Thursday, November 24, 2016
The Nomination Is In: The Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs
Happy Thanksgiving and Welcome to The Turk and the Little Turk. I'd like to thank the good people at The Thorofan for allowing me to share the musings of an old school handicapper with you today. I've been blogging the Clark Handicap for many years and I'm reusing a post of mine from 5 years ago, 2011. I figure if the Zayatt's can reuse a runner from that day, Prayers for Relief, I could reuse this as well.
Before I go too far, I am thankful for the economic means that allows me to raise my family; I thank my employer. I thank my loving family. I cherish my friends, even though the introvert that I am doesn't make me a very social friend. I thank my pets. I of course, thank my God.
Baseball fans get all misty eyed talking about Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, and as a hockey fan, I was saddened to see our Buffalo Memorial Auditorium condemned and knocked down in the name of luxury suites and more concessions. There is something special about these old places; places you shared highs and lows with, maybe with your father, your friends, your girlfriend, now your wife, your children.
Fenway and Wrigley were built in 1911 and 1914 respectively. Churchill Downs has existed since 1875, with the iconic