Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Bing Crosby Handicap - "Blast" Off!

This Sunday is the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap going 6 furlongs at Del Mar over the Polytrack. The 65th running of this race has brought together a field of 7. The race is named after one of the co-founders of Del Mar, the venerable entertainer Bing Crosby. One of these horses will join such past winners as Lit de Justice, Thirty Slews and Kona Gold, each of which who went on to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint later that year. Last year's winner Zensational went off favored in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita.

Here is the field:

1 E Z's Gentleman Pedroza M 123 2-1
2 Sky Cape Talamo J 119 20-1
3 Scenic Blast (AUS) Smith M Shirreffs John 121 8-1
4 El Brujo Rosario J 119 8-1
5 Cost of Freedom Bejarano R 119 7-5
6 My Summer Slew Quinonez A 119 10-1
7 Smiling Tiger Espinoza V 115 5-1

The selection is #3 Scenic Blast (AUS). This Australian-born gelded son of the Sadler Well's sire Scenic has race across the globe in his native Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and the UK. He won grade 1 races in the UK and down under, but developed a bleeding problem that led to his importation to the states so he could run on the medication Lasix. he is now under the care of trainer John Shirreffs. Last time out in his first start in the states, he finished a credible 4th behind the #6 in the Robert Kerlan Memorial Handicap @ Hollywood Park going 6 furlongs over the turf. He was ridden then, as he will be today, by jockey Mike Smith. Today will mark his 1st start over the Poly, but this blog thinks he will take to it just fine.

"Blast" was 1st time Lasix in his last start, and that is part of the reason he is the selection. This blog is a firm believer that when it comes to geldings, 2nd-time Lasix, as the #3 is today, is the optimum time to bet the horse. He is also the only true closer in a filled with speed and just off the pace types. Furthermore, Blast is 2nd off the layoff, which this blog is very fond of using that angle. He is a ridiculous 8-1 morning line and is fully expected by post time to be a more realistic 4-1 or so.

#5 Cost of Freedom and #1 E Z Gentlemen are the only other Grade 1 winners in the field. Cost of Freedom won the Grade 3 L.A. Handicap last time out at 6f, beating both the #1 and the #6. He is pure speed, but did once rate just off wickedly fast fractions. He is 3 for 5 at Del Mar and has been working great in the interim for trainer John Sadler. (Below is his win in the L.A. Handicap)

E Z Gentelman came off of that 3/4 length defeat in the L.A. Handicap to win Grade 1 Triple Bend last time out going 7 furlongs. He drafted just to the inside of speedster M One Rifle, came up the rail and spurted away to win 3 and 1/4 lengths. He has worked a nice 5f in 59 & 3 over the track on Monday and looks to keep his string of good efforts going. (Below is his win in the Triple Bend Handicap)

#7 Smiling Tiger is the lone three year-old in the field, is trying to join previous 3 year old winners as King's Blade and Zensational. In his last race, he went gate to wire in the Grade 3 Laz Barrera going 7 furlongs versus 3 year olds @ Hollywood Park. He beat Concord Point, who is his next start broke the track record in winning the Grade 3 Iowa Derby. Tiger has come back to work swiftly, throwing several bullet workouts in preparation for the race. He is a need the lead type who has not showed the ability to pass, and he steps up to face older for the first time.

The others are: #6 My Summer Slew, who won the Kerlan defeating Scenic Blast last time out, but was defeated by both E Z Gentleman and Cost of Freedom in the L.A. Handicap; #4 El Brujo, who makes his first start in 2 months for new trainer Bob Baffert after being campaigned in the Midwest and Canada. All but one of his lifetime starts have been over the Polytrack, including both of his Grade 3 wins at Turfway and Keeneland, respectively; and #2 Sky Cape, who makes his first start in over a year, and appears to be outclassed, even if he brought his top effort.

There is the field for the Bing Crosby. Hopefully you will get the chance to "take a plane, take a train, take a car to Del Mar" to see the race live. Wherever you end up seeing this race, it should be a good, fast sprint that will hopefully will end with a "Blast"!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hollywood Park meet wrap-up - Who will win the Vicy?

