Aqueduct January 30

Most Likely Winner: 4th race, 2 Flag on the Play   6th race, 5 Royal Currier

Potential Price Horses: None

Race 1      5-1-2

Samus ran a good one last out but it isn’t usually a good idea to take even money on a $10K claimer. Not much real speed in the race and he looks like the best of it. Dariel is a first timer for Gary Gullo. Some nice works should have him ready to go. Westside Tapstress stumbled last out after giving up on MSW. Should improve today.

Race 2      3-7-1

Sopsa ran well in his AQU debut and has the best last race figure. Radiant Cut has been on the improve for Persaud. Just Catty has been with better and showed a decent close in his last race.

Race 3       7-4

Xixixi has back figures that would dominate this field. Hasn’t been out in a while but RuRod has been picking up lately. Private Irving A should be prompting the pace and shouldn’t have to work hard up front.

Race 4      2-5-3

Flag on the Play has three straight second place finishes. Been off a couple of months by Rice has been effective this winter in bringing them back ready. Reach for Yield comes back for Chad Brown. He is strong off the layoff and he should have the horse straightened out. Cosmo Blue has plenty of early and should benefit from the scratch of Sherifco.

Race 5      10-6-4

Dulce de Leche should be the front-runner here and is placed at the right level. Take Issue has been working steadily for his return for Asmussen and drops in price. Busted Handle improved substantially in her last start and another jump puts her right in the mix.

Race 6      5-2-3

Royal Currier ran a good one in the mud and returned to set a solid pace in his last. Drops a lot for his return and has fair works for his return. Doc Almon ran a big one last out and drops back to the level at which Gullo took him. Piquant was over his head last out but drops to a more comfortable level for RuRod.

Race 7      6-3-5

Deficit Hawk smashed through in his maiden for Violette and looks to show his talent in this state-bred stakes. Has the best last out figure. Chasing Bubbles won a NY Stallion Series race at the end of last year and will be in the battle up front. Has shown plenty of heart in his previous starts. Regal Minister is the proven stakes winner. He seems more comfortable at the sprint and should be pressing today.

Race 8      5-3-4

Conzig gets the nod in a generally uninspiring field. Second of the claim for Englehart and that’s enough to boost the horse to the top of this heap. Warm Front only has six starts looking for his third win and that puts him in a better light than most of this bunch. Kiss Cat should be one of the horses battling up front and that may be enough for him to get a piece..

Now You See Them, Now You Don’t

There is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of racing officials and executives care about the sport. When they do things that may seem to hurt the sport, I am just as certain that wasn’t their intention. That still doesn’t diminish the criticism that is heaped on the decision-makers when they obviously screw-up.

There isn’t a delicate way to say it. NYRA deserves some culpability for accepting entries for horses that were ineligible under the new emergency rule that requires entrants to have at least 14 days between starts, and then scratched those horses on race day. On Sunday this resulted in two three-horse fields and a four horse field. In what can only be described as a higher power showing an off-beat sense of righteous indignation, a major snowstorm is scheduled to hit the New York area starting Monday, creating a high probability that racing will be cancelled Thursday. This means the 11 horses for which entries were accepted even though they had a race within the last two weeks will technically not have to be declared.

Fortunately for NYRA there are convenient scofflaws available – the trainers. Based on racing rules, it is the trainer’s responsibility to only enter his horse in races for which the horse is eligible. The stewards rulings are not posted yet, but it will be interesting to see if they fine the trainers who entered those horses on Sunday.

What needs to be discussed is how this situation could have been avoided. The trainers were obviously not happy about the 14 day rule. Their comments were somewhere between the compromising “how about a few days less” and the snarky “they’ve obviously never trained a horse.”

The question is, how much discussion could have gone on to reach an acceptable consensus if the trainers think it is on the poorly conceived side of the line?

Managing people or an organization is not easy, and believe me I know that from personal experience. But it is a lot harder when you believe you know what is best for everyone without giving them a chance to have input into the decision. If you’re a boss you are paid to make decisions. The buck stops here and all of that. But if the decisions you make are seen as “stupid” by everyone except you, well, the chances are the people in the “it’s stupid” camp have a point worth listening to. And even if in the end you are right, you still need everyone’s help and support to get the decision implemented in the right way.

Horses are dying at what seems to be an alarming rate on track at Aqueduct. NYRA understandably wanted to take action but there are two parts to any plan: the conception and the implementation. If either are not good, the plan fails. Not all horses need two weeks between starts, but I suspect it could be difficult and expensive to do an assessment on the dozens of horses entered within the 14-day window. It was certainly easier just to make a blanket rule, but perhaps not the only option. The right thing for NYRA to do is to make an assessment of how the on-track breakdowns can be addressed most effectively, and if that means modifying a decision they had already made, that is the right thing to do.

