Friday, November 18, 2011

War Games

For those frequent or more likely infrequent visitors of this blog know I took sort of a sabbatical leave from writing from mid-summer to the Breeder's Cup. This was mostly by design - a break away. Starting this weekend I will be devoting most of my Thoroughbred horse writing time to the blog dedicated to Derby Wars - a new online horse playing tournament site. If you click on the link, you'll see for yourself how cool it is.

My blog can currently be found at Horse Racing Nation's Blogroll. Within the next month or so the Tales from the Battle Field blog will move over permanently to Derby Wars. Each Friday I'll preview some of the races in the upcoming weekend's tournaments and on Sunday I'll provide a wrap up on some of the contests going-ons.

Thanks for stopping by through the intermittent blogs to come back again and read my Thoroughbred musings. Occasionally I'll post here, but the majority of my writing will be over at Derby Wars.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Breeders' Cup Saturday Picks

This post is only three months in the making...(sorry school takes over once September comes)...

My man Turk said it best, "Go big or go home," that is playing at least one big bet in hopes of hitting a four-figure or better pay out, instead of nickel and diming yourself with a bunch of small bets that either have little chance or promise too small of a return given the risk. I'm actually going to give a big bet, for me, in Churchill's early Pick Four. Playing big is relative; I'm no whale, but I'm also not a $2 better either.

Before I get to the bets, let me provide two simple insights, which I hope will help with all your Breeders' Cup wagers.

  1. This is going to sound too simple, but...over the last three Breeders' Cup days, 17 out 20 winners either won or finished second in their previous race. The only exceptions were Shared Account, 2010 Filly and Mare Turf, who finished fifth in her previous race; Chamberlain Bridge, 2010 Turf Sprint winner, fourth; and Dakota Phone, 2010 Dirt Mile winner, third. 
  2. Up close on both dirt and turf is paying dividends to horses, jockeys and bettors at Churchill during its first four days of racing. Most horses that are within a few lengths of the lead along the backstretch, turning for home and through the stretch are coming in the money. The only caveats were the Filly and Mare Turf and two turn races on the dirt, which have been equally open to stalkers as well as front runners. What does this mean? Give those pace-setters and pace-pressers a little more of a look. 
Starting with Race 4 - Juvenile Turf, I have fashioned an $80, 50-cent Pick 4. It would have been more because my first thought was to hit the ALL button in the first leg. But given the two points I just provided and watching how the Churchill tracks have been playing, I pared the first leg down to half the field and singled in the last leg, which may come back to haunt me. 

In the Juvenile Turf, runners 2-4 all fit the close to the pace scenario and two out of the three finished first or second in their last start. After handicapping and then looking at the morning line, Shkspeare Shaliyah really jumped out at my at 15-1. He's run three solid races on three different types of turf and has room for improvement.  Coalport gets in with lots of upside and also due to Wayne Catalano's recent hot hand. Majestic City deserves to be chalk, if his synthetic form translates well to the turf.  And to even things off, I'll include all three of the outside runners, 12-14. Look I'm playing more than half the field, so I'm trying not to bore you too much with analysis. 

In the Sprint, I'll again only keep a few runners off my slip. Those in the bet include defending champ, Big Drama because, well, he's the defending champ. It's hard to keep a horse with a six-race winning streak off the ticket, so Giant Ryan is on. The triumvirate of Jackson Bend, Force Freeze and Amazombie are included because it scares me too much to leave them off. 

DRF writer Steve Crist says these races give him fits and's Jay Cronley says he can't pick winners of the turf sprints even after seeing the replay. No doubt, they are hard to handicap and get right. I'm going to take three that should be up front early, hoping at least one of them hold: Holiday for Kitten, Hoofit and Regally Ready. I'll toss in the closer, Perfect Officer just in case the pace-setters back up drastically. 

In total contradiction to its title, there is only horse in this field who has won at the one-mile distance, Jersey Town, and that was almost a year ago. In convoluted fields just like this, it's either pony up to include the entire field - we can see here that I can't afford that - or single. If I'm alive, I'll be hoping Wilburn extends his consecutive win streak to four and brings me home just a small fortune. 

So the 50-cent Pick Four ticket goes like this: 2-3-4-6-10-12-13-14/2-5-6-7-8/2-4-6-7/5

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Rooting Against Yourself

I'm sure I am not alone in this most self-depreciating of horse betting pastimes which includes:

  • precious time spent handicapping 
  • a bet planned
  • a bet changed (usually my changes include betting less)
  • the results of the bet coming in or about to come to in
It's during this "about to" stage when a few handicappers among us start this contrarian practice of actually rooting against a horse you should have bet, but for some reason left off your tickets. While this can and does happen in just one race, for me, over the course of the last two weeks, it has played out over the four-race sequence of the Early and Late Pick 4s at Saratoga. This allows for a special sense of dread that builds to a crescendo through at least 90-minutes and four races (if you're alive to the last race). By the final race of the bet left behind or the horse left off the ticket that was originally planned; the win that would have been begins to unfold, you hope just won't. 

On opening Saturday while in attendance at the Spa, I figured out a $48, 50-cent Early Pick 4. This would have been the most combinations for any Pick 4, I've ever played. Usually, to justify any Pick 4, I live by a rule of getting or betting one single in the sequence. This automatically keeps bets at or below the $48 mark I had planned three Saturdays ago. 

The problem I had with the bet a few Saturdays ago was the 96 combinations and the fact that it was about to eat almost half of my budget for the day. So....I removed two horses and changed another while getting the bet down to $30. 

I was out of it right off the bat on the bet I made because of one of the removals. With nothing to root for and too pissed off to bet anything else, I watched as the next two horses in the $48 bet won. I went for a walk and spent some time with the Mrs. at different parts of the track trying not to pay attention. 

I arrived back at our seats just in time to see the fifth race kick off with none of my horses starting in contention. As the majestic beasts narrowed toward the stretch, one of my originally "bet" horses hit the line a nose in front of 11 others. A moment I should have been relishing was wasted. The net result was that my $18 saved turned into $750 lost. I vowed never to bet again.

I played just once more that day - a miserable, swallow attempt at a Pick 6. 

My non-betting continued through the last two weeks until Sunday. With a day of rain in the Boston area, where I bet the world from my computer, I mapped out the Late Pick 4 at the Spa. It was to be 1-2-8-9/3/2-6-8/1-2-6-7 and would have cost me all of $24 for a 50-cent play. I balked. The 8 won at 7-1, the 3 romped as the single at 9-5, the 6 won at 17-1 beating the chalk by a nose, and I was left looking at four, probable Pick 4 payouts ranging from $3,000 to $1,000.

As we humans are apt to do - I started to think that my change in play two weeks ago and my non-play yesterday were more than just the shortsightedness of part-time handicapper. I started to believe them to be signs from God. In this relative, narcissistic view, The Great Almighty just wants me to stop doing this thing I love to do and move onto to something else more productive. (As if He doesn't have bigger matters to worry about).  As I was siding with the omens in front of me, my cloud of doom seemed quite large and ready to rain down on me. Alive to four in the final leg - a bettor's dream or in this case nightmare.

Thankfully, I think, none of my four choices hit the line first. I sighed relief. I'm not sure why, but I did. Because isn't the point of all this that we do with figures, forms and tips, is win? Rooting for a loss feels like a loser's thing to do. I think I have to put up, shut up or just be more choosy with my bets. I think.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Whitney Stakes Pick 4

My Jim Dandy Stakes Pick 4 was so bad (not one winner in the sequence) that I can't let such poor picking stand on my blog. Quick and dirty with little explanation, my Whitney Stakes Pick 4 follows:

Race 8 - a restricted affair going one mile on the turf looks more like a graded stakes race and has many stakes winners among the field. #1 Trix in the City has the potential to take them all the way around at a price. #5 Evading Template brings intentional flair to the event with Group 2 and 3 placings among her 11 starts across the ocean and Chad Brown takes up her training for the Spa debut. #9 Deluxe is another foreign import for the juggernaut, Juddmonte Farms, who placed in a Group 1 event last year.

Race 9 - The Grade 1 Test promises to be a handicapping test if you're not singling #6 Turbulent Descent - a four-time stakes winner including two Grade 1 scores. #2 American Lady has to be included due to trainer Bob Baffert's recent, red-hot hand. #3 Roman Treasure's jockey-trainer connections have scored at better than 50% the last two years and you can draw a line through her last race in which she stumbled out of the gate when beaten by several of these. #8 Her Smile, sure leave trainer Todd Pletcher off your ticket, I double-dog dare you. #9 Salty Strike gets on just in case a hot and contested pace ensues and no one is left to pick up the pieces.

