Friday, May 18, 2012

Preakness Stakes - The Bets Part I

There are two potential bets I will make on Preakness Day depending on what I'm feeling or where I am at (soccer field, baseball field or friend's party). In this installment I'll go after the guaranteed $1 million Pick 4. Later the Preakness trifecta. Before I get to the plays, I have to say it's hard for me to believe it's been a year since I visited Pimlico and watched Shackleford blow up all my tickets. Pimlico is definitely more down and dirty than Churchill, but far more fun than my old Kentucky home.

JW Murphy, $100K on the turf at a mile

Way to kick off any Pick 4 on the turf, where usually five to six horses finish within a length of each other.

I'll include Easy Crossing, who I think will sit a near perfect trip; Lemon Juice a late runner that might relish a little extra distance than he is used to; Shkspeare Shaliyah, who belongs in with these after an ambitious Grade 1 effort and clunker in his last, Two Months Rent, a potential loose-on-the-lead candidate and Achilles, coming off back-to-back wins.

That's 1-3-5-8-12

The Allaire DuPont Distaff, Grade 3 at a 1 1/16 miles

In a pretty even field, I'm going with a single, an almost insane stab in what could be another blanket finish.

Awesomemundo finds her way as the only lady on my ticket here. I'm guessing she just didn't like the fake surfaces out west since she demolished a decent allowance field on Santa Anita's dirt. It was a career best and Baffert has given this miss the proper layoff following the 7 plus length blowout. She should get first run on several vying for the lead. I'll cross my fingers and hope.

That's 5

The Dixie Stakes, Grade 2 going1 1/8 miles on turf

I almost went with the "All" button in this one, but I'll take more than few shots, instead.

Humble and Hungry goes for a trainer that shows great returns on his horses running the second time after a layoff as Humble and Hungry does today. If I like Humble and Hungry, I really need to include Hudson Steele, who beat him in his last start in a very matter-of-fact win. I've wavered back and forth with Straight Story - I like, I don't, I like, I don't - and with so much indecision, I feel he needs to be on the ticket. Trend almost always finishes second, but with great improvement in his last two places, a win could be in the cards today. Smart Bid is always trying hard; I like that. Air Support placed in four straight important three-year-old turf races and has every right to improve off his return. And I simply cannot leave an improving Chad Brown trainee off the ticket, so Casino Host gets on.

That's 2-3-4-5-7-9-11

The Preakness, Second Jewel in Triple Crown

Speed is a factor in the Preakness - Shackleford, Rachel Alexandra and Big Brown have proven such in recent years. And with Bodemeister unlikely to be challenged early or least by any horse that can hang with him, I can't see me going anywhere else on this ticket. Sure I'll Have Another is a worthy Derby Champ, but one of these days he'll run into trouble or just won't be able to keep pace. I say that day is Saturday.

That's 7

So for 50 cents on 1-3-5-8-12/5/2-3-4-5-7-9-11/7 it will cost me $17.50

Good luck in whatever direction you choose!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Kentucky Derby Dreams Cashed

There are very few times in life when one can say, "My dream has come true."

Last Saturday as I readied myself for the 138 Kentucky Derby I realized that yes, I was going to be sitting under the Twin Spires for the biggest race of the Thoroughbred season, nay the biggest race of my life.

When you start laying down horse racing wagers at 10 years old, well, let's just say attending the Kentucky Derby becomes an automatic. So, for some 34 years I've dreamt of seeing 20 hopefuls burst through the starting gate as more than 100,000 fans cheer them on.

Over the course of my young life I've dreamt of making such a trip with my grandfather, who first peaked my interest in betting; my father, who in so many ways made me who I am today and my uncle Pete, who became a second father and a comrade-in-betting-arms during many weekend trips to Saratoga. Unfortunately, I've attended each one of their funerals, thus I made my pilgrimage last Saturday without them in person, but very much on my mind.

Waking up in Clarksville, IN under the comfort of someone else's home with the fresh dew of the previous night's thunder storms slowing evaporating into the sweet smells of a new day, "a winning day," I thought. And so it was.

The day before I made my initial trip to Churchill to watch the Oaks. (There's more on that at my video and blog post at Horse Racing Nation.) By the way, not only was my maiden trip to Churchill, it was also as completed as a "media member," thanks to Brian Zipse, managing editor of Horse Racing Nation. Now picture this if you will:

  • I found my seat in the media room with a welcome sign from Churchill Downs
  • I was amongst media members like Jeff Siegel of Horse Racing TV, Mike Welsch of Daily Racing Form and "Hammerin" Hank Goldberg of ESPN and Todd Schrupp of TVG to name a few
  • Our view of the track from the 6th floor of the track including air conditioned accommodations, our own betting windows, complimentary buffets and drinks and a bulls eye view of the finish line
So for day two of my Oaks-Derby experience was more of the same of the previous day - a feeling of incredible good luck just to be here. Cashing winning bets was gravy. This kid-in-the-candy-story state of mind pervaded my thoughts throughout the day. Those being paid to do similar work for much more money (I was rewarded in so many more ways than monetary compensation) and much bigger institutions, didn't seem to have the same zeal as me. Maybe I was simply caught in my happy bubble of dream.

