Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Day 2 by the numbers

July 24, 2011

$249,839.75 – Increase in per race handle on the opening Saturday program in 2011 vs. 2010

0 – Winners ridden by Eclipse Award winner Ramon Dominguez through the first two days of the meet

4 – Number of wire-to-wire winners on the Mellon turf course through six races on it in the first two days of the meet

100 – Beyer figure for It’s Tricky, her 2nd figure of 100+ in a row

$698,000 – Total purse money paid out on Saturday afternoon

2 – Number of wins by leading trainer Todd Pletcher

35 – Days until the King’s Bishop, which will likely be the next start for 3rd race winner Saddleranch

$1,569,406 – Total handle for both Pick 4s today and the Pick 6

9 – Win percentage for David Jacobson in Saratoga dirt races, including today’s win by Wishingonastar

1419 – Days since Bill Mott won a graded stakes race on the Saratoga main track after Royal Delta’s failure in the CCA Oaks

1 – Number of winners Todd Pletcher has with horses coming off maidens facing graded stakes company returning in less than 30 days

3 – Number of mounts Corey Nakatani took off of citing struggles with the heat.

28 – Days until a potential rematch between It’s Tricky, Plum Pretty, and Royal Delta in the Alabama

14 – Hours until Day 3 gets underway

Best of luck tomorrow!


Opening Day by the numbers

July 23, 2011

$15,871,448 – Total handle on the opening day program.

$2,522,398 – The increase in total handle from opening day 2010 to the same day in 2011

1– Total wins by Ramon Dominguez and John Velazquez on the opening day card.

3 – Winning favorites on the card.

96 – High temperature in Saratoga Springs Friday afternoon.

642 – Days since Jackson Bend’s last win, prior to the James Marvin on Friday afternoon.

704 – Days since Nick Zito’s last win in a stakes race at Saratoga (Thunders Dove in the Addison Mallory on 8/16/09)

$865 – Early Pick 4 payoff which was four winners selected on top by DRF’s Dave Litfin.

3 – Wins in a row for trainer Todd Pletcher in graded stakes races for 2YO fillies at Saratoga after Georgie’s Angel’s Schuylerville win (Position Limit in Adirondack, R Heat Lightning in Spinaway)

2 – Wins by Steve Asmussen with first time starting 2YO fillies at Saratoga going back to August 2007

64.89 – Seconds it took Pure Gossip to become the largest priced winner of the meet.

108 – Beyer figure for Jackson Bend, rail-skimming winner of the James Marvin

2 – Winners selected by me on

39 – Days of racing left at the greatest meet in America!

Goose signals 3YO filly changing of the guard

June 27, 2011

Where we once had Turbulent Descent, Joyful Victory, and R Heat Lightning, we now have It’s Tricky, Royal Delta, and Buster’s Ready.  Where we once had flashy early season fillies we now have stamina-bred hard-knocking gals who look to be developing rapidly. 

Buster’s Ready’s win in the Mother Goose on Saturday was authoritative and somewhat easy.  She seemed poised to tackle GI company after a very strong 2nd in the Black Eyed Susan.  It was an effort that was far more impressive when you viewed the replay than when you simply looked at the running line.  That’s a big part of the reason why she was sent off at a generous 7/2.  Clearly, Buster’s Ready is now among the division’s best 3YO fillies.

Out west, Zazu knocked off Plum Pretty in the Hollywood Oaks.  While the latter may or may not have been recovering from a fever earlier in the week, the former has now beaten her 3 times and seems superior, despite what happened in the Kentucky Oaks.  Zazu is basically the only player from the 3YO filly division in January who is still among the upper echelon.  There are no remaining graded stakes in California for 3YO fillies on synthetics.  Here’s to hoping trainer John Sadler has plans to send Zazu eastward for the Alabama.

So, what did Buster’s Ready and Zazu’s wins teach us?  The 3YO filly division is undergoing some changes.  The division leader heading into 2011 was Turbulent Descent on the west coast and Awesome Feather in the east.  Those two have been re-routed for different reasons.  While Turbulent Descent will still have a chance to win the Eclipse Award for 3YO filly, she’ll have to do it in one-turn races with at least two wins against elders.  Awesome Feather is just now working her way back from an injury and is not likely to be a factor anytime soon.

A few alternatives have emerged over the last few months but it is this latest wave of 3YO fillies that look to be the cream of the crop.  Since Royal Delta’s win in the Black Eyed Susan, her 2nd stakes engagement in her brief 4 race career, we’ve now seen It’s Tricky win the Acorn and Buster’s Ready (who Royal Delta defeated) win the Mother Goose.  Along with Zazu, these are the three big guns in the 3YO filly division. 

