• Cotolo’s Harness-Weekend Review, 5-30-11

    POSTED May 29, 2011
    Updates like the one you are now reading are tough to write because the content—on its own for a single weekend—makes smart betting advice seem useless. After all, when the winners of the major races we perused to find valuable wagers are all the obvious choices, why consult smart betting advice? Who needs someone to guide their betting investments to losers?

    That is just how we stand after this weekend and we take full responsibility for the failures. Certainly, we bank on upsets. And certainly, there are times when upsets are as common as a bluebird in a locust swarm.

    Our failures—the successes of the masses—include the New Jersey Classic (Big Jim), the Miss New Jersey (Krispy Apple), the Upper Canada Cup (Mystician), the Molson Pace Final (Foiled Again) and the Dan Patch Invitational (Giddy Up Lucky).

    As fate would have it, we wound up giving out a favorite in the Earl Rowe Silver Division (Il Villaggio) but he lost. And our 3-1 shot in the Gold Division finished second (Triumphant Caviar) to the other 3-1 shot.
    At Cal Expo, in May 28’s no-takeout Pick 4, a scratch in the second leg cheapened our ticket. Still, the only winner to surface turned out to be a favorite: Jill’s Sooter ($4.40) in the final leg. 

    Our Pick 4 finished 7th, 2nd, 5th / 4th / 3rd, 7th / 1st

    Our only winners for the week came on the exclusive Hambletonian Trail blog, where on Thursday, May 26, we scored with VC Chocoholic at $9.60. Following the eligibles to the August classics continues through TwinSpires and the Hambletonian Society. Bettors can go to the specific blog for previews and to the Hambletonian Society website for reports on eligibles’ results.  Follow the Hambletonian Trail blog for all previews, picks and wagering information. 

    Harness News

    Trond Smedshammer’s Arch Madness lost the May 29 Elitlopp in Solvalla, Stockholm. He won his elim heat and was the race favorite in the final. Also from the States in the final was Wishing Stone and Lisa America.

    “Stone” turned out to be the undoing of “Arch” as the two dueled before Arch settled to sit in second. Resting in the catbird seat and dismissing a charge by second-choice Rapide Lebe, Arch appeared to be in a good stalking position.

    But Arch was tired and stalled as another battle took place between Yarrah Boko and “Rapide.” With Stone and Arch put away, Rapide looked home free until a late charge by German trotter Brioni, who has a ton of trot left late and soared home first at 27-1, ahead of Rapide, with Sweden’s Libeccio Grif finishing third. Arch finished sixth, Lisa America was never involved and Stone faded to finish last.

    Watch the race, if only to see how aggressively the European drivers perform. Fearless of outside trips and speed duels, these fellas play hardball from start to finish and although they are less tactical than our guys, they deserve a great deal of respect for their explosive courage.

    Are we wrong about Shadyshark Hanover, who we feel will have a better season as a glamour-boy pacer than Big Jim? Since “Jim” won the “Jersey” and “Shadyshark” wound up third (a 99-1 shot nosed him for second), some may think we will change our opinion. However, it is still early to tell if Shadyshark will improve and take care of his nemesis. Both are aimed at the $1-million Meadowlands Pace and big stakes down the road, so don’t give up on Shadyshark just yet. Losing to Jim early may only help his odds for a score against him soon.

    At Pocono Downs over the weekend there was a world-record dead heat finish as Bettor Sweet and Macraider N won the $60,000 Open in 1:48.4.

    The three-quarters split went in a fiery 1:20.4). See photo on left by Racehorsephoto.com.

    The night’s racing was extremely fast, especially for a five-eighths track.

    (Cartoon by Thom Pye)
  • Bountiful Betting

    POSTED May 26, 2011
    I often preach the benefits of wagering against a big favorite in the show pool when that pool is negative or near negative. Well, a perfect example of why I preach this occurred in the first race at Belmont Park on Thursday, May 26.

    Before I discuss that interesting affair, however, let me briefly explain what a "negative pool" is: simply put, it is any pari-mutuel pool in which 75-80 percent (or more) of the total amount wagered is controlled by a single horse or entry. The term “negative” relates to the fact that the track must dip into its own coffers should the pool favorite be successful, e.g. finish first in the win pool, second or better in the place pool or third or better in the show pool. The track does this, of course, because there is a government-mandated minimum payoff of $2.10 (or, in some places, $2.20) on every winning $2 wager.

    Without boring everyone with the specifics, suffice it to say that in recent years, thanks to net pool pricing, these track “giveaways” have become more prevalent, hence reducing the effective takeout in instances where the heavy favorite is successful and providing for potential windfall profits when the favorite fails.

    Which brings us back to Thursday’s first race at Big Sandy:

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Notice that $54,241 of the $64,018 (84.7 percent) in the show pool was wagered on the 1/1A entry, which consisted of Goodday and All Drama.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Personally, I felt both horses were vulnerable, but, regardless of one’s feelings, this was a great race to find alternative show bets. I settled on 6-Say Toba Sandy, 5-Full of Gut and 3-Primal Baby (in that order) and was amply rewarded.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Do yourself a favor and watch for these kinds of opportunities; in my opinion, they are among the best bets at the track.

    Derek Simon’s Free Weekend Win Factor Plays

    Because I haven’t posted many free plays or offered much in the way of race analysis recently (my horrible Preakness “insights” notwithstanding), I thought I would change that this week. Below are some races to consider playing on Friday and Saturday:

    FRIDAY (5/27/11)

    (Click on image to enlarge)

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

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    BET(S): WIN on 1 & 3.

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    BET(S): WIN on 4 at odds of 6-5 or greater.

    SATURDAY (5/28/11)

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    BET(S): SHOW on 1 (if 75% or more of the show pool is controlled by 5).

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    BET(S): WIN on 2 at even odds (1-1) or greater. EXACTA 2-7.

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    BET(S): WIN on 4 at 6-5 or greater.
  • Big-Purse Prizes On The Line

    POSTED May 25, 2011
    It’s a weekend of high stakes, to say the least, for a few divisions and across the continent. Let’s get right to the action, looking for the possible upsets, the overlooked contenders, the horses that make our purses larger.

