Sunday, November 8, 2009

Zenyatta's Lasting Impression

In the 30 or so years I've bet on and followed Thoroughbred horsing racing only a few races have taken my breath away - Sunday Silence/Easy Goer's Preakness chief among them. I've watched the 1989 classic over and over again and the sheer will of each ultra-talented colt giving it their all from quarter pole to finish line still amazes me.

By the same token only two races have welled my eyes with tears - Rags to Riches and Curlin's Belmont and yesterday's classic. (An explanation of 2007 Belmont will have to wait for another day). But yesterday, Zenyatta's personality, talent and determination were a wonder to watch. It didn't strike me on first viewing - I had made Twice Over my top selection so I was intently watching his movement down the stretch. The last of I saw of Zenyatta she was second to last turning for home and Trevor Denman announced, "If she wins this, she'll be a superhorse." At that point, I thought she was done.

But of course, Mike Smith knew what he had under him, saved some ground, swung wide of Twice Over and beat the boys. It was "un-be-live-able", good for the sport and good for the connections. There is no griping the majesty of the mare, talents of her rider and trainer and courage of her owners. They took on the toughest field and the greatest challenge when it meant the most - beating Personal Ensign's 13 straight wins - on the sport's greatest stage.

I bet against her, but cheered for her and shook my head in wonder...then my eyes filled to the brim, almost overflowing with all that I had just witnessed. True champions leave us in just such a state.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Breeders' Cup - Saturday

Instead of going blow-by-blow throughout the Breeders' Cup program, let me just give you my early and late Pick 4s. Do what you like with them....

Early Pick 4:

Juvenile Turf - It's hard to get a single anywhere, but why not one here.
  • #11 Interactif has found his footing on the sod with two wins and two tries. He overcame much trouble in Keenland win which gives me confidence in this large field.
Turf Sprint - Down the hill, full field with a funky dogleg and crossing fake dirt momentarily, yea this is an easy race to handicap. You've got to go with some horses that have the "downhill" experience, so:
  • #1 Noble Court is stakes-placed in last three starts and won down the hill four back, real chance at good price.
  • #2 Silver Timber has been a monster since being claimed for $25,000 earlier this year - three wins and a second including two Grade 3 wins, comes west and may or may not take to hill including on the ticket just in case.
  • #3 California Flag goes quickly, last year too quickly in this very race - 20 and 3/5 for the first quarter! Hopefully, he goes a little slower and gets the win gate-to-wire.
  • #7 Gotta Have Her is 4-for-4 on the hill - enough said.
  • #14 Delta Storm gets a break in the final post as the turning, twisting start actually helps his cause. The other old man of the group has two triple digit Beyers in his last three starts.
The Sprint - single with Zensational???
  • #1 Zensational does the rail matter that much...only if Fatal Bullet goes with him. Still he may be the fastest horse in here.
  • #5 Gayego is 4-for-4 at the distance and will close into whatever fractions are thrown up.
  • #8 Capt. Candyman Can is a tough customer with three 100 plus Beyers in a row and just missed catching Fatal Bullet in last.
The Juvenile - A chance to take a shot against the chalk breaking from the 13-hole
  • #4 Noble's Promise - three wins on three different surfaces at three different tracks with rising Beyers along the way.
  • #6 Pulsion - Got caught way wide and bulled his way through the stretch in Norfolk. Lookin At Lucky had the better post that day, but on Saturday.
  • #9 Aikenite has gotten good fast and will close late.
Early Pick Four Play: 11/1-2-3-7-14/1-5-8/4-6-9 for $36

Now for the Late Pick Four:

The Mile - Euros vs. Yanks, I'm going with more Yanks than Puddle-Jumpers while leaving Goldikova out. The 11-post is will take huge effort, and I'm betting against on this alone.
  • #1 Court Vision's testicles now hang better and he runs better too. Dutrow is a master first time out and certainly should get some play here.
  • #3 Cowboy Cal is likely to get the lead and at a mile he may not relenquish it, besides Karelian to his outside isn't as fast.
  • #9 Gladiatorus got back on track in Italy (and really who doesn't?) He gets first-time Lasix and will likely be overlooked, worth inclusion at a price.
Dirt (?) Mile - The weakest field of the day, take the single...
  • #1 Mastercraftsman - most accomplished runner in here - 4-time Grade 1 winner. Everyone else is an alsoran.
The Turf - This time the Euros get the nod...
  • #2 Conduit - fourth in the Arc in last and first in last year's Turf will get a pace to run at with Presious Passion and Spanish Moon setting or pressing the pace.
  • #7 Spanish Moon should track behind Presious Passion and get first run at top of stretch.
The Classic - The Handicap division has been so weak this year that it's tempting to go with a Euro or 3-year-old. I'm just flat out spreading.
  • #2 Colonel John is on home turf and comes into this year's Classic in solid form.
  • #3 Summer Bird the second most impressive 3-year-old this season. A three-time winner at the Classic distance and seems to run on anything, but has yet to run on fake dirt.
  • #6 Richard's Kid may give Bob Baffert the perfect ending to a winning day. A late booming stud was rallying in 1/8-mile shorter Goodwin in last and will be aided by the extra distance.
  • #8 Einstein will be overlooked even though he took the Big 'Cap here in March. Tough as nails, he will run around and through horses to get to the line.
Late Pick 4: 1-3-9/1/2-7/2-3-6-8 for $24

That's it...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Friday's BC Pick Four

In looking at Friday's Breeders' Cup Late Pick 4, I feel you have to single either the Turf or Ladies Classic - to both keep the ticket affordable while providing you the best chance of hitting at least one long shot in what looks to be a pretty chalky four races. OK, here's my Late Pick Four for Friday.

