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.