Saturday, December 12, 2020

No Guts, No "Glory" in Monmouth Tourney? It Depends...

Wagering "only" $100 instead of $200 on True Timber to win the Cigar Mile cost me a Top 2 finish and probably a $4,000+ cash profit and NHC qualification at Monmouth Park's Dec. 5 handicapping contest. 

Am I broken up? Absolutely not. It was still an awesome outcome and a great -- and rare -- pandemic-era day out of the house with a good friend, as Monmouth provide a safe venue and an egregiously distanced event in a surreal year.

Finishing 5th and turning a $300 entry into $1,400 was surely a solid outcome, but I've grappled a bit with how to frame missing an opportunity for 3x that profit and an NHC berth. 

A typical horseplayer's lament, I suppose.  

If nothing else, I've come to the stark realization that, to make a big splash in these tournaments, my live-bankroll mindset needs to deviate more from the risk tolerance in my investment and retirement accounts, which is more moderate and research-based than overaggressive.

It's an honest personality self-assessment for why I've only hit the board every so often in Monmouth's unique live-bankroll slate, and why I probably am better suited to the notional $2 win-place format of online events.

Granted, many buy 2 entries to my 1, but the winners of the Monmouth tournaments don't hesitate to go guns ablaze for the win, and if they lose so be it. They go home and try again next time. 

I've seen it first hand through friends Peter Rogers, Terry Flanagan, Jennifer Prince, Damian Sasso and Frank Grybowski, to name a few. Each at times has found success not so much my nailing 50% of their wagers, but knowing when to go "all in" on a particular horse, and not always on the contest finale.

I had that opportunity with 7-1 True Timber last weekend and didn't take it. 

I had built a $257 bankroll halfway through the tournament, grinding out a few show wagers and a wire-to-wire 4-1 winner in race 4 at Tampa Bay Downs before burning $50 win-place ($100) on Dovey Lovey in Race 7 at Aqueduct, my first of my three strong opinions on the card. That and another semi-big wager and up-the-track finish from my second bullish opinion of the day (Race 8) dented my confidence and bankroll to $57.

As so many live-bankroll players are prone to do, I blew $20 chasing an ill-advised horse who flopped in race 7 at Tampa, leaving me with $37.

On my heels, I regrouped, sitting out the next few races and contemplated how to parlay my final 37 bucks into something productive. 

Race 8 at Tampa provided such an opportunity, with a notable jockey change to Antonio Gallardo on Night Things, a 2-year-old from the "also eligible" list making his second start vs. protected maidens. The horse won at almost 10-1, turning my $20 win-$17 place wager into $276.

Back in business!

Before the Cigar Mile, I liked another horse -- at Tampa again -- who cost me $20, finishing second at 7-2 instead of winning as I'd bet, putting me at $256, enough for an asertive bet on my final "strong opinion."

In hindsight, I'm confident my aforementioned friends might have gone all in on such a bullish call, but the conservative side of me thought "well, my last two top bets stunk, so what'll be different here?

I'm not the only horseplayer with such self-doubt, but it cost me. 

I should have let the risk-taker in my mental struggle win out and wagered $200 to win on True Timber as contemplated. 

Instead, "moderate-risk" Bill bet $100 and cashed, but another $830 of winnings would have run my bankroll to $1,816 and been game, set and match. 

Fast forward to the contest finale -- Race 11 from Gulfstream Park -- I sat in third, $50 behind second and about $120 out of first. With no strong conviction in that 12-horse race, I set a simple goal to leave the track with at least $900 in my pocket, and play a logical horse and hopefully run my bankroll above $1,100 and toward where the tournament leader sat pre-race. 

It worked out, as 3-1 Frost Or Frippery survived a horrendous trip and a photo finish for the win; my $50 win-$20 place bet vaulted me to a $1,153 final tally, but only good enough for 5th place, surpassed by two other contestants.  

A true "gambler" might have turned such strong handicapping into a monster day. Yet that's not where I am at this point, nor will I ever be. I'm not a gambler. 

I'm a contest-focused player, and after several bad performances in past Monmouth tournaments, there's an element of satisfaction turning a good profit on strong handicapping and enjoying the action. 

On top of that, I've mostly avoided trying to qualify for the 2020 NHC. I lost interest once the NTRA, intent on an in-person Las Vegas event, shifted the national championship to late August 2021.

That's about the time I hope -- fingers crossed for a widely available Covid-19 vaccine and a return to normal life -- to be moving my two kids into college. 

I realize now that I can live more with missing out on NHC qualification than letting a major cash score slip thru my fingers. It was there for the taking.

Not enough guts, not enough glory.

Live and learn.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Thoughts on Travers Day Pick 5

Five days into a power outage, you find creative ways to stay entertained. I'm fortunate (or not, depending on how I do) to have downloaded Saturday's mandatory payout Pick 5 past performances at Saratoga, and have thoughts on playing what looks like a chalky sequence but see some plausible outsiders to spice things up. Hopefully this comes across eloquently, writing by phone.

I'm only putting $50 into four tickets, singling 2-3 where I perceive a lock, and mostly buying the middle race -- turf marathon -- with just 6 runners. Those, to me, are equivalent to claiming races but with horses of fancier pedigree. 

Here's my take on each race.

