Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Racing Thoughts

Memorial Day is here, and there is great stakes action around the country. This is my favorite racing day of the year. Not Derby Day, not Breeders' Cup Saturday, not any day except the last Monday in May. The turf racing is always solid on this day, the weather always seems to cooperate and everyone seems to be a good mood on this day of remembrance. Due to the fact that I'm posting this on Memorial Day itself, I will go bullet point style to get through some of the stakes action.

Hollywood Park has two stakes today, the G3 LA Handicap and the G1 Gamely Stakes. In the LA, Cost of Freedom will once again attempt to go gate-to-wire for the John Sadler barn. He will look to turn the tables on M One Rifle, who beat him last time out. Amazombie looks to continue his hot streak, but can he keep the win streak going, especially with M1 now third off the layoff? Should be a solid race.

A half hour later, older females go 1m & 1/8th on the turf in the G1 Gamely. The top 4 finishers from the Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita have a return engagement against one another. Malibu Pier defeated Cozi Rosie, Restless Soul and Turning Top last time. The four of the them will be taking on new shooter Dubawi Heights. This daughter of Dubawi has climbed the ladder all the way to the top with her win in the Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap. The extra distance would appear to be no problem for her, and she is this blog's pick for the race.

Now we head to Lone Star Park, where two blog favorites will be making their 2011 debuts. Wasted Tears attempts to win the Grade 3 Ouija Board Distaff Stakes for the third year in a row. Flat Out steps up into graded stakes company in the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap. He is stepping into the deep end of the pool with this race, facing off against grade 1 winners Awesome Gem and Game On Dude along with the local prep winner Thiskyhasnolimit. While Wasted Tears will be the heavy favorite, Flat Out will be a huge longshot. This blog will be cheering hard for both to make successful 2011 debuts.

Also hoping that Rodman will hit the board at a price in the Met Mile but ultimately finish behind Haynesfield or Tizway at the wire.

Good luck this weekend folks!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Preakness Card Stakes Thoughts

The middle jewel of the Triple Crown is upon us. Animal Kingdom carries the hopes of a nation that he can end the drought that has stricken us since Affirmed in 1978 of a Triple crown winner. The undercard has some solid races with some past Grade 1 winners, some hopeful up-and-comers and good betting opportunities. Ranging from a pair of 6 furlong sprints all the way to the mile and three-sixteenths of the Preakness, this figures to be a good day of racing. Let's start with the race for the fillies and mares going a mile and one-sixteenth.

The Alliare Dupont Distaff marks the return to graded stakes company for multiple grade one winner Life At Ten. After a so-so second in her 2011 debut going one turn at Gulfstream. Returning to two-turns, she towers over this field on class. The only concern is that she may have lost something after that debacle in the Breeders' Cup and maybe Father Time has caught up with her a bit. Her main danger is Payton D'Oro. Her biggest win was 2009 Black-Eyed Susan right her at this track. She ran a so-so third in her only start this year, and that was her first start in the year. She's worked well for trainer Larry Jones, but she also may have lost a step. Decelerator figures to be winging on the front end.

Two races later brings together 3yo sprinters in the Chick Lang Stakes going 6 furlongs. This is the second leg of the guaranteed $250k Early Pick 4. (This blog thinks that #8 Easy Ashley is a single in the first leg of the Pick 4). This is a tough race as contention runs deep. Ghost Is Clear just quit last time, for some reason, but has come back to work well, and has several sprint races which would be competitive. Chipshot comes in third off the layoff with a bullet work in tow. Escort just quit on the Poly last time, has worked well since, and has power couple Pletcher/Velazquez behind him. Venegeful Wildcat has two narrow losses this year against similar. Road Ready will be coming out of the clouds, but can he get up in time?

Next up is the James W Murphy for three year olds on the lawn going a mile. This looks like a three horse race between: Lil Bit O'Fun, who gets some class relief after meeting the best turf 3yos in the country last out; Humble and Hungry gets back on turf in his second start of the year and acquires the services of Garrett Gomez; and Joes Blazing Aaron, who won the Grade 3 Palm Beach two back in gate-to-wire fashion. These three tower over the rest of the field.

The last race of the early Pick 4 is Grade 3 Maryland Sprint. The heavy favorite figures to be the SoCal based Ventana. He has banged heads with some of the best sprinters on the west coast, but always seems to come out on the short end. This blog believes that he is slightly better at a distance a half-furlong longer than today's distance, which makes him very vulnerable. Nathan's H Q is a true speedball, but he is inside speed, and he looks that he will have the lead turning for home. If he can shake free, he is a danger to lead gate-to-wire. China comes back in 17 days after a solid second behind a gunner in the oft-injured but very talented Irrefutable. He threw a swift workout in the interim and could be sitting on a huge effort. He'll be sitting just off the pace.

