Friday, May 13, 2016

The Nomination Is In: The Grade 2 Ruffian at Belmont Park

Thank you to the wonderful people at The Thorofan for allowing me to share my thoughts today on the Grade 2 Ruffian, a 1 mile dirt race at Belmont Park for Fillies and Mares, 4 years old and up.

My first race track romance was with Ruffian.  As a young boy, like many boys my age in an era before instant information, we waited every week for our copies of Sports Illustrated to arrive by mail.  I never saw Ruffian run, but I read about her, was captivated by her, and ultimately horrified at her sudden and gruesome death.  I'm still not, some 40 years later, able to think about Ruffian without getting emotional.  Her death, like the death of George Washington and Tuscan Evening, resonated with me at a very deep level, the level in my soul that makes me a fan and lover of these animals and not someone who can purely think of them as a post position and a price.  It's a beautiful and cruel sport all wrapped into one.

I'm not embarrassed to say I'm not really a very good blogger.  The Turk is celebrating his 8th year of hack handicapping and poorly written sentences, and my traffic in 8 years is about the traffic the good blogs get over a Breeders' Cup weekend.  No matter, I love talking about the horses and my ROI speaks for me when I can't string the words together properly.  I wish I had the time, and talent to write like this piece I found about Ruffian.  This  blog entry at The Vault: Horse Racing Past and Present is  real writer's articulate retrospective on one of the finest race horses ever.    As promised, I'm getting emotional talking about Ruffian, and I'll shut up now and get back to the business at hand! Rest in Peace Ruffian and Trainer Frank Whiteley Jr.

I wish there was more business to be at hand.  Today we have a 6 horse field and you could make a legitimate case for 5 horses to win this race.  While it's a wonderful field, I just wish it was more than six horses.  As a race track investor, the reward must be worth the risk, and I can find much easier marks on any card on any day of the week than this race.  That said, I like to handicap and assemble bets, and while I may not ultimately play it, I follow the same consistent steps for every two part handicap/bet construction and I have found that it is that consistent approach to interpreting the past performances and the race charts that brings me success.

Let's get after it!

Right off the bat, keep your eyes on the weather.  It's going to pour on Friday and maybe it will dry out by Saturday for a very fast track.  If it goes sloppy, our field has 7 total wet starts, with 2 wins both by Carrumba, so that may change thinking slightly at post time.  Our field has a top Beyer of 100 by Cavorting with a variance of (16) Beyer points down to our toss horse, Welcome Aboard.  The Beyer didn't toss the 6 year old, her wretched 5 year old campaign did.

I think Carrumba is the logical choice: 3 wins in last four starts, in the money in all 7 lifetime starts, 2 wins at the distance, 2 wins in 2 tries on off track, 2 wins in 3 starts at BEL, a Grade 3 winner, the Phipps Stable (Barbara Phipps-Janney, owner of Ruffian) runner looks the part of pure class.

I like Spelling Again as a contrarian choice;  owned by Buffalo Sabres Hockey Hall of Fame member and one of the true gentleman of our era.  She'll be near the front and looking to fire off of speed.  I'm not sure the pace scenario will set up for her, but I like this mare quite a bit.

Cavorting makes another excellent argument for the Win.  Her last four starts she's been stretching out at the 7 furlong wire, and the 1 panel extra distance may just be what she wants.  She runs against Grade 1 caliber horses consistently and she has a Grade 1 win.  No wins yet at the distance for the 4 YO, 2 wins at BEL, and she had much success at Saratoga last year, something I generally dismiss.  5 wins in 10 starts.

Include Betty is also a graded stakes regular and Grade 2 winner.  Trainer Proctor is 19% off a 61-180 day layoff, I think she needs another start after this.

There is nothing to dislike about Calamity Kate, you just can't cover them all and the Yes It's True 4 YO with Johnny V up fell off my list a bit.  She seems to still not be able to rate very well and with a cut back in distance I think the thought is to steal the race from the front and hold on.  I'm not sure, its very possible.

