Sunday, October 2, 2016

Show-ing the Big M the Door

I admit when my handicapping and contest play stink, but there were controlled external and deceitful factors that played into my futile bid to win one of three NHC packages available Saturday at the Meadowlands and prompts me to scratch off the Big M's future handicapping contests.

It also calls into question who the hell is regulating these things.

As noted by friend and fellow Tour player Pete Rogers, there was value in Saturday's $400 buy-in tournament. Only 129 entries meant a 1-in-43 proposition per National Handicapping Championship seat, compared the about 1-in-70 for online qualifiers.

Photo courtesy of &
Carol Lam -
On the other hand, subversively changing the rules on players midstream from what was clearly published in the contest sign-up brochure is an ugly business practice and yet another example of why American racing is losing customers by the minute.

There are constantly questions about product integrity, whether it's equine medicine and dishonest trainers, the greed of horsemen in each state in trying to ruin others rather than working together to save and grow the sport, or dirty politics.

The Big M, Churchill Downs and Belmont Park, either singularly or in combination, blocked the show wagering option to Meadowlands contest players for particular races...just for the contest, and NOT at the respective tracks.

So, if you were at Churchill Downs you could make show bets. This was not the case for simulcast bettors at the Meadowlands.

Show wagering, or betting a horse will finish no worse than third, is generally an afterthought for the majority of bettors. In most cases, betting $2 to show on a 2-to-1 favorite will yield measly returns of $2.10-$2.20, so the reward is not worth the risk when your return on a $2 win bet is at least $6.

The proposition is different, however, when in the minds of bettors with giant bankrolls a prohibitive favorite is almost a shoe-in to beat a far weaker field of horses. Imagine California Chrome coming to Monmouth Park to face $5,000 Jersey-bred claimers. In such a case, someone with $100k could make a $5k profit on a horse almost assured to finish first, second or third.

There's immense risk in such "bridge jumping," but there are also few places where you can make a 5% return in two minutes or less, and there are people crazy enough to make that bet.

At the same time, smaller-ante bettors like me can capitalize when those shoe-ins do not "hit the board," sending their backers in search of the tallest bridge from which to jump. (Disclaimer: I do not endorse literally jumping from bridges).

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I track show wagering in live-money contests.

It can be an extremely valuable tool not only for capital preservation (i.e. ensuring that you meet the minimum number of wagers needed to qualify for contest prizes and saving your money for a horse that perhaps you love later in the contest card) but also for capitalizing on "negative show pool" situations as eloquently described by America's Best Racing.

Such an opportunity arose on Saturday in the Ack Ack Handicap (Race 9) at Churchill Downs.

Runhappy, winner of the Breeders Cup Dirt Sprint, two other Grade 1 races and six straight during 2015, went off as the 3-to-10 favorite in his 2016 debut on Saturday.  The Ack Ack field included five others, but no horses close to Runhappy's level of accomplishment.

I spent 15-20 minutes studying that race and tracking the show pool on Runhappy. There was significantly more bet on Runhappy to show than for any other proposition, and so I perused the field for a horse that could hit the board in the event that it just wasn't Runhappy's day and he finished out of the money.

I landed on #6, Schivarelli, a hard knocker who won only as high as the allowance condition (several rungs below Grade 1) but had two decent races and a leading jockey at Churchill Downs.

Noticing on my 4NJBets app that show wagering was offered for that race, and in light of the Big M's contest brochure stating that win, place, AND show were the only contest options, I went to the betting terminal with a mind to wager $20 to show on Schivarelli.

The show option, however, did not appear on the terminal screen, and so I could not make my bet.

Sure enough, Runhappy tired in the stretch to finish in fourth place and Schivarelli finished third, netting an $18 return for each $2 wagered to show -- the highest payout among the top 3 finishers.

The Meadowlands' decision to eliminate the show option for that race, contrary to the contest brochure, cost me a probably $180 return on an intended $20 wager and has me thinking the NHC Tour, at the least, and the NTRA should investigate.

The Big M's NHC contest brochure amounted to false advertising.

Generally speaking, there are times where tracks announce beforehand that show betting is not an option, such as when a race has less than four runners. This happened on Saturday at Belmont Park, where Grade 1 turf juggernaut Flintshire was entered for a 4-horse Breeders Cup prep race.

Bettors know well in advance that show is not an option...and generally jump instead to place bets to guarantee their 5% return ($2.10 payout on a $2 base wager).

After the Runhappy debacle, I notified a contest consultant, who blamed Churchill Downs for cutting Big M bettors off from the show betting option.

