Tuesday, 19 June 2018 13:13

Pace Makes The Race

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June 19th, 2018

"Pace Makes the Race"

By: Jonathan Stettin


It is one of the oldest sayings around the racetrack. Anyone who has spent time around the game has heard it countless times. It is also one of the most accurate sayings connected to the Sport of Kings. We see examples of pace dictating the outcome of races every racing day, and it is often an overlooked handicapping factor by many.

Just last weekend we saw pace eliminate one contender from a race, that in reality only had two horses who could win it, while at the same time it set up the other contender’s victory. In the Poker stakes at Belmont the two contenders were Oscar Performance and Ballagh Rocks. Oscar Performance did all his best racing on the front end and was coming off a layoff, which often sees a horse keen early and wanting to go on the engine. Ballagh Rocks did his best running from off the pace, and with a fair share of early speed signed on, he figured to get a set up favorable to his style. That is not what happened.

The early pace was very fast in the Poker, and that likely kept Oscar Performance from setting it. He had run in his share of longer races and had not really been accustomed to those type fractions. Oddly Ballagh Rocks was up close to the fast pace early, which was not where he figured to be, and that effort left him empty in the stretch. He was going backward as opposed to forward when it counted. Oscar Performance capitalized and set a course record.

When these things happen, I find it a good practice to go back in a day or two and revisit both the past performances and replay. I think we can easily identify what happened with the winner. The fast splits kept him a few lengths back and his class and talent kicked in when the pace setters were spent. Ballagh Rocks was a bit more difficult to figure out. Why was he so close, and didn’t the rider realize that would compromise his kick? The reason I do this is to help in future handicapping. There have been times where a horse wins and people can’t see it, and going back I find you can see it often enough to make a difference. Always, of course not, but often enough. It may not help with that race but it surely won’t hurt going forward.

As for Ballagh Rocks, I think I can see the answer to the first question. He had been in some fast races in his career, and that pace scenario was not as foreign to him as it may have been to Oscar Performance. He was wired by an only speed the race before, so perhaps there was concern about them getting away from him and he was put in the game early. Did his rider know that would cost him the usual kick he had? Well, probably not, but it was the chance and risk he took to avoid what happened to him last out, and in some other races, where he just left himself too much to do. I think if the rider, and perhaps trainer, handicapped astutely then maybe they might have recognized the pace set up perfectly for him and this was not the day to worry about last time. Remember, trainers and riders are good at what they do most anyway, and in this case, you have two of the best. That said we are the best at what we do and look at things more objectively. At least we should.

Sometimes you can anticipate these things and sometimes you have to decipher what happened after the fact. Gaining a good understanding of what happened and why can only help you going forward.

Once you really master pace, race watching will become much more of an art. You’ll know when horses up close have no chance, which is a good feeling when you have backed a closer. You will know you are in good shape early when you played the speed and they are going well within his range. You would have known Justify was going to win the Belmont and Triple Crown a half mile into the race. At that point the race was over for the win, but on for second. The pace had as much to do with that than anything.

Some people use pace projector tools to help with their pace analysis. I do not. My reasoning is two-fold. First, if I need anyone or anything to help me analyze the pace of a horserace, I am in trouble and it is time to hang up the tack. Second, there are intangibles that cannot be computer programmed. Certain riders like to go while others prefer to sit and wait. Some don’t like gunning from the rail. Some are astute in their handicapping and won’t send if there is other speed. Some don’t open the racing form at all. A computer won’t know these things, but a “pro” or shark will. Bias also plays a part. Some jockeys are aware of a bias and will ride to it and that can influence the pace. Replays can show a horse under wraps early you know can go faster, but computers won’t see that. I prefer my own pace evaluation to anything that can be programmed.

A helpful hint in preparation for a wager is to project the pace as you see it and include who you think will be where at every call. The one who gets to the wire is the one I would play.

Friday, 15 June 2018 12:08

Key Races & Bets for Saturday, June 16

Preface: Looking back at last week's blog, at first glance I was disappointed as none of the recommended win bets came through. Then after reviewing the charts of those races I noted Talk Veuve to Me made the lead with a quarter mile to go and although second was beaten by the Kentucky Oaks winner and four clear of the next horse. In the Manhattan, Manitoulin lost a three horse photo by two necks at 30/1 and Fashion Business was another neck back at 43 to 1 and in the Honeymoon Stakes at Santa Anita, Animosity went to post at 10/1 and led with a quarter mile to go then settled for second. In the Belmont, I was wrong taking a shot against Justify but I'd do it again over and over with an odds-on favorite. Good Luck today!

 

Ginger Punch Stakes – Race 5 at Gulfstream Park- Post Time 2:47 PM Eastern

 

Madame Uno opens at 6 to 5 odds here based on three wins in a row including a similar stakes race following joining the Fawkes barn in January. However, she had no excuse for a 6th of 11 finish following that and then she went on the bench for nearly two months. On the other hand, she was beaten just three lengths and that last race has turned out to be a key race from which the 2nd and 3rd finishers returned to finish 2nd and 1st, respectively, in another stakes race. On the other, other, hand, Madame Uno earned both the wins leading from start to finish and was 2nd early in the other and she wears blinkers to will be in front early or up close to what may be a HOT early pace because from the seven post Magalie has to go as that's the only way she can win.

 

The better value lies with a trio of other runners and a longshot. Admiral's Win won three back the last time he faced Florida breds only as he's doing here and that effort earned a 99 figure as good as the 101 Madame Uno earned in her statebred stakes win in March. Batista was up for her last three wins and this mare has good tactical speed and the rail so I expect her to be third to fifth early and finding a seam late for the win.

 

Bitacora and Princess Victoria both come from the strong Walder barn and although Princess Victoria opens at the much better odds (15/1) so must be used on exacta tickets, Bitacora is the one with a higher probability to win. She was three-quarters of a length behind Admiral's Win in that 2/14 race I think is similar to this race and she won her most recent start with Gaffalione up as today. She also finished 2nd , beaten a half-length, in last year's running of this race. It must be noted, however, she has nearly twice as many 2nd place finishes (7) as wins (4) in her career.

 

Warranty opens at 3/1 and deserves a lot of respect having won three straight on turf, the last two at Gulfstream. Privately purchased since her last win on 1/21, and with her last race 102 Equibase figure one of the top in the field, she may not be a great win bet compared to others but must be used on any tickets we play.

 

Win Bets: Admiral's Win to win at 3 to 1 or more

For smaller amounts, Bitacora at 7 to 2 or more, Warranty at 7 to 2 or more.

