Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Seven Bullets Remaining

Right now, I'm sitting in 8th place among 3,700-plus players in the 2014 Del Mar Online Handicapping Challenge, or about as close as ever to reaching my goal -- four years in the making at this point.

The top two finishers, regardless of whether they are members of the NHC Tour, will win berths to the 2015 National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas, so my goal over the final seven racing days at Del Mar is to find some way into the Top 2.

The standings have me at a $5,135 bankroll (all players started at break-even and were granted a notional $100 bankroll for each predetermined race).  The leader is at $5,930, and second is $5,716.

Photo courtesy of
If nothing else, I am in pretty good shape to get nearly 3,000 NHC Tour points assuming I finish in the Top 30 (30th has a $3,645 bankroll at present) and long-shots that I do not pick do not dominate the rest of the contest's race results.

Otherwise, I come away with absolutely nothing, which would be crushing.

In any event, I wanted to analyze the outcomes of the contest races thus far as a potential guide to how to play the remaining seven races, beginning with Wednesday's Generous Portion Stakes -- Race 8, going off at 8:35 p.m. ET.  I will not publish a pick, since I have done poorly the 2-3 times I justified my pick on particular days.  Bad karma.

There are some pretty interesting data points through 29 contest days.

Long-Shots A Must

I can safely credit my 8th-place ranking at present to identifying and hitting the three longest shots in the contest: 24-to-1, 29-to-1 and 40-1 (the latter capped at 35-to-1 by contest rules).

Identifying playable long-shots is the premise of my blog in the first place, and the only second-guessing comes in having played $50 win-place wagers instead of $100 win wagers.

Assuming I had played $100 straight win wagers per day, and subtracting three $50 place wagers where I cashed, I would now have a $5,900 bankroll, which is good for second place and one of the two NHC spots in Vegas.

However, with plenty of contest action remaining, a lot can clearly change.

Still, crunching the numbers at least gives me the impetus to ponder an alternate final-week strategy, if necessary.

Better "In" Than "Out" Of The Money, But Too Early For Capital Preservation

Hitting the board in 7 of 28 contest plays equates to being "in the money" 25% of the time, which based on handicappers' assessments of trainers and jockeys is a nice number.

Of those, I have 4 winners and 3 runners-up, so if I can find another horse or two over the last seven contest days, I should improve my chances of catching the leaders or least securing Top 30.

Friend and contest colleague Stephen Fitzpatrick shared a thought with me this past weekend that "show" wagers can be a useful tool for capital preservation.

I have blogged on that concept in the past (see above link) and would typically give it much greater weight, but from my analysis, the show payouts at Del Mar are extremely paltry.  Ann of the Dance, my 29-to-1 winner this past Friday night, for instance, paid a measly $6 or so to show -- not much reward for identifying the longest shot on the board as the winner.

Perhaps it makes sense to use show wagers on more of the "sure thing" horses in the final contest day or two, but I am not sold that an incremental $20-$25 of winnings at this point is worth the effort.  At the same time, in the chalky Pacific Classic on Sunday, only 2-3 of the Top 30 players either sat on the sidelines or placed winning contest wagers, suggesting most are still playing "full bore."

Were I way ahead of the field, then maybe show bets would make sense, but I have to make up ground.

Slim Pickings On Contest Long-Shots

The favorite has won 8 of the 29 Del Mar contest races thus far, with only two above 3-to-2 odds.

The second and third betting choices boast another 8 wins, meaning the chalkiest horses have won 55% of the contest races, most of which have had at least 8 runners and 12-13 in a few instances.

On the days where I failed to find the correct long-shot, only three went off at double-digit odds: 22-to-1, and 11-to-1 (twice).  So, in sum, I scored on double-digit odds horses in 6 of 9 such instances.

Assuming Del Mar offers deep fields over the final week, I am speculating that it will take at least another logical long-shot for me to land in the Top 2 regardless, since players lower in the standings will no doubt go the same route.


