Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dan's the Man

No, not turf monster Wise Dan...I'm talking about trainer Daniel Peitz.

On this soggy Memorial Day Saturday afternoon in the NJ Horseplayer camp spent chilling ('s 53 degrees) with family and a few friends, the four Public Handicapper races are the extent of my handicapping contest action today.

No time for other great contests on the docket (i.e., NHC qualifier).

It was not until after the fact that I noticed landing on two entries from this Oaklawn-Arlington trainer, perhaps best known for saddling third-place 2006 Kentucky Derby finisher Steppenwolfer.

But part of my process of becoming a more-competent contest horseplayer will be getting to know some new trainers, so Peitz merely by coincidence fits the bill.

Banking on trainer Dan Peitz
Equibase data on Mr. Peitz portray me as either a horseplayer with his head in the sand or a neophyte who has a long way to go in learning the personalities in this game (I prefer the latter), considering Peitz boasts a 13% win percentage in more than 2,500 lifetime starts and has hit the board nearly 40% of the time.  2013 stats on 64 starts are similar, and I think he has two very live horses this afternoon at Arlington Park.

Ausus: Grade 3 Arlington Matron

In the first of four Public Handicapper contest races, I would echo Marcus Hersh's sentiment about 4-year-old Ausus in Thursday's Daily Racing Form.  

Scratched down to an 8-horse field (Absolutely Crackers scratched this morning), Ausus makes a lot of sense to me off a mid-pack finish in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland. 

The top two finishers in the Jenny Wiley were Centre Court and Daisy Devine, two absolute monsters, and Ausus has finished right behind Daisy Devine on separate occasions, signaling a bit of a class edge to Ausus dropping down two notches of the ranks of graded stakes.  Ausus' running line otherwise tells me a return to Arlington's synthetic surface (2 wins, 2 seconds in 5 tries) will be a plus.

Ausus has trained well three times over the Arlington oval, telling me that the 6-to-1 Public Handicapper odds as of noon ET are still acceptable off an 8-to-1 morning line.

Najjaar: Grade 3 Louisville Handicap

My second Peitz horse may appear a huge long-shot at a 20-to-1 morning line, but 10-to-1 on Public Handicapper is probably a better representation.

Admittedly, I cannot stand marathon races and find them way out of place in the U.S.

I get that horseplayers outside the U.S. might love watching their horses run races around a half hour, but in my opinion these 12-furlong turf snoozers are akin to bottom-rung dirt claimers, where any the morning line favorites should be taken with a grain of salt and all are vulnerable.  

I often do you ever find a Breeders Cup Marathon winner (Eldaafer) running next out in allowance races at dog-patch Atlantic City Race Course?!

My science is inexact, but for these races I typically side with someone who can get the lead and dictate the tempo, lulling the others to sleep by the homestretch.  As I see it, the Louisville Handicap shapes up, however, as half a field that needs the lead and the others who will come from the clouds.

Peitz's Najjaar is among the latter, and I see a horse who has at least been competitive on turf (2 seconds and 1 third in 4 tries) and showed good form in his last race ($62,000 allowance) at Keeneland.  I'm rolling the dice that Leandro Goncalves, despite his low turf percentage, will settle far back and make a late run, letting front-runners Heathcote, Ioya Bigtime, Mack's Blackhawk and Harrods Creek tire themselves. 

With my chips on Peitz this afternoon, hitting one of the two his runners would go a long way in helping me move up the Public Handicapper standings (currently around 300th-350th among the thousands signed on and competing for two coveted seats to the 2014 National Handicapping Championship.)

Bomber of the Day -- Bobo: Grade 3 Arlington Classic

Mr. Hersh did not even mention in his DRF race preview my longest play of the day, 3-year-old Bobo, installed at 20-to-1 on the morning line but up to 34-to-1 on Public Handicapper.  

Reading between the lines, however, I would argue that Bobo, has a shot at a major upset.

Post 11 in a 12-horse field is not all that great, but as I see it, Bobo is flanked to either side by two horses (Whiskey Bravo in post 10 and Bambazonki in post 12) that may gun for the front and chase inside-speed long-shots Gefest and Bells Big Bernie into the first turn, setting up a fractious pace.  

If you look at Bobo's two turf tries, you'll find a horse that had a lot of late energy in his debut in a deep mid-January 5-furlong sprint on the Gulfstream turf.  

In his third lifetime start and second try on turf, low-percentage California jockey Jose Valdivia steered Bobo to an impressive state-bred maiden win from the rail on the daunting downhill turf at Santa Anita.

