The recently concluded Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge provided a nice example of how different tournament play is from actual play, even in a cash style tournament.
I have thought for a while there is a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge with my name on it. I still think that today, but I’ll actually have to play in one to find out. I almost did this year but passed it up primarily because of the uncertainties surrounding the Santa Anita main track and horses who shipped in to run over it. Make no mistake, when I finally pull that trigger I intend to win and this didn’t seem like the opportune year.
I am also going to have to buy my way in. I don’t play in qualifiers. They are not my style. I’ve had several offers to have someone put up the big in and play as partners. I doubt I’d do that. I have passed on every offer. Why share the winnings? It’s just bad math in my opinion.
The only tournament I really played in was last August’s “Handicapping for Horses.” It was a mythical $20 win and place wager on the horse of your choice in the race of your choice. You were required to make one of those bets each day of the entire Saratoga meet. In that format I did not think I could lose. No chance. Not over the course of a meet, especially that one. I just about went Wire to Wire and never really felt threatened even when another player mounted a challenge the last few days.
In that type of format it is principally skill. In most tournaments luck is a bigger factor and we know how fickle she can be.
I take nothing away from savvy tournament play. I think the BCBC winner this year played it well. He did however do something I would have a hard time doing. It might even cost me in that format. This is why I say apples and oranges comparing actual play to tournaments.
I read where going into the Classic, the last race, the pay race he liked McKinzie. He saw the price on McKinzie drop to where if he risked his bankroll on at 5-2 it would not return enough for him to catch the leader. He bet Vino Rosso instead at 9-2. Vino Rosso won as we all know at 9-2. Smart play. Savvy play. Lucky play. Well played. Great handicapping, well not so much.
I have had much of my success playing the horses taking down pick 6’s. This requires taking a stand, often in advance, and sticking and committing to your opinion. I didn’t have the luxury of changing a single because a speed horse scratched, the track had a bias, or I didn’t like the odds. Often I wished I could have especially when late scratches or surface changes occurred. I would probably be a richer man today.
I have long employed the philosophy that I don’t bet against my own opinion. If I was faced with the BCBC winners dilemma I likely would have gone another route. Though more risky, I couldn’t in good conscience bet against who I thought would win. If that was McKinzie regardless of his odds I’d have stuck. I would not have bet win, but I would have bet a very large cold exacta, and two big triples that would require hitting that big exacta also to have a chance. That may not be the best tournament approach. After I play in a few my “tournament approach” may change. That remains to be seen.
It was very interesting to view the bets the participants made. Of interest is how many really have little chance to win based on how they play. I can’t understand how some qualified at all. I get the impression some of those who “qualify” don’t really feel the bank roll is live money. Maybe I’m wrong but some of the bets were almost elimination bets.
If you play contests, I think it takes a different type of game. When I play in that BCBC eventually I am sure I’ll have to adapt. Maybe not. If I pick enough decent winner and bet them hard, maybe I can luck out.
There is more than one school of thought on post position draws. After all, you see people voicing selections on social media before races are even drawn. I am not one of those. Post position is indeed a factor in my opinion and I think it is important to know where horses are lining up, and who they are next to before making a wager.
The importance of the draw varies from racetrack to racetrack and also at different distances. We all are quite familiar with the dreaded rail draw for the Kentucky Derby. That might just be the most watched and well known draw of them all.
The draw in the Breeders’ Cup is very important and especially so at Santa Anita and at some specific distances. It can have a major impact on how a race is run and who wins and loses.
Breeders’ Cup races usually have larger fields and that makes the draw all the more key to deciphering how a race will be run.
The Breeders’ Cup Mile is a two turn race at Santa Anita. There is a short run to that first turn and it is pretty easy to get hung out wide losing crucial ground. Once you are say outside the 8 post, you have to be very careful. It is going to be tough to save ground. If you wind up wide into that first turn, and don’t make that up into the second turn, your chance of winning becomes pretty slim, especially in a competitive race like the Breeders’ Cup Mile. A good ride and a sharp jockey can make all the difference but generally, outside horses are up against it. Speed helps as if you can clear, or get out fast, you can save some ground. The rail or extreme inside posts can be troublesome also. If a horse doesn’t have speed from the inside at a mile at Santa Anita, or isn’t a good gate horse, they can easily wind up bottled up, and with an expected fast pace for the distance that can spell trouble.
Things don’t get much better in the Turf Mile. Not every horse is Lure and not every rider is Mike Smith. It takes a special horse, and a very fortunate trip to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile at Santa Anita from the outside. All the same, issues exist as on the main track, but the run to the turn is a little shorter, and those turns are a little tighter. The inside in this race tends to get congested into that first turn as well.
When betting these two races I focus a good deal on the pace scenario. I see who breaks well and who doesn’t and also try and anticipate what riders will be aggressive and who will be patient. This helps me decide if I can confidently use a horse I don’t feel is drawn well. A bad draw is not an automatic toss, but it is cause for pause.
