November 15, 2018
By: Jonathan Stettin
I’ve said many times as students and fans of the Sport of Kings we have been quite fortunate the last decade or so. While the game has had a fair share of problems and then some, we have not lacked truly great racehorses. The accomplishments of some of these runners would be superlative in any era. That’s saying something in a game with a history like ours and a list of equine stars miles long.
Who would have thought in a year where we had a Triple Crown winner there would be a debate amongst turf writers and racing’s social media ranks over Horse of the Year. What would normally be a foregone conclusion is now a debate due to the early retirement of Justify. That left the door open for Accelerate, and he came crashing through with a decisive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
I’m not going to point on who does or doesn’t deserve the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. Frankly, I think the Eclipse Awards are overrated and have lost some of the luster they had in the past. We can leave that subjective argument to those who have an interest in it or think it still means what it did in the past. California Chrome received a vote for Turf Horse a few years back. They lost me right there.
Today, I’ll discuss what I feel was the most impressive and historically significant performance of the year. The credit belongs to horse, trainer and rider whom all came together and made some history.
Not everyone knew Enable was less than 100% when she tried to win the Prix de Arc de Triomphe this year. She was going for a consecutive win in the event, against the boys, which is tough when you are on your game and nearly impossible if less than perfect. She was able to get it done due to a masterful training job by John Gosden, a masterful ride by Frankie Dettori, and the huge heart in her chest.
While preparing for her repeat try in the Arc, Enable had a few minor setbacks which caused her to miss some training. When I learned she had to be turned around in her stall at Gosden’s yard so she couldn’t see the other horses train, as it made her mad, I thought this is my kind of racehorse and athlete. That’s heart. Gosden felt she was right enough to give a good account of herself, and she did more than that when she won.
If you watch the replay of this year’s Arc, you will see Frankie had a smart hand in the win also. He sat motionless on the filly covered up most of the way. He angled her in the clear while still sitting chilly and then asked her for just enough of a three-furlong burst to get the deal sealed. She might not have won if he had done anything differently and the way things played out set her up perfectly for the Breeders’ Cup. Now she was fit, and far from spent. The ideal scenario.
Her trip in the Breeders’ Cup Turf was less than perfect. She broke from the inside and had to dodge some traffic. She went wide to get clear turning for home and had to dig in from out there over a boggy course she did not care for. She again was game and talented enough to seal the deal and cap the elusive Arc – Breeders’ Cup Turf in the same year double. No small feat for a filly competing against the best turf males in the world.
So while the masses debate Horse of the Year, I say when we say mirror, mirror on the wall who was the grandest of them all, the answer is clear. Enable.
Enable likely won’t be a Horse of the Year candidate in the Eclipse voting off the one North American race, but her mark on racing history will remain just the same. She is a great one. Indeed.
October 17, 2018
Timing is Everything
By: Jonathan Stettin
If you are in this game at any level, at some point you are going to be humbled. There are two types of horse players; those that have been humbled, and those that will be humbled.
As with many aspects of life, it comes down to how you respond to these types of things. I suggest picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and getting back into the fight.
If you backed Abel Tasman in the recently run Breeders' Cup Distaff, it was a humbling experience. While after the race she was easy to knock off the last poor performance, but to do that prior to the race, with conviction you'd have to believe two things. First, that Bob Baffert brings horses to big dances at less than their optimum. Second, that you are smarter than he is at accessing a horses' chances. Both not likely, the latter especially, when it comes to one of his runners.
Having watched the Distaff, it is hard not to compare Abel Tasman's poor performance to her race last out in the Grade 1 Zenyatta. She trailed beaten double digits in that one and never seemed interested in running. It is a safe assumption she trained well enough to convince her Hall of Fame trainer she'd bounce back and show up in the Distaff. Of immediate concern after the break in the Distaff, was how Mike Smith had to quarter horse her along the inside, in an attempt to get her in the game and interested. It looked very briefly like maybe it worked, but that proved not to be the case. Once again, Abel Tasman trailed by double digits and has now been retired. From a top racing mare to a horse practically distanced in her last two starts in a matter of weeks.
Looking at this on paper it resembles the rapid decline of another Bob Baffert trained star, Arrogate. At his best, he could run with just about any horse. After his huge win in Dubai, he was never the same and seemed almost disinterested when he ran. Many waited for him to return to form, as we looked for Abel Tasman to rebound, but in both cases it didn't happen. It is a reasonable conclusion both horses trained well into their last starts, so this had to be even more humbling for their trainer than the bettors who backed them.
