Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Nomination Is In: The Met Mile for the Thorofan Handicappers Corner

Welcome to the 2012 Metropolitan Handicap, better known as the Met Mile. Before I go to far, I'd like to thank The Thorofan for inviting the Ol' Turk to handicap for the esteemed Handicappers Corner.

For those of you not familiar with The Thorofan, I gravitated to them because their stated goals appealed to me:

Retain and enrich existing fans.

Seek out and attract new fans including those who are unable for physical or other limitations have not yet had the opportunity.

Give each fan, regardless of involvement, a voice to the industry regarding their interests in the betterment of the sport.

Hard to argue with that, and I am happy to promote an organization that I am a proud member of.

The Met Mile is part of my Memorial Day tradition. I honor our American War dead in the morning, gather with family in the afternoon, and we make this race part of the late afternoon activities. As a horse racing fan, and a person trying to promote the sport, I always try to make the races part of our family traditions, showing my love for the sport to the nieces, nephews, friends and future thorofans.

So with that build up, I'll be honest, seeing a six horse field doesn't thrill me. Superfecta is out, and if there is a scratch, ugh, it will be something similar to the Winchester, embedded below. As a horse racing fan I'll enjoy seeing some of my favorite horses contest this prestigious race, but as a bettor, I'd generally pass on a six horse field.

With a favorite that will be less than 2-1 and perhaps a post time chalk at 8-5, what do we do with this, how do we plan? Looking at the wager menu, Exacta, Trifecta and the Double are the bets de jour, and I think I'll target a value exacta. A value exacta Turk? Yes, we are going to toss the presumptive chalk and piece together no more than 4 combinations, or $8 worth of $2 exactas on the hunt for a will pay that at least doubles our investment or a bet that pays out greater than $16.

My initial read of the six horse field is that the quality of horses and the competitiveness of this race is high, with 5 of 6 runners currently millionaires. You know, many eleven horse fields have the same or fewer quality runners as this group, but it's those five other horses that help to keep the prices slightly more attractive. Nothing like a Duke of Mischief, a Mucho Macho Man or a Wilburn to drive an 8-5 back to 3-1.

I find it helpful to assess current form first. To do that I like to visual handicap, a combination of trip handicapping and visual appearance of the horses, especially in the last 1/8 of a mile and the gallop out. You Tube is a great resource for this sort of thing, even if sometimes you may have to hunt an peck a bit to find what you are looking for. I've gathered some of the key races that I think will help me decoded today's field.

2012 Affirmed Success Stakes Restricted NY STATE 7f

2012 Carter Handicap 7f

2012 Churchill Downs 7f

2012 Winchester 1 Mile

2011 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

There are a few things not to like about the 2011 Preakness Stakes Winner, Shackleford; Romans and Velazquez are winless together over past year, Velazquez is up in place of regular pilot Castanon, Velazquez is only a 7% winner at Belmont right now. Continuing to pile on, the horse is winless at the distance, winless at Belmont, and has only one win, his last in the Churchill Downs since the Preakness. All that said, I don't believe he'll be the bettors chalk and I'm installing him as my chalk and my single in the great exacta value hunt. I got the negatives out of the way, on the positives side of the ledger, a gutty stretch run in his last race and a decent enough effort in the Carter Handicap.

I am a big Jackson Bend fan; 19 of 25 in the money, 6 of last 7 races in triple digit Beyers. The 5 YO son of Hear No Evil has only one win in five tries at the distance, winless in two starts at Belmont, 18 of 22 in the money on fast dirt.

I expect the bettor's will reward Caleb's Posse with the chalk; Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile reigning champ, 2011 King's Bishop winner, with last two races lost by a combined neck and nose. Trainer Von Hemel, with Maragh up, combine for 43% winners. Trainer Von Hemel has a 31% win rate in graded stakes. I think the race sets up perfect for him, as he'll be off the lead and will have at least three targets to shoot for. I suspect he'll be wide out of the turn and he'll make his run there.

In the "one of these things is not like the other" category, Saginaw makes a big class jump up to enter this race. Trainer David Jacobson felt pretty good about his chances and runs him back on eleven days rest after winning the NY State restricted Affirmed Success Stakes. The six year old gelding has three wins at Belmont and is 12 of 13 in the money at the distance and 11 of 15 in the money on fast dirt.

It doesn't seem possible that Caixa Eletronica is seven years old, but he is, and he makes a whopping 53 start in this race and is 35 of 52 in the money, with 7 wins in his last 16 starts. A winner off the pace in the Charles Town Classic last time out, his best efforts come right off the pace, but it will be an almost career best for him to strike a win against this group and even Place seems unlikely. I think I found my value, now he has to do the work.