Race 7, Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes: #6 Pink Sands (10-1). A trainer-intent angle. Part of me thinks Shug McGaughey used the June 13 Ogden Phipps as a prep for today's at the horse's preferred distance. I think she's a middle distance sprinter and notice Irad Ortiz taking the mount. She'll be off the heels of my second choice, #1 Serengeti Empress (5-2), who's a speed ball but may wilt late. Using 1 and 6 prominently on 3 of 4 tickets, and the other 5 runners on one "saver" ticket.

Race 8, Grade 3 Troy Stakes: I relish 5.5 furlong turf sprints but the field looks like dressed up claimers. I'll take favorite Imprimis (8-5), even off a 9-month rest. Just the classiest IMHO. Training progression seems positive and saving ground along the rail should help. I just think the others are blazing 5 furlong types and Imprimis picks up the pieces as the early pace tires. Using #7 Chewing Gum (9-2), #5 Pure Sensation and #3 Lonhtwist (20-1) as outsiders.

Race 9, Grade 3 Waya Stakes: I'm buying the race. Only 6 runners, and these turf marathons are so unpredictable. If ready, #1 Mrs. Sippy (6-5) is best, but another off since November's Breeders Cup isn't an angle I love. Using ALL on one ticket and think #2 Beau Belle (10-1, only 2 lifetime wins, both at Saratoga), #4 My Sister Nat (2-1) and #7 Fools Gold (5-1) have a shot.

Race 10, Grade 1 Test Stakes: Almost impossible to look past 3-5 favorite Gamine. Crushed in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont last month and I'm not super high on second-choice #6 Venetian Harbor (8-5) to beat her. Just doesn't seem as fast but will use on one of my tickets. Used #1 Up in Smoke (12-1) on another ticket in case the top two melt down, but I don't see it.

Race 11, Grade 1 Travers Stakes: #3 Uncle Chuck is my top choice, and I think the 5-2 morning line is generous and worth a stand against vs. sentimental favorite and Saratoga local #6 Tiz the Law. Even-money is too short on the Belmont Stakes champion, and though I'm sure the local connections would LOVE to sweep the Travers and Belmont, they're not going to risk it to miss out on a Triple Crown try next month for Tiz. It should be a fantastic head-to-head race, but I give the nod to Chuck. Don't dismiss his last win at the little-known Los Alamitos either. The configurations aren't much different there than here (long straightaways). Chuck is versatile and I think benefits from an otherwise pretty soft field. I'm using #7 Caracaro (10-1) on a saver ticket, impressed with his bad-trip runner up in the Grade 3 Peter Pan last month.

Probable Pick 5 Tickets (50-cent base)

1,6 with 1 with ALL with 1,5 with 3 ($12)

1,6 with 3,7 with 1,2 with 5,6 with 3,6 ($16)

1,6 with 1,5 with 1,2,7 with 5 with 7 ($12)

2,3,4,5,7 with 1 with 1,4 with 5 with 3,6 ($10)

Mighr play a Pink Sands-Serengeti Empress exacta in Race 7 and possible win on PS if she holds around 10-1. I'm otherwise chilly on win wagers today.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Haskell Stakes Selection: Dr Post

Seven horses will compete Saturday in Oceanport for the $600,000 winner's share in the most expensive allowance race ever carded, a.k.a. the 2020 Haskell (nee Invitational) Stakes.

Sarcasm about the 7-horse field competing in a $1 million Grade 1 race aside, you can't knock Monmouth Park at all for much else from a wagering proposition, having put together an outstanding 14-race card in the face of Covid-19 restrictions, including an apparent quarantine of jockey Mike Smith, coming from California to ride 4-5 favorite Authentic for trainer Bob Baffert.

Management's been criticized by many on social media for selling a select number of $100-$150 tickets for parking, admission and a baseball cap, but candidly, the Haskell field isn't worth seeing in person, and that money can be better spent watching the action on TV and betting online. Plus as a capitalist I can see why Monmouth would use its capacity allowance (about 2,000) to offset its expenses and a completely rich purse.

As usual, I'll provide unsolicited thoughts on each Haskell horse -- in order of preference -- and share some other wagering ideas for the late Pick 5 sequence (Races 10-14).

Paging Dr Post! 

#1, Dr Post (5-2): Top selection and probably one of two horses that can win. This isn't a pound-the-table win bet for me, unless he overlays to 7-2, but Dr Post is a completely logical second fiddle to Authentic after a runner-up to Tiz the Law in the Belmont on June 20. If Dr Post loses, it won't be for a lack of trying. Even if you're not betting the Haskell, watch how this guy runs. In each of his past three starts, he broke from the gate decently but looked lazy at times, prompting his jockey to remind him with the whip about two-thirds of the way through the race. And each time he responded slowly but surely, with a going-away victory in a $75,000 stake at Gulfstream Park in late April and stretching out another sixteenth of a mile and running faster in the Belmont. Trainer Todd Pletcher is as exciting to listen to as watching paint dry, but is simply one of the best at placing his horses in winnable spots. In the traditional Derby chase, Dr Post wouldn't have been ready for top competition. Nor rushed. But from what I've seen so far, Dr Post has gradually matured and I think gets a perfect ground-saving trip along the rail and catches Authentic from off the pace. Pass as a win bet at 5-2 or 2-1 odds, but I'll suggest for the top spot of trifecta and superfecta tickets, as well as the Pick 5.

