• Cotolo’s Harness-Weekend Review, 8-1-11

    POSTED Jul 31, 2011
    Our successes this past weekend centered around the inexperienced trotters, once again supporting our sire research. It’s not something we do with any horses older than two, since bloodline betting, so to speak, is not nearly as profitable an approach with standardbreds as it is with thoroughbreds beyond two. But the trends we have found over the past few years and have extolled in order to trust improvement in green trotters and pacers have worked in our favor.  

    In elims for the Peter Haughton Memorial Final (colt trotters) and the Merrie Annabelle Final (filly trotters) we struck with strong blood evidence. All you had to do is what we always tell you to do—find the “price” among the contenders we suggest.  

    Such was the case with Big Chocolate, who we mentioned would be largely ignored in the “Haughton.” It turned out he was only 6-1 but even if you went to win with both our contenders (Map Of Hawaii was 33-1) you would have come out ahead, as “Big” won and paid $14.80. With the dead-on favorite second, the exacta was $34 and change.  

    The sire angle for Big, of course, is that he is a Chocolatier product. We have watched that one’s freshmen product since his first crop and succeeded in some great wins.  

    Deeper bloodline information gave us our winner in the “Merrie.” We were impressed with Miss Paris’ sire and dam. Also good with youngsters, Kadabra has had immediate success with many colts and fillies. Miss Paris had twice the credentials, though, as her dam is Pizza Dolce, a terrific gal on the racetrack a few years back who is the producer of a number of stakes winners.  

    Miss Paris was tons the best, paying a generous $8 to win.  

    Saturday we were second in the Adios and the Adios Consolation. The main event offered a surprising 2-1 on Custard The Dragon, as Alsace Hanover went off a terrible underlay as the favorite. In the consolation we were second again with another George Teague, Jr.-trained product, Feel Like A Fool.  

    The Hambletonian and “Oaks” eliminations on July 30 were promising but our longshots did not prevail. One, Fawkes, made the final, finishing third at 70-1. Follow the reviews, results and archives at the Hambletonian Society home page. Our exclusive Hambletonian Trail blog will cover various news on next weekend’s big day, so keep checking in to it.  

    We will be at the Meadowlands Friday, Aug. 5 and Saturday, Aug. 6, covering all of the stakes action live from the press box and paddock. We will be tweeting and blogging and getting bettors all of the up-to-the minute info needed to help you wager, pass or simply enjoy the stakes activity. Follow me on Twitter.  

    Players’ Pool

    Hambletonian day, Aug. 6, you can be a part of TwinSpires exclusive Players’ Pool. I will be putting together a number of tickets for the group contributing to the pool of wagers for that day’s program. TwinSpires players can add as little as $10 to the pool, which opens for contributions Monday, Aug. 1.  

    Get all the information by clicking here.  

    I am tossing in in $250 of my own bankroll cash to get things going and will be putting all of my wagering strategies to work that day, while we are cybercasting from the Meadowlands. It is a great educational experience (there are, of course, no guarantees of return).

    Harness News

    Trainer Jim Campbell is calling upon his brother, John Campbell, to drive in the Hambletonian Final. John decided to return to the bike after recuperating from an accident in May at Chester Downs where he broke his right shoulder and right knee.

    He was off his crutches for nearly three weeks when he made his return to driving on a colt he co-owns, Live Jazz, in a Hambo elim. “Jazz,” however, did not make the final. John’s brother’s colt, Opening Night, won a berth in the August classic by finishing fourth.

    Jim said Opening Night was his brother’s mount all along. “The owners and I spoke and we wanted him back [on the colt]. 

    John said he has mo physical issues whatsoever. The brothers unite with a Hambo-final charge for the second time with Opening Night. In 1995 they teamed to win with Tagliabue.

    Plainridge Racecourse will cut back its racing days starting Aug. 1. Racing will now be held Mondays and Thursdays with a 4 p.m. (EDT) post.
    Don’t be looking for trainer Lou Pena’s horses at Yonkers any longer. The trainer said that as of Aug. 4 he is no longer permitted to race his horses at the track where he dominates the standings. Pena said he was told by Yonkers officials that the decision to bar him “was in the best interest of harness racing.”
    Pena said he is stunned. “None of my horses have ever returned a positive … I felt like an orphan on the street when they gave me no reason whatsoever. They just said you just gotta go.”

    Cartoon by Thom Pye
  • Derek Simon's Weekend Win Factor Plays

    POSTED Jul 30, 2011

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Derek Simon’s Free Selection Statistics

    Races (Selections): 36 (39)
    Wins: 13
    Rate: 36.1%
    Return: $96.50
    ROI: +23.72%

    (This year's published selections through 07/29/11.)

    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).
  • Betting Against the ‘Best’

    POSTED Jul 28, 2011
    With the electrifying win by Winter Memories in the Grade II Lake George Stakes at Saratoga and Frankel’s romp in the Group I Sussex Stakes at Goodwood (England) yesterday, I once again heard the predictable awestruck utterances by horserace handicappers and fans.

    According to a number of Facebook and forum posts, the former is now the best turf horse — of any age or sex — in America, while the latter is… well, the best ever. Writing for the online edition of the Daily Mail, Alan Fraser noted that “Muhammad Ali now has a four-legged challenger for the title of The Greatest.”

    “It was as if seconds had handed winning jockey Tom Queally a magnum gun and Richard Hughes, on the vanquished Canford Cliffs, an ice cream,” Fraser said of Frankel, who is now a perfect 7-for-7 in his career.

    Uh, OK.

    Look, I can relate to the thrill of watching great horses do great things — Winter Memories exploded in the stretch after being checked turning for home, while Frankel’s five-length margin of victory in the Sussex was the largest since Brigadier Gerard in 1971 — but is all this hype really warranted? From a fan’s perspective, I say sure, why not? Party like it’s 1999. But bettors beware. Stories of firearms and frozen treats can mean only one of two things: 1) Skimpy prices; or 2) You live in Memphis, Tenn. and you’re not about to see your kids miss out on dessert.

