Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Say it isn't so....Larry?

While the Turk does not pretend to be an industry expert or insider, he does have plenty of opinions on the continuing decline in interest with horse racing and the plunging level of exposure the sport receives in the media. This troubles the Turk deeply and he wonders if the little Turk will still have a sport to blog about one day.

I akin Horse Racing to College Football. In College Football, the fans are rapid about the institution of a particular program. LSU, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State...It doesn't matter the names on the back of the jerseys, it's about the program that those jerseys represent.

I think it can and should be the same with Horse Racing. We will never see the days again when our equine heroes race as much as they did in the past. We have these animals for a few months of their 2yo careers, their 3yo seasons, and then many of them are gone. I loved a horse last year named Hard Spun. Most of you have heard of him. He was a tough horse, not the best 3yo in 2007, but game and arguably the forth best 3yo behind Curlin, Rags to Riches and Street Sense. To build momentum in the national media behind a star who has an 18 month career just isn't going to work. I don't need to work on Madison Avenue to understand that.

My analogy creates institutions around the great tracks. It creates rivalry races with champions from different meets. It creates intuitions out of our great breeders, our great owners, our great trainers, and our great jockeys. These are the people and those tracks are the places that endure year in an year out. Until the general public is enthralled by something they can follow, the sport will always be a curiosity in our current cultural environment.

I know this is a simplification, but complicated issues must be solved by a series of simple premises that are built upon each other. Sooner or later the greater good of the industry must be addressed by the various factions involved. It may take a forced participation, similar to a union that must be joined. A union makes decisions for the best of all employees (in therory), not just one individual. Owners/Trainers/Track Owners/Breeders must be joined to some greater common good eventually.

Which leads me back to Hard Spun. Hard Spun's trainer, Larry Jones, announced in late September that he hoped to be retired from racing by after the 2009 Breeders Cup. Larry is one of the true colorful trainers in the business today. Likeable and genuine in a way that is endearing to race fans. How many of you wished he trained Big Brown? I know I do. It's a true shame because losing Larry is our loss, a national exposure trainer that the media liked and looked to for marketing. The death of his filly Eight Belles is a real-life Greek tragedy, and Larry wore the episode on his sleeve. I can't imagine what he went through this year, with the scrutiny of outsiders to our industry questioning his methods, his motivations, his ethics.

The Turk knows there are no easy answers. The Turk also knows that our passion is an ostrich with its head in the ground hoping that bad times go away. There has to be people who place the industry over their own personal wealth and good. I don't know if that person or persons exist. What I do know is we are about to lose one of my favorite trainers and someone I had hoped would be a year in and out challenger to the best races for a long time.

Don't stay away too long Larry.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"It is what it is" from Steve Crist

I appreciate the blog kept by Steve Crist very much. From his blog I rip the following passage and he makes a great point regarding this past weekends races....

"....Despite slop and yielding turf at Belmont and the new Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita, Saturday's record 11 Grade 1 stakes at the two tracks were generally formful affairs, with 6 of the 11 going to favorites and 9 of the 11 won at 3-1 or less. The only jokers in the deck were the two sprint races, with Black Seventeen scoring at 23-1 in the Vosburgh and Cost of Freedom, claimed for $50k two starts back, upending three G1 winners to win the Ancient Title at nearly 6-1. Four of the six favorites sent off at even-money or less came through (Curlin, Zenyatta, Wait a While, Stardom Bound) while Ginger Punch (Beldame) and Mauralakana (Flower Bowl) both finished second."

I could have rambled on for several paragraphs, but Steve said it with an economy of words. It wasn't a good weekend for finding value. I guess that's why we have so many race weekends.

I am going to start Breeders Cup prep this week. I'm excited about my week as well. While the Turk doesn't like to talk much about this, I travel for work often, and this week finds me traveling to Louisville. Ok, I'm geeked. I have about 5 hours to kill between planes, and I'm leaning towards the KY Horseman's Park. The Makers Mark Distillery tour will have to wait.

