Thursday, June 4, 2015

Dreams of the Future: Belmont Stakes Preview

"I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past." - Thomas Jefferson

Fresh off of my first winner in a Triple Crown race since I had Smarty Jones in the Preakness before any of my kids were born (or lived in my current house, or my company moved down to the Jersey Shore, or was promoted to my current position, or... well, you get the point), I have had a lot of time to think about, and over-analyze, this year's Belmont Stakes.

I have read everything from how American Pharoah is essentially the second coming of Christ to how he will labor to finish last from respected pundits and random online posters in various groups on social media.   Trends are tossed around (we all saw how the dreaded rail post fared for American Pharoah in the Preakness, right?), but I tend not to give most of those any merit.  Some people claim that we need a Triple Crown winner to save the sport and garner more interest, which while it would be nice to see one, I disagree and could fill another blog post or two about that topic - especially knowing that win or lose, the chance of seeing American Pharoah race beyond 3 years old is almost zero since his future breeding plans have already been locked up.  I would rather see a horse win and race for another few years.  I think a champion that continues to keep proving himself would make him (or her) a 'superstar' of the sport, but in the new world of boxers going nine to twelve months between bouts, pitchers having pitch counts, and horses being retired for breeding at three years old - how likely are we to ever see that?  I can dream, can't I?

Undeterred and ready to move forward with my new found momentum, I am ready to pick what will be my first Belmont Stakes winner, ever.

What makes this race so tough to handicap?  Essentially we are taking developing three year old horses and speculating on what will they be able to do at a distance they have never run before or have really been bred for, based on both pedigree and shorter races, and in some cases, over a track they have never touched in race conditions or for even a workout.  Six of the eight starters ran in the Derby and two of the eight went to post in the Preakness.  Only two starters have run races over this course (one at 2 years old, one less than a month ago) and one did not race in either of the other two legs of the Triple Crown.  Some horses have had three weeks to prepare, others four or five weeks.  Belmont is a quirky oval with a L-O-N-G stretch.

Over the last 37 years thirteen horses that had a shot at the Triple Crown have failed, granted one of them scratched and never made it to the starting gate.  All were bet heavily by folks betting with their heart and not their wallet.  I expect to see history repeat itself again here on Saturday with a lot of money dumped on American Pharoah who is already listed as the 3/5 morning line favorite.

With only eight starters, here is my graded analysis of the field:

#6 Frosted (5-1) - My choice in the Derby bounces back after ta long rest and won't need to make a five wide move in this race with the shorted field.  I expect Rosario to keep him somewhat closer to the pace here and this son of Tapit (who sired last year's spoiler, Tonalist, coupled with a G2 winning dam in Fast Cookie) has the pedigree to be a marathoner.  I expect him to bounce upwards off of the Derby with a long, solid stretch drive.

#2 Tale of Verve (15-1) - Would have been the lone horse in the Derby with the Rasmussen Factor should he have drawn in, which may have made things a little more interesting.  He made a wide move in the Preakness and despite some trouble did finish strong on a track that was not favoring closers.  I like the move forward he made after only just breaking his maiden prior to the Preakness.  My Preakness spoiler is also looking to spoil here at a nice price.

#5 American Pharoah (3-5) - Good horse, not a great horse, but probably one of the best of yet another weak three year old crop.  I don't like that he has not even worked over this surface and Espinoza has been uncharacteristically unsuccessful over this course - not that these are keys to failure, but they certainly don't help.  I expect him to feel more pressure than he did three weeks ago and he will not have his rabbit (Dortmund) here to set and allow him to control the late pace.  Most likely scenario will have him on the lead early and we'll see if he can hold off the pressure while once again "running beyond his pedigree".

#1 Mubtaahij (10-1) - He has had time to acclimate to the US and gets a solid local rider with Irad Ortiz, Jr.  I like the work pattern he has displayed (and still think he will excel if given the chance to go two turns on the grass).  I expect a big improvement here since he can get the distance and will be part of the late pace for a minor share.

#3 Madefromlucky (12-1) - Took the Peter Pan with Castellano in the irons over this course last out after a weak showing prior in the Arkansas Derby that featured a hot pace (45.4 / 1:10.2) that was pressured by American Pharoah.  The effort in the Peter Pan was also an aggressive pace (46.2 / 1:10.1) and he rebounded nicely to made a wide move late and rally.  It is hard to ignore that this one is a bit of a late bloomer and will be a contender late in this race.

