Friday, 04 October 2019 12:49

Speed on the Rail

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October 4, 2019

Speed on the Rail

By: Jonathan Stettin


If you like playing the races with “their money” now is the time to pad that bankroll for the soon to be here Breeders’ Cup. With the fall Keeneland meet starting, Belmont finishing with some big days, and even some great European races like the Arc coming up, there should be something on the menu for every type of player.
 
Going into an event like the Breeders’ Cup hot, and on a roll, is just what the Doctor ordered. When you’re going good, and confident, you should be the most dangerous. By nature, we all have a tendency to play aggressively under those circumstances. If you are a reader or follower of mine you already know I am of the opinion aggressive play is the only way to beat this most challenging game.
 
With so many opportunities coming up we must choose wisely. As good as it is to head to the Breeders’ Cup smoking hot, it is equally as bad to head in cold. This is the time to start clicking.
 
Keeneland is such a tough meet. It always has been. Shippers pointing for wins at a short meet with big fields makes for competitive racing. While tough, that spells some nice payoffs. A player's dream.
 
The exception being the Polytrack period, Keeneland’s main track has historically been kind to speed. Especially inside speed. I remember responding to my Dad when he would ask me who I liked at Keeneland simply saying “speed on the rail.” That still holds true today. While it is not always easy to find the speed on the rail, if and when you do leaving it out or betting against it can be perilous. I don’t have many rules in Handicapping or betting, but I am always cognizant of speed on the rail or inside speed at Keeneland.
 
When playing Keeneland price or odds should never be a deterrent. This is generally true at any meet, but much more so at certain meets and Keeneland is one of those. Rarely will I let odds sway me, but at Keeneland they just don’t seem to matter at all, with the exception of the baby races in the spring. In the fall, players are all over the board, and recreational money is abundant in the pools. If you are right you will get paid. This is the ideal scenario for aggressive play.
 
As kind to speed as the main track at Keeneland can be, I’ve always favored late runners on the turf in Lexington. The first day or two when the grass is fresh can be an exception, but overall I feel closers fare better. California horses who are used to short grass and firm turf don’t seem to me to do as well as the east coast and NY turf horses who get different courses thrown at them more often. All these little nuances can lead to a score making decision.
 
Keeneland is so close to Breeders’ Cup time the win and you’re in races are vital. There are always a few outsiders looking to punch a late ticket to the big dance. You can often find some at more than fair odds. These are great opportunities. I love betting a quality horse when I know the connections are all 110% in. It’s a little different scenario then say when one trainer has three runners in the same 6 horse field and you are guessing who needs the race, who is pointing for another spot etc. etc.
 
A lot of US players overlook betting European races. Not me. I love it and find great value and success there. I’ll be playing the Arc card with enthusiasm. While the European Past Performances are shall we say lacking in comparison to ours, replay work which I love is critical. The field sizes are ridiculously large and the prices are crazy good especially if you get beyond the first two choices. There is no better place to bet a little to win a lot. There is damage to be done on those cards.
 
After the next two weeks, which takes us to two weeks out for the Breeders’ Cup, I’ll go into an ultra-conservative approach to betting. I like to start studying for the big event early and keep my focus there. Those two days are loaded, and there is much to absorb, and also much to miss if you don’t put in the work. We don’t want to beat ourselves by not being prepared.
 
Good luck these next few weeks. Let’s pad those bankrolls and head to Cali on a roll.

Friday, 27 September 2019 18:43

Small Field Strategies

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September 27, 2019

Small Field Strategies

By: Jonathan Stettin


Of course, most of us were looking forward to the Jockey Club Gold Cup card at Belmont only to be disappointed in the field sizes, especially in the stake races. The Gold Cup drew just 5 horses. Sure we all prefer big fields laden with value and competitive runners. More often than not in today’s game that just is not the case. We need strategies and adjustments to deal with small fields from a betting standpoint.
 
Depending on your style on betting this may or may not significantly alter how you approach a wager. For me it doesn’t change how I play, it just impacts payouts. I adjust more based on that than field size.
 
