Breeder’s Cup 2015 – October 31

The second day of the Breeder’s Cup is an exhausting grind. I hope you’ve saved up your bankroll because it could expensive by the end of the day.

Race 3     The Juvenile Fillies

There are not many Grade 1 races for two year old fillies. The Del Mar Debutante, the Spinaway, the Chandler, the Alcibiades, and the Frizette. We’ll focus most of the attention on the Grade 1 horses.

Songbird won the two West Coast Grade 1 races, the last one around two turns at today’s distance. Her pace figures absolutely dominate this field. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this is a much deeper field than she’s faced previously. She’s never been headed, but Nickname and Forever Darling should provide competition up front. She’ll be bet heavily, and she does look like the one to beat, but….

Land Over Sea was running behind the top pick in both the West Coast Grade 1’s and it is hard to believe the result is likely to be different today. Doug O’Neill’s top filly, Gomo, sustained an injury and this horse will fill the spot for Reddam Racing. O’Neill is a top conditioner, and if anyone can pull the upset it’s him. If Songbird is compromised in the front, Land Over Sea is one of the horses that can benefit.

Nickname won the Frizette on a sloppy Belmont and earned a big number doing it. The knock on the effort is that a couple of the top fillies passed the race, so perhaps she wasn’t as strong as previous Frizette winners. She should have no issue with the distance and may improve with a drier racetrack. Her Kenneland works are encouraging. We haven’t necessarily seen her best, and we don’t know if her best is good enough to beat Songbird, but she has to be in the mix.

Rachel’s Valentina was the winner of the Spinaway the last week of Saratoga. She has dream breeding and will have no issue negotiating the mile and a sixteenth. Pletcher decided to bring her up to this race with works, and perhaps that is not the best decision. Let’s face it. TAP is still an ace and the potential is limitless for the daughter of Bernardini and Rachel Alexandra. There is enough ambiguity and other talent in this race that given the odds, I’m not likely to use her on top.

Dothraki Queen was coming at Gomo in the Alcibiades and she is potentially the horse that will benefit most from a pace duel. Given the potential shape of the race, she is not without chances.

Is this race primed for an upset? On paper it iooks like if Songbird is to lose, some other horse is going to have to show us something they haven’t already. But with young horses, the improvements can be dramatic from race to race. Remember last year that Take Charge Brandi outran any of her previous figures. Can Land Over Sea jump up?  Is the Frizette winner looking at a new top? Is the sentimental choice, Rachel’s Valentina, going to run like mom or pop? It might be gambling, but that’s why the run the race instead of deciding it on paper.

Race 4    Turf Sprint

This race doesn’t have the twist of the last Breeder’s Cup where horses had to negotiate the unique Santa Anita course. The fact is this race is a 14-horse mess of a race, and it may more resemble a rodeo than an organized horserace. There are speed horses galore (at least 11 of the 14 prefer the front) and there is a lot of front running quality.

Undrafted is one of the few horses that prefers coming from off the pace. He was a winner in a six furlong race at Ascot, earning a huge figure. I like that he came back at Kentucky Downs and ran an even race at a distance that’s not his best. One concern – given the off the pace style, he may find the 5.5 furlongs a bit too short. But with all the speed, it can hardly set up better for him. At 4-1 he’s not highly attractive, but it’s not likely you’ll get less on him.

Ready for Rye has to overcome the 12 post but Albertrani’s moving him to the turf has been a real tonic for the horse. He’s riding a three race winning streak and his turf numbers look as strong as anyone. At 10/1 ML he’s making it onto my tickets.

Lady Shipman is a three year old filly going against the boys. Don’t be fooled. These speedy fillies can compete in any race. My knock? I think sometimes fillies can get intimidated and physically bounced around in big fields, and she hasn’t even seen a 10 horse field since April. Yes, the numbers look strong and her fractions are blazing, but she’s not going to be in my top two. If she clears early and has the front to herself, she has real outs, but if not, I’d be surprised to see her in the mix at the end.

Pure Sensation is a true turf sprinter. In his four turf races, he’s won three (at this distance) and that is enough to put him in the mix here. No question he’s got to gun from the one hole and if he can get a spot he’s well suited for the distance.

No Silent is one of the West Coast competitors in the race. He’s got speed and has won 50% of his starts at this distance. He lost the Shakertown in his Keeneland start, but if you look at that race he really had no shot after breaking slow, getting bumped and having to race wide. Often the West Coast sprinters are first rate, and he looks as good as any horse shipping from the coast.

Green Mask may be the best of the closers. I like how Wesley Ward gave him plenty of recovery time after the race in Dubai, and I like the Kentucky Downs race as a prep. He’s got some useful works at Keeneland, and while he’s a stretch in the top slot, he’s got reasonable chances to be in the exotics.

This is a wide open race. I’m not a big Lady Shipman fan, but I like what I’ve seen of Undrafted. Ready for Rye is an interesting starter, especially at the odds. But if something totally surprising happens, well, maybe it wasn’t such a big surprise at all.

Race 5     F&M Sprint

Some of the races seem almost gimmicky, and for me this may be one, although there are some quality fillies and mares in this race. There should be enough speed to give the off the pace horses something to run at. I wouldn’t be surprised if any one of eight or nine horses won.

Cavorting is breaking from the far outside and that makes her vulnerable for me. She will likely stay in the center of the track, so ground loss is a real possibility. She’s a three year old going up against older for the first time, but she has run some A+ races in her last two. The McLaughlin/Ortiz combo has been dynamite this year. She’ll probabably go favorite, but she has to run a perfect race to get the win.

Taris has been effective at the middle distance, winning two of three at seven furlongs. One other important clue – her lifetime top came right here at Keeneland at this distance in a Grade 2. She is one of the many horses that shows a lot of interest in running to the front, but he last race showed some ability to track. Doesn’t stick out, but enough positive to make her a contender to watch.

Dame Dorothy is going to be one of the horses that will be tracking and while her figures look a step below some in here, Pletcher has done his usual expert job of bringing her up to this race in top form. She’s won 7 of 11 lifetime, and is 4 of 5 at the distance, and considering she’s been almost exclusively in graded races, she is in the mix.

La Verdad has been untouchable in 2015. She won a state-bred, essentially public workout last week, but I don’t think that race took much out of her at all. She has run figures that would top this field most days at six and six and a half, but at seven furlongs she’s suspect. She’s tried the distance twice and only has a second to show for it. She’s a quality mare, and becomes more dangerous now that she showed some ability to press off the pace. If I had to say, I’d look for a lesser share.

Artemis Agrotera is an extraordinarily talented horse that obviously has some physical issues. She’s been off since last year’s F&M Sprint where she disappointed on the Santa Anita Dirt. Mike Hushion is a quality trainer, and he looks like he has her ready for the return here. Obviously taking this on a little bit of faith, but I’m not sure you can eliminate her based on past performance.

The morning line has Cavorting as the favorite followed by Stontastic, La Verdad, and Judy the Beauty. I can’t see Stonetastic coming off an OC $40K at Parx and a second in a restricted stakes at Saratoga. She’s 0 for 3 this year and I’m have a really hard time trying to figure out how she could be the second choice. While Judy the Beauty has a win and a second in the last two renewals of this race, she doesn’t look like the same horse to me. I’ll make her a pass. There is a lot of speed signed on, although La Verdad and Taris both looked like they were prepping to track instead of fighting for the front. Cavorting has a major test and I’m not solid that she’ll pass with flying colors. Dame Dorothy and Taris both look better than their odds. Artemis Agrotera is the X-factor horse and at 20-1 if she runs to her lifetime best she is great value.

Race 6     F&M Turf

Another race that can give handicappers brain cramps. We’ll look first at the Euro horses, and then the top Americans.

Legatissimo is the top Euro in this field and that is enough to earn her favoritism. She is good at the distance, likes the soft turf, and has the rave reviews from her trainer. While favorites have not had great success in this race, she looks about as strong as a shipper can look.

Miss France has struggled a bit finding the winners circle, and she has not started at today’s distance, but she has been racing with top flight fillies and mares. Andre Fabre and Frankie Dettori are two of the best Europe has, and that elevates her chances. A bit of faith necessary, but not to be ignored.

Secret Gesture had been running pretty much nothing but Group races in Euorpe, and was taken down in the Beverly D in a constroversial DQ. She is by top turf sire Galileo, meaning she shouldn’t have any trouble negotiating the distance. She was only two lengths behind the top choice in a Group 1 in June and given the odds difference, she looks like one to consider.

Stephanie’s Kitten is one of America’s top turf mares and Chad Brown has brought her up to the race perfectly. She ran with some good horses in the Beverly D and looked good winning the Flower Bowl. If the turf stays soft her chances get upgraded.

Sentiero Italia has been one of the top three year old turf fillies this year. She did not have a great trip in the QE II but still showed interest, closing for third. Before than she won a couple of Grade 2 races. She looks very tractable and I like that she has a race over the track.

Dacita came from Chile to win at first asking in the U.S. in the Ballston Spa. That was an excellent effort, and while the record isn’t as plump as I might have liked, that professional run in the Ballston Spa has to give her consideration. Well, that and the fact that Chad Brown and Javier Castellano team up.

