The death last week at age 87 of Robert Levy, the former head of Atlantic City Race Course and a prominent Thoroughbred owner-breeder, brought to mind Bet Twice, a leading figure in the sterling foal crop of 1984 whom Levy co-owned with his mother, Blanche, as the principal partner in Cisley Stable.
Due to his association with Atlantic City, where he kick-started the inter-track simulcasting revolution in the early 1980s and other innovations, Levy was already well known in industry circles by the time Bet Twice came around. For young racing fans like myself getting acquainted with the sport in that 1986-88 period, Levy was a ubiquitous presence on our television screens. He, along with trainer Jimmy Croll and jockey Craig Perret, were the human faces associated with Bet Twice throughout the colt’s 26-start career.
Bred in Kentucky by Will Farish and E.J. Hudson, Bet Twice was by Sportin’ Life, a son of Nijinsky II whose five career stakes wins at Keystone (now Parx) and Delaware Park were for purses that never exceeded $25,000. He was, however, a full brother to Italian champion Mashaalah and Grade 1-winning filly Folk Art.
Bet Twice was out of Golden Dust, by Dusty Canyon, who had already reared Del Mar Futurity (G2) winner Bold and Gold by the time Bet Twice came along. After the latter’s retirement came another successful half-sibling, 1992 Santa Anita Oaks (G1) heroine Golden Treat.
Bet Twice was one of those horses that comes around from time to time — very, very good at his peak, but in the long term not quite championship caliber.
In an earlier era, an undefeated record with victories the Sapling (G2), Arlington-Washington Futurity (G1), and Laurel Futurity (G1) perhaps would have ensured Bet Twice a juvenile championship. In 1986, however, the attempt to burnish those credentials fell flat in the four weeks after the Laurel race as Bet Twice finished third to Polish Navy as the favorite in the Champagne (G1) and then fourth to eventual champion Capote in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita.
The Juvenile was Bet Twice’s first meeting with Alysheba, with whom he is inextricably linked. The two would face each a total of nine times, with Bet Twice getting the upper hand on four of those occasions. Alysheba took the early lead in the rivalry, rallying for third in the Juvenile.
Bet Twice’s road to the 1987 Triple Crown was not smooth. Second in a small sprint stakes at Hialeah to start his campaign, he was a good-looking winner of the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream next out, but was a lackadaisical fifth as the odds-on choice in the Florida Derby (G1).
Bet Twice’s clashes with Alysheba in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) are well known, especially the Derby when Alysheba recovered to win by three parts of a length after clipping heels with Bet Twice in upper stretch and almost going down. The margin was diminished to a half-length in the Preakness (G1), but in both cases Alysheba looked to have a decided edge.
Virtually ignored in the wagering at odds of 8-1 in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont S. (G1), Bet Twice finally turned the tables on his Triple Crown-seeking rival and in emphatic fashion, blitzing the field by 14 lengths.
In one of the great showdowns of that year or in any season, Bet Twice pulled out another win over Alysheba in the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth, with budding Midwest star Lost Code a narrowly-beaten third.
As was the case the previous year, Bet Twice may have been over the top after such a gut-wrenching effort. Though he out-finished Alysheba running fifth in the Travers (G1) over a sloppy track, Bet Twice was not much more effective in the Woodward (G1) two weeks later, finishing sixth to Polish Navy as the 3-2 favorite.
Though on the sidelines when Alysheba clinched the three-year-old title with a score in the Super Derby (G1) and a narrow defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Bet Twice still had one more big one left in him.
While Alysheba took an early lead in the older male race with three strenuous wins in Southern California, Bet Twice was brought along more slowly by Croll in 1988. He raced twice during the Keeneland Spring meet, winning a seven-furlong allowance and then running second as a 1-5 favorite in the Ben Ali (G3).
A fresher horse for the revitalized $500,000 Pimlico Special over 1 3/16 miles the following month, Bet Twice stunned his peers once again winning by three parts of a length at odds of 6-1 with Alysheba an ineffective and well-beaten fourth.
That proved to be Bet Twice’s final success on the track. After losing the Suburban H. (G1) by 10 lengths as a 2-5 favorite, Bet Twice suffered two more setbacks as the public choice, in the United Nations H. (G1) at Atlantic City in his first turf attempt and in the Salvator Mile (G3) at Monmouth.
Though Bet Twice kept Alysheba’s margin of victory to three-quarters of a length in their penultimate meeting, the Philip H. Iselin H. (G1), the two were obviously headed in different directions. Another grass try for Bet Twice resulted in a third-place effort in the New Jersey Turf Classic (G3) at the Meadowlands. That was followed by a distant fourth to Alysheba in the Meadowlands Cup (G1) and an eighth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs, where Bet Twice was more than 25 lengths adrift of superstar French filly Miesque.
Retired with a mark of 26-10-6-4, $3,308,599, Bet Twice had a brief stallion career at Lane’s End. He sired 10 stakes winners, two of which won at graded level. He was pensioned to Levy’s Muirfield farm in Maryland, where he died in March 1999 at age 15.
Levy’s orange and white silks were also famously sported by Hall of Fame sprinter Housebuster, the champion of his division in 1990-91. Housebuster was one of a quartet of champions trained by Croll, the others being 1965 turf champion Parka, 1970 juvenile filly leader Forward Gal, and 1994 Horse of the Year Holy Bull, who is also in the Hall of Fame.
Bet Twice has now been gone two decades, Croll died in 2008, and Levy’s passing leaves the 67-year-old Perret, a multiple Hall of Fame nominee, as the lone survivor closely associated with a colt who, though not a champion, was an integral part of the sport’s late-1980s narrative.