• Weekend Wagers

    POSTED Sep 30, 2011
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    COMMENTS: This is the Tim “Tiznow” Reynolds Memorial. Please visit Thorofan’s Web site or the memorial page on Facebook to learn more about Reynolds and his family.

    BET(S): I’m going to sit this one out.



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    COMMENTS: Clearly, CAPE BLANCO is the one to beat. He's a plodder at a distance (12 furlongs) well suited to his long-winded pedigree and he figures to be near a tepid pace. That said, I think GRASSY offers the best value in the race. His last race — albeit against lesser — was fantastic, earning the five-year-old a 97 Brisnet speed figure (BSF) and a +7 late speed ration (LSR). MISSION APPROVED and WINCHESTER round out the primary contention in a short, but quality field.

    BET(S): WIN on 6 at odds of 9-2 or greater.

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    COMMENTS: It's put up or shut up time for UNCLE MO and I think he'll do the former. Frankly, this field is not that strong and “Mo” appears to be sitting on a big race.

    BET(S): WIN on 3 at odds of 1-1 or greater.

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    COMMENTS: HAVRE DE GRACE has a massive speed edge on this bunch and should get her preferred trip right off the early leader, which would appear to be Life At Ten. As far as the betting goes, my strategy will be to beat ROYAL DELTA, who, although talented, is almost sure to be overbet off of her scintillating score in the Grade I Alabama against sophomores. One horse to consider in the exacta is BANKER'S BUY. Yeah, she's just one of 10 outside of the state-bred ranks, but she does have a fair amount of early lick and decent late punch.

    BET(S): EXACTA 5-1 at odds of 10-1 or greater (optional). EXACTA 5-3 at odds of 10-1 or greater (optional). EXACTA 5-4 at odds of 11-1 or greater (optional).

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    COMMENTS: Race discussed on this week's TwinSpires Horse Racing Podcast.

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    COMMENTS: Even though SWEETONRICH handily defeated LOVELY LEEANN the last time they met, I'm partial to the latter on Saturday. Sure, the morning line odds play a part in my decision, but so too does the likely pace scenario this weekend (it figures to be much hotter up front) and the ten-pound weight switch.

    BET(S): WIN on 5 at odds of 7-2 or greater.

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    COMMENTS: I love MACK THE SLEW's last race (9/10) over this track, where he recorded an 89 BSF (today's par is 89) and -2 LSR.

    BET(S): WIN on 6 at odds of 9-5 or greater.

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    COMMENTS: This may be the easiest wagering decision I'll make all weekend. Not because I've unearthed the proverbial “sure thing” in this race, but rather because the morning line favorite has some knocks and figures to be a massive underlay. Yes, FREEDOM STAR is a Grade 3 winner and Grade 2-placed; granted, she's undefeated on dirt; true, she's trained by master conditioner Bob Baffert. But there's a lot of early speed in this race, which could force the probable favorite into the unenviable position of running faster out of the gate (in a race that literally starts on the turn) or trying to rate for the first time ever. And then there's TEXAS COUNTRY DOLL, a five-year-old mare that ran lights-out in her latest (101 BSF, 0 LSR).

    BET(S): WIN on 3 at odds of 7-2 or greater. SHOW on 3 if Freedom Star controls over 75% of the show pool.

    Derek Simon’s Free Selection Statistics

    Races (Selections): 52 (55)
    Wins: 19
    Rate: 36.5%
    Return: $142.10
    ROI: +29.18%

    (This year's published selections through 09/30/11.)

    Note: Play is restricted to any horse(s) that meet my fair odds requirements (when listed). Multiple qualifying contenders will be bet separately, however, multiple bets will be adjusted to equal a single wager and the payoffs averaged. For example a winning WIN/PLACE wager paying $6.20 on top and $4.30 underneath would count as a single bet paying $5.25 (the average of $6.20 and $4.30).
  • The Truth About Speed

    POSTED Sep 29, 2011
    Last week, I wrote about the role of speed in determining the greatness of past and present thoroughbreds. This week, I'm going to examine the role of speed in determining the greatness of past and present thoroughbred handicappers.

    As many people know, speed, at least as defined by raw time, was generally not thought of as a major handicapping factor in the early years of the Sport of Kings. No less a horseplayer than George E. Smith, aka “Pittsburg Phil,” called time “a minor consideration.” Instead, players like Phil and Charles Botay, both of whom have been credited with creating the first results charts, relied on things like weight, class and form to guide their wagering decisions.

    However, it should be noted that, back in those days, track conditions varied greatly, making simple time comparisons somewhat dubious. For example, Sir Barton, the first Triple Crown winner, captured the 1919 Kentucky Derby in 2:09-4/5 — more than six seconds off the track record at the time — over a Churchill Downs strip that was rated as “heavy,” a designation that is rarely (if ever) used anymore.

    A little more than a month — and two races (oh, how times have changed) — later, the Harvey Guy Bedwell trainee shaved two fifths of a second off the track record for 1 3/8 miles at Belmont Park in the Belmont Stakes... not surprisingly, over a “fast” track.