    Cal Expo and the Meadowlands are the tracks in the third and last qualifying round of the National Harness Handicapping Championship. Click here for all information.

    Since it is a holiday weekend, look for updates on Sunday and Monday racing at our Facebook page and by following our tweets.

    Also, remember to check our exclusive blog addition, The Hambletonian Trail, to follow the soph colt and filly trotters eligible to the August classics.

    ‘Jersey’ Boys And Girls

    New Jersey-sired glamour-boy pacers and their female counterparts are back at the Meadowlands in the New Jersey Classic and Miss New Jersey finals.

    In the $400,000 New Jersey Classic final, the majority of bettors will turn to world- champion Big Jim, installed the 8-5 morning-line favorite.

    Big Jim debuted at three last week with a 1:51.4 romp in the prep for “Classic” last week. Driver Phil Hudon said, “He was well in hand. I didn't want to rev him up too much late. I was just sitting on him. He finished up good and I think he'll have a good year.”

    At the end of 2010, we liked his biggest foe, Shadyshark Hanover, a bit better, proposing that he would mature more at three and improve.

    “He's the odd horse who steps on to the track and goes a mile or two before he starts bucking and playing,” said his trainer, Erv Miller when talking to the Meadowland’s Amy Silver. 

    “Shadyshark” is the second choice from the rail in the Classic. Shadyshark romped to a 1:51.3 victory in his 2011 debut, an overnight race at Harrah's Chester, last Saturday.

    "He was never really asked last week," Miller said. “His debut was excellent. The way he was put away at two is the way he's come back at three. He's a very, very good horse. He was already a big colt at two and he's grown into himself.”

    We need to be convinced that Big Jim is better and will try to beat him with Shadyshark. Plus, we have a few outsiders to watch.  Grams Legacy is one choice. He made a huge close and finished second, almost beating “Jim.” Also watch Lizard King. He was passed while closing in on the leaders. He will be dangerous if circumstances give him a clearer path late.

    In the $150,000 Miss New Jersey Final, the favorite could be Krispy Apple, based upon her Miss New Jersey prep victory. With “Apple” the favorite, I Kill Time would be the best choice for value. She moves to the rail after a second-over trip in the prep, behind Pretty Katherine, and had to settle for fourth from the 7 post.

    Big Northern Stakes

    Saturday, at Western Fair in Canada, the premier race of the track’s season, Molson Pace Final, brings together a top field of older pacers, featuring many we have been covering all year. It is hard to deny Foiled Again yet another stakes victory but we have to look elsewhere if we are to address any good win price in this race.

    Let’s take a show with the event’s defending champ, Aracache Hanover. In this field he will be sent off at very good odds. He got into the final racing tough from the outside and last year won the event after stumbling at the start, an incident that would have excused any number of other horses. A horse for the course and the event, he is worth a shot to defeat the mighty “Foiled” here.

    At Georgian Downs in Canada, older trotters go in splits for big money. In the Earl Rowe silver division, there is no clear favorite. But one to watch is Il Villaggio. He had practically no three-year-old season due to injury and he may show his best at four.

    In the gold division, Slave Dream will be the likely choice but one of our choices from last season is the talented Triumphant Caviar. He has been doing well in preferred company and could be ready to graduate and show his maturity.

    There is a half-million dollars for province-bred soph pacers on the line in the Upper Canada Cup at Georgian, also. We are interested in Prodigal Seelster. He could be very strong at three, certainly among his ilk in Ontario.

    ‘Patch’ Pick 

    In the $200,000 Dan Patch Invitational at Hoosier Park, Allthatgltrsisgold will be the likely “local” favorite in this mile for older pacers. But Hypnotic Blue Chip may have the best shot of all. He had broken equipment in the Graduate, but before that, he paced well.

    Cal Exotic

    Saturday night, May 28, it’s time to aim again for a big payout in the no-takeout Pick 4 at Cal Expo from Race 11 through Race 14. Our first leg is a trot, the others are paces.

    Race 11
    (1) Foxy Lady De Vie just missed as the choice last out. This group of trotters compete often, so going deeper than usual here makes sense. (4) Franks Best closed well to win and is smoothly gaited to do it again. (7) Giles LS Hanover won last out and did it taking on the outer flow first over; impressive.

    Race 12
    (1) Jeano tossed in a real bad race and may be overlooked because of it. Either way, it is tough to leave ‘em out of this uneven bunch. (4) Gorgeous Forever also fell to sleep as the choice last time and must be given another shot, hopefully at a price.

    Race 13
    (5) Cinnamon was parked for two calls last out and should get a better go of it here. (7) Tutiming Gal got second after struggling on the outside in a charge that got started too late.

    Race 14
    (5) Jill’s Sooter would be a strange single on any occasion but here is a field with poor recent credentials. “Sooter” left strongly last out and an early duel cost ‘em the race. So a good race could be a winning race and nail a decent payoff for the exotic.

    If you want to use all of these, the 147/14/57/5 ticket cost $12 ($1 ticket).

    (Ray Cotolo assisted in this edition.)
  • Cotolo’s Harness-Weekend Review, 5-23-11

    POSTED May 22, 2011
    The past two weeks have featured the return of a lot of last year’s trotter and pacing champs and there have been no disappointments, especially with the new sophomore crops on both gaits; every one has debuted with charm and strength.

    The Hambletonian winter-book choice, Pastor Stephen, last year’s frosh champ, won in a jog on an “off” track at the Meadows. The Hambletonian Trail continues exclusively through TwinSpires and the Hambletonian Society. Bettors can go to the specific blog for previews and to the Hambletonian Society website for reports on eligibles’ results.  Follow the Hambletonian Trail blog for all previews, picks and wagering information.

    See You At Peelers returned to the track after 13 frosh wins; the now-three filly pacer made it 14 straight with a victory. And Big Jim rolled easily to success in his soph debut in the New Jersey Classic prep at the Meadowlands. He was last year’s frosh-colt pacing champ.

    As for our wagering last weekend, once again we were saved by one of our Cal Expo no-takeout Pick-4 choices. Art Of Arts not only paid for our measly ticket but as our only winner of six possibilities he paid $38.20 to win.

