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.