#2, Authentic (4-5): Bob Baffert knows a few things about Max's Hot Dogs...and, oh, winning the Haskell. He's dominated this race, winning a record eight times, and Authentic is in the mold of many other Baffert runners. Speed. Speed. More Speed. There's no mystery about Authentic's tactic. He'll jump to the front and look to make his six foes eat dust. I have a few concerns, however, beyond Baffert's injury-plagued Derby hopefuls and medications violations at Oaklawn Park. After gaudy wins in short-sized fields in the Grade 3 Sham and Grade 2 San Felipe -- before Covid-19 ended a lot of things, including the traditional Triple Crown trail via the Kentucky Derby (now Sept. 5) -- Authentic finished a fading second to Honor A.P. in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on June 6. He started oddly, almost a step slow, and never got to dictate terms. Authentic lost by almost three lengths, and though the speed figure he earned is best of the Haskell bunch, visually there was something amiss. I'm also mildly concerned about shipping the horse east for his first race outside of California. Granted, Saturday's field is bad, but my call is that a few of the egregious long-shots will gun for the lead with Authentic, so any early stumble or need to carve out ridiculous fractions puts him at a disadvantage and benefits Dr Post. I'll use Authentic on one "defensive" trifecta ticket, but discourage win-place-show bets for lack of value. Watch to see if "bridge-jumpers" overload the show pool here, and whether you can capitalize on another horse you like for a sizable show wager.

#3, Jesus' Team (15-1): Pronounced "Hey Zeus's" Team. I mean, who wouldn't want to align with Jesus, right?! But from a racing sense, he's my third choice. Now, I think he's got maybe a 0.05% chance of winning, but for my money is absolutely worth using "underneath" in wagers. I wanted to give NY Traffic the nod as third-best, but sorta feel like that guy's hit his ceiling and is more of a miler, so the extra one-eighth of a mile is a detriment to him. Jesus' Team, on the other hand, has matured since shifting to trainer Jose D'Angelo's barn. Certainly not a household-name conditioner, but in Jesus' past two starts -- a win and a second -- he's shown both quickness from the starting gate and, vs. half-decent $100,000 optional claiming company on June 10, the ability to settle and stalk the front-runners. Candidly I think he's got one of my least preferred riders, but I believe this horse is game enough to keep running late, probably maxing out in second place if something goes amiss with Authentic, and third or fourth otherwise, but probably way behind the winner.

#7, NY Traffic (7-2): Because the next three horses I'm about to discuss are God awful, I think NY Traffic may be 2-1 or 5-2 when all's said and done, which to me is too short for a win bet for a hanger. My hope as a Dr Post backer is that NY Traffic goes off as second choice after two seconds and a third in three Grade 2-3 races and bettors go gaga over local jockey Paco Lopez, a speed connoisseur getting his second-straight turn with a speed horse. What you want to see if backing NY Traffic is a duel with Authentic where the latter throws in the towel, and the others sorta run in place. As a Dr Post backer that's also what I want to see, save for the part about NY Traffic making it to the finish line first. I just think Dr Post has more will than NY Traffic, who to me looks more like a 7-furlong to 1-mile horse. In each of his past three races -- granted, vs. stout competition -- he languished late. Strictly an underneath horse on my tickets, save for one small-money, defensive Pick 5 "backup" ticket. Will be bet like a win contender, but I don't think is good enough.

#6, Lebda (20-1): The first of three runners I believe will be more than 30-1 once the starting gate opens. One game try as a two-year old, finishing third in the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs last September, and two minor stakes wins at winter track Laurel Park, but not fast enough. May be in the mix for 50-60% of the race before fading, much as he was gassed in three attempts vs. Grade 3 company (two levels below Saturday's classification). Pass.

#4, Ancient Warrior (20-1): A three-quarter mile sprinter, not a classic-distance horse. Summoning the spirit of every ancient warrior ever is needed for this guy to have a chance. What I'm hoping for as a Dr Post backer is Ancient Warrior guns for the front, presses Authentic, Lebda and NY Traffic to complete the first half-mile in ~45 seconds and carries the latter two wide into the backstretch. Optimally, Jesus' Team will sit just behind them, and Dr Post in sixth, riding the rail unencumbered until the far turn. If that happens, it'll be a job well done for a horse who'll be 50-1, helping to burn out the front-runners so Dr Post can gun 'em all down late. Pass.

#5 Fame to Famous (30-1): A turf horse with one lifetime win in eight tries for an 0-for-29 trainer in 2020, and whose claim to fame to this point is finishing fourth to a 73-1 shot on July 4 on the grass at Monmouth Park. A $12,500 check and participation medal awaits this poor guy, who may go off more than 100-1. Just don't see it.

Probable Haskell-Specific Wagers

I'll allocate about $30 to this race, with Dr Post at the front of most and with Authentic as a hedge in the event my top choice gets rolling too late. If using these as a template, reduce or raise the amount depending upon your budget. Base trifecta and superfecta amounts are 50 and 10 cents.

  • $5 trifecta 1 with 2, 3 with 2, 3 = $10
  • $2 trifecta 2 with 3 with 1, 6 7 = $6
  • $1 trifecta 1 with ALL with 3 = $5
  • $3 superfecta 1-2-3-7
  • $2 superfecta 1-2-7-3

Late Pick 5 Sequence Ideas

The all-stakes Race 10-14 Pick 5 is stellar, and I have two stronger opinions beyond the Haskell, and both horses are 9-2 on the morning line, so there's value -- Global Campaign (#1, Race 10) and Dubini (#5, Race 13). A little on each race, with my probably Pick 5 tickets.