This would not have surprised me in light of Churchill Downs being the most horseplayer-unfriendly track in America, but then I saw and showed the Big M rep a subsequent Belmont race where the key for show betting on the contest terminal (in an 8-horse field) was shut off, and therefore I am not sure of who's telling the truth and who is not.

I sense that someone behind the scenes disabled the keys (perhaps upper management or actuaries at the Meadowlands, IT folks by accident, managers of Churchill's simulcast feed), figuring most people do not bother with show wagers anyway; but here someone clearly made the wrong decision.

Sure enough in my bet just after missing out on Schivarelli I cashed on the place end of a $10 win-place wager on 17-to-1 Surprise Wedding at Gulfstream Park, who was very game and made up lots of ground to lose by less than a closing length.

Hypthothetically, let's say that Surprise Wedding won, and that I cashed a $20 show bet on Schivarelli...that would have put my bankroll at around $450 and in a good position to at least finish in the contest top 10 (i.e. for prize money) or make some big bets late on more-logical horses.

Instead, I had $89 with a few races remaining, which in the context of Saturday's contest winner amassing more than a $3,000 final bankroll is chump change.  I took 3-4 stabs on some mid- to long-odds horses who were not factors to win.

Even after adhering to my 24-hour cooling off period before publishing, I'm even angrier today with yesterday's event than I was on the ride home last night.

I'm all for honest mistakes, but am done with the Big M and refuse to spend hardearned money on competitions where the host site shifts the rules clearly laid out to contestants on the sign-up sheet.

The NHC Tour needs to be more discriminating and keep a much closer eye on its tournament hosts, and less so on overaggressive expansion and cannibalizing the circuit so that a couple hundred of regulars can play for more cash in Las Vegas at season's end.

At the same time Tour members need to hold contest hosts accoutable for their level of integrity.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Last Call for Free Shot at $10k Breeders Cup Betting Challenge Entry

Your chance of winning is 0.0002%, but anyone interested in competing in a handicapping tournament, DRF Tournaments is hosting a free shot at a $10,000 paid entry, plus travel, to the 2016 Breeders Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) at Santa Anita Park on November 4-5.

As of ~noon ET there were about 500 spots remaining in a pick-and-pray tournament capped at 5,000 entries (one per person), so if you're interested enter here.

For any NJ Horseplayer readers new to the handicapping concept theme, the premise of today's event is simple -- before 4:20 p.m. ET, select the winners of 7 races and cross your fingers.

You will make mythical $2 win-place wagers on these races and attempt to build the highest bankroll by contest's end.  Notional caps are 20-to-1 ($42) on the win end and 10-to-1 ($22) on place; so if the winning horse pays $100 to win and $50 to place at the track, best you can do for contest purposes is the $64 maximum score.

The prospect of beating 4,999 other players are meager, but at the very least one you can take advantage of free DRF past performances to break down races 7-10 from Saratoga and 1-3 at Del Mar in the hopes of accruing the largest bankroll by contest's end to lock in a sweet prize.  It seems that DRF Tournaments also added $50 consolation prizes (in account credit) for the second through twenty-first place finishers.

The BCBC is a live-bankroll tournament where players compete for an estimated $1 million prize pool.  The National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Tour, of which I am a member, gets more notoriety for its $2.5 million year-end tournament in Las Vegas, but the BCBC is hosted on what is North America's greatest racing weekend.  The races generally are tremendous and opportunities to score major winnings are abundant.  It's worthwhile at least taking a shot at today's free tourney.

If you do enter, the DRF Tournaments website is improving, but there are still a few aspects of the contest interface that lag others on the market.

You need to pick your top choice ("select primary pick") and alternate in case your primary is scratched from the race ("select alternate pick"), but be aware that your top choice will be negated if your backup selection is scratched and you will need to re-enter your top choice (and a new secondary selection, of course) manually.

That's exactly what happened to me this morning when my backup scratched from Race 8 at Saratoga, which is a significant quirk.  Had I not been paying attention, my top selection (12-to-1 Baby Bear's Soup) would have defaulted to a post-time favorite that I do not think will win.  This does not happen on other online contest sites; so regular players used to or need to be cautious in this regard.

Also, if unlike me you are not on the beach and you want to keep a live track of the leaderboard, in the few NHC-focused contests I have entered, updates tend to be clunky.  Prepare for slower response times than on rival sites.  It is easier just to check back at contest's end to avoid any frustration.

Otherwise, I appreciate the fact that the BCBC operators sponsored today's contest, where I am winging it a bit with the following selections.  Good luck to all who enter!