In multi race wagers, I look for a single or two. With small fields that does not change and at times even makes isolating a horse or two to single easier. It certainly takes away from the time of work one needs to put in. As they say, time can be money. Regardless of field size, I will look for my singles. I’ll also try and avoid them being the favorite or everybody’s single. A small field won’t change this approach for me.
 
My exacta strategy will also stay intact in a small field. I’ll play one way, cold and not reverse. I might play a second exacta with the same horse on top, usually for a lesser amount, but I do this the same way no matter how many horses are going to post. The payoffs take a hit, but my approach stays the same.
 
I’ll discuss how I compensate for the payoffs.
 
What I do change in small fields is triple and superfecta play. I just say no. I don’t find it pays. That leaves some extra money to go into the bets I do make. I can increase the amount I play multi race wagers for, as well as the exactas. Hopefully, or at least some of the time this is enough to offset or absorb the difference in payouts. We have to play the hand we are dealt. Short fields must be reckoned with.
 
If you have a fair share of short fields in a sequence you can try and go short in the races you don’t single. This will also allow you to increase your wagers. Fewer horses to cover means more money to place on the ones you feel you need.
 
Money management and ticket structure are so crucial. If dealing with small fields is something you’ll face often you need a strategy that applies to that scenario. A lot of players will pass a card of small fields in favor of a card someplace else with larger fields. That may work for them. I don’t do it. I like to stick to the meets and circuits I play and where I’m comfortable. In the long run, I find that works better, at least for me.
 
A lot of times I find if you get away from the favorite in a small field the win price is not that bad. Sure you may not get that 15 or 20-1 we all love, but you can surely find a solid horse at 3,4,5 to 1 or more. There is nothing wrong with that.
 
If you like to stick to certain meets as I do you have to be prepared to make lemonade out of lemons. We don’t like small fields, but we have to deal with them.
 
I don’t view the Jockey Club Gold Cup as a bad betting affair. To the contrary, I am looking forward to it. I think there will be some talented runners going off in the 3 and 4-1 range. I can live with that. A win bet and cold exacta at that price are fine. There are fewer horses to beat you. Lemonade.
 
A single at that price can work out just fine as well. You can make money and create value in any field size. You may have to play it smart and be right. On the bright side, I don’t think we will have this issue to deal with on Breeders’ Cup weekend. Stay tuned.
 

Friday, 20 September 2019 12:36

Lots of Options

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September 20, 2019

Lots of Options

By: Jonathan Stettin


Today more than ever the bettor has many options on where, when, and how to gamble or invest their money. Whether it is racing (my game of choice) sports, table or casino games, poker, backgammon, chess (my second favorite) or whatever, there are an abundance of choices. Within the racing game alone we choose from many tracks, and also different wagers.
 
We all have wagers at the track or through an ADW like our AmWager that we favor or gravitate towards. Like anything else, things become comfortable and routine like. For some reason, just about all the talking heads promote the pick 4 or pick 5 wager. It is almost all they talk about when it comes to promoting a wager. I guess their bosses, who likely mandate this, miss the fact many other wagers are much better for the churn of handle they seek. Those bets can be great, and they are fun. However, they are far from the only option and in today’s market often not the best value or chance for a nice hit. Of course, there are exceptions and if you luck out or well play one you can really take it down, but if you are a sharp player you realize there are other opportunities to explore.
 
When you think about the nature of pari-mutual wagering and that we are all playing against one another. You have to realize that sometimes going after something where the waters aren’t filled with both sharks and guppies can give you an advantage.
 
I love exactas. They often offer great value, and if you play them aggressively, as I do, you can make some nice hits. If you like a horse that is say 6 or 8-1 and you single him in a multi-race bet and he wins but you lose another leg that is one of the most frustrating ways to get beat. If you key him on top of exactas, sure you can lose even if he wins but I’d argue the chances are less likely. If your key horse wins you probably have a nice handle on the race and will nail the exacta. As a single in a multi race wager, he may win and you may have that good handle on that race but there are three or four others to get by. I love the exacta. I play them even when I single a horse in a multi race bet.
 