As you can see, this is a jam packed quality field. Be careful in a race like this over covering and over investing.  Calamity Kate, Spelling Again and Welcome Aboard will have big prices come post time. If you need action, play Calamity Kate and Spelling Again to Win or Place, or toss them into an exacta box on top of Cavorting and Carrumba.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Nomination Is In: The Oaklawn Handicap G2

Blofeld:  NYRA Photo
Welcome friends to The Turk and the Little Turk and thank you to the Handicapper's Corner of The Thorofan for hosting this post today.

That good looking four year old is Blofeld,  the son of my favorite thoroughbred of the past ten years, Quality Road.   Why was Quality Road my favorite?  Who can say why, he just was! I don't think he's the best horse in the race, but this gambler is looking for value and I like his chances at 4-1 or so.

The Turk comes out of his horse racing slumber each year around this time.  The handicap division races leading up to this point were a mixed bag of ho hum and exciting.  The Kentucky Derby prep races don't do much for me.  I'll get hot and heavy into the racing cards after this weekend's Oaklawn Handicap, as well as the Arkansas Derby, my favorite and one of the most indicative Derby prep races.

My first impression at looking at the Oaklawn Handicap card was eh.  It takes something special to get my horse racing fan's blood flowing, and it takes something subtle to get my horse racing handicappers mind intrigued.  I'm not sure I see either in this collection of runners, perhaps a lack of real stars outside of California Chrome in the handicap division.  When you think of possible stars, Effinex is a minor star by now, I think Blofeld could freak out some fast 1 mile races, but Upstart is very intriguing, with a nice start in 2016 with a win in the Razorback G3 here in mid March. "Absolutely smoked" in the Kentucky Derby is on many a resume of great and exciting Handicap Division stars. Here's hoping we find some stars.

Let's get after it!

I'll be honest, I think I'm a pretty good handicapper but I don't have much of an opinion on this race after studying the card.  I don't pay much attention to Morning Line odds but I'm guessing my handicap follows the ML's pretty closely.  Effinex would be considered chalk, but not indelible ink. If he goes into the gate at 2-1 or closer to even money would it surprise anyone?  As a handicapper if you feel strongly about the chalk then don't let that scare you off, just single him in the win spot and look for value in Place and Show.   Alternatively, cover him in a small group in Win and Place and cast a slightly wider net hoping that the longer tote board odds can come up and take it at the line.

My top four could have a blanket over them, maybe a 1.5-2.5 panel blanket, but they are very close.  I am tepidly picking Blofeld to win his first race at the distance: Trainer Pletcher brings him in on a 31-60 day layoff, something Pletcher wins 24% of the time and off a win, something Pletcher wins 28% of the time.  I think he'll stalk what should be plenty of front end speed and fire off of that.

The most likely winner is Effienx, rebounding after a fast start/slow finish in Santa Anita Handicap.

2 wins at the distance, 33% win rate on fast dirt after 18 starts, 33% win rate lifetime after 21 starts, the 5 YO will carry the heaviest weight at 121 pounds but don't get too emotional about that.  Trainer Jerkens had him running two fast works at BEL leading up to this.  He's the best in this field, more than capable.  I'm covering W-P-and maybe S.

Upstart comes in off a win in the Razorback.  36% win rate on fast dirt on 11 tries, no wins at the distance.  The Razorback was a really nice win and he may press into the top two on the toteboard by post time.  In my handicap he's slowing as the closers are passing.  Place or Show seems very reasonable.

I like Financial Modeling.  I'll really like him in G3 and G2 races.  He's had some time to rest and train off the Donn.  He'll be pressing the pace and I think he'll be fading at the end.  2 of 4 at the distance, 3 wins in 7 fast dirt starts and 5 of 6 in the money in 2015.  $220,000 of winnings in 9 starts gives you the feeling he's in the deep end of the pool here.  Trainer Cox takes him into his barn from Trainer Brown and Cox is a 20% winner on 101 starts first time out.  Cox is a real rising star with a dazzling 27% win rate in Graded Stakes and 30% of routes.

