Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Nomination Is In: The Travers Day Late All Graded Stakes Pick 4

The list is legion: I'll Have Another, Bodemeister, Paynter, Union Rags, Hansen. I'm not as disappointed about this year's remaining three year old races as I am thinking about the dearth of good handicap division horses, a cupboard bare now and not getting much of an infusion of talent next year.

I won't prattle on about my opinion on why so many good three year olds have been retired, it's not really important or informed. When you have a problem it's easy to sit around and bemoan who isn't in the room with you to solve it. I find it's always better to take stock in who is there when times are tough, those who have stuck with you and are presently in the here and now. I refuse to allow myself to loose one bit of sleep about who isn't racing anymore: As long as they retired I am happy for them and in three years I'll look for their children and be excited, as excited as I am now when I see Street Sense, Hard Spun, Lawyer Ron (Pest in Peace), Invasor and Bernardini, Flower Alley and Pleasantly Perfect to name just a few.

In the same vein, a handicapper has to have a short memory when it comes to the failures. The Pick 5 on Arlington Million day was for the Turk, a flaming failure. I misjudged the fine line between good and firm turf and overvalued domestic runners and undervalued grade 2 European horses. The handicaps were failures but I limited my betting action and the losses were not of the Greek Tragedy variety. i do listen to what I preach; Pick easy targets. 5 turf races filled with unknown quantities is not an easy target.

Today's not much easier, but as a racing fan, I'm compelled to pay attention and I'll take a run at some vertical and horizontal action on Saratoga's signature day, Travers Day. I haven't been to the Spa on a Travers Day since 2007 when Street Sense held off Grasshopper and Hard Spun won his elusive Grade 1. I wait every year to be wildly inspired to see a particular three year old and I'm still waiting.

The late pick four offers an interesting collection of challenges: a turf race, two dirt sprints and then the classic distance dirt. The names of most of the contestants are easily recognized by even casual fans and there isn't any sort of European past performances to deal with. By all accounts the dirt will be fast and the turf firm. I think the weather is a non event. It's always good to eliminate tricky variables. One challenge the past performances offer are the runners exiting the Jim Dandy ran on a fast, sloppy strip. We'll factor that in a bit.

Let's just get after it!

I'm going to let my base handicaps speak for themselves right now. My P4 base handicap is a $135 bet that I won't make: it doesn't offer much value. I'll slim down and single one race, possibly Contested in the Test as well as slip back to only four covered in the Travers, sneaking Steelcase in for value. I'm going to play the individual races hard, focusing on exactas/tri's and possibly Supers. Again, there are much easier targets than Saratoga, especially turf races and classic distance events, but we'll have some fun and try to keep the bet risk reasonable.

The injury/retiree that bothers me more than the three year olds is Winter Memories. I cannot find the words to describe my love for that horse and her loss has left me a bit numb and I'm feeling it badly today as I handicap the Balston Spa. I like Hungry Island, Zagora, Tapitsfly and Summer Soiree very much, imagine a field with Winter Memories too. There I'm doing it, Pity Party. I'm so glad Winter Memories retired and didn't die on the race track. It's going to be a good race still without her.

Whatever your play is, have fun with it. The Turk will be ensconced in his new leather man of the house chair, with HRTV streaming through a Mac Mini and into the TV. I have my laptop going and I am in my glory. I am a better handicapper in my house than at the track. I'm feelin' it today.

Turk Out!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Nomination Is In: The Sky Classic Grade 2 at Woodbine

The dapper gentleman to the left is George W. Strawbridge Jr., owner of Augustin Stable's and Smart Bid, The Turk's chalk in today's Sky Classic at Woodbine.

The Turk and the Little Turk are quite fond of Mr. Strawbridge for many reasons. He is a sportsman of the highest quality, a true horseman, and his support of the Buffalo Sabres, perhaps saving the franchise in its lowest moments will never be forgotten. I'm also a big fan of Campbell's Chicken Gumbo soup, even the low sodium variety.

I went to Church this morning and as I sat in quiet meditation all I could focus on was how poorly I handicapped the Arlington Million Day Pick 5; Horrendous. I have other things going on today but nothing was as important to me than handicapping the Woodbine card and getting my feet back under me. I can live with getting the races wrong, that happens, I just felt like a hack yesterday and this is the equivalent of taking a nice shower.

Woodbine has a better purse structure than Arlington and has a pretty nice turf course to boot. The two tracks have quite a bit in common for me, as the poly plays pretty fair at both and the turf tracks have the most European feel in North America.

