Jon Stettin's Blog - AmWager

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    September 19, 2018

    House Rules "Pay That Man His Money"

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    The House makes the rules, and if you play you are going to play by those rules, whether you like it or not. The house has bet on you playing regardless of what the rules are, or how they interpret them. History has proven them right. Though attendance at racetracks is scarce most of the year, handle holds. This is as much a sign of the times as it is poor management and weak retention of players.

    All gambling outlets deal with similar issues, and all have things stacked in their favor and against you. If you ask most serious gamblers if they would play poker against a stacked deck, you would get a resounding no. Shortly thereafter, they’ll log on to their ADW, go to the track or casino, or sit down at the poker table. Essentially, they are playing against a stacked deck. The house wins. Although, pari-mutual wagering is somewhat of a different animal. We, for the most part, play against each other, similar to poker, but the house is in the game. In poker you have the rake, in the Sport of Kings you have the takeout.

    I find it very frustrating when people make decisions regarding my money. Normally, most of us would resist it. In racing, and in most gambling, we have taken it on the chin so often we accept it. We’ve become the kid who hands their lunch money to the bully without even making him have to take it. Just last week at Woodbine, a favored horse in a stake on one of their biggest days broke through the gate. The horse ran off before a great catch by the outrider saved him. He was brought back to the gate and inspected and allowed to run, presumably with no visible injury. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t injured or did not leave his race at the run off. The percentage of horses who break through the gate and run off winning is low. Most people do not want one as the favorite. House rules he ran, lost, and if you had him you got stuck with him, unless you were able to cancel your ticket. It might not be better if he had scratched. Then you get the favorite who you may have or may not have wanted. The only fair way to protect the “customer” is to have and allow alternative selections. Fair, simple, and the right way to protect your money. I’d prefer a refund to the current rules. That will never happen because we are not protected, and apparently most of us don’t care. I do.

    We have evolved to accept we do not know what will happen following an inquiry, regardless of what the head on view shows. We have had what happens out of the gate does not impact the race rammed down our throats so much, that some of us actually believe it. Stewards don’t bet, or at least are not supposed to, yet they decide without accountability what happens to the money you bet.

    Now for the latest. FanDuel declined to honor a $110 bet on the Broncos on Sunday that would have paid more than $82,000, due to an error in the odds-making process, the company said.

    "The wager in question involved an obvious pricing error inadvertently generated by our in-game pricing system," a FanDuel spokesperson said in a statement. In these cases, the company policy and house rules clearly say they do not have to pay. Tough luck to the bettor who went to the window at the Meadowlands and made the bet and had a ticket at the posted, albeit incorrect odds in his hand. Interesting the house rules in this case, do not mirror New Jersey state rules. The state rules include an investigation prior to a determination, but it is the house rules that count, and they never favor or protect the customer. In gambling, the customer is always wrong. Now in fairness, Vegas books might pay this error, but when they do they almost always bar the player. Maybe that’s the one case they try and protect the gambler.

    In all fairness, this wager was an obvious error and the player likely knew it was fishy. That said they made the mistake. They took his money and his bet. Had he lost there would have been no refund under the heading, but he lost. He didn’t lose. He won, and although at true odds he wins $18 not $80K you didn’t post those odds, did you? If you make a mistake at a casino or a racetrack, try telling them you really wanted red, or the #4. You will quickly see exactly where you stand. So, should FanDuel, in the words of Teddy KGB, “pay that man his money?"

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    September 13, 2018

    Structures And Strategies

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    I am pretty sure Yogi Berra was talking baseball when he said “90% of this game is half mental.” I always understood Yogi and had a similar way of thinking. In racing 90% of this game is at least 50% knowing how to bet. Handicapping is unquestionably vital, but if you do not know how to bet and structure wagers effectively and efficiently, you will get swallowed as fast as a horse who goes 44 to the half in a mile and a quarter race.

    I have written about my philosophy, which I often call a kill-shot, many times. I have bet the way I do now for a long time, but it also took me a long time to develop both the strategy and discipline it requires. While it may not be the only way to beat the game today, I am certain it is as good as any. The possible exception is those who play for rebates and by computer programs that cannibalize pools at everyone else’s expense.