Another Hollywood Park Spring/Summer meet has come to a close. There were some great things (the Vanity, the concerts) and not-so-great things (large drops in handle and attendance). This post will be honoring some of the events that happened at the meet by awarding them the "Vicys", named in honor of track announcer Vic Stauffer. These awards will cover people, horses and other things that happened at Hollywood Park the last three months. Some of the awards have nominees, while others were a unanimous vote from the group of voters, which consisted of me, myself and I. (Haha)

The first Vicy goes to the jockey who gave the best ride of the meet. The nominees are:

David Flores on Awesome Gem - G1 Hollywood Gold Cup (Race 8 - July 10th)
Christian Santiago-Reyes - G2 Jim Murray Handicap (Race 8 - May 15th)
Alex Solis on Tanda - G3 Railbird Stakes (Race 7 - May 9th)

The winner is....
Alex Solis

Alex takes advantage of a tepid first quarter and an opening on the rail to take control of the race, going to the lead and never looking back. She would hold off Switch, who would come out of the race to defeat multiple Grade 1 winner Blind Luck in the Hollywood Oaks. Tanda would go onto run third in the G1 Acorn on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

The next Vicy is for the most questionable ride of the meet. This award has only one nominee, as the voting was unanimous. The winner is Rafael Bejarano for his ride on Rail Trip in the Hollywood Gold Cup. He chose to rate off of a glacially slow pace, leaving himself parked wide the entire race. This cost him the victory when Awesome Gem grinded his way to victory along the rail, leaving Rail Tip to finish second.

Next up is the Perfect Rail Trip award. This for the horse who got a dream run through on the rail. The voting was unanimous for this one (but a bit suprising, due to its recency) as last weekend's Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap provided it.

Sweet August Moon made her way from the outside to the rail, then sat just behind the pacesetters. As the race worked its way through the turn, Sweet August Moon shot through the gap at the rail and worked her way to victory. This was her first victory in 15 months, with that coming in the G3 Las Flores Handicap.

Next up is the what i like to call the "bye-bye" award (or the "FU" award). This goes to the horse who won in gate-to-wire fashion, with them never being challenged and/or blowing the doors off their competition.
The nominees are:
Acclamation in the Grade II Jim Murray Handicap(Race 8 - May 15th)
Acclamation in the Grade I Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (Race 10 - June 5th)
Marlang in the Grade 3 Sunset Handicap (Race 9 - July 18th)
Ruination in an Cal-bred allowance/optional claiming race (Race 7 - April 23rd)

The winner is:
Acclamation for his win in the Jim Murray!

This 7 1/2 length win set a new Stakes record for the largest margin of victory. Acclamation would go on to win the Whittingham, then falter badly in the United Nations at Monmouth over the 4th of July weekend. Hopefully he will be rested and pointed to Del Mar Handicap at the end of August. Acclamation also wins the Vicy for best male.

Next up is for big disappointment of the meet. This award is shared among the following: the total decline in average handle from last meet (down 10%) and a decline in average attendance (Also down 10%). Special acknowledgment goes to the crowd sizes for the Vanity and the Hollywood Gold Cup, which were very underwhelming. Less than 13,000 for Zenyatta is just sad. Seeing most of the apron empty on Hollywood Gold Cup day was heartbreaking. Hopefully something can be done to staunch the bleeding from the crowd size, and soon.

Next up is Race of the meet, and with a unanimous (and roaring) victory, the winner is the Vanity Handicap, featuring Zenyatta's thrilling victory.

With this victory, Zenyatta remains undefeated for her career of 17 races. Her next race has yet to be determined. Zenyatta also wins the award for best female and best horse in a dramatic role.

Now we come down to the big award of the evening, Horse of the Meet:

The Nominees are (in alphabetical order):
E Z Gentlemen (who the won Vicy for best sprinter)
Rail Trip

and the winner is.....

