Archive for October, 2009

All signs point west

October 29, 2009

We’ve only just begun that ten-day waiting period that begins each year with the release of the Breeders’ Cup pre-entries and the DRF Breeders’ Cup Advance.   Even the most studious handicapper surely hasn’t been able to wade through even half of the staggering 14 races set to be run over a two-day period.

Click here for a complete list of the Breeders’ Cup races in order and the wagering information.

In this little spot I’ll be analyzing each race from now until the time of final entries and those closer looks will be available via the menu on the right-side of the page.  Full-card analysis for Santa Anita next Friday and Saturday will also be available on www.capitalotb.com.

Until then, take a look at one of the more exciting races from the 2008 Breeders’ Cup, the Sprint, won for the 2nd consecutive year by Midnight Lute.

Let’s make hay at the Big A

October 26, 2009

There are really only two ways to approach the shift in racing from the cavernous confines of Belmont Park to what would resemble a racing factory if there ever was one, New York City’s racetrack, Aqueduct.  You could lament the better racing days gone by and seek sunnier skies and classier horses for the fall, winter, and spring.  Or, as I know I will do, you can embrace the change in scenery by capitalizing on what racing at Aqueduct offers. 

In order to get a fresh look at some of the nuances of racing at Aqueduct I was lucky enough to ask a few questions of NYRA handicapper Andy Serling, whose interaction with the public has reached new heights in recent months.  In addition to co-hosting Talking Horses daily and previewing every race, Andy often updates his twitter page at twitter.com/andyserling and was available for a live chat last Friday evening on nyra.com.  The following is a transcript of my questions and his answers: 

Nick Tammaro: In last year’s Fall meet a staggering 59.7% of dirt races were won by horses with the ‘P’ pace designation (either first or second at the pace call).  Are you more inclined to give horses who might have a pace advantage a longer look at Aqueduct than you would at Belmont?

Andy Serling: Not unless I strongly believe there is an inherent bias on that given day. I analyze all races in a vacuum, essentially, to try to figure out the dynamics of that particular race, unless I am dealing with a reasonably certain bias.

NT: In terms of trip handicapping, what do you believe are the types of trips that you must take note of at Aqueduct that might not matter so much, specifically on the main track?

AS: That’s a tough question to answer as situations vary. I don’t have hard and fast rules. I will say that I often disagree with people about what are perceived to be bad trips as, in my opinion, you have to take everything that happened during the race into account, and not just an isolated incident.

NT: The word “bias” is going to be tossed around more with regard to NY racing than it is at any other point during the year.  What are the essential elements to determining that a given day had a bias in your opinion?

AS: Biases are determined when horses overachieve while taking advantage of the bias and conversely horses underachieve when against the bias. I don’t jump to conclusions on biases. Most tracks, at least in NY, are even. Race flow is the biggest determinent…..not the racetrack.

NT: Do you believe the Aqueduct turf plays to a certain type of runner? 

AS: No. Unless a turf course gets very firm, or hard, which rarely happens at Aqueduct, I find the surface to play fairly with, once again, dynamics the biggest determing factor.

NT: How do you plan to approach the large number of horses coming out of turf sprints going long on the grass at Aqueduct?  Granted they are treated individually but what about horses making up ground going 6 or 7 furlongs now going a mile or a mile and a sixteenth.

AS: I believe turf sprints live in a bubble, so to speak, and horses that are effective in them, especially at 6F or less, rarely transfer those talents when going longer. The ” a closer in a sprint wants to go longer ” adage is probably even less correct in regards to turf races than dirt if that’s even possible.

NT: How influential do you believe 2YO Maiden Special Weight races are at Aqueduct vs. the same type of races throughout the summer and fall?  We’ve seen many good 2YOs debut and break their maidens at Aqueduct in the fall including 2009 Grade I winners Quality Road, Flashing, and Gozzip Girl.

AS: The 2YO MSW races on the main track at Aqueduct in the Fall are some of our most competitive, if not the most competitive, of the year. With people taking, seemingly, longer and longer to get their 2YOs ready every year, we often see some good horses, and competitive full fields during this five week period.

NT: Does Ramon Dominguez collect another easy riding title?

AS: Easy would be unfair to Ramon. Plus, he hardly crushed at either Saratoga or this past Fall at Belmont. But, he is the deserving favorite.