    Today I will share my outlook for those who may wish to consider it at times, or even as a matter of practice as I do. Keeping in mind, I think all who play should play to win, and you should do what works for you, especially if you are beating the game which is truly the only benchmark.

    In pari-mutual wagering we are not playing against the house, as we do in say a casino. We are playing against each other, the take-out, the intangibles, and the computer syndicates I referenced earlier in this article. They are out there and have their hands or keyboards in not only the racetracks pockets, but all of ours as well. In a future Past the Wire article or broadcast I am going to talk more about “them” and how to beat “them” at their game. Does anyone who follows me think I would not at some point deal with that? Not if you know me, but that is for another day.

    Keeping in mind this is indeed a skill game that has intangibles and luck, that we even out with odds and value. You have to have a solid game plan and stick with it to enjoy long term success. If you are hap hazard and fluctuate your approach, beating the game is next to impossible and you turn a game of skill into a game of chance. We all have seen that movie and know the ending.

    Kill-shot wagering and the philosophy behind it goes against human nature and that makes it hard for most to employ. Most players want to cash as many tickets as possible and use as many horses they can afford to insure they do. I have come to learn that is a mistake and flawed approach in the long run. I want to make as few losing wagers as possible, minimizing my losses, and make it count or maximize my winnings when I am right. For example, I never box an exacta. Never. A three horse $1 exacta box costs $6. You start with in the hole with: the take-out, your expenses, the computer syndicates, and with 5 losing wagers. That is a lot to go in your red column. I would play one horse I like best over the other two. I will cash less, but win more, when I am right. That is what counts over time. The more you put in the red column, the more you have to dig out. So, while human nature is to cash as many tickets as you can by playing as many horses and combinations as you can afford, it is not the best road to long term success in the Sport of Kings. Additionally, if you go for the kill-shot and your budget for the exacta was $6, now you have the number for $3 instead of $1. Cash less, win more.

    This style works well with every bet with the possible exception of the Pick 6. That is a whole different animal. In pick 4’s and 5’s however it does apply at least for me. As opposed to taking a multi-race wager for 50 cents, I will always have one or two short races or singles to allow me, within my budget, to have the sequence multiple times when I am right. If you can be good enough to be right 20-25% of the time and are not afraid of the board, you are in the game big time.

    I have watched and studied racing long enough to know you can handicap for the winner, and even the second horse, but nobody can handicap for third, fourth or especially fifth. Nobody. There are way too many factors that influence those, placings, not the least of which is riders wrapping up when they know they can’t win. It happens daily. You can eliminate horses from all the meaningful placings, thus not needing the all button every time you play a triple or superfecta, but even that can be risky. I like to turn triples and superfectas into exactas. I will take one horse over two horses, and then take all in the third slot and in the fourth slot as well if it is a superfecta. If I am right and hit the exacta, I know I have the triple and superfecta. I won’t cash them as many times as some others might, but I am not in to cash the most tickets, I am in to win the most money.

    What works for you is what I think you should do if you are coming out ahead, where you want to be at the end of the year or meet. If not, maybe try going for the kill-shot. If you can maintain the discipline and stick to it, I am confidant you will see improvement. You can’t be afraid to leave a horse out, or to miss a sequence. You have to believe in yourself and your ability, and know it is just a matter of time until you make it count. Here’s to making it count.

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    September 7, 2018

    Riding Under the Radar

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    There are a lot of people, including some fine horsemen, who believe jockeys do not matter all that much. Allen Jerkens was as good as it gets and was known to give all riders a shot and felt anyone could win with the right horse. Theoretically, that is a true statement. However, my years of wagering professionally have taught me riders make a world of difference to a bettor looking to beat the game consistently.

    Sure, one can argue the better riders get the better mounts, thus they win a high percentage of races. Another true statement but talent earns them those mounts. Even if an agent or connections get them the mounts in the beginning, to keep them you have to be able to ride. Not all riders are created equal. They are pound for pound among the toughest athletes in the world, but they are athletes in a ultra competitive game and some are just better than others.

    To be a great rider there are certain essentials you must have. A keen sense of pace and timing, fearlessness, the ability to handicap, good instincts, great reflexes and a good memory are some of them. Great athleticism and strength are also needed.

