Jon Stettin's Blog - AmWager

Jon Stettin's Blog

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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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    March 21, 2018

    Tools of the Trade

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    I go back a pretty long way with the sheets, also known as the Rags or Ragozins. Today I use Thoro-Graph. Of all the speed figures I find they give you the best chance of finding an edge. I’ll get into that a bit later. We are just about all familiar with Beyer figures. Today there are an array of speed and pace figures to choose from. In addition to the ones I mentioned above you have Timeform, Brisnet and some others providing figures. 

    One of the biggest mistakes handicappers make is thinking any figure is a substitute for handicapping the race. They are a tool. Not a short cut or substitute for doing your homework. Bruno De Julio of @racingwithbruno offers his Delta Figs, which contrary to all the other figures out there, attempt to gauge the figure the horse will run on race day wherein others assign their numbers to past races. 

    To see how I was introduced to the Sheets and how long I go back with them you might want to read this:

    If You Like That Horse Don’t Bet the Race:

    https://www.pastthewire.com/if-you-like-that-horse-dont-bet-the-race/

    Obviously, I have a pretty long history with sheets and figures. I also make my own figures I call 10 figs. The game has changed since I first started using the sheets. Accordingly, I have adapted the way I use them. In the past my focus was finding a horse who was sure to peak, and that peak would make them faster than anyone else in the race. I also looked for horses who were going to bounce or regress off an unusually fast or taxing effort. Today I find most of the time the fastest horse is either easily identifiable thus over bet, or most of the field is too close to separate based on figures alone. This leaves me looking for horses who are simply put too slow to win thus easy eliminations. An important factor here is to remember these identifications are based more on patterns in conjunction with the past performances than the isolated number. 

    Another common mistake people make when reading and interpreting sheets is thinking the number stands alone and they do not factor in all the other conditions. If you factor the past performances and conditions into your analysis of the number and subsequently the pattern than you are reading the sheets in the correct manner, at least as far as I am concerned. You still have to know how to read them, but at least your technique is correct. 

    The oldest of the figures and perhaps the most well-known are Beyer figures, which for many years now have appeared in the Daily Racing Form. They, like most of the other figures out there, are what I call a raw speed figure. They are based primarily on the time of the race and how fast the horse ran. They take into consideration the other times that day. I have always felt that is a flawed system. Set aside all the changing of Beyer figures after they are assigned, the system in and of itself is out dated. To get an accurate account of how fast a horse ran all you need to do is study the past performances and charts. You do not need a figure to tell you that. The flaw is a Beyer number does not account for the trip, or how wide thus how much ground a horse covered or lost. This is crucial to know when determining who ran faster based on a number. 

    To understand this concept and how important it is, and why without it any figure can be misleading, all you have to do is race someone slower than you around the track and give them a few inside lane advantage. The gap of how much faster you are will shrink with each lane they have inside of where you are running, riding, driving or whatever. The shortest way to the wire is on the rail, and if on the rail you can run a little slower than a horse on the outside and beat them. The Sheets and Thoro-Graph reflect this and take this and other information into account when assigning a number. This is crucial. You will never see a horse who finished second or third get a better raw speed figure than the winner but with Thoro-Graph or The Sheets you will. 

    I have come to prefer Thoro-Graph. I find they have advanced with the changing of the game more so than any of the other figures out there, with the exception of Delta Figs which are a different animal altogether. I usually find horses who are too slow to win, thus can be tossed from the top slot in both horizontal and vertical wagers. That is an edge, as often these horses cannot be tossed based on a raw speed figure. I’ve found you will on occasion get beat by a faster horse or some intangible when looking for the fastest horse based on Thoro-Graph, but it is few and far between a horse that is too slow will beat you. 

    In summary I think Thoro-Graph or any speed figure based on trip and ground saved or lost is an important part of the arsenal. A raw speed figure tells me nothing I do not already know. 

     

    I go back a pretty long way with the sheets, also known as the Rags or Ragozins. Today I use Thoro-Graph. Of all the speed figures I find they give you the best chance of finding an edge. I’ll get into that a bit later. We are just about all familiar with Beyer figures. Today there are an array of speed and pace figures to choose from. In addition to the ones I mentioned above you have Timeform, Brisnet and some others providing figures. 
     
    One of the biggest mistakes handicappers make is thinking any figure is a substitute for handicapping the race. They are a tool. Not a short cut or substitute for doing your homework. Bruno De Julio of @racingwithbruno offers his Delta Figs, which contrary to all the other figures out there, attempt to gauge the figure the horse will run on race day wherein others assign their numbers to past races. 
     
    To see how I was introduced to the Sheets and how long I go back with them you might want to read this:
     
    If You Like That Horse Don’t Bet the Race:
     
    https://www.pastthewire.com/if-you-like-that-horse-dont-bet-the-race/
     
    Obviously, I have a pretty long history with sheets and figures. I also make my own figures I call 10 figs. The game has changed since I first started using the sheets. Accordingly, I have adapted the way I use them. In the past my focus was finding a horse who was sure to peak, and that peak would make them faster than anyone else in the race. I also looked for horses who were going to bounce or regress off an unusually fast or taxing effort. Today I find most of the time the fastest horse is either easily identifiable thus over bet, or most of the field is too close to separate based on figures alone. This leaves me looking for horses who are simply put too slow to win thus easy eliminations. An important factor here is to remember these identifications are based more on patterns in conjunction with the past performances than the isolated number. 
     
