Jon Stettin's Blog - AmWager

Jon Stettin's Blog

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  • Past the Wire     Tracking Tips Logo

     

    December 10, 2018

    Nobody is Listening

    By: Jonathan Stettin



    We have all heard that old silly question about if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? That is what the recently concluded Global Symposium on Racing reminds me of. Salud to Pat Cummings, Steve Byk, and some others for accurately pointing out some of the issues plaguing the Sport of Kings but all due respect given, identifying the problems has never been the issue. Dealing with and eradicating them has. I don’t see where having even a thousand symposiums will help if nobody is listening — nobody who calls any shots anyway.

    Several issues are hurting the game that can literally be fixed by post time today if we had the right shot callers. For example, how difficult is it to stagger post times between racetracks? It is not hard, I assure you but you need people who care enough about their customer to do something more than check the direct deposit of their paychecks. Unfortunately, we have way too many of those just galloping out to the finish not even knowing where the finish may be. Remember objects in the mirror may be closer than you think. Although I did not attend the symposium, I did follow what was discussed as best I could and also tried to gauge who was listening, and more importantly who was responding. It would appear nobody is listening.

    One of the obstacles not related to blatant mismanagement and a lack of caring about and knowing your customer is racetrack ownership and governing bodies. Racetracks are owned for the most part by different entities and operate in different states. This enables multiple jurisdictions and sets of laws and rules that govern the game. It is difficult to get people on the same page, especially when they have different goals and interests. Somehow all the racetracks must be brought under the same umbrella to see meaningful changes.

    Today, we have racetracks scrambling to posture themselves to the reality of having to find other revenue sources to survive. Slots or “racinos” are the low hanging fruit. Sports bettors are also a focus. Looking past that what do you think happens when tracks tap into those streams to the point where they support a diluted weakening product. Everyone has read that book and knows the ending.

    D. Wayne Lukas made a statement recently validating what many of us know. Far too many people in the game don’t know, or worse don’t even care who butters their bread. Wayne stated that racing is not fueled by gambling. That is just plain wrong. Without betting they would run for blue ribbons. How long do you think that would last?

    Racing has operated for years like they were the only game in town, and in some cases they were. Not so today. The gambler has many options. Many of those options are games of skill and not chance. Poker, blackjack, chess, backgammon, and others are as much, if not more, games of skill than horse racing and are played for big money with a far more equal and controlled playing field. There are many other options as well. Craps, roulette, slots, and of course sports to name a few. More and more bettors are literally being driven to these options by the very racetracks they have frequented. Shun your gambler customers enough they will go elsewhere.

    Look at it like this. The game cannot survive without the bettor, but the bettor can indeed survive and continue to bet without the game. It is simple really. Who needs who more?

    Wayne’s comment is consistent with what seems to be the thought process of most of the racetrack management, with a few welcome exceptions. Oaklawn Park despite their growing casino operation applauds the bettor and racing alike. Keeneland does it, and so do a select few other venues. The problem is more and more focus strictly on the off-track handle and other revenue sources and cringe at the thought the gambler is their core customer and driving force of the sport. Once, or rather, if these tracks are successful in transitioning to multiple option gambling houses, things will become much worse for both the horse and horseplayers.

    If you think the added revenue will go towards improving the game, I’d suggest looking at past performances. This is horse racing and you are a bettor so you will have to buy them.

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    November 26, 2018

    Paradise Lost

    An end of the year look at the Sport of Kings from Past the Wire

    By: Jonathan Stettin



    As the end of the year approaches, you’d think racing fans and bettors would be focused on the positives we’ve seen on the racetrack the past 11 months. We’ve definitely had our share of performances that would be considered outstanding in any era. Enable takes the Arc and Breeders’ Cup Turf. Justify takes the coveted Triple Crown. Accelerate has a championship caliber older horse year. Monomoy Girl almost runs the table capped by a win verse older in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Obviously, the game can still produce. Maybe not on a Wednesday afternoon but all in all we have had some good racing.

    While some are appreciative and focused on these performances, the majority of fans, as reflected by my observations primarily on social media and when I go to the track and talk to people, is consumed with negativity. Most of it is well founded and unfortunately, it invades the space of the equine stars and achievements this game was built on.

    Let’s start with something I have been talking about and writing about for about for four years now. Stewards and their lack of accountability to bettors, owners, and trainers. Stewards make decisions that affect our money. We have no input in those decisions and they are made at times without even the courtesy of an explanation. Case in point this past weekend at Churchill Downs. We all saw the double disqualification resulting in a large carryover in the jackpot pick 6 wager. Right or wrong call is not the issue for me. That’s way too subjective and we will come back to that. The issue at least for me is twofold. First, it is not a consistent call with other similar occurrences. We have all seen horses stay up for more of a foul and come down for less of a foul. That’s a problem. Second, there is no clear-cut reasoning and explanation provided to the people whose bank accounts were affected. No accountability whatsoever. No review process. No appeal or at least true appeal process. Nothing. Just take it on the chin. That doesn’t work for me and it shouldn’t for you either.