    Our Pick 4 finished 5th, 2nd/ 7th/ 9th, 1st/ 5th

    If we admit to any mistake, it is what we offered at Pocono in the Max Hempt Final. Our choice to win, Powerful Mist, was second, but when we suggested it we could not be knowledgeable of last week’s choice, Custard The Dragon, going off this week at 10-1. As marred as was the elimination, “Custard” surely should have been wagered upon at these odds. He beat “Mist,” paying a sinful $22.20, with our second choice, the favorite, completing an exacta worth—hold your scream—$156.

    Our longshot option in the “Hempt” never had a chance, as he was pushed wide trying to get into the outer flow and he broke stride. Oddly, there was no interference called and no refund in what was clearly an infraction from where we were watching.

    Nor did we imagine giving you Krispy Apple in the Miss New Jersey prep would result in a mere $3.20 win price.

    Our attempts in the Molson Pace elims were dowsed by the dead-on favorites (you don’t need any experienced bettors to play those types), as Legal Litigator and Lucky Man went down with not much of a fight from each. 
    Again, don’t miss out on some good bets on the HambletonianTrail. We have already supplied a few great winners and will continue to follow all of the races for both sexes leading to the August classic for sophomore trotters. We will not be covering that on this page.
    Harness News

    Four North American trotters are on the bill in elims for May 29’s Elitlopp in Solvalla, Stockholm. The prestigious mile for older trotters is raced in heats to determine the final field on the same program.

    Trond Smedshammer’s Arch Madness will most likely be the race favorite, though he has to qualify by doing well in the second elim, where he has drawn post 2. Also from the States in that elim is Lisa America.

    In the first elim, Canadian-stalwart Define The World gets post 4, while Wishing Stone, from last year’s Hambo Trail, who has already been successful in European stakes events, gets post 7.

    Lisagain, a horse we followed and supported last year as he got better and better and who has been a fireball in Canada so far this season, tied the mark for the fastest 2011 mile in Canada with a 1:49.1 performance in the $35,000 preferred pace on May 21 at Mohawk Racetrack.

    Jim Pantaleano won Freehold Raceway’s 2010-2011 driving title when the meet completed on May 21. He had 232 wins. The Ohio native had a career-best 437 wins in 2010, surpassing identical 436 win marks in 2002 and 2003.

    Dave Pinkney, Jr. captured the training crown with 56 wins. He left Nova Scotia when he was 22-years-old to campaign in New England, won his first driving-and-training title in the early 1990s and moved to New Jersey where he has been ever since. For the 52-year-old trainer, this is his second-straight training title at Freehold.

    Freehold will resume live racing on Sept. 1.

    (Cartoon by Thom Pye)
  • Thy ‘Kingdom’ Come... Will He Conquer?

    POSTED May 19, 2011
    In the past six years, only one Kentucky Derby winner (Big Brown) has managed to duplicate that success in the Preakness Stakes. And it’s been 33 years — basically, the life span of two Justin Biebers — since Affirmed outdueled Alydar to sweep the Triple Crown. Given those sad statistics, Animal Kingdom’s hopes of adding to his Louisville legend would appear to be deader than the nerves in Kenny Rogers’ face, right?

    Not so fast, my cynical friends.

    To begin with, the Team Valor colt rallied off of an extremely slow pace in Louisville on May 7, which bodes well for his chances this weekend in Baltimore. Since 1932, when the order of the Triple Crown races was finally set, seven (of nine) Kentucky Derby winners that trailed by two lengths or more at the first call of a moderately-paced Run for the Roses (-7 Early Speed Ration or greater) triumphed in the Preakness as well. In this year’s Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports, pacesetter Shackleford recorded a -1 ESR and Animal Kingdom was 6 ¼ lengths behind that foe at the first call.

    What’s more, according to Barry Irwin, head of Team Valor, his stable star is continuing to flourish in the mornings. In a Facebook post earlier this week, Irwin noted: “Monstrous gallop with strong finish today on the Tapeta for [Animal Kingdom]. He is relaxed, strong and ready.”

    Lastly, even a nursing home full of cantankerous ex-defense lawyers would find it hard to argue that the son of Leroidesanimaux won the Derby in anything less than scintillating fashion.

    So why won’t I be backing Animal Kingdom this weekend? Well, to completely mangle the work of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let me count the “whys:”
    1) Since 1990, seven horses improved their latest Brisnet speed figure by six points or more while winning the roses; none of the half-dozen that subsequently competed in the Preakness (Grindstone was retired) managed to win. Animal Kingdom recorded a 105 Brisnet speed figure at Churchill Downs — eight points higher than the 97 he earned while annexing the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on March 26.

    2) It is little secret that leading at the stretch call of the Kentucky Derby often leads to a wreath of roses, but it’s not a bad way to get a bouquet of Black-eyed Susans either. Of the 29 Derby winners that also captured the Preakness since 1932, just five (of 17) were not in front at the 1/8-pole in Louisville.

    3) In the past 66 years, Big Brown stands as the only Derby winner to capture the Preakness with fewer than four previous sophomore starts. “Brown” paid the princely sum of $2.40 to win.

    4) And speaking of mutuel prices, only four of 20 Derby winners that returned $20+ in Louisville were able to triumph — at any price — in Baltimore.
    OK, now that I’ve explained why I won’t be betting on Animal Kingdom in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown (at least to win), I suppose it’s only fair to reveal which steed will be receiving the bulk of my wagering attention on Saturday. The answer is… drum roll, please… Dialed In.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Frankly, I didn’t think Nick Zito’s charge stood a snowball’s chance in a Pauly Shore movie marathon in the Derby — largely because I felt his lack of experience and one-dimensional running style would surely get him into trouble.

    They surely did.

    But unlike the Run for the Roses and the Belmont Stakes, the Preakness tends to highlight the best three-year-old in training and, at least right now, I think that horse is Dialed In. His poor showing in the Derby can be excused. The son of Mineshaft stood virtually no chance after such a sluggish opening half-mile, especially since he trailed by nearly 20 lengths at that juncture.

    “It went the way we planned it in the back,” noted Dialed In’s jockey Julien Leparoux after the Bluegrass State bust, “but they didn’t back up to us today.”