And I shared my rose-colored view with my Horse Racing Nation buds - Zipse, Mark Midland, Jasen Mangrum and Kevin Kerstein. As any of these bettors-turned-insiders can tell you, I pretty much talked non-stop in both sensible and nonsensical ways - think Jack Kerouac with his scroll and meandering thoughts. A few around me were kind enough to tolerate my stream of consciousness and laughed along the way. A few wished they were seated somewhere else. 

I soaked in as much as possible and even did a little work, shooting and editing a Kentucky Derby Pick 4 video with Brian and Jasen. (Hey, I needed to earn my spot.) I drank my Mint Julep, watched many ladies walk by in their Derby hats, noticed a few celebrities and failed to cash a ticket all day.

No matter, the day quickly melted away to the Derby - a race, as you know, in which I placed a near-miss $406 superfecta bet down. I also had a $50 win bet on Bodemeister.

The memories will stick for a lifetime, as I find it hard to believe my experience was just a week away....

My drink and my view

My greeting

Ladies in hats

Oaks Boys

Crowded paddock

Had to take this photo

A garden on a hat

Derby Winner's Circle

168,000 trying to leave at once

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Kentucky Derby Bet Near Miss

If only I'll Have Another didn't run his race...

...and Went the Day Well didn't nose out Creative Cause for the show, I would have had hit the superfecta. Actually, I'm glad I'll Have Another won, because at least it saved me from being painfully close to hitting. So the elusive dream of cashing that big Derby bet will have to wait another year.

Later this week, I'll be posting some photos from the unbelievable Derby experience I shared with the Horse Racing Nation Team.

Looking ahead, just box the Derby horses in the Preakness - exacta or trifecta...

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Kentucky Derby 138 - The Bet

With about 90 minutes to go to the 138 Kentucky Derby, I will share with the few, the proud, the followers of this blog - a Derby bet I'm making with some friends of mine. But I get ahead of myself...

First and foremost, you need to decide the type of bet you're making today. For me, the Derby is all about the superfecta - trying to correctly pick the top of four finishers. It is an difficult extremely bet and one, in which, I have just missed the last two years, correctly picking three of the top four. (Check out my blog post from Kentucky 137, when had all but Mucho Macho Man in third in the superfecta that cost $216.) The bet, by the way, has paid anywhere from $3,500 to more than $200,000 the last 15 years. So with a few near misses in hand, I came up with a strategy - bet many more and include my friends to support the ticket. 

Today, I have a $406 bankroll (8 of us at $50 a piece for $400), and I am actually tossing in the extra  $6 for the play including the following horses...

My top four:

#6 Bodemeister (4-1) - named after the trainer's son, Bode. Run away winner of Arkansas Derby...the only draw back, he'd be the first Derby winner, not to have won a race at 2 years old since Apollo in 1882.

#8 Creative Cause (12-1) - never out of the money in eight lifetime starts

#10 Daddy Nose Best (15-1) - two-time stakes winner, running under the radar and we'll probably be closer to 25-1 or higher; he's my big bomb

#15 Gemologist (6-1) - five starts, five wins - enough said...

All six of these will occupy spots in the bet:

#3 Take Charge Indy (15-1) - must include because his jockey has won the Derby 3 of the last five years

#4 Union Rags (9-2) - possible favorite, never out of the money in six lifetime starts, $1 million winner

#5 Dullahan (8-1) - reluctantly I put him in, sometimes you have include those you don't necessarily like

#11 Alpha (15-1) - good bet to make a move into contention late in the race

#13 Went the Day Well (20-1) - I can't quite decide on this one, so he's got to go on the ticket

#14 Hansen (10-1) - 2-year-old champ, almost ghost-white in color, maybe overlooked because he lost his last race

There's 20 in the race, but if we bet them all, we'd have to come up with $166,000...

Just a note, speed is holding up, so I feel fairly confident that the speed with hold for second, third and fourth. 

Here's the play and the combinations that will cost $406:


Good luck with whatever you play...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Five Reasons to Play Against the Kentucky Derby Favorite

Following up last year’s Five Reasons to Get Off Uncle Mo’s back, the then prohibitive early Kentucky Derby favorite, I am providing my five reasons to play against Saturday's likely favorite, Union Rags. While I find Union Rags to be a much more deserving favorite, there are chinks in his armor and enough doubts about him being a clear winner that I need to share with you. Without further ado and in no particular order…

The jock – Listen I love Julien Leparoux. He’s a much accomplished jockey, who rides well on turf, dirt, fake stuff, sprint, route, from behind, on the lead, etc. etc. It’s not his talent that concerns me this Saturday; it was his reaction after Union Rags finished third in the Florida Derby. There was a cryptic tweet along the lines of, I’m signing off from Twitter for awhile. It sounded like whatever criticism Leparoux heard either online, from the stands or questions from the media affected him. He’s human, he’s allowed. Whether it was the trouble that Union Rags found getting bottled up, behind and leaving him with too much work left to do or it was Leparoux’s fault/over confidence thinking he had enough horse to win no matter what, is not the point. The point is that the criticism hurt and you can’t have a sensitive/indecisive rider on Derby Day.