Taken together, and tossing aside Bobo's fruitless front-running tries on synthetic and dirt surfaces, this bomber has a legitimate shot at a big price with a jockey (Florent Geroux) who knows the track and may be a late force if he can get his horse to settle early.  

Otherwise, assuming Garrett Gomez is off all mounts today (listed as jockey for 4-to-1 second choice Procurement) after a nasty spill in the opener Friday at Hollywood Park, and not enamored with morning line favorite Admiral's Kitten, Bobo is my bomber of the day.

4th PH Selection Now An Afterthought

Scatman would have been my pick of the day, but he was scratched from the Grade 3 Hanshin Cup at Arlington (Race 9).  

By default, I landed on my backup selection Patrioticandproud, but am not enamored.  I had liked the rider switch to Garrett Gomez, but am now resigned to crossing my fingers that my backup selection will like the return to synthetic surfaces, where he has won 3 of his 4 races lifetime, albeit against weaker company.  

In keeping with the trainer theme, however, Mark Casse is one of the tops in Canada and always a threat, in my opinion, with horses that like the synthetics.  

We'll see what happens. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Departing Words

It's obvious that Orb will go off as odds-on favorite in the 2013 Preakness Stakes, but I am not entirely certain that's the smart money, even if on paper the Kentucky Derby champ appears best in a 9-horse field.

There are two new shooters in the mix -- Departing and Governor Charlie - that drew my attention, even though both come out of less-than-spectacular fields in their prior races.

Departing is my top choice and, in my opinion, will be grossly overlooked on Saturday.

As of late Friday, Departing was getting little respect as well on Public Handicapper's odds board at 11-to-1, nearly double his 6-to-1 morning line and third-highest on the board, just ahead of Oxbow and well ahead of Titletown Five, whom Bart Starr and Vince Lombardi could not even save in this spot.

Banking on Brian Hernandez
In my opinion, Departing has done nothing wrong, having won 4 of 5 career starts, including the Grade 3 Illinois Derby in convincing 6-wide fashion, and was full of run but compromised late in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby when rider Brian J. Hernandez rode up eventual winner Revolutionary's tail in the stretch and had to shift sharply twice but finished an engaged third.

I simply think Departing's style fits Pimlico.  The horse seems comfortable from a stalking position and seems easily capable of gaining ground late, as evidenced by as 12.3 final eighth mile in the Illinois Derby and outdistancing the competition by 3+ lengths even after running 6-7 wide.  Whether Hernandez can steer his mount away from trouble is my primary concern, but I think Departing could loom large on Saturday.

Governor Charlie drew my attention as well, and clearly trainer Bob Baffert owns this race, as evidenced by five Preakness titles, but the Sunland Derby was bereft of talent.  The place and show runners in that field did little in their ensuing races.

Still, this horse can easily get the distance while forwardly placed, and so I will use him and Orb under Departing in very small Preakness (Race 12) bets.

See Tobe Score

The handicapping that I put into the Preakness revolved around this week's Public Handicapper all-stakes Pick 4 from Pimlico.  Whether I'm alive to my egregious long-shot of the day is another question, but I really like the chances of 20-to-1 morning line shot See Tobe in the Grade 2 Dixie (Race 11).

The Dixie has some big names - Willcox Inn, Optimizer and Swift Warrior -- to name a few, but in my opinion a lot of the 13-horse field is either somewhat off form (i.e. Grade 3 winners Doubles Partner and Humble and Hungry) or on the downside.

As I see it, 7-to-2 morning line favorite Optimizer will get a ton of respect off his second-place finish in the Turf Classic at Churchill two weeks back, and 4-to-1 Swift Warrior will take money as well off two straight Grade 3 wins, even though those races were at Tampa and Sam Houston - not world-beaters.

If the Public Handicapper odds board is any indication, horseplayers will dismiss See Tobe, the second-longest shot as of Friday evening at 57-to-1.  I would take those odds any day.

See Tobe's running line will reflect primarily a local Maryland-New York type runner with lots of runner-ups against perceived lesser company.  Five races back, however, See Tobe showed good late kick to finish second to Boisterous, a multiple graded stakes winner with $800k+ of earnings, in the Grade 3 Knickerbocker.  Toss his 2013 debut and note the decent late-running fifth to some good horses like Bad Debt and Sleepless Knight eight days later and I think you've got a bomber with a serious shot to upset.