    Look, I like Leparoux, I think he’s a fine young rider, but clearly the clock in his head was on the fritz on the first Saturday in May. Either that or Leparoux was simply following instructions from Zito and company, who, like so many others, were duped into believing that this year’s Derby splits were going to be sizzling.

    They were anything but.

    In fact, the :48.63 opening half-mile at Churchill was the slowest since 1947, when Jet Pilot needed 49 seconds to traverse the first four furlongs over a track appropriately labeled “slow.” The only thing coming back after fractions like that were the lunches of those that made Dialed In the 5-1 Derby favorite.

    The Preakness pace figures to be much swifter. In addition to the aforementioned Shackleford, the quick Dance City along with Flashpoint and Astrology are all scheduled to compete this weekend. That, coupled with the knocks against Animal Kingdom and the probable odds, make this year’s Preakness an easy call for me: Dialed In is the logical play… we’ll just have to wait another Justin Bieber or two for the next Triple Crown winner.

    Shot Down in Flames

    Every year it seems we hear about the “new shooters” at Pimlico — those horses that either skipped the Kentucky Derby or were excluded by Mike Repole. But how do these mythical beasts actually perform on the track? Not very well I’ve learned. Take a look:

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    Derek Simon’s Free Weekend Win Factor Plays

    Coming soon.

  • Glamour Groups In The Spotlight

    POSTED May 18, 2011
    Three-year-old pacing stakes adorn the marquee this week for the first time of the season with the Max Hempt Final at Pocono and eliminations for the New Jersey Classic for colts and Miss New Jersey for fillies at the Meadowlands.

    The stalwart pacing horses head north to Western Fair where two elims for the track’s premier event, the Molson Pace, feature some of the season’s best, including the Graduate winner Foiled Again.

    And through the weekend keep your cursor clicking on the Hambletonian Trail as our exclusive blog follows the campaigns of two divisions battling for berths in the August classics.

    ‘Hempt’ Final

    On Saturday, May 21, Pocono Downs presents the $300,000 Max C. Hempt Final, with a field extracted from a single elimination event last week that was nothing less than mayhem. This week, there is no clear favorite due to last week’s massacre in the stretch, with several horses jumping and galloping.

    The morning-line favorite is Jimmy Takter’s Prana, who was tangled in the mess of breakers last week.

    Another one of the wild colts was Sharp West Hanover. He never had a real chance to race that mile; he was affected, as were others, from interference by Custard The Dragon and Dana’s Sharp Smart. “Sharp” draws the rail here and that should help, making him the outsider to watch.

    Powerful Mist could not perform in the cluster of confusion last week, either, and deserves a shot here. The elim ruined his three-race win streak, something he can start over here with a sharp effort (we think he is better than Prana, so watch the toteboard).

    These are not the forecasted stars of the glamour-boy pacers but one may emerge from a strong mile that is not marred by circumstance.

    Restricted Action

    New Jersey-sired glamour-boy pacers take to the track at the Meadowlands in the New Jersey Classic prep, the prelude to next week’s final. Nine colts will join Shadyshark Hanover on May 28 for the final.

    The public will most likely go heavily to support world-champion Big Jim. The frosh Breeders Crown winner is the fastest frosh pacer in history with a 1:49.1 mark, set in the Governor’s Cup at Woodbine. His connections are aiming him at the $1-million Meadowlands Pace in July.

    He will be hard to beat if he comes back at three with the power he displayed late last season. However, one that might be able to accomplish an upset is Lizard King. One of the top two-year-olds last year, his three-year-old campaign began with a rough start. He was a victim of interference in his first race and just lost in his second start.

    On May 20, the companion event, the Miss New Jersey prep, offers no clear favorite, though all eyes are on Pretty Katherine; she may be the public choice.

    But one that has a good chance at a good price is Krispy Apple. Debuting very late in her two-year-old campaign, she finished second in a Matron elim and won the final. After that, she won every start.

    Brewing Battles

    At Western Fair on Friday, May 20, there will be a pair of elims featuring older pacers; battles that will present the entries in next week’s Molson Pace Final.

    In the first Molson elim, the big money will be spread on two horses, Atochia and Art Professor.

    But one that may bring a price is Legal Litigator. He had some trouble at Yonkers (also a half-mile track) in the “Levy” and just lost an Open at Pocono but he might get the perfect trip in this, the weaker of the two events.

    The second elim may be considered the stronger since the headlining horse is Foiled Again. He is returning from a tight win in the Graduate at the Meadowlands, after he lost the Levy Final, which he won the two years before. No stranger to four turns, he will be tough to beat and tough to bet at a very low price.

    That is why Lucky Man is the horse to back in an upset. This guy loves the half mile; he set the world record last year at Delaware in the Winbak Pace.

    Ideal Race and defending-champ Aracache Hanover have the outside two posts and will have to work extra hard to get finish well enough to make the final. Early speed to make up for the post could ruin them and also set up the race for “Lucky” and Foiled Again.

    Cal Exotic

    Saturday night, May 21, we take on another challenge in the no-takeout Pick 4 at Cal Expo from Race 11 through Race 14. 

    Race 11
    (3) Whipped Dreams closed too late last out to win it all but might be blessed to come off a pace duel with the pair that has finished one-two as longshots the past two weeks. (6) Wide Screen brushed big on the outside, a move at 21-1 that might be the flare for a winning mile.

    Race 12
    (7) Franco Smoothie N made two strong moves before the stretch last week, only to finish fifth. A clean trip here seems to have him tower over this field.

    Race 13
    Three horses in this field come off of wins but (2) Cinnamon and (3) Art Of Arts appear to be in better spots to do the job.

    Race 14
    (7) Taxi Dancer took the laborious overland journey last week and got a piece of the pie, finishing fourth. Sailing clearly he looks tons the best of this motely crew.

    If you want to use all of these, the 36/7/23/7 ticket cost $4 ($1 ticket).

    (Ray Cotolo assisted in this edition.)
  • Cotolo’s Harness-Weekend Review, 5-16-11

    POSTED May 15, 2011
    Another step in the new season took place this past weekend, as we move into deep stakes season and the promise of summer. One big piece of news, of course, is the situation in New Jersey, with the sport’s flagship track.