Race 10 - For more about my Whitney analysis see my Thorofan piece. But like the Test you can choose  to either spread far and wide or go with a single. I going with the later, singling Morning Line.

Race 11 is a wide open NY state breed race going 7 furlongs. 7 panels are usually tough races to handicap for the humans and tough races to win for the equines. I'm gong with three entrants that have experience going seven furlongs or a bit longer. They are #3 Seek to Destroy, #11 Southbeach Sandy and #12 Wee Freudian - who should get a bit look adding blinkers for the first time; a move trainer Richard Schosberg has won with 25% of the time the last two years.

So for a 50-cent base bet, my ticket looks like this 1-5-9/2-3-6-8-9/3/3-11-12 for $22.50.

Good luck with all your wagers!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Jim Dandy 50-Cent Pick 4

So the 50-cent Pick Four has finally made it to NYRA, more specifically, Saratoga. So what's the difference between a 50-cent base bet versus a $1 - a lot. For me, this means I can break more own steadfast rule on Pick 4s - I don't need to single. 50-cents also means you can spread a lot farther in all directions, if you think a longshot or two can crack the sequence. I had a $96 Pick 4 based on a dollar (something I would never play) last Saturday that was knocked down to $48 with just the 50-cent base investment. The return was still a respectable $750 with two double-digit longshots coming in. (Don't ask why I didn't make the play even though I was on track and had the cash.)

So this brings us to this afternoon with a Pick 4 surrounded by two graded, one ungraded stakes races and with a beaten claiming race on the grass.  The strategy is to spread around using the 50-cent bet, hoping again, that a couple of double-digit finishes are in the cards.

Without further ado the Late Pick 4:

The Hattie Moseley for three year old fillies going a mile on the grass looks wide open. The two classy fillies on paper are Parting Words and Sassy's Dream (who are both at juicy odds) based upon facing the most stakes company and showing a good account of themselves. A grade two second place finish can certainly translate to a win at $75,000. For the bigger names and shorter prices - Juddmonte Farms sends Starformer stateside and Todd Pletcher has Artisanal breaking from the outside.

The Grade I Diana for fillies and mares going 1 1/ 8 miles on the grass is always a good race and this year's edition looks ultracompetitive, again, good for odds and playing. You should never look the other way when a horse reels off four wins in a row like Unbridled Humor has done to start her career. She steps up her, but why not a win? Aruna and Aviate look to be knocking on the door for a grade one win and both have all the right connections, which comes with lower prices that should include on your ticket. Romacaca has done everything right in her last four wins and her trainer Nick Canani does not ship without reason. At 15-1, she's the one you hope lands on top and gives some real value to the ticket.

A case can be made for all Jim Dandy entrants but I'm narrowing it down to Dominus who you should respect, Scotus who could surprise and Alternation who seems ready to explode on the scene.

The final race comes down to two for me - Free Brave, the favorite, and Saints Alive, a bomb. Got to do yard work, see ya!

The play at 50-cents is 3-5-8-10/1-6-7/2-4-7/2-10 for $48. Good luck with your plays.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Saratoga's Opening Weekend

After a not-so-brief hiatus, I am back to blog - just a little bit. I'll start by reposting the video I created last year on Saratoga. Hope you enjoy!

I'll be at the Spa for opening weekend and may attempt a mobile blog post. This will be my 17th straight year making the trip from Boston to the August (and now late July) Place to Be.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Preakness 136 Epilogue

As I sit in my living room - watching Sox-Cubs - on Sunday night, I thought I'd provide some passing thoughts on my first and likely only Preakness experience.

  • First, hats off to my wife - of now 14 years - for agreeing to go to the Preakness to celebrate our wedding anniversary. C'mon it doesn't get better than that! 
  • Upon being shuttled into Pimlico, I  was reminded of coming into Atlanta in 1996 to see the Olympic Track and Field Trials some 15 years ago. In both cases, I was among mostly white patrons/fans being transported through poor, primarily African American neighborhoods to sit for an event before being bused out again. There was no Siro's, Cask N' Flagon (an old Fenway haunt) or any tavern, restaurant or place that 102,000 fans were going to stop and patronize on Saturday night.
  • Our third floor grandstand seats were excellent. We sat just a hundred yards from the finish line and directly up from where Dialed In, Mucho Macho Man and Animal Kingdom were saddled up for the Preakness. My wife, our cousins and I also occupied seats 8-11 and 9, 10, and 11 also belonged to the three horses mentioned above. I thought with karma like that, some combination of a  9-10-11 finish was in the cards, so I played a $5 trifecta box with those numbers. 
  • I took a beating most of the day, while the Mrs. hit a few modest exactas. I was alive with Animal Kingdom in a Pick 4, threw down $50 on him to win and had him in several other superfecta and trifectas. My best score on the day was mistakenly betting $5 to win on Shackleford
  • The A/C was modest inside the grandstand and getting outside was almost impossible, due to over zealous ushers. (Every seat location was color-coded and if you had the wrong code you were quickly sent away.) If you are willing to take a chance and attend yourself, try the outside grandstand seats, as I felt these seats gave the best view, were shaded most of the day and even offered some protection if it were to rain.
  • It was good to meet some of my blogger friends - Geno from Equispace and Steve from WirePlayers - in person. Just as personable and knowledgeable in the flesh as they are in cyberspace. An interesting and diverse community, we, Thoroughbred bloggers are. 
  • Thanks also to mom for sending some much needed wagering funds our way for an anniversary gift, ensuring that we could wager to our hearts content. 
  • Below are some pictures from the Preakness...
 The starting gate during the undercard
 Not a cupcake top, but one of the many decorative hats
 Here I am trying to find the Bruins game in an unoccupied horseman's box in front of our seats.
 Our view of Animal Kingdom saddling up.
 Astrology walks by...
Shackleford before he heated up and won...
Animal Kingdom walks by...
 Me and the Mrs...
Animal Kingdom getting a much needed bath afterwards. 
Shackleford walks off his Preakness win before entering the winner's circle.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Preakness Update

Betting away at Pimlico -not much success. I am alive in a Pick 4. I need 4,5 or 6 in race 11 and Animal Kingdom to cash.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Preakness Field and Early Pick

A quickie look at the 136th Preakness field, as I get ready to make my way down to Balitmore...
  • Astrology - never out of the money in seven lifetime starts; likely on the board finish
  • Norman Asbjornson - closed to fourth into what now looks like a weak Wood Memorial
  • King Congie - nice story behind his name; I'll be routing for him, but passing on a wager
  • Flashpoint - adds to a projected quick pace; probably won't be around for the finish
  • Shackleford - can control slow paces like in FL and Kentucky Derbies, but won't have such a luxury this time around
  • Sway Away - has had troubled rank/trips and still qualifies for a non-winners of one allowance
  • Midnight Interlude - Baffert changes rider to Garcia again, but unlikely first place finish
  • Dance City - thanks for the quick pace
  • Mucho Macho Man - Derby traffic and some uncertainty from jock may have cost him a second place finish
  • Dialed In - just running for chance at big bonus or ready for real rebound?
  • Animal Kingdom - real deal and gets even better pace scenario to run at 
  • Isn't He Perfect - No.
  • Concealed Identity - home boy tries for the big score
  • Mr. Commons - not sure he'll get the distance and far post doesn't help
My early pick is as simple as 8-9-10 or the Derby Boys to come back better than the rest

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Preakness Stakes - Stuck in the Middle

Middle children long ignored and much maligned have a way of seeking and finding attention. While the Preakness Stakes holds none of the initial glory of its Kentucky Derby brother or the lonely wisdom of its long-toothed kin, the Belmont Stakes, it has confirmed greatness, toppled Triple Crown hopes and played host to a circus line of oddities... and that's just in the last 30 years or so.