Juvenile Fillies - A place in which any horse can improve 5-10 lengths without any notice.
  • #1 Zilva - Eligible for Non-Winners of 1, but after missing the break in Alciblad, rode the rail in traffic and had to race around a stopped horse before re-rallying in deep stretch to just miss third. A pretty good race for maiden winner and worth a shot at 30-1.
  • #3 Blind Luck made it look easy winning the Oak Leaf at Santa Anita last out and is likely to repeat.
  • #8 She Be Wild either got caught late or simply gave it up after making the front in the Alcibiad's. I'm going with the former and she will be getting a dream trip following likely pace setter, Connie and Michael.
Filly and Mare Turf - You either believe Forever Together repeats or you don't. After studying and re-studying the charts, I'm sticking with Forever Together, here's why...
  • #2 Forever Together is the single simply because she has shown the quickest turn of foot, will finish the fastest and is closest to meeting the Beyer par speed figure of 107. And to top it off, she's likely to be second or third choice behind Magical Fantasy and Midday.
Filly and Mare Sprint - I can see anyone of five horses taking this race and I'm looking to spread with all five.
  • #2 Sara Louise exploded onto the scene after a nine-month layoff to capture the Victory Ride at 'Toga and then finished second a head behind champion, Indian Blessing on her preferred dirt surface in Grade 2, Gallant Bloom. Tremendous upside gets you around 4-1.
  • #7 Informed Decision is 6-for-6 on fake stuff and 5-for-6 at tricky seven furlong distance. If you get more than 5-2, it's a gift.
  • #8 Seventh Street cuts back from routing and with such talent around one and two turns she has the ability to hold the front which she may inherit. If she gets loose and handles the Santa Anita synthetic - watch out! 5-1 win odds will balloon in the Pick 4.
  • #9 Ventura - I've gone back and forth on whether or not to include her, but with synthetic, distance and track success, tossing her is just plain foolish. Leave her on the ticket for protection, but hope for a longer price beating her to the wire.
Ladies Classic - Another place to single, if you dare. I don't.
  • #1 Careless Jewel looks to become the eighth three-year-old to capture this race. She is the quickest horse, gets the rail and will likely force favored Music Note to stalk her. Whether she wins or fades, she will have the most to say about the eventual outcome.
  • # 5 Proviso won the Grade 1 Spinster in last before the DQ after the curious wayward move in deep stretch. She's my closer if the top pair get locked into a speed duel up front.
  • #7 Music Note looks too strong to keep her off the ticket. She zipped through a 5 furlong breeze at Santa Anita in 59 and 2/5 seconds, so the track won't be a problem, how closely she must track Careless Jewel will be.
So here's the $1 Pick 4 for $36: 1-3-8/2/2-7-8-9/1-5-7. Good luck and I'll check in with Saturday's picks on Friday morning.

Long Time Coming

After having a new baby join the family and trying unsuccessfully to operate a for-profit wagering service, I'm back - at least through the Breeders' Cup weekend. If you're swinging back to check the blog out - great. If it falls on deaf ears, so be it.

Tomorrow, I'll have a late pick four for Friday's cards and Saturday selections on Thursday.

A few trends to look for while making your selections:
  • Bob Baffert was white hot winning the first four races at Oak Tree on Sunday. He's loaded for another good score this Breeders' Cup weekend, so include him or toss at your own peril
  • Goldolphin is loaded and ready for at least a few wins
  • Europeans will be here in force, will they dominate again?
  • There will be plenty of logical longshots to love - make sure to play a few in your exotic wagers or just to win. I really liked Desert Code in last year's sprint turf and threw him on top of several exactas (which I failed to hit), and I didn't have him to win at 30-1
Good luck and talk to you tomorrow...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Travers All Stakes Pick Four

You want to try work...try picking a winning play everyday at Saratoga. I gave it the old college try at my handicapping website: for about three weeks and have recently given it a rest. 0-for-three weeks will do that to you. Luckily I've hit a few Pick Threes to keep my online account going.

Allow me to provide you with a quick and inexpensive All Stakes Pick Four. Remember you get what you pay for and this advice is free.

Race 9 Ballston Spa - 1 1/16 miles on turf...likely a very wet turf, if the forecast holds. I'm going three deep here:
  • #1 Rutherieene - all heart, all the time
  • #2 My Princess Jess - second off layoff and won Spa stakes last year at this distance on a soft turf
  • #3 Closeout - also likes a cut in the grass, third off long layoff and has right to improve
Race 10 Ballerina - 7 furlongs in which I will go with a single...
  • #2 Informed Decision - 5-for-5 at this distance and has won on wet, synthetic and fast tracks. Trainer Jonathan Sheppard knows how to get her ready off the bench, and she will be tough tracking a far less spectacular Indian Blessing.
Race 11 King's Bishop - 7 furlongs for very fast three-year-olds in which I spread far and wide...
  • #1 Vineyard Haven - back to Spa success off the bench, pushes Big Drama
  • #2 Munnings - very quick, cuts back to more reasonable distance after finishing behind Rachel Alexandra on Jersey shore
  • #3 Capt. Candyman Can - couldn't catch Quality Road in last, but is quick enough for these
  • #5 Despite the Odds - this is Saratoga, isn't it...check out 104 Beyer in Belmont slop, why not a repeat here?
  • #8 Big Drama - likes to win and this is probably his optimum distance
Race 12 Travers - 1 1/4 miles on likely sloppy and sealed track...
  • #2 Charitable Man - is best bred for the distance, which could be undoing of chalk and just about everyone else in here. Big wet number and gets better draw than Kensei this time
  • #4 Quality Road - most talented three-year-old colt, one the few who could possibly catch Ms. Rachel. Have to include talent despite distance concern for me
The play and the cost: $1 Pick Four: 1-2-3/2/1-2-3-5-8/2-4 for $30. For kicks and giggles I'll play a straight $2 Pick Four of 2/2/2/2... stranger things have happened. Good luck.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Play of the Day - 8.12.09

For today, I'm looking at beating a false favorite - a horse undeserving of favoritism.

In today's 7th race, it looks like My Golden Opinion will go off 3-1 or less based upon solid Beyer figures sprinting with much better company than this $20,000 claiming group. The problem is My Golden Opinion hasn't won in two years. I don't care how much class he may hold over the rest of the field - an 0-for-16 favorite is too hard for me to swallow.

So let's look elsewhere. This full field of sprinters really lacks speed. Of the horses that can meet the front - Figgy's Freud from the rail, Jaystone and Come Soon from further out - none really strike me as gate to wire winners. The one horse I believe can clear the field and take them all they way around is Wanda's Double. The horse gets the best part of the track, can easily clear horses to his inside and likely will have wilting speed to his inside.

Here's the bet: $1 Exacta Wheel 1A all for $10 and $10 win on 1A for a $20 bet.

Monday's action leaves me minus $26

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Play of the Day

In conjunction with my new website - Coast to Coast Handicapping - I'll be posting a Play of the Day for the remainder of the Saratoga meeting, right here!

For Monday, I'll look at Race 5, Signature Stallion overnight stakes at a 1 1/2 miles on the turf for fillies and mares. At first glance, it doesn't take much handicapping skill or experience to come up with the most logical winner - Communique. I'll get back to her in a minute or two.