    The Meadowlands, since our last blog, has been officially taken over by the Jeff Gural team. A lot of familiar names returned to the track last week, as a few high-powered races also came home to roost.

    Our success along the way, almost included the Graduate Final. In the last steps of that race, however, Foiled Again defeated our choice, the 9-2 Bettor Sweet. The Meadowlands was not “playing” well to speed in late stretch over the weekend. Any strenuous action to take the lead meant serious loss of late steps for any horse caring to hold on at the wire.

    Also coming from off of a hot three-quarters was Slave Dream, who won the “Cutler” final. Our choice attempted to steal the race. Hot Shot Blue Chip, at 36-1, took control of the field early but was unable to maintain the tempo.

    At Pocono, the Max Hempt elimination, a single race to decide the field of next week’s soph-colt pacing final, was marred by a lot of jumping, which is not so common for soph pacers.

    The unlikely winner, Movie Idol, an honest 26-1 shot, took full advantage of mishaps from the beginning, when Smile A Little (refunded) and Pan From Nantucket (6-1) tangled and broke at the start. Horses were scurrying about to find good spots early and then had to readjust coming past three-quarters when our choice, Sharp West Hanover (36-1) broke and interfered with colts making aim for the finish line.

    The race was a mess and must be tossed out entirely when we address the final in our next blog. This was a poor showing for these new glamour-boy pacers, not a one of them that is coming from the top tier of last year’s frosh group.

    Meanwhile, we continue to find profits at Cal Expo. A repeat performance from two horses that we nailed in our Pick 4 last week in an odd dead heat, scored again, this time without the photo. Lucky Peterson came back to win, paying $25 and right behind him was Itza Free For All, the horse sharing winning honors last week. This exacta came back $47.60.

    Our Cal Expo Pick 4 finished 4th, 2nd/ 4th/ 4th, 3rd/5th.

    The Hambletonian Trail continues. You can go to the specific blog for previews and to the Hambletonian Society website for reports on eligibles’ results. The John Simpson Memorial splits at Vernon last Saturday went well for our choices, all of them eligibles to the August classics for colts and fillies. Watch for more action on Tuesday, May 17, when three splits of Pennsylvania Sires Stakes that involve Hambo eligibles, go at the Meadows. Follow the Hambletonian Trail blog for all previews, picks and insider information.

    Harness News

    The glamour-boy pacers featured the return of Feel Like A Fool, debuting at three in a John Simpson Memorial at Tioga. Our old friend Howard Parker was aboard the George Teague, Jr.-trained frosh champ (pictured left). The win was a convincing 1:54 over a “sloppy” track.

    Parker told reporters, “This colt has some serious speed. When I tipped him three wide on the backstretch it was just like an explosion.”
    Remember He’s Gorgeous, a soph-colt pacer from last season that picked up some mighty checks behind horses like Rock N Roll Heaven and who had a good late-season kick? Last Saturday, the Tracy Brainard-trained horse, now four, soared in the feature race at Saratoga.

    With Dan Cappello, Jr. in the bike, “Gorgeous” was coming off a lifetime mark of 1:50 at Vernon Downs the week before. On the Saratoga half-mile he followed that up with a 1:51.1 victory. That time is a tick off the all-time track record at Saratoga. The record of 1:51 was set by Rare Jewel in 2006 and has since been matched by Gimmebackmybullets and Joey The Czar. Rare Jewel was among the pacers defeated by Gorgeous in Saturday’s event.
  • When Pace Doesn’t Make the Race

    POSTED May 13, 2011
    I was grinning like the proverbial cat that ate the canary as the horses entered the starting gate for the 2011 Kentucky Derby. For, throughout the week, I had heard that the pace in this year’s Run for the Roses was going to be brutal. All the trainers and jockeys were saying it, the blogosphere was buzzing about it… heck, I think even the Mayans made some veiled references to this year’s expected pace meltdown in Louisville.

    But I knew better. Feeling somewhat mystical and “seer-ish” myself, I defended my opinion that the pedigree-challenged Comma To The Top was a prime Derby contender like Master Po (from the old “Kung Fu” TV series) and/or Mister Miyagi (“Karate Kid”).

    “At times, the seemingly impossible is possible precisely because everyone thinks it is impossible,” I told a Facebook friend from my incense-filled study, where I was busy analyzing my TwinSpires account history for the previous day’s races (otherwise known as the “Dead C-Note Scrolls”). Naturally, my buddy thought I was nuts, but my confidence grew and grew with each nervous proclamation about the expected sizzling splits.

    By the time the gates sprung open and Comma To The Top promptly rocketed his way to the front of the pack, my smile had become so expansive that I resembled a divorce attorney at Larry King’s wedding (pick one), as I anticipated what would shortly unfold. Patrick Valenzuela, one of the great frontrunning riders, was going to slow the pace and, in effect, shorten the Derby distance from 10 to 8 ½ furlongs, which another of my cynical Facebook friends had suggested was the limit of Comma’s stamina. Gleefully, my mind moved on to other things — like how I would spend my Derby booty.

    But Comma To The Top failed to hold his position. Possibly due to an ankle injury he was said to have sustained during the running of the race, the gelding instead conceded the lead to Shackleford, a horse I hated, in part because I thought he was going to have to come off the pace. I cursed “P-Val” for his apparent idiocy as I watched Shackleford record a -1 early speed ration (ESR) — not just slow, but Kendra Wilkinson slow — and I knew that I was on my way to winning the battle, but losing the war.

    As it turned out, I lost the war too. Although Shackleford confirmed that he was worthy of my condemnation by being the first horse since Sea Cadet (in 1991) to finish out of the money after leading at the stretch call in the Derby, none of my preferred frontrunning contenders fared any better. I’m sure General Larry Platt would agree that my top choice, Pants On Fire, had me “lookin’ like a fool” when he checked in ninth — yet that was the best finish (outside of the aforementioned Shackleford) from any horse among the top-5 at the first call.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    The implications of this are truly stunning. Since 1932, the Kentucky Derby champion has led from flag fall to finish 14 times in 80 runnings (17.5 percent); in Derbies featuring an ESR of -7 or greater, that ratio jumps to nearly one in four (five wire-to-wire winners, 22 races). Of course, all of this bodes well for Animal Kingdom, who one might say “bucked the bias” in Louisville on Saturday. Of the 13 Derby champs that went on to compete in the Preakness Stakes after not leading at the first call of a moderately-paced Run for the Roses (-7 ESR or greater), seven won. Of those running worse than third at the first call in Kentucky, six (of eight) were able to duplicate their success in Maryland.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Going Pro Update

    Due to my successful pursuit of the Rainbow-6 and my unsuccessful quest for Derby glory (I did cash the Oaks-Derby Double, but blanked on my other bets), I have temporarily suspended my “pro” betting activities (see “Becoming a Pro Gambler, Part Deux”).