Trainer Mott's To Honor and Serve is a fine horse, winner of the Winchester last time out. He's 2 of 2 at Belmont and 3 of 3 at one mile and 10 of 12 in the money on fast dirt. All that said, I'm lukewarm on him. Mott and Lezcano do win 32% of the time together at Belmont.

There is quite a bit to like about To Honor and Serve and I wouldn't be surprised if he won this race. I'm more impressed by the quality of the field now since I went a bit deeper on the analysis, but you can't cover everybody.

Today's handicapping and betting exercise is really more about the bet construction than the handicap. I made a decision early on to bet Exacta and I made a decision to slot the bettors chalk no higher than Place. I'll bet no more than $6 to $8 dollars making straight Exacta Bets that single my chalk, Shackleford, and then cover everyone with the current exception of To Honor and Serve. Does that mean I like Saginaw more than To Honor and Serve? No, but this isn't a popularity contest, we are betting real money and I'm willing to risk $8 to make $16 or more and Saginaw represents that chance more than To Honor and Serve. Maybe the better argument is should I cover To Honor and Serve to Place and drop Caleb's Posse, especially if 8-5, and the answer is maybe.

You can't cover everyone friends; It's not good money management to lose bets, we can all agree on that, but its also not good money management to risk alot of capital on a small return, made smaller because you threw in an extra horse. If you have to do that, take more time becoming a better handicapper and save your capital for when you are ready.

I know it's a smallish field, made possibly smaller if Saginaw runs on the 27th as is possible, so gather your family around the TV at race time and try and make the race, perhaps not this particular edition of the race, a real family tradition like I have in mine. That's the true spirit of The Thorofan, bringing fans back.

Turk Out!

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Nomination Is In: The 137th Preakness Stakes Super High Five

A good day of handicapping on Black Eyed Susan Day, with similar track conditions tomorrow, makes this Ol' Turk feel good about Preakness Day. With a strong handicap powering a Pimlico Special Superfecta win, I'm also alive in the Pimlico Special-Preakness Double, as I settled on only Alternation and Cherokee Artist today, and I went with my big four minus Bodemeister, or Creative Cause, Went the Day Well and I'll Have Another.

The Turk is really torn on not just picking I'll Have Another outright. I'd gladly piss away my bets for a Triple Crown, but I'm backing Bodemeister who looks like a special horse even if he doesn't win the Triple Crown. The horse fan-gambler dichotomy, ever present, it needs to be managed, and luckily I'm an emotionally shallow creature who can compartmentalize.

Let's get after this!

The Super High Five is my designer drug of choice. I've hit a few and the buzz that comes from hitting it is incredible. I mean, I felt like the King of the World meets Andy Beyer meets Gregory Peck, all rolled into one. I love the chase, the dance, I even love the close calls. What I really like is the bet construction, as simple and stream lined as possible, because winning with style is just as important as winning at all.

With a single on the top, and a layer of quality that is three or four horses deep as well as a decent sized divide between the top horses and the horses expected to finish up the track, the makings of a Super High Five win are present, but like lion taming, completely unpredictable variables are at work.

As I've said already I like Bodemeister, and I know Trainer Baffert said all the right things about how he ran the Derby, but I don't understand not trying to rate him back a bit after the first turn. I'm not a trainer and I generally avoid these types of discussions, but it just seemed foolish smoking out those red hot fractions, especially :45 2/5ths half followed by a :24.4, :25.4, only to get gulped up turning a :27 sec final 1/4 mile. Feast or famine, pretender or contender, we'll find out.

I think that I'll Have Another, Creative Cause and Went the Day Well are blanket finishing competitors, all about the same and all a cut above the rest of the field. With my slot handicapping, I'm indifferent to where they finish, I just need Went the Day Well and Creative Cause to finish second, third or fourth.

As assembled I'm at $132. Would I prefer to cover Went the Day Well and I'll Have Another all the way to fifth? Absolutely, but at some point you have to stop the madness or the bet size spirals and then we lose the style points we crave as well.

I'm going to roll with this and see what happens.

Have fun friends, Turk out!