#7 Keen Ice (20-1) - He has struggled since breaking his maiden with a fair share of wide moves resulting in mild rallies.  He leaves too much ground to cover too late to be effective here other than for a minor share.

#8 Materiality (6-1) - He showed a lot of promise heading into the Derby only to have a bad start but did make up some ground late.  Pletcher puts Velazquez back in the irons here, leaving Castellano with #3.  The pace will likely be too hot for him here though with American Pharoah out early so he will be chasing at a faster pace than he can handle.  Pedigree suggests that he could get he distance, but would be better suited to a turf marathon.  I see him being used early and flat late - maybe a shot at the superfecta at best.

#4 Frammento (30-1) - Didn't look impressive last fall in N1X conditions and has shown very little this year.  Not much to like here other than he'll have a good view of the other seven entrants.

So how am I planning on playing this one?  I think the bottom of exotics are in flux so this will require you to go deep on trifectas and superfectas.  The prospect of American Pharoah at least hitting the board with the second favorite (Frosted) in the mix tends to take some of the nice prices off the table.

WP on #6 Frosted
Small Exacta - 2,6 / 1,2,3,5,6 (8 combinations - hoping to keep AP out of the exacta, but if he gets second, we should at least cover the bet with Frosted on top)

Should you dare to go with a trifecta - the only two horses I would be keeping off of my tickets are #4 Frammento and #8 Materiality, with the latter being a possibility for the bottom of the superfecta.

Good luck all!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Preakness Preview 2015

"There's nothing wrong with being a loser, it just depends on how good you are at it." - Billie Joe Armstrong

My Derby drought continues as American Pharoah outran his pedigree and Firing Line battled his way into second to completely upend my exacta and trifecta tickets two weeks ago.  My probable pace did not get hit (half mile was actually in 47.2; not the 46ish time I had anticipated) - maybe the scratch of Stanford, who I had thought would negatively impact the early pace, had something to do with that?  Regardless, it is over and done... on to the Preakness.

At this point last year, I was hunting for reasons to play against California Chrome, which I did, only to go to the dreaded rail and select Dynamic Impact... not one of my better picks over the last year.  This year, try as I might to find any reason to play against the heavy favorite, I have trouble doing that.  Some will contend that the rail is suicide in the Preakness with only one winner from post 1 in the last 54 years, but then again there have been some pretty weak horses breaking from the rail.  Others will tell you to throw out or downgrade the inside half of this eight horse field, which in this case, as I will explain in my probably pace, you can eliminate #2 Dortmund and #3 Mr Z; but not #1 American Pharoah and #4 Danzig Moon.

This race favors speed - not necessarily suggesting any one of these can take the field wire to wire, but that the winner will be tracking along close to the lead and be within the top four spots by the half mile call.  Closers tend to fall short here as well.

So here are my thoughts on the 2015 Preakness:

#1 American Pharoah (4-5) - Having watched how he went W-I-D-E early at Churchill to get good position and had enough left in the tank to run down Firing Line late, shows me that his tactical speed is a huge advantage in this field.  He has faced hot fractions in the Arkansas and relatively moderate fractions in the Derby and handled both well.  Despite the dreaded rail, he is the one to beat and will be tracking off of what appears to be a weak early pace.

#7 Diving Rod (12-1) - On the upswing showing patience in the Lexington last month.  He figures to be right on the tails of American Pharoah watching the early pace unfold and this son of Tapit can certainly get the distance.  I expect a forward progression here, but just short of the effort that American Pharoah will display.

#4 Danzig Moon (15-1) - Troubled trip in the Derby and still managed fifth.  Bluegrass effort prior saw a wide run for second from mid pack and he has yet to win around two turns.  Needs to prove he can finish the race and the bias here doesn't help, but I expect him to be a factor late.

#2 Dortmund (7-2) - Will likely take the bait of the early blast from Mr. Z which will find him short of top honors again here, but much like the Derby, don't expect him to finish to far from the money.  As I mentioned in the Derby blog two weeks ago, his optimal distance seems to be 9 furlongs, so expect another steady drive, just not enough late kick to make a difference.

