Friday, March 31, 2017

The Nomination Is In: The Louisiana Derby

Girvin: Amanda Hodges Weir/Weir Photography
Welcome friends to The Turk and the Little Turk, a horse racing blog that has been blissfully bringing handicapping thoughts to a group of hardcore readers since 2008.  I'd like to thank the good people of The Thorofan for allowing me the opportunity today to handicap The Louisiana Derby, a 1 1/8 mile prep race for the Kentucky Derby.

That good looking fella to the left is Girvin, winner of the Grade 2 Risen Star in late February at this racetrack, Fair Grounds.  To my long time readers, you'll know that The Turk doesn't really care at all about two year old racing, and I don't really spend much time thinking about these horses on the Derby trail, like the seven in this field of nine that are Triple Crown eligible.  Am I a  curmudgeon or some anti-social horse racing purist?  Not at all, I'm just a guy who likes a Past Performance sheet to be filled with data, data from 10+ career starts after the age of 3.  I like history, I like video, I'm not that partial to talking about things that I have no clue about, like pedigree analysis.  I also don't care for horse racing journalism about the horses.  Again, nothing against the good writers, but I get sucked into the feel good stories, the underdog stories, the can't miss stories, and that bias throws me off as a handicapper.  This is my Sudoku, my game of Chess, and I try to keep the bias out and the data heavy.

So, where do I start when looking at a Derby prep race?  The same place I always start, with the weather and the track condition and tote board.  Things can change rapidly with the weather here but it appears Friday and Saturday will be mostly rain free and for now we will assume a fast dirt route.

Let's also take a look at last year's LA Derby G2 and Gun Runner.




And this year's Risen Star at 1 1/16 on fast dirt with Local Hero/3, Guest Suite/6, Sorry Erik/7 and Girvin/8 returning in this match.



Trainer Joe Sharp and Brian Hernandez, up, look like they have prepared a very professional Girvin. I also liked Guest Suite who didn't have a great trip but was really coming late wide and I would expect more of the same from Local Hero, lots of speed, but can he carry it? Sorry Erik should be a non factor.

Let's get it on!




When I look at the scant past performance data on Girvin and Guest Suite (9 races between them: 5 wins, 1 place and 2 Shows) I see the Class of the race.  Monaco, a $1.3 Million dollar Uncle Mo purchase at the Spring 2016 sale is very lightly raced, works rather consistently, but hasn't done anything yet, while $0.5 Million dollar purchase Local Hero has enough speed that he will be a factor in his races. Money doesn't buy you happiness or race results, just promise.  It's still very early in the development of these race horses, but The Turk likes horses that have done it before, not just thinking about doing it.

Girvin has been on the shelf and training at Fair Grounds since winning the Risen Star and gamely coming up just short in a 1 Mile Turf race at Fair Grounds in early February.  He appears to have been genetically born to rate.  I could ramble some more but just watch the Risen Star video above, you'll see a nice late turn afoot and a confident ride by Hernandez.  I've always liked the second/third tier Jock Hernandez, the 2004 apprentice jockey of the year.  Maybe his career goes a bit more high profile if he doesn't lose the Rachel Alexandra mount to Calvin Borel.  

Being contrarian in nature, I like Guest Suite in the win spot.  The gelded son of Turk favorite Quality Road, he trains fast, his Beyer's are increasing, and with the extra distance he may be able to collar Girvin.

Patch, a very lightly raced Calumet Farms runner for Todd Pletcher, comes in off a fast one turn affair.  Local Hero, a fast Hard Spun/Liam's Dream creation, will be near the front and the only real question for me is how far does he carry and can he hold on for a minor prize.

Rounding out my contenders for Show and Exotic are Senior Investment and Hollywood Handsome. Senior Investment is a bit slow but rating really well and will be coming late.  Minor prize possible.  Hollywood Handsome has been training very sharply at Fair Grounds and also has shown a late turn of foot.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this yet.  I think I'll be looking at something like:

a $2 Trifecta of 6/8 OVER 6/8 OVER 1/3/4/2 would cost $16.

Whatever you do, have fun with it and bet responsibly.

Turk out!


Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Nomination is In: The Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park


Welcome Friends to The Turk and the Little Turk blog, a service to the horse racing community that neither needs nor asked for it.  I'd like to thank the good people at The Thorofan Handicapper's Corner for allowing me to share my thoughts on the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap with you today.

Instead of focusing on the lack of quality in the handicap division, I'd like to stay positive and thank Oaklawn for trying to grow the sport by increasing the purse in this year's 58th edition of this race to $500,000, up from $350,000.  The idea, even if the current quality isn't there, is to build towards Oaklawn Derby/Arkansas Derby Day in purses and rivalries.