Race 10 -- Grade 3 Monmouth Cup: #1, Global Campaign is a four-time winner in seven starts. The key race for me, albeit last summer, was his third-place finish in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga. The runner up that day -- Tacitus -- is an absolute beast, better than anyone in this field. An easy 2020 debut win in late April vs. softer foes and a so-so mile sprint effort in late May inspires enough confidence that bettors may dismiss the best horse in the field. May get 5-1 or 6-1, IMHO.

Race 11 -- Grade 1 United Nations: In handicapping contest formats I'm using #2, Standard Deviation (7-2) over #1, Arkow (5-2 favorite), but for multi-race wagers I'm spreading to also include #5, Aquaphobia (9-2) and #9, Paret (6-1). Arklow has already banked almost $2 million of winnings, but I think trainer Graham Motion has Standard Deviation finely tuned in his second start since returning to the U.S. after running in a $10 million stakes race in Qatar in February. The horse is also 2-for-2 on the turf at Monmouth, albeit vs. lesser company.

Race 12 -- Grade 1 Haskell (see above). 

Race 13 -- Wolf Hill Stakes: #5, Dubini has been game vs. several more-superior horses to what he'll face in this 5.5 turf sprint on Saturday. Also 3-for-4 on the Monmouth turf and should get plenty of pace to close into, as is his preference. It's a deep field, but to me there's a lot of window-dressing. Dubini's prominent on all of my exotic tickets, and I'll mix in three others as safety valves: #9, Shekky Shebaz (5-2 favorite), #10, Regally Irish (20-1) and #11, American Sailor (5-1). 

Race 14 -- Grade 3 Molly Pitcher: #11, Horologist (5-1) is my top selection, as I think this New Jersey-bred is simply the classiest in this 11-horse field and maybe bettors look away after she pulled and didn't complete her last race on May 31 (Grade 2 at Santa Anita). She shifts to the barn of noted trainer Bill Mott and sports four seemingly OK works since. She was absolutely good enough to win the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn in mid-April but got stuck behind a wall of horses, and to me this field pales in comparison to that one. I'll use 4 others as it's a deep field: #1, She's a Julie (5-2), #2, Royal Flag (3-1), #5, Vault (9-2) and #8, Cloud Charmer (30-1). 
  • 50-cent Pick 5: 1 with 1, 2, 5, 9 with 1 with 5 with 1, 2, 5, 8, 11 = $10
  • 50-cent Pick 5: 4, 8 with 2 with 1 with 5, 9, 10, 11 with 11 = $4
  • 50-cent Pick 5: 1 with 1, 2, 9 with 2, 7 with 5 with 1, 2, 5, 11 = $12
  • 50-cent Pick 5: 8 with 1, 2, 9 with 2 with 5, 9, 10, 11 with 11 = $6

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Belmont Stakes Pick: Tap It to Win Over Pneumatic

A bit pressed for time ahead of a graduation-birthday-Father's Day cookout at home, and after spending a few hours with my Pick 5 consigliere Coach Dan mapping out our group ticket for races 6-10, here's a few thoughts on playing today's Belmont Stakes.

A little on each horse, ranked in my order of preference and with morning lines and betting advice:

  • #1, Tap It to Win (6-1): Simply the fastest horse in the field and benefits from the cutback in the today's race distance to 10 from 9 furlongs. I believe his speed carries. Unless he rears up at the gate, this one should easily find the lead. The naysayer will knock the caliber of talent he's beaten to start 2020, but I think those were merely foundation races, and trainer Mark Casse recognizes this horse just wants to go from the gate. Tap It to Win has the pedigree, and has already proven proficient in 1-turn races. Toss the 2 stakes flops last fall, where the jockey clearly couldn't get the horse to settle. To me it's gun for the front and make others eat dust.
  • #10, Pneumatic (8-1): This horse has a Mr. Money feel -- probably a 1-turn horse who's starting to show maturity after just 3 lifetime races. Didn't run as a 2-year-old but proved to be tactical in his first two races (both wins), and ran really game in his first stakes try in the Matt Winn at Churchill Downs on May 23, losing to the best 3-year-old in training (Maxfield). Pneumatic is prominent in all of my wagers and a win candidate, especially if he's within 1-2 lengths of the leaders coming into the stretch. Real grinder-type that I like at Belmont.
  • #8, Tiz the Law (6-5): Deserving favorite and an obvious win candidate. Horse is 4-for-5 lifetime with two Grade 1 wins (one at Belmont at age 2) and quite the resume. Candidly, my concerns are with the connections (trainer Barclay Tagg just a 7% win rate in graded stakes), and I can see jockey Manuel Franco getting outdone by the better riders. Wouldn't be the least bit surprised, but I'm also not taking short odds on a New York-bred. The last time one of them won the Belmont...1882, 118 years ago. Using on all tickets but wouldn't bet win, place or show at all. 
  • #9, Dr. Post (5-1): Intriguing but second tier here. Hard to argue betting against trainer Todd Pletcher and top rider Irad Ortiz, but I think he beat some cupcakes, including a horse who was a distant 4th to Pneumatic in the aforementioned Matt Winn Stakes. Among the opponents he beat in his maiden-breaking win on March 29 were a Pletcher stablemate who hasn't raced since, and the third-place finisher there's 0-for-8 lifetime. "B"-type use for me, underneath in exotic wagers and in some backup Pick 5 tickets.
  • #4, Modernist (15-1): I was sorta talked into this one but see some merit as an underneath horse, as the replays I reviewed show a 1-paced horse with stamina questions and no real late kick that could, say, keep him with a runaway speed type like Tap It to Win. I sense he's going to get used up early, so his ceiling seems to be 3rd or 4th best.
  • #2, Sole Volante (9/2): Dead closer who's going to be 15 lengths off the pace a half-mile in and will need to ride the rail and hope for a seem, blazing early fractions and for those speedsters to completely fall apart. Stakes win at Tampa Bay Downs in February was like that, though the horse he beat (Independence Hall) was really poorly ridden by jockey Jose Ortiz, and to me there's a scent of luckiness in that win. Plus Luca Panici is a Florida-based rider who isn't at all familiar with Belmont's sandy and long oval, so he's maybe a horse to use 3rd in trifectas.
  • #5, Farmington Road (15-1): Been here, done that. A plodder with zero gate speed and who, aside from 2 races vs. much softer fields, isn't a great-looking closer type. Pass.
  • #3, Max Player (15-1): Won the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct in February, but that was a so-so race where he sat off the pace and watched the others wilt. May be better than Sole Volante and Farmington Road, but to me he hasn't faced real horses like the ones above.
  • #6, Fore Left (30-1): Chases the pace for about 5-6 furlongs before wilting. Only hits the board if the dirt track proves to be a carousel today and no closer types can factor. Pass.
  • #7, Jungle Runner (50-1): Just happy to be here. 
Most of my wagers are as part of Pick 5 tickets with the Coach Dan team, and I'm setting aside only about $60-$80 for my own wagers. For straight Belmont Stakes bets, I'll gauge the odds on Tap It to Win before committing to a win bet, as I think he's less compelling at 3-1 or 7-2 odds than, say, Pneumatic. I also wouldn't talk bettors of Dr. Post at a decent price and with the top jockey. 