    Another common mistake people make when reading and interpreting sheets is thinking the number stands alone and they do not factor in all the other conditions. If you factor the past performances and conditions into your analysis of the number and subsequently the pattern than you are reading the sheets in the correct manner, at least as far as I am concerned. You still have to know how to read them, but at least your technique is correct. 
     
    The oldest of the figures and perhaps the most well-known are Beyer figures, which for many years now have appeared in the Daily Racing Form. They, like most of the other figures out there, are what I call a raw speed figure. They are based primarily on the time of the race and how fast the horse ran. They take into consideration the other times that day. I have always felt that is a flawed system. Set aside all the changing of Beyer figures after they are assigned, the system in and of itself is out dated. To get an accurate account of how fast a horse ran all you need to do is study the past performances and charts. You do not need a figure to tell you that. The flaw is a Beyer number does not account for the trip, or how wide thus how much ground a horse covered or lost. This is crucial to know when determining who ran faster based on a number. 
     
    To understand this concept and how important it is, and why without it any figure can be misleading, all you have to do is race someone slower than you around the track and give them a few inside lane advantage. The gap of how much faster you are will shrink with each lane they have inside of where you are running, riding, driving or whatever. The shortest way to the wire is on the rail, and if on the rail you can run a little slower than a horse on the outside and beat them. The Sheets and Thoro-Graph reflect this and take this and other information into account when assigning a number. This is crucial. You will never see a horse who finished second or third get a better raw speed figure than the winner but with Thoro-Graph or The Sheets you will. 
     
    I have come to prefer Thoro-Graph. I find they have advanced with the changing of the game more so than any of the other figures out there, with the exception of Delta Figs which are a different animal altogether. I usually find horses who are too slow to win, thus can be tossed from the top slot in both horizontal and vertical wagers. That is an edge, as often these horses cannot be tossed based on a raw speed figure. I’ve found you will on occasion get beat by a faster horse or some intangible when looking for the fastest horse based on Thoro-Graph, but it is few and far between a horse that is too slow will beat you. 
     
    In summary I think Thoro-Graph or any speed figure based on trip and ground saved or lost is an important part of the arsenal. A raw speed figure tells me nothing I do not already know. 
     
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    March 14, 2018

    Can We Justify the Hype?

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    Regardless of what happens on the first Saturday in May, it seems kind of silly to anoint a horse with just two starts, no Kentucky Derby points, and no stakes experience as the winner of the next Run for the Roses. As of today, we do not even know if Justify, a fast and talented, albeit inexperienced and untested colt, by Scat Daddy and trained by the master himself, Bob Baffert, will be in the starting gate. Based on the ease in which he won an allowance race this past Sunday, in a quick time over a fast strip which was wet, he looks visually as talented as any three-year old we have seen in 2018. That, along with all the positives already pointed out, does not make him the Derby winner.

    Racing hungers for that next champion, that next special horse that out performs expectations and captures the hearts of the die hard and peripheral fans as well. We can almost taste it when we see an exciting maiden breaker, and we amplify that tenfold when it is from a powerhouse stable. In reality, we have been very fortunate in the past several years. We have seen some truly great champions. We’ve even had our long-awaited Triple Crown winner in American Pharoah, who silenced all who said we needed to change the series or we wouldn’t see another one. Perhaps they hadn’t studied the history of this great game. The Triple Crown is not supposed to be easy or frequent. It takes a special horse and a lot of things to go right. Along with American Pharoah, who put an exclamation point on his Triple Crown with a score in the Breeders’ Cup Classic against older horses, we had plenty of other stars. Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Beholder, Arrogate, Gun Runner, Lady Eli, Shared Belief and Curlin immediately come to mind. These are horses who would have been top shelf in any era, yet we still long for that next one.

    While there is nothing wrong with that type of enthusiasm, and if it fuels excitement for the game I guess it is a good thing. However, as a student and historian of the sport I realize how silly it really is at this juncture. This excitement and hunger doesn’t stop with the fan and bettor. It extends to the people spending, even over spending, at the sales. It reaches the people who have scouts watching for smashing performances and high buyer numbers or low sheet numbers, so they can over spend on a racing prospect. Everybody wants that next champion. Freak is the word often thrown around. How and why that word was chosen to represent fast racehorses escapes me, but if nothing else it is over used.

