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  • Past the Wire     Tracking Tips Logo

     

    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.

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    April 11, 2018

    Make the Right Moves

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    Jockeys and their agents are faced with tough decisions every day. In a profession where, for the most part you’re rewarded for winning and blanked for losing, the pressure is always on to ride the best horse in each race that you can. Sometimes the decision is made for you by a trainer or even owner, but if you’ve worked your way up to be a top rider, it will often be your call which horse you ride.

    Sometimes being on the right horse isn’t as simple as just knowing who gives you your best chance. Calls on horses are given out in advance and part of being a good agent is knowing which horses are running back in which races. Agents often have to know this before the entries are drawn. They work off the condition book and have to maintain close ties with the outfits you ride for.

    This is horse racing however, and we all know things change quickly. A horse not expected to enter a race, can be entered leaving a rider with two calls or commitments. One outfit is not going to be happy with your decision. When a rider takes a call on a horse, and subsequently another horse enters the same race and he abandons the first call, it’s called spinning. The initial trainer got “spun” in favor of the perceived better mount. Agents who do this frequently get a reputation and it can come back to bite you.

    Riding the best horse in a particular race, can also be compromised by not only prior commitments but also by relationships. If you are riding a lot for a barn, especially a barn who has a lot of live horses, you may at times ride a horse for that barn which may not be your best chance at a win. However, you don’t want to jeopardize future live mounts from that outfit. It is a constant balance and juggling act and it often can be difficult to keep everyone happy. That’s the top end of the spectrum. The other end is made up of new riders, or riders in less demand, who are happy to ride anything and just get their name in the program. That’s how it all usually starts.

    We often see in past performances where a horse is ridden by one rider, who has had success on them or for the barn, and inexplicably they are named on another mount, or maybe not even riding in the race. Some of what I described above can lead to those situations and you can’t see that in the past performances. Accordingly, it is likely best not to read that much into it. Remain cognizant there could be many legit reasons is my suggestion.

    If there is one race where all the protocols sort of go by the wayside, in my experience it is the race coveted by all jockeys, the Kentucky Derby. Riders and agents are almost always looking for that Kentucky Derby mount. International riding star Ryan Moore recently stated the Kentucky Derby is on his bucket list. He will likely ride Mendelssohn on the first Saturday in May as opposed to staying in England and riding Saxon Warrior. I wish we could wager on where Ryan will be Derby Day. The Derby is the Derby. As such loyalties and prior commitments are usually given a pass, almost everyone understands you want to take your best shot. Most trainers will forgive a rider jumping ships in the Run for the Roses.

    This year’s Kentucky Derby has had a fair share of musical jockeys already. Bolt d’ Oro’s trainer Mick Ruis canned the regular rider Cory Nakatani following a post workout decision and disagreement. He was replaced by Javier Castellano, who despite all his success still seeks that first elusive Derby win. Javier rode Bolt d’ Oro to a controversial second place finish to McKinzie, in which he was awarded the win via disqualification. He came back to chase the highly regarded and much hyped Justify, but could not really make him sweat. Javier stated he was happy with how his horse ran as he was chasing the best horse in the country. After that statement, which was almost a concession, it should have come as no surprise Javier, a jockey with options took himself off Bolt d’ Oro. He opted for Audible, a popular winner of the Holy Bull and Florida Derby, for the powerhouse barn of Todd Pletcher. Audible became open after John Velazquez, his rider in both the Holy Bull and Florida Derby, made a decision to ride recent Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso in the Kentucky Derby. This move by Johnny V surprised a lot of people, but not me. Between Audible and Vino Rosso, I would have chosen Vino Rosso myself. Being a good agent, means being a good handicapper and the Derby is at a mile and a quarter. At that distance Vino Rosso looks better in my opinion.

    All that shuffling left Bolt d’ Oro open. Victor Espinoza got the call to pilot him in Louisville and it will be the first time he rides him in a race. If not for Javier’s defection, Victor would have probably watched the Derby on TV. Now he is on a horse a lot of people like.