Outside of finishing one spot away from an NHC berth, the worst-case scenario for me with seven contest races to go is seven losses at $100 apiece decreasing my bankroll to $4,435 (good for 14th-place and some Tour points, based on today's leaderboard values) and falling outside the Top 30.

It is entirely possible for players further down the standings to hit 3-4 $100 win bombs this week and throw a monkey wrench into my equation, but over the first six weeks of this contest, a bomb has hit about once per week on average.

The law of averages suggests a slim chance of multiple 35-1 cap winners and, say, 100 players moving up the standings by hitting three such bombers.

That being said, I will likely continue to play long-shots, although I may lean toward $100 straight win plays instead of the $50-$50 win-place split I have employed thus far.

Historical data from this summer's Del Mar contest would validate that approach, considering as we speak I would be in second, rather than eighth, had I gone "all in" at $100 to win each race.

In any event, Sunday's analysis alone (where all but 2-3 of the Top 30 did not wager) would suggest that making no more wagers and sitting on $5,135 is not a winning formula.  Getting in through "the back door" is unlikely, as I see it.

Clearly the players above me in the standings are great handicappers, probably slanting toward the same long-shot logic that so many contest players employ in most handicapping contests.

In my opinion, it all comes down to being able to pick 1-2 winners at good prices to make a dent.

The ride has been fun thus far, but approaching the finish line I need to rely on smart handicapping to find a few horses to ride to Las Vegas next January.

Maybe in the last day or two I could consider conservatism, but it's too early to go that route.

I'd be curious to know, how would you play it?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cogito, Ergo Win

I think, therefore I win.

OK, give me credit for appearing confident about tonight's Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap, which is the race of the day in the Del Mar Online Handicapping Challenge and where I spent far too much time trying to talk myself out of my $50 win-place selection of #12, Cogito, at 20-to-1.

Sharing my thoughts on the blog about select races this Del Mar contest season has generally proven the death knell for my hopes, but this particular race really got me thinking about how confidence can turn from mild to strong in an instant.

This particular contest got far more interesting for me last night with a successful $50 win-place wager (notional; no real money exchanges hands in this contest) on 29-to-1 Ann of the Dance in Race 6, which moved me into third-place of 3,750 contest players and, for now, a spot away from qualifying for the coveted National Handicapping Championship.

There are several parallels between Cogito in tonight's mile-and-three-eighths Del Mar Handicap on turf and Ann of the Dance in Friday night's contest race (same distance), as I see it.  Each horse:
  • boasts commendable distance turf pedigree -- Ann of the Dance an English Channel and Cogito sired by Giant's Causeway
  • second off a layoff -- (before this weekend's races) a 6-7 month rest for Ann of the Dance and exactly one year away for Cogito
  • ran against much tougher than most other foes last night and tonight -- Ann of the Dance competitive at Gulfstream Park against multiple stakes winner Angelica Zapata and Cogito spotted in the 2012 Breeders Cup Turf (a somewhat troubled seventh-place) and the Eddie Read in 2012 and 2013.
  • dismissed by the morning-line maker at 20-to-1 and, hopefully tonight, a big overlay.
The law of averages suggests it is highly improbable that I hit back-to-back bombs, but the more I reviewed the past performances, my selection of Cogito improved from lukewarm to increasingly confident.

As I see it, the scratch of 5-to-1 Quick Casablanca is significant, since I viewed his off-the-pace running style as similar to Cogito's and perhaps my alternate selection, and the top competitor to 7-to-2 favorite and two-time Grade 2 winner Fire With Fire.

The drawback to Fire With Fire, as I see it, is that #5, Bright Thought, looks to me like a one-paced type who needs the lead (and is nowhere near his Grade 2 San Luis Rey win in March 2013) and #10 Unbridled Command (another whose better days seem to have long passed; Grade 1 Hollywood Derby winner in November 2012) is running with blinkers for the first time and may challenge early.  I pass on all three.