I’d like to thank Andy for taking the time to answer some questions as far as some of the finer points of making money betting the races from Aqueduct. 

As far as racing on the national landscape we are now less than 48 hours away from seeing the pre-entries for the Breeders’ Cup and the DRF Breeders’ Cup Advance Edition will be available on Wednesday evening.  There have been no significant developments in the news save the announcement from Bob Baffert that champion filly Indian Blessing will not run in the Filly & Mare Sprint.  The reports from Santa Anita regarding workouts by Summer Bird and Regal Ransom were extremely positive and you are certain to hear many more rave reviews between now and November 6.

Since Aqueduct was the focal point of this entry I’ll leave you with a replay of the crown jewel of the fall meet, the Cigar Mile, the 2008 edition.

No ‘Stars but Cup approaching rapidly

October 13, 2009

The racing world suffered what some would consider to be a disappointment with the announcement that Sea the Stars, the highly decorated European champion and Arc winner, would be retired and thus not contest any Breeders’ Cup race next month at Santa Anita.   Was it a surprise?  Surely not, especially given that any horse who campaigns across the pond is pointed to one ultimate goal- a win in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Sea the Stars was victorious in that event in spectacular fashion.

So, does life go on after Sea the Stars?  Sure, but don’t expect this year’s Classic field to look like much of one if Zenyatta is pointed to the Ladies’ Classic.  Does your blood get going thinking about Rip Van Winkle taking on Einstein and Summer Bird?  Mine certainly does not.

In other Cup news Conduit was taken out of the future wagering in England by bookmakers as his status for the Breeders’ Cup Turf is in question.  It is possible that his trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, could send Spanish Moon in his place. 

I’ll spend the seven days leading up to the Breeders’ Cup analyzing two of the 14 Breeders’ Cup races in the order in which they’ll be run beginning on Friday, October 30 and ending on Thursday, November 5. 

In honor of the great Sea the Stars retirement, I’ll leave you with his greatest triumph:

What Zenyatta means to racing; BC thoughts

October 11, 2009

It was only a matter of minutes before TVG was muted on my television as the hysteria that surrounded Zenyatta’s 13th consecutive victory was on full display.  The effusive praise of the champion mare was lost on this racing fan as her win, while routinely spectacular, summoned the question that seems affixed to this mare: why hasn’t she been run where she’ll be tested? 

Granted, she was tested in the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar against a field that she should have absolutely walloped, but the competition she faced that afternoon and in basically every race she’s run in 2009 has been downright laughable.  It is due time for Mr. and Mrs. Moss and John Shirreffs to do what they’ve thought unthinkable thus far.  They need to run Zenyatta against males.  In the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

She is beyond facing females, doing so would be a disservice to the great mare.  Zenyatta ending her 2009 season in the Ladies’ Classic would be the equivalent of your son or daughter completing algebraic equations in the 3rd grade and you keeping them studying simple division.  It is beneath her. 

Keeping on the Santa Anita/Breeders’ Cup topic, was there a more frightening result than Gitano Hernando winning the Goodwood?  I know frightening seems like an odd word but when a horse who was the equivalent of a N1X winner at a B-level track can come over and beat the “best” synthetic handicap horses in a Grade I race you have to be left awfully puzzled.  His victory made something else very clear.  American horses are in big trouble in four weeks.

There were certainly performances that ranged from good to bad to absolutely ugly on one of the biggest Saturdays of the racing year.

THE GOOD

Informed Decision – This gal absolutely loves the Polytrack at Keeneland and she showed again today that she’s going to be an absolute bear in the Filly and Mare Sprint.  She seemed completely beaten at the eighth pole in the TCA at Keeneland and dug in late to get up in the final strides.

Todd Pletcher – He continued a strong run at the Fall Championship meet by breaking his ugly 0 for Grade I streak with wins by Take the Points and Devil May Care.  The former has blossomed into a very nice turf horse while the latter showed tremendous potential in winning a Grade I in career start #2.  Expect both to soon be seen at a racetrack in Southern California near you.

Richard Dutrow, Jr. – Can anyone move a horse up who just arrived in his barn like this guy?  He won Grade I races in the span of 40 minutes at different tracks as Homeboykris found his stride late to take the Champagne shortly before Court Vision on a head bob in the Shadwell Turf Mile.  He already had D’Funnybone ready for a Breeders’ Cup try, so his cup runneth over.

