Saturday, March 28, 2009

Two Derbies Half Way Around the World

Well, one derby down for the day - UAE in Dubai. Regal Ransom may have given Goldolphin their biggest threat with an upset in their own desert race. Desert Party - the 1-5 choice on Xpressbet's site - finished a half length behind. Who knows, maybe both will ship East to Churchill for the first Saturday in May.

Back in our sphere of the world, Dunkirk either has his coming out party this afternoon - a la Big Brown - or goes home and waits for the Preakness or Belmont. Dunkirk, while a recent phenomenon with two straight wins, has no graded stakes winnings and needs the $450,000 winners share in today's Florida Derby to get into the Kentucky Derby. With several big money preps left, the second place money of $150,000 will probably leave Dunkirk out of the Derby entry box.

I'll be betting against him - using both Quality Road and Theregoesjojo in exotics.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

How Did I Do?

None of the three proposed Pick 4 tickets paid out - it was over $1,000 for a $1. 

All three tickets were alive thanks to a nose victory by the favorite in Leg 1 - #5.

All three tickets were done in Leg 2 when the chalk #3 was headed out of the win.

Only the the Cadillac ticket would have been nosed out for the win in Leg 3 when #1 came up just shy.

All three tickets had #6 in Leg 4. 

It cost me nothing because I refrained from playing, but for $27, $54 and $160 I would have been out of it by Leg 2. Is there a lesson there? 

Bargain Basement Hunting

When I play exotic wagers like Pick 3s and 4s, trifectas and the occasional Pick 6, I keep my bets reasonable...for me. Reasonable meaning usually under $40 and most times closer to $24. My belief is that I can just as easily squander $200 as I can $20 with a bad beat. All of us handicappers have experienced the dismissed 30-1 shot breaking up winning tickets - which neither an expensive of frugal ticket didn't included. 

For the sake of experiment, I'm going to toss out three possible late Pick 4 tickets at Santa Anita today. Let's see what difference tickets ranging from $27 to $160 have. Of course, the cheaper the ticket the sharper one's handicapping skills must be. More expensive tickets should only be played for two reasons 1) wide open fields with the promise of big payoffs or 2) a lack of decisiveness, but with a hope of including many, providing a return of much money.  On the flip side, the bigger the cost the bigger the potential loss. 

Without further ado:

Clearance Rack $27 ticket - 4-5-7/3/2-6-9/1-4-6. Anytime you're looking to limit a ticket's price with Pick 3s, 4s and 6s, you've got to find singles. I find this group of races particular difficult to single, but have chosen to go with race 7 and expensive, Bob Baffert-trained Mother Ruth. I've combined jockey, trainer, breeding, fast works, decent post and big ticket purchase price to arrive here. 

The biggest threat to take down this ticket is the single in Leg 2. It's a maiden special weight with a few fillies with decent experience (low to mid 70 Beyers, fast enough to win this condition) and six first-time starters, my choice among them. In Leg 1 a non-winners of one on the turf, second and third choices have been scratched out in what looks to be a paceless race, meaning the nine remaining entrants will probably finish within three lengths of each other. Leg 3 has lots of class to sort through for a winner in the feature. In the Final Leg it's either wide open or down to my three choices. A crap shoot at best and a lousy way to try and finish a ticket.

The I Can Still Make My Mortgage Payment Special $54 ticket. Leg 1  and Leg 3 remain unchanged, but Leg 2 gets two additions and Leg 4 drops a contender. The ticket is 4-5-7/3-4-8/2-6-9/1-6. 

Here I've added two to the first maiden race in the sequence to protect against a dude debut for favorite trained by Baffert. As a result of adding coverage and still trying to keep the price within reason, I had to remove the horse I think least likely to break his maiden in the nightcap, #4. Low level maiden claimers make me nervous in sequences like this, but this horse ran evenly finishing seven lengths from the winner both times. His inclusion in the previous ticket was an only if he woke up play. 