The rest of the 10-horse field have questions in terms of class and/or form.

Cogito finished last of six in the Eddie Read on July 20, but the effort was not that bad off a year's layoff, with Cogito making what I saw as a strong middle move into the final turn before tiring in the stretch.  Losing to Tom's Tribute and Summer Front is no shame, and in fact I reckon Cogito is in a much softer spot here.

It may not work out, as Cogito has not won in two years and I was never a huge fan of jockey Mario Gutierrez in turf races (although he is winning at a respectable 11% in 109 starts), but at least I think, no, I am confident that this mid- to late-pack closer can fend off the likes of deep-closer types #4, Big John B, and #6, Starspangled Heat in the stretch.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Beach = Clear MInd

On the heels of a great but financially unproductive weekend in Saratoga, I am extremely thankful to spend the rest of my vacation on the Jersey Shore.

All that's cooking on the handicapping front for me is the Del Mar Online Handicapping Challenge, where miraculously I am 25th of 3,700 players with a bankroll around $3,700 and about $2,000 behind the leader. 

For me, the outcome could prove significant, as the top two finishers get to the National Handicapping Championship next January. Otherwise, it's NHC Tour points (generally meaningless for a part-time Tour player like me) to the Top 30, and moral victories for anyone on the outside. 

I guess the worst place to finish is 31st.

Nonetheless, between soaking in the rays all day and enjoying the warm surf boogie boarding with my kids, I made some time to over-analyze today's Del Mar contest race, landing on Philip D'Amato trainee Oeighter in Race 7.  My play (with mythical money) is $100 to win. 

After committing way too much time handicapping Saratoga this past weekend, I vowed to myself (with my wife's endorsement) never to spend too much time poring over past performances. 

The preparation was fruitless and the butt-whooping at the betting window proved exhausting. 

Granted, Saratoga's one of the most difficult tracks to handicap, but still, outside of a chalky $20 win score, the closest I came to cashing a ticket was a first-third finish on an exacta where my horses were 13-to-1 and 33-to-1; and realistically, it was not really that close for second.

Oeighter, on paper, looks like a capable long-shot at an 8-to-1 morning line facing winners for the first time in a 9-horse allowance field (n1x) at 1 mile on turf (3-year-old fillies).  

Past performances understate the talent that, in my view, this horse has shown through three lifetime starts, and I am guessing there's a chance that Oeighter will be an overlay.  

I sense that 4-5 horses may gun for the lead into the first turn (Disregarded, Gratification, Tacit Approval and 5-to-2 favorite Alexis Tangier).  I have typically leaned toward what I perceive to be a front-end speed bias as Del Mar, but am not enamored with that group.  I considered Disregarded (8-to-1) on the game Grade 3 Senorita Stakes try in late-June, but would not expect to get above 9-to-2.  No value for me.

Oeighter, on the other hand, may get dismissed coming off a maiden score on dirt on July 5 at Los Alamitos, where horses on or near the lead almost always won.  Such was the case in Oeighter's victory that day.

Whether or not Oeighter caught a softer field or just liked the dirt on July 5, her two races prior (both on turf, including one at a mile) offer hope this evening.

In Oeighter's debut on the Santa Anita downhill turf on May 11, she got out slow in a $75,000 maiden claimer but drew the dreaded inside post before closing like gangbusters (to finish 5th) and blowing by the winner on the gallop-out. 

Next out, stretching out to a mile, Oeighter got forced about 6-7 paths wide into the first turn by a horse who blew the turn, then cut off in the home stretch by a tiring horse, before finishing a game fourth of 10. 

It is worth watching the replays for those with the time, but I am relatively confident that Oeighter has a good shot off her first win and off a short rest, and will be able to close on the field to score at a decent price in Race 7.  Second-time blinkers and Joe Talamo's familarity are other bullish themes. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Tripping with Stormberg

The adage about never being too old to learn is completely valid.