Stretch runs – Have you watched Union Rags run? The boy finds trouble in almost every trip, winning or losing. Watch his Champagne Stakes’ win, it’s almost a carbon copy of the Florida Derby. While finding trouble and winning shows grit, continuing to find trouble and losing shows lack of maturity. Usually troubled trip notes aren’t written alongside the Kentucky Derby winner.

Favorite Status – Almost the surest bet to be made each Kentucky Derby Day are the ones that don’t include the favorite. Seriously, favorites win the Derby at an alarming low rate. In the every day world of Thoroughbred horse racing, favorites win at about a 30-35% rate. Over the last 30 Derbies run, favorites have won four for a paltry 13% win rate. You don’t need to be a math major to figure that's some poor odds.

The Post – C’mon you can’t dismiss that post-position draw. Yeah, yeah it’s not the rail, but it is not an easy assignment to win from the four-hole. He does get Take Charge Indy to his inside and a possible horse to follow, but in a race seemingly filled with speed there are several more crashing down towards the rail and in Union Rags direction. If he is taken back and forced to go five-wide like the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile than he’s not a winner.

Strong Competition – There are far too many good horses in here to single Union Rags. You can include him, if you’d like, but a single on Union Rags equals wagering suicide. Bodemeister is faster. Dullahan and Daddy Nose Best are closers worthy of consideration. Gemologist has yet to lose. While being overlooked, Hansen should be considered. Creative Cause wasn’t cranked for Santa Anita Derby, but he certainly is now.

So take the favorite. He’s good looking, fast striding. His trainer is a class act. Nothing wrong with any of that…but I just don’t see him winning. There, you’ve been told. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Kentucky Derby 138 Field Just About Set

What follows is your likely Kentucky Derby Field in order of graded stakes earnings - the top 20 get in. Of course, I provide a brief commentary on each entry. Enjoy...

Hansen – fast, sometimes too fast and headstrong; he almost guarantees a fast Derby pace

Daddy Long Legs – the Dubai to Derby record is poor; for me he’s a toss

Union Rags – beautiful specimen, never out of the money, but sometimes erratic stretch runs make me nervous

Dullahan – I think he’s grossly overrated; this field is much better than the one Animal Kingdom beat moving from turt-to-synethtic-to-dirt

Creative Cause – blinkers on-blinkers off never a good move before Derby Day just ask Stay Thirsty

Gemologist – unbeaten and solid Churchill Downs form, he’ll be on top of my tickets

Sabercat – Delta Downs winners usually don’t make it this far, so consider this a moral victory

Take Charge Indy – Calvin Borel in the saddle guarantees low odds for FL Derby winner

Bodemeister – speed figures say he just might break the “no win at 2” jinx

I’ll Have Another – two straight Left Coast stakes victories, but also two dream trips

Daddy Nose Best – beat second-tier Derby contenders in New Mexican desert, but I like him

Liasion – lots of success at two; none at three

Alpha – any setbacks on the way to Derby bother me; like him, don’t love him

Prospective – no horse has won Derby finishing less than fifth in final prep; he finished sixth in Blue Grass

Trinniberg – looks like, runs like and was breed to be a…sprinter; which means he probably finishes in the money

Done Talking – will have no say in outcome; too slow

Went the Day Well – I bet on Animal Kingdom and you sir are no Animal Kingdom

Rousing Sermon – the connections take him because has the earnings, never a good idea

Mark Valeski – nothing wrong with two strong seconds, except Fair Grounds doesn’t really produce Derby winners

El Padrino – failed to fire in FL Derby when caught wide, needs a perfect trip running with 19 others...doubtful

Well, that's it for now...I'll be blogging and producing video for Horse Nation from Churchill...just 10 days away 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Getting Your Kentucky Derby Zen On Part II

In my second installment of Debry Zen, I make the case for not loving your Kentucky Derby horse too much...