ACCLAMATION!. In a bit of an upset, Acclamation wins Horse of the Meet. His two graded stakes victories, including the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap, were done in such fine fashion that even though personally he has cost me a lot of money at the windows these last 13 months, his performances were strong enough to win the Vicy for Horse of the Meet. The Cal-bred son of Unusual Heat won both of his stakes in front-running fashion for trainer Donald Warren and owners the Johnstons, for which Acclamation is a home-bred.

So there you are, the Vicys are awarded, the meet is done and now southern California racing moves its way down the 5 freeway to Del Mar. Hopefully the new meet will bring out some fresh blood, as the stars of tomorrow may debut in any number of the loaded two-year old maiden races and the large crowds come out to watch can stay a little longer down the road.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hollywood Gold Cup - Can Compari Pull the Upset?

This Saturday, Hollywood Park will run what could be their "signature" race of the meet, the Grade 1 $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup. A field of 7 entered for the 71st running of this historic race. Some of the greats of the sport such as Affirmed, Citation, Round Table, Skip Away, Cigar and Seabiscuit have won this race in its venerable history. Only two horses have ever won more than once, Native Diver & Lava Man. Both won back-to-back-to-back Hollywood Gold Cups, with Native Diver doing it in 1965-1966-1967 and Lava Man doing it in 2005-2006-2007. Both were Cal-breds. Onto the field!

We shall start with the favorite, #6 Rail Trip. This son of Jump Start has come back with a vengeance this spring after being placed on the shelf since his third place finish in the Pacific Classic last September. He won the 2010 Mervin Leroy with little problem and then produces this effort in the 2010 Californian last time out (below). Rail Trip won in hand and was not asked to do much in the stretch.

He is a deserving favorite and will be at short odds to defend his crown. But, as with all favorites, we as handicappers must try to find holes in the favorite. I have heard from several respected sources that Rail Trip has not been pushing off as well as normal the past week when on track, and that he has lost some weight. This (if true) does not bold well for him. This news does buoys the chance of an upset, especially with the additional argument i now present.

In his two losses at Hollywood Park, Rail Trip had trouble passing the leader in the stretch. In his loss in the 2009 Mervin Leroy Handicap, Ball Four set soft fractions and Rail Trip could not get by the lonely leader. In the 2009 Californian, once again Rail Trip could not get by Ball Four easily, taking far too long to get by him. This cost him as Informed catches and passes him at the 1/16th pole, going on to pull the upset. (see below)

What these two races show me that Rail Trip may have a bit of "hang" in him, and that prevents him from putting away horses quickly. If a quality speed horse is in front of him, can he get by? If he can, can he do it quickly enough to hold off the late charge of some of the others? At a short price, i am willing to take my chances against him.

My choice is #2 Compari. This cal-bred son of Redattore had his 6 race winning streak snapped last-time out when he had rough trip in the Ingelwood Handicap on grass at a mile. He switches back to the cushion track, where arguably his best win took place in the Snow Chief stakes last year. Trainer Martin Jones has procured the services of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith for Saturday's race. He should revert back to going straight for the lead tactics, as one of Smith's best talents is getting the maximum out of a gate-to-wire threat. He brings in tow 4 nice steady works and looks ready for a prime effort. His downsides are that he has never gone this far and that he could have company on the front end.

If Compari cannot stay the trip, my longshot play would be #3 Awesome Gem. While not the most talented horse, he always shows up with his run, and sooner or later he will break through for that elusive Grade 1 victory. His late closing style could be just the thing to nail Rail Trip, if he struggles to go by Compari in the stretch. Awesome Gem will offer some value on the tote than Rail Trip, he is in light and might be worthy of a couple of bucks of "just-in-case" money.

The others in the field are: Pacific Classic winner #4 Richard's Kid, whose last race was the Dubai World Cup. He has 4 works since in the last month, but is that enough foundation to be ready to go this far fast enough? #5 Tres Borrachos is the other speed, but cannot go this far, and at best be fighting for third place while being a thorn in Compari's side. #1 Cigar Man looks a bit outclassed in here, and has looks like he may have some problems getting the distance. #6 Tap It Light cuts back off his last two races. He has been working steadily but gets the ultimate class test today.