I spent a good part of an overcast Saturday at Monmouth Park volunteering for my third time this meet as "racing ambassador," with a grassroots goal of cultivating and educating new or inexperienced fans one at a time about thoroughbred racing.

In educating these fans to the best of my ability, however, I find myself learning a lot as well, proving extremely beneficial as a part-time handicapper ultimately attempting to qualify for the National Handicapping Championship.

Jockeys and trainers have come into focus of late, since as an ambassador I get to take patrons into the paddock to watch trainers saddle their horses and can eavesdrop a little -- a really great experience that yields valuable insight as a handicapper.

Saturday afternoon, I was introduced to top local trainer Kelly Breen in the paddock prior to race 6 and listened to his pre-race instructions to jockey Victor Santiago aboard second-time starter Jackie O' Mine.

Even in a fourth-place finish of nine starters, the jockey followed his trainer's instructions to a tee, with Jackie O' Mine -- an inexperienced horse with more of a two-turn pedigree and not the best early speed -- urged from the gate in a 5-furlong sprint in the slop (to see how she would respond) and giving the connections some valuable information on the horse moving forward.

A race prior, Santiago made a race-winning move aboard 9-to-1 Karobushka in a 6-furlong claimer, navigating his horse through a wide opening along the rail left by front-runner Iron Dale Al, who floated wide into the homestretch and lost valuable ground.

I already have immense respect for jockeys, but after just a small two-race sample I came away with tremendous respect for Santiago, who has a 9% lifetime win percentage, according to Equibase, and in 2014 had a mere 8 wins in 140 mounts heading into today.

The jockey theme is one that leads me to a horse named Stormberg in Race 7 today at Del Mar ($62,500 optional claimer at 1 mile on the synthetic track) -- my selection of the day in the Del Mar 2014 Online Handicapping Challenge.

Stormberg is 15-to-1 on the morning line, but the change in trainer and jockey is what proves intriguing off the horse's last three efforts on the 6 1/2-furlong downhill course at Santa Anita.

If you do not have an online wagering account, sign up for free at (free replays at all California tracks) and watch the last three race replays for Stormberg. 

The horse, in my opinion, got three horrible trips with jockey Tyler Baze and trained by high-percentage California trainer Jeff Bonde.

Granted, based on breaks in the horse's past performances, it looks like the 6-year-old Stormberg has had health issues, racing only 13 times and netting $108,615 of lifetime winnings -- a bad return on the $450,000 purchase out of the 2009 Keeneland September sale.  The horse ran only one race in 2013 (Gulfstream in March) for trainer Michelle Nevin before shipping out west to the Bonde stable.

Stormberg made his 2014 debut on April 20 and finished an extremely game third of 10 horses off a 13-month layoff.  Next out, on May 24Stormberg ran very well but lacked room, checking at one point and re-rallying to finish third.  On June 20, under the same conditions ($62,500 optional claimer on the downhill turf), Stormberg again was run into trouble, steadying hard in the stretch to finish sixth of seven behind winner Rangi, who finished second next out in the $90,000 Wicker Stakes.

On paper, Stormberg's performances appear less than stellar, which along with the horse's first try on synthetic surface in nearly three years and stretch-out to a mile may help to explain the 15-to-1 morning line.

Beneath the surface, however, the change in trainer to Robertino Diodoro and rider Fernando Perez are bullish angles, in my opinion, and the horse kept some pretty good company in his recent races.

This jockey-trainer combination has 4 wins in 19 tries over the last 60 days, and Perez has proven a formidable and underrated rider at the Del Mar meeting.

Horses coming off downhill turf sprints at Santa Anita seem to have played somewhat well on stretch-outs, from the Del Mar races that I have seen.

In addition, the scratch of rail horse and 3-to-1 morning-line favorite Secretsatmidnight inspires confidence that Stormberg can get to the lead from an outside post without much difficulty.  The horses to either side of Stormberg show more of a stalking tactic, in my view, freeing Perez to get Stormberg to the lead into the first turn.