The Cadillac $160 ticket (or should I say Lexus -they're in as much trouble as GM or are they?). Here's all the bells and whistles of the last ticket with greater coverage in Legs 1, 2 and 3 while the final leg stays the same.  Here we go 3-4-5-7/3-4-6-8-10/1-2-6-9/1-6.

I would only play this ticket if I'd already had a decent bankroll from previous winnings. Turf races, as we know, can have dramatic finishes with many in the fray until the very last jumps. I would have to bank on such finishes with the possibility of the payout being large enough to take the risk. Let's just say I've got the dough to make the play. 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Five Phases of Derbydom

We have entered the fourth of five phases of the Kentucky Derby. As opposed to the movement of the moon, the Derby phases are all about waxing toward the big day in May. Here are the phases as I see them:

Phase I - Big Baby Races: Here's where the racing rubber meets the road for two-year-olds that may end up on the Derby trail. These are the races of late summer that end in the late fall. On the New York circuit this will go from the Sandford to Remsen out West it could be considered from Best Pal to Cash Call Futurity and the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill.

Phase II - The Breeders Cup Juvenile to Winter Dreaming: The almost three-year-olds usually get a champion out of the race and the conversation turns to the possible Derby favorite based upon  their BC effort. Winter book odds come out, experimental handicap weights are released and trainers begin to set out plans for success in May while bettors begin to look for "their Derby horse." The Juvenile to Gulfstream's opening.

Phase III - Hopes High, Dreams Dashed: Three year olds get to taste their first action at the major Derby prep venues - Gulfstream, Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn and Santa Anita. Here promise begins to meet reality or the road to the roses becomes just too tough for those lacking the talent. Also the injuries and adversities - major and otherwise - are realized. Coughs, bowed tendons and breathing issues force trainers to put off training and rethink strategy. Sprinters race away at distances a mile and under and are pointed towards Churchill's opening weekend. A horse from nowhere grabs Derby Dream headlines. Gulfstream's opening weekend to the Big Saturday of LA Derby/Rebel/San Felipe/Tampa Bay Derby.

Phase IV - The Pretenders and Contenders: The real cream starts to rise while those below the top tier show their true colors in Florida, Santa Anita and Arkansas Derbies, Wood Memorial and Blue Grass Stakes. The synthetic vs. dirt argument hits a fever pitch, final training plans are made and Churchill's graded stakes debate shows that at least one, two or three really good horses won't make the gate. The Florida Derby to last chance to stamp a ticket at Keenland's Lexington Stakes.

Phase V - Derby Week is Here: Last minute adjustments to handicapping, the draw and My Old Kentucky home.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

All the Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
Layin' in the sun,
Talkin' bout the things
They woulda-coulda-shoulda done...
But those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
All ran away and hid
From one little did.
- Shel Silverstein

The above poem should be posted above urinals anywhere there are horse players. Many of us, at one point or another, have succumbed to the Coulda-Shoulda-Wouldas of combinations we didn't put together or others we changed only to see come in. Yesterday I had such a moment.

I gave out a Pick 4 I'd be playing at Fair Grounds, then I made some changes based upon the sloppy conditions. In reality, I melded the two possible Pick 4s into a losing combination. If you look below, I wrote that I would leave Rachel Alexandra off the first leg - I kept her but added Flying Spur. I also added second place finisher in the New Orleans, Secret Gateway and had Macho Again (too bad I didn't play them in exactas...see there's a shoulda creeping in). By adding Flying Spur, I forced myself to take a single in the turf feature, thus leaving off Proudinsky, who I wrote I would add. I left off Louisiana Derby winner Friesan Fire off the final leg, but had him in my 50-cent Pick 5 without, again, Proudinsky for a 4-out-5 non-winner. Ugh!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Slop changes some things

In regards to my earlier post, I didn't know the track was sloppy. I will add Flying Spur who romped in Fair Grounds slop already and I will go against Rachel Alexandra to my Pick 4. Secret Gateway gets added in Race 7. Race 9 - Demarcation  and Transduction Gold out and Proudinsky in and Race 10 as posted. So the Pick 4 is now 5/3-8-10-11/6-13/3-5-6 for $24.