We can only hope that the 3YO males begin to sort themselves out over the next few months, but for now we know we have some excellent 3YO filly races to look forward to in the near future.

Ten horses to keep an eye on the rest of the year

June 21, 2011

In just over a week the calendar will turn over to July but racing’s “2nd half” of 2011 is already underway.  When the Triple Crown is over all eyes turn towards the Breeders’ Cup and the now 15 races that will take place between November 4th and 5th at Churchill Downs.  Going through some of the major divisions, let’s take a look at horse who are somewhat under the radar right now yet loom as forces to be reckoned with the rest of the year.


She has just a maiden win at this point but the beautifully bred daughter of A.P. Indy debuted with style last Sunday at Belmont Park.  A Darley homebred, she is out of the Rich Man’s Gold mare Isola Piu Bella.  That name should sound somewhat familiar to racing fans as she came to America after being named Horse of the Year in her native Chile back in 2003.  In the US she won graded stakes at Gulfstream and Hawthorne for trainer Todd Pletcher.  Kinda Spicy is her 2nd foal to race and trainer Tom Albertrani has already said he believes stakes engagements are right around the corner for this filly.


It took three starts but this colt barreled home a convincing winner of a maiden race on Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park.  Another son of A.P. Indy, this colt is also out of an accomplished mare.  His dam is Sightseek, the multiple GI winner who won every Grade I race for females offered at Belmont Park.  Trainer Bill Mott also believes in Raison d’Etat as he said races like the Curlin and/or Jim Dandy will be on his agenda.


Horses who posted big performances last weekend at Belmont are not supposed to be a theme in this blog post.  However, this colt ran arguably the best race of any horse last weekend when he won the Hill Prince.  He is rapidly improving as he’s rattled off three wins in a row over the Belmont turf courses and is now a graded stakes winner.


It took some time, but this daughter of Afleet Alex has gotten really good for trainer Kenny McPeek.  She has now won three in a row, including the Regret on Saturday.  Her final time of 1:49.66 compares quite favorably to the final time Banned posted in the Jefferson Cup just an hour before.  Look for Bizzy Caroline to show up at Saratoga in an attempt to de-throne Winter Memories as the 3YO female turf division leader.


After breaking his maiden impressively last November this Bob Baffert trainee was sidelined all spring.  Since coming back he has won two in a row at Hollywood, including the Affirmed Handicap on June 11.  His victory in the Affirmed was his first came in his first try around two turns and it appears as if he’ll be fine as the distances increase.


After locally based horses swept the graded stakes that comprise the Summit of Speed program at Calder in 2010, it might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the horses pointing there this year.  Giant Ryan is chief among the contenders for the Smile Sprint as he registered his fourth consecutive win in the Ponche Handicap on June 11.  For those of you who are wondering, he’s 1 for 1 on wet tracks, so a bit of rain in South Florida on July 9 will not hurt him.


Ever since an eye-catching maiden win on the inner track I’ve held this filly in high esteem.  She was not up to stakes caliber competition in the Cicada back in March but has since returned from a brief freshening an absolute monster.  After winning at Parx despite battling through ridiculously fast fractions she made mince meat of the field in last Thursday’s Ms. Royal at Belmont Park.  A daughter of Roman Ruler, she is by Jeanne Jones, who was a GI winner and ran 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and Kentucky Oaks.  Look for Roman Treasure in a little race called the Test.


Does this name sound familiar?  He finished 2nd in the Secretariat last year behind Paddy O’ Prado and is scheduled to return to Arlington Park for the Million on August 13.  His 2011 campaign has already been busy as he won the Jebel Hatta at Meydan before finishing 3rd in the Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night.  His recent poor efforts in Asia do not take away from the fact that he’ll be very tough in his 2nd try in America.


This horse was always fast.  The problem was that he had health issues to go along with his speed and that kept him from the races in 2010.  New trainer Allen Iwinski brought him along slowly before trying him in the Longfellow at Monmouth on June 5.  He couldn’t have been expecting what the colt named for the famed NY Ranger forward would put forth.  While the field in the Longfellow was hardly star-studded, he obliterated his rivals en route to earning a 112 Beyer Speed Figure.  If Iwinski can keep him in one piece then he’ll be heard from in major sprint races.