Man-handled fillies:
  •  Jockey Angel Cordero on his mount, Codex, pushes filly and Derby champ, Genuine Risk, from the two path, floating her out into the middle of the track while turning for home. A bit of daring, rodeo-race riding, it bordered on or was believed by many to be a racing foul - one  Pimlico stewards refused to issue. After an objection by Genuine Risk's jockey, Jacinto Vasquez, who also claimed Cordero reached out and hit his filly with the whip, Codex's first place finish stood and his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas stopped reading the hate mail after a while because it all sounded the same.
  • Just eight years later, another female Derby winner, Winning Colors, encountered a similar fate that started just after the Preakness gates opened. Pat Day aboard, Forty Niner, the Derby runner up, purposely forces Gary Stevens and Winning Colors, breaking just to his outside, into the four-path all the way around the course. The two race shoulder-to-shoulder into the top of the stretch. Day's move backfires as Risen Star moves through the hole along the rail, big enough for an 18-wheeler, and wins going away. Winning Colors fades to third and Forty Niner backs up in the stretch. And from The Reaping What You Sow Department: D. Wayne Lucas falls on the opposite side of the sword as his filly is the victim of rough race riding. Lucas takes solace in watching Forty Niner suffer in the lane.
To His Knees:
  • Two weeks after finishing a disappointing third in the Derby, Afleet Alex clips heels with long shot Scrappy T turning for home. Atop  Afleet Alex, jock Jeremy Rose expects to crash into the Pimlico dirt, but instead rebounds quickly for an easy win at odds-on.

  • A drunk spectator runs out onto the track while horses turn for home during a Preakness undercard race, the Maryland Breeder's Cup. The fan allegedly came out to swing and hit 4-5 favorite, Artax and his jockey Jorge Chavez. The man, horses and jocks all miraculously avoided injury and the man was later arrested on a multitude of charges, one of which should have been: Just Plain Stupid.
Roberto Borea / Ap

  • Very little explanation here and in what probably was one of the greatest attractors of fans to horse racing, sans winning or even running of a race. Barbaro united many with his injury, which occurred shortly after breaking through the Pimlico gates moments before the start of the Preakness. The weeks that followed and the courageous battle to save Barbaro's life garnered letters, attention and the whole horse racing community to stop and hope that a great horse's life could be saved against all odds.
The Race:
  • For my money, the best race Triple Crown race I ever saw was the 1989 rendition of the Preakness. In a much ballyhooed preview of that year's Triple Crown series, ABC Sports made a big deal of an East vs. West rivalry between Easy Goer and Sunday Silence. Following Sunday Silence's easy Derby win over Easy Goer, the hype surrounding the Preakness came to a fever pitch as Easy Goer was made the favorite despite his loss two weeks prior. During the running, as the horses approached the far turn, Easy Goer's jockey, Pat Day, squeezed rider Patrick Valenzula aboard Sunday Silence in an early move going for home and in hopes of knocking Sunday Silence off stride. (Later Valenzuela would say, "Pat tried to screw me all the way around the track.") After quickly getting back into stride, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer hooked up for the last quarter of a mile, running stride-for-stride the entire length of the stretch. Day was trapped on the inside and Valenzuela made him pay, beating him by an emphatic head. Dave Johson's call was spot on. 

The Lady is Finally a Preakness Champ:
  • At least she was the first female this century and the second filly to ever win the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. Rachel Alexandra, who quite frankly could have taken the 135th Derby, if she were entered, wins the Preakness in style. In doing so, Calvin Borel, does the unthinkable - gets off the Derby winner, Mine That Bird, to ride Rachel Alexandra. Not sure we'll ever see such a jockey jump again. 

Waiting on a Triple Crown:
  • Since Affirmed, 12 horses have been anointed with the mantle of taking the first two jewels of Triple Crown before falling three weeks later at Belmont Park. Most of those 12 victories were by open lengths and were precursors to what many fans and bettors thought for sure would be the next Triple Crown winner.
And so we wait, knowing this middle child of a race has the power to produce something as equally dramatic as its Derby predecessor, as confirming as Belmont's test of a champion or just another strange oddity come the Third Saturday in May. For once I will be there, hopefully blogging to you a taste of what the Preakness Stakes is all about, up close and personal.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Kentucky Derby 137 Hangover

Not unlike the build up to your wedding day, planning for and picking just the right Derby horse takes months of preparations. Not unlike hiring just the right entertainment, food and hall for your special day, finding all the right qualities of that one Derby winner takes investments of time and money. If you've done your homework, the payoff for your big days is evident to you and all those around you. If you've maybe come up a little bit short with your choices of partner - either human or equine - the throb of opportunity lost along with any and all funds that went along with those poor choices can leave you feeling tired, empty and achy. Your basic hangover recipe, especially if you've numbed your pain with alcoholic beverages!

Like most years, I again came up short on putting the right combinations of horses together on Derby Day. Unlike my Derby Picks blog, I backed off Soldat when I saw no rain - your basic cold feet. I, instead went with Mucho Macho Man on top of a superfecta wheel that included Brilliant Speed, Nehro, Archarcharch and Dialed In. Still not a winning wager, but a last minute change that was better than watching Soldat back up through the final furlongs. To go along with this superfecta, I bet a trifecta box with just four horses: Mucho Macho Man, Shackelford, Midnight Interlude and Animal Kingdom - that's right a 13, 14, 15 and 16 trifecta box. It was close as I would come.

The real bummer was the one horse I had to choose to complete my Derby Prep Parlay Pool. With three "uninvested shares" and a $25,000 pool, I choose Mucho Macho Man over Animal Kingdom for my win wager. I did not, as I stated in my blog yesterday, back up Mucho Macho Man by placing a small win wager on Animal Kingdom.

I have reconciled my losing wagers because I made some important decisions that were right, at least in my thinking, if not in my wagering. Take a scroll down and you'll note that none of my tosses ended up in the top four places. As usual, I  wasn't able to put all the pieces together to strike it rich! Check down and and look over the proposed superfecta wheel that included three out of the top four finishers - I would have left Mucho Macho Man out of third and just missed a $24,000 payoff! That would have really hurt. And just as your way too drunk uncle at your wedding didn't realized the bar was closed, I had no idea there were no dime superfectas on Derby Day.

Unlike your wedding day, that is if you're lucky enough in life to have chosen wisely or been chosen, you don't have to go through the indignation of feeling the hungover losses of Kentucky Derby Day alone. If, well, you haven't been or don't wish to go through the preparations for a marriage with a special someone, maybe you are reaping such benefits and hit it big yesterday. At the end of each Derby loss, which there have been more than I like to admit, I get to smile and nod toward my beautiful wife, who understands my Derby dreams or at least tolerates them, and I feel very lucky. For real!

So if you head hurts from the unrequited love of a Derby choice that came up empty, there's always another race today, the Preakness two weeks from now or a well deserved rest. Whatever your future wager will be take the time to prepare and choose wisely and just maybe, such planning will reap monetary benefits. In the case that you're real patient and want to start planning for next year's Derby, good luck! But don't worry your hangover shouldn't last more than a few more hours - mine is already fading...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Kentucky Derby 137 Pick and Plays - Final Channeling

The ramp up to the Kentucky Derby includes three months of watching, reading and ranking the prospects. There was honest and blind belief in a few horses that I thought were special, but ended up much less than that. Both To Honor and Serve and Casper's Touch were young, talented colts I thought would be standing in the Churchill starting gate tomorrow. Alas, I was dreadfully wrong.

Besides keeping tabs on equine athletes and human connections, I've laid my share of wagers down - some good, some bad and some just plain ugly. One of my best bets was a win wager on Midnight Interlude in the Santa Anita Derby; one of the worst, a win wager on Uncle Mo in the Wood at 1-9. I know, I know foolish, but I was simply trying to build more "shares" in a contest at the time. Believe me it was the only time I've ever bet on such a heavy favorite.

Now that the gate is set, I've eaten a healthy slice of Pecan Derby Pie and I've looked of the Daily Racing Form one more time, I'm ready to come up with a few Kentucky Derby picks. The potential bets will follow with a brief explanation for each: two Superfectas, which if you'd like can serve as a basis for trifecta and/or exacta bets and a win wager. The Pick 3 looks too tough as I can't narrow the Turf Classic to under six selections.

I'll start with the most difficult bet first, the superfecta - that is trying to correctly predict the first four finishers in a 19-horse field. It sounds hard, is hard, but has the potential top pay $250,000! You can also play the superfecta for a base bet of a dime, so you can keep the bet affordable.

After factoring all the horses I liked into a $400 superfecta wheel and left feeling exposed to more than a few entries that could break up my bet, I'll take an inexpensive shot at the big ticket. I'm figuring it this way - I'd rather be wrong for a few bucks than wrong for a lot of bucks. Or maybe I'll get lucky.

