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.