    Ironically, it was a Daily Racing Form employee (the DRF founder, actually) that was among the first to advocate the use of speed figures.

    Frank H. Brunell, who made his own numbers and created the initial past performances, called time “an important factor” and urged readers to “discard the Anglo-American argument about its general worthlessness.” (Apparently, Brunell felt handicappers in other places — Colombia, perhaps? — had a greater appreciation for speed.)

    But the revolution in speed figures that came years later (in the 60s and 70s), which fundamentally altered the game, at least from a handicapping perspective, appears to have reached its point of diminishing returns… and may have done so many moons ago.

    In the September 1997 issue of the now-defunct “Meadow’s Racing Monthly,” handicapping legend Barry Meadow presented a study by Jim Bayle of SportStat that suggested Beyer figures, which debuted in the Daily Racing Form in 1992, held a significant edge over the old DRF speed ratings (and associated track variants) as a predictive tool.

    According to Meadow, “Bayle looked at the results of approximately 3,000 sprint races, looking at each horse’s best rating in its last three starts” and discovered the following:

    Yet, even before Bayle’s survey, Beyer was questioning the effectiveness of his own figures in what he called “the computer age” (back when Windows 3.0 was all the rage). In “Beyer on Speed,” the author told of a fateful visit to Gulfstream Park in 1990.

    “I felt that I was at the very top of my game as a gambler. And I still couldn’t win,” Beyer wrote. “My lack of success was due not to bad luck or photo finishes or any of the other traumas that plague all horseplayers. My frustration was best demonstrated by some of the winners I picked — by horses like Memorable Skater.”

    “In his nine-race career, Memorable Skater had finished out of the money nine times against maiden competition,” Beyer continued. “Now he was running against winners, and any traditional handicapper would have dismissed him on those grounds alone. But his speed figures were competitive with those of his rivals, and, in his last start, he had been forced to race wide on a track with a strong rail-favoring bias. … When I went to the track that day, prepared to make a killing, I thought Memorable Skater embodied all of the handicapping skills I had spent a lifetime learning.

    “The race went just as I expected. Memorable Skater popped out of the gate, angled to the rail, led all the way to win by six lengths — and paid $6.20.

    “A pitiful $6.20,” Beyer lamented.
    Unfortunately for speed-oriented handicappers like Beyer, races featuring overbet “figure horses” have become commonplace in today’s game, leading many to view time in much the same light that Pittsburg Phil did over a century ago.

    As speed figures lost their pari-mutuel punch, Beyer and others attempted to find other uses for them. Hence, goofy ideas like the “bounce theory” were spawned. Worse, with the advent of all-weather tracks and the rising popularity of turf racing, both of which bring pace into the equation to a much larger extent than races on dirt, Beyer numbers as well as other speed figures started to look more and more like performance ratings. How else does one explain the nonsense that occurred at Belmont Park on Sept. 17?

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    Before I discuss the chart above, let me provide some background: In a piece that appeared in American Scientist in 1981, Peter S. Riegel showed that fatigue in human runners could be expressed, more or less, in a linear fashion. Later, Dr. Steven Roman found a similar truth regarding thoroughbred racehorses and, in fact, used the relationship between internal race fractions and final race times to determine that Secretariat most likely broke the track record at Pimlico in the 1973 Preakness Stakes — something that Daily Racing Form clockers asserted he did, while Pimlico officials maintained he did not (Big Red’s official time of 1:54-2/5 is based on Pimlico clocker E.T. McLean Jr.’s hand-timed account).

    Secretariat: 1973 Preakness Stakes

    With that in mind, check out the graph above, which displays the race fractions and final times of Ravello Storm, who won a $20,000 maiden claiming affair over the inner turf at Belmont Park on Sept. 17, and Winter Memories, the three-year-old filly phenom who won the Grade I Garden City Stakes over the same course, at the same track, on the same day.

    Notice that Ravello Storm ran faster at every comparable point in the race, including the finish.

    Now, take a gander at the Brisnet speed figures each horse earned that Saturday:

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    See what I mean about speed figures morphing into performance ratings? There is simply no mathematical basis for assigning Winter Memories a higher speed rating than Ravello Storm. What’s more, the run-up distance (the ground covered prior to the official start of the race… and the clock) was 12 feet in Ravello Storm’s race and 72 feet in Winter Memories’ contest.

    So, was Pittsburg Phil right, is time just a minor consideration? Well, if one believes pace and trip are minor considerations as well, the answer appears to be yes.

    Weekend Wagers

    Visit http://blog.twinspires.com/2011/09/weekend-wagers.html.

    Derek Simon’s Free Selection Statistics

    Races (Selections): 52 (55)
    Wins: 19
    Rate: 36.5%
    Return: $142.10
    ROI: +29.18%

    (This year's published selections through 09/29/11.)