  • Saratoga 7, #6, Skylar's Pass (12-to-1): A first-time starter like most of the others entered but with some snappy works and out of The Factor, who I remember as a precocious sprinter.
  • Del Mar 1, #7, Tiz Jolie (6-to-1): Prefer the rider switch to one known to like the front end in a bottom-level race where the leader could wire the field.
  • Saratoga 8, #2, Baby Bear's Soup (12-to-1): Front-end type who seems to like one-turn races and dominated lesser last out but who ran against tougher in his first four lifetime races.
  • Del Mar 2, #6, Look Twice (7-to-2): Similar thesis to Baby Bear's Soup.
  • Saratoga 9, #12, Sugar Mags (15-to-1): Several prior races fit with today's field and sense Joel Rosario can get a clean trip and close into a quick pace, akin to my score on Saturday with 14-to-1 Irish Prayer in the Saratoga finale. 
  • Del Mar 3, #4, Friulian (10-to-1): Scratched from a deeper and tougher $80k optional claimer on Saturday for a softer spot here against only six others at the $62k allowance condition.
  • Saratoga 10, #7, Means Well (15-to-1): Colts Neck Stables is in walking distance to my house and I rarely like their horses when shipped to Saratoga, but the morning line is ludicrous for a horse who, although trying a turf sprint for the first time in 19 starts, I think will appreciate a distance cutback and a field rife with front-end speed that can melt down late; look for a late charge here to the wire to secure my $10,000 BCBC prize. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

My Man Sam Gets The Nod In The Travers

On the heels of calling the Haskell Invitational and Belmont Stakes winners, I'm making 20-to-1 My Man Sam the top selection in Saturday's $1.25 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

I was on the fence about using Creator again this time around, especially at a generous (and probably poorly calculated) 15-to-1 morning line, but side with a less-accomplished horse who has a world-class turf (but not dirt) trainer who is sending three horses to post in "the Midsummer Derby."

Chad Brown's other two runners, 12-to-1 Gift Box and 4-to-1 Connect, will gain greater attention from the racing experts, but for my money My Man Sam is an infinitely better value and has a legit chance of winning in a 13-horse field with several question marks in spite of Grade 1 stakes wins.

Here's my take on each of the runners (morning line odds in parenthesis), and similar to recent write-ups I will summarize I think horses in the field are capable of finishing.  I'll also list my plays.

#1, Arrogate (10-to-1) and #2 American Freedom (6-1): I list these as a package, since the two Baffert's trainees will run like a couple entry, as I see it.  I see a lot of parallels to Nyquist's bid in the Haskell Invitational, where from the rail he used his early gate speed to force the outside speed horses even wider into the first turn, which will burn most of them out at a mile and open the floodgates for horses with late kick to run on late, a la Ice Box in the 2015 Travers.

My gut tells me that Baffert views Arrogate as the better horse, and I think he's talented enough to finish second, and so he instructs American Freedom's jockey Rafael Bejarano to force the flow wide, which will give the lighter-raced Arrogate a clean rail run.  Arrogate is sort of the "hot" horse and perhaps a late developer, but I sense will succumb to the classier Travers field with second place being the ceiling.  At best, I both Bafferts are "underneath" plays.  Prognosis: 2nd, 3rd or 4th for Arrogate, 3rd or 4th for American Freedom.

#3, My Man Sam (20-to-1) is my top selection.  I will use him in win and place plays and wheel in the exacta, trifecta and superfecta.  The pedigree might suggest a one-turn horse, but this son of Trappe Shot is just beginning to mature.  Sam started well in the Kentucky Derby and made a decent middle move before running up on others' heels into the final turn and then flattening, then re-rallying (albeit far off the winners) in the stretch, but that was not a bad effort after the horse closed like a shot to finish second a month prior in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland.

Granted it was an allowance race, but Sam then made a nice sweeping move into soft fractions on July 23 at Saratoga and was eventually headed in the stretch against older competition to finish second that day, but I thought it was a far more mature and experienced-looking performance that sets the stage well to track the speed in the Travers and close into sharp fractions.  Maybe he fails to get up in time, but of the three Chad Browns to me he has the best shot on Saturday afternoon.

#4, Governor Malibu (12-to-1): Best shot will be to beat Sam to the rail and track the speed, but I've seen enough here to think he's a cut below Grade 1.  Malibu, for my money, looks like a grinder who may hit the board but does not offer win upside.  He's the 5-to-1 second choice on the odds board at, which I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.  Perhaps I'll be proven wrong, but this is a case of wishful thinking for a lot of folks.  Prognosis: 3rd or 4th at best.

