Saturday, June 11, 2022


So it's my maiden voyage to the Belmont Stakes in person, as my good friend Peter Rogers is playing in the high-stakes handicapping challenge and invited me as his guest, presumably for great karma. 

This year's edition of the Belmont has eight entrants slated to enter the gate for today's 6:44 p.m. post time.

I sense all the win bets will go toward #1 We the People (2-1) and #6 Mo Donegal (5-2). The latter's likely to be post-time favorite after sitting out the Preakness following his fifth-place Kentucky Derby finish from the no-chance-to-win rail position. The horse will be fresh and showed a good late turn of foot in winning both the Grade 2 Wood Memorial and Remsen at Aqueduct. NYC bettors will hammer him at the betting windows but the win odds should be propped up a bit but the big pool size. 

We the People is a toss, for me, at least as a win proposition. I think his win in the Grade 3 Peter Pan on May 14 was in much shallower water than here, though the field isn't great. 

I'm taking a flier on #2 Skippylongstocking. He's 20-1 but I don't think should be. I love the jockey change to Manny Franco from Junior Alvarado, who in my opinion did nothing but get this horse in trouble in his last two starts. A clean break and position off the primary and lone "speed" horse in the race -- We the People -- should put him in the mix; and past history has shown it's difficult to come from the clouds to win the Belmont in the fashion that #4 Rich Strike used to win the Derby at 80-1. 

My betting will be largely around #2 Skippylongstocking and the Ortiz brothers Jose and Irad, as Belmont's sweeping turns and 12-furlong distance are unique, so home field advantage helps. The other New York-based riders have lesser mounts and so I'm excluding them from win and exacta wagers.

Win Contenders

#2 Skippylongstocking (20-1): The horse has yet to win a stakes race in 10 lifetime tries but I felt ran credible efforts in the Wood Memorial (3rd) and Preakness (5th) to merit consideration. In both efforts Alvarado carried Skippylongstocking wide onto the track and lost valuable ground. That played into him getting cut off a few times in the stretch of the Preakness by a tiring horse and maybe cost him third. I'd be all over this one were it a rainy day based on pedigree but will take a stab here as I think Franco will attend to the pace earlier and the horse hasn't done anything really wrong in stretching out to longer distances from the one-turn affairs he won. 

#6 Mo Donegal (5-2): There'll be no value as a win bet unless the horse stays at 5-2, which I don't see happening. Plus, outside of a bad Derby draw, he did get beaten and outridden by a $160+ horse from the "also eligible" list. That's concerning to me for a prospective favorite. Beyond the rail draw, Mo Donegal had no real trouble in the Derby. Maybe home court advantage helps this time, and I'll use in exotics wagering, but for me he's no shoe-in.

Hits the Exacta-Trifecta

#3 Nest (8-1): The lone filly in the field. I don't think we're looking at a Rachel Alexandra here, but Nest acquitted herself well in the Kentucky Oaks, finishing second to Secret Oath. She got 5 weeks rest for this and I think can get the distance. I just wonder if she's good enough to win.

#5 Creative Minister (6-1): This will be the wise guy horse, going off 4-1/5-1. I picked him in the Preakness and am not bitter in any way about the outcome. I just feel he got a clean look at winning the race and just was a cut below. I'm not sure what changes in 3 weeks since the Preakness, where he got a dream trip and just couldn't close the deal. Will use underneath.

#1 We the People (5-2): I'll use him defensively on my tickets. Everyone's fired up about a 1-turn win in the slop in the Peter Pan, but really who did he beat that day? I sense he'll lope along on the lead for some time and begin to fade in the stretch, maybe good enough to hang on for a minor award. Watch the first half-mile time for clues. If it's 49 seconds-plus, he'll have a shot to lull the rest to sleep. Anything below that I think there's a danger he's out of the money.


#4 Rich Strike (7-2): I'll tip my cap when he wins. I just don't see it. Dream trip in the Derby and a rider not particularly familiar with the track configuration. And for a dead closer the Belmont can be tough, and his two lifetime wins were both at Churchill Downs, so we'll see if he's a horse for course.

#7 Golden Glider (20-1): Maybe wins a minor award considering the Ghostzapper pedigree. Can probably run all day, but how fast? Looks like a midpack runner and maybe a carousel horse type. 

