Sunday, August 28, 2011

Post Race Analysis for Race Day 28 August 2011: Travers Day Pick Six

Which makes you look thinner, horizontal or vertical stripes? The Ol' Turk doesn't have a clue about fashion but he knows that his horizontal handicapping and betting on the Travers Stakes Pick Six card made him a whole lot phatter in wallet than his "on a diet" vertical bet Pick Six effort.

The handicaps utilized my "layer handicapping" approach and the bets followed my handicaps without deviation. I did my thinking pre-race and that allowed me to sit back, not feel that sense of panic that can arise as post time approaches, and I didn't over think the races. Regardless of the surface I focus squarely on current form, past three race run lines, over time history on surface/at distance/at course, and where and against whom the animal has been running against. On turf I place great emphasis on late turn of foot.

I only feel comfortable talking about how I go about my handicapping. I don't like to read about the races I'm handicapping until after I've completed my handicapping, as I prefer to avoid the hype and bias of the writer whose income is derived from entertaining readers and not necessarily from tossing contestants, some of whom have a better story to tell than a race to run.

A factor I really discount in comparison to contemporaries who I talk shop with is pace. I take into account where each horse will most likely be at the break and then at the top of the stretch, but I do it in broadstrokes and seldom do I predict a winner on the likely pace scenario. OK Turk, WTF does all that mean? It just means I have my own, not that complicated manner of slotting the horses into expected finish. The beauty of handicapping is there is an infinite number of ways to approach the problem but the results are the results and they can be arrived at from many different roads.

Handicapping and betting are two VERY different things. Some do one well and do OK, some do neither well and some get both ends right. Forget what they are doing and ask yourself what you are doing right and wrong. Ripping up the tickets and not taking the time to do a handicapping autopsy is a huge mistake. If you take anything away from my ramblings each each, do this step and you'll see your skills increase.

I do completely ignore morning lines before I handicap and as I said, I do my best to not read about the races I'm handicapping. I treat each race with a fresh mind and no preconceived notions. Track handicappers are pretty sharp folks, some sharper than others, but pretty sharp nonetheless. I like to see where I have runners in relation to the track handicapper. What that does for me is give me feedback, something I lack in the vacuum of kitchen table 'capping. It took me years to believe in myself when I disagreed with the track handicapper. It's those differences of opinion that often lead to my best scores, the contrarian viewpoint.

Let's review and then I'll babble some more.

My list of HITS would be placing Daveron high in the Ballston Spa, not having Sassy Image to high on my board, not betting a Trifecta in the Ballerina, even if I did leave a profit on the table, having Caleb's Posse and Uncle Mo in the exacta that drove my Superfecta and having Justin Phillips higher than other bettors. On my MISSES list would be not valuing Hot Summer and over rating the chances of Precious Soul in the Victory Ride, consistently missing on Stay Thirsty, but my Travers Coil/Shackleford placings was a bust and the Pick Six in general was just a mess.

I put about $540 dollars of capital on table yesterday. I would not have hit that Pick Six if I invested all $540 on the bet or double that. I think the bet is the "bridge too far" for the average bettor and the Pick 3 and 4 are much more achievable targets. That said, the cards always offer juicy exotics that can be hit if you layer the horses properly and you build good bets. I didn't make $6 for every dollar I bet yesterday by just having good handicaps, it was sound betting practices that you learn over time. I felt comfortable that I had the exactas and then I went five and six deep for spots Place and Show and then slimmed back for fourth. That bet structure was what I used twice yesterday and I went as exactly deep as I had color coded pre race.

I hope some of what I'm saying helps someone out there sharpen their own skills. My methods came from reading the works of Brad Free, Steve Crist, Andy Beyer, Tom Ainsile and Steve Davidowitz. I enjoy the articles in American Turf Monthly as well, and I take all this and I have my own, derivative methods. I call them derivative because nothing I do I would call original.

Have fun, Turk Out!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Nomination Is In: August 27, 2011; The Travers Stakes Day Pick Six

It seems the question my friends keep asking is one I wish to avoid: If today's winner of the Travers is one of the 3 YOs to have won a major Grade I already, will he be a lock for horse of the year? How quickly we jump to canonize in our society. I won't rant today, it's too much of a holiday for me, these Travers Stakes days, but let's allow the year play out folks.

