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  • Past the Wire     Tracking Tips Logo

    June 7th, 2018

    Crystal Balls

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    I always find it curious when so called expert handicappers proclaim to know the winner of a race before it is even drawn. The Kentucky Derby is perhaps the biggest example of this, with people, including those who hold themselves out as experts with well informed and calculated opinions, lock in on a horse and proclaim them the winner. Frankly, even when they turn out to be right, is it handicapping or crystal ball magic, hence luck? I say it falls under the broken clock theory. We all know they are right twice a day.

    I am not talking about people having fun, rooting for a horse, or even advance wagering. I am talking about those who hold themselves out as knowledgeable, or experts, and then make bold premature predictions prior to certain relevant things being revealed. There are some things one must simply know, and factor in, for an opinion to be well informed. It borders on gibberish or irresponsibility to publish an opinion on the outcome of a horse race before certain key points are known. If deadlines or some other pressure force you to make early public and promoted opinions, so be it. However, I would preface any such opinion with subject to change based on factors not yet known, as opposed to so and so will win or can’t lose. I know of no monetary incentive to picking the winner three days in advance.

    A few years ago, I wrote a column called “Warning Shot Fired” where after watching Tonalist train in Florida and then win the Peter Pan I said I thought he was a serious threat to California Chrome in the upcoming Belmont Stakes. I did wind up betting him and he did win. I did not handicap the Belmont until the day before. You can read the article here….

    https://www.pastthewire.com/warning-shot-fired/

    Once read you will see the difference. You can spot a good one early, and you can think they fit in a race perfectly, but all this winner picking prematurely is comical. After the Florida Derby I immediately said Hofburg was the best horse in it and that everyone else would know that too by mid-year or late in the year barring injury. That’s different than picking him to win a race before you truly handicap it.

    The Belmont Stakes this year is a great example. The racing community waited anxiously for the past performances to come out. Some did not even wait for that before declaring their picks and even all the so called true contenders. Once the past performances came out, expert analysis and the expert selections began to appear. I’d read a horoscope as soon as I would read any of that. Be careful what you put in your computer of a brain, you never know when it will come out or how.

    We have Justify, the obvious bullseye in the race, drawing the rail. We have a fluctuating weather forecast that has taken a late turn for the worse. Even with the past performances, these factors should be cause for pause for anyone approaching this seriously and putting their money up.

    The rail can play fast and good hence the golden rail, or it can be deep and heavy and be a hindrance. This is true even on a dry track let alone a wet one. Muddy, sloppy, wet fast, sealed, and fast or even good are all different and can have different effects. We see somewhat less of the super speed highways on the big days lately as well. Wouldn’t a responsible well-informed opinion want to at least observe some of these things, at least through the Friday card or even through some of the Saturday earlier races, before proclaiming the Belmont winner?

    I have long known this to be a skill game and I think it should be approached, treated and tackled as such, if you have any hope of truly beating it. Yes, that can be done but not by crystal ball handicapping, even if it happens you are a broken clock and turn out right twice a day. There are no shortcuts and in the long run, and this is a marathon like the Belmont not a sprint. You get out what you put in, and that includes what you put in your head.

    Enjoy the weekend everyone and the run at history. If you want to know who I like in the Belmont……..just ask me……Friday evening at the earliest.

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    May 30, 2018

    Let's Go Back

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    What we are going to do here is go back. Back to a time when racing was much more mainstream. Racetracks were crowded during the week and every Saturday was like a holiday. The atmosphere was almost always electric, especially on the weekends.

    Why stop there? We are all thinking about the upcoming Belmont Stakes and the chance to see Justify possibly become the next Triple Crown winner. The undercard stakes are also exciting, and they include the Metropolitan Mile, long the staple of Memorial Day in the Sport of Kings, but now run on the Belmont undercard. This at first seemed foreign to me, but with the trend towards the “super cards” we might as well embrace the now. It won’t change anytime soon, and it is still The Met Mile.

    I’ve seen many things in the Sport of Kings. Four Triple Crown winners, countless champions, training feats that will never be repeated, ever. I’ve seen the ones who made it and the ones who could have but didn’t. I’ve seen and experienced the highest highs, and the lowest lows. One thing I will never ever forget is a 5-day span back in 1982. Racing was in full swing. Belmont was a crowded place. History was being made and a feat for the ages was about to take place.

    I was at Belmont Park that Memorial Day, like I had been many before that and after as well. I knew I was going to see a fast, and what I thought special horse, run in the Met Mile. I had been high on him since I watched him break his maiden under an old friend, jockey, Larry Saumell.

    He was a 150K yearling in the barn of Woody Stephens, one of the best ever, and particularly sharp with two-year old’s. There was no Lasix permitted in New York back then, but had there been there is a good chance Woody would not have used it. He was as hay, oats, and water as it got. On this day the horse would be ridden by his trainer’s go to rider Eddie Maple. What I did not know, and maybe nobody but Woody Stephens did, was that the racing world was about to see one of the greatest Metropolitan Miles and subsequently Belmont Stakes in the history of our great game.