    The reality is Frankel bested three rivals on Wednesday after running unopposed for the majority of the race. In fact, according to British horseracing authority Dan Munn, the opening half-mile was timed in a pedestrian 52.69 seconds. True, much of that journey was uphill, but that still equates to an early speed ration (ESR) in the +20 range, which is about 16 lengths slower than the ESR late-closing Winter Memories recorded in the Lake George.

    Goodwood Racecourse

    What’s more, Frankel’s final time for the one-mile trek was 1:37.45, which is slower than each of the last two runnings of the Sussex. Of course, given such a dawdling pace, this is hardly surprising. However, keep in mind that, for his victory, Frankel was awarded a 142 Timeform (a measurement of a horse’s ability originated by Phil Bull). That ranks fourth in the 63-year history of those storied UK ratings, below only Sea Bird (145), Tudor Minstrel (144) and the aforementioned Brigadier Gerard (144).

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    Is Frankel good? Yes. Is he great? Yeah, probably. Is he the fourth-best horse in British racing history? I don’t know about that — and certainly his performance in the Sussex didn’t sway me one way or the other.

    Likewise, I’m just as cautious in regard to Winter Memories. Obviously, she’s got a ton of talent — her pace figures are outstanding and she showed in the Lake George that she can accelerate on a dime — but the bettors have been hip to that fact since she made her career debut. She’s been favored (often heavily) in every lifetime start and her dominating win on Wednesday isn’t likely to boost her odds anytime soon.

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    Plus, there are other good three-year-old fillies, like Hungry Island (see below), out there — not to mention all of the sophomore males and older horses waiting in the wings.

    Is Winter Memories a really, really good young female turf router? Yes. Is she the best turf router in the country? I sure as heck wouldn’t bet on it.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

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    FREE Weekend Win Factor Plays

    Click HERE for Saturday's free selections.

    For further race analysis and suggested plays, be sure to listen to this week’s “TwinSpires Horse Racing Podcast with Derek Simon” on Friday (live at 1 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalk Radio or archived on iTunes and other podcast directories shortly thereafter).
  • Get pumped day

    As opening day at Saratoga dawned last Friday, a discussion erupted on Twitter regarding racing fans favorite season of racing.

    I was staunchly in the Kentucky Derby prep season camp while others argued for late July-Labor Day stretch that not only includes Saratoga but also great racing from Del Mar, Arlington, and Europe.

    The best racing in the Kentucky Derby prep season occurs almost exclusively on Saturdays, but those arguing for summer racing received some tremendous ammunition on Wednesday, July 27, when Frankel won the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, and Winter Memories won the Lake George Stakes at Saratoga. These were a combo of superlative performances that I just would not expect to see on a weekday except at the height of the summer racing season.

    Sure, Royal Ascot, Newbury, and a host of other European facilities stage Group 1 races throughout week-long festivals, but those often occur during times that U.S. racing's best races are only on weekends. The top weekday performances outside of the summer season occur mostly in maiden, allowance, or overnight stakes races. This Wednesday, however, we not only saw the best three-year-old filly on the turf in America but also the best horse in the world.

    The action in the summer isn't limited to top racing, of course, and I'll be shifting gears from Saratoga to Canterbury Park tonight to chase a $1,849 carryover in the early pick four. Check back in this space tonight for my thoughts on the sequence.
  • Pacers And Trotters Parade In Summer Stakes Feast

    POSTED Jul 27, 2011
    This weekend and next weekend congeal to become the center of the stakes season. Old and young, the harness racing world is on its toes, with noses to the grindstone, studying the past performances. The menu is thick as July bows out to the classic hoof beats of August.  

    Friday, July 29, the cherished Peter Haughton Memorial offers elims for many of next year’s glamour-boy trotters. For the gals on the square gait, there are two elims for the Merrie Annabelle. A sextet of Open mare trotters prep for the Lady Versatility, too.  

    Saturday, July 30, the splits hit the fan, so to speak, when elims and finals are strewn across the evening’s offerings. The glamour boys on both gaits are in full regalia jousting for fame and fortune in The Adios Pace at the Meadows and the Hambletonian elims at the Meadowlands (the gal trotters go in “Oaks” elims).  

    Real-Time Action

    On Saturday night we will be closely monitoring the Hambo and Oaks elims, filing industry stories after the races. We will also be tweeting and blogging any and all updates available through the Hambletonian Trail blog, as well as on Twitter. While you are following the action on TwinSpires, keep some windows open for all the extras.  

    Starting Monday, Aug. 1, we will be offering the TwinSpires Players Pool for Hambletonian day. Watch for all the details on how to participate in the day’s wagering, including a $100,000-guaranteed Pick 4. On that day, Aug. 6, we will be at the Meadowlands covering all the day’s stakes action live from the press box and in the paddock with the horsemen. It is exclusive material that you can follow every way you follow the TwinSpires feeds. More about that will be explained in our Weekly Update, Monday, Aug. 1.  

    Aside from this blog and the Hambo Trail, archives for all of our coverage leading up to the August classics appear on the Hambletonian Society’s web site.


    The Adios Pace has got to belong to trainer George Teague’s Custard The Dragon. He was used hard in the Meadowlands Pace, making two moves and came back to set a record on the Meadows’ five-eighths track and win his Adios elim with ease. He drew the rail in the final and there is no reason to believe he isn’t going to fire. Remember that the Meadows’ Adios card is an afternoon program.  

    There is a $50,000 Adios Consolation, with seven going to post. It’s a wide-open field and yet the other Teague colt, Feel Like A Fool, could go all the way despite his disappointing season so far. There are a few colts in here we have followed and suggested in the past month but the bit of class “Fool” has on his side and the current rampage that team Teague is displaying could be enough to wake this guy up at a price.  

     ‘Haughton’ Headliners

     The frosh trotters traverse in two elims for the Peter Haughton Memorial on July 29 at the Meadowlands in search of stardom as they start on their long journeys to possible stardom. It is from this race the sport establishes next year’s Hambo choice with tepid testimony from past winners.  