The start of the guaranteed $1 million dollar late Pick 4 starts with the Grade 3 Galorette Handicap. The highweight and favorite is Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Shared Account. This is her first race since her huge upset win in the BC, and she has been training steadily for her trainer Graham Motion. She ran 4th in this race last year off a similar layoff. This looks like a good time to take a stand against her at short odds, and the horse to take advantage is No Explaining. She won last out in solid turf race at Keeneland in good time. She ships down for her trainer Roger Attfield from her Woodbine home base, which is saying something since Woodbine offers a race at a similar distance two weeks from now for three times the purse. She retains top jock John Velazquez in the irons, who will keep her mid-pack, looking to get a jump on the favorite. She will enjoy any give in the ground as well. The 10 pound difference in weight in favor of No Explaining can't hurt either.

The William Donald Schaefer and the Dixie have a horse cross-entered in Eighttofasttocatch. If he runs in the Schaefer, as is the most likely scenario, he rates a solid chance, but he must defeat a much deeper, but not necessarily stronger, field. Colizeo (looking to bounce back after an no excuse third in the Grade 3 Skip Away), Pleasant Prince (first race since getting crushed in the BC Classic and his second race against older), Icabad Crane (has a win over the track and ran third in the Preakness three years ago) and Apart (Trying to follow in former barnmate Blame's footsteps, though he has nowhere near the killer instinct of the champion older male).

If “Eight” does go in the Dixie, his main obstacle is Paddy O'Prado. This multiple graded stakes winner was the king of the three year-olds on turf, winning 4 stakes an finishing 2nd against older in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic before getting beaten by 5 ½ in the BC Classic. He makes his 2011 debut in the Dixie, and brings a solid series of works into the race. This maybe the best time to beat him, as this race is clearly a means to an end for bigger and better things later on in the year. He is carrying the same amount of weight as the others, which gives him a clear advantage over the field. Hopefully “Eight” stays in this race, as he looks to be one with a chance to upset the heavy favorite at a big price.

This leaves the big one, the Preakness. Now this blog admits that the Kentucky Derby was an unmitigated disaster, but the struggle to find a pick, let alone a key in the exotics, portended doom from the beginning. After regrouping, seeing what went wrong and admitting that the selections have been very hit or miss with this lot this year, a renewed enthusiasm for the race came on. Now, the pick for today is not to win, but to place. That is because this horse s probably not good enough to win, but under the right circumstances he can light up the tote at a big number. That horse is Norman Asbjornson. He ran 4th in the Wood after running 2nd in the Gotham. His sire won this race back in 1998, and he has solid local connections. He's had two stamina building workouts in the interim and has made a solid appearance in the mornings. He's slowly improved with every race, with this being his third off the layoff. If his jockey can time the move just right, maybe he grind his way to second.

So the Preakness is upon us. Can Animal Kingdom keep his Triple Crown hopes alive? Will Someone end them instead? Can Shared Account and Paddy O'Prado return off the layoff to their previous form? We shall see. Good luck everybody!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Best Ride Last Weekend Almost No One Saw

Last weekend, while the eyes of the horse racing nation were on Churchill Downs, Hollywood Park ran the Grade 2 Mervyn Leroy Handicap. The race went off at the same time as the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes on the Kentucky Derby undercard, so very few saw this race. This four horse race featured multiple graded stakes winner Sidney's Candy. With only four horses in the field, Sidney figured to get an easy lead under rider Alonso Quinonez and go gate-to-wire. But that did not happen. Why?

Many jockeys these days are afraid of going after the lone speed in a race, trying to avoid a speed duel. We even witnessed this in the Kentucky Derby, where all the speed pulled back, allowing Shackleford to get an easy lead and hang on for 4th. They fear that trying to apply some pressure to the speed horse will cause their mount to go too fast and lose the race. But it is that pressure that is key to preventing a gate-to-wire winner. Tyler Baze provides a textbook definition to why this is true on his ride of Crown of Thorns in the Mervyn Leroy.

After Sidney's Candy gets an easy first quarter in 24:05, it looks like this will be another merry-go-round race where they don't catch him. Crown of Thorns is sitting a little more than a length and a half off of him, not applying any real pressure. But as they reach the 6 furlong pole, Tyler makes the tactical decision in moving Crown of Thorns onto Sidney's flank, sitting just a length off.

