Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Nomination Is In: April 23, 2011: The Keeneland All Stakes Late Pick Three

Cupcakes. Red Velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting to be precise. This is the pathetic and sad place ye' ol Turk finds himself in lately. I made some sacrifices to The Lord that began the day after a particularly Phat Tuesday, and with neither bourbon nor cigars during this Christian Lenten Season I thought the Derby Trail would comfort me, bring me pleasure, occupy my mind. Oh how cruel life can be. So I turned to cooking and baking, mostly because Mrs. Turk was partial to telling folks I didn't cook and mostly because I was sick of clarifying that it wasn't that I couldn't cook but that I just didn't want to cook.

I think I digressed from my original murky point that the Derby Trail has left me cold. Andy Beyer, from his very visible position at The Washington Post, wrote an article recently about how far down handle is over the past nearly 4 years. There are many great blogs out there who understand the problems and offer intelligent solutions, but this blog isn't one of them. I'll be honest, I just want to see it fixed, how it gets fixed, by who, I don't care. From where I'm sitting it seems to me that the sport has to contract in order to consolidate and stabilize. It's demoralizing to see empty seats at most tracks and it's no fun to handicap small fields, and its really no fun to have owners and trainers who seem to have accepted no responsibility for being part of the solution and campaign their horses in increasingly stale and boring manners, completely inconsistent with the ideal of sport. I tip my hat and offer my first bourbon and cigar on Monday to Mr. Jess Jackson, for whatever faults the man may have had, he campaigned Curlin and Rachel Alexandra and thought of the sport and what he could do to grow the sport.

Keeneland, plastic fake dirt aside, is one of the things that still work in racing. Saratoga works. Del Mar works. Fall Belmont works. Winter Gulfstream works. Breeders' Cup works. The Triple Crown series mostly works. Some wonderful tracks like Arlington needs to gain some focus and build a better brand for themselves because so much of what they do on the grass works but that fake plastic dirt doesn't do much else. Racinos aren't going away; They are content for the most part with day after day 'suitable for only simulcasting center' quality of racing so let em' have it. Less is more. Someone fix it or I'll just have to keep baking, sort of a reverse hunger strike.

OK, that's enough ranting for my five readers to handle...

The Turk takes handicapping breaks regularly during each season and one of the things I like to stress to my player friends is stepping away instead of diving in harder when you hit a rut. After playing horses long enough I know after several weeks or months of winning I'm bound to have a dry spot. Another pitfall I found was while winning, I'd want to prove what a big badass handicapper I was and chase more "value". Know thyself! I take breaks when I need them, when I want them, when life gets in the way. I needed a break. Breaks do nothing for driving more readers to my blog, but then again, I wouldn't want anything to ruin my (self) designation of being a "boutique blog", like Keeneland, a short season packed with quality. What do you want from a bald guy talking in the third person? If the answer is better writing, try my friends at the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance, a collection of diverse voices and incredible insight.

Let's get after a soggy Pick Three at Keeneland!

KEE: Race 7-8-9; First Post 4:18 ET

The weather is horrible. The fake plastic shouldn't be troubled but the turf maybe beyond yielding and as of right now RACES ARE OFF THE TURF!

Weather and scratches and changes are obstacles to a handicapper but they don't have to be roadblocks. I've handicapped a PICK THREE and my intentions are to bet it, but I'm married to nothing (except Mrs. Turk) and I'll adapt. The key is I have handicapped well in advance and I have a plan and a back up plan, and the back up to the back up is to keep my money in my wallet and wait for a better opportunity. The first race in this sequence is at 4:18 Eastern and I will wait as long as possible before committing.

Race 7, the Grade III Ben Ali is on the fake stuff. A five horse field greets us and proves that even Keeneland isn't immune to the problems with racing today. I'm looking to the 7 YO gelding Researcher to be my chalk: 2 wins in last 4 races, 20 of 27 in the money lifetime, no poly expierence and no turf wins. Trainer Morris has no wins in three races in 2011 but Alan Garcia is up and he's smokin' along at 34% at KEE and I like the 2nd off the layoff and strong work the horse is doing.