#8 Barber Road (10-1): My ax to grind here is his speed figures look a cut below most and he's 0-5 as a 3-year-old. Plus removing the blinkers on a horse with no speed entering a Grade 1 is curious. Perceived rider upgrade to Joel Rosario but I'm not sure the horse's regular rider did anything wrong to merit losing the mount. To me this is a Grade 3-type horse. 

Horse to Watch on Undercard

Race 8, Jaipur Stake, #13 Gregorian Chant: Most of his success has been at Santa Anita but I love the outside draw and how he performed in the Eddie D last October from a difficult rail post on the downhill turf at SA. Lost to some tough customers there and I think could pop third start off a layoff.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Getting Creative in the Preakness

As bullish as I was about Epicenter two weeks ago, I'm equally skeptical since the majority of Kentucky Derby horses in the starting gate for the 2022 Preakness Stakes could bounce after running fast fractions in the first leg of the Triple Crown. It's the reason I'll target two "new shooters."

We'll have no Triple Crown winner with Rich Strike taking a pass on Leg 2, making Derby runner-up Epicenter an obvious and deserving favorite at 6/5. Two graded stakes wins ties for most in the field with 9/2 Secret Oath, winner of the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks for fillies on Derby weekend. I expect them to be well bet and the top two choices.

For me the betting value lies in #2 Creative Minister (10-1) and #5 Early Voting (7/2). I'll use both extensively in exacta and trifecta wagers, likely with fourth-place Derby finisher Simplification (6-1) getting a share. Full pick 5 sequence plays will be posted on Saturday, so for now here's my assessment of the field. May it help your betting decisions or simple interest in watching the race.

Here's my analysis. 

(Notations next to morning-line odds: EE = Early or else; E = Early/pacesetter; E/S = likes to run from the lead but can also stalk/sit behind others and pass; S = stalker that wants to sit midpack, make later run; C = slow starter, inclined to close from the back of the pack; NM = not material).

Win Candidates

2. Creative Minister (10-1; S/C): A birdie at Monmouth Park last weekend informed a close friend and respected horseplayer that Ken McPeek, trainer, was unusually praising of this late-blooming three-year-old with only 3 races under his belt and no stakes tries. Grade 1 is top-class and so Creative Minister's entry and midpack morning line signal confidence in this runner's prospects to win. After watching his three race replays, I tend to agree. Beating non-winners and optional claiming horses is nothing stellar, but Creative Minister improved with each race, including an eye-popping finish in his win on the Derby undercard. Look for this horse to break toward the back and pick off tiring horses midway through. I think he could also sit closer and stalk. Serious win candidate and prominent on my tickets, including a live daily double ticket with Friday's winner of the Black Eyed Susan.

5. Early Voting (7/2; E): A near miss in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in early April was as impressive as any Triple Crown prep race, and the freshening for this is a strong advantage. Early Voting was super game before relenting to Mo Donegal in the Wood in the final stretches, but man was he determined. I sense he's the fastest in the field and better quality than most of the front runners. The concern is there are 2-3 horses that will contest the pace since they have no chance to win otherwise. Will mix with Creative Minister in exacta and trifecta bets and use in multirace exotics. 

Second Flight (Exacta, Trifecta)

1. Simplification (6/1; S): Ran a sneaky awesome Kentucky Derby, finishing fourth after navigating early trouble from the gate, then flattening in the late stages. Where I'm most hesitant is that this horse has had a rigorous campaign to start his three-year-old season. The Preakness will already be his sixth start of the year, and I almost would rather have seen Simplication's connections sit this one out and attempt the Belmont Stakes in two weeks. Maybe he enters there too; but to me it's a negative sign when the primary jockey (Jose Ortiz) opts for a perceived better horse (Early Voting). That's not a knock on Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez. But it's a significant shift in the 11th hour; enough to turn me off as a win candidate. 

8. Epicenter (6/5; E/SE): Will get a great position stalking Early Voting, but I wonder if he'll be a bit gassed after an all-out effort to win the Derby. Even so, I think he's third or fourth best in a field where some don't have a legitimate chance to win. 