The race was advanced a month as well to better position it as a handicap division pathway.  Oaklawn General Manager Eric Jackson explained  "...We've been so pleased with the way the Southwest Stakes has come up in recent years, we decided to build on that in the older divisions," Jackson said. "Until you get there and do it, you don't really know how it's going to work out, but it certainly looks excellent on paper at this point" (Perkins).  
Oaklawn to me is the place that I think gives the truest test of Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown contenders, recent history aside.  I love the way the track plays, wet or dry, and the locals give the invaders all they can handle.  
Up and coming trainer Ron Moquett echoed what we all know in this game, you need the purses to attract the horses (Arlington Park are you listening?).  Moquett said, "...the purses here make for very competitive races," he said. "For the horsemen, it's not easy to win here, but for the fans, look who they get to see here every year. I mean, it's not an accident that Curlin and Rachel Alexandra and Afleet Alex and Summer Bird and Lawyer Ron and Zenyatta and American Pharoah and all these guys come here. They come here because we have the equivalent of Wrigley Field in our backyard. It's just a classic place to watch horse racing" (Perkins).
Anyway, let's get it on!



Again, the division is weak and it shows in these fields.  That said, rain may be the great equalizer. The weather looks like it will be very wet come race time.  It's questionable if Gun Runner, easily the classiest and most accomplished horse in this race, would even run in the slop.  Winchell Thoroughbreds  Manager David Fiske said  if the rains do come that   "There would be some discussion as to scratching him, for sure," Fiske said should the Oaklawn track come up wet for the Razorback. "But...he has to start somewhere. It may come down to that. So we'll see" (Hughes.) Keep your eye on track conditions as well as scratches and changes.  

Gun Runner fired off a :59 4/5ths 5f over the Hot Springs track this week and is showing no signs of his long layoff or his quarantine at Fair Grounds.  Four straight 100+ Beyers, 10 of 12 in the money lifetime, the Candy Ride's only two outings out of the money? Off tracks.  

If the slop does come, I like Blue Tone, shipping in from California.  Trainer Hess has been looking to get the 8 YO gelded Birdstone going since a Grade 3 win in early January at Santa Anita, saying "... I've been watching all the preps and all the horses, Obviously, we were hoping Gun Runner would pass, but we're ready to go. We've been eyeballing races all over, New Orleans, Florida, New York, and Oaklawn as well, for quite a while" (Hughes.)  Hess as well noted the purse as a factor in him coming back to Arkansas.  Hess said he decided on the Razorback because there was nothing for Blue Tone in California and the race is worth a record $500,000 this year, a hefty $150,000 bump from 2016 (Hoyt.) 

Domain's Rap, a 9 year old with 61 career starts, has never gone into 3 digit Beyers, and has only earned $10,300 per race (compared to Gun Runner's $170,000 and $22,400 for Blue Tone) is in my top four for his tenacity at Oaklawn, with 7 starts ending with 5 Wins and a Place.  His current form appears sharp and I project he may be fading at the wire but has more to offer than most of the field.  

I tossed Chief of Staff and D. Wayne Lukas's Goats Town, the son of his late career runner, Dublin.  I just can't strain my brain enough to make a case for either who are collectively 0 of 13 starts at the distance and 0 of 8  at OP and have 5 wins between them in 36 starts.  

Which leads me to my pick em' group of runners: Hawaakom, Smack Smack and Dazzling Gem. Hawaakom is coming in off a slop win at 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds where he put up a 98 Beyer.  7 wins in 16 starts at the distance. Smack Smack  is 0 of 6 at OP, 0 of 4 in the slop.  I'll figure out where to slot him based on track conditions.  Dazzling Gem should be better than he is.  Well bred, classy, the 4 YO son of Misremembered out of Dazzler (Vindication) has 3 wins in 9 starts, a 97 best Beyer over the slop, 4 of 5 in the money at the distance and 2 OP wins in 3 starts.  When looking for value, look here.

So what am I thinking:  If the track is not a complete swamp and Gun Runner doesn't scratch I'll stick most likely by my base handicap.  

If it is sealed or very sloppy, and Gun Runner goes, I don't single him but instead place an Exacta Box on 1-3-5-7.  

If Gun Runner Scratches, I build something that focuses on Blue Tone and Dazzling Gem.  

Whatever you do, have fun and bet to make money, not for the thrill or the action.  Look for value and don't over cover your exotics.  

Turk Out!


Works Cited

Hughes, Alicia Wincze.  "Rain could threaten Gun Runner's Razorback hopes." Web.  The Blood Horse.   https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/219897/rain-could-threaten-gun-runners-razorback-hopes.  17 February 2017.  Retrieved 19 February 2017.

Hoyt, Jennifer.  "Oaklawn:Blue Tone Brings Hess Back."  Web.  Times Record.    http://www.swtimes.com/sports/20170217/oaklawn-blue-tone-brings-hess-back  17 February 2017. Retrieved 19 February 2017.