    Both races have had their share of great and memorable editions. 1982 was special. Conquistador Cielo was a three-year old facing a full field of accomplished older horses in the Metropolitan Mile. The field lined up against him included fast older sprinters like Pass the Tab, Star Gallant, Always Run Lucky, and Maudlin. There were also accomplished older routers like Silver Buck, Thirty-Eight Paces, Globe, and Princelet. This would be no easy task on paper, but despite that, Conquistador Cielo was sent to post a 2-1 favorite.

    It was a gray day that Monday, but the looming rain held off. I bet everything I had to my name on Conquistador Cielo that Memorial Day. It wasn’t that much, but being everything I was worth, it felt like a lot. It was one of those races where you just did not feel like you could lose. You know the type.

    The track was not particularly fast that Monday. It did not matter to Conquistador Cielo. He broke well under Eddie Maple and after stalking the pace for a bit he simply annihilated the quality field of older horses, running the mile in 22.4, 45, 1.09, and finishing in 1.33. As we know, that is racehorse time on any track and he left the older horses far behind.

    Following the race, the talk was of what a great performance everyone saw, and of course the midsummer Derby as it was called, The Travers. Woody initially said the Belmont was not under consideration. That was no surprise as coming back in just 5 days off the fastest mile ever run at Belmont at the time seemed almost unheard of. Yes, Cielo ran the fastest mile ever at Belmont to date when he ran away with the Met.

    By Wednesday, just two days following the Metropolitan, something changed. Woody announced the colt had come out of his last race so good, he was going to go in the Belmont. Almost everyone was surprised.

    Again, this would be no walk in the park on paper. The Belmont field included that year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Gate Del Sol, and the Preakness winner Aloma’s Ruler. The always highly regarded Linkage was also in there. You had the Derby, Preakness and Met Mile winners in the Belmont.

    Conquistador Cielo was the morning line favorite off the record breaking Met at 3-1. I thought that was generous. My opinion was he was just too fast for these horses and the only question was the mile and a half. He was by Mr. Prospector, I wasn’t worried despite the distance.

    “They won’t beat what they can’t catch” I thought.

    The Friday before the race I was at Belmont. Eddie Maple went down on an Elliott Burch horse, maybe Snow Girl or something like that, I can’t recall. It was a nasty spill that landed Eddie in the hospital and prompted Woody to switch to Laffit Pincay for the Belmont. Laffit was one of my favorite riders to bet on.

     

    It was the day before the race and “no shot he loses” I thought to myself.

    It poured Friday night and Saturday. The track was sloppy. I still had the large part of my winnings from the Met. It wasn’t enough. I went to the second floor Clubhouse bar and found Frankie the shy. He was always there. I borrowed 5K. There was no pick 3’s or 4’s or pick 6’s back then. That resulted in a lot of money in the win pool, along with the exactas, and also made it hard to move the pool, especially on a big day like this. It still wasn’t enough.

    Prior to the race the odds surprised me. Conquistador Cielo was not getting the respect I thought he deserved. Linkage was a 2-1 favorite off mostly hype in my opinion and I thought he had no chance to beat Cielo. Conquistador Cielo was what looked like a cold 4-1 second choice, but I saw it as Christmas in June. The board exhilarated me, and he was only 4-1.

    My Dad was behind the mutual windows on the third floor in the Clubhouse working. He knew how I felt about the race. I went to his window and asked, “How much can we bet?”

    He bet $500 and said, “We’re partners.”

    I must have looked disappointed. He bet another $500 and said, “Is that better?”

    I replied, “A little,” and then bet all the Frankie shy money, along with my winnings from Monday. Everything.

    I let my Dad hold the tickets and said, “Now we’re partners.”

    That’s how we did it right until the end. I had no money for Sunday’s Daily Racing Form if I was wrong. Why would I need it anyway?

    My Dad was a Father, so he said, “Is that necessary? Hold your money, I bet for us.”

    “Don’t worry about it,” I said.

    He replied, “I hope we don’t need a graveyard, because if you’re wrong we’re buried.”

    Same four words, “Don’t worry about it.”

    I made my way down to the rail to try and watch. There was maybe 5 minutes to post. Despite the rain, I couldn’t find a good spot. I went back to the TV’s in the grandstand. I wasn’t feeling it. I walked briskly outside to the back park and the paddock mutual windows in the rain. Perfect, my own TV. Wet, but a good view. A close friend of mine, Anthony, was standing against the wall trying to keep dry until the race went off.

    “Who do you like?” he asked?

    “Cielo can’t lose,” I replied.

    He had a $50-win ticket on Aloma’s Ruler because our mutual friend, Vinnie Cotronio, had Cowboy Jack Kaenel’s book for a while and told him he would win.

    “Cancel that ticket unless you want to tear it up,” I said. He listened and put an extra $50 on Conquistador Cielo. Now he had $100 to win. The odds held at 4-1.

    What a difference a turn can make. Drawn wide, as he was in the Met, Cielo had to hustle heading for the clubhouse turn and Pincay kept him wide, similar to how Angel Cordero Jr. kept Bold Forbes out in the middle of the track. Going into that Clubhouse turn I thought he would be clear and he wasn’t. The thought of what if I was wrong set in as I heard track announcer, Marshall Cassidy, say something about a pace battle. Midway on the turn I remained concerned, but hope was not yet abandoned. By the time they came out of the turn and hit the backstretch I told Anthony who had grabbed me around the shoulder and was holding me tight, “We’re home!” He pulled tighter.