I was going to skip a win bet on Princess Victoria but as she opens at 15/1 and is running first off the Walder claim we might end up kicking ourselves if we didn't bet a few dollars to win and place.

 

Exacta Bets: Admiral's Win and Warranty over Admiral's Win, Madame Uno, Bitacora, Warranty, Princess Victoria and Magalie.

 

Exacta Bets: Bitacora over Admiral's Win, Madame Uno, Warranty, Princess Victoria and Magalie and ALSO the opposite, which is Admiral's Win, Madame Uno, Warranty, Princess Victoria and Magalie over Bitacora.

 

Obeah Stakes – Race 7 at Delaware Park - Post Time 4:15 PM Eastern

 

Mannerly is unlikely to go to post anywhere near her 10/1 starting odds as she was 5 to 2 last time out in a tough allowance field at Keeneland, but she is still likely to go to post well above odds that make sense given her high probability to win. The filly is 2 for 4 on turf and 2 for 5 on dirt and if you take out the three sprints that started her career and look at routes only she is 2 for 4 on turf and 2 for 3 on dirt. With very consistent 99, 98 and 96 Equibase figures in her last three victories, with a good off the pace running style, with veteran Pino riding and coming back off a short rest while having earned three of her four wins off similar short rests, she could take some beating.

 

A Place to Shine is another opening at 10/1 with a much higher chance of success than is suggested by those odds. Second in her most recent start on 5/12 off a five month layoff, in a stakes and with a career best 97 figure, A Place to Shine has a lot of upside here and is very consistent to boot with nine first or second place finishes from 15 career main track starts. She put in a splendid half-mile drill coming into the race which was the 2nd best of 68 so she's ready to run big.

 

Power of Snunner drops in class having faced much tougher in the Grade 3 DuPont Distaff on Preakness weekend. She won this race last year on an IDENTICAL pattern and has shown she can snap back to winning form previously. Fuhriously Kissed and Teresa Z have small chances to be part of the exacta so we'll include them.

 

Win Bets: Mannerly to win at odds of 5/2 or more.

Add a win bet on A Place to Shine and on Power of Snunner at odds of 7 to 2 of more.

 

To bet more than one horse to win, use a DUTCHING TOOL like the one available for free at Amwager as it helps allocate your win bets in the most efficient manner possible.

 

Exacta Bets: Mannerly, A Place to Shine and Power of Snunner over Mannerly, A Place to Shine, Power of Snunner, Fuhriously Kissed and Teresa Z.

 

You can consider playing the opposite of that exacta as well, but for a smaller amount. The reason for doing this is not only coverage but we win twice if the exacta consists of two of the top three picks.

 

Dancing Renee Stakes – Race 9 at Belmont Park - Post Time 5:50 PM Eastern

Still There is a standout in my opinion here and opening at 4 to 1 with Holiday Disguise opening at 6 to 5 and likely to go to post as the prohibitive favorite, this is an opportunity a low odds overlay. Still There is a perfect two-for-two in her career and won about as easily as a horse can win last month (5/27) over the track, she was 7 1/2 lengths in front and geared down about 70 yards from the wire. That win came in a 10 horse field of NY Breds and these are no tougher plus she's improving and Cohen rides her right back after getting along with her sensationally last time out. Kobiskie wins nearly 33% of the time back to back, about the same as Rice, who trains favorite Holiday Disguise, and the only reason Still There opens at 4/1 is the perception of a class edge on the part of Holiday Disguise, who has won four stakes races but who is NO faster (best figure 105) than the improving Still There.

 

Win Bets: Still There at 3 to 2 or higher, a true KEY BET on the day.

 

Exacta Bets: Box Still There and Holiday Disguise the most times, then also box Still There and Absatootly, Still There and Cozzy Spring and Still There and Picco Uno.

 

Race 10 at Woodbine - Post Time 6 PM Eastern

 

Dakota Diva is a STANDOUT play in this maiden field. She debuted last August in a turf sprint at Laurel and rallied from 10th to 5th after breaking slowly then in her 2nd start in one of those deep maiden races at Kentucky Downs (with a $135K purse) she finished fast again, from 10th to 3rd. given the fall and winter off to grow up, Dakota Diva returned on 5/25 at a mile, off an eight and one-half month layoff, which is a very tough task even though the one mile turf trip at Woodbine is a one-turn race. She was well regarded at 5/1 in a 12 horse field and broke 6th of 12, was in contention only a length and one-half from the lead with a quarter mile to go, then through no fault of her own or her jockey completely lost any path she might have had until too late. It was a HORRIBLE trip and still near the wire when she did get a chance to stretch her legs she closed for third and galloped out on top on the turn. Likely to improve a TON 2nd off the layoff and with a HUGE clean run on the outside in this one-turn mile and one-eighth trip she's bred to adore as she's by Cape Blanco out of a Cozzene mare, we can expect a ton of improvement. As she may get lost in the shuffle in this 11 horse field, we may get decent odds to boot.

 

 

Ambitious Moon finished from 8th to 2n in that same race, her 3rd career start, 2nd on turf and 2nd off a layoff. She got within a head of the leader with an 8th of a mile to go and although she did not go on she was game to the wire. With first time Lasix and also with a good outside post, she should run as well or better.

 

 

Love Thy Kitten (2n in her last start, on turf), Via Ann (4th in the common race with Dakota Diva after making the lead with an 8th of a mile to go) and Show Girl (2nd in her last start) all should be used on exotic tickets played.

 

 

Win Bets: Dakota Diva to win at 2/1 with a place bet added at 4 to 1 or more, a true KEY BET on the day.

Make a second win bet, on Ambitious Moon, at odds of 4 to 1 or more.

 

Exacta Bets: Dakota Diva over Ambitious Moon, Love Thy Kitten, Via Ann and Show Girl.

Play the exact opposite of that bet as well, which is Ambitious Moon, Love Thy Kitten, Via Ann and Show Girl over Dakota Diva.

 

$0.20 Trifecta: Dakota Diva over Ambitious Moon, Love Thy Kitten, Via Ann and Show Girl over ALL.

Then also, Ambitious Moon, Love Thy Kitten, Via Ann and Show Girl over Dakota Diva over ALL.

Thursday, 14 June 2018 11:41

It Wasn’t Only the Belmont

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June 13th, 2018

It Wasn't Only the Belmont

By: Jonathan Stettin


Most of the Thoroughbred community is talking about last Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. Not me, I see little point in looking in the rear view and prefer to ponder what’s ahead.

