Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Good call by has me weighing options

First off, I want to wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!  This is, by far, my favorite holiday, considering my view that this is what Christmas is meant to be - a gathering of family over dinner, rather than a mind-numbing 90-day run-up filled with shopping, stress and Yukon Cornelius.  Anyway, best to you and yours on Thursday!

Let horseplayers not forget, however, there are 20 of 500 NHC seats up for grabs this weekend, including the live Super Qualifier at Hawthorne Race Course, plus two interesting online contests, one where I am sure to participate (waiting to gauge the number of entrants - and my wife's and kids' demands - before picking).  This is no weekend to rest those past performances with a late-season shot at January's $2 million Vegas championship.

NJ Horseplayer contemplates
Thanksgiving weekend
tournament options
The first is on Black Friday at Ellis Park's, where I will likely land.  This $175 event features a 12-race card (from Aqueduct, Churchill and the Fair Grounds) for up to 200 players, with 4 NHC packages guaranteed (i.e., regardless of number of entrants).  A fifth seat will be added if 190 players enter.  This is evidently HorseTourney's final NHC-focused tournament this season.

Meanwhile, has yet to designate race tracks, but will be running a $150 tournament on Saturday, with "up to" 6 NHC seats up for grabs and a maximum of 300 entrants.  The organizers' decision to drop the fee from $400 (for up to 10 NHC seats) to $150 (up to 6 seats) was, in my opinion, extremely wise in light of recent trends.

A review of the contest outcomes for's last three $400 tournaments showed the events drawing a meager 80 (Oct. 15), 85 (Oct. 29) and 68 (Nov. 12) participants, even with up to 10 NHC seats per event up for grabs.  Ultimately, across the three contests, gave away just 10 spots, presumably leaving the organization with 20 "unclaimed" Championship spots.  I'm a relatively new (and very part-time) contest circuit player, but I had been under the impression that serious players historically jumped at a 1-in-22 chance of making the NHC Championship.

This prompted me to email on Sunday, asking what the organization would do with this "unclaimed freight."  I did not get a direct response, but on Monday got an email much like the other NHC Tour players about this Saturday's $150 tournament, which in my view marks a rational response to what likely addressed three scenarios:

  • A number of better players have already qualified for Vegas and have no need for a $400 tournament with no cash prizes
  • The increase in NHC contest seats to 500 in January 2012 (from 300 last year) has "watered down" the contest circuit, whereby players will now only pay a premium to enter in-person tournaments with smaller fields and a chance to win real rather than just notional prizes.
  • Players' bankrolls are shrinking, either on account of an explosion in the number of contest venues now offered (i.e. a ton of new online tournaments at places like, and or simply because of a lackluster economy where everyone has to tighten his or her purse strings.
In my view, the last three tournaments' decline in participants is likely a combination of the three, and prospective participants have more options to weigh in their contest play.  People with limitless bankrolls surely will benefit from being able to enter just about any tournament, but for the weekend horseplayers on a budget (NJ Horseplayer among them) must pick and choose.

With that in mind, and with 175 spots (out of 200) remaining on and nearly 240 spots (out of 300) remaining on, I'll likely sit tight until Friday morning to decide.  I'll let the market dictate which venue presents the best opportunity for a spot in January's NHC Championship.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Anxious for 2012 Breeders Cup

Racing now through the end of 2011, in my opinion, is the equivalent of turning the TV on a snowy night in January or February to Dominican winter league baseball, where maybe the enthusiast stops to watch an inning or two just to whet the appetite for what is to come in spring training and the "real" MLB season.  It is more or less a curiosity or to fantasize in the dead of winter about a scorching summer afternoon of baseball.

TVG is rife with Penn National and bottom-of-the-barrel harness action on this Tuesday night, and really little of significance or quality in thoroughbred racing seems to happen the next few months, save for a few late-season stakes ahead of January's Eclipse Awards and, for the handicapping contest player, the National Handicapping Championship's (NHC) 13th edition - the $2 million brass ring.