This causes Sidney to go through the second quarter in a much quicker 23:17. Tyler keeps Crown of Thorns right off of Sidney's Candy through that acceleration for that quarter mile, preventing Sidney from getting separation. Like many speed horses, those easy middle fractions are key to going gate-to-wire. Tyler knows this, and is still on Sidney's flank with a 1/2 mile to go.

By the time they hit the stretch, Sidney does not have that needed separation on his main foe. Tyler is able to grind his way past on Crown of Thorns to an eventual length and a half victory. This tactical race ride is the key to this victory. This blog applauds Tyler Baze for the savvy ride, and hope that his comeback from the DL is filled with many more stakes wins.

Here's the full replay of the race:

This race is a template in showing how applying pressure, but not engaging in a speed duel, is key to undoing the chances of a gate-to-wire threat on paper. In-race tactics are what separate the mediocre riders from those who you can have faith in putting your last two dollars on. Good luck on your future wagers.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Kentucky Derby Card Selections - Looking For a Longshot

Biggest day of year when it comes to horse racing is upon us, the first Saturday in May, Kentucky Derby Day. This blog will be leaving from home early Saturday morning in order to get to Hollywood Park early enough to play the early races on the Churchill card. Here are some plays and thoughts for the card, including who this blog likes in the Kentucky Derby. Let's start with the second race on the card, a first level allowance going a mile and one-sixteenth on the main track (post time 11:00 AM ET). The horse to watch here is Bind. This son of Flatter comes from the Al Stall Jr. barn. He won his debut stylishly, then came home second after pulling his entire race. He runs against older the first time tomorrow, with his man danger coming from Wordly, a former fringe Derby trial runner who finished second in a couple of grade stakes. Many have touted Bind as "The Next Big Thing", and today's race will go a long way in determining whether he is or not.

Skipping ahead to the 6th race, which begins the stakes action with the Twin Spires Turf Sprint. The majority of the money figures to be spread around among four horses, each with different credentials. Chamberlain Bridge won the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint here last year, and is a neck away from being 5 for 5 on this course; Regally Ready, who won three straight races down the hill out here in Santa Anita and owns a win over this course; Bridgetown won the BC Juvenile Turf back in 2009, won his last two races, and has been competitive against some of these; and Custom for Carlos, who is the pick. His only turf start, he had a less then ideal trip while breaking from a wide post. C4C has speed but can rate just off and should fall into a good trip.

Moving on to the 5th stakes on the card, the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. This race was dramatically affected when Little Mike scratched out of the race Friday morning due to a fever. This has left Get Stormy with a strong chance to go gate to wire. He has win at the distance and one over the course, he had a solid work after his win in the Maker's Mark Mile last time out and the race set-up is extremely favorable to his chances, as he figures to be on or just off the lead. Value seekers could do worse than land on Rahystrada. This son of Rahy ran a good second last out, has won at the distance, and is no stranger to winning at long odds over this course, winning the 2009 River City Handicap at 56-1.

Now the big one, the Kentucky Derby. This blog makes a different between the pick for the Derby to win and the key to the exotics. The pick to win is used only on top, while the key is the horse most likely to hit the board, and is used in all three on the board spots. The pick to win is Derby Kitten. This son of Kitten's Joy out of the Menifee mare Blush has a pedigree that many who follow this blog is familiar with, and that is part of the reason he is the choice. He is blog favorite William's Kitten full brother. DK won his way into the Derby after winning the Lexington Stakes last time out. His only dirt try was awful, but it was on a track that favored those on or near the lead, and his brother WK handled the dirt just fine, including a second in the Kentucky Jockey Club to last year's Derby winner Super Saver. Now Derby Kitten will be a huge longshot, but he will relish the mile and a quarter, and this blog thinks he can avenge his brother's inability to make it here last year with a major upset.

The key to the exotics is Stay Thirsty. He takes the blinkers off after a disastrous effort in the Florida Derby. He had previously won the Gotham Stakes, defeating Wood Memorial winner Toby's Corner in the process. He has worked well without the blinkers since the Florida Derby, and will be a good price on the board. The main reason that Stay Thirsty is the key to this blog's exotics is his potential trip in the race. With three speed horses to the outside, and closers to his inside and outside the speed, Stay Thirsty looks to have the chance to set-up a perfect position quickly, before the rest of the field drops over from the outside. This will give him ever chance to run well and give his backers their money's worth.