The “Chief” had this son of Bernardini entered in the Woody Stephens on Belmont day and wisely scratched him.  The latest foal of BC Distaff winner Hollywood Wildcat, you’d like to think Allen Jerkens’ options with him are endless.  He’s a half to BC Mile winner War Chant, is already a winner at 7fs and his sire and dam both won GI races at 9 furlongs and beyond!  Let’s hope this guy lives up to his potential.

Well, hopefully I uncovered a few interesting horses who you may not be familiar with, as many of these should be in graded stakes company within the next 60 days.  Saratoga is right around the corner, so getting familiar with some of the main players up there is always wise.  I’ll be back this weekend with a look at some of the graded stakes races from across the country.

What does it take to win the Belmont?

June 1, 2011

The longest tenured of the Triple Crown races, known to racing fans as the “Test of the Champion” is only ten days away.  For the 143rd time the Belmont Stakes will be conducted, as 3YOs aspiring for Classic glory will go once around America’s largest dirt oval.  Using the last ten years as a bit of a guide, let’s take a look at what might be considered some Belmont “rules” and some Belmont myths.

MYTH #1- Closers have an edge in the Belmont because of the distance of the race.

Annually, there is a horse who makes a relatively meaningless late move in the Kentucky Derby and that horse is immediately stamped as a Belmont horse.  The list is endless.  In the last ten runnings of the Belmont the winner has been more than 3 lengths out with four furlongs to go exactly twice.  The correlation between those two winners is pretty clear, as they were Birdstone in 2004 and his son, Summer Bird, in 2009.  Each were about 5 lengths off the pace with a half-mile to run.  Otherwise, in the last ten runnings two horses were in the lead after one mile, three more were between a head and one and a half lengths out, and the other three were between two and 2 3/4 lengths out.

RULE #1 – Horses with speed excel in the Belmont

Now, I’m not necessarily talking about frontrunning types, but clearly horses who have shown the tactical speed to stay within range of the pacesetters have an inherent edge.  Dale Romans offered this statement to Gene Kershner after the Preakness in discussing Shackleford’s Belmont hopes: “You know, Woody Stephens said a long time ago, Belmont is a speed horse’s race. Everybody’s tired at the eighth pole, so the horse on the lead can usually keep going.”  In 2007, the filly Rags to Riches stumbled badly at the start and raced wide around the first turn of the Belmont.  On the backstretch, sensing the moderate pace, jockey John Velazquez moved her towards the leaders.  A confirmed stayer and late runner, Rags to Riches had the tactical speed to move to within a length and a half of the lead with a half-mile to run.  She, of course, took over outside the quarter pole and won one of the most stirring renditions of the Belmont in the last 25 years.

MYTH #2 – Newcomers need not apply

Trainer Todd Pletcher broke a winless skid in Triple Crown races when Rags to Riches won in 2007.  In the last 10 years trainers who had never won a Triple Crown race won the Belmont in 2002, 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2010.  That goes to show you that the Belmont being much more of a “specialist” type of race, it removes the necessity for a trainer to have had past Triple Crown success. 

RULE #2 – Be VERY careful with Preakness runners

You may find it surprising but the combined record of horses who were exiting the Preakness Stakes in the last ten years is a paltry 2-27.  In eight of the last ten runnings the favorite was a horse who had run in the Preakness and the only two that obliged were Point Given in 2001 and Afleet Alex in 2005.  The ROI on all Preakness starters trying the Belmont in the last ten years is $0.34.  In a year such as this where you have a couple of very high profile Belmont entrants exiting the Preakness this statistic will be put to the test.

RULE #3 – Local preps help

Seven of the last ten Belmont winners had started previously over the strip known as “Big Sandy.”  The exceptions were Summer Bird, Rags to Riches, and Sarava.  Each of those three horses were either trained by NY-based horsemen and/or had ample training time over the Belmont oval.  This is part of the reason why trainer Graham Motion is planning to send Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom to NY for a final workout on Monday.

With the Belmont draw a week away the field remains somewhat fluid.  However, the prospects of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners being in the field is tremendous.  That would occur for the first time since 2005 if it happens.  Check back here over the next ten days for updates and more thoughts on the Belmont.

Derby Day Wrap-Up; Who’s Baltimore bound?