    As players we all know certain riders, especially at certain meets and even more so when they ride for certain outfits, are going to be over bet and decrease the value on their horse. While I never endorse betting against whom you think will win, and always say “there is NO value in a losing wager” I do like when the horse I land on has an under the radar great rider. There are always some out there, and some last, while others come to the masses attention. Today I will discuss a few I think are still under the radar and are great riders who can ride and hold their own with anybody on any circuit.

    A few years ago, I gave Florent Geroux the High Five in a Past the Wire article and stated he was the best improved jockey in the country. A few months later he won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and look at his resume now. Years before that I had said Joel Rosario could be one of the best and while he’s had his ups and downs his resume is outstanding. Watching the New York colony growing up, being a Jockey Agent while a young man, being a student of the game and avid race watcher has taught me some things to look for. Knowing several riders and talking racing with them over the years has helped also.

    Jose and Irad Ortiz can ride with the best of them. Mike Smith is a timeless all time great. Today we are going to look at what I will call “Under The Radar Love.”

    Kendrick Carmouche- Kendrick is as good a rider as you will see today. As nice a guy as you will meet out of the saddle and in the saddle, he is a fierce competitor. He is aggressive and not afraid to put his horse in the race early or take the lead regardless of distance or surface. He made his bones at lesser tracks than his current NYRA home circuit but has demonstrated he can get it done. He finishes strong and can keep a horse going. A true speed rider who with a horse under him will make a race of it. Because he is so aggressive early he avoids many troubled trips and traffic.

    Junior Alvarado- I used to watch Junior dominate good riders with more experience at Arlington and say to myself what is he waiting for to move to a major circuit? When he switched his tack to New York, I felt he was a sure thing to make it. While some injuries slowed him down a bit, Junior has shown he belongs on the big stage. He is a very strong rider he can take a good hold of a horse without having to strangle them. He is as strong a finisher as there is and has impeccable timing with closers. You definitely want him in a photo. On a live closer you know Junior will be coming.

    Ricardo Santana Jr.- Ricardo does not have a visible weakness as a rider. He can go or take a hold and throws crosses down the lane as pretty as anyone. He’s aggressive, fearless, and hungry. All things as a player, owner or trainer you want in a jock. When he lost some big horses to bigger name riders he did not sulk, he rode harder and now he is likely to keep them or beat them. This guy can horseback.

    Flavian Prat- While pretty popular in California, Flavian is just starting to get national recognition and become known as a go to money rider. He is extremely patient on a horse and has really nice hands. I bet you will start seeing him on more and more big horses in big races. I believe he will bring the goods and take it to the next level.

    Luis Saez- Luis is so strong at times you will see his horses lug in or out but he is strong enough to straighten them right out. Super aggressive and gutsy, if he’s on a live one he is in the game. I’ve watched him develop since his South Florida and he has never stopped improving. He is powerful in the stretch and tough to get by or hold off. Luis on the best horse usually equals money.

    Yes, there are many others. I can’t name them all, and I certainly did not intend to slight anyone out there riding. These are some of the ones I love to see on the horse I am betting.

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    August 16, 2018

    Things Change

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    So much has changed in the Thoroughbred industry in the past 25 years or so, the least of which is not training a race horse. Training race horses still has some basic fundamentals, and remains a crafty art, but it is very different than it was years ago.

    To people who have worked or spent time on the backside, and have been around the game awhile, the changes are obvious. To those who are newcomers, or who have spent their racetrack time on the frontside, the changes are less apparent.

    Race horses are athletes and have more in common with human athletes than meets the eye. While true they run naturally, when in the wild they normally run straight and in spurts. They have to be coached and taught to run in circles, and at different speeds and paces. Like a coach, some trainers are better than others. The good ones, really good ones, identify a horse as an individual and get inside the animal’s head and truly educates them. At least that is how it used to be. Today, the so-called super trainers with their large strings, often at multiple tracks, run a make or break type of program. They have too many in training to have an individualized program, but they are winning at high percentages, so nobody is complaining. The difference shows in the longevity and the number of starts in a year and over a career.

    It is no secret, the old school method produced horses who lasted longer and ran more frequently. They also did so with less medications. Today, the large majority of horses in the US race on Lasix. Years ago, a horse who needed Lasix was considered a second stringer and could not even race in New York, which is where you had to run if you wanted to be champion. Taking nothing away from today’s trainers and methods, it is not the same and in the long run it shows.