    Note: Play is restricted to any horse(s) that meet my fair odds requirements (when listed). Multiple qualifying contenders will be bet separately, however, multiple bets will be adjusted to equal a single wager and the payoffs averaged. For example a winning WIN/PLACE wager paying $6.20 on top and $4.30 underneath would count as a single bet paying $5.25 (the average of $6.20 and $4.30).
  • Autumn’s Kentucky Crusade

    POSTED Sep 28, 2011
    This week the Grand Circuit lauches its traditional two-week autumn stay at Lexington, Kentucky’s Red Mile. Both weeks highlight top events, including the Oct. 2 Kentucky Futurity for glamour-boy trotters. Betting that program through TwinSpires gets you 10X points.  

    Also at The Red Mile are Bluegrass Stakes and Allerage Stakes for the young and the elders still standing in their divisions as October opens its jaws.  

    All the “money” horses that are Breeders Crown-eligibles want to thrive in Lexington before their connections decide on dropping them in the box for the “Crown” elims. We are covering all the division activity here and in our exclusive blog, Breeders Crown Countdown. The results about eligibles for the season-ending championships will be available regularly at the Hambletonian Society website’s area for the Crown.  

    You can read some exclusive Red Mile handicapping analysis at the Countdown page, too. Scroll to read stories on Crown activity, including races, picks and plays.  

    Bluegrass Guys And Gals

    Bluegrass Stakes for freshmen highlight the Friday, Sept. 30 program at the Red Mile.  

    There are four miles including fields of frosh-colt trotters. The first presents the dynamo Delano and calls for a pass. The second looks like a shot for Ray Schnittker’s Muscolo, who could be a wire-to-wire winner here at a decent price over One In A Million and Big Chocolate. Next, Greg Peck, the brains behind Muscle Hill, has a 2012 hopeful in From Above and he looks like he has what it takes to go fast, with a two-of-three win column so far. Then we will take another shot with Melt In Your Mouth, who was dull in Canada though handed a tough trip.  

    As for the filly pacers, these green gals have two splits and one invites American Jewel to win her eighth straight, so call it a pass since she can do it. However, in the other split, the outside Destiny’s Chance will possibly be ignored at the windows and that would be too tempting to pass. Ron Burke has her tight now.  

    Saturday, Oct. 2’s Bluegrasses are for frosh-colt pacers and soph-filly pacers and the Allerage Stakes present older trotters and pacers.  

    The frosh pacers’ first Bluegrass division could be a fine theater for Hillbilly Hanover. After winning a Keystone Classics at the Meadows, he is the “now” horse and a price could accompany his 8-hole start considering the popularity of the 4, 5 and 6 horses. The same situation surfaces in the second division. Dick Mctracy also scored big in Pennsylvania and also gets post 8 and has to face some heavy favorites. In the third round, Special Blend could show some sizzling speed against these, while in the fourth chapter, Verdad could be overlooked by the general public.  

    The single mile for Bluegrass filly pacers could be quite a shuffle show. There is speed all over this field and that could hand the race over to Ace Of Pace. The lightly raced gal should be all out here, strategically placed and quite the price.  

    The Allerage pacers event is a star-studded field of 10. The crowd, however, will most likely pour the money on We Will See, fresh off his record race—the fastest ever at Pocono Downs. Any number of scenarios can be expected here but we kind of like the speed-burning drama that finds the winner the last pacer standing. That could mean Bettor Sweet or a late splash from Foiled Again, who is versatile enough to catch speed as well as command it.  

    The Allerage trotters are the best around, with San Pail versus Arch Madness the expected dangers. Could Lucky Jim control the fractions? He has been flat lately and offering some fine prices. I would not dismiss an upset on this oval by a great horse that has been his own worst enemy.  

    Back To The ‘Futurity’

    At press time the Oct. 2 Kentucky Futurity fields have not been drawn. This event is the only one for glamour-boy trotters that is executed in heats on the same program. There will probably by two elim-heats of at least seven if we are lucky, since a lot of trainers don’t want to put their horses through the stress of two and possibly three miles of racing on one day.

    Check the Countdown blog for a special “Futurity” report before Sunday, Oct. 2.   

    Cal Exotic

    Oct. 1’s no-takeout late Pick 4 at Cal Expo is a target again this week.  

    Leg 1
    Awesome Deal N (9) dueled for the lead early and kept afloat well to finish third. He is a good single in this poor group.  

    Leg 2
    Long Last Look (6) was beaten soundly from post 9 last out. This guy has a history of winning like he can read the toteboard, coming off of poor trips and scoring at decent prices. Big Guy Two Win (9) was hung for three calls and well bet but he couldn’t sustain the trip.  

    Leg 3
    Whoop And Shout (1) was the beaten favorite last week, coming in second. You Go Shirl (8) managed to weave a trip and pick up third money at 51-1.  

    Leg 4
    Mow Em Down (1) is fresh and should prosper from the inside start. The Future (7) likes this track and could be sharp in his return to the big mile.  

    The ticket: 9/6,9/1,8/1,7  

    Remember to play any of the above to win, also, if you feel the win price offered is an overlay.  