    An underlying problem to these types of calls is perception, and we already have enough of a problem with that. We all know history repeats. If history has taught us anything it is where there can be corruption there likely will be corruption. Does anything corrupt more than money? I don’t know. Maybe sex. Maybe power. Perhaps something else, but money is on any worthwhile top ten list of corruption factors. There was a decent amount of money at stake based on that iffy call. The first two finishers both of whom would have triggered the pool being paid out were disqualified. The third finisher who was declared the official winner carried the pool over, which generated a whole new day of revenue fueled by jackpot chasing. Perception. This is why a clear transparent explanation immediately following the call was an absolute necessity. No ands, ifs, or buts. I have yet to see one of it was provided.

    Now I don’t believe, nor am I suggesting, the carryover came into play in this decision. I’d like to think that was no factor at all. However, we know anything is possible and if some years ago I told you people were betting pick 6’s after three or four races had been run even on days like the Breeders’ Cup you’d have probably called me crazy. If you care about your customer, which like it or not is the bettor, or gambler, provide them what you owe them. A clear, understandable transparent explanation of what you decided because it affects their money as much as your employers. You owe them that, every single one of them.

    The steward problem is ongoing with no real end in sight. The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, which I think is a benefit and great concept, tried to bring some light on this issue. I think they missed the boat. I suspect, but admittedly have not confirmed, the majority of their feedback and “ideas” come from industry people and not necessarily bettors. Too many people in this game lose sight of who stops the horses from running for blue ribbons which would end the sport. Too many people forget the customer is the bettor. The gambler. The bettors and owners are the only two groups putting money in the game while everyone else takes it out. The owners have a small voice sporting an agenda which benefit them. The bettors have no voice. None. Most of the people who decide what they want, or what’s best for them probably don’t bet or are maybe two dollar bettors. A long-term recipe for failure.

    The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation proposes going from one system governing stewards decisions to another they think will make things easier, clearer and fairer. Respectfully, I disagree. Currently, the US and Canada use the category 2 system to adjudicate races. The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation suggests switching to category 1. Sounds like an old Chinese restaurant menu to me.

    Category 2, our current system:

    Rules provide that if the interferer is guilty of causing interference and such interference has affected the result of the race, then the interferer is placed behind the sufferer irrespective of whether the sufferer would have finished in front of the interferer had the incident(s) not occurred.

    Category 1 which they propose switching to:

    If in the opinion of the Staging Authority’s relevant judicial body, a horse or its rider causes interference and finishes in front of the horse interfered with but irrespective of the incident(s) the sufferer would not have finished ahead of the horse causing the interference, the judge’s placings will remain unaltered.

    While the proposed change would likely cut down on disqualifications it would not change perception when results are changed, and more importantly, it would not get rid of subjectivity amongst stewards, and that is where the problem lies most times. We can argue whether a horse would have finished better if not for an incident all day long. We can debate about a placing being affected forever. These talks have led nowhere and caused the current dissension. We can’t agree on what if’s. We can agree on what constitutes a foul and what doesn’t.

    There was a time in racing when a foul was a foul, and it resulted in a disqualification. Too many people started arguing but it didn’t affect the outcome, and that led to the subjective rules being implemented almost across the board. This put discretion into the hands of stewards with no accountability. It sounded great but doesn’t really work, does it? Today, herding out of the gate is practically allowed if not confined. Back before the subjective rules were put in place you came down if you fouled another horse out of the gate even if you won by 10. When the inquiry light went on, and you saw the head on you knew what was coming. Today, it is anyone’s guess and would remain anyone’s guess under the Foundations proposed change. Guess what, there was also way less herding back then.

    Basically, there are two solutions fair to bettors. One is to have a clearly defined set of rules for s racetracks that explain precisely what constitutes a foul. If you commit one, you are down. Simple as that. All fouls affect outcomes or have the potential too. It’s just too subjective to leave that in the hands of people who can’t agree and see the same thing differently. If you think Bayern didn’t knock the wind out of Shared Belief and that having your wind knocked out before immediately running a mile and a quarter didn’t impact the race…….never mind. Some things are better left unsaid.

    The other option which is used successfully in other jurisdictions is to harshly penalize the riders and connections with steep fines and suspensions and purse revocations but not alter the finish penalizing innocent bettors who got it right. If the fines and penalties are stiff enough fouls are indeed minimized and the opportunities for cheating are mitigated. Nothing, and I do mean nothing eliminates all cheating when money is at stake.