The Breeders’ Cup Sprint is a fast paced race. I remember a few years back I loved a horse named Jimmy Creed in the race. He was drawn inside. When I projected the pace all I could envision was him being all bottled up. Sure he could have lucked out and got out, but in a fast heat like that with everybody hustling and holding their position, it was unlikely. Even with Garett Gomez, one of the best, I had to pass on a horse I loved. He got stuck inside, never got out and lost. He came back to win the Malibu drawing away I believe convincing me he could have won the Sprint with a better draw. I prefer outside the 5 post in the sprint, but not as far out as say 11 or 12.
The turf sprints in the Breeders’ Cup are also faster than average races. Outside horses have little time to make up ground. They need a perfect set up and trip or have to be significantly best to win.
Things start to even out as the races get longer. The Juvenile races at a mile and a sixteenth show how important that extra sixteenth can be. The draw is not nearly as vital as in the Mile.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic at a mile and a quarter almost negates the draw altogether. Sure it is the same distance as the Derby but the draw doesn’t matter nearly as much. There is no dreaded rail due to no oversized field or auxiliary gate. Even with a full 14 you get a long straight run into that first turn and the riders have plenty of time to adjust. The pace is also not as blistering as in the shorter races again making it easier to adjust.
This weekend with the exception of the first Saturday in May, could very well be when the draw can make or break someone. It is something I will be paying attention to. When you log into your AmWager account to play the Breeders’ Cup you want every edge and advantage you can get. Analyzing the post positions can help you get just that. Remember all those people making selections prior to the draw? This is your chance to eat them for breakfast.
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While true that the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile hasn’t been a Kentucky Derby winner factory, it still gets me enthused to peruse the past performances and think of things to come. With that in mind, I’ll look at some horses who have caught my attention so far for either good or bad reasons. We’ll see how they do in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and how they progress or if they progress to the oh-so desired Derby Trail.
Remember it was right here some weeks back I wrote Code of Honor was most likely to assert himself to the top of the three year old division and I think he has done that.
You don’t expect Blaine Wright to have an early Kentucky Derby contender, especially one with only one grass start under his belt. Anneau d’ Or comes to Santa Anita with a route win on the grass at Golden Gate in his debut. It wasn’t particularly fast, but he did it like a horse with talent and he cost $480,000 in Ocala so someone saw something they liked. He is by Medaglia d’ Oro out of a Tapit mare. If he handles the dirt and runs ok being thrown in with the wolves, he has quality. Real quality. I’ll be watching with interest and maybe using him if I like his looks.
Dennis’ Moment brings a ton of hype with him. Dale Romans has a tendency to get very high on some of his horses. Everyone loved his last workout and is raving about it. It looked good to me, but not as outstanding everyone else seems to think it was. His Iroquois was a nice race, and I expect he should run well, but he will be a possible underlay and I have a suspicion he is overrated.
King Neptune is a sneaky horse to me. He has only sprinted primarily on grass with one synthetic start. He is never far back but seldom wins at just 1 for 9. He stretches out on dirt, for connections as sharp as a new razor, who are also Derby hungry. Danzig influence on top, Speightstown on the bottom. As I said, sneaky.
Maxfield looks legit and checks every box for me for the Juvenile and as an early Kentucky Derby watch horse. He could very well be Godolphin’s best Derby shot yet. If he doesn’t bounce off the big list race I think he’s the horse to beat.
Scabbard is another with a lot of hype. He has the ability for sure and comes off a troubled trip second to Dennis’ Moment. I won’t be surprised if he turns the tables.
Eight Rings is trained by Bob Baffert and that just about makes him an automatic. He was authoritative against softer last time. He’s got plenty of speed and I see no reason to think he’s not this good.
Wrecking Crew is interesting also. Bred to run all day, he has sprinted somewhat evenly three times at Del Mar. He moves to Santa Anita and stretches out here. He was another lofty purchase and was bet strongly in his debut. I think we can see a forward move here right into the picture.
American Theorem is by the hot American Pharoah. I believe in the sire, but not so much in this guy despite his two good starts to date.
Billy Bats has been on turf in all his starts to date. I’d leave him there.
Full Flat barley won in Japan. He will be a huge long shot and probably over bet at 100-1.
Shoplifted has disappointed since a nice win first out. The Juvenile is a tough spot to turn things around. Not impossible but very tough. If anyone can do it, that might just be Steve Asmussen. He’s an Into Mischief and we all know they come to run.
Storm the Court doesn’t look like he can catch Eight Rings.
Maxfield and King Neptune interest me the most as Derby type horses. King Neptune is eligible to make a fool out of me but he will get no prize for that as he won’t be the first or last horse to do so. Both of these guys are from foreign connections who have been such in all their racing endeavors except the Run For The Roses. Maybe it is one of their times.
For about four years I have been writing about and calling for the industry’s need for two things: a central governing body, and some sort of commissioner. It’s funny that when I first started campaigning for this it was met with a lot of skepticism and even some laughter and ridicule. Since then many have jumped on the bandwagon and are calling for the same.
In a recent conversation I had with trainer Bob Baffert, he expressed to me he has long been in favor of a commissioner type of scenario for our sport. As most of you are aware, he is often cast into an ambassador type of role along with other key participants of the game as we really have nobody designated to be out there front and center.