Usually, I will just take one or two exactas. For example, if I like the 5 I may bet the 5 to win, single the 5 in a multi race wager and take a cold 5-7 exacta. If I think second place is more side open I may take $100 exacta 5-7, then $50 exacta 5-2 5-4. That gives me three shots for second and if I can’t get that home if the 5 wins, it was just not my day. I will still have the win and maybe even the multi going for me. Options. I think it is important to explore them when deciding where to invest your money.
 
Triples and more so superfectas can also offer great value and opportunities. You will also find fewer sharks in these waters even though the pools are often healthy. A lot of recreational players go in these pools playing names and numbers. This is a dream scenario for some of us and you can often capitalize on it. 
 
While we may gravitate to where we are comfortable and get led there by talking heads, that may not always be where the best opportunities are. Depending on the price of your top or key horses you just have to look at all the items on the menu. This game is about maximizing when you are right and sometimes you have to go outside of the comfort zone to do that.
 
Another almost forgotten bet is the double. While I personally do not find as much value here as I do in exactas, triples, and superfectas, it can be another option for many players.
 
You have to get out of the routine and comfort zone to improve. That’s where we make progress and progress can mean scores. That’s why we play. 
 




Saturday, 14 September 2019 05:46

Woodbine Mile Thoughts 2019

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September 14, 2019

Woodbine Mile Thoughts 2019

By: Jonathan Stettin


The Woodbine Mike is always an interesting and competitive race and this year is no exception. Here are my thoughts and how I’ll play it.

#1 El Tormenta- Looks overmatched I’m here. Handles Woodbine and should appreciate some added ground over his most recent starts but looks up against it to win this.
#2 Lucullan- Has come back like a new horse. Always had some ability but is better than ever right now. If he handles Woodbine, and I suspect he will, I think he is your winner. The price won’t be 8-1 like the morning line but should be OK.
#3 Silent Poet- He is my second choice and the other horse I would use in any multi race wagers. He is game and improving and loves this course. Dangerous.
#4 Synchrony- Will have plenty of support here. Not mine. He is capable for sure but I don’t think he is peaking or sitting on a top race, two things I look for. Also a likely underlay.
5- Got Stormy- Coming off two monster efforts, I am looking for some regression in here. Taking a swing against the obvious favorite. Will be no surprise but I think he can be beaten.
6- Awesometank- A filly, albeit a good one against the boys, not my favorite angle. I’d need to see more from her. Not impossible but not for me in here.
7- Raging Bull- Is there such a thing as a third choice? Not really for me but if there was he would be mine in here. He has always had ability and class, and I think he is coming up to an A race or effort. That could be good enough if some of the others I lean to don’t fire. I’d use in multi race wagers on a spread ticket.
8- American Guru- Will be a price and should be, looks overmatched and would need a surprise career race to win this. I don’t see it.
9- Made You Look- Always tough to toss Chad Brown in any grass stake, but if it was easy everybody would be doing it, I can’t get here, he just does not look as good as some of the others regardless of connections.
10- Emmaus- May not win but I think he is sitting on one of his better or A races and that can put him close. I will use in exactas, triples, and superfectas in the second, third and fourth slots. Should be a big price.
11- Admiralty Pier- Another big price that can probably not win but can maybe sneak into the exotics. Another I would use in the back slots looking to make something happen.
The ones I think are the win contenders are Lucullan, Silent Poet, and Raging Bull. I will use those three in multi race wagers leaning on Lucullan heaviest. Emmaus and Admiralty Pier will be in my rear slots in vertical wagers as they are both long odds horses I think can hit the board. Enjoy the Woodbine Mile.
 




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September 5, 2019

It All Comes Together; Looking in the Crystal Ball

By: Jonathan Stettin


It is interesting to look back at some of our opinions on races and horses from a few weeks or months back and see how they aged. You get a real good window into your focus and grasp of this challenging game we play. This is a good time of year to do it as we are approaching the fourth quarter so to speak and if we don’t have a clear picture now something is wrong.