May 8, 2011

The 137th Kentucky Derby is in the books and there were a lot of “firsts” in this particular running.  It was the first win for Barry Irwin’s Team Valor, the first win for trainer H. Graham Motion, and the first win for jockey John Velazquez.  The particularly interesting element of the win is that both the trainer and jockey lost what were widely considered to be their best chances earlier in the week.  Wood Memorial winner Toby’s Corner was declared on Tuesday while Uncle Mo, the reigning 2YO champion was scratched Friday morning.  Perhaps Motion still knew what he had lurking in a beautiful chestnut colt by Leroidesanimaux.  Here are some general observations from Derby weekend and a peek at my Baltimore Bound series leading up to the Preakness in just 13 days.

1.) I have been as critical of Kent Desormeaux as any person out there.  He had a phenomenal weekend.  His rides on Victoria’s Wildcat and Diva Ash on Friday were perfect.  His ride on Aviate in Saturday’s Distaff Turf Mile was even better.  When on his game, Desormeaux is still as good as any rider out there.

2.) It took a couple of months but it seems like Bob Baffert has First Dude figured out.  He is now a handy pace stalker who has grit and determination.  What if Baffert had him in his barn last year?

3.) Of all the Kittens that Ken Ramsey held on to, do you think he wishes he could still have Banned?  He sold this colt at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky sale in 2009 and he’s now a G2 winner.

4.) Plum Pretty is a good example of what a trainer can accomplish when he alters course and gives his charge a bit of confidence.  She went to Sunland, scored a tremendous win, then showed up at Churchill a horse ready to explode.  Her Kentucky Oaks win was very strong and she’s now the division leader among 3YO fillies.

5.) With most of the racing world watching, jockey Rosie Napravnik gave St. John’s River a perfect ride in the Oaks.  Continuing to ride like that on the big stage will ensure Rosie is draped in roses in the future.

6.) With all due respect to Rosie, the connections of Bind need to change a few things up.  Either he needs to be cut back to sprints or he needs to be given a free rein early traveling two turns.  Twice in a row he’s fought with his rider and come up empty going a route of ground.

7.) Look out for Tom Proctor’s Snow Top Mountain when she returns to graded stakes company.  She was GI placed last year and has run two very strong races against allowance company to kick off her 2011 campaign.

8.) There’s a new leader in the Turf Sprint division (if there even is such a thing).  It’s Regally Ready.  Who knows how he’ll hold up to the rigors of a lengthy campaign, but at this point it’s him then everyone else.

9.) Bill Mott had a tremendous 2010 with Proviso and Aviate could be headed down a similar path.  She has a long way to go but tipped her hand as a serious turf distaffer yesterday.

10.) It was not a good weekend for Calvin Borel.  In fact, it was horrible.  His ride on Capt. Candyman Can was terrible.  Who knows whether it was a decision made by trainer Ian Wilkes or by Borel himself, but there was no reason to move Capt. Candyman Can at the 3/8ths pole of a fast-paced race where the frontrunners were retreating.  Anyone who doesn’t think Capt. Candyman Can was miles the best in that race must re-acquaint themselves with race watching/trip handicapping.

11.) I still don’t know why Little Mike was scratched from the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic but it certainly helped Get Stormy.  Ramon Dominguez made all the right decisions and sent him straight to the lead early before backing the pace down.  There aren’t many times where Get Stormy will get 9 furlongs, but isolated on an easy lead is one of them.

12.) A friend of mine has always said to me, “One of these days a synthetic horse is going to win the Derby.”  Little did we know it would be 2011 as the first “synthetic” horse got the job done.  How could you have known Animal Kingdom was capable of jumping up and winning the Derby?  His workout a week prior showed that he could handle dirt quite easily.  If you’re not watching programs like HRTV’s Pursuit of the Crown or reading Mike Welsch’s DRF workout reports before the Derby and Breeders’ Cup then start doing so, it’s extraordinarily helpful.

13.) Is Nehro the 2011 version of First Dude?  He has now run 2nd in Derbies in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Kentucky.  Still eligible for a N2L, he is sure to stay on the Derby trail but I hope his next stop is in Elmont, not Baltimore.

14.) Trainer Kathy Ritvo should be awfully proud of Mucho Macho Man.  Clearly an immature colt, he is steadily improving and I say with complete confidence that there’s a graded stakes race out there with his name on it.

15.) Shackleford has developed into a nice horse.  He set a comfortable pace in the Derby but showed the courage that we’ve now grown accustomed to seeing from him.

16.) Master of Hounds ran a race that surprised me.  I figured him to be a complete non-factor but he made a nice late move to finish fifth and is reportedly a possibility for the Belmont in five weeks.

17.) Pants on Fire was the 2nd choice in the Derby.  Further proof that a good story can prompt people to bet.

