At Penn National, There They Go Again

The headline was definitely eye-catching

Penn National Race Track official pleads guilty in race rigging scheme

Sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? Like someone was race fixing for the purposes of a betting coup.

Unfortunately, it was hardly that insidious. This comes from the Fox 43 web site.

Craig Lytel, 60, of Hershey, was an employee of Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Track (Penn National) who served as a racing official at the track. Lytel is charged with wire fraud. The United States Attorney alleges that Lytel was the recipient of an interstate wire transfer of $1,000 from a bank in Kentucky to his bank allegedly in exchange for providing inside information on the makeup of horse races at Penn National so that the trainers would know the composition of the race and enter their horses in races in which they have a better opportunity to win. It is alleged that Lytel deprived his employer of his honest service by accepting cash, dinners, gift cards and golf outings in exchange for the insider information. Lytel is licensed as a racing official at Penn National and falls under the rules and regulations that govern licensees with the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission. He was privy to information concerning the horses entered in a race while the race entries are being filled by the racing office. This information gives a horse owner/trainer an advantage as to which race to enter their eligible horse in that it would give the horse a better chance of success. Such information, coupled with the knowledge of what other horses are in a given race, could also provide an opportunity for collusion on the behalf of owner/trainers or even determine if a race will be filled enough to run.

So the first thing that strikes me is, if the money transfer hadn’t come from out of state there was no federal crime committed. This Lytle guy should get a nickel in the pen for sheer stupidity. Plus, wire transfer? What they hell ever happened to cash in an envelope passed surreptitiously in a folded newspaper? Last I heard, there are hard records for wire transfers, while cash is, let’s say, not so traceable. The second thing that strikes me is that the FBI must have been hard pressed to pad the crime statistics that month. J. Edgar Hoover, who was well known for going to the races and getting “tips” on which horse to bet, must have been posthumously proud. Of course, that was in the good old days of racing when drug testing and wire transfers were in the stone age.

In fact, the $1,000 payoff was a clear indication that this was not solid gold information. More like copper. C’mon. Really big insider data had to be worth more than a yard.

I loved the last sentence in the Fox story. “Such information…could also provide an opportunity for collusion… [to] determine if a race will be filled enough to run.” It could probably give Putin propaganda to criticize the integrity of America too. In fact, by using the word “could” reporters could conjure up all sorts of heinous connections (you saw what I did there, didn’t you?).

Trainer A: I’ve got inside information. The race doesn’t look like it’s going to fill.

Trainer B: This is bad news indeed. Only one thing to do. Get the racing secretary to ask some trainers to help out.

Trainer A:  Right. That was $1,000 well spent. 

I shouldn’t be so tough on the FBI or Penn National. Usually the track is getting criticized for uglier transgressions, like trainers winning at 45% after a claim and everyone standing around shrugging their shoulders. But, if I was the decision-maker at Penn National, I’d simply have fired the guy quietly and made sure he never got a job in racing again. I mean, we have to keep the jails less crowded so the feds can put serious criminals away like the nefarious Martha Stewart. If nothing else, the amount of butter she uses in some of those recipes is definitely a crime.

Frankly, I never realized (1) telling someone which horses were entered in a race was a crime and (2) that information was actually worth money. I’ve heard every trainer tell me the racing secretary has called him in an effort to fill a race, sometimes even promising they will write a race for the trainer in return. This kind of informal bartering has been going on everywhere for ages. Perhaps the crime was taking money, dinner and golf instead of buying bagels or donuts for the racing office. It’s always a crime not to share the wealth with the rest of the staff so to speak.

My favorite story came from a trainer who was going to be suspended at a hearing scheduled a few days away. The racing secretary calls the trainer and asks him to enter some horses so some races would fill. The trainer tells the racing secretary he’s taking a forced vacation and the horses will have to be scratched. The racing secretary tells him he knows, but more important to get the races to go. And that apparently wasn’t a crime.

Racing has myriad problems, not the least of which is the perception that cheating of all sorts is rampant. Many tracks and racing commissions have adopted a policy of making sure they trumpet punishing any scofflaw in an effort to show the public they are serious about cleaning up the game. I’m not sure how much they deal with some issues quietly, but in this case the publicity was probably more harmful than good, especially when the news organizations resort to speculation and hyperbole. There are far more pressing issues into which racing should place greater enforcement effort.

As for Craig Lytel, perhaps he should have thought about whether racing would miss him more than he would miss racing.

Goodbye Joe Gorajec

Joe Gorajec was somewhat unceremoniously fired last Saturday by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission. The reason was ostensibly that he spent too much time on enforcement and too little time on marketing the sport. Although under Gorajec Indiana racing had been suffering decreases in handle, some racing fans asked if it was really Gorajec’s job to be the marketing center for the sport, much less his fault that things were not booming.

I don’t know how much responsibility Gorajec should have been assigned for marketing, but I know he was responsible for making a lot of horsemen unhappy. I’ve had more than one trainer tell me they are scared to death about racing in Indiana, and one of the more prominent owners, Maggie Moss, swore off Indiana racing while Gorajec was at the helm. If you want to argue Gorajec’s job often put him at odds with the horsemen, well sure. You can’t fine and suspend people without occasionally creating a little animosity. But it is also the case that most horsemen would have been fine with Gorajec doing his job as long as they believed he was fair and honest. We understand that cops have a tough job, but we draw the line at shooting first and asking questions later. The depth and breadth of the animus toward Gorajec was too great to pass it off simply as sour grapes from people who deserved what they got.