I like Oaklawn journeyman, the 8 YO Domain's Rap, to possibly bring value to a winning ticket.  I think he's got a shot at Show or 4th.  You know he'll run  a low to mid 90's Beyer and he'll run the whole race.  You never know when horses start to get eased who will slip in.  I don't think much of Carve until he shows some better form.  His name and his rep will be bet harder than it should be which should ease the tote board a bit.

If I was playing the race it would most likely just be a simple 10 cent trifecta: 1-8-6 OVER 1-8-6-4 OVER 1-6-4-7 OVER 6-4-7-2-5 for $7.70.  I don't really like those bets from a value perspective so If forced to be aggressive I'd go: 8 OVER 1-6-4-7 OVER 1-6-4-7 a $1 bet for $12.

Have fun friends, Turk Out!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Nomination Is In: The Big 'Cap at Santa Anita

Shared Belief

Welcome friends to The Turk and the Little Turk. Let me start by thanking the good people at The Thorofan for allowing me to share my thoughts with you today at the Handicappers Corner.

Shared Belief.  2015 Winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, The 4 YO Candy Ride son was as beautiful, as he was impressive as a runner.  These horses, so powerful, can also be so fragile.  I still mourn the death of Shared Belief this past December, and selfishly I wish he was alive to bring some life to a handicap division that lacks star power and 100+ Beyers.

Racing will never escape these deaths, it's a part of the sport.  In a game where many people reduce these animals to a number and a price, this handicapper is proud to say I'm a horse racing fan first, and a degenerate gambler second, and The Turk and the Little Turk always remembers the fallen.

Today's version of the Big Cap may not have Shared Belief, but it does boast NY bred Effinex, with Mike Smith up, the winner of the last the three editions of this race.  Not too shabby.  Let's get it on!

I was never that high on Effinex, perhaps it was the breeding, but $2.0 million dollars in winnings later and the 5 YO son of Mineshaft appears to be peaking.  Effinex had   a very strong end of 2015, with a win in the G1 Clark, a strong Breeders' Cup Classic Place and a G2 Suburban win.  Trainer Jerkens is 23% off the long layoff, and this was a long layoff since The Clark at Churchill the day after Thanksgiving, but he's training well.  I think the race is his to loose and he's a candidate to single.  Carrying top weight of 123.

Just behind Effinex I see a group of horses blanketed together, all with warts.  Cyrus Alexander has been training well for Jerry Hollendorfer.  Hollendorfer has worked nicely in a progression of 4f,5f,6f and 7f one week apart for the last month.  The 4 YO is 9 of 12 lifetime in the money, 7 of 9 in the money on fast dirt, 7 of 9 in the money at Santa Anita, and trying the distance for the first time.  His 98 Beyer lifetime best isn't good enough but something tells me this 4 YO is about to stage a second act to his career.  I guess we'll see. This is a good time to take a look at the G2 San Antonio, where Cyrus Alexander had no rally and finished well up the track.

Hard Aces and Donworth are in the mix with Cyrus Alexander.  Both horses have run well at Santa Anita, but I don't get the feeling that any of them can win.  Donworth has never tried the distance, Hard Aces has one once at the distance, a big Gold Cup win by a nose over Hoppertunity.  The wild card here is Imperative, who I have in the Show and Exotic spot but I'll be covering all the way up to win most likely.  3 of 29 lifetime wins, 1 of 16 lifetime wins on fast dirt, 0 of 6 at the distance and 0 of 11 at Santa Anita.  That is an ugly stat line, yet the San Antonio was there for him and he owns the race's second best lifetime Beyer.  The 6 YO Bernadini seems to be on the upswing. He's too low on my scale at B- and you have to respect this truly erratic feast or famine runner.

General a Rod isn't that interesting to me except the race is one of the few big Grade 1 races that Trainer Todd Pletcher has never one.  I'm not a hater or a fan of Trainer Pletcher and I'm not surprised that this one has eluded him.  It's a California thing.  The horse is a name, names attract money, and that's good when you don't think much of the chances.

I'm not sure yet what my bet strategy is. The rains are coming and while they are expected to be gone by Saturday, I won't bet if it's anything other than listed as Fast.  Most likely  I'll look to single Effinex in the Win spot, with 6-7-3-8 covered underneath.