Already pining for 2012
Watching a claimer from Penn while folding laundry a few hours ago got me yearning for more recap on the 2011 edition of the Breeders Cup and reminded me of the scribbled and earmarked past performances on my desk, begging for one final look and some note taking in advance of the 2012 Breeders Cup (at Santa Anita, much to the chagrin of Belmont Park officials and East Coasters like me) before hitting the recycle bin.

As blogged in advance of this year's Breeders Cup, I have been more disciplined about keeping notes specifically about the event, hopefully to help me play or avoid certain angles leading up to Breeders Cup, and the exercise paid off this year with a 200%+ ROI over the course of the two-day event.  Granted, the notes proved helpful with the Breeders run at the same track (Churchill Downs) for a second year in a row, but without further adieu, here are a few useful notes to myself for 2012.
  • Show more respect to European shippers, specifically to the Breeders Cup Turf:  This came to a head for a second-straight year, where I stuck to my guns and summarily dismissed Euro shippers who lacked a prep race in the States, but lost on my multi-race wagers with St. Nicholas Abbey's (Ire) impressive win.  I still do not know, even after watching the race a half-dozen times, how Brilliant Speed weakened in the stretch turning for home with the lead and seemingly separating, but clearly Abbey's win, combined with Dangerous Midge's in 2010 and two straight by Conduit in 2008-2009, suggest my logic is flawed, at least on the turf.
  • Pay close attention to Woodbine shippers on turf:  Perhaps this is pure coincidence, or the Churchill turf plays a lot like Woodbine's, but take a look at the evidence from 2011's Breeders races on grass:
    • Perfect Shirl -- 1st in the Emirates Filly & Mare Turf at nearly 28-to-1; finished second in the Grade 2 Canadian in her prior effort
    • Excaper -- 2nd at 33-to-1 in the Juvenile Turf two races removed from a close second in a first-time turf effort two races prior in the Grade 3 Summer Stakes at Woodbine
    • Regally Ready -- DOMINANT 1st in the Turf Sprint, though at a less savory 5-to-2, off a victory in the Grade 1 Nearctic over a yielding course
    • Court Vision -- 1st in the Breeders Cup Mile at a whopping 64-to-1, this time getting the best of my top selection, Woodbine Mile champ Turralure at 11-to-1, in a head-bob. 
  • Continue to watch Calder shippers on dirt: This angle might not be applicable to Santa Anita in 2012 based on the surface, but heeding my own notes from the 2010 Breeders gave me the confidence to include Musical Romance (20-to-1) in my winning daily double ($253.60) and Pick 3 ($270.40 for $1 base wager) combinations in 2011. Perhaps we'll have to save this one in the event that Belmont is granted the 2013 Breeders Cup.
  • Stay bullish on Dullahan in 2012.  I watched the Breeders Cup Juvenile a number of times, convinced that Union Rags was the best horse in the race, but knowing that promising two-year-olds rarely translate to top-flight three-year-olds, sought others in the field that offer promise with a winter of maturing and seasoning.  Dullahan is a horse I will be watching closely at the outset of 2012.  At first I thought Dullahan blew the first turn, but the full chart shows the horse was bumped and had to be steadied - the second straight race this horse has had trouble into the first turn (the horse fell way behind in the Grade 1 Breeders Futurity at Keeneland in October before winning at nearly 18-to-1). From out of another zip code, and evidently unable to navigate the final turn, Dullahan came on with gusto to finish fourth by a neck.  I just think this one will do well with seasoning and working on his turns, and am anxious to see where he'll run in his first start at a 3YO in 2012. 

Now I can finally put my PPs from the Breeders Cup to rest.  Off to the recycle bin for them, but in a little less than a year I'm hoping to recycle some of these ideas for hefty profits.  Time will tell. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pass the Toothpicks

I have no one to blame but myself for entering tonight's Friday Night Lights contest on Horse Players, but I never imagined the 8-race card featuring the entire Hollywood Park slate (first post: 10:07 p.m. ET) would be so grim.  A 4-horse race, a bunch of lackluster maiden events (things must be rough on the California circuit when a Los Alamitos shipper provides a halfway decent play), and a 5-horse stakes race.

Wake me when it's over!
Ah, it must be November...

