Saturday, January 29, 2011

Handicapper Homework for Gulfstream Park: The Holy Bull Stakes and the Donn Handicap

Mr. James Donn (pictured on the right), purchased Gulfstream Park in 1944 after it sat dormant for 5 years following its construction. For the next sixty years, a Donn, first James Donn Jr. and then his son, Douglas, led the track by the sea towards being the top destination for east coast trainers and horses during the winter months. The Donn Handicap's inaugural run was in 1959 and the Florida Derby started 1952, The Fountain of Youth 1945, The Gulfstream Park Handicap in 1946, and this weekend's target for me, The Holy Bull Stakes in 1972.

Today is the Sunshine Millions, and while the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic can often be compelling, the whole affair of six races between newly dirted Santa Anita and Gulfstream contested over two hours isn't enough for me to stop hunting my real targets. I'm going to keep my focus on studying the track report, reviewing the statistics on the jocks, the trainers, analyzing the results at distance and surface and between today and tomorrow The Turk will do his handicapper homework in preparation for the first important older horse race of the year, The Grade I Donn Handicap next Saturday as well as the Grade III The Holy Bull tomorrow.

The ol' Turk is flying to Calgary and Vancouver this week on business, and homework time will be tight for me as the week goes on. By the time I land in Toronto next Saturday morning after taking a red eye back I'll have little time, on top of little sleep, to just sit down and start handicapping. If you want your ROI to go up, you have to focus on the less sexy aspects of handicapping, leg work. Everybody wants to go to the party, nobody wants to stick around and clean up. Push yourself to be disciplined friends.

When I think about what horse racing was, and possibly what it is missing today, I can't resist my belief that tracks belong in the ownership of custodians of the sport and not corporations. While the Gulfstream of memory from my 1988 visit was more fond than my visit recently, it is hard to argue that the seating is right sized, it's part of a destination, and that the business model is better positioned for 2011 than 1951. It doesn't mean we have to like it but numbers always drive good business and the numbers on horse racing are appalling: A recent Harris Poll showed a 4% drop from 1985 to 2010 the popularity of horse racing with the American public. The sport now ranks 13th overall in popularity, below track and field, bowling and tied with swimming. 1% of Americans claim that horse racing is their favorite sport. That's only about 250,000 people over the age of 18. Ugh, but I digress.

An Equibase Track Bias Report ($3 per report at will give you the last four days of racing in a very detailed, but not always intuitive, analysis of running style and post positions of the top four finishers as well as information for the previous 12 months. It will take some time if you have never used these reports to "decode" but the effort is worth it and it's something you can't be doing with little time moments before the windows close. If you play a track regularly, a report of this type is less critical, but rain and track maintenance can change a track profile from week to week so ignore information at your own peril. Not surprising, I'm slightly favoring middle post, stalkers and front runners and I want to see my selections between 2-5 lengths back of the leaders at first call in the PPs. is a handicappers good friend. You can get 10 day forcasts,go backward several days and get hour by hour forecasts when inclement weather threatens. Gulfstream appears to be dry for this weekend but it looks like the track may see rain leading up to next Saturday.

For Jockey and Trainer statistics my method is to mix printed materials and current information usually available at the track websites. American Turf Monthly magazine ( generally prints a Betting Guide for the major tracks just before they open a meet. The January 2011 issue contains the Gulfstream Park Betting Guide. I treat the article as background information that must be built upon. An interesting figure from this years guide is that in 2009 358 different trainers started a horse and only 17 had 10 or more winners. In a respectful way they point out which trainers are running well and which ones are doing poorly. Dirt, turf, sprints, routes, you will find the statistics and you will generally find a disclaimer as well; past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Take the statistics and then compare them to what you find at the Gulfstream Park website. It's intersting to look at the data from the current meet and compare them to the previous meet of the betting guide and you will spot anolmalies.

Nine runners are entered for the Holy Bull which starts from the shoot and is contested at 1 mile with one turn. The Donn starts and stops in the same spot around two turns for 1 1/8 miles. The Grade II Forward Gal goes off tomorrow as the 8th Raceat 7f for 3 YO fillies. These two graded stakes with an allowance race in between will be the Pick Three I'll handicap and blog about tomorrow. Today I will study the race charts of races contested on dirt at 1 1/8 miles at Gulfsream this meet and I'll watch video on any horses potentially in the Donn.

Leg work, not sexy, but winning is and its not a bad price to pay.

From last week at Fairgounds.

Race 8 and 9 went as I expected: Bouquet Booth won the Silverbulletday and the only surprise to me was how well bet down she was by the betting public, something I didn't expect. I reckon the 1% of American's who love horse racing have good betting sense too. Can we get some of the dumb money back somehow? I was not at all high on Seans Silverdancer who was the bettors third choice and finished last and expected a better showing by Aide. I did box my top four for $48 on a $2 Tri Ticket that returned $214 powered by Daisy Devine in place who I was bullish on and the betting public, not as much.

Race 9 was the Grade III Bradley Handicap on the turf and my chalk, Gran Estreno (Arg), the 8 YO, didn't disappoint. Dubious Miss getting up for Place was the surprise for me in this one. $10 bucks worth of exactas were blown on that and I was alive in the Pick Three after 2 and up $156 net as well.

In the Lecompte, Wilkinson's rail skimming late move to the wire over Pants on Fire with just a few hops to go was the most impressive 3 YO action I've seen so far in 2011. I liked the guts Wilkinson and Gomez showed going into a tight hole and taking the wire by a neck. Pants on Fire should be watched closely coming back too. My chalk, Action Ready, was a distant Show. I boxed my top four (in a five horse race) and got lucky that Wilkinson as the bettors third choice was in and Justin Phillips, bet WAY to heavy and the chalk, was last. I lost the Pick Three but exited the three race sequence up $162.80.

The Turk is still struggling a bit, but leg work will help me break through. Have fun with the Sunshine Millions, I'll be back tomorrow with the Holy Bull and the Pick Three. Turk Out!

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