Below are a few tickets I've already punched, keying my top selections in the Pick 5 sequence:
  • Race 6, #5 Selflessly (5-2): Grade 3 Wonder Again, 1 mile on turf
  • Race 7, #8 My Sassy Sarah (5-2): Allowance for non-winners of 2 lifetime races, 6 furlong turf
    • $1 Pick 3: 4, 8, 12, 14 with 4 with 2, 5 = $8
  • Race 8, #4 Casual (3-1): Grade 1 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies, 1 mile on dirt
    • Singling in a $1 Pick 3 ticket thru race 10: 4 with 2, 5 with 1, 4, 8, 9, 10 = $10
  • Race 9, #2 Oleksandra (7-2): Grade 1 Juiper, 6 furlongs on turf
    • Prominent on all of my tickets and one of my top selections in the sequence; there's plenty of speed for this closer to chase, so unless the track bias is for front-runner types, she's got an enormous shot vs. what's otherwise an all-male field
    • Certainly playable as a win wager at 7-2, and #5 Stubbins (3-1) is also going to be prominent; will consider exactas and trifectas with these two up top
    • Playing $5 daily double 5 with 1, 10 = $10
      • I think his odds will be better, hence the higher-priced ticket than w/my top pick
    • Playing $2 daily double 2 with 1, 8, 9, 10 = $8
My own Pick 5 tickets for Races 6-10, the first three as a 50-cent base wager and the fourth at $1:
  • 1, 5 with 8 with 2, 4 with 2, 5 with 1, 8, 10 = $12
  • 5 with 4, 12, 14 with 4 with 2, 5 with 1, 10 =$6
  • 5 with 8 with ALL with 2, 5 with 1 = $7
  • 1, 2, 5 with 8 with 4 with 2, 5 with 10 = $6

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Horse Racing Contest Perspective in Virus Scare

So I've been too busy to write thoughtful blogs the past 6 months, but with far more time at home responsibly playing my role in "physical (not social) distancing," it's time to dust off this hobby and get busy with self-effacing handicapping-contest blunders and unwanted horse racing advice in these scary days of a global health pandemic.

The point is to lighten the mood at a time when COVID-19 has disrupted our daily routines and will reshape our interactions and lifestyles in the days and months ahead. Probably forever. But, hey, if eliminating strange bro-hugs is the worst byproduct, we can all live with that.

On a personal level, I'm thankful as hell that my family has stayed healthy throughout this episode and I hope this post finds you well.

On a professional level, there's been no change to my 50+ hour workweeks other than they're now entirely from home.

The coronavirus crisis hasn't tested my sanity too much, probably because it satisfies my introverted side, home life has been good, and more time with my aging teens will quickly dry up as they prepare for college and life beyond.

And whereas other sports are on hiatus, the horse racing industry has shockingly been functional in several jurisdictions and the only live sport going for about the past month. So I've been able to play the occasional small-dollar after-work games hosted by online-contest sites and dipped my toe into an NHC qualifier on Saturday.

The end result was a 21st-place finish vs. 220 contestants and $165 refund, where in the current global health scare I'll highlight the bright side instead of the negative and provide this bit of tournament-specific advice: don't let early race "bad beats" or wrong sides of the coin-flip derail the rest of your contest. 

Saturday's 12-race contest got off to an awful start, as at the last second I switched off the winner in the opener (Highland Glory, Gulfstream Park race 7) and pissed away $15.60 of win-place points in favor of the "hot jockey" who, of course, put my horse in awful position and ran last of 11.

Two races later I was torn between two horses and picked the wrong one, losing out on an 11-1 winner with a better jockey than the low-percentage guy who rode my selection into traffic and fifth-place in race 7 at Tampa. Ultimately, the $36.20 of winnings from Native Hawk would have been good enough to help me finish second and qualify for NHC 2021, but that's spilled milk.