DVD Review: On the Muscle

The Turk, being a bookworm, likes to read and learn. The library is stocked with horse racing history, horse and trainer biographies, and handicapping how to's. I have a collection of interesting DVD's as well, and in between races I thought I'd hit the highlights of my collection.

A DVD I thoroughly enjoyed is "On The Muscle: A year inside a thoroughbred racing stable" by Pony Highway Productions. It is an insider's look into Richard Mandella's barn from January through the Breeders Cup. The ups and downs, the hard work behind the scenes, the travel, the injuries, everything that you might imagine but never see is on display. The film covers the 2002 racing season and features Reddatore, The Tin Man, Pleasantly Perfect, Kudos, Ile de France, and a few others.

Mandella's style is very old barn. He's got a mid sized stable that he is close to each and every day and he is the trainer in the classic sense of the word. The other star is Becky Witzman, Mandella's assistant trainer. She oozes charisma and plays quite the compliment to Mandella's stoic figure.

I felt like a real insider watching this documentary. The interaction with the breeders, the owners, the horse agents, the track staff, the hot walkers, the exercise riders, and everything else really painted a more complete picture for me on what's involved to bring me my favorite athletes.

You can find the DVD sellers fairly easily. I bought it direct from Pony Highway. Now if I can get the Mandella Stein that was given away on opening day of the Oak Tree. I keep blowing the ebay auctions.

I rate 5 bails of hay.

I've posted the Breeders Cup Classic race from 2003 that highlights Pleasantly Perfect. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

September 27, 2008: Decompression

The Turk spent a few hours today glued to the 2 inch video stream from soggy Belmont. I was surprised to see Ginger Punch fall after leading into the stretch. I look at the PP trying to figure out why I missed: I see the 78% lifetime winning percentage on Coca Beach. I see a win in his only race since 29 March. I see a horse acclimated to Belmont since winning 29 August in Saratoga and I see a string of solid works. This isn't the first time I've overlooked a horse who raced mostly outside of the United States. I had the horse 4th in a 4 horse race. He paid 7.10 to win and I lost nothing because I stayed on the sidelines. That said, I would have had some throw away tickets.

Race 8 demoralized the Turk slightly, but us handicappers have to have selective memory and let go of the failures quickly. I applied good handicapping logic, I picked underlays that I thought made sense, and I discounted the horses I thought had no chance. The people cashing the $49.60 tickets for Black Seventeen are some keen folks. I bet the #1 Horse, $2 to win and that was a mistake. I didn't get the price I wanted and I bet the $2 anyway. I had $6 in this race and it's no longer mine.

Race 9 is a race I picked the winner in, but that wasn't my objective. My two exacta plays failed. My identification of the money horses and the also rans wasn't that good. This one I just have to let go, because I look at the PP and the biggest wildcard faced was the yielding turf. The PP has too limited a sample size to draw conclusions from and I left my super-computer off.

Race 10 was a fun race for me as a fan. I didn't bet against Curlin for any other reason except to find a good underlay if he failed to fire in the slop. I tied Curlin to Wanderin' Boy for a $9.40 exacta. I netted $5.40 after subtracting out what in theory were still good win bets on Wanderin' Boy and Mambo in Seattle. I also feel good about identifying Merchant Marine as a threat today, with a solid show finish.

At Santa Anita I decided against betting today. I handicapped the 5th race but saw no one that could beat Zenyatta and the Zenyatta-Hysterical Lady exacta isn't exactly the stuff of legends.

The 10th race was a fan race for me. I've been teased by Tiago so many times since he won the SA Derby and last year's Goodwood. Still, I've lost more ticket cash on him then I'd like and I just wanted to watch. The little Turk liked Tiago today and he had a Well Armed-Tiago exacta, which we agreed we would have boxed. I was hoping to see Spirit One run better. Ahhhhh. Horses.

September 27, 2008: BEL Race 10

The Jockey Gold Cup. 1 1/4 main. 3 yo and up.

The money, like usual, will flow to Curlin. I love Curlin and I took a round trip drive of 5 hours each way with Sister Turk to see him at the Woodward. That said, i'm trying to figure out who can beat him for a good price. I see it as Curlin and and one solid other horse, Wanderin' Boy. I see a small second tier after Timber Reserve scratched, Mambo in Seattle.