Lost in the wake of Justify’s Belmont and Triple Crown, were four other equine performances that were quite noteworthy. We also saw a nice human performance as well. Edgar Prado showed he can still get it done, even from the 13 post, on the grass when he has the horse under him. Spring Quality has been steadily improving for a while now and seems to have finally found himself on the grass for Graham Motion. If he stays healthy he could have a say in the Saratoga grass stakes, which means we will likely see Edgar make some road trips to the Spa. Edgar first transitioned to New York when brought to the Spa by John Kimmel to ride first call for him. Richard Migliore was riding first call for Kimmel at the time, but got injured and that opened the door for Prado in New York. As they say, the rest is history.

Abel Tasman showed she’s a serious player in the filly and mare division, by bouncing back from a dull return effort at Churchill Downs, where she never looked comfortable or on her game. She took the Ogden Phipps on the Belmont undercard with a strong early move, that at this point I think we can call patented, and made mincemeat out of the rest of the field. Regardless of where she runs next, and she has plenty of options…she’s a player.

Monomoy Girl cut back from the mile and an eighth of the Kentucky Oaks to the one turn mile of the Acorn with no trouble at all. She is clearly the top of the three-year-old class for fillies. Her biggest asset seems to be her versatility. She can go on the lead, she can stalk and she can come from off the pace. Don’t forget she can also run on the grass, so she has plenty of options going forward. I am not sure how much further than a mile and an eighth she wants to go. So, the Coaching Club and more so the Alabama ,if she winds up there, may provide some interesting betting opportunities.

Bee Jersey was huge in the Metropolitan Mile. He ran fast all the way. He took heat and pressure. He shook it off. He opened up after going fast. He dug in when Mind Your Biscuits, who is no slouch, and also ran big cams to him. He’s fast and a fighter and nobody should be surprised. He ran in Graded Stakes as a maiden in Dubai without Lasix before coming to the states with Steve Asmussen. I still don’t know how we got 3 or 4-1 on him when he broke his maiden at Churchill Downs. I forget, was that Christmas Eve? This is a racehorse and if you leave him alone, he just may go a little further than expected.

Gronkowski ran a big race in the Belmont for Chad Brown who ran him for the first time. It was also his first start on dirt, and first with Lasix. He has many options going forward and also looks like he has upside in store for us. He can continue on dirt, which is obviously no issue, and he can also go on turf. Lohnro is a sire who I don’t think gets the respect or recognition he deserves, so probably doesn’t get the best of the mares either. I also don’t think his offspring are as distance limited as the experts do.

There is a lot of racing to look forward to this summer and beyond. Saratoga and Del Mar are always great meets for both racing and wagering and this year both can be really stacked. The best part is this is without even factoring in our Triple Crown winner, who will spice things up wherever he lands, if he does indeed race again. Despite all that’s been said I have my reservations about that.

The cards may suffer some leading up to the big summer meets as a result of the Triple Crown race cards, which is a problem the industry as a whole will have to address at some point unless we just evolve into a part time sport. The good news is those meets will be here soon enough and there is always a card or opportunity you can sniff out along the way.

 

Friday, 08 June 2018 12:38

Key Races & Bets for Saturday, June 9

Acorn Stakes – Race 4 at Belmont Park - Post Time 1:24 PM Eastern

 

Talk Veuve to Me doesn't have Mia Mischief to hold her off in the stretch this time as happened last month in the Eight Belles Stakes, but this filly who is making ONLY the 4th start of her career and 2nd of the year following 7 months off has a lot of upside out of that race. She earned a 103 figure in her 3 year old debut then 107 in the Eight Belles and those numbers match up with the figures Monomoy Girl earned in the Rachel Alexandra and Ashland Stakes before a freakishly good 114 figure in the Kentucky Oaks. With Talk Veuve to Me likely to run even better in her 3rd start off the rest I think she can put in an effort good enough to beat Monomoy Girl, who I have a lot of respect for but don't want to bet her to win as the odds on favorite instead of getting 9/2 which is the morning line on Talk Veuve to Me.

 

 

Monomoy Girl needs no talking up, because if not for the neck defeat in the Golden Rod Stakes last fall she'd be undefeated in seven starts. She MUST be considered a win contender for exactas and multi-race wagers at the least.

 

 

Spectator won the first two starts of her career last summer like a good thing in California including the G2 Sorrento Stakes then finished 3rd in the Del Mar Debutante. Given time off to mature and grow up she returned in March and won a sprint prep then stretched out to a mile and one-sixteenth around two turns and although no match for Midnight Bisou in the Santa Anita Oaks she was clearly second. She's been working regularly and her comeback win earned her a 108 figure on part with the other two so opening at 8/1 I have no issue betting her to win in addition to Talk Veuve to Me.

 

 

Win Bets: Talk Veuve to Me to win at odds of 2 to 1 or more.

Make a second win bet, on Spectator, at odds of 4 to 1 or more.

 

Exacta Bets: Box Talk Veuve to Me, Monomoy Girl and Spectator

 

Manhattan Stakes – Race 10 at Belmont - Post Time 5:40 PM Eastern

 

After a few minutes of looking at the entrants in this race, I quickly came to the conclusion that with a few exceptions nearly every horse in the field can win. Even those that have a small probability to win can finish second. Because this is a "Chaos" race where nearly anything can happen, I starting to ask "Why Not?" regarding the contenders, starting with those at the highest odds, rather than "Why?" The result was finding two horses at high odds I could not make a strong case against.

 

 

Those two are Manitoulin and Fashion Business.

 

 

Manitoulin has won 5 of 15 turf races and nearly $400K. He won the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup in his last start as a four year old this past November, with Mike Smith in the saddle for the very first time. He was 1 for 11 before being gelded and 3 for 5 after being gelded last year. He returned to the races in May off a five and one-half month layoff, beaten three lengths while 6th of 9 in the Fort Marcy, won by Robert Bruce, with Spring Quality second. Smith did not ride in the comeback but gets back on and that is the key, as the comeback was just that, a comeback. Today is the big shot and trainer Toner wants the jockey that got the horse to run his absolute best, which he did because in the Turf Cup Manitoulin earned a 116 Equibase figures which is about as good as any horse in the field, most who open at much lower odds than 20/1 as he does.

 

 

Fashion Business opens at even higher odds, 30/1, and that makes a bit more sense as the gelding has never won a stakes. He did miss by a head last summer in the G3 La Jolla Stakes before a 5th place finish in the Del Mar Derby and 8 months off. Coming back last month at a mile, Fashion Business rallied fast from 8th to draw off with a career best 111 figure effort. Likely to improve a ton 2nd off the layoff, the gelding is a 4 year old son of world class sire Frankel and he does have a win at 10 furlongs, the 2nd start of his career, back in January 2017, so I think he is going to surprise a LOT of people with how well he runs.