    In the first elim, trot-master Jimmy Takter (pictured) sends out two from his team of youngsters, one from the first racing crop of Donato Hanover, Weingartner (named for harness-writer extraordinaire Ken). Trainer Jim Campbell’s “Donato” product, Possess The Will, however, should get the most money. We lean toward the Chocolatier youngster, Duluth, who has every right to improve for team Ackerman.  

    Also in the mix should be Yankee Royalty. He won from the outside in the Tompkins-Geers and was hung in a conditioned event. He should be on the board if he does not have to work hard for the lead.  

    Next, the morning-line choice is a maiden, the Millers’ Power Play, also from the Donato crop. His qualifier was faster than all the actual races performed by the others, making another choice difficult to stick. You take a look at some value with Campbell’s Map Of Hawaii, a Chocolatier that could be a surprise here. Takter’s two entries will get played on his account, leaving “Map” decent odds.  

    Also, expect high odds on Big Chocolate (Chocolatier). He was second at 32-1 in a New Jersey Sires Stakes and was third in the first leg. He may do better this week from the inside.  

    ‘Merrie’ Belles

    The frosh femmes of square-stepping also have a pair of elims to battle for berths in the Merrie Annabelle on the same program. In the first split, Miss Paris demands respect. She is blue-blooded and primed for showing her pretty pedigree (Kadabra-Pizza Dolce) is aimed at the big dollars in her second start.  

    Another horse to watch is Aunt Mel. She went first over in her last mile and started on the outside. This week she has the inside, which may help.  

    In round two, Ray Schnittker has another undefeated filly that is not in the mood for losing yet. Check Me Out (another Donato) should be the favorite but Sculpted Vanity is two for three. Linda Toscano’s filly has a better shot than her morning line of 8-1.  

    Keep an eye on the betting for Win Missy B. She beat many of the horses in here in a two-year-old filly Open. She has the rail, which may help.  

    Only seven pacing soph fillies experience a single prep for the Mistletoe Shalee on July 30. Wonder-gal See You At Peelers was never eligible to this classy stake, so the role of favorite defaults to Pretty Katherine. However, Drop The Ball comes back to fight in her own division after failing with the boys and she could get some heavy action, as well as Krispy Apple will share in the win money. So keep your eyes on that toteboard, the true overlay won’t rear her lovely head until the final moments of wagering.  

    An upset shot needs to be handed to Idyllic. She was runner-up to pacing superstar See You At Peelers at the Meadowlands last week. She may be ready to take on this field.  

    Ancillary Antics

    The Miss Versatility presents mare trotters, the thinnest division, with a small cast of six in a prep for next week’s final at the Meadowlands. After her resounding victory at Mohawk last week at more than 25-1, the highly under-rated Action Broadway will not be overlooked here. We have been talking about her since the Grand Circuit meet last yeat at The Red Mile, when we delivered her to you as an upset winner. Last week even we dismissed her in Canada’s Armbro Flight and she made mince meat of the top femmes around, including Buck I St Pat. So in this mile she jogs, though nowhere near that 25-1 she last paid.   

    Follow me on Twitter for updates down to the last minute.  

     (Ray Cotolo assisted in this edition.)
  • Cotolo’s Harness-Weekend Review, 7-25-11

    POSTED Jul 24, 2011
    The Adios Pace produced a few surprises in the first two elims. The third, however, was a slam-dunk exacta combo with our choice Custard The Dragon (left) first in a world-record mile at $5.60 and Powerful Mist (the actual race favorite) second. The exacta was a generous $14.20.   

    Wink N Atcha (fifth) raced a disappointing mile in the first leg. In our analysis of that race we mentioned the only other possibility for contention was Rollwithitharry. That one took the victory and paid $23.20. Considering “Wink” was 70 cents to the dollar, you should have had “Rollwith” for the price. We were totally wrong in the third elim.   

    Then, a surprise for many of us came with the result of the Maple Leaf Trot at Mohawk. We had it backwards, as San Pail defeated dead-on favorite and current king-of-the-older-trotters Arch Madness. If you played it with “Pail” on top you got back $18.30, as “Arch” finished second.  

    We have no explanation for the result of the Armbro Flight, where Southwind Wasabi put in a very poor mile. How she was 25-1 also confused us. Our second choice, Autumn Escapade, also came up empty. We were not surprised Buck I St Pat lost, as she led the outer flow and dueled to death by three-quarters. What irked us is that Action Broadway, the mare we caught at a big price late last year at The Red Mile and early on this season as she began her older campaign, won and paid over $57. 

    Follow me on Twitter for racing news, updates and last-minute picks on the weekends.  

    The high-stakes classic trotting activity continues as the Hambletonian-eligibles prepare for their eliminations on July 30. Stay in touch with our exclusive Hambletonian Trail blog. Follow the analysis’s there and the reviews, results and archives at the Hambletonian Society home page.

    Harness News

    Tioga Downs announced that this year’s $450,000 (est.) Cane Pace—the first leg of the Pacing Triple Crown will take place at the New York facility, leaving Freehold Raceway for 2011 and 2012, according to Tioga VP of Racing and Simulcast, Jason M. Settlemoir.   

    Freehold has been the site for the “Cane” since 1998 but Freehold has been placed in a serious purse-funding situation due to casino-shared funds not being released to the track. Tioga—a product of Meadowlands-savior Jeff Gural—stepped quickly to keep the Cane going for the next two years.   

    The eliminations (if necessary) for the Cane will take place on Saturday, Sept. 3 with the final on closing night at Tioga, Saturday, Sept. 10, with a post time of 6:50 p.m. Horses not eligible to the Cane can supplement to the race with a $35,000 fee due at time of declaration. As part of the Pacing Triple Crown special supplemental declaration, a horse not eligible to the Little Brown Jug (second jewel of the Pacing Triple Crown) can still get in by one way only. The horse must win the Cane and then pay a supplemental payment of $45,000 to be eligible.   