    Needless to say, I have grown my starting bankroll of $492.60 considerably (a pick six — even one for a dime — will do that), but placing multi-race wagers and betting crapshoot events like the Kentucky Derby are not what I consider to be professional bets — under most circumstances. So, knowing that I will continue to make such wagers in the future, I’ve decided to split my betting accounts into a “pro” pool and a “for-the-fun-of-it” pool. As soon as I can work out all the details, I will once again be publicly tracking all my wagering successes and failures.
  • Elders Clash; Soph Pacers Supply Stakes Action

    Now that the Grand Circuit’s in motion, the three-year-old glamour boys and girls will be working on their stakes agenda.

    This week, the colt pacers battle for a berth in the Max Hempt Final at Pocono Downs and in Simpson Stakes at Vernon Downs. At Woodbine, colt pacers shoot for a big purse in the Diplomat Stakes and the femmes hook up in the Pricess Stakes.

    The colt trotters continue to knock heads in Simpson Stakes at Vernon—those divisions are covered in The Hambletonian Trail blog and on the Hambletonian Society website.

    Older trotters and pacers, respectively, are still pounding the surface, this week at the Meadowlands in the Arthur Cutler Memorial Final and the Graduate.

    Handicapping Battle

    Don’t go superstitious on your behavior this Friday the 13th because you need all of your proper senses to take you through round two of the National Harness Handicapping Challenge (NHHC. Two seats are up for grabs from this TwinSpires contest, featuring races at the Meadowlands and Woodbine.

    Click here for all the information on what and how to bet that night to put you in pace with your coast-to-coast competitors. May 27 is the final round to choose the pair of people going to the Meadowlands for the NHHC final.

    Follow any and all tweets we supply for Friday that night at my Twitter account.

    Meadowlands Monsters

    Free-for-all standardbreds take on the two-turn mile with a prep for the A.J. Cutler Memorial (trotters) and an elim for the Graduate (pacers) on Saturday, May 14.

    In the $200,000 Cutler Final, it is hard to find the clear-cut favorite, but drawing a conclusion, the betting public will be watching Slave Dream, Looking Hanover and Enough Talk.

    But last week, Hot Shot Blue Chip was wildly ignored; he went off at 65-1 and did really well from post 8. Now he gets the 4 hole, making him one to watch. Also be aware of Lucky Jim. He may go off at a higher price due to his breaking issues. But if he stays flat, he will be in the mix.

    In the $246,000 Graduate Final, the public’s eye will mainly be on Foiled Again and Won The West, mostly based on their championship campaigns last year. After last week’s elim, greatness shone on Bettor Sweet as he returned to the Big M and scored a triumphant victory in 1:50, making him the one to beat.

    To The ‘Max’

    On Saturday at Pocono Downs a field of 10 will go to the gate in the $50,000 elimination for next week’s Max Hempt Final for glamour-boy pacers.

    In the elim, the betting public will likely put thei bulk of the wagering cash on Dana’s Sharp Smart. He has only lost one race this year and already beat many nominees looked well upon for the Meadowlands Pace.

    But one that will most likely be ignored is Sharp West Hanover. He closed well in a Pennsylvania Sires Stakes event at Chester, regaining 7 lengths. That kind of closing will be a plus at Pocono, where the stretch is the undoing of many speedy types.

    ‘Trail’ Blazers

    At Vernon Downs on May 14 a herd of sophomore colt-and-filly trotters make up divisions of the John Simpson Memorial.


    The bulk of these fields are eligible to the Hambletonian and the “Oaks.” Our exclusive coverage continues at The Hambletonian Trail blog and on the Hambletonian Society website.


    Cal Exotic

    Saturday night, May 14, it’s time to take another crack at the no-takeout Pick 4 from Race 11 through Race 14. 

    Race 11
    (4) Minettastuppence overcame a tough early trip to get the lead but held on by a neck. (7) Quick On My Feet was far back, leaving from post 8, and chewed up real estate wildly to win.

    Race 12
    (2) Awesome Deal N was stuck outside through the better part of the mile and still gained some ground at the finish in a powerful show of endurance at 16-1. Since all others considered contenders should be bet down and have to leave from the outside, this could be the magic single.

    Race 13
    (6) Stanza, at 29-1, flashed some speed that could be a flare for what is to come this week. (8) Satire has been successful against this bunch before and last week, sent off at 19-1, closed stoutly.

    Race 14
    (5) Bolero Twister just missed as a 5-2 overlay and must be the most respected of this bunch.

    If you want to use all of these, the 47/2/68/5 ticket cost $4 ($1 ticket).

    (Ray Cotolo assisted in this edition.)


  • Cotolo’s Harness-Weekend Review, 5-9-11

    POSTED May 8, 2011
    The harness action is in flower, all right, as May kicked off the Meadowlands’ return and the Grand Circuit’s start. We have been putting together some decent, profitable weekends and now we get to pick and choose our plays among the plentiful, keeping powerful trip notes all around.

    The launching of the Hambletonian Trail blog was successful and we urge you to follow the stakes there, where the pertinent inside information will be posted for the three-year-old colt-and-filly trotters of 2011 headed for the August classics. There is a lot of money to be made in the numerous preps that weekly take place through July.

    For the early results of how we scored on the initial weekend of the “Trail” journey, go to the blog. Put it on your favorites, along with the Hambletonian Society website, where exclusive results of important Trail races are reviewed.

    Meanwhile, our big success over the weekend came at a usual haunting ground for us, Cal Expo. We missed hitting the no-takeout Pick 4 but managed to score two winners in one race along with a pair of exactas.