 

 

Robert Bruce, One Go All Go, Hi Happy, #8 Sadler's Joy, Channel Maker, Beach Patrol, #12 Multiplier & Spring Quality all have a shot to succeed and should be used on multiple race bets like the double, pick 3 and pick 4.

 

 

Win Bets: Win & Place bets on Manitoulin at 4 to 1 or more and on Fashion Business at 5 to 1 or more.

 

Exacta Bets: Manitoulin and Fashion Business over ALL

Then the opposite exacta as well, which is ALL over Manitoulin and Fashion Business.

 

Doubles: Manitoulin and Fashion Business in Race 10 with ALL in Race 11

Then also ALL in race 10 with Hofburg in Race 11

For a smaller amount, also play ALL in race 10 with Blended Citizen and Vino Rosso in Race 11.

 

Honeymoon Stakes – Race 8 at Santa Anita - Post Time 6:30 PM Eastern/ 3:30 Pacific

 

Animosity was entered in this race as well as the Grade 3 Wonder Again Stakes on Friday at Belmont, which ended up being won by an up and coming star in La Signare, whose name we should remember. It was a good decision on the part of owners Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and trainer Gallagher, as this field isn't nearly as strong as the Wonder Again. A perfect 2-for-2 in her career, this daughter of Animal Kingdom won her debut sprinting on turf in March then stretched out to two turns on all-weather at Golden Gate to romp easily. She won the debut off the pace and led from finish on slow fractions in her 2nd start. She's improving fast, is very talented, and can post the slight upset here opening at 6/1.

 

Animosity's main competition will come in the form of Fatale Bere, winner of the Grade 3 Providencia Stakes when last seen two months ago. She had won the Surfer Girl Stakes in her U.S. debut last October then finished a creditable 5th of 14 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. After a really poor effort in the Jimmy Durante Stakes she took four and one-half months off and won the Providencia, no easy task. She put in a pair of strong half-mile workouts since the race so appears to be holding top form.

 

Ms Peintour, like Animosity, was a strong winner at the first allowance condition in her most recent race, earning a 95 Equibase figure on par with the 97 Animosity earned in her last win. Flattered when the runner-up improved to win her next start, Ms Peintour is the other horse in the field with a reasonable chance to win.

 

For second on some exacta tickets we should also use Miss Sienna, who makes her U.S. debut and may be on the lead early or just off the pace as that is how she ran her last two races, and Paved, a bit vulnerable as one of the morning line favorites off a non-threatening third place finish in the Providencia behind Fatale Bere with no excuse as the 7 to 5 favorite.

 

Win Bets: Animosity to win at odds of 5 to 2 or higher.

 

Exacta Bets: Animosity, Ms Peintour and Fatale Bere over Animosity, Ms Peintour, Fatale Bere, Miss Sienna and Paved

 

Belmont Stakes – Race 11 at Belmont Park - Post Time 6:46 PM Eastern

In the Kentucky Derby and when confronted by traffic and trouble he had never encountered previously, Hofburg ran creditably, rallying from 16th to seventh in spite of being bumped at the start, steadied in traffic off another horse's heels, steadied again and forced to alter his path. Since then Hofburg has been training in the quiet surroundings at Saratoga and should improve off his Florida Derby effort and 107 figure, which compares to the 108 to 110 figures Justify has earned 108 to 110 figures in his last three races. Considering how many fewer horses Hofburg will have to deal with and considering as it will not take much improvement on the part of Hofburg to run well enough to win the Belmont, he's my top choice. Additionally, any concerns about being able to successfully run the mile and one-half distance of the Belmont can quickly be put to rest looking at Hofburg's pedigree and connections. Trainer Mott won the 2010 Belmont with Drosselmeyer while sons of his sire, Tapit - Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016) and Tapwrit (2017), won three of the last four editions of the race. Belmont Stakes winners in his pedigree do not stop there, as the sire of Hofburg's dam Soothing Touch is Touch Gold, who won the race in 1997. With 10 fewer horses to deal with in the Belmont compared to the Derby and with likely improvement off his Florida Derby effort, Hofburg is my pick to win this year's Belmont Stakes.

Vino Rosso finished ninth in the Derby, skipped the Preakness, and is another poised to improve on his effort prior to the Derby, in this case when winning the Wood Memorial with a career-best 106 figure. In the Derby, Vino Rosso broke last in the field of 20 at the start but ended up ninth, so with 10 fewer horses to pass in the Belmont he should run much better. Taking a few weeks off after the Derby, Vino Rosso returned to trainer Todd Pletcher's home base in New York and put in a sparkling half-mile workout that was the best of 36 on the day to show he is in top form. In terms of pedigree, there is little doubt Vino Rosso can successfully run a mile and one-half. As a son of Curlin, whose son Palace Malice won the Belmont in 2013 (for Pletcher), and out of a mare whose sire is Tapit, Vino Rosso should have the stamina to contest the marathon distance without issue and therefore he is a strong candidate to run well enough to win.

Blended Citizen may not have the breeding for the 12 furlong Belmont trip others have but has a good number of factors in favor of running well. Since adding blinkers prior to the Jeff Ruby Steaks in March, Blended Citizen has won two of three races, including the Peter Pan Stakes four weeks ago with a career-best 110 figure that is as good as the best figure Justify has earned to date. Since shipping to Belmont Park a few weeks ago, Blended Citizen showed a strong liking for the surface with a half-mile workout that was the best of 35 on the day. Furthermore, in recent history horses coming back from running in the stakes race for three-year-olds at Belmont in the first 10 days of May have done well one month later. In 2010, that race was the Dwyer Stakes which was won by eventual Belmont winner Drosselmeyer (trained by Hofburg's trainer Bill Mott). In 2014 that race was the Peter Pan Stakes, won by eventual Belmont winner Tonalist. In the Peter Pan, Blended Citizen showed he could race much closer to the early pace than previously thought as he was under two lengths from the leader from just after the start until a quarter mile to run. Although three lengths back with an eighth of a mile to go, Blended Citizen put in a strong late run to draw off late and that running style could serve him very well in the Belmont Stakes if he races in third or fourth in the early stages.