    From a humanitarian standpoint, aftercare and horse slaughter are the two most troublesome issues the industry faces — both equally problematic. We have made great strides in aftercare. We have rehoming efforts, second careers and adoption programs. All of these things mean we are moving in the right direction. The problem here is, as is in any animal rescue situation, there are just too many to save. We can never get them all, and there is never enough money or people to help every horse. This fuels slaughter. Most accept this as the natural order of things. I don’t. Not in our game. Remember this is the Sport of Kings or so we are called. The richest and most influential people in the world play this game predicated on yes gambling. Why should there be any money problem? We have owners spending millions on horses who may not be able to out run a Shetland Pony and gamblers betting thousands and even millions in some cases every year.

    I for one have no issue and am all for a piece of every dollar I wager, or anyone wagers going towards aftercare. I extend that sentiment to a piece of every dollar spent at the sales going towards aftercare. If we care more, it will cut into the horrendous slaughter numbers we don’t talk about at victory parties. We don’t talk about it, but most of us know that salespeople make commissions buying, selling and every which way they can. A piece of those dollars should go in the pot as well. While many of us love and revere these fine animals it is overdue the industry as a whole begins to.

    Slaughter is a deeper rooted and more complex problem. The injured horses and those whose only crime was not being fast or brave enough to compete have become a depended upon food source, which in turn is an ugly convenience for our industry. Never mind the greed and heartlessness of the kill pen operations, this is a real problem. It can only be addressed from within. We need strict regulations on breeding or should I say over-breeding and stricter regulations that are enforced when horses are retired. Owners must be held accountable for where their horses wind up, but the industry must also provide a road that is attainable to prevent these horses going to kill pens. Even humane euthanasia would be better than what we have, as much as that pains me to say but that’s not the answer. It comes down to properly funded programs regulated by the industry. Takeout has to do more than pay lofty salaries and put on the show. The show does NOT end after the last race.

    With the end of greyhound racing in Florida, people fear horse racing could be next. If that happens the industry has no one to blame but those who run it. Not PETA, not politicians, not the changing times. Just themselves. Change perception and clean up the yard or your neighbor's will, and they’ll just throw everything away.

    It is kind of comical when some media member writes how everything is great, "just look at the handle." That makes me chuckle. You hear every meet the handle broke the record, but you can fire a cannon in most tracks on a weekday and not hit a soul. Now I get most action comes from ADW’s and off-track, but we are a spectator sport. Racing is exciting to watch and exhilarating to watch live. Tracks used to be a fun place to go where you saw the same people for years. I don’t know where these handle figures come from, but they are on the internet so they must be accurate. Racetracks have to get people to come back out. Not all these new people they can’t find or even identify, the old people, their customers. The bettors. The gamblers. That’s where your bread is buttered, not by the fan who overpays for a ticket, parking space and cup of coffee once a year and maybe bets $20. They don’t matter in the long run. The bettor does. Take care of them with a seat, racing form, and a cup of coffee. They’ll repay you tenfold.

    I am against raceday medication — all of it. That said, I see the true benefits for horses who truly need therapeutic medications like Lasix. The problem becomes, do 98% of horses bleed and need Lasix? We have trainers saying, on the one hand, you can’t compete without it, and on the other hand it doesn’t enhance performance, mask any other drugs or speed up and clean out a horses metabolism. Which is it? If you really want to know, pick up a form and read the past performances. The answer is there. You can also look at the careers and longevity of horses who ran in New York prior to Lasix being allowed.

    Getting a horse on Lasix is as easy as telling your Vet hey he worked a little slower today, I think he might have bled a little. Done, he’s on Lasix. We ruin things for ourselves. Illegal drugs are a whole different and worse story. We penalize people like Bill Mott, and allow what we see to go on daily like it is not even happening. Remember that yard thing, if you let it get bad enough your neighbor decides to do it everything gets tossed. Including you.

    While we talk about attracting new fans and retaining ones we already have, we have front people for major circuits that have not been explained the concept of a thick skin while in a spotlighted position. They are fast to block people who simply disagree on social media, or even worse attack and condescend toward anyone who criticizes. That’s eroded to a threat of having people banned from racetracks we are trying to attract them to. Seriously, how is that ok? A prerequisite should be these front people have to be engaging towards people. They need to be easy to like. I can’t even watch without muting some track feeds anymore.

    So yes indeed the racing has been great on most of the big days. I don’t think we could ask for more there. The other days despite over breeding we have field shortages. We have tracks closing. We have more problems than solutions. Horses being abandoned and slaughtered. Drugs rampant. We have management totally disconnected from their core customers. But, everything is great. I read it on the internet.

    “You either understand, or you don’t understand.”

    HIGH FIVE: Tell me who deserves it.

