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.
Oaklawn Park Race 10 Rebel Stakes
All eyes this weekend will be on Oaklawn Park for the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes, the second leg of Oaklawn’s three-year-old Kentucky Derby prep races. First run in 1961 and won by Bass Clef, the Rebel Stakes has been a popular prep for horses with Derby dreams. This year's edition has drawn a strong field of 11. On paper, this race has a ton of early speed. Those horses that like to lay the heat on the front end include Silver Bullion (30-1), Uncontested (10-1), Malagacy (4-1), and Royal Mo (9-2). If they all blast away from the gate, the early fractions could be blazing which should set the race up for a horse from off the pace. That is not to say Uncontested and/or Malagacy could not wire the field but I think the pace may be too hot early for one of them to hold one for win honors.
Morning-line favoritism in this race falls on American Anthem(2-1) for Mr. Rebel himself, Bob Baffert. Baffert has an incredible record in the Rebel Stakes winning it six of the last seven years. His winning Rebel resume looks like this:
2010 – Lookin at Lucky
2011 – The Factor
2012 – Secret Circle
2014 – Hoppertunity
2015 – American Pharoah
2016 – Cupid
While not all these horses went on to be classic winners, it is obvious that Baffert knows what type of horse will excel at Oaklawn Park going 1 1/16th miles. This year he ships in the lightly raced American Anthem. The three-year-old colt by Bodemeister broke his maiden at six furlongs in his first start at Delmar in December. It was an impressive maiden win as he was marooned out in post 11 and showed maturity, being able to establish a stalking position before going on to win by a neck.
Baffert thought well enough of him after that start to run him in the Grade 2 Sham Stakes a month later. In the Sham, he was sent from the rail over a muddy track and came up a head short to Gormly at the wire. While he did not win the race, the tenacity he showed battling down to the wire against a horse that had a lot more experience should pay dividends in this race. It was a educational loss and it must not have taken a lot out of him, as he returned to the work tab just 10 days later working four furlongs in 48.3. He has maintained a strong workout pattern since and looks to be coming into this race in top form. I expect Mike Smith to set up shop right behind the early speed and make his move turning for home. While the morning line is short on value (and I don’t even know if we’ll get 2-1), American Anthem looks primed to keep the Baffert winning streak alive in the Rebel.
So how do make money playing with a short-priced favorite? Let’s try to key and wheel American Anthem with two horses who should also be sitting off the early speed. Petrov (9 -2) and Untrapped (8-1) both have running styles that fit the pace dynamics of this race. Petrov, trained by Ron Moquett, has been the bridesmaid his last three races running second to One Liner, Uncontested, and Even Thunder. In those races, he did a bit of the dirty work keeping the pace horses honest throughout the race. With other speed signed on in this race, Petrov should be able to run his own race. His speed figures have improved with every start and being by Flatter, should only to get better with each and every race. Moquett put a sharp work into him on March 4th when he went five furlongs in 59.3, signaling all systems go.
Untrapped ships into this race from Fair Grounds for trainer Steve Asmussen after running second in two consecutive Derby prep races, the Grade 3 Lecomte and Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes. He too, has increased his speed figures in every start and always seems to be running on strong at the end of his races. You get a jockey change to Irad Ortiz Jr. and I like the confidence Asmussen shows shipping him over off only three weeks rest. While I’m not sold Untrapped will be a classic distance horse, being by Trappe Shot, the 1 1/16th miles of this race is well within his scope.
If playing trifectas and supers you may want to include Silver Dust and Lookin At Lee both at (15-1) on the bottom of your tickets. Another outstanding Derby prep race and the best of luck to all.