With front-end speed holding up pretty well at Del Mar, I am banking on Stormberg benefiting from the stretch-out from a three straight sprints to two turns -- an angle where Diodoro wins 19%-22% of the time and is in the money nearly 50%.  Diodoro is also winning 25% of the time on new horses to his barn.

We'll know for certain a little after 8 p.m. ET, but I'm going a notional $50 win-place on #9, Stormberg, as my selection in the Del Mar online contest, which would go a long way in improving my 210th-place standing of 3,500-plus players.

It'll be interesting to know whether or not a new jockey and trainer make the difference for a horse with apparent talent but has simply ran into a lot of trouble of late.


For additional reading on jockey angles, take a look at this valuable piece from Joe Kristufek for America's Best Racing.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Consistency, Where Are You?

Sidetracked by several professional and personal matters, I have had little time in the last 4-5 weeks to pursue (or write about) my bid for a berth in the National Handicapping Championship

This season in particular, I am finding it difficult to generate any consistency as a part-time player on the NHC Tour, and when I have the scant time to play between professional licensing exams, shuttling kids all over creation and other priorities, I have been beset by bad fortunate.  

Take this afternoon, when a shortfall of player entries into a late-afternoon bankroll builder contest on (HT) prompted cancellation.  

Sums up recent fortunes for
NJ Horseplayer
Whereas I could not hit the broad side of a barn with my picks in Sunday's NHC Tour qualifier at Monmouth Park, this afternoon I ID'd the opening race winner of Friday's HT event to no avail.  

Picking an $8 winner is nothing to write home about, but after this past Sunday, getting off on the right foot for once inspired confidence.  You know the expression about best-laid plans.

Backtrack to Sunday's Monmouth Park tournament, I had no plan.

Perhaps was not a good idea, but based on a 1-for-36 start (-$52.80) to this season's online contest at the Public Handicapper, winging it seemed as good a plan.

My 0-for-10 performance at Monmouth ultimately proved otherwise, but I would chalk some of that up to rustiness or lack of consistent daily handicapping.

Strike 1

In Race 5 at Monmouth on Sunday, I knew that Magic Mesa was the best sprinter in an 5.5-furlong, 11-horse turf sprint and told my playing partner Red Rock or Bust as much, but as stupidity would have it, let an easy $8.40 winner pass in search of "better value."  

My horse, 16-to-1 Trish's Wish, finished a decent fourth about 3 lengths back, but instead of running my starting bankroll from $90 to at least $132, I ended up down $20 (to $80). 

Strike 2

As an equity research editor by day and extremely familiar with the stock market and Wall Street compliance, I know that past performance does not measure future success, but made an awful selection in Race 7 from Woodbine based on sentiment.

Surtsey scored for me at 41-to-1 last July in an online contest and was a long-shot in an 8-horse field where I thought Deceptive Vision was the best horse, even if a short 2-to-1 morning line.  Deceptive Vision lost by a nose, but Surtsey never really had a shot, getting hemmed in on the rail.  

The loss was only a $10 setback, but by then, and with the top two on the contest leaderboard already at $1,000-plus and $500-plus, I felt sort of drowning in the tide.

Strike 3

The nail in the coffin was my fifth wager -- $10 to win on 3-to-1 overlay Constantino in an allowance race from Woodbine (Race 8). 

In a 6-horse field devoid of early speed, I liked Constantino and figured he could dictate tempo and wire the field.

Two other bullish indicators, for me, were second time at two turns off a decent second-place finish on June 15 and top Woodbine jockey Patrick Husbands riding for high-percentage trainer Mark Casse.

All went according to plan as Constantino carved out slow fractions under scant pressure (three-quarters of a mile in a dawdling 1:13) until 2-to-1 Steel Dust Dancer got up in the final strides.  

Ballgame Over!