I put a personal favorite of mine up today, a fine picture of Point Given by Tom Killips, the 2001 winner, being led to the winners circle by the ageless master, Trainer Bob Baffert. Point Given's greatness was cemented by the time this race ended: A Preakness, a Belmont, a Haskell and a Travers in consecutive starts will do that for you. This year's three year olds have been battered and bruised for lacking a real division leader, and the question of if it's depth of talent or mediocrity is a topic I've had some wonderfully engaged discussions on with readers here and within the social media universe, as well as over cigars at a few paddocks. If the year plays out like it has, someone different will step forward.

What do I suspect today? A chance to break the cycle. I'm leaning towards a horse with raw talent to burn and the DNA of greatness, Coil, yes the one career start on dirt Coil, son of Point Given. Whoever wins, and I'm still keen on Shackleford, there's this little hootenanny called the Breeders' Cup Classic with no strong candidate currently to win. I'm more interested in allowing greatness to announce itself on the biggest stage. Someone will kick the door open today, Let's get after it!

The Travers Stakes Day Pick 6 Race 8-13 post time 3:28 ET

I'm not an advocate of the Pick Six as a betting option for the traditional bettor; It's sexy, it's daunting, it feels like a wise guy thing to do, but it's a black hole of failure to casual bettors. I've never hit one, but I think I've only personally bet a P6 a handful of times.

The Turk was a member of a Pick Six group for a short period of time. I was humbled that I was invited to join with some pretty serious fellas and smart enough to know I wasn't that into the action. My readers and friends know I'm an exotics fella, but there are much softer spots to invest in.

All that said, I've assembled a $24 $1 P6 bet. If I'm going to play it, I want to win it betting a little as possible. To me that's got a cool factor and something worth hunting for a few times a year.

It always starts with the base handicap for me, regardless of what betting menu option I choose. Once you've done the work you can take the race program either horizontally or vertically.

I'll let my spreadsheet speak for me and keep my comments short until my post race analysis, and then I'll take a little extra time to explain what I was thinking.

Have fun with the card and only bet what you are 100% prepared to lose.

Turk Out!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Post Race Analysis for Race Day August 13, 2011: The Arlington Millions and the Anatomy of the Bet

I love Arlington Park. It's a real treat for me to go to a track that gets it so well. I love buying my seats online, getting a box for seven so I can stretch out and spread out, just like if I'm at my kitchen table. I appreciate the kind and hard working folks that come and take my order and entertain me with stories of high rollers, real and imagined. I could prattle on about not enjoying the poly track, but I'd be lying: I've grown use to it and I think it plays pretty fair. I come for that lush green turf. I come for that magnificent paddock. and I come for the people I meet and the city that doesn't appreciate it enough.

Yeah I'm a bit giddy, but that's what winning my first Super High Five bet has done for me. Readers of the Turk will remember that I kicked myself rather hard for leaving my 1991 annual salary on the table by not placing the Super High Five Bet on the Preakness when I had the sequence nailed. I was livid with myself in May and I've waited for an opportunity to wipe this shame off my handicappers report card.

When preparing my handicap for The Thorofan's Handicappers Corner, I completed my base handicap and concluded that just betting a trifecta wasn't going to be worth it: I didn't see any scenario where some real long money was going to crack the ticket. I decided early on that this was my Super High Five Moment. But how to bet is the question. Taking the top six of the base handicap and boxing them is not an option as to that would cost you $720.

Let's get after how I approached that.

My base handicap is a breakdown of the layers of expected finish in the field. I had a WTF moment a few blog entries back and explained my layer handicapping philosophy. As a layer handicapper, I'm less concerned about the actual winner and more interested in "slotting" the horses properly and then having them finish within their slot somewhere, anywhere. I'm seldom emotionally wrapped up with having to have a horse win. Perhaps Zenyatta at the Breeders' Cup Classic was the last time I felt that pang. I have my favorites; my sentimentality is what makes me a fan, being a cold hearted calculator is what makes me a good bettor.

I wanted my risk exposure to be much less than $720 and I started by eliminating some horses who I didn't think would win and I scratched Dean's Kitten and Wigmore Hall from the WIN spot. This isn't a smart move, but its a fiscally sound move. The way you get to a $50,000 high five is by having $19.30 to 1 shot Dean's Kitten win. That said, I didn't want to spend $720 and someone had to get chopped.