Queen’s Jewel is coming to this race off three straight Group 1 races. She only won one of them, but the connections are quality. I’m giving her a small shot at a minor award.

This is a tale of one standout horse and a whole lot of potential upsetters. Legatissimo looks better than anything else in the race on paper, but she wouldn’t be the first Euro to not run her race. Still, she has to be on most of your horizontals and verticals. Miss France, Secret Gesture and Stephanie’s Kitten all have legitimate upset chances.

Race 7      Sprint

The Sprint is always the most confusing race for me. If I think there is too much speed, one horse goes out and has its own way. I’ll admit I’ve had less success in this race than about any other. Admitedly, I have no real insight in this race. The only knock against Private Zone is the outside post. He’s got a series of figures, any one of which could dust this field. He’s been working well at Keeneland and he’s got a huge turn of speed. His losses this year came to Tonalist and Honor Code, exceptional stakes horses. There is no horse of their caliber in this race. At 5/2 he actually might be value. Runhappy is the top three year old in the race. He won the King’s Bishop in the summer and came back with a win against older in the Phoenix at Keeneland, despite having his saddle slip and breaking slowly. Improving three year olds are always dangerous, and he looks as dangerous as they come. Of the rest, Wild Dude will be there to pick up the pieces should the frontrunners fail to hold. He’s four of six at the distance and has only been keeping company with graded horses.  My B/C horses are Salutos Amigos, Limousine Liberal and Masochistic. Salutos Amigos isn’t the same horse he was last year but comes into this race in the best shape of the year, having run a close second to division leader Rock Fall. Limousine Liberal looks like another improving three year old and that merits consideration. Masochistic has thrived since moving from the care of A C Avila to Ron Ellis. He’s been beaten twice by Wild Dude, but he’s been close. Not without a chance.

Race 8    Mile

Like most of the turf races, this comes down to the (often B Team) Euros vs. the North Americans. There are a couple of very stong looking Euros and some intersting Americans.

Esoterique has been in nothing but Group 1 and 2 races this year with two wins, two seconds and a third. Both of her wins came at the mile, one against the boys. She lost to the primo sprinter Muhaarar by only a half length and Solow, widely thought of as Europe’s top miler, but beat a top notch group of fillies and mares in the Sun Chariot states a month ago. She generally runs toward the back, but don’t be fooled – she has push button speed if she needs it. While she is second on the morning line, she looks the one to beat for me.

Make Believe is a three year old colt with only 6 starts so he is definitely eligible to improve. He comes in off a win in the Prix de la Foret, the same race Goldikova used to prep for her mile wins. His pace number in that race was spectacular, and I expect that is what induced Fabre to bring him here. Fabre trains both Make Believe and Esoterique, and may actually think a little bit more of this runner, but in any case it looks like Fabre has the inside track here.

Tepin has not yet raced against males but her races against females have been excellent. She has four wins and two seconds this year, and her race in the First Lady at Keeneland was powerful. Trainer Mark Casse is super high on the horse and don’t be scared away by the fact she is a filly. Some top fillies like Miesque and Goldikova have been winners here. At 12-1 morning line she could give the Euros a run for their money.

Grand Arch comes off a win in the Shadwell Mile at Keeneland. He looks like he is at the top of his game and looks like he loves the Keeneland course. He’s got a big hill to climb against the Euros but he’s not likely to ever have a better chance.

Time Test is another Euro three year old looking to cap a good season. He has a win in his one mile race and was not that far behind some of the top Euros in the Judmonte Stakes. He is just another of the European contingent that wouldn’t be a surprise in the winner’s circle.

Mondialiste is a veteran campaigner who shipped over to run in the Woodbine Mile a month and a half ago. He came from the clouds to win that race, and while he doesn’t have the Grade 1 credentials of some of the other Euros he does have North American recency.

All in all it is hard to ignore the collective class and ability of the European shippers. The two Andre Fabre horses are both top candidates here, but both Tepin and Grand Arch are worthy competitors. Given they will both go off at double digit odds, they should be considered in both the win slot and exactas.

Race 9     Juvenile

Lots of contenders in this race, and as I’ve already mentioned, two year olds can improve by leaps and bounds from race to race. We’re going to look first for horses that have negotiated turns (which often eliminates the Euros) and we’re especially going to be soft on horses that look more like sprinters.

Exaggerator was second in the Breeders Futurity. Despite having good wet track breeding and getting  track that was listed as muddy, the surface played more like a wet fast. He got a good trip, tracking in 5th or 6th down the backstretch, made a bold move coming out of the far turn and simply could not hold off the winner, Brody’s Cause. I think having that experience will be a big help, and being a Curlin means the two turns should be right in his wheelhouse.

Brody’s Cause made an impressive close to win the Breeders Futurity, coming from near the back of the pack to run down everyone. He made that same run in his maiden race and will certainly have to make it again today. Although Keeneland tends to favor closers in these races, he will have a lot of work to do. Can’t leave him out but he’s not the sort of horse I favor enthusiastically.

Nyquist is coming from the loaded Reddam stable, trained by Doug O’Neill. O’Neill has been hot lately, winning the SA training title with three winners on Sunday. Nyquist has a lot going for him. He’s undefeated with two Grade 1 wins, and he’s been around two turns. As much as I am a fan of O’Neill, I think the horse may be more useful sprinting than routing. I won’t leave him off my tickets, but he won’t be on top of many.

Riker comes from north of the border out of one of Canada’s top juvenile races, the Grey. He’s another undefeated colt with improving numbers and looks to be coming into the race in top form.

Greenpointcrusader is the Champagne winner, and that race has been productive in terms of producing top contenders. The sloppy track may have given him an edge, but I like the style and I love the way he’s taken to Keeneland. Certainly eligible to make the jump to the winner’s circle in this race.

Cocked and Loaded is a bit ambiguous for me. On the one hand he is an improving two year old with a good style and competitive numbers. He’s been around two turns, but his last race was seven weeks ago and I favor the horses with a prep a little closer to the race. Not without a chance, but at the bottom of my contender list.

Race 10    Turf

Let’s face it. When the top Euros show up, the North Americans are up against it, and with Golden Horn in the race one of Europe’s top turf horses is in the race. You can usually tell when the Americans have a chance, like last year with Main Sequence. Even so, he had to beat the very talented Flintshire. I’m not sure there is a Main Sequence in this year’s crop, so it looks like Golden Horn and a whole bunch of other contenders.

Golden Horn has perhaps one flaw – he won the Arc and it has been the case that not only do horses pointed at the Arc peak there, but not a one of the Arc winners has come to the Breeders Cup and won. That’s not to say running in the Arc is a kiss of death – 16% of horses who were in the Arc and didn’t win have won the Turf. If you look at Golden Horn’s  figures, the Arc represented a maximum effort. So assuming this was Gosden’s goal, he may actually be up against it in the Turf. On the other hand, if any Euro trainer has an understanding of U.S. racing, it is Gosden. There is not much to talk about. If Golden Horn runs his best race, everyone else is running for second. You certainly can’t leave him out, but if you single him you’re going against a lot of history.

Big Blue Kitten has had an excellent 2015. He’s been no worse than second in four Grade 1’s and a Grade 3, His figures top the American contingent and his style is classic for the mile and a half Turf. While Joe Bravo is generally not my favorite jockey, he’s ridden this horse flawlessly, matching Chad Brown’s training. All the second choices after Golden Horn are 8-1, but I have a feeling this one will go lower.

Slumber finished second to Big Blue Kitten last out at Belmont. signaling he is in top form. The other Chad Brown running has volleyed with Big Blue Kitten all year, beating him in the Manhattan and finishing right behind him two other times. He’s good enough to win, and I’m sure Brown has him wound up. One small concern – his race on a yielding track in the Arlington Million was not good, but in all fairness he did not have the best of trips in that race. I’d look for more than 8-1 as the final odds.

Found is much more representative of the type of Euro horse that has had success in the Turf. She’s been running against males the second half of the year with some success. In seven starts this year she has only one win, but five seconds. She finished ninth in the Arc after being bumped at the quarter pole, but was only three lengths out of second. She came back with a second in the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot. I’m not thrilled O’Brien decided to give her another race after a tough Arc but he acquited himself well. She gets Lasix today. I think she’s not quite 8-1, but looks second best of the Euros.

Twilight Eclipse has had a lot of close but no Cigar races. He has been exclusively in Grade 1’s since May, but other than the Man O’War he’s been an also ran. He’s a good horse and if he throws in an A effort he may have a chance to be the top American.

The Pizza Man is a deep closer that has done well in Graded races and at the distance. I think he’s a cut below the horses listed above, but it’s hard to not give the Arlington Million winner some consideration.

This race is pretty easy strategically. Either you buy Golden Horn is the best horse in the race by far, or you believe the curse of the Arc winner stays in effect. It was a while ago, but Dancing Brave was at least as stong looking going into this race and he flopped. If Golden Horn doesn’t do it, the best Americans look like Big Blue Kitten and Slumber. Found, Twilight Eclipse and The Pizza Man all have shots if the top three falter.