First off, there are two distances I demand experience - 7 furlongs, due to its unique route/sprint distance and 1 1/2 miles simply because of its demands on stamina. Looking at this field there are only three horses to have raced at 1 1/2 miles: Jazz Jam, Zaskar and Communique. Beyond this much needed experience and/or success I look at the pace of the race. In this instance I will include one horse yet to run at the distance, Winsome Ways, simply because her jockey, Edgar Prado, might find himself alone on the the lead.

To the contenders:
  • Communique has all the back class in this group. She was a close second in last year's Beverly D. Stakes. Since then, she has finished third, sixth, tenth, second and fifth in four graded and one listed stakes race. Far from consistent, she should romp on past performance alone, still...
  • Jazz Jam made an inspiring 1 1/2 mile start in Keenland in October, her second in the States. She went coast to coast in that start, but has yet to duplicate that performance in two starts since.
  • Winsome Ways is 4-for-11 on the turf, but has yet to go beyond 10 furlongs. If Jazz Jam doesn't show up, she could get loose and make every pole a winning one. I like her chances due to the likelihood of inheriting an uncontested lead.
The Play - Winsome Ways to win for $20 and a $1 Exacta box 1-5-6 as back up.

Now that I'll be putting my plays into print, I will follow these bets from now until the end of Saratoga's meet to track how I do.

Friday, July 31, 2009

At the Spa!

I'm at the Spa for my 16th annual trip! And guess what it's doing outside - raining! Surprise, surprise. All but one turf race is off and the track is sloppy. Since four out of the first five races are maiden events, I'm taking a pass until the sixth race.

For the few accessing this site, I have a new handicapping website. It's It offers insights, news and a handicapping product for Saratoga's entire meet. The site is not totally live today, but it does have an introduction posted and a free Play of the Day. (I will provide a free play every racing day). Like all analysis on the site, The Play of the Day is provided in video format. Take a look if you get a chance, provide feedback at or come back on Tuesday to look at the fee-based video handicapping product.

Later today I will provide a link to Best Bets - the handicapping analysis you may purchase - so you can see what it looks like.

As always thanks for clicking through.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


For those few following this blog, I've been away for few weeks. I've had good reason - a child added to our family and working on a handicapping website. Next week you may access the site at I'll be offering video race analysis for each and every race at Saratoga this summer...and at very reasonable rates.

I'll keep you updated and be adding onto this blog by this weekend.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Declaration of Interdependence

The wraps are on another 4th of July holiday - the day, the weekend filled with burgers, beers, baseball and horse racing only the most devoted fans and handicappers follow - in celebration of our independence from the Brits. A quick reread of mostly Jefferson's words to crazy King George reveals bitches, moans and mostly minor infractions in addition to the most famous paragraph, starting with, "We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

And while Jefferson and his mates broke the mold on monarchy rule, they were in a time and place that allowed them to get away with their strong words. They were separated by an ocean, had plentiful natural resources and were self-sufficient beyond indentured servitude. Of course they had the balls to follow through on their demands by laying waste to the most powerful army and navy on the planet through guerrilla warfare and help from the French. 

In the multi-tiered and fractured world of Thoroughbred horse racing in these United States, I argue there is the desperate need for just the opposite sort of declaration, if the Sport of Kings (pun intended) is to survive far into this next century - a Declaration of Interdependence is necessary. 

The nature of the Thoroughbred business has operated in stark independence. Jockeys ride at will, trainers gather many clients hoping to hold onto enough to earn their keep, horse owners hire and fire on whims, tracks with casino or slot support offer purses several times over the claiming tags of their horses, small venues without such support rely almost entirely on fans they never see and big tracks on each coast just seem to do as they please. States all have their own commissions, rules, take out percentages and sanctions for infractions. 

The only constant in this horse flesh mess is the bettor - someone who is not as well organized and probably not as well educated as our Founding Fathers to cast off the many-headed kings of the industry in order to start a more perfect race track. The bettor needs all the players of the Thoroughbred industry to provide the venue for his hobby or vocation, and as we have witnessed in many recent days, there is no body - governing or otherwise - to watch over the industry from bettor to back stretch employee

Instead of the vast array of rules and procedures for each state, Thoroughbred horse racing needs a more unified connected body of people, rules and sanctions, if it is to survive and thrive. As I have argued before, one of the few ways to get this done is through federal legislation. 

Except for the largest or most religiously followed venues, the vast majority of race tracks earn their money through simulcasting their signals to bettors all over the country. Simulcast betting was created through federal legislation allowing for such interstate gambling. Thus the only way to get unified rules and/or a governing body on Thoroughbred racing is for the Feds to hold up the life vein of the industry for consistent rules and consequences from everything from medications allowed to racing dates to sales ring procedures. 

I know allowing greater, unified federal control to a fiercely independent industry is a frightening prospect. Unfortunately, I see no other way to create a symbiotic relationship throughout the industry for horse and human alike.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Stepping Stones

Today's two biggest stakes on both coasts look like paid public workouts for Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. The biggest question is: Where does each go next?

Jess Jackson's preemptive Preakness plan was a huge hit for his newly-owned filly and the sport. While the Moss' curiously cautious charting of their champion leaves me deflated with each, empty Left Coast win. Their super horse doesn't go on wet tracks, rarely leaves fake dirt and won't ever, ever race against the boys - even last year with a retreating Curlin coming to California to race on Zenyatta's preferred surface. Last year Breeders' Cup should have been her place to take on the boys. Oh well.

Now it sounds like the two super girls will never face each other. So much for running the best against the best. Hopefully, Rachel Alexandra takes on the boys at Monmouth or Saratoga. Meanwhile Zenyatta beats Dawn After Dawn again....yawn.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

In the Interim

In between the Triple Crown and the boutique meets of Saratoga/Del Mar not too much happens - at least to the casual horse racing fan. The only thing of real interest will be next weekend's media friendly build up towards a Rachel Alexandra vs. Zenyetta Breeders' Cup match up. (Rachel taking on a few brave fillies at Belmont and Zenyetta a similar, small group running for second at Hollywood Park.)

Sure there's been a few nice races with some nice horses in the last few weeks (Macho Again upset in Stephen Foster among them), but there has been a lull that will last until the third week of July when Del Mar opens. With Rachel Alexandra falling back into class she has dominated and Zenyetta unwilling to race outside hers, there maybe a chance both meet in the Distaff or Female Classic or whatever the heck they may call it in November. (Can you imagine running that race on Friday with the Not-Ready-For-Primetime handicap horses getting top-billing on Saturday?)