    The sister event, for soph-filly pacers, the $150,000 (est.) Shady Daisy, will also be hosted by Tioga. The final will be on the same evening as the Cane. Supplemental entries can be made to the event with a $7,500 fee.
    Cartoon by Thom Pye
  • Derek Simon's Del Mar & Saratoga Selections

    POSTED Jul 22, 2011
    All of the races below are discussed on my “SimonSays Racing Podcast” for Friday, July 22, 2011.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    BET(S): WIN on 4 at even odds (1-1) or greater.

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    BET(S): WIN on 4 at odds of 5-2 or greater.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

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

    Derek Simon’s Free Selection Statistics

    Races (Selections): 34 (37)
    Wins: 13
    Rate: 38.2%
    Return: $96.50
    ROI: +30.41%

    (This year's published selections through 07/21/11.)

    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).

  • Hello Adios, Mohawk Multi-Stakes Menu And Much More

    POSTED Jul 20, 2011
    Summer is an amazing time for harness racing bettors because the offerings are so plentiful and that means picking and choosing the top events to play should he easy. Among the hoards of overnight races, the Grand Circuit stakes move to the Meadows and the Adios Pace is featured on two weekends since the heats format is gone.  

    So Saturday, July 23 is filled with races Mohawk hosts a number of province-bred finals and top stakes for older pacers and trotters. You can get 2x points for playing the Mohawk card through TwinSpires that night. Many of the top horses from both sexes and gaits will be cutting through muggy heatwaves during what meteorologists have predicted will be the hottest weekend of the year up and down the east coast.  

    Aside from this blog, other weekend features, those for glamour-boy-and-girl trotters, are analyzed at our Hambletonian Trail blog and the Hambletonian Society’s exclusive coverage of both divisions of eligibles as the August classics loom boldly.  

    TwinSpires will offer a Players Pool for Hambletonian day, where we will be reporting live with tweets and blog items, giving you up-to-the-minute wagering suggestions from “the inside.” Watch this blog for the exciting Pick-4 Players Pool details, coming soon.  

    Adios Elims Triptych

    Three Adios Pace elimination fields are on tap at the Meadows on July 23, each worth $50,000. As usual, the Adios presents a good mixture of glamour-boy pacers and this year’s trio of elims are tight with talent, national and local, with only six going to post in each split.

    Two of trainer George Teague’s Meadowlands Pace (MP) characters show up in the first elim. Certainly, the public won’t deny Wink N Atcha, who picked up some magnificent checks in recent weeks. Feel Like A Fool can also rebound from a disappointing mile in that field. Driver Brian Sears thought so highly of “Fool” in the MP final that he got off of Roll With Joe to drive Fool. “Joe” won the MP.   

    The only other national figure here is Rollwithmeharry, Jimmy Takter’s student, who cannot be counted out in any of the exotics, at least.   

    In the second elim, Alsace Hanover will likely be the favorite. The horse that may get less action than it should is Pan From Nantucket. He has raced all around Pennsylvania and at the Meadows in Pennsylvania Sires Stakes.  

    In the final elim, Powerful Mist could come up the favorite; his fifth-place effort in the MP was less than expected but there is no doubt he is a top figure in this talented crop. But the horse that may get some action is Custard The Dragon. He was used hard in the MP, making two moves. If he gets an easy trip, he could finish strong.   

    Mohawk ‘Madness’

    In the Maple Leaf Trot Final, all eyes will be on three horses. World-champion Arch Madness, two-time “Trot” winner San Pail and Trot prep-winner Lucky Jim. Lately, “Madness” has been the cream of this crop, a division dominator, and if he races here as he did in recent weeks it will take divine intervention to defeat him.  

    But Il Villaggio, the one-time Hambo hopeful whose soph career was spoiled by an early season injury, has come back and is racing well at four. He is tough to assess against these veterans of FFA wars but his most recent race will attract him to many bettors.  

    It was a 7 ½-length victory in 1:51.3 that equaled the Mohawk track record and the Canadian record for older trotting males (that was set last August by another competitor in this field, Triumphant Caviar). He draws the 1 post this week, giving him a chance to leave the gate.  

    Trainer Blair Burgess said that mile took nothing out of the colt. “It sharpened him up and stretched him out a bit for the [Maple Leaf Trot]. We really hadn’t had an opportunity yet this year to get him stretched out like that and use his speed. That was his first opportunity to trot along like he can.”  

    In the Roses Are Red Final, also on the Saturday card, bettors’ money will be on Dreamfair Eternal and Laughandbehappy to win. The former is a hometown favorite that is always in the picture and the latter is a horse we wrote off after a bad few Meadowlands races but she has come back with a vengeance in the Great White North.  

    However, after her sixth-place effort at 34-1, Rock N Soul will be the outsider with a good shot at an upset. In her elimination, she went a final quarter in :25.3. If she can make a huge close like that again, and it is highly possible, she may win.  

    In another evening feature, the Armbro Flight Final gathers mare trotters with strong credentials. The public focus should be on defending champion Buck I St Pat, who returns to her own division after battling the older trotting males.  

    But coming out of a different elimination is our horse to watch, Southwind Wasabi. She was behind 20 lengths and regained 19 in that mile. If she is not too far back, she may go right by this field. She has beaten many of these mares before.


    At Northfield Park in Ohio, one of the area’s top events, the Battle of Lake Erie, brings together older pacers on the brisk half-mile track.   

    Considering the oval size, expect a lot of money to go for Foiled Again, who was the early season sensation at Yonkers. As well, Hypnotic Blue Chip will be an attraction for action.  

    A horse that may get less play in this group is Fire On The Water. He beat the likes of Upfront Hoosierboy and Southwind Lynx in a Preferred at Mohawk. He may do as well on the half mile as he did on the seven-eighths.  

    At Hazel Park in Michigan, soph-colt trotters meet in the William Connors Memorial Final. Of the glamour-boy sextet there is one colt eligible to the Hambletonian, E L Rock. He is two wins for six starts and will not be the choice here. That status mostly likely will go to Turtle Express, the top money-earner in the small field this season.  