Frankly, I think the reason given by the IHRC had the ring of a politician who says he is resigning to spend more time with his family. Clearly, Gorejec engendered reactions on the opposite ends of the spectrum. People seemed to support him or revile him, but rarely was someone apathetic about him. To many horseplayers Gorajec’s enthusiasm for enforcement was a model for all other jurisdictions. Gorajec almost always made sure Indiana was on the leading edge of drug and medication standards. His recommended punishments were rarely just slaps on the wrist.

I will admit my bias against Goraject. I had simply heard too many stories of Gorajec being arbitrary, vindictive, and making up his mind before all the evidence was in. Gorajec made myriad enemies, especially among the harness racing crowd, Having worked for high-level politicians most of my working career, I can tell you there are three critical rules.

  • Make sure the politician gets the credit when the news is good, and doesn’t look bad when the news is bad, followed closely by rule two;
  • You aren’t the star so don’t act like you are;
  • Remember if the politician’s friends and supporters are pissed off at you, it may be the politician who pays. In other words, if the gang says you are a problem for them and they will make the politician the target of their ire, you become completely expendable.

Gorajec violated at least two the the three. More than that, it seemed like perhaps Gorajec’s prime objective was making sure Joe Gorajec got star billing in Indiana.

Whichever politicians may or may not have been getting gored, someone sent the word down to ex-state senator Thomas Weatherwax, chairman of the IHRC, that Joe had to go.

And it doesn’t matter how pure Joe’s motives might have been. If you want to survive, remember there are people from whom you need unqualified support. Gorajec made two classic mistakes. First, he asked for absolute power and control over all aspects of racing and breeding. Great when everything is going great. But much like football coaches who do the same thing, when things go badly there is only one place to point the finger. For example, Indiana breeders believed Gorajec and his policies led to significant economic loss and they made sure anyone who asked knew that. Second, he thought his righteous reputation as one of racing’s toughest regulators would insulate him against all attacks. He had assumed his record of executing scofflaws and upgrading the integrity of racing would be the single most important consideration when he was attacked. After all, what do racing fans constantly complain about? Serial violators who never get more than a slap on the wrist.  Business as usual at the track. That wasn’t going to happen on Joe Gorajec’s watch.

The Gorajec supporters will see this as a clear message that the people who control racing don’t have the stomach to enforce the standards and punish the wrongdoers. It will be seen by supporters as a message to other zealous regulators that they better think twice about taking a Gorajec-like approach to enforcement. The Gorajec acolytes will not be convinced that this was anything more than horsemen who got caught blaming the cop who caught them.

I think the truth is that this was nothing less than a repudiation of Gorajec. Much like Torquemada, whose name has become synonymous with over-zealous enforcement and ignoring rights, Gorajec believed his crusade justified causing those people who may have deserved a tempered justice to lose their livelihoods and have their careers maimed right along with the clear felons. He could not, or would not, differentiate between the fool and the heretic, and so a very narrow range of harsh sentences could fit far too many crimes.

The only people who escaped were the ones that turned snitch. Many horsemen saw this as Gorajec being arbitrary, but perhaps worse than that, the culture of turning horsemen, vets, grooms, and jockeys against each other made the backside a poisonous place.

Arguments between the Gorajec supporters and the Gorajec haters are of little use. One side is unlikely to convince the other. Whether his dismissal is good for Indiana racing will be learned soon enough. What may be clearer is that for whatever reason, his firing was necessary.

Great judges understand when to dispense harsh justice and when to temper their judgment. Without knowing anything more than Joe Gorajec got fired I would question his skills as an administrator. He misunderstood the politics, he did not recognize his true friends and his enemies, but most of all he forgot the original Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or as was said in James 2

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Belmont October 18

Numbers only today.

Race 1      9-1-4      C=1    V=2

Race 2      1-3-7      C=2    V=2

Race 3      4-3-5      C=1    V=2

Race 4      5-3-6      C=2    V=3

Race 5      1-3-8      C=2    V=2

Race 6      4-9-6      C=1    V=1

Race 7      1-9-7      C=2    V=2

Race 8      4-8-11-1      C=1    V=1

Race 9      2-3-7      C=3    V=2

Race 10   4-11-10      C=1    V=2

Belmont October 17

Race 1      2-6-5      C=2    V=3

Silver Ride broke his maiden at first asking but was not effective at the ALW NW1X level. HE dropped into this level last out and showed a lot of speed before fading to be a close fourth. Looks like he’s finally come to top condition again. Here Sir just broke his maiden by seven on a sloppy BEL track. May have simply been the wet track, but he’s had some competitive figures previously. Resourceful has been improving with each start. Has shown he can ship well and gets a nice switch to Irad.

Race 2      6-9-12      C=1    V=3

Pricedtoperfection showed a nice closing kick last out. The winner of that race came back to win next out. Chad Brown is lights out with second start maidens. Alto Belle showed good speed last out in an off the turf affair at today’s distance. The other top duo of Pletcher/Velasquez  make her a top threat. Girls Secret has a couple of thirds at this distance but will have to find position from the outside post.