     (Ray Cotolo assisted in this edition.)
  • Cotolo’s Harness-Weekend Review, 9-26-11

    POSTED Sep 25, 2011
    It was such a good weekend for our plays that even when we told you to pass because a horse was impossible to beat, those horses won. We tossed a good profit and even came up with a winner in our first Cal-Expo Pick-4 experience for the season that paid enough to cover our ticket and put some extra pennies in our pockets. 

    All of this happened after the catastrophes of Sept. 21 and 22nd with the Little Brown Jug program. A “catastrophe” for us, of course, is being defeated by dead-on favorites, expected to win from the get-go. The “Jug” was admittedly weak this year but we tried to beat the choices in small fields; no luck. And the Jugette was equally as disturbing, especially since our choice to win two-straight heats was eliminated in the first heat due to an outside trip.  

    Then it was Friday and we suggested strongly a few Keystone Classics events at the Meadows. The third suggestion from a trio of races (we finished fifth and fifth in the first two) was our strongest case and we won. Breaking a track speed record and joyfully ignored at the windows was Pantholops. His win returned $34.40, enough to cover the night’s action, including two losses in state-bred events at Yonkers (one winner, Major Look, returned $5.30). 

    The it was Saturday and the big event, the Milton Stakes at Mohawk, presented another victory, though it offered less than promised. With a 7-1 morning line, Laughandbehappy, (pictured, New Media Image) who we endorsed as the outsider contender, went off at 3-1. The mare was firmly backed late in the wagering, proving that many bettors saw what we saw in her and/or a lot of TwinSpires account-holders read this blog and allow it to affect their choices (this is a good thing).  

    Sept. 24 at Vernon Downs, holding more state-bred events, was not as productive for us, with only one winner, Classic Conway, paying $4.80. This was not expected, so ditto on the final comment about Laughandbehappy. Of course there were two other winners but we suggested a pass on Delano ($2.80) and Heston Blue Chip ($2.10). The evening was lousy with short-priced winners. Our other choices finished seventh, third and second, respectively. 

    Our first crack at the no-takeout Cal-Expo Pick 4 on Saturday resulted in one winner and some keen excuses. First, however, let me reiderate that these attempts will always be reasonably priced shots, so we suggest you play any horse we have on a ticket if you feel that horse is a valuable play. That is your call.  

    Last season, doing the win betting as well as the combo betting produced a slew of winners, one which paid over $100. As well, we hit a Pick 4 once with a $700-plus payoff on a low-priced ticket. It was a profitable campaign and we hope to sustain the success this year.

    We began with a winner, Mystically Mine, paying $13.80. Our other choice in that first leg finished second, so if you further invested, even if you boxed an exacta, you got another $66.80.  

    Our second-leg choice, an 18-1 single, broke while stressing for early domination. Our third-leg choice finished second and our two fourth-leg choices finised third and fourth. The winning Pick 4 paid only $252. We are aiming for higher than that price when we cash a ticket. So do not ignore our suggestions each week. You can add to it based on your own money-management scheme but please be aware of playing within the races as well as owning a Pick-4 ticket. 

    Our exclusive Breeders Crown Countdown blog and the stories for top “Crown”-eligible contenders (at Hambletonian Society) continues as the clock ticks for the elimination rounds in late October. Keep in tune with those pages as well as these TwinSpires blogs.  

    Following us on Twitter offers you late picks on races not included in this blog and updates on choices we speak about here. As well as tweeting some profit-making plays, we leave some links and guide you to news and information.

    Harness News

    The only one-turn mile track in harness racing, Colonial Downs, has opened for another season. I give you fair warning: Watch for horses trained and driven by Gerald Longo. This hard-shelled veteran that toughed it out for years in California rides under the radar of many players while campaigning at this meet.  

    Never deny Longo’s entries, no matter the odds, and watch the trips his horses take, especially when losing, because Mr. Longo, in my experience, is aggressive and always out to score. Sometimes that causes his charge to finish badly. But that only helps raise the odds on that horse next time.  

    bet daily on Colonial’s product and the average $29,585 bet on incoming simulcasts, that $157,011 figure easily outdistanced 2010’s average of $131,908.

    The 2011 average total handle of 874,625 beat the $860,765 figure of a year prior. Out of state handle on Colonial’s races dropped slightly, from $732,090 a year ago to $722,983 this season.

    Colonial Downs’ 14th harness season began Sept. 17. Pacers and trotters compete every Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. thru Nov. 5.
  • Derek Simon's Weekend Plays

    POSTED Sep 24, 2011
    SATURDAY (09/24/11)

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    COMMENTS: LILY’S HOPE faced the likes of BC Juvenile Fillies winner Awesome Feather as a two-year-old before dropping steadily in class at age three. However, her latest effort — an easy win against $7,500 non-winners of two lifetime — indicates her form may be on the upswing once again. Not only that, but she shows improving pace figures as well; a solid top choice. I like the fact that TEMPESTA TEMPO was claimed back by trainer Edward Allard for owner Theodore Robinson, but I don’t like the break of 105 days since the four-year-old filly’s last start — and the workouts don’t inspire confidence either. Still, the daughter of Parker’s Storm Cat does have some ability. In a fairly paceless race, RAVEN BEAUTY could make her presence felt on the front end.