Have fun, Turk out!

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Nomination Is In: The Donn Handicap G1

Welcome friends to The Turk and The Little Turk, now in our 8th season of providing not much service to very few readers.  I'd like to thank The Thorofan Handicapper's Corner for allowing me to share my thoughts with you today.

The Donn!  The Grade 1 Older Horse Division race that for me is the kickoff to any new racing season.The Turk tries not to get too wrapped up in the Derby Trail as I like the older horses and they fit my handicapping style better.  Why? Data.  I look at the past performances of a race like The Donn and I see data, I see 10 plus races of history, stats, pace, information.

What did I see on the Past Performances for this race?  Not much I liked, or better said, a very deep field that the degenerate gambler in me would normally pass on.  You can find easy marks on any card at any field, so why bet a stacked field like this?  Why does any track investor bet? For a return on investment.  It comes down to do I like a horse or two at a price that the betting public laid off a bit?  I don't need crazy long shots, that's for frat boys and movies, I need 4-6 to 1 odds and an exotic view on the race.

Do I have it here?  I dunno.  I'm doing this handicap and bet preparation on a Wednesday night before I know if there are scratches/changes or track conditions less that fast dirt.  I intentionally handicap without the knowledge of morning lines because that's bias I don't need.  Let me hit you with my thoughts and give you my opinion with the cavet that if I did bet this race it would be 10 mins to post after I watched the tote board a bit.

Let's go!

These two videos give you a pretty good feel for Gulfstream Park combatants Madefromlucky (who skipped the Hal's Hope), Mshawish (who skipped Harlan's Holiday for the Cigar Mile) Valid, and Mexikoma (who skipped the Hal's Hope for the Sunshine Millions Classic).

I think money will flow to Keen Ice and why not?  Well, Trainer Roman's is 6% off a 61-180 day break, with 93 chances, and the horse, for is $1.8 Million in earnings, has 2 wins in 13 starts, 1 win in 9 starts in 2015 and only 4 of 9 in the money.  Lightning may drop on me from the heavens, but I put no stock in what a horse does at Saratoga so quite frankly I don't care that he won the Traver's. Bet him, go ahead, I may be wrong but I'm laying off the win for Keen Ice.  I'm not even covering him in the money right now.  

It's a great time to get on my soap box about making decisions.  I don't know if I'm right about Keen Ice, but I have to make an informed decision otherwise when I make my bet selection up I'll cover everyone because I've tossed no one.  Have some conviction, take a stand.

My tepid chalk is Valid.  The 6 YO is 10 of 12 at GP, 4 of 4 in the money at the distance, 9 wins in 28 tries on fast dirt.  The jock colony shunned him with Saez jumping off for Pletcher's Itsaknockout,  Might be too much for him, he did get caught at 1 mile in the Hal's Hope, but he's game and he'll be driving, Win, Place or Show.

I feel pretty similar with Mshawish.  I have no reason to not expect him to be driving at the end, but this is a new distance for the 1 time winner on dirt.

Thinking of the pace, I can see Mott's Closing Bell closing hard in the last 1/16th.  The numbers say no, but he's been training well and my only concern is speed.  Guess we will find out.

Madefromlucky/Financial Modeling and even Closing Bell I'm tossing a blanket over. I think all will be moving forward except Financial Modeling who may drop sooner but will turn some fast panels early.

Itsaknockout is more than capable.  I most likely have underestimated him and he should most likely be in my Place or Show spot.

It's rare for me to truly toss anyone from the exotic ticket but this is a solid field and I have no strong feelings in any one way.

For the sake of the readers I'll make a theoretical bet based on this base handicap.

I'm going to place a $1 Trifecta which will cost $29 on:

4-3 OVER 4-3-5-7-2 OVER 4-5-7-2-8.  I brought Itsaknockout up but left Keen Ice on the outside.  I have two of my Also Ran's in my Bet Selection, Keen Ice and Mexikoma, just a reflection of how I'm feeling about the pace.

I think this is a dog with fleas so I'm leaving my remaining $71 dollars in my pocket which is sometimes a gambler's best bet.

