Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Wire Players Derby Dozen Poll Volume 2 and The Turk's Top 12

Only on the Internet does a hack like The Turk, an admittedly lousy young horse prognosticator, get to give his opinions on who the best three year olds in the county are.

Volume 2 of this year's Wire Player's Derby Dozen Poll is now out, and while I'm a part of this group, these people actually know what they are doing! Shockingly, seven of my selections have made the top 12 this week. I almost bust my gut at the lovely Jill Baffert's shout out at how we suck, but I do have Drill higher than my companions.

Friends, this is what horse racing is about, opinions, comments, and a shared love of these animals. If horses are only numbers on the Form in your mind, The Turk is the wrong blog for you. Things will be heating up this weekend with the Risen Star and the Fountain of Youth primarily. The calendar is about to turn over to March. I could write a few more ranting paragraphs about the old days when three year olds ran every three weeks but I won't bother, the landscape has shifted. There may be this weekend and one more race before Kentucky for the biggest stars and you'll have to form an opinion off a limited resume. Who wants the distance, let that dictate your thoughts, who's going to want that distance.

And The Turk's opinions only...

Have fun with this friends. Turk out!

The Nomination Is In: The Late Pick 4 at Fair Grounds including the Grade 2 Risen Star

Oh Mighty Risen Star, how we gather today in your honor and memory. Winner of the 1988 Preakness and Belmont Stakes, son of Secretariat and the namesake of today's key Kentucky Derby prep race.

The season is heating up quickly and this is one of the first all star weekends of the year, with the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream tomorrow, and Union Rags and Algorithms getting it going on the Derby Trail. As a horse racing fan this is the sort of stuff that stirs the slumbering soul.

The Turk hasn't been very sharp lately. I downshifted after the Breeders' Cup and while I've had some success in my non-blogged handicapping, I haven't been very good on the ones that mean the most to me, the one's I share with my readers and friends. I go through funks just like everyone else and its these funks I think about when I get on a run and I get comments from folks that I "never lose". Everyone loses friends, what I think I am good at is understanding when I'm in a funk I can't gamble my way out of it. For me, the best thing to do is to pull money back off the table and just handicap. When the handicapping is good, the betting will follow.

For now, I think I'm still in a funk and I am ratcheting up the number of races per week I'm analyzing and after doing this for many years I know very well, all funks will pass.

Let's get started with the Pick Four at Fair Grounds today!

Fair Grounds Races 9-12: First Post 4:55 Eastern Time

Track condition is not apparent yet. The track is currently listed as fast and the turf yielding. The weather today looks like a mixed bag. The biggest wild card for the pick four would be if races are pulled from the Turf. We'll deal with that as we go.

Race 9 is The Mineshaft Handicap, a Grade 3 event. Trainer Asmussen is having one heck of a meet at Fair Grounds and is atop the trainer standings. He saddles Thisskyhasnolimits who comes in off a career best 101 Beyer at this distance. 5 of 9 in the money at the distance and 8 of 16 in the money on fast dirt, the 5 YO son of Sky Mesa with Sellers up looks to go hot early and throttle the competition.

Coming with a late run with be Fast Alex: the 5 YO Jim Tafel bred son of Afleet Alex is attempting to give Greg Geier a much needed graded stakes victory.

Gladding ships in for Trainer John Sadler. Training very sharply at San Anita but on the bench since the Ack Ack where he couldn't hit the board after setting the hot pace. No wins at this distance, I'm expecting a fading finish and I'm not covering the win.

Alma d' Oro has Castellano up for Trainer Pletcher who's only started 2 races at Fair Grounds this meet. Set a dirt best 98 Beyer in a Show loss to Thiskyhasnolimits last time out. Pletcher 28% off the layoff he had after the Clark.

Pants on Fire has been on the shelf even longer, since the Haskell. Winner of the Louisiana Derby, training well but may need an effort to improve conditioning. Trainer Breen 10% winner off 180 day plus layoffs. Hot jock Napravnik is up.

Race 10 is a 5.5 panel turf sprint. I'm going to approach it as being on yielding turf. I most likely will bail out of a Pick 4 if either Race 10 or 12 is moved to the main track, so I'll be watching closely before I have to commit.

Zeb is a 5 YO gelding who is 3 for 3 on FG Turf and training sharply. Trainer Foley does well off the 61-180 day layoff, winning 22% of the time, and he wins 20% of the time he saddles with Napravnik. Class jump and longish layoff but I'm hunting for P4 value.