Race 3      1-4-6      C=1    V=2

King Kranz ran a great race at BEL after showing his lack of experience in his first start. Although he is a maiden, I like what he showed last time. Ready Dancer was thrashed in the Champagne but this is a much easier spot. Should prefer the sprint. Full Salute has been in three stakes since graduating, winning one and finishing second twice. Coming from some lesser tracks, but looks like the real deal.

Race 4      11-6-10      C=1    V=2

This looks like a wide open race. Plainview has won a quarter of his races, including the last one at this distance. Seems to really like BEL. Almasty has three wins in seven starts this year. He faltered in the Better Talk Now but is well suited for the distance and the level. Sandy’z Slew stretches out today but has a second and third in two starts at the distance. Should be part of the front speed.

Race 5      4-1-8      C=1    V=2

In this race the horses with starts don’t stand out so we’ll look at Afleet Alfredo. He went for four times the stud fee and the workout pattern looks good. Playwright didn’t do much for Mott first out but he is not known for having horses ready to roll first out. Will need to show a lot more speed to not get buried on the rail. Charming Indy goes for Violette who is 17% with debuting maidens. If Schettino has him ready he will be dangerous.

Race 6      5-8-2      C=2    V=2

Coturnix was claimed last out by Abby Adsit. He bobbled at the start in that race but in the race previous ran a figure that would put him right there at the end. Midnight Notes is at the right level for his ability. He only has one win this year, but four seconds. Recent figures top the field. Tattenham was claimed by Mott last out and he doesn’t do that very often. No reason to expect he’s lost any condition since his last out.

Race 7      1-7-2      C=1    V=1

Jax Heritage has been looking to break through for a while and has been close a few times. Crescent Street is a little closer to having broken his maiden and since then he’s been competitive. His last race the jockey lost the whip but still finished with courage. Looks to be the best competition. His best races seem to be at the mile distance. Chasintheblues is another that has been knocking but can’t get in. His one win has come at BEL and the distance.

Race 8      9-3-7-11      C=2    V=2

S’maverlous was claimed last out by the shrew Michael Maker after winning his third in a row and fourth in his last six. Loves to win and has the figures to keep the streak alive. First Down was up against it on a muddy BEL dirt in the Allied Forces. Prior to that he came close to wiring a similar field. Alex the Terror won his first start for Toscano and is looking for two in a row. He’s been with better in the recent past and should be part of the front speed. Longfor the City has been on the improve and is worth a look at a price.

Race 9      10-6-13-1-12      C=1    V=2

I’ll give my analysis in order of preference. I think there are at least five horses with reasonable chances.

  • Coffee Clique has pretty much been in nothing but graded stakes. She won the Just a Game at BEL last year. She may have lost half a step since last year, but in top shape she’s as dangerous as any horse in here.
  • Granny’s Mc’s Kitten has a good pressing style and a hearty closing kick. She’s consistent and with Chad Brown/Irad Ortiz she’s got a much better chance than the 10-1 odds suggest.
  • Lady Lara just missed in the Noble Damsel at BEL last out. She’s a legitimate graded horse and Mott is as sharp as there is with turfers. Another with a legitimate shot if she can overcome the far outside post.
  • Stellar Path should be toward the front so the inside post should not work against her. She might be a step below some of the others in here, but could be a factor based on pace.
  • Fauflier ships over from France. She’s been running in Group events competitively and gets Lasix today. Trainer and jockey made the trip with her.

Race 10   2-11-4-10      C=2    V=2

Light the Night stretches out a furlong after coming close in his first two starts. Tops the ones who have started figurewise. War of Ideas goes first time for the deadly combo of Brown/Ortiz. Well bred for the distance. Jan’s Reserve has three ok starts and takes the blinkers off today. Dilger is 2 of 5 with that move. Publishanditerate goes first time for McLaughlin who is 25% with first timers.

Crime of the Century

The news lately has been full of stories about the “insider trading” scandal in the fantasy sports business. The New York Times blared,

Scandal Erupts in Unregulated World of Fantasy Sports

The key word there is “unregulated.” So what’s a country to do about it? Obviously, have a Congressional hearing. I mean, what else do those guys have to do?

I’ve been on the record previously saying that Congress should keep itself focused on the things they are good at – and once I figure that out, I’ll let you know. But the one thing I know they are not good at is regulating gambling or games of chance. No gaming activity has ever come out ahead once the feds wormed their way in.

The issue with fantasy sports was a couple of employees using information not generally available to the public to hit jackpots on fantasy sites where they were not employed. Yeah, it sort of sucks, but is it a federal case? Well, some would cite the Interstate Wire Act of 1961. That’s right. 1961. Even for those of you who don’t remember 1961, that was the era of three television stations and a rotary telephone (ask your grandparents to describe one). The law was the brainchild of Robert Kennedy who saw himself as the wall against the spread of organized crime. One of the main revenue sources for organized crime was gambling, especially on sporting events, and Kennedy figured that with the new law he had one more tool in the toolbox to bust up the syndicate. It read

Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers, or for information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

Good thing my departed father, God rest his soul, didn’t know the phone call to Paulie the Bookie could have landed him in Leavenworth for a deuce.