#5, Forever d'Oro (30-to-1):  On my ride to a Long Beach Island weekend on Friday I was shocked to hear Monmouth Park's world-class handicapper Brad Thomas make this one a potential play, but to me this one's a complete pass.  Trainer Dallas Stewart pops once in a while in spots like this, but there's nothing here to suggest this son of Medaglia d'Oro wants dirt or can hit the board.  PASS.

#6, Anaximandros (50-to-1):  A completely overmatched entry who from the gate can do nothing more but get in the way of the speed horses to his outside.  PASS.

#7, Exaggerator (3-to-1):  TVG is offering a 5-to-1 guarantee on win bets on this horse, but I fail to see the value.  I loved this horse in the Haskell, but this one's proving that he loves the wet going, so dry conditions leave a question mark for the Travers.  For my money he's the classiest of the bunch, and a mile-and-a-quarter is no concern, but I'm using him strictly "underneath" as he's only 2-of-8 lifetime on fast dirt tracks and I think that, eventually, a grueling 3-year-old campaign catches up with him in the stretch.  Prognosis: makes a big late charge but flattens in the stretch to finish 2nd, behind My May Sam; will use in every "underneath" combination.

#8, Destin (10-to-1):  Similar to Governor Malibu, in my opinion.  Consummate hard-knocker who will find himself near the lead but start to back up late.  I'm sticking to my story that trainer Todd Pletcher is a master at finding soft and winnable spots for his horses, as was the case with Destin's two stakes victories at Tampa Bay Downs this winter. Since then he's 0-for-3, including an easy run in the Belmont where he got nosed late by Creator.  The Jim Dandy was another unimpressive performance.  Prognosis: 3rd or 4th at best.

#9, Gift Box (12-to-1) and, #10, Connect (4-to-1): I'm pairing the two other Chad Brown trainees here, since I think neither will hit the board.  This is a huge step up in class for the top two runners in the $100,000 Curlin Stakes on July 29, where only 7 runners competed.  I'd put them in the race flow around Destin and expect both to flatten.  PASS.

#11, Majesto (30-to-1): SCRATCHED; will not run in the Travers.

#12, Creator (15-to-1):  The morning line is simply awful, and Creator is trading at 6-to-1 on Public Handicapper.  That's a bit too short for my liking, but I would not talk you off betting this one as a winner of the Travers.  I was this close to making him my top selection and am willing to toss his stale effort in the Jim Dandy on July 30, where I think his slight hesitation at the top of the stretch was a bit underplayed in the postscript to Laoban's shocking win.  I could see him rolling late in the stretch and will use him, similar to Exaggerator, "underneath".  Prognosis: Top 3 finisher.

#13, Laoban (15-to-1):  I view the Jim Dandy score as a bit of an aberration and project he'll be greatly compromised by the wide post position.  Until he proves he can stalk a pace, I think Jose Ortiz has no option but to gun for the early lead and hope he can dictate tempo again.  Prognosis: Leads for about three-quarters of a mile in 1:09-1:10 and wilts.  PASS.

#14, Gun Runner (10-to-1):  Distance should not be a problem, but I just think he got some great "trips" in his graded stakes wins earlier this year and is a cut below the top here.  I might have used him with an inner draw in the Travers but the 13 hole is a bear and I am reluctant to use.  PASS.


Possible winners: 3, 7, 12
Underneath horses: 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 12
Pass: 5, 6, 9, 10, 11 (scratch), 13, 14


NJ Horseplayer's selections ($60 bankroll):

Race 8: $1 Pick 4 -- 6 over 1, 7, 8, 10, 11 over 6 over 3, 7, 12 = $15 total
(I will single Mohaymen in the Kings Bishop, as I think he's going to be a fabulous 1-turn horse at 7 furlongs to a mile distance, as well as Flintshire in Race 10).

Race 10: $2 daily double 6 (Flintshire) with 3, 12 = $4 total

Race 11:
$5 Win-Place: 3 (My Man Sam) = $10 total
$1 Exacta Key Box, 3 with 1, 7, 12 = $6 total
$1 Exacta Key Box 12 with 1, 3, 7 = $6 total
$0.50 Trifecta: 3, 12 over 1, 3, 7, 12 over 1, 2, 7, 8, 12 = $11 total
$0.10 Superfecta: 3, 12, over 3, 7, 12 over 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 12 over 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 12 = $8 total

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Perfect Conditions For An Exaggerator

Mother Nature was unkind to a business surely in need of some luck, but from a handicapping perspective the sloppy track offers an interesting puzzle for bettors of the 2016 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

In a quality 6-horse field that trumps the overall competitiveness of 2015's coronation of American Pharoah, one could make a case for all of Sunday's competitors for top prize in a race that caps back-to-back days of 3-year-old showcases; yesterday, maiden Laoban won the Jim Dandy at 27-to-1 over the likes of Belmont winner Creator and top-shelf horses Destin, Mohaymen and Governor Malibu, and so the division appears wide open.