Perkins, Pete.  "Elite Oaklawn Races set for President's Day Weekend.  Web.  Arkansas Online.          http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2017/feb/18/first-set-of-grades-coming-in-20170218/?f=sports  18 February 2017.  Retrieved 19 February 2017.


Friday, January 27, 2017

The Nomination Is In: The Pegasus World Cup Invitational G1 at Gulfstream Park

Welcome Friends to The Turk and the Little Turk, now entering our ninth year of giving unsolicited horse racing handicaps to people who never asked for them.  Today the Turk has the honor of writing the handicap for The Pegasus World Cup Invitational, a $12,000,000 purse doozy of a Grade 1 race.  I'd be remiss if right out of the gate if I don't thank the good people at The Thorofan and the Handicapper's Corner for allowing me this pulpit to ramble from.

The hip bloggers like to criticize.  The Turk ain't hip (in case you didn't know, 3rd person references are oh so not hip.)  This inaugural Pegasus Invitational to me seemed like a real revolutionary idea, not a complete game changer because you couldn't do too many of these without upsetting the natural order of the racing calendar and dates, but still a real unique idea to develop another destination day for fans of the sport between the Breeders' Cup in early November and the Kentucky Derby in May.  Because of the decentralized nature of horse racing, anyone who steps outside the lines gets criticized, and The Stronach Group took plenty of criticism for the event.  There is a rant that relates perfectly to horse racing, the definition of insanity is.....blah blah blah.  I'm old enough to remember horse racing still as culturally relevant sport in the 1970's.  I'm old enough to remember the beauty of Hiahleah and I shake my head at the loss of Hollywood.  The sport is dying but critics keep on doing what they do best.

What about this race?  The idea was announced May 12, 2016.  For this race which replaces the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, the traditional first Handicap Division Grade 1 of the Winter Season,  12 spots in the starting gate were sold for $1.0 Million each, with all participants sharing equally the net income (net:expenses paid first) from handle, media rights and sponsorship's.  The purse was purely raised by the participants.  For a track like Gulfstream, the scene of Saturday's race, this wil have the effect of a second Florida Derby, by far the premier date in the South Florida tracks calendar every year.  According to Tim Ritvo, President of Gulfstream and Chief Operating Officer of Stronach Group, Florida Derby is about $36.0 Million each year and the internal goal was to reach $40.0 Million for Saturday's card (TDN).  That's meaningful, especially combined with other streams of revenue not normal to their business, parking and a general admission. Television, the big prize, is an interesting subject.  How many of you realize the only three races that the networks pay for each year are the Triple Crown Races?  That's it.  Stronach Group is paying the network, NBC, to televise this event in the hopes that their is enough interest to create a television revenue stream in future years.    (Let's just keep criticizing them though).

It did take until January 16th to fill the final two slots in the race.  While California Chrome's connections were early slot purchaser's,  the big buzz building action occurred on December 22, when Coolmore sold to Juddmonte a slot and Arrogate was then in the mix.  Grade 1 winner Gun Runner, winner of Clark Handicap in late November, was penciled into the slot owned by Mick Ruis, but a EHV-1 quarantine at Fairgrounds, and an unwillingness by the connections to take a nose swap test (which has a 15% false positive rate) which if failed, would have forced the horse to be at risk standing around with other quarantined horses for 30 more days, was too big a risk to take (Paulick Report 1/22).  It's unfortunate as this race could have used another relevant Grade 1 winner.

So while the number of opportunities to pull something like this off seem limited during a race calendar without throwing the conditions book a tizzy, this late January date has some intriguing possibilities. A horse running in this race ($12 Million) could use it as a prep for Dubai World Cup ($10 Million) and top his year with the Breeders' Cup Classic ($6 Million).  That's a $28 Million dollar year.  American Pharoah's connections, specifically Justin Zayat states they would have highly considered running the Triple Crown winner at four if Pegasus was an option (Ehalt.)  Steve Asmussen says "I wish I had Curlin running next year" (Ehalt.) Baffert wishes he had Game On Dude.  Paul Reddam, owner of Nyquist, bought a slot.  Doug O'Neill, Nyquist's trainer says "It would be a dream come true to have a huge Breeders' Cup Classic performance and then look at the Pegasus.  Anyone with a 3 Year Old or older top male is thinking that way" (Ehalt.)  These are the biggest names in the sport and they realize that this race, if successful and if it becomes an annual fixture, might slow the run to the breeding shed a bit and keep those stars active in their fourth year.