    LOW FIVE: NYRA, why are you carding all these grass races now? Stronach Group. Holiday firings always get a low five. Timing is everything.

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    November 15, 2018

    Mirror, Mirror

    By: Jonathan Stettin



    I’ve said many times as students and fans of the Sport of Kings we have been quite fortunate the last decade or so. While the game has had a fair share of problems and then some, we have not lacked truly great racehorses. The accomplishments of some of these runners would be superlative in any era. That’s saying something in a game with a history like ours and a list of equine stars miles long.

    Who would have thought in a year where we had a Triple Crown winner there would be a debate amongst turf writers and racing’s social media ranks over Horse of the Year. What would normally be a foregone conclusion is now a debate due to the early retirement of Justify. That left the door open for Accelerate, and he came crashing through with a decisive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

    I’m not going to point on who does or doesn’t deserve the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. Frankly, I think the Eclipse Awards are overrated and have lost some of the luster they had in the past. We can leave that subjective argument to those who have an interest in it or think it still means what it did in the past. California Chrome received a vote for Turf Horse a few years back. They lost me right there.

    Today, I’ll discuss what I feel was the most impressive and historically significant performance of the year. The credit belongs to horse, trainer and rider whom all came together and made some history.

    Not everyone knew Enable was less than 100% when she tried to win the Prix de Arc de Triomphe this year. She was going for a consecutive win in the event, against the boys, which is tough when you are on your game and nearly impossible if less than perfect. She was able to get it done due to a masterful training job by John Gosden, a masterful ride by Frankie Dettori, and the huge heart in her chest.

    While preparing for her repeat try in the Arc, Enable had a few minor setbacks which caused her to miss some training. When I learned she had to be turned around in her stall at Gosden’s yard so she couldn’t see the other horses train, as it made her mad, I thought this is my kind of racehorse and athlete. That’s heart. Gosden felt she was right enough to give a good account of herself, and she did more than that when she won.

    If you watch the replay of this year’s Arc, you will see Frankie had a smart hand in the win also. He sat motionless on the filly covered up most of the way. He angled her in the clear while still sitting chilly and then asked her for just enough of a three-furlong burst to get the deal sealed. She might not have won if he had done anything differently and the way things played out set her up perfectly for the Breeders’ Cup. Now she was fit, and far from spent. The ideal scenario.

    Her trip in the Breeders’ Cup Turf was less than perfect. She broke from the inside and had to dodge some traffic. She went wide to get clear turning for home and had to dig in from out there over a boggy course she did not care for. She again was game and talented enough to seal the deal and cap the elusive Arc – Breeders’ Cup Turf in the same year double. No small feat for a filly competing against the best turf males in the world.

    So while the masses debate Horse of the Year, I say when we say mirror, mirror on the wall who was the grandest of them all, the answer is clear. Enable.

    Enable likely won’t be a Horse of the Year candidate in the Eclipse voting off the one North American race, but her mark on racing history will remain just the same. She is a great one. Indeed.

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    October 17, 2018

    Timing is Everything

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    If you are in this game at any level, at some point you are going to be humbled. There are two types of horse players; those that have been humbled, and those that will be humbled.

    As with many aspects of life, it comes down to how you respond to these types of things. I suggest picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and getting back into the fight.

    If you backed Abel Tasman in the recently run Breeders' Cup Distaff, it was a humbling experience. While after the race she was easy to knock off the last poor performance, but to do that prior to the race, with conviction you'd have to believe two things. First, that Bob Baffert brings horses to big dances at less than their optimum. Second, that you are smarter than he is at accessing a horses' chances. Both not likely, the latter especially, when it comes to one of his runners.

    Having watched the Distaff, it is hard not to compare Abel Tasman's poor performance to her race last out in the Grade 1 Zenyatta. She trailed beaten double digits in that one and never seemed interested in running. It is a safe assumption she trained well enough to convince her Hall of Fame trainer she'd bounce back and show up in the Distaff. Of immediate concern after the break in the Distaff, was how Mike Smith had to quarter horse her along the inside, in an attempt to get her in the game and interested. It looked very briefly like maybe it worked, but that proved not to be the case. Once again, Abel Tasman trailed by double digits and has now been retired. From a top racing mare to a horse practically distanced in her last two starts in a matter of weeks.

    Looking at this on paper it resembles the rapid decline of another Bob Baffert trained star, Arrogate. At his best, he could run with just about any horse. After his huge win in Dubai, he was never the same and seemed almost disinterested when he ran. Many waited for him to return to form, as we looked for Abel Tasman to rebound, but in both cases it didn't happen. It is a reasonable conclusion both horses trained well into their last starts, so this had to be even more humbling for their trainer than the bettors who backed them.