With that in mind, I'll crack open a fresh Long Trail IPA, share my picks, hope I can stay awake for the first half of the card, and wish for the best.  At least the prize is attractive for the $30 buy-in (capped at 200 players): Top 4 win $1k entries to next Sunday's Twin Spires Championship, where some 50 seats to the NHC Championship and Horse Player World Series given out to the Top 50 finishers.  I'm more or less in tonight for the fun, but still a potentially sweet prize.

Best of luck to all who are participating!

Tentative picks: Race 1: Victory Cup (6-to-5); Race 2: Solar Wind (3-to-1); Race 3: Every Ego (10-to-1); Race 4: Raingear (12-to-1); Race 5: Game Charmer (12-to-1); Race 6: Brooklyn Rose (4-to-1); Race 7: El Gato Malo (3-to-1); Race 8: What A Rush (5-to-2).

Sunday, November 6, 2011


A 230%-or-so ROI is nothing to scoff at, but a head and a nose were all that separated me from an even more lucrative Breeders Cup weekend.

I have yet to review each race extensively, and I'll blog further thoughts about this weekend as time allows in the days ahead, but I did quickly watch the replays of the Race 9-11 Pick 3 sequence this morning, only to find that I was this close to a decent score. Had Union Rags not drifted many lengths out in the stretch, I suspect he would have outdone Hansen by at least a length in the Juvenile in Race 9.  Turallure (11-to-1) lost in a head-bob to 64-to-1 Court Vision in the Breeders Cup Mile, and I had Drosselmeyer (along with Havre de Grace) at nearly 15-to-1 in the Breeders Cup Classic.

There are likely multitudinous other handicappers or casual players who could make the same claim, but despite the disappointment of missing out on another potentially good Pick 3 payout, I am pretty content with my handicapping of the Super Bowl of thoroughbred racing.  I stuck with my convictions and made some excellent calls that proved profitable.  Now, entering the winter season and far less attractive cards the rest of this season, I am hopeful some of that savvy will carry over into the last few late-season handicapping contests I hope to enter.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bombs Away on Breeders Cup Classic Day!

Three horses - two at 20-to-1 and another at 30-to-1 morning lines - set the basis for my Breeders Cup exotics selections this gorgeous, albeit chilly, autumn Saturday.

Holiday for Kitten, in my opinion, is a very credible option in the 5-furlong Turf Sprint (Race 6).  This extremely deep 14-horse field is ripe for the picking, in my view, and I think this 3-year-old Kitten's Joy filly has enough early speed to gun to the lead and save ground from post No. 2. If jockey Joel Rosario can get her out of the gate without trouble, this 30-to-1 horse has a legitimate shot. I recognize that Regally Ready gets attention as 3-to-1 morning line favorite, but generally avoid horses drawn outside post 6-7 in sprint distances this short and think Regally will need to get around California Flag to his inside to win. Oh, and Holiday for Kitten beat Musical Romance (winner of yesterday's Filly and Mare Sprint) last out.

Brilliant Speed is my choice at 20-to-1 in the Emirates Turf at a mile-and-a-half (Race 8). Come hell or high water I am avoiding all Euro shippers. I am sticking to my notes from last year to avoid the hype about foreign horses unless they have a U.S. prep race under the belt.  I just cannot justify the sub 9-to-2 morning lines on the five Euro shippers in this 9-horse field; perhaps ignorant, but that's not enough of a lure for horses I have yet to see race in North America.  Brilliant Speed's victory in the Grade 1 Bluegrass on April 16 is enough to convince me that this 3-year-old can close into slow fractions, and the Grade 3 win in the Saranac on the Saratoga turf on September 4 suggests versatility in terms of footing.  I will be using Brilliant Speed as the second of my three keys in Saturday investments.

Fort Loudon is my third key this afternoon, in Race 9, the Breeders Cup Juvenile.  Perhaps totally askew, but my view on 2-year-olds is that oftentimes the winner is a horse that can avoid trouble, especially considering the inexperience of these youthful fields.  A winner of four straight, albeit against mostly state-bred (Florida) company, Fort Loudon is especially intriguing at 20-to-1 from post No. 12 and I anticipate will track the early speed to his inside (Daddy Long Legs) and then stalk the leaders.  Fort Loudon's Beyer speed figures are not as eye-catching as some others here, but as the Daily Racing Form notes point out, Awesome Feather followed the same kind of route in shipping from Calder Race Course for the BC Juvenile Fillies in 2010.  Jockey Luis Jurado has been aboard for the last three, and this horse has proven victorious from both stalking positions in sprint races (three races back) and toward the lead in a slowly run $300k stakes last out.  In my view, this suggests the kind of patience needed this afternoon.

