• The future is in five weeks

    POSTED Mar 31, 2012
    I've been saying for awhile that I think this is a good group of three-year-olds, and today's Florida Derby did nothing to dissuade me of that.

    After all, the first Grade 1 race of the year for three-year-old males was won by the horse with the second-fastest BRIS Speed Rating (among his generation) so far this year, so the bigger surprise in retrospect is that Union Rags was 2-to-5, not that he lost.

    Granted, my opinion going into the Florida Derby was that Union Rags is best, and after he couldn't get past Reveron--let alone Take Charge Indy--I'm changing that opinion to "among the best" in a quintet that also includes Hansen, Take Charge Indy, I'll Have Another, and Creative Cause.

    What does this mean for the final Kentucky Derby future wager? It's difficult to have too strong of an opinion right now since what happens in the Louisiana Derby will effect the odds, but I'm definitely interested in Bodemeister, Howe Great, I'll Have Another, My Adonis, On Fire Baby, and Secret Circle at these prices. Best-case scenario for me to secure those prices is a win from Mark Valeski or Cigar Street, which would certainly spur interest in the former individually or the latter via the field.

    Speaking of Cigar Street being part of the field, there was plenty of discussion regarding whether horses like Cigar Street, Holy Candy, Paynter, and Street Life should be individual interests, and the consensus thought was that $0 graded earnings at this stage is just too much a roll of the dice to include in the field of 23. Seeing horses like News Pending perform as poorly as he did makes me wish Cigar Street were in there, but he could finish a good third in a 13-horse field in a $1-million race and still not make the Kentucky Derby starting gate.

    I hate the "wide open Derby" cliche--mainly because most people use it to describe a weak year, but I think this is a good group that should put on some great shows in the coming weeks.
  • Cotolo’s Harness Review, News And Notes

    Once again, the black-inked column of our bankroll received activity and we shared it in every social networking venue available through TwinSpires. Of course, we had a few winners on the rebound, which is the strength of our exclusive horses-to-watch list (H2W), but every profitable penny counts.  

    Let’s begin with the H2W successes.  

    At Balmoral (these were published at my USTA Pick-4 weekend blogs), we had two winners. On March 25, Tone won, paying $18.40. On March 26 Judy’s Jet won, paying $16.80.  

    At Cal-Expo, a pair of winners surfaced off of our Pick-4 contenders at this blog. On March 30, Bewareofthisaffair won and paid $11.60, followed by Wrangler Reward’s win that same program, paying $15.80.  

    Twitter fans of the Cotolos (Ray and Frank) through TwinSpires had a field day at three tracks on March 25. Here is a list of the tweeted winners: 

    Chester Downs
    Artists Rally, $4.80
    Fraser Downs
    Red Star Bogart, $8.90
    Anjelles Aura, $8.50
    Flamboro Downs
    Major Dundee, $15.60
    Lilly Ellie, $18.30
    Dance Withtheshark, $10.00
    Luvumeanit, $13.70

    Connect with our Twitter team for late suggestions you can use for win, place or show and in all exotic. Follow Frank and Ray Cotolo at Twitter and wager from TwinSpires. 

    We zeroed in on the half-dozen George Morton Levy splits and gave you some tools with free Brisnet F.A.S.T. sheets (available through the series). We hit half of the sextet, though the prices were poor to miserable. Nob Hill High was the top priced at $5.70, while big favorites Atochia ($2.40) and Foiled Again ($2.20) dominated their splits.  

    On March 29 our Matchmaker choices at Yonkers finished fourth or fifth, all at unpopular odds.   

    We tried to defeat San Pail in the second leg of the Glorys Comet, using 76-1 Frenchfrysnvinegar but he trotted home third to the prohibitive favorite. In the Spring Championship, Aracache Hanover (8-1) finished second to the public choice, completing a $12 exactor. The last split of that series found our choice Kyle Major making an early go of it but tanking at 26-1.  

    At Cal Expo, our no-takeout Pick 4 didn’t come close to the winning ticket, which paid $6,931. That price was mostly due to two longshots, one of them listed above (Wranglers Reward from the H2W). But the other, in the final leg, tipped the price considerably. Tutiming Gal had gone off at 2-1 the week before but went off this week at 35-1. She won and paid $77.80, igniting the big payoff.

    News And Notes

    Scarborough Downs begins its 110-program meet on March 31. The Maine facility offers racing at 4 p.m. (EST) on Saturdays and Sundays, adding Fridays on April 20 and Thursdays on June 7. 

    Scarborough players are jazzed at playing drivers more than horses, giving some fine horses good shots at good prices with lesser-known men at the wheel. The heavily bet drivers include Drew Campbell, Ron Cushing, Chris Long, Shawn Thayer and Steve Nason.  