Next I make a stand at who won't finish Exotic-Fifth. If I'm going to chop the long shots from winning, it doesn't make much sense to have the Chalk and Place contenders fifth. That eliminated Gio Ponti and Cape Blanco. This isn't a smart move either but hey, listen to me, unless you want to spend $720 you have to make tough choices. This is gambling after all.

Those trims of the WIN and the Fifth Spot took the bet down to $288. While not outside my price range, I thought it was too much of a capital risk and wanted it a bit smaller.

I took the red pen and took the biggest stand that would determine if I won or lost: I eliminated Gio Ponti from any finish except Win and Place. I also eliminated Wigmore Hall and Dean's Kitten from Place.

Sitting at $152, I rested.

What went right? Discounting Zack Hall (Fr) completely and putting Dean's Kitten, who I thought was way too low at a Morning Line 50-1 in the top six. The turf was much softer than I predicted Thursday night and that played to our Euro friends. I also paid attention to the turf conditions and reduced the chance Cape Blanco would drop.

What went wrong? I thought the turf would be a little firmer and Mission Approved's speed would carry far enough. He dropped like a rock in the stretch. Respecting Rahystrada from 1-5. I really thought he could be the value driver.

I've had a full weekend with friends and family. For only having time to handicap and bet one race, I'm feeling pretty good about this.

Enjoy the day, Turk Out!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Nomination Is In: August 13, 2011: The Arlington Million Grade I

God gave me a big nose for a reason, but it isn't big enough: John Henry nips me at the wire but I get up for Show Money behind The Bart. The story of my life. I think I've digressed.

Welcome Friends to the Turk and Little Turk's handicap of the Arlington Million. I've been invited today to handicap one of the premier turf events in North America, the Grade I Arlington Million,for the Thorofan's Handicappers Corner. To those of you not familiar with The Thorofan, its an organization inspired by and serving the 29 million horse racing fans in America who deserve a voice.

Arlington Park is a pretty special place to me. I was living north of Chicago in 1985, serving in the United States Navy, when a fire swept through the track , destroying the old place. I joined the curious and the concerned that watched from the edge of the road. It's a wonderful new facility now, under appreciated in the big scheme of things, but just a completely fan-centric race day experience they offer and its one of this Turk's favorite places to visit.

Arlington Park installed a poly surface in 2007, which I don't play often, but when I do, I find it plays pretty fair. For me, the Arlington turf course is the draw. It's maintained immaculately, not like the grass at Soldier Field. The race falls in a nice place in the conditions book, a month or so after the classic distance Grade I turf affairs start happening, races like The Colonial Turf Cup,Arlington Park Handicap, The Man O' War and the United Nations,and it sets the winner up perfectly for The Breeders' Cup Turf. The race attracts some of the best turf horses in the America and the best second tier grass runners from Europe and the race is the cornerstone of Arlington Park's biggest day of the year. All good stuff.

Before I look at this year's field I need to understand what to expect the turf to be like: The course is currently listed as Yielding. The weather leading up to Saturday suggests that rain is possible. I'm leaning towards the course still being soft, possibly listed as good, but I expect it will play fair and not favor speed. You have to make a stand on what you think the conditions will be before you break down the runners. There are some great Twitter and Facebook feeds out there you can tap to get a real time feel for the truth. Take advantage of the new information when you can. On raceday make sure you check scratches and changes and the tote board is always something to keep your eye on so you don't invest too heavily when the odds aren't in your favor.

I also like to take a few minutes and review the past, which is often a window into the future. From the racecharts I've taken a quick peek at the last six editions.

Glean what you like from it, but I'm focused on the favorite has been taking Place money more often than not and that the winner is being identified as one of the top three by savvy horse players. It looks like Show is in play with the average Show horse was typically the fifth favorite of the punters. Only one chalk has one in the past six editions.

When you're looking at this race, or any race with foreign invaders, avoid assigning mythical powers to these animals; Just because they are from Europe don't assume they will dominate. Respect them, sure, get as much information on them as you can, but don't ascribe brilliance too quickly.