My spoiler for exotics looks to be #5 Tale of Verve (30-1).  The bias plays against him and it did take him six tries to break maiden.  Closing run will be short, but I expect him to be gaining ground late and he could sneak into the trifecta, or more likely, the superfecta.  #8 Firing Line (4-1) certainly made a heck of a run in the Derby, but I think he regresses here and may also be around for a minor share.

Pace:  I expect #3 Mr Z to bolt right out to the lead, which he never got a chance to in the Derby as he was checked repeatedly.  #2 Dortmund takes the bait and doesn't let him get loose.  This sets up for American Pharoah, #7 Diving Rod, and #8 Firing Line to settle back between two and five lengths off the pace.  #3 Mr Z drops out before the stretch and both American Pharoah and Diving Rod overtake Dortmund.  Firing Line runs flat in the stretch while #4 Danzing Moon and #5 Tale of Verve make a late charge to hit the board with the edge to the former.

How would I bet this race?

No real value in playing American Pharoah to win, but I may go across the board on #7 Diving Rod and play a small trifecta with 1 and 7 on top, something along the lines of 1,7 / 1,4,7 / 1,2,4,5,7,8 ; or maybe a small superfecta along the same lines.

Good luck all!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Derby Deja-Vu (Plus Oaks Coverage Too!)

"It's like deja-vu, all over again." - Yogi Berra

Here we are approaching the first Saturday of May yet again.  The band will play "My Old Kentucky Home" while folks sip mint juleps, and bet a ton of money all in the hopes of seeing the who will win the first leg of the elusive Triple Crown.

As I say every year at this time, the last Kentucky Derby winner that I picked was Smarty Jones in 2004.  Last year, I let my stubbornness and ideals get in the way of a big Derby payday as I opted against playing my annual $1 superfecta box that would have returned over $7k (granted my college roommate Mike did make quite a score with a $1,700 trifecta and Commanding Curve).

So what makes this year different?


I've been generally absent from blogging as well as actually following the Derby trail - which is something I tell myself that I am going to do every year, but it never comes to fruition as evidenced by my abysmal performance in the Public Handicapper "PH Prep" contest and absence from the Monmouth SSC Qualifiers for the first time in 5 years.  Some years the schedule just doesn't work out.  If anything, I have probably done less handicapping so far this year than I have in other years - even on my bread and butter tracks but just enough to keep the rust off...

So here it goes - my analysis for the 2015 Kentucky Derby... let's hope for some deja-vu however, hitting the superfecta with some value horses would be nice... all over again!

Saturday 5/2 - Churchill Downs Race 11 - 1-1/4mi - Kentucky Derby G1

15 Frosted (15-1) - He certainly has the pedigree for the distance and after having some minor surgery for breathing problems, he came back and commandingly took the Wood over several of this field.  I am willing to give him a pass on the Holy Bull (troubled trip) and the stretch drive of the Fountain of Youth (breathing issues).  Normally I would be wary of a horse with breathing issues, but with the usual torrid pace that is expected here, I expect to see Rosario get him in a good spot early, avoid the tangled start we can all expect to see here from the frontrunners, and set him down for a big late run.

2 Carpe Diem (8-1) - Pedigree suggests he has the distance, but would be better suited for turf.  Showed improvement pressing the pace in both the Tampa Derby and the Blue Grass with the lone blemish on his record being a loss to Texas Red in the Breeder's Cup Juvenile last fall at 2 years old.  Connections don't get much better than Pletcher/Velazquez who are firing at a 41% clip of late.  I expect to see him hanging off the lead and also making a big late move.

18 American Pharoah (5-2) - Other than my spell check constantly trying to correct  his name, he has passed every test so far.  Pedigree is a little lacking on distance, suggesting he would be a good miler, so he has already outrun expectations (just like California Chrome last year).  He likes the lead and showed he can hang back and stalk in the Arkansas Derby, but I think the distance is too much here and Baffert goes home empty handed again.

8 Dortmund (3-1) - Has yet to fail as has steadily shown improvement.  Pedigree suggests 9 furlongs would be optimal.  He coasted home with a slower stretch run in the Santa Anita Derby, but showed solid late running in both the San Felipe as well as the Robert B Lewis where he fought back gamely against Firing Line in a rematch of the tightly contested Los Alamitos Futurity.  While I expect him to want the lead, he'll settle for being near it and will have a steady run down the stretch, yet I don't expect him to be making up much ground late.

