Saturday, April 21, 2018

When Contest Handicapping and Trainer Intent Collide

Trainers are willing to lose a race from time to time.

Well, except for Chad Brown, at least when I "bet against." 

At those points, it's best for you to the sprint to the window and bet his entries.

Your house will be safe, so feel free to go "all in" and bet it on the Chadster when I'm chilly.

Seriously though...

"Trainer intent" has become a bigger angle in my handicapping, and can be for you, particularly in assessing today's "free" NHC Tour qualification tournament.

I have zero inside knowledge, but often consider why a trainer will picks a certain spot to run his or her horse. Once in awhile you'll get bits of information from an on-track interview on TVG, a track's in-house feed or on social media.

Yet otherwise, we're often left to speculate.

In the context of a handicapping contest, I usually try to identify the most-vulnerable favorites on the card and reasons behind those vulnerabilities, since the only way to make waves in a handicapping contest with over 2,000 entrants -- many shooting for huge long-shots -- is to find a credible few.

This morning was no different in preparing for the 12-race card, with one horse in particular meeting my core parameters -- an over-rested horse that's likely to be overbet and is using the current race to prep for an even bigger one.


This accomplished mare is making the first start of her five-year-old campaign in the Dahlia B at Laurel Park -- Race 7, scheduled to run at 4:10 p.m. ET.

This $100,000 stakes race will go one mile on the turf and has scratched down to 8 runners.

In my opinion, Hawksmoor will be sent off below her 7-to-5 morning line, probably in the 2-to-5 or 3-to-5 range. So bettors and contest players alike will be lucky to get about a dollar of profit for every two on a win wager.

I'm not averse to playing favorites in contests or in cash betting, but in this case I'll speculate that this race checks off a few boxes for trainer Arnaud Delacour:
  • Really soft field
  • Preferred surface (turf)
  • "Paid workout," e.g. a chance to pick up an easy $60,000 winner's share for owner Lael Stables, perhaps best known as the owners and breeders of the late, great Barbaro
  • Easy prep for a graded stakes race
Key "knocks": 0-for-5 in North American races outside of Belmont Park,
1-for-5 at the 1-mile distance on turf, and prepping for a bigger future race

Hawksmoor is entirely capable of a rout, even if not 100% on her game.

We're talking about a three-time graded stakes winner (Grades 2 and 3) who is three lengths shy of back-to-back Grade 1 wins last autumn at the prestigious Keeneland and Del Mar Bing Crosby meets. The last time we saw her was in late November, a length behind Off Limits in the Matriarch.

Rested...and Ready?

Hawksmoor was given more than two months of rest before returning to training on February 9, and she has consistently worked well leading up to today.

Her front-running style should play favorably under Julien Leparoux, one of the best turf riders in North America, and especially more with the scratch of 5-to-1 I'm Betty G, another gal who was sure to pressure the early pace.

There's a cheap sprinter shipping in from Penn National, but doesn't belong on the same track with Hawksmoor, who's nearing the $1 million mark in lifetime winnings in just three years.

One could argue that all of the other runners fit the same profile, though I'm willing to bet the connections are not as concerned with winning today's race so much as Hawksmoor coming out of it healthy and ready for the Grade 3 Gallorette at Pimlico on Preakness Day, as she's been nominated for that one along with several other top runners -- certainly better ones than in the Dahlia.

Broken Bridle Is Worth a Look

Figuring that Hawksmoor and the 6, 30-to-1 Tanya's Gem (the aforementioned Penn shipper), set the tempo, I'm playing a horse that should sit just off the pace, has been in the winner's circle before...

...and whose connections probably want to win the race.

Broken Bridle, the 7, fits the bill at odds of 12-to-1.

This five-year-old mare also is making her 2018 debut. She hasn't run since late August at Laurel, but has hit the board in 9 of 10 starts at that track and sports several snappy works in preparation for today's stakes try. 

She finished ninth of 10 in her lone stakes attempt, the Grade 3 Commonwealth Oaks in September 2016, but ran gamely and I sense is tuned up enough for local trainer Gary Capuano. 

And this is no Grade 3 field, except for Hawksmoor.

Broken Bridle is not only the kind of horse worth playing in a notional-money handicapping contest, as she'll likely draw minimal attention based on a so-so background, she's also a use on my Pick 3 and 4 wagers on the side.

No matter what happens in the Dahlia, I think it's important for horseplayers to think a little bit more about trainers' motivations for entering their horses and to consider that, often, the goal for today's race may be more about a better opportunity down the road. 

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