Turk Out!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Post Race Analysis: Hal's Hope and San Pasqual

Mshawish by a neck over Valid: Photo Leslie Martin/GS Park

There wasn't much money to be made, but good handicapping is good handicapping, and I'm always trying to hone the craft.

A long time ago I made the decision that if I was going to take on the opportunity costs of a race I should also make the effort to review not only my handicapping post race, but also my bet strategy to see if what I did made sense, and more importantly, made a return on my investment.

Hal's Hope G3 Gulfstream Park Race 7: 9 January 2016

The key to my Hal's Hope strategy was plugging Grande Shores into Show.  I expected a different pace scenario and expected him to be moving forward and not backwards at the line, but regardless, he was 5th on the tote board and I had him third.  With Valid/Mshawish covered for Win and Place, and Grande Shores/Matrooh covered for Show a $2 Bet costs $8 and it offered a $33.40 return.   $8 for $33.40 is a good ROI for a 5 horse field.  The Superfecta wasn't worth the bet and seldom is in small fields, returning only $6.34 for $1 buck.    It's so easy and tempting to rip up the tickets and walk away when your bets don't work, but take the time now and then to think about the results and what you could have done differently and you'll improve.

San Pasqual G2 Santa Anita Race 8:  9 January 2016

Picking California Chrome isn't that hard, and the top four on the tote board finished in the top four here which doesn't bode well for wagers unless you single or use a matrix.  The matrix I assembled but didn't bet for The San Pasqual was  5/4 OVER 5/4/6/2/8 Over 4/6/2/8 OVER 6/2/8.  A $1 bet would have cost $30 and returned $57.20.  While still a positive ROI, you'll leave money on the table when you are being discerning.  I was more into the return of Chrome as a fan than a bettor and no regrets to pass on this wager.

Anyway's, it's a good start for the Turk and his red gel pen in 2016.  Happy Handicapping to Everyone.

Turk Out!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Nomination Is In: The G3 Hal's Hope and the Grade 2 San Pasqual

California Chrome: Photo AP
Hello Friends to the 8th year of The Turk and the Little Turk: Horses, Handicapping and Hijinks.

Must See TV.  Any race with California Chrome, a Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Santa Anita Derby winner, a champion, not gelded, who is still racing at age 5, is cause for celebration in my book.

There are plenty of folks on the other side of the fence that hold a grudge against the horse because his connections are a bit o' jackass but I never hate the horse for something the humans do, and God knows, human's do plenty of stupid things in this sport.

The Handicap Division is what the Turk is all about.  I love the older horses, the journeymen who toil away for their owners, more valuable racing that making more horses, or gelded and doing all they can do.  I dig the older horses.  I know most race fans are paying attention to the Sham or some other 3 YO race today, but I couldn't care less yet about the babies.  They will have their time.  I'll catch Derby fever soon enough but the hype machine is something I like to ignore as a handicapper and I'd prefer to see a bit of ink on the PPs before I place investment capital on the line.

Anyway, I'm looking today at Gulfstream and the Hal's Hope and at Santa Anita's San Pasqual.  I've been on handicappers holiday since The Clark Handicap the day after Thanksgiving so I may be rusty, but hey, the red gel pen has muscle memory. Let's get after it!

Valid: Equi-Photo/Taylor Ejdys
Mshawish, a 6 time Turf winner, tried to win his first on fast dirt.  He's a classy horse with very solid connections, yet the Turk is shading towards Valid, winner of 33% of his races on fast dirt, 4 of 11 starts at the distance and 6 wins in 11 starts at GP.  I like the gelded 6 YO's work tab and I think it's his to lose.

I'm taking Grande Shores over a better horse, Matrooh for Show. The 8 YO son of Black Mambo, Grande Shores likes to close on the pack and I'd hedging that he hangs around long enough to come a running for third.  This is the veteran's 22nd start at GP, 16 of 21 in the money, 29 of 38 in the money on fast dirt and 36 of 50 lifetime in the money.