    Bettors beware of drivers Mark Athearn, Ryan Hall and Dan Deslandes among the less popular guiding horses most likely to be overlooked in the wagering.  

    Speaking of driver prowess …  

    Congratulations to driver Dave Palone (pictured right)  for becoming the second driver in the sport’s history to tally 15,000 wins. It would be laborious but revealing to do a workup of those wins versus his starts to see if Palone was profitable as a handicapping element. 

    My prediction would include a loss statement for Palone in the area of his victory mutuels versus his starts. A perennial favorite among bettors, especially at his home track, The Meadows, it would be hard to believe that the win prices associated with his talent presented a flat-bet profit.  

    Palone’s only obstacle from being the top driver of all time is Herve Filion. No one has ever, to my knowledge, done a workup of Herve’s mutuel returns. It would be fascinating to compare those results for the sake of the gamblers, whom, aside from my column over the decades, never get the complete analysis of drivers’ successes as they benefit players.  

    Also preparing for the start of its season is Running Aces Harness Park. Although it is two months from opening day, the Minnesota track is prepping by scheduling qualifying races and calling upon its community of horsemen to commit.  

    The track has had numerous problems due to political turmoil in the state represented by two well-known personalities, former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and former comedian Al Franken. Still, the purse structure will be “significantly higher for the fifth-consecutive season,” according to reports. 

    We will report news for players of Running Aces when it opens on Labor Day weekend, 2012, amid the swarm of Grand Circuit activity that include our reports on exclusive social media outlets.  

    In Canada, Georgian Downs opened its 11th season on March 31, the start of a 99-night meet. Georgian offers racing every Tuesday and Saturday night plus Wednesdays starting on Oct. 17, Mondays, Nov. 19 to New Years Eve and Sundays Oct. 21st to Nov.11. 

     (Cartoon by Thom Pye)  
  • The Derby Chase & Dubai World Cup Pace

    POSTED Mar 30, 2012
    On a recent podcast, I noted that Secret Circle earned the worst Brisnet speed figure of his career when he recorded a 97 for his hard-fought victory in the Grade II Rebel Stakes. I pointed out that this was not exactly a prescription for Kentucky Derby success, as the vast majority of Derby champs are progressing, not regressing, come the first Saturday in May.

    Since 1997, eight of 15 Kentucky Derby winners (53 percent) recorded their best lifetime Brisnet speed figure (BSF) in their final Derby prep, while all 15 earned a career-best number in one of their final three pre-Derby races.

    This means that for Secret Circle to stay on the right side of history, he’ll need to earn a BSF of 105 or better in his next start, which figures to be the Arkansas Derby on April 14.

    Will he do it?

    Frankly, I’m dubious… but time, quite literally, will tell.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    No Pace in Dubai

    And speaking of speed or, more specifically, the lack thereof, the World Cup in Dubai this weekend promises to showcase the effect that pace can have on a race. To say that the opening half-mile of Saturday’s $10 million spectacle is going to be on the slow side is akin to claiming that Lady Gaga will make some questionable fashion choices in 2012 — a pretty safe bet.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Among the 14 World cup entrants, Game On Dude appears to have the most early lick, but jockey Chantal Sutherland faces an interesting dilemma: she can either utilize Game On Dude’s speed, which probably entails opening up on the field in the early stages, or she can rate on what are likely to be soft fractions.


    1. Master Of Hounds (12/1 morning line odds)
    2. Eishin Flash (10/1)
    3. Zazou (15/1)
    4. So You Think (5/1)
    5. Smart Falcon (10/1)
    6. Planteur (20/1)
    7. Royal Delta (8/1)
    8. Monterosso (10/1)
    9. Silver Pond (20/1)
    10. Transcend (8/1)
    11. Capponi (8/1)
    12. Prince Bishop (15/1)
    13. Mendip (15/1)
    14. Game On Dude (3/1)

    Generally, such a choice is easy — rate on slow splits. But that might not be a real wise strategy in the case of Game On Dude.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    As a Facebook friend of mine pointed out, the son of BC Classic winner Awesome Again has not fared well in races featuring moderate-to-slow paces in the past. In fact, in his five career races that featured a -5 ESR or higher (slower), Game On Dude is winless, with just two seconds and one third.

    In practical terms this means that the Bob Baffert trainee will probably need to carve out the opening half-mile in less than 48 seconds to have a reasonable shot of winning in Dubai, which seems very unlikely given the 53.1-second half witnessed in last year’s World Cup and the parade of sundial splits seen in this year’s races at Meydan Racecourse.

    Complicating Game On Dude’s World Cup quest is the fact that, despite Michael Dickinson’s claims to the contrary, the Tapeta surface that he developed — like most synthetic surfaces — is decidedly biased toward off-the-pace runners.