Cactus Son is a bit sharper and won on off-turf 25 January at this distance. Trainer Burgess wins 40% of of his turf sprints on 20 tries. Sellers up.

Country Day, Chamberlain Bridge and Lonesome Street all merit consideration. Chamberlain Bridge, hard to believe he's 8 now, still has wheels and looked very good on Fair Grounds yielding turf in December. he's got top weight today but ignore him at your peril.

Lonesome Street is cutting back in distance and is a wild card as to how Castellano positions him. I should cover but I won't.

Country Day is the one I'll most likely regret not covering, but you cant cover everyone. Let me repeat, you can't cover everyone, especially a horse that might end up at 2-1 and comes in off long layoff. Winless at FG, only 1 turf win in 8 starts for the 6 YO son of Speightstown. Strong, game effort Placing against Regally Ready in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. I like him if it shifts to the main track, along with Joe Hollywood and Southern Style.

In the Risen Star some highly talked about yet still unproven Triple Crown nominated runners head to the starting gate. Trainer Larry Jones has coupled entry Mark Valeski and Mr. Bowling for owner/breeder/former Governor Brereton Jones. Mr. Bowling was a head winner of the LeCompte. I'm backing Mark Valeski who comes in off a OC win and some nice work, with Napravnik, up.

El Padrino ran a smoking 100 Beyer in an OC at GP for Trainer Pletcher and he will surely get a good test today.

In a hunt for P4 value I may take a flyer on Afford, son of Street Sense, winner of an N1X here in early February. Z Dagger goes for Asmussen off the LeCompte head loss as the chalk to Mr. Bowling.

I'll be watching the early races and watching the tote board leading up to Race 9 before I make a decision on the pick four. As it sits now I've built a 3 X 3 X 3 X 3 =$81 1 dollar bet and that's too rich for how I feel as a handicapper right now. There's nothing wrong with taking a step back when you are struggling or when the conditions aren't optimal (off track, chance of surface switch etc) and just playing the races vertically instead of horizontally. Super High 5 is offered on race 12, I'd rather throw the dice at that then some stupid scratch lottery ticket.

Whatever you do personally, do it after careful thought.

Have fun, Turk Out!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Nomination Is In: The Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park

The Turk would like to thank the fine folks at The Thorfan and the Handicappers Corner for the privilege of throwing darts against the wall, errr, handicapping this weekend's Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

The Turk loves the handicap division because the richness of information over several seasons that unfolds on the past performances stirs the mathematical intrigue in me. Horse racing for me is a two for one value; I get jazzed by the handicapping and the gambling, especially when I win, but I'm also able to put aside the money side of things and just be a super fan. Like everyone, I dream of the next Triple Crown winner, and I honor the eleven previous winners, but it's the older runners on the dirt and the turf that really do it for me. Last year was a bit lean on returning heroes and it's time that the cupboard gets restocked with superstars older than 3 years old.

There are some great minds on this internet-thingy handicapping: The Handicappers Corner, The Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance and Turf: An International Gathering of Horse Racing Bloggers are great places to go and bounce your own thoughts off of people who are right pretty often. I believe strongly in building handicaps without outside influence, so I really hope you have already built your handicap and you are just using this to gage your own thinking.

I was musing the other night that my own racing year mirrors the handicapping division: I shutdown after the Clark Handicap, I go to the farm (OK Chipolte's and the corner bar) and just chill until early January, I show back up in Florida and start running again, getting my stride up before taking another break in May, only to pick it up around Saratoga/Haskell time and making the strong run back to the Breeders' Cup. Turk buddy, what the heck are you talking about? I'm sayin' that I'm rusty in the handicapping and I've been resting my red pen since the Clark, just like some of these runners have been resting since that same race. If I graphed my ROI, which I do, I'm at my absolute best at the end of the season when the horses are a pretty known quantity and my handicapped skill is at its proverbial "3rd race after a layoff" best. I ain't there yet but let's take a swing at this race anyway.

Gulfstream Park Race 10: The Donn Handicap

One problem with being an internet hack handicapper is exposing your thoughts before you have enough information. Without blogging I'd have my base handicap for the Donn done on Friday night but my bet strategy would be formed once the track conditions and scratches and changes
firmed up. I also like to stare at the tote board for as long as possible to make sure my superfecta investment makes sense. Perhaps the worst feeling I know is "investing" $50 to make $30. The weather at Gulfstream this weekend looks like it has the possibility to continue to be inclement, and I've built my base handicap with a slant towards slop.