If successful, the Pegasus could be the race that extends careers and provides a distraction in late January, especially on a slow before Super Bowl weekend.  That's the idea.  If I was going to criticize anything, it's the distance at 1 1/8 miles.  The classic US dirt distance is 1 1/4 miles.  The track:  Running a 1 1/8 mile race on a 1 1/8 oval creates issues, namely the first turn is very close to the starting gate.  The track will be speed favoring most likely.  The break and where you go into and out of that first turn is most likely the key to handicapping this race.  Handicapping this race is what I was asked to do and I've rambled quite a bit about the race because of the uniqueness of it, but the field, a real ugh.  Arrogate, is not traditionally a good starter.  Baffert himself said "Out of the blocks, he doesn't fire away from there (the gate).  He's got a tremendous stride, a tremendous kick and he does have speed" (Paulick 1/10).   California Chrome is way out in gate 12.  In between represents my biggest disappointment with North American racing, the dearth of quality handicap division horses.

With two huge favorites expected to go off much less than 2-1, I'm thinking betting strategy before I even handicap, typically a no-no in my rule book.  I could spend a bunch of time trying to be a wise guy and and explain why Semper Fortis is flying under the radar, but instead I'm already thinking about lightly priced exotic tickets with Arrogate and Chrome covering the top spots and a few other runners mixed in at the bottom of the ticket.  Risk/Reward.  What are you willing to risk in betting capital and opportunity cost (the time handicapping this race when you can be handicapping a race with less sex appeal and more earnings appeal) and what is the reward.  Do you see payouts that excite you with two heavy favorites 1-2 and someone from the field in 3 and 4?  Me either.  Yes, handle will be good and Will Pay suggests an investment expecting a positive ROI should cause you to take pause betting more than $45-50 on a $2 trifecta ticket.  I'm not your mother, I don't care what you bet as you are a grown up, but what's the reward is a question you have to ask yourself.

Another thing I think Stronach deserves credit for: a 5 pound weight break if they run lasix free. One runner  took them up on it, hopefully this trend will spread in the condition book.

Let's get after this!




I saw absolutely no reason to make much of a consideration for five of the entrants and for better or worse I tossed them.  You can't cover everybody, or technically you can, but again, Risk/Reward.  The larger the number of covers and the larger the bet cost, and I'm not hip (as we established early on) enough to make a decent wise guy case that War Envoy will be shocking the world.  Class.  Current Condition. Pace. Quality of Competition. The hallmarks of my handicapping style make me lean very heavy towards Chrome and Arrogate.  They will be in the top four barring injury or some sort of unavoidable, horrible trip.  And then there is that first turn.  I'm focused purely on who will be forward positioned enough going into that first turn that they can make a late race mild rally to challenge for a spot in the ticket.

I'm not going to overthink this at all.  I expect Chrome and Arrogate will challenge for the top spot.  If forced to pick I give a slight edge to Arrogate and Mike Smith Up.  Chrome has to move a long way over to not be too wide through the first turn.  If it was classic distance I'd be more concerned about running out of gas, but the shorter distance should allow him to expend early or 1st corner energy.

I think Johnny V will have Pletcher's Neolitic near the front and on the rail through the first turn.  That should set him up well to be part of cavalry charge at the end, maybe moving forward or backwards.  Only horse in this race with 2 Gulfstream wins, an N1X (smh) in December.

I like Shaman Ghost quite a bit.  What a boon to Ontario Racing and breeding if he would pull an upset here (and what a hoot if Stronach wins their own race.) Training well and winner of a watered down Woodward G1.

Keen Ice, Noble Bird and Breaking Lucky round out my contenders.

So what to do? Risk/Reward should govern us.

A Super High Five might look like this:

 $2 Super High Five with 1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7-9-4-10 X 3-7-9-4-10 X 3-7-9-4-10 would cost $240.  You'd cover your bet easily but this is no better than a scratch off lottery ticket.

A $2 Superfecta might look like this:

$2 Superfecta with 1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7-9-4-10 X 3-7-9-4-10 would cost $80

A $2 Trifecta might look like this:

$2 Trifecta with 1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7-9-4-10  would cost $20

I'll most likely assemble bets that look a bit like this:

$2 Superfecta  1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7 X 3-7-9-4-10 for $32.

Have fun with it and whatever risk level you feel is appropriate.

Turk Out!



Works Cited

Ehalt, Bob "The Pegasus: The Growing World Wide buzz over a Race that could change the Economics of Racing." Thoroughbred Racing Commentary.  Web 23 August 2016.

Paulick Report. "Gun Runner's Connections Opt Out of Pegasus World Cup Consideration"  22 January 2017. Web.

Paulick Report. "Baffert: Arrogate's Post Position draw in Pegasus 'Very Important' "  10 January 2017. Web.

TDN Thoroughbred Daily News. "Ritvo Discusses Pegasus Planning, Expectations" 24 January 2017. Web.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Nomination Is In: The Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs


Happy Thanksgiving and Welcome to The Turk and the Little Turk.  I'd like to thank the good people at The Thorofan for allowing me to share the musings of an old school handicapper with you today.  I've been blogging the Clark Handicap for many years and I'm reusing a post of mine from 5 years ago, 2011.  I figure if the Zayatt's can reuse a runner from that day, Prayers for Relief, I could reuse this as well.