    At Golden Gate Fields, where Tapeta has been in existence since 2007, only 23 percent of the races at one mile and 20 percent of the races at 1 1/16 miles have been won in wire-to-wire fashion this year. Compare that to the 33 percent of one-mile races and 40 percent of 1 1/16-mile races that have been won been won from flag fall to finish at nearby Santa Anita, which features a dirt main track, and one can readily appreciate the catch-22 that Sutherland and Game On Dude face on Saturday.

    At 3-1 on the morning line, Dude looks like an underlay to me.

    Free Weekend Handicapping Reports

    Friday (03/30/12)
    Hawthorne Win Factor Report (includes pick-3 and pick-4 suggestions)

    Saturday (03/31/12)
    Dubai Racing Carnival Win Factor Report
    Fair Grounds Win Factor Report (includes pick-3 and pick-4 suggestions)
    Fair Grounds Pace Profile Report (races 1-5, 10)

    Sunday (04/01/12)
    Fair Grounds Win Factor Report (includes pick-3 and pick-4 suggestions)
  • Triple Crown Insider: Weekend preview

    POSTED Mar 29, 2012
    With all that is going on in the coming weeks--Keeneland opening, huge prep races, and Derby week--it would be easy to look past this weekend as the calendar turns to April, but to do so would make you not only an April fool but also a March one, too,  because what goes on this weekend is essential to figuring out the value (if any) in the third future pool for the Kentucky Derby as well as key horses in many other divisions.

    I'm hesitant to put too much time into a Future pool line because the Florida and Louisiana Derbys will be so important to determining Kentucky Derby chances, but I don't expect any of the listed horses from those races--El Padrino, Mark Valeski, Take Charge Indy, or Union Rags--to offer any value regardless of what happens. Hopefully that'll puff up the prices on some horses running later in April.

    Union Rags IS my top pick for the Florida and Kentucky Derbys right now, but I'd rather take 2-to-1 on Derby day than 3-to-1 now, and if he doesn't win this weekend then he's not winning in five weeks so even an inflated price after a loss wouldn't appeal to me.

    For all things this week, though, the boys at Triple Crown Insider have you covered with Derby chatter from Hallandale Beach to New Orleans. I like Union Rags-Take Charge Indy in the former and am looking for an upset in the latter since Mark Valeski and Cigar Street are likely to be underlays to my eye. Rousing Sermon ships East from a more competitive circuit, and I'm hoping the rider change wakes him up early while still allowing him to motor home late.

    And of course what would a weekend be without Toga Tout, who returns a bit more humbled after foolishly picking Castaway in the Sunland Derby. His entrance this week more than makes up for an incorrect selection, however.

    And while we're talking about Derbys, I can't resist picking a four-year-old filly in the U.A.E. Derby. Balada Sale's South American form matches up with the top horses in here, and Pascal Bary has said the right things coming into this off a layoff. She should be a big price--especially in the American pools where Lucky Chappy and the O'Brien horses are likely to take more money than they should.

  • ‘Levy’ And ‘Match’ Legs End March

    POSTED Mar 28, 2012
    The George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series and the Blue Chip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers Raceway enter round two of their episodes leading to the end of April finals and do so on the last weekend of March. 

    Friday and Saturday, March 30 and March 31 more of the greatest contemporary older horses and mares negotiate the challenging four turns at the New York oval. There are five fields in leg two for the mares and another half-dozen for the big boys. The competition is intense and turnovers are greatly expected, making the wagering an intrigue all its own. 

    Get free Brisnet F.A.S.T. Sheets for the Levy miles by clicking here.

    At Woodbine on the last night of March, the Glorys Comet and Spring Pacing Championships present leg 2 of their expensive shows. Horse of the Year San Pail won the first “Comet” leg in his return to the races and there is enough turmoil among the mares to support upsets.  

    At Cal-Expo on Friday, we take another concentrated aim at the exclusive TwinSpires-Cal-Expo no-takeout Pick 4.   

    Levy Landslides

    The next six episodes of this series roll through the program. Here is a per-division analysis.  

    Race 3
    We think a strategy to take Valentino to the top will be in play and he could start the evening’s series’ play with an upset. He wasn’t so bad last week, needed that race and belongs in this series. He has a history of putting in undetermined miles that fool the crowd, so going with him here is not a stretch. 

    Race 4
    Reibercrombie was a soft choice of ours last week but we didn’t take credit for his 15-1 win. He took advantage of giant favorite Code Blue, who was wide at the top, using enough energy to make his short in the stretch. But Atochia was not short last week and always seems to have an extra leg when it counts. Though there is little price here, Atochia is the key. 

    Race 6
    Silent Swing had to go the overland route in the first leg while our choice, Art Z, was winning by saving precious inside ground. With a good trip, Silent Swing may take this crew strongly and as an overlay, since Code Word will take all the dough.  