Pick 4 Strategy

Here are two universal strategies I use for Pick 4s:
  • I absolutely have to have one single in the sequence to not only keep the ticket affordable, but to guard against big loses. I often see the All Star Pick 4 tickets on TVG (made from combining hosts picks) around $200 or more. Often they lose, and so will I if I think creating a ticket with a combination of 6x5x4x2 is a lock for some sort of pay out. My thought is a $240 and $36 are just as likely to win or lose based upon my handicapping skill that day at a particular track.
  • I have to find double-digit odds horses in at least two races of the sequence. You want the ticket to pay and the only way it pays is if you have a few prices included. If you're sure of horses at longer or even shorter odds, play that horse to win and never mind a Pick 4.
Now let's look at the strategies employed on this day at the Fair Grounds all stakes Pick 4. (I love "all stakes" plays because it almost always ensures big fields which makes mining for prices a bit easier).

Race 6 Fair Grounds Oaks:
  • Here's the single - Rachel Alexandra (4-5 morning line). Many times I like to make a stand against odds-on favorites or just skip a race I can't find a reason to bet against the chalk. In this case, Rachel Alexandra has the speed, talent and experience to wire this field or inhale it when her jock feels like. Besides with long odds available in the next three legs, it would be foolish to not take the single here.
Race 7 New Orleans Handicap
  • Here's a case where the scratches may matter. The early scratches include #2 Golden Yank, #5 Brothers Nicholas and #7 El Caballo. I actually dislike re-evaluating races in which scratches occur because I have a hard time re-calibrating myself. With the full field, I would strongly consider Wishful Tomcat to have an advantage because the speed outside of him may have be forced five and six wide, leaving him with a loose lead. My Pal Charlie (from post #11 vs. #14) has an outside chance of contending and forcing the issue up front setting the race up well for several stalkers and closers. I'm dropping Wishful Tomcat and going with Honest Man and Good and Lucky to take over from a three-way battle on the front end. I might even toss in Macho Again at a price to close.
Race 8 Mervyn Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap
  • Here's a tasty full-field if I ever saw one. It has two millionaires and four more that would join the seven-figure club with a win. While I usually toss favorites in these situation, I stay with Soldier's Dancer who's in solid form with no indication of falling off. Transduction Gold will be a long-shot I'll toss in off his win in preparation for this race. Demaracation will also find his way on the ticket by virtue of his stakes win at 33-1 at Churchill and drawing a line through his last Fair Grounds start.
Race 9 Louisiana Derby
  • Many two and three-year-old races come down to who you believe will improve and who will plateau. In the former category, I look to Flying Pegasus to step it up going two-turns for a second time with a much better post. I actually considered singling him. Among the handful of competitors left I look to Patena (first off the purchase by IEAH trained by Dutrow, who is either a legendary horseman or a cheater, depending on your perspective, with horses he inherits or claims for the first time). Giant Oak's trip was beyond terrible in the Risen Star, if he runs back to that form (why no Prado?) and has a clear look, he could win going away. Friesan Fire reminds me of Pyro and that he's very good horse, but falls into the plateau department here at 3.
So if you're wondering my $1 Pick 4 play, this is what it looks like at noon on Saturday: 3/8-10-11/6-11-12/3-5-6 for $27. Good luck to all.

Friday, March 13, 2009

BIG Derby Prep Saturday

With four Derby preps in two hours, there's a lot to look forward to on Saturday. Let's not waste any time and cut to the chase.

The San Felipe appears to be a walkover for Pioneerof the Nile. With the defections of Papa Cleam (Louisiana Derby), I Want Revenge (monster win in Gotham) and Stardom Bound (just not good enough), it's down to Pioneerof the Nile and The Pamplemousse on the Left Coast. Since they won't met until the Santa Anita Derby, the San Felipe goes to Pioneerof the Nile.