I've been waiting like everyone else to see a dominant Curlin since his 'round the world trip to Dubai. His 110 Stephen Foster and 112 Woodward are better then everyone else and yet my fickle Turk soul is not satisfied. Shame on me. He's the chalk on this surface until he's beaten.

My second choice who has a good shot is Wanderin' Boy from the 4 post. He has a nice pattern of bullet works and 107ish Beyer's. He get's the "it" rider in A. Garcia today. He's running with the same weight as well. He's run low 90's in sloppy conditions. I'll peg him in low 100's today and he's my dark chalk. I need at least >5-1 and with a ML at 10-1 I should get it. I'm putting $2 to win on him.

Mambo in Seattle starts from the 9 post. He gets Edgar Prado for the first time today. The 3 yo is acclimated to Belmont and has four works, with a long of 7f two weeks ago and a mid tempo 4f work last week. This horse has moved up fast N2X in June to his G1 at the Travers. His ML is 7-2 and I think money will press him down to <5-2. If he wins, he'll win me as a fan, but I'm not sold yet. Let the money chase him.

I don't like the #1, #6 or #8 horse at any price. A.P. Arrow is winless in 2008, 2 of 13 in two years, and again running way above class. Not at any price.

I will consider a $2 flyer on #2, Merchant Marine. His ML is 12-1 and I have him pegged to run about 100 today. If he goes as low as 15-1, I'm on him.

Little Turk likes Curlin and I can't blame him.


$2 to win Wanderin' Boy if >5-1 (probable)
$2 to win on Mambo in Seattle if >5-1 (unlikely)
$2 to win on Merchant Marine if >15-1 (possible)

I will bet a 5-4 exacta for $2 with no box.

September 27, 2008: BEL Scratches in Race 6

It's 40 minutes to post and I see that Unbridled Belle has scratched. I don't think I'll get the price needed to make a bet make sense in this race on Lemon Drop Mom. I thought I'd need >4-1 before U. Belle's scratch and that's just not possible now. The Turk is going to keep his $6 bucks and use it somewhere else if it makes sense. Now I can just be a fan....Go Ginger Punch!!!!

September 27 2008: BEL Race 9

The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational: 1 1/2 Turf. 3 yo and up.

A nine horse field, of which I think there are four legitimate winners:

Dancing Forever from the 3 post. 7 wins in last 24 starts. Consistant work since last race, a 94 Beyer clunker in which he finished 5th behind grand Couturier and Interpatation. The distance and surface should be to his liking and he's got early speed. I peg him at a 102 and I grade him an A-. I'll like him alot more if he goes off >7-2

Proudinsky goes from the 4 post. He jumps up 7 pounds today, and is coming off 14 days with no works. He finished 2nd to Big Brown with a 104 Beyer his last time on the track. It's a new distance for him and has a G2 win on yielding turf. His ML is 3-1. I'd like him more if it wasn't for his erratic work over past 8 weeks. I peg him a 102 and I grade him an A-. I'll bet to win at greater then 7-2.

Grand Courturier goes from the 6 post. The 5 year old has won twice in last 8 outings. He won at the same distance/slightly dryer surface his last start with a 104 Beyer. Has acclimated at Belmont and has had steady 4f works at moderate speed. His ML is 7-2. I'd grade him an A+ and call him my chalk if the turf isn't slop. I peg him about 104.

Strike a Deal is the horse I like today. He's won at this track on yielding turf in early 2008 with a 102 Beyer. He is jumping up 11 pounds and has a new rider. He just shipped in this week. The morning line was 6-1 and I'll take a two dollar flyer to win if he goes off at >6-1. I think he offers the best chance to turn 2 bucks into 12.