    Looking back, I saw plenty of horses run great in their first two starts. Pulpit, a 107 Beyer on debut at Gulfstream and a 108 when stretched out the next time. He won by over 7 lengths first out and over 6 in his second start. With a little luck he could have broken the Apollo curse which is something Justify will have to overcome. While I do think that the whole Apollo thing is ripe for the picking and will be foiled at some point, it does go back to the 1800’s. Rock Hard Ten ran two smashers to begin his career, Curlin was super impressive in his debut so much so he was purchased privately with the Kentucky Derby in mind. Considering he broke his maiden in February as a three-year old it was an ambitious buy. Although Curlin didn’t win the Derby, he ran third but with more seasoning he might have did it, which also would have knocked down that whole Apollo thing.

    Khozan ran two monsters to start his career and so did Bayern. Tale of The Cat ran a killer debut, winning by a pole. A lot of really nice horses, but no Kentucky Derby winners. Bodemeister was another who looked like he could be anything and if not for I’ll Have Another and a very fast pace we might not even have to mention that whole Apollo thing anymore. That freak word was thrown all around these horses. I take nothing away from any of them, they all had talent. But after just a race or two, you just don’t know who a freak is. Nobody does.

    When you look at all this, one thing jumps out. Don’t believe the hype, especially when it comes to the Kentucky Derby. Let them sort themselves out on the track. They will. And I, for one, enjoy watching it unfold and having an unbiased edge come the first Saturday in May. Sure, Justify has a lot going for him. I think he is really good and could be special. I think Apollo should be watching. I think if anyone can pull this off, it is Bob Baffert. This is a game of odds however, and I think we must remain cognizant that the odds are against it.

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    February 27, 2018

    You Have To Think It Through

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    I have taken my fair share of criticism on ticket structuring, which is an important aspect of success when you wager on horse races. Of course, when you win you’re brilliant and when you lose you are a fool who put together a terrible play structured improperly.

    Be it raves or critique, I never pay attention to anyone when it comes to ticket structuring. If I have to do that I am in trouble before I start. First off, as I mentioned if you win you will get accolades, and if you lose those same people will give you kudos. None of that matters.

    While I can’t say I have a formula to structuring multi-race tickets, I definitely have a “go for the kill style,” and also do not subscribe to the ABC method many people prefer and find helpful.

    Briefly, I don’t personally like the ABC approach as I do not believe in leaving myself in a position where I have used every horse in a multi-race sequence, but don’t have them all on the same ticket. That leaves the door open to a burn when you were actually right. There will be enough times you are wrong; why leave the door open not to cash when you’re right? That doesn’t make sense to me. I prefer what I call the go-back method. I do believe I invented the term with a close friend of mine.

    When I say go back, I mean play one ticket with every contender I want to use, then play a second or even multiple tickets with the horses I might prefer over some of the others. This way I hit the sequence once or if I am spot on multiple times. I will never have used all the winners in a multi-race sequence but on different tickets which the ABC method will do. Been there done that, not again. If it works for you that is fine, we all have our own styles and philosophies and it comes down to only one benchmark, if you beat the game. If you do, stick with what you do. If you don’t consider other options. You want to be at the table, not on the menu.

    Last Saturday at Gulfstream the Fountain of Youth stakes anchored a Pick 4 I found enticing. While I knew Good Magic, the heavy favorite had a good chance and had to be used, I thought there was only one horse who had a realistic chance of beating him and that was Fulfilled Promises who was 20-1 on the morning line and was going to go into the gate at close to those odds. That meant that whatever happened in the first three legs the Pick 4 with Fulfilled Promises was going to pay nice bolstered by a large guaranteed pool and a lot of weekend and holiday warrior money. An automatic opportunity for a score.

    The key was to be alive to Good Magic to make some money, and to Fulfilled Promises to take down a score. The first three legs were challenging. You had a maiden special weight race around two turns with horses stretching out, a competitive sprint stake, and a turf marathon where the two favorites were somewhat vulnerable. One was in a marooned post way outside with almost no run to the first turn. The other was off a layoff for an ice-cold trainer, albeit a capable one.

    The thought process I had left me using only two horses in the last leg. That helps with cost. I had to have one other race with a single or at the most two horses, and then I could spread in the other races. I knew the sequence did not really call for a go back ticket, so I would hope to catch some prices early so if Good Magic was just too good which was possible, I’d still be OK.

    In the maiden race that started things off, I liked the favorite on the rail, and the horse on the outside. That made things easy. That would be the other short race. I’d use those two, and hope I beat the favorite. Then I could spread. I used 5 horses in the sprint, and 9 in the turf race. I thought the turf marathon could produce a bomb, and with 9 horses covered I hoped I would have it if it did. That would put me in a very strong position if I was indeed right about Fulfilled Promises.

    My ticket looked like this:

    2 x 5 x 9 x 2 = $90 for a fifty-cent wager. It looked like $90 well spent as if things went right it could pay well. It was also a ticket you could play a few times.