THE BAD

Justenuffhumor – Had he “jumped the shark” prior to his Shadwell Turf Mile flop today?  It seems so as he was lifeless in his first try at a mile since his maiden win as he turned for home about 10 lengths out and never factored into the decision.

Dublin – He was basically a no-show in the Champagne as he seemed to be in a great spot down the backstretch and around the far turn but came up empty when called on and even behaved greenly when it counted.  You can expect him to be off the Breeders’ Cup trail for now but might still be a 3YO worth noting.

The Breeders’ Futurity – Ugh.  The streak of head-scratching results in this race continued (at least for me) as Noble’s Promise won his 2nd consecutive stakes race and became the first Grade I winner sired by Cuvee.  He is obviously Breeders’ Cup bound but where were the favorites in this race?  Backtalk finished a non-threatening eighth at 7/2.  The maiden, Make Music for Me, checked in fourth beaten 4 3/4 and Dixie Band was tenth nearly four lengths behind Soundman, who set the pace and stopped at 99-1.

THE UGLY

Ramon Dominguez – Look, I’m as big a Dominguez fan as anybody but the ride he put on Courageous Cat might have been the worst he’s ever given any horse anywhere at any time.  In a race loaded with confirmed speed he decided to use this son of Storm Cat into the turn to get the early lead, he then conceded the lead going down the backstretch, waited to make a move around the far turn while the eventual winner got in position, attempted to split horses in upper stretch, angled out and finished with interest.  Pardon me, but I don’t think Take the Points is a length better than Courageous Cat.

So there’s definitely a lot to chew on before the two day Breeders’ Cup bonanza but I am certain of one thing at this point.  Races run on the Pro-Ride are going to get a fraction of the money out of my pocket that they have in year’s past.

Super Saturday…LIVE!

October 3, 2009

6:12 PM

The Grade I races are over and here are some initial observations:

1.) Todd Pletcher’s Grade I losing streak will end soon.  I promise.

2.) Summer Bird is a very, very nice horse and is a deserving winner of the Eclipse for champion 3YO.  Let’s hope he stays on one piece next year and then the handicap ranks will have a real titan.

3.) Quality Road is fully back on the road to stardom as he ran a terrific race today.  He is probably not a 10 furlong animal but certainly has a future at or around a mile on the dirt and maybe even the turf.

4.) Gio Ponti is going to be tough if he takes to the Pro-Ride as he ran huge in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at a distance that was too far on a course that was almost unmanageable. 

5.) Pure Clan is a gem of consistency and deserves a look in five weeks at SA.  How about Criticism though as an off the wall longshot that prefers firm turf?

I’ll be back later with more thoughts but it has certainly been an interesting Super Saturday full of terrific performances and some huge surprises.

4:25 PM

The skies have opened up at Belmont Park and that made viewing the Vosburgh a tad more difficult as the field was somewhat invisible going into the turn.  Kodiak Kowboy, now back in the barn of trainer Steve Asmussen, surged late and was up just in time.  He had developed a history of hanging in the waning stages of his bigger efforts but is now a Grade I winner two times over. 

Our Pick 4 is toast as Fabulous Strike was caught in the last jump by Kodiak Kowboy for the second time this year.

3:50 PM

Music Note won the Beldame about as easily as a racehorse can and she’s headed to the Breeders’ Cup according to trainer Saeed bin Suroor, who was in from Europe to see the daughter of A.P. Indy win her fourth Grade I stakes race at Belmont Park.

Well, it’s time for the Pick 4, let’s single Fabulous Strike, who for all intents and purposes is supposed to win the Vosburgh.  He may have to deal with Go Go Shoot late but I think he’s just simply better than that runner.  In the Flower Bowl let’s go 5 deep with the remaining half of the Christophe Clement entry, #3 PURE CLAN, #4 DYNAFORCE, #5 CRITICISM, and #7 MONEYCAN’TBUYMELOVE.  In the Hirsch we’ll use #1 GIO PONTI, #3 AL KHALI, #4 TELLING, and #8 GRAND COUTURIER and then close things out with #2 MACHO AGAIN, #3 SUMMER BIRD, and #7 QUALITY ROAD.  That’s good for a total of $60 in this $500,000 Guaranteed All-Grade I Pick 4.