    Some people think Javier made his decision based on loyalty to Todd Pletcher and the fact he rides for him. Don’t buy it. If he thought Bolt d’ Oro was the winner, or his best option, that’s where his weight would be come Derby Day. Todd would understand. The Derby is the Derby.

    Mike Smith was in the spot most riders would envy. He rode two top prospects in McKinzie and Justify. Had McKinzie not been injured, he would have had a tough choice. He made one last year when he rode Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and gave up the mount on West Coast, knowing West Coast would be running in stakes in 2018. It’s tough to be on top and stay there.

    You have to make the right moves. Sometimes that is easier said than done. The great Bill Shoemaker was offered the mount on Northern Dancer in the Kentucky Derby by the great trainer Horatio Luro. Shoe refused and rode favorite Hill Rise. The two colts battled down the stretch and Northern Dancer, under Bill Hartack, got the best of Shoemaker and Hill Rise by a long neck. We don’t always get it right. Go with your handicapping, instincts, and gut. I always do. Don’t read into the above as any tells on who I like in the Derby this year. I won’t know that until I handicap the race. If you want to know who I like come the first Saturday in May, just find me and ask. It won’t be that hard.

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    April 4, 2018

    Looking Ahead

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    We have three major Kentucky Derby preps this Saturday in three different states across the country. The Wood Memorial in New York, the Santa Anita Derby in California, and the Blue Grass in Kentucky. Unfortunately, all three are in danger of being run under less than ideal conditions. Poor weather is hovering around all of those races. This really puts the connections, who have waited for these spots to get the points they need to get into the Kentucky Derby, up against it. The following Saturday we have the Arkansas Derby and Lexington Stakes that will wrap things up and set the stage for the first Saturday in May.

    Since the inception of the point system in 2013 all the Derby winners were undefeated in their three-year old campaigns. I don’t believe that was by accident or coincidental. Starting back in 2013 and through last year Orb, California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist, and Always Dreaming all went through their respective three- year old campaigns leading to the Derby without a hiccup on the racetrack. The obvious conclusion is the point system doesn’t really allow for pointing for a race with steady progression and not being fully cranked from the onset.

    Of all the horses trying to get to the Derby this Saturday none has more hype than Justify. This fast and talented colt will get his first real class test in the Santa Anita Derby when he faces Bolt d’ Oro, who was a leading two-year old and is also considered by many to be a top three-year old. Justify is two for two in his brief career and both starts came at three-years old. That means he has to buck the long-standing Apollo curse if he is to win the Kentucky Derby. Although that dates back pretty far by any standard, all these trends and statistics eventually go the way of the dosage index and go down. In reality, how many horses who did not race at two went into the Kentucky Derby with a legit chance? Maybe Pulpit or Curlin recently, but historically probably not that many. If you are a Justify believer I wouldn’t be worried about Apollo.

    Justify has gotten the hype of being Bob Baffert’s best Kentucky Derby hope since he made his debut at Santa Anita in February, winning at 7 furlongs in 1:21.4. That’s fast at any track. He came back just about a month later to win at a mile over a muddy Santa Anita track in 1:35.3. He has yet to face the quality of Bolt d’ Oro but he does have that mud win and all the hype with him. Additionally, his stablemate is McKinzie. If we are to believe the hype, he is better than McKinzie and that runner gave Bolt d’ Oro all he could handle. He also has Bob Baffert in his corner. That can only help in any big race.

    Bolt d’ Oro is battle tested. He had a rough go of it in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He literally had a war with Mckinzie last out, what resulted in McKinzie being disqualified. The two bumped turning for home and again nearing the wire but what sticks out to me is it never looked like Bolt d’ Oro was going to get by. Despite being carried out, which I remain cognizant of, I don’t believe the incident cost Bolt d’Oro the win.

    Mick Ruis has done a fine job training Bolt d’ Oro thus far. He is now at the point on the Derby trail where things start to change. This is his first run and he does not have the experience that his chief rival, Bob Baffert, has in winning these types of races. I think that can play a part come Saturday.