At least Rachel Alexandra may go outside her comfort zone again at Saratoga and/or Monmouth Park to take on the boys - that would give both hardened handicappers and infrequent viewers something real to root for.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Tried the 50-cent Late Pick 4 at Churchill for $4 on Saturday - that's a 1x2x2x2 play.
  • I was alive with a neck win in first leg with Successful Dan holding on and winning in coast-to-coast fashion
  • Miss Isella hit the fence on her way through to win leg two
  • Macho Again got a good pace to run at while Einstein had tons of trouble in the feature.
  • I found myself alive to about an $800 return with The Best Day Ever and a little less to Hot Cha Cha. They both finished necks behind the winner Keertana. If the race were just a few jumps longer The Best Day Ever would have gotten to the winner. Oh well...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Triple Crown Redux

Besides taking a beating on each Triple Crown race day, here are some of what I learned or relearned:
  • Mine That Bird was an example of how dramatically three-year-olds can improve between races
  • New ownership belonging to the 21st not 19th century showed that fillies can best the boys, if given the chance. As a sidebar Rachel Alexandra's win also put all the PETA bull on the back burner.
  • Like other jocks before him, Calvin Borel was fooled by the top-of-Belmont's stretch. In my opinion, jocks are used to turning for home with far more horse under them after traveling far less.
  • While Jess Jackson was all class in challenging the boys and deferring from the Belmont, Chip Woolley soured on Borel within seconds of defeat and sounded like a jilted prom queen. Hey Chip next time save the criticism for an after the race discussion or just employ another rider.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Brooklyn Key to Belmont?

Last year Delosvientos scored a coast-to-coast victory in the Grade II Brooklyn Handicap - an older horse race contested at 1 1/2 miles the day before the Belmont Stakes. The next day Da' Tara lead all the way around the Belmont oval shocking heavily favored Big Brown and Triple Crown fans everywhere.

This afternoon, Nite Light was on or close up to the lead in the Brooklyn churning out quarters just around 25 seconds. He shook off favored Rising Moon only to be nipped at the wire by fast closing Eldaafer. Eldaafer slowly chipped away at the leaders coming from 9, 4 1/2, 3, and 2 1/2 lengths behind from the quarter pole to the top of the stretch.

If, somehow today's Brooklyn shines a similar light on tomorrow's Test of Champions, you'd have to go with Mine That Bird. I'm just saying...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Belmont Stakes Day Plays

Let me start backwards from the Belmont Stakes for a late Pick 4 for Saturday.

Leg 4 - The Belmont Stakes

Instead going with a chalky closer - Mine That Bird or a second choice closer in Dunkirk, I'd recommend going with a horse that will be able to click off 24 to 25 second quarters for 10 furlongs. Remember Birdstone blowing by Triple Crown hopeful Smarty Jones? It wasn't a case of Birdstone accelerating, as it was Smarty Jones getting leg weary to the winner grinding out consistent speed throughout the race. (Smarty Jones went through his final quarter 27 seconds.)

The mostly candidates for this would be:
  • Charitable Man - big on talent, short on experience; two-time stakes winner at Big Sandy
  • Miner's Escape - five-time maiden suddenly two-for-two; big improvements happening and if you discount Nick Zito in this race, you do so at your own expense
  • Mine That Bird - in case Borel is right
Leg 3 - The Manhattan Stakes

You could easily land on any one of eight horses here and get no argument from me. But this is horse racing and each handicapper's opinion counts, so...
  • Gio Ponti - likes to win including at the 1 1/4 mile distance; fired big in his second race as a four-year-old and could be a monster this year
  • Conmonaut - surprisingly there's a lot of speed in this race and all of it breaks outside of Cosmonaut, whose rider has the opportunity to either force the issue or find a good spot along the rail waiting to make his move
  • Champs Elysees, Wesley and Cowboy Cal - I may include one of these three as a back up with such a big field going forward.
Leg 2 - The Acorn Stakes

The big question here, Is Justwhisstledixie a bet against at a short price or a single. Here are my choices:
  • Justwhistledixie - a potential single with speed, power and record that over matches these
  • Four Gifts - the most likely candidate to upset the chalk, which guarantees a bigger Pick 4 payout
  • Funny Moon - a bomb with potential since the Beyers have jumped up with each victory
Leg 1 - The Woody Stephens Stakes

Another race that comes down to three betting choices for me. The Stephens usually brings together horses that tried stretching out for the Derby, but have snapped back to reality at shorter distances.
  • Regal Ransom/Everyday Heroes - both have shown great speed from day one, so it will be interesting to see which of the two tries to strike the front.
  • This Ones for Phil - ran a courageous race in Swale and then stretched out a little too far in Withers; main threat to top pair.
  • Munnings - saw and bet against him in Saratoga maiden win; looked impressive and could improve off three-year-old bow
My cheap Pick 4 play with be one of the two following tickets:

1/4-8-9/5-6-9-12/6-9 for $24 or 1-2-4/8/5-6-12/6-7-9 for $27

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pretty Close

It's been awhile since my last post, sorry for that. If you look at my early Belmont odds from a few weeks ago (May 18), they're pretty close to Mike Watchmaker's DRF Belmont odds.

Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes
1Chocolate CandyJ. HollendorferG. Gomez10-1
2DunkirkT. PletcherJ. Velazquez5-1
3Mr. Hot StuffE. HartyE. Prado15-1
4Summer BirdT. IceK. Desormeaux10-1
5Luv GovD.W. LukasM. Mena20-1
6Charitable ManK. McLaughlinA. Garcia3-1
7Mine That BirdB. Woolley Jr.C. Borel8-5
8Flying PrivateD.W. LukasJ. Leparoux12-1
9Miner's EscapeN. ZitoJ. Lezcano20-1
10Brave VictoryN. ZitoR. Maragh20-1

Odds by DRF national handicapper Mike Watchmaker

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Met Mile Day Pick 4

Here's why: big fields + three turf races + a contentious stakes race= big payout. If only I could hit it. 