Consistent with my efforts to maximize a $100 bankroll, here are my selections for Saturday. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for similar success to Friday's decent score.
  • Race 4: 50-cent Pick 4 -- 3, 9, 10, 12 with 1, 2, 8 with 2, 4 with 6 = $12
  • Race 5: $1 Pick 3 -- 1, 2, 8 with 2, 4 with 6 (a hedge on losing race 1 in the Pick 4) = $6
  • Race 6: $4 Daily Double -- 2 with 6
  • Race 6: $1 Pick 3 -- 2, 4 with 6, 8 with 5,8 = $8
  • Race 6: $10 Exacta Box -- 2, 4 = $20
  • Race 7: $1 Pick 3 -- 6, 8 with 8 with 10, 12, 13 = $6
  • Race 7: $4 Daily Double -- 6 with 8
  • Race 8: 50-cent Pick 4 -- 8 with 10, 12, 13 with 1, 13 with 3, 10 = $6
  • Race 8: $4 Daily Double -- 8 with 12
  • Race 8: $5 Exacta Box -- 5 with 8 = $10
  • Race 9: $1 Pick 3 -- 1, 12, 13 with 13 with 3, 10 = $4
  • Race 9: $1 Trifecta Box -- 10 with 12 with 13 = $6
  • Race 11: $10 Exacta (Straight) -- 10 over 3
Giving the obligatory Breeders Cup Classic pick, I think Havre de Grace will have a relatively easy time beating what I deem a sketchy field. I am throwing Drosselmeyer underneath and point toward this horse's effort in the 2010 Belmont (a victory with jockey Mike Smith...the last time Smith rode this horse) and last race in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (a decent second in the mud against Flat Out) as signs that maybe he can pick up the pieces late with enough early speed in the field.

Good luck to everyone today with their Breeders Cup selections!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Solid ROI on Friday Breeders Cup

Cambina flopped in the Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf, but fortunately my other key play on Friday's card, Stephanie's Kitten, proved a valuable find that netted a 620% return on my $85 initial investment (see Thursday's post for a full rundown of my wagers).

The sequence of six Breeders races started chalky, with Secret Circle winning at 2-to-5 in the Juvenile Sprint.  Fortunately I threw her in "just in case" on the first of my two Pick 3 tickets ($9, 3-by-1-by-3), as my other two choices, Sum of the Parts and Vexor flopped. Hey, I'm a long-shot player, but on to leg number two...

As noted Thursday night, I was extremely high on Stephanie's Kitten in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, but so were many of the other bettors, who pushed her down to 6-to-1 off a 12-to-1 morning line, though this 2-year-old ran a great race to win and pay $14.20.  I was hoping for at least 9-to-1, but I'll take it.

Turning to the third leg of my Pick 3 sequence, I was alive to three horses: Turbulent Descent (7-to-5), Switch (3-to-1) and Musical Romance (20-to-1); respectively, the projected payouts were $30, $60 and $274.  CLEARLY I was hoping for Musical Romance, and thought this 4-year-old had a legitimate shot at hanging with the front-runners (just not enough to make her a key wager for the day) and maybe having enough left in the tank for the stretch drive.  Sure as can be, jockey J.C. Leyva put Musical Romance toward the front and in a nice stalking, ground-saving trip before setting her loose in the stretch for a length-and-a-quarter victory over Switch.  Needless to say, there was rejoicing in the NJ Horseplayer circles, not only for the payout, but also for the notes taken last year about how effective Calder Race Course shippers had been during the 2010 Breeders Cup.  They proved extremely valuable in picking this one out at 20-to-1.