Anytime a horse is undefeated that is a reason to respect them as it shows not only physical talent but mental toughness and an alpha quality as well. Justify has demonstrated all that and then some in winning all five of his races to date and within a span of 13 weeks. After earning a career-best 110 figure in the Derby, Justify only slightly regressed with a 109 figure effort in the Preakness on a rain-soaked track but in that race he did show evidence of racing a lot in a short period of time as Bravazo was gaining with every stride in the final yards, the word "lasted" in the chart callers comment very apropos to the end of the race. Since the Preakness, Justify put in a very fast half-mile workout that was the best of 43 on the day so evidently he is still in top shape, but running the mile and one-half of the Belmont is a whole different matter compared to the Derby and to the Preakness. The good news for Justify's chances of winning the Belmont and the Triple Crown is he may be able to dictate the tempo in the race as it is likely jockey Mike Smith will use the colt's early speed to be in front at the start or at the least, in second shortly after the gate opens. Additionally, trainer Bob Baffert is a master at getting a horse to hold his form as a query from Stats Race Lens yields a remarkable record of 43 for 93 for Baffert in dirt route races over the last few years when his horse won its previous start. On the other hand, I can find little in Justify's pedigree similar to the pedigree of either Hofburg or Vino Rosso in terms of siblings, sires or other relatives who have run well at the distance of the Belmont. Horses have won the Belmont in the past on raw talent alone and that may be the case with Justify, who I will be rooting for in my heart but betting against with my money.

Bravazo raced fairly close up when third in the early stages of the Preakness then dropped back to fifth on the turn, giving every indication he had nothing left to offer. Maybe it was the mud in his face or some other factor that caused him to lose interest or momentum, but with a sixteenth of a mile to go, Bravazo found new life and energy, surging in the final yards to miss by a half-length. As I had explained in my Preakness analysis, with 12 fewer horses in the Preakness compared to the Derby, I felt Bravazo would rebound to the form shown when winning the Risen Star Stakes in February with a career-best 110 figure and he nearly did, earning a 108 figure. Since the Preakness, four-time Belmont winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas put Bravazo through a mile workout in preparation for the race, knowing if nothing else he wanted the colt to have the stamina to contest the mile and one-half. Likely to be fairly close up to the early pacesetters in the Belmont, Bravazo should be putting in a strong late run just as others are feeling the effects of running a distance they have never run previously and that gives the colt a square shot at posting the upset win.

Tenfold, like Hofburg, has only run four times. His best effort came three weeks ago when rallying for third in the Preakness to earn a career-best 108 figure. As a son of Curlin, who not only sired 2013 Belmont winner Palace Malice but also 2017 Belmont runner-up Irish War Cry and 2016 Rags to Riches Invitational Stakes winner Theogony, and as a grandson of Tapit, there is little doubt Tenfold has the breeding to run well at the distance. There certainly is room to improve off his Preakness effort so on that count Tenfold must be considered a contender. On the other hand, with the exception of American Pharoah, recent Preakness runners who have run in the Belmont haven't fared that well, most notably 2014 Preakness winner California Chrome (fourth) and 2013 winner Oxbow (second). It just could be coming back on three weeks rest is too much to ask a young horse, but then again Tenfold could have gas left in the tank as he only ran three times prior to the Preakness and if that is the case he could certainly be in the hunt in the final stages of the Belmont.

Win Bets: Hofburg to win at 3 to 1 or more.

For a smaller amount, Blended Citizen and Vino Rosso at 5 to 1 or more.

Just to complete the contenders and the minimum odds I would consider a win bet – Bravazo 7 to 1, Tenfold 9/1.

Justify is a win contender but his likely prohibitive odds make him a poor win bet.

 

The strategy for exactas is mostly "go big or go home" so the tickets will be constructed to exclude Justify in the win position. However, for ANY multi-race bets started in earlier races he must be used because pick 3, 4 and similar tickets demand a different strategy.

 

Exacta Bets: Box Hofburg, Vino Rosso, Blended Citizen, Bravazo and Tenfold.

Also play Hofburg, Vino Rosso and Blended Citizen over Justify, Hofburg, Vino Rosso, Blended Citizen, Bravazo and Tenfold.

Thursday, 07 June 2018 15:50

Crystal Balls

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.

 

 

Friday, 01 June 2018 12:10

Key Races & Bets for Saturday, June 2

Pennine Ridge Stakes – Race 9 at Belmont Park - Post Time 5:50 PM Eastern

 

Analyze It may be unbeaten but he opens at 4/5 odds. It's not that he can't win as he certainly fits all the criteria as he's a dual grade 3 stakes winner on grass and his average margin of victory in three races is five lengths. Just the same, he's only run three times and there's another horse in the race as good as he is AND more important as probable to win as he is and that horse is Untamed Domain, who opens at 5/1. Untamed Domain won the G2 Summer Stakes last September before a bang-up 2nd behind Mendelssohn in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Given three months off he disappointed when third in the Dania Beach and then when he otherwise would absolutely would have improved if kept on turf, the connections thought to put him on the Derby trail and try dirt for the first time in the Tampa Bay Derby, where he finished 6th. Blinkers came off for the American Turf Stakes last month and he ran HUGE, rallying from 8th at the top of the stretch to get 2nd (in a dead heat) while winner Maraud (who runs today in the Penn Mile) was already in high gear. The 110 Equibase figure Untamed Domain earned in the American Turf is likely to be improved upon today in his 2nd start without blinkers and he has every right to win and post the mild upset because of that.

 

 

Analyze It ran off a four and one-half month layoff in April as if he had never been away, capturing the G3 Transylvania Stakes the same way he took the Cecil B. DeMille Stakes in November. With 108, 109 and 111 figure in his three starts to date and never giving any horse a shot to catch him in the last 8th of a mile in any of those 3 races, Analyze It must be considered a win contender, but not a GOOD win bet as the odds-on favorite.

 

 

Hawkish is also entered in the Penn Mile and I hope he goes there because that is an easier spot. He's improved in every start and his allowance win when last seen on 4/15 earned a 105 figure good enough to be competitive if improved upon as it likely will be. The horse we MUST use for profit in exotics at the least, and for a small win bet so we don't end up kicking ourselves later is Channel Cat. Opening at a healthy 20/1, the colt ran BETTER THAN IT APPEARS when 6th in the American Turf (won by Maraud with Untamed Domain in a dead head for 2rd). In the race, Channel Cat got pinched at the start and began 12th of 13 and was still 10th at the top of the stretch but made up good ground very late to end up 6th. With ONLY seven other horses in this field, Channel Cat is likely to be closer up early, more like he was right before that when putting in a nice win on the turf with a 98 figure and the figure he earned in the American Turf, 105, was the same figure Hawkish earned so at the least Channel Cat has about the same probability to win as that one.