If you’re practicing the art of Zen along with me for the next few weeks until May 5, you need to know that such matters don’t always unfold peacefully. Sure, you can cross yourself up into the lotus position along a babbling brook and gather the energy of the universe through each cleansing breath. For the rest of us, such quiet moments of reflection come somewhere between the second cup of coffee and the third time through the past performances. 
The truth of the matter is enlightenment usually hits you between the eyes with a hypothetical hammer as your handicapping budget becomes lighter, two times over. Learning from the experience in front of us is just as important as the reflection – sometimes hundreds of times over – from a distance. The problem is sometimes it takes us far too long to learn and/or apply what has been learned. Today’s moment of  Derby Zen concentrates on the most basic, yet complex feeling of love, as in loving a horse so much you’re blind to other evidence around you spelling the horse’s defeat. With 20 steeds starting from Churchill’s main gate love is probably what you don’t need clouding your wagering judgments.
Read the rest at Horse Racing Nation... 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Get Your Kentucky Derby Zen On

Bloggers/tweets like me, enamoured with Thoroughbred racing, really can't get enough of it and don't mind writing about it almost non-stop, look for many avenues for our passion. That is we blog where we can and when we can. For me, this means tossing it down right here where you're reading, cross pollinating at Horse Racing Nation for a weekly blog tied into Derby Wars tournaments, contributing to the best Kentucky Derby contender list at and being a member of Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance.

With all that contributing, allow me if you will, the opportunity to start you off with my latest endeavor at Horse Racing Nation: Finding Your Kentucky Derby Zen. Each week leading up to the Run for the Roses, I will present a topic for consideration and offer up a moment or two of Zen to go along with it. This will not be a hardcore, systemic approach, but instead a more organic way of developing a winning Kentucky Derby wager. The lead in follows, and I invite you to come back each week for the latest installment. Now excuse me, while I unfold myself from the Lotus position...
The Kentucky Derby is a unique betting experience, even in the world of Thoroughbred racing. This single race - a slice of Americana itself - receives approximately $80 million in bets. This multimillion dollar pool dwarfs just about every other race in the world in terms of money bet, and the handle for some entire meets.  
In a pari-mutuel pool - democratic as they are in nature - everyone who lays down a bet contributes to the odds on those running in the race. On a daily basis these pools present opportunities for astute gamblers that dare go against the masses and the top choice/odds on horses. Example: Finding a well-bred, conservatively campaigned horse at 20-1, while taking a pass on shorter prices last Derby Day certainly paid well enough. Animal Kingdom not only returned a hefty $43.80 for each $2 win mutuel, he keyed a $48,000 plus superfecta and a nearly $5,000 Pick 3. 
 To read the rest of this blog click over to Horse Racing Nation...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Derby Dozen - The Third

I am happy to report that I am one of 12 lucky contributors that lend a hand in compiling the WirePlayers' Derby Dozen -  a Derby contender list like no other. Haven't seen or read it yet, click here, and see for yourself the meandering thoughts of horse racing aficionados.

What makes the Derby Dozen different? First of all this is a dynamic group spanning both coasts and America's heartland with many different perspectives and knowledge bases. More importantly the group - led by Steve Munday - not only puts together a comprehensive list of Derby contenders, it also provides brief commentaries on each potential Derby entrant with tongue firmly placed in check. A few weeks ago, even Jill Baffert (not really her?) showed up with a few words inspired by Gisele Bundchen....

Below I provide my Derby Dozen for your complete viewing pleasure:

1 - Creative Cause - trainer Harrington lauded for the genius of novel, 3 Derby prep plan
2 - Union Rags - push button, turn-of-foot 
3 - Hansen - blinkers off, opened mind, body and spirit in defeating inferior Gotham gang
4 - El Padrino - all of sudden Todd Pletcher's only real Derby threat
5 - Bodemeister - reluctantly rated, took off and almost stole San Felipe stakes
6 - Castaway - breeding, form and human connections point to winning ways continuing
7 - Alpha - he could have made it in New York, but now needs "W" in FL Derby for needed graded stakes earnings
8 - Mark Valeski - call me crazy, but a horse named after the hotel pool guy is too good to be true 
9 - Prospective - won a minor event, needs to step up in the Wood
10 - Dullahan - ran big in Palm Beach, but really don't see what all the fuss is about
11 - I'll Have Another - the waiting is the hardest part...
12 - Trinniberg - yet to be nominated, but I have the feeling that will change

Right now I see only El Padrino or Creative Cause stopping a Bob Baffert runner from winning the Kentucky Derby. It just feels like Baffert's Derby this year...of course having a stable full of three-year-olds peaking at the right time helps. Bodemeister - a last minute replacement for San Felipe - came close to winning his two-turn debut in his third career start. Baffert, annually spot on with his three-year-olds, is just plain magical with all his horses this year.  

Monday, March 12, 2012

Time, Performance and Money...Kentucky Derby 138

We now find ourselves less than eight weeks away from Derby Day and the clock is ticking in more ways than one.