18.) I hope that your Derby day was all you hoped for and have good news for you.  At this particular moment we’re only 13 days, six hours and about ten minutes from Preakness 136.

As a part of the lead-up to the Preakness I’ll be writing an entry each of the next 13 days in my Baltimore Bound series.  For those of you that will be in attendance at the Preakness, let me know, and I’ll see you there.  Good racing luck!

Gotham marks spring’s return at Aqueduct; chat at 12:00

March 5, 2011

Gotham day is the unofficial start of spring for NY racing fans and an 11 race card is on tap at the Big A today beginning at 1:00 PM EST.  Join me for a chat at 12:00 EST by clicking here.

This Gotham field hardly reminds you of some of the better renditions in years gone by, but it seems like there are two legitimate win candidates that could make noise down the line in the 3YO ranks.  I’ll side with #4 TOBY’S CORNER, the Whirlaway winner, who is ready to tackle graded stakes company.  He will have to deal with #5 STAY THIRSTY, who is returning from a lengthy break after being beaten handily by his stablemate Uncle Mo in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

There are three other stakes on the undercard and the biggest event nationwide is the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap, which goes as the 10th race on the SA card.  Join me to talk about these races and more at noon!  Best of luck!

Some predictions for 2011

January 2, 2011

Prognostication is very difficult.  Whether it’s predicting which stocks will have a positive 2011, who will win the World Series, or what will happen in the world of thoroughbred racing, it’s very difficult.  Nonetheless, I’m willing to take the plunge, at risk of looking like a complete buffoon in 12 months, if not sooner!  Here are 20 thing I think will happen in 2011:

1.) The takeout increase that went into effect in California yesterday is going to be rolled back.  Handle at Santa Anita has been absolutely abysmal through the first 6 cards.  Yesterday’s total handle of $8,589,752 was down 2.6% from last year’s New Year’s Day card and NYD was a Saturday this year vs. a Friday in 2010.  For the first six cards, Santa Anita is down in every major category, 3.82% in attendance, 10.05% in on-track handle, 13.43% in inter-state wagering, 20.53% in nationwide wagering, and 16.37% in total handle.  This, with a players’ boycott looming in mid-January, is not the start that was anticipated.

2.) Blind Luck will win at least 4 Grade I races.  This is a reasonably safe prediction, provided she stays close to the strong form she held throughout her 2010 campaign.  Her 2011 debut is slated to take place next Sunday in the El Encino and that would make races like the Santa Margarita in March and Apple Blossom in April seem like reasonable targets.

3.) Uncle Mo will not win the Derby.  I know, I know, it’s not difficult to say who you think will not win the Derby on January 1 but I have a feeling that in his lengthy vacation from the races the rest of ‘Mo’s peers are going to begin to bridge the gap he established in 2010.  

4.) Smiling Tiger will win the 2011 Dubai Golden Shaheen.  A year ago Kinsale King gave American-based horses our only win on Dubai World Cup night as he took the Golden Shaheen.  Well, Smiling Tiger is better than Kinsale King.  His Malibu effort one week ago was very, very strong as he did all the dirty work early before being collared late by Twirling Candy.  The only 3YO to beat elders in GI company in 2010, Smiling Tiger, is equally capable on dirt or synthetics.

5.) Speaking of sprinters, Capt. Candyman Can will win the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.  This is certainly very ambitious but I’m thrilled to see him back on the worktab with his 2011 debut slated to come in a few months at Gulfstream.  The now 5YO gelding lost all of 2010 with a slab fracture but will land in a division that has lacked a superstar since September and is ripe for a new face.

6.) Two late-developing 3YO turfers will win Grade I races this year.  Who could I mean?  The first is Aruna, who trainer Graham Motion unveiled at Saratoga on closing day when she raced by the field on a heavily speed-biased track in a race that was run at a very deliberate early pace.  She went on to win the Pebbles and Mrs. Revere and is one of a squadron of turf distaffers Motion has for this year.  The other is Yankee Fourtune, who trainer Kiaran McLaughlin dangled for a maiden claiming tag in his turf debut in July.  Five months later he won the Commonwealth at Churchill and ended the year 5-5 on the weeds.

7.) Ramon Dominguez will break his TC/BC losing streak.  Going back to the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf, Ramon Dominguez is winless in Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown races.  He has had a bit of bad luck and a lack of good opportunities but that is set to change in 2011.  He’s simply too good a rider to keep getting blanked on the biggest stages.