    Old school trainers were patient. They had non-winners in one, two, three and even four allowance races to take their horses through, while slowly letting them develop and learn the game. Today they go from a maiden, to stakes, or the optional claimer, or even the outright claimer. Today’s trainer pays close attention to their stats, specifically their win percentage, so prep races are not used like they were. This is further increased by the Kentucky Derby point system, which forces trainers to have their horse at peak level before the Derby, in order to qualify on points. Additionally, horses have to be cranked up to get in the money, in a so-called prep race, to assure them a starting place in the gate on the first Saturday in May.

    In today’s game you have a much larger concentration of good horses distributed to a much smaller percentage of trainers. This creates a playing field that is anything but level for the smaller barns. When you can send your horses out in sets, primarily made up of talented and fast horses, and can train behind them, in between them, to run with, and past them. It certainly gives you an edge over the guy asking around the backside for a work mate or a free-lance rider to get on one horse. True that always took place, but there used to be a lot of powerhouse farms and barns, and that has given way to a few and a lot of partnerships with common owners pooling resources, as opposed to competing.

    Today so much more depends on the Vet and Vet work a trainer has done. There are many more medications available today along with things like; shock wave therapy, laser, equine massage, and acupuncture. The barns that utilize these enhancements get better results on the whole than the barns that don’t or cannot afford to. We are not even taking into consideration those who push and even exceed the envelope. That is a subject for another day.

    One of the things that has remained steadfast is teaching a horse to change leads. Many bettors do not realize how important this actually is. When a horse is racing or running, the legs on one side of their body lead, or extend farther than the others. Teaching a horse to change leads on cue is vital. Usually, because we run counter clockwise here in the US, horses are generally on the right lead on the straightaways and on the left lead on the turns. This is the natural motion anyway. A race horse will tire faster if they stay on the same lead too long. Changing on cue, or at the worst, changing is important. Think of it this way. You are at an airport carrying some heavy luggage, or at a store carrying a heavy package. Your normal inclination will be to lean on your stronger side and keep going until fatigue sets in. Then you switch arms, and your gait and there comes your second wind. You changed leads and if you watch horses do it in races, you will see that renewed energy. If you pay close enough attention, you may pick up on a next out play or play against.

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    August 1, 2018

    Nobody Was Better

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    If you missed the 70’s and 80’s in horse racing, you truly missed some glory years when the Sport of Kings was so much more than what it has been reduced to today. If you missed those years, it is hard to put in perspective. However, imagine almost every Saturday having a “huge card” and major day feel to it. The track was crowded, even during the week, and there was almost always a buzz in the air.

    Saratoga was the August place to be and the premier meet in the country. At 24 days, or 4 short weeks long, the racing was the most competitive in the world. It’s where everyone who was anyone in the game was, and where they wanted to win. Claiming races were few and far between and the optional claimer was not even on the racing secretaries’ radar yet. There was no need for them, as allowance races filled regularly. Horses ran through their conditions on their way to the stakes ranks. And the Spa cards often had stake quality horses running all week in non-winners of one, two, three, and even four allowance races. There was a good stake just about every day and there were no days, absolutely none, when the track was not packed.

    Saratoga was the toughest meet in the country. When you factor that in, it makes Angel Cordero Jr’s streak of 11 straight riding titles at Saratoga, all that much more special. From 1976 through 1987, nobody was better at Saratoga than Angel. He was as dominant a rider as you could ever see, and everyone knew it.

    Angel had no weakness on the back of a racehorse. He was aggressive, he was fearless, he was as good on the lead as he was off the pace. He would do things others didn’t, wouldn’t or couldn’t. He would open up 10 lengths and win by a nose. He would fall 10 lengths behind the last horse and win by a nose. He would speed pop the gate. He would outride any challenger and push the race riding limits to the max to get every single win he could. There was nobody you wanted your case money on more than Angel, and I know he considered that an honor.

    When Angel rode, he not only rode his horse, but he rode the other riders’ horses as well. He knew all their strengths and weaknesses. He was ready to exploit any one of them. He knew who lugged in and who lugged out and he was sitting right where the hole would open. If it didn’t, he would open it. He would taunt riders during the race and get inside their heads. He was a fierce competitor, as one would have to be to take 11 straight titles at the Spa. He could switch hands faster than any rider and was equally adept with his right as with his left. He could get lower than anyone on a horse and carry one home when he had to. Angel once told me he loved to ride in the slop because other jockeys hated it. When the jockey’s room would fill up and it was raining and sloppy, the jockeys would complain, Angel loved it. It gave him an edge, not that he did not already have one.