The Nomination Is In: The Pimlico Special-Preakness Double and The Black Eyed Susan

Nothing but flowers. Happy Black Eyed Susan day friends. With the manic work hours that I put in, these two weeks since Oaks Day have flown by, literally, as I've had many a frequent flier mile to focus on The Preakness. An eleven horse field, with the Derby Champ I'll Have Another not even expected to be the tote board leader at post time. I like the idea of singling the top spot in the Preakness to anchor my Super High Five and Superfecta exotics and then trying to pencil in the confusion that will occur within the next layer. This is what i think about when I need a few minutes of mental escape from work, a few minutes here and there, just enough to keep me sharp. To my readers who joined me during and around the Derby and are new racing, that is one of the benefits of the sport, constant and numerous mental challenges, number crunching with a human and equine angle. It's more rewarding than playing a slot machine, scratching a ticket, or Sudoku.

I love the multi-day bets like this weekend's Pimlico Special-Preakness as they really drive my interest in both days cards and a low priced wager that you can draw friends and coworkers into you with. My focused handicapping yesterday was on today's card and I'll highlight my thoughts on the Pimlico Special and the Black Eyed Susan, and then will have a preview of my thoughts on the Preakness so we can construct the double bet. We'll take a look at the weather for both days first and remember to keep your eye on the tote board and the scratches and changes.

Let's get after it!

It does not appear weather will be a consideration at all the weekend. For me, I like that. I prefer fast dirt and firm turf and no inclement weather as predicting an order of finish is hard enough, and anytime you can eliminate variables it just makes handicapping more precise. You find the scratches and changes as it gets closer to race time.

I can't say I'm a fan of any of the horses in the Pimlico Special. It's not that i dislike them, I guess I haven't been seduced by a dazzling performance. There are a few candidates though, and my Handicap Division loyalty is available to somebody this year, so hope does spring eternal. Hymn Book will be putting in his second effort off a long layoff, with Trainer McGaughey winning 20% of these. I do like that Hymn Book's 2nd time back off layoffs lat year all created Beyer jumps. What not to like is this six year old has never won on Fast Dirt (how is that possible?) but has won on a wet track 4 times and on turf 3 times.

Mission Impazzible is the career money winner here (how is that possible?) with over $1.3 MM on 3 wins, but is 12 of 17 in the money. There is only Grade 1 and 2 races on the past performances, a great sign that this horse performs at a high level every time out, and he's battle tested. :59 2/5ths bullet at Belmont in 5f signals sharpness. Lots to like.

Alternation is 3 of 3 in 2012 for Trainer Von Hemel and is 9 of 12 in the money on fast dirt. This 4 YO Distorted Humor son can really make a statement in the older horse division with a win here.

Seven year old Cherokee Artist is pretty sharp right now, with a career best 103 Beyer at 1 1/16 on PIM dirt in late April and a :59 flat 5F bullet last week.

I really liked Nehro last year coming out of the Arkansas Derby, giving Archarcharch all he could handle. Nehro powered a good Derby day for me last year as well and shutdown after the Belmont. A rather flat return in the Oaklawn Handicap, today could be a telling race for how his 4 YO campaign is waged.

Endorsement, the Sunland Derby winner, is a lightly raced 5 YO now, making 9th career start and making first start since winning the 1 Mile Grade 3 Texas Mile at Lonestar, making a nice late move. Harty places M. Garcia up.

I like value in the Double Bet so I may drop the chalk of the Pimlico Special and add Endorsement to drive up potential earnings, so to be clear I am considering dropping most either Mission Impazzible, Alternation or Hymn Book and supplementing with Endorsement, especially if Endorsement >6-1.

For the Preakness, I like Bodemeister quite a bit tomorrow. That said, I may drop him from the double bet, with the only other alternative being to single him and hope for the value to come from the Pimlico Special. I got options and no real reason to solidify my choices yet. Creative Cause, Went the Day Well and I'll Have Another are my win choices.

The Black Eyed Susan is a neat like collection of fillies. It's hard not to like Baffert's Mamma Kimbo. Undefeated with two wins including the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes at OP, 2 fast dirt wins, amazing work. Lots to like!

I have a feelin' about Plum: One win at Pimlico already, 4 wins in six starts on fast dirt, a serious class test for the Maryland bred. I may have her two high in my rankings but I'm covering in exotic spots.

Disposable Pleasure is a hard knockin' Giacomo daughter making fourth straight Grade 2 start. Castellano is up today, and won with this girl last October. Castellano and Pletcher rocking away at 29% win clip in 228 starts over past year.

In Lingerie is Pletcher's other runner, with Johnny Velazequez up. Bullet works getting sharp off layoff after winning Grade 3 on fake dirt in March. Glinda the Good and Welcome Guest round out the serious quality.