    Conquistador Cielo romped and splashed home in the slop running the 6th fastest Belmont, at the time, and the fastest ever over a sloppy track. He literally won off the screen. He carried 15 more pounds than he did when he won the Met Mile against older horses just 5 days earlier. He beat these horses as easily as he beat the others. He became only the 4th horse that century to win the Belmont Stakes by more than 10 lengths joining Man O War, Count Fleet, and Secretariat.

    It was an incredible performance by any standard, only amplified by the record breaking performance just 5 days prior. It is arguably the best 5 days run by any horse in our great game. Woody Stephens would go on to win the next 4 Belmont Stakes, setting an unprecedented and practically unbreakable record of 5 Belmonts in a row. Even in today’s age of the super trainer, and large majorities of high priced horses going to a handful of trainers, nobody can even approach this feat.

    The two races took a toll on Conquistador Cielo. They almost always do, no matter how easy they may look. He was able to win the Jim Dandy, while pointing for the Travers, but didn’t quite hold up. He was beaten in the Travers by Runaway Groom, which is another great story for another day. For now, let’s just look back on something we will likely never see repeated by another racehorse.

    Ah, what a great game when you’re right.

     

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    May 23, 2018

    The Triple Crown, The True Benchmark of Champions

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    The Triple Crown is truly a benchmark in all of sports. The status an equine athlete achieves by accomplishing this feat is rivaled by none in the sporting world. In every sport, every year, champions are crowned. The sport of kings is the same but different. We have our divisional champions, voted upon in a subjective format, but we have no guarantee we will have a Triple Crown winner. We will see a World Series, Super Bowl, and other winners and champions, year in and year out, but the Triple Crown remains the most elusive of prizes. We never know when we will witness a horse capable of actually getting it done. We only know if we are patient enough, we will get to see a true benchmark in the measurement of athletic greatness.

    For a horse to win the Triple Crown they have to bring it, and bring it hard, three times in a short span of time and each under very different circumstances. It is a testament to the trainer and jockey, but make no mistake, it is the Thoroughbred who does the running.

    The Kentucky Derby is among the most difficult horse races to win. It ranks right there with the Grand National, Melbourne Cup, and Prix De Arc Triomphe as a true test of will and stamina. It is not called the most exciting two minutes in all of sports for nothing. It is the race every horseman from every country has heard of and longs to win. It takes first place in fame and prestige, and stamps the winner as part of history. Three-year olds are asked to go a mile and a quarter, against the best of their age, for the first time. They do this in the mass confusion of a large screaming crowd, often in a larger field than they are used to. Traffic, rough riding, crowding and herding are all common place during that run for those roses.

    In the Preakness, the Kentucky Derby winner is asked to come back in two short weeks following a strong effort at a new distance. This time, the distance is a sixteenth of a mile shorter, but that means little with the quick turnaround. Add some fresh horses and factor the horses who may have had trouble in the Derby, and this test is not a whole lot easier than the last one. You have to bring it again.

    Ah the Belmont. The test of champions. Now one has to go a grueling mile and a half on three weeks rest, against tough battle-hardened foes, along with fresh new faces all gunning for you. Oh yeah, you’ll have to bring it again and then some. Arguably the Belmont is as tough to win as the Kentucky Derby and is truly a test of determination and stamina.

    The Triple Crown was never intended to be a walk in the park. It never has been. It has survived all the changes and evolving of the sport and never has lost an ounce of its significance. It remains the crowning and most difficult achievement in sports regardless of the changes or current state of the game. In that respect, it is timeless.

    I have been fortunate to see four Triple Crown winners in my lifetime thus far. Each was special, each historical, and each extremely difficult, as intended but doable. I have also seen many a fine horse step up to the plate, only to fall short for a variety of reasons, the most glaring of which and the common denominator, being how tough the series is to take down. There are many ways to not get it done up against only one way to do it; win all three races.

    Sir Barton in 1919, Gallant Fox in 1930, Omaha in 1935, War Admiral in 1937, Whirlaway in 1941, Count Fleet in 1943, Assault in 1946, Citation in 1948, Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977, Affirmed in 1978, and American Pharoah in 2015, were the ones great enough to get it done and make their way to the most elusive list in sports.

    When you look at the list you see a span of nearly a century. A lot changes in a century. We have seen changes in breeding, drug usage, training methods, and other variables, but the Triple Crown holds steadfast as the benchmark of which greatness is measured. That is no coincidence. Years ago, horses did it without Lasix and other modern drugs and remedies like lasers, acupuncture, massage, and shock wave therapy. Today you will likely never see a horse with a start in between the Derby and Preakness, or the Preakness and Belmont, but prior to Secretariat that was not rare at all. It was actually, almost if not common.

    We also see a glaring and almost unexplainable pattern of cycles. Our Triple Crown winners almost come in spurts followed by long droughts. We all know racing is a cyclical game, but the way we see our Triple Crown winners group together begs the question why. Coincidence, cycles, I don’t know but have long believed coincidences are for romance novels.