So....if I get the odds I want I'll post the following $4 in win bets:

$2 #3 only if > 4-1 (doubtful)
$2 #4 only if > 3.5-1 (possible)
$2 #6 only if >3.5-1 (doubtful)
$2 #7 only if >6-1 (probable)

And I reserve $2 for a 3-7 exacta and $2 for a 6-4 exacta

I have the two bucks in my back pocket from an earlier race if I need it!

Little Turk picked #7 to win.

September 27th, 2008. Belmont Race 8

The Vosburgh. 6F Main. 3yo and up.

Interesting race. I spent 20 minutes or so and when I was done, I lacked serious conviction, but have some thoughts that may lead to my betting strategy. The big wildcard all day is going to be the tracks condition. It appears that the rain will be heavy.

I have two A's on my list right now:

Lucky Island: ML 2-1
First Defense: ML 4-1

One B plus:

Fabulous Strike: ML 5-2

On C+:

Rockerfella: ML 6-1

Two C's:

Kodiak Cowboy: ML 10-1
J be K: ML 8-1

And a D:

Black Seventeen : ML 12-1

I have no strong feelings for Lucky Island. The horse is lightly raced, but has worked the past two weeks at Belmont for Trainer K. McLaughlin. The 4 yo drilled 4F in :47 2 weeks back. He's won 71% of his starts, but only no G1's.

First Defense is G1 class. Coming off of 2 building Beyer's including lifetime best 108. Has worked twice at Belmont in September, including :47 4f two weeks back.

Fabulous Strike has great early speed and leaves from the one post. The 5yo gelding adds 7 pounds this race. the horse took August off but drilled 5f three times in September. 66% lifetime win percentage including a G1 on this track at this distance in this race 1 year earlier. I like my B+ and will like him much better >3-1.

I'll watch Kodiak Cowboy and Rockerfella to see how long the odds get. It would be some stretch to see Rockerfella win with this company. I don't see win money on either of these horses as well.

My morning win bet thoughts lead me to say:
$2 to win on First Defense at > 5-1.
$2 to win on Lucky Island at >5-1 (doubtful)
$2 to win on Fabulous Strike at >4-1 and I'm naming this horse as my chalk.

I don't see myself betting to win J be K or Black 17 at any odds.

September 27th 2008: BEL Race 6

The Beldame, 1 1/8 main track. F&M 3yo and up.

A five horse race, and I like Ginger Punch, Lemon Drop Mom and Unbridled Belle.

Ginger Punch in the 1 Post is the ML favorite at 4-5, offering no value.
Lemon Drop Mom in the 2 post is ML show at 9-2.
Unbridled Belle is on the outside and is the ML place at 3-1.
I'll watch the odds closely on this race right up to windows closing.

I like Ginger Punch's win percentage. She's drilled consistently at Belmont for three weeks. Same weight/same rider. Consistently three digit Beyer's.

Lemon Drop Mom has worked twice in September including a gaudy46 3/5 4f bullet. She picks up six pounds and her Beyer's are building to 102 range. Will I bet her at 5-1, yes!

Unbridled Belle hasn't one a G1 since last year's Beldame. She's had three workouts at Belmont this month, coming off a show to Ginger Punch and Lemon Drop at the Personal Ensign. She took the lead and couldn't finish those two a month earlier. She changes rider's today. Only sloppy start was at Breeder's Cup and she earned a 93. She's had steady Beyer's in 2008 of about 101. Where do I like her? 5-1 or 6-1.

$2 win on Lemon Drop Mom and $2 to win on Unbridled Belle. I'm saving the last $2 for something better.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Saturday 27 September 2008 Nominations Are In

As I've said friends, the Turk likes to handicap four races a week. No quicker do I say that I have to add an asterisk to that statement. This weekend I'm paying close attention to seven races, and I think I'll bet at least four of them with a bankroll of $6/race.

As this is Thursday night, the following comments are off the cuff and have not been subjected to deep thoughts and my red pen (or several Maker's Mark and Pepsi's).

I have printed the PP for the following:

At Belmont, Saturday 27 September 2008

Race 6: The Beldame, G1. F&M 3yo and up. 1 1/8 main. I love Ginger Punch, but I'll pay attention to the betting odds moments before post and if i get the right price of at least 4-1 or higher on Lemon Drop Mom and5-1 on Unbridled Belle I'll be tempted. I like this race and the horses so I may just be watching...