Here's the strategy:

Leg 1 (conditional claiming turf sprint): These races always call for a spread and usually come up with a longshot on top. Here are mine: 
  • Lemon Shore - second off layoff with little success of late, but two wins at distance, surface and track (8-1)
  • Day Dee - Although not a sprinter an angle I like to play, route horse usually ahead at the six furlong marker. I don't care that he's jumping up in class...(9-2)
  • Snowstalker - first time lasix, second off layoff (3-1)
  • Others I considered but may dismiss or include: Marq of Love - one hole will force him to go and Edloktori - new track, distance and rider may be too much to overcome
Leg 2 (N1X - statebreds - yikes): Favorites usually don't win these, but this field is crying out for a short price winner and I'll go with:
  • Relatively Ready - was when he ran into/caused a bid of trouble in his first start in five months. Previously stakes-placed he should win this (5-2)
  • Straight Story  - with no real speed in this race this one-time turf winner could take them all the way around (3-1)
  • Considered - Magical Devotion interfered with by top choice in last and Piazza Di Spagna who always seems to rally for just a piece
Leg 3 Met Mile Grade I: Premiere event for horsemen, especially in the breeding shed. This year's race has a lot of speed even with Mr. Fantasy scratched out. For this reason I'm going with a group of stalkers:
  • Smooth Air - Multiple stakes-winner from seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles, including a listed race on turf, he's very versatile. He'll have Acrredit to track from his inside and should get a great trip. I even considered singling him (4-1)
  • The Roundhouse - A lightly raced Pletcher colt who missed all of last year, but is stakes-placed at 2 and 4. Second off for suddenly hot Pletcher (12-1)
  • Mr. Sidney - Another lightly raced one who won Grade I on the turf in last and just might have the same versatility of the top choice (10-1)
  • Others considered: None
Leg 4 (conditional claiming turf going 1 1/16 miles): Several question marks in this one, but I'll go with these three - if AE #13 gets in:
  • Manitowish Waters - Two consistent turf races at Gulfstream before dull effort on poly at Keenland. Lots of upside for the chalk (2-1)
  • High On Candy - Will press top pick and could get the better of him, if not so ready (10-1)
  • Chinese Whisper - Yet to find winner's circle on this side of Atlantic, but has faced much better (4-1)
  • E Z Dollar - Only if Chinese Whisper doesn't get in (5-1)
The Pick 4 play looks like this:
  • The cheapo: 7-9-11/2/2-6-8/4-8-13 for $27
  • Middle ground: 7-9-11/2-3-6/2-8/4-8 for $36
  • Grande: 4-7-9-11/2-3-6/2-6/4-8-13 or 3 for $72
Earlier this week a Pick 4 with two chalks, 10-1 and 12-1 shots paid more than a grand for a $1, I see the same type of payout for Monday.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Off the Snide

It's been a few weeks and many bets coming, but I hope I've turned the handicapping corner with a modest win yesterday at Belmont. My Triple Crown performances - the big dances and their undercards - have been abysmal. Yesterday I had some time to look at Belmont's final four races. With Wishful Tomcat, almost a sure thing in the feature, I tried to nail down races six, seven and nine in short order, since I only had $12 in my wagering account. 

Alas, I missed race six, but came home in time to catch the last race. I would have missed the Pick 4 - one that was hittable since Wishful Tomcat won - but arrived home in time for the nightcap -  state bred, NX1 dash on the turf. Two overriding reasons for landing on the eventually winner, Princess Maura:
  • Loose on the lead type speed in a paceless race
  • My good friend's oldest child's name - Maura
At 12-1, I simply clicked $2 win and played two, $1 exactas. The win and half the excata returned $80 for my $4 wagered. Finally!

By the way the Pick 4 with a horses odds - 10-1, 3-2, 8-5, and 12-1 returned a $1,050 for a $1 bet. With the free space of Wishful Tomcat, an investment of $36 to $48 would have been enough to hit it. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

For Kicks and Giggles

Since I've had little luck at the windows this Triple Crown season, I figured why not take a stab at the possible Belmont Field - with odds. You'll note, I'm not much of an odds maker...

  • Mine That Bird........... 2-1
  • Charitable Man........... 3-1
  • Dunkirk..................... 5-1
  • Chocolate Candy........ 10-1
  • Flying Private............ 10-1
  • Summer Bird.............. 20-1
  • Mr. Hot Stuff............. 20-1
  • Miner's Escape........... 30-1

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Is the Belmont Necessary?

Rachel Alexandra proved her new owners, trainer and regular rider right - she is much the best of this somewhat depleted crop of three-year-olds. 

With Big Drama the only other horse to break for the lead (after stumbling and then heading out to the three-path) Rachel Alexandra's hustle to the front was not as difficult as it could have been. Pioneerof the Nile, Papa Clem and Friesan Fire could have made the filly's trip to the front more challenging by breaking cleanly and contesting the early pace. (Why they didn't is my $64,000 Question for the day after). 

Even though jockey Calvin Borel said his horse did not handle the track, her race was won heading into the clubhouse turn and then, when none of the colts contested her heading into the stretch. 

The second big question is why should Rachel Alexandra's connections bother with the 1 1/2-mile Belmont. There really is nothing left for the filly to prove. Why not point her to the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. For me, the mid-summer Derby has a lot more intrigue and possibility of victory than the difficult distance and timing of the Belmont.

For the record my top choices (Musket Man and Papa Clem) were right were I expected them, behind the first flight. Papa Clem didn't fire and Musket Man was courageous and all heart as always. As a final back up trifecta, I put Rachel Alexandra on top with Musket Man and Papa Clem in the second spot with seven others for third, including Mine That Bird. So within four jumps to the wire I had the tri. Oh well - that's why they call it gambling.

It will be interesting to see where Rachel Alexandra heads next...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Preakness Plays

I'm sticking with my toss on Rachel Alexandra. If she beats me, I'll tip my cap and applaud her efforts. She certainly is good enough, but...

...I'll go with a stimulus-package, on the cheap special.

In the Pick 4 starting in Race 9, I'll play it like this:
  • Leg 1: (4) Beacon Hill Road and (8) Affirmatif, hoping the 4 scores the upset over the heavily favored 8.
  • Leg 2: (5) Ah Day and (8) Ravalo are the class horses of this stakes race filled with allowance caliber horses.
  • Leg 3: (3) Parading, (7) Wesley and (8) Strike a Deal among a handful that could win it.
  • Leg 4: (3) Musket Man and (7) Papa Clem in what is wide-open race.
Total cost for $1 play is $24

In the Preakness I'll stick with Musket Man and Papa Clem for first and second play them over seven others. My $1 trifecta part wheel will be 3-7 with 3-7 with 1-2-4-5-8-9-13 for a total of $14. 

Good luck to all!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rachel Alexandra Play or Pass?

Now that the evil plot to keep Rachel Alexandra out of the Preakness has passed, it is high time to draw some conclusions on how to bet the race. I see it two ways:
  1. You either single her in Pick 3s and 4s or wheel her on top of exotics or
  2. Toss her 
I really, really like the filly, but we all must consider if a step up in class and change in division are worth short odds, breaking from the final post (13). She certainly has the tactical speed to find a spot in the field, unfortunately it may be four to five wide. A repeat of Big Brown's Derby is possible, not probable. 