Of course, the irony today is that in 1961 everything moved on wires, while today it’s a little more complex. No matter. Wire is the modern euphemism for transmission regardless of technology.

One of the things the old syndicate bosses knew is that they were all vulnerable if someone with more muscle moved in. That’s exactly what happened, except it wasn’t a more powerful crime organization, it was the government. Remember the daily number? It used to pay 640-1 when bookmakers were running it. The state took over and the payoff dropped to 500-1. Let me ask you, would Powerball fall into the category of “a transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers…” Sure it would, had the government not given itself an exemption. It is the hypocrisy of government involvement that it is only a crime if we don’t want the revenues from it.

One of the main questions Congress would have to answer is, are fantasy sports games of chance or skill? I think horseracing is a game of skill in which there is wagering, and by the same logic so are fantasy sports. For me, any game that is not purely fixed odds, and where the participants have the ultimate power of selection, can be argued to be a game of skill. For goodness sake, everything has an element of chance, and if you don’t believe me ask Derek Jeter what a celestial break it was to have Jeffrey Maier attending an ALCS game one night.

There’s a pretty simple solution in the interim. You know how certain companies offer raffles or contests and the entries say clearly on the bottom “employees or their families are not eligible?” It would be just as easy for fantasy companies to ban their employees from playing a fantasy game on any site (and most have already adopted that rule). So we don’t need Congress to handle that issue.

The larger issue may be that of insider trading. The New York Times article said

The episode has raised questions about who at daily fantasy companies has access to valuable data, such as which players a majority of the money is being bet on; how it is protected; and whether the industry can — or wants — to police itself.

I thought about this with regard to horseracing. Which horse the majority of the money is bet on – yep, we all know that. Of course, the rumors of inside information in horseracing are widespread, and if you’ve gone to the track regularly you have inevitably heard talk of some secret workout, or a budding superstar, or a trainer coup. Apparently not all inside information is created equally (although the next blog will get into a case in Pennsylvania), or at least it’s not all equally illegal.

The question of how information is protected begs a different question. Why shouldn’t the betting public have access to that information? If some sharpie can figure out where there might be value in the system, more power to him. In other words, what makes it necessary to protect certain information? Because if we don’t have to keep some performance data secret, that becomes a moot issue.

The final point is perhaps the most important and fantasy sports can learn a good lesson from horseracing. If you don’t take the steps to regulate yourself, you can be sure some governmental entity will happily step in. Whether or not they can do a better job may be a matter of opinion, but as I started this opinion piece with, my confidence in the ability of Congress to come up with something that protects the public may wind up taking a back seat to issues of morality and economics. There are plenty in Congress who oppose gambling on moral grounds and there are plenty who see fantasy sports as another opportunity to impose stiff “sin” taxes on a gambling enterprise.

Apparently fantasy sports are not illegal, or they are apparently not covered by the Interstate Wire Act. That being the case, it also seems to be the case that the “insider trading” element was not a violation of federal law, and if it was, the proper agency to deal with it would be the FBI, who has been mute on the matter.

If you favor Congressional intervention, I assume you believe fantasy sports have the potential to become an out of control, possibly criminal enterprise. I would suggest that a corrupt enterprise will eventually collapse under the weight of its own lack of integrity or greed. Yes, fantasy sports need to have the intelligence to find the holes in the system and close them. But Congressional hearings? I think we are a long way from needing a hearing, especially considering all the important issues such hearings would pull valuable time from.

This wasn’t the crime of the century, the decade and perhaps not even the year. If you play fantasy sports you deserve a level playing field. I don’t think that is so tough the bright minds who figured out how to turn an office distraction into a multi-billion dollar business can’t figure it out. If they don’t fix it, they may not like the solution of the government agency that does. Just ask horseracing.

Why Do You Lose?

It’s hard to win at the races consistently. The game is stacked against bettors at the start. Takeout on bets of between 15 and 30 percent already puts players in a hole, and overcoming that amount takes enormous skill and discipline. Interestingly, the least likely reason people lose is that they are bad handicappers. In today’s information age, handicappers have more opportunity than ever to find winners.

I’ll offer some of the more likely reasons players have negative balance sheets.

You don’t have a plan. How you bet should be dependent on your bankroll, and I’ll elaborate a little more on that below. I’ve advocated that less capitalized bettors should focus on the win and exacta pools while reserving a small portion of your bankroll for more exotic wagers. Having a plan allows you to approach each card with some confidence. You have an idea of how you will attack each respective betting race, and being prepared creates confidence.

You handicap too many races at too many circuits. I think handicapping one card at one circuit can easily consume a couple of hours. There is a lot involved in handicapping a race. Figuring out how the race will be run, watching replays from previous races, getting an idea of the ability of each horse, looking into trainers and jockeys – all that takes time. Is it possible to do this for multiple race tracks and circuits? Sure, but it will take a lot of time both during the races and after the races. Not many people have that kind of time, yet they will be playing from the first race on the east coast to the last race at Los Al, and then maybe turn their attention to Australia. It is one thing to target specific race types at the different circuits, but trying to play 30 to 50 races in a day would be tough for even the best handicappers. Most people playing the races have jobs, families and other obligations. Even if you are just playing on the weekend, it makes little sense to try to cram a large number of races into the day and expect to regularly come out ahead. Being a master at one circuit may be a better alternative than being mediocre at five.