Race 11     Classic

The Classic is shaping up to be a classic race. The Triple Crown winner, a super mare, and some top older horses. This race will be dependent on a lot of things, most especially pace. Update: Beholder has been scratched meaning American Pharoah is lone speed, at least on paper. This could change the entire pace scenario. If there was another possible horse  that may have put pressure on AP it waas Smooth Roller, and he got scratched. AP will be odds on, and it looks like it may be his race to lose. 

American Pharoah is an extraordinary horse, and this comes from someone who never thought he would make the mile and a quarter, much less the Belmont. He has one big advantage in this race – he is the clear front runner and Victor Espinoza has experience with being challenged. I don’t think he’ll make the same mistake twice, and as long as he can get the horse to relax, he can control the pace of the race. Do I necessarily think he is the best? No, but he is the fastest and will have to be caught and that’s no easy task. I believe in losing the Travers he showed just how good a horse he is. I’ll be honest – I wanted to make AP a bet against, but it’s clear Frosted would be committing suicide to go with him again. If Beholder goes and they duel each other into submission, there are a couple of horses who will benefit. Of course if Beholder is the challenger, I would expect AP to bury her the same way he did Frosted. All things considered, he’ll be in much better condition than he was in the Travers and I expect we will see the absolute best he has to offer. If everything goes as well as it can for him, I think he has a high probability of winning, even if he is not the most talented horse in the race.

Tonalist has been swapping wins with a couple of others in here. His race in the Jockey Club Gold Cup was exceptional and he’s not been out of the money this year. It looks to me like Clement has Tonalist right where he wants him for this race. He’ll need to get position from the rail, but Johnny V is about as experienced as you can get in the saddle. He’s as honest as they come and has plenty of talent.

Effinex is my other interesting horse. He looked awesome in the Suburban, but in the Woodward he was clearly having trouble. He was fractious at the gate and left his energy there. In the Jockey Club Gold Cup he was bumped at the start and had to run wide. I think he is a better horse than the 30-1 morning line might indicate and could be the surprise winner. He’ll be on my horizontal tickets.

Honor Code is a plodder likely to close from the back of the pack. While he sounds like a good selection in a mile and a quarter race, he hasn’t had a successful trip at the distance. Still, he’s been running with the big dogs and a classy horse. That’s enough to give him some chance to be the champ.

Beholder doesn’t make it into the serious contenders for me. I know Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra were fillies that won this race, but I just don’t see how she gets the pace scenario with American Pharoah in the race, or how she outruns Tonalist, Effinex and Honor Code in the stretch. I may be wrong, but at best I may have her in some back hole.

  • Race 3     A=10    B=1, 7    C=8, 9
  • Race 4     A=3, 12    B=1, 5, 7,9
  • Race 5     A=14, 3    B=2, 4    C=5
  • Race 6     A=3    B=9, 11, 12    C=2, 6, 8
  • Race 7     A=13    B=5, 8    C=4, 9, 10
  • Race 8     A=3, 9    B=1, 7    C=4, 12
  • Race 9     A=7, 9    B=2, 3, 13    C=5
  • Race 10  A=1    B=4, 7    C=6, 9, 10
  • Race 11  A=1, 4, 6    C=9

Breeder’s Cup 2015 October 30

For those of you who read Horseplayer Magazine before its unfortunate demise you might have recognized that for the last three years of publication I was the designated handicapper for the Juvenile Fillies Turf. As many of my followers know, I am probably most prolific handicapping on the turf. Turf racing is not simply about the finishing fraction, but it is a lot about pace. This year’s Breeder’s Cup starts with the Juvenile Turf.

Race 6      Juvenile Turf

The Juvenile Turf is an ultra competitive affair this year. I’m looking for a few different keys in this race. First, I’d like to see some experience, say 3-5 races. For the North American Horses, I want a runner that showed well in the better known preps – the Summer, the With Anticipation, and the Pilgrim. While the Bourbon was a Grade 3, I’m not sure this year it attracted the same quality field as the others, but since it was at Keeneland, it can’t be ignored. Let’s go through the contenders.

Azar was the winner of the With Anticipation and a hard luck runner-up in the Pilgrim. He bobbled at the start of the race, was in the five path around the turn and dug in gamely to lose by a short neck to Isotherm, who chose to pass this race. After the start it looked to me like Velazquez was having a hard time relaxing him, and that could be a little worrisome. However, if you look at the race shape, the horses running 1, 2, 3, 5 early finished 5th, 8th, 9th and 10th, while the first four across the line were 8th, (Azar), 9th and 7th. In other words, Azar held up very well. He doesn’t look like a 10-1 horse to me, and only the need to lead Manhattan Dan, Airoforce, and Hollywood Don seem to be the front running types. He should get a good tracking position and should be the first one to move gunning for home.

Cymric is the John Gosden entrant here and Gosden has had great success in this race. He’s not afraid to bring one of his better colts to this race. Cymric just missed in a Group 1 at Longchamp and was in the money in a Group 3 in August. In the Longchamp race he was coming fast at the end and lost to a horse that has three wins in three starts. He’s got a lot of positives and is the must-use Euro.

Camelot Kitten was in one of the outer posts in the Bourbon and wound up with an ugly trip. He was off a little slow, was bumped but in the stretch looked spectacular, closing powerfully to nab the place. He’s stuck outside again, but with a better break he could be a big danger. Chad Brown is quickly becoming the number one turf trainer in the east and given the breeding (Kitten’s Joy) he should be both apt on a firm or soft course and good at the distance.

Conquest Daddyo was the winner of the Summer Stakes at Woodbine. He was off slow in that race, but showed good patience and was drawing away late. Mark Casse is a top flight conditioner and the Woodbine race has always been a good indicator of contenders in this race. He’s one I could put on top.

Airoforce ran well in the Bourbon. He came out of the 13 post, rushed quickly into contention, stayed wide most of the race and looked strong pulling free in the stretch. His figure isn’t as high as some of the other contenders, but he is eligible to improve and if he does he has a realistic chance. I’d be happier if he had another race or two, but I can’t pitch him out of hand.

Shogun is one of the two Aidan O’Brien runners expected to start in this race. In general, you don’t expect the Euro’s to bring their A Team to the Juvenile races, and Shogun does look a cut below the top Euro two-year olds. He’s raced in a Group 1 and Group 2 and today he adds blinkers and Lasix. I’d see him as a minor contender, but I might use him in some backholes.

Birchwood fits at least part of the pattern of a Breeder’s Cup contender. He’s experienced, he’s a Group 2 winner, and Group 1 placed. However, he doesn’t have experience around two turns,  and his pace figures are not up to the level of some others in here. He won’t be on top of my tickets, but he’s another I can use underneath.

This is definitely a competitive race, especially considering there are some horses with big eligibility to improve. There are a lot of contenders, but I think the solid horses are Azar and Cymric. I might be wrong, but I have a really strong positive feeling about Camelot Kitten, and at the potential odds I can imagine making a win bet. In the second tier of contenders is Conquest Daddyo and Airoforce. Birchwood and Shogun would be potential underneath horses.

Race 7     Dirt Mile

In the 2014 Dirt Mile, defending champion Goldencents ran a powerful race to repeat. In that race Vicar’s In Trouble sprinted fast out of the gate, leaving Godencents with work to do to get to the front. He drove up the rail and had the lead by the time they hit the turn, eventually burying a stubborn Vicar’s In Trouble in fractions of 22, 44:4, and 109.1.  Coming out of the turn it looked like Tapiture had the measure of Goldencents. Those were killing fractions and only the classiest of horses would have even had a chance to stay. In mid-stretch Godencents looked like he might be wobbling a bit and as Tapiture came up on him he showed the heart of a champion, digging down deep, finding another gear and pulling away at the wire. Goldencents was the very definition of class – running a fast pace and sticking to the end. Is there a horse like that in this year’s version?

Liam’s Map may very well be the shortest priced favorite in this year’s Breeder’s Cup and he has a lot of what Goldencents had – speed and finish. His figures stand out over this field and Todd Pletcher has brought him to this race perfectly. Had it not been for an other-worldy run by Honor Code in the Whitney he’d be coming into the race unblemished in 2015. The question is not whether he is the fastest horse in the race, but if there is any horse that can beat him. He’s 3 for 3 at the mile distance and it will take a super effort to deny him 4 for 4.

Red Vine has come to hand for Christophe Clement and is another coming to the race in peak form. In his last race, the key prep Kelso Mile, he stumbled at the break and was squeezed back. Instead of backing out he worked hard to finishing second, beating top stakes runner Honor Code in the process. There is a ton of speed in the race, and much like Tapiture last year, Red Vine looks he might benefit from that.

Tapiture only has one win since giving Goldencents a run for his money, but it was a month ago in the Grade 3 Ack Ack at Churchill. Since then he’s been working steadily at Keeneland. I have to believe Asmussen has been pointing Tapiture to this race all year in an effort to get redemption for last year’s near miss. I’m looking for him to run that same race and we’ll see if Liam’s Map is more vulnerable than Goldencents was last year.