Again, I'm leaning towards slightly soft going and I'm going to discount front running speed carrying over distance. I see the pace being set by Mission Approved, Proceed Bee and Dean's Kitten possibly. Cape Blanco (IRE) will be pulled back and kept about 1 length back to the inside. A bunch of closers, lead by Gio Ponti will be poised to strike at the top of the straight.

Flaws: Every horse has flaws that can make you shy away. Gio Ponti hasn't won in awhile. Cape Blanco (Ire) has been anointed, but look at the running lines, very inconsistent and no reason to be so respectful of the expected chalk. Mission Approved is an honest runner who will give you the same effort every race. I like the training at Saratoga and I think the 7 YO is poised for a good year.

Man O' War /Good Turf/ July 9,2011

This can either be a good betting race or a dud. I don't see the longest prices winning or placing under almost any circumstances. I don't think the trifecta will pay that well with my base handicap so I'll consider superfecta or super high-5 and take a swing at the fences.

The base handicap is built and again it's built with certain turf conditions in mind and its built with the pace scenario keyed on Mission Approved. Any scratches from the pace players will force a reassessment. Pay attention to the scratches and changes, as well as the tote board, and use your base handicap to quickly work through your own value versus reward equations. Finally, only bet what you are prepared to lose.

Do your own handicapping and remember the past is prologue. Thanks again for the Thorofan for allowing me to entertain you. I'm hopeful my degenerate core audience will become members soon.

Have Fun, Turk Out!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Post Race Analysis for Raceday 6 August 2011: The Grade 1 Test and Whitney as part of the Saratoga Late Pick 3

Suck or blow? When you work around large machines like I have my whole working career, this is the sort of discussion that starts theoretical: It takes less energy to draw a a material in the gaseous state through equipment with a slightly negative vacuum then it does to push the same gaseous solution through by blowing it under a slight positive pressure. After the discussion on mechanical and electro-hydraulic systems concludes the subject often turns crudely sexual, but that's a topic for a different blog. In horse racing, if you "blow" or "suck" I reckon it doesn't really matter as your tickets will be worthless regardless.

And speaking of losing tickets, what do you do with yours? When I just feel like people watching, I'll hang out at the track and after the results go final I take great pleasure in watching people celebrate as well as go into fits of despair. The poor tickets are either venerated to holy status or they are ripped, shredded, thrown, burned, etc etc etc. Me personally, I can't have negative vibe tickets on my person, they are thrown away immediately, which brings me to the story of the young Asian male at Churchill Downs sitting on the floor during Breeders' Cup Friday digging through a garbage can frantically looking at tickets amongst the filth, but that too is another story for another day.

The Turk is a big boy: I love talking about my wins, and I feel good enough about my decent skills as a handicapper to talk about the train wrecks. The Test was not a horrible handicap for me, I missed on Roman Treasure and it's hard to anticipate American Lady getting pulled up.

I plain sucked and/or blow'd with the Whitney Handicap. I knew it was a challenging field, but ugh, I didn't intentionally try to pick the finish in reverse order.

Anyhow, the carnage via spreadsheet is ugly:

Saratoga Race 9-10-11

So first of all, wow, Turbulant Descent. I may live in the Eastern United States, but I pay close attention to California racing and I knew this filly was special, bust she made a mockery of this field. Perhaps if Savvy Supreme, who was scratched, puts some pressure on Roman Treasure and Ramon and the pace was a bit hotter but....let's cut that loser talk off at the knees right now: The Test field was no match for Turbulent Descent.

My handicap was based on value and the hope that Turbulent Descent would not like the going. I knew no matter what she'd be top three and I backed a pretty fine filly, Pomeroys Pistol and I liked American Lady as well. I'm not as bullish on Her Smile, but her Prioress was honest.

Where do I start with the Whitney? Tizway was 1 of 8 with only 3 in the money finishes at the distance. He does have a tendency to run three race sequences and his first race back is generally a three digit Beyer. He was also training sharply at Saratoga since late June. The six year old now has 7 wins in 20 starts and is 13 of 20 in the money. Where will he point next? The Kelso like last year to prep for the Breeders' Cup Mile or is he main event? I'm thinking main event baby.