  1. Time - The horses that have caught your attention and got you dreaming of the Kentucky Derby have already performed this calendar year...and they have done so in stakes company...on dirt...and around two turns. Sorry sprints, allowance affairs and turf-to-dirt plans this late the game, I'm just not buying it. And by the way, two-year-old form is just that - two-year-old form.
  2. Performance - If they ain't crossing the finish line first, second, third or a troubled, fourth, 50-some-odd days of training is not going to magically change their prospects, especially going 10 furlongs with 19 foes along for the charge and 150,000 screaming fans.
  3. Money - Graded stakes earnings are always on the minds of human connections. Horses sitting above the $200,000 mark (and there are nine of them) can safely assume a May 5, Churchill start, if they want it. This means up to and probably more than 11 spots are up for grabs and with three $1 million, one $800,000 and one $750,000 races, there promises to be at least a few jumping up the stakes earnings ladder. Hold onto your hat with a few like, I'll Have Another, Fed Biz, Gemologist and Take Charge Indy taking just one big shot at earning the necessary cash. How much will be necessary to make the Derby starting gate? I say it will be close to, if not more, than $250,000.
While Bob Baffert can live with the two duds Liaison (currently sixth on the graded stakes earnings list with $393,000) has tossed, he does not have the same luxury with Fed Biz ($0) and Bodemeister ($60,000). Baffert's success with three-years-olds is so storied, he's likely to get more than just Liaison to Louisville. Most counterparts, including Todd Pletcher, aren't so blessed or lucky.

So please fasten your seatbelt, move your seat to the upright position and place all bags in the overhead compartment because the ride's going to get bumpy for most and more than one seat cushion will need to be turned into a flotation device.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Kentucky Derby Bragging Rights

It is a basic human emotion - the thrill of being first. Think back to middle school and the boy or girl who first went out on a date or kissed. Try reaching even further back to those students in elementary school who could run the fastest or finish their quizzes in less time than it took the teacher to pass out the multiple choice tests. How about your friends in high school with the winter birthdays who were also the first to drive - legally. Let's not even go into those first 21st birthdays and what that meant for the rest of us a little bit behind the legal drinking age.

All those little landmarks, monumental at the time, yes, gave your friends, classmates or maybe even you (cool dude or dudette) instant status. The cool kids, most everyone else aspired to or despised. What was it? Acceptance. Having the smarts or the foresight to be ahead of the crowd. Who really knows or cares, but we do for some psychological reason care; we just do.

In this spirit, fellow horse racing blogger Brian Zipse and I engage in a little point/counterpoint at Horse Racing Nation about just which current Kentucky Derby long shot/dark horse has the best chance of wearing a blanket of roses on the first Saturday in May. I went with Risen Star Stakes runner-up, Mark Valeski, while Brian went with the still unproven, Empire Way.

Do either have a shot to win? Sure. Heck, any three-year-old still in training is a good bet. And to think it's only eight weeks away from the Kentucky Derby and the opportunity to see who was right...first!

To read who Brian and I like and why click on this link: point/counterpoint. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Early Odds for Kentucky Derby Pool 2

There are some real head scratchers as of early Saturday morning in Churchill Down's second Kentucky Derby Future Pool. (Full disclosure: Please read post below about playing such a crazy bet as the Derby Future Pool, take with grain of salt and then keep future bets small enough to be fun.) Back to a bit of betting confusion...

  • El Padrino at 16-1 is an absolute underlay. He's a monster, hard worker and is coming into his own at the right time. If he wins his next prep before making it to the first Saturday in May, he won't be anywhere near 16-1.
  • Mark Valeski finished just one nose behind El Padrino and like the former, he's getting right at the right time. With odds at 53-1, I'll probably take a small shot with him. 
  • Castaway doesn't look to have distance limitations, finished first in a division of Southwest Stakes and may be returning to Oaklawn for a repeat performance in the Rebel. 43-1 is far too high for any of Baffert's horses.
  • Hansen is the only single betting interest that will be running before the end of the pool at 6 pm on Sunday. Somebody please help me understand how Churchill Downs Inc. decides the timing of their future pools? I don't work for Churchill, but I would think waiting for next weekend when there are three potential prep races run (Tampa Bay Derby, Swale and San Felipe) would have been a better time to generate excitement and wagering in this pool? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?  
  • Gemologist, Dullahan and Sabercat are all still sitting on the bench awaiting their first start of their 3-year-old seasons, yet they've showed up in the Future Pool 2. This proves graded stakes earnings rule over performance and Churchill's reliance on such earnings provides the adverse incentive (at least for fans like me) of keeping three-year-olds away from the races. There needs to be a sliding point scale  system - more points for higher grades and greater emphasis on three-year-old races vs. two-year-old races. If Dullahan, Sabercat or Gemologist were somewhere towards the middle or bottom of a point system, I'm guessing we would have seen them race at least once apiece by now, who knows maybe twice? (A man can dream can't he?)
  • The betting public - meaning us - aren't exactly suiting up for this pool with less than $50,000 in the pool by the time my almost 3-year-old daughter woke up on Saturday morning, 5:15. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Guide to a Winning Kentucky Derby Future Wager

Here for the reading - a quick, no-nonsense guide to finding a winning strategy for beating the Kentucky Derby Future Pool.

10.  There is no such thing as morning line odds. The advance of a line the morning or two before, sure that's a morning line. A line 60-some-odd days before that's reading the tea leaves or palms. Good luck with following that logic.