    We have all heard the saying "morning glory." This refers to a horse who trains well, works fast but does not duplicate that in the afternoon under race conditions. Neither Abel Tasman or Arrogate were morning glory types of horses. Both accomplished a lot on the racetrack.

    We have also all heard the term bounce. This is when a horse regresses off a peak effort and is a real and pretty common occurrence. Trainers are aware of this, they watch for it, and yet they get humbled by horses who bounce or regress off big efforts. They will fool you even when you know what to look for. Most times, a horse will return to form after a bounce but not always. Look at Rachel Alexandra. She was never the same after her win in the Woodward. She suffered what I call a permanent bounce, or being "gutted." You see all horses, no matter how great, are not machines and only have so many of "those races" in them. To expect more is unreasonable. I offer that trainers are not always the best judges of when this will occur. They can be biased about their horses, as parents are when accessing or talking about their children. As bettors, we are afforded the chance to be objective and analytical in looking at these things.

    As bettors how can we recognize in advance when a horse has been gutted and take advantage of it?

    Fortunately, there are often clues. You just have to train yourself to look at things like a seasoned pro as opposed to just a horseplayer. A horseplayer looks at a race and sees it as this horse should do similar to what they did last time. A pro looks for why they won't do what they did last time. This thinking goes against the grain but leads to scores.

    I believe Rachel Alexandra, Arrogate and Abel Tasman were gutted.

    Rachel had an epic and very demanding three-year-old campaign which saw her race the boys several times. The Preakness, the Haskell and eventually the Woodward against older males on a very humid day. How many should we have believed she had in her?

    Arrogate broke a historic record in the Travers running the fastest one ever. He went on to win the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Pegasus and then travel to Dubai to win the World Cup in the desert without Lasix. The Dubai race alone has gutted a fair share of horses but look at what we expected of Arrogate. He broke slowly that night and overcame it, albeit on a closers track, but had to dig in and run-down Gun Runner. That would empty most tanks.

    Abel Tasman ran huge in the Ogden Phipps. She then ran tremendous in the Personal Ensign, where she had to dig in and hold off a very well meant Elate, who was full of run and momentum. They all have just so many of those in them.

    The bounce is real. So is the "gut." Believe them both.

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    October 31, 2018

    Late BC Bullet Points

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    By now most of us have at the least finished our preliminary work for the Breeders’ Cup. We know the post positions, fields, probable weather and the wagering menu. Before finalizing decisions, I am going to keep some bullet points in the forefront of my mind.

    Here we go:

    The draw is important in some races. Pay attention to it and who it has helped and who it has hindered.

    Consider rider tendencies when you project how you think the pace will play out. Pace often makes the race. Some riders are more aggressive than others. Anticipating what they are likely to do can be an edge.

    You have waited a year to get to this dance and you’re in it. Nothing in the rear view matters this weekend. Go in strong and with conviction on your opinions. #NoFear

    The board is less important this weekend than on any given Wednesday at your local track. Everyone is here to win. Nobody is giving anyone room, a break, or giving a horse a race.

    Go after your best opinions regardless of price. This weekend you will see horses of high quality going off at high odds. Take advantage of that when you like one. It is not every day you have 25-1 shots you feel have as good a chance as a 2-1 shot. It only takes one of those to make it count.

    Do what you are good at and most confident in. If you like multi race wagers stick to that. If you like exactas and triples stick there. If you are a win bettor than bet win. This is not the weekend to change up.

    Pick your spots and invest more in those wagers. There are a ton of wagers and if you chase them all equally you are not maximizing your best opinions. You have to do that. Maximize your return when you are right and you have a better chance of being right when your opinion is strong.

    Don’t be afraid to change an opinion based on how the track or course may be playing or on who is hot and who is not. The game is both streaky and trendy. Sharp players adjust and never lock and load until they are approaching the gate. I adjusted and caught Caledonia Road last year on a closers track. Pay attention all day, both days.

    If you score early stick to the plan. This is a marathon and not a sprint.

    If something looks to good to be true believe it anyway just for this weekend. That’s what dreams and scores are made of.

    Don’t bet against yourself. Go after who you believe in. You can’t cover every horse in every race. If you liked that horse so much you would have used it.

    All the statistics thrown around mean absolutely nothing in any given race. Don’t be afraid of stats.

    What happened last year or in other year’s runnings will not affect any outcomes this year. Act accordingly.

    Trainers who are suspected of pushing the envelope and taking an edge or even unfair advantage likely can’t push that envelope this weekend. Use that to your advantage but don’t think it means they can’t win.

    Don’t get consumed by looking for value. Go after who you like and if you are right value has a way of working out. There is No value in a losing bet regardless of the odds. None.

    If you have a bad beat or break early act as if it didn’t happen. Champions do not deviate.