Conventional wisdom would lead you to Exhi: 4 wins on KEE fake dirt and 5 of 5 in the money on the surface. Off since October, the 4 YO son of Maria's Mon is last year's Lexington winner and was 7 of 8 in the money at KEE. A very sharp :59 4/5ths in the mid at CD this past week at 5f signals he's ready but I don't see a history of sharp first races off a break in his young career yet even though the Super Trainer, Todd Pletcher has 26% success in the situation. Pletcher/Castellano joint combines for 38% at KEE. Most likely the pick but when hunting for value on a pick three, hope for the other guy!

Race 8 looked like a fun turf sprint, the $100,000 Giant's Causeway. My basic handicap expected a surface switch. With a field of 11, I'm expecting scratches as well, perhaps not as many as if it went to real dirt, but some. Rose Catherine has one start on poly and fared poorly, but that was as a two year old. 6 turf wins, 8 of 10 in the money, 4 of 6 at the distance, sharp work and a race under her girth in '11. The best gal here on either surface.

Midst has three sharp wins on poly and no turf starts or wins. Wild About Marie has no poly starts but has 3 wins in 4 tries on turf at the distance. 5 wins in first 11 tries overall. Robbie Albarado is up and he is stone cold with 5% winners at KEE and 8% in 2011. Ugh. Chantilly Nayla is 5 of 8 in the money on poly but one of last 8 and most likely I'm going to drop her off my coverage chart but we'll wait to see who sratches. Stormy Publisher (Arg)has no poly starts , no wins at the distance, but is a sharp turf runner conditioned by one of the best, Clement, and ridden by Alan Garcia. Expecting a scratch, maybe I'm wrong.

And in the Grade III Lexington, Silver Medallion seems to be the conventional wisdom choice but I'm downplaying; yes he had a nice poly win at 1 1/8 miles in February but he fared poorly at KEE last October when he was Chad Brown's charge. 2nd effort off a break. I'm gambling (we are gambling!) that he drops and I won't even cover what will most ikely be heavy chalk. I'm taking Hurricane Lake with Calvin Borel up from Jeff Bonde. Bonde is clipping along at 42% Graded Stake wins and the horse is on an upward Beyer trajectory. I like the gelded former claimer to make a strong late move. Casper's Touch has the 55% winning McPeek/Garcia Kee combo on his side. A winner at 7 panels at KEE 15 days ago, I love the quick turnaround and the sportsmanshipof the connections. Derby Kitten tries poly after so far not doing much on turf where his pedigree suggested better finish. Trainer Michael Maker puts Leparoux up on this very classy Ramsey bred and campaigned runner. Prime Cut seems more likely to break my heart than anyone else, but you can't cover em' all.

I'll be making some plays inner race and then assembling a pick three if it still makes sense after the scratches and the weather are factored in. Have fun friends, bake some cupcakes but come back to the greatest game on Earth when you are done frosting. Happy and Blessed Easter to those of you who believe in such. My cousin Morgan is getting married today and I'm honored and happy to be attending. Morgan's dad was an incredible fan of the game and a Saratoga regular and he died well before his time. Rest in Peace Murph and enjoy Morgan's wedding from the rail.

Turk out!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wire Players Dirty Derby Dozen Volume 5

WTF moments happen to all of us. I would think Team Mo last weekend had a serious WTF moment watching the 2 year old champion fade badly to Show in the Wood Memorial. How could they not see it coming?

We humans are often quick to label things "the next". I've read quotes comparing Uncle Mo to Seattle Slew. Why does he need to be anything other than Uncle Mo? Forget the horse flesh, Seattle Slew's conditioner prepared that horse differently, even on a compact prep schedule. Take a gander at a nice piece of writing at The Knight Sky and then think about Mo's extended spring break: You can be the best athlete in the world but if you aren't properly trained and placed at the top of your form cycle, you won't be successful. Is any of this new? There is no doubt Uncle Mo is talented, but what possessed the Kentucky Derby winning trainer to take such a conservative route? He is sound were told, why treat him like he has Big Brown's hooves?