You bet when there is no value. I’ve written about this extensively and cannot emphasize it enough. You have to get away from being selection oriented (I like the 3 horse in this race) and become value oriented (I believe the 3 is an overlay in this race). You have to discipline yourself to not bet when you don’t have an edge.

You bet too many races. I bet every New York race day. In nine or ten races I’m happy to find five to seven races where I can find a value bet. It would be a rare day where I found bets in all ten races.  I recognize that the action can be addictive, but you have to learn to substitute the thrill of winning consistently for the thrill of rooting something in every single race. I’ll admit sometimes I wind up sitting when I should be betting, but I suspect that may be an easier problem to fix than betting too many races. Ask yourself that simple question before betting. Do I really have an edge here?

You hit a race and immediately increase your betting. We’ve all done it. You hit a race and the win bets go from $20 to $50 and you’re throwing money at all the lottery bets. Why? Because psychologically you think, I’m hot! Riding the crest. One question – how long did it take before you were starting over with your bankroll? There is only one way to handle a big win. Discipline yourself to stick with what works.

You’re not properly capitalized for the pools you are in. If you are investing $100 a day in the pick six chances are you’re not going to hit one unless it happens to be a particularly formful day. If there were six races with seven horses each that would be over 117,000 combinations. Keep records. What’s your ROI on your bets? If you are a small bankroll player, the first pools you should look at are win and exacta. I’m not suggesting you should never look at the Pick 5/6, but understand that you can kill your bankroll playing them.

You press when you’re down.They call the last race the “get out race” because lots of people are trying to recover all their loses in that race. Remind yourself, it’s just another betting race that you’ll get into if there is value and there is always tomorrow. It rarely seems like pressing in the last works out unless that was the race you were waiting for all day.

You don’t understand the math when it comes to exotics and you spread too thin. I want to pull my hair out every time I see TVG tweet out a pick 4 ticket with a 5/2 single and 60 combinations, the first question I ask is, is the pick 4 likely to pay more than the same amount on the single to win? Even with 50 cent pick 4’s, a $30 win ticket on the 5-2 shot pays $105, meaning the pick 4 has to pay more than $420 to be a better play. Same with the trifecta or superfecta. Anytime you single a horse you are making a win (or place) bet and you have to be astute enough to make a calculation. You ever hear someone “wheel” a horse in the exacta or the daily double? Yep, they are making a win bet. If you play Horse A to Horse B to some horses in a trifecta, you essentially made an exacta bet. You have to understand the bet you are really making.

You bet when you are on tilt. We’ve all suffered tough losses. Plain and simple, if you have a race to bet after you’ve had a bad beat, make sure you are thinking clearly.

Belmont October 16

I’m going to try a new feature. I’m not sure how it will work and it may need some refinement, but I’m going to categorize races with regard to Competitiveness (C) and Value (V). C1  would represent a race where there are lots of contenders. V1 would represent a race where some price horses have good potential. C2 would be a race where the contenders stick out and there are some clear eliminations. V2 would represent average value. C3 would be a race where a few contenders stick out. V3 would represent a race where payoffs should not be high. I expect not to have too many V1 races.

Race 1      7-2-4      C=2    V=2

This is a difficult race for a couple of reasons. There are two Pletcher first-timers, a solid looking favorite, and some horses that have previously started and have excuses. Acapella lost as the favorite for Chad Brown and stretches out a furlong here. The two horses that beat her both came back to win. She was a $300K purchase, a good sum for a NY bred. Most likely will achieve favoritism. Flataway is the first-timer for Pletcher that gets Velasquez and that is usually a deadly combination. Well bred for the distance and the dirt. Sweet Peaches missed her break fist time out on the turf but did make a strong stretch move. She’s better bred for the dirt and at 15-1 may be the value in the race.

Race 2      7-5-4      C=1    V=2

Chelsea Road has been popular at the claiming box and winds up in John Parisella’s barn for this start. She’s been flipping back and forth between the dirt and the turf, but if you look at the record a quarter of her races have been on the fast dirt but half her wins, and a third at BEL earlier this year. There are some negatives – she hasn’t won this year – but given how many horses have a shot in here, I’ll look for some value. Talent N Passion is 2 for 2 this year and 2 for 3 at BEL. She’s proven at the distance and looks to be the clear frontrunner in this field. Irad jumps on for the ride. Bridgetta is another speedy sort and she gets a good switch to Castellano. She’s had good success at BEL and the distance, and is at the right price.

Race 3      5-9-2-4      C=2    V=2

Congress Park finally drops out of MSW to the claiming ranks. Her last start she wasn’t able to control the pace but the start before she missed wiring a field by a nose. She looks like the controlling speed today and has two figures that would top the field. Tiz Adore stumbled out of the gate first time out and lost all chance. She is very well bred for the distance and Shirreffs has a high percentage with second start maidens. One other interesting horse I’d point out is Classy Teacher. She came out first time against super turf filly Lady Eli and then ran a clunker on the dirt. She laid off a year, returning in the care of RuRod. He put her in a race that got washed off the turf where she showed a little interest early before fading. That race should give her some needed condition and the drop to the claiming level should help. Enthusiastic Gal has one turf sprint at Parx but shouldn’t have trouble with the stretch out. In her sprint she broke slowly and was wide, losing all chance. I like the switch to Lezcano, and while it’s a bit speculative the 6-1 odds make her worth a look.

