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.