Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Hoping the Preakness Brings Honor to Racing for Once

First a short rant.

It's hard to get excited anymore about horse racing and is impossible to defend a dying industry that's so disjointed, mismanaged and in desperate need of a national governing/oversight body and legitimacy. 

It's an embarassment, magnified by trainer Bob Baffert's reported 30th medication violation -- the latest surrounding Kentucky Derby winner Medicina, er, Medina Spirit. 

I'm not an industry insider, nor gullible enough to buy Bob's "the world's after me" narrative. The excuses, damage control and broader indifference to cheating and deceit are an insult to mine and other racing enthusiasts' collective intelligence and denigrate the integrity of this gambling venue. 

I won't call it a sport. It's gambling and exists solely because of bettors who like the action and merely want a fair shake -- or the appearance of one -- when putting their cash to work. 

For me it's minor disposable income and hobby. Fun money. For others it's more serious. So to come up with excuse after excuse after excuse at increasingly more-regular rates is a disgrace. 

Bob Baffert should be ashamed.

Churchill Downs should be ashamed. 

Pimlico Race Course, owned by the same group with a history of chemist enablers in California, should be ashamed.

The NTRA should be ashamed, with its homepage completely devoid of anything matching its listed tenets. Advocacy, integrity and leadership. Yeah, OK.

Racing should be shamed in front of a national audience this Saturday in Baltimore, but it won't. 

So enjoy the hours of coverage, most of which I'm sure NBC will gloss over and give no thorough examination or criticism as an enabler while we get Steve Kornacki and his khakis giving some fakakta "analysis" because we so miss all of the nightly vitriol from the 2020 election coverage and can't live without all his fabulous charts. 

In the meantime, here's my take on the field for the 2021 Preakness Stakes. 

I'm unsure if and how I'm going to participate wagering-wise, but begrudgingly think the race runs through the "other" Baffert horse, 2-1 favorite Concert Tour, and whether others from a mostly B and C team field of 10 can pick up the pieces late after the Bafferts run ablaze and/or conspire to finish 1-2 before the Triple Crown circus heads north to Belmont Park in three weeks.

2021 Preakness Horses (Order of Preference)

Consistent with the Derby, I've graded horses A (potential winner), B (can win, needs some breaks), C (needs more than some breaks to win; can hit the top 3-4) and PASS. 

#8, Unbridled Honor (15-1): Putting jockey Luis Saez in the saddle is a significant upgrade in a dirt race from the turf-savvier Julien Leparoux, who gave this horse "curious" rides in the Tampa Derby in March and Lexington Stakes in April. The horse's speed figures are a cut below the two favorites, but he ran well enough to win the Lexington, had Leparoux not been a) asleep the first 48-49 seconds and b) followed eventual race winner King Fury along the rail instead of tipping 4-5 paths in the stretch. To me it was a poor decision that cost Unbridled Honor the 2.75 margin of defeat. I also believe trainer Todd Pletcher is adept at finding winning spots for his lesser stakes horses. This is such a case. Grade: A 

#10, Concert Tour (2-1): The rider switch to Mike Smith from Joel Rosario is curious, and a negative, as strange as it sounds. "Big Money Mike" is aboard Concert Tour for the first time, and all he has to do is gun to the lead from the widest stall and hope the speed carries. I think Concert Tour is way more alert from the gate then Medicina Spirit, and showed in the April 10 Arkansas Derby that he's not cool sitting off another runner and wants to head the pack. It's possible he does it on Saturday. Grade: A

#4, Crowded Trade (10-1): People will draw comparisons to 2017 champ Cloud Computing, who won at double-digit odds for the same connections and took a similar route to Pimlico. It's another horse with a beneficial jockey switch (to Javier Castellano from Eric Cancel). Trade doesn't appear to have much giddyup from the starting gate, however, and with sharp breakers to either side, I wonder if Castellano will be equally aggressive and try to sit just off the front-runners or settle midpack, as the horse did in both the Gotham Stakes and Wood Memorial. Castellano's a two-time Preakness winner, including on Cloud Computing. I'd be worried about this one going off as the third choice and think bettors will have to settle for 6-1/7-1, which still isn't bad but short for my liking. Grade: A-