Because the alternative is another embarrassment like the one that occurred Sunday, and that is simply not acceptable.

Aqueduct January 25

Race 1      6-5-4

Star Magnolia has a good wet track record and is running second off the claim for the effective Abby Adsit. Casual Elegance has five starts on a wet racetrack with 3 seconds and a third and that seems to be her style. Good enough to finish in the money, problems cracking the winners circle. Drops a notch today in search of the win. Brad’s Ruby drops way down for Jeremiah Englehart. Has shown a good turn of foot in her wins and should be pushing the pace.

Race 2      2-4-5

Aleander makes his fourth start since coming to the Jacobson stable from the West Coast. Overall the best figures but not likely to be value. Laghubaar drops from straight maidens to the claiming ranks looking for a win. Considering his first two starts were uninspiring and his connections are willing to let him go cheap after paying $400K at the August 2012 Fasig Tipton sale, they don’t see a bright future for him. Still, he may be good enough to catch a piece here. Perfect American is approaching the professional maiden ranks but does have his best races on the inner and on a wet track.

Race 3      7-5-1

Lubango has been knocking around for a while and has been in the money 50% of his starts. A wet track won’t bother him and he should be able to get good position from his outside post. Holy Invader was only a quarter length behind Lubango and that was his best start in a while. Has been better in the past. Last win came on the inner and perhaps today will be his day. Do a Leggar should be the speed in this race and is two of four on the wet going.

Race 4      6-4-3

Laila’s Jazz has been with better in the past and has the best figure of anyone in the last year. He had bad luck in the race on Dec 8, falling over a downed horse but came back to run well against the strong Be Bullish. Third time on the inner is a charm. Ground Force goes first off the claim for Jacobson. Been off almost four months but has been working steadily in January. Horse likes to win and has been successful on a wet track. Brass Pear is the speed of the speed, and has the best last race figure by far, but is 0 for 4 on the wet. Still a major player.

Race 5      7-4

Is She Hot drops down for RuRod and looks poised against this field. Shine On Erin inherits the second spot. She had her best finish in the slop last out after being wide.

Race 6      9-3-1

Towering Moon is making his second start off a 10 month layoff. Last out he didn’t get out well from the outside post but if he has a better break today should be a big factor. Longfor the City started in September after being off a year, and has been off since. In the meantime he switched trainers to Chad Brown and while the horse likely has had physical issues, the fact that Brown puts him on the track is a positive sign. Goodtolook benefits from the scratch of the ML favorite. Should have the lead and has big numbers from his last on the AQU slop.

Race 7      9-3-2

Court Dancer didn’t look great last out but prior to that had been close. One second from his only start on a sloppy track. Second lasix may help. Jazzminegem ran well in his comback after being off since April. Seems to thrive on the inner. My Won Love has two good races in a row on a wet track. Figures to be fighting at the end.

Race 8      8-7-1

Deceived is making the critical third start of a layoff for top conditioner Michelle Nevin. Was much better at the beginning of 2014, running well enough to place in the Damon Runyon and start in the Gotham. If he recaptures some of that form, he’s the main contender. Royal Posse gets the ultimate equipment change (to a gleding) for this start. Should be toward the front and has shown heart in the stretch. Wildniteattheopera has not finished worse than second in his career, including a trip at this level in the slop last out. May be the value.

Race 9      7-6-3

Marcy inherits the top spot with the scratch of Discreet Force. Not a win machine, but just missed on a good track two back and does make a serious drop in price for this start. Alpha J. gets a huge boost with the scratch of the ML favorite; should be the speed of the speed and is capable of wiring a field with an easy lead. Inaflash has a lot of positives. She’s in good condition, has a recent win on the inner, and is effective on wet tracks.

Aqueduct January 23

Most Likely Winners: 3rd race, 2 Solly’s Mischief   5th race, 1 Golden Story

Potential Price Horses: 1st race, 2 Futurazo   4th race, 8 Scorpion’s Touch   6th race, 5 My Savannah Belle   8th race, 4 Ghost Ship

Race 1      2- 7-1

Futurazo is listed at 12-1 on the ML. He had been racing at FL at ALW levels with decent success. He switched trainers to the low key Greg Matties who brought him to AQU in an ALW NW1X. He stumbled badly at the break last out, rushed to be up with the leaders, and expectedly faded.  He gets a jockey switch to Chuck Lopez and that should help him exploit his natural speed. Most Happy Fella closed well against Southern Proper for Chris Englehart but was re-claimed out of that race by Schosberg who had lost him the race before. He has a little trouble getting up for the win but Schosberg has given him enough work to keep him on edge. Vegas No Show seems the better of the two Jacobson horses. He has a way with first time claims and drops this one in half for the race.