Before I go too far,  I am thankful for the economic means that allows me to raise my family; I thank my employer. I thank my loving family. I cherish my friends, even though the introvert that I am doesn't make me a very social friend. I thank my pets.  I of course, thank my God.

Baseball fans get all misty eyed talking about Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, and as a hockey fan, I was saddened to see our Buffalo Memorial Auditorium condemned and knocked down in the name of luxury suites and more concessions. There is something special about these old places; places you shared highs and lows with, maybe with your father, your friends, your girlfriend, now your wife, your children.

Fenway and Wrigley were built in 1911 and 1914 respectively. Churchill Downs has existed since 1875, with the iconic twin spires going up in 1895. The driving force behind the creation of the track was Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, grandson of the famous American explorer, General William Clark of the William and Clark expedition of 1804-1806, the first transcontinental expedition of the United States, and whose mother was from one of Kentucky's first and leading families, the Churchill's.

At the age of 29, Meriwether Clark saw the first edition of this race run. As in all things in life, you don't really own something unless you really own it, and his mother's two brothers left the land to others after their death and Meriwether found himself as nothing more than a race steward by 1897. Already hurt deeply by poor financial investments, and followed by the loss of the track, Meriwether committed suicide in 1899 at the age of 53 years old. One can't help but think he stands along the rail along with all the other horse players we've said goodbye to over the years, players like Shawn Murphy, Rose Rizzo and Tiznow Reynolds.  Our dead horse players  watch these equine heroes run over the same route of dirt in South of Louisville like they been doing for the past 141 years.

I love old racetracks. I stare out at the track and I see and hear the ghosts of races past thundering up the stretch. The Clark Handicap is a tradition of mine, a wonderful post Thanksgiving Day event that I look forward too, an echo of the season that has essentially concluded, a harbinger of the coming winter, and a hint of handicap division to come once the sun returns.

Let's get after this!




I'm leaning towards Noble Bird being my fairly tepid Chalk.  3 of 4 in the money at Churchill Downs, 3 wins in 6 starts at the distance, a trainer-jock combo clipping along at a 29% win rate at CD, this on the lead runner has my nod and we'll see if he can hold what should be his lead at the top of the stretch.

Here's Noble Bird winning the G2 Hagyand Fayette  at KEE in late October setting a track record in the process.



I sure like Gun Runner an awful lot, just another great son of Candy Ride (Arg).  He won the G3 Matt Wynn here in June, his first back off Show in the Kentucky Derby.  I'm not a big fan of first race back off Breeders' Cup efforts but I like the horse alot, he likes this track and he's 9 of 9 in the money on fast dirt.



Hopportunity is no stranger to the race and he's coming in off an outclassed Breeders' Cup Classic. I think you have to respect Baffert bringing him here as well as his Jockey Club Gold Cup G1 win in early October.  He'll be coming late, which the Belmont stretch played well to his strength,  and he should have enough speed in front of him to make a late move.



Shaman Ghost, the Ontario bred 4 YO, has been on the shelf since winning at 9-1 in The Woodward G1. first start at CD, 4 wins in 8 starts on fast dirt, 1 win at the distance in 1 try, 6 wins in 12 lifetime starts.



Do I have last year's winner, Effinex, too low? he came off a stalking trip in last year's edition and if he's in that spot again this year of course he'll be dangerous. I'm covering him in multiple spots.



The last horse I'm going to consider is a bit of a wildcard, Roger Attfield's Are You Kidding Me.  No wins in two dirt starts, winless in only attempt at CD, the modestly bred 6 YO has a combined 29 turf and fake dirt starts, mostly at Woodbine, and he is running very well but this seems like a very odd placing for him.  I like him showing up in the ticket, as I suspect he will be on the lead and dropping like a stone near the wire.  Here he is at Churchill Downs running a flat effort in the Stephen Foster Handicap.



So what to do with all this? First of all, I love the big field of handicap division warriors.  This race would be an example of what I describe to people as to why I love horse racing.  I love the stories, I love seeing a 44 start 6 YO still doing what he does.  Everyone loves the triple crown races, but this level of Grade 1 action is what does it for me.  I'm tossing at my own peril Breaking Lucky, Mr. Z, Prayers for Relief and Hawaakom.  Murphy's Law: One of them will screw us up.

I'm really torn, and while a horse racing fan can be torn, a bettor cannot be.  My base bet (below) isn't even worth me pricing out as I'm never going to make such an investment in a wide open race.

After mulling about a $69 bet $1 Super and a $50 bet $2 Exacta I settled on $1 Tri bet for $20 which I would be OK with taking to $2/$40.  The bet forces me to single Noble Bird and put the rest of my survivor pool under him.  Regardless of the horse I single, the bet construction will be what I settle on.  What do I mean by that?  I'm not sold on Noble Bird and I'm not sure if he's going to get smaller or bigger than 4-1, so if Gun Runner down  to 8-1, perhaps I flip flop Noble Bird and Gun Runner.