    BET(S): WIN on 6 at odds of 6-5 or greater.

    SUNDAY (09/25/11)

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    COMMENTS: This is an ideal dutch win situation, preferably with 64% of the total amount wagered staked on D GS APOLOGIZE and the remaining 36% on CLIC K.

    WIN on 7 at odds of 8-5 or greater and/or WIN on 8 at odds of 7-2 or greater.

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    COMMENTS: STACKED UP is a Win Factor Report “Key Selection.”

    BET(S): WIN on 7 at odds of 1-1 or greater. EXACTA 7 with 4,5,6 (optional).

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    BET(S): PLACE on 5 at odds of 3-5 or greater.

    Derek Simon’s Free Selection Statistics

    Races (Selections): 51 (54)
    Wins: 19
    Rate: 37.3%
    Return: $142.10
    ROI: +31.57%

    (This year's published selections through 09/21/11.)

    Note: Play is restricted to any horse(s) that meet my fair odds requirements (when listed). Multiple qualifying contenders will be bet separately, however, multiple bets will be adjusted to equal a single wager and the payoffs averaged. For example a winning WIN/PLACE wager paying $6.20 on top and $4.30 underneath would count as a single bet paying $5.25 (the average of $6.20 and $4.30).
  • Milton Stakes Tops Marquee Features

    POSTED Sep 21, 2011
    Post-“Jug” weekend finds a lot of division members resting after jaunts around the Delaware, Ohio half-miler. That doesn’t mean there are slim pickings; there are plenty of good races, classy sires stakes, and the big mare pace in Canada, to interest our wagering bankrolls. 

    As the clock ticks for the Breeders Crown elims, “Crown”-eligibles are racing to the deadline of decision. We are covering all the division here and in our exclusive blog, Breeders Crown Countdown. The results about eligibles for the season-ending championships, will be available regularly at the Hambletonian Society website’s area for the Crown. 

    This Saturday, Sept. 24, TwinSpires offers a full card of 10X points on the Vernon Downs program. New York Sires Stakes (NYSS) are sprinkled around the card. We’ll suggest some contenders in this blog. 

    Milton Mares

    At Mohawk, the survivors of elims last week in the mare-pacer division meet for the $400,000 final of the Milton Stakes. Perhaps the fact that Dreamfair Eternal has shown her weak side, having lost once to Anndrovette and dead-heating with her in the elim, there will be an upset in the final.  

    If we decide to look for value in contenders other than the elim winners we have to consider Laughandbehappy. Certainly she is the one contender that will be considered an overlay since the serious money will be on the dead-heat duo and Chancey Lady. “Laugh” can be strategically driven if the others are shuffling or dueling, so watch out for the upset. 

    State-Bred Beasts

    In New York and in Pennsylvania, home-breds battle for big bucks this weekend. On Friday, Sept. 23 at Yonkers, frosh-filly pacers line up for multi-divisions of the NYSS, each worth over $80Gs each. 

    In division one, Crown-eligible Handsoffmycookie takes on a few critters desiring to hand her defeat. JK Fine Art may be able to sit pretty in the catbird seat and pace down the fast filly in Yonkers-style upset mode. In the second chapter, Major Look, who should be the second choice, could roll home on top with aggressive inspiration from top Yonkers reinster George Brennan. The nightcap is evenly matched, regardless of the tight morning-line odds between the 1 and the 3. We are still backing Ramalama, looking for the big race we expected from her already and at a price. 

    Also Friday, the Meadows hosts three soph-filly trot Keystone Classics divisions worth $26,000-plus each. The first mile marks the return of Hambo-Oaks-longshot Bold And Fresh. Dan Altmeyer’s filly, Cutie Pie, shouldn’t be overlooked by you, especially if the crowd plows the money on “Bold” and the Dave Palone-driven entry. In round two, Linnea P will be a striking longshot from post 7 but should deliver far more than the odds prescribe. Then, in the trio’s finale, beware of Pantholops. This gal is going to use her speed to mangle a field soon and if this is the one, you will want to be holding a ticket with her number on it. 

    Saturday, Sept. 24 at Vernon Downs, TwinSpires players can earn 10X points for wagering any race on the program. Seven of those races are NYSS events for pacers and/or trotters.  

    Race 2 is for frosh-colt pacers. We are expecting Ray Schnittker to be wailing early with Art’s Delight, in an attempt to control the pace and steal it from wire to wire.  

    Frosh-colt trotters line up for NYSS action in Race 3. Schnittker will be on the engine once more, this time with prohibitive favorite Delano. Out for blood after breaking badly last race, Delano in step will be tough to beat and impossible to play.  

    Race 5, for frosh-colt trotters also, with five of the seven foes products of Conway Hall. So much for pedigree edges. Classic Conway deserves a shot and perhaps offers some decent odds. He is, hands down, the fastest of this mediocre group and could wire them with a smooth gait. 

    Back to frosh-colt pacers for Race 6 and Bettor’s Edge. Linda Toscano’s young colt seems to have the kind of speed that is bottomless. He is green but that also means he is fearless and may be a monster in progress. 