Lea has been in nothing but graded races for the last two years, winning his only three starts on the dirt at the mile distance. Clement initially was pointing the horse at the turf mile, but decided the weather might not cooperate so he elected to send him here. He looks like he took really well to the Keeneland dirt. Perhaps a step slower than the top choice, but still a threat off his best.

Wicked Strong has been knocking around with top graded runners for a while, although in 18 starts he has only produced 3 wins. He was third to Liam’s Map in the Woodward and second to Tonalist in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and his last win came as a three year old in the Jim Dandy. He’s certainly a talented colt, but it would hard to be confident given his lack of wins.

There is nothing on paper to suggest Liam’s Map should not win this race, but then again Goldencents last year looked equally unbeatable as well, and Tapiture gave him a scare. If Liam’s Map falls, the two horses most likely to pick up the pieces are Red Vine and Tapiture. Lea and Wicked Strong seem most likely destined for minor awards.

Race 8      Juvenile Fillies Turf

This race has not been kind to the European Runners, with only one win in the seven runnings of this event. The European fillies have more last place finishes than top three. In fact, the only win was the year the Breeder’s Cup disallowed Lasix in the Juvenile races. Last year’s winner, Lady Eli, was a solid favorite and proved much the best for Chad Brown. In reality, very few of the top Euro runners are pointed at this race, instead opting for the more lucrative European Oaks. The key Euro preps are the Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh, the Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp and the Shadwell Fillies Mile at Ascot, while the key American  preps are the Natalma at Woodbine, the Miss Grillo at Belmont, and the Jessamine at Keeneland. The Surfer Girl at Santa Anita may someday be the equivalent of those races, but the reality is that the best turf fillies are racing back east.

Catch a Glimpse was the winner of the Natalma in wire to wire fashion in a good finishing time. One of the advantages the Americans have is that they have already negotiated two turns, while the Euros have mainly run on the straight. She’s in a good spot and should be once again leading the field from the start. Mark Casse has had good success sending his juvenile fillies to the BC turf. She may have to fight off challenges from Ruby Notion and Nemoralia to her outside, but going in she looks like the one to beat, but certainly doesn’t look unbeatable.

Harmonize was the winner of the Jessamine at Keeneland and that race has been a productive prep. In that race she was shuffled to the back of the field, circled everyone and nailed the victory, a really impressive run. She won the P G Johnson, Saratoga’s top filly turf race, in her penultimate start. Bill Mott is well known as taking some time to get his horses in racing shape, and the fact that he had this one ready from the get go is a very positive sign. She is the top U.S. horse in the race.

Alice Springs is one of the top two Euros in the race. Trainer Aidan O’Brien has not had good luck bringing his runners to the Juvenile Filles Turf, finishing poorly with a number of runners that came in looking good. . She hesitated at the start in the Moyglare but still finished well, running behind the top two fillies in Europe, Minding and Ballydoyle.. In the subsequent two races at Newmarket she finished a close fourth in the Group 1 Cheverley Park Stakes and then dusted a field in the restricted Tattersalls Millions stakes. Like many of the Euros, she is getting a dose of Lasix before the race, and while she’s never been the mile, her breeding suggests it shouldn’t be a problem.

Illuminate goes for Richard Hannon and Frankie Dettori. She’s ranked as the fifth best juvenile filly in Europe, but like Alice Springs she has never been in a route or around turns.  Unlike Alice Springs, her breeding is far more suspect at the mile. With the connections she can’t be ignored.

Thrilled is one of a couple coming out of the Miss Grillo a month ago. She finished behind Harmonize in the P G Johnson after having a small amount of trouble at the start, and barely missed in the Miss Grillo. She has a good running style for this race and she’s improving with every start. This is not Pletcher’s speciality but he’s still a quality trainer.

Tin Type Gal won the Miss Grillo directly after breaking her maiden. In that race she finished strongly to barely nip Thrilled. Motion has brought her slowly to hand and she’s one of a few with the figures to make an impact.

Despite having two Euros in the top four, I’m very wary given their overall record. Catch a Glimpse comes in off the fastest race, but it remains to be seen if her front running style will work at KEE. I’m disappointed not to have any Chad Brown horses in the top group, but breaking from the outside posts means they will have to overcome difficult trips. Still, Pricedtoperfection was not far behind Tin Type Gal in her maiden race and may turn out to be a good one in the future. Harmonize is another very solid choice, and may turn out to be the value. This should be a good race, and given the past history, a big price is not totally out of the question.

Race 9     The Distaff

The Distaff has produced a number of Eclipse Award winners, including last year’s dominant filly, Untapable. Unfortunately she will not be back to defend her title, so this year we will crown a new distaff champion. I’m looking for solid Grade 1 winners, especially those that have shown well at the distance.

Got Lucky is one of my upset selections in the Distaff. No question Pletcher has her wound up for this race and she is the best of the closers in the race. She was able to negotiate a ground saving trip last time out, and she may have a tougher time coming out of the 12 post, but given the amount of speed in the race she may be able to find the spot she wants early. She’s five of seven first or second at the distance, and showed a keen liking for Keeneland in the Spinster last out.

I’m a Chatterbox won the Cotillion at Parx last out, the same race that prepped Ashado and Untapable for their wins in the distaff. Although the record says she hasn’t won at the distance, she beat Curlina in the CCA Oaks only to be disqualified to second. She showed that wasn’t a fluke by once again beating Curlina in the Alabama. She broke her maiden at Keeneland and has been working well in preparation for this race. She’s a Grade 1 horse and should be in a perfect spot for the stretch run.

Sheer Drama might have been more of a contender had she not gotten stuck on the far outside. In her last ten races she’s finished out of the money exactly once, and this year has not been worse than second. She’s 4 of 5 first or second at the distance. Her last two Grade 1 wins in the Personal Ensign and the Delaware Handicap have given her figures that would top the field if she can repeat them. We’ll see if she can find the right spot and get the best of the field.

Wedding Toast is a tepid 4-1 favorite, speaking to the competitiveness of this race. Kieran McLaughlin has coaxed two Grade 1 wins out of the horse in her last two races, but both were against short fields. I’m somewhat ambiguous about the horse. On the one hand, she has run some good figures in the two Grade 1 wins, but they aren’t head and shoulders above some others in the field. She’s won all three of her mile and an eighth starts, the last two in wire to wire fashion. However, in this race, there are loads of potential challengers for the front. Stopchargingmaria, Calamity Kate, and Yahilwa may all be fighting for the front. Wedding Toast is a quality filly, but she’ll be a bet against in the top spot for me.

Stopchargingmaria in my opinion is the most overrated of the contenders. She spent 2014 ducking Untapable, and has not beaten any of the top contenders this year. Plus, she’s up against it in terms of running style. She’s no better than an underneath horse in the verticals for me.

Curalina finished behind Wedding Toast in the Beldame, and behind I’m a Chatterbox in the Alabama and the CCA Oaks, although she got moved up when I’m a Chatterbox was DQ’d in CCA Oaks.  She’s an improving three year old and they are always dangerous, but I’m thinking more a lesser award.

Todd Pletcher has three contenders in the race and I’m going with Got Lucky. His regular rider, Irad Ortiz, gets the mount and considering there are a slew of horses that seem to prefer pushing the pace, her closing style may give her an advantage. In the verticals I don’t believe there are a lot of horses with prospects to get the win, but there are a number of horses that could finish in the back holes. This is a race that might have a huge pay, especially with the morning line favorite, Wedding Toast, and the third choice, Stopchargingmaria, being suspect in my opinion. I’m a Chatterbox and Sheer Drama both have good running styles for this race. They don’t need the leed, and they have shown heart in the stretch. This is one tough race and I’d work very hard on a betting strategy.

Bonus: This four race sequence is a Pick 4. My A, B, C horses are

  • Race 6    A=2, 13    B=12    C=8, 10
  • Race 7    A=3    B=1, 9
  • Race 8    A= 4, 8    B=1, 2, 3, 10
  • Race 9    A= 12    B=1, 14    C=4, 7, 8

DRF Survey

(Note: I want to make it clear up front that I thank the DRF for doing the survey referenced in this piece. It was an important effort and the questions they asked were very relevant. If I make some criticisms or attempts at humor below, they are not meant at the expense of DRF. They did their job and it is up to us to continue the discussion.) 

The Daily Racing Form (DRF) released the results of an online survey on the priorities horseracing must address. There were 1,860 respondents to the survey, which seems like a disappointing amount considering how many people either go to the track or bet remotely. In fact, only 70 oercent of the people who took the time to respond identified themselves as bettors or racing fans. I’m sure a portion of the other 30 percent were animal rights supporters, especially since the number one issue for the group that either didn’t bet or bet less than $5,000 a year was animal welfare. You can decide whether the survey was representative of the broader fan base, but in any case the results were worth talking about.

While passionate discussions about Lasix have dominated many racing message boards, the 1,860 respondents did little to resolve the schism over the race-day use of the medication. 41 percent said they supported the use of race-day Lasix, while 42 percent said they were opposed. That only adds up to 83 percent because 17 percent of the folks answering the survey had no opinion.