    Race 7
    Art Two D Two traveled the longest any horse can travel on the Yonkers strip short of finishing first doing so. Hung badly, he finished last only back 3 ½ lengths as Macraider N came up short to a closer. In a pocket or to the top here and he could produce a win at a good price. 

    Race 8
    Nob Hill High was the one to almost take down Atochia and does not have to face the likes of him in this mile. Look for a sharp attack, one winning brush, somewhere in this journey. 

    Race 9
    Why was Foiled Again foiled? Real Nice, a perpetual character over the last few seasons in this series, has taken to going on the engine. The one-time closer makes foes take extra steps to bet him on this inside biased surface and got to Foiled Again last week. It may help to give a few more cents to “Foiled” on the board; either way, don’t deny him. 

    Meet Your ‘Maker’

     The Blue Chip Matchmaker is the femme co-starring series in the Yonkers Spring. The mares are the performers in Friday’s miles, the weekend’s features overture. 

    In the first division Arctic Fire N raced very well from post 1 at 54-1, losing by a nose to Chancey Lady and See You At Peelers, the two winners by virtue of a dead heat. “Arctic” should improve here. Naughtytiltheend paced a good mile last time, losing to Western Silk, the favorite, and may be ignored from post 6.   

    The second division Oceans Motion went a horrible mile first over last week and still held on to third. George Brennan may pull some post-7 magic like he did with Rocklamation last week and upset Western Silk and Anndrovette.  

    The third Matchmaker mile finds Note Blue Chip on the outside but in contention coming off an impressive win in round one.   

    The evening's fourth “Match” mile we like Pancleefandarpels. In leg one she came first over from fifth and challenged the leader at 50-1. Here she could get a perfect trip and upset. 

    The final fray of the evening Save My Shark deserves attention. She burned herself out after a first-over mile last time. And Hula’s Z Tam is in it, having closed a little late as Rocklamation had already picked up her momentum. She was a game second and should do as well from post 7.  

    Canadian Chapters

     The Glorys Comet Series’ second leg offers a slight chance to beat the overwhelming choice, San Pail. One of his late-season foes in 2011 is here and may be worth a shot to overthrow the giant trotter, at least in leg two. 

    Frenchfrysnvinegar surprised a lot of bettors as the year ended. It may be he looms as San Pail’s greatest threat in this small field. Certainly, he will be at odds higher than he should be, even if he turns out to be the second choice. We bank on a big season for this one, making San Pail work for any other titles of his aspiration.  

    Two splits of the secondleg of the Spring Pacing Championship are also on the Woodbine program. In the first mile Aracache Hanover could race a hole in the wind even from the outside post. Golden Receiver is on his inside but that won’t hamper the big horse that seems to defy all posts when he is on his game. 

    The nightcap holds a chance that Kyle Major could be improving so that he can produce the flash of speed that he displayed last season. He paced himself out, so to speak, but while doing so he delivered a few miles that complemented the bankbooks of his backers. We say he may be ready to put a big mile in sooner or later, hopefully sooner.

    Cal Exotic

    The March 23 no-takeout Pick 4 at Cal-Expo is one of the more likeable combination of races we have seen since rebooting the event this season. 

    Leg 1
    (2) Hi Fidelity was hung so badly that it cost him a position on the toteboard. Finishing fourth will not be an option here and could bring a price since Sun On The Rocks will get plenty of play.

    Leg 2
    (1) Coal Younger raced evenly and cannot be dismissed in this group. A wake-up call mile last week was delivered by (4) Bullet Tooth Tony. He stormed out early to take the lead wide at 15-1 with too much energy to hold on.  

    Leg 3
    (1) Serious Art won a giant mile, closing and eating up the stretch like a champ. There is little reason for a bounce with this group. 

    Leg 4
    (4) Barona Hickory was well supported last out but only managed to get the show. (5) Gee Up was a game victor with two big moves. (6) Gentle Dragon holds the key to making this ticket worth a bunch. He made a 7 ¾-lengths brush to challenge the pacesetter on the outside last week at 17-1 and may go off chunky again this time for an upset.    

    Ray Cotolo contributed to this edition.
  • TCI weekend review: Spiral & Sunland

    Jon Siegel and Joel Cunningham analyze the weekend's stakes races for another edition of Triple Crown Insider as well as look at the upcoming Louisiana Derby.

    MY TAKE: Like Jon and Joel, I didn't feel compelled to put either winner in my top ten list, but I thought both races were honest Grade 3s that I expect will hold their form as the year goes on.

    Daddy Nose Best registered a 104 BRIS Speed Rating in winning the Sunland Derby, and part of me wants to say that Julian Leparoux won the Sunland Derby because his patient handling of the stretch runner certainly contributed to his success in this race.