    I have been to Super Bowls and heavyweight championship fights ringside. I do not know of any atmosphere more electric than that of Belmont Park, as the horses near the starting gate for the Belmont Stakes, when one of those horses has a shot at earning their way on to that most precious and elusive list. The roar makes the huge facility tremble. You know the horses feel and sense it, and you can almost instinctively feel “the horse,” with so much on the line, somehow knows what is at stake. Anyone who has spent their fair share of time on the back stretch knows the really good ones know the difference between winning and losing.

    While the Triple Crown is never a guarantee, and always a mystery, one certainty is when a horse has a shot at it, you will see spectacular sports drama unfold. Real Quiet pulls away at the top of the stretch under what looked like wraps, only to be nailed at the wire by a whisker by Victory Gallop. Silver Charm, as tough and game as they come, takes the lead in the stretch, only to be gobbled up by the masterfully trained Touch Gold, who just a few yards back looked beaten. Smarty Jones opens up and takes it to the final strides only to be run down by Birdstone. Spectacular Bid, picked before the Belmont Stakes, to step on a safety pin. A safety pin! He already showed he was good enough to overcome the worst of trips in the Florida Derby, so we can’t blame that and have to go with the darned pin. War Emblem chose the most inopportune time to stumble out of the gate. I’ll Have Another looked poised only to have to scratch a day out. If you open the list to horses who lost the chance prior to the Belmont like Riva Ridge, Point Given and Afleet Alex, the many ways one can fall short increases and how totally on your game every time one has to be, is even more clear. Riva Ridge saved Meadow Stable, not the great Secretariat a year later, and if not for rain in Baltimore, a lot more people would know that.

    There are no excuses or second chances. There shouldn’t be for the benchmark of champions.

    When people say the series should be tweaked I laugh. That’s the equivalent of buying a vintage Ferrari and putting an aftermarket spoiler on it. We don’t fix what is not broke. I remember in the 70’s, people and turf writers opining the series was too easy and it needed to be made more difficult. There was no “LOL” back then, but we can collectively give a big “LOL” now. We can do the same to those who said it was too difficult prior to American Pharoah coming along and reminding those who chose to ignore the game’s great history, that the “right horse” can do it.

    If all goes right, Justify will look to add to his most impressive resume in a little over two weeks in Belmont, New York. This horse has already stamped himself in history by winning the Kentucky Derby and knocking off the almost ancient Apollo curse of no horse winning the Run for the Roses without racing at two years old. He showed it was no fluke by digging down deep and taking the Preakness to put himself in line to get his shot at going on one of two lists, both great in and of themselves, but only one the true benchmark of the best of the best. The Triple Crown.

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    May 17, 2018

    Foregone Conclusions

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    I’ve never been one to believe in free squares in horse racing. As far as I’m concerned there are no freebies and I’ve yet to see any horse race run on paper, and I have seen many.

    On Saturday, if all goes according to plan, Justify will attempt to remain undefeated by winning the Preakness. For many, it is a foregone conclusion he’ll win and head to New York for the test of champions, The Belmont Stakes, trying to become a Triple Crown winner. He certainly looks the part, and while it is a pretty good possibility he handles his foes on Saturday, again they don’t run races on paper.

    What few realize, is that if you can beat a horse like Justify only once in a while, you can get yourself paid handsomely and erase a lot of losses. I’m not saying bet against him, if that is where you land, but thinking any horse can’t lose is a mistake, proven time and time again by the sport’s very history.

    There are all kinds of statistics about horses who won in Louisville coming back in two weeks and trying to do it again. You have stats on those who won in the slop or mud, who worked and who didn’t work between races and more. Most of you already know I throw all that out the window as every race, crop and horse are different.

    We all saw Justify favor his left hind leg following his Kentucky Derby triumph. Whatever that was seems to have passed and he should be right as dodgers when he is loaded in the gate Saturday. His main rival appears to be Good Magic, who had every chance to get to him in the Derby but couldn’t. The main questions are who goes forward, or at least maintains their form, and whether any of the other horses are good enough to make serious noise in Baltimore.

    With Bob Baffert and Chad Brown quarterbacking the big two, it is likely both show up and run their race. Given that scenario Good Magic will be up against it to turn the tables. The interesting new comer to the party is Tenfold. This colt is a bit more late-developing than the big two, but he is on the improve and figures to appreciate the wet track he will see on Saturday.

    Obviously Tenfold will have to take a huge step forward to compete for the win. He may also need some regression from one or both of the big two. While a forward move looks very possible, the latter does not.

    Regardless of what happens Saturday, it is always good for the game to have a horse shooting for the Triple Crown. Between that and the hype Justify has always carried around, his odds are likely to be even shorter than they should, and they warrant being pretty short. He probably should be 2-5 but will likely be less than that.

    The race hasn’t been drawn as of this writing, so my final work is not done. What I do know is this: we’ve discussed the winner here and there are no foregone conclusions in the Sport of Kings.

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    May 10, 2018

    Betting It Right 101

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    Last Saturday we saw a memorable and historic Kentucky Derby. Justify went in not only as the favorite, but also as one of the most hyped horses in recent memory. In addition to winning one of the toughest races to capture, he had to take down the dreaded Apollo curse which dated back to the 1800’s. Justify delivered on all fronts, and as I have written for the past few years, all the so-called Kentucky Derby rules and do’s and don’ts mean absolutely nothing. They all go down, and none should influence your wagering strategies.