Since rain is more than likely before and around post time, I'm taking an experienced sloppy track winner to wheel on top of the superfecta ticket - 17 Soldat. Sure his Florida Derby was awful, but they forced him to run out of his comfort zone, by taking him under a hold along the rail. Sure a coast-to-coast score is unlikely, but maybe if he runs to his front-running strength and goes three-wide just off the pace, he may pounce on front runners and win going away before the closers close. It's worth a shot.

Underneath, I'll go with four closers:
  • 1 Archarcharch - the post is a problem only if you think he'll win; I don't because I'm putting him underneath. It looks like he comes out of a key race and he's got the talent and bloodlines to contend.
  • 2 Brilliant Speed - following his strong work and showing on Churchill track, I'm willing to give him a shot at a price
  • 8 Dialed In - proven dead closer for Nick Zito probably means another runner up finish, maybe
  • 16 Animal Kingdom - finding position to close into will be a key element to his success, but I am betting on him improving enough to hit the board.
So the $1 Superfecta will be 17/1-2-8-16/1-2-8-16/1-2-8-16 for $24.

Since I did the grunt work handicapping for a more madcap scramble let me give you a 10-cent Superfecta: 8,13,16,17/1,8,13,16,17,19/1,2,3,14,15,19/2,3,12,14,15 would cost $40

Since I'm proposing to single Soldat on top of the Superfecta, you'd think I'd just play him to win as well and I will.  But I'll also be adding Mucho Macho Man and probably Animal Kingdom for two, small additional win wagers. Interestingly, I have three "uninvested shares" in $25,000 Derby Prep Contest at To get my shares vested and a chance to share in the $25,000 pool, I will have to cash a single $10 win wager. So I'll be using one of the three horses mentioned above to hopefully get more than $50 back.

Good luck with all your Derby Day wagers!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Channeling the Derby Part II - The Contenders

Followers of this blog - the few, the proud (thanks for continuing to come back) - know it's time for the second installment of Channeling the Derby. This list is created in juxtaposition to Part I - The Tosses. Please see two post below to see who I don't like. The point here is to present up to a dozen contenders and a few betting strategies on the Derby. A few colts will be reconsidered due to training (lack thereof), post positions and possible weather conditions. By the way it's been wet for most of the last 10 days in Louisville and several more days, including Derby Day, have wet weather in the forecast. In addition you may peruse the final Derby Dozen to see how 12 bloggers figure the best 12 horses entering the Derby Gate.

In no particular order, the Contenders:

Shackleford -  interesting since he doesn't appear to need the lead, and likes horses running next to him. He's drawn nicely outside Pants on Fire and Comma to the Top and could be running in a sweet spot three wide into the first turn. Long shot possibility.

Archarcharch - I wouldn't put too much into the number one draw since he races from far off the pace. Blew out three furlongs, old school style, on Tuesday just four days before the big dance. Win considerations at the moment.

Midnight Interlude - I've run hot and cold with him since his big upset win in the Santa Anita Derby. Bob Baffert's comments about his trainee were cool at best earlier this week and he had similar comments before the Arkansas Derby about The Factor. Right now considering third or fourth place on deep exotic tickets.

Dialed In - the most impressive of a less than impressive field. In looking at past races he seems to relish running through fields, so 20 horses may be the least of his problems. Excellent draw breaking just outside front runners, so he'll have room to his left when the Derby gates open. Win considerations.

Animal Kingdom - one of four of reconsidered and he gets on the ticket due to pure talent and distance breeding. His solid Churchill work points to him handling the dirt and with a field filled with distance limitations he gets a long look on top of exotic bets.

Soldat - a wet, meaning less than good, track moves him way up and it looks like he may get a soggy strip to run on. If the track is good, tiring, I will remove his chances for the win. Poor draw at post number 17.

Brilliant Speed - admittedly I'm having a very hard time figuring him. He is another seeming to improve in his workouts at Churchill and has strong stamina on both sire and dam sides. Poor dirt form and poor post - #2 - probably makes him a non-factor.

Nehro - for better or worse he's an underneath horse for me. Maybe he's a super horse or maybe he just likes to finish behind the winner as he has done the past two out. Coming from the 19-hole hampers his chances and I'll only play him for third or fourth.

Mucho Macho Man - honest, yes; consistent, yes; good enough to win, maybe. His post position is a plus and I'm finding it hard to keep him off my tickets.

Stay Thirsty - the better worker training along with Uncle Mo in the Churchill slop; third or fourth at best.

Twice the Appeal - bet with your head, not with your heart. I've reconsidered him and he'll be off my Derby bets, sorry Calvin.

Santiva -not enough done at three to sway me away from others; two-year-old Churchill success not withstanding, he's a dead bet

Derby Kitten - out

Betting strategies:

The past few years I've tried a superfecta wheel - that is picking a winner and wheeling four other horses underneath in spots 2-4. So the bet looks like this A over B, C, D, E/B, C, D, E/B, C, D, E. The bet is inexpensive at $24 for a $1 and requires a good single on top. For instance, last Derby I had Super Saver on top of four others while only correctly pegging Ice Box in the second through fourth spots. I had Paddy Prado in the exacta along with Make Music for Me. I just failed to put it all together. With this field I am not sure I can go with a single on top. I'm looking at a superfecta of three on top for the win with four others underneath.

Another bet I am considering - a Pick Three. I'm thinking of a 3x3x8 play, ending with the Derby. This is a $48 play for a $1, and my thinking is this Derby is so wide open that I should play at least 8 for the win. Sounds a bit crazy, but if I can narrow the two races before to three choices each, having 8 covered would give me a high percentage of hitting - at least on paper - if I'm alive to the Derby.

Next blog - Channeling the Derby - The Bets

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Unclaimed Kentucky Derby Dream

Thoroughbred horse fans, whether brought into the game later in life by a friend or born into the sport through a family member, all have an ultimate destination – the Kentucky Derby. For those among us that bet on the same Thoroughbreds, having the Derby winner is a matter of great pride and confirmation of handicapping skill. To sit under Churchill’s twin spires holding the winning ticket, well, the player and fan has made it to horse nirvana.

In the spring of 1996, I held both a winning bet and Churchill clubhouse tickets for Derby day and both went unclaimed. Here’s why.

During the spring, fall, summer and winter of my family’s discomfort – 1995 -  the year my girlfriend, now wife, and father both were diagnosed with aggressive forms of cancer, I was hoping, praying to simply have a family intact. Of course most of those days were filled with different forms of medicine, doctor’s opinions and just plain waiting around.

My father had been lying flat since a surgery in early October, just two short months after he started vomiting blood. His surgery originally slated to remove stomach cancer, ended up being terminal pancreatic cancer. When he didn’t awake 10 days after his surgery, doctors went back in to remove all of his pancreas and quite a bit of whatever else was close by. These were the events that lead up to my daily search for signs of life beyond the rhythmic bounce of a breathing machine or maybe just a peaceful death.

Meanwhile, starting in May, my wife received 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 taking my wife to the beach, going to Red Sox spring training with my dad and maybe, just maybe together we could be part of the roar of the 150,000 strong that erupts just as the Churchill Downs’ starting gate springs open for the Derby. A big dream for the son of a school teacher, who spent summer days on the hot top at Suffolk Downs and the quite greener Rockingham Park reading the Racing Form along with his dad.

I made it to the beach with wife. It’s the place I would later propose to her about 18 months after her stem cell procedure. I even made it to Fort Meyers, Florida, the Red Sox winter home, with my dad and sister just two months after he miraculously woke up from a nine-week coma. Shortly thereafter, I figured what the heck, why not try to make that Derby dream come true.

So I wrote a letter to Churchill Downs explaining my dad’s illness, our love of horse racing and my desire to get him to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. Surprisingly, someone replied with two tickets for the Kentucky Derby dated for Saturday, May 4, 1996.

My father died just two days prior, on a beautiful, cloudless May day. I gave the tickets away to my dad’s friend, who never made the trip.

In the meantime, while we prepared to wake my father, I took some time to read the Form and then snuck away to Suffolk Downs to make my Derby bet. I figured since I had to pick the funeral home, casket, church readings, etc., why not try to pick the Derby winner, something I had hoped to be doing alongside my father in Lousiville.

Just as I’ll be doing this week, I narrowed the large field down to just a handful of contenders. I placed $2 to win on my three top choices. One of the three, Grindstone, nailed Cavonnier at the finish line to win by the slimmest of margins – the length of his nostril. The win paid about $14, but I never cashed the ticket.

Instead I brought the winning ticket to my father’s wake the following day and tucked into his jacket pocket. He went out a winner. And my dream ended in a much different way.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Channeling The Derby Part I - The Tosses

  • Channeling - to direct toward or into some particular this case the winner of the Kentucky Derby. 