Pace:  I expect the first half mile to be in about 46, with 11 Stanford, 17 Mr. Z, and 8 Dortmund to be the closest to the front.  18 American Pharoah will be close up with that group.  3 Materiality will try to hang, but will be lacking by the turn.  The closers kick in late, led by 15 Frosted and 2 Carpe Diem.  6 Mubtaahij is a mystery in this race, but the pace is likely too fast for him to be much of a factor late.  9 Bolo may bounce and be a factor late in exotics.

I'll throw my customary $1 Superfecta box in on 2, 8, 15, 18 and maybe a $.50 Trifecta Box on the same while enjoying a refreshing beverage from my couch!

BONUS COVERAGE:  A few thoughts on Friday's Kentucky Oaks...

7 Lovely Maria (5-1) - This one has been on my radar for a while and I think she moves forward here.  Toss the Trapeze effort in the mud and the Rachel Alexandra where Clark lost the whip late and she has shown good tactical speed with a nice pressing/stalking effort in the Ashland.

13 Birdatthewire (6-1) - Three straight troubled trips for her resulting in two wins at two turns and second by a neck in a one turn miler with figures that are deceptively good.  Tough call making this one my second choice.  Pedigree suggests that she is a miler, but I think with a contested pace here she makes a solid late run.

12 Stellar Wind (7-2) - She has the pedigree to go longer and is off of two solid efforts at Santa Anita.  She should take a big step forward again here but I think her late pace isn't as strong as others.

8 I'm a Chatterbox (4-1) - Went wire to wire in her 3 year old debut and the showed a solid closing effort in the Rachel Alexandra, and then from just off the pace int he Fair Ground Oaks.  She has good tactical speed and will be a factor late, but I think she is truly just a miler and has not had much adversity to contend with in her last three wins.  Minor share only.

Pace - Hot early pace by 5 Condo Commando will set the tone for the late runners here, she won't get clear and will get spent early trying to maintain the fastest pace she will have ever tried to set around two turns.  A lot of horses here with tactical speed and late runs.  Will be an exciting finish.  3 Include Betty will be moving from W-A-Y back and could hit for a minor share.  2 Shook Up (30-1) was wide in her last two - a better trip gets her on the board as well.

Thinking maybe a superfecta or trifecta box here for fun as well.

Oaks/Derby Double:  7,13 with 2,15

With the shuttering of my favorite turf meet at Atlantic City Race Course, I turn my attention to Monmouth Park opening on May 9th.  Only 5.4 miles door to door from the office, or as my co-worker Anthony noted, even less from his job site.  I think some lazy Friday afternoons with a good cigar and a few beers are in order this summer!

Good luck all!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fragments of My Imagination

"For disappearing acts, it's hard to beat what happens to the eight hours supposedly left after eight of sleep and eight of work." - Doug Larson

Honestly, I can't remember the last time I got both eight hours of sleep and only spent eight hours at work in a day???  2014 was a blur of a year.  I can't remember a year in my adulthood that blew past as fast as 2014 did.  A lot happened this year - thankfully more good than bad.  It just seemed we never had any real downtime at all this past year and we were always on the go for something...  While I wonder where the time went, I guess more importantly I should ask that if we were so busy all the time, why does it seem like we never actually got anything done?

My quest to make the NHC Finals in Vegas started off strong - I had regrouped, was seemingly in a groove, and had been making a lot of winning wagers, had a rough go of it in the Monmouth SSC but was gaining ground on the way back when losing a photo finish stalled my all-or-nothing comeback attempt.  I was undeterred.  I was making some mental adjustments with each race and each card I handicapped.  I was ready for the summer tourney's to start at Monmouth.  I was squeezing in racecards (and plenty of winning wagers) for a couple of more months when the wheels completely fell off the bus in May.  I missed out on a nice payday on the Kentucky Derby superfecta due to my own stubbornness and not wanting to wager money at Churchill.  I couldn't shake that non-play out my mind and once again found myself doubting my abilities and passion for a almost the rest of the year while talking myself into plays that I should have stayed clear of looking for another potentially large score. While I did have a few moments of brilliance, I ended the year on a more sour note - not even handicapping after September and finishing in the red for the first time in over 15 years.  I passed on all of the on track contests I had originally targeted at Monmouth with Woodbine even after having spent most of the year tracking key races and horsemen stats.  Mentally I wasn't into immersing myself into the past performances.  Suddenly, handicapping found itself relegated to the cold back burner.