Have fun with today's races. The Turk's heart is heavy today as I just returned from a memorial mass for my dear Aunt Carmella who passed away this week. Selfless, caring for nothing other than her family and friends, with a genuine smile and a warmth you don't encounter very often in life. A very special light went out in the world. Rest in Peace Aunt Carm.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mothers Day from The Turk and the Little Turk

The Turk would like to wish a Happy Mothers Day to all of my friends, family and readers. I'm not sure what it is, but many of the people I connect with on horse racing are women, and while some may not have children, they are mothers, be it for horses, cats, dogs or racetrack tramps.

The picture above was taken at Fort Erie Race Track, home of the Prince of Wales Stakes, the second jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown. It's where the women of the Turk Clan gather to gamble and enjoy each others company every Mothers Day, a proud tradition going back may years now.

I'll be joining Grandma Turk; never have I met a person more prone to bridge jump, but it works for her. Happy Mothers Day. I'll be joining Sister Turk and Mama Turk, with more grade 1 races under their belts collectively than can be remembered, as well as Deana Turk, a kind soul who is growing into adulthood quicker than imaginable.

Happy Mothers Day to all. A special Mothers Day prayer goes out to those women who have lost their children prematurely. Be strong and think of the happy reunion along the rail at the great racetrack in the sky that will come one day.

Turk Out!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Nomination Is In : The 138th Kentucky Derby Part 1

Life is precious and short, and you never really know how much time you have left. To me, the Kentucky Derby is a celebration of life, an annual renewal to the true believers in the sport, a reminder of what was, and a message of what could be.

I treasure the Derby and I love talking to people not that familiar with the sport because, well, as a sport we have a real fan base problem, and it's the only way we are going to bring fans back. Yesterday, The Turk Clan hosted a Kentucky Oaks Day party. The house was alive with horse talk and when the race was run the room became electric with interest and excitement. To my friends that are fully engaged in horse racing year round I'll preach to the choir, embrace these Kentucky Derby folks. While the irons hot start starting Preakness. On Memorial Day get your family gathered around for the Met Mile. Talk to them about Saratoga, a festival of top quality racing. Plan a Breeders' Cup party. Have a laptop and take bets on your Twinspires account. Engage people and the horses do the rest.

This is part one of my Kentucky Derby analysis. There will only be a part 2 if i have something to add or if something changes in my thinking, and if it does, I'll repost by 5:45.

One nice thing about handicapping the Derby is by this point in their three year old careers, these animals are close to known quantities. Some of them have yet to show the potential in races, but talent and potential has been revealed. I focus my handicapping on what I can measure, either visually or in a previous performance. I take into account morning work but do not assign too much in the overall quotient to it. I establish ranges, which I display in color and with letter grades. I'm an exotics bettor, and on most days I bet vertically and horizontally through the card, meaning I bet Pick 3 and Pick 4 which is the winners of multiple races in a row as well as individual races where I pick winners and sometimes as many as the top four, or on big days, five finishers. I'm a horse fan first and a bettor a distant second. I have no qualms handicapping and not betting and don't get sucked into the thought that you need to have some action, skin in the game, to enjoy it. You do not. Embrace the people and the animals on a layer deeper than "3 horse, 8 horse" and think about Scat Daddy winning the Florida Derby and now being an emerging leading sire. Ask yourself who is Doctor Hansen? Read about Michael Matz and his bravery and compare him to the affable Bob Baffert. You don't need the action, the characters, both two and four legged, are pretty interesting all on their own.

For those of you needing a 1-800-Hammer moment, let's get after it!

I'm assembling multiple bet combinations from this Base Handicap. The issue I have, which I have to sort out, are my bubble horses, from Dullahan down to I'll have Another. It's my opinion those five horses are the key to the Superfecta and Super High Five. I'll ramble more in the post race analysis about what I was thinking with my Base Handicap, I don't want to dwell too much right now or I may start flip flopping. As for who's going to win? I don't have a clue but I like the two favorites and any of my A or B horses have a good shot.

I'm still alive in the Oaks-Derby Double. The Appleton Turk cousins helped build that Double bet and a special Turk prayer goes to to her and her family as a family member battles to regain her health.

Have fun, Turk Out!

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Kentucky Oaks-Kentucky Derby Double

One of my favorite types of fun bets is a double spread across two days, and to me the best ones are the Oaks-Derby Double as well as the Blackeyed Susan-Preakness Double.

The Ol' Turk is looking for some value, but even betting favorites who are at 4-1 still has value. I've narrowed my bet pool down to 4 in the Oaks and 6 in the Derby, with an eye towards value with a few of my Derby choices. A $2 box of this is worth $48 bucks, a fair bet for what could be nice reward.