    After coming from Puerto Rico, Angel had a rough time in Saratoga in 1962, 63, and 64. He could barely afford a place to stay and had a hard time lasting the meet. That would change however, and those memories are part of what motivated him to dominate the Spa, as nobody before or after him has done.

    Angel managed to win his first title in Saratoga in 1967. It would be 9 years later when he took the next one to begin his streak of 11. Angel told me it was hard work that propelled him there. He worked a lot of horses in the mornings, working harder than anyone else. Trainers recognized this and would ride him. Even trainers like Mack Miller, Sidney Waters, Elliott Burch and especially Allen Jerkens would ride Angel at Saratoga, even though they did not ride him as much downstate. They all pointed their horses, and they had good ones, for Saratoga, just as Angel pointed to it.

    If you were fortunate to be at the track every day and watch this athletic dominance day in and day out, it was a treat. I have seen many riders in the groove, but nobody was better than Angel at the Spa.

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    July 26, 2018

    A Better Way

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    Too often the Sport of Kings has questions with no answers. On better days we have more questions than we do answers. That’s usually not a good place to be. Today I’ll talk about an ongoing problem and source of frustration, but I will also suggest a solution albeit not an original one. Nobody here is looking for credit, just a viable solution.

    I love International Racing. The more I learn about it and study it, the more fond of it I grow. I have always liked it, but don’t think I truly appreciated it until I accepted the evolution of racing here in the US for what it has become.

    I love the large fields. I love the big spreads in the odds. I love that they run not only uphill but downhill as well. I love that they run the wrong way and that sometimes they just go straight. I love that you get the odds at which you wagered. I love that they primarily train in their own yards. I love that they run with no race day medications, including Lasix, and for the most part it doesn’t reduce the field size. I love that they breed and train for stamina and not all speed, speed, speed. I love the competitiveness, wagering opportunities, atmosphere and almost everything else.

    What l love most is how they deal with inquiries, fouls, and disqualifications. Who among us has not been frustrated by a disqualification they felt was unjust? Who has not witnessed blatant inconsistencies with no acceptable or plausible explanation? Who has not wanted to scream at another, who thought the foul didn’t cost the other horse a “chance” at a better placing? I have written about so many poor decisions and rulings over the years it has grown tiresome. I’ve seen way too many people reduce their handle and stop playing certain racetracks, because of mostly inconsistent rulings, but just plain bad and wrong ones also.

    World class rider Frankie Dettori will be missing some very important and significant mounts at Goodwood this weekend. He won’t be riding Stradivarius in the Goodwood Cup or Without Parole in the Quatar Sussex Stakes. He also won’t be riding Coronet in a Group 1 at Ascot. Dettori rode Angel’s Hideaway for John Gosden to a second place finish to Pretty Pollyanna in the Dutchess of Cambridge Stakes recently.

    Here is how the ruling went down at a hearing;

    The filly caused interference by moving to her right, pushing Main Edition on to La Pelosa.

    BHA disciplinary panel chairman David Fish said: "The basis of our finding is he didn't take corrective action sufficiently quickly. We take the view he had sufficient time to take preventative action before he actually did.”

    "We take the view considerable interference was caused to two horses, in particular the ones ridden by Mr. Doyle (Main Edition) and Mr. Buick (La Pelosa). We take into account the period over which this careless riding occurred.”

    Clearly in the US this would have likely resulted in a disqualification from second place to at least fourth for Angel’s Hideaway. Bettors who needed her for second would be out of luck. They would be penalized for picking the right horse and betting it correctly, when they in fact did nothing wrong. Does anyone see a problem with that? Bettors put up their money, only to have people not putting up money make decisions regarding theirs. Expletive expletive! That doesn’t really work for me and I have seen way too many preposterous calls to trust the right call will be made.