9. These entrants from Pool 1 won't cloud the picture Algorithms, Discreet Dancer, Ever So Lucky, Junebugred, Longview Drive, and Mr. Bowling. Of course Algorithms is out, like for a long time; Discreet Dancer can't get two turns;  Ever So Lucky is not; and the last three finished up the track at the Fair Grounds.

8. Unlike pork bellies, oranges or oil - there is no guarantee that you future wager will ever be delivered or cashed. You can sweat out a commodity until its delivery date and take losses big or small, but the likelihood of seeing your future wager get "delivered" into the Churchill starting gate on the first Saturday in May is not good.

7. Breeding is overrated - the fact of the matter is the vast of majority Thoroughbreds can't and won't get  the 1 1/4 miles distance. Whether they come out of A.P. Indy or Boundary, 10 furlongs is simply beyond a breed bred to run fast and not-so-much long.

6. Decisions are tough: six-pack of beer, steak for dinner or a future wager. The most immediate future wagers, like the moments before horses enter the starting gate, are hard enough. Nine weeks out consult the stars and planets. Dullahan has yet to run this year, News Pending finished second behind Union Rags because someone had to and Bodemeister and Battle Hardened have recently left the maiden ranks. 150-1 doesn't begin to cover the risk/reward on these.

5. Not happy burning your money with a straight win wager, how about happily handicapping imaginary exactas. Simply guess who might be in the pool and wheel them on top or on bottom or both. How to eliminate contenders from pretenders: toss out the odd, keep the even or count the letters in your name, if they match yours, your spouse, children or favorite frat brother, keep 'em. Everything else is waste of time.

4. Like the shortest odds in the field on El Padrino and Union Rags? Even if both make it to the Derby, Union Rags could draw post number one and El Padrino post number 20 - good luck with that.

3. Just three key races have been run since the last Future Pool - Southwest, Risen Star and Fountain of Youth Stakes - have given us the two mentioned above as well as Secret Circle and Castaway. Face it, you really don't know that much and choices made through ignorance usually will find you in jail, petulant, drunk or all three.

2. All other 3 year-olds open at 3-1. Hmmmm - take one of around 400 Triple Crown nominees or get about 370 for shorter odds. The numbers are on your side and 3-1 gets you a 300% return on your money, try getting that from Wall Street or at the Main Street Bank.

1. If there ever was a time to follow the advice that sometimes the best bet is no bet at all, this is the time.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscars and Horses

Of course the Oscars and horses have absolutely nothing in common. Call me old school, but I really can't stand events, be it female Olympic figure skating or movie actors, that rely on subjective judging to determine a winner. No wonder any actor worth his salt - George C. Scott and Marlon Brando come to mind - don't attend the ceremonies or accept their awards. They knew the performance is all in the individual interpretation of the acting. Award ceremonies are for frilly gowns, borrowed jewels and assholes like "comedian" Sacha Baron Cohen and wonderfully narcissistic beauty kings and queens. (Disclaimer: I do like and will occasionally pay to see actors like George Clooney and Isabella Rossellini do their thing.)

I much prefer the action and adventure of sporting and life events where time, effort and energy are the only precursors to success...well those and a little luck. Track and field, just about any sport that is determined with a score, not a judgement and Thoroughbred horse racing.

What kind of sucker am I for the Sport of Kings? Today when I was watching a review of the 2009 Triple Crown season, my eyes watered as Rachel Alexandra took the Kentucky Oaks that year by more than 20 lengths. The singleness, the greatness of her athletic achievement was on display for anyone who wanted to watch. There were no votes cast for artistic impression or from an academy. She won through sheer will and athleticism - beauty at its finest.

Tonight while Billy Crystal made 'em laugh as he always does, Thoroughbred players and fans were trying to determine just who is the Kentucky Derby favorite - El Padrino, who clashed tooth and nail through the Fair Grounds stretch in winning the Risen Star Stakes or Union Rags, who looked professional and the epitome of a classic horse winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes with ease at Gulfstream Park. You really can't go wrong siding with either super horse of the moment. And even we can't agree on which may become the next Kentucky Derby champ or possible Triple Crown winner, we can at least agree that the matter will be settled on the track with blood, sweat and tears not unclasped from a crisp, gold envelope.

Places to Play and Places to Post

If you've made your way over here from Thorofan, thought you'd like to know I also have a blog over at Horse Racing Nation called Tales from the Battlefield - where I write a preview for the tournament site, Derby Wars each weekend. Not familiar with Derby Wars, why not get acquainted? You can play for free, as little as $4 or as much as $175 for their big, $25,000 game next month.

Not had enough of me, great, because I occasionally tweet. You can catch my sometimes insightful and sometimes banal posts at tonycbadabing on Twitter.

If you're wondering my Kentucky Derby thoughts, I'll be posting after today's Fountain of Youth Stakes. I like Casual Trick before Algorithms scratched and still like him now, but Discreet Dancer scares me just a little bit more without the the morning line favorite applying pressure on the likely pacesetter....