4. Secret Oath (9/2; S/C): The gal's awesome, winning the Kentucky Oaks in stylish fashion for 86-year-old trainer D. Wayne Lukas. So what's not to like. Well, the two-week turnaround and a third-place Arkansas Derby finish versus the boys on April 2 tells me she could use some rest, akin to Simplification and Epicenter. But I get that connections want to say they won a Triple Crown race. I just think three Grade 1 stakes races in six weeks is a ton to ask. Will use in the third and fourth spots on my tickets.

Leaving Off My Tickets

3. Fenwick (50-1; EE): Who knows? Maybe we get another boxcar-odds winner in the Triple Crown. I just don't see it. Expect he'll dash from the gate, have his name announced 2-3 times early then fade.

6. Happy Jack (30-1; S/C): No change from Derby opinion. Belongs back in California against non-winners of two races lifetime before stepping back into graded stakes competition. Blinkers on for a horse with no gate or mid-race speed is no help. Save your money.

7. Armagnac (12-1; EE): This guy did worse than Happy Jack in the Santa Anita Derby and San Felipe Stakes in April and March, then won two weeks ago against five foes in an optional claiming race in California. I just don't see how that equates to this horse trading at a third of the price of Happy Jack. No matter as both are off my tickets.

9. Skippylongstocking (20-1; S/E): Posted a speed figure exceedingly higher than his prior 8 starts in the Wood, finishing third behind Mo Donegal and Early Voting, but it was a non-threatening effort and he's otherwise 0-for-2 and nowhere close in two non-graded stakes. Early to midpack runner lacking stamina.

$50-cent Pick 5 Wagers Starting, Races 9-13

1, 5-7, 9 with 1 with 1, 2 with 2, 6 with 1, 2, 5 = $30

1 with 5, 10 with 2 with 6, 7 with 1, 2, 4, 5, 8 = $10

5 with 1, 5, 10 with 1, 8 with 6 with 2, 8 with 5 = $9

Preakness Stakes Wagers (Race 13)

$10 Win-Place 2 = $20

$10 Exacta 2-5 = $10

$1 Trifecta Box 1-2-5 = $6

20-cent Superfecta 2 with 4, 5, 8 with 1, 4, 5, 8 with ALL = $10.80

Saturday, May 7, 2022

2022 Derby Day Selections

Top Picks in Race 8-12 Pick 5 Sequence: Race 8: #2 Just In Time (3-1); Race 9: #3 Red Run (15-1); Race 10: #3 Jackie's Warrior (5/2); Race 11: #4 Tribhuvan (5-1); Race 12, Kentucky Derby: #3 Epicenter (3-1)


R8: $2 daily double 2 with 3, 9

Pick 5: 2, 6 with 3, 7, 9 with 1, 3 with 3, 4, 8 with 3, 12, 19 = $54

Pick 5: 2, 4, 5 with 5, 6 with 3 with 4, 6, 10 with 8, 10, 15 = $27

R9: $5 exacta 3-9; 50-cent trifecta key box 3 with 5-7, 9; $1 exacta 5-7, 9 with 3


R11: $5 daily double 4 with 3; $1 daily double 4 with 8, 10, 12, 15, 19

Kentucky Derby: 50-cent trifecta 3, 12, 19 with 3, 8, 10, 12, 19 with 1, 3, 8, 10, 12, 15, 19 = $30; $1 exacta box 3, 12, 19

Good luck!

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

2022 Kentucky Derby Field Analysis

It's been a LONG TIME since I've used this space, so welcome back!

A handful of friends have texted for thoughts on the 2022 Kentucky Derby, and on top of that I'll participate as usual with roughly a $150 budget, so watching a few hours of replays on the entire field saves me time in the long run. Feel free to spread the word.

I'll post selections later in the week on both the Derby and the Pick 5 sequence, but am inclined to call Epicenter this year's winner, with Taiba perhaps the only other contender I'll use on the win end. 

Thereafter I see a mix of five horses capable of finishing in the trifecta, and a few others that could complete the superfecta by finishing fourth.

Here's my analysis. 

(Notations next to morning-line odds: EE = Early or else; E = Early/pacesetter; E/S = likes to run from the lead but can also stalk/sit behind others and pass; S = stalker that wants to sit midpack, make later run; C = slow starter, inclined to close from the back of the pack; NM = not material). 