    I always say there is NO VALUE IN A LOSING bet. Despite this being a factual statement, many people claimed they liked Justify, but wouldn’t bet the favorite. I apologize for being redundant, as I have also said this for years, but there is always value to be had on the first Saturday in May, regardless of who you like and who wins. If you like the chalk or a bomb, if you are right and bet smart, you will get paid.

    Betting smart, or money management, is as important to success in this game as handicapping. I know plenty of good handicappers who are terrible bettors and thus have almost no chance of beating the game. Ticket structuring falls under the smart betting or money management heading. I did see a lot of great plays and expertly structured tickets on the Derby Saturday, and even though the favorite won, all these people were handsomely rewarded. They were not scared or run off from their choice because he happened to be favored, and I’d wager most of these people would have bet a longshot had that been where they landed the same way. The fiddle is out for all the players who “liked Justify but wouldn’t take 3-1.” You don’t get paid betting against your opinion.

    The superfecta in the Kentucky Derby is almost always a great bet. The large field and lack of the 10-cent minimum practically guarantee with the large pool you will get paid if you’re right. People have a tendency to get lured into the multi-race wagers, but on Derby day the superfecta is a smart play.

    I have a way I approach the superfecta. I like to turn the superfecta into an exacta. Let’s say I like the #1 to win the race. I will look at the horses I think can or are likely to run second and I will play the superfecta accordingly. If the horses I like for second are the say #2, #3, and #4, I’ll play 1 with 2,3,4 with all with all. This assures me that if I am right about the exacta, I am absolutely hitting the superfecta. Additionally, it affords the opportunity of having a very high-priced bomb crash the number in the third or fourth slot. I am talking the type of horse it would be extremely difficult to get to handicapping alone. You don’t need many of these to really turn a day or meet around.

    If you think about it logically, can you really handicap who will run third or fourth? Racing is difficult when everyone is all in, but in the third or fourth slots, you have riders easing up, tired horse pulling up, horses running on past tiring ones and many other intangibles making for, shall we say, some fluky results. I like to eliminate that risk and as aforementioned turn it into an exacta. As a kill-shot player, I will usually only use my horse in the win slot, and usually also play the exacta and triple the same way. If I’m right, I get it all. On occasion, when the situation warrants, I might also use my horse in the second or third slot in the supers, but generally that is when the horse is a very generous price.

    On some occasions, I may take a horse or two out of the all slot. This is dangerous, and I realize it can sting once in a while, but if a horse or two just look like a waste of resources to include, I will gamble and cut them off the play.

    For the sake of discussion let’s say Justify waltzes to Maryland to face a small field he seems to have overmatched. You handicap the race and you feel he is the winner. Your dilemma is he is 1-5 or thereabouts. Many, when faced with this scenario, will bet a higher priced horse just because they are a higher price. I don’t bet against my opinion. My options would be to pass, or to create some value. I might bet a cold exacta, or if the other races in any multi race sequences have vulnerable favorites, go after them with my horse singled. This all goes back to money management. I think, fundamentally you don’t bet against who you think the winner is.

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    May 2, 2018

    The Right Mindset

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    If you follow or bet on horse racing than in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby, you are likely to hear a lot of opinions, rules, methods, statistics and angles. As we are now in the final days leading up to the big show, and with the assistance of social media, these comments reach a fever pitch. My suggestion would be not to pay too much attention to any of them. You’ve heard the old saying “on any given Sunday,” well you can tweak that to on any given first Saturday in May. I saw an article, I only skimmed this morning, going into fine detail on how Mendelssohn can’t win on Saturday because Arazi lost the Kentucky Derby and only Bold Forbes and Canonero won the race after prepping abroad. I guess all the people who cashed on those two runners should return their winnings.

    I have said it before and will repeat it here, every year, crop, field, pace scenario, draw, trip, and horse are different. There are no rules that will land you on the winner. Good handicapping, observatory skills, and some luck, are all that can do that. Sure, some statistics are relevant, but they are merely a guideline and history. The future is what handicapping a race is about and if you’re right what is in the rearview couldn’t mean less.

    You’ll also likely see there are an abundance of experts with definitive and adamant opinions. Many before the race is even drawn or even weeks ahead. Imagine if picking the winner of one of the most difficult races to handicap with probably the most intangibles in the US was that easy. Nonetheless they do it with conviction.

    While I prepare for the Derby year-round, as it is always an opportunity for a major score, and that is what I look and live for, I usually don’t finalize my selection or selections until race day. That is what works for me and how I do it.

    As for all the chatter out there, I try not to listen to any of it. If you have someone who has an opinion you respect, by all means I would encourage discussing the race with them. I would not encourage letting all the voices get into your head. Many of them don’t even bet, or possibly bet on only the Derby and maybe $2. There is nothing wrong with that and we welcome them and their $2 into the pool, but experts, hardly. That takes years, several of them actually, playing and not with monopoly money.

    The Kentucky Derby and supporting card is one of what I call “the days” where you can really go all in and do some damage. The pools are huge, and a lot of that money is, shall we say, recreational and uneducated. That is where you can gain your edge and why “the days” are where I like to focus. This is when you fire that kill-shot, or at least I do. I try and go in with no pre-conceived bias, and ready and willing to adjust any opinion that creeped in to my actual handicapping of the race. I believe that is the right mindset to have to win.