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Play Away - Handicap Contests Aplenty

OK you want to play? Well, there is plenty of opportunities online to play away - some for free and some for just a few bucks. Here's the rundown for today and beyond:

Derby Wars - excellent, affordable tournament style play; you can play for free or up to $175 for their big, upcoming $25K tournament...I also write a Derby Wars preview on HRN

NTRA/NHC - sign up for the National Handicapping Challenge at NTRA and get 4 free tournaments to play and the opportunity to participate in many NHC qualifiers online and at tracks throughout the country. Cost to sign up $50

Twinspires' Triple Crown Showdown - a new take on the ADW's Derby Share Contest last year. This time around bet $20 to show on a single entry for the next 20 Derby prep races to earn a share of $10,000 or $1,000,000 and/or Derby tickets

Equibase - Free contests just about every weekend...sharpen your handicapping tools at no cost

Road to the Roses - Earn respect of friends with this popular fantasy-style game for the next 10 weeks leading up to the Derby. Win gift certificates for the Derby store, Derby bets and a grand prize - VIP trip to next year's Derby. Another freebie

Beat the Host - contest, in which you try to out-bet a site qualify for champions tournament for prize money and entry into the NHC contest next January. Cost is $40 (8, $5 win wagers on contest days)

Race to the Gate - TVG's guarantee for a $25,000 top prize...similar to the game, entrants have to qualify by placing $10 win wagers on 10 prep races leading up to the can also qualify for free

I'm sure there's more out there, but there's a brief rundown so play don't even have to get off your butt!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

You Made a Play in Kentucky Derby Future Pool Wager:Now What?

Unless you played the Kentucky Derby Future Pool #1just for fun - which is really the only way to play 12 weeks away from the big dance - here are your chances to cash as I see it.

Smart money = take a shot at entries that already have enough graded earnings to make the Derby gate or are on the verge of guaranteeing their shot with just a few more graded stakes bucks. These entries include: Hansen (26-1) , Union Rags (7-1), Sabercat (34-1), Creative Cause (17-1), Liaison (56-1), Dullahan (40-1), Algorithms (12-1). Unless any of these get hurt, they'll go on May 5 giving their backers something to route for at very nice prices. Others likely to make it: Alpha (19-1) with $180,000 and light competition in New York and Rousing Sermon (71-1) just needing to beat a handful of others in typical small-field Left Coast Derby preps. All others are a crap shoot, pure and simple.

Some will need a graded stakes win or at least two top-three finishes to make it to Louisville, which include zero stakes dollars won by El Padrino (20-1), Fed Biz (21-1), Junebugred (58-1), Midnight Transfer (67-1) and Discreet Dancer (30-1). All have won in allowance company or ungraded stakes, but have yet to make a stakes placing splash. These three-years-olds have a very short window to make up a lot of ground and maybe one or two will...then, again, maybe not.

The middle of the pack are those that just may have peaked at two, made a minor showing this year and just maybe will be here and gone by the end of the month: Take Charge Indy (42-1), Empire Way (33-1), Ever So Lucky (55-1), Gemologist (22-1) and Longview Drive (141-1).

Finally, there are the three that got into Pool 1 by winning the first of the major prep races: Out of Bounds (23-1) winning the Grade 3 Sham Stakes, Mr. Bowling (85-1) winning the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes and Battle Hardened (46-1) winning the Grade 3 Sam Davis. Can they continue their winning ways? We'll see, but I say it's doubtful that any of these make it to the first Saturday in May.

Of course there's "All Others" that came in at 3-2. If you had $5,000 to invest with the likelihood of a 150% return, you'd take it. As I touted all week this was the bet to make, which means of course I didn't make it. Who did I take?

First off, I took the longest shot on the board Longview Drive. Why? He did all the dirty work in the Sham by setting a very fast pace at :22.66, :45.89, 1:09.78, yet still held well to finish third only a length behind the top two finishers. He's got stamina on top with Pulpit and on bottom with a mare out of Wild Again - winner of the initial Breeder's Cup Classic. If he can rate in the Southwest Stakes, he could be very dangerous and live. And if you're taking a future bet, the longest shot is the place to go.

My other choice was Fed Biz, an easy one-turn mile allowance winner who is likely to start next in the San Felipe Stakes. Sired by Giant's Causeway and like Longview Drive is out of a Wild Again mare. Following his almost 6-length win, jockey Rafael Bejarano claimed that Fed Biz was his Derby horse - heady stuff for a February win.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Kentucky Derby 138 Future Pool; When Nothing Means Something

With the first of three Kentucky Derby Future Pools offered this weekend, it's a good time to share a somewhat informed wagering decision or better yet, one that requires little to no information at all. 

First and foremost, we need to understand that the Future Pool 1) ties up a portion of your betting money for 12 weeks without a return and 2) the difficulty of picking a winner just minutes before post is amplified indefinitely when trying to turn the same trick three months in advance. So if you don't mind taking a portion of what you bet and leaving it on the shelf for weeks while realizing that your betting choice(s) may not even make the starting gate, then go ahead and wager away this weekend. 