So today is the big day, and big stakes are abound. Will the prices be enormous> Can Derby Kitten do what 'William' could not? Can the winner be the one to end the Triple Crown drought? We shall see, Good luck everybody!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Why A Bad Morning Line Hurts Everyone

Morning lines are a part of every wagering race in the U.S. no matter whether it is a Grade 1 at Saratoga or a $4kN2L at Beulah Park. The maker of the morning line has an arduous task in trying to figure out how the public will interpret all the possible information in front of them, including who has what information, and whether that information will lead to a lot of money being bet on the horse. It is not an enviable task, but someone has to do it. This task will always leave someone unhappy but it is a necessary part of racing. The line exists to help handicappers, especially a newbie to the sport, see who presumably will have a larger chance to win a particular race. So when a morning line maker does a poor job in making a morning line, it has a negative effect on the bettor no matter whether it's the $2 win bettor or the $3000/ticket Pick 6 player.

There are two main ways a morning line can be bad. One is when a horse is listed at odds that ends up being way off compared to its actual post time odds (though it is normally only complained about when it is lower than the listed morning line odds). This can happen through the morning line maker doing a poor job reading the information; the connections of the horse betting more than expected on him; or the horse is getting a lot of buzz at the track, but what shows up on paper is not very enticing. The happens from time to time, and while annoying, can be forgiven as one of the vagaries of the game.

The other way a morning line can be bad, and the one that this post is mostly about, is when a morning line equals a percentage that is just too high to be reasonable. This is what I'm calling an "overvalued" morning line. If any of you have any interaction with this blog's writer through social media, you will know that this a hot-button issue with me. A bad morning line bothers me more than it should - but then why all the ranting about it? First, let this blog explain what a morning line should equal. The morning line should equal 100% + the takeout on the win bet. Since the morning line uses whole, easy to understand numbers, yet odds can be counted down to a tenth, it is acceptable to have the line fall within a range. That range is 116 percent to 125 percent, depending on what the track's takeout is on that wager. When a morning line does not fall into that range, it is considered a bad line. There are occasions when that happens and people give it a pass, such as the Kentucky Derby, where the unique circumstances of the race make it impossible to craft a line to a normal percentage. But even that has it limitations on how high it can be before it becomes objectionable. When the morning line of an everyday race is above 125%, it is a sign that the morning line maker struggled with the field. But when every race on the card has a line that is significantly over 125%, and this occurs on a daily basis, that is a sign of a morning line maker who is just not doing his job correctly. There are examples at major tracks across the nation, from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Bluegrass all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Why all this fuss over an "overvalued" morning line? Well, there are a few main reasons. First, is that it decreases value for the handicapper. How? When it comes to the multi-race exotics all but the most disciplined of players will look at the morning line when considering whom to add in the later legs of those bets. Horse players are always looking to add value in the form of longer odds horses when playing. So if two horses have the same odds, the more likely they will be used in an equal manner. However, if those horses who have the same odds do not have an equal chance (or very close to it), and one should be at higher post-time odds, that mistake in the line will cost the bettor both in the investment and the payout. This issue will especially affect newbies bettors, who depend on the morning line more than the seasoned horse players to help them make decisions on who to use and who not to use. So when a bad line exists on a daily basis at a meet, it erodes value on every possible bet, costing the bettor several times during the meet.

Another reason a consistently overvalued morning line is worthy of an uproar is that it subconsciously destroys the trust between the bettor and the track. How so? Let's use this example: If a company claimed that a product would deliver a specific range of performances, but if the product's performance consistently failed to fall into the range, the consumer would have less faith in the product, and would be less likely to consider using the product and what it is associated with - So if the morning line is consistently incorrect, the betting public will have less faith in it. If the bettor has less faith in it, they are unlikely to use the line and play the racing associated with it. The bettor's decision not to play the track is their way of exercising their free market ability against an unfavorable situation. The lack of trust causes the serious bettor to go elsewhere with their wagering dollars.

The newbie bettor is affected differently by a consistently overvalued morning line when it comes to the issue of trust. Since the track puts out a morning line with the specific intent of helping the bettor, the line's relative accuracy is imperative. With the newbie's dependence on the line, a track would be remiss if it did not provide a competent morning line. If the track is endorsing a consistently overvalued morning line, it is doing a disservice to the bettors by willingly misleading them. If a newbie bettor feels taken advantage of by the track, their discretionary money will be taken to another track or even towards a different sport entirely.

So there's my 'ten cents' on why a overvalued morning line is a bad thing for any level of bettor, whether the $2 type or the $20,000 type. Agree? Disagree? Comment below and help further the discussion. Maybe with enough buzz about it, overvalued morning lines can become a thing of the past.