Friday, May 31, 2013

Finding Your Niche (and Thoughts on MTH Saturday)

"Look, all you can do when you find your niche is go with it." - Vincent D'Onofrio

Having spent most of the year chasing contests that were outside of my comfort zone and trying to force action on tracks and in conditions that I am not that confident in, I have finally gone back to what I know.  The last two weeks have been much more fruitful and have helped to build back my confidence as I have been back handicapping Monmouth Park, Delaware Park, Parx, and Finger Lakes (insert groans here).

I once has a disagreement with someone over what tracks are playable or what makes a race playable.  While we both agreed that you need to be comfortable with how you feel the race sets up or what the intent of the horsemen is, the disagreement fell to what circuit(s) should be played.  My acquaintance insisted that only high purse, premier venues were worth playing (higher handle, larger pools) and I insisted that winners are winners where ever you may find value (when your fair odds are better than the post time odds).  I can see his side of the argument - better tracks and purses attract better horses and larger fields, which leads to larger pools; however what good is all that if you can't dissect the race and make a profit?  Why mess with a good thing?

I admittedly do chase, with some success, guaranteed pools on some Saturdays on the NYRA circuit, but know that this is not my niche.  Maybe in my mind it is okay to be Crash Davis and tear it up on the minor league circuits.  I guess what is really boils down to is that when your cash is on the line, you need to be comfortable with your decision.  If this means forgoing certain contests or events since you are not comfortable, that is fine, but taking that occasional shot is worth it.  I spent a few months trying to adapt to circuits and conditions I am not always confident in playing and had moderate success, but not to the extent I have had on a day-to-day basis in the past when I stick to my bread and butter tracks.

Some thoughts on Saturday's Monmouth card:
Race 1 - 4 Tex Appeal (2-1) has the pedigree to suggest a debut winner despite the trouble Cibelli has had recently (not going there in this blog); 1/1A Aristone Entry (8-5) also appears sharp - not much value here and a low confidence with all the 2YO debuts, I would suggest passing.

Race 2 - 4 South Beach Queen (7-2) stretches out on the drop and Breen does connect on a high percentage of MC races.  3 Johanna Honey (4-1) tries two turns off of the layoff and her breeding suggests she should like this distance.  6 Armedia (5-2) rounds out the contenders that will be chasing a pace set by 7 Chocolate Drops (9-2) who may get loose early but will falter late.

Race 3 - 1 Jack Taylor (3-1) may get loose on the lead uncontested and cruise home wire to wire as Lopez and Trujillo have been historically solid at MTH; 4 Quepos (3-1) looks to pick up the pieces if the early pace fails.

Race 4 - 3 Ingenuity (9-2) shows a solid work pattern and decent pedigree and along with 7 Thunder Hole (6-1) may be able to take advantage of a speed duel between 1 No Its Not (5-1) and 4 Bob And The Gang (2-1).  6 Best Man (5-2) may also be looming late and is not to be overlooked.

Race 5 - 5 Dazzlin Dr Cologne (6-5) may be able to overcome a slight class disadvantage and take this field wire to wire.  Should he fail on the lead, 6 Raised for Speed (4-1) looks to be making a move late.

Race 6 - 2 Shimmering Rita (3-1) looks to have an advantage on the early pace and should take this field wire to wire.  9 Forgotten Prayers (5-1) could play spoiler second off the layoff and on the drop with Moya in the irons.

Race 7 - 2 Silent Appeal (9-2) dueled in his late and should be sharp here first off of the claim against statebreds.  3 Crafty Concorde (9-5) will be a factor as he stretches back out.

Race 8 - 6 Open Outcry (6-1) will be part of the late charge that includes 4 They Call Me Giant (5-2), 1 Marvelous Chester (6-1), and 9 Person of Interest (7-2) as 6 Crafty Time (30-1) will set the early pace and falter by the half.

Race 9 - 7 Invocation (5-2) and 2 Nathan Ridge (7-2) will be battling late as a speed duel develops leaving these two a good shot late.

Race 10 - 8 Memphislivesinme (4-1) may end up setting the pace in an early speed devoid field and could steal this one on the front end.  10 Tanzana (6-1), 3 Mississippi Man (5-1), and 4 Triple E (3-1) are all also solid contenders who could force the issue here and be making up ground late.

Race 11 - 8 Final Forest (4-1) and 4 Geeky Gorgeous (8-1) both look to benefit from the weak early pace set by 3 Bombast (6-1) and 9 Arlo (7-2)

Race 12 - 8 Rumble Seat (6-1) makes her 3 year old debut here and does show a decent pedigree for this surface despite having no success last fall; 1 Sweeter Turn (7-2) will benefit from getting back on the turf and the class drop, as 7 Celtic Blessing (5-1) has shown better ability than most over the turf, and 3 Skort (4-1) may find some life with the switch to Bravo.