Let's get after today's featured race, the Grade 2 Sky Classic, contested at 1 1/4 miles on firm turf.

Woodbine Race 8: The Sky Classic Grade 2: 1 1/4 Miles on Firm Turf for 3 YO and Up.

This is a nice field of 8 runners with a legitimate 4 or 5 potential winners. I'm making my tentative chalk Smart Bid. Hard to believe but this Smart Strike son is now 6 YO. 2 places in 3 starts at the distance, 10 of 15 in the money on turf and 8 of his last 13 in the money. Cutting back 2 panels from his winning effort in late July. All or nothing I fear, ran a solid place in last year's edition.

Hotep is the type of horse that is always in contention. You must always be aware of his presence. 5 YO A.P. Indy son, born in Ontario, with P. Husbands up for Trainer Malcom Pierce who also sends the former Queen's Plate Winner Eye of the Leopard to the gate. Only 1 win in six tries on the turf, no attempts at the distance, he comes in off a sharp Nijinsky Grade 2 loss by a neck.

The former Prince of Wales stakes winner, Pendor Harbor, with Contreras up, is also trying the distance for the first time but has two wins over WO turf and has been running strong this year. Trainer DePaulo has a goose egg in his Graded Stakes tries over past year.

Scalo (GB) is the 2010 German Horse of the Year. He tries North America and gets a shot of Lasix for the first time. First time going LH in nine races and hasn't run on firm turf in some time. I'm covering him from Place down but betting he doesn't take the win spot today (and giving myself good odds to look foolish-gotta love public handicapping).

New Hall of Fame member Roger Attfield places A. Solis up on Forte Dei Marmi (GB). The two are winless in 17 tries over past year and winless in 7 tries at Woodbine. The six year old Selkirk gelding closes like a freight train with a devastating turn of foot. 4 wins in 12 tries at the distance, another feast or famine type.

I feel better already. Have fun friends, Turk Out!

Post Race Analysis of The Arlington Million Pick 5

I dreamed last night that my losing tickets were shredded and used as confetti on my "loser parade". Yeah, I had a bad day. As a handicapper you know it will happen, but it's been some time since I had such a spectacularly bad day.

The Turk has rules, rules I take seriously, but being human I sometimes break my rules. The key rule broken yesterday is to bet easier marks than an all turf, all Stake races, Pick 5 with Past Performances littered with Europeans and the turf less than firm. If there is any analysis to be performed, that is it. I knew these would be hard races but I didn't anticipate how much blood would be shed.

I've been a Little Mike fan for two years now but I would have never picked him to win a Million. As a horse fan, I'm happy for the connections of this Florida bred. It reminds me how these animals have brains and instincts and guts and those intangibles can't be ignored.

My thoughts are with the Live Oak connections today as Zo Impressive was vanned off after the Alabama in Saratoga. This Hard Spun daughter and Grade 1 winner didnt seem comfortable and still had the guts to finish fourth. Hard Spun and Little Mike remind me alot of each other.

Speaking of Hard Spun, his British born daughter, Questing is turning into quite the freak, winning her second Grade 1 on the track her father won the Kings Bishop on in 2007.

Whenever I have a day like yesterday my confidence as a bettor can be shaken. Confidence is a key component in what I do, and when I feel a lack of confidence I find myself betting timidly. I find the best medicine is to just back after it, picking winners and exactas. I'll head to Fort Erie Tuesday night and take in the early evening post times to get the mojo going again.

Not much reason to break these races down too much. I'll follow some of the horses out of these races and see what I can do with them next time out.

2012 Arlington Million Grade 1

2012 Beverly D. Grade 1

2012 Alabama Grade 1

2007 King's Bishop Grade 1

The Turk's red pen will rest today. Even horses get sent to the farm to recover now and then, I think I will retreat to the back 40 for a cigar.

Have Fun, Turk Out!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Nomination Is In: The Arlington Park Late Pick 5 (Races 7-11) on Arlington Million Day

That crew of horseplayers is the Corbin Gang, who hosted one heck of party early this year at Arlington Park to celebrate the graduations of Turk Cousins, Braden and Mac. Horseplaying is a family activity, it brings people together in both glorious success and flaming failure.