Race 4      5-3-6      C=1    V=2

Lost in D Shuffle shifted to the Michelle Nevin barn for 2015. She’s had one dirt race, one synthetic race, and and one turf race. Nevin put front wraps on him last time, but doesn’t drop him out of the MSW ranks. Another that is a little speculative but interesting. Lightning Buzz may have gotten the top slot but I’m a little hesitant because of the switch to Luzzi. He’s got the speed and looked tough dueling all the way around the track last out. Henrik Rules goes first time for Carl Domino who is 20% first time with limited data. The last workout was a bright advertisement for the horse’s potential speed.

Race 5      10-8-9   C=1    V=2

There are only a couple of easy pitches in the 5th, hence the C1 rating. That being said, I’m going with Nevada Kid. He’s been off since March 2014, but has a sharp workout (an advertisement?) and has won before off the long layoff. Obviously this horse has some physical issues and Zito is practically giving the horse away, but I’m thinking Zito wants him to show well. Moneyinyourpocket was taken by DiPrima last out. a win at the $16,000 level. He fits at the level, and his figures are competitive with this group. Cease has not won a race in the last two years but has been in the money four of six starts this year. Figues suggest he has the ability, we’ll have to see if he has the heart.

Race 6      5-6-10       C=1    V=1

I like some price horses in this race, hence the V1 rating. We’ll start with Upstate Bird at 8-1 on the ML. She jumped up to the wrong distance and class last out, so you can throw that race out. Before that she had not finished any worse than fourth at this level.  Once again DJ dropping a horse is a pretty common move. Daisy Cutter hasn’t seen this price since her maiden voyage. She’s got two wins this year and has been consistently around the same figure. Race and Shine has been picking up minor checks for most of the year. Her last three races she’s run the same number and they have been her best of 2015. Potential for a breakthrough is there.

Race 7      5-1-6      C=3    V=3

Bellamy Way will be battling for favoritism with Uncle Sigh. Bellamy Way adds shades today after showing well in the Albany. He’s been consistent and fits the level perfectly. Uncle Sigh was a top three year old early last year and has looked good in his two state-bred starts this year. Colorado Grandslam is not without chances, especially given his controlling speed. It really looks like the winner has to come from one of these three.

Race 8      3-4-1      C=2    V=2

Crisolles has been competitive since coming to America and has been fairly unlucky not to have a win. Doesn’t dominate the field, but at his best should handle them. Queen’s Parade has been ambitiously placed since popping in an OC$25K. Adds blinkers today and given the improvement in the last few months has every right to be part of the finish. Evidently comes off a couple of Grade 3 races where she beat half the field. Decidedly easier task today.

Race 9      7-6-8      C=1    V=2

Tough race to close the card. Oscar Nominated has two good races at the MSW level and drops down to the claiming ranks today. Cyber Security goes first time for the combination of Chad Brown/Irad Ortiz. Table Talk is the intersting horse at 15-1 ML. He had the lead for a half in his last and was not that far out at the stretch call. Should show some improvement with the experience under his belt.


Belmont October 15

Since I’m posting this the night before picks are prior to scratches and assume races stay on the turf.

Race 1      2-1-4

Spearhead has not finished out of the money in 2015. He comes from Parx, but has raced with better there. Is particularly well bred for the distance. Captain Moss drops out of starter allowances into a NW2L event. He looks better at the sprint distance on the dirt. Hillbilly Style puts the blinkers on and gets a switch to Irad. Last couple of workouts look like he’s prepping for a sprint.

Race 2      4-1-5

Autumn Squall gets a positive switch to Castellano. She looks like the major speed and the one to catch. He best starts have been on the turf. Comet Sixty Two may be listed at 8/5 on the ML but the 1 for 16 record with 7 seconds makes me suspect. Turf figures look good and would be no surprise, but looks underlayed at the odds. Undertherain was claimed last out by Jason Serpe and he is 23% first after the claim. Should have first run at the leader.

Race 3      6-1A-4

Goodtimehadbyall was taken last out by Contessa after running a good third to Readtheprospectus. Should be in the mix at a decent price. Readtheprospectus goes for three in a row. Has a number of lifetime figures that would top this field. If he goes will be a legitimate favorite. Integrity makes a big drop and has shown good early speed against better. Throw out the last – he stumbled at the start and lost all chance. Has done well at BEL and at today’s distance.

Race 4      9-6-3

Insta Erma drops from MSW to the claiming ranks for Mott who generally does better giving horses some experience. Gets her first does of Lasix today. Should have no issue with the distance. Anna Creek didn’t break well last out but finished powerfully. Chad Brown does well with second time maidens and the works suggest she should be in top form. A better break and she may be the winner. Singmeasongbella stretches out on the drop down. Pletcher is 30% with MSW going to MCL.