Race 2       2-5-4

Jackie Black was claimed in early December by Linda Rice after leading for a half and fading in the stretch. I’m looking for some improvement today on the stretch out. Kool Charli has had two shots in the MCL ranks and drops a bit in price in search of the win. Golden Starlet makes her sixth start of Violette and switches to Manny Franco for this trip. Only has one good race in her PP so may be a bit of chance

Race 3       2-1A-3

Solly’s Mischief hasn’t run a bad race in a year and hasn’t been overraced in that time. Claimed last out by Abby Adsit who has done well with her claims. Distant Thoughts looks to be the better of the two in the entry for Scott Schwartz. Horse stumbled at the start last out and lost all chance, but still showed interest in the race. Straight Bite has two wins, both on a wet track. Still has the figures to be competitive in this field.

Race 4        8-5-1

Scorpion’s Touch had one start on the AQU main and ran evenly. Has come back with a nice series of works including two bullets in his last two. Boldlee gets first lasix after a clunker in his last on the AQU turf. His best race was on a sloppy BEL dirt at today’s distance. May show some spark today. Lehigh Five is one of the first timers and goes for Violette. Bullet in his last work suggests readiness.

Race 5        1-5-3

Jacobson leaves Golden Story in the race and scratches entrymate Big Lute. Golden Story has been almost exclusively on the turf and the synthetic, but I’m going to trust that Jacobson knows what he is doing by leaving him in instead of the 1A. Shot to Win goes for Dominick Shettino. Last out was a good effort, even though it cam two months ago. With Big Lute out he may inherit the front end. Kitchen Police hadn’t raced in close to a year and came out on a sloppy inner where he showed very little. Was claimed by Naipaul Chatterpaul. The switch to Guillermo Rodriguez doesn’t seem to be a positive but he has some races in his PP’s that could be competitive in this field.

Race 6        5-1-3

My Savannah Belle won her first two starts, one on the inner last March. Has a nice series of works for his return including a bullet 12 days ago, same pattern as when he won his last race. Like the tracking style. Had It All has a good lifetime record and some strong figures at Parx. She has high early speed and is not fainthearted in the stretch, so they’ll have to work hard to get by her. Pennymine has been a useful runner for Schosberg and should be one of the ones coming in the stretch.

Race 7        1-6-5

Laura Can Disco makes her fourth lifetime start. She has done nothing but run, and has the best last race number in the field. Champagne Ruby has been in nothing but statebred stakes and has been in and out. Has one lifetime start on the inner with a second place finish. Should benefit if the front runners falter. La Bella Victoria is the other speed and has an affinity for the inner. The powerful Jose Ortiz gets the mount and he has been dynamite on the horse.

Race 8        4-8-10

Ghost Ship ran evenly in his first out but jumps up from MCL to MSW today. Has a real shot at 10-1 ML in what looks like a really competitive field. Call Me Stoney should be toward the front. Levine has kept him on the training track so he should be ready for this one. Watch the Tie will be coming in the stretch and improvement from his last should put him in the mix at the end.

Buzzers, HOY, and NYRA

For the middle of January it was a busy week for horseracing news.

Roman Chapa allegedly got caught – again – with an electrical device. I say allegedly because at this point all we know for sure is that the track photographer snapped Chapa driving Quiet Acceleration to victory in the Richard King Stakes at Sam Houston in Texas, and it looked like he was holding something in his left hand.

The Eclipse Awards were held last Saturday. In general there was agreement with the winners, although there was some static about the winning margin for a few of them.

Finally, NYRA implemented “emergency” rules to deal with what seems to be an excessive number of deaths on the track. The trainer reactions were priceless.

Let’s start with Roman Chapa. In his first year as a jockey Chapa was suspended for 19 months for using an electrical stimulation device (often called a buzzer). In 2007 he was suspended again for the same thing and this time was given a five year vacation. New Mexico gave him a break by reinstating him in 2011, a bit before the five years was up.

I know fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, but what is the saying for fool me three times?