After cursing at myself for the next 5-10 minutes I regained perspective:

  • Only three races into the contest, I wasn't dead in the water
  • Deep fields on Florida Derby Day at Gulfstream provided opportunities for playable long-shots later in the contest card
  • The grim realities of a global contagion make fretting over a loss in a fantasy contest a complete lack of perspective, so stay grounded

From there I reached with Jimmy D in race 8 at Tampa in a garbage field, but then hit the board in four straight (3 winners, 1 place), including $30 and $27 scores with Swiss Skydiver and Bemma's Boy and $8 from an obvious 9-5 shot at Golden Gate, vaulting me into 11th and within reach of a Top 3.

From there I could have played the 10th contest race a bit smarter, picking up $4.80 of place money on the preferred La Waun at Golden Gate instead of Bullet Drill. But that and taking heavily favored Tiz the Law -- a shoe-in winner of the Florida Derby -- would, in hindsight, have moved me up maybe 5-6 places in the final standings, not good enough for the NHC.

The differences for me were passing on Native Hawk earlier on, and then Ballagh Rocks getting caught in traffic in the 11th contest race and finishing off the board. I was the highest player on the leaderboard to have that horse, so success there would have been fruitful.

Yet I can live with the outcomes:
  • Top 10% finish (though I don't give a hoot about NHC Tour points; a scam to encourage high-volume tournament play and that doesn't gauge handicapping-contest efficiency)
  • Stuck to principals of prior blog posts:
    • patience
    • no overthinking
    • keep to more-logical long-shots and don't reach too often
  • Appreciate the equine athletes, their jockeys and trainers and a seemingly safe day on the track
  • A relaxing, enjoyable and frivolous way to spend a rainy and cool afternoon on a great hobby.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Saturday Breeders Cup Analysis

It's been some time that I've posted, but got a head start on Breeders Cup handicapping and so am posting thoughts about each of the 9 races carded for Santa Anita on Saturday. 

Image result for 2019 breeders cupI'll circle back Saturday morning with my full list of proposed wagers for the card, once I've decided how to allocate my budget (probably $100-$150), but in the meantime offer my top 3 in each race.

Race 4, Filly and Mare Sprint (2:55 p.m. ET)

  • #4, Come Dancing (5-2)
  • #1, Covfefe (2-1)
  • #9, Spiced Perfection (4-1)
  • Long Shot Who Can Hit the Board: #7, Selcourt (10-1)
A great way to kick off the card, albeit chalky. I'm sure of my ticket structures, but view Come Dancing as a "strong single" in the first leg of the Pick 4, allowing me to go as far as 6 deep in Race 5 and be alive to prices that I like in Races 6 and 7. In the F&M Sprint, trainer Carlos Martin has a sprint beast in Come Dancing. Finishing second to Midnight Bisou, probably winner of the Distaff (Race 10) and in a June Grade 1 at Belmont, and losing to the likes of Wow Cat showed she can't go beyond a mile, but she was really game in those efforts. And she showed maturity in her last two, proving the ability to sit a bit off the pace and chase down the leaders. 

Race 5, Turf Sprint (3:33 p.m.)

  • #4, Shekky Shebaz (15-1)
  • #11, Om (15-1)
  • #5, Stubbins (12-1)
Dismiss painfully slow workout times at your own risk. Trainer Jason Service has the fastest horse from the gate here, and I think Shekky Shebaz is simply the fastest sprinter and can last the 5-furlong distance. If he stumbles I'm cooked, in which case I think Om is second best and will absolutely hit the board, spicing up the exacta, trifecta and superfecta combos, though his long layoff coming into this race was the primary deterrent from making him my win selection.

Race 6, Dirt Mile (4:10 p.m.)

  • #4, Mr. Money (6-1) ** BEST BET **
  • #5, Omaha Beach (8-5)
  • #1, Giant Expectations (12-1)
  • Also using #3, Spun to Run (6-1) and #8, Blue Chipper (20-1)
This race has always been my favorite and is quintessential U.S. racing -- a fast-flying mile at two turns on the dirt. I think bettors may dismiss Mr. Money off a Grade 1 loss to a 30-1 shot in the Pennsylvania Derby, but don't dismiss the chances of the best miler in the field. His sire Goldencents won this race twice, and I think Mr. Money's extremely tactical. If jockey Gabriel Saez breaks clean and can give Mr. Money the same kind of trip he gave By My Standards in winning the Louisiana Derby earlier this year, it'll be a profitable day for yours truly. I believe he's got enough gate speed to make Omaha Beach, Coal Front and Blue Chipper have to gun wide to pass him into the first turn. If that happens, I think Money can settle into a mid-pack rail position just off the leaders and hopefully find a seam late to roll home victorious.

Race 7, Filly and Mare Turf (4:54 p.m.)

  • #8, Castle Lady (15-1)
  • #2, Sistercharlie (8-5)
  • #9, Villa Marina (8-1)
I will use these on all tickets and probably in small exacta and trifecta box plays. It's really tough to gauge the European shippers, but I liked what I saw enough from Castle Lady on her race replays to think she's got a shot here. There's no questioning the class of Sistercharlie, a 10-time winner in just 14 starts and with $3.5 million of winnings at age 5. Yet she's an extremely deep closer -- a style I'm unsure will work well at Santa Anita. As you're watching this race, prepare for #5 Mirth and #6 Thais to set a swift early pace. I expect Castle Lady to sit third or fourth as the pace-setters duke it out, as her effort at Keeneland in October (and prior races) showed she's keen from the starting gate but willing to settle down to conserve energy. That's what I expect here -- sit third off the pace, find a seam and hope to hold off a host of late runners. Jockey Mickael Barzalona has tasted success at the Breeders Cup before, which means he's done this. In 2017 it was piloting Talismanic to a 14-1 win in the 2017 edition of the BC Turf. A ha!