So where am I coming from? Flat Out has four progressively decreasing Beyer races in a row. He looked like a horse that needed a break after the Clark Handicap, but many Breeders' Cup combatants put in dull efforts in thier first races back. Trainer Dickey got a turf effort in for God only knows what reason except possibly to increase sire value, or he just couldn't find a better spot in the conditions book. I dunno, seems like an Allowance race over dirt and 1 1/16 would have been better but the point is he got work in and this is his second effort off a 45-180 day layoff. Surely Turk that's a winning angle? 0% for Dickey but only his 5th try. Jock Solis is just a 6% winner at Gulfstream. On the positive side, I liked his slop effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and he is a bit sharper race wise than some of his cohorts, at some point I have to believe he reverses course and returns to form. This weekend would be a good time!

Dick Dutrow, not my favorite trainer but a solid horseman nonetheless, brings in Trickmeister, 5 wins in 5 starts lifetime at age 5 after beating up on shoulda, coulda, woulda types like Our Dark Knight. Ramon Dominguez and Trainer Dutrow combine for 32% wins and the son of Proud Citizen has been sharpening up over the Gulfstream Park track since New Years Eve. I want to be careful he's not too high on the toteboard but I will cover him in all four spots in my Superfecta.

The presumptive bettor's chalk will be Shackleford. I love the horse but there are red flags; winless since The Preakness, before that an N1X. A loser to Coil at the Haskell by a neck and trounced at the Travers, a loser to Wilburn at the Indiana Derby, only to choke to Caleb's Posse in the Dirt Mile. I am tickled pink to see him back and excited for Dale Romans and his barn, but I am concerned. He's a tepid B for me, Top Four on expectations and class.

Ruler on Ice, the Belmont winning gelded four year old son of Roman Ruler, is back for popular trainer, Kelley Breen who places Rosie Napravnik up. Also resting since The Clark, some very impressive bullets at 4 and 5 furlongs and a very solid resume on slop may make me reconsider and move him further up the handicap.

Soaring Empire and Redeemed will round out my top six Superfecta candidates. Soaring Empire is more of a one turn specialist and he enters off a disappointing 6th in the Hal's Hope after winning in 2011. I like the 5 YO an awful lot and I am very interested in seeing how he goes over the slop. He does own the best Tomlinson (453) over the muck. Redeemed is Dick Dutrow's other runner who is taking a jump up in class but is worth a look. The one that could make me look stooooopid is Hymn Book, but then again, a son of Arch, ridden by Johnny V for Shug McGaughey is just screaming to not be ignored. You can't cover everyone and you'll go broke tryin; build your handicap and bets with an eye towards the bottom line.

I'm going to assemble a Superfecta that approximates my base handicap. If I don't like what I see on the tote board or if more than just Al Khali scratches (I'm going to guess he does)I may retrench to a Trifecta just to keep my action reasonable and in line with where I feel my handicappers touch is right now, which is, well, "1st effort off a 60-180 day layoff".

Also, sorry for the gratuitous $6,000 dollar pile of winnings on my desk. I'm stroking my bad motherf**ker handicapper mojo back up, just like a trainer takes a horse out for a nice blow before a big race. It's my "It's Britney, Bitch" moment.

Great talking to you friends. Enjoy the races, Turk Out!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Wire Players Kentucky Derby Dozen Poll- Volume 1 2012

Getting out the vote. It's that time again, the Wire Players Derby Dozen Poll is back for a third year. A collection of fine journalists and bloggers, and one idiot bald bigmouth will bring to you the top Kentucky Derby Contenders from now until the first Saturday in May.

In between I'll bring you as much video as I can find on the contenders, as well as reviews of the major prep races, and we'll try to solve this annual brain twister together. My goals remain the same: The Oaks-Derby Double and the Derby Superfecta and Super High Five. Let's get after it!

In all seriousness, its a real honor for the Ol' Turk to be involved with such an insightful and snarky collection of fellas and one pretty lady who knows her stuff.

The Derby Dozen Poll Panel

Brian Zipse from Horse Racing Nation
Rob from Amateurcapper
Derek Brown
Carly Kaiser
Geno from EquiSpace
Tony Bada Bing from A Leg Up
Paul Mazur
Dylan Jarmulowicz

and of course, the man, Steve from Wire Players

Be well friends, Turk out!