You have to figure the two times he got caught weren’t the only two times he used a buzzer up to that point, so arguably the two suspensions were lenient. In fact, you have to question how he managed to only get five years for a second violation that is about as close to a capital crime as race riding has. There are no mitigating circumstances for this type of offense. There is no beneficial use associated with a buzzer. The crime is completely conscious. Unlike a positive for theraputic medication, there is no way it could be explained as ignorance of the rules or accidental. This wasn’t like carrying the wrong type of riding crop. Use of a buzzer is unequivocal cheating.

I don’t believe myself to be naive, but it is really hard to imagine jockeys with buzzers are a rampant problem in racing. There are some people who would have fans believe it is happening everywhere, and with some big names involved. I’ve been around racing long enough to know a couple of things. First, almost nothing happens on the backside that doesn’t get passed around like chicken pox before science developed a vaccine. If a jockey was using a buzzer, the other jockeys would know they are cheating and it is highly unlikely they would tolerate it. A cheating jockey takes money out of their pockets. Second, it is the rare owner or trainer who would permit that kind of animal abuse, not to mention their unwillingness to be associated with any sort of cheating. Third, horses may not be the most intelligent animals on the planet, but they are smart enough to understand the association between the shock in their neck and who is giving it. If the horse makes the association he will react to the jockey in obvious ways. If jockeys are using buzzers, it is mostly marginal jockeys at marginal tracks, and maybe the occasional marginal jockey at a larger track. But no jockey making a good living would risk his livelihood any more than any of us would risk our reputations or careers without being completely desperate.

If the Sam Houston stewards determine Chapa was using an illegal device the message needs to be clear – carrying an electrical stimulation device gets you suspended for life with no chance of reinstatement. No jobs as a hot walker. No jobs as a groom. No exercise riding at the racetrack. Any career at a state sanctioned facility is forever out of the question.

That being said, the stewards need to be damn sure that a conviction only comes after incontrovertable proof of guilt. The fact that it looks like something is in his hand should not be sufficient to give him the ultimate penalty. This needs to be investigated thoroughly and if Chapa is unwilling to confess, the stewards need to lay out a case that would hold up in any court. The current action of the stewards to suspend Chapa indefinitely is wrong. This isn’t like a regular job where you can be suspended with pay while the investigation is ongoing. Regardless of the depth of their suspicion, if Chapa doesn’t ride he doesn’t eat. The stewards need to consider what might happen if they can’t convict him and they took away his ability to make a living.

Hopefully the full story will come out soon and we’ll see how deft Texas is when it comes to handling what is a very serious situation.

I’m not going to go through the whole suite of Eclipse selections. There were some votes that Daily Racing Form analyst Mike Watchmaker called “bizarre.” I think he made a critical point – if you have a vote, you need to show the proper respect for the process. Voting for Adelaide as Horse of the Year was not simply a wasted vote, it was levels beyond the simple bizarre. It showed ignorance of everything that should be important when selecting a HOY.

I didn’t know what to do about Goldencents. He was certainly more of a sprinter than a router, but his most impressive races were at seven furlongs and a mile, the inbetween distances.  He had five starts in 2014, won the Pat O’Brien and the Breeders Cup Mile, and finished second in the Met Mile (to Palace Malice), and the six furlong Bing Crosby and Santa Anita Sprint Championship. Taking nothing away from some of the outstanding performances in the Breeders Cup, Goldencents gritty win in the Mile was a the epitome of class and heart. There should have been an award for him somewhere.

If I had an issue, it was with the wide margin by which California Chrome captured HOY. He was not my choice for HOY, but even so the distance between him and the two other contenders, Main Sequence and Bayern had to have been more reflective of Chrome’s popularity with the broader crossection of ardent and casual racing fans than his actual accomplishments.

Fortunately or unfortunately, there are no fixed criteria for voting in the Eclipse Awards so let’s talk about the most often cited reasons for voting for a particular animal: body of work and value to the sport. If getting people to notice horseracing were most of the vote, California Chrome deserved the top spot. He was this year’s people’s horse and was primarily responsible for keeping enthusiasm high during the Triple Crown series. He was clearly this year’s version of the early Beatles, inspiring the equivalent of swooning teenage girls* within the racing community. He won the vox populi award and second place wasn’t that close.