    Isn't He Clever ran as good a race in defeat. I don't know where Isn't He Clever fits in terms of the classics, but it wouldn't shock me to see him become a regional derby (e.g. Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Oklahoma, etc.) pro a la Prayer For Relief.

    I would bet Daddy Nose Best in the upcoming third future pool at 40-to-1 or better. He is one of only six three-year-olds to register a pair of BRIS Speed Ratings greater than 100. Yeah, he got a perfect trip in the Sunland Derby, and I hate the cliche that the Derby favors closers because of Churchill's long stretch or the 1 1/4-mile nature of the race, but Daddy Nose Best is a consistent sort, who--with six weeks to the Derby--figures to fire his best shot on May 5. It'd be nice to lock in a good price on him to win now and then use him mostly as an underneath play in exotics on Derby day.
    As for the Spiral, I was less impressed with its likelihood of becoming a key race among this generation but thought the top four all ran well enough to leave the door open for future highlights with additional development. But again, from a classics standpoint, I don't know that this race fits as a key player. I didn't get the same sense watching Went the Day Well as I did Animal Kingdom (whom I bet in the third future pool last year).

    More important than my future bets, though, is that four players are still alive for the $1-million prize in TwinSpires.com Triple Crown SHOWdown by having correctly placed 11 consecutive $20 show wagers on the Triple Crown trail. There are three races this weekend: The U.A.E., Florida, and Louisiana Derbys.
  • Cotolo’s Harness Review

    POSTED Mar 24, 2012
    Winners came from all over the map last week, even with the concentration of top events in the first legs of spring’s top-notch Yonkers’ series.  

    On March 23 in the Matchmaker’s quintet of miles, we scored with one of the trio we suggested were contenders as Mystical Diva won with Breakheart Pass second. The former paid $11.20 to win and the latter completed a $107 exacta.  

    Three others in the series took second or third spots, one of them, Arctic Fire N, was third at 54-1. Unfortunately it was the race where See You At Peelers returned, finished in a dead-heat with Chancey Lady and show betting was barred.  

    The following night the George Morton Levy series began with the seniors of male pacing and we scored with Art Z for the second straight week. This week he only paid $12. We had two other seconds and a third. If you were following Ray Cotolo’s tweets during the program you would have been alerted to another winner, Real Nice, who paid $10 in a “Levy” split. 

    At the Meadowlands, where Ray was also tweeting contenders, he rewarded followers with Touch The Rock at $31.40. Ray’s March 18 tweets, which we did not report in our last update due to press time, were also productive. At Fraser Downs, Ray offered three winners, one of them with a cold-exacta call. Promise Me Kash paid $27.10 to win and Pretty Promised paid $24.80 to win. That one, with Ray’s exacta choice, Spoons, ignited a $144 exacta. The last winner was Call Me Up at $12.20. 

    At Cal Expo, our no-takeout Pick 4 had a scratch, which was a single for us in the third leg. We did not hit winners in either of the other three legs. 

    Saturday evening at Lebanon some horses from our H2W list came back. Royalness was the lone winner at $6.40. 

    Connect with our Twitter team for late suggestions you can use for win, place or show and in all exotic. Follow Frank and Ray Cotolo at Twitter and wager from TwinSpires. 

    We passed on Horse of the Year San Pail, who returned with a 6-5 win at Woodbine and then we were consistent with our choices for the two Spring Pacing Championship miles. That is, we finished seventh in both. Duh.

    Harness News

    Problems with equine illness are at the center of the news in New York harness racing. Saratoga Raceway had to cancel programs due to cases of “strangles” found in horses in the backstretch.  

    Strangles (strepococcus equi) is an acute respiratory infection characterized by a fever, lethargy, nasal discharge and swollen lymph nodes. Saratoga is taking all the necessary preventative measures to ensure the infection does not spread to other horses. Live racing is expected to return April 11. 

    Meanwhile, Buffalo Raceway has banned any horse that has raced at Saratoga in the month of March or later. “For any trainer who has raced [there during this time] that trainer’s horses will be restricted from entering the grounds,” read an official Buffalo statement. Yonkers, Vernon and Tioga are also taking precautions. 

    In New Jersey, Freehold has banned any horses from shipping from Saratoga. In Maine, Scarborough Downs is implementing specific policies regarding Saratoga standardbreds racing there.   

    He shook up the complex talent of last seasons hot glamour boy trotting division and he is poised to return at four. Millionaire-trotter Daylon Magician is about to return racing, according to Ontario breeder/owner/trainer Dave Lemon. The four-year-old prepares for a return by prepping in three or four races before becoming a part of the field of the Earl Rowe Memorial at Georgian Downs on May 26.