While his competition is a bit stiffer at Oaklawn, Old Fashioned looks to keep on track as the pre-Derby favorite with a win in the Rebel Stakes. Trainer Larry Jones could possibly win here and at the Fair Grounds (more on that a bit later in this post) today. Silver City returns and draws outside Old Fashioned along with late comer Poltergeist. Two newcomers could make some noise - two-time, two-turn winner Wise Kid and half brother to Sprint Champion Midnight Lute, Captain Cherokee. Sure the breeding and bro' don't scream nine furlongs, but Bob Baffert maintained that Lute could have covered a route of ground without constant displaced palate problems. 

General Quarters tries to prove his Sam Davis win wasn't a fluke in the Tampa Bay Derby. His main rivals look to be, Bears Rocket who held nicely after sitting up on the contested fractions in the Holy Bull and Hello Broadway who stretches out to turn turns off a second place finish in the Hutchenson.

The most intriguing race from both a fan and handicapping perspectives is the Grade II Louisiana Derby. For my money, the largest parade of contenders will go postward, and if I'm right this will end up being a key Derby race. Here's why:
  • There are no "distance questions" based on either breeding or experience at two turns 
  • It would not be a surprise if anyone of six horses has a break out performance and earns a 100 Beyer speed figure or better
  • Coast-to-coast it has drawn all the biggest jocks, except Gomez, for a specific reason -  a chance to ride a live mount on Derby Day. OK the other graded stakes races on the Fair Grounds card was another draw
  • I can't help but feel Friesan Fire is very good, not great and susceptible to being beaten as the chalk
I'm routing for in this order (based upon my Road to the Roses Stable) Patena, Giant Oak and Flying Pegasus. For betting purposes I'll take the same three in Pick 3s and exacta box bets. Enjoy the weekend's racing. I know I will.

Monday, March 9, 2009

What Did We Learn Last Weekend

  1. I Want Revenge liked Mother Earth's preferred surface - a lot. 
  2. Stardom Bound weaved her way through traffic again for the closest of wins. 
  3. Old Fashioned is ready to roll.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Take a Stand Against a Star

REM once sang to "stand in the place where you are," while the inspirational movie about Jaime Escalante, the barrio math teacher who willed his flunky students to learn calculus, showed us how to Stand and Deliver. Today let's just simply take a stand against Stardom Bound.

A few weeks ago I responded to a few Thoroughbred bloggers on the silliness of trying to pick against odds-on favorite Georgie Boy. I argued that sometimes we spin our wheels going against logic trying to pick against dominant types like the '72 Big Red Machine, '86 Bears or Pete Sampras of the early 90s. But today, I spin and contradict myself.

Sure, Stardom Bound will likely be the heaviest favorite of the day. There is no doubt this filly is talented and already good enough to take on the weak crop of California three-year-old colts in next month's Santa Anita Derby. To date, she's displayed the scary, push-button type of acceleration that defines a champion. The only reason to take a stand against her today is her reliance on the one big move to get past her opponents.

In this afternoon's Grade I Santa Anita Oaks, Stardom Bound casts a deep shadow over her nine rivals. The two-year-old champion filly has won four straight Grade I events; her competition zero. Her morning line is an absurdly low 2-5 and will probably creep closer to the bottom line 1-9 odds that mark all champions. 

I am not saying to bet the house against Stardom Bound, just take a shot. So who's worth a modest play - let's say a $20 win wager - against the champ? I say, if you going to go, you might as well go long. I'm taking Burg Berg.

Burg Berg is a total unknown at the 1 1/16 mile distance, on the synthetic surface and in graded stakes company. With only two wins from three turf races, she also comes into today very lightly raced. (Haven't exactly won you over yet?) But what I do like is her ability to get to the front and lead from start to finish - a difficult undertaking on the grass, but something that's been happening with a little greater frequency of late on Sanita Anita's fake stuff. I also love her jockey, Tyler Baze, on the front-end, nursing the fractions.