3:05 PM

Raise your hand if you didn’t see a wire-to-wire win coming in the 5th?  I certainly didn’t and even if I did it wasn’t from Krypton.  So goes our Pick 3 and we basically reset headed into the stakes portion of the Super Saturday card.  #2 MUSIC NOTE has opened with over 12k bet to place on her and is currently 1/9 on the board.  The daily double from her to #5 FABULOUS STRIKE in Race 8, the Vosburgh is currently paying about 1/5. 

Let’s hang onto our $71.50 and play the Pick 4 as the Beldame doesn’t exactly look like a good betting race.

2:34 PM

You could definitely chalk the 4th up as an exciting race as a blanket finish had four noses within a neck of one another.  Sangre Frio with a perfect rail-skimming ride was just up under Alan Garcia at 15.5-1 and got us through the first leg of the Pick 3 with a nifty start. 

Note in Race 5 that first-time starter #5 FORMULAFORSUCCESS is bet heavily in the win pool as he’s currently 5-1 but the $2 double from Sangre Frio is paying better than $450.  For comparison’s sake, #8 ROMANS REWARD is currently 4-1 and the $2 double from Sangre Frio is paying just over $141.  It’s always worth noting when a firster is hit hard in the win pool.

#3 EXTRAEXTRAORDINARY ran a truly remarkable race at first asking as he was away poorly, hurried into contention down the backstretch, was shuffled back heading around the turn then angled out and rallied well to grab the place dough narrowly.  What was even more impressive is that he hails from a barn that rarely has success with firsters and had only had one firster finish in the money when debuting on the weeds in the last five years.  Look for this guy to be very tough to beat in this spot.  We’ll roll with the Pick 3 and try to bank on the early money on Formulaforsuccess being the right money.  Let’s play $5 Win/Place on #5 and $1 Exactas 5/1,2,3,4,6,7,8,10 and $1,2,3,4,6,7,8,10/5 for a total of $26 which brings our bankroll to $71.50 with the Pick 3 one for one. 

1:56 PM

Pretty strong effort from Sky’s the Limit who was hurried to the lead by Kent Desormeaux, set solid fractions and had plenty left to fend off the favorite at the top of the stretch.  Our mythical bankroll now stands at $145.50. 

In the fourth race, I really liked #1 B Z WARRIOR, who had a bit of a tough trip last time out and was set to make his third start off a layoff. Is #1A SCHNEERSON capable of getting the job done?  Sure, but 7/2 is not very exciting.  #5 CAPTAIN RIO is a solid favorite but considering how poorly Tom Albertrani’s barn went at Saratoga and that this guy’s big runner-up finish came on opening day, why didn’t he come back at all upstate?  He’s now been working a bit spotty and looks a little bit like a horse who’s held together with glue and sticks.

Let’s launch a Pick 3 that treats this race like the wide-open event I see it being: 1,2,4,5,7,9 with 1,3,5,8 with 1,2 TOTAL: $48

1:37 PM

Please note the following scratches in the stakes races later today.  In the 7th race, the Vosburgh, #2 PEACE CHANT is scratched.  In Race 8, the Flower Bowl, #1 CARIBBEAN SUNSET is scratched and in Race 9, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, so far #1A WINCHESTER and #6 READY’S ECHO are scratched.  At this point in time #7 PRESIOUS PASSION is still in the field, but the first sign of rain could send him to the sidelines.

1:35 PM

We’re two races into Super Saturday and it’s been chalky thus far.  Independence War gave the Jayaramans and trainer Tim Ice what they’re hoping will be their first of two wins today in taking the first as the 13-10 favorite.  Crazy Charlie completed a $9.10 double by wearing down a very soft group of maiden sellers in Race 2 as the 4/5 favorite. 

The wagering for the third opened with what I found to be a bit of a surprise.  #8 JAYDEN’S HOPE was a solid early favorite and is currently still the most backed by the public at 9/5.  I’ll stick with #3 SKY’S THE LIMIT, who hasn’t been out since last winter at Calder but starts for a barn that has been on an absolute tear in the last four days.  With our mythical $100 bankroll for Super Saturday let’s play $10 Win/Place on #3.