Unfortunately I'll be watching from home -- not because of wimpiness over getting wet but because my son's got the nastiest of stomach viruses now on day 3 -- but Exaggerator is my selection, and I think I can get 3-to-1.

Exaggerator ranged from a generous 7-to-2 and 4-to-1 on the Public Handicapper odds board over a 6-hour sample through publishing time, which to me represents a steal for a Grade 1 winner who is 3 of 4 in the off going and should appreciate today's moist conditions.  

I envision a repeat scenario of the 2016 Preakness Stakes.

This time, favorite Nyquist draws further inside (he's in Post 1 for the Haskell), again prompting jockey Mario Gutierrez to gun for the lead and push anticipated pacesetters American Freedom and Awesome Slew into wide trips into the backstretch, which in my view compromises the chances of all three and sets the stage for Exaggerator to tuck in along the rail, save ground, and gobble up ground in the stretch for a $600,000 winner's share.

Here's my quick synopsis on all six competitors (morning line odds in parenthesis).

  1. Nyquist (6-5): Freshened after a very game and presumably taxing Preakness, where he finished third off a two-week turnaround from winning the Kentucky Derby.  The questions become whether he takes to the off going as in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, where he won in a wire-to-wire fashion on a damp track, or if Mario figures he's just got the best horse and is willing to cede the early lead to another pacesetter and stalk the leaders. 
  2. Sunny Ridge (20-1): Owned by Monmouth Park executive Dennis Drazin and a horse that I loved at the National Handicapping Championship in late January but who has not raced since a lackluster fourth in the Gotham Stakes in early March at Aqueduct.  I would have given this horse serious consideration if he had a race to prep for the Haskell, but even the long-shot player in me sees Sunny Ridge as merely an outlier, even considering an extremely game second-place finish to Exaggerator in a wet Delta Jackpot in late-2015.
  3. Awesome Slew (15-1): A horse with top local connections but who was merely so-so in two Grade 3 races and should be the longest shot on the board but will be an underlay (currently 11-to-1 on Public Handicapper) because of the bettors' respect for jockey Paco Lopez.  I project that Paco will roll the dice and gun for the lead, considering that this horse's two wins were sprints, but figure he'll maybe last for three-quarters before fading to last.
  4. Gun Runner (4-1): The "in" selection for about half of the public handicappers that I follow, but I see risk in the current 2-to-1 odds on Public Handicapper and would use this horse under Exaggerator and American Freedom in trifectas and superfectas.  Also, his third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby is a bit overplayed, in my view, and I just think he'll get squeezed by the competitors to either side, then be left with much ground to make up late. 
  5. American Freedom (3-1): Haskell killer Bob Baffert trains an upstart here who I think has a legitimate chance to win at an overlay.  American Freedom is a late bloomer who did not make his debut until April, but has two lower-level stakes wins already, including a really gutsy win in the Sir Barton Stakes (see below) that signals his courage could be an asset in the Haskell. 
  6. Exaggerator (5-2): Expect this one to come rolling late and win at a decent price.  On a dry track, I might have had a different opinion, but for my money the wet going is a huge plus.

The way I'd play it is Exaggerator over American Freedom and Nyquist in the exacta and trifecta, then include Gun Runner and Sunny Ridge in the third and fourth slots. Best of luck!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

2 Free NHC Seats, Tour Points Up For Grabs In Del Mar Online

"Cool As Ever" is appropriate branding for a free NHC-focused handicapping contest offered by Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and that gets underway with Friday's start of the prestigious summer meet.

NJ Horseplayer all about feeding
the Pokemon GO frenzy; $100 to
win on Pikachu & Ash
In 2014, I qualified for the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) through this contest by virtue of a second-place finish over 4,000-plus contestants, so I can attest to its value, especially for lower-budget players or those curious about playing the handicapping contest circuit but hesitant to take the cash bankroll plunge.

It's a free spin (Del Mar even provides past performances for each day's race), so there's no better time to sign up than now.

Registration closes on Friday.

Make no bones about it, this is a difficult contest to win, but at no out-of-pocket cost, it's one certainly worth playing, especially for NHC Tour members since Tour points are awarded to the Top 10% of finishers.  (On the latter, I picked up Tour points in 2015 via the (separate) November contest, so signing up here can only help those trying to qualify for the NHC by accruing Tour points.)