    Beware of Che from the rail. The Paul Kennedy-trained trotter could take full advantage of the inside post and win by default, going smoothly from wire to wire and possibly making the wealthier horses take a longer route which could cause them to run or just come up short.  

    Follow me on Twitter for updates down to the last minute.

    (Ray Cotolo assisted in this edition.)
  • When Failure Is Not an Option

    After a thrilling stretch duel that saw Blind Luck edge Havre De Grace in last weekend’s Delaware Handicap… following all the initial whining and crying over unjust weight assignments (the latter spotted the former two pounds)… and even more grousing and squawking about the weights… the real interesting discussions began.

    According to some — no doubt inspired by the fact that for two years running the U.S. Horse of the Year has been female — Blind Luck should now be considered for racing’s top honor. It’s an intriguing proposition to be sure and, from a talent standpoint, one worth considering. However, many dismissed the notion out of hand.

    There was the expected (and perfectly reasonable) argument that Blind Luck has yet to face males — or run a truly fast race, her fine effort in the Del. ‘Cap notwithstanding. But there was also the contention, which I first saw advanced by a Facebook friend of mine, that Blind Luck had already lost too many races (3) to be considered the best horse in training. And that got me to thinking: Have we reached a point in the Sport of Kings — or in society as a whole — where failure is no longer an option? Sadly, I think the answer is yes.

    In a 2008 commencement speech at Harvard University, “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling (apparently, Snooki wasn’t available) noted that “some failure in life is inevitable.”

    “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default,” Rowling said.

    And Rowling should know. In that same address, the muggle-born author pointed out that, prior to creating the world of witches and wizards that made her famous (and more than a little wealthy), she had failed “on an epic scale.”

    “An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded,” Rowling related, “and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

    Of course, Rowling's story ultimately had a happy ending, but — and this is the point I’m trying to make — had she thrown in the towel before the publication of her first novel, or had anybody judged her merits as a writer prior to that time, J.K. Rowling would probably be just another coffee shop weirdo with dreams of writing a book.

    By the same token, what if Seabiscuit had been retired after he went winless in his first 17 starts, a span of races that included four forays into claiming events? Clearly, the Daily Racing Form (DRF) and the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America (TRA) would have needed to find an alternative Horse of the Year in 1938 — and the brilliant Laura Hillenbrand would probably be just another coffee shop weirdo with dreams of writing a book.

    The same goes for the great Stymie. Although never voted Horse of the Year, Stymie captured numerous prestigious events in his 131-race career, including the 1946 Manhattan Handicap and Gallant Fox Stakes, as well as the 1947 Empire Gold Cup (boasting a purse equivalent to $1.1 million in 2011), over Triple Crown winner Assault. Yet, he began his career in a most inauspicious fashion, winning just once — in a $3,000 maiden claiming affair — in his first 19 trips to post.

    In recent years, this emphasis on not losing has become almost an obsession. In the 1970s, a period that witnessed three Triple Crown winners go on to be named Horse of the Year, the overall winning rate for the country's top steed (as determined by the DRF and TRA) was 65.8 percent, down from 69.3 percent the previous decade.

    In the new millennium, the rate currently stands at 78.2 percent.

    Not surprisingly, this increased winning proficiency has come with a price. From 1960-79, the Horse of the Year started an average of 11.1 times per year; since 2000, that number has plummeted to 7.1 starts per year. While some may attribute the decline to a more fragile breed of racehorse, it's hard to completely ignore the other explanation: that owners and trainers are simply sheltering their top stock.


    (Click on image to enlarge)

    While many took issue — often in a very vociferous manner — with Zenyatta's 2010 championship campaign, it's not like Blame, Zenyatta's main rival for Horse of the Year, ran his guts out either. In fact, weak competition or no, Zenyatta (six starts) actually answered the bugler's call more often than her male counterpart (five starts) last year.

    What this intolerance towards failure has effectively done is made owners and trainers even more cautious about where they place their charges — all in the guise of “doing what’s right by the horse” (there’s nothing like a gullible public to make dubious decisions seem reasonable). Naturally, this has led to fewer and fewer starts by stable stars, as well as the glut of specially-written races we’ve seen in recent years, e.g. the Timely Writer Stakes and the New Orleans Ladies Stakes (just to name a couple).

    What’s more, focusing on the flawless may well be one of the reasons that American racing has lost so much of its appeal. After all, Seabiscuit resonated with people, in part, because he was a blue collar champion in a white collar world. When “The Biscuit” faced War Admiral in that now-famous Pimlico Special match race on Nov. 1, 1938, it was like David vs. Goliath all over again. Only this time, David slapped Goliath into submission, as Seabiscuit humiliated War Admiral by beating the regally-bred colt at his own game — going wire-to-wire and scoring by four widening lengths.

    But there’s another pitfall related to dismissing all the little-trains-that-couldn’t in the racing game. Mainly, doing so ignores the fact that, just like fine wine, some horses get better with age and experience. In short, they improve.

    In 1969, just prior to Canadian rocker Bryan Adams’ best summer ever, the Horse of the Year award looked like a foregone conclusion. Undefeated in nine lifetime starts — including a perfect seven-for-seven in ’69 — Majestic Prince was the obvious honoree. Included among his victories that year were both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, in which he defeated Arts and Letters by a neck and a head respectively.

    But a strange thing happened on the way to the awards ceremony. Some reports claim that Majestic Prince came out of the Preakness Stakes with a “developing” tendon problem, others say that the horse was simply tired. Whatever the case was, trainer Johnny Longden (a retired Hall of Fame rider) made plans to ship the colt back to California and skip the Belmont Stakes — a decision that sent shockwaves throughout the racing industry and left many questioning the moral fortitude of Majestic Prince’s owner Frank McMahon.