    Our Pick-4 ticket used Lucky Peterson (16-1) and Itza Free For All (11-1) in the second leg. A dead heat brought both to the winners’ circle, the former paying $17.20 and the latter paying $12.80. The tie hurt the individual prices, of course, but both of those mutuels were still worth it.

    The exactas with the pair paid $58 and $45.10. In the scheme of things, playing our highest priced horses from our Pick-4 combos has kept us well ahead of the game. We hit one $700-plus Pick 4 so far but we have also chosen horses worth as much as $100 to win in the mix. This is why we prompt you to play individual choices as mentioned in our Pick-4 ticket analyses.

    At the Meadowlands we were not sharp enough to stay with Bettor Sweet, a pacer we endorsed many times last season. In the Graduate elimination, “Sweet” won strongly over a good free-for-all group at 9-1.

    Our pair of choices made the final for next week, though. We Will See (fifth) and Lisagain (seventh), will both be in the $246,000 mile May 14, along with Atochia, Won The West, Dial Or Nodial, Hypnotic Blue Chip, Foiled Again, Giddy Up Lucky and Western Shore. That is no walk in the park for Sweet.

    In the other Meadowlands feature, the “Cutler” prep, Celebrity Hercules was disappointing, even though he was 30-1. Consider that Lucky Jim was eliminated from the start with a break and champion Enough Talk could not hold off challengers in the stretch and you have a situation worth following in this division. Our old friend Corleone Kosmos, for instance, was second in the race at 26-1. And the mare, Buck I St Pat, looked terrible with this group of males, many whom she beat soundly last season. We’ll report on the final in Thursday’s edition.

    Harness News

    The glamour-boy pacers have hit the track and we will be following them through the 2011 season. At Chester Downs, Pennsylvania Sires Stakes presented a lot of action for the division.

    In splits worth more than $52,000 each, we were impressed by two colts: Lucky Sniper and All Summer Long.

    Put On A Show, the champion sophomore pacing filly from last year, won’t be back until at least September, according to trainer Chris Ryder.

    “She has been swimming and put on the walker every day,” Ryder said about the mare’s progress since her March 12 surgery. “We hope to be jogging her next month. I’m not going to push her to have her ready for any major races.”

    Ryder said that the late-season opportunities for her were promising, including this year’s Breeders Crown, which we will cover from Woodbine.

    (Cartoon by Thom Pye)
  • FRANKEL Dazzles in 2000 Guineas

    POSTED May 5, 2011
    Take a short break from your Oaks and Derby handicapping to have a look at this bit of awesomeness from Newmarket:

  • Meadowlands Back; Blogs Hot On The ‘Trail’ Of Grand Circuit Action

    There will be bigger weeks in harness racing this season but the status of the Grand Circuit’s opening weekend, May 6 and May 7, allows the 2011 stakes season to loom boldly.

    It begins for bettors and horsemen this first weekend in May and the TwinSpires harness department is prepared to bring you more information, inside scoops, on-the-spot changes and value wagering suggestions than anywhere else in the world of wagering.

    As an addendum to our blog, we offer the wagering public another road—The Hambletonian Trail. An intense, regular following that logs the journeys of soph-colt-and-soph-filly trotters eligible for the August classics—The Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks—debuts this week. Be ready, bettors.

    As the next few months offer stakes and special events that reveal the fields for the trotting classics’ elims and finals, we will keep you abreast with all the betting opportunities across North America. In league with the events’ administrators, the Hambletonian Society, the exclusive “Trail” blog covers every race with every eligible and promises to pick up some major prices along the way, making “getting there” all the fun of Hambletonian day.

    Also, as last year, we will be live from the Meadowlands for all the Grand Circuit stakes via the blog and Facebook and Twitter. Nowhere else can you get the expert reporting we are offering through TwinSpires and the Hambo society. So get on the shuttle starting this week with Friday’s Lady Suffolk for soph-filly trotters and Saturday’s Dexter Cup for the glamour-boy trotters by visiting the new Trail blog and the Hambo-society page.

    Meadowlands Redux

    Free-for-all standardbreds take on the two-turn mile with a prep for the A.J. Cutler Memorial (trotters) and an elim for the Graduate (pacers).

    The “Cutler” event is an open and looks like a fight between several horses with 2010 divisional honors, including Enough Talk and the mighty mare Buck I St Pat. But all in all, this is a pretty tough field, with some involved that have yet to peak for the new season.

    Lucky Jim’s new season ensues after a rocky start. He won the Cutler last year. Trainer Julie Miller had “Jim” qualify on May 3 and he destroyed a field with a 1:53 mile. Jim broke badly in his 2011 debut at Chester in April.

    “We’re throwing that start at Chester out,” Julie said. “It was terrible, a rainy day and [Jim] had a few issues. It was probably not the best strategic move for us to race that day.”

    Julie, whose husband Andy is Jim’s regular pilot, feels Jim has worked through his issues and is ready, even from post 9, to prove he is sound and steady this season.

    We are watching Celebrity Hercules. He raced earlier this year in the Horse & Groom Series at the Meadowlands and he put in a pretty good effort, finishing second and looking to improve against this tough group. Also, we are keeping an eye on Don’t Know Chip, who has also tipped his mitt earlier this year.

    In the only elimination for the Graduate, three horses bought in to the final: Foiled Again, Western Shore and Giddy Up Lucky. It appears, however, that the betting public’s eyes are focused on two horses—Won The West and St Elmo Hero.

    But in this fierce elimination, the one to watch is Lisagain. Many players ignored this guy last year in high company but he has proven to be a dangerous sort in his last couple of starts, finishing second to Hypnotic Blue Chip in the Spring Pacing Championship, only to beat “Hypnotic” the following week. Also, returning after a competitive soph season is We Will See. He will, of course, have had to mature greatly to take on these elders but it is not out of the question to allow him an early shot at being much better than last year.

    Around The Ovals

    At Chester on Saturday, glamour-boy pacers parade through sires stakes and the Stallion Series Pennsylvania-sired events. Many new faces will be involved in the divisions, making handicapping a wary situation. But these are races to follow, as the division introduces early talent, if not superstars.