Good luck all!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ability (and thoughts on MTH Saturday)

"Success is the maximum utilization of the ability that you have." - Zig Ziglar

How many times have you been beat by a horse that, despite not showing great recent form, seems to either run back to old form or have success against a field that may just not be of the same caliber despite meeting the conditions?  Over the last few weeks I have been struggling to quantify a horse's potential ability versus what its current form suggests.  Couple this factor with my periodic perusal of what new handicapping books are out there that I have not yet had the change to read and we are left with an 'Aha!' moment.

I had recently read 'Total Victory at the Track' by William M. Scott and added his PCR (Performance Class Rating) and ABT (Ability Time) factors to my ever growing sheet (along with a more pared down version that picked more applicable races).  I had found modest results, but it was not a metric of measuring current form versus potential form while looking at finish positions and second call positions versus field size.  On a whim, I ordered Dave Vaccaro's 'The Matrix System of Handicapping' despite seeing the reviews on Paceadvantage that is was more geared for beginners than the more advanced handicapper and found what appears to be a much better suited idea for this application.

I have always contended that a book or systems worth is based on what I can extract out and incorporate into my own thinking or process.  I have also been trying to find that fine line between a ton of work for a profit and trying to keep things simple and still reap some rewards.  Vaccaro does just that.  Within the first few pages, I had a good feeling about his work since he made a statement that holds true to me - "Any good handicapping system takes bits and pieces from other systems and sources and puts them together to make an original product" - that this should or could be part of your established handicapping process, but can be used in addition to it.  As I worked up the parameters in Excel, his target and ability time criteria became another factor on my sheet (next to velocities, AP, EP, SP, FX, E%, PCR, ABT, Turn Times, homegrown speed figures, etc.).  His logic is simple, the math is simple (once you get the hang of it) and does tend to hone in on the top contenders within the field - without requiring a calculator or any kind of conversion chart.  As with anything, I am never happy to take a new figure or angle at face value and am starting to watch it for trends or anomalies.  For instance, when a horse's target value exceeds the rest of the fields ability value, how will that perform?  What percentage of races are won by horses in the top 3 or within 10% of the top value of either ability time or target time?  How does this correlate to my pace analysis?  How does the track variant play into to the times used for comparison?

Vaccaro's book was enough to get me past my Handicapper's Block and on the path to refinement/testing/use-or-abandonment - while I agree that this book would be great for a novice since it does touch on form, pace, class, etc.; the simple analysis used for Ability Time and Target Times is useful as a metric for current versus potential form.  As is usually the case with my process, it is now time to mold, shape, tweak, collect data, test, tweak some more, and challenge my thoughts and the figures for the next few months.  Hopefully I will have some positive findings to report here (as well as back to Dave Vaccaro).

Some thoughts on Saturday's potentially wet Monmouth Park card:
Race 1 -7 Killthemessenger (5-2) and 1 Dan the Irishman (7-2) look to benefit from a speed duel between 5 Dubonnet Red and 6 Exactness.

Race 2 - If it stays on the turf or is run on the main track, 3 Charmingmegan (7-2) and 1 Love Shack (4-1) look to be the plays here as the early pace should fold by the stretch.

Race 3 - 6 Pro Prospect (6-5) should take this field wire to wire, but the value isn't there; 3 Xanthos 3-1 has a chance at the upset

Race 4 - 7 Small Secret (9-2) will be making a late run with 2 Lost Yer Number (3-1) as the early pace of 3 Ruby's Mine (5-2) and 6 Trish's Wish (15-1) falls apart

Race 5 - 8 Blazing Prize (5-2) could take this wire to wire, but 7 Jersey Kiss (7-2) and 4 Ghosts and Legends (5-1) loom late if the early pace is contested.

Race 6 - Wide open; leaning towards 7 Maintain the Magic (3-1) adding the hood with 6 Sweeter Turn (9-2), 2 On Parole (7-2), and 5 Really Charming (4-1); should this go over the main track, watch 9 Sweet Tooth Sweety (5-1) with 7 and 2.

Race 7 - 5 Co Pilot (7-2) needed the last first off of the shelf and should go wire to wire here over 8 I'm On Fire (5-2) and 1 Meatbeau (6-1).

Race 8 - 8 Atavism (9-2) has solid connections and adds the hood after two flat efforts at TAM; 4 Go Bernie Go (7-2) makes his 3yo debut after showing early foot against better; 6 Airgead (4-1) showed some life and looks to move forward here... if over the dirt 2 Vizir (15-1) may flash some early speed and get loose early, 9 Royal Hard Spun (6-1) has shown some recent form, and 3 Write  A Song (4-1) should improve in his 3yo debut.