Watch the tote and only invest what you are prepared to lose.  My exotic hit rate on Tri's has been hovering around 25% but my IRR is positive, albeit slightly.  That's over many years.  I have had stretches where it is mind numbing horrible and also savant like fantastic. Welcome to horse racing!

To bet or not to bet?  When you sit down with a card, certain races will pop out to you, after you have invested the time and effort to develop the craft, that are much easier marks than this race.  As a horse player, why bet a hard race when you can take advantage of a no brainer race on the same card or a different track.  Don't fall into the trap of betting every race but if you handicap, take the time to build out your bets, review what coulda shoulda woulda when its over, and be honest with yourself.

Have fun with this friends.  Happy Turk(ey) Day.  Turk(s) out!

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Nomination Is In: The Commonwealth Turf at Churchill Downs


Welcome friends to The Turk and the Little Turk blog.  I'd like to begin by wishing the many horse players I know who served in our Military a Happy Veteran's Day. I myself am I veteran of the first Gulf War and a proud former submariner.

My nickname, The Turk, was a common nickname given to the best handicapper in a military man's unit.  Those nicknames stuck with the person, and I have read several obituaries over time of former "Turk's" who served our country proudly and just enjoyed the peace and quiet of the track the rest of their days.  This has been a tumultuous week in our Country, and this Blog is not being political, just expressing the sincere hope that average American's can embrace the differences of opinion and come together to grow jobs and be respectful of the personal choices we all make.

Today's blog is written for The Thorofan's Handicapper's Corner.  Today's target is a very nice 11 horse, 3 YO turf Grade 3, the Commonwealth Turf, at Churchill Downs.  I avoid 3 YO Turf racing like the plague until late in the year as it allows some historical perspective to develop on the past performances.  You typically get a funny mixture of direct to turf runners, modestly bred animals, triple crown trail rejects coming off the dirt, and future turf stars.  Today is no different and the field is both challenging and lacks  and heavy duty chalk which should make for an exciting race with money to be made.

Let's get after it!






Check the track conditions always when preparing your handicaps.  You can find Churchill Down's conditions here.  The weather does not appear to be an issue, with only a 10% chance of rain today and tomorrow.  Expect the turf to be firm.

Let's start with the base handicap and then develop some bet strategies off of that.  My two readers can tell you that sometimes my base handicap is pretty straightforward and I can bet directly from it, or I'll deviate.  With 11 horses, I have them in stratified layers of class and ability, and the bet construction has to take some educated risks and place a few high prices more forward or we might as well bet the tote board order.  33% of chalks win, a metric that has been very consistent for decades.  With big fields, you can get carried away with covering multiple horses Win, Place Show and the bets can get very expensive.  Avoid that trap and only bet what you are willing to lose.  This is not batting average:  Don't worry so much about picking winners that you are afraid to take a chance on putting a 15-1 in the Place Spot.  Public handicapping like this was very hard for me for a long time because, lets face it, no one likes to look stupid.  With that fear I found the handicaps I blogged lagged severely in ROI that the ones I didn't blog.  It was a horrifying prospect.  I had to get past the idea I was going to get a part of the prize, even a minor part, on every bet, and instead focus my handicap on identifying who should finish, and in what order, if the race was raced on paper, and the bet construction takes that base handicap and makes the best educated guesses possible to maximize the risk-reward relationship.  I'm OK with winning 3 out of 10 if those three cover the seven losses and makes me 15% on my money.  That is not always what unfolds but it's what I am always aiming for. Have something you aim for, your betting capital should be treated with deep respect.

Ok Turk, stop rambling and get on with it.  Ok ok...


I have Canadian bred (A shout out to my neighbors to the North courtesy of the Hip) Sir Dudley Digges in my win spot, light-ish chalk I may add.  5 pf 6 in the money on turf, he should handle the firm turf OK and he should like the distance.  He's with a serious group of connections, with The Ramsey's as owners, Trainer Michael Maker and J. Leparoux, up.  He's got class, he's got experience, he's been training over Churchill turf since late September.  I'm covering him in Win and Place on most of my tickets.

Tizarunner is a big stretch for me, both in the base handicap and the bet.  The A--- means he's really a B, but I see a horse who last time out set a 90 Beyer over a firm 1 1/8 miles at KEE winning with a nice late turn of foot. 4 of 5 in the money, a high price at the March 2015 OBS sale of $325,000, classy Tizway son may just be a late bloomer.  Trainer Casse is 17% winner over the turf and I think I'm going to like his price at >6-1 for the Place and Show spots.

Bondurant  is a War Front making just his sixth start, all over grass.  He's never gone past 1 mile and he's taking a big step up in conditions.  I may have him too high and will cover Show/Exotic only.