Down to $50 and deflated, I took some wild stabs with my last batch of selections, figuring I needed a big price to have a puncher's chance at a Top 2 finish needed to secure an NHC berth.

Yes I do, poet Dan Liberthon...
from "The Pitch Is On The Way"
In hindsight, that proved accurate as the winner and runner-up finished with respective bankrolls of $2,093 and $1,845. 

Regardless, I had a dreadful performance on Sunday, underscoring what with the exception of one Simulcast Series Challenge qualifier this winter has been a dreadful season in on-track tournaments.

On the other hand, as of this posting I am in 78th place of 1,279 remaining active players in Monmouth Park's Survival at the Shore online contest (with a "life preserver") to boot, so not all is lost.

Consistency, however, seems well out of reach and probably to be expected when entering contests off a sporadic work tab.

Next Up - Summer Freebies

In addition to Survival at the Shore, I will "refresh" my handicapping skills with more-daily online play, focusing on a select few races per day instead of jumping into the 8- to 10-race feeder-type tournaments on HT or now, which is cannibalizing the market with a similar "bankroll builder" concept that Horse Tourneys first perfected (more on the latter theme in a later blog post).

Other part-time players could benefit as well from two "freebies," in particular.

Public Handicapper remains a weekly option, offering its usual card of 4 notional win-bet races per weekend, and I would highly recommend any players (and NHC Tour members, in particular) sign up for the Del Mar 2014 Online Handicapping Challenge.

First off, top 2 finishers win berths and a travel stipend to NHC XVI.

Otherwise, NHC Tour points are awarded for strong performance. 

The Del Mar contest runs from July 17-September 4 and gives players up to $100 notional dollars per day to place a win, place or show bet (or combination thereof) on a pre-selected race each day.  This is a season-long bankroll building contest and one I have played for a few years.

Free past performances for the daily race are generally available on Del Mar's contest site, making for a seamless and fun experience, even for the casual player. 

Here's to getting back on the horse and maybe establishing some consistency as the NHC Tour moves into the second-half of its 2014 calendar.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Trainer Intent

I have never been a party to the decision-making that goes into placing a horse into a race, but a question posed during my latest stint as volunteer fan ambassador at Monmouth Park this past Sunday, and my glance at a particular entry on Friday card, prompted me to reach out to an owner friend on the topic.

During one of the educational tours that I organized on Sunday (contact me if ever interested), I was asked by interested handicapper Diane Skurat of Tinton Falls why Tannery scratched out of the $200,000 Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes. 

I could only speculate that either the horse had a short-term health issue or that Colts Neck Stables did not want to put its filly up "against the boys," opting instead for a softer race or all-female condition down the road.

This led to a discussion on how horses end up in particular races.  

Again, I have my theories, but coming up with the answer tends to be yet another component of the educated guesswork that goes into handicapping horse races.

Upon reviewing the first of three races for Friday's Survival at the Shore online contest, the placement of Lovefindsaway in Race 5 caught my attention.  

This 3-year-old Giant's Causeway maiden colt, making his third career start and first since January, is for the first time entered for a $20,000 "tag" (claiming) against six other betting propositions that, on paper, appear to validate Lovefindsaway's 3-to-2 morning line.

As reflected in the horse's two past performances, respected trainer Eddie Plesa placed Lovefindsaway into much more challenging spots against protected maidens ("maiden special weight").

Lovefindsaway finished fourth as the even-money favorite in his career debut at Monmouth last July but went to the bench, not appearing in a race until a fading fifth-place effort at Gulfstream Park on January 25.

The horse did not have a published work until six weeks later and has since clocked a half-dozen (in my opinion) uninspiring workouts.

In a betting context, I find 3-to-2 way too short and a clear "play against."

Instead, I selected 5-to-2 Justa Little Evil out of the hot Jorge Navarro barn.

Not a great price either, but I only identified 3 plausible contenders.

The field for Race 5 is middling and lacks significant pedigree.