Race 9 - 8 Dancing Lion (3-1) and 7 Agent Cooper (7-2) both benefit from a weak pace set by 2 Sinatra'srazedbrow (6-1) and 4 Macho Mo Mon (5-1)

Race 10 - 7 The Louisiana Kid (5-1) should be the one to beat regardless of what surface this is run over with a late run by 3 He's Hollywood (3-1) coming up just short.  6 Cocodimama (4-1) and 8 Michal P (9-2) have a chance over the turf for a minor share, and 9 Cool Under Fire (6-1) looks to be a factor over the main track.

Race 11 - 9 Pants On Fire (4-1) will fire first off the shelf and has a class edge over 10 Bowman's Beast (6-1) who needs to prove he belongs at this level.  7 Ruler On Ice (8-1) may figure late over 8 Buffum (3-1) who has yet to prove himself around two turns.

Race 12 - 4 Perfect Lover (4-1) should get loose and go wire to wire, but not without a late rally by 6 Emotional Lady (5-2) and 10 Wildcat Thunder (3-1) that she will need to hold off.

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend!  Good luck all!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Greatness (and Preakness Preview)

"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." - William Shakespeare

I had been covering Philly Park for a now defunct horse racing handicapping website and had stumbled across a first time starter in November 2003 and thought he had a leg up in his maiden debut which became just another one of my selections on a seemingly normal card.  He won by an impressive 7-3/4 lengths and earned a note to follow this one in my marble composition pad of charts and trip notes.  A few weeks later, this horse showed up again, fresh off of that MSW win and entered in a minor stakes - this time he destroyed the field by 15 lengths!  I knew this horse was something special and as he continued on, winning for fun at Aqueduct in the Count Fleet Stakes and later a pair of wins at Oaklawn, the Rebel and Arkansas Derby - I knew I had my Derby selection locked up early that year, before even seeing the entire field and post draw - Smarty Jones.

Smarty Jones was the last horse I honestly felt had a real shot at the Triple Crown.  Maybe I was bias since I had watched his development and was so deeply entrenched with the connections on the Philly, Delaware, and NJ circuits, that I felt this horse was special.  Fast forward 9 years - spending less time watching replays, making trip notes, and tracking circuits as I once did - I had analyzed the Derby and felt there would be a big late rush - but to figure out which horse had the leg up?  I had figured Revolutionary had an edge (picking Orb as my third choice), but watched that stretch run (almost how I had figured it) and watching that w-i-d-e move felt we had a real exceptional specimen moving forward.  He is the horse to beat on Saturday, and may be the closest thing to a Triple Crown threat since my heart (and handicapping) was behind Smarty Jones.

I think the Preakness sets up this way - 3 Titletown Five, 6 Oxbow, and 8 Governor Charlie all vie early - taking the pace through the half mile plus, 2 Goldencents will keep himself forwardly placed but finds himself a bit flat in the stretch.  Of the late runner - I see 7 Will Take Charge and 9 Itsmyluckyday being a bit short, with 1 Orb making a huge run again, 4 Departing coming of a doubly wide effort in the Illinois Derby rallying, and 5 Mylute running big off a wide and troubled trip.  Ultimately, I think Orb gets the best trip of the solid closers and will find himself 2/3rds of the way to the history books.  Underneath, I would include Mylute and Departing with the big late moves and figure that Will Take Charge or Governor Charlie could round out the superfecta.

In a way, I almost need to pass this race - while my analysis points to Orb, my heart wants to see a horse that has shown this kind of heart and ability find his place in the record books - it couldn't happen to nicer connections.  In the age of lightly race horses who seem to be protected for future breeding interests or injured more than the Yankees starting lineup - it seems that with each passing year the chances of a prospect being able to complete the prep season and be around to gut out three hard fought victories gets less and less.  Is this Orb's destiny?  Does Shug have this one conditioned to stay in form this weekend and again in the Belmont?  Will he get a clean trip?  Only time will tell, but here is for hoping that we again get to witness history, at least before Derek Jeter is back in the starting lineup.

Here's to hoping for 2013!  Good luck all!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Brand New Ending (aka Opening Day at Monmouth Park '13)

“Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”  - Carl Bard

The last few days have been filled with great anticipation knowing the Monmouth Park 2013 meet kicks off tomorrow.  Fellow bloggers and twitter followers/followees have been buzzing about the upcoming meet.  This time last year we were stuck with 4njbets, now we are all using TVG.  Last year the racing season was in doubt, this year it is back and Monmouth has some plans for the future.

It has been a bit of an up and down year so far (down when it mattered most - Monmouth SSC#3); but a solid effort with the Atlantic City turf meet and a renewed interest (and a lot of hours fooling around with data files and excel) have me excited for the Monmouth meet this year.  Not only is the track 5.4 miles door-to-door from my office (anyone up for a lazy Friday afternoon in the picnic area?), I am also more excited this year about the beginning of this meet and feeling positive on how I will fare by the end than the last couple meets.