 

 

We will include Catholic Boy in the 2nd position on exact tickets as he moves back to turf, where he won the With Anticipation Stakes last summer at Saratoga in only the 2nd start of his career. He was flat when last seen in the Florida Derby and may need one race to get back to form good enough to win but he could hit the board.

 

 

Bets:

Untamed Domain to win at 2 to 1 or more as a true KEY BET on the day.

Channel Cat to win and place at 5 to 1 or more. (For a much smaller amount than on Untamed Domain).

IF Hawkish should run here rather than the Penn Mile, he is worth considering for a win bet at odds of 3 to 1 or more.

 

Exactas:

Untamed Domain over Hawkish. Catholic Boy, Analyze It and Channel Cat

Hawkish, Catholic Boy, Analyze It and Channel Cat over Untamed Domain

Untamed Domain over ALL then also (the opposite) ALL over Untamed Domain

Hawkish, Analyze It and Untamed Domain over Hawkish, Analyze It, Untamed Domain, Catholic Boy and Channel Cat

 

 

Snow Chief Stakes – Race 7 at Santa Anita - Post Time 6:30 PM Eastern/3:30 PM Pacific

 

Huddle added blinkers for his last start, the 3rd of his career and 2nd turf route, and he blazed along on the lead through fractions of 22.6 and 46.2 on the way to a wire-to-wire win. Not only will the competition be tougher in this stakes race, there are two, possibly three, other horses that may want the lead early, and even if left alone on the front end, a 46.2 half-mile split is really going to set up the late kick of a couple of runners here, most notably Hardboot, who just WON a very similar stakes race for California bred horses. In that race, the Silky Sullivan Stakes at Golden Gate, Hardboot rallied from last of 10 and was still seventh with a quarter mile to go before circling the field to win going away. He had run similarly well last November at Del Mar in the 2nd start of his career and first turf route when breaking his maiden. With a career best 103 Equibase figure (that's the 2nd best last race figure in the field) to improve upon, Hardboot is going to be very tough to keep from passing them all once more.

 

Waya Ed tried turf for the first time when last seen on 4/15 over the track and ended up 3rd after leading from the start. He led on slow fractions and does not wear blinkers and so it may have been the case of no other horse wanting the lead. He had been off for 3 months prior and in his last start since, his 2nd career start and first route, on the all-weather at Golden Gate, Waya Ed rallied from just off the pace so as he's NOT a need-the-lead type as it appears others in here are he could get a ground saving trip and run very well at odds too high to ignore.

 

Take the One O One is the stablemate of Waya Ed, owned by Jay Em Ess Stable and trained by Brian Koriner. He led from the start in his most recent race, on the main track, before settling for 3rd, and it doesn't appear he has the ability to relax in the early stages so he could be tired late BUT two of his last 3 efforts resulted in 104 and 106 figures that are the best in the field and so I will use him on exotic tickets played but will prefer either or both of the other two contenders for win bets.

 

Bets:

Hardboot to win at 2 to 1 or more

Waya Ed to win at 3 to 1 or more.

The best way to insure a profit betting two horses to win is to use a "Dutching" tool like the one at Amwager which helps allocate your total bankroll for optimal profit.

 

Exactas:

Box Hardboot, Waya Ed and Take the One O One

Box Hardboot and Waya Ed again

 

Pick 3: (two tickets)

Race 7 - Hardboot, Waya Ed and Take the One O One

Race 8 - Lemon Crush, Z Z Tiger, Paprika and Rocketann

Race 9 – Mopotism, La Force, Vale Dori and Unique Bella

 

Race 7 – Hardboot and Waya Ed

Race 8 – Lemon Crush, Z Z Tiger, Paprika and Rocketann

Race 9 – Mopotism, La Force and Unique Bella

 

Beholder Mile – Race 9 at Santa Anita - Post Time 7:30 PM Eastern/ 4:30 Pacific

 

Mopotism wheels back on six days rest off a last of 7 finish in the Gamely Stakes last weekend when trying turf for the first time. Trainer O'Neill is tossing the effort and so can we. O'Neill knows his horses and has a pretty strong record of 9 for 45 bringing horse back on a 5-10 day rest over the last few years, with a 31% flat bet profit and with 50% of the 45 horses hitting the board. Considering Mopotism opens at 20/1 in spite of having won the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes over the course in January with a 114 Equibase figure that stacks up EXCEEDINGLY well with heavy favorite Unique Bella's best efforts (with one exception), Mopotism could be a KEY longshot bet on the day.

 

We must also note that Vale Dori, who opens at 2/1, finished 2nd in this race last year off a win in the Adoration, the Santa Margarita, the Santa Maria and the La Canada. Mopotism won the La Canada, finished 2nd (to Unique Bella) in the Santa Maria and finished third in the Santa Margarita before the irrelevant try in the Gamely. That's pretty much the same pattern and similar form which gives us more reasons to believe Mopotism has a big shot.

 

Unique Bella has no knocks except for being the odds-on favorite. She was beaten when 2nd at 1 to 5 in the Apple Blossom when last seen but other than that, and her inexplicably bad effort in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint last fall, she's tough as nails and could take some beating. Just the same, her two-turn wins, except in the Santa Maria in February (128 figure) have been good but not exceptional, with 112, 112 and 100 figures, so she's not unbeatable.

 

La Force is the horse to use on any and all exotic and multi-race tickets played, and to make a small win/place bet on so we're not kicking ourselves later. Beaten inches by Mopotism when third in the La Canada, the filly should improve off a 4th place finish last month in the Adoration Stakes after two months off and if she can run back to her La Canada effort with a 113 figure, she could be in the picture at the end.

 

Except for one pick 3 ticket, I'm taking a stand against Vale Dori, who ran poorly with no excuse at 8/5 in the Adoration Stakes last month, her first start following 9 months off. I just can't imagine her improving enough to beat either Mopotism or Unique Bella. As for Paradise Woods, she's highly suspect as the 2/1 second favorite on the morning line as she didn't show a thing when fourth in the Santa Monica Stakes in March, her first start off three months off. She's going to be fresh and have the lead early but not to herself as Vale Dori and Unique Bella will be right there from the start. We don't make money in the long term using two favorites in the exotics so I'm leaving Paradise Woods off my exacta tickets, except one with La Force because that one opens at 20/1.

