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.
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.
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.
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.
April 4, 2018
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.
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.