Monmouth has always been my bread-and-butter track.  I learned a great deal about racing and handicapping from my late uncle 'Dutch' at his home away from home over some summers in my formative teen years.  I remember taking the early morning backstretch tour with my family and watching my grandmother bet $2 to show on every gray (amazingly, I don't think she ever lost a bet).  I have marble notebooks filled with charts, trip notes, and other figures from 2000 -2006 (remote work assignments and a hectic schedule ended that).  I have great memories of getting to the 2000 Haskell Day late and sharing the small seat of my cooler with my new wife - only to get on a good run of Rolling Pick 3's and walk out of the track that day with over $1,000 in profits for the day (not too shabby, but I followed that up two weeks later with another $800+).  Lazy Friday's when some of the other RU grads from my office and I would cut out early, grab a cooler of beer and a few Tastee Subs (Edison, NJ - if you haven't had one, you haven't had a good sub) and make a few wagers and discuss horses, bad jokes, and old work stories over the course of a gorgeous afternoon in the sun.  The track has changed a bit - a couple years of cheap claimers and short fields, giving the feel of a Philly Park card (pre-casino); followed by the exclusive meet; then back to what is now the norm, lost a bit of consistency of the knowledge one could use year to year for playing the horseman's niches.

2013 is a new start.  The meet starts without the drama and questions of last year.  Some new faces at the meet, but it great to see the horsemen back out supporting the Jersey Shore once again.  Where my old data tracking is replaced by Jim Mazur's Monmouth Handicapper (time better spent with the family), many of his observations and trends hold true year after year.

I won't get to look at Sunday's card, but will leave you with a few I am considering for Saturday's opener... 

Race 3 - 2 Back To Class 6-1

Race 4 - 3 Firsttotheline 5-2
Race 6 - 4 Ingenuity 9-2
Race 7 - 10 Pelican Cove 5-2
Race 10 - 7 Flying Kaz 7-2
Race 12 - 2 David The Great 9-2

Rest assured on the off weekday during the meet, I will make my usual trip over on my lunch hour for nothing more than a hot dog and beer while basking in the sun in the benches by the finish line despite the strange looks I sometimes get and count on finding me in the picnic area on some lazy Friday afternoon ready to talk ponies and tell bad jokes over a cold refreshing beverage - feel free to stop by and join me!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Expectations (and thoughts on the Derby)

"It's so much easier to have no expectations than to have big ones." - Ann Brashares

It is that time of the year again - the first Saturday of May is upon us...  everyone is buzzing with Derby Fever.  I confess that I have looked at the race and will offer my two cents like everyone else, but this year I am undeterred by my traditional poor showing in the biggest race of the year.  Typically I have no expectations of cashing a winning ticket on this race - but this year will be different.

The last month has been a total whirlwind on many levels.  I took a few weeks off of regular handicapping to refresh my approach and deal with upcoming home improvement projects, with the exception of the short Atlantic City Race Course meet.  Work has gotten busier than it has been since the pre-Recession era and I am taking on a few new roles and responsibilities on that front - a welcome change of pace to the daily grind (well, in addition to my usual daily grind anyway).

My software is progressing while still making some minor tweaks as I find problems and getting ready to rework my track-to-track adjustments.  I still need to clean up the final product and make some of the figures a little easier to compare against each other (velocities, EP, SP, AP).  Some of the correlations between the figures and certain race conditions are starting to grow more obvious and profitable, yet still require further tracking before I make any great claims here...

On to the big one...
Saturday 5/4 - Churchill Downs - Race 11 - Kentucky Derby G1 - 1-1/4mi for 3 year olds

Rather than go horse by horse like I would normally do here, I am just going to cut to how I feel the pace will set up and highlight the horses...

As is always expected, there will be a mad dash to the lead (and some serious jostling and traffic) - here I expect to see 2 Oxbow, 6 Mylute, 7 Giant Finish, and 13 Falling Sky bolt to the lead and set the usual torrid fractions.  8 Goldencents and 14 Verrazano will try to be close and sit a few lengths off of the pace through the first six furlongs.  As they hit the far turn, the speed will start to falter and the pack will start to make a move.  I expect 8 Goldencents to still be a factor through the stretch, but he'll be no match for the late runs by 3 Revolutionary, 5 Normandy Invasion, 9 Overanalyze, and 16 Orb.  Of the four late runners I see being a factor late, I give an edge to 3 Revolutionary.  My order of finish - 3 Revolutionary - 5 Normandy Invasion - 16 Orb - 9 Overanalyze.

I'll probably throw a few bucks across the board on 3 Revolutionary - I can't imagine his odds dipping below 6-1 with this field.

Good luck all!