    Dan Noble, who won driving titles at Northfield Park, Scioto Downs, The Red Mile, Lebanon  and 25 different Ohio fairs, is among the colony at the Meadowlands now.

    Noble has been driving at The Meadows, Buffalo and Saratoga, prepping for his debut in the historic atmosphere of New Jersey.

    “I’m really anxious about driving with the top drivers at the Meadowlands,” Noble said. “It’s a lot easier to have a game plan work out and not make as many mistakes. It just makes you better compared to driving against average drivers.”

    “First of all, I think I have to change up my driving style because I’m so used to being on a smaller track. I remember driving at Balmoral, you’re always making speed, yet not all the speed you can make early on a smaller track.”

    Noble won his sixth drive at the Meadowlands on a horse that paid $9.60.

    (Cartoon by Thom Pye)
  • Triple Crown Insider weekend preview

    One of the "games" I like to "play" on "the Twitter" is to ask before certain Triple Crown prep races the odds of a starter from that race going on to win the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.

    The answers immediately before the Tampa Bay Derby ranged from 50- to 300-to-1, so there wasn't a lot of confidence in that race being key to unlocking this year's Derby puzzle. I don't know what answers I'll get ahead of this weekend's Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes and Sunland Derby, but I'd be shocked if anyone I respect thinks either has a better than 15-to-1 chance of sending a starter on to win the roses come May 5.

    It's not that I disrespect either prep race--we all know the recent history of three classic winners coming from these two races in the past three years (Mine That Bird, Animal Kingdom, and Ruler On Ice)--but considering that of all 20 entrants from both races (12 in the Spiral plus 8 in the Sunland), only Castaway (12th) is ranked among the top 20 of the Paulick Derby Index, 15-to-1 on either race (before the race) is probably an underlay.

    However, the simple math is that the winners of both races will have enough graded stakes earnings to be in the Derby starter gate, and recent history suggests that Derby starters very rarely go off at odds of less than 50-to-1, so even though 15-to-1 on a Spiral starter to wear roses seems like an underlay, 50-to-1 is certainly an overlay if you think more than one Spiral starter will make it to the Derby gate, and even 15-to-1 is fair if two Spiral starters end up being 30-to-1 each on Derby day (and all this applies to Sunland as well).

    This week's Triple Crown Insider approaches both races from a similar standpoint: Given the dynamics of the graded stakes earnings chase, both races are extremely likely to produce Derby starters, but the credentials of most competitors to date makes it difficult to assess the likely impact of either race. The Spiral, for instance, does not feature a graded stakes winner, and only four of the dozen entrants have even earned black type.

    Other than the connections of three-year-olds attempting to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, the people with the most riding on these two races are the 17 still alive for $1-million in the TwinSpires.com Triple Crown SHOWdown promotion.

    Those who make it through this weekend will be nearly halfway home with 11 races down and 12 to go (including the Triple Crown). There are no gimmes in either race, though, as I don't expect the favorite of either heat to be less than 5-to-2.

    If I were still alive at this point, I'd legit be sweating this week's picks because that would mean in order for me to be eligible, I'd no longer be employed by TwinSpires so I'd really need that $1-million. Actually I'd be nervous no matter what. These two races are definitely mines, but I wouldn't tiptoe around them. Make your pick and go for it. No second guessing, no worrying, etc.

    Easier said than done, though, so here's Toga Tout to help take the edge off.

  • Pondering the Pick-3

    POSTED Mar 22, 2012
    It is among the most popular, yet least understood bets offered at North American racetracks. Of course, I’m referring to the pick-3, a wager that requires one to correctly predict the winner of three designated races.

    At one time, these races were always run consecutively, at one track. But the bet has proved so popular it has been expanded to include races at other tracks as well. The NTRA Pick-3, for example, is generally comprised of the best stakes races from around the country (on the rare days that it is offered).

    But how many people really know how to play the pick-3 effectively? When I asked my Facebook friends for leads to research on the subject, most of the answers I received were… well, let’s just say that my Facebook friends apparently hate research… or me… or both.

    One of the gems I received was a link to an author (he shall remain nameless), who had this to say: “… it is a good idea to play the three longest shots in a race. When you hit, you get some money back.”

    I quit reading at that point, so I have no idea what this guy’s strategy for playing the pick-3 entailed, but my guess is it involved darts and a track program or possibly an 8-Ball — magic or otherwise.

    The sad truth is many otherwise thoroughly capable and logical bettors approach the pick-3 like it’s a lottery. The concept of value becomes vague and uncertain, sort of like the management team of the New York Jets.

    Hence, in an attempt to shed some light on Pick-3 wagering strategies that make dollars and sense, I studied the race results from four major tracks — Aqueduct, Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita and Turfway Park — on Saturday, March 17, 2012.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    First, some background on the table above: In doing some additional studies on pick-3 wagering using my Win Factor Report (computerized fair odds line), I discovered a simple, yet effective means of determining potential value in a sequence leg.