Race 8, Breeders Cup Sprint (5:36 p.m.)

  • #2, Hog Creek Hustle (20-1) ** TOP 3 PICK **
  • #9, Imperial Hint (4-1)
  • #4, Mitole (9-5)
Make no mistake. I will be playing 2-9-ALL and 9-2-ALL combinations for the trifecta and potentially superfecta. I love Hog Creek Hustle. The caveat is that 6 furlongs may not be allow this guy enough time to get into his late burst. I'd back up the Brink's truck were this a 7-furlong race (his preferred distance, IMO), but view the shorter distance more tepidly. I'll still support him and think it's a two-horse race with Imperial Hint. There's a TON of early pace in this race that I think can burn out, setting up Hog Creek Hustle to mow 'em all down late at a big price. If the quarter- and half-mile times are 21 second and 43 seconds as I anticipate, it's game, set and match. Hog Creek Hustle wins.

Race 9, TVG Mile (6:20 p.m.)

  • #13, Hey Gaman (12-1)
  • #12, Lord Glitters (12-1)
  • #9, Circus Maximus (3-1)
Let's be honest. How many U.S. handicappers watch enough European racing to figure this one out? Half of 14 horses are Euro shippers. I'm just not enamored with the U.S.-based entrants, and watched a ton of replays to get a sense of our visitors from across the pond. Betting-wise, I think most will default to the top 3 morning-line choices, but none of them catch my fancy. That brings me to jockey Frankie Dettori on Hey Gaman, a turf sprinter who has shown little in his past 2 but with different riders. Dettori gets back aboard a horse who, from replays, seems to do his best when on or just a shade off the lead. I'm looking for Hey Gaman to attend the pace and hopefully steal this one, held together with bubble gum or Flex Seal. It's a bit of a risk, but aren't all wagers?!

Race 10, Distaff (7 p.m.)

  • #4, Midnight Bisou (6-5) ** TOP 3 PICK **
  • #3, Street Band (10-1)
  • #5, Dunbar Road (6-1)
  • Long Shot Who Can Hit the Board: #7, Secret Spice (10-1)
I won't belabor this one. I wanted to pick Street Band, but Midnight Bisou is just the class of the entire Saturday card. Her last two losses (in late 2018; she's 7-for-7 in 2019) were to Monomoy Girl, who readers know I put on a pedestal. And those losses were close. In Saturday's race I think she can do what she wants and can deal with any sort of pace. I sense 3-4 horses will set a blistering early pace, but Midnight Bisou keeps her powder dry, lets them wilt, then holds off a maturing Street Band in what, for me, is a strong straight exacta play and single in late Pick 3 and 4 tickets.

Race 11, Longines Turf (7:40 p.m.)

  • #10, Old Persian (4-1)
  • #9, Bricks and Mortar (9-5)
  • #7, Alounak (20-1)
These are the only 3 horses I'll use. I give Old Persian a slight edge vs. Bricks and Mortar, only for facing seemingly tougher competition in Europe. But I wouldn't be surprised if the latter won -- a stellar horse. I watched many replays on Old Persian, who to me needs to be a bit forwardly placed (preferably third for much of the race) and is a grinder, exactly what's needed at 12 furlongs. A key race for me is the Sheema Classic in Dubai in late March, where Old Persian beat a quality runner named Desert Encounter, who last month was infinitely the best in winning the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine in Toronto, a race where my third choice Alounak was runner-up. 

Race 12, Breeders Cup Classic (8:44 p.m.)

  • #7, Higher Power (6-1)
  • #11, Code of Honor (4-1)
  • #5, Yoshida (8-1)
I'm not as jazzed up about this race as many of the earlier ones but am siding with Higher Power, a 4-year-old who did little in 2018 but has taken several steps forward in his last four races, including a dominant win in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic in August. A month later he came back with a decent third-place in the Awesome Again after almost face-planting and tossing jockey Flavien Prat out of the starting gate, but to me he showed guts that afternoon and still battled in a race he didn't need to win. If he gets the jump on #6 Elate from the gate and gets the second spot behind presumed pacesetter War of Wills, Higher Power will have an excellent shot to outlast the rest. And there was no better rider in California this year than Prat -- a big tactical advantage. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Haskell Pick (If It Ever Runs): Everfast

I waited to post thoughts until after Monmouth Park management made a not-to-surprising debacle out of its biggest and most profitable racing day.

Saturday's turn of events doesn't surprise me one bit, in that Monmouth had a few days to follow the lead of Saratoga and three other Mid-Atlantic peers and reschedule and/or run an abbreviated morning or twilight program, and instead doubled-down on an awful hand, insistent on running a 14-race card in a 110-degree-plus heat index.

The error wasn't so much because of the heat itself, but because selling out to NBC to broadcast on a Saturday instead of the usual Sunday was not only going to hurt attendance and handle. It also put it into an enormous safety spotlight in the wake of 30 racing fatalities at Santa Anita Park during the spring meet. Others that I respect also tweeted for days that Monmouth should have postponed.

