Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Battle of Baltimore

"It was a glorious and imposing spectacle to behold these noble ships standing up the vast bay of the Chesapeake, into the very heart of America; manned, too, with eager souls, panting for fame..." - Robert Barrett, Naval Recollections of the Late American War, 1843 (Barrett was a British midshipman serving aboard the British frigate Herbrus which took part in the bombardment)

Will California Chrome withstand the efforts of the other nine horses that are gunning for fame by beating him like Fort McHenry and the rest of Baltimore withstood the British onslaught during the War of 1812?

Do I want to see a Triple Crown winner?  Yes.  Do I think the industry needs a Triple Crown winner?  Yes.  Do I think it will be California Chrome?  No.  I admit that some small part of me WANTS him to pull it off, but the realistic side of me can't rationalize it - not at Pimlico, and definitely not at Belmont.

I am not going to jump on the band wagon and bash the win by California Chrome in the Kentucky Derby.  He ran the race he had to run to win with something left in the tank for the Preakness.  So what if it was a low Beyer figure for a Derby win - it was better than 18 other horses posted!  There have been enough theories about wind, footing, and the general demise of thoroughbred racing/breeding, but the fact remains that California Chrome ran his race and won, with some help (troubled trips for Wicked Strong and others), while maintaining my o-fer streak of not picking a Derby winner since Smarty Jones.  There is always next year, right???

I boycotted Churchill and it cost me - I had the four horses that made up the superfecta and instead of doing my annual $1 box on my top four, I opted to pass... do not pass "Go" and do not collect $7,691.  Small consolation being that my old college roommate did play a trifecta box on those four horses and returned a tidy $1,712 plus a nice show bet on Commanding Curve.  Beers are on Mike next time I see him!

As a bettor it is understandably difficult to get excited for the Preakness each year.  An increasing number of the Derby entrants seem to defect from the second leg with each passing year - leaving only California Chrome, Ride On Curlin, and General a Rod as the lone three Derby horses making the trip to Baltimore this year.  The wrong horse out of the Kentucky Oaks is running here, Ria Antonia who pulled Calvin Borel off of Ride On Curlin (Untapable would have likely made this a more exciting race).  Lastly, off of that Derby win, California Chrome offers no value at 3-5 in a race that should set up again well for him.

Pace - Expect Bayern, Pablo Del Monte, and Social Inclusion to rush out and set a moderate +/-47.0 opening half mile (setting up very similar to the Derby).  California Chrome, Dynamic Impact, Ring Weekend, General a Rod and Ride On Curlin should be sitting comfortably within about 3 lengths of the leaders for most of the race.  Kid Cruz will be bringing up the rear trying to muster a late rally.  I am not expecting much out of Ria Antonia at all here.  Before the far turn, expect the trio early speed to be running out of gas - General a Rod will be flat as will Ring Weekend.  I expect the late runs to be made here by California Chrome, Dynamic Impact, and Ride On Curlin (although I am still suspect of his ability around two turns).  Kid Cruz will mount a small run late, maybe finding his way into your superfecta or trifecta; but it will really come down to California Chrome and Dynamic Impact.  Dynamic Impact has the breeding (Tiznow and Smart Strike as his dam sire) to go much further and I think that this will be his edge in the closing moments of a close race.

My top four in finish order preference:
1 Dynamic Impact (12-1) - fresh legs and pedigree prevail
3 California Chrome (3-5) - valiant effort, well timed moves, but just short
10 Ride On Curlin (10-1) - moving late, but not sold he is good enough to win at two turns
7 Kid Cruz (20-1) - late rally gets him a share here

I'll be watching the tote and just may throw a few bucks on a box this time!

Good luck all!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Conflicted in Kentucky

"The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph." - Thomas Paine

I haven't picked the Derby winner since Smarty Jones.  Every year, I put aside my bread and butter tracks and look at the race that makes 'everyone a racing fan for a day', however this year just doesn't feel the same.

I love this sport and am passionate about my handicapping and wagering.  I love the thrill of the 3 year old season as major preps and upsets abound - even if these are races I stay away from with my betting.  I think we have all gotten past the initial buzz of PETA/Asmussen but with Churchill's increased take out - enough is enough.  Many of racing social media crowd have called for a boycott, and as recent numbers have shown, handle is down so far this meet (I am reading reports that say between 13% - 14% through yesterday).

This leaves me conflicted.  As a horseplayer I care about my bankroll, but I also care that the horsemen and all those on the backside can make a living.

Just like the situation here in Jersey, Churchill suffers from not having other gaming at the track to pull funds (could be a different blog entirely), but trying to squeeze blood from a stone is not the answer.  Horseplayers are making their voices heard via their wallets - they have had enough of seeing less and less of their money returned.

Does raising the takeout really work?  Another fine piece of work by Lenny Moon at Equinometry points out how this may actually hurt them further by paralleling California's take out percentages in his recent post Churchill Downs Takeout Increase:  A Futile Effort to Resurrect a Once Great Track.

Not that much of my bankroll is ever bet on Churchill, but this year they won't see any of it.  However, this hasn't stopped me from handicapping the Derby, which is as tough of a field as usual.

20 Wicked Strong (8-1) - As usual, there will be a hot early pace which will knock out a group of early speedsters.  The outside post won't hurt now that fireball Pablo Del Monte has scratched and he should be able to tuck nicely into the pack hitting the first turn.  He is bred for this distance (or further) and will have gas in the tank late when the leaders fold in the stretch.

4 Danza (10-1) - Not much in the PP's to go on here, but Bravo got him up late on his first test around two turns in the Arkansas Derby.  Running style suggests a late move if he doesn't get shuffled back early with the mad rush to the rail.

5 California Chrome (5-2) - I doubted him in the San Felipe and was proven wrong.  Not really bred for the distance, but has just been the best horse on the left coast all season long - beating a solid field in the Santa Anita Derby - by 5-1/4 lengths!  He'll be running late, but that last furlong may do him in...

17 Commanding Curve (50-1) - My outside pick for the bottom of the superfecta.  Bred a little short of the distance, but did recover from some trouble early to get up for show in the Louisiana Derby.  The bottom spots are always a crap shoot, but this one should also been making forward progress late.

No suggested wagers since I will simply we watching this one as I sip a cold refreshing beverage from home.

Good luck all!