The timing of this year's Future Pool #1 is curious to say the least. The Hutcheson Stakes is the lone prep race this weekend that may possibly influence your future bet(s). And besides, the Hutcheson, run at seven furlongs, is hardly a bellwether for Derby success. So any and all wagers are based on your perceptions of what is to come or the limited reality of several early prep races. In either case, what you don't know is just as important as what you do know - which is close to nothing.

Here's the whole bunch of nothing from the early preps:
  • Out of Bounds - sat a perfect trip behind an extremely fast pace in the Sham and beat only four rivals; so what
  • Mr. Bowling - won over a crowded Lecomte Stakes field that started fast and ended slow; Fair Grounds hasn't produced a decent Derby finisher in years
  • Algorithms - won in the Gulfstream slop while taking the Holy Bull Stakes over last year's champion two-year-old, Hansen; a wet surface win is a plus, but how good is Hansen really?
  • Alpha - took the Withers in what amounted to a JV scrimmage; might come out of New York as the dominant horse; you'll have to go back to Funny Cide to find the last New York-based Derby winner
  • Battle Hardened - who really isn't and won a stakes as a maiden; you'll have to ask, late-maiden monster or winner of extremely soft Sam Davis field? 
  • I'll Have Another - probably the most perplexing prep winner to date; came off a six-month layoff to win going away versus what appeared to be a very good Robert Lewis Stakes field

The surest thing left behind by these winners is the questions that outnumber any answers, like: How does beating five opponents translate to beating 19 others? Will any horse ever leave Louisiana ready to pounce in Kentucky? How much did I'll Have Another improve or did he catch an overrated field ripe for the taking? 

The little somethings we know from these do not install enough confidence in me (and probably shouldn't instill such confidence in you) to make a Future play this time around. In this case revel in your ignorance and take a pass or....take the field. 

Consider that taking the field gives you almost 400 options versus the pittance of choosing one or a few from 23. By my account, all odds on individual choices would have to be over 100-1 to garner the appropriate risk-reward. Also consider that "all other" Derby nominees will probably land you around even money or a 100% return on your investment. 

Now consider that at a casino you get a little under a 50-50 chance when picking one of the two main roulette wheel colors (black or red) with the same even money return. (Of course there are two green spots on the wheel to give the house their little edge.) In the Derby pool it is your 400 "all other" choices vs. 23 individuals for the possibility of an almost certain even money pay off.

Finally, you don't need to know anything about any of the "all others" to determine which one will win the Derby. And if you can get anything close to even money, it's worth your time and money to take a very safe and profitable shot at this year's Derby Future Pool #1.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Holy Bull Stakes=Official Kickoff to Kentucky Derby Trail

Is there really an official start to those owners, trainers and jockeys seeking a blanket of roses on the first Saturday in May? Sure...maybe...If you want to go all the way back to the breeding shed, breaking rings, auction houses, etc. etc. There is far too much that goes into bringing a horse from the farm to the track that yours truly knows nothing about and means so much at every step in turning an awkward yearling into a championship caliber Thoroughbred. The beginning, then, can be stated and restated in many different ways. For my purposes the trail to Kentucky Derby 138 starts today with the Holy Bull.

Why, you ask the Holy Bull? 
  • The track - Gulfstream Park, which has helped produce two Derby winners and several other contenders in the last seven years. The only other track to produce such consistency recently is Oaklawn Park. 
  • The purse - $400,000 is big for a Grade III stakes and necessary for owners looking to get into the Derby starting gate. With over 600 horses entered every year for the Triple Crown and only 20 allowed into the Churchill starting gate based on graded stakes earnings, horses usually need to earn between $175,000 to $225,000 to make the cut. Today's winner's share is $240,000, which is overkill for Hansen due to his Breeders' Cup Juvenile win. Any other of the five starters just about guarantee's its human connections a Derby starter with a win.
  • The timing - for 21st century trainers, who like lots of rest in between starts, Gulfstream's major Derby prep races are nicely spaced at about a month apart. The Florida Derby is scheduled five weeks out from the Run for the Roses. 
With all this being said, I am quite surprised with only six starters in today's Holy Bull. Hansen is the obvious standout, but what if he needs a race and owner/trainer aren't all that concerned with winning today? Go luck finding another to take top honors.

If pressed, I'd go with Todd Pletcher's Algorithms. He's well-bred top and bottom, two-for-two and most importantly he won a sprint from off the pace at Gulfstream, which is almost unheard of. Even just a quick glance at the Holy Bull's past performances will tell you that just about any of these can or will vie for the lead. Johnny Velazquez doesn't ride here for Pletcher, but Javier Castellano is having another great meet down south and always rides well for Pletcher.

With plenty of twist and turns ahead on our way to Kentucky Derby 138, I will try to keep pace each Sunday here at my home blog, while also contributing to my Derby Wars blog at Horse Racing Nation on Saturdays. Hope to see you here or there each of the next 14 weeks...