The premise is simple -- build the highest bankroll by Labor Day -- as are the rules:
  • Make at least 20 mythical win, place and/or show wagers of $100 (the daily bankroll). 
    • Del Mar selects one race per day, generally that afternoon's feature.
  • Enter selections before the post time listed on that day's contest race. 
  • The goal over the course of the 39-day meet is to make as high a profit as possible.
    • A successful $100 straight "win" play on opening day on a 10-to-1 shot would, for example, put you atop the leaderboard at $1,000 ($22 win mutual x $50 minus $100 bet).
    • A losing $100 wager puts you at -$100; 5 days of losing $100 bets = minus $500.
  • The win "cap" is 30-to-1 (i.e. $3,000 of notional winnings).
  • Starts Friday, July 15 and ends on Monday, Sept. 5.
  • Top 2 finishers get 2017 NHC seats plus a $1,000 travel and hotel stipend.
  • Top 50 finishers receive prizes (TBD),
  • NHC Tour points to the Top 10% finishers.

Keys To Success

Hitting some long-shots is a necessity.  In the year I finished second, my $7,575.00 bankroll was about $800 below the winner but $1,125 ahead of the third-place player.  Other season-ending leaders had $6,500 (2015) and $5,068 (2013) for the summer contest, and $7,870 in the 2015 fall contest -- extremely solid returns on investment. 

If you have the time to make your pick closest to post time, seek value.  In the 2014 contest, I hit "cap" horses (39-to-1 and 29-to-1), but these were generally totally dismissed by the betting public (contest odds and mythical payouts shift as they would with real-money wagers).  In one such win, Meinertzhageni was an 8-to-1 morning liner who drifted up to 29-to-1 at post time.

Remember that California bettors hammer the favorites.  If you do not watch the California circuit that much, be aware that your 5-to-2 morning line favorite from trainers Bob Baffert or Phil D'Amato will be bet down to 3-to-5 by post time.  See "seek value" just above.  Either play another horse where there's more value or just skip the race if you cannot make the case for a rival.  Recall that you need to "bet" just 20 races to qualify, so a one-day pass at least sustains your bankroll. 

Avoid "chasing."  Say you end this coming weekend 0-for-3 and tied for last at minus $300.  Your inclination might be to ditch rational handicapping and take fliers on bombs in hopes of hitting one at the 30-to-1 cap.  Remember that, with a $100 daily bankroll, you can make up a lot of ground on the field with back-to-back 5-to-1 and 8-to-1 winners that make sense to play.  Stay patient.

Stick to "win" bets.  The spreadsheet on my September 2014 season recap taught me that I left money on the table in splitting my $100 bankroll into $50 win and place rather than going full bore with $100 to win on each day's selection.  Now, if you're way ahead of the pack in late August and are looking to sustain bankroll, I would endorse the more-conservative strategy or sticking to the sidelines.  Otherwise, $100 win is the way to go to move more quickly up the leaderboard. 

Use the contest for practice.  The chances of a Top 2 finish are slim, so take advantage of the free past performances, access to free race video and replays (via to increase your contest handicapping and playing skills. 

Have fun, and see you at the finish line!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Creator In The Belmont; Key With Exaggerator, Suddenbreakingnews

Two horses can win the 2016 Belmont Stakes, in my opinion -- #11 Exaggerator (9-to-5) and #13 Creator (10-to-1).

Unlike the Preakness Stakes, where I identified the top three finishers but foolishly did not wager a trifecta box that paid $70+ for a $1 base wager, I will likely use those two with #4, Suddenbreakingnews, in Saturday's Belmont.

Creator is my top selection.

Photo credit:
You'll widely hear that closer-types generally rate poorly on the Big Sandy and it's difficult to make up lots of late ground on a deep track where recent winners have been within just a few lengths of the leaders, but I'm a bit of a contrarian.

For my money, the Belmont field just isn't strong outside my top two marks. 

As I see it, the pace will be relatively hot, and it begins from the middle of the starting gate with #6 Gettysburg and #7 Seeking the Soul, both at 30-to-1, rushing to the front.  

Todd Pletcher's two runners, #2 Destin (6-to-1) and #5 Stradivari (5-to-1), join the fray, and in my opinion neither is capable of getting the mile and a half and both are overhyped.  Destin beat lesser at Tampa Bay Downs this winter and Stradivari looked one-paced and barely held on for fourth against Lani in the Preakness, and Lani (#10) to me is way better value at 20-to-1 to at least hit the board.

Exaggerator will sit right behind, and I expect Creator to be slightly more forwardly placed than during his efforts in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby; the latter of which showed his mettle as he ran from 14 lengths off the pace to gun down a good field that included Suddenbreakingnews, who is 10-to-1 on Saturday with an interesting rider change to Mike Smith, two-time Belmont winner.  