    Things started pretty good with the favorite losing to the only horse I thought could beat him who was 7-1. I survived an objection but even in these uncertain days of steward decisions I wasn’t too concerned. I got a horse who figured home in the Sprint at 5-1 or so but that was a competitive race and Favorable Outcome took a ton of the weekend and holiday money I spoke about earlier. That was a huge help. Then things got interesting, the favorite off the layoff for an 0 for trainer gets up late to nail one of three horses I left out. It was close to a bad burn and Fulfilled Promises wired the field in the Fountain of Youth at 20-1 capping a $3,051 Pick 4 for 50 cents. You have to think it through, there is no short cut way around it and every sequence is different. Further if the favorite in the first leg or Good Magic was my “A” horse there is a chance I could have used all the horses and not cashed the Pick 4.

    The final thought is this, while a good day with no complaints, the story would have been better if a 25-1 or something like that won the turf marathon and it was one of the 9 horses I used. That is the key, think it through, and put yourself in position for the kill shot. You do that enough, you will nail one. As a pro I know two things, one day that horse I left out where I used 9 out of 12 will get me. That is OK though as I also know one day that 25-1 I used will get up just before my 20-1 wins and counting the money will take longer than it did Saturday.

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    February 27, 2018

    Understanding The Troubled Trip

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    Many of us watch a lot of races over the course of a week. The normal tendency is to watch either the horse you bet on or the leader. We also tend to watch a horse making a move or one the track announcer brings to our attention. When looking for troubled trips you must train yourself to watch all the horses in the race and see things that might not be the focal point of most other spectators. Sure, the running lines will identify some troubled trips for you, but those are the ones everyone will know about. To gain an advantage it helps to see some that are for your eyes only.

    There are many different types of troubled trips. Some result from bad racing luck, post position, poor rider decisions, pace, and all sorts of other intangibles. Sometimes something can happen right in front of a horse that causes them to check and lose either ground, momentum or both. The troubled trips identified in past performances usually result in underlays so it is important to understand not all troubled trips are automatically a play back and actually some may offer better value betting against.

    In my opinion a troubled trip is one that prevented a horse from running better than they would have sans the trouble. It maybe they checked, were blocked, were hemmed in by a rider or horse, went wide or were carried wide, lost ground or momentum, or were on the worst part of the track. Sometimes they can be prevented and sometimes they can’t. A horse can also have trouble that may not have been enough to have an impact on how they ran. Experience will show you the difference over time. There is no shortcut.

    When a horse returns from a troubled trip you have to handicap the race they are running back in using the troubled trip to help you gauge how the horse would have run without the trouble. Then you will need to look at the new race as if the horse ran as you envision they would have. You must look at the conditions and class as well as the pace in the new race. Just because we upgrade a horse because of trouble in their last start, doesn’t mean we like that horse in this field and under these circumstances today.

    Along those very same lines there will be times you see a horse get blocked, steadied or trapped and know they would have won that day and should win the race they are in today. Personally, I love when that happens especially if it is a horse I spotted whose trouble does not appear in the past performances. I try and share this type of information and how to spot it for yourself through my Tracking Trips service. You can learn more about that here or on the link above. https://www.pastthewire.com/tracking-trips-info/

    When handicapping a race and you see a horse coming off a troubled trip, or even one that ran with or against a true bias, I would suggest handicapping the race as if you didn’t know that first. Once done, I would then factor in what you know and upgrade or downgrade the horse accordingly. Betting a horse off a troubled trip can be one of the best bets at the track, knowing which ones to bet and which ones to pass is key.

    In the end it comes down to doing your homework and learning how to use the troubled trip as a tool to help you bet or bet against. If a horse off a troubled trip, that should win, takes more money than normal because of the trouble, a lot of people will bet against claiming there is no value in that horse. I don’t believe that. I believe there is no value betting a loser or horse you don’t like to win because of the price. The Sport of Kings offers many wagering opportunities that allow us to create value in most circumstances.

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    February 21, 2018

    Three Blind Mice

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    I have written and spoken a lot about steward decisions in the past few years and frankly thought I was done with it. What is the point, they make decisions that impact our money based on subjectivity with little to no accountability? There have been so many poor and illogical decisions in recent years that the whole thing just gets old. When a number is blinking who knows what will happen.

    It doesn’t matter if it is a small circuit or our biggest of stages. We all remember Bayern and the sucker punch he threw coming out of the gate. Arguing that didn’t affect the outcome or a better placing shows two things: 1) you do not understand horseracing and what goes on when they leave the gate and 2) you have never been hit with a sucker punch and tried to recover from having the wind knocked out of you while running or recover from the pain and disorientation a square shot to the nose brings with it.

    I am sure being a steward can be a thankless and tiresome job. You are almost always going to leave someone unhappy. Subjective decisions do that and also lend to favoritism and biases. This is why I am for one set of rules equally applied that define a foul, and if you commit one you come down. All this not affecting the order of finish or costing a better placing is way too subjective to ever be fair. The proof is I the pudding.

    I think we can all agree that if one jockey deliberately or even accidently strikes another be it with their whip, hand or even a rein, it should be a foul. I would go as far as to say it should be an automatic disqualification and even automatic suspension and fine for the culprit rider. I fail to see how you can debate that, you can get a rider or horse killed, never mind the outcome of the race.