Anyway, I'm a handicapper, not a trainer, so I'm not going to ramble on any further on this. I'm not sure what Mr. Pletcher will do to sharpen the colt. Regardless, this internet hack has contributed his darts at the dartboard, or I should say, my studied and considered choices for the top 12 Kentucky Derby contenders for this edition of the Wire Players Derby Dozen.

I remember vividly that the late Michael Hutchence of INXS didn't like to be photographed in promotional events without his bandmates because it was about the band and not the individual. While the Ol' Turk is neither as handsome or talented as Michael, he always respected that feeling and I partially regret posting my own pathetic Derby Dozen choices up separate from my esteemed group, but I think it illustrates how varied our opinions currently are. I freely admit how apathetic I feel towards this years Triple Crown trail. I loved Premier Pegasus, and I dig The Factor, and Santiva interests me, and when I saw Uncle Mo at the Breeders' Cup I thought I'd be putting another Triple Crown winner picture up on the wall, but who knows.

Anyhow, here you go!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Nomination Is In: April 8, 2011: Keeneland Opening Day; The Transylvania Grade III on Turf

di·chot·o·my   /daɪˈkɒtəmi/ [dahy-kot-uh-mee]

–noun, plural -mies.
1. division into two parts, kinds, etc.; subdivision into halves or pairs.
2. division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups: a dichotomy between thought and action.
3. Botany . a mode of branching by constant forking, as in some stems, in veins of leaves, etc.
4. Astronomy . the phase of the moon or of an inferior planet when half of its disk is visible.
5. Hating the BS synthetic race track but loving everything else about Keeneland

It just feels like spring finally and opening day of Keeneland has lifted my spirits. I admit to being a rather bored horse racing fan right now. My good friends know my passion runs deep for older horses, milers and turf runners but every year I get sucked into the Triple Crown season and this year has just left me cold. I look at Uncle Mo and I think i see greatness, but who knows? How would we know from the body of work he's composed as a three year old. I don't want to strike the same note I rang in my last blog post but I just hate the play it safe campaign. My heart sank when I heard the news today that Premier Pegasus was out of the Santa Anita Derby with a broken cannon bone. That was a horse campaigning and making a fan out of me.

So, I reckon I digressed: I'm here to talk about the Grade III Translyvania on the grass. I think I gravitated to a turf race as I haven't seen my own lawn up here in Buffalo since sometime late last year and I just don't like the synthetic dirt. Everybody has their own personal gripes: I put up with it at Hollywood and Woodbine and Arlington, but I just never got over it at Santa Anita and I don't like it much here.

I love the field size and the challenge of the turf, and while these 3 YO babies don't have much of a history over the grass, I treat these early season races as homework. We'll keep the risks reasonable and live to bet another day. Let's get after it!

Keeneland Race 9: Post Time 5:23 ET

Some of the top turf conditioners bring colts into this race and I'm backing Christoper Clement's Adirondack Summer. With Alan Garcia up, and by the way, he wins 20% of the time teamed with Clement, 3 of 3 in the money on turf with 2 wins, and a very sharp effort at Gulfstream Park in the Dania Beach, embedded below.

Powhatan County is 4 of 4 in the money over turf. Just got the distance at 1 mile in early March. feast or famine, I think I could have easily slotted him in the fifth spot. Talented but not wildly classy.

Great Mills, son of War Front, has just gaudy Tomlinson numbers: 475 on Turf and 460 at the distance on Turf. Steve Asmussen puts grass master Leparoux up. Won last start on yielding turf at 7 and 1/2 panels.

Pluck was just sick at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He had a fantastic 2 YO campaign and while he started his three year old season off slowly as a well beaten heavy chalk, Trainer Graham Motion, with Go Go Gomez up, win 22% of their 2nd off of 45-180 day layoffs and Motion clips along at 22% of graded stakes and 19% turf. His pairing with Gomez is something rare for the both of them.