    In Europe and Japan, they have a different philosophy. They go hard at the rider with fines and suspensions. They don’t automatically allow a rider to ride in important stakes while on suspension. They will take away a purse, but rarely a winning ticket. The bettor is valued and protected, and this system results in far less inquiries and careless riding incidents. It reminds me of when NYRA stewards would look at gate fouls, herding and incidents hard, and disqualify a horse when warranted. There was less herding out of the gate. The horses and their tendencies have not changed.

    It may not be perfect, as there will be times you are cost a placing by a horse that does not get disqualified. We all know that is frustrating, but I think in light of the wild nonsensical and inconsistent rulings we have seen in the last 10 years or so, it just may be the better way to go. I will take objectivity as opposed to subjectivity every time.

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    July 19th, 2018

    "What! It Can't Be"

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    It is easy to talk about the big wins and scores and at one point or another most, if not all, of us do it. I remember them all, but we know this game takes us through the highest highs and lowest lows, regardless of what part of it you are in. One thing I learned long ago is that you have to take the good with the bad. I remember the tough beats and I talk about them as much as the wins. Two that will always stand out are Swain for the Pick 6 and Pick 4 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I hit both with Awesome Again, but Swain meant so much more and how he lost still stings. Another one is needing Dancing House for the whole Breeders’ Cup Pick 6 pool, which was just north of a cool mil, the year my other single Beholder won the Distaff. Dancing House was a 20-1, or thereabouts, single and she did go on to win stakes, albeit on the dirt later but that didn’t help.

    Timing is so much in all aspects of life. I think the beat I will discuss today has as much to do with the timing of it, and how it occurred, as the monetary loss alone. The very large majority of my Saratoga memories are great, and the meet has been generous to me consistently over the years. This particular day, things did not fall my way although for a minute or two I believed they did, and thus I know how I would have felt had it played out that way.

    It was Travers day 2008. I was having a rough time and a rough meet. The life of a professional player has more ups and downs than that of a conventional lifestyle, and this was definitely a down period in every way imaginable on and off the track.

    Worry, who me? No way. I could right the ship with one big and bold correct move and that is precisely what I planned to do. I had done it many times before and I was going to do it again, and this was the day.

    I loved Mambo in Seattle in the Travers. He was the horse that was going to save the day. I was sure he would win, but my question was how to bet him to maximize the score, which I needed to do. Betting to win wouldn’t do it. The field was big which helped the exacta probable payoffs, but I was torn for who I liked to finish second. The pick 4, had a big pool. If I ended with Mambo in Seattle as a single the pay outs should be good, as the first three legs were pretty wide open, in my opinion. I thought if I could stay alive to Mambo, and I get a little lucky in a leg or two leading up to the Travers, I could really get back on track. Funny how this game is, I never even considered the prospect of him losing. I just needed to stay alive as he was going to win the Travers.

    I drove to Calder to bet and planned to watch from home, as I often did back then. I called my Dad and told him to watch and to root, but not to give me any results or to call me. I would be driving home during the races and wanted to watch without results. He said he won’t say anything if he called, but I told him that his voice would give it away. He knew what it meant to me.

    My budget, which pretty much was all there was between me and poverty, allowed for an $10 pick 4 with Mambo in Seattle the only single in the last leg the Travers. Just to help the cause a bit, I also bet two exactas with Mambo in Seattle over both Colonel John and Harlem Rocker. There was no reason to reverse either one of them. I knew the winner, I just had to have the right second horse.

    I made it home about two minutes to post for the Travers. I couldn’t watch it live as I had to watch the other three legs first. It was tough, but that was how I wanted it.

    Porte Bonheur at something like $25 was just the start I needed, and I felt I was already in a good spot after the first leg.

    Shakis at something like $10 or $12 kept me going but second place finisher War Monger who was my top choice would have been nicer. I was not complaining.

    After a $15 winner kept me alive and the Pick 3 paid around $1800 for two dollars I thought I was in good shape.

    I fast forwarded to the walking into the gate. I didn’t even pause for the will pays into the Pick 4. I had a $10 ticket alive to Mambo in Seattle and that was going to be sweet. I also had the two exactas which would ice the cake if I was right.

    The race ran just about how I thought it would through the early stages. Mambo in Seattle was pretty far back but by the time they hit the backstretch they were bunching up in front of him which is what you want if the pace is slow, which it was.