Are you kidding me? This is racing’s equivalent of the issue that divided the states in the mid 1800s’s. It is stunning to imagine almost a fifth of the people were apathetic about Lasix. I bet I could grab a hundred people randomly at the mall and ask them if the Ludovico Technique is a promising cure for youth violence and get less than 17 percent no-opinion.

I can’t repeat the names I’ve been called for suggesting that race-day Lasix isn’t the seminal issue of our time. In fact, 41 pro, 42 con and 17 what-the-hell-is-Lasix is disappointing whether you are pro, con or totally apathetic. Nobody gets to say “aha” with those numbers.

With the DRF survey the anti-Lasix crowd had a chance to drive home the point that Lasix, which if I am reading the Water, Hay, Oats Alliance (WHOA) literature correctly is a scourge along the lines of the Black Death between 1346 and 1353, by proving that once racing fans (and another 30 percent who apparently can’t resist anything survey monkey puts out) have a chance to make their opinions known, they will overwhelmingly send racing a message – no more race-day Lasix. Not only did the survey fail to arouse the ire of whomever it was that submitted responses, when asked where race-day Lasix fell in terms of importance to the health of racing, the survey mouse-clickers placed it ninth of ten issues, I’m guessing behind overpriced food and too many toilets with “out of order” signs on them.

The survey broke down the information even finer. Support for race-day Lasix was strongest among racing fans that bet no money or less than $5,000 a year. That group supported the ban 50 percent to 35%. The group that bet more than $25,000 a year favored race-day use 45 percent to 35 percent. This may just be me, but for obvious reasons I’m inclined to put a steep discount on the opinions of most of the group that doesn’t bet money, mostly because I wonder how many of them are really interested in the long term success of racing. The people primarily supporting racing are more fine than not with Lasix.

So, the survey was no help to either side of the Lasix issue. However, the DRF story pointed out that “bettors overwhelmingly believe that horsemen are getting away with using illicit drugs that affect horses performance on race-day despite little evidence that cheating is widespread in racing, such as a glut of positive drug tests for illicit drugs or the seizure of illegal substances at racetracks or training centers.”

 They followed that up with the statistic 78 percent of all respondents said that states have not been effective in catching cheaters.

This is a real conundrum for racing. How do you catch the cheaters who apparently aren’t cheating? I don’t mean the less than one-half of one percent of the trainers who were cited for overages of legal therapeutic medication. We’ve nailed them. I mean the horsemen using “illicit drugs” and “illegal substances” that racing commissions haven’t been able to find by doing blood and urine tests and searching barns. I watch enough TV to know nobody is more than three mouse clicks away from getting nailed once the alphabet agencies put their mind to finding them, so it’s only a matter of time before that conspiracy is busted wide open, unless of course it has been thoroughly overblown by those who can’t believe losing has anything to do with bad handicapping or betting, or who believe racing management needs a new (federal) paradigm. (I also know that our Navy has been seriously depleted due to all the deaths on NCIS, NCIS Los Angeles and NCIS New Orleans. Their new slogan, Join the Navy and You Might Wind Up as a Corpse on TV, isn’t working very well either.) It would be pretty hard to successfully argue for oversight by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) or federal legislation using existing compliance statistics, so it serves a purpose to promote the idea that illegal drug use is not only rampant, but the stumblebums in charge of finding it apparently couldn’t find water if they fell out of a boat.

The survey also pointed out that the use of illicit drugs was ranked second on the list of the top 10 issues facing racing. I’ll admit, I’m at a loss on how to deal with the illicit drug issue, mostly because the overwhelming perception of the existence of these drugs disallows any finding that the problem is mainly imaginary. If some credible entity did a thorough investigation and didn’t find anything, I’m not sure how much it would change that perception. For example, a Harris poll in 2013 found that 42% of people believe in ghosts, and I can tell you from personal experience that criticizing the thought process of a fervent ghost-believer is a mistake you only want to make once. I’ve said this on a number of occasions, but it is so often true that opinion trumps fact (did I say trump?).

The unfortunate fact is that with nothing more than what seems to be anecdotal evidence, respondents ranked catching illegal drugs as the second most important issue facing racing, and followed that with the need to have uniform medication regulations. Whether or not the proliferation of illegal and undetectable performance-enhancing drugs is the top problem racing faces, the fact that so many people believe it is qualifies it as something racing needs to address. Once and for all horseplayers, horsemen, owners, track management and the administrative governing bodies need to put the issue to rest one way or the other. If the proliferation of illegal drugs is real, then they need to make a public splash about how they will find and eradicate them. And if it is the boogeyman kids see outside their bedroom window, then the stakeholders need to come to firm agreement on that and move the hell on.

You don’t need me to tell you that racing is doomed, doomed I tell you, until this issue is put to bed. There is only one side on the issue of illegal and performance-enhancing drugs – they need to be gotten the hell out of racing and anyone who knowingly tries to gain an illegal advantage has to be dealt with without equivocation. And then let’s get to the really important issues like takeout rates, gambling taxes and reporting requirements, and field size.

I’ve written extensively on the problem with the racing structure. Tracks are required to pay a tithe to state and local governments and are disallowed from functioning as most other private businesses function. You have revenues, you have costs, and the difference between the two is profit (or loss) on which you should pay taxes. I get the states’ argument they have expenses related to the administrative governing bodies and testing, but that is an artifact of the state being a partner in the business, something that  would be anathema to most capitalists.

Look at the On-track percentages of handle that Santa Anita pays (based on 35% straight and 65% exotic wagering):

  • State license fees          6.24%
  • UC Davis (testing)        0.10%
  • City Fees                            0.33%
  • CTBA                                   0.47%
  • Track Revenues            6.23%
  • Purse Revenues            5.15%
  • Total Takeout              18.52%

How do you get the take down to 12 percent? Cut the state share? CTBA? Agree to lower revenues to cover track expenses? Cut purses? The only way that has been guaranteed to work to cut the take is to not run a race meet at all, pay a few percent for the racing signal, take the small amount you need to cover operating expenses, define your profit and distribute the rest in the form of rebates to whales.

And good luck on the gambling tax issue. If you find a dollar on the street, the IRS wants its cut. The only group lower on the list for tax relief than gamblers is legal marijuana retailers. Who is your champion? Which politician is going to run on a platform of cutting taxes for the horseplayer? Even the trickle down zanies never mention giving the horseplayer his break. In fact, we are below DEAD people for tax cuts.

As for field size, I’ve recently  ( written about this. I know many horseplayers long for Hong Kong with its 14-horse fields every race, but those large fields primarily benefit the heavy bettor by spreading action and increasing the payout on smaller probability combinations. Believe me, unless you are betting $3-5,000 a week, you’ll do much better with 8-10 horse fields. Yes, five and six horse fields are bad for everyone, but 720 combinations for a trifecta (as opposed to 2,184) gives the less capitalized bettor a running chance.

The final issue the DRF reported on is the overwhelming support of a federal solution. I’m just going to say this. Think that one through. The USADA right now performs about 9,000 tests a year. How do you think they are going to get to 325,000 without using the same testing labs states are already using? And if you’ve read some of the recent press, USADA has been pilloried for their contract work for boxing. Once again, you have to believe the imaginary illegal drugs have the sport in a death grip to conclude there will be some major turn around under USADA. You have to believe in a conspiracy of epic proportions where horsemen, stewards and the racing commission are either suppressing drug use or refusing to prosecute it. You have to believe that the testing labs with multi-million dollar equipment are purposely not finding the as-of-yet unidentified illegal drugs, but somehow the USADA will have them find it. You have to be in a fog to believe people like Joe Gorajec didn’t pressure the labs to find anything and everything in a sample that was prosecutable.

I ask one thing. Think this through. Get all the gory details before you decide Barr-Tonko is the answer. Don’t leave this to some yet to be named bureaucrat to write the rules.

Oh and ask yourself one question. Is the Congress that can’t even pass a budget among other myriad failures the right entity to save racing?

Belmont October 25

This will be it for the week. The rest of my handicapping time will be spent working on the Breeders Cup races. I will try to have Friday posted on Thursday and Saturday posted on Friday. Just the numbers today.

Race 1      3-4-7      C=2    V=2

Race 2      2-6-3      C=3    V=3

Race 3      1-5-6      C=2    V=2

Race 4      10-8-7      C=2    V=2

Race 5      6-5-3 (8)     C=2    V=2

The 8 in parentheses indicates a horse that has a lot of in the money finishes relative to wins and can be used in the vertical bets.

Race 6      7-2-8      C=1    V=2

Race 7      2-9-6      C=1    V=1

Race 8      1-5-8      C=3    V=2

Race 9      7-6-11-3      C=1    V=2

Belmont October 24

This is about as tough a day as I’ve seen in a while. I guarantee some upsets, but I’ll be damned if I am confident about predicting them. 