Stormy Rush has been training regular and sharp and I have pretty deep respect for Trainer Roger Attfield: a 20% turf winner and a 23% winner on long layoffs. I may sneak him up and drop back Powhatan County on a few of my tickets.

I hope Ronin Dax runs well: Owned by two of my favorite handicappers, I like the Beyer progression and the sharp work but the son of Tapit will have his work cut out for him in this spot.

I put up some interesting video to get a feel for how these horses won and lost. Have fun with these races and enjoy Keeneland opening day.

Turk out!

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf

Dania Beach 100K Gulfstream Park

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Nomination Is In: April 2, 2011: Woodbine Opening Day Pick Three including the Debut Stakes

The natural inclination of most race fans in the United States is towards the Triple Crown series, especially the Kentucky Derby. I can't say I'm wildly excited about the Kentucky Derby right now. I will be as it gets closer, but the way some of the horses have been prepped, or lack of prep with racing, it's just not that fun. There are exceptions: It's been fun watching The Factor and Premier Pegasus, and Soldat gave me a thrill, but The Timely Writer left me cold, no matter how good Uncle Mo may be.

What happened to the ideal of sportsman and women, campaigning their horses, winning some, losing some, but campaigning? Last weekend's races in Dubai, while maybe not a great example because of the purse sizes, is a race and a venue for sportsmen to bring their best; If it doesn't go well the horse can be set back months in training and conditioning, but to win there, the prestige and money, that's what drives people. I'm not sure I can describe any better the feeling of coldness that I have when a horse wins a grade I, gets enough earnings, and then is left on the shelf with a plan of two preps and the Derby. I hate it. Did I mention I hate it? If I was in charge I'd mandate not only graded earnings but I would put a subtractor on the earnings if they were all achieved in one or two races, and I'd discount two year old earnings at 60 cents on the dollar to three year old earnings.

Alas, I'm not in charge, I'm just a fan, and God knows, a fans voice ain't worth much nor will I lament that, as a horse player has to retain a certain amount of dignity. I'm a shelp, and I'll watch the Derby and I'll root for a Triple Crown Winner, and if Uncle Mo wins, every trainer for years will duplicate the approach and the super trainer will feel vindicated, people who have an opinion like me will be mocked and marginalized. Self fulfilling prophecy? Perhaps? Perhaps it's just the fact that my Lenten sacrifice of Bourbon and Cigars is making me crotchety?

Today is opening day at Woodbine, a track that for whatever weird double standard I don't get angry and emotional about the fake dirt like I did at Santa Anita. I don't hold it against Arlington but I've lost interest in Keeneland. More evidence I'm a loon I suppose.

Let's get after it!

Woodbine Race 6-7-8: First Post for the Pick Three 3:28 ET

What I like about Woodbine early season racing is the odd mix of class drops, layoffs, works, preps, even jocks who haven't been up in some time. It's sorta a free for all and you just have to wade in. My picks seem like they will end up pretty chalky, so the bets will be small. Today isn't so much about today, I'm looking for form to see who I'm watching when they run back in several weeks.

In the Debut Stakes, I'm backing Don's Folly who was beaten by a length in this affair last year. A six year old horse, the only non gelding in the field. Training very sharply, especially a 4f handride in :47 and 1/5 at WO last week. The pick!

Drunken Love and Paso Doble will be in the mix; Drunken Love, with Husbands up for Trainer Michael Pino, ran a 5f prep on the turf at GP in late January. Classy and may be ready to challenge for the win. Paso Doble needs no introduction to fans of Woodbine. 2 wins in last 19 starts but 11 of 20 in the money, this 5 year old is now trained by Mark Casse and has been training well but draws the rail in this short 5 panel run. Daniel Be Good and The Boy's Ring round out the superfecta I'm toying with.

Have fun with whatever you are playing today; The Florida Derby looms on Sunday and I'll be back later to take a look and get sucked back into Derby preps.

Turk Out!