 

Bets:

Mopotism to win and to place at 3 to 1 or more

Consider a small win and place bet on La Force at 6 to 1 or more

 

Exactas: Mopotism over ALL and (the opposite) ALL over Mopotism

Box Mopotism and Unique Bella

 

Penn Mile Stakes – Race 9 at Penn National - Post Time 7:45 PM Eastern

 

Encumbered makes his first start since finishing 13th of 14 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last fall and although it may be tough to return off a seven month layoff and run well enough to win a graded stakes race like the Penn Mile, I believe this colt can do just that. In the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, Encumbered broke well to secure a good spot in third shortly after the start and held that position just outside eventual winner Mendelssohn before tiring with less than a quarter mile to go. Ignoring his poor try on dirt prior to that against Bolt d'Oro in the Frontrunner Stakes, Encumbered proved himself at the level, winning the Del Mar Juvenile Turf Stakes in September after breaking his maiden in his first turf route. Those two efforts earned 98 and 97 Equibase Figures, respectively, which are better than any of the figures likely favorite Maraud earned during his two year old campaign. Working like clockwork since his return to the track in April, Encumbered also may have the benefit of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf being a "KEY RACE" as six of the other 12 horses won their next starts, four of those in either March or April and off long layoffs like the one Encumbered is returning from. Trainer Callaghan has also shown the ability to get horses to win running turf routes off long layoffs, having done so a couple of times in the past two years, with one of those having come off a layoff to win a stakes race. Much more physically mature than when last seen in the fall, Encumbered may be tough to beat in this year's Penn Mile Stakes.

 

It must be noted Hawkish is also entered to run in the Pennine Ridge Stakes at Belmont the same day as the Penn Mile but if trainer Toner chooses this race, the horse must be taken very seriously. Sent to post at 3 to 1 odds in the Palm Beach Stakes in March, only the second start of his career, Hawkish finished fourth of seven and three lengths behind Maraud, who was sent to post at just slightly lower odds of 5 to 2. Given six weeks off, Hawkish returned on April 15 to dominate a field of seven at this mile trip on turf, winning in a hand ride by nearly five lengths to earn a career-best 105 figure, as good as Maraud earned winning the Palm Beach. The race Hawkish won in April turned out to be a "KEY RACE" as well, with both the runner-up and fourth finishers flattering the horse by winning their next starts. With perhaps the best closing kick in the field (22.4 for the last quarter mile in his most recent race), Hawkish is definitely a contender in this race.

 

Maraud has won three of four races this year including two stakes races. He won the Palm Beach in March with a 105 figure before a poor fifth place effort in the Transylvania Stakes in April. Maraud redeemed himself last month with a strong win in the American Turf Stakes with a career-best, and field high, 113 figure. That type of effort can win the Penn Mile if repeated and if none of the others improve but he is likely to the prohibitive favorite and as such may not offer good return potential for win bets.

 

Bets:

Encumbered to win at 2 to 1 or more.

A second win bet, this one on Hawkish, appears warranted at 5 to 2 or higher.

 

Exactas:

Box Encumbered, Hawkish and Maraud

Wednesday, 30 May 2018 19:38

Let's Go Back

Past the Wire     Tracking Tips Logo

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.

 

 

 

Saturday, 26 May 2018 13:32

Key Races & Bets for Saturday, May 26

 

Gold Cup at Santa Anita – Race 5 at Santa Anita - Post Time 5:30 PM Eastern/ 2:30 Pacific

Pavel can post the mild upset opening at 5/1.Rested a couple of months and back on Lasix off a 4th of 10 finish in the Dubai World Cup, the newly turned four year old may appear to be no match for either Accelerate or for City of Light, the former having beaten him (when he finished 4th) in the San Pasqual Stakes over the track in February and the latter having beaten him (when fourth as well) in the Malibu Stakes in December. HOWEVER, in the first he was prepping for longer as he isn't really a sprinter and in the latter he had HORRIBLE traffic trouble that cost him dearly as he as stopped not once, but twice. When finally clear, much too late, he finished up nicely. Last summer after a strong win in the Smarty Jones Stakes, Pavel faced older for the first time and gave multi-millionaire Keen Ice all he could handle fighting for 2nd in the Jockey Club Gold Cup as the winner easily controlled things on the front end from start to finish. That effort earned him a 117 figure and his troubled San Pasqual effort a 113 figure but Accelerate earned a 120 figure which is what Pavel is capable of with his best effort here.

 

 

Prince of Arabia finished 2nd to runaway seven length winner Dr. Dorr last month in the Californian and with Dr. Dorr opening at 5 to 2 compared to 12 to 1for Prince of Arabia, the latter is very playable. Not only that but before that race, Prince of Arabia won a highly rated dirt route, beating Soi Phet in the process, that one winning the Crystal Water Stakes on Sunday and paying $96 to win. Now having shown he can run just fine on dirt, and with the ability to rally from far back or lay close to the pace, Prince of Arabia must be given consideration as a contender here anywhere near his double digit starting odds.

 

 

Accelerate has no real knocks as he's as tough as they come, having finished first or second in 11 of 18 races. On the other hand he has nearly as many second place finishes (5) as wins (6) in his career, including a loss last month by a nose at low odds in the Oaklawn Handicap. City of Light won the Oaklawn Handicap but tries 10 furlongs for the first time. He has never finished worse than 2nd in seven races but his 9/5 odds are too low for a win bet and also appear out of line with his true probability to win given the fact he lacks experience at the trip and others don't. Dr. Dorr sports the same comment at Accelerate as he's never run 10 furlongs. His last two efforts were the best of his career but again the low morning line odds of 5/2 make him tough to consider for a win bet.

 

 

Bets:

Pavel to win at 2 to 1 or more.

 

Prince of Arabia to win at 7 to 2 or more, adding a place bet at 5 to 1 or higher, and for a smaller amount than the win bet on Pavel.

 

 

Exactas:

Pavel over Accelerate, Prince of Arabia, City of Light and Dr. Dorr.

 

 

Prince of Arabia over Pavel, Accelerate, City of Light and Dr. Dorr for a smaller amount than the exactas with Pavel on top.

 

 

Pavel, Accelerate, City of Light and Dr. Dorr over Prince of Arabia for a smaller amount than the exactas with Pavel on top.

 

 

Doubles: Pavel and Prince of Arabia in race 5 with Flaboyant, Itsinthepost, Ritzy A.P. and Syntax in race 6.

Pavel, Accelerate, City of Light, Dr. Dorr and Prince of Arabia in race 5 with Syntax in race 6.

Pavel in race 5 with Flaboyant, Itsinthepost, Ritzy A.P. and Syntax in race 6.