Race 1      6-10-4      C=2    V=2

In a tough maiden field Grand Sky gets a tepid nod. Seems to be on the improve and his last race figure looks strong. Tiz a Chance was off a year, came back to run a close third in his 2015 debut despite some trouble. Will probably go favorite. Memory Keeper has a high turf number and makes his turf debut today. Looks competitive off his last.

Race 2      6-4-9       C=2    V=2

Sudden Surprise comes off a couple of state-bred stakes wins. Stretches out another furlong and we’ll see if he can hold his speed all the way. Has never trailed a horse in three starts. Get Jets was right behind the top choice last out and may sweep by with another furlong to run. Governor Malibu is still a maiden but I like the way he’s run. Should enjoy the stretch out.

Race 3      9-5-1      C=2    V=2

Palace is obviously the horse to beat. He’s a multiple Grade 1 winner and was coming hard on top sprinter Rock Fall. Not 6/5 on my line, but hard to discount. Ostrolenka has the look of a horse that lost her way in the second half of the year, but I’m looking at one telling statistic – 4 for 4 at BEL. She doesn’t run well anywhere else, and at 15-1 I’ll be thinking about the upset. Loki’s Vengeance has been competitive all year and should have a good spot from the rail.

Race 4      9-5-8      C=2    V=2

La Verdad is the class of the field, but showed some vulnerability in the Gallant Bloom. On the other hand, she’s not been headed in her last five races, is 7 of 8 at BEL and 3 of 4 at the distance. Willet has been competitive with these sorts for a while, but has had trouble cracking the winner’s circle. In a race with 6 top speed horses, you have to look at a closer somewhere. Tricky Zippy is an improving 3 year old and has shown well with older. Not without chances.

Race 5      3-5-8      C=1    V=1

Saratoga Snacks has had a productive 2015.and likes the BEL dirt. Should be up in the front and has shown good heart when challenged. Royal Posse was a mild upset winner of the Shipman and in a field top heavy with speed he seems to be more tractable. Sciacca should have him at the top of his game. Given the presence of all the early/pressers, it wouldn’t be a surprise if some horse came flying from the back and the best prospect is Empire Dreams. He doesn’t always get there but in seven starts at BEL he’s been first or second six times.

Race 6      9-11-7      C=1    V=1

Ancient Secret was a $225K purchase off a $5K stud fee, so this horse must have looked impressive in the sales ring. Chad Brown is dynamite with turf fillies. Lulu’s Blues goes first time for Clement. Abbreviated workout pattern, but the works show some speed and I trust Clement will have her ready. Tough Temper has been prepping at Finger Lakes but the works look good. Englehart/Saez are winning at a 34% clip.

Race 7      6-3-2      C=2    V=2

It’s the usual suspects. Lubash has shown himself to be consistent and should appreciate the mile and a sixteenth more than the 9 furlongs he missed at last time. The horse that beat him, Kharafa, only has one bad race in the last two years, the Grade 3 Oceanport. No reason to expect he won’t be fighting for the win today. Iron Power was slightly subpar last out, but he’s a quality runner and may represent the overlay. Let the odds guide you here.

Race 8      10-2-1-11      C=1    V=2

Animal Appeal was a strong maiden winner last out and looks to move through the next condition.  That last race number would give her win number two. C d’Cat has been looking for her second win and has been about a close as she could get without winning. Gets back to her winning distance today. Miss Matzoball ran lights out in her 2015 debut. That was on a sloppy track and moving back to the turf should be in her favor. Improvement puts her in the mix. Full Tap flopped in the slop last out, but her one win came on this turf at this distance. In the mix.

Race 9      10-5-1      C=1    V=1

She’s All Ready ran respectably in the Frizette. Has a good turn of foot and is on the improve. Melodic comes off a state-bred stakes win and looks especially good considering the trouble she had last out. Trappe Play looked strong breaking her maiden but will have to break fast to maintain position.

Race 10      9-5-8      C=2    V=2

Wonder Gal had no chance in the Test but prior to that had been competitive in Grade 1’s and 2’s. The drop into an ungraded state-bred race should be a good tonic for her. TemperMint Patty is another with experience in open graded stakes. Consistent figures this year. I have to believe Repole and Pletcher knew what they were doing when they purchased her and this could be the break through race. Hot Stones was the Saratoga Dew  winner. Likes the BEL dirt.

Race 11      5-12-10      C=1    V=1

This is a better finishing race than we get most days, the Ticonderoga. Discreet Marq is a multiple graded stakes winner. She failed in the Yadoo, but she’s back her favored BEL turf and at her best tops this field. Old Harbor comes off a win in the Hettinger. Gets a nod because of her BEL record. The Tea Cups was a longshot winner of the Yadoo but failed as the favorite in the Hettinger. Englehart has done wonders with the horse this year and the story can continue today.

If You’re Losing Maybe You’re Blaming the Wrong Person

A week ago I wrote an article titled, Why Do You Lose? I offered a few reasons relating mainly to betting skill. What I didn’t do is blame bad jockeys, cheating trainers, short fields and a high take. After monitoring the public media for a while, my perception is too many people use these reasons as excuses for losing rather than focusing on the number one reason people lose – poor handicapping and betting. As a result they spend far more time complaining than enjoying the best betting game on earth.

I’ve been playing the races over 40 years. Have I gotten bad rides? Absolutely. I don’t have an empirically derived number, but for me the number of horses I bet that were obviously best in a race and were stymied by a bad ride is minimal, most certainly no more than a fraction of 1%. That wouldn’t expain long term loss.

I’m also not buying the cheating trainer theory for losing. Good handicappers will tell you that trainers with “suspicious” patterns are fairly easy to identify and they can adjust their handicapping accordingly. If those trainers are doing anything, they are producing a lot of low priced winners. Even so, the Association of Racing Commissioners International produces statistics that suggest less than one-half of one percent of all horses tested are violating a medication or drug standard, and the vast majority of the violations are for legal therapeutic drugs.

There are those who believe ultra-high percentage trainers are using substances that are undetectable, but I’d make the same argument I made above. Trainers like Kirk Ziadie win at high percentages, but the percentages are there for everyone to see and incorporate into their handicapping decisions. His horses may go off at low odds, but it seems like having a free square may offset some of that. Cheating trainers or not, the percentage of winning favorites has gone up since I started playing, a clear indication that handicappers have gotten better at identifying the favorite.

Even if you are a believer in the widespread cheating conspiracy, you’d still have to concede it’s a small number of trainers and a small number of races. The vast majority of races are solvable without having to worry about incompetent jockeys or drug-happy trainers.

The short field issue is an interesting one. Five and six horse fields can make some races unbettable, but conversely they can make some races more bettable. If you have two horses heads and shoulders above the other three runners, and the high probability exacta is paying $10, it may not be a bad race to bet. In general, though, uncompetitive races are not a good thing for bettors, and 5-6 horse fields are far more likely to be uncompetitive.

Many of the full-field proponents rightly point out the increased probability of higher prices. The more combinations there are, the fewer combinations an average bettor can cover, and thus the potential for high prices shoots up. A good example are the Breeder’s Cup races with a lot of 14 horse fields and some mega prices. Of course at the same time that comes with the potential for more bad rides and orders of magnitude greater difficulty for bettors. It’s a bit of a two edged sword. Five and six horse fields are not good, but eight to ten horse fields would provide plenty of value while keeping chaos to a minimum. Frankly, in most 12 horse fields, 3-4 horses are quick pitches anyway. Field size needs improvement, but it is not a primary explanation of why players lose.

The fact is that most people who lose at the races have some flaws in their handicapping or betting. Believe me, I know because in 44 years of betting horses I’ve made all of them. I can tell you I’ve missed solid plays and made horrible bets, and it was 100% my fault. And that is the first step to winning. Focus on the things that are within your power to excel at, and excel at them. You are never going to keep jockeys from messing up a ride, so don’t spend much time brooding about it. Remember the old saying, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. If a certain jockey seems to throw in more than his share of bad rides, adjust your handicapping.

But I also know that it is possible to beat the races even with the current levels of take. It wasn’t like Andrew Beyer had his $50,000 year at the races when the take was miniscule. In my article, The Magic Number, I pointed out that by doing nothing more than betting favorites to win you could reduce the 17% take to 8-9%, so by eliminating 9 out of 100 false favorites, the bettor is at break-even. And this doesn’t require outrageous amounts of handicapping skill and time. After all, 65 of 100  favorites lose, and you only have to find nine to not lose any money. If you can eliminate15 favorites, you’re a pretty profitable winner. It may be more boring than rooting home some higher priced horses, but because horseracing has an inherent skill component, good handicapping makes it totally possible to identify enough false favorites to create the profit outcome. Don’t miss the point of the example – you can overcome the take with superior handicapping and betting.

The rest of The Magic Number discusses how to become a value win bettor. Again, if you become skilled at assessing the probability of a respective horse winning and limiting your bets to those that are overlays, in the long run you have to win. Clearly, developing the necessary skill takes a great amount of time and effort, and perhaps harder than that is developing the discipline to follow the winning formula.