Win Candidates

3. Epicenter (3-1; E/SE): Best in the field. Smooth from the gate, can secure a ground-saving position into the backstretch and be on or near the lead, and seems to have another gear when asked in the stretch. Tactical. Geared down late in decisive Risen Star and Louisiana Derby wins at Fairgrounds and has enough stamina and heart to get the blanket of roses on Saturday. Experience edge vs. Taiba. 

12. Taiba (12-1; E/SE): As little stock as I put in fellow Californian Messier's (see below) win prospects, I'd consider going all in at 12-1 on this ex-Bob Baffart horse now in replacement trainer Tim Yakteen's barn. The Derby will be only this horse's third lifetime race; he obliterated maidens wire-to-wire on debut in early March at a sprint distance, then looked professional in winning the 9-furlong Santa Anita Derby, cruising past Messier in the stretch with relative ease. I'll speculate this guy goes off closer to 6-1 or 7-1 as he seems to be a serious contender. Owners paid $1.7 million for this one, and with "Money Mike" (Smith) in the saddle, Taiba's in a position to win. 

19. Zosos (20-1; E/S): Elevating to potential win ranks upon reconsideration of huge jump into Arkansas Derby on March 26 from $100,000 optional claiming romp. Making only his fourth lifetime start and has acquitted himself well to this point, including very game second-place finish on the lead in the Arkansas Derby. Kept working hard after Epicenter passed him in the stretch, which to me is a good sign. Seemed to be running straighter lines and like a more experienced horse in the Arkansas Derby. Intriguing. 

Second Flight (Exacta, Trifecta)

10. Zandon (3-1; C/S): I think the odds would flip-flop if you swapped post positions with Mo Donegal on Saturday; that's how bad the rail draw is for the Derby. To me, there are so many similarities between Zandon and Mo. Both will have to fire from the back, which is why I think a 3-1 morning line is too short for Zandon. I like trainer Chad Brown a ton and the course he has charted after a nose beat late in the 2-year-old season at Aqueduct in December. The 3-year-old debut in the Risen Star, finishing third, was decent enough; then he exploded late in the Toyota Bluegrass, though I think the track announcer's call about all sorts of traffic was overdone. Zandon ran in company but was never bumped or harmed, then got a clear lane through tiring horses to draw away for the win. I'll use 2nd through 4th on my tickets. Wish he had a little more early speed to contest the pace, but I'm not so sure. 

8. Charge It (20-1; E/SE): really intriguing longshot making only his fourth start and that didn't run as a 2-year-old for trainer Todd Pletcher. My gut tells me to be patient and keep an eye on this son of Tapit in the late summer, perhaps at Saratoga or maybe the Haskell. Looked green in the stretch of his second-place Florida Derby effort but has talent and ran strong once straight. Visually, just feel he's not mature enough yet. I could see him pressing the pace and wilting, but will use defensively underneath. Good learning experience for later in 3-year-old campaign.

1. Mo Donegal (10-1; C/S): Such a cool horse with tremendous late kick. Figure he'd be closer to 5-1 if not for the rail draw. Learned time and time again this is the absolute worst starting position with almost zero shot at winning unless the next coming of Secretariat. Lacks gate speed, so hope he gets a clean, unimpeded break and somehow runs late. Would use bottom of superfecta at most, as even the great Lookin' at Lucky could do no better than 5th place from the rail draw. 

15. White Abarrio (10-1; E/S): Horses to inside in the starting gate isn't particularly fast, so I think jockey Tyler Gaffalione puts this one in the early mix and can gravitate toward the rail. Showed tactical ability in Grade 1 and 3 Derby preps at Gulfstream Park, where he's 4-for-4. The one knock is his one try at Churchill Downs. Now, granted, it was as a 2-year-old, but there was nothing distinguishing. Suspect we'll hear his name a bunch in the Run for the Roses but he'll flatten late at 10 furlongs. Could hit the board. 

Superfecta the Ceiling

6. Messier (8-1; E/SE): Perhaps at my own risk, but I can't take this Californian too seriously as a win contender in this spot, considering the lack of depth in Santa Anita's 3-year-olds this season outside of Taiba. I've got nothing against this ex-Bob Baffert trainee or replacement Tim Yakteen, but there's no way I'd play an Ontario bred to win the Kentucky Derby who beat some Cali tin cans in 4- to 5-horse fields. Could see being coaxed from the gate to keep up but to me distance a concern. May use in the bottom of trifectas and superfectas but nothing beyond. 