8.) To Honor and Serve will win a TC race and be champion 3YO. OK, it was easy for me to take a stand against Uncle Mo, but I’m not the type to avoid taking a tougher one, so there you have it, I’m predicting To Honor and Serve will be champion 3YO and win AT LEAST one Triple Crown race.  He showed tremendous potential during a 2YO campaign that almost felt like it was being run in the dark.  He and the rest of his crop were overshadowed by Uncle Mo and that’s understandable, but this guy has every right to be really, really good.

9.) Calvin Borel will NOT win the Derby.  I like Calvin Borel, I really do.  But has anyone sat down and looked at what kind of 2010 he had after his Kentucky Derby win aboard Super Saver?  It was not good.  Saratoga got by him without a stakes win, he rode Rachel Alexandra to her 3rd defeat of the year, was basically a no-show at Keeneland, got blanked in the Breeders’ Cup (unless you count anything he connected on Javier Castellano) and was a very “un-Calvin like” 9-87 at the CD fall meet before being injured in the Jackpot.  Plus, it feels like he has maxed out his lifetime quota of perfect trips in the Run for the Roses.

10.) Recent attendance increases will continue in NY.  Could it be that NYCOTB closing will help NYRA?  You can bet your bottom dollar on that as attendance has increased considerably at Aqueduct in the last three weeks, which has led to increased on-track business.  In case you’re unsure, increasing on-track handle is the quickest way for a racetrack to improve its bottom line.

11.) Rift will win a Grade I this year.  You’re probably thinking, “who?”  He’s not even considered the best newly turned 3YO in trainer Rick Dutrow’s barn but he recently broke his maiden against what had the look of a very strong field.  He’s working nicely in NY and should be seen at Aqueduct soon.

12.) Twirling Candy will win the Santa Anita Handicap.  The distance may be the only thing holding him back as his lone try beyond 8.5 furlongs on the synthetic was a dull effort in the Goodwood.  His Malibu win was very impressive and he still has the most potential of any newly turned 4YO in America.

13.) Prince Will I Am will win multiple Grade I races.  With wins in the Jamaica and the off the turf McKnight, this son of Victory Gallop has proven he has versatility to go along with his talent.  He was 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon before being disqualified and will have multiple opportunities for Grade I glory between the weeds and the main track. 

14.) Goldikova will finally get the respect she deserves as the star of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup.  No, she hasn’t been disrespected.  But, her accomplishments and her three consecutive Breeders’ Cup Mile victories were totally overshadowed by the Breeders’ Cup Classic narrow miss by Zenyatta (2010), the Breeders’ Cup Classic win by Zenyatta (2009) and her relative anonymity in this country prior to her 2008 win. 

15.) Racing in New Jersey will look a lot more like 2009 than 2010.  Now that racing dates have been granted you’d think that things were ready to go.  That’s not the case as Monmouth needs $10 million over the next three years to subsidize purses from the casino industry and Gov. Chris Christie has seemed very reluctant to approve such measures. 

16.) (A safe one) I’ll be at Saratoga for the Whitney.  The best weekend of racing at Saratoga, aside from the Travers, is that which includes the Whitney, Test, Vanderbilt, and Honorable Miss.  Wow, I’m ready for Saratoga!

17.) (A crazy one) Morning Line will win the Horse of the Year trophy in 2011.  He is slated to make his seasonal debut in the Hal’s Hope on 1/8.  His runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile might have been the best effort in defeat of any participant in the two-day extravaganza.  He has the pedigree to go 10 furlongs without issue and there’s obviously a lot of talent to build on.

18.) Gio Ponti will win the 2011 Dubai World Cup.  He’s going to need a few things to go differently this year.  Trainer Christophe Clement will have to get him over to Dubai a bit earlier as it was widely reported that he didn’t ship over very well.  He’s also going to need a bit better setup within the race itself as a very slow pace did him in a year ago.

19.) The Factor will win the King’s Bishop.  I’m not high on his ability to go long, but there’s no doubt this son of War Front is spectacularly fast.  His maiden win a week ago in 1:06.98 might have been a product of an extremely fast track or a timer malfunction, but there’s no doubt that he can fly.  If he is shortened up by trainer Bob Baffert then the King’s Bishop looks like a great spot for him to strut his stuff.