Nothing fancy, just fun, especially if Friday goes as planned.

I'll be making Mint Juleps in a few hours, back door guests are welcome

Turk out!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Wire Players Derby Dozen Poll Final Edition 2012

Pencils down folks! We've analyzed, we've tweeked, we've tweezed, dissected, bisected, rambled about, pontificated over, looked at pace scenarios, studied video, groused over foaming, sweating, gallup outs, breezes, fake dirt, layoffs, jocks, yada yada, yada.

Friends, it's the Kentucky Derby, it's one and one quarter miles long, longer than any of them have ever run before. Some of them want to run that far, some of them don't. Some will rabbit to the front and you'll think you that longshot is going to make you rich, but inevitably he will hit a wall and horses sitting just off the pace will start to surge forward. There will be a few that have one big run in them. From the blimp shot this will be an awe inspiring thing, as they weave through traffic like a Porsche amongst Yugos.

I'd love to tell you who's going to win but I can't. in fact nobody can. Not pink sheets, white sheets, celebrity handicappers, player services, nobody. What a good handicapper can do is give you is a range of possibles. I'm a range handicapper, I segregate the horses into groups, assemble bets based on these ranges and, well, hope for the best. My advice to new players is always the same: Handicap lots of races, assemble win and exacta bets, bet little. Learn what works and what doesn't by analysis. Sometimes it will be obvious in hindsight, and sometimes you just have to say, ehh, what the heck.

It's been my pleasure writing about and grading the Kentucky Derby contenders over the past several months. The Wire Players Derby Dozen Poll team is a salty bunch. You can learn quite a bit from them individually, much more than you will reading mainstream media writers. I hope you enjoyed our rankings as much as we did doing it. I'll be back tomorrow with Oaks/Derby selections.

Turk Out!

Handicappers Homework: Decoding the Derby Contenders

It's hard not to get excited about the Kentucky Derby. To people who are heavily invested in this sport, and I'll only speak for myself, I love seeing Derby coverage in the mainstream media as well as excitement build with horse racing civilians. As a blogger, I make new readers and new friends every year that I do this; I like to think that this is because I'm friendly, easy to approach, and don't have alot of fancy jargon's and metrics tied to my handicapping.

At this point in the season, the three year olds are starting to show us what they have. These are not the blank sheets of paper we handicapped last year during the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, no no no, these horses now have a resume, and these sort of resumes are best watched, not read. To my new friends and new readers, do yourself a favor, stop reading and just watch some video on these animals. Pay attention to the last 12 to 24 seconds of the race, watch which horses are extending their strides and which ones are contracting. Watch which horses pull even with other horses, do the pass them, do they get close and not pass them, is this a pattern in their other races.

Ignore most of what you read, including bald idiot handicappers like the ol' Turk. Go to and watch the clockers reports. The best handicappers in America are not writing the articles in the mainstream press, even the mainstream horse racing press. Fluff and human interest stuff sells papers but it doesn't give you a clue about who will win the Derby. Try a few blogging sites where you will find some really sharp folks. For you newbies, try Hello Race Fans! as well as horse racing blog aggregate sites like Race Wire 360. The 'Ol Turk is a proud member of a fantastic group of writers at Turf as well as The Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance.

I think it's pointless to do too much handicapping before you know the post position draw and what the weather seems to be shaping up as. With a basic idea of how the race may unfold I have broken down the 20 horses into three groups: Horses with a chance to Win, Place, Show or be in Superfecta or Super High Five, Horses with a chance to be in the Top 10 and Horses I've tossed out of consideration. The last group is most assuredly where you will find this year's winner!

Group 1: Union Rags, Bodemeister, Daddy Nose Best, Gemologist and I'll Have Another
Group 2: Hansen, Creative Cause, Alpha, Take Charge Indy, Went the Day Well, Dullahan, Rousing Sermon
Group 3: Daddy Long Legs, Liason, El Padrino, Prospective, Trinniberg, Optimizer, Done Talking, Sabercat

Anyway, watch the videos, it won't take long, and spot for yourself a winner.

Have fun with it. The Turk will be back tomorrow with the final edition of the Wire Players Derby Dozen Poll and Friday Morning we will have our Oaks/Derby Double selections ready to go. turk out!

Breeders'Cup Juvenile 2011

Arkansas Derby 2012

Santa Anita Derby 2012

Florida Derby 2012

Wood Memorial 2012

UAE Derby 2012

Sunland Derby 2012

Blue Grass Stakes 2012

Spiral Stakes 2012

Tampa Bay Derby 2012

Cash Call Futurity 2011