    By adding the morning line odds rankings of my top 2-3 contenders, I found that I could tell at a glance which races were likely to offer value and which were not.

    There are two reasons I prefer the morning line odds rankings as opposed to the morning line odds themselves:
    1) The quality and construction of morning line odds vary; a ranking gets rid of the phony differences between lines with varying sums, e.g. 115-percent lines, 120-percent lines, 130-percent lines (in Southern California), etc.

    2) Rankings, by their very nature, take field size into account. After all, a horse can’t be ranked seventh in a six-horse field, but it can be the same odds in a five-horse field as it is in a 10-horse field.
    Now, let’s take a closer look at the table. Notice that as the sum of the morning line odds rankings of each winner in the sequence increased, so too did the pick-3 payoff.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    Obviously, this is after the fact, but it is still enlightening. Using my Win Factor Report, I found that if my top two contenders had a combined morning line odds ranking of 10 or greater or if my top three contenders had a total morning line odds ranking of 15 or greater, the race generally presented great pick-3 or even daily double possibilities.

    Readers are encouraged to set their own standards based on their individual handicapping proficiencies and deficiencies.

    Another simple technique that bettors can use to determine which tracks offer the most pick-3 value is to compare the hypothetical results of three-horse win parlays to the actual pick-3 payoffs. By dividing the average of these pick-3/parlay ratios by the expected (based on takeout rates) ratio, players will instantly see which tracks offer better-than-fair value in the pick-3.

    At least on Saturday, Aqueduct (37.9 percent higher payoffs than expected) was the place to be for better-than-usual pick-3 profits, whereas Gulfstream Park (-5.8 percent) was a pick-3 player’s nightmare.

    To learn more about rating the pick-3 prowess of various tracks, be sure to listen to this week’s TwinSpires’ “Simon Says Racing Podcast.”

    In the meantime, start hunting for Pick-3’s that offer value. Save the guessing for the lottery.

    Free Weekend Win Factor Reports

    03/24/12 Aqueduct Win Factor Report
    03/24/12 Beulah Park Win Factor Report
    03/24/12 Flamboro Downs Win Factor Report
    03/24/12 Freehold Raceway Win Factor Report
    03/24/12 Hawthorne Win Factor Report
    03/24/12 Turfway Park Win Factor Report
  • The Yonkers Spring

    POSTED Mar 21, 2012
    Hoofs pacing for profit will be pounding upon the Yonkers Raceway surface this Friday and Saturday, March 23 and March 24 as the biggest series of the early season is launched in multiple miles. 

    Six divisions, each worth $50,000, are on the bill in Saturday night’s opening round of the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series. Forty-two of the best older horses in training are scheduled to compete in races 3,4,5,6,8 and 9.  

    Five divisions worth $40,000 are presented in Friday night’s opening round of the Blue Chip Matchmaker. Thirty-seven of the finest pacing mares in training are scheduled to compete in races 3,4,5,7 and 8.  

    Woodbine, players on TwinSpires continue to collect TSC Elite points at the rate of 10X with successful $10 win tickets this Saturday, when the features are the first legs of the Spring Pacing Championship and the return of Horse-of-the-Year San Pail in the Glorys Comet Series. 

    At Cal-Expo on Friday, we take another stab at the exclusive TwinSpires-Cal-Expo no-takeout Pick 4.   

    FFA Fire

    The launching of this series is massive, with six of the program’s races devoted to these stalwart free-for-all pacers. Here is a per-division analysis.  

    Race 3
    Strand Hanover arrives with consecutive wins and payoff finishes in his last five starts. Mac Raider N and Art Two D Two have both won at the oval recently. But even from post 7, Giddy Up Delight may be facing softer and could provide a decent price. Macraider N progressed first over last out and hung at three-quarters in an Open. With the rail, he should get a better trip at a price.  

    Race 4
    Reibercrombie won the final of the Cam Fella Series in Canada and comes here to travel two more turns as he faces local standouts Code Word and Foreign Officer. Also on hand is the unreliable double-millionaire One More Laugh. Code Word gets the rail and the nod, though a very low price is expected. 

    Race 5
    Clear Vision, almost a millionaire, opposes Fitz's Z Tam, “who has flashed high speed in both Yonkers starts,” according to Yonkers’ commentator Frank Drucker. This is a puzzler if you add Mainland Key N, who we gave you last year in this series at 30-1. He comes back with experience and could upset.  

    Race 6
    Southern Allie was hot in this series last season and gets the outside from Summer Camp an Open Handicap winner at first local asking. Our Four Leaf Clover stunner last week, Art Z (at 15-1) could make it two in a row. The extra two turns seem to benefit his style.    