Banking on Rudy

The first two legs of Saturday's all-stakes Pick 4 are far less exciting, in my view, but I'm sure I'll be kicking myself for leaning toward back-to-back Rudy Rodriguez runners in the Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap (Race 9) and Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap.

In the Gallorette, Silver Screamer gets the nod for me at 8-to-1.  Perhaps the "No Rider" notation for Silver Screamer's jockey explains why he's 18-to-1 on Public Handicapper, but I'm willing to roll the dice on a horse who fired very well off his last two layoffs and I anticipate will benefit from drawing outside.  This horse, assuming he's still in on Saturday and finds a rider, seems capable of stalking early pace, as evidenced in the 2012 Eatontown at Monmouth Park.

Rudy's next runner, Sage Valley, may be a single for me in the Pick 4.  After spending too much time assessing this field, I simply think Sage Valley is the best horse, and I'll be glad to take the 9-to-2 odds offered on Public Handicapper.  I continue to waver on this one, but Laurie's Rocket looms the primary danger, in my view, and I may leave him off my tickets.

All-Stakes Pick 4

Good luck to those of you playing on Saturday, and if you want to burn your money, there's no better way than following the sage advice of NJ Horseplayer.

  • $1 Pick 4, Race 9: 1, 4, 6, 9 with 10 with 4, 8, 10 with 1, 4, 8 = $36
    • I would substitute 8 as my single in Race 10 if the 10 horse scratches
  • $2 Double, Race 11: 8 with 1, 4, 8 = $6
  • $10 Exacta, Race 12: 4 with 1, 8 = $20
  • $20 Win, Race 12 (Preakness): 4, Departing = $20

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Potential Mother Lode of a Contest

(Edited May 10 to amend some egregious flaws in my interpretation of NHC points awards and fresh guidance about Sunday's tournament being in the "pick-and-pray" format)

There's no way in hell I'd get to play live in any handicapping contest this Sunday (ugh, Mother's Day), but as an NHC Tour player and writer, I registered for an intriguing new handicapping contest series offered by is running a 3-contest feeder series that will award two berths to the Del Mar Handicapping Challenge (DMHC) on Saturday, July 27 and Sunday, July 28, where five (5) spots will be awarded to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC XV) next January in Las Vegas.

The entry fee to's Del Mar feeder is only $29.  The format will be "pick and pray" (i.e. enter selections for the full contest card before post time of the first contest race).

Not the kind of Mother Lode
NJ Horseplayer has in mind...
but one worth watching
(cover your ears)
Two more feeders are scheduled -- Saturday, May 18 (Preakness Day) and Sunday, May 26.

Feeders are capped at 200 players and 1 entry per player, with the top two finishers from each feeder squaring off in a 6-player championship on Sunday, June 2, for two berths to Del Mar and the others receiving $250-$500 of site credit.

The NHC Tour Point Dynamic

As an NHC Tour player with at least some leaderboard points (989 from the Monmouth Park SSC Invitational, good for a temporary spot among the Top 200), I have begun to ponder the need to accumulate more points in hopes of cracking the Top 150 -- good enough for a back door to NHC XV (assuming I do not win an NHC qualifier outright).

The way I see it, HorseTourneys is offering not only unique access to the NHC through the Del Mar Handicapping Challenge, but also potential entry to an elite live-money, on-track tournament limited to 60 contestants, where the buy-in is $6,000 and players like me are priced out of the market.

Here's the Del Mar prize structure (all with an NHC berth and $700 travel stipend):
  • 1st place -- NHC, paid $10,000 Breeders Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) buy-in, $25,000 cash
  • 2nd -- NHC, $2,500 toward BCBC, $10,000 cash
  • 3rd -- NHC, $2,500 toward BCBC, $5,000 cash
  • 4th -- NHC, $2,500 toward BCBC, $3,000 cash
  • 5th -- NHC, $2,500 toward BCBC, $2,000 cash
NHC berths alone are worth their weight in gold, but the other rewards are clearly enticing as well.

From an NHC Tour points perspective, the two players who come out of's Del Mar feeder series and finish in the top 10% of the DMHC would come away with at least 1,000 Tour points (roughly 3,800 for first, down to 1,250 for sixth for an "on-site" tourney with buy-ins).

Not bad for $29!

Consistent with the format for the 6-player final on Sunday, June 2, I'm guessing the Mother's Day feeder will consist of 10 mandatory races, with notional $2 win-place wagering and a 22-to-1 cap on win and 10-to-1 cap on place. has rolled out a "challenge wagering" format for some contests, where players make selections on, say, 8 of 15 possible races, but the Mother's Day feeder will feature the "pick-and-pray" format, giving those of us who can, say, handicap the card on Saturday but cannot play on Sunday an opportunity to participate.