Although for some romantic reason, I'd like to see her win, I'll take a stand against Rachel Alexandra. I'll likely go with four from the Derby - Musket Man, Friesan Fire, Papa Clem and Pioneerof the Nile in Pick 3s and 4s and possibly box the four in a trifecta. At least that's what I'm thinking right now. 

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Keeping Rachel Alexandra Out

OK, now we have something more to talk about than whether Mine That Bird will win the second jewel of the Triple Crown. The ongoing development on whether Rachel Alexandra will run or a group of owners will stack the starting gate to keep the phenomenal filly out of the Preakness will be the talk of the horse racing world until the race itself next Saturday.

Allow me to repeat myself, I thought Rachel Alexandra was good enough to win the Derby, so I believe she is good enough to win the Preakness. (Winning the Kentucky Oaks by 20 was good enough for me to think she would have outraced Mine That Bird the next day in the Derby). The fact that her former connections did not nominate Rachel Alexandra for a measly $600 or even the late Triple Crown nomination fee of $6,000 is coming back to haunt the current Jess Jackson partnership.

Due to dated and arcane rules for starting in the Preakness, a bunch of owners can actually keep out Rachel Alexandra by bringing their less than renowned and Triple Crown nominated horses to race. 

Strange, fascinating and par for the horse racing course... 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Onward to Pimlico

And so we go on to the second crown in the jewel. Here's what I think a little more than a week out for the Preakness Stakes:
  • If Rachel Alexandra enters she's either the favorite or second choice.
  • Pioneerof the Nile will be favored.
  • The top three finishers are likely to be from the Derby field.
  • Mine That Bird either stakes his claim as a super horse or goes the route of Lil E. Tee. I didn't have him in the Derby, and I'll take a stand against in the Preakness.
  • Big Drama poses the biggest "outsider" chance...besides the filly.
I'm feeling Papa Clem right now, but it's far too early and interesting to start handicapping.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Derby Hangover

The intoxicating build up is months in the making, then it's over in two minutes. Following the buzz, I'm left wondering why should I even bother.

This year most were beaten by a horse almost no one figured would win. But that's the beauty of the Derby, horses that should be 150-1 are underlays at 50-1 because Aunt Betty has a parrot that says, "Mine that bird," or your daughter was born on the 8th, so his odds creep downward to 50-1!

Here's what Mine That Bird had going against him:
  • A highest Beyer speed figure of 80
  • No graded stakes earnings this year
  • No winning racing this year!
  • A late foaling date in May
  • A low purchase price of $9,500
What he did have was owners, trainer and jockey who believed in him despite the long odds.

Here's what I learned about my Derby handicapping:
  • I was wrong about Pioneerof the Nile, Regal Ransom and Friesan Fire
  • At least I had Papa Clem and Musket Man underneath in trifectas and was alive with a Pick 3 and Pick 4 going into the Derby
As Steve Crist wrote right after the race, "This game will sure keep you humble."

Thankfully, jockey Calvin Borel's excitment was truly geniune and infectious. We all should be so lucky! Maybe later today at Belmont. But man does my head hurt.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Channel the Derby - Fini

I've read and seen all I want of the Kentucky Derby. I have followed the races from afar (HRTV, TVG and ESPN), watched interviews, read DRF daily and checked in on my favorite blogs like Kennedy's Corridor. I also stayed abreast of all the late works, the defections, I Want Revenge's late scratch and current track conditions.

Here's what I have surmised just hours away from the race. I'm tossing all synthetic surface horses - Mr. Hot Stuff, Advice, Hold Me Back, Chocolate Candy and Pioneerof the Nile. None will show up on my tickets. 

The inexperienced and overmatched are out as well - Mine That Bird, Join in the Dance, Atomic Rain, Summer Bird, No Where to Hide and Flying Private.

These leaves West Side Bernie, Musket Man, Friesan Fire, Papa Clem, Regal Ransom, General Quarters, Dunkirk and Desert Party. 

Due to track conditions which appear to favor inside speed horses, Friesan Fire is the pick. I will single him in a Pick 4. I will also use him to key over several of the horses above in trifecta. 

The Pick 4 for a $1 will be:
  • First Leg - Lemon Chiffon
  • Second Leg - Informed Decision, Secret Gypsy and Game Face
  • Third Leg - El Caballo, Proudinsky, Court Vision and Enstein
  • Final Leg - Friesan Fire
The trifecta part wheel will be:
  • First - Friesan Fire
  • Second - Musket Man, Papa Clem, Regal Ransom, General Quarters, Dunkirk 
  • Third - West Side Bernie, Musket Man, Papa Clem, Regal Ransom, General Quarters, Dunkirk and Desert Party
The saver exacta will be: 
  • First - Friesan Fire, Papa Clem, General Quarters and Dunkirk
  • Second - West Side Bernie, Musket Man, Friesan Fire and Dunkirk
Total Derby Bets: $12 Pick 4, $30 Trifecta Part Wheel and $14 Exacta Box

Good luck all! Let's hope for a safe trip for all.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Derby and My Dad

As noted in the Foolish Pleasure blog, the Kentucky Derby is one of the Top Ten Traditional Sporting Events. Every horse racing fan should make the mecca to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. I had tickets once, but never made the trip from my Boston-area home.

In the winter of 1995, the winter of my family's discomfort - the year my girlfriend, now wife and father both were diagnosed with aggressive forms of cancer - I was hoping my dad would just get off the life support that kept him living day-after-day through 103 degree fevers and average heart rates of a marathoner.

He had been lying flat since a surgery of early October of 1995 - a surgery that was originally slated to remove stomach cancer, which, in turn, ended up being terminal pancreatic cancer. Ten days after surgeons removed part of his pancreas my father lay unconscious and unresponsive, so doctors went back in to remove all of his pancreas and quite a bit of his intestines. These were the events that lead up to my daily search for signs of life beyond the rhythmic rises and falls of the breathing machine or maybe just the hope of a peaceful death.

Meanwhile, my 26-year-old girlfriend had been receiving chemotherapy strong enough to kill her immune system and the cancer that grew along with it. She received a stem cell transplant (her own clean bone marrow) on the very day my father went into surgery...the first time. She alternated between restless sleep and bouncing off the walls that kept her safe from airborne infection for the next 28 days.