    The last thought I’ll leave you with this week is this...there is always value in the Derby. You just have to find or create it. If you like a shorter priced horse, you can always play that horse in exactas, triples or superfectas and get that value you seek. You can single the horse in a multi-race wager or wagers. Remember, there is no value whatsoever in a losing bet. That said if you like a price, that is always nice. Have no fear.

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    April 18, 2018

    Preparing for the First Saturday in May

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    While most of us start getting ready for the Kentucky Derby the year before as we watch the two-year olds compete, it really isn’t until the final prep races are run that we can get serious and begin forming definitive opinions. I’ve always found it somewhat comical when people lock into a “Derby horse” weeks and months before the race. There is always value in the Kentucky Derby, and last I checked you do not get paid more by making your selection early. Advance wagering is fun, but rarely do I see it as a smart bet. To each their own.

    I try and go into the Kentucky Derby without any bias or sentiment. I like to handicap the race after it is drawn and when I know or have at least a good idea about the weather. That said, the Kentucky Derby is part of a stakes filled card with an abundance of opportunities so being as prepared as you can be in advance is probably wise. The Derby also follows Oaks day which is similar in opportunities so that is an awful lot of handicapping crammed into two days. No complaints as this is the life I’ve chosen, but there are things I do now which help me come the big Friday and Saturday.

    With all the technology and tools at our disposal it is pretty easy to get a head start on your homework. This is what I do:

    I get the advance past performances.

    I get the Thoro-Graph numbers for all the qualified horses.

    And last but not least I begin watching replays.

    There are a lot of replays to watch. I find it very beneficial to watch replays a few times, and even more importantly a few days or weeks after the race was run. When you watch a race live, or even later that day or the next day, one can have a tendency to get caught up in the hype, or even your own wagers. A week or two down the road it is easier to be more objective and have more focus and clarity.

    Replays can give you a big edge, especially if you know what to look for and how to spot it. Remember almost everyone is focused on the lead horse or winner when watching a replay.

    For example, in the Florida Derby Audible received all the raves and accolades. I watched the race with good friend and knowledgeable horseman, Ramiro Ramirez, who is an internal representative of Fasig Tipton. After the race while everyone was applauding Audible, he and I looked at one another and commented how impressive the runner up (Hofburg) was and how he had covered more ground while spotting a lot of experience to the winner. If you watch his race again, you’ll also see he was green and ducking in and out and still finished good and never stopped trying. Audible will be a significantly shorter price than Hofburg when they run for the roses. Your opinion of the replay will tell you if he is worth it. Again your opinion, not mine or anyone else’s. We all watch the same races but don’t see the same things. If you have a good eye and opinion use it to get an edge.

    I loved Animal Kingdom the year he won the Derby at a healthy price. I singled him in all the multi-race bets, and bet him to win and on top in the triple. I still say that triple came back way too short, and although I hit the Oaks, Woodford and Derby pick 3, had St John’s River won the Oaks I would have just about finished counting the money. I hit everything and have no complaints but suspect there were some serious bettors on him along with me. How do you love and single a horse who has never run on dirt is a legit question. The answer is easy. It was his replays and pedigree. Being by Leroidesanimeaux it figured Animal Kingdom would run on anything and his pre-Derby Work on dirt confirmed that. What brought him to my eye initially was his race at Turfway Park prior to the Derby. Animal Kingdom weaved in and out of horses making left and right turns on the dime, showing a lot of agility. That kind of toughness and talent bodes well in Louisville.

    For a more recent example of replays you can look at My Boy Jack. He is somewhat forgotten in this field despite people projecting a fast-contested pace and his being a closer. When I look at his replays I see a ridiculously wide trip, particularly stretch run in the Louisiana Derby that cost him a lot more ground than he was beaten. In the Lexington he was wide again but more importantly perhaps is he had to zig and zag through some traffic and was able to do so and go wide and still get up.

    While I am a long way from finished with my homework for the first Saturday in May I am going in with a head start. Now you have one as well. We often see big price horses closing to get into the exotics in the Kentucky Derby. Every once in a while, they win a la Giacomo. You don’t need many like Giacomo to make a difference.

    Replays, there is a lot on them.

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    April 11, 2018

    Make the Right Moves

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    Jockeys and their agents are faced with tough decisions every day. In a profession where, for the most part you’re rewarded for winning and blanked for losing, the pressure is always on to ride the best horse in each race that you can. Sometimes the decision is made for you by a trainer or even owner, but if you’ve worked your way up to be a top rider, it will often be your call which horse you ride.

    Sometimes being on the right horse isn’t as simple as just knowing who gives you your best chance. Calls on horses are given out in advance and part of being a good agent is knowing which horses are running back in which races. Agents often have to know this before the entries are drawn. They work off the condition book and have to maintain close ties with the outfits you ride for.

    This is horse racing however, and we all know things change quickly. A horse not expected to enter a race, can be entered leaving a rider with two calls or commitments. One outfit is not going to be happy with your decision. When a rider takes a call on a horse, and subsequently another horse enters the same race and he abandons the first call, it’s called spinning. The initial trainer got “spun” in favor of the perceived better mount. Agents who do this frequently get a reputation and it can come back to bite you.