"As far as Jimmy was concerned with Tommy being made, it was like we were all being made.  We would now have one of our own as a member." - Henry Hill (Goodfellas)

About the time I was throwing in the towel, a great, if not inspiring, story was evolving.  The NHC Finals are this upcoming weekend in Las Vegas this and while I failed to qualify, Bill Hobolowski from will be making his Finals debut (read how he did it this summer in his post Vegas Here I Come), and in a way representing all of us - the weekend handicapper, the guy squeezing in a couple of races on the bus or train, and guy who gladly puts the races to the side to go throw the football around in the backyard with the kids.  His ability to win a spot via the Del Mar Contest against 3,700+ players is a true testament to his handicapping ability, strategy, and persistence.  So just like in Goodfellas, it is win and gives hope for those of us who have been sharing this journey of ups, downs, and near misses for the last few years.  The only exception here being that we expect that Bill will do a little better than Tommy did getting 'made' - he is currently a huge overlay to win at 100-1 as a propositional bet!

"Don't give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you." - John Wooden

I still want to make it to Vegas and win the NHC as I have over the last four years of on and (mostly) off blogging.  Over the last few weeks I knew I had some decisions to make... Should I renew my NHC Tour membership?  Should I place my annual order from Progressive Handicapping for Sire data?  Should I take the couple of days to update my software's database for the new (and closed) tracks?  All being at the expense of both time and a decent chunk of change (still haven't bought new track par data in a while).

So I made a deal with myself...  I won't give up the dream in 2015, but aim to be more efficient at it.  Purge the handicapping demons of years past.   I know what is working and not working, I know where I need to make some improvements (such as knowing a race sets up for a closer, but can't differentiate which closer will be the right one).  Utilize the tools at hand better and more often - not that my software replaces the need to handicap the races, but it does alert me to favorable (or more predictable) pace scenarios within races.  If a race looks like a poor betting opportunity - PASS!  Actually get to the track for live racing - probably the most enjoyable day of wagering last year was a warm Monday in April when my wife and I shot down to Parx and I watched every race live from the rail.

"Saying goodbye doesn't mean anything.  It's the time we spent together that matters, not how we left it."  -Trey Parker

This wasn't originally going to be part of this blog post, but with the timing of the announcement, I felt like I should at least shoehorn this one in.  It was a matter of time and I think we all knew it was inevitable.  The grounds had fallen into disrepair and the likelihood of anyone sinking a nickel into improving the place was nil.  I can't even remember the last time I remember seeing the infield tote board working.  Atlantic City Race Course is closed.  Aycee and it's gorgeous turf course will likely be another strip mall or condo complex in the near future.  I can kick myself for not getting down there over the last few years, but can at least hang on to the memories of my late grandmother, who would only bet on the grays, and many trips there with my wife where you could get a cheap beer out of a keg, a hot dog from a local high school group, and then shoot over to a casino afterwards to spend your winnings.  I will miss the analysis between races by "the legend on the lawn" and all around great guy - William Hudgins.  His insights there will be missed, but his website continues to provide great information as do his turf angles and commentary in American Turf Monthly.  In years past, I would rush home from work to pull up TVG and the live streaming video of ACRC and William's comments between races.

"I'll be seeing you.  In all the old familiar places." - Frank Sinatra (and many others)

The local online racing blog community has been a great group of folks to interact with and get to know... so feel free to seek me out at the Monmouth SSC #3 in March - I'll be sitting in the Terrace Restaurant down by the glass and, as usual, looking for a table with an outlet.   Otherwise I am planning on a couple of weekeday Parx visits in the spring and "Fair-weather Fridays" in the picnic area during the Monmouth meet this summer will be in order - stop by for a drink and/or cigar...

However, this weekend I will be routinely checking the NHC Finals leaderboard expecting to see Bill's name at the top!  Good luck and may you cash early and often!!!