With a centralized governing body would come a standard set of rules for all tracks. This would be medication rules and racing rules. Hopefully applies equally and fairly. We’d also presumably have some accountability.
With a commissioner, we’d have a spokesperson who would be charged with not only answering inquiries about misfortunes which occur but improving awareness, and both growing and restoring the Sport of Kings in this evolved and different works we now live and play in.
It will be difficult to achieve the above, but the time is right, and it is likely essential for long term prosperous survival of the sport we love. The difficulty will arise from the industry’s inability to agree on much and the long-standing attitude of every man and entity for themselves.
Those who supply information want to keep control of that and not share it without charge.
The tracks can’t even stagger post times.
The reporters and publications can’t say anything they wish due to fear of boycotts in advertising, credentials, access, and sponsors.
Bettors are taken for granted and even outright shunned despite their being the customer and fueling the game.
Our best defense to atrocities that occur is not to acknowledge some reform is immediately imperative but instead to shoot the messenger and point out how lousy an organization PETA is. They may be, but that does not prevent them from occasionally being on the right side of an argument, nor does the fact they happen to have an agenda. An equally inept defense is that many of us love our horses and treat them well. That is true but you are only as strong as your weakest link. We have too many weak links, and we are giving too much ammunition to our game's enemies. Long term that will not play out well. We need to get in front of that as an industry and not play Nero. “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.”
Our weak links lie in drugs, legal and otherwise, testing, enforcement, slaughter, aftercare, cruelty, rules, stewardship, and of course safety. Yes, we are making progress. Yes, there are improvements but perception is everything and without an organized educational program, much of it goes unnoticed by our foes.
We have park benches advertising to squash our sport outside the venue of one of our biggest events. We have a state governor calling for the abolishment of racing. We have a website pointing out fatalities and we now have the mainstream media coverage back that we lost for a while. If something bad happens they are all over it. I have seen zero about the Breeders’ Cup or the incredible grand competition and show we are about to witness in two weeks.
While we are making improvements, we can do better. Most if not all our issues can be solved. We need a bit less greed, a bit less reluctance to share some control, some cooperation, and a governing body and commissioner.
I have lobbied for a governing body, and an elected commissioner for a long time. I think it is needed now more than ever. If we wait much longer we might just need a trustee. A bankruptcy trustee. Remember, we have to save ourselves while there is something to save.
As someone who focused on the $2 pick 6 for many years, with a good amount of success, I was extremely disappointed when the wager all but disappeared. The 20 cent jackpot wagers are a completely different animal and don’t have the day to day opportunities the conventional pick 6 offered. A big part of my success wagering over literally decades was that I could count on a nice pick 6 or two or maybe even three over the course of a year. Those days are gone.
I don’t really play in tournaments although I did dominate the inaugural Handicap for Horses contest played over the course of the Saratoga meet. I really didn’t think anyone could beat me in a tournament that runs the course of an entire meet. You need that competitive attitude in this game. Remember we are playing against each other.
I have always felt there was a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge with my name on it. I am not a fan of the format of the NHC tournament so I have not thought much about that. I don’t play in qualifying contests so I will have to buy in if and when I decide to take that swing. I almost bought in last year. Then I read the rules. I didn’t like the mandatory wager requirements. Let me bet the $7500 bankroll anyway I want and I’m in. No problem.
I thought about buying in this year, and who knows I still may but I doubt it. In pondering the scenario I thought ok, a 10k buy in, and $2500 goes to the pot. I play with $7500. Then I thought I could take that same 10k, and put it into one of the only conventional pick 6’a left on the menu. It was a no brainer for me. I’ll dance with the lady I brought.
That got me thinking about two past Breeders’ Cup pick 6’s. One I won, but felt like I lost. The other I lost, but it could have easily swung my way and the ticket structure was something to Behold. No pun intended but Beholder was a single. One of two. The other was Dancing House on the turf at about 20-1. A 20-1 single who ran a close 4th if memory serves correct. That meant the whole pool on BC Friday. 1.2 mil on a 196 ticket. Not bad.
The one I won and lost is another story. I was alive gong into the Classic with the Awesome Again entry and Swain. Swain was paying considerably more. I also had nice pick 4’s with both. I don’t mind the shorter price getting home. The thing is if you watch Swain through the stretch and have any doubt as to who was best, I suggest another hobby or profession.
Had I played, or if I play in the BCBC I would also play some wagers outside the tournament. That seems difficult and even disadvantageous. I look for an edge, not an obstacle. The one with my name on it does tempt however.
The demise of the Pick 6 began with the Pick 4. It hastened when the Pick 4 became a 50 cent wager as opposed to $2. It almost became obsolete with the introduction of the 50 cent Pick 5. The evolutionary to jackpots put the final nail in the coffin.
I always thought the Pick 6 separated the men from the boys so to speak. It was a tough bet to cash, but awfully rewarding in its day.
For all the pick Sixers out there, and I am not sure how many of us are left. See you all in the Breeders’ Cup pool.
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.