The Ol' Turk loves Arlington Park. The plush grass carpet is the finest in North America and , cough, the poly plays fair. On top of that, it's lovely. The architecture was well thought out and the facility is in excellent condition. I worry about Arlington Park though. Stuck in a State where corruption is rampant and special interests and politics can't get out of the way, the purse structure has made this wonderful facility almost irrelevant in the national racing structure. With no disrespect to Race Track Casinos, the advantage these facilities have to attract the best horses running for the most money is overwhelming Arlington Park. I hope sanity will come at some point.

The Turk returns to finish off a horizontal Pick 5. In the process I fleshed out some of my vertical handicaps, particularly the Secretariat and The Beverly D.

These sort of races, with the foreign invaders of various quality tossed in, can be very challenging. My Pick 5 isn't very dynamic and maybe even is a bit chalky, but that's the way I see it unfolding. I wanted to keep the bet to a reasonable size or I have a $32 bet at $1 or $64 at $2. I'm still mulling if I place it or not. W'll see.

Let's get after this!

Vertiformer has scratched out of the St. Leger in favor of the Million. I'm not so sure he didn't scratch out of the wrong race but what do I know. You can find the rest of the Scratches and Changes here. All of these races are on the turf and it's listed as Good. Hmmmm.

I'll be building exotic bets based on my base handicaps. I'll ditch the Pick 5 bet if I reach my determined betting limit. These are high risk, Ok reward bets, requiring quite a bit of skill. There are more variables involved than I'd like so I approach these more as a horse fan than as reclusive whale. As I like to talk about, pick your marks to bet, and there are easier bets than these. For a mixture of challenge, skill and beautiful ascetetics, nothing compares to this today except the Alabama.

Have fun whatever you do. These are the good days of the horse racing year.

Turk Out!

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Nomination Is In: The Arlington Million Grade 1

Hello friends and welcome to the Thorofan Handicapper's Corner, a feature brought to you by the fine folks behind The Thorofan, an organization dedicated to horse racing fans and the racing experience. This is a big weekend of racing and the Thorofan has you covered with Paul Mazur handicapping The Beverly D at Arlington Park and the Sword Dancer and Alabama at Saratoga are being covered respectively by Laurie Ross and The Turf Queen respectively. Good stuff indeed!

I've watched all meet at Arlington for the stars to appear and I realize two issues are at play: A lack of star power horses in general, so fewer to go around, and with the purse funding at Arlington right now, horsemen are just staying away. Surely I thought that would change for Millions Day but I'm not so sure. While as a (thoro)fan I'd rather be getting excited about a star horse, I have a choice as a gambler to either bet this race or find another mark. I'm not here to discuss the quality of the runners or to bemoan the genetics of these equine athletes: I'm here to rank the likelihood of which horses can win, place,show or hit the exotic ticket and my secondary goal is to build a bet that will regard the gamble of my money. When I look at this field I see parity and uncertainty, and those are two key ingredients in big payouts. Let's get after this!

The weather looks like it will be good for Friday and Saturday. The Arlington turf course is world class and I consider it the best turf course in America. The Arlington website will provide you in depth information on the condition of the course and we'll assume the turf will be good to firm but not rock like. The track condition is updated around 12:30 ET over the weekends.

Eleven horses are entered with the 11 post horse Vertiformer cross entered in Saturday's Race 7, the $400,000 St. Leger. I'll assume he's going here for now but I think he's better suited at the shorter distance.

The Turk typically handicaps a race and then builds a bet based on the handicap. The concept that I developed for myself is to build a "base handicap" which is a predictive order of finish regardless of odds. I do this with as little "bias" as possible. I do not look at morning line odds nor do I read handicaps of the race before I build my base handicap. With the base handicap written I can spend the 20 odd minutes or so before a race goes to the starting gate and study the tote board odds looking for value within the base handicap. That strategy works well for me but I often overlook a key early step; After my first read of the Past Performance I earmark what sort of bet may be possible with the race. I've been a handicapper for a long time so this step doesn't take me long. With one quick glance I can pretty much determine if the race has exotic potential or if I'm scratching for even an opinion on the potential winners. Races like the Million or the Breeders' Cup Turf races attract foreign invaders which add a degree of difficulty with making the field apples and apples for comparison purposes. My first read of the Millions' Past Performances is murky; 3 first time lasix runners, 10 previous wins at AP, 19 wins at 10 panels, 3 millionaires, a bunch of sub 110 Racing Post Ratings, and in my mind two potential winners, Boisterous and Treasure Beach (GB). What I also took away from my review is the parity: I'm tossing out from the Top Four only two runners to begin with, Cherokee Lord and Vertiformer. I have given many of the field a B grade which slots them anywhere from Place to 4th. Ugh, The Ol' Turk has his work cut out for him but there are is nothing but potential with this race (The potential to look smart and win money and the potential to look like an fool-As a handicapper, especially one willing to give his selections this far in advance of the race, you have to have thick skin.)