The build up to the first Saturday in May comes with so much hype and hyperbole eliminating the static in search of the Derby winner goes far beyond handicapping. To land on the right horse when almost all of America is a horse racing fan takes more than skill, guile and speed figures. It takes karma, chi, balance, harmony and peace in a less than peaceable world. I believe to pluck a Derby winner from a full field with humongous betting pools, I have to work as conduit and channel my strength, energy and ignorance towards a single-minded goal.

I also know that any and all analysis will need adjustment based upon post, rider changes and weather. Better to be prepared when conditions require last minute changes, than to be caught flat-footed.

In the first step toward picking a winner and winning combinations (I did have the Derby winner and exacta last year), I have to toss horses that I feel have no chance of hitting the board regardless of where they stand in the gate or whatever their odds may be. I'm feeling pretty confident in at least eight horses that won't break up my Derby tickets and am on the fence for a few more. Without further ado and in no particular order:
  • Comma to the Top - like his grit and guile, not so much his sprint pedigree on top and bottom; connections were right to question Derby distance
  • Watch Me Go - the company he's kept resembles those awaiting last call on a week night; Brethren has proven to be less than expected and the Illinois Derby field he lost to was very weak
  • Master of Hounds - comes half away across the world off one Derby prep loss; anything less than 50-1 is an overlay
  • Decisive Moment - no wins this year; the only reason he's the mix is a second-place finish in the $1 million Delta Jackpot in December
  • Twinspired - nosed out of victory in one of weakest Blue Grass Stakes in recent memory; one poor dirt race on tab
  • Brilliant Speed - see Twinspired
  • Pants of Fire - there are just too many horses wanting the lead in the Derby and of all them, I like this one the least
  • Uncle Mo - GI infection aside just don't feel he's the same horse he was a two; yet to fire a higher Beyer speed figure at three than he did at two; risky wager
On the fence, awaiting works, equipment changes and post position draw:
  •  Animal Kingdom - impressive winner of weak Spiral Stakes, but not really sure he'll relish Churchill dirt
  • Stay Thirsty - the blinkers on experiment went awry in Florida Derby and not sure taking the shades off improves matters
  • Santiva - the only reason he may get onto tickets underneath is his early Churchill success
  • Twice the Appeal - like most of American I will probably use this horse in some wagers since Borel picked up the mount
With less horses to consider, I'll set my sights on nine to eleven for various wagers.

Next blog - Channeling the Derby Part II - The Contenders

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kentucky Derby Field 137 - Just About Set

A week and half away and here is the likely field for Kentucky Derby 137 in order ranked by earnings:

1. Uncle Mo - on the workout comeback trail - sort of like Muhammad Ali calling a sparring match a comeback
2. Dialed In - more secluded than the Royal Family
3. Archarcharch - we are family - father-in-law/son-in-law trainer/jockey team, nice story=lower than necessary odds
4. Comma to the Top - you'll likely shout in exclamation at the top of the stretch, if you bet him
5. Toby's Corner - Wood winner will hopefully avoid dreaded "wise guy" tag
6. Pants on Fire - can't decide if he's pretender or contender
7. Midnight Interlude - not being able to pass stablemate in Churchill workout doesn't bode well
8. Soldat - connections practicing rain dance
9. Brilliant Speed - no synthetic to real dirt Derby winner yet
10. Master of Hounds - gets the centerpiece for having traveled the longest distance
11. Twice Appeal - I watched Mine That Bird, have the feeling he's no Mine That Bird
12. Nehro - possible chalk, really, I'm not kidding
13. Mucho Macho Man - two, old school seven furlong workouts back-to-back - I like it!
14. Decisive Moment - I'm begging you to leave him off your ticket
15. Animal Kingdom - may be final defection and/or turf monster in waiting
16. Stay Thirsty - gets Dominguez to ride...yawn...
17. Santiva - traffic troubles in field of 12, add eight more to the mix and he'll be in the breakdown lane
18. Watch Me Go - remember he beat a former $16K claimer in Tampa Bay Derby and not by much
19. Shackelford- tough as nails in Florida Derby defeat, does he have another furlong in him?
20. Twinspired - last horse in just adds to intrigue or one to cross off your the list

Next blog will be Channeling the Derby Part I - Horses You Should Toss

Sunday, April 24, 2011

13 Ways to Blow Your Kentucky Derby Bet

With just 13 days until the Kentucky Derby and in the spirit of American poet, Wallace Stevens, allow me to expound on the 13 ways that you can and most likely will ruin your Kentucky Derby bet(s):

  1. Too many experts listened a couple, toss the rest. Most of the frenzy in the days leading up to the Derby is just white noise. Take my man, The Turk's advice and create your own odds and top choices sans The Daily Racing Form and morning line.
  2. Keep morning works in other words listen to Daily Racing Form's Mike Welsch with his daily reports. The man is spot on and is one of the two that informs my Derby bet.
  3. Betting too much...sure adding one more horse to your superfectat key (1x5x6x10), may increase your odds of hitting incrementally, but it's going to end up costing a pretty penny and with this field the return on your investment is unlikely.
  4. Betting too little...sure it condradicts number 3, but you should pick a dollar amount you're comfortable betting (losing) and then just going with it. Whether that is $50 or $500, choose the amount and try not to deveate.
  5. Complicating your bets with too many combinations and betting against yourself...if you're wheeling Dialed In on top for a trifecta, don't take your gambling money and bet against Dialed In for "saver" bets in case he doesn't win. Go with your gut and cross your fingers for a safe and clear Derby trip.
  6. Following a screening process to arrive at a winner...many "experts" have come up with criteria for thier Derby choices, which usually includes 10 to 20 factors to be checked off. The horses with the most or least checks (depending on the system) gets the nod for their wagers. Too much has already occured with this cohort of horses to follow any such rules. Pick your winner based on past performances, human connections, breeding, whatever you decide, but please put the screening on the shelf for Derby 137.
  7. Wait until the last minute to make your wagers...procrasination in betting almost always causes harm - suddenly you end up tossing in a few more numbers as you wait in the betting window line or as you tap away at your computer. Come up with some bets the night before and make a few necessary adjustments in the hours leading up to the Derby. I suggest you make all wagers after the post parade, if you feel obligated to wait.
  8. Not tossing horses a few days before the Derby...look, just as there will be a few horses you really like, there's got to be a few you dislike enough to remove from consideration. Do yourself the favor and cross these horses off your list of bets and don't look back.
  9. Including "wiseguy" horses in your bets...the second you hear anyone mention a horse as a "wiseguy" horse make it one of your tosses. Please, I'm begging you.
  10. Attend the Derby or a Derby party...listen being at Churchill is great for the few that go every year and attending a party with friends may be fun, but both will mess with your bets. If you're doing either make your bets early, like at noon, and then sit back and enjoy.
  11. Drinking while wagering...listen maybe "a" beer helps clarify your thinking, but any more than 2 will add to your confusion. 
  12. Go against a hunch...especially this year and with this field. Play the birthdays, numbers from dreams (I just had one recently), a horse that has the same name as your dog or favorite poem, anything, I say go with it!
  13. Don't bet...obvious I know, but the year Street Sense won, I came up with an inexpensive $24 Pick 4 ending with Street Sense as the single. It was a 2x3x4x1 play and thought it unlikely to hit, so I sat on it. That little wager would have returned more than $2,000 if my memory serves me well.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kentucky Derby 137 - The Perfect Storm

On the eve of Halloween 1991, the New England coast was hit with a confluence of several different weather conditions that combined for what was later termed, "A Perfect Storm." For those of us here in New England, experiencing it at the time, it was the, "No Name Storm" that presented hurricane-like tides, waves and winds that were responsible for taking the lives of six fisherman out of Gloucester. The tragic tale spurned a book and then a movie.

While the Kentucky Derby will not carry the same dire ramifications as that 20-year-old storm, it certainly appears that a series of events have been put in motion for a similar unexpected result. Might this be the year a 100-1 shot takes the Run for the Roses? Why the heck not.