    This is the very reason I am once again compelled to write about stewards. There have indeed been some fights between riders on the racetrack. One even occurred in the Kentucky Derby. You may have heard of Colonel Bradley, a prominent owner who has had stakes named after him. You may not know he owned the only maiden ever to win the Run for the Roses. Yes, a maiden named Broken Tip owned by the Colonel won the Kentucky Derby. Broken Tip didn’t just win the Derby, he did so with a fighting finish not just with his rival Head Play who he turned for home inside of but also with his rider Don Meade going at it with Head Play’s rider Herb Fisher. Thus, we had the Fighting Finish Kentucky Derby, one of the strangest and most exciting ever run.

    It took a photo to separate the two horses at the wire. There were no cameras at the finish line back then however, so a discussion was had, and Broken Tip was declared the winner. There was also an inquiry and the stewards let the result stand. Whether it was favoritism to Colonel Bradley or they truly believed their justification we will never know. They ruled there were so many deliberate infractions because both riders wanted desperately to win the result would stand. This makes some of our rulings today seem reasonable.

    Fighting still goes on, and I’d like to think most of us would have liked to see the stewards advance the intellect of their ruling regarding Broken Tip. They haven’t as evidenced by the 5th race at Delta Downs on February 16th, 2018. The head on replay clearly shows jockey Robert Morales on the second-place finisher Delicious repeatedly striking Eddie martin aboard Chaosmos. Worse, Morales “appeared” to do this intentionally as he looked over at Martin before the strikes began. The stewards made no change. If you can I encourage you to watch the head on replay of this race. You will see clear as day why we need accountability with our stewards.

    I tried in vain to capture what I could in a still shot. See below:

    Delta02.16.18

    We have already accepted as players that just about anything out of the gate goes. A lot of times the stewards won’t even look at a left or right turn out of the gate. Are they now asking us to accept jockeys striking other jockeys and horses during the race? I say no thank you. 

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    February 6, 2018

    Know Your Customer

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    In any business to be successful you have to know your customer. This is basic business 101. You have to know who they are and what they want. The old saying “if you don’t take care of your customer someone else will” is as true today as it was when it was first said long ago.

    One of the things I think most racetracks make an effort to get right, but ultimately get wrong, is knowing their customer. Just this past summer I heard a shot caller for a major racing circuit make the statement on television that the owners are the backbone of our industry, in an effort to celebrate them. I took that as a partial truth and slight at the same time. It also displayed a disconnect from identifying with who their customers are.

    While the owners and bettors are the only two groups putting money into the game as opposed to just taking it out, I think it was a slight to all the bettors or customers to refer to the owners as the backbone of the industry without mentioning the bettors. It is the bettors who pay the shot callers salary, including the bonus, and without bettors the owners would be racing for blue ribbons. How long do you think that would last?

    For many years racetracks operated like they were the only game in town. They seemed to look at the horseplayer as a necessary evil. They were not celebrated or embraced. It seemed like nobody wanted to embrace the older guy with a cigar in his mouth and a program and racing form rolled up in his back pocket. He was treated as if he was a degenerate gambler who would put up with anything from bad coffee, paying for everything, and no perks just to bet on a horse. He was never treated like a customer and for a long time that worked. Tables turn however; and things change. The entire landscape changed along with a changing world. Poker exploded with a loud boom, simulcasting offered options, and ADW’s gave us the convenience from wagering at home, or anywhere without having to visit a racetrack that did not welcome us with open arms.

    It is interesting to look at the poker boom, and how it coincided with two key factors; 1) the celebration of their top players, and 2) the promotion of it as the skill game it is. It wasn’t until the ship had sailed and the horse was out of the barn that racing attempted to celebrate some players and show the game as one of skill with a poorly produced and short-lived television show that indeed had never realized potential. The show was geared towards attracting new customers, which you cannot do until you learn who your current customers are and take care of them first.

    Tournaments have helped move in the right direction with celebrating players and promoting the game as one of skill. Unfortunately, I think there are way too many tournaments with the $2 win and place format as opposed to cash tournaments, which in my opinion are more of an example of handicapping prowess than the win place format. Tournaments also take away the money management and knowing when and how to bet aspect which is essential for long term survival in this game.

    This past weekend we had the NHC or National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas. It gets industry coverage but very little, if any, mainstream coverage. It is not in the league of the World Series of Poker which has made it to ESPN. Vegas itself is a good example of where racetracks are missing the boat. In Las Vegas you are rewarded with perks for playing. Free drinks, rooms, buffets, lunches, and if you play enough free stays, flights, shows and almost anything else you want. It used to be more, but even Las Vegas has succumbed to a more corporate mentality and that has cut into the perks smaller players receive. The whales are still coveted, and the smaller players still do better than they would at a racetrack.

