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.