    Also at Chester that day a few familiar faces show up in a $100,000 Open. Five-year-old-and-under horse pacers, some from the “Levy” series and others sporting their early four-year-old careers—One More Laugh, Pangiorno and Clear Vision—go for big bucks. One horse we loved last year though he provided a number of disappointing attempts, is Europan Union. He comes out of the 1 hole and is four wins for a dozen starts so far this season. He may be overlooked, so beware.

    North of the border Woodbine continues to introduce the new herd of sophomore pacers, launching the Diplomat Series for the colts and the Princess Stakes for fillies.


    Cal Exotic

    Saturday night, May 7, we endeavor with another ticket for the no-takeout Pick 4 from Race 11 through Race 14. 

    Race 11
    (5) Mighty Fine Hi Ho had only one move but it was a strong venture that far exceeded his 13-1 send off. (6) Arch Nemesis found a way to be third at 9-1 and looks to improve, perhaps at odds like that or better. These two are good prospects considering the crowd will probably hail the horses coming out of posts 2 and 3.

    Race 12
    (8) Lucky Peterson was third at 6-1, not firing entirely. This could be a more aggressive trip, especially from the outside. As well, (9) Itza Free For All is a beaten favorite that can rebound from last week’s loss and do the job at good odds considering his post.

    Race 13
    (2) Linnea Blue Chip is a fine single here. Last week’s journey proved futile to a horse that got away from the pack and drew off by 8 lengths. Best of the rest, “Linnea” was sturdy and towered over the others, deserving great expectations for this week against some dull participants.

    Race 14
    (1) One Hot Tamale tries again as a part of our combo and we have to use him, since that trip was tough enough to excuse. It was amazing he was 4-1 there, where he should have been the dead-on choice. (5) Beach Beach Beach can string together wins and seems to be on another campaign to streak. He won at 3-1 going first over gallantly and drawing off to win.

    If you want to use all of these, the 56/89/2/15 ticket cost $8 ($1 ticket).

    (Ray Cotolo assisted in this edition.)
  • Oaks Analysis & Derby Updates

    POSTED May 4, 2011
    To me, one of the key components to making a profit playing the ponies is determining which ones not to play. And that is precisely why I’m shunning Joyful Victory in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks like a loose-fitting shirt on the “Jersey Shore.”

    Now, Joyful Victory is the 5-2 morning line favorite and has crushed the opposition in both of her starts — the Grade 3 Honeybee and Grade 2 Fantasy — this year, so some of you may be wondering what it is I have against her. Well, it is simply this: I don’t think the Larry Jones-trained filly is as good as she looks on paper.

    To begin with, she was pulling in the early stages of her last race (the aforementioned Fantasy), which is OK in a four-horse field over a speed-favoring strip like Oaklawn Park, but definitely not OK against 12 rivals at Churchill Downs on the first Friday in May.

    What’s more, her recent late speed rations (LSRs) have all been relatively weak. Again, lacking a closing punch at Oaklawn is no big deal — typically, the race is over by the 1/8-pole — but it’s a completely different story at the home of the Twin Spires.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Lastly, I’m just not convinced that the 111 Brisnet speed figure that Joyful Victory earned in the Honeybee is legit. That number is so much bigger than anything the daughter of Tapit had garnered previously, yet the final time and fractions of that race are nearly identical to those recorded in the Fantasy, which earned a 93 fig. Note too that Holy Heavens was beaten by a nearly identical margin in both races — and she also earned a career-best Brisnet speed figure in the Honeybee.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    So, who do I like in the Oaks? Well, there are several others that one can make a case for — and I will probably spread a bit given that I’ve tossed the likely race favorite — but if I were forced to settle on just a single entrant, I would cast my lot with Daisy Devine.

    Not only does “Daisy” rate highly on my Win Factor (computerized fair odds) line, but she appears to be improving as well. I also like the fact that trainer Andrew McKeever is repeating the same training pattern that led to the daughter of Kafwain’s success in the Fair Grounds Oaks, a track that, from a pace standpoint, is somewhat similar to Churchill Downs.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    The Derby Dish on Derby Kitten

    As seems to be the case every year, my best-laid plans have gone awry. Last year, on the eve of releasing my 2010 Kentucky Derby Guide, a last-minute change became necessary when pre-Derby favorite — and Guide cover boy — Eskendereya scratched just days prior to the big race.

    This year, I thought I covered all my bases by including commentary and analysis on several horses that were well below the graded earnings cutoff point (to be eligible to run in the Kentucky Derby, a horse’s graded earnings must rank in the top 20 among interested participants).

    Alas, the late withdrawal of Toby’s Corner foiled my plans. So, without further ado, here are my pro’s and con’s for Derby Kitten, the latest Kentucky Derby hopeful:

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Pros: He’s got an awesome late kick, as evidenced by the zero LSR he earned in winning the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington last time (the same race that Charismatic used as a Kentucky Derby springboard).

    Cons: Like so many others in this field — Animal Kingdom, Brilliant Speed, Twinspired, et al. — Derby Kitten has yet to prove his mettle on dirt. Worse, his only try on the brown (in an off-the-turf affair at Belmont Park on Oct. 2) resulted in a 27 ½-length whooping.

    Most Recent Pace Figures

    ESR: +3 (very soft)
    LSR: 0 (excellent)

    When the Going Gets Tough

    The other potential wrench in the works every Derby spring is the weather. And although present forecasts seem to indicate that the Churchill Downs dirt will be dry on the first Saturday in May, I took a look at Derbies past to see if I could find any useful wagering tidbits for Derby present.

    What I discovered surprised me.

    Contrary, perhaps, to popular opinion, wet or drying-out tracks distinctly favor frontrunners — at least historically. Take a look:

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Notice that the rate of wire-to-wire winners jumps from 26.8 percent on a fast track to 31.3 percent on a wet track, or 43.5 percent on tracks not listed as “fast” or “good” (or “dusty,” a condition that doesn’t exist anymore).

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Other Derby Doings

    Be sure to tune into a special edition of the “SimonSays Racing Podcast” on THURSDAY, MAY 5 (live at 10 a.m. Pacific/1 p.m. Eastern). In addition to offering my usual analysis of all the main Derby contenders, I will also talk to a young handicapper and Facebook friend that has presented me with a challenge.