And I got to know the cleaning ladies, nurses and doctors at two city hospitals. I also dreamt of better days at the beach with Kara, going to Red Sox spring training or maybe making it to the Derby with my dad. 

Since he'd taken me to Suffolk Downs as a kid, one hoping to win a few bucks on a few nags, I'd been in love with horse racing. This love blossomed every year when my dad made his annual August trek to Saratoga - where the best in racing gathered every summer along with the pageantry and disappointment that are synonymous with Thoroughbred horse racing. 

Each year my dad would call me before the Travers Stakes and ask who I liked. In the summer of 1981 when I was 13-years-old, I picked Willow Hour because I liked his jockey Eddie Maple. Of course he beat that year's Derby winner, Pleasant Colony by a narrowing nose.

I made it to the beach with Kara. It's a place I would propose to her some 18 months after her stem cell procedure. I even made it the Red Sox spring training home, Fort Meyers, with my dad and sister just two months after he miraculously awoke from a nine-week coma. Shortly thereafter, I figured why not try make that Derby dream come true. 

As someone who enjoys writing, I can be persuasive so I wrote a letter explaining my dad's plight, our love of horse racing and my desire to get him to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. Surprisingly, someone from Churchill Downs replied with two tickets for the Kentucky Derby, dated May 2, 1996.

My father died two days prior, on a beautiful, cloudless May day. I gave the tickets away to a friend of my dad's, who never made the race. I should have just kept them.

While preparing to wake my father, I took some time to read the Daily Racing Form and snuck away to Suffolk Downs to bet on the Kentucky Derby. I narrowed the field of 19 down to three potential winners and placed the minimum wager of $2 to win on each. One of these three, Grindstone, nailed Cavonnier at the finish line to win by the slimmest of margins - the length of his nostril. The win paid $13.80, but I never cashed the ticket.

Instead I brought the winning ticket to my father's wake and tucked into his jacket pocket. He went out a winner.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Channeling the Derby Part Two

As cliche as it sounds (and is) pace makes the race. And in the Derby, the pace begins when the gates open with 20 fast, energetic horses charging into the first turn.

While my karma and choices haven't changed much with today's draw, I did see some curious post position choices. Pioneerof the Nile and Dunkirk at posts 15 and 16 with much of the board open either speaks to extreme confidence or fear of inside posts, which in this case means anything under number 9 or 14-12. Now last year with superior speed and a weak field, Big Brown could have started from the stands and still won, but this isn't last year. I feel these draws help my choices and here's why.
  • All five horses inside Friesan Fire (Post 6) come from well off the pace, meaning Friesan Fire's jock my angle over to the rail while staying as close to the pace as he wants. I find it hard to believe no one else sees this.
  • Papa Clem in Post 7 and Join in the Dance in Post 9 are likely to go for the lead. With a pedestrian work that tired Papa Clem badly, I see him as dead wood and likely starting to back up after six furlongs. Join in the Dance is here to set a pace for Dunkirk, period and he's not particularly fast. Another likely to clog the lanes.
  • Regal Ransom was wisely placed just outside of Join in the Dance and if he's good enough will be following the speed closest to the outside.
  • If all three break alertly - Chocolate Candy, General Quarters and I Want Revenge should be able to fall in just behind the early speed. As long as they have room to move, they will do so as the first stalkers to pounce. 
  • These horses are not Big Brown - Dunkirk, Pioneerof the Nile and Desert Party. Dunkirk will face traffic and is an unlikely winner, but worth some plays in exotics. If Pioneerof the Nile pulls early, he is likely to be caught four-wide gunning for the lead or five-to-six wide in the second flight. He will have an outside chance in the five-path, I just don't think he's good enough. Desert Party will probably be slamming dancing himself out of contention early.
With the post draw behind us, the only remaining X-factor is the weather. At this point, I'm toying with some trifecta par wheels. Something like:
  • 13/6-10-11-12-15/6-10-11-12-14-15-16 for $30 on a $1 Tri Par Wheel
In a Pick Four not yet hammered out and starting with Race 8, I'm thinking something like this:
  • 1-3-6-7/3-5-9/2-6/6-10-12-13 for $48 on a 50-cent bet
More channeling necessary...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Derby Draw Matters

It matters where the horses break. Last year was an aberration - freak horse vs. weak field in winning from post 20. I don't expect the winner beyond post 14 or inside post 2 this year. All picks to this point are the hedge fund variety. The real picking and choosing starts after the draw.

Enough said.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Works Lead to Some Answers

I have never been a big "works" handicapper. I have always figured that the horses before a race are either good enough or they're not. But listening to Mike Welsh's reports from Churchill have been captivating, entertaining and somewhat influential for me in a few ways. Here are some of my feelings based on Mike's reports:
  • Like him or not, Pioneerof the Nile has done nothing wrong in his works...except not work as fast as Baffert horse's usually work
  • Papa Clem, General Quarters, Square Eddie and Win Willy have either looked tired or showed some wear in slow works
  • Mine That Bird and Summer Bird probably just aren't good enough
  • Musket Man and West Side Bernie aren't looking like a mile and quarter horses
  • I'm still not sure what to make of Hold Me Back and Chocolate Candy
  • The Dubai to Derby connections look great
  • Friesan Fire's fast work equals second place again for Jones?
  • Dunkirk and I Want Revenge haven't move up or down for me
Using this data has only really changed my mind to include Hold Me Back underneath and maybe just maybe, based on post position, I'll include Pioneerof the Nile under exacta and trifecta plays.

My top choices are still I Want Revenge, Friesan Fire and Regal Ransom.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Who Will Make the Gate?

Looking back over my Baker's Dozen choices the past three months, I really haven't hit the nail on the head. Here's why:
  • From February - Only three horses remain, some awlful choices like Notonthesamepage, Haynesfield and Flying Pegasus.
  • From March - Really not that much better with four horses that remain, three horses on the list were injured.
  • From April - You would think I would have at least named ten starters at this point. I was getting cute with Big Drama and Rachel Alexandra though. 
If I had to pat myself on the back, it would be for identifying I Want Revenge as a possible Derby contender, but that and two bucks gets me a cup of coffee. 

I'll probably end up off Quality Road, even if he goes. To win the Derby there can be no setbacks, no matter how minor.