If you believe that the races cannot be beaten because of the takeout level  you need to first convince me you are not making the mistakes I listed in Why Do You Lose? No question the take makes the hill you are trying to climb steeper, but it’s not Everest. If you are handicapping skillfully and betting optimally and still losing, I’d be shocked. I know a winning season/year can be done from personal experience.

Don’t get me wrong. The takeout rate is a huge problem in horseracing, and unfortunately there is no effective solution available as long as tracks have to pay what amounts to tribute to the state and local jurisdictions. As long as tracks cannot function like other businesses, accounting for the operating and capital expenses and paying taxes only on the profit they make, it is nearly impossible to reduce the take below 15%. Still, that does not mean tracks could not reduce the take to 15% on every bet. Anyone who plays trifectas at tracks like Parx or Penn National is either self-destructive or not paying any attention at all. Tracks have been gouging bettors on every combination or exotic bet and they feel not the slightest bit of guilt about it. Our response is too often to complain and keep betting.

Pretty much every study shows that reducing the take increases betting volume, and ultimately may increase revenues. What is stunning is how few of the major tracks have tried to outcompete other tracks by lowering the take. Sort of like what Wal Mart does – lower prices and either force everyone else to lower theirs or drive them out of business.

I’m working on a new book that will go into much greater detail on both the issues racing faces and what players need to do to beat the game given the hills they have to climb. But in the meantime I’ll remain steadfast that while it is hard, you can beat the game with the right plan.

Belmont October 23

Yesterday was chalky, but today it looks like there are a lot of very competitive races.

Race 1      1A-7-3      C=1    V=2

Lazarus Project sold for four times the stud fee and has a good series of workouts. Orseno not known for debut or two year olds, but the competition here is not that stout. Voluntario was caught wide in his debut on the turf. He’s really far better bred for the dirt and Irad stays for the trip. Dr. Edgar looks well bred for the sprint and has a useful looking workout pattern.

Race 2      1-10-8      C=3    V=3

Riviere Du Loup has been trying to break through since coming to America. He’s as talented as any horse in the race, and will win sooner or later.  Schoolofhardrocks is the third horse coming out of the strong looking Sept 23 race. Second race off a four month layoff so potential to improve. Reach for Yield goes first off the claim for Jacobson. Horse has looked like he’s figured it out since he broke his maiden.

Race 3      2-1-3      C=1    V=2

Elated has had moderate success at BEL and the distance, but she’s starting to have the look of a horse that may have seconditis. Tough call. Regia Marina has four seconds and a third in six starts. Another that will have to overcome the seconitis. Pretty and Sweet looked good coming off a short layoff and seemed to take to the longer distance. Five starts, never out of the money.

Race 4      3-8-5      C=2    V=2

Bubbe Zena should prefer the sprint distance and has figures competitive with the field. Kellyesque drops down from MSW and hadn’t run that badly at the higher level. Looks well placed. Sing for Beauty should have all the front speed and will have to be caught. Another dropping from MSW.

Race 5      5-2-1      C=1    V=1

Upgrade has been close in every race he’s run in 2015. Figures have been ultra consistent and he looks ready for win number two of the year. U S Citizen actually looks best from a figure standpoint but it’s hard to know how well he’ll adapt to the turf at BEL. Can’t leave him out but go with caution. Saint Finian ran a big one at Saratoga and ran fair in his next at BEL. Competitive off his best.

Race 6      1-3-5      C=2    V=1

Privately Speaking flopped last out in the mud but her turf races are more impressive. Should be in the group up front. Chow Fun is 12-1 ML but she has run mid-pack with some better fields. Levine has good numbers with turf sprints and route to sprint. Looks live at the odds. Dot Product just won at $40K NW2 and takes a slight drop to $25K for the NW3 race. Has been competitive all year and matches well in this group.

Race 7      5-1-10      C=1    V=1

Dettifoss looked strong first time with winners and has been a new horse since Bruce Brown removed the hood. Should be a major player today. David Rocks will have to go out of the one post but he’s shown good ability to go to the front and stay to the end. Indiana Stones is a speedy sort with a win at BEL. Seems to be on the improve. And

Race 8      3-4-5      C=1    V=2

Request has been close at the longer distances and looks to be a good fit here. Nexrad is the closest thing there is to a pacesetter here and if he goes slow enough early he may steal the race. Grey Wizard has won at the distance and is 2 of 3 in the money at BEL.

Race 9      6-10-1-7      C=2    V=2

Laquesta just missed last out. Has improved in both her starts with good figures in both. Light the Sky was a $750K purchase. Lost as the favorite at DEL but showed respectably. Gets Johnny V for the trip. Amaze me Grace showed a lot of closing ability and unless she finds some speed today she’ll have to do it again in this race. Scatoosh takes the blinkers off today. Figures well at the distance.

Belmont October 22

One of the tough things about this part of the year is watching trainers start to move horses out of their stable. Two year olds that didn’t live up to their potential, three year olds that aren’t likely to be earners. It doesn’t mean they won’t win, but you have to discern the trainer’s intent.

Race 1      3-2-5      C=1    V=2

Dominic’s Smile won as the favorite last time out and takes a healthy step up. Hasn’t been the mile but the breeding suggests it shouldn’t be a problem. 3 for 3 at BEL and gets a switch to Castellano. The Catmancan looked good first time with winners but had a troubled trip last out. With a clean trip he’s a threat.

Race 2      5-8-6      C-1    V=1

Irish Cat goes second off the claoim for Linda Rice. Last out was on the slop and he’s back on the turf today. Last breeze was impressive. Stormy Invasion goes first time for George Weaver. The workouts suggest he should be part of the pace scenario and Manny Franco should help. Bold Runner has too many starts to get excited about in the win position, but he does show an interest in being close.

Race 3      2-4-6      C=3    V=3

Stay Tuned was grabbed last out by Linda Rice who drops him in half for this run. Workout looks like he’s ready to roll. Spartan Emperor showed good speed in dominating his maiden field. Should be the one to catch. Got Winged took a while to break his maiden. Should benefit if the track stays fast.

Race 4      2-7-5      C=3    V=2

ToBe Determined has the best lifetime figure in the group on the dirt. Should be the one to catch. Sonora had a bad start last out but prior to that was competitive. Should be part of the early pace scenario. Tachiello keeps dropping in search of a win. Has the figures, but hard to get overexcited about a 1 for 13 horse at 7/5 ML.

Race 5      1-5-8      C=1    V=1

Dauphine Russe was claimed two back by Mike Maker who jumped her up to a Grade 2. Should like the competition better here. Spectacular Me has won three of hier last six and wasn’t more than a neck behind in the others. Should be battling to the wire again. Vicki’s Dancer was grabbed last out by RuRod. More in the money finishes than wins, but is always competitive.

Race 6      5-9-6      C=1    V=2

Infinite Wisdom has been close in all his starts. Will be tough to beat if he duplicates his last two figures. Tale of Fancy has been improving and has figures nearly equal to the top choice. Liam’s Prince made a big improvement when moved to a turf route. At 10-1 this is the interesting horse.

Race 7      5-7-12      C=1    V=1

Mohican Chief goes for Brown/Castellano. Hasn’t run a bad one lifetime but is one of a few that has the talent in this field. My Friend Keith flopped in his first with winners but Mott should have him wound up for this event. Charity Reins makes the drop looking for the win. Throw out the last one and he’s right with the top contenders.

Race 8      4-7-3-6      C=1    V=1

Hope Cross is the Brown/Castellano entrant. Like the distance and BEL. Last race fig is tops. Tap It Out has been running consistently at Parx and MTH and has some good races at BEL. Alan Goldberg doesn’t bring many to NY but he’s a competent conditioner. My Sweet Girl has been competitive at this level for a while. May be one of the pacesetters. Striking Style is another that looks good enough to pick up the biggest piece. Watch the odds board.

Race 9     15- 5-8-4      C=1    V=2

Madam Maybry drew in off the AE list and looks to be the prime contender. Ran a close second last time out and this time puts the blinkers on and gets first Lasix. If she clears and gets a good spot, she’ll be the one to beat. D’bunnyphone has shown enough front speed to create an interest and takes the blinkers off today. At 10-1 I’ll be taking a long look. Queen’s Tiara is the Pletcher/Velasquez dropper. She had a troubled trip last out and certainly deserves to be given a long second look. Head Shrinker drops from  MSW to the claiming ranks and cuts back to a more preferred trip. Plenty of dirt breeding.

Belmont October 21

Race 1      3-6-4      C=2    V=2

Call Me Stoney should be the front speed. Big drop suggests he holds on. April Color was grabbed by the low profile Juan Ortiz who contracts with the ice cold Cornelio Velazquez for the ride. Should result in some nice odds. Royal Burgh is a 5 start horse that was well thought of earlier this year. He got picked up in a Todd Pletcher fire sale but should be good enough to compete here.

Race 2      5-7-6      C=3    V=3

High Ridge Road looked strong first time out and the combo of Brown/Ortiz is always dangerous. Que Chulo is not 20-1 in this race and has as good a chance as anyone. Sylish Quality has a strong set of works and Nicks is good first time out.