20.) There will be a great deal of talk about racing’s declining popularity, declining handle, lack of stars, and everything else that’s negative.  However, once again, the nation will watch the Kentucky Derby.  We’ll all be enthralled by the greatest 2 minutes in sports.  Hopefully a 3YO will go to Belmont with the Triple Crown on the line.  There will be outstanding spring racing at Gulfstream, Oaklawn, Fair Grounds, and Santa Anita, tremendous summer racing at Saratoga and Del Mar, fall racing at Belmont and Keeneland and another Breeders’ Cup under the Twin Spires.  Hopefully a few more folks will start to realize what we already know, that there’s not a greater game on the planet.

Best of luck to all of you in 2011!

Nick Tammaro can be reached at

Getting in that inner track state of mind

November 30, 2010

Though the calendar officially says that winter begins on December 21 with the “shortest day of the year” it occurs 20 days before then with regards to racing in New York.  Wednesday is the first day of racing on Aqueduct’s inner track, the winterized oval that has been in use since 1976. 

The inner track is one mile in circumference and the stretch measures a bit more than the 1,155.5 feet of the main track.  The tighter turns have generally led to speed doing a bit better on the inner track than the main track at the Big A but in recent years we’ve seen track superintendent Glen Kozak do a tremendous job in guaranteeing largely bias-free racing on the winterized oval.

What’s different about the winter?  Well, there’s no reason to mince words, the racing is weaker.  The horses that stay in NY for the winter from outfits like that of Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin, Shug McGaughey, Bill Mott and many others are the types that don’t really make the grade in Florida or any other winter destination.  Winter racing is heavy on claimers of all types, we’ll see more $7,500 tags in the next four months than we have in the prior eight.  There will be conditioned claimers galore and races will be conducted at basically three distances: 6 furlongs, one mile and 70 yards, and one and one-sixteenth miles, with the first two being more popular.

One thing to be acutely aware of is the age old “inner track horse for course.”  The quirkiness of the inner track, being heavier on sand and elements to fight the weather, really appeals to certain horses and you will get better performances out of them on the winterized surface.  Take a look at Understatement for example, with credit to DRF for his PPs:

In taking a closer look at Understatement you will see that his two best races of 2010, by far, came on the inner track.  He defeated a good group in the Evening Attire, which included Well Positioned, another runner owned by Paul Pompa who most recently scored in a stakes race at Monmouth.  On the inner track Understatement is 4-4, on every other surface in his career he is 1-13.  Take a look at Two Moons, who will go postward in tomorrow’s opener:

  Now, Two Moons is never going to be confused with Understatement.  However, it’s worth noting that she ran two solid races on the inner track last winter.  There are some concerns about whether she’s off form of late, but these are the types of horses you want to give extra consideration when handicapping the inner track, especially when the public considers them outsiders.

Here are some interesting statistics for you to consider going forward:

Linda Rice has a strike rate of 18% with a $2.01 ROI in claiming races on the inner track.  She is 17% with a $1.67 ROI in all races on the inner, so be leary of Rice trainees that are overbet in non-claimers.

Anyone who regularly bet Bruce Levine’s runners in claiming races at last year’s inner track stand was left with empty pockets as spring sprung.  Last year Levine was only 13% with a $0.73 ROI in claiming races on the inner track. 

Dominic Galluscio had a particularly rough 2009-2010 inner track stand with claimers as he went 3-33 with a $0.66 ROI.  He has had a good 2010 and should turn that negative statistic around with ease.

Watch out when Todd Pletcher is dropping maidens in for a tag on the inner track.  He is 6 of his last 12 with this move and went a perfect 3-3 with it during last year’s meet.

Serve notice when Gary Contessa is starting a horse fresh off the claim on the inner track.  Over the last five years he has hit at a 17% clip on the inner track with a $1.46 ROI.  With horses 1st off the claim he’s 37-137 (27%), good for a $2.57 ROI.  The best priced winners in that group were all moving up in class, so pay attention if he shows confidence in a recent claim.

Trainer James Ryerson has had a banner year with his NY starters and it would be wise to pay particular attention to his runners.  For the last calendar year he is hitting at a 15% clip with a $3.40 ROI.

Beware of the “Davids” going short.  When trainer David Jacobson legged up jockey David Cohen in sprints last year they were a potent duo (26%, $2.06) but going two turns they were a very ordinary (19%, $0.68).  Cohen being a good and aggressive jockey out of the gate helped these statistics without question.

Trainer Kelly Breen is supposed to have an increased presence in NY this winter as he split his stable between Gulfstream and Aqueduct.  Note that over the last five years Breen is only 2-61 on the inner track with a paltry $0.31 ROI.  Prior to Bold Union’s win in an overnight stake in December 2009 he was on a 1-58 streak.