    Riding the best horse in a particular race, can also be compromised by not only prior commitments but also by relationships. If you are riding a lot for a barn, especially a barn who has a lot of live horses, you may at times ride a horse for that barn which may not be your best chance at a win. However, you don’t want to jeopardize future live mounts from that outfit. It is a constant balance and juggling act and it often can be difficult to keep everyone happy. That’s the top end of the spectrum. The other end is made up of new riders, or riders in less demand, who are happy to ride anything and just get their name in the program. That’s how it all usually starts.

    We often see in past performances where a horse is ridden by one rider, who has had success on them or for the barn, and inexplicably they are named on another mount, or maybe not even riding in the race. Some of what I described above can lead to those situations and you can’t see that in the past performances. Accordingly, it is likely best not to read that much into it. Remain cognizant there could be many legit reasons is my suggestion.

    If there is one race where all the protocols sort of go by the wayside, in my experience it is the race coveted by all jockeys, the Kentucky Derby. Riders and agents are almost always looking for that Kentucky Derby mount. International riding star Ryan Moore recently stated the Kentucky Derby is on his bucket list. He will likely ride Mendelssohn on the first Saturday in May as opposed to staying in England and riding Saxon Warrior. I wish we could wager on where Ryan will be Derby Day. The Derby is the Derby. As such loyalties and prior commitments are usually given a pass, almost everyone understands you want to take your best shot. Most trainers will forgive a rider jumping ships in the Run for the Roses.

    This year’s Kentucky Derby has had a fair share of musical jockeys already. Bolt d’ Oro’s trainer Mick Ruis canned the regular rider Cory Nakatani following a post workout decision and disagreement. He was replaced by Javier Castellano, who despite all his success still seeks that first elusive Derby win. Javier rode Bolt d’ Oro to a controversial second place finish to McKinzie, in which he was awarded the win via disqualification. He came back to chase the highly regarded and much hyped Justify, but could not really make him sweat. Javier stated he was happy with how his horse ran as he was chasing the best horse in the country. After that statement, which was almost a concession, it should have come as no surprise Javier, a jockey with options took himself off Bolt d’ Oro. He opted for Audible, a popular winner of the Holy Bull and Florida Derby, for the powerhouse barn of Todd Pletcher. Audible became open after John Velazquez, his rider in both the Holy Bull and Florida Derby, made a decision to ride recent Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso in the Kentucky Derby. This move by Johnny V surprised a lot of people, but not me. Between Audible and Vino Rosso, I would have chosen Vino Rosso myself. Being a good agent, means being a good handicapper and the Derby is at a mile and a quarter. At that distance Vino Rosso looks better in my opinion.

    All that shuffling left Bolt d’ Oro open. Victor Espinoza got the call to pilot him in Louisville and it will be the first time he rides him in a race. If not for Javier’s defection, Victor would have probably watched the Derby on TV. Now he is on a horse a lot of people like.

    Some people think Javier made his decision based on loyalty to Todd Pletcher and the fact he rides for him. Don’t buy it. If he thought Bolt d’ Oro was the winner, or his best option, that’s where his weight would be come Derby Day. Todd would understand. The Derby is the Derby.

    Mike Smith was in the spot most riders would envy. He rode two top prospects in McKinzie and Justify. Had McKinzie not been injured, he would have had a tough choice. He made one last year when he rode Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and gave up the mount on West Coast, knowing West Coast would be running in stakes in 2018. It’s tough to be on top and stay there.

    You have to make the right moves. Sometimes that is easier said than done. The great Bill Shoemaker was offered the mount on Northern Dancer in the Kentucky Derby by the great trainer Horatio Luro. Shoe refused and rode favorite Hill Rise. The two colts battled down the stretch and Northern Dancer, under Bill Hartack, got the best of Shoemaker and Hill Rise by a long neck. We don’t always get it right. Go with your handicapping, instincts, and gut. I always do. Don’t read into the above as any tells on who I like in the Derby this year. I won’t know that until I handicap the race. If you want to know who I like come the first Saturday in May, just find me and ask. It won’t be that hard.

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    April 4, 2018

    Looking Ahead

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    We have three major Kentucky Derby preps this Saturday in three different states across the country. The Wood Memorial in New York, the Santa Anita Derby in California, and the Blue Grass in Kentucky. Unfortunately, all three are in danger of being run under less than ideal conditions. Poor weather is hovering around all of those races. This really puts the connections, who have waited for these spots to get the points they need to get into the Kentucky Derby, up against it. The following Saturday we have the Arkansas Derby and Lexington Stakes that will wrap things up and set the stage for the first Saturday in May.

    Since the inception of the point system in 2013 all the Derby winners were undefeated in their three-year old campaigns. I don’t believe that was by accident or coincidental. Starting back in 2013 and through last year Orb, California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist, and Always Dreaming all went through their respective three- year old campaigns leading to the Derby without a hiccup on the racetrack. The obvious conclusion is the point system doesn’t really allow for pointing for a race with steady progression and not being fully cranked from the onset.