Nonetheless, Lovefindsaway's connections are willing to sell their horse, purchased as a two-year-old at the April 2013 OBS sale for $120,000, for a bargain-basement $20,000 tag.

As a handicapper, the question I have about the huge class drop from protected maidens to claiming for Lovefindsaway becomes whether the horse is sound and the connections are hoping to steal an easy purse without a prospective buyer ponying up $20,000 to purchase a non-winning horse well off form, or if the owners just want to unload a horse that has under-performed his six-figure purchase price.

I respect and sought the advice of Robb Levinsky, founder and managing partner of Kenwood Racing, a very above-board partnership that hosts ownership seminars at Monmouth Park and, in my view, is refreshingly candid about the ownership side of the business.

On the handicapper side: 

"First, I agree with you that I wouldn't touch any horse with (Lovefindsaway's) form at what are likely to be short odds," Levinsky said.  "He's clearly capable of winning in a romp, but also clearly could get beaten as a heavy favorite.  I'd look to cautiously bet against him if I found another horse I liked."

In terms of intent of the connections:

"I can't really say without being part of that barn," Levinsky continued.  "I do know Eddie Plesa is a reputable, capable trainer.  If the horse wasn't safe to race I'm sure he'd not be in the race.  That said, obviously you don't run a horse that cost $120,000 for $20,000 for nothing."

For Lovefindsaway, Levinsky drew what I viewed as a suitable parallel to Lebron James, who had to sit out for key stretches of Game 1 of the NBA Finals against San Antonio with excessive leg cramping in 90-degree conditions at an AT&T Center with a broken air conditioning system.

"Virtually ALL athletes, human and equine, have issues.  Ask Lebron James," said Levinsky, "about the stress of high-performance competition.  I'm sure (the connections for Lovefindsaway) are looking to build confidence for both the owner and horse by placing him where he should be tough to beat.  That's smart."

We'll have a better idea of the ultimate outcome around a quarter-to-3, when Race 5 at Monmouth Park concludes and whether Lovefindsaway walks away with an easy $10,200 winner's take of a $17,000 purse AND their more-confident horse fresh off his first win, or someone who maybe saw Lovefindsaway as a 2-year-old at the April 2013 OBS sale sweeps in with a bargain claim.

Postscript to My Analysis

Once in awhile things go according to plan, as was the case with Race 5.

Justa Little Evil and first-time starter Uncle Chubb got the jump on Lovefindsaway out of the gate to finish first and second, respectively, while Lovefindsaway wilted to finish sixth of seven.

Interestingly, Justa Little Evil and Uncle Chubb were claimed out of the race for $20,000 apiece, while Lovefindsaway remains with owners Majestic Racing Stable and Laurie Plesa.

I generally do not have the time to go into handicapping claiming races to such depth, but keep an eye on future entries for these three to see where they land.

The lesson as a handicapper may be to put less stock in purchase prices.

The last two finishers in Race 5 cost $120,000 and $30,000, respectively, at auction, whereas the nondescript New Jersey bred first-time starter Uncle Chubb ran a game debut and appears somewhat promising.

Friday, June 6, 2014

An Ambassador and Samraat Kind of Weekend

A quick note, first, that I will serving as a volunteer racing "Ambassador" again this Sunday at Monmouth Park, so anyone interested in meeting up or has friends who want to learn more about what goes on at the track, how to read the race program, etc., please contact me on Twitter (@njhorseplayer) or email me and I'll provide my cell number.  

Otherwise, since a few friends asked, I will be more than happy as a huge thoroughbred racing fan for California Chrome to take home the Triple Crown, but as a bettor pored over the past performances last night and landed on Samraat as my upset selection

9 out of 10 Bollywood stars agree!
I have to admit that $20 of my wife's hard-earned dollars are already wagered on Chrome ($10 win, $1 exacta above the other 10 entrants), but likely in the wrong place in a rare gamble for Mrs. NJ Horseplayer.