Race 5      9-11-7

Native George is 20-1 ML but is much better than those odds. He ships over from FL where he was in MSW races. In his last start he had trouble at the break. Strategy is likely to send him from the outside. Lieutenant Dale is for sale today at $140K less than his purchase price. Figures are competitive with most of these in here. Banker’s Boss should be part of the early scrum and should benefit from the cutback to a mile.

Race 6      2-3-5

Hyper has been in nothing but graded stakes since coming back after a year and a half layoff.  He was placed in both a G1 and G3 and this is the easiest field he’s seen in quite a while. Sly Tom has a win and a third at BEL and has run his best races in his last three. Should have no problems with the 11 furlongs. Umgiyo flopped as the favorite last out. He’s a better horse than he showed in that race and I’m willing to give him another chance.

Race 7      1-9-10-6

Cuppa Joe should be the pacesetter and has done well at BEL and the distance. Drops down to his lowest price ever and  Irad gets back up. Comes the Dream is another tumbling down the price ladder. You can throw out his two mile races – this is a much better distance for him. Not Goliath comes off a state-bred stakes where he finished a close up fifth. Figures are competitive in this group. Elroi is a stone closer and if the race breaks down he has prospects.

Race 8      1-6-5-4

Joe Franklin looked good as a turf sprinter in his last and he’s 8 of 9 in the money with four wins lifetime. Tackles some of the big boys today but has the speed and the figures to surprise the field. Night Officer comes out of a couple of restricted stakes where he missed only by only half a length in each event. Seven year old has never better than in 2015. Dowse’s Beach has been out of the money only twice in his last ten starts. Horse has been consistent with his figures, does well at BEL and has a win at the distance. Iroquois Girl was off a year and has run  two good races. Ralph Nicks has been hot lately and the workouts suggest he’ll be dangerous today.

Race 9      10-3-5 (13)

Doc Curlin drops to his lowest price in search of a win and adds shades for focus. Has looked good in his turf starts. In his maiden race he missed by a nose at BEL. If he runs back to that one he’s got big outs. Updraft drops from MSW to MCL and has gotten the ultimate equipment change since his last in January. At his best he’s as good as any horse in this race. Seeking Daily goes for Jason Servis who is 33% off the layoff. Figures are right there with the top two, Our Luck has to get consideration if he draws in.

Belmont October 12

Columbus Day is still a holiday at Belmont. Not great races, but you never know when the possibilities will arise. Couple of things to note. All selections are for races on the turf. Some races have a fourth horse to account for the possibility of scratches since I’m doing this the night before.

Race 1      5-1

Watch and Tie has dominant figures but at 3/5 it would be hard to bet him to win. However, one cold exacta could be a money maker and I’m thinking Arctic King. This will be a theme through many of the cards – trainers are starting to unload the two year olds and three year olds that aren’t going to be part of their 2016 plans, and some of them are getting gelded. Arctic King hasn’t been out since AQU in 2014., but has a get workout in prep for this one. Plus, he’s been gelded and drops from MSW to the claiming ranks (sure sign they don’t see him as a top flight runner) . Trying to turn 3/5 into 9-1.

Race 2      1/1A-3-7

DJ has generally been entering two and scratching one. Bass River Road has a big figure from his second back and Johannesburg Smile has been showing good close lately. Wynhurst looks for three in a row for Ru Rod. Attractive Ride has won four of his last six with a second and a third.

Race 3      5-10-8-1

Thirst for Glory is one of those three year olds I’ve been talking about. Gets gelded and dropped to $40K from MSW. Best races are on the turf. Bapu comes third of a layoff and is on the improve. Gear Jammer has too many starts to get excited. He has good figs and is an in the money type though. Freudian Lights get first Lasix. He has improved with a move to the turf. Down side is that he hasn’t shown a lot of speed and has to worry about getting buried on the rail.

Race 4      4-6-1

Aleander won his NW2L and moves up in proce and condition. Favors the distance. Forest Boy is the DJ dropper. Lost all chance at the start last out but the time before that ran a new top. Call Daddy is looking for three in a row.

Race 5      2-8-6-10

Somerset Sandy came close last time and has the field topping figure. Ally’s Envy is another that almost busted through first time out and has a similar figure to a few in here. Lady Lucky has shown good closing ability at the route distances but is probably better bred for this distance. Bareeqa had trouble at the start but showed a lot of interest in a race where he had no shot. At 10-1 you have to give him a long look.

Race 6      2-7-5

Aussie Prayer won at this price as a maiden and came close in his NW2L race. Stays here for today’s race. Hatta’s Appeal has been running with better and her best turf race tops this field. Egyptian Magic was an eight start maiden and was jumped up over her head for her starts with winners. Back where she belongs.

Race 7      3-9-7-5

Hillaryinthehouse has looked good at BEL and ran a good combacker at SAR. Forever for Always has struggled a bit to get the win but at 15-1 ML and competitive figures she’s in the mix. Skinner Box has been close in his last three and should be in a good spot to finish. Loon River is another that is always close and could step up if there is a scratch.