We have all heard the saying "morning glory." This refers to a horse who trains well, works fast but does not duplicate that in the afternoon under race conditions. Neither Abel Tasman or Arrogate were morning glory types of horses. Both accomplished a lot on the racetrack.
We have also all heard the term bounce. This is when a horse regresses off a peak effort and is a real and pretty common occurrence. Trainers are aware of this, they watch for it, and yet they get humbled by horses who bounce or regress off big efforts. They will fool you even when you know what to look for. Most times, a horse will return to form after a bounce but not always. Look at Rachel Alexandra. She was never the same after her win in the Woodward. She suffered what I call a permanent bounce, or being "gutted." You see all horses, no matter how great, are not machines and only have so many of "those races" in them. To expect more is unreasonable. I offer that trainers are not always the best judges of when this will occur. They can be biased about their horses, as parents are when accessing or talking about their children. As bettors, we are afforded the chance to be objective and analytical in looking at these things.
As bettors how can we recognize in advance when a horse has been gutted and take advantage of it?
Fortunately, there are often clues. You just have to train yourself to look at things like a seasoned pro as opposed to just a horseplayer. A horseplayer looks at a race and sees it as this horse should do similar to what they did last time. A pro looks for why they won't do what they did last time. This thinking goes against the grain but leads to scores.
I believe Rachel Alexandra, Arrogate and Abel Tasman were gutted.
Rachel had an epic and very demanding three-year-old campaign which saw her race the boys several times. The Preakness, the Haskell and eventually the Woodward against older males on a very humid day. How many should we have believed she had in her?
Arrogate broke a historic record in the Travers running the fastest one ever. He went on to win the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Pegasus and then travel to Dubai to win the World Cup in the desert without Lasix. The Dubai race alone has gutted a fair share of horses but look at what we expected of Arrogate. He broke slowly that night and overcame it, albeit on a closers track, but had to dig in and run-down Gun Runner. That would empty most tanks.
Abel Tasman ran huge in the Ogden Phipps. She then ran tremendous in the Personal Ensign, where she had to dig in and hold off a very well meant Elate, who was full of run and momentum. They all have just so many of those in them.
The bounce is real. So is the "gut." Believe them both.
October 31, 2018
Late BC Bullet Points
By: Jonathan Stettin
By now most of us have at the least finished our preliminary work for the Breeders’ Cup. We know the post positions, fields, probable weather and the wagering menu. Before finalizing decisions, I am going to keep some bullet points in the forefront of my mind.
Here we go:
The draw is important in some races. Pay attention to it and who it has helped and who it has hindered.
Consider rider tendencies when you project how you think the pace will play out. Pace often makes the race. Some riders are more aggressive than others. Anticipating what they are likely to do can be an edge.
You have waited a year to get to this dance and you’re in it. Nothing in the rear view matters this weekend. Go in strong and with conviction on your opinions. #NoFear
The board is less important this weekend than on any given Wednesday at your local track. Everyone is here to win. Nobody is giving anyone room, a break, or giving a horse a race.
Go after your best opinions regardless of price. This weekend you will see horses of high quality going off at high odds. Take advantage of that when you like one. It is not every day you have 25-1 shots you feel have as good a chance as a 2-1 shot. It only takes one of those to make it count.
Do what you are good at and most confident in. If you like multi race wagers stick to that. If you like exactas and triples stick there. If you are a win bettor than bet win. This is not the weekend to change up.
Pick your spots and invest more in those wagers. There are a ton of wagers and if you chase them all equally you are not maximizing your best opinions. You have to do that. Maximize your return when you are right and you have a better chance of being right when your opinion is strong.
Don’t be afraid to change an opinion based on how the track or course may be playing or on who is hot and who is not. The game is both streaky and trendy. Sharp players adjust and never lock and load until they are approaching the gate. I adjusted and caught Caledonia Road last year on a closers track. Pay attention all day, both days.
If you score early stick to the plan. This is a marathon and not a sprint.
If something looks to good to be true believe it anyway just for this weekend. That’s what dreams and scores are made of.
Don’t bet against yourself. Go after who you believe in. You can’t cover every horse in every race. If you liked that horse so much you would have used it.
All the statistics thrown around mean absolutely nothing in any given race. Don’t be afraid of stats.
What happened last year or in other year’s runnings will not affect any outcomes this year. Act accordingly.