    On the turn Robbie Albarado let Mambo go and he made a big wide move into contention and my eyes were on him. He didn’t get a call yet from Tom Durkin but he looked like he would be right there to me.

    In the stretch I could tell it would be close, and the horses it was between were the ones I needed. Mambo was coming wide with Harlem Rocker and Colonel John. Colonel John and Garrett Gomez had saved all the ground and were running big. But, Robbie avoided a lot of bumping by being so wide and had the momentum. He was going to get up, he was coming, he made it and I knew it. Tom Durkin called it too close to call, but I knew I won. Robbie Albarado knew it too and pumped his fist. I figured it had to be about 75 or 80K for the pick 4 and maybe another 10 or 12K for the exacta.

    While watching the gallop out I called my Dad to celebrate. He answered very solemnly. I became concerned about him immediately and asked what was wrong.

    He said, “Did you see the race?”

    “Yes, we won,” I said.

    “No, he didn’t he got beat,” he replied.

    “What are you talking about I just watched it, he won, Albarado pumped his fist. Are you sure?”

    “He expletive lost,” he said.

    I fast forwarded to real time, "What! It can’t be!"

     

    The highest highs and lowest lows.

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    July 11th, 2018

    "The Belmont Derby"

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    This past Saturday we saw the most exciting edition of the Belmont Derby in the short history of the race.

    Martin Panza, of the New York Racing Association, had a great idea implementing this race on the New York circuit. He recognized a void and filled it, and then some, building a new super day and card, anchored by the new race. The Dwyer, and Suburban were moved to Belmont Derby day, a filly counterpart was added, the Belmont Oaks, along with the Belmont Sprint Championship. There is something for everyone and in keeping with the now trend in racing, another huge event was created.

    The Belmont Derby and Oaks were designed to attract International horses, and as such both are turf races for three-year-old horses over 1 ¼ mile. Prior to the Belmont Derby and Oaks, there were really no distance turf races of note for this category at this time of year.

    What Martin did was actually do away with the Jamaica Handicap, a race that had seen a fair share of changes including age, distance and surface. It was a Grade 1 despite the staggered history and the Belmont Derby kept that status. It was first run under the current name in 2014. In the first four years there has been one winner from overseas, Deauville in 2016. There has also been plenty of other contenders from across the Atlantic, so I would say we can call it a success on that front.

    In this year’s running we saw Catholic Boy give Analyze It a rematch from their odd race, just a little over a month ago in the Pennine Ridge. In that race, Catholic Boy decided he was a front runner, only to be passed in the stretch by favored and previously unbeaten Analyze It. Catholic Boy and rider Javier Castellano had to avoid Analyze It and Jose Ortiz who came in on them after making the lead, angle out and re-rally to out game them at the finish. It is rare for a horse on the lead to be passed and come back again. It shows heart, a will to win, and determination.

    In the Belmont Derby the pair were joined by Hunting Horn, a highly regarded runner from the powerhouse Aidan O’Brien stable, and Hawkish, the Penn Mile winner who also had his share of supporters. My Boy Jack and four others rounded out the field.

    The race unfolded differently, but with the same result. Analyze It went out for the lead but was overtaken by Catholic Boy, who again set the pace. Analyze It kept him in range and again overtook him to look like he was on his way to a revengeful victory. Catholic Boy would have none of it however, and this time without having to overcome trouble, re-rallied on the inside to out game Analyze It and beat him on the square again. It was a great race, one for the books, and proved beyond any doubt Catholic Boy is one gutsy racehorse.

    While the race was great and noteworthy, a rivalry it was not. Catholic Boy has handled Analyze It twice now, both times coming again to snatch victory from defeat. To be a true rivalry, Analyze It would have to beat Catholic Boy one of these days. Now we just have two great races. Professional media people and social media calling this a great rivalry, as some have done, is at best premature and at worst plain silly. Are we that desperate to generate false hype in our game? I don’t know, but we shouldn’t be, as we have had two recent Triple Crown winners and a slew, no pun intended, of other great horses in the last 10 years. There is no need to over hype things and distort the facts and history of this great sport.