So far we have encounted the routine injuries and decfections with still more to come. But additionally there have been:

  • five straight Derby prep races taken by double-digit longshots 
  • a hugely disappointing loss by the overwhelming pre-Derby favorite, Uncle Mo
  • a recent maiden-winner, Midnight Interlude, taking the Santa Anita Derby
  • a lack of speed throughout this Derby crop producing just one, 100+ Beyer routing (by The Factor who may not even make the Derby gate)
  • a season of unsuccessful two-Derby preps
  • equipment changes galore and some expected rider changes upcoming (Calvin Borel is not going into the Derby without a mount)
  • a couple of Derby entrants bred for turf that are capable of 10 furlongs and a slew of dirt horses with breeding suggesting 8 furlongs would be a max
It wouldn't surpise me if the Derby Trial run the week before the Derby produces a last minute entrant. So how do you pick a winner with all these variables in play? First, any screening rule you've followed in the past needs to go out the window. This prospective field is filled with rule-breakers, so why bother with such nonsense. Second, keep it simple - bet an exacta of All over Dialed In or the other way around, if it rains take Soldat to wire the field or just bet whoever Calvin Borel ends up on. More difficult than predicting the weather, the lead up to Kentucky Derby 137 promises many shifting winds, and I'm not sure if keeping up with each new development will help or hurt with your forecast...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kentucky Derby Field 137

Before injuries, defections and cooler heads, Kentucky Derby 137 field based on the top 20 graded stakes earners is something like this:

1. Uncle Mo (2 year-old champ, Wood flop)
2. Dialed In (two-time stakes winner at Gulfstream)
3. Archarcharch (upset Arkansas Derby winner with Arkansas connections)
4. Comma to the Top (connections mulling Derby start after runner up SA Derby finish)
5. Toby's Corner (giant killer and Wood winner)
6. Pants on Fire (coast-to-coast Louisiana Derby winner, brings female jock along for the ride)
7. Midnight Interlude (from maiden to Santa Anita Derby!)
8. J P's Gusto (yet to return to two-year-old form)
9. Soldat (FL Derby ugly, but Fountain of Youth winner's stock may rise after The Factor's slide)
10. Brilliant Speed (Blue Grass Stakes annual double-digit bomb)
11. Master of Hounds (Dubai to Derby Trail littered with talented, but tired entrants)
12. Twice Appeal (Sunland Derby winner beat Astrology, so what?)
13. Nehro (fast maturing and fast closing colt that looks like he'll want more distance...maybe)
14. Mucho Macho Man (steady and this year that counts for a lot)
15. Decisive Moment (Delta Jackpot continues to pay four months later for this runner up)
16. Animal Kingdom (fake stuff, turf or all natural dirt, not sure what he prefers, but 10 furlongs OK)
17. Astrology (two-year-old form, now a year-old)
18. The Factor (injury or excuse for latest Derby Trail favorite to fall)
19. Stay Thirsty (blinkers on, blinkers off, blinkers on, blinkers off.....)
20. Jaycito (Lexington won't matter if he wins it and probably won't even if he doesn't)

Just waiting for a change of heart...

21. Santiva (didn't like traffic and rail in Blue Grass)
22. Watch Me Go (this year's Mine That Bird???)
23. Shackelford (front runner that held well for FL Derby runner up finish)
24. Twinspired (at least he's got the right name, just a nose better he's trading places with Brilliant Speed)
25. Silver Medallion (won months ago and trained up to distant SA Derby finish)

One Factor to Fear in Arkansas Derby

Sure, The Factor is a solid 7-5 favorite in today's crowded Arkansas Derby field. The number one question you should consider before wagering on the centerpiece of the Oaklawn Park meet, can anyone go with The Factor on the front end? At least long enough and fast enough to soften Bob Baffert's speedy colt and set the table for an upset? My answer is a resounding, "Yes."

While there are a few likely to go with The Factor there is probably just one horse with the potential to hang with favorite at least through the three-quarter mile mark - Brethren. I don't think this Todd Pletcher trainee will win today's feature, just apply enough pressure for someone else to rise up and take over midway through the stretch.

Here are the factors in Brethren's favor:

  • Akin to last year's Kentucky Derby winner and Arkansas Derby runner-up, Super Saver
  • Blinkers on with two fast works on his tab - there is little doubt of Pletcher's intentions of at least attempting go on with The Factor
  • Pletcher possibly testing the waters to see if Brethren may be able to take down The Factor come May 7, so his main threat, Uncle Mo may get help in tracking down the likely Churchill pacesetter (Could Stay Thirsty's blinker experiment gone bad, been the first attempt?)
  • Brethren has the advantage of breaking just outside The Factor and his jockey Ramon Dominguez will have the option of attacking from the bell or tracking just off The Factor's flank
I believe Brethren's pressure will set up one of the many closers/blinkers on crowd for the win. In this Derby Trail of Doubt, why not take the long shot J W Blue

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Penultimate Derby Dozen

Just a fancy way of saying the "Next to Last" Derby Dozen is upon us. And just like in the movie Major League, featuring catcher turned commenter Bob Uekcer calling a pitch "just a bit outside" as it sails six feet out of the strike zone, the Road to the Kentucky Derby has become just a little wild and wooly. Who's the top choice, after Uncle Mo disappointed at 1-9, you ask? Depends on who's giving the answer. For those of us compiling the Derby Dozen every three weeks, you'll see seven different horses receiving first place votes!

What I don't understand are those still believing in Uncle Mo. Listen no offense, but the horse wanted nothing to do with the final furlong and was overtaken by two far less accomplished colts. There is no question the son of Indian Charlie is too light on training and Todd Pletcher simply doesn't have enough to time to change the plan to get the horse "race ready" for the Derby. The whole two-prep plan is totally overrated and leaves absolutely no room for error. Carl Nafzger, a class act and trainer, created a plan that paved the way for the first and only, Breeder's Cup Juvenile/Kentucky Derby winner in Street Sense. But that plan was for one horse, not a roadmap for all to follow.

The Factor has raced five times since December, which equals Uncle Mo's lifetime starts over his nine-month career. Unlike Pletcher, Bob Baffert has worked The Factor hard and will have sent him to and from Arkansas twice before the Derby. Even without a win in Arkansas, I feel he is far more accomplished than his East Coast counterpart - road tested, brought along through actually running a string of races grouped together and showing the talent and heart of a champion. If you're not questioning Uncle Mo's heart and fitness right now, your either blind or far too naive.

As far as any dark horses at this point - just about any two out of 25 horses running in the Arkansas Derby and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes - pick one, any one. For me, I like Caleb's Posse to give a good showing in the Arkansas Derby. He was the only horse running at The Factor in the Rebel and the stretch out in distance plus the potential for some pace pressure for The Factor give's this son of Posse a strong chance despite possible distance limitations. Heck, he'll be making his 10th start to boot!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Likely Derby Field - Four Weeks Out

Yesterday's final furlongs of the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby certainly muddled the Kentucky Derby picture while befuddling fans and gamblers in equal measure.

Uncle Mo did what many, seasoned Thoroughbred followers thought he just might do - quit in the final eighth of mile on his way to a humbling defeat in his final Kentucky Derby prep.  Sired by the fast developing, yet classically distance-challenged Indian Charlie, Uncle Mo likely showed distance limitations through his much-ballyhooed, weak two-Derby prep schedule. Which leaves a clamouring public praying for a Triple Crown champ, wondering just who turn to their lonely eyes to.

Midnight Interlude simply continued the winning ways of Bob Baffert, giving him another Derby hopeful. Did I mention Midnight Interlude's SA Derby prep was a maiden victory! C'mon Man! 

Where this leaves us less than four weeks until the Run for the Roses is a likely field of 20 with really no stand-out in the crowd. Unless The Factor dominates the Arkansas Derby, there will be mass confusion among bettors come Derby Day. With anything less than a daylight win next week by The Factor, you're looking at lots of value in the full field - a couple favorites hovering around 5-1. How about a quick look at the probable Derby starters as they stand today? (These are the leading stakes earners to date with a few projections based on remaining stake earnings out there. For kicks and giggles I tossed in some projected morning line odds.)