Here are some bullet points on each runner, and I'll cap my analysis by listing runners I anticipate will finish either first through fourth.
  • #1, Governor Malibu (12-to-1): improving form, but inside draw, little gate speed, and a disinterest for passing foes on the gallop out tell me his ceiling is third or fourth at best only with a clean ground-saving trip.
  • #2, Destin (6-to-1): not a huge fan; should be well-placed, but the best horse he beat this year (Outwork) barely beat a maiden (Trojan Nation) in the Wood Memorial, and the third-place runner in the Tampa Derby (Star Hill) is 20-to-1 on the Belmont Stakes undercard.  Pass.
  • #3, Cherry Wine (8-to-1): backers note the second-place effort in the Preakness, but recall that last year's Preakness runner-up (Tale of Verve) did zilch after that race and, here, Cherry Wine's still a horse without a stakes win; best win was vs. optional claimers. Fourth is the ceiling.
  • #4, Suddenbreakingnews (10-to-1): interestingly gets jockey Mike Smith, who won the Belmont at double-digit odds in 2010 (Drosselmeyer) and 2013 (Palace Malice); only concern is that this horse has shown zero early speed in any of his 9 lifetime races.  Ceiling is second if Smith works out a good trip and can avoid trouble; should hit the board.
  • #5: Stradivari (5-to-1): Pletcher's second runner and not much different, in my view, than counterpart Destin; will press the pace but stamina is my concern. Pass.
  • #6: Gettysburg (30-to-1): Worth using "underneath" on trifecta and superfecta tickets; perhaps gets brave on the lead, and note that he broke his maiden at a mile-and-an-eighth...not Belmont-long, but video replays show some gutty front-end work;  Fourth, at best.
  • #7: Seeking the Soul (30-to-1): Pace-setter trying winners for the first time; reach. Pass.
  • #8: Forever d'Oro (30-to-1): Another trying winners for the first time; a bigger reach. Pass.
  • #9: Trojan Nation (30-to-1): At least #7 and #8 won a race; Trojan still a maiden. Pass.
  • #10: Lani (20-to-1): Quirky horse, but his late run and gallop out in the Preakness tell me this son of Tapit is still developing.  One that could come from way out of the clouds and hit the board; using third and fourth on my tickets.
  • #11: Exaggerator (9-to-5): A LOT going on here, especially with jockey Kent Desormeaux shuttling back to Belmont out of alcohol rehab specifically for this race.  That doesn't concern me, but the question becomes race tactic and whether this one's a mudder or can win big on a dry surface.  I sense that Exaggerator will sit within 4-5 lengths of the leaders down the backstretch and look to turn it on into the far turn and gut out a victory over the late-closing types.  Exaggerator's Delta Jackpot effort in November gives some clue of the trip I anticipate -- let the speed go for a bit, then turn on the jets and hope to have enough in the tank.  For my money, there's no middle ground; Exaggerator either finishes Top 2 or off the board, with Desormeaux using discretion on whether the horse feels energetic enough to win. If not, we're looking at a Big Brown-type underperformance and unhappy supporters. 
  • #12: Brody's Cause (20-to-1): Horse's two wins outside the maiden ranks were at Keeneland, so maybe a bit of horse-for-course angle at play here; otherwise do not like to see a horse get a 1-mile workout and then come back with a so-so sprint workout a week later (sort of my runners' philosophy where you use distance runs to get quicker at shorter lengths).  Will be running late; minor spoils, maybe third or fourth.
  • #13: Creator (10-to-1): Toss the Kentucky Derby, similar to Suddenbreakingnews; sense he's an improving three-year-old with lots of upside and some pedigree for the distance. As I see it, the key will be whether jockey Irad Ortiz gets out well and tracks Exaggerator at all, and whether he saves or wastes ground down the backstretch; expect stalking trip and strong close ala Arkansas Derby to win, or bust goes NJHorseplayer. 
With a $100 budget, I might simplify and go a three-horse trifecta box (4, 11, 13) and key 11 and 13 atop 4, 11 and 13 for the exacta, then play a small superfecta ticket with runners in the spots below; anything at the 10-to-1 morning line also makes Creator a win bet and daily double prospect.
  • 1 -- Exaggerator (11), Creator (13)
  • 2 -- Suddenbreakingnews (4), Exaggerator (11), Creator (13)
  • 3 -- Governor Malibu (1), Suddenbreakingnews (4), Lani (10), Brody's Cause (12), Creator (13)
  • 4 -- Governor Malibu (1), Cherry Wine (3), Suddenbreakingnews (4), Gettysburg (6), Lani (10), Brody's Cause (12), Creator (13)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Mom's On Strike in the Black-Eyed Susan, Nyquist in Preakness

"Value" is a term revered by many horseplayers and public handicappers, but even as a fan of long-shots sometimes the "free square" is the best value in multirace wagers.

