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.