Race 8      1-3-6-7

Guayana has a consistent set of figures and should get a perfect spot here. Natalie Victoria  has a good record at BEL and is coming off a couple of place finishes at DEL. Looks to have the numbers to compete. Callista switches to the Hennig barn after scoring first time out and second with winners. Have to respect that ability. Tahoe Tigress has been racing with much better and looked good when dropped to this price. All four horses have about equal chances.

Race 9      1-2-5

Isabella Sings just missed in a Grade 3 last out and tops the field from a figure standpoint. Partisan Politics has been good enough to win any of her last three with some better luck. She should be in a much better position to make her stretch move today. Consumer Credit won last time she wasn’t in a Graded race. Have to give her a long look.

Race 10   5-2-7-9

Mind Magic just missed first after the claim by Maker. Maker got her to run a new top.  Stays at this level. Priest N the Rabbi has run two decent races at this level. Ward switches to Cancel and the trainer/jock combo is 24%. Talledaga and Steet Fightin Man are multi-start maidens and could have something to say in the verticals.

Belmont October 11

Race 1      3-6-5

Inca Saint may have the best chance in a suspect field. His negatives (zero wins at BEL and 1 for 7 at the distance) give me pause, but his best figures top this field. Will need odds to push the button at the window. Power Crazed was claimed by RuRod for $35K, jumped up to the ALW level where he ran respectably, and is dropped down to $25K today. Not far behind the 3. Successful Brothers has 11 seconds in 29 starts and only 2 wins. He’s in the top three as the likely vertical horse.

Race 2      3-2-5

Big Gillette came close first time out and RuRod usually improves them second time out. Destin is a first timer for Pletcher/Castellano. The workouts are typical Pletcher and being a Giant’s Causeway he should have no issue with the distance. Sea Wizard is listed at 4-1 ML and given the low profile connections you have to think he might be the real deal. Four bullets in his last five works.

Race 3      5-6-1

Indygita won the last two times she was in straight claimers, last time with the hot Jose Ortiz aboard. All systems go today. Kacy Lauren has two in a row, last in a state-bred allowance. This straight maiden is not much of a drop down in reality but she has won at the distance and at BEL. Arctic Ocean has had some weather bad luck, but has run well on the turf and at BEL. Would be no surprise and at 10-1 is the interesting horse.

Race 4      4-3-1

Sources and Methods was grabbed last out by 27% winner Brad Cox. The horse was coming hard at seven furlongs to just miss and perhaps the mile distance will be in his favor. Pin and Win ran better than looked last time out, but let’s face it – he’s 1 for 20.  A small chance to win, but more likely right behind the horse breaking next to him again. Bossmon has been knocking around at this level for a while but has competitive figures for this group. Lots of question marks in this race, and a head scratching finish is not out of the question.

Race 5      3-4-2

Chapman had been off since the end of the AQU meet, came out at SAR and held the lead to the stretch. He’s got a lot of back class, Chris Englehart in his corner, and the works should have him ready. The concern? He can’t blow his brains out running with Comandante. That one is now the controlling speed since Petrocelli is out of the race. He’s dropping in price and would be no surprise wiring the field. Bug Juice has had success at the distance and his figures are competitive with this group.

Race 6       5-1-8

This is one tough race to handicap. It was impossible to eliminate more than a couple of runners at a glance. I went with Compliance Officer on top. He has been with better in the recent past and although he was beaten last out by Sinatra that was at a sixteenth longer. I think he turns the tables at a mile. Media Kid had been off four months but turned in a good one in his last out. Improvement likely in the second start off the layoff. Sinatra is in top condition, has shown an ability to track and if he can avoid being part of a speed duel he has a lot of outs.

Race 7      2-5-3

This is another tough affair. Street Jersey and Star’s Ride look like the potential front speed here and both have chances if the track favors speed. Godrevy has been closing mildly but should have pace to run at today. Figures look like they should produce a top finish. I’m looking at some of the horses that haven’t had multiple starts. Candour stretches out another 16th and moving to the middle of the track should give him more room to run. Bookeelia Island broke slow last out, but Rosario was patient and when he pushed the go button the horse started flying. With a clean trip he’s got lots of outs.

Race 8      3-10-8

This is another very competitive race and it was a lot of effort to reduce the likely winners to three horses. Three for Me has been running lights out this year. He has won three times in 2015, once at the state-bred NW1X level. He’s moving up a level, but given the competitive races he should be in the mix at the end. Battle Red just broke his maiden and may have finally figured out how to win after finishing second six of eight times. Romeo Lima ships over from France and Clement is 27% with first timers in the states. Euro figures might be a little light but should be competitive today.

Race 9      2-1/1A-7

One Sided hasn’t run a bad race is his life and has managed consistent figures. Likes BEL and should do well at the distance. The entry is now just a single. Sailmate may have been the weaker part of the entry, but this is a common Jacobson move. Sailmate was competitive with much better last year and he looks like he might be rounding into shape. Likely to go much higher than the 4-1 ML. Force should appreciate the cutback in distance. He should be part of the early pace and should have the lead heading into the stretch.

Race 10   11-7-8

Whatawonderflworld did well breaking from the outside last time and has to circle again. Casse is 26% with second start maidens. Sherry’s Miracle ran well after a troubled start last out. A clean trip puts him right in the mix. Slapstick just missed first time out and has a nice series of breezes prepping for this. Another who could be the winner with a move forward.