    Under intense media scrutiny, McMahon promptly did an about-face, announcing that his charge would run in the final jewel of the Triple Crown a mere 48 hours after publicly supporting Longden’s decision to give Majestic Prince some time off. In an article that appeared in Sports Illustrated, McMahon explained his change of heart:

    In the first place, nobody made this decision but myself, and it was not because of newspaper criticism, most of which hadn't even appeared in print when I made up my mind. Roughly the sequence of events is this. On the Sunday after the Preakness, when Johnny told me he felt the colt needed a rest, I went along with his decision. I felt that if he was all that tired Majestic Prince should remain at Pimlico a while and then come on to Belmont anyway to see how he progressed. What disappointed me, to say the least, was that without my knowledge Longden ordered a plane for California.

    I came home to Palm Beach Sunday afternoon and stewed about this whole thing for two days and two nights. Why in hell am I doing this? I asked myself. Why are we ordering a plane and leaving the show? This colt should be with the others at Belmont, and if he's O.K. he'll run. If he's not, he won't. If he runs and gets beaten, at least he will have tried. Sure, he might lose; he might not want to go a mile and a half. But I'm thinking to myself, there's one chance in 50 million that I would ever get in this position again. Win or lose, if the horse is all right it's something I've got to go for. And I knew perfectly well that once Majestic Prince got to California there would be no chance of getting him back to Belmont Park for a race on June 7.

    So Tuesday evening I called Longden and said, 'I want to stop this whole thing and ship the horse to Belmont. I own this horse 100 percent, this is the way I want it and this is the way it's going to be.' Longden listened to me and then replied, 'If you want the press to train the horse that's O.K. with me.' I answered him quickly, 'The press is not training this horse. You are. Do you think he can win the Belmont?' 'Yes,' said Longden, 'he can win.' 'O.K., that's what I want you to do; do your best to win the Belmont.'
    However, as Longden had suspected, something was, in fact, amiss with Majestic Prince. Although he finished second to Arts and Letters in the 1969 Belmont, he was beaten by 5 ½ lengths that day and never raced again. Meanwhile, Arts and Letters followed his Big Apple triumph with wins in both the Jim Dandy and Travers, as well as the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup versus older foes.

    Hence, despite six losses (including two to his primary rival), Arts and Letters was named the Horse of the Year for 1969.

    It seems to me that turf writers then realized what turf writers and fans of today have forgotten — that it doesn’t matter where you start in life, it’s where you end up that counts.

    At least that’s what some weirdo at a coffee shop once told me.
  • Cotolo’s Harness-Weekend Review, 7-18-11

    POSTED Jul 17, 2011
    We didn’t have the winner of the Meadowlands Pace and had no luck with our suggested contenders around the ovals through the weekend.   

    The “Pace” did, however, support our evaluation of the glamour-boy pacer situation. It is quite a crop. We had the winner of the Pace back when he won an elim for the North America Cup and paid almost twice what he did winning the Pace. But we didn’t like him in this group, but we were willing to expect that kind of race that transpired, considering the talented crop.   

    As well, our glamour-boy trotters fell into disrepair in their journeys this weekend. This crop is plagued with inconsistent talent. That is, there are some mighty trotters here but the stride-breaking among them is extremely common this season. These breaks make it difficult to assess which colt might beat which considering we have to assume none of them will break.  

    What occurred in the Stanley Dancer Memorial division, where Manofmanymissions put on a giant show of speed and talent at 13-1 (who among us was confident he would stay flat?), was insult to injury when our choice, Charlie De Vie, broke as the only valid chaser in the field.  

    Then, in the second “Dancer” division, Big Rigs stays flat but can’t hold on as the mega-favorite Chapter Seven wins in his first start of the year.   

    Then, in our Maple Leaf Trot choice, the running began right at the top, eliminating Triumphant Caviar from the entire event.  

    Our hearts were the only things breaking in Friday’s Del Miller Final when Lost Symbol could not hold the lead—at over 20-1—in the final strides when the 4-5 shot, Hey Mister, closed wide off of a perfect trip to win. And who beats us for second but our old favorite, Crème De Cocoa, who stayed on stride for this mile regardless of her 10-post start. And she was 99-1. Anyone who put that triple together based on reading this blog for the past year deserves every cent.  

    Things can go awry in batches, for sure, and when there is not one ounce of fortune—a winner—to pick up the pieces, you just got to take it all on the chin. On to the next week as this wild cast of characters continues to cross swords in big stakes.  

    Follow me on Twitter for racing news, updates and last-minute picks on the weekends.  

    The high-stakes classic trotting activity continues as the Hambletonian-eligibles narrow down to the elim fields. So keep your eyes on our exclusive Hambletonian Trail blog. Follow the analysis’s there and the reviews, results and archives at the Hambletonian Society home page.

    Harness News

    The coming attractions for the soph-colt pacers includes The Adios at the Meadows. The big event is the conclusion of a week of Grand Circuit stakes at the Pennsylvania oval. The day of the Adios, July 30, offers more than a million in purses.

    What was once an event offering same-day heat eliminations, there is now a week between the elims and the final. July 23 features the Adios elims, followed by the week of stakes and then the $500,000 final, which presents a $50,000 consolation as well.

    Top-ranking filly pacer See You At Peelers won her 20th-straight race taking the Tarport Hap at the Meadowlands on Pace night. And top trotter Arch Madness struck again, defeating the older trotters. Read Ken Weingartner’s thorough comparison of the two horses here.

    The 2011 Back To The Track National Pick-4 wager on Friday, July 15 paid $196.50 for a $1 ticket. We gave you two winners in the winning combo. For the most part, as you can see from the payoff, the quartet of winners were all public-condoned entities. 

    John Campbell went from using a wheelchair to crutches after his May 31 accident. He has decided he will wait until he's 100-per cent healthy before deciding if he'll return to driving.

    “I didn’t want to make any decisions when my health wasn’t where it’s supposed to be,” Campbell said to reporters. He said the biggest factor of that decision will be “how much of an itch I have to go back.”

    Campbell, the sport's richest driver with $279 million earned, broke his right shoulder, right knee, a collarbone and cracked ribs after the spill at Chester.

     Cartoon by Thom Pye
  • Summer Explodes With Stakes, Exotics

    POSTED Jul 13, 2011
    The $1-million Meadowlands Pace may be the center of the weekend harness action but the events orbiting the magnificent cast of glamour-boy pacers going for the gold are filled with opportunity for bettors.  