Such was the case two weeks ago, where I keyed long-shot Shagaf in my Derby wagers but still came out ahead in hitting back-up Oaks-Derby double and Derby trifecta bets by using Nyquist as well.

The Black-Eyed Susan/Preakness double poses a similar scenario, where Nyquist appears to be a shoe-in to go for the Triple Crown in three weeks in the Belmont Stakes.

Save for Cherry Wine, the "new shooters" (non-Derby horses) are unappealing, and with Exaggerator 0-for-4 against Nyquist, he's an underneath horse on my tickets until proving otherwise.

Regardless of conditions, Nyquist is the classiest 3-year-old of the bunch and both can handle a wet track (Saturday's forecast for Pimlico is grim) and either win on or just off the pace.

Drawn inside the "need-the-lead" types, I sense Mario Gutierrez can use Nyquist's tactical speed to either place forwardly or force the outer flow even wider out on the track, similar to Victor Espinoza's astute ride in California Chrome's 2014 Preakness victory, and make it to the finish line first.

Nyquist will be a "single" for me in allocating a small bankroll to the Friday-Saturday card.

Photo courtesy of
Track Philosopher
In terms of playing the Black-Eyed Susan/Preakness double, I will make a $10 straight double, identifying Mom's On Strike (#14) as a very playable long-shot in the Black-Eyed Susan and pairing her with Nyquist (#3).

Contrary to my view that the Derby runners in Saturday's Preakness will maintain their form against middling rivals, I have doubts about the two Black-Eyed Susan favorites (based on first odds) winning -- Land Over Sea (#3, 2-to-1) and Go Maggie Go (#5, 5-to-2).

Cathryn Sophia exposed these horses in the Kentucky Oaks as a lesser cut, in my opinion, and the short turnaround (two weeks) between Grade 1 stakes races poses the potential that the odds maker's choices could fall flat on Friday afternoon (4:50 p.m. ET post time; NBCSN coverage starts 3 p.m.).

In a 14-horse (scheduled) field where two runners have yet to win a race and a third won twice exclusively by disqualification, the Black-Eyed Susan screams long-shot.

Mom's On Strike makes sense at 15-to-1

The primary concern is that Friday represents Mom's first race against winners -- the equivalent of winning your club pro championship in golf or tennis and next finding yourself in match play versus Jordan Spieth or Roger Federer.  The jump from "maiden" victory to Grade 2 stakes is huge, but video replays suggest this horse has a world of hope to pick up the pieces late on Friday.

And none of the opponents are of the caliber of Messrs. Spieth or Federer.

A lightly-raced filly, Mom's On Strike got her first victory in her second lifetime race at Oaklawn Park on April 16 and stalked a slow pace before wearing down the leader.  The speed figures were nothing to write home about, but her prior effort on debut at Fairgrounds on March 17 was far more impressive and telling, in my opinion.

Mom's On Strike ran third that afternoon against eight other non-winners in a six-furlong sprint, but she was bumped very hard a half-dozen times out of the gate and settled so far back before missing a second-place finish by a neck.

The winner of that race came back with a decent effort against a good allowance field at Keeneland, beaten by a horse from trainer Joe Sharp's barn; Sharp is the trainer of Mom's On Strike.

Generally I am not a big "gallop out" proponent, but the race replay gives a clear indication that the horse wanted to continue running, as evidenced on April 16, and could prove a late factor in a Black-Eyed Susan where I sense the pace will be modest and no one else jumps off the racing form.

To recap, here's where I'm likely to wager on the Black-Eyed Susan:

  • $10 Black-Eyed Susan-Preakness double: Mom's on Strike (14) with Nyquist (3)
  • Black-Eyed Susan exacta and trifecta box key: Mom's on Strike (14) with Dothraki Queen (2), Land Over Sea (3) and Go Maggie Go (5)
Consistent with my Derby handicapping, here's a list of positions where I think certain horses could finish first through fourth, but anticipate maybe just a small trifecta or superfecta wager and reserve judgement on Saturday's forecast before determining bankroll; my range is $50-$100 in total.
  • 1 -- Nyquist (3)
  • 2 -- Cherry Wine (1), Exaggerator (5)
  • 3 -- Cherry Wine (1), Exaggerator (5), Fellowship (10)
  • 4 -- Cherry Wine (1), Exaggerator (5), Lani (6), Collected (7), Fellowship (10)