    Of all the horses trying to get to the Derby this Saturday none has more hype than Justify. This fast and talented colt will get his first real class test in the Santa Anita Derby when he faces Bolt d’ Oro, who was a leading two-year old and is also considered by many to be a top three-year old. Justify is two for two in his brief career and both starts came at three-years old. That means he has to buck the long-standing Apollo curse if he is to win the Kentucky Derby. Although that dates back pretty far by any standard, all these trends and statistics eventually go the way of the dosage index and go down. In reality, how many horses who did not race at two went into the Kentucky Derby with a legit chance? Maybe Pulpit or Curlin recently, but historically probably not that many. If you are a Justify believer I wouldn’t be worried about Apollo.

    Justify has gotten the hype of being Bob Baffert’s best Kentucky Derby hope since he made his debut at Santa Anita in February, winning at 7 furlongs in 1:21.4. That’s fast at any track. He came back just about a month later to win at a mile over a muddy Santa Anita track in 1:35.3. He has yet to face the quality of Bolt d’ Oro but he does have that mud win and all the hype with him. Additionally, his stablemate is McKinzie. If we are to believe the hype, he is better than McKinzie and that runner gave Bolt d’ Oro all he could handle. He also has Bob Baffert in his corner. That can only help in any big race.

    Bolt d’ Oro is battle tested. He had a rough go of it in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He literally had a war with Mckinzie last out, what resulted in McKinzie being disqualified. The two bumped turning for home and again nearing the wire but what sticks out to me is it never looked like Bolt d’ Oro was going to get by. Despite being carried out, which I remain cognizant of, I don’t believe the incident cost Bolt d’Oro the win.

    Mick Ruis has done a fine job training Bolt d’ Oro thus far. He is now at the point on the Derby trail where things start to change. This is his first run and he does not have the experience that his chief rival, Bob Baffert, has in winning these types of races. I think that can play a part come Saturday.

    I am a long way from handing the roses to Justify, or anyone else for that matter. There is plenty of time for that. The race on Saturday has not even been drawn yet so no detailed homework has been done. Strictly by the naked eye and experience, I will be a lot more surprised to see Bolt d’ Oro in the Santa Anita winners circle on Saturday than I will Justify. I think it is likely Justify punches his ticket to Louisville with a win and heads to town looking to bump Apollo as an undefeated three-year old with no starts at two. Getting that done is another matter altogether.

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    March 28, 2018

    Everyone in the Pool

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    It’s an exciting time of year in the Sport of Kings. The final Kentucky Derby preps are upon us. The Run for the Roses is shaping up to be an interesting contest with possibly two horses having a chance of knocking out the Apollo curse, by winning the Derby without having raced at two-years old. The Dubai World Cup is Saturday and pits West Coast, the heir apparent to the top older horse in training in the US, against Talismanic the winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf. Saturday is also Florida Derby day at Gulfstream Park and that major Kentucky Derby prep will anchor a stakes filled card to end the Championship meet.

    Something else will be happening at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. There will be a mandatory payout of the Rainbow 6 pool provided there is no single ticket winner between now and then. You can rest assured there are sharks in the water trying to spoil the big plans for the Rainbow 6 on Saturday, which if it carries could create a record Pick 6 pool. The pool has been “snaked” before leading up to a mandatory payout, but I have a feeling that won’t happen this go around, although I will admit I’d love to play the spoiler.

    With the carryover between 4 and 5 million, actually closer to 5 on Saturday, we should see a pool somewhere between 20-25 million dollars. The fact it is Florida Derby day will help grow the pool, as Gulfstream will be a main focal point of horse racing across the country. I can see the pool going higher than the amount I projected, depending on the card, which has not yet been drawn.

    The Rainbow 6, at a 20-cent minimum wager, has both supporters and detractors. I am a supporter, as I think any potentially life changing wager is good for the game and the players. As someone who has hit Pick 6’s from 100-500k more than my fair share of times and been alive for upward of a million dollars to one horse. I can say it is a thrilling wager that can be satisfying and obviously rewarding when you’re right. It can also be devastating when you are wrong, or worse get beat even when you zig zagged correctly. Which is why, under normal circumstances, the Pick 6 is not for everyone and certainly not for the faint of heart.

    Saturday is not going to be normal circumstances, which is why everyone should be in the pool. Both regular Pick 6 players and even non-Pick 6 players should be going after this one.

    A pool of 20-25 million dollars negates any argument about takeout. Takeout won’t matter regardless of one’s position on it. The 20-cent minimum, along with the massive pool and mandatory payout, levels the playing field considerably for smaller and especially medium monetary bettors. The big syndicates and robotic partnerships don’t have their normal huge edge over everyone else in the pool. This is your chance to compete with them and win with a few hundred-dollar ticket, with what may cost them thousands to win.

    Saturday is like an enormous Pick 6 pool with a gracious discount for the bettor. We don’t get discounts often, so when we do, I say seize them. I look at it this way. I can buy 10k of coverage in the sequence for 2k. Or 2k coverage for $200. This is both a great equalizer and opportunity. A well-structured ticket, with a fair investment and some solid opinions, has an excellent chance of winning a more than fair return.

    While the likelihood of a single ticket on Saturday is improbable, it really should not matter. Even if the day chalks out, which of course we all hope it doesn’t, you could wind up okay. There won’t be many, if any, single ticket possibilities going in, so I wouldn’t go in or approach it with that goal. I’d go in looking to beat the giants and whales at their own game and get even and then some.

    Everyone in the pool. See you there.

     

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