A few weeks ago, I wrote right here Shancelot was a bet against in his next start after the monster win first time at the Spa. He lost at a short price. A week or two before that I wrote right here Code of Honor was most likely to be the one to assert himself into the top three-year-old of 2019 picture. I think he accomplished that with his Travers win. We pretty much called that one. If you play this game long enough you get a feel for certain things. Let’s examine some things ahead and see how they age.

As the horses of 2019 race towards their championships, and we have some really good horses this year in Bricks and Mortar, Sistercharlie, McKinzie, Mitole and more, we can get ready to capitalize on the upsets, and get down on the strong plays. That is what it is all about.

The Pennsylvania Derby should give us a very clear leader for the top three-year-old. It looks like Maximum Security, the current leader will face War of Will for sure. Mucho Gusto and Improbable are possible. Code of Honor may sneak in as may Tacitus. If that happens you have the three-year-old championship on the line as I do not think any of them are good enough to go to Santa Anita and beat older horses. Well at least one in particular. The spoiler to that whole party may be Omaha Beach who is working his way back to the races and hopefully the picture. We may see Omaha Beach at Parx, but not in the Pennsylvania Derby. Don’t be surprised if Mandella opts for the two-turn mile race instead.

It is true we do not know what type of surface we will see at Santa Anita this fall, but it will be McKinzie’s home track whatever it is. He is blossoming at just the right time.

Mitole is back, and the loss from the rail is totally forgivable at this point. It will take something very fast to handle him at his best. It probably isn’t Imperial Hint away from Saratoga.

Bricks and Mortar has put together some season. He has been on a tear. There is some European horse out there that just may have him in their or should I say her sights. The Breeders’ Cup Turf may be the race of that weekend.

If Elate couldn’t beat Midnight Bisou on the square when she was supposed to at Saratoga, how will she at Santa Anita where Bisou is familiar?

Sistercharlie probably still has not run her peak race of the year of yet. That should be pretty discouraging for any of the horses looking to take her down in the filly and mare turf. Good luck with that one.

Moving on to another subject, when will they run out of ways to disrespect bettors and make this already difficult game more difficult? Never. The deck is stacked against us. Now it is definitely wrong and bad to move a race from one turf course to another with 8 minutes or thereabouts to post time. It crushes the multi-race wager players in pick 4’s, 5’s, and 6’s. This day involved a mandatory jackpot payout as well. Ouch. It would have been worse if they changed surfaces altogether as the race would become an all. But even the course change can affect the race. Personally, I do not believe it did in this case. Quarbaan, the best horse that day won, and decisively. That said it still leaves a bad taste and with no explanation it is disrespectful. For safety we can all understand it, but we deserve to know not guess. Unfortunately, this discretion lies with the stewards and track management. There is no argument. They have the right to switch surfaces with little or no notice. We agree to play by those rules.




Monday, 26 August 2019 20:03

Inside the Mind of a Bet

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August 26, 2019

Inside the Mind of a Bet

By: Jonathan Stettin


They may have put an aftermarket spoiler on a vintage red Ferrari, but when you crank it up, you can still feel and hear the engines rumble.
 
There are some racetracks that just have a magically electric atmosphere to them as soon as you enter the gates. Saratoga has that as soon as you approach the town from the South and pass the Mohawk River Bridge. It amplifies as you approach the grounds and see the familiar grand mansions, barns, and racetrack itself. I have yet to visit a racetrack that has the feel of Saratoga, and I have been to most all over the world.
 
Whether it is the history, the epic performances, the legendary upsets, the champions of our game, both human and equine who have competed there, or the big scores doesn’t really matter. Maybe it’s a combination of all of that, or even something else.
 