    Frosh-colt trotters are the subject in Race 8. Dan Daley’s Royal Shyster makes this mile impossible to wager unless the colt is the key to exotics, which won’t pay much anyway. Daley has this guy sharp and swift; it is his to lose. 

    Race 9 is for pacing colts and Heston Blue Chip towers over the rest. Another key for exotics or a pass. And finally, for NYSS action, Race 10 brings together frosh trotting colts. From post 1, Armed Dangerously could be the leader from beginning to end. This field is evenly matched in many ways, so our choice may offer decent odds. 

    Cal Exotic

    Look what’s back: The no-takeout late Pick 4 at Cal Expo on Saturdays. We profited from this wager during the track’s most recent meet so let’s try again for a big win with conservative yet courageous tickets.  

    Leg 1
    Mystically Mine (1) and Red Star Fiona (7) won big races last out from the 8 hole. They should be raring to do the same in this field filled with horses that need a race in the new season. 

    Leg 2
    Mighty Fine Hi Ho (9) finished fourth after a tough but impressive trip. He was impeded at the start and then put on the speed to get the lead, though first over, and was burned out by that point. He could corral a big price here if he can get by the two that won last week. 

    Leg 3
    Franco Smoothie N (4) was all out to take the lead last week but could not get there. This caused him to be hung for three calls and he went the overland route strongly. That was a red flag, making him another possible big price. 

    Leg 4
    Millions (3) broke and was eliminated and must be respected again (he was the second choice). King Carver (6) was stuck on the outside trying to negotiate leaving from post 9. He could find a good spot and roll over this weak field. 

    The ticket: 1,7/9/4/3,6

     Remember to play any of the above to win, also, if you feel the win price offered is an overlay.

     (Ray Cotolo assisted in this edition.)
  • What Makes a Horse Great?

    After Winter Memories flopped in the Lake Placid following an ultra-impressive effort in the Lake George — what a difference a lake makes — the filly’s defenders were out in force. According to her adoring fans, many of whom were present at her foaling bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (just a hunch), the “real” Winter Memories didn’t show up that day, but would in the Garden City.

    Her supporters were right.

    The real Winter Memories came… saw… and kicked the snot out of all comers at Belmont Park on Saturday, including Hungry Island and Kathmanblu — two (of the three) horses that defeated her at the Spa.

    Despite another troubled trip, in which she was blocked and steadied repeatedly, the daughter of El Prado proved much the best once clear in the Garden City. In less time than it took nervous fans to mutter “you say Lezcano, I say Castellano,” the gallant gray zoomed from last to first in the final furlong of the 1 1/8-mile test and notched her first Grade 1 victory by a long neck.

    2011 Garden City Stakes

    And with that visually impressive performance, trainer Jimmy Toner's stable star is once again being showered with the kind of praise that would have made Sunday Silence or even Spectacular Bid blush… but is the hype justified?

    Look, I’m the first person to tell anybody who’ll listen (usually my psychiatrist, reluctantly) that part of what defines talent in a racehorse is the ability to do the extraordinary. Clearly, Winter Memories has that kind of ability, as evidenced by the career-best +9 late speed ration (LSR) that she recorded in the Garden City. Yet, shouldn't Father Time have a say in all of this “greatness gab?”

    Of course, I’m aware that, to some horseplayers, the clock is irrelevant: “Time only matters when you’re in jail,” they like to proclaim. Well, not only are those folks lousy dinner guests (again, I’m guessing), but they are also dead wrong.

    Damon Runyon, the fabled turf writer, once said, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.”

    Given such a philosophy, I think it's safe to say that Runyon would be no fan of Winter Memories.

    Some veteran racegoers will remember the old Daily Racing Form speed ratings. They were based on the premise that every track record was worth 100 points; for each fifth of a second a particular race was slower than the record, one point was subtracted — ditto for every length a horse was beaten in that contest.

    Hence, a six-furlong dirt race timed in 1:08-4/5 at a track with a six-furlong dirt record of 1:08 would net a 96 speed figure for the winner, a 95 for the second-place finisher that was beaten by a length, and an 84 for the nag (is it still OK to use that term?) that straggled home 12 lengths behind.

    This method was very simple and not tremendously accurate — a lack of quality/consistency of the track records, abhorrent surface conditions and other factors could lead to some wild results — but the speed ratings did prove one thing: good horses run fast.

    From 1960 until 1989 (the last year the DRF speed ratings were based on track records), the eventual Horse of the Year recorded a figure of 95 or greater in 30 of 32 cases (there were two Horse of the Year winners in both 1965 and 1970), while 21 of the 32 champions set or broke at least one track record during the year in which they were honored.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

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    Ironically (or, perhaps, not), the only horses that failed to garner a speed rating of 95 or better during their Horse of the Year campaigns — All Along in 1983 and Ferdinand in 1987 (see above) — both went winless the following year.

    With that in mind, let’s take a peek at the past performances of Winter Memories (the numbers in red represent the old DRF speed ratings):

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Notice anything? Yeah, not exactly a speed demon, is she?