Flat Out was 1 of 3 at the distance before yesterday but had 4 wins of 9 starts over fast dirt. I disliked the post draw but I liked the bullets he's been churning out at Monmouth and the Suburban at 1 1/8 miles to pay $13.60 was artistic. The lightly raced five year old son of Flatter is now 6 of 10 lifetime in the money.

I've been a Giant Oak fan a long time but I thought he was no better than an exotic with this field; 2 wins in now 16 fast dirt starts and 2 wins in 10 tries at this distance and only 1 win, The Grade 1 Donn in last 11 tries. He's been training sharp and as expected he closed like a freight train.

Friend or Foe was a colt I was conflicted on pre race: A NY bred 4 YO who was winless in two tries at SAR, but 5 of 8 on fast dirt and he's beaten Rail Trip, Convocation, Ichabad Crane and Ibboyee to name some. He ran respectable in last year's Jim Dandy and Travers and he's had three straight 100+ Beyer's. Respect earned.

Headache I was high on. A morning line 20-1, I thought he had a very good chance to be top four. The 5 YO gelding ran well in the tight Prairie Medows turns and I thought he'd sneak up a bit higher. Trainer Maker has every reason to be proud of him and he didn't disappoint yesterday.

The text on the race charts is often terse but effective. Mission Impazzible " rally". I've never been that high on Mission Impazzible and I had him higher yesterday than the fan in me liked, but I'm a handicapper,not a fanboy, and that's why I'm in a foul mood over him. Pletcher's charge is just good enough to tease you.

Rail Trip "...lacked the necessary response". Yup. Trainer Dutrow doesn't seem to be doing too well with the six year old gelding whom I've been a big fan of since Santa Anita Derby Day 2009 and the Santana Mile.

Rodman and Prado fought quite a bit and it just wasn't his day. Apart is no Blame.

Duke of Mischief , ugh. "....but was through after completing three quarters". I took a chance he'd roll from the outside, it didn't happen.

Morning Line? The son of Tiznow was right there and then nothing.

Horse racing, love it!

Have fun friends, Turk Out!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Nomination Is In: The Saratoga Late Pick 3 including the Grade 1 Test and Whitney

The equine athletes are horse racing first and foremost to the Ol' Turk, but a close second is the people behind the horses. Can there be a brighter light in Saratoga racing over a longer period of time than the Whitney's? The irrepressible Marylou dances it up with a dashing Tony Randall at the crossroads where glamour and racing met, a yesteryear where rich Corinthian leather in your car meant something.

Anyhow, summer marches along and waits for no one. Saratoga comes and stays with us and before you know it, its gone, along with summer for another year. Saratoga has its own ebb and flow, races that set up races, that lead to championship races, that lead to Fall Belmont and then Breeders' Cup where the circle comes complete for the year. During the flow, stepping stone rocks appear, and today is The Whitney Invitational Handicap, a stepping stone for The Woodward, sure, but Breeders' Cup Classic is what these runners are focused on, with maybe one more stepping stone race before that day in early November. With real dirt back at Santa Anita trainers can point to The Goodwood or The Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont. Stepping stones start with a first stone, and there were many for this group: The Stephen Foster, The Suburban, The Salvator and Met Miles, The Cornhusker, this is a middle stone, some will jump to one more stone in September or October, and then Churchill Downs, trying to follow the path of last years winner, Blame.

This IS horse racing, the handicap division, as weak as it may seem to some, its deep in numbers if not full of elite champions.

Let's get it on!

Saratoga Race 9-10-11

Weather and Scratches and Changes are an issue, so pay attention to both as the day goes on.

I'm going to let the spreadsheets speak for themselves prerace and I'll spend more time than usual postrace breaking down the contenders, my pre race thoughts, and what unfolded. A bit backwards for sure but an exercise I like to do every month or so to help me spot things on the racechart that I see and then take that information and tie back to the past performances, when the animals are kind enough to run on dirt like the story unfolds on paper.

Have fun with a day like today and I'll be back later to mull the effort over.

I handicapped a big field in Race 11 to assemble a Pick Three bet. It's a 7 panel affair over dirt for 3 YOs and Up foaled in NYS which have never won a race other than yada yada yada. I like the 9-10-11 and I most likely will single one of them and keep my exposure low as today is more about handicapping homework than swinging for the fences. These fields are too deep and too talented for me to loosen the purse strings too much.

Turk Out!