    Aside from addressing win, place and show bets and various exotics, Pick-4 action has been pumped up for the weekend.  

    On Friday, July 15, the offering is the “Back To The Track” National Pick Four, with a $25,000 guaranteed pool. The wager begins with Meadowlands Race 8 (9:35 p.m. EST) and includes one race each from Northfield (Race 8), Yonkers (Race 9) and Maywood (Race 6). The wager is a $1 minimum bet with only a 15-percent takeout. For this exotic, TwinSpires offers 10 X points!  

    A $150,000 guaranteed pool for the Pick 4 on Meadowlands Pace night, July 16, winds up with the million-dollar “Pace” (race 9, 10:08 p.m. EST). This also features a 15-percent takeout. Suggestions on exotics, along with major stakes reviews, follow.  

    Some of the weekend’s offerings include the glamour-boy-and-girl trotters. These events are analyzed at our Hambletonian Trail blog and the Hambletonian Society’s exclusive coverage of all the action, before and after, of both divisions.  

    ‘Pace’ Makes The Race

    On July 16, the top soph-colt pacers meet for the Meadowlands Pace and it should be a bettor’s dream since the favorite is Big Jim. The pre-anointed soph champ has already shown his short-comings but the crowd is so impressed with his “Pace” elim win, he has been made the morning-line favorite.

    We like this because there are a few other things going on in this field that merit attention. The loss by Powerful Mist in Big Jim’s winning elim was impressive. “Mist” almost got to “Jim” and we can expect he will in the big-dough event.

    Our two-week success story, Custard The Dragon is still pumped and will be raring to make a million-dollar race the main ingredient to a sparkling resume for himself and trainer George Teague, Jr. (pictured) This colt is fearless of his foes and should be the favorite here, leading to another overlay situation.

    Two outsiders are Westwardho Hanover and Bestofbest Hanover. These could be the exotic keys, unless something goes so awry that either finds a way to win. “Westward” showed the kind of speed that, in a pocket, where he should be as “Jim” tries to steal the mile, could play a big role in the order of finish. “Bestof” has been better than most credit him for and that means a surprise is not off the grid.

    The other fan-handicapper faves, Betterthancheddar, Roll With Joe and Foreclosure may very well be off the board.  

    The ‘Peel’ Thing

    Undefeated soph-pacing filly See You At Peelers will make an appearance at the Meadowlands on Pace night. The undefeated gal goes for her 20th-straight win in a division of the Tarport Hap, a Grand Circuit event for her division (now dizzy from her presence).  

    She has only been to the Meadowlands once and that was to break her maiden in July of 2010. She is not eligible to the division’s Mistletoe Shalee on Hambletonian day, so she will be jogging elsewhere. Could she show up at the Adios against the boys? Last week, Drop The Ball failed to make the Pace final against the top soph dogs. “Peel” could be the best hope the gals have to topple the fellows in a long time.  

    Sugars & Daddies

    A single elim for next week’s Roses Are Red Final is among the July 16 offerings at Mohawk. Two local heroines show up for this: Western Silk and Dreamfair Eternal. This makes Rock N Soul a longshot, especially from post 8. This is a tough critter who is apt to race in the shadow of giant favorites and make a lot of noise. Use her to win and in exotics with “Eternal.” “Silk” is usually a mortal underlay.  

    Older trotters head north to prep for next week’s Maple Leaf Trot. A $50,000 mile at Mohawk presents seven who don’t have to contend with Arch Madness. Among the short field’s contenders is Triumphant Caviar. He has yet to fire his engines at four but should rev up to challenge San Pail, the local favorite, here.  

    His odds will certainly be worth accepting, as Lucky Jim looks to stay flat and go fast for the first time in a bit, and Define The World hopes to find a perfect trip to execute the others.  

    Exotic Explorations

    We aim for the National Pick 4 and the Saturday Meadowlands Pick 4 with subtle tickets, as we usually approach these exotics. Remember we endorse all of the horses we put on our ticket for win bets if you judge them to be overlays.  

    In the multi-track Pick 4 we will be using the following horses:

    Leg 1, Meadowlands, Race 8
    (7) The Kentuckian
    Leg 2, Northfield Park, Race 8
    (2) Mindy Love Brown; (6) Longlegacy
    Leg 3, Yonkers Raceway, Race 9
    (5) TJ’s Mr. Lavec; (7) Looking Hanover
    Leg 4, Maywood Park, Race 6
    (6) Notjustaprettyface

    In the Meadowlands Pace-night Pick 4, we will be using the following horses:

    Leg 1, Race 6
    (4) Charlie De Vie
    Leg 2, Race 7
    (2) E Street Plan; (8) I Fought Delaw; (10) Simply Business
    Leg 3, Race 8
    (4) Rock ‘Em; (7) Goose Creek

    Follow me on Twitter for updates down to the last minute.

     (Ray Cotolo assisted in this edition.)
  • The Great Weight Debate

    Here we go again. With the retirements of Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta last year, I was hoping we’d all be granted at least a temporary reprieve from the East/West Coast nonsense that often tinged the “Rachel” and “Z” debates.

    Turns out I was wrong.

    The latest incarnation of Tupac vs. Biggie is Havre De Grace, the beast from the East, and Blind Luck, the wonder from the West. In 2010, the battle was a bit one-sided, as Blind Luck bested her Eastern rival in three of four head-to-head meetings, including the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic, in which the two sophomore fillies finished second and third behind older foe Unrivaled Belle.

    However, all that changed this year when Havre De Grace smoked Blind Luck by 3 ¼ lengths in the Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 19. That race was at equal weights and earned the winner a 106
    Brisnet speed figure. Since then, Havre De Grace has captured the Grade 1 Apple Blossom (also at Oaklawn) with a 111 Brisnet number and the Grade 3 Obeah at Delaware Park with a 102 fig. Meanwhile, Blind Luck annexed the Grade 2 La Troienne, while recording a 101 Brisnet speed rating, and the Grade 1 Vanity with a 95.