At Santa Anita, the contrarian in me is looking for Hoppertunity to upset California Chrome for the win spot.  Chrome had 2 starts in 2015 and I don't care how good he was, I don't know how good he'll be until I see him.  His work looks good and I'd love to see him freak, so I'll cover the win spot, but the degenerate gambler in me would prefer place.

I like Hard Aces, a six year old Hard Spun, to hit the ticket.  He likes to come late, so I'm going with a similar pace idea as in the Hal's Hope and I'm looking for him to pull onto the ticket in the last 1/16.  Blingo, The Moss's 7 YO gelded Artie Schiller, faded in this race last year and hasn't won since last February.  I think he's right there above the trailers.  Imperative has no wins in 9 starts at Santa Anita, no wins in 3 tries at the distance  and 1 win in 14 tries on fast dirt and he was winless in six starts in 2015.  3 wins in 27 career starts but $1.7 million in winnings, starting to look like a lot of luck when he beat Game on Dude in the Charles Town Classic.

Whatever you do, have fun and enjoy yourself.  Forget the sheets of any color and instead read the works of guys like Brad Free and Tom Ainsilie and work on your 'capping without the pressure of gambling.  Never gamble more than you can afford to lose.

Turk Out!

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Nomination Is In: The Clark Handicap G1 at CD

Thank you to The Thorofan for allowing this idiot, hack handicapper an opportunity to talk ponies with you all.

Poor Meriweather Lewis Clark. He did so much for our sport yet died by his own hand at age 53. The Clark Handicap is a part of my Thanksgiving tradition, tun across a route of dirt located on property donated and named for Meriweather's mother's family, the Churchill's.

 I remember Mr. Clark every year as the race named in his honor shouts THANKSGIVING to me as much as turkey, stuffing, gravy.

Anyway, we have a nice post holiday smorgasbord of runners in this event with 7 legitimate Grade 1 horses going head to head.  I don't know about you, but that alone get's my blood going.    Let's get it on!

When I look at the past performances, and I look at who likes to race within 2 lengths of the lead and who doesn't I have a mixed bag.  Who likes the lead:  Mr. Z (have you seen him race?) for sure, Race Day, Effinex, and Protonico  most of the time, and Hopportunity, Keen Ice and Frivolous, not so much.  Of my two tosses, only Shotgun Kowboy appears to be willing to add to the pace.

So what am I expecting?  While some bad weather is headed there, it looks like the rains may not start until around post time.  I expect Hopportunity to fire off the pace and retain his Clark Handicap title.  Alternatives?  The pace could go awry and then I think Race Day or  Effinex have the best win potential of the remaining group.  Filling out Place and Show and if you want to go into the exotic Superfecta you most likely will need some luck or alot of covers which I never advocate.  Remember, winning your wager at any cost, is not a good strategy for race track capital management.   While we might be gambling, their are river boat gamblers and there are shrewd gamblers.  Be shrewd!

Hopportunity, Protonico and Race Day last met in the Hagyard Fayette, G2 at KEE

I've never been big on betting Breeders' Cup contestants in their next race back.  Keen Ice comes in on 2nd off a long layoff and first off was Breeders' Cup Classic.  The 3 YO son of
already has $1.8 MM in winnings.  By the way Trainer Roman's is 13% off the break and he places Lanerie up from the jock pool, and together they win 26% of time at CD.  Locals!

Mr. Z. comes in off the Breeders' Cup Mile where he was rank early and faded late.  The 3 YO Malibu Moon will be a major pace player but expect him to crack around 8 panels.

Frivolous, the lone lady, comes in off the Distaff (let it be known the Turk never referred to it as a "ladies classic.")  5 of 7 in the money at CD, 5 of 8 in the money at the distance, but I think she's just not fast enough here.

Effinex was first loser, aka Place, against American Pharoah in the Breeders' Cup Classic, so so in Gold Cup and the Woodward and running at CD for the first time.  Plenty fast with tactical speed.

Race Day's best efforts have been on/near the lead.  I think the 4 YO will be sent out fast from the far end of gate and could wire the race.

Whatever you do,, have fun with it and keep your betting based in the realities of your bank account.

Turk Out!