The Arlington Million Grade 1: 1 1/4 Miles on Turf LH

After my full review I increased my toss list to four horses, adding Willcox Inn (3 of 4 at AP) and Crackerjack King (not the Sausage King in Chicago but he is a big deal in Italia). When I think about all the ways I can look dumb in public, none come to mind better than a toss horse winning a race i handicap. It happens, move on.

Adian O'Brien's Treasure Beach is the 4 YO son of Galileo has a win at Arlington but has not fared so well after returning two more times to North America. To me he represents the best of the invaders, a well traveled campaigner making his third effort since 14 July.

is just an honest 5 YO son of Distorted Humor. He'll run his race and it will either be good enough or not. I like the switch to Lezcano and I think he's clearly in the win mix here.

I'm going to build several Exacta's based on my base handicap tied to these two potential winners.

A $2 Exacta (which I won't bet but just to give you some idea of the bet magnitude) of the #2 and #6 Boxed Over #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6 and #8) is a $24 bet. There is a combination in there that makes sense at $24 but do yourself a favor, bet no more than a few selections and hope for the best.

Have fun with this friends; This is still a premiere race, even in a year where the premiere talent may not attended.

Turk Out!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Nomination Is In: The Bob Summers Memorial Cup $30,000 at Fort Erie

The metaphors can't be any starker and more poignant for me: A track I love, Fort Erie, fighting to survive, honoring a man who loved that track and wrote beautifully of it for many years.

It's hard for me to believe that it's been almost two years since this world said goodbye to the Happy Handicapper, Mr. Robert Summers. Bob was a very good handicapper with a keen eye. His writing was professional and his personality as a horse player always shined through. HH was able to translate his observations into the written word in a disarming way. I exchanged emails with Bob from time to time and he was always very pleasant and willing to talk about the races. Bob was one of the great influences in my life as a writer and a handicapper and I miss his byline.

Which brings me back to Fort Erie. The Turk would have loved going to Fort Erie today to watch the races but life (read: work) and duty calls and I must travel. The Turk believes in God and while I don't believe I have any influence with God, I keep looking heavenly for some reprieve for the death sentence that the track has been given due to the short sightedness of Ontario's politicians. Horse players need to understand that Saratoga, Del Mar, Gulfstream and Churchill Downs cannot exist as they exist today without the second tier tracks and the horsepeople that work them. If we stand by and watch tracks close, where and when do we stop shrugging our shoulders? Would you be OK without Arlington? Golden Gate Fields and Hollywood? Aqueduct and Suffolk Downs? Pimlico? It's a slippery slope that doesn't end until the horse racing game that we know now doesn't exist anymore. i seldom link to myself but please follow this link to get the information you'll need to write the decision maker in Ontario and express your support for Fort Erie.

Let's get after this!

Race 11 FE: The Bob Summers Memorial Cup $30K; 6f on Dirt for 3 YOs and Up who....

Claimed from Steve Asmussen and Zayat Stables, 4 YO gelding Jeffery Armin seems to have settled into a consistent grove. 3 straight wins , all at Fort Erie, and stretching back out 1/2 panel, he's been training very sharply. I expect he'll be the post time chalk.

6 YO mare Mountain Echo runs for a strong trainer and has 6 wins in 8 starts over the Fort Erie dirt.

Mia's Miracle is a reach to add some value to the triactor. This paceless field is offset by the 4 Yo gelded son of Orientate's ability to come off pace late. There should be lots of speed to aim at.

Molinaro Warrior is 5 for 5 in the money at Fort Erie, 10 of 17 in the money at the distance, and 8 of 8 in the money over fast dirt. Trainer Armata clips along at FE at 38% and is a 28% winner here coupled with Dacosta, up.

Big Brother Joe will need to shuffle out of the gate but he's another strong local runner, 15 of 17 in the money at Fort Erie and 12 of 17 in the money over fast dirt.

I think the top two are a few lengths better than the others on paper. That said, its run over dirt and there is alot of comparable speed in this race and it could come down to trip. The track was very muddy on Sunday but it will dry quickly Monday in the heat and breeze.

I'm building exactors and triactors- $0.20 Superfectas are also in fashion at this wonderful jewel of a track.

Enjoy friends, Turk Out!