    So, along comes this weekend's Delaware Handicap and another highly-anticipated clash between the country's two premier fillies. After the weights came out on Sunday, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer confirmed that his charge, Blind Luck, would start in the Grade 2, $750,000 affair.

    Havre De Grace was given the top impost of 124 pounds, while Blind Luck is slated to carry 122.

    “I thought she [Blind Luck] should get some weight from Havre de Grace,” Hollendorfer told the Daily Racing Form. “I wasn’t going to run if they put me at equal weights or gave me a pound. They gave us two pounds. We’re coming into her backyard.’’

    Well, great, everything worked out, right? Uh, not so fast. According to numerous Facebook posts I saw and an article by my buddy and former colleague Brian Zipse of Horse Racing Nation, the weights are a joke.

    “Blind Luck getting two pounds from Havre De Grace at this point in their respective careers is a farce,” Zipse wrote, later adding that Hollendorfer's wait-and-see stance may have contributed to Delaware Park Racing Secretary Pat Pope's weighty decision.

    Others were far less charitable in their appraisals of Hollendorfer and Pope. One person called the former a “coward” for even bringing up the weights, while another questioned his integrity. Several more, including veteran turf writer Steve Haskin, believed that Pope was essentially a sellout — bending to Hollendorfer's will like Adam in the Garden of Eden.

    Look, I understand and to a certain extent even agree with those who believe that Havre De Grace and Blind Luck should be racing at equal weights on Saturday, but to impugn Hollendorfer and Pope for doing what members of their respective professions have been doing for eons and eons? Come on now.

    After all, didn't Blind Luck concede a staggering 10 pounds to Havre De Grace in last year's Fitz Dixon Cotillion at Parx Racing?

    “Weight is always a concern, and of course it's a big concern with a great filly like Havre de Grace,” Hollendorfer said before that Grade 2 event. “We wanted to take the chance anyway, because we thought timing-wise this is an ideal prep for our horse.”

    Does that sound like the utterances of a coward?

    As for Pope, a racing secretary’s job is to weight horses based on their recent performances — in theory, to produce a dead-heat encompassing the entire field. Hence, to use Blind Luck’s two-year-old form as a justification for — or against — a greater impost in the Delaware Handicap is ridiculous, as it is irrelevant at this point (or do we all agree that Uncle Mo is this year’s top three-year old based on his superlative effort in the ’09 BC Juvenile?).

    What’s more, for all intents and purposes, the handicap system in America is dead anyway. In a terrific piece that appeared in the Daily Racing Form on Oct. 22, 2009, author Ryan Goldberg noted that no horse since Skip Away in the 1998 Philip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park has toted more than 129 pounds in a major American route race (Skip Away turned back Stormin Fever in the Iselin while carrying 131 lbs.).

    Goldberg went on to say that “at the elite level, handicaps appear less frequently, and, more important, the weight spread — how much the top horse must concede — has narrowed significantly.

    “In 1970, the top weight in the richest races averaged 123.5 pounds and the spread was 13.9 pounds. Both measurements have steadfastly declined since then. In 2008, the top weight in Grade 1 handicaps averaged 120.67 pounds and the spread was 7.37 pounds,” Goldberg reported.

    Goldberg and others believe that this erosion of handicap racing in the United States can be traced to two things: 1) More racetracks; and 2) Larger purses. Both of which have served to switch the balance of power from racing secretaries to owners and trainers.

    “I think handicaps are outdated to a point,” P.J. Campo, NYRA's racing director, told the Form. “No one wants to carry weight anymore, and if you put too much weight on a guy, they'll just get in a van or get on a plane and go someplace else.”

    There’s another reason trainers like Hollendorfer grouse about weights and, ironically, it stems from the actions of a great many of those presently calling the veteran conditioner to the carpet over his recent bout of bellyaching — mainly, the Eclipse Award voters, who rarely (if ever) consider weight assignments when doling out year-end honors.

    The vast majority of media types that voted Zenyatta Horse of the Year following her game runner-up finish to Blame in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic fail to mention that Blame spotted the brilliant race mare three pounds in that event; nor do those who wax poetic about Rachel Alexandra's stirring victory in the 2009 Woodward typically point out that the eventual champ was getting eight pounds from her older male rivals that day.

    Yes, I'm aware that weight concessions have been granted to female horses competing against males since before Larry King first said “I do” (back when texting was done with a hammer and chisel). But, remember, both Rachel and Zenyatta were said to be the best of the best… yet both received weight breaks from supposedly inferior competition in their biggest triumphs.

    Part of the reason for this is that most racing fans and handicappers — including yours truly — simply don’t put the emphasis on weight that many trainers and owners do. However, that is no reason to call Hollendorfer a coward or to chastise a racing secretary for merely doing his job.

    Ease up, Biggie.

    Derek Simon’s Free Weekend Win Factor Plays

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    COMMENTS: Just like 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, BLIND LUCK (who some have called “Little Zenyatta” due to her late-running tactics) is often at the mercy of the pace. And, in fact, “No Luck” might be a more appropriate name for the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee, as the four-year-old filly catches yet another short and relatively paceless field. Despite 11 wins from just 20 career starts, Blind Luck is zip for her last four attempts in races featuring five or fewer entrants — which is precisely the scenario she faces in Saturday’s Delaware Handicap. Hence, HAVRE DE GRACE, who has more early zip — and pretty good late foot too — looks like the logical play, despite the fact that she’s spotting her more accomplished rival a whopping two pounds. If you’re looking for a longshot with reasonable shot to win, you might throw a deuce or two at LIFE AT TEN, who has the ability to get clear early with moderate fractions. Yeah, her late speed rations (LSRs) have been horrendous, but trainer Todd Pletcher tends to do well with horses whose pace figures are suspect. Plus, Life At Ten is the defending Delaware Handicap champion.

    BET(S): WIN on 3 (at odds of 7-5 or greater) & 1 (at odds of 6-1 or greater).

    (Click on image to enlarge)