4. Summer Is Tomorrow (30-1; EE): Interesting early foot; might be the pacesetter and a potential rabbit for Epicenter. I generally toss UAE shippers and horses trying something for the first time (like shipping to the U.S.). Yet Summer handled two turns and almost a mile and a quarter as well as could be expected his first time in the UAE Derby in late March, wilting late in the stretch but holding on for second. If Churchill's a carousel on Saturday, this one might hang on for minor awards. 

11. Pioneer of Medina (30-1; S): Get the sense he's either a 7-furlong or marathon-type horse. I hated how his two non-stakes victories looked; seemed to hang on by a thread and run in place. But the more I watched his two stakes efforts, it's clear this guy tries hard and is the consummate plugger. I doubt he's talented enough to win, but he has just enough gate speed to attend to the pace, and there's no quit. Could see him finishing in the top 10; may play defensively in the fourth spot of superfecta.

Leaving Off My Tickets

13. Simplification (20-1; S): The bullish case for this one is a game, trouble-ridden win in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. I'm concerned, however, that the field was soft. This Florida-bred hit the board in the Florida Derby but to me he looked wilted, particularly with the aforementioned Charge It rolling by in the stretch. Just don't see the upside here and am inclined to pass. 

16. Cyberknife (20-1; S/E): Get the same vibe as Simplification but will be more forwardly placed. Weaved in and out during the stretch drive of his Grade 1 Arkansas Derby win, and time not particularly electric. Seems like he might have beaten softer to get here. Probable pass. 

5. Smile Happy (20-1; S): Not the sort of Derby horse I love. Won his debut at Churchill around two turns, a clear feather in his cap. Since then, however, a so-so second where he wasn't close vs. a geared-down Epicenter in the Risen Star, then had a perfect trip in the Toyota Bluegrass at Keeneland but finished second after Derby co-favorite Zandon blew past after fighting thru traffic. Maybe hits the ticket underneath but I'm inclined to pass. 

9. Tiz the Bomb (30-1; C/S): You may remember this one as the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf runner up in November that was named winner for bettors after Modern Games was inexplicably a gate scratch but ended up running and winning the race for purse money only. Looked atrocious on 3-year-old debut in the Holy Bull Stakes and, to me, doesn't like dirt. Recovered to win two straight on the Turfway Park synthetic track to get to the Derby, but would rather play this one on grass down the road. Passing.

14. Barber Road (30-1; S/C): A plugger who does some late running and continually hits the board but hasn't won a stakes and seemed a bit outclassed in those. Looks like a useful Grade 3 horse who'll run evenly here but probably won't hit the board. Big moment for young jockey too. Pass.

7. Crown Pride (20-1; NM): Rolled past Summer Is Tomorrow to win the UAE Derby, but I summarily toss shippers from Japan in the Derby. Seen too many come with promise/hype and flop; and this is his third country and track since late February, which is a lot to ask of a young 3-year-old. So be it if he wins. Not buying here.

17. Classic Causeway (30-1; E): Been there, done that trying to buy into Tampa Bay Downs stakes winners. It's a second-tier Derby prep track. CC should be in the early mix but can see fading closer to home. Regular rider Irad Ortiz goes to Mo Donegal; signal he knows that horse is way better. 

18. Tawny Port (30-1; NM): Peachtree Stable can say it had a 2022 Kentucky Derby runner. Congrats. 

2.  Happy Jack (30-1; NM): Would be better served staying in California against lesser competition. Lucked into a dream trip debut win at 24-1 when the seas parted near the rail and the horse was ridden hard in the stretch. Then tried stakes 3x and couldn't stay within 10 lengths of the winner. Pass.

20. Ethereal Road (30-1; NM): Takes a special horse to win from the widest post. Needed four tries to break maiden, and is 0-3 since and was never a factor. Pass. SCRATCHED

21. Rich Strike (30-1; NM): Complete reach for a horse that was claimed for $30,000 in September and is 0-5 in a few miinor stakes races. Pass.

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.