Trainers who are suspected of pushing the envelope and taking an edge or even unfair advantage likely can’t push that envelope this weekend. Use that to your advantage but don’t think it means they can’t win.
Don’t get consumed by looking for value. Go after who you like and if you are right value has a way of working out. There is No value in a losing bet regardless of the odds. None.
If you have a bad beat or break early act as if it didn’t happen. Champions do not deviate.
Most important of all, be right. Remember, even if you follow all 16 of the prior bullet points, you are going to have to be right. Do your homework. Come prepared and don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. No matter how you get there, or any way you slice it, you’re going to have to be right.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the Breeders’ Cup. It really looks like a most competitive year. Some great racing looks to be a sure bet.
All the best to all the horses and connections and players. Any questions feel free to reach out and ask. I’m always happy to talk horses and share experience.
#BetBig #SwingHard #MakeItCount #P6K
October 25, 2018
Seal the Deal
By: Jonathan Stettin
The Breeders’ Cup is a little over a week away. The pre-entry past performances are out. The early weather forecast is in. It is almost time to seal the deal.
The Breeders’ Cup is a major wagering event for many of us and there is a good reason for that. There will be a lot of opportunities and a full wagering menu to make the most of them. While final handicapping comes after the draw, I have begun to strategize my attack and will share some early thoughts.
Most serious players keep track of where they stand annually. I have for many years. While most years I am usually in a good spot by now and comfortably in the black, this year that is not the case. It has been a rough year on the racetrack for me, but that won’t change anything in my approach. I will kick the door open on Friday, as opposed to limping in. When you can’t even remember how many six figure days you’ve had in your career, you learn to do that. I’ll be aggressive and confidant. What’s happened this year prior to now doesn’t matter come Breeders’ Cup. No looking in the rear-view mirror.
There is going to be some rain leading into the event. The Churchill Downs main track handles water as good as any I have ever seen. The turf is likely to, at best, have some give in it and that is very important. I think a common mistake many handicappers make, is not looking at the type of course grass horses prefer. While they do it on the main track with sloppy and muddy track horses, they seem to categorize turf horses without that preference for good, soft, or yielding turf. There will be some potential edges in looking at horses who prefer and move up with give in the ground.
I am looking at multi race wagers as in pick 4’s, 5’s, and of course the Pick 6. My major play of the two days will most likely come in one of these sequences. I will also attack one, or maybe two, individual races where I feel the strongest about the outcome.
For multi race wager players, Enable is going to be a key, whether you like her or want to beat her. You are going to have to be right if you single her, or try and beat her, to maximize the pick 4,5, and 6 ending with the Classic. Obviously, if you beat her you are looking at a better payoff, but I am not opposed to singling a winner and going after the bet multiple times. I don’t know which way I will lean there, but it is going to be a key decision in those late sequences. Choose wisely.
I will definitely look for a multi race sequence where I like a single who is a price and not “everybody’s single.” That’s one of my favorite positions and scenarios. Wide open races often value. I like them in the sequences I play.
We are hearing a lot of talk about European horses dominating. Logical for sure, being we don’t have the greatest grass contingent this year, and the conditions seemingly favor them. I agree in theory and may wind up playing that way, but I won’t know that until I finalize the work. I don’t like forming my opinion until I know the exact conditions, riders, and posts.
The two-year-old races on Friday offer a lot of opportunity for an edge. If you are the type of player and handicapper who can anticipate horses moving up and recognize trainer patterns, then you will get your chances Friday.
Historically the Breeders’ Cup has taught us price doesn’t matter. You can bet a 25-1 with as much conviction as a 2-5. Take advantage of that. There is no better two days in racing to do so. No fear. None.
The bulk of my play will go into the bets I discussed above. I will play the rest of both cards, but on a significantly lesser scale. Money management is always key, but crucial over two days where you want to jump in almost everywhere. Patience and discipline.
If you are playing from behind, as I am this year, it is a good chance to erase the deficit and get into the win column. If you are already there, that’s even better, as now you get a chance to pull away. Scared money has a hard time winning, so I suggest and plan to do as I usually do. Play to make it count. It only takes one. You just have to be right.
October 17, 2018
Timing is Everything
By: Jonathan Stettin
Timing is everything. Not only in horse racing but in life in general. Timing affects so much in our lives and how things play out. In racing so much is based on timing. It is a focal point of the sport in more than one way. The timing of spaces between races, timing of workouts, timing of claims, and of course the timing of the races themselves.