    Race 8
    Rock to Glory co-owns the fastest local mile of the season (1:51.3) and has to deal with veteran FFA-muscle Atochia as well as River Shark. The latter already has four wins this year and could make it five. Nob Hill High won going first over in a top conditioner, takes a slight step up and should still be tough. 

    Race 9
    The 2011 series champ Real Nice meets his old foe Foiled Again, who won this event in 2009 and 2010 and is making his seasonal debut. Look for outsider Corky Baran to take advantage of Foiled Again needing this race and Real Nice having to come from behind. Corky Baran was the best at the Meadowlands last week but got a bum trip. This should be a big price.  

    Meet Your ‘Maker’ 

    The Blue Chip Matchmaker is the femme co-starring series in the Yonkers Spring. The mares are the performers in Friday’s miles, the weekend’s features overture. 

    Krispy Apple and local standout Breakheart Pass will get the most attention in the first division and the latter could be the best bet. Also, Cannae Cammie has been poised to use all she has for a sharp mile and the two extra turns may be just what she needs and at a price. In the exotic mix, consider Mystical Diva. She lost the lead last time and retook at the half and then quit. She should have energy at the end with post 1.  

    The second division includes returning heroines New Album and Western Silk but here again we see beyond the choices. Queen Of Royalty is worth the fact that the crowd will wager on the popular duo mentioned and overlook a hot item ready to pounce again. Also contending is Naughtytiltheend. She closed hard from post 7 in an Open Handicap and has done well in previous starts in that class and should do well with post 2. On The Glass has a good history with this series She steps up from a high conditioned event where she and lost by 3/4 length. She should be game tonight.  

    The third Matchmaker mile is a burning fuse of talent with Overbid-winner Anndrovette,  2009-Matchmaker-winner Pancleefandarpels, 2011-Lismore-winner, JK Owhatanite and 2011-Lady Maud-winner, Rocklamation. Sans any reasonable miscalculation by the public, Anndrovette will go wire to wire; her Overbid win proved she is back to scourge and on the engine here she should dominate.  

    The evening's fourth “Match” mile features Shacked Up, Myluvmylife and this season’s Cape & Cutter winner, Symphony in Motion. Dare we support Myluvmylife from post 8? I say we do, giving up the post for the strong contender in return for a better price. Fox Valley Sage has a strong finishing kick every time and can do really well from post 3 if she sits off the pace. 

    The final fray of the evening highlights the presence of See You at Peelers as she makes her “mature” debut off a trio of Meadowlands qualifiers. If she has overcome certain problems, she should be monstrous as a mare but we won’t know until this is over. Let her have the chance but watch for the overlay to be 2010 Matchmaker winner, Ginger And Fred. Possible upset candidates:  Arctic Fire N and Save My Shark. 

    ‘Pail’ Rider

     The Glorys Comet Series kicks off at Woodbine on March 24 and that means the return of the trotting monster San Pail (pictured left). You cannot bet against him and probably cannot bet for him. He is on his home turf, he has already proven he can be strong from a layoff and he has already beaten the likes of this group. So pass and be happy or key your pockebook away.  

    Spring It On

    Two splits of the first leg of the Spring Pacing Championship are also on the Woodbine docket. In the first mile Bay Of Sharks should continue to glide over this oval with the stealth and strength he has showed this season. Being on the outside may improve his price, as well as Golden Receiver should take the bulk of the win money. 

    The nightcap offers Anderlecht from post 1. A soaring Willowdale longshot (15-1) winner has a tendency to be wagered a lot less than his chances and two others here could be the first and second choices, giving Anderlecht a value-wagering spot. 

    Cal Exotic

    The March 23 no-takeout Pick 4 at Cal-Expo is one of the more likeable combination of races we have seen since rebooting the event this season. 

    Leg 1
    (4) Frankly Scarlett won big last week, going wide to the top and commanding the quarters from there. (7) Majestic Lass was the beaten choice in that affair and has every right to come back stronger. In a rare three-entry start of a ticket, we include (8) Bewareofthisaffair, who was second to “Scarlett” in a stressful overland journey that deserves merit.

    Leg 2
    (3) The Situation is the kind of single that we should like. A beaten favorite due to no fault of his own—he was impeded by traffic—he still finished fourth. Two others from that incident are hopelessly leaving from the outside and the inside horse likes to jump.  

    Leg 3
    (4) Paul T is a single by default. This field is a wreck and only Paul T comes out as sound enough to win it.

    Leg 4
    (1) Leadmeastray won last out with impressive closing speed and should find a spot early from the inside to save some ground and devour these. Only (2) Devilish Donnie can be the spoiler, as his last race took an early scenario for burnout and before that we had him as he took shape and brought back more than 10-1.  

    Ray Cotolo contributed to this edition.