One final thought, if Rachel Alexandra is in the Derby she'd be third or fourth choice - sandwiched somewhere between Pioneerof the Nile, Dunkirk, Friesan Fire and Quality Road.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Some Early Decisions

Here they are, but with a chance of late changes depending on weather, post positions and works...
  • Pioneerof the Nile - off all tickets, I just don't think he's fast enough
  • Dunkirk - underneath in exacta and trifecta plays, ala Curlin
  • I Want Revenge - right now, underneath, worried he already ran his races and peaked too soon
These three top the ticket right now:
  • Quality Road - just too hard to ignore three triple-digit Beyer scores
  • Friesan Fire - Jones knows how to get them ready and may get the winner's share
  • Regal Ransom - loose on the lead, desert to bluegrass prep scenario has play out someday
On the fence, somewhere in the top three:
  • Papa Clem - post draw outside Regal Ransom, Quality Road or Join in the Dance (who's likely to get in) enhance chances
  • Chocolate Candy looks to be a useful play underneath
  • Musket Man, West Side Bernie and General Quarters may be used to round out trifectas or superfectas
OK here are my tosses, as in out:
  • Desert Party - beaten by stablemate
  • Hold Me Back - synthetic surface specialist
  • Mine That Bird - really?
  • Pioneerof the Nile - reminds me of Nobiz Like Shobiz
  • Square Eddie - ran out of time and probably needs another race to be at best
  • Win Willy - Arkansas Derby flop despite fast fractions to follow
  • Flying Private, Mr. Hot Stuff and Summer Bird - all still qualify for allowance conditions and will create traffic problems
  • Join in the Dance - possible pace factor up to a mile

Monday, April 20, 2009

People Behind My Handicapping Habit - Uncle Pete

Asking someone, anyone willing to look up from their Form, tip sheet or indescribable computer printout of dots, dashes and numbers, why they're at the track or facsimile thereof, and you'll get a myriad of responses:
  • I like the 5 more than any other
  • My brother-in-law's friend hotwalks for trainer X and expects a big effort from the #2
  • I didn't have enough gas money to make it to the casino
  • A bad day at the track is better than (fill in your own response)
Chances are Thoroughbred handicappers, players, bettors (whatever you want to call yourself) make the attempt to pick a winner from the rail, a duck-taped chair at the OTB facility or from their couch - in one of states that allows you to bet from home - because someone once brought them to the track or in my case the dingy OTB parlor. Even if you are the exception to the rule and wandered into a horse wagering facility of your choosing, you've likely hooked up with a few "track buddies" that have helped you along. The intricacies of putting together a Pick 4 ticket or just being able to pronounce your bets correctly at the window demand help from "others" with more experience than a rookie horse gambler.

I'm going to start backwards with the last of three men who took me to the track, the OTB, the track disguised as an over sized OTB, etc. Peter Foss and I enjoyed many weekends at that "August Place to Be," Saratoga.

He served his country. He served his family. He served his God. These spheres of his life were bound, inseparable as the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost he worshipped so faithfully.

Oh and he was a storyteller and horse player, too. These two elements bound in the same Book of Great Luck - both his and ours for hearing his voice rise and fall with each tale or to see him lean left as several horses vied for for the finish line in his favorite exotic play - the
trifecta par wheel.

Peter Foss was a lucky man. Spend enough time with him and this fact as reiterated over and over again. Through his stories of growing up in the farmland of Minnesota, the compassionate and
sensible leader of boys (himself just a few years older) in Korea and Vietnam or just the latest joy in seeing his grandchild or a former journalism student.

Having heard many of these stories over and over again during our annual 3-hour drives to
Saratoga, I'm not sure were this luck originated. Was it the hard work and high expectations of his Depression-era family? The day he met his bride-to-be, a stewardess, on a plane? Or the time his platoon came into ambush, in which he and an enemy officer both drew guns at point-blank range, miraculously missing each other? Listen to Uncle Pete long enough and you couldn't help but understand his luck began long before he entered any track. And I think he knew it.

Maybe that's why he was such a good handicapper and gambler - he knew how to create and capitalize on his own luck. Uncle Pete's tickets usually included 30-42 possible combinations for horses to finish first, second and third. This is either called a
trifecta or triple depending on where you live and bet. A typical ticket with numbers would look like this:
  • Finishing first: 3-6-9
  • Finishing second: 2-3-8-9
  • Finishing third: 2-3-4-7-8-9
There are 34 possible outcomes for this ticket. Now, he certainly didn't win all the time, but Uncle Pete usually had something to root for. Anytime I was with him, he would average hitting at least three out of the nine races, sometimes five or maybe even eight if he was real lucky. (I was with him on Breeders Cup Day a few years back when he hit exactas - two horse combinations - and trifectas in four straight races. The lowest payout was around $300).

Peter Foss was the patriarch of my wife's family. He lead grace, held court and dispensed equal amounts of kindness, gratitude and humor. His war stories were never about false courage or bravado, but seemed to find the humanity under the most inhumane conditions. He led so well and so easily that many under his command kept in contact with him long after their service to God and country ended.

For me, Uncle Pete came into my life shortly after my father passed away. And my father created the magical and mythical Saratoga of my mind. A place he'd drive every August to play the ponies. A place he played so many trifecta combinations in one race that he unwittingly hit the thing four times. A place he took his last $90 and played the number 9 in race 9 simply because Angel Cordero was aboard. A place where he called to ask what horse I wanted to play in The Travers Stakes, and my reply was Willow Hour because my favorite jockey Eddie Maple was riding. (Willow Hour beat that year's Derby champ, Pleasant Colony by a nose and paid around $50).

I never made the trip to Saratoga with my dad. But Uncle Pete and I made the summer drive 15 straight years. From the hours we spent in the car, at the track and in our hotel, I knew all about his family - nuclear and extended - his exploits in foreign countries under harsh and violent conditions and opinions on everything from presidential politics to who he liked in the fourth race.

At the track, Uncle Pete hit far more often than I did. Win or lose he'd take me out for dinner - the barbecue joint or the Japanese steakhouse on Route 9 were two of our favorite spots. With the next day's Daily Racing Forms in hand we'd head back to our hotel room convenient enough, but far enough away to be affordable. We might watch some pre-season football while handicapping and then off to bed. Since Uncle Pete snored in about eight octaves I tried desperately to fall asleep before him.

If it was Sunday then it was off to church to pray for the daily double (I don't recall ever hitting it), bagels and coffee and another try at the Saratoga nine. I always felt a little smarter, a bit luckier and just damn appreciative that I was at the track with Uncle Pete.

Like my grandfather and my father, my other two handicapping mentors, Uncle Pete is no longer with us. He passed away in the hours following Rags to Riches Belmont Stakes win and this past Friday would have been his 80th birthday.

He is easily missed and impossible to replace.