Race 3      2-3-1      C=1    V=1

Frazil can be excused for the race in the slop last time but the cutback in distance should make him the best chance. Distorted Dream is 5 of 8 second place and loves the distance. Storm Pursuit likes to win and is competitive with these.

Race 4      6-4-9      C=1    V=1

Weather Girl goes for Asmussen/Castellano. Improved when dropped to this level and has the best lifetime figure in this group. O K by Me improved markedly when moved to the turf and at the odds she’s worth a look. Hope’s Roar has been looking to break through for a while and looked best when dropped to seven furlongs.

Race 5      5-1-3      C=2    V=2

Just Got Out looks to be the fastest in the race. Not a lot of speed though to set her up. The Jacobson entry looks tough although lately he’s been scratching one or the other. Even with a scratch I’ll stick with the other. Bounty Pink has been running consistently and figures as close as anything else.

Race 6      6-5-2      C=3    V=3

Thamaan drops down to MCL after looking good first time out. Looks like perhaps Chad Brown has decided the horse doesn’t have a place in the stable. Brevard is probably better suited for today’s distance and has been improving with each start. Bluegrass Rye drops into MCL. Every bit as fast as the first two.

Race 7      2-3-7      C=3    V=2

Sister Sophia does not have a bad lifetime start. Her best should top this field. Sweetpollupurebred wasn’t that far behind the top choice last out. She’s done well at BEL and should adapt well to the distance. Run to Mama should be tracking the leaders and will get first run in the stretch.

Race 8      1-4-6      C=1    V=1

The Big Deluxe is better on the dirt and at his best dominates the field. Bond Vigilante was snatched by Bruce Levine and he’s a respectable 22% first off the claim. 3 of 5 at the distance and 1 of 2 at the distance. Gypsum Johnny has been with much better in the recent past and looks to be in good condition.

Race 9      11-3-8-12      C=2    V=2

Sauvignon looks to be the fastest in the race and the drop from MSW should make her tough to beat.  Fredaq drops from MSW and goes second off the layoff. Sugar Mags has run two nice seconds in a row and and seems to be improving. Miss Rickles was competitive with a few of these last out and no reason to expect a regression.

Gambling, Skill and Millennials

There has been a lot being written about which betting games are games of skill versus just gambling. After reading some of this stuff I’ve come to an inescapable conclusion: you can define anything where a bet is involved as gambling, as long as it forwards some specific agenda to do so.

What, you say? Horseracing is the classic game of skill. The house takes a fixed amount, and the payouts go to the players with the highest level of skill, right?

Well, maybe not. Jeff Hwang in this article ( provides these three requirements for gambling:

  • Consideration. There must be a wager of some value in order to win something of value.
  • Prize. What you get when you win, whether of monetary value or something else.
  • Chance. There must be at least enough variance that an unskilled or lesser skilled bettor can win said prize, at least in the short run.

So far we sound  safe, but then he puts the icing on the cake:

You see, poker is a game of skill, but it is also clearly gambling. Even if you want to argue that a skilled poker player is “investing” and not gambling, then it would also be unequivocally true that a lesser or unskilled player must be gambling, even if he thinks he is playing with an edge but really isn’t. What the player thinks he is doing is irrelevant.

In essence, the very existence of skilled poker players – playing with an edge and for a profit – depends on the presence of lesser skilled players willing to gamble at a disadvantage against them. You can’t have a skilled poker player without a compensating gambler. Therefore, though poker is a skill game, it is also most definitely a gambling game, regardless of a preponderance of skill.

Thus, in my view, legal interpretations which attempt to qualify poker as being either a game of skill or a game of chance by virtue of predominance are insufficient practically speaking, because such interpretations only identify what the winners (the “skillers”) are doing, and not what the losers (the “gamblers”) are doing.

Well that pretty much covers the waterfront. I win so I’m not gambling, but you lose so you are gambling. As the Cheshire Cat said in Alice in Wonderland, “Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” In fact, by Hwang’s “unequivocal” logic, any game where everybody doesn’t win is gambling, This is impossible in horseracing. Even if there was no take, the best the collective bettors could do is break even. It’s impossible in sports betting because of the “vig.” It’s impossible in poker because of the rake. Same with the whole fantasy sports discussion. For all those guys who are up half a mil, somebody is down, thus it’s gambling. Even Monopoly is gambling, albeit with fake money. Somebody gets all the money and the other players go broke.

Hwang gives us no outs. Any game where the result is somebody wins and somebody loses, even if only one person loses, is gambling because the losers aren’t skilled enough to win in the long term. In other words, the fact that certain players are unwilling or unable to to acquire the necessary skill – which would make losing apparently their fault, not the fixed odds nature of the game – gives Hwang no reason to waver in the strength of his conclusion. Losers lose because they choose to gamble instead of becoming skilled, so ipso facto, the game itself is gambling. Apparently, even those who handicap the hell out of a card and lose get lumped into the category of gambler. Those of us who deluded themselves into believing horseracing was investing, sorry. No matter how much or how often we win, we’re in a gambling game. In an act that would make contortionists proud, Hwang essentially concludes betting equals gambling.

If horseracing, poker or fantasy sports are in fact gambling, and if Congress decides they need more regulation (specifically federal oversight) players express concern about being regulated by people who mainly don’t understand the games. I defy you to poll the 535 members of the House and Senate and find more than a handful who would admit to betting the occasional trifecta, much less actually knowing what one was. The final regulations for any sport depend in great part on which of the lobbyists prevailed, and I’m not so sure I’d put the future of horseracing, poker or fantasy sports in the hands of people who think passing a two-month stop-gap budget is a major accomplishment.

Which brings us to the last topic. What kind of gambling are the millennials into? Slots, once the cash cow of casinos, are fading like a bleeder in the stretch. This of course begs the question, why did it take 150 years to figure out there are quicker ways to lose money, but not many. Table games are similarly suffering. Many casinos, after consulting with the management of racetracks, decided to cut the premium for blackjack from 3/2 to 6/5, with the predictable outcome that the action slowed down even more.

The well known formula for calculating gaming revenue is

Gaming Revenue = Volume x House Advantage

In other words, if you want to make more money you have two choices. Increase the house advantage while keeping volume the same, or increase the volume. Unfortunately, increasing the house advantage (or raising the take) usually has the effect of decreasing the volume. The arithmetic is the same whether we are talking about horseracing or table games or fantasy sports, and in the case of horseracing has been well documented. The more you take, the less you make. Unfortunately the only people who don’t know this are the legislature and the racing commission.

Apparently, unlike every generation before them, the millennials have not only figured this out, but they are refusing to be as dumb as their ancestors. They aren’t going to play unless they have the right conditions and the right edge. According to the Motley Fool,

  • Millennials find the current slot product uninteresting
  • Millennial gamblers want to be engaged and empowered, and to exert some control over outcomes
  • Millennials prefer night clubs to casino gambling
  • Millennials are more interested in online gaming, poker and daily fantasy sports (DFS)
  • Millennials want skill-based games
  • Millennials want experiences
  • Millennials want to be social
  • Millennials demand fairness

The question is, why would they not be a lot more interested in horseracing? It can’t be that picking a fantasy team is orders of magnitude easier than coming up with a winner. You want daily action? No problem. Skill-based. Check that box. Exerting control? You make all the decisions.

So what could horseracing do to compete for millennials?

  • Dropping the take seems to be job one, but given how many people want a piece of the pie, it might be hard to get it low enough to compete with things like fantasy sports. Racing, like casinos and fantasy sports, has to disengage from the state. They have to become a for profit business that pays taxes based on profits and not a percentage off the top. Only then could they drop the take enough to make a difference.
  • Racing needs to give away the very basic information necessary to handicap for free. If that means tracks or the ADWs have to subsidize Brisnet (yes, many already give PPs away if you make a bet), it’s better than paying tribute to the state.
  • Somebody has to figure out what creates “fairness,” because the current regime has done little to convince even ardent supporters that it is a clean sport. Not that fantasy sports are much better, especially after a couple of employees were nailed for using inside information to beat the game at a site where they weren’t employed.
  • Racetracks need to become destinations for more than playing the horses. Millennials are showing up in Vegas, but for nightclubs and entertainment. How many racetracks have nice restaurants or shopping (and I don’t mean the 9X12 space they allot for the gift shop). Would a horseplaying husband take his wife to the track? Maybe if there was a first class restaurant at which to eat. Would a group of friends head out to the track? Maybe if there was a really nice sports bar (and I don’t mean one in a part of the track where you have to pay extra to get in). If you get them there, at least you have a chance to get them to wager.
  • Horseracing already has the online part figured out.

Horseracing is a lot like Congress. It’s mostly run by a bunch of guys born in the 40’s and 50’s who are mostly clueless about what viewpoints millennials hold or what might get them to participate in their respective activities. I for one (full disclosure: I’m the parent of two successful millennials) have a lot of faith in a future where they will be in charge. I’m pretty sure the millennials have a lot of libertarian in them, especially when it comes to gambling. A lot of the angst about what is or isn’t a gambling game probably goes away once the millennials take over. But in the meantime, how about racing figures out how to make that sport the number one destination for the millennials gambling dollar.