    Racing management has also moved to a corporate mentality with a “Big Day” philosophy. This started with the Kentucky Derby, the Breeders’ Cup, and rolled into the Belmont Stakes, the Travers, and now the Pegasus. These days are treated as major sporting events which they are and to some extent should be. That extent should not include pricing things, so the everyday $2 bettor is boxed out. This is your customer and bread and butter. That is who you produce these days for, not the non-betting stars who show up because they are paid or for photo opportunities. The major difference between our major sporting events and mainstream sports is that our attendees are gamblers who are there to feed money into the handle and takeout. They are not just there to watch but to bet. We should facilitate this and justify the takeout with free admission, parking, programs and racing forms. That money just goes back into the pools anyway. The more perks the better. If you are in the zone betting and watching a card, do you really want to wait on line for crummy coffee and pay for it? I don’t think you should have to. There are many ways to make your customer feel welcome of you know them and want to.

    Granted a lot of racetracks do this for certain players they get to know, and I am not one to complain about any of these things as I am treated very well by the tracks I attend. Some are like extended family. But to stabilize our game, which we need to do before we grow it, every customer needs to be made to feel like I do.

    We can certainly do a lot better promoting the game as one of skill, which it certainly is. Those who think it is a horse race and ultimately all luck do not understand odds, value, and how to bet. If you master that along with money management, and are a good handicapper with discipline, you can beat this game if you put in the work. Having people who don’t bet or who bet small occasionally strictly give out multi-race wagers is a mistake. It is a mistake for many reasons. It ties up money from the churn so racetracks and networks that do this are actually hurting themselves. A lot of people don’t play the individual races while they are alive in a multi-race wager.

    Learn from real bettors who have a history of beating the game. Racing has their Amarillo Slim’s and that would be an interesting pre-race seminar to attend. We all constantly learn in this game, I’d suggest learning from people who actually have played it not just watched it. Changeup who gives the daily seminars. Have real players, some of the daily faces you see up on the podium. Teach people different perspectives and angles and let them see others success if you have people who are willing to share it.

    I went to the track just about every racing day for close to 35 years. Maybe more. When I didn’t go every day, I went most days. I went to bet and beat the game. If a racetrack manager said to me what would it take to get you to come every day again my answer would be simple. Make it easy and let me not have to think about or worry about anything except what I am going to bet. Not where I am parking, sitting, eating, waiting or anything else. Make sure the TV at my table is HD, a decent size, and works perfectly. For a true gambler I think that is all it really takes. 

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    February 6, 2018

    Derby Fever & Derby Preps

    By: Jonathan Stettin


     

    Kentucky Derby fever engulfs the Sport of Kings each year around February or March, and with it comes the Kentucky Derby prep races. I imagine if you have a two-year-old or three- year old that looks to be Derby quality, the fever can set in earlier.

    Even with the Breeders’ Cup, Dubai World Cup, Pegasus World Cup and many other great races and programs, the Run for the Roses remains the anchor of our game and as they say, “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” It is one of the few times in today’s landscape horse racing crosses over and becomes mainstream.

    Picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby is challenging, exciting, and financially rewarding for us bettors. Most of us start watching the contenders early. Many contender lists are compiled early, with none more popular than Steve Haskin’s Derby Dozen. What I always found to be a flaw in these early lists was how people, both writers and handicappers included, look at the Derby preps.

    Not surprisingly, most of the lists have the same horses, albeit in different order, but the same horses who are usually the recent winners of the prep and relatively new point system races. I think that is a mistake. While the new point system has changed things a tad, in that as a trainer you almost have to tip your hand at least once to make sure you have the necessary points to make the gate, you’ll also have to have your horse peak again the first Saturday in May. The Derby is the goal, and the trainers that win it usually know how to point for a race and have their horse peak on that particular day. That does not always equate with winning big in the preps and I tend to look for horses a bit under the radar that are likely to emerge. I will get into that in a moment, but first let’s look at how I fared in some recent Kentucky Derbies.

    2017- Always Dreaming - didn’t have him.

    2016- Nyquist - liked him, respected him, but didn’t really have him good.

    2015- American Pharoah - had him but so did everybody else.

    2014- California Chrome - didn’t have him, but everyone else did.

    2013- Orb - loved him and had him good. (Shug is a master at getting a horse to peak when he wants, his Florida Derby was a progressive race, not a peak one)

    2012- I’ll Have Another - loved him and had him good. (Another that was coming to a peak)

    2011- Animal Kingdom - really loved him, great day at the windows. (Showed his athleticism at Turfway park and his work coming in along with his sire said dirt would be no problem)

    2010- Super Saver - not for me.

    2009- Mine That Bird - not for me.

    2008- Big Brown - had him.

    2007- Street Sense - loved him and had him. (His Blue Grass might be the best Derby prep I ever saw)

    2006- Barbaro - loved and had him. (Was standing by the rail on the apron at the old Gulfstream when he and Sharp Humor passed me, my first thought was Derby winner and maybe more)

    That puts me at 7 of the last 12 with two very nice prices in Animal Kingdom and I’ll Have Another. A big part of both those selections along with Street Sense was watching replays and analyzing the preps. Everyone can see the obvious, and everybody knows who won the preps, what I like to do is see who looks like they are progressing and coming to a peak.