Credit once again to tournament director McKay Smith for adding an interesting new wrinkle to the handicapping contest circuit and creating a unique opportunity for NHC Tour players, namely those in states with fewer on-track tournaments.  Anyone with questions should contact

Already 40 of 200 spots for Sunday have been claimed, and I anticipate a sellout at the $29 price point.

Happy Mother's Day!

I would say "see you online" this Sunday, but chance are I'll (like many other NHC Tour players with the non-horseplayer wives and moms) be catering to my lovely wife and mother-in-law this Mother's Day, as they surely deserve it.

Meanwhile, my mom's en route to Boston to work the 7th Annual Alstrom Syndrome International Family & Medical Conference, so she gets an rain check.

But, as a casual horseplayer herself, I'm sure she'll be amenable to a long-distance Mother's Day blessing...and an IOU on a non-contest day.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Case for Revolutionary

The luxury of having one Kentucky Derby entry is something most of us can only dream, but trainer Todd Pletcher is in the catbird's set tomorrow with five very formidable contenders.

Revolutionary gets the nod from NJ Horseplayer, despite 5-to-1 co-favoritism on Public Handicapper's odds board as of mid-afternoon Friday.  Here's to hoping the bettors tomorrow are not as optimistic as on this horse, listed at 10-to-1 on the morning line.

Without belaboring what I would consider a 19-horse prop bet (the field is too enormous to devote extraordinary time to handicapping), I landed on Revolutionary for a few reasons, namely (in no order) the most prolific jockey in recent Kentucky Derby history, decent prospects for a ground-saving trip and ability to close in the end, the scratch of the rail horse Black Onyx (i.e. one less horse in the gate to Revolutionary's inside), and the horse's gutsy persona.

The Withers Stakes was not a drop-dead gorgeous field or race, but what I saw in early February from Revolutionary told me this horse can handle the stress of a major race like the Derby and not get discouraged in traffic -- a key component of my handicapping for this race.

I gave serious consideration to Pletcher's morning-line favorite Verrazano, but I find 4-to-1 short for a horse who, despite rolling over the competition in four straight races as a 3-year-old, has never really run into trouble and has more or less had his way with the opposition.  Similar to the Tampa Bay Derby, Verrazano will have to deal with the quick-from-the-gate Falling Sky, not to mention other need-the-lead types like Giant Finish -- another 50-to-1 shot who will need a miracle to wire the field.  A stumble at the gate or settling back into a stalking position is an area where I question Verrazano's ability, but will still use him underneath in my (mostly) exotic tickets.

One horse that scares me is Vyjack, at 15-to-1 on the morning line but 47-to-1 on Public Handicapper, which is egregiously high, in my view, and too dismissive of a gutsy third-place run at Verrazano in the Wood Memorial on April 6.  It comes as no surprise, too, that people have fallen in love with Normandy Invasion off a fast-closing second-place in the Wood, but I'm the type that thinks some horses not win.  I'll use Normandy Invasion underneath, but think 6-to-1 (again, is too short for a horse whose only victory came in the maiden special weight ranks.

I gave Java's War a long look too (perhaps longer than all others), but think he's a grass-poly horse who'll have too much ground to make up late in the stretch.  I'll use him underneath, but put his second to Verrazano in the Tampa Derby a wrung below, considering the weak field and that Java never made up ground on a lightly ridden Verrazano toward the wire.

So, without further adieu, and learning toward horses that have either shown an ability to stalk or close or survive a bad trip prior, here are the official NJ Horseplayer wagers for the 2013 Kentucky Derby:

  • $20 win 3 (Revolutionary)
  • $5 exacta wheel 3, 20 over 3, 5, 14, 20 (Revolutionary-Vyjack over Revolutionary-Vjack-Normandy Invasion-Verrazano) -- $30 total
  • $1 trifecta wheel (same as the first two exacta legs) 3, 20 over 3, 5, 14, 20 over 3, 5, 6, 14, 16, 19, 20 (throwing Mylute and Orb into the mix) -- $30 total
  • $1 superfecta (for giggles) 3, 20 over 3, 20 over 5, 14, 19 over 5, 14, 19  -- $12 total
  • $4 win-place 20 (Vyjack) -- backup bet -- $8 total
Total bankroll: $100.

Good luck to everyone in the Kentucky Derby!