I like to look at times in my handicapping. I look at the fractions of the winner, the leader, and the horses behind. Knowing the fractional splits of all the horses in a race helps me accurately figure out what the pace will be, and when I factor in the trends and intangibles that a computer can’t, it gives me an edge. Paying as close attention as I do to the times of races, including internal fractions, I have always been frustrated by a system that has not advanced with technological capabilities.
One thing that has always annoyed me is that we time horses after a running start, as opposed to flat out, right out of the break. The timer doesn’t kick immediately, and this is referred to as a run up. This makes the first fraction appear faster than it actually is. Run up distances change and keeping track of them is work, and necessary to determine true speed from, shall we say false, or deceptive speed. I would much prefer timing races from the gate, but this would slow down average times and nobody else, especially commercial breeders, wants to see that. Everybody wants faster times and more speed, but using run ups and deceptive timing is not the way to create it.
We have all watched races where we just know the fractions are off. They can be too fast or too slow, but we know they just aren’t right. It is very frustrating and seems to happen more on grass than dirt, but that is just a casual observation. Often, they will be corrected or called out but frequently they are not. Wrong fractional times and final times affect every speed figure out there, whether it is Beyers, Rags, Bris, Timeform, Thoro-Graph, or even your own. I make my own figures, so this is extremely problematic. As I have studied it, I find it happens more than we would like to think. Trakus was a good solution, or so I thought, but there are errors and flaws there as well. Technologically, it is a step in the right direction, in an industry which has not exactly embraced the technology available to it.
Trakus uses chicklets in saddle cloths and beams on the racetrack to time horses and measure how many feet they ran. It has not proven to be a perfect system. Equibase recently announced, what I felt was a long time coming, and frankly overdue, GPS system to time races. While I wonder how bad weather will affect this, as it does my satellite TV, I think this is another step in the right direction. I am optimistic it will be an improvement, at least when the weather is good. The system is being installed at Woodbine, Golden Gate, Laurel, and Pimlico. Equibase’s partner in this venture, Total Performance Data has systems installed in the United Kingdom where they are based.
Jonathan Zammit, the Vice President of Thoroughbred Racing Operationsat Woodbine had the following to say:
"We have been using GPS timing since the beginning of July and have been pleased with not only its performance but the flexibility it offers. We are also keen to explore future capabilities of the system."
I believe the future timing of thoroughbred racing lies within the GPS system and it should. In an industry plagued with issues and where time is crucial to the majority of participants, you would think this is something that would be prioritized and explored to the fullest by all circuits. After all, timing is everything.
October 10, 2018
By: Jonathan Stettin
The world is full of people who see the glass as half empty. Sometimes it is, and we all know the Sport of Kings has more than its share of issues and things to complain about. If you are a bettor, or racing fan, the Breeders’ Cup is not one of them.
Over the past few weeks, as preps were being run, we saw announcements about horses retiring, missing the Breeders’ Cup, training up to the Breeders’ Cup and committing to the Breeders’ Cup. The first three categories prompted many complaints on social media implying this year’s event is subpar. I couldn’t disagree more, and I view the glass as half full.
The main reason the masses seem to be complaining is the perceived lack of big-name stars running. The Breeders’ Cup makes stars, and we are sure to recognize some new ones after the two days of racing. Stars is a relative term, you can only race who is in the gate with you. There looks to be some exciting prospects pointing for the two-year-old dirt and turf races, and you can rest assured connections will be talking Oaks and Derby Friday and Saturday evenings.
I think I am looking forward to this year as much as any previous year. As a bettor, I see a lot of opportunity, big fields, huge pools, limited standouts, and a wagering menu with something for every type of handicapper. The Breeders’ Cup can be counted on for some lofty payouts and this year appears to be shaping up that way as almost a certainty.
We have a good deal of horses with similar levels of ability. This will force the best handicapping out of those of us looking to do some real damage at the event. It will also require us to go into the toolbox and look at angles that we feel will have an advantage over the two competitive days. Complain, no way, I relish the challenge and opportunity.
The races return to Churchill Downs this year, and that means potentially cold weather, and the chance of some rain. An obvious thing I am focusing on at this early juncture as I peruse pre-entries, is who will those conditions favor. This is something we can get a jump on early.
Preparation is key for success at the Breeders’ Cup. In my opinion there are a lot of races and horses you have to sort through. Familiarizing yourself with the races, the turns/configurations and pre-entries now will help you a lot when the past performances come out after the draw. Study long, study wrong is a myth at Breeders’ Cup.