 

 

Salvatore Mile Stakes  – Race 11 at Monmouth - Post Time 5:58 PM Eastern

 

Sunny Ridge should really love the sizzling hot pace set by very likely early leader Shaft of Light, who is stretching out off a pair of wire-to-wire sprint wins. The last time he ran two-turns, Shaft of Light opened up fast while running the opening quarter of 22.8 and the opening half in 46.4, fractions way to fast to have any energy in the late stages. With Chip Leader also a horse that likes to have the lead from the start, although not as fast, the early pace should be hot and allow Sunny Ridge to repeat his closing wins last January (2017) and March in the Jazil Stakes and in the Stymie Stakes, particularly as this is his 2nd start back off a 10 month layoff and off a fine 2nd place finish last month.

Great Stuff stretches out as well but is NOT a need-the-lead type, having rallied for his last two wins. Bravo gets on for Jacobson and as the horse is a graded stakes winner, having won the Toboggan Stakes in January, he fits on all counts at this grade 3 stakes level.

I won't play exactas here but we should play doubles with race 12, the Monmouth Stakes. On some of those double tickets we can also use Shaft of Light in this race because we have horses in race 12 that may offer value as we are taking a stand against the likely favorite.

Bets: Sunny Ridge to win at 9 to 5 of higher.

Great Stuff to win at 3 to 1 or more.

Doubles: Sunny Ridge, Great Stuff and Shaft of Light in race 11 with Projected, Force the Pass and Doctor Mounty in race 12.

 

Monmouth Stakes  – Race 12 at Monmouth - Post Time 6:29 PM Eastern

 

Doctor Mounty was scratched out of the off-turf Dixie Stakes (as was Divisidero) last weekend at Pimlico and he's a lightly raced horse who has run very well in his few turf races, winning two of his last four excluding the Tampa Bay Stakes in February when he fell. Returning two months later in the Clark Stakes o 4/21, Doctor Mounty rallied fast from 8th to 2nd and appears all set to run back to his win on 1/14 on the grass, the only time Gallardo rode him previously. Hall-of-Fame trainer McGaughey uses Gallardo occasionally but when they team up they are 5 for 10 in the past year which says a lot about the chances for Doctor Mounty to post the upset here, opening at 8/1.

Force the Pass had been away from the races for a hefty 20 months when returning on May 5 in the Cliff Hanger Stakes on this turf course. Running as if he had never been away, Force the Pass won by a nose with a huge effort. Before the layoff he earned over $1 million on the turf including a win in the 2015 Grade 1 Belmont Derby and as he's likely to run even better 2nd off the layoff than earlier this month he must be considered strongly as a contender.

Projected missed by a neck around this time last year in the Grade 3 Poker Stakes, following a runner-up finish to World Approval in the 2017 Dixie, with World Approval having won the Breeders' Cup Mile last fall. Rested after winning the Grade 2 Baltimore-Washington Turf Cup in September, Projected returned in April and ran very well when finishing fast from 9th to 2ndbehind Fire Away in the Danger's Hour Stakes, that one winning the off-turf Dixie last weekend. As such, Projected is another likely to improve 2nd off the layoff and rounds out a strong trio of contenders in this race.

Bets:

Since all three contenders - Doctor Mounty, Force the Pass and Projected, have a strong probability to win, the best way to bet for profit is to bet the TWO of the THREE at the highest odds, perhaps all three, at odds of 5 to 2 or more. When betting more than one horse to win in a race it is best to use a "Dutching" tool like the one at Amwager, which helps allocate your bankroll for the best return.

 

Gamely Stakes  – Race 8 at Santa Anita - Post Time 7 PM Eastern/ 4PM Pacific

 

Although having never run on the grass, Mopotism is my top choice to win this year's Gamely Stakes. Second in the field in career earnings with $649,200, Mopotism has proven very capable in being competitive with some of the best fillies and mares in training over the past two years. Starting last summer with a head defeat in the Summertime Oaks, Mopotism ran in four straight grade one stakes races facing the likes of Elate, Forever Unbridled and Unique Bella. When none of those were among the entrants, she won the La Canada Stakes in January before a second when facing Unique Bella again, this time in the Santa Maria Stakes in February. Coming into the Gamely off a third place finish behind Fault (who won again) in the Santa Margarita, the main question is whether Mopotism can transition that top form to the grass. Considering sons and daughters of her sire Uncle Mo win graded stakes races on turf as they do on dirt that is easily answered with "Yes." For example, Uncle Mo's son Motown won the Hollywood Derby last fall and his daughter Ultra Brat won the Gallorette Stakes on the grass last weekend. As such, Mopotism appears well suited to earn her first graded stakes win on the turf in this race.

Madam Dancealot won the similar Santa Ana Stakes at this distance over the Santa Anita turf in March, rallying from 14 lengths back early to win by a half-length. Two races prior to that, Madam Dancealot ran big again when finishing second in the American Oaks. If she can improve upon her 11th to seventh place effort last month at a shorter distance in the Distaff Turf Mile she could easily be in the thick of the action at the finish.

Uni ships cross country for the strong Chad Brown barn, bringing along regular rider Irad Ortiz, Jr., giving up an entire day of mounts at Belmont for this race (and three others on the day). Last month, Uni returned from six months off and won as if she had never been away from the races when victorious in the Plenty of Grace Stakes with a career-best 105 figure. Last summer, Uni ran very well in the Lake Placid Stakes when second, following that up with a win in the Sands Point Stakes. As she makes her second start as a four year old, Uni can improve off her Plenty of Grace effort and that makes her a fairly strong contender in the Gamely.

Beau Recall won the Royal Heroine Stakes over the course last month with a very strong rally from last of nine early and passing six horses in the stretch to win. Beau Recall also is a four year old with room to improve and as she proved herself at the distance of the Gamely last summer when coming up a nose shy of victory in the Del Mar Oaks she must has a good chance to succeed in this event.

Midnight Crossing has early speed and can be around for a share, as can Hawksmoor, but it is just as likely they tire each other out on the front end as one of them gets loose, in either case likely getting run down late but still capable of finishing second.

Bets: Mopotism to win at 2 to 1 or more, adding a place bet at 5 to 1 or more.

A second win bet, this one on Madam Dancealot, appears warranted at 2 to 1 or higher.

Exactas: Mopotism, Madam Dancealot, Uni and Beau Recall over Mopotism, Madam Dancealot, Uni, Beau Recall, Midnight Crossing and Hawksmoor.

 

 

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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.