    Frankly, there has been too much of that in our game. When we see things like Mind Your Biscuits, as nice a horse as he is, getting an NTRA vote for the top horse in the country, without a single win in North America, it reminds me of California Chrome getting a vote for top turf horse a few years ago in the Eclipse ballots. While so much of our game is subjective, a lot of it isn’t. Those votes display a lack of understanding of the game and discredit the voting process and any awards attached thereto. That’s just my opinion as a long-time student of the game. This is nothing new however, two of our most well-known horses, Secretariat and Ruffian, have so many falsehoods believed about them and some of the people around them. It makes one who knows the stories and what occurred and what didn’t occur, question the journalistic integrity of our sport. That is not a good place to be, but I guess if enough people believe the myths, it doesn’t matter. The worst part is, some historians and journalists are aware of these fables and just sit idly by and allow them to continue to exist. You know, just like tote companies don’t implement real time instant odds to correlate with when wagers are made, nobody cares.

    That said, we saw one heck of a race and the best Belmont Derby to date on Saturday.


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    June 27th, 2018

    "A Very Long List"

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    When AmWager asked me to write about either my favorite or the best filly or mare I have personally seen, I knew it would be difficult. The issue is, I have about 20 or more favorites or best fillies and mares I have been fortunate to see. I had to put my thinking cap on and as I love to do go back.

    Let me start by saying I am firmly in the camp that comparing horses from different eras is entirely subjective. Identifying greatness is not.

    When you talk about eras, you get into who did who beat and the quality of the competition. You also, as a horsemen or women, have to realize these animals are competitive and react to their competition. Much like an athlete who plays better when facing better athletes and plays down when the competition softens. This renders the different era discussion moot and 100% opinion.

    When it comes to the best ever in the filly and mare department, Ruffian stands out. This is something I discussed when on a debate the greats panel at the first Equestricon convention. There have been many greats, but she has some distinctions that are shared by none. The book I wrote about her was called “All 1’s” for a reason. She led at every call of all 10 races she finished. She was never headed and won at distances from 5 furlongs to a mile and a half. Most remarkably, in my opinion, is that she equaled or broke the track or stakes record in all 10 of her wins. She never raced without breaking or at least equaling the track or stakes record. You just can’t find that in any other horses’ past performances, and it is not something one could label subjective. It is as objective and factual as it gets.

    Ruffian had an advantage many horses don’t. Speed. She was fast and could carry that speed. You can’t beat what you can’t catch. She made her luck. Speed horses and even stalkers can do that. Closers, especially deep closers, do not have that advantage and are more pace dependent. When you have a horse, say like Zenyatta, who comes from way off the pace and strings together victories like she did, it is special considering she has to do it no matter what is happening up front.

    Once I began thinking about my favorite race gals and the best ones I have seen, I started remembering my earliest days and memories at the track. Days when the grandstands and clubhouses were full, and the atmospheres were like a super bowl or world series every weekend. Quickly, I realized it would take a book to talk about the great ones I saw. One did come to mind however. She was one of my first favorites and she could run with the best of them. I learned all about a swishing tail in the stretch from her, as I had never seen that before and didn’t know what it could mean. You don’t hear much about her today, probably because she like many great race mares didn’t turn out to be a great producer. But on the racetrack, you better be ready to race if she was in the gate.

    Shuvee was by the great Nashua out of the Nasrullah mare Levee. She was the second filly in history to win the Triple Tiara, the filly version of the Triple Crown in New York which consisted of The Acorn, The Mother Goose, and The Coaching Club American Oaks. I became a fan early on after seeing her win The Frizette. She had a habit of swishing her tail in the stretch, that caught my attention and I asked about it. Some horses, especially fillies or mares did it when they were tiring, some did it playfully, and some just had a nuance. After sweeping the filly Triple Crown I watched her win The Alabama and even then, as a young boy knew she was something special. I didn’t know the best was yet to come.

    A few short years later I was surprised to see her entered against the boys, in what was then one of the most prestigious and grueling races in the country, The Jockey Club Gold Cup, then run at two miles. An ambitious spot for any filly, but Shuvee came through swishing tail and all. That iced her champion older mare and she came back the next year to try The Jockey Club Gold Cup again. She made it back to back wins in the tough race and scored her second champion older mare title. She was inducted into the Racing hall of Fame in 1975 I believe, just 4 years after her second Gold Cup win.

    I will never forget rooting for that filly I bet to beat the colts with the swishing tale. I can still hear Fred Caposella calling her name. Ah Shuvee, one of the greats.

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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.

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