#5, Midnight Bourbon (5-1): Smith rode this horse to a trouble-free sixth in the Derby, but I believe he ran worse than another Preakness entrant and 7th-place finisher Keepmeinmind. Bourbon looks like a potential speed factor on paper, and very well may be put early into the race by jockey Irad Ortiz, another notable upgrade. World-class rider and trainer, but to me Bourbon's not particularly fast nor does anything that stands out as special. He'll be near the front and could get a share, but I just don't think he's a classic-distance winning horse. Grade: B

#3, Medicina Spirit (9-5): If betting against, it's because he'll be uncomfortable chasing Concert Tour, assuming the latter gets the quicker jump. If he does beat Concert Tour to the first turn, it'll be interesting to see if the rash cream, pee-infused oats and/or Baffert's elixir du jour kicks in for the second time in 14 days. I believe he'll instruct both riders to seize the front, slow the pace in the backstretch with the slower starter carring the field wide to prevent others from passing, then see which one hangs on late for the victory and a spot in the Belmont as the other settles for second and heads back to California. Grade: C

#2, Keepmeinmind (15-1): Good Derby effort and one I wanted to translate into a Preakness win, but he's got zero gate speed and it'd be a lot to ask him to close with the same passion as in the Derby to almost finish 6th after being 20 lengths behind. Keepmeinmind competes. I'll give him that. He disproved my Derby thesis just a bit that he didn't belong. But a nonthreatening effort there doesn't turn this one into a contender on Saturday, and after watching several of his replays, Belatedlyinmind might be a more appropriate name. Grade: C

#9, Risk Taking (15-1): The lesser Chad Brown trainee to Crowded Trade, IMHO. A no excuses 7th-place finisher in the April 3 Wood Memorial doesn't inspire here, nor do pedestrian race times. Probably sits midpack as he's another with scant early foot. I'm eager to see him on turf, though, considering the sire (Medaglia d'Oro: El Prado). Irad's brother Jose gets the mount, so at least he likely won't be ridden out of contention. Grade: C/C-

#1, Ram (30-1): The Preakness as a first stakes race is ballsy, but that's veteran trainer D. Wayne Lucas for you. It's hard to put much stock in coming out of an allowance race (several notches below stakes grade), but someone thought enough to pay $375,000 for the horse, and with nothing to lose and the rail draw, an early bid is possible before a lack of class catches up with him. Grade: Pass

#6, Rombauer (12-1): The three or four of you that read this blog can ridicule me after he wins, but the odds are way too short for my taste. Rombauer finished third behind two good runners (Derby contenders Essentially Quality and Highly Motivated) in the Bluegrass on April 3, but the track notes citing he was "bumped" and "in tight" seemed drastic after replays. Rombauer sat third and rode the rail the entire circuit, mostly unbothered and leaking ground toward the finish line. His one stakes win was at California's lesser track, ungraded and on a synthetic surface. Grade: Pass

#7, France Go de Ina (20-1): Gets a great rider in Joel Rosario, but little to get excited about in this horse's 6th-place finish in the UAE Derby in late March. Nothing stood out there. We've been down this road before with the feel-good foreign shipper (connections are from Japan). If nothing else, they'll bring more integrity and class to the race than some of their key U.S. counterparts combined. Grade: Pass (but will be rooting)

Friday, April 30, 2021

Will Rock Your World With Kentucky Derby Pick

Yes, I'm still breathing.

The feather duster came in handy for yours truly, with my maiden NJ Horseplayer blog post of 2021!

In keeping with tradition, and despite still feeling the scars of the Maximum Security disqualification two renditions ago that cost me a handsome Pick 5 payout and cashing other wagers, here's my 2021 Kentucky Derby analysis.

Traditionally I keep to a $100-$150 bankroll and key most of my wagers around two horses, including my selection to win -- #15, Rock Your World (5-1). It was a coin flip between him and #14, Essential Quality, the probable favorite at a 2-1 morning line, which is saying something in a 20-horse field. 

As I see it, Rock Your World may both be the fastest horse in the field and the most versatile, and with the best jockey in the race at rationing speed. Being on or near the lead is typically critical in the Derby, so as long as Joel Rosario breaks cleanly and can track the "cheap speed" horses -- particularly #8, Medina Spirit (15-1), I believe Rock Your World has the stamina to outlast Essential Quality. 