But while we can’t stop the Eclipse from being a popularity contest, it doesn’t mean it is right. Let’s look at the body of work argument. We’ll start with the Kentucky Derby. North American racing fans see the Kentucky Derby as one of the high holy days in racing. The hype that surrounds the race is high, with NBC and the racing channels promoting coverage for months leading up to the race. The fact of the matter is that the Kentucky Derby is to the Breeders Cup what the college football championship is to the Super Bowl. On the first Saturday in May there  were probably five older horses in training that could have beaten Chrome. In the Derby you are taking horses who are the equivalent of late teenagers and throwing them into a race most of them are not physically ready to run. Remember when you were in high school and there was the guy who could grow a Grizzly Adams beard? Or the girl who was already getting served alcohol in restaurants because she looked 25? In a few months all the other three year olds will have caught up, but on that Saturday there are simply horses that are the equivalent of men against boys. Half of that field will either be out of racing or in Optional Claimers by the end of the year. In 1876, the year of the first Kentucky Derby, three year old racing was considered somewhat of a novelty. Up until the mid-1950’s when horseracing was one of the big three sports (along with boxing and baseball) the folks at Churchill aggressively marketed the Derby as the fastest two minutes in sports and captured the imagination of the public in the process.  In racing’s heyday, the Kentucky Derby was a big as the World Series or the heavyweight boxing championship. Today, it is a good race, and in some years a great race, and it often identifies future stars, but it is still not the championship race. That distinction is left to the Breeders Cup – you know, racing’s CHAMPIONSHIP day. The horses that win on that day, in my opinion, should be the primary contenders for Horse of the Year.

Remember when the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl? The NFL didn’t get to turn around and vote the Patriots the champions because their “Body of Work” was superior to the Giants. The Giants won the Championship game, and they were the champions. Period, end of discussion.

Let’s go back and look at Chrome’s Kentucky Derby win. Commanding Curve didn’t get closer to winning the rest of the year. Danza was finished for the year after the Derby. Wicked Strong did win the Jim Dandy and may turn out to be a decent Graded horse, but in the HOY category Adelaide was a more deserving vote than Wicked Strong.. In fact the best horses Chrome beat may have been Hoppertunity in the Santa Anita Derby, who came back to win the Clark late in the year, and Bayern who bobbled at the break and got pinched back in the Preakness, ultimately finishing ninth. Hey Bayern – it sucks to lose all chance at the break, doesn’t it.

Chrome then went on to lose the Belmont, the Pennsylvania Derby and the Breeders Cup in succession, two of those races to the aforementioned Bayern. He closed the year with a win over a Canadian filly and a couple of mid-level allowance horses in the Hollywood Derby at Los Alamitos on the turf, a performance so apparently impressive to the Chromies he got votes for Turf Horse of the Year over Main Sequence. Any comment I make about that will be mean so I’ll just let it go.

Chrome was not horse of the year based on performance or even the amorphous “body of work.”

The three Chanpionship winners that should have contended for HOY were Bayern, Main Sequence and Untapable. I couldn’t justify an Untapable vote despite her dominating performance in the distaff. The filly and mare group was simply not strong enough for Untapable to merit a vote. Main Sequence won four Grade 1 races, including the BC Turf Classic. Even though Wise Dan won HOY the last two years, turf horses are still often seen as sideshows. The other knock on Main Sequence was that other than the BC, he didn’t beat a lot. However, he beat every horse willing to race against him and did it in the best turf races in North America. Bayern destroyed fields in the Haskell and Pennsylvania Derby, and showed great courage in winning the BC Classic. He beat Chrome straight up twice, and beat older horses, something Chrome couldn’t do. The knock on Bayern was that the Haskell and Pensylvania wins came on speed biased tracks, and the BC victory was tainted by the wild start.

I said at one point any of the top three were deserving. On second look, I simply couldn’t buy Chrome as the winner. Of course, winning HOY gave Chrome the one thing he couldn’t accomplish on the track – beating a first rate field.

Finally, NYRA implemented emergency rules in a desperate attempt to head off the Joe Drapiness of criticism over what seems to be an excessive number of track deaths this year. Most of the rules were welcomed by the horsemen. Some of the more significant changes are:

  • NYRA will create a poor performance list, and a horse on that list won’t race until they work a half mile in 53 seconds. In other words, if they can’t beat Arabians, they don’t get to race against thoroughbreds.
  • They are cutting back on the number of weekday races, and including some long breaks in the schedule.
  • They are requiring at least 14 days between starts.

That last rule got the most reaction. Gary Contessa suggested 12 or 13 days would have been a better number. Mike Hushion went a little farther, saying that whoever made the rule knew nothing about training horses. Another trainer pointed out that under this rule horses that raced in the Kentucky Derby would be ineligible to run in the Preakness, unless of course they moved the Preakness to Sunday. Salutos Amigos wouldn’t have been able to run in the BC Sprint.

I get their point. Not every horse comes out of a race with a budding injury. But as most of the veterinary world knows, rarely do catastrophic injuries come out of the blue. They are a result of cumulative stress and poor training methodology. The rule is perhaps too inflexible. There has to be a way to clear horses at the highest levels, but for most classes, the rule will defray a lot of the criticism of the trainers that seem to run their $16,000 claimers every few days.