One Mean Man carries the race high weight of 123 pounds and I may have this modestly bred Mizzen Mast son too low.  He had an OK, somewhat slow summer over grass, with some success at Arlington and CD.  Making Dirt/Turf swap, something Trainer Flint wins 12% of the time.  5 wins in 12 turf starts, 9 of 123 in the money over turf, no wins at the distance and 1 in in two CD starts.  Win isn't unreasonable, Place and Show very possible.

Surgical Strike had moderate success this summer after coming off some nice Spring runs at Turfway and Arlington.  Similar Beyer as many of the runners here, 80-84 with one 90+.  Place/Show/Exotic possible.

Scholar Athlete is a son of a Turk favorite, Einstein (Brz).  This video, the Arlington Million from 2009, has no relevance other than to watch Sir Dudley Digges sire, Gio Ponti sweep to victory over, among others, Einstein.  Scholar Athlete is another Ontario bred, trained by Graham Motion who takes the blinkers off, an angle  he's won 22% on 9 tries. This horse gives way late fairly regulatory.  No better than Place or Exotic, but he has talent.

Finally from the group of horses that will make up my bet selection, Black Out (Fr).  A third Casse entry.  4 wins in 9 turf starts and a field best 92 Beyer.  Ran an exceptional N1X $77K ALW at Belmont over good turf at 1 mile in mid October, his second North America start.  Something makes me wonder that I should have flip flopped Tizarunner and Black Out (Fr) as i get the feeling he's live and Casse is looking for an under the radar score.  I'll be covering in Win down.

I tossed the 1,9,11 and 4 at my own peril.

So what do we have?  We have a pretty level playing field without much separating these runners. Class is my tie breaker: Sir Dudley Digges, Bondurant, Tizarunner, and Scholar Athlete bring the class and I'll hang my hat on them.

a $1 Trifecta Bet costing $46 might look like this:

2-3 OVER 2-3-5-7-8-10 OVER 3-5-6-7-8-10

That may be too pricey and you may not like the risk-reward.  I don't blame you and you can try something with a bit more risk but more reward.

A $2 Exacta for $36 may look like this:

2-10-3 OVER 2-10-3-8-7-5-6

and for $18

2-3-10 over 2-3-10-7-8

These are fun races to bet and I would expect the payouts will be handsome.  Enjoy!

Turk Out.







Saturday, September 17, 2016

Happy 8th Birthday Turk and the Little Turk Blog!

I'm throwing my own birthday party, but I don't care.  Happy 8th Birthday to my blog, The Turk and the Little Turk.

This blog began when I was 42 years old.  I was, and still do, travel extensively for work.  I was sitting in the O'Hare Airport during a weather delay and I reached out for a fellow Western New Yorker and Blogger, Equispace who provided me advice and encouragement to start my own blog.  I've been slogging along ever since, amassing 588 posts that my rapid audience of hard core gambling readers lap up.

I've enjoyed my time as a horse racing blogger.  I've never really had an aspirations to grow the reader base, nor do I have the patience or the desire to do the things that would allow my blog to be more widely read.  We are what we are here at the Turk and the Little Turk, and we hope to continue writing our old school handicaps and hack bet constructions for a long time to come.

If you've ever commented here, thank you very much.  If you've ever liked a blog post of mine at Facebook or Twitter, muchas gracias.  If you've taken the time to follow me or friend request me, I appreciate it very much.  I thank the blogging groups I have been a part of, I thank the agregators that republish my blog, I no longer hold a grudge to the aggregators that sneered at my blog and said it wasn't good enough, and I thank The Thorofan and the Handicapper's Corner for giving my blog a wider voice.

I'd like to introduce all the new and innovative things I intend to bring to the blog but I'd be lying: I'm going to handicap based on the methods I've learned over the years, methods that are a derivative of my favorite handicapper/authors Tom Ainsile, Brad Free, and the Happy Handicapper,  the late Mr. Robert J. Summers.  I'm going to continue to be a fan first and a gambler second.  I'm going to leave "important" blog subjects to better bloggers than I and I'm going to continue to offer my free advice which will be presented in a bragadoccio free manner.

Finally, I'd like to thank my wife, my son, my God and my boss (in that order!)  Without any one of them the humble, arduous and incredibly rewarding life that I lead would not be possible

Thank you for reading and Happy 8th Birthday Turk and the Little Turk!

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Nomination Is In: The Woodbine Mile Grade 1


Woodbine's Long Stretch on Turf




Welcome friends to The Turk and the Little Turk, a horse racing blog that has been providing handicapping advice since 2008.

Before I go to far, I'd like to stop and thank the fine people of The Thorofan and the The Thorofan Handicappers Corner for allowing me to share my thoughts with you about Saturday's Woodbine Mile.