If, and it's a big if, Baze can lull the competition to sleep traveling unabated through a half in :49 and three-quarters in 1:13 with just a enough left in Burg Berg's tank, he may just get the jump on Stardom Bound and hold her off until the wire. Stardom Bound's jockey Mike Smith, another great front-end rider, may have to deal with traffic, getting his filly off rail and moving sooner than normal. 

Hey it's just a thought for a small win wager and inclusion of Burg Berg in some Pick 3s. If you beat the single everyone is playing (Stardom Bound) you'll be in for a decent score with a small bet. My $18 Pick 3 for races 7-9 at Santa Anita will be 1-2/1-3-7/5-7-11. If you check the entries, you'll see I'm picking against the other favored lady of the day - Ventura. 

Along with the races 7-9, I see Santa Anita's Pick 3 sequence in races 8-10 providing an opportunity for a score, if you can get the Big 'Cap winner. I'll be playing a $1 Pick 3 of 1-3-7/5-7-11/5-7-9-11 for $36.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Log Jams Likely in Big 'Cap and Gotham

Besides bright lights and big cities both New York and California are well known for their traffic jams. And so it is this weekend with Santa Anita's signature race, Santa Anita Handicap, and Aqueduct's Gotham, the second of three Derby preps that ends with the Wood Memorial the first weekend in April.  My view on these two full fields; the Gotham is for watching and the Big 'Cap is for betting.

The Gotham brings several well heeled, front-running three-year-olds together. The problem I have with this race is the rapid development in some three-year-olds vs. the slow or no development of others. Haysfield has raced well over Aqueduct's inner dirt winning the Whirlway entering Saturday's feature. He is joined by these last out winners - Naos, Russell Road (good story on Justin Dew's Kentucky blog), Mr. Fantasy and Imperial Council. The problem is all four race on or near the front. Four across through quarters of 23.5 and 45.8 will not be a surprise. Just like last week's Fountain of Youth, either someone steps up and out of such hot fractions or a stalker/closer type comes to take on tiring speed. 

Last week, I bet against the speed holding up and Quality Road proved me wrong. Again, I will be betting against the speed and looking for I Want Revenge to pounce on the turn on his first race on dirt, if backing up speed doesn't stop him. But Russell Road (20-1) and Haynesfield at (5-1) are both worth a shot at this stage of the game running clear paths up front. 

Again there is lots of up front speed in the Big 'Cap and many horses yet to cover and/or win at 1 1/4 miles - a classic distance - just Colonel John, Magnum and English-invader Dansant have won at 10 furlongs. I would include all three in Pick 3s or 4s, but a horse worth a win bet or part of vertical or horizontal exotic wagers is Blue Exit. In just his second start of the year, he finished just three-quarters of length behind Cowboy Cal. With the difference in odds: 12-1 for Blue Exit to 5-1 on Cowboy Cal, I say take a shot with the longer odds...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hold Our, Well, Horses

Yes, The Pamplemousse romped in The Sham. 

Yes, Quality Road broke free after sticking close to some very fast fractions in the Fountain of Youth. 

And while you may be chomping at the bit to lay down your next Derby Future wager, either at Vegas or through your Internet account wagering provider, let's take a breath today.

The Pamplemousse was, as everyone figured, a standout in the Sham - a graded race with Sunday's field could be defined as, well, a sham. Basically, The Pamplemousse beat a "non-winners of one" allowance field. The result was a strong looking public workout and not much else. If he stays healthy and on track, The Pamplemousse will go to the Derby as a third or fourth choice, due in part to a lack of experience (that is none) on dirt.

Quality Road looked like an outstanding sprinter in a field filled with such. The two main threats to now stretch out and catch Quality Road are Theregoesjojo and Beethoven. Add a furlong or two to the Fountain of Youth and Quality Road may not have been able to hang on. I was in fact, more impressed with both Theregoesjojo and Beethoven's performances and look forward to seeing both run a little further.