As an equity research editor I recognize that past performance does not dictate future success, but in reviewing Belmont Stakes dating to 2007, winners by and large were within the top 5 throughout the race and a few lengths of the front-runner.  In addition, Da'Tara won wire-to-wire at 38-to-1 in the year that 1-to-4 Big Brown pulled up, while Paynter (2012) and Dunkirk (2009) almost won start to finish. 

Accordingly, there is precedent for the big shocker and a front-running type prevail at a mile-and-a-half.

Samraat, at 20-to-1, fits the bill and is a reasonable value, and in my opinion will be dismissed for wise-guy horses like Commanding Curve and Ride On Curlin, who turned in credible Triple Crown performances but seem far more comfortable well off the pace, which in my view will not work on Saturday.

Trainer Richard Violette was wise to rest Samraat after a taxing winter campaign that produced two Grade 3 victories and a hard-fought second in the Wood Memorial.  

I sense the connections simply took the shot at Kentucky Derby glory as many would, and subsequently skipping the Preakness was much needed.  The horse responded with a second best-of-15 work on May 18 and was stretched out with two 1-mile breezes in preparation for the Big Sandy.

The appeal, to me, in upsetting California Chrome is that Samraat, as shown in the Gotham, can turn on the jets out of the gate and then settle a bit to track a leader. Or simply take the lead and win at two turns, as in starts prior to the Gotham.  Plus, hot-riding Jose Ortiz (winner of Friday's Grade 2 True North on 9-to-1 Palace) has no horses between his and California Chrome to contend with from the gate, as runners 3-through-6 all appear to be slow breakers. 

I am dismissing potential early runners Tonalist (post 11 and another wise-guy horse) and maybe even General a Rod (post 10) as threats in light of their outside posts and questions I have about their class and fitness, respectively.  

Tonalist's win in the Grade 2 Peter Pan, to me, was against a weak field the week after all of the better three-year-old contenders ran at Churchill, while General a Rod likely needs a rest.

Accordingly, my hopes for Samraat hinge on two factors -- either getting the lead from Chrome and not relenting to him in the stretch, or forcing Chrome toward the rail, where in light of Chrome's picture-perfect stalking wins in the Derby and Preakness I have questions about whether he wants to run inside.  

In other words, better race riding than the outstanding stewardship that Chrome's jockey Victor Espinoza has shown thus far.  

Perhaps a tall order, but one I am willing to gamble. 

Ideally, Samraat will take a straight line out of the gate and force the outer "speed" horses wide, then squeeze Chrome toward the rail into the first turn. 

A stumble at the gate would kill my chances, but at 20-to-1 against 3-to-5, that's a given anyway.

My picks, in order, are Samraat, California Chrome and Wicked Strong.  

I have yet to place my Belmont Stakes wagers, but have already invested a meager $24 in the Pick 3 and Pick 4 culminating in the feature. 

Kaigun (15-to-1), in Race 10 (The Knob Creek Manhattan), is a key for me in the Pick 3 sequence to cash anything meaningful.  A close second to lawn wunderkind Wise Dan in the Makers 46 Mile in April and a game and hard-closing fourth in the Turf Classic on Derby Day signal to me this 4-year-old is vastly improving, and third off the bench can certainly keep moving forward on Saturday.

In Race 9, I expect Palace Malice to win but give Shakin It Up an outside shot at 6-to-1, anticipating the added eighth of a mile will suit this sprinter well, and he can close into any pace, as evidenced by winning the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita last December. 

I have no strong convictions about Race 8, the Just A Game Stakes, and went 5 deep.
  • $0.50 Race 8-11 Pick 4 Ticket: 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 over 1 over 1, 9 over 2, 7, 9 ($15 total)
  • $1.00 Race 9-11 Pick 3 Ticket: 1, 4, 13 over 9 over 2, 7, 9 ($9 total).
Good luck to all horseplayers on Belmont Stakes day, and be sure to reach out if you're at Monmouth on Sunday!