Rather, it only drew more negative attention and turned off paying customers after events in California sullied the sport. Santa Anita's ownership group has basically done everything in its power to sabotage the racing product to be able to cash in on the extremely valuable land. It's my opinion their concern about safety is halfhearted at best.

So in that context, a venue like Monmouth Park had decisions to make, and made the wrong ones and further dented its credibility by insisting on full steam ahead. Now, you've got annoyed patrons, unwanted attention and tons of questions about what the heck's going on there.

Anyway, enough of that. With the adjusted 8:05 p.m. scheduled post time for the Haskell, I had a little more time to dig into handicapping the race, assuming it still goes off as planned. If you're still planning on playing the race, or can use the delay as an opportunity to catch out what could be a decent twilight all-stakes card of 5 races, here's a little info on the 7-horse Haskell.

I'll rate them in my order of preference, from best to worst.

#6, Everfast (10-1): I get that this guy's 1-for-12 lifetime, and this isn't a pound-the-table call, but a repeat of his Preakness runner-up finish will be good enough to beat a blazing field where you can poke holes in each of the front-runners. The Pat Day Mile on May 4 will prove to be a key 3-year-old race. Winner Mr. Money would have been my bet-the-house pick if entered in the Haskell, but instead he went and romped in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby last Saturday night (hint to Monmouth Park and the Oceanport town council). Runner-up Hog Creek Hustle impressed in winning the Woody Stephens on June 8 at 18-to-1. Everfast finished fifth in the Pat Day, but I sense was more forwardly-placed than preferred in a one-turn race that's shorter than the Haskell, and should relish both the added distance and fast fractions. I like the rider switch to the patient Julien Leparoux. Everfast will be prominent on my tickets and is my selection to win the 2019 Haskell Invitational, rolling late.

#7, Maximum Security (8-5): I really wanted to back this guy as my top choice, and he could very well be the best in the field and win, but I'm worried that he could struggle if he doesn't get the lead position through the first turn. Max has a win from off the pace, but that was in a sprint on the mud in his second lifetime start against way softer company. Like most of the other fast starters today, it's unclear whether he'd take to sitting mid-pack, say, and getting dirt kicked in his face. I'm more inclined to think he's got to be able to withstand 22, 45 and 1:09-type fractions through the first three quarters of the race plus outlast everyone to the wire. Trip-wise I think he'll be right there to see who's first to the finish line, but he'll fade a bit late and get passed by a closing Everfast. I'll use him in the win spot on some tickets, but otherwise underneath in the second and third spots at worst.

#1, King for a Day (5-2): The slipper's on the other foot for the King this time, breaking from the rail draw that's unfavorable today with so many front-runners in the race. His win in the Pegasus vs. Maximum Security was legit, though he caught a horse who almost tossed the jockey at the start, and still had to gut it out to win. It'll be interesting to see whether jockey John Velazquez sits chilly from the gate and reserves energy for a later, closing-type run or engages the early speed. I'm not worried about him getting the jump on #2 Joevia early on, but rather getting pinned in by two horses with no chance of winning -- #3 Spun to Run and #4 Bethlehem Road. Switch posts with Max and I may give the nod here, but drawn inside, I sense it's either speed-and-fade and hold on for a minor award, or a mid-pack effort where he passes the faders. Using second through fourth, just not in the win spot.

#5, Mucho Gusto (2-1): Alright, he's going to be the post-time favorite, and I get that Bob Baffert has won more Haskell titles and eaten more at Max's Hot Dogs than me, but I went back and watched the Sunland Derby as it was the one two-turn race where Mucho Gusto faced fast fractions. In that prep for the Kentucky Derby, he broke sharply and cleanly from the inside post, rode the rail around and started to wilt after putting up a 1:09.3 for three-quarters. In my opinion, his two wins coming into the Haskell (both Grade 3 races in California) look stylish on paper, but were in comfortable fractions that he won't see here. Tactically I see him trying to get the jump on Maximum Security, which could happen. I just have questions about stamina as two of his two losses were both at a mile-plus. I'm not as high as a win prospect here, but will use defensively in the exacta, trifecta and multi-race exotics.

#3, Spun to Run (15-1): There's a lot to dislike, including a 4-month layoff, first-time blinkers and climbing a half-dozen rungs up the class later into Grade 1 stakes competition. Yet local jockey Paco Lopez can be an asset, knowing how to ride this course. Fourth-place ceiling.

#1, Joevia (10-1): Alright, alright. I shouldn't knock the third-place finisher from the Belmont Stakes, but he got the easiest of trips -- slow fractions, unchallenged, rode the rail all the way around -- and still couldn't close the deal. Past performances reflect he's generally always near the lead, but in my opinion those were underwhelming slow races, and I could see him bouncing badly off the Belmont and therefore will leave him off my tickets.

#4, Bethlehem Road (20-1): Sorry, can't consider a credible play off a 23-length loss in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby in a six-horse field. We'll hear his name for about half the race before he fades into obscurity and returns to races at Parx where he belongs. Pass.

Probable Wagers

I don't intend to put much money into this race, as I don't think it's that good a bet. That said, here's a few ideas I'm considering -- all trifectas. I'll likely use Everfast and Maximum Security in the Pick 5.

$10 trifecta 6 with 7 with 1, 5 = $20
$3 trifecta 1, 7 with 6 with 1, 5, 7 = $12
$2 trifecta 1, 7 with 1, 5, 7 with 6 = $8 (the latter two to maybe break even on three trifecta plays)