Those two horses are my only "win" options. I've otherwise broken the field down into horses that can "hit the board" -- run second, third or fourth. I'll probably allocate 20-30% of my bankroll to a straight exacta (e.g., $20 exacta 15-14, $10 exacta 14-15) and some keys with the "underneath" horses I like.

I'll put another 30-40% toward trifectas, which tend to pay handsomely if you catch a price.

One bomber I believe can finish as high as second is #12, Helium (50-1). It's a horse I think also has some early kick and maybe had one of the "worst trip" wins in the field of 20. 

Enough babbling. A little on each of the runners, grading them "A" (can win), "B" (could win if everything goes right), "C" (ceiling of third or fourth) and "PASS" (aka No Shirt, No Shoes, No Dice). In order of preference...(UPDATED SATURDAY MORNING FOR KING FURY SCRATCH)

The Contenders


#15, Rock Your World (5-1): Potential late bloomer who didn't make his debut until Jan. 1, no less in a turf sprint at Santa Anita. Contrary to the trackman's notes in the past performances, he wasn't "ridden out" late but rather eased in the last few hundred yards having dominated the field of 12. Trainer John Sadler then tried him at a mile on grass in a $100,000 stake, which he easily won. Next was the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 3, trying dirt for the first time and stretch out to a mile and an eighth. His 4.5-length win made clear the horse loves to run; wasn't ridden at all in crushing the aforementioned Medina Spirit. In a year where some top horses had to drop off the Derby trail due to injury, 5-1 is solid value on a horse with tons of upside and shipping from California, a state that has produced recent Derby winners. Grade: A

#14, Essential Quality (2-1): This guy's 5-for-5 including two Grade 1 wins as a two-year-old. He's equally if not more versatile tactically (at least proven to be), having won from just off the front-runners and as far back as 8-9 lengths. There's nothing to dislike, other than (at least to me), Rock Your World looks a little faster from the gate based on race replay video. They call it gambling for a reason, and I anticipate a ding-dong battle in the stretch. Grade: A

#12, Helium (50-1): Hear me out. A lot of horseplayers will knock Tampa Bay Downs, the track where Helium scored at 15-1 to get into the entry gate on Saturday. It's the second-fiddle Florida facility to Gulfstream Park, but I scored with Helium in the Grade 2 Tampa Derby on March 6 and was subjected to an awful five-wide trip throughout before a bold move into the stretch, then rallying back to hold off a late comer to score a narrow victory. My two beefs are the jockey switch (connections ditched the winning rider Jose Ferrer in favor of Julien Leparoux) and lack of prep in between. Yet the two-month layoff shouldn't affect this horse's "form cycle," as he scored in the Tampa Derby after four-plus months of rest. I think Leparoux is one of the more patient jockeys in the race. Just hoping he doesn't get swallowed up in the vanguard into the first turn. I'll feel more confident about Helium hitting the board if he's sitting no worse than 10th into the backstretch. Grade: B

#1, Known Agenda (6-1): I've been beaten many times using horses from the dreaded rail draw, but I'm not sold there's a ton of speed inside of post 8 and think the best jockey in America (Irad Ortiz) will get this guy safely to a forward position and save ground along the rail. The latter's a tough proposition with so much outer flow from the other 19 post positions. The 6-1 morning line shows the respect this horse deserves, having won two straight impressively for top trainer Todd Pletcher since putting on the blinkers. Maybe that improves the horse's comfort with what he'll face in the cattle charge to the first turn. Grade: B

#3, Brooklyn Strong (50-1): This guy beat Known Agenda two back in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct in the slop on December 5. Granted, one could argue he got lucky or loved the off going, but his April 3 performance in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial after a four-month layoff was infinitely better than the racing program suggests. Frankly, jockey Manny Franco rose Brooklyn Strong horribly in that race, checking several times along the rail with a horse who was semi-keen but could never find an opening. Once he found a small seam in the stretch, Brooklyn Strong started to rally before again getting cut off and shifting several paths out into the track. Still almost rallied for second in a race won by a 73-1 shot. A cleaner trip that day and he'd have had a shot. Grade: C+