    Most important of all, be right. Remember, even if you follow all 16 of the prior bullet points, you are going to have to be right. Do your homework. Come prepared and don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. No matter how you get there, or any way you slice it, you’re going to have to be right.

    Thanks for reading and enjoy the Breeders’ Cup. It really looks like a most competitive year. Some great racing looks to be a sure bet.

    All the best to all the horses and connections and players. Any questions feel free to reach out and ask. I’m always happy to talk horses and share experience.

    #BetBig #SwingHard #MakeItCount #P6K

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    October 25, 2018

    Seal the Deal

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    The Breeders’ Cup is a little over a week away. The pre-entry past performances are out. The early weather forecast is in. It is almost time to seal the deal.

    The Breeders’ Cup is a major wagering event for many of us and there is a good reason for that. There will be a lot of opportunities and a full wagering menu to make the most of them. While final handicapping comes after the draw, I have begun to strategize my attack and will share some early thoughts.

    Most serious players keep track of where they stand annually. I have for many years. While most years I am usually in a good spot by now and comfortably in the black, this year that is not the case. It has been a rough year on the racetrack for me, but that won’t change anything in my approach. I will kick the door open on Friday, as opposed to limping in. When you can’t even remember how many six figure days you’ve had in your career, you learn to do that. I’ll be aggressive and confidant. What’s happened this year prior to now doesn’t matter come Breeders’ Cup. No looking in the rear-view mirror.

    There is going to be some rain leading into the event. The Churchill Downs main track handles water as good as any I have ever seen. The turf is likely to, at best, have some give in it and that is very important. I think a common mistake many handicappers make, is not looking at the type of course grass horses prefer. While they do it on the main track with sloppy and muddy track horses, they seem to categorize turf horses without that preference for good, soft, or yielding turf. There will be some potential edges in looking at horses who prefer and move up with give in the ground.

    I am looking at multi race wagers as in pick 4’s, 5’s, and of course the Pick 6. My major play of the two days will most likely come in one of these sequences. I will also attack one, or maybe two, individual races where I feel the strongest about the outcome.

    For multi race wager players, Enable is going to be a key, whether you like her or want to beat her. You are going to have to be right if you single her, or try and beat her, to maximize the pick 4,5, and 6 ending with the Classic. Obviously, if you beat her you are looking at a better payoff, but I am not opposed to singling a winner and going after the bet multiple times. I don’t know which way I will lean there, but it is going to be a key decision in those late sequences. Choose wisely.

    I will definitely look for a multi race sequence where I like a single who is a price and not “everybody’s single.” That’s one of my favorite positions and scenarios. Wide open races often value. I like them in the sequences I play.

    We are hearing a lot of talk about European horses dominating. Logical for sure, being we don’t have the greatest grass contingent this year, and the conditions seemingly favor them. I agree in theory and may wind up playing that way, but I won’t know that until I finalize the work. I don’t like forming my opinion until I know the exact conditions, riders, and posts.

    The two-year-old races on Friday offer a lot of opportunity for an edge. If you are the type of player and handicapper who can anticipate horses moving up and recognize trainer patterns, then you will get your chances Friday.

    Historically the Breeders’ Cup has taught us price doesn’t matter. You can bet a 25-1 with as much conviction as a 2-5. Take advantage of that. There is no better two days in racing to do so. No fear. None.

    The bulk of my play will go into the bets I discussed above. I will play the rest of both cards, but on a significantly lesser scale. Money management is always key, but crucial over two days where you want to jump in almost everywhere. Patience and discipline.

    If you are playing from behind, as I am this year, it is a good chance to erase the deficit and get into the win column. If you are already there, that’s even better, as now you get a chance to pull away. Scared money has a hard time winning, so I suggest and plan to do as I usually do. Play to make it count. It only takes one. You just have to be right.

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    October 17, 2018

    Timing is Everything

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    Timing is everything. Not only in horse racing but in life in general. Timing affects so much in our lives and how things play out. In racing so much is based on timing. It is a focal point of the sport in more than one way. The timing of spaces between races, timing of workouts, timing of claims, and of course the timing of the races themselves.

    I like to look at times in my handicapping. I look at the fractions of the winner, the leader, and the horses behind. Knowing the fractional splits of all the horses in a race helps me accurately figure out what the pace will be, and when I factor in the trends and intangibles that a computer can’t, it gives me an edge. Paying as close attention as I do to the times of races, including internal fractions, I have always been frustrated by a system that has not advanced with technological capabilities.

    One thing that has always annoyed me is that we time horses after a running start, as opposed to flat out, right out of the break. The timer doesn’t kick immediately, and this is referred to as a run up. This makes the first fraction appear faster than it actually is. Run up distances change and keeping track of them is work, and necessary to determine true speed from, shall we say false, or deceptive speed. I would much prefer timing races from the gate, but this would slow down average times and nobody else, especially commercial breeders, wants to see that. Everybody wants faster times and more speed, but using run ups and deceptive timing is not the way to create it.