So, my $1 base-wager Pick 3 ticket of $9 paid $270.40.  Meanwhile, the $2 Stephanie's Kitten-Musical Romance daily double paid $253.60, and the $1 Musical Romance-Switch exacta paid $88.50, for a $612.50 total score!  I share this not to toot my own horn, but merely to follow up - much as I have been excessively candid about my futile handicapping contest efforts throughout 2011 - to the readers throughout this season.  In the meantime, these two plays put me in a position to win the Derby two-day BC Point contest ($250 top prize), where I am tied for 6th out of 255 going into Saturday.

Speaking of Saturday's card, I am about halfway through my handicapping of tomorrow's eight Breeders races, and intend to share some thoughts by at least tomorrow morning.  I hope anyone who ventured here before Friday's card found this exercise useful, but by no means am I about to guarantee the kinds of returns produced this afternoon.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bullish on Cambina, Stephanie's Kitten in Friday's BC

The excitement is certainly building in the NJ Horseplayer circles with Friday's six Breeders Cup races less than 24 hours away. As a lower-budgeted investor, I am hoping to maximize my bankroll by picking out a key horse around which I allocate my dollars. I ended up with $85 in wagers.

In keeping with what worked for me during a 2009 effort that yielded $2,300 of (Saturday) winnings on a $100 bankroll, I have identified a relatively deep-fielded race with a prohibitive favorite and lots of long shots and will focus half of my bankroll on one big price. In 2009 it was the Dirt Mile (Furthest Land at 21-1) for me, and on Friday's card it is Cambina (30-1 morning line) in Race 9, the Grade 1 Filly & Mare Turf.

Stacelita (2-to-1), a two-time Grade 1 winner and a close third against the boys in the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park in July, is the clear-cut favorite in a field of 12 and drew post No. 2, just outside 8-to-1 Dubawi Heights, whom I consider a credible contender and early runner who will benefit from a rail draw leading into the quick first turn of this mile-and-three-eighths event. The two outside horses, Dynaslew (30-to-1) and Misty For Me (IRE - 10-to-1), I project will gun from the gate and challenge for the early lead, perhaps setting quick fractions for what is a 3-turn event. I expect Stacelita to sit comfortably behind the leaders.

Banking on 30-to-1 Cambina in the Breeders Cup
Filly & Mare Turf (Grade 1); walking the track on
(source: Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Considering such a pace scenario may prove dicey, but a big part of the allure of Cambina, for me, is the three-year-old's proven ability to close quickly into either fast or dawdling fractions. The horse's efforts in the Providencia Stakes at Santa Anita on April 9 (what I deem fast fractions of 46.00, 1:10.23 and 1:35.20 for a mile-and-an-eighth) and Honeymoon at Hollywood on June 11 (50.19, 1:15.04 and 1:38.57) tell me that with a strong grass-based closing rider in Garrett Gomez, this horse has a legitimate shot at picking up the pieces very late, particularly when considering sub-24 second efforts in the stretch of recent races (albeit 5th- and 4th-place finishes) stack up very well versus this field. I'd argue the extra 1/8-mile will help my chances.

