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.

    Saturday, March 19, 2011

    Fear The Factor in The Rebel

    Really, Bob Baffert shipping in with an improving 3-year-old, shouldn't that be enough to capture our attention? Sure The Factor will be the favorite in what, at first look, appears to be a wide open field. I say, the field is widely unpredictable, but only when considering who will finish second and third.

    Here are the reasons to back The Factor:

    • Besides maiden winner, Saratoga Red, there is absolutely no speed to contend with The Factor. Even if Saratoga Red goes with The Factor, he'll probably stop after a half while facing winners for the first time.
    • The Factor is liable to get away with fractions of :24, :48 and 1:11 - if he is loose, as I suspect, then he is gone.
    • Baffert believes in his little horse. If you look at the works leading up to today's start - two six furlong jobs (bullets, mind you) - he's trying to build a bottom into The Factor. Baffert is giving the horse every right to improve and show he can go two-turns. I don't think 1 1/16 miles is outside his ability. Watch the jog out after the wire in San Vincente - The Factor never lets Sway Away get by him.
    My suggestion: Play a trifecta or superfecta key wheel with The Factor on top of Archarcharch, Alternation, J P's Gusto, Caleb's Posse and Elite Alex. Six bucks for a 10-cent super key wheel - why not? 

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    Derby Pool 2 Instructive for Betting Derby 137

    Betting the Kentucky Derby is both fascinating and frustrating...always lucrative, if you could only hit it.

    The Derby will still be lucrative, even this year if Uncle Mo walks into the starting gate at even money - there's always plenty of 30-1 shots that can find their way into the deep exotic - trifecta and superfecta - tickets.

    I find the Future Pools to be just plain frustrating. First of all, your horse has it to make the gate - physically and fiscally (enough graded stakes earnings). There are plenty of entries in Pool 2 yet to make the top 20 in graded stakes earnings and a few like Runflatout, Silver Medallion and Machen unlikely to get there. So any monies tossed their way would have been better used in trying to hit tonight's late double at Mountaineer.

    But just like the Derby there are grossly overplayed horses and a few hidden jewels that would have been worth playing. So allow me to look back and forward through Derby Pool 2...

    Tosses at any price: Archarcharach (closed at 50-1), Astrology (53-1), Comma to the Top (85-1), Gourmet Dinner (42-1), Machen (68-1), Runflatout (31-1), Silver Medallion (31-1) The Factor (32-1).

    Intriguing Plays: Anthony's Cross (45-1), Elite Alex (31-1), JP's Gusto (61-1),  Rogue Romance (36-1), Stay Thirsty (25-1), Sweet Ducky (75-1)

    Possible Derby starters close to their probable Derby morning line, so why bother playing two months away: Dialed In (11-1), Santiva (31-1), Soldat (13-1), Sway Away (18-1)

    Possible Underlays: To Honor and Serve (14-1), Mucho Macho Man (28-1), and Uncle Mo (3-1)

    Let's simply take the betting advice above and parlay it into a Derby 137 $1 superfecta ticket:

    To Honor and Serve, Mucho Macho Man and Uncle Mo over these three again over Soldat, Dialed In, Santiva and Sway Away over Anthony's Cross, Elite Alex, JP's Gusto, Rogue Romance, Stay Thirsty and Sweet Ducky.

    If you're going to look into the future for betting, why not go big? I'll take a look back at this
    $144 ticket on May 8, 2011. Good luck until then!

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    Derby Contests, Futures and Such

    As we approach just eight weeks out from Derby 137, here are some random thoughts...

    If you're in the Run for the Roses contest -  with a VIP trip to Derby 138 as the top prize - count yourself lucky if you didn't use Uncle Mo. While in the real world of Derby horseflesh, Uncle Mo still is the real deal, adding him to your Road to the Roses stable gives you a big doughnut for almost two-thirds of the contest run. Why? Because the Timely Writer isn't part of the prep schedule for the contest and coming out of Gulfstream, Uncle Mo won't run again until the Wood Memorial on April 9.

    My stables are stinking up the joint, but my wife has a real good shot with her three stables that currently have 84 points (good for 210th place from about 15,000 entries), 50 points and 39 points. Among her horses running this weekend are: Brethren, Bench Points, Awesome Patriot and Jaycito.

    I'm not a big Derby Futures guy. Maybe because each future bet I make seems to blow up shortly after the pool closes. For instance, I loved Rule last year, bet him in Pool 2 and he promptly went on the shelf for almost a year. This year I thought Clubhouse Ride was one of the bettor bombs, so the week after I bet him in Pool 1, he's down and out.

    Right now Stay Thirsty and Elite Alex interest me, so there are two to avoid like the plague. Seriously, if you're going to play in the future pool demand odds double or triple of what you'd expect on Derby Day and don't make the wager until sometime Sunday when the real odds appear after the weekend's prep races. started a new handicapping contest worth considering. On Thursday or Friday, you can purchase a $10 contest entry - up to three - to pick winners and get yourself entered into Saturday's $50 contest. Saturday afternoon winners earn their way into $1,000 buy in championship in November as well as some cold, hard cash. There's also end of the month contests, with the winner getting a trip to Vegas to play in the contest. For $10, I think it's worth a shot and check out the contest page here.

    As far as weekend preps go:

    • Tampa Bay Derby - Brethen has every right to repeat with Beamer providing the best chance at a price
    • San Felipe - Have to root for my honey with Jaycito, Bench Points and Awesome Patriot. If Awewome Patriot finishes first, my wife's top-point stable will continue to roll.

    Saturday, March 5, 2011

    Derby Dozen The Third

    We find ourselves just nine weeks out from Derby Day 2011 and the posting of the Derby Dozen Part III. In case you're wondering, my number one pick at this point in the game is Soldat. Yeah, I know no Fountain of Youth winner has won the Derby since Thunder Gulch in 1995, but as each Derby Dozen list is created, I favor those that have run over those that have yet to...Uncle Mo included. There is just so much that can and usually does go wrong with maturing three-year-olds that those that are already on the road by racing get a big thumbs up here!

    The Gotham Stakes  provides us for our Derby Dark Horse Candidate. The Big-A feature pits the top two morning line choices and a good test case for my preference of a colt who has run a couple of times in 201l vs. a highly considered two-year-old coming off the bench.

    Stay Thirsty works out with the current Derby favorite, Uncle Mo. While Stay Thirsty has followed his more accomplished stable mate through several early morning works, this will be his first start of his three-year-old season. Last year he won a six furlong maiden sprint and finished behind Boys of Tosconova in the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at the Spa. He finished the year with a third place finish in the Juvenile.

    Meanwhile, Toby's Corner has been slowly and successfully progressing this year winning both of his starts including the Whirlway Stakes last month - a race in which he came from last to first in the slop while also overcoming a slow pace. He is trained by Graham Motion and sired by Wood winner Bellamy Road - who earned like a 200 Beyer speed figure for the Wood win.

    Just as I did in last week's Fountain of Youth Stakes, in which I took the recently and successfully running, Soldat, over the more highly touted To Honor and Serve, making his first start back off two stakes wins as a two-year-old, I will take Toby's Corner as today's Dark Horse.