    We have all watched races where we just know the fractions are off. They can be too fast or too slow, but we know they just aren’t right. It is very frustrating and seems to happen more on grass than dirt, but that is just a casual observation. Often, they will be corrected or called out but frequently they are not. Wrong fractional times and final times affect every speed figure out there, whether it is Beyers, Rags, Bris, Timeform, Thoro-Graph, or even your own. I make my own figures, so this is extremely problematic. As I have studied it, I find it happens more than we would like to think. Trakus was a good solution, or so I thought, but there are errors and flaws there as well. Technologically, it is a step in the right direction, in an industry which has not exactly embraced the technology available to it.

    Trakus uses chicklets in saddle cloths and beams on the racetrack to time horses and measure how many feet they ran. It has not proven to be a perfect system. Equibase recently announced, what I felt was a long time coming, and frankly overdue, GPS system to time races. While I wonder how bad weather will affect this, as it does my satellite TV, I think this is another step in the right direction. I am optimistic it will be an improvement, at least when the weather is good. The system is being installed at Woodbine, Golden Gate, Laurel, and Pimlico. Equibase’s partner in this venture, Total Performance Data has systems installed in the United Kingdom where they are based.

    Jonathan Zammit, the Vice President of Thoroughbred Racing Operationsat Woodbine had the following to say:

    "We have been using GPS timing since the beginning of July and have been pleased with not only its performance but the flexibility it offers. We are also keen to explore future capabilities of the system."

    I believe the future timing of thoroughbred racing lies within the GPS system and it should. In an industry plagued with issues and where time is crucial to the majority of participants, you would think this is something that would be prioritized and explored to the fullest by all circuits. After all, timing is everything. 

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    October 10, 2018

    Half Full

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    The world is full of people who see the glass as half empty. Sometimes it is, and we all know the Sport of Kings has more than its share of issues and things to complain about. If you are a bettor, or racing fan, the Breeders’ Cup is not one of them.

    Over the past few weeks, as preps were being run, we saw announcements about horses retiring, missing the Breeders’ Cup, training up to the Breeders’ Cup and committing to the Breeders’ Cup. The first three categories prompted many complaints on social media implying this year’s event is subpar. I couldn’t disagree more, and I view the glass as half full.

    The main reason the masses seem to be complaining is the perceived lack of big-name stars running. The Breeders’ Cup makes stars, and we are sure to recognize some new ones after the two days of racing. Stars is a relative term, you can only race who is in the gate with you. There looks to be some exciting prospects pointing for the two-year-old dirt and turf races, and you can rest assured connections will be talking Oaks and Derby Friday and Saturday evenings.

    I think I am looking forward to this year as much as any previous year. As a bettor, I see a lot of opportunity, big fields, huge pools, limited standouts, and a wagering menu with something for every type of handicapper. The Breeders’ Cup can be counted on for some lofty payouts and this year appears to be shaping up that way as almost a certainty.

    We have a good deal of horses with similar levels of ability. This will force the best handicapping out of those of us looking to do some real damage at the event. It will also require us to go into the toolbox and look at angles that we feel will have an advantage over the two competitive days. Complain, no way, I relish the challenge and opportunity.

    The races return to Churchill Downs this year, and that means potentially cold weather, and the chance of some rain. An obvious thing I am focusing on at this early juncture as I peruse pre-entries, is who will those conditions favor. This is something we can get a jump on early.

    Preparation is key for success at the Breeders’ Cup. In my opinion there are a lot of races and horses you have to sort through. Familiarizing yourself with the races, the turns/configurations and pre-entries now will help you a lot when the past performances come out after the draw. Study long, study wrong is a myth at Breeders’ Cup.

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    October 3, 2018

    Taking a Step Back

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    All too often we see the term “freak” thrown around in horse racing. If we truly had as many freaks as horses the term is used to describe, this would be one heck of a game. People love to throw the label around off one sole performance, especially when it is a debut or easy victory. Often these winners are not only not “freaks”, but not even the best horse in the race. To go a step further, many times the winner is not the best horse in the race and wasn’t the one who ran the most impressively. The above is one of many reasons why I like to take a step back. By taking a step back, I will watch the replay a week or so after the race so all the hype, excitement, and wagering influences die down. I have found over the years, this gives you a much better perspective of what you actually witnessed.

    Let’s look at some examples. We saw an awful lot of freaks this summer at Del Mar. Instagrand, Roadster, Brill, Mother Mother, and the list goes on. Has any won another race? Just one, Instagrand, I believe and then he went to the sidelines. Just last weekend we saw the debut of Improbable and It’sjustanillusion. Both heralded off of their debuts. This is not to say or even imply these are not really nice horses, or to knock their races or the connections in any way. It is more of a reality check about the over used term freak in our game. I think it should be reserved for well, freaks.