When NYRA announced the Saratoga meet was again being extended I saw it as a problem as the racing has already been watered down some from what it was in the past. That’s really a racing problem and not an isolated Saratoga problem you just feel it more at the Spa. That’s because longtime Saratoga bettors, horsemen, and fans have become spoiled. The 24 racing days of the “August” place to be was unrivaled even by meets like Royal Ascot. Those days are forever gone, but the desire for almost anyone in the Sport of Kings to win at Saratoga turns even a maiden claiming race into a competitive all-out affair. Everyone, including bettors, seem to try just a little bit harder at Saratoga. It brings out our best.
 
Having cashed a pick 6 for over half a mil at Saratoga, and two others for 146k and 108k respectfully, I can’t help being optimistic about the meet and even more thrilled to be on the grounds. I spent the first 30 plus years of my life summering there, and it feels like home. It doesn’t hurt that the only horse I ever ran there as an owner, Ima Halo, won under Johnny V for trainer Peter Walder. The place is special.
 
It all comes down to making the right decisions when betting. Regardless of who you like, and what bets you are going to make you’ll face handicapping decisions, and wagering decisions. Which way you go, or whether you zig or zag will determine how things turn out for you.
 
On Travers day, my killer instinct was roaring. I knew there would be at least one real shot to take. I intended to take it. I liked Code of Honor in the Travers. How to bet him was the question. Since there is no longer a $2 pick 6, that was not an option. Regrettably for me. I will miss that bet, perhaps most of all.
 
I decided the Pick 5 was the way to go. I was concerned about the sequence starting with a 1-5 favorite, but at 7 furlongs I saw a chink in his armor. At 1-5 we want no chinks. I’d use him to make sure if he wins I am alive, but he was no single in my book. Not even close. When I discussed the race with my Brother John John, yes I have a brother John, and he saw the chink as well my confidence grew. He’s one of maybe two people on the planet whose opinion I value — the others mine.
 
My plan was to have the ticket multiple times. Anybody can hit a Pick 5 for 50 cents. I wanted to have it for $5 or $10 at least. When I structured my play, I decided to also single Elate. Obviously, I knew only two horses could win that race, Elate or Midnight Bisou. I do not think a realistic chance could have been made for any other horse in that race. I was “sure” Elate was sitting on a big race and forward move. I “thought” Midnight Bisou was possibly as well, but with money on the line, I’ll go with sure over thought as many times as I can.
 
I briefly thought about using both horses and splitting the ticket and have it for $5 instead of $10. I decided against that. Ah decisions, they will make or break you every time. It didn’t make sense at that point to use both horses even though that would lock up or buy the race. I thought if the 1-5 shot wins the first leg, and we get another short price in another leg, and Midnight Bisou and Elate will both be short, I’ll have no shot at a score. I had to go with one and Elate was the better option according to my handicapping.
 
I was concerned about Jose Ortiz over thinking the Abel Tasman race and Mike Smith incident from last year. I also thought the race at Oaklawn earlier this year might also be in his head. Hopefully, if that were the case, it would motivate him and not get him antsy or anything like that. As they were running and Jose was laying third in what most would view as a golden spot, I became worried when I saw him look back approaching the half-mile pole to see where Mike and Midnight Bisou were. Don’t worry about them, just ride your race, I thought. Jose was set on race riding however, and sometimes that works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. Against Mike Smith, the odds go against you drastically.
 
Yeah, I knew I was going to get nailed about mid-stretch. I also knew Code of Honor would win the Travers. You see enough of these things; sometimes you just know how the movie ends. The agony of defeat set in about the sixteenth pole although most who had Elate were still thinking she would make it. Man, that Midnight Bisou is relentless. John John structured his ticket very similar to mine. That photo cost us over 200k collectively.
 
Dinner and the company were excellent that night. Just about everyone who is anyone in racing was at the same restaurant. Many winners from the day, and past winners as well. Even Derby winners. Sure it stung but you’d never know it sitting next to me. See here is the key, once you take down some of these type of scores you learn you CAN do it. Then you learn you can do it again. At this point you know hey, it’s just a matter of time until you make the right decision.
 
Yes. Of course, I bet the Travers winner. Win. Exacta. Superfecta. This is one of those unenviable days where you win but walk out feeling like you lost. Only a true Racetracker can understand that..