As a horse racing fan first and foremost I get excited looking at the Past Performances of this quality.  This is a race that always attracts top quality turf horses, ideally spaced 7 weeks  before Breeders' Cup weekend.  After spending some time with the numbers it was apparent to me that Tepin is the class of this race but...The "but" for me is Tepin may go to the post wildly overbet, her first race back after a trip to the UK, carrying the heaviest weight of the race,  and by my count there are at least five horses that could come up and win at long and longer prices.  This is a fan's race and a degenerate gamblers race all mixed together.

Let's take some time to look at the field in action.  The first video isn't relevant for anything other than to familiarize yourself with the race over this immaculate turf course with its long stretch. Tower of Texas and Mr Owen were well back of the impressive Mondialiste.



Tower of Texas and Full Mast (the race chalk) fall to Dimension (GB) in July at WO at 1 mile.





A month later, and one panel less, Tower of Texas and  Passion for Action chase the local claimer, Glenville Gardens.  What a nice claim from Ottawa Senator's owner Melnyk by the Attard's.




The 5 YO gelded son of Sea the Stars (Ire), Mutakayyef (GB), in the 1 5/16 LH Juddmonte G1.




Bill Mott's Full Mast  in the 1 1/16 Lure Stakes at SAR.  Trainer Mott is one of the best at picking his spots in the conditions book.




Passion for Action winning at 6f in the Grade 2 Highlander at WO in July.




So, I'll say it, Tepin is  special.  Seven straight wins, 13 of 15 in the money on turf with 10 wins, 7 of 7 in the money at the distance with 6 wins, 16 of 20 in the money lifetime.  The race's lone mare has excellent connections, a top shelf Trainer in Mark Casse and one of the best turf pilots in the game in Leparoux, up.  She's coming into this race after completing a tough journey to the UK.



Training at SAR for six weeks with two sizzling 5f bullets, is she ready to resume her dominance is the only question left.





My base handicap is just that, an all things equal, fair surface ranking of Class, current Condition, and ultimately the horse's range of finishes.  The bet construction sometimes mirrors the Base Handicap but I do deviate  when i'm looking for a price.  In my last posting for the Handicapper's Corner I handicapped a similar situation with The Woodward at SAR.  My alternative strategy of betting that Frosted would Place instead of Win netted well over $350 for me on a pretty cheap $2 Tri.  I'd love Tepin to win as a horse racing fan, but I'm betting adult money and the adult thing to do is to take a stack of $20's and make the stack bigger and not smaller.

If I have more or less settled on a contrarian view that Tepin won't win, who will?  As a handicapper I'm less concerned with who and more interested in establishing how many are possible.  If I have the right number in the win spot I'll process it as a fan after I count the winnings and record the ROI.

Full Mast is interesting to me.  Trainer Mott brought the 4 YO here in July where he put on a game effort.  He brought him back which should suggest he liked his late turn of foot over the course.  No wins in 3 attempts at the distance, 6 of 8 lifetime in the money, 5 of 7 in the money lifetime on turf, comes in with Rosario up again off a minor stake at SAR in the Lure Stakes (above). Will his late turn be enough to catch Tepin?

Mutakayyef (GB) is a solid stakes runner in the UK, not grade 1 but solid. 2 wins and a game Show in the Grade 1 Juddmonte International in mid August.  I'm thinking he's in the money in this field unless he really didn't travel well.

Passion for Action is a local who has ran 9 times over the WO turf winning 3 and Placing 3.   No wins at the distance but he was really flying at 6f in July here in the Grade 2 Highlander.  This is 2nd off 45-180 layoff, a jump that Trainer DePaulo wins 18% of the time.  Sure this is the deep end of the pool but that's why its called gambling.

Glenville Gardens is a really nice Woobine story after being claimed last September.  six wins in last 9 starts and three straight including the Grade 2 Play King at 7f here at WO in late August.

Mr Owen and Arod (Ire) will go off at better odds than most of the others I mentioned.  Mr. Owen ran here determinedly last year in the Woodbine Mile over yielding turf.  I'm not sure this is his race at this time based on how he's running and how the pacing should unfold.  Arod (Ire)  goes on Lasix for the first time and the 5 year old has not had a very good 2016 at all, winless in four starts.  His last start at 1 mile was a Show finish and a better effort.

At my own peril I'm tossing Roger Attfield's Tower of Texas.  You can't cover everyone and I could have easily made the case for him over Glenville Gardens or Passion for Action.  Tower of Texas is winless in 2016, only one win in 7 starts on turf and one win in 7 starts on WO turf.  He's coming late so possibly include him Show spot.

What to do?  I'm going to play with something like this:

5-2-6-4-3 OVER 8 OVER 5-2-6-4-3, a $2 bet for $40.

I don't know if this is my final incarnation of this bet but you get the idea of what I'm trying to do.

If you want safe go 8 OVER 5-2-6-4-1 for a $2 exact that costs $10.  Maybe only include the >15-1 horses.

Whatever you do, have fun with it!  Turk Out.