    In last week’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, Discreet Lover upset the field and paid $93.00 to win. He was so improbable the track announcer, Larry Collmus, called his name wrong more than right. He was calling Discreet Image who wasn’t in the race. In fairness, Larry doesn’t make many mistakes of that nature, and he was more focused on the blistering pace for the distance, practically insuring a closer would get the victory. Lost in the hoopla was Mendelssohn who ran the best race of all. While recovering from a virus, and after missing some training, and running in the Travers as a prep of sorts, he was close to the suicide pace. He fought gamely for third, while Diversify hit a brick wall. If you go back and re watch, you’ll see Discreet Lover benefited from the pace and trip, and Mendelssohn ran against it.

    On Sunday, Rocketry ran for the first time on dirt, and at a mile and five eights. He looked impressive to watch and broke the great Man O War’s track record. Let’s keep it real. First the track was blistering fast, not biased, fast all weekend at Belmont. Second, he beat a mediocre bunch. Last, and most significant, he broke the record at a distance they do not race on all that much on US soil.

    The point is, we have been extremely fortunate over the last decade or so to see some truly great racehorses, who had some extraordinary campaigns over all surfaces and distances. This includes two triple Crown winners in Justify and American Pharoah. Justify knocked off that whole Apollo thing in the process. Wise Dan, Beholder, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Arrogate, Gun Runner, and others all would be considered great by any measure or standard in any era. I’ll reserve the term freaks for true freaks and always measure a performance after watching it a week later. I’ll also never listen to the hype, unless I am the one doing it.

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    September 27, 2018

    Evolution

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    As a long time pick 6 player I’ve known for a while the bet is changing and is not what it once was. The wager has suffered shrinking pools for years, primarily due to the increase in 50 cent multi-race wagers and many more sharks and syndicates in the water.

    There was a time, not that long ago, when the NYRA pick 6 pool could reach over 100k on non-carryover days. That created daily opportunities to be the only winner and take down six figures. That made it a worthwhile bet on non-carryover days, as the majority of sharks surfaced when there was a carryover. Snaking the pool we’d hit it and it is a wonderful feeling. For $30-$40k not so much, considering how tough the pick 6 is to hit.

    California, especially Southern California, has been the exception when it came to the pick 6. Their pool has remained acceptable, even on non-carryover days. Regardless, Santa Anita has now switched to the 20-cent jackpot pick 6. Considering the success of the jackpot wagers, this should come as no surprise. NYRA has also pushed forward with getting a jackpot pick 6, so it is pretty clear, this 20-cent jackpot is the pick 6 of the future. The dinosaur pick 6 will at least remain in the Breeders’ Cup, as the two day event is just not long enough to support the jackpot format.

    I always preferred the standard $2 format, as, I thought it separated a lot of the kids from the adults. With the shrinking pools however, I must admit it ceased being my main, “go-to,” wager, some time ago. With places like Maryland, New Jersey, California, soon New York, and of course Florida and Gulfstream, where it all started amongst others offering the 20-cent jackpot. I am once again very interested in the wager.

    A lot of people knock the jackpot format and feel it is only worth it when the carryover is huge, or on mandatory payout days. I disagree. Many a day the pick 6 players have been caught sleeping and the pool was taken down by an astute and heads up player. I have also seen enough days where the shared payoff was more than worth it, based on the 20-cent investment.

    On mandatory payout days it is one of the best bets around. Essentially you get a $2 pick 6 at a 20-cent cut rate of investment. If you are used to the $2 wager you get a lot of coverage for a lot less money.

    The wager generates excitement and interest. Any wager that has the potential for six figure and above scores, is good for the game and the bettor. The 20-cent jackpot pick 6 requires a different approach and strategy than the old conventional one, but it is the future of the pick 6 and I think it should be welcomed and embraced.

    Racing changes and evolves over time. As players, we too must adapt and play in the current arena. The jackpot pick 6 allows players who don’t normally play the pick 6 to get involved and become more familiar withthis challenging wager. The water is fine. Everybody in the pool.

    Another new wager we are seeing for the first time this weekend is the transatlantic pick 4. NYRA has been hosting cross country pick 4’s, but this Saturday they offer one with two stakes from Longchamp, including the Prix De Arc’ de Triomohe, and two stakes from Belmont’s super Saturday. I love this concept. European racing is phenomenal for wagering. It is some of the best racing for wagering in the world and we here in the states pass it up way too often. The toughest part is getting quality past performances, but that can at times be a slight edge for those who diligently follow what goes on over there.

    We should enjoy a weekend full of opportunities. May you all make at least one of them count.

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