With this in mind, here is what I'm playing surrounding Race 9:
  • Race 8, $1 Pick 3: 2, 11, 12 with 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 with 1, 7 = $30
    • I consider Aruna, Dubawi Heights and Harmonious players as well, and threw in Stacelita as a safety valve in the middle leg, considering this horse's recent record
    • In leg 1, the Grade 1 Juvenile Fillies, I am leaning toward Weemissfrankie (4-to-1) over Candrea (6-to-1), but very intrigued at 30-to-1 by the No. 12, Frolic's Revenge, with John Velazquez aboard and considering my Calder angle (see Wednesday's notes). 
    • In the third leg, Race 10 - The Ladies Classic, I made Ultra Blend (8-to-1) my top choice over the chalky (and, in my view, vulnerable) Plum Pretty and Royal Delta and consider Miss Match a player as well at 10-to-1, with the rail draw.
  • Race 9, $4 exacta box 1-2-4 ($24), $1 trifecta box 1-2-4 ($6): total of $30
In the earlier Breeders Cup races on Friday, I also made smaller base wagers keying Stephanie's Kitten at 12-to-1 in the Juvenile Fillies Turf at a mile. The morning line is way too high on a horse that looked very impressive in winning the Grade 1 Alcibiad at Keeneland on October 7 at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the synthetic surface, and who got strung out wide in the one-turn mile Natalma at Woodbine on turf in September, finishing a creditable third taking the overland route. As a horseplayer I feel obligated to making a stand against, and mine is to generally avoid European shippers who have not had a race yet in North America. The 2-to-1 favorite, Elusive Kate, looks imposing on paper, but I want to see what she'll do from post 10 in a field of at least 14 horses.
Here's where I'm going earlier in the card:
  • Race 5: $1 Pick 3: 2, 6, 9 with 5 (singling Stephanie's Kitten) with 3, 5, 6 = $9
  • Race 6: $2 Daily Double: 5 with 5 = $2
  • Race 6: $1 Exacta Box 5-14 = $2
  • Race 7: $1 Exacta Box 5-6 = $2 
    • I am playing the Calder angle again with No. 5, Musical Romance, at 20-to-1 perhaps stealing Race 7, the Filly and Mare Sprint, from Turbulent Descent (6-to-5) and Switch (3-to-1)
To close out the card, I am going with a $5 exacta box, 1-7, in Race 10 ($10 total), pretty confident about Ultra Blend's and Miss Match's chances to finish first and second at a price.
    As always, nothing too fancy, and maybe Cambina and Stephanie's Kitten prove to be no-shows on Friday, but I'd argue there is a credible case to be made for each pulling off a Breeders Cup upset.  I'll take inventory of Friday's outcome tomorrow night and share some thoughts on Saturday's Breeders Cup card and some contests where I'm participating, including a few fantasy tournaments on Derby

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    Long Time, No Comment! Some BC Angles

    Life's chaos has left me with scant time to write about my mediocre handicapping skills of late, but I'm hoping to "ramp up" (a term all-to-often used in financial research circles, where I work as an editor) my output over the next few weeks of the racing season and, in particular, heading toward Breeders Cup.

    From a contest perspective I have participated in the Friday late-afternoon events on Derby (with each winner earning a seat to the 2012 NHC), but generally finished mid- to late-pack, so there's not much to write home about there and chances are fewer now for yours truly to qualify.  I'm hoping to use this weekend's robust cards to restock my bankroll for a '13 NHC qualifying effort.

    Nonetheless, I'm turning my attention to the Super Bowl of racing this weekend, and anticipate digging into the past performances tonight, but wanted to share notes that I made right after last year's BC.  Maybe you'll find them useful...or maybe not...but after several near misses in my '11 wagers (Saturday bankroll capped at $100 and mostly $1 Pick 3s and 4s), I wanted to remind myself some angles that, with the event at Churchill again this year, could prove valuable.

    Verbatim, and admitting the first angle is entirely irrelevant (but shared for the sake of honesty), here is what I noted to myself, precisely for this weekend on the handicapping calender:
    Horses to Watch for 2011 and random notes: 2YO Turf Mile: Pluck (winner; 3rd in Continental Mile), Soldat, Willcox Inn (3rd in BC at 20+ to 1 odds)

    Japanese runners not faring well in Breeders Cup races; avoid

    Too much made of the Euro horses as race favorites; and do not get caught up in the hype of Arc d’ Triumph winners, who generally tire out. Look, instead, for rested Euro horses with decent pedigrees, along the lines of Dangerous Midge, who wired the field in the 10f BC Turf and came in off a middling $89k win in the G3 Arc Trial.

    Play nothing but longer odds in the BC Dirt Mile; Dakota Phone won on the rail as a 37-1 choice in 2010, and a 21-1 winner in Furthest Land in 2009.

    Calder horses (i.e. deeper, sandy track) fared much better at Churchill than other dirt players. Could be an angle worth watching if Belmont scores the 2012 BC

    Look @ horses that have fared well in the past at the BC host track (i.e. horses that liked Churchill dirt in previous tries excelled in BC races). 
    I share these merely to lay the foundation for the handicapping selections I'll be sharing in the run-up to Friday's and Saturday's Breeders Cup races.  I'd be curious to know whether anyone else keeps rolling notes from year to year as reminders of angles worth noting in big events such as Breeders Cup.  Feel free to chime in.