If you’re looking for a combo that can put across a bomb or two how about Maylan Studart and Naipaul Chetterpaul, who are 6-24 over the last two inner track meets with a $5.48 ROI?

It’s a stat that’s made up of sheer volume but it seems amazing that trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Ramon Dominguez hit at a 42% clip when partnered up, good for a $2.37 ROI.  They are an amazing 33-79 together on the inner track!

Some other items to note are that the jockey colony this year has expanded a bit for the winter months.  Junior Alvarado would seem to have a leg up on Eurico Rosa de Silva as he has been riding regularly in NY since the beginning of the fall meet.  Both are strong riders who have had success on major circuits in the past.  Cornelio Velasquez will be staying in NY for the winter for the first time in nearly a decade and you can be certain he’ll pick up a great deal of Linda Rice’s business that used to go to Rosie Napravnik, who is spending this winter at Fair Grounds.  Eddie Castro is also riding regularly here and he has had success on the inner track in the past.

One thing to note about handicapping/betting the inner track is that the word “bias” is going to be tossed around readily by many people following the circuit.  The essential elements of a bias, as stated by NYRA handicapper Andy Serling on this blog a little over a year ago are: “Biases are determined when horses overachieve while taking advantage of the bias and conversely horses underachieve when against the bias.”  Thus, when three solid favorites win in wire-to-wire fashion to begin a given card, don’t throw your hands up and say, “There’s a bias.”

I’ll be back each Monday to recap the prior week’s races, specifically with regard to how the inner track played, who may have made a splash that week, and who is currently struggling to make the grade.  Until Monday then, embrace the winter racing that we’ll be treated to for the next four months as the opportunities to cash big tickets abound.

Nick Tammaro can be reached at

‘Dinner guest upsets Jackpot; Holiday stakes loom

November 22, 2010

Aside from the Breeders’ Cup competitors who already had sufficient earnings to get into the 2011 Kentucky Derby, we now have a new shooter and it’s Gourmet Dinner.  He shipped in from Calder and took down the big payday at the little racetrack in Vinton, Louisiana with a strong off the pace move.  The addition of blinkers helped him relax in the early stages and went a long way towards him getting the 8.5 furlong distance of the Jackpot.  His preliminary Beyer figure was a 93 and puts him in line with many of the 2YOs not named Uncle Mo, Boys at Tosconova, or To Honor and Serve.  Click here to watch the Delta Jackpot.

One filly I’m very excited about going forward is Aruna, who won the Mrs. Revere at Churchill Downs, her third consecutive victory since coming to America and joining the stable of Graham Motion.  She has a nice turn of foot and looks to be improving with each start and that makes her a very interesting prospect for 2011.

The local preps for the Hollywood Starlet and the CashCall Futurity took place at Hollywood Park with Premier Pegasus running his undefeated record to 3-3 in the Prevue and Turbulent Descent making it 2-2 in the Moccassin.  Both will likely be back for the aforementioned meet headliners for juveniles.  Premier Pegasus is unproven going a route of ground but is certainly an interesting horse based on his precocity and savvy trainer.

The opening day card at Fair Grounds is back in its customary place on the calendar, Thanksgiving Day.  Click here for the opening day entries, with the Thanksgiving Handicap going as the featured event on the afternoon, Race 8.

The stakes action for Aqueduct’s Holidayfest begins with Thursday’s Fall Highweight Handicap.  Click here to read a bit more about it as nine runners will go postward and there’s no true favorite among the evenly matched participants. 

The Top Flight Handicap has drawn a field of seven and includes the defending champion, Sara Louise, who’s back in 20 days after a disappointing effort in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.  Little went her way at Churchill Downs and it seems reasonable to expect her to turn things around.

On Wednesday the Saturday cards for Churchill and Aqueduct will be drawn as it’s closing day at the former and the penultimate card on main track at the latter.  The Cigar Mile will feature two 4YOs from the Godolphin Stable, Girolamo and Vineyard Haven, as well as 2009 runner-up Bribon.  Other stakes winners pointing to the Cigar Mile include Arson Squad, Tizway, and Noble’s Promise.  If all of the horses mentioned by Stakes Coordinator Andy Byrnes go postward then it’s going to be a very interesting affair.

I’ll be back on Wednesday to preview the Cigar Mile card and take a peek at the Clark Handicap at Churchill as well as the Stars of Tomorrow II card at the ‘Downs on Saturday.  Until then, best of luck!