Perhaps NYRA will lead the way, but racing is in about the same position as the NFL was a few years ago with concussions. Before the anti-racing people get their way, racing needs to start being proactive without being arbitrary.  While I rarely seem to think NYRA gets it right, in this case
I really believe NYRA is on the right track, no pun intended.

*Note: this is a metaphor. It wasn’t actually all swooning teenage girls who made up the Chromies


Aqueduct January 17

This will be the last weekend I’ll be covering NYRA for a while. Unlike the summer where enthusiasm for SAR is high, there seems to be little overall interest in the AQUL winter meet. In any case, I have mentioned previously that I am working on some major projects that are consuming a lot of time in addition to refereeing HS basketball, which is also taking a lot of time. Here are today’s picks.

Race 1      7-6-1

Race 2      1-6-5

Race 3      3-5-6

Race 4      1-7-6

Race 5      6-3-5

Race 6      8-2-4

Race 7      1-2-6

Race 8      6-1-19

Race 9      8-10-7

The New Way to Bet Pick 4’s

There was a time I thought the Pick-4 was the best bet in racing. Even if the take is 25%, it is only taken on the original bet, whereas if you play a parlay, the take is assessed for each event. This should ensure the Pick-4 pays better than the parlay.

It is not that the Pick-4 has become a consistently poor bet, but it is more and more often not returning at a value level. Let’s start with an assumption:

For the Pick-4 to be value, the payoff has to be at least 1.5 times the parlay.

Admittedly the 1.5 number is arbitrary, but the Pick-4 must at least pay more than the parlay for it to be a worthwhile bet. After all, the straight mathematical probability of even four 2-1 horses winning consecutive races is a little over 1%, meaning in theory we should expect at least a $200 payoff (which also happens to be a bit less than 1.5 times the parlay).

I calculated Pick-4 payoffs against the parlay for the first two months of the Aqueduct meet and found the following:

  1. There were 74 Pick-4’s in that time period (I didn’t count the Pick-4 payoffs where there were dead heats for win).
  2. 15 (20%) of the Pick-4’s paid less than the parlay.
  3. 27 (36%) of the Pick-4’s paid less than 1.5 times the parlay.

If it was easy to determine when the Pick-4 would underpay, this wouldn’t be a problem. We would just bet those Pick-4’s with a high probability of returning our value number.

Unfortunately, no pattern seemed to emerge. While you might expect Pick-4’s with low priced horses to underpay and those with longshots to overpay, there was no predictability. A $19,000 Pick-4 severely underpayed , and a $159 Pick-4 severely underpayed based on the parlay. The average payoff for the underpaying Pick-4’s (excluding the two that paid over $19,000) was around $1,400, about the payoff the parlay for three 4-1 shots and a 9-2 shot would return. As best as I could see:

  1. Sequences with mid-price horses and no short-priced favorites were usually solid overpays;
  2. Sequences with a race where the crowd is confused are often solid overpays. For example, if there are five horses between 3-1 and 9-2, the crowd will have to spread thin to cover

I looked at the early and late Pick-4 to see if one or the other was more likely to underpay. Of the 27 underpaying Pick-4’s 17 of them were the late Pick-4 and 10 were the early Pick-4, so while it wasn’t a powerful pattern, it was a clear trend toward the later Pick-4 underpaying. I believe this is likely for a couple of reasons, First, the late Pick-4 has a much larger pool and more of the lower probability combinations can be covered. Second, the later Pick-4 has the better races of the day (7th and 8th) and these may have stronger, more confident favorites.

I looked at the highest paying (over $5,000) overall Pick-4’s. There were 13 in that time period, 9 in the early Pick-4 and 4 in the late Pick-4. Again, not a definitive pattern but a clear trend that the early Pick-4 is more likely to produce boxcar payoffs.

So what is a bettor to do? As a broad generalization, I’d suggest that the Pick-4 is not a good bet given the high percentage of underpays. But if you can’t give up the bet I’d offer the following advice:

  1. If you have a single in your sequence, make some mental calculations because in the end whatever you bet into the P4 is essentially a win bet on your single. For example, if you have a single at 5/2 and you invest $20 in P4 ($0.50) tickets, that means you should expect the P4 to pay at least $280 to break even against the win bet. If your single is 5/1, that amount goes up to $480. Plus, you don’t have to worry about hitting three of four and getting knocked out by a horse you would never use.
  2. Consider leaving out the low paying combinations (the four favorites for example). Yes, you’ll hit fewer but you’ll invest less and have a greater possibility for an overpay.
  3. Swinging for the fences runs through everyone’s mind, and while the boxcar tickets come in about 17% of the time, they are hard to hit with small investments. In some cases anything less than an “all” in one of the legs would have produced disappointment for most players.