Race 8: The Vosburgh, G1. 3yo and up. 6F main. No superstars, just some even matched horses running flat out. Should be fun and I look forward to picking apart the numbers. Rockerfeller is coming in with the last race best Beyer of 112 and I think their will be some underlays to be found.

Race 9: Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, G1. 3yo and up. 1 1/2 Turf. I like Proudinsky and I'm going to be looking at him as my chalk and trying to make a case against him.

Race 10: The Jockey Gold Cup, G1. 3yo and up. 1 1/4 main. Curlin will go off at ugly odds, and while I love the horse, he has to make a statement that he's still the dominant horse this season. I'll be looking to bet against him if I can get good odds with Wanderin' Boy or Mambo in Seattle. Does AP Arrow have a chance, I would think he'll go off at least 8-1 or higher.

...and at Santa Anita

Race 5: The Lady's Secret, G1. F&M, 3yo and up. 1 1/16 main. I'll be watching, not sure if betting. I haven't seen Zenyatta as often as I'd should have. What odds will Hysterical Lady go off at? I'll be watching.

Race 9: The Yellow Ribbon, G1. F&M 3yo and up. 1 1/4 Turf. No particular reason I chose this race, but it looked challenging and I'll spend some time in this PP. The little Turk will spend 20 seconds and I promise he'll show.

Race 10: The Goodwood, G1. 3yo and up. 1 1/8 main. I was thrilled by Spirit One at the Arlington Mile and I've been teased and thrown away many a ticket on Tiago. This one looks like fun.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

And so it begins....

For me, it began at a cheap claimers track. My family for years now has gone to Fort Erie Race Track on Mother's and Father's day each year. In between the delicious prime rib on Mother's Day, or the Hot Dogs on Father's Day, we'd bet the horses. We'd start in the paddock and then make our way to the betting windows, armed with show bets based on nothing but a feeling.

It was Barbaro that brought me back. It was what Barbaro represented, both during his courageous Derby win, but also during his long recovery. His grace and the champions glint in his eye that he never lost inspired me. When Barbaro died, I cried like a baby. To this day I can't watch a show about Barbaro without crying. He touched something deep inside me and I can't get past it.

I immersed myself after that. I approached, the horses, the history, like a college level course that I was determined to master.

Where has it led me? At 42 years old I have a passionate reverence for the sport and the animals and people that make it so special. I also have an evolving skill level at handicapping. It's a style that is a mixture of the teachings of Andy Beyer, Brad Free, Steve Crist and numerous others. It's based simply on eliminating the horses that have no chance of finishing in the money, establishing my own chalk, and identifying the over and underlays. It sounds simple, but you educated horse-folks know that nothing will make you look more foolish more quickly then a horse on a track.

Which brings me to this blog. I'm going to talk horses, that's obvious. I get excited talking about the horses at the top of their divisions. I get excited talking about the greats. My office has become a horse racing shrine. I have all eleven Triple Crown Winners on one wall and some personal favorites on another. There's Ruffian, regal and elegant. There's Curlin, Street Sense, and Rags to Riches, as well as Winning Colors crossing the finish line. On a shelf is Seabiscuit, coming down the stretch against War Admiral, and then Barbaro, as he will always be remembered, proud and unbeatable. I'm going to talk about upcoming races. I'm going to handicap. I handicap four races per week, and I make small bets, but it's not really about the money (not that there is anything wrong with cashing good tickets).

I hope to be a light to other horse racing fans. I've enjoyed many of the blogs I found at the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance. I thought about asking to join, but for now I'm just going to write and see who comes.

The blog wouldn't be complete without input from my handicapping right hand man. The little Turk is my 8 1/2 year old with an eye for horse flesh and a icy cold handicapping mind. He picked Street Sense in the Derby and he never stops amazing me with how quickly he picks the inevitable winners. I'll put his picks against mine for entertainment value.

Thanks for reading. Never hesitate to write.