    Before getting into exactly what I look for let’s talk about American Pharoah as he was an obvious winner, and on top of many people’s lists, but there is something about his Derby win that rarely gets talked about except by the most astute students of the game. American Pharoah was so good he won the Kentucky Derby a short horse. Yes, you read that correctly. If anyone can train up to a race Bob Baffert can, but you can’t ever get out of a workout what you do from a race. The Kentucky Derby is a grueling race at a distance longer than almost all the horses have ever run before. American Pharoah prepped for the Kentucky Derby at Oaklawn Park and was so superior to everyone he faced he ran about 100 yards combined in all his preps. That is all he had to run. He just toyed with the competition and could not have gotten much out of those races. Sure, Bob’s training helped come May, but did you before or after the Kentucky Derby, ever see Victor Espinoza use the stick on American Pharoah like he did that day. That wasn’t coincidence, and if American Pharoah wasn’t immensely talented he would not have overcome the lack of seasoning.

    Another one I’d like to mention is Street Sense and his Blue Grass. If you really want to see what a perfect Kentucky Derby prep looks like watch that race. You can see Calvin Borel measuring his horse against the rest of the field and saving his horse for when it counted. All you have to do is watch Calvin closely in the last furlong, and you will know both he and Carl Nafzger had a different race in mind.

    We saw a few Derby preps this weekend in the Holy Bull, the Withers, and the R.B. Lewis. Personally, I don’t think the horse that will emerge as the best three-year-old was in any of those races. Maybe he was in a maiden race and didn’t win it.

    The horse that caught most people’s eye and picked up a bandwagon and a spot on most people’s early Derby lists was Audible in the Holy Bull. He didn’t wind up on my Derby Radar.

    Audible ran very good in the Holy Bull and drew away from a nice-looking field in his two-turn debut. While he drew a lot of raves, and not to take anything away from him, I looked at it differently. I saw a Todd Pletcher horse run big at Gulfstream. We should all be used to that and that is not intended to take anything away from Todd. I saw a fast horse win in a short stretch race with the finish line at the sixteenth pole. I saw a horse with recent races beat horses coming in off layoffs. None of that jumps out and screams Kentucky Derby to me.

    Again, I look for horses who are improving. Horses who look like they will want more distance. I look for athleticism and the ability to take dirt in your face, go wide or face some other adversity and still show guts. I look for heart. I don’t look for easy winners per se, not that they can’t or don’t win, but when trying to find those Animal Kingdom’s and I’ll Have Another’s you have to look outside the box and the obvious. You also do not need a lot of them for it to pay off. I like to focus on trainers who point for races and get their horses to peak for those races.

    The horse who caught my eye this weekend was Once on Whiskey. This may not have been an official Derby prep, as it was only a maiden race, but this horse showed me what I like to see in a Derby contender. He obviously needed his first start, which came against a fast sprinting type named Curly’s Rocket, who also happens to be trained by Bob Baffert. Curly’s Rocket lost by a nose to the well-regarded Nero, also trained by Bob in his last start. Once on Whiskey was making his debut. So, while Curly’s Rocket ran away and hid, Once on Whiskey went wide, finished strong and full of run looking like he was crying for two-turns and more distance. He galloped out well and looked like he got a lot out of the race.

    Timing wise it might be tough for Once on Whiskey to make the Derby, as he would have to likely break his maiden next out, win a prep and then be doing good enough for Bob to send him to Louisville. That may be just a bit too much to ask for, but if anyone can do it Bob Baffert can. If Once on Whiskey is in the gate for the Kentucky Derby, Apollo should be watching with concern. If not, he might be making a lot of noise down the road.

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    January 31, 2018

    Gun Runner, A True Throw Back Horse

    By: Jonathan Stettin


     

    People talk a lot about growing the game and returning it to the glory days it has seen in the past. There were indeed glory days and a big part of that was twofold; large crowds at the races, and stars on the racetrack. That is what the crowds came to see. Horses stayed in training longer, and that created rivalries. The Sport of Kings was a game of rivalries for many years. Today we long for rivalries between great horses to the point we are willing to call even two races against each other a rivalry at times.

    The just retired Gun Runner was a breath of fresh air to those of us who remember the old rivalries and the excitement they produced. He would have fit just fine in that era. Commercial breeding, different philosophies, a new landscape, and of course money has changed all that.

    Great rivalries were not just great for attendance, they were great for the player as well. It poses a handicapping challenge to know which day Easy Goer might beat Sunday Silence or Alydar might beat Affirmed. You were rewarded if you knew Hedevar was the one who could get Dr. Fager beat by Damascus. He proved it not once but twice. The great Kelso had a few rivalries, there was Beau Purple, Gun Bow, and Carry Back.

    If for no other reason, the Pegasus World Cup is a success for keeping at least some horses in training longer. The breeding industry gobbles up the three-year-olds who are successful in the Kentucky Derby faster than a world class sprinter runs their first quarter mile. This is just when fans and bettors alike are getting to know these horses well. It is good for breeding but bad for racing.