This year's Hollywood Gold Cup is a compact field of 7, but it should be a very interesting race. Will Rail Trip defend his crown? Will Compari go gate-to-wire? Will Awesome Gem finally get that Grade 1? Found out this Saturday!

(For another take on the Hollywood Gold Cup, take a look at the well-crafted piece written by Amateurcapper over at the Thorofan website here.)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

You Finally Caught That Horse - Now What?

Horseplayers are an odd lot. They will play against their picks if they are alive to a horse, just to make sure they cash (aka "hedge"). They will play against their picks if they are not alive in the pick four, because they do not want to cash on their original picks while going three of four. They will bet against a horse because it cost a bunch of money in the past, being the only horse they did not have in the pick6 one day. They will bet on a horse because it made them a bunch of money in the past, by being a part of huge pick 6 or something. But none of these situations are as tough to judge as the phenomenon of "chasing a horse".

"Chasing a horse" is the single oddest thing we do as handicappers. There are many different reasons we do it. Maybe it is something we see in the past performances, such as a certain race. Or something the horse did in the paddock that caught our eye. Or maybe the horse is the offspring of a horse who we knew and loved from the past. No matter what it is, it is something that seems to go against the goal of finding the winner. If we continue to pick the same horse over and over, rationalizing that the horse is due, and we shall be damned if we miss out on it, we are undermining the handicapping process. But what happens if you stick it out, and the horse comes in?

This blog ponders this question because one horse I chased and chased and chased runs in the Firecracker Handicap this Sunday. His name is Orthodox. I first fell for this son of Pulpit when he ran third at Del Mar in the summer in 2008. He broke his maiden at Oak Tree on the grass and i decided then to bet him back in his next race. That next race was the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, where he held the lead until the far turn. But i kept the faith. He then went on the shelf until an allowance race at the end of February at Fair Grounds to begin his 2009 campaign. He won, controlling a slow pace to a gate-to-wire victory, but since it was a Monday, i could not wager on him due to other obligations. This win further cemented my "crush" and i continued my quest to cash with him.

After a brief fling with the Derby trail, and a bad race at Keeneland, I was beginning to lose hope, but i kept on. They entered him in the American Turf on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. I decided to make one final stand with him. He is a speed horse, and with the turf course being less than firm that day, i decided that he had a chance since the CD turf course leans towards speed the more moisture it gets. I bet him to win & singled him in the pick four. This is how the race turned out:

He paid $93.20 to win, and i went on the hit that pick 4 after some horse won the Oaks by 20+. He ran one more time after, but i could not bet that day due to a wedding. He finished 8th in a field of nine, and went on the shelf. So now we come today. Orthodox is entered for the first time since being injured in that last race. He drew the outside post in the field of 14. So do i bet him, even though i think he has, at best, a minuscule chance of winning? There is plenty of other speed, he is in the 14 hole and the works, while good, are nothing to write home about.

Imagine yourself in my shoes, having to make this decision. There are two main answers to the question: Either I bet him or I don't. If I do bet him, how much do I commit to a horse I don't really like, just because he rewarded my persistence? IF i bet a bit more than I should and he loses, i will be throwing good money down the drain. If i put a token $2 and he shocks by winning, i will be kicking myself for weeks on missing out. The flipside is to not bet him. If i do not bet and he loses, I will have not lost any money but i will feel bad about cheering against him. If I do not bet and he wins, I will have blown a big score because i didn't trust my heart along with my gut. What would you do? (respond in the comments below with your answer)

The answer to this question is more than just simply looking at the past performances and determining who is the winner. Horseplayers ascribe to make only rational decisions when deciding when to bet. Yet we play hunches, hot tips, stupid names, etc. on a daily basis. "Chasing" is not even close to rational, yet we do it because we let the emotional side of the brain in, and that is not a bad thing. We are people, not machines. We wouldn't be a part of this sport if we wanted something that had a fixed amount of variables. We live for the living, breathing, uncertainty aspect of the game. Good Luck Everybody!!