  • Uncle Mo - leading money winner surrounded by clouds of doubt; not sure workouts will tell us anything, we don't already know - projected morning line: 9-2
  • Dialed In - to date only two-stake winner in his three-year-old season; light on seasoning and slow closing Florida Derby gives pause - projected morning line: 4-1
  • Pants on Fire - late arrival via Louisiana Derby, not a winning trail of late - projected morning line: 12-1
  • Midnight Interlude - surprise Santa Anita Derby winner has more than one hundred years of history to overcome with no wins as a two-year-old - projected morning line: 20-1
  • Toby's Corner - giant killer or just inherited Wood Memorial in shambles turning for home; at least he came home faster than Dialed In - projected morning line: 5-1
  • J P's Gusto - has failed to live up to expectations, but has enough graded stakes for a Derby start, so you'll likely see him in the gate - projected morning line: 20-1
  • Soldat - strong Fountain of Youth followed by weak Florida Derby; will have to go back to pace setting - projected morning line: 15-1
  • Twice Appeal - unlikely Derby winner, so why not toss two bucks on his nose - projected morning line: 40-1
  • Mucho Macho Man - his stock continues to rise in my view; if he keeps his shoes on he makes some noise on Derby Day - projected morning line: 10-1
  • Decisive Moment - it would take a perfect storm of events for him to hit the board on May 7 - projected morning line: 50-1
  • Animal Kingdom - certainly looked good beating much less, but did it in style after being shuffled back early in Spiral Stakes - projected morning line: 10-1
  • Astrology - chief qualifier is stake's money earned as a two-year-old, but hasn't lived up to potential this year; overrated - projected morning line: 20-1
  • The Factor - fast early and late during paceless Rebel Stakes; if he wins the Arkansas Derby, he's the chalk - projected morning line: 3-1
  • Stay Thirsty - another Todd Pletcher trainee - blinkers on and now off for Derby, but it won't make a difference - projected morning line: 30-1
  • Jaycito - if he makes it, not likely to factor as much as other Bob Baffert trainees - projected morning line: 20-1
  • Santiva - likely gets into Derby gate with decent Blue Grass Stakes; not sure what to make of him - projected morning line: 12-1
  • Watch Me Go - failed to follow Tampa success in Second-City - projected morning line: 50-1
  • Shackleford - playing the waiting game; not likely to get in Derby gate
  • Nehro - another light on seasoning, but gets one more chance following solid second in LA Derby to make the gate - projected morning line: 30-1
  • Caleb's Posse - only horse to make up ground on The Factor and extra 1/16 miles may give him opportunity to get by Arkansas chalk - projected morning line: 30-1
  • Elite Alex and Sway Away - both need either a first or second place finish in next start to Run for the Roses - projected morning line: 40-1
Just one man's humble opinion. Of course, much can and probably will change in the next 26 days. 

    Saturday, April 9, 2011

    Kentucky Derby Preps Provide Coast to Coast Confusion

    So you watched, wagered and likely lost bets on the Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial Stakes. Now what? Before I try to make sense of what's left of the likely field for Kentucky Derby 137, allow me to briefly recap the two big surprises today.

    Uncle Mo's Wood loss was a head scratcher - taking the lead under a hold through moderate fractions only to spit the bit and give it up in the stretch. It was as ugly a 1-9 performance as you'll ever see. According to trainer Todd Pletcher, his main Derby threat stepped on himself leaving the gate, but did not offer the minor mishap as an excuse for the loss. Distance concerns and questions will hound Uncle Mo's connections over the next four weeks. Good luck with that.

    On the Left Coast, Bob Baffert continued his magical ride through the Santa Anita meet with a maiden, yes a maiden under his care, Midnight Interlude, winning this year's Santa Anita Derby. Imagine losing the post time favorite just the day before with the scratch of Jaycito and then coming back with Midnight Interlude, just a few weeks away from his first win, taking it all by just a nose. Despite such a steep leap in competition Baffert's charge was well below his morning line of 25-1, a sign that the betting public was either unsure of the rest of the field or was happy to find the meet's leading trainer with a horse to saddle up and bet on. (I had $10 on his nose because I couldn't find another horse to back.)

    I can't help feeling Baffert's map to Churchill is watermarked with the word Destiny. He's going with at least two, maybe three, colts and it says here that somehow, someway he wins a fourth Derby trophy. 

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Five Reasons Uncle Mo Wins the Kentucky Derby

    In true contrarian style allow me to argue against my blog from two weeks ago and provide five reasons Uncle Mo is a lock to win the Kentucky Derby:
    • From the Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery Department -  only one horse has turned the Breeder's Cup/Kentucky Derby double. Street Sense won the the Juvenile in smashing fashion at Churchill Downs and followed it up with a two-race prep on his way to earning a blanket of roses. Uncle Mo's trainer, Todd Pletcher, has seen the plan and is following it to a T.
    • While Todd Pletcher doesn't win every Grade I east of the Mississippi anymore (outside Breeder's Cup Days), he did win the Derby last year. Success tends to bred success - just ask Bob Baffert and Wayne Lucas.
    • Uncle Mo still hasn't reached his ceiling as a three-year-old. As a two-year-old he was untouchable, and he has yet to be tested this year. His competition - if that's what we want to call it - in the Wood Memorial are all running for the second place share of $200,000, and a chance to make the Derby gate. 
    • With his ability to rate and tactical speed, even the inner or outer most posts shouldn't be a problem on Kentucky Derby Day. Jockey Johnny V. should be able to use Uncle Mo's push button speed to stay out of trouble early and have plenty left over for the stretch drive late.
    • His sire, Indian Charlie, fell as the Derby favorite 13 years ago, but his dam's sire, Arch, won the Super Derby when it was run at 10 furlongs in that same year. And in case you didn't know, Arch sired this year's Breeder's Cup Classic winner Blame. So the classic 1 1/4 miles distance is in the genes. 
    I didn't even mention the weakening competition either falling off or failing to finish lately. Sure The Factor may start with the lead on the First Saturday in May, but he is unlikely to finish with it. The other leading contender, Dialed In was all out to beat a tiring pacesetter, Shackleford, that wouldn't be confused with the finest colts of this quickly diminishing class. So obviously, Uncle Mo should be everyone's Derby horse. That doesn't mean I'll be betting him...

      Sunday, April 3, 2011

      Florida Derby - That's Why They Call It Horse Racing

      In today's Florida Derby only two horses ran to their strengths and styles. Not surprisingly Shackleford (pace setter) and Dialed In (flying from the back of the pack) finished one, two. The rest of the field were relegated to roles that were either unfamiliar, uncomfortable or both.

      Starting from the last to third place...

      • Bowman's Causeway was simply overmatched. If he can get his head back maybe he'll make some noise at Monmouth or Saratoga this summer.
      • Stay Thirsty was given blinkers off a win and finished miles behind due to the equipment change and tougher competition. Derby dreams dashed???
      • Arch Traveler was never close enough to contend traveling further back they usual.
      • Soldat was given the task from running off the pace and with enough graded earnings to make the Derby gate his human connections were given such a luxury.
      • Flashpoint either purposely screwed everything up (asked to take back by his trainer) or his right hand veer when the starting gate opened was too much to overcome. Either way he never ran to his pace-setting or pressing style. 
      • To Honor and Serve was reserved by Garret Gomez and basically quit because he wasn't allowed to go after Shackleford earlier. 
      Will lessons be learned and Derby plans altered due to the less than desirable outcomes from the six mentioned above? Most likely. I hope that Shackleford makes the Kentucky Derby gate because following the winner, he's the only horse to have earned anything today. Unfortunately he'll need either defections, injuries or cooler heads from those horses in front of him on the Derby earnings' list.

      Saturday, April 2, 2011

      Florida Derby - To Duel is to Die

      In the Florida Derby all the human connections know that a prolonged, speed duel among two or more horses will mean something less than a victory for those running fastest first on the front-end. Yet, this is the widespread predictition of the racing community - those watching, wagering or trying to win $1 million race.

      So if you, me and the lamppost all know that if the first three, quarter-mile fractional times look like :23, :47, 1:10 it will likely doom two or more horses vying for the lead, why would any jockey or trainer prescribe to such a suicide mission?

      The first and foremost answers is: You can't change the stripes on a tiger or a horse that is fast and likes the front is very likely to quit on his jockey if he is restrained from running out of his horseshoes. So horses like The Factor and Flashpoint do what comes natural - run fast and either run their competition into quitting or have the ability to re-brake during a tiring stretch run to hold on.

      While it appears Flashpoint will be let loose from the time the gates open and Soldat has trained to rate behind Flashpoint, sometimes horses have other ideas on where they'd like to run. As you may remember Flashpoint didn't take to the front last time out in winning the Hutchenson Stakes and Soldat has won from just off the pace running on the turf, so who knows, maybe Flashpoint rates off Soldat.

      As I wrote in my Thorofan Handicapping Corner analysis on the Florida Derby, Stay Thirsty is the horse most likely to determine the outcome. Not to overstate, but Flashpoint is likely to be done after seven furlongs and Soldat may or may not rate as trained. Stay Thirsty is coming into the Florida Derby off an usual training move, adding blinkers after a win. (So unusual that his Trainer Todd Pletcher had to get permission from Gulfstream officials to add them.) Blinkers are added, in most instances, to keep a horse focused or to get him "into the race" earlier, following a loss. If Stay Thirsty does contest the early pace with his new shades, then a speed duel is likely and Dialed In may be picking up the pieces late.

