now. Beyond those, for now, I will just focus on the world of sports and horse racing. Improbable victories have always been a part of sports; barely two weeks ago, the Cleveland Browns were +225 against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and we know how that turned out (48-37 Browns, for the record). But the biggest upsets stand out and resonate through the years. Certainly the one that usually gets the votes in this country as the most famous upset was the Miracle on Ice, the 1980 United States Olympic Hockey team that defeated the heavily favored Russians before going on to beat Sweden for the Gold Medal. Other upsets that rank high on this most subjective of lists are Joe Namath and the 1969 New York Jets beating the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III and, more recently, Mike Tyson being pummeled by the almost entirely unknown Buster Douglas – such a longshot before the fight that the Vegas odds were 42-1 – in Tokyo in 1990 and losing the unified World Heavyweight title as a result. The likely hood of an “improbable outcome” often times occurs in a contest with just two opponents on a single day, as the ones I just mentioned. Upsets over a longer period of time, or over several combatants, is even more rare. The one that immediately leaps to mind is the still-astonishing 2016 Premier League Championship won by Leicester City. For those not aware of the specifics of this miracle win, it occurred in England’s Premier League when Leicester beat the best teams in all of England for their first title in the most prestigious league in that country. After going 132 years without a title in that division, and nearly being relegated the year before (which would have meant they weren’t in the Premier League at all), Leicester opened the season at an unheard-of 5000-1 to win the title. Talk about longshots. Called a “fantasy” and “the most unlikely triumph in the history of team sports” after it was all over, one would be hard-pressed to top that outcome. At the LSU/Kentucky game I was personally an improbable football upset, as it happens, in 2007. My son and I were in the stands, along with some friends, for the Kentucky vs. LSU game in Lexington. LSU was a strong #1 in the polls, like Alabama is today, and Kentucky was…. a basketball school, with limited success on the gridiron. Yet the Wildcats rallied late to tie the score and send the game to overtime, survived to send the game to a second overtime, and then, in the third overtime, scored to upset the #1 Tigers 43-37. Upsets in horse racing are not nearly so rare, due to the fact that there are so many races run every day all across the country. Beating just one opponent is hard; beating a field of up to a dozen opponents can be extremely difficult. The wagering on horses is a daily happening, and the odds to win are posted on each horse and are updated every few seconds before the race is run. Therefore, it is easy to see who the longshot in every race will be. Selecting the “bomber” that could actually win at long odds is, of course, the trick to regularly cashing tickets. And horse racing, like all sports, has had its share of surprising outcomes. Just recently, this past November at the $2,000,000 Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile, a colt named Order of Australia beat a field of 13 other runners to win at odds of 73-1 and pay $148.40. And the Breeders’ Cup Classic will always be remembered for the 1993 win by a French-bred horse named Arcangues (ar-KONG) who beat the best horses in the world that afternoon at odds of over 130-1 to pay $269 for a two-dollar wager! Historic races at historic racetracks sometimes make for historic upsets. At Saratoga Race Course in 1919, an undefeated two-year-old named Man o’ War brought his perfect record to the Spa. A record crowd turned out to see this wonder horse, already rumored to be virtually unbeatable, run. But what resulted was perhaps the greatest defeat of any horse in history, as Man o’ War finished second to a 100-1 long shot, the only blemish on Man o’ War’s lifetime record of 20-1. Since then, he has been voted the greatest racehorse of all time in almost every publication and by nearly all entities involved in thoroughbred racing. You may already know that, fittingly, the horse that beat him that day at Saratoga was named Upset. Many have mistakenly thought that the sports reference to such improbable results began with Upset’s victory, but in fact the term was used extensively in England during the late 1800’s, according to Wikipedia (then again, what do they know?) Many racing enthusiasts still cling to idea that upsets came from the horse named Upset. Saratoga was the scene of another notable surprise result in the 1930 Travers Stakes. The Travers Stakes, run every year in August, is also informally known as the Summer Derby. Since it is only for 3-year-olds, like all races dubbed Derby, that year’s Travers Stakes featured the legendary Gallant Fox, who had that year become the second U.S. Triple Crown winner. On a muddy track, the overwhelming favorite at odds of 1-2 was defeated by 8 lengths by another 3-year-old who went off at odds of 100-1 named Jim Dandy. Today the prep race, or tune up, for the Travers is called the Jim Dandy Stakes in honor of that amazing upset. Turn of Fate hits the wire Having owned over two dozen racehorses in my career, I had many winners, but in reality, few real upsets. Although my partners and I did have a horse named Turn of Fate, a big, lumbering type, pretty lazy, not too smart, and extremely frustrating because he appeared to have some talent but lacked the enthusiasm to be a racehorse. After 15 starts without a top 3 finish, we thought it was time to cut our losses. But then one day, for some unknown reason, he was plodding along in last place, as per usual, and suddenly began to run like he never had before, ultimately getting up to win by a length at odds of 14-1. A winning horse and a very pleasantly surprised ownership crew We were shocked but thrilled that he finally showed us the talent we always hoped he possessed. Four further races, in which he finished anywhere from 10 to 12 lengths behind the winner, caused us to decide that maybe he’d forgotten that he could run. After all – I want to emphasize this – he was not the brightest horse in our barn. Then, on his 20th start, loping along in last place, he again figured it out and began to really run, just like the other time. He closed with determination and, though he didn’t win, finished second to the favorite, this time at odds of 43-1! Certainly not an upset of historic proportions, but after the race we decided we had to continue to race him. You know, hope springs eternal and all that. In the end Dumbo, as we often called him, ran 31 times and only hit the board in the two races that I mentioned. We ultimately sold him for a couple hundred dollars to a friend, who thought he might make a good jumper or dressage horse. Since he was a kind horse and not at all ornery, he took to her training fairly quickly and began to be somewhat successful in local competitions. As he continued to get better, she began to get offers to sell him. But she had become attached to Dumbo, eventually turning down a $20,000 offer for the horse that raced 31 times and earned $8,200. Now that, my friends, is a real upset!