    I am a long way from handing the roses to Justify, or anyone else for that matter. There is plenty of time for that. The race on Saturday has not even been drawn yet so no detailed homework has been done. Strictly by the naked eye and experience, I will be a lot more surprised to see Bolt d’ Oro in the Santa Anita winners circle on Saturday than I will Justify. I think it is likely Justify punches his ticket to Louisville with a win and heads to town looking to bump Apollo as an undefeated three-year old with no starts at two. Getting that done is another matter altogether.

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    March 28, 2018

    Everyone in the Pool

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    It’s an exciting time of year in the Sport of Kings. The final Kentucky Derby preps are upon us. The Run for the Roses is shaping up to be an interesting contest with possibly two horses having a chance of knocking out the Apollo curse, by winning the Derby without having raced at two-years old. The Dubai World Cup is Saturday and pits West Coast, the heir apparent to the top older horse in training in the US, against Talismanic the winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf. Saturday is also Florida Derby day at Gulfstream Park and that major Kentucky Derby prep will anchor a stakes filled card to end the Championship meet.

    Something else will be happening at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. There will be a mandatory payout of the Rainbow 6 pool provided there is no single ticket winner between now and then. You can rest assured there are sharks in the water trying to spoil the big plans for the Rainbow 6 on Saturday, which if it carries could create a record Pick 6 pool. The pool has been “snaked” before leading up to a mandatory payout, but I have a feeling that won’t happen this go around, although I will admit I’d love to play the spoiler.

    With the carryover between 4 and 5 million, actually closer to 5 on Saturday, we should see a pool somewhere between 20-25 million dollars. The fact it is Florida Derby day will help grow the pool, as Gulfstream will be a main focal point of horse racing across the country. I can see the pool going higher than the amount I projected, depending on the card, which has not yet been drawn.

    The Rainbow 6, at a 20-cent minimum wager, has both supporters and detractors. I am a supporter, as I think any potentially life changing wager is good for the game and the players. As someone who has hit Pick 6’s from 100-500k more than my fair share of times and been alive for upward of a million dollars to one horse. I can say it is a thrilling wager that can be satisfying and obviously rewarding when you’re right. It can also be devastating when you are wrong, or worse get beat even when you zig zagged correctly. Which is why, under normal circumstances, the Pick 6 is not for everyone and certainly not for the faint of heart.

    Saturday is not going to be normal circumstances, which is why everyone should be in the pool. Both regular Pick 6 players and even non-Pick 6 players should be going after this one.

    A pool of 20-25 million dollars negates any argument about takeout. Takeout won’t matter regardless of one’s position on it. The 20-cent minimum, along with the massive pool and mandatory payout, levels the playing field considerably for smaller and especially medium monetary bettors. The big syndicates and robotic partnerships don’t have their normal huge edge over everyone else in the pool. This is your chance to compete with them and win with a few hundred-dollar ticket, with what may cost them thousands to win.

    Saturday is like an enormous Pick 6 pool with a gracious discount for the bettor. We don’t get discounts often, so when we do, I say seize them. I look at it this way. I can buy 10k of coverage in the sequence for 2k. Or 2k coverage for $200. This is both a great equalizer and opportunity. A well-structured ticket, with a fair investment and some solid opinions, has an excellent chance of winning a more than fair return.

    While the likelihood of a single ticket on Saturday is improbable, it really should not matter. Even if the day chalks out, which of course we all hope it doesn’t, you could wind up okay. There won’t be many, if any, single ticket possibilities going in, so I wouldn’t go in or approach it with that goal. I’d go in looking to beat the giants and whales at their own game and get even and then some.

    Everyone in the pool. See you there.

     

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    March 21, 2018

    Tools of the Trade

    By: Jonathan Stettin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

    Can We Justify the Hype?

    By: Jonathan Stettin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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    February 27, 2018

    You Have To Think It Through

    By: Jonathan Stettin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    My ticket looked like this:

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

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

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

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    February 27, 2018

    Understanding The Troubled Trip

    By: Jonathan Stettin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    February 21, 2018

    Three Blind Mice

    By: Jonathan Stettin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Delta02.16.18

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

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    February 6, 2018

    Know Your Customer

    By: Jonathan Stettin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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