      For some reason, I doubt a duel and feel either two-time stakes winner, To Honor and Serve or Soldat benefit the most from a slower than expected pace and/or a pacesetter that is likely to quit in Flashpoint. I'm betting with this in mind and will either cash in or be wrong...and that is the beauty of horse racing - laying your opinions down. In this case, for whoever wants to read them.

      Thursday, March 31, 2011

      Chaos Theory

      Think about it. Your job, your passion as handicapper, bettor, gambler - whatever you call yourself - is to sort through innumerable data, figure both human and equine motivations, peer into the future based upon the past, play the odds, disregard the odds and make a few choices on who to bet, in what combination and for how much. Chaos for sure.

      For a better take on this from a far more accomplished writer, I give you Bill Barich, from the New Yorker, writing about the beginning of a racing day at Golden Gate Park:
      "About eleven-thirty, fans began arriving in steady streams, and as I watched them come in I had the sense of form evolving, something entirely apart from horses and jockeys. It was modeled on symmetry and coherence. The electronic devices around the track reinforced the fiction in the warmup patterns they flashed: The infield tote board showed four rows of zeros balanced on top of another, the closed-circuit TVs featured tiny dots boxed at perfect intervals within a neatly squared grid. The gift-shop lady displayed her horsehead bookends in a horseshoe-shaped arc, the popcorn lady, her striped smock in harmony with the trim of her booth, checked to see that the empty cardboard boxes she would later fill were distributed in evenly matched stacks. The fiction was carefully, if unconsciously, projected, and didn't begin to dissipate until the national anthem had been played and the horses came sauntering up from the barns in single file for the first race. Then order gave way to chaos.
      The moment when horses enter the paddock before a race can be a bad one. Statistics that earlier seemed so definitive are translated peremptorily into flesh, and flesh is heir to miseries - bandaged legs, a limp, a nervous froth bubbling on a filly's neck. Many times, I've heard people groan when they saw what their figures had led them to - some poor creature with downcast eyes."
      Yikes! While many among us don't make daily or weekly trips to the track - the fiction, the reality still plays itself out even from our couches and computers. When you're going good, well, you think that just maybe you've figured it all out - the master of the Thoroughbred betting universe. More than likely your betting tendencies are matching the races played out in front of you (or vice versa) and sure enough that fantasy of personal manifest destiny will crumble away...and hopefully you'll have a few bucks left in your pocket to tell about it.

      Of course one of the largest stages of Thoroughbred racing chaos is the Kentucky Derby. Variables, always many, even in maiden claimers running six furlongs in a field of eight, compound themselves for the Derby. Among the new and dynamic betting conundrums that show up on Derby Day:
      • A new distance - 10 furlongs - that a majority of these colts will never run again
      • The cavalry charge of a 20-horse field and the major post position problems and traffic that come with it
      • 150,000 cheering...loudly
      • An almost always contested pace
      • A gigantic betting pool in which odds become nonsensical - 25-1 shots that should be 125-1 and exotics that pay handsomely even when two 5-1 shots finish in the money
      • Experience or lack there of by human connections
      • A souped up racing surface
      And these are only a few of the many, many arbitrary winds that can blow through your handicapping mind. Which begs the question, how do cut through the white-noise, especially on the First Saturday in May to calmly, mathematically or esoterically find your winner?

      Monday, March 28, 2011

      The Problem with Lists - Derby and Otherwise

      We are a nation of list-makers - from the mundane (think grocery), to the somewhat inspirational (bucket), to the humorous (Letterman's Top Ten) and even banal (top ten ladies or men you'd like to lay horizontal with).

      The problem with any list isn't what's included, but what is excluded. If we buy steak this week, well, we can't afford ice cream and you can't climb the peaks of the Himalayas and sit on the shores of Bali at the same time, even though both have boxes with check marks awaiting. Lists are filled with decisions.

      My problem with Derby lists is the criteria set forth for the 10, 12 or 20 contenders that follow. Some may create their list based on the most current races, others may base a list on the "potential" they see or worse those following along may just leave the list-making up to the "experts." (The same experts who haven't picked a Derby winner since Reagan was in office).

      I say this as a member of 12 bloggers that come up with the Derby Dozen every couple of weeks or so. Confused? Well, you shouldn't be because if you follow the Derby Dozen created by, you should get the sense that while my 11 counterparts and I know a few things about Thoroughbred horse racing, we don't take ourselves too seriously and we try to keep it light. After all what does anyone really know about the Kentucky Derby six weeks away from the big race?

      Without further ado your Derby Dozen IV is just a click away....

      Saturday, March 26, 2011

      Five Reasons to Jump Off Uncle Mo's Back

      In the buy, sell and trade world of the New York Stock Exchange, there is a body of evidence that shows a leading indicator of so many market crashes - lack of long term memory playing the Stock Exchange. With a higher burnout rate than Division I basketball coaches not making the NCAA tournament, Wall Street's collective memory is short - very short. By the time they hit their mid-40s the smart brokers/managers have cashed out or the not-so-bright ones just think climbing markets continue to climb. Without the collective reasoning of mature, wiser traders, whole markets suffer through horrific crashes.

      Thoroughbred fans, handicappers, writers and bloggers don't suffer the same turnaround as our Stock Market friends (we're lifers), so why the group amnesia?     

      Uncle Mo will attempt to become just the second steed to turn the Breeders' Cup Juvenile/Kentucky Derby double. Meanwhile ask any blogger or bettor who their top Derby horse is and you're sure to get Uncle Mo. In the future pools this three-year-old son of Indian Charlie - Derby favorite himself who finished third way back in 1998 - was around 3-1 both times. Some among us would drool at the chance to get him at 2-1 still six weeks away from the big race.

      Come on people! Uncle Mo just might be the next great Triple Crown Champion, but the only thing he has proven in his three-year-old year is that he can beat a bunch of also rans in a one-turn race that Gulfstream's racing director wrote for him.

      Allow me to give you my five reasons to jump off Uncle's Mo's back and find another Derby horse or at least prepare yourself to maybe, just maybe get off a likely even money favorite in a 20-horse field. 
      •  The aforementioned 1-for-27 record of Breeders Cup/Kentucky Derby winners. My math ain't that great, but that comes out to about 3.5%. Willing to take low odds with such a low percentage?
      • Horse racing history has a funny way of repeating itself over and over. Sure Street Sense and Uncle Mo share a Churhill Downs win on Breeders' Cup Day and a two-race prep leading into the Derby. What they don't share is more important - Streets Sense's trainer Carl Nafzger pointed his home bred to the Derby facing far stiffer competition than Uncle Mo - a nose win and track record in the Tampa Bay Derby and a neck loss on Keenland's new, tiring polytrack. Meanwhile Todd Pletcher - an outstanding trainer - has pulled out the white gloves making sure his Two-Year-Old Champion shows up fresh as a daisy on Derby Day without a breath taken out of place. Dangerous.
      • There are just a few places breeding can be the great equalizer - races run on the grass and distances made for champions. Uncle Mo has proven to be a talented and explosive runner up to 1 1/16. Does this means he gets the 10 furlong distance of the Derby? No. His sire made a big move turning for home in the 1998 Derby before tiring through the stretch.
      • Fantasy doesn't equal reality. Simply because many horse racing fans "want" or "wish for" a Triple Crown winner doesn't mean it's going to happen. Those hoping that Uncle Mo can transcend the sport and somehow save it with a Triple Crown win are just a bit misguided. What Thoroughbred horse racing needs are lower take-outs, less racing days, tighter drug laws and stricter penalties for those breaking the rules. A nice story and good for horse racing, but Uncle Mo isn't going to save the sport with a Triple Crown sweep.
      • With all the hype surrounding Uncle Mo, the odds of just about any other horse winning will be heavily skewed in your favor, so take advantage.
      I didn't even mention possible injuries and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile/Belmont double over the past 25 years, in which all the Juvenile winners since 1985 haven't even made the Belmont starting gate.

      Would I like to see a Triple Crown champ? Sure, but I'd also like to have him around 25-1 on Derby Day and then as the second choice on Preakness Day. If a defeated Uncle Mo goes onto the Preakness that is just what everyone will get.