Which brings me to the title of the article: The New Way to Bet Pick-4’s:

Pick four to six races where you feel confident and where your choices are not ultra short-priced favorites and construct 1 to 3 Pick-4 sequences. Bet $10 to win on the first horse in the sequence, it it wins, pocket half the collection and parlay the rest to the next horse, and so on. 

In this way the races do not have to occur in a row, which means you don’t have to use the 12-horse maiden state-bred race that is mandatory in the normal Pick-4 sequence.

Let’s go through some hypothetical calculations.

Example 1

  • Leg 1       7/2
  • Leg 2       4-1
  • Leg 3       5/2
  • Leg 4       5/1

If you hit all four legs, and bet according to the suggested pattern, this is what it looks like:

  • Leg 1      bet $10, collect $45
  • Leg 2      bet $22, collect $110
  • Leg 3     bet $55, collect $192
  • Leg 4     bet $96, collect $577

The $2 parlay would have paid $945, the Pick-4 anywhere between $700 and $1,500. With the new way, you collect $173  on the win tickets you didn’t invest into the parlay in addition to the parlay collection of $577 for a return of $750 on your initial $10 investment, not that far from the parlay amount and almost certainly ahead of a $0.50 Pick-4 payoff.

Let’s say you lost the second leg. You are still $13 ahead (minus your initial $10) and can use that to start a new sequence. Say you lose the third leg. You still come out $68 ahead and can use all or part of that to bet the fourth leg. And if you win the first three legs but lose the last, you come out $164 ahead. On a $10 investment that is over 1,600% ROI. In the normal Pick-4 bet, if you lose any one of the legs you lose everything you invested.

Example 2

  • Leg 1     1/1
  • Leg 2     4/1
  • Leg 3     2/1
  • Leg 4     3/1

In this sequence with some really low priced horses, you would collect $150 on the $10 four race parlay plus $72 on reserved win bets. The $2 parlay would be $240 and the likely Pick-4 payoff would be between $200 to $400. Even with a really low paying sequence you are still likely to do 2-3 times better with the new parlay bet over a $0.50 Pick-4 ticket.

You’ll probably miss the boxcar Pick-4 payoffs with this method, but how many of those are you hitting? The bottom line is that you’ll lose less and have much steadier profits. And if you don’t have four horses you are willing to bet to win, make it a Pick-3 using the same strategy.

You can also bet two separate tracks, meaning you bet $10 on each of two horses in the first leg, if one of them wins bet two horses to win in the second leg and so on, but the point is that you are looking for four races in a card where you are confident you have the winner. The great thing about betting this way is that you never lose more than your base bet (in my example $10 but you can make it whatever you want) in the sequence, and if you lose a race, you just start over again.

There is an old racetrack maxim that says bet a little to win a lot, but don’t bet a lot to win a little. With this new Pick-4 approach, bettors are in a great position to bet a little and win a lot.

Aqueduct January 14

Very busy time of the year for me. I’m refereeing basketball most nights, which doesn’t so much cut into my handicapping time as my writing time. I’m also working on an in-depth story and I’ve been spending quite a bit of time reasearching and talking with people. Anyway, it’s another abbreviated day of selections, and if I get Sunday’s results it will be another profitable day. Sunday I was 9 for 9 with 6 winners on top. While I didn’t go into depth with the analysis, I spent my normal amount of time picking winners.

Most Likely Winners:  6th race, #3 Marc the Sky   7th race, #3 Picesbymoonlight   9th race, #7 Big Lute

Longshot Possibilities: 1st race, #2 Savant   5th race, #8 Southern Proper

Race 1      2-7-3

Race 2      2-6-3

Race 3      8-1-6

Race 4      6-4-5

Race 5      8-2-5

Race 6      3-8-9

Race 7      3-8-2

Race 8      6-4-7

Race 9      7-3-9

Aqueduct January 11

No write-up on the selections today since I wasn’t sure there would be racing today.  But I spent my normal amount of time on the selections. We’ll have to see how the track is playing but I’m initially thinking it will be speed favoring.