    Now, it’s only fair to point out that Winter Memories has, to a certain extent, been handicapped by extremely slow paces; and that 55 speed rating in the Lake Placid can be ignored completely as it was earned over a “yielding” turf course (the same track condition that led to All Along’s subpar numbers).

    Still, the data is hardly encouraging. And while we’re on the subject, how about that other “super steed,” the one named after a reality TV star — or, possibly, her dad (a famous trainer) — that competes across the pond?

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    In this case, I used the existing UK records for the tracks involved and, again, the results are not inspiring. Although Frankel received the fourth-highest Timeform figure in history for his win in the Sussex on July 27, his final time for that one-mile event was nearly two seconds off the track record and the slowest since 2008. Yet the 91 speed rating he garnered at Goodwood that day ranks as Frankel’s best as a three-year-old.

    Just to show that I don’t have an axe to grind here — after all, this isn’t the first time I’ve opined that Frankel and Winter Memories may be overrated — let’s take a gander at another UK superstar: 2009 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Sea The Stars.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Unlike the other two, Sea The Stars does fit the criteria of greatness established by previous American Horse of the Year honorees. Not only are all of his (rated) races fast, he also set a new track record at York when he won the Group 1 (the European equivalent of Grade 1) Juddmonte International.

    So, the next time somebody smugly asserts that Winter Memories or Frankel or some other flavor of the week is one of the best horses ever, grab some holy water — beer will work in a pinch — and brandish the past performances of Secretariat below.

    If that doesn’t exorcise their demons of delusion, nothing will.

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    Weekend Wagers

    Coming soon.

    Derek Simon’s Free Selection Statistics

    Races (Selections): 51 (54)
    Wins: 19
    Rate: 37.3%
    Return: $142.10
    ROI: +31.57%

    (This year's published selections through 09/21/11.)

    Note: Play is restricted to any horse(s) that meet my fair odds requirements (when listed). Multiple qualifying contenders will be bet separately, however, multiple bets will be adjusted to equal a single wager and the payoffs averaged. For example a winning WIN/PLACE wager paying $6.20 on top and $4.30 underneath would count as a single bet paying $5.25 (the average of $6.20 and $4.30).
  • Handigrappling
    (wrestling with handicapping topics
    issue 1: the gallop out

    POSTED Sep 19, 2011
    PTF: Maybe we should start out by telling the good people why we’re here. You go first.

    ED: During a Twitter discussion on September 10, I said that the gallop out "never matters." My esteemed blog colleague at TwinSpires, P.T. Fornatale (no relation to Barnum), took umbrage with my statement, asserted that I was exercising pure hyperbole and called said statement "absurd."

    Being the successful author that he is with many gold doubloons sitting around his posh Brooklyn apartment, he spent some of those ducats on paying a messenger to deliver a singing telegram while wearing white gloves. At the end of the telegram the performer removed his gloves, slapped me across the face, and challenged me to a blog duel to state my case. I'm a poor marketer so I pawned the white gloves and accepted the duel via Twitter rather than ordering a singing telegram of my own.

    PTF: Those things aren’t cheap. OK, tell me why you’re against the idea of using gallop outs.

    ED: Racing is sometimes criticized for being a difficult game to understand, but really, what could be easier than "Whoever crosses the finish line first wins"? Granted, it's equally as easy to understand that in baseball the team with more runs wins and in football the team with more points wins, but explaining how teams score either is a lot more difficult than explaining how a horse reaches the finish line first. And the simplicity of the goal is what makes divining who will achieve it frustrating yet beautifully maddening. The best horse doesn't always win, but the first one to the finish line does, and everything else that happens during the race is dissected to determine who else could/should have won. To me, worrying about what happens after the line just clouds a picture that’s tricky enough to understand as it is.

    PTF: Just like a baseball or football team can play better than the final score indicates, a horse can run better than the bare form indicates, too. But let me back up a second.

    Handicapping is fairly easy to teach: Speed, form, pace, class. Put them in whatever order you like. Trainers, trips, raceflows, biases. All indubitably important. And yet, USA horseplayers as a group, even the good handicappers, win at a rate of less than 1% in aggregate over time. Handicapping is easy, winning is hard, especially in what you might call the post-Beyer era.

    I believe there is a new frontier in handicapping, and ironically, it’s an area as old as racing itself: I’m talking about horsemanship. As handicappers, our ability to truly be horsemen is obviously limited, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a lot by observing what the likes of Bill Mott, Graham Motion and Todd Pletcher observe themselves; i.e., watch the watchers. As many of you who know me know, I am a big believer in paddock analysis. But handicapping from a horseman’s perspective has another under appreciated aspect as well: watching gallop outs. But don’t get me wrong:  Like so many other things in racing, gallop outs matter when the matter. And sometimes they do matter.

    ED: Unfortunately, in the days I've let this stew, my idea has turned, spoiled, and is now emanating a foul odor. Leave it to a successful published author to win a war of words with a former journalist, but I was in a tough spot having to argue something never mattered considering P.T.’s perfectly reasonable point in his last sentence above.