#19, Soup and Sandwich (30-1): I had this one on my "watch list" before his impressive second-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, a race where he carried the field from the front and semi-wide before relenting to Known Agenda in the stretch. I'm not sure he'll get the distance as sire Into Mischief was more of a sprint-type one-turn horse. But I'm fairly confident the second of trainer Mark Casse's runners (the first being Helium; see above) will be one of the pace-setters; maybe the track bias carries him to a third- or fourth-place finish as the others languish. Grace: C

#9, Hot Rod Charlie (8-1): This is another one I think may be distance-constrained and needs the best of trips. HRC's win in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby was on the lead, but it looked to me he inherited it and no one else wanted the front; sorta lulled his foes to sleep. The race I didn't like on replay was his one before that, in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in January, where he was one of the top choices but outgutted for second place by an 11-1 shot and between foes. Grade: C

#17, Highly Motivated (10-1): Same deal as S&S and HRC. Think he's ultimately going to be great as a miler. Gave in to Essential Quality in the Grade 2 Bluegrass Stakes last month and am concerned he was a bit used up there. I can see jockey Javier Castellano having to use the horse hard to gain a forward position into the first turn -- a tough task from post 17. Grade: C

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Dice

In number order:

#2, Like the King (50-1): Know the expression about having nothing good to say? Yeah...

#4, Keepmeinmind (50-1): Perfect example of why a 20-horse field is completely silly. Doesn't have a credit 3-year-old race to fit here.

#5, Sainthood (50-1): Cheap speed. Maybe you'll hear his name early. Could be the primary impediment to Known Agenda getting a safe position into the first turn along the rail.

#6, O Besos (20-1): Ran late for minor awards in two Derby preps at Churchill-owned Fairgrounds in New Orleans. Slow gate-breaker who may be last into the first turn. Can't see him factoring.

#7, Mandaloun (15-1): I don't think distance is an issue for this guy, and will keep my eye if he's entered in the Belmont Stakes in June, as in the Risen Star Stakes in February he won impressively at 9 furlongs and I thought was wrapped up late by his jockey. But the start wasn't particularly fast, and so I view him as a "grinder" more than a tactical horse with a quick burst of foot. Just not my cup of tea in a chaotic race where he may get crunched early. Respect, but adding to watch list for future races.

#8, Medina Spirit (15-1): Bob Baffert B-teamer after his top horse Life Is Good scratched. To me this guy's going to be forwardly placed, but not Derby caliber and one that can't rate. A need-the-lead type who'll probably wilt a mile and back up in the stretch.

#10, Midnight Bourbon (20-1): Had the lead in the aforementioned race won by Mandaloun and wonder if he's cut out for the dirt. Not a big fan in this spot despite world-class trainer and rider. 

#11, Dynamic One (20-1): Really hated how he finished in the Wood, losing second to Bourbonic after putting away his other foes. Another Pletcher trainee, so he deserves respect. Just not sure he's meant for the distance.

#13, Hidden Stash (50-1): See write-up on Like the King

#18, Super Stock (30-1): Somehow won the Arkansas Derby on April 10 after two speed horses tired each other out, but that was a dream scenario in a short field of six where the other three contenders probably didn't have a winning chance. Writing that off as soft field. Tries, but not your winner.

#20, Bourbonic (30-1): If nothing else, I'm rooting for Kendrick Carmouche, a local jockey and class act who's living the dream here. It's really hard winning from post 20, but as he showed in the Wood, Bourbonic's a patient horse who'll probably duck pretty quickly to the rail, sit back and maybe hope tempo's extremely fast and conducive to closers. Another Pletcher trainee, so respect is deserved, but I'm passing for the Derby.

Out of the Race

#16, King Fury (20-1): SCRATCHED; spiked a fever: A $950,000 purchase with three lifetime wins in six tries, including two at Churchill Downs. Connections haven't backed down from putting him in tough fields, including the Grade 1 Breeders Futurity and Breeders Cup Classic in a month's span last autumn, with an overnight stakes win sandwiched between. His 3-year-old debut on April 10 in the Grade 3 Lexington was a win, but a part-the-seas type of clean trip a jockey can only dream about. He'll have to work a lot harder today, but I think can run late for a minor award. Grade: C-/SCRATCHED

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.