Most likely winners: 5th Race, #5 March       8th Race #3, Gracenote     Race 9, #10 Read the Mirage

Potential Price Horses:2nd Race, #7 Just Catty     4th Race, #5 Fightin Irish

Race 1      3-6-4

Race 2      7-1-8

Race 3      1-9-11

Race 4      5-3-1

Race 5      5-3-9

Race 6      10-9-6

Race 7      5-8-1

Race 8      3-7-4

Race 9       10-9-6

Aqueduct January 9

It’s cold in the Northeast. Let’s hope we’re hot at the windows.

Race 1       4-1

She’s All Even was scratched which solidifies Good Shot and moves Kool Charli up a bit.

Good Shot ran three seconds in her first three races but then disappointed in her first try on the inner. Drops from MSW to this claiming event. She’s All Even failed as the favorite in a 6 furlong sprint on the inner, moves to a route where her breeding suggests no problem. Twin Lights is another one dropping from MSW and takes the blinkers off. Could pick up pieces late.

Race 2      1-2-4

Classic Salsa and M J Plus are the typically strong Jacobson entry. The latter is probably the better part of the entry, but both have competitive figures. Jeter gets a nod based on his figures, but not based on his proclivity to win. Struggled to find the winners circle in 2014. Apex is one of the speed horses signed up in here and will have to battle for the front. He’s been with better quality horses in the recent past.

Race 3      4-5-6

Brandini invades from FL for James Bond. She’s had some trouble duplicating her maiden victory but has been competitive in next level allowances. Has a second in her lone inner try, and has been working well for her return off a short layoff. Moves Your Soul never got into the last race but prior to that was competitive at FL. Should appreciate the drop. Academyperformance should be the pacesetter and nearly wired a similar field last out.

Race 4      5-4-8

Update: With top choice Wild Freud scratched I’ll move Nine Bears into the top three. He completely missed the start last out, but even so showed a little bit of interest. Puts the blinkers on today and perhaps that will refocus him. Winner of that race repeated. 

Wild Freud is the best of the prior starters and puts the blinkers on today. Suckitupbuster goes first time for Morley. Like the speedy early workouts and the regular maintenance works after that. El Viejo Verde has shown a lot of speed and late fate. I like that Alvarado stays because I think he is effective at keeping speed horses together.

Race 5      1-2

The Abby Adsit coupling of Ridingwiththedevil and Star Magnolia look to have the advantage here. Ridingwiththedevil faltered last out on the inner but before that had won two in a row. Drops today to a more favorable level. Star Magnolia has been competitive at this level and should be up with the front runners. Brad’s Ruby had a never got into the last race while breaking from the far outside but had won at the allowance level as recently as October.

Race 6      9-10-6

Ziwiye completely surrendered in the slop last out but prior to that ran a decent race at this level. That figure tops the field and although the stretch out may be of concern he is the best speed in the field and his breeding suggests he can get the distance. H Man was also stymied in the slop last out but has been successful negotiating the distance. He is one of the Cannizzo runners that has switched over to Falcone while Cannizzo is serving his suspension, and so far Falcone has not been successful getting any runner to the winner’s circle. Touch of Paradise puts the blinkers on and drops from MSW to this claiming event. Hasn’t finished in the money but his racings are better than looked.

Race 7      2-10-8

With the scratch of Alpha J the chances of Untapped Secret went up. I’ll move Discreet Force into the top three. Last out she took the lead and never looked back, gearing down at the end but still winning by 10. She jumps up a bit in price, but still looks  good enough to make an impact here.

Untapped Secret has scored a win in almost 50% of her races. She’s placed at the right level today and should be the one to catch turning for home. Bridgetta is another one with good early foot and competitive figures. 7 of 9 in the money in 2014. Alpha J has a second in two starts on the inner and is 4 of 6 in the money at the distance

Race 8      5-10-2

Tizquick and Bullhead Boy hook up again Bullhead Boy narrowly got the better of Tizquick in the Runyon. I think Tizquick had the worse of the two trips and I look for him to reverse the tables today. All is Number just broke his maiden on the inner in a time that should make him a competitor today.

Race 9      2-3

With the scratch of Frosty Pop Larry I’ll move Nine Pin into the top three. He had some trouble at the start last out but Jara gave him a patient ride and managed to close well to get the place. Trainer Feron is not having much success, but I’m willing to give the horse a chance in this field.

Zabaione jumped up on the slop on the inner. Cuts back to a mile today and should be up close to the lead. Frosty Pop Larry is a first timer for new trainer Raymond Handal. He’s been working lights out at Fair Hill and that certainly makes him a consideration in this group. Greg’s Fourwheeler drops from a MSW to the claiming ranks. He’s making his 7th start and to date only has one in the money finish but he does have the top last race figure.