    So for a while here, I felt like one of Barnum’s suckers born every minute by agreeing to this debate. Saying they "never matter" would make more sense if he had said they "always matter," but he didn't. Still, the gallop out is grossly overvalued and matters so rarely that spending time assessing them is folly.

    PTF: But one man’s folly can lead to another’s full wallet. I don’t just want to cherry pick specific, back-fit examples (a key intellectual flaw in handicapping literature). Rather I want to look at a couple of key situations. The first is maiden races. Specifically, “watch” horses in maiden races. When a horse has issues in a race, either via classic trouble (bad break, raced on wrong part of the track, checked, blocked) or is racing against  a raceflow or bias not conducive to his running style, and he still has a lot of run past the wire, it pays to pay attention.

    Perhaps the most obvious example where watching gallop outs pays dividends is with 2 year old first time starters, especially sprinting. In many cases, just by pedigree and trainer, you can identify horses who are unlikely to thrive going short in the first two thirds of the year. When these horses get predictably outpaced, yet finish OK and gallop out well past the turn, I would recommend making a note of that.

    ED: It's conceivable that a horse is destined to go long on the turf but in order to best prepare for that career, the trainer debuts said animal sprinting on the dirt. Perhaps the trainer instructs the rider to persevere through the finish even if hopelessly beaten--not for a check but for fitness. The gallop out could be worth watching in that instance, but to me that's as much a part of handicapping the trainer (as well as pedigree vis a vis turf) and knowing that type of move was potentially in play.

    PTF: That’s a good point about the overlap of trainer handicapping and gallop outs, I hadn’t thought about it that way. Just like the traditional handicapping factors can overlap, so can the newer ones. Another application of gallop outs involves 3-year olds in the spring. This time, I can’t resist the somewhat back-fit example of Turbulent Descent in the Santa Anita Oaks. Anyone who watched her nearly fall down past the wire after gutting out that win at 1 1/16 miles would never consider backing her going any farther. At the same time, on that evidence, you (OK, well, me) might have pegged her then and there as the future Grade 1 winner of the Test.

    At the same time, I recognize that our eyes can easily deceive us. Sometimes a horse looks super strong after the wire simply because the conditions in the race favored him. I remember Nehro in this year’s Arkansas Derby ending up seemingly 50 yards in front three strides after the finish. Many took this as a sign he would thrive at a longer distance. I kinda thought it was because he made the last move in a race that favored closers (though, to be fair, he did acquit himself well in the Derby).

    ED: I will say that gallop outs NEVER, EVER matter when trying to determine who the more accomplished horse is among winners and losers. I don't care who "had his nose in front" a yard, foot, or picometer beyond the finish line. Who was ahead after 1 9/64 miles of a 1 1/8-mile race has as much bearing on who won the race as who was ahead after 1 7/64 miles of the same race.

    They also never matter if they never matter to you as a handicapper. If you are not someone who normally appraises horseflesh after the race as a way to measure a horse's ability then you should not attempt to handicap based on that information just because it has become apparent to you.

    The same rule applies to horseflesh before a race. I appreciate that inspecting horses in the paddock and post parade can yield clues about a horse's readiness to run, but I do not make those assessments myself because that is not a strength of mine.

    PTF: Let me take the second part first. Fair enough. Clearly, every handicapper needs to stick with what works for them. I guess I’m just suggesting that players who aren’t happy with the results of their existing methodologies might consider learning to look at things from a horseman’s perspective, and one of the easier ways to do that, in my opinion, is by watching who is going well at the finish. Consider a scene I saw at Saratoga. One of Todd Pletcher’s runners -- there were so many I can’t recall which -- won a stake. The people in his box are all high-fiving. He keeps his eyes right in the binocs, watching the gallop out. How can they not matter?

    As for the first part, about not using gallop outs to measure a horse’s overall body of work, I’m with you there. To me, they are really just a handicapping cool. Let’s say Horse A beats Horse B but Horse B gallops out better in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I wouldn’t be voting for Horse B for Horse of the Year, but maybe I’d be looking to bet Horse B if the two faced each other again.  Often, it makes me crazy trying to express myself in the 140 characters that Twitter allows. But this time I feel like I got it right in tweet form: gallop outs matter when they matter.

    ED: Evaluating a horse's behavior beyond the scope of how the race is run (e.g. handicapping based on the gallop out) is as much a part of knowing the jockey as knowing the horse. Some jockeys have earned reputations for not riding through the wire. A key jockey change in that regard could make a horse appear to gallop out more strongly than as in the past, but that's hardly a sign of form reversal.

    This discussion started by noting that racing is easy to understand because the goal is easy to understand: reach the finish line first, and I'm a big believer of understanding the motives behind a horse being in the race when handicapping that horse's chances in a race, which is where understanding trainers come in.

    Really, though, a hopelessly beaten horse is more likely to look good running past the wire because those so far ahead of him are already slowing down, so the gap will close quicker.
    Which gets back to my point that it's just a tricky assessment and one that most should avoid.