    Today the economic reality is a horse like American Pharoah becomes too valuable to race. He is worth much more at stud. Most of us know horses really come into their own at four and five years of age and that only leaves us to imagine how good American Pharoah might have been. It is a safe assumption that despite our witnessing him win the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic, we likely never saw the best of what American Pharoah had to offer. Racing lost him to breeding at three-years old, like so many others who would have and could have been great. You really can’t fault the connections; how do you take a chance with that kind of money at stake?

    We did get to see how good Gun Runner was, and how great he became. This was a special racehorse for many reasons, his talent was only one of them. In today’s game, horses, especially the top ones run sparingly. Not Gun Runner, he danced all the dances. He was top tier throughout his career and went out the best in training at five-years old. You just don’t see that in today’s game. He was a great example of how horses develop and get stronger and faster at four and five years of age. Another example I love to mention is Forego. Most people believe Sham, a very good and fast horse in his own right, was the best horse behind Secretariat in the 1973 Kentucky Derby. Have you ever heard of Forego I’d ask? Forego went on to become a true great of the game. True he was gelded, but he also stayed in the game and matured and became one of the most versatile and best. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do on the track.

    We all knew Gun Runner was a good horse when he was two, and that he was Kentucky Derby caliber when he was three. He ran well in the Derby and even looked like he had a shot to win it at one point. I personally didn’t know how special he was however until he ran in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Although top tier, The Breeders’ Cup Mile, like the Met and Cigar Miles is run more like an elongated sprint. Gun Runner seemed to prefer longer distances and in addition to thinking it was a curious spot for him, I thought he had never seen the types of fractions he would in there. It was questionable if he was fast enough to be competitive in that type of race. The two-turn configuration helped but he still had to run fast.

    I had the chance to ask Steve Asmussen about it a few months ago and I saw firsthand what a truly great horseman Steve is. Steve thought at the time of year, with the next year’s campaign in mind, that the mile would be easier on him, and take less out of him than the Classic at a mile and a quarter would. He felt he was indeed fast enough to compete, but more importantly would leave him a stronger better horse the following year. Talk about knowing your horse, you won’t find many better examples. Gun Runner ran a bang up second in the Mile and showed he had speed enough to hang with sprinters and could also carry his speed as well.

    Steve campaigns his horses aggressively. Gun Runner was no exception. After the Breeders’ Cup Mile effort, he pointed to the inaugural Pegasus World Cup, but due to quarantine issues at the Fair Grounds he had to miss the race. He went to Dubai where like Seattle Slew and Zenyatta before him ran one of the best races of his life in defeat. Gun Runner’s effort in the Dubai World Cup was over shadowed by the herculean effort of Arrogate who was left at the start and made up a ton of ground to win. Gun Runner on the other hand set the pace in the desert, sans Lasix, on a track where all the winners came from off the pace. Gun Runner held on for second without much fanfare for his effort against the bias, whereas Arrogate was lauded for his effort that was bias aided. Taking nothing away from Arrogate and his spectacular race and tear of 4 incredible races, both horses ran huge that night in Dubai.

    Gun Runner would not lose another race after Dubai, nor would he duck anyone, including Arrogate who spotted him a pole and ran him down.

    Gun Runner went on to win the Stephen Foster, the Whitney, the Woodward, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic reversing his losses to Arrogate in the Travers and Dubai World Cup. All Grade 1’s all won easily with speed carried from a mile and an eighth to a mile and a quarter. Jockey Florent Geroux rode like he had the best horse every time and he did. This was an old school campaign, fit for an old school horse. From the start of his campaign at four at Oaklawn Park in the Razorback, to the trip to Dubai, to the Breeders’ Cup Classic romp, Gun Runner never tailed off, never bounced or regressed, and actually got better with racing and maturity. Keeping horses like this in training and racing when they are able just might be a big part of the solution all the racing shot callers are looking for with concerts and the like. This is when you see the true ability, not with babies. This is what creates rivalries and maintains interest of fans and bettors. This is what racing needs more of.

    It was only fitting Gun Runner would get his chance at the world’s richest race, the Pegasus World Cup, a race he missed the year before due to no reason of his own. He deserved it. He earned it. Racing deserved it as without Gun Runner the Pegasus was just another stake. With him it was the sendoff of a true champion and Horse of the Year.

    The biggest questions going into the Pegasus were, would the wide 10 post hurt the champ, no way, and would he finally regress or tail off? That nobody knew.

    If you listened to Gun Runner you might have known. You can watch below Gun Runner walking back to Steve Asmussen’s barn a few days before the race and walking into the paddock to be saddled on race day. This is a horse touting himself and looking more like a budding star three-year old than a five-year old making their final start.

    Gun Runner stalked the pace in the Pegasus under a firm hold by Florent Geroux. When given his head he showed us all the heart of a racehorse, he did the Pegasus name proud and will be missed. We can only hope these inflated purses, regardless of how they are funded, keep more of our stars around longer...and in the near future we see a race with a few Gun Runner’s in it, like the old glory days.

    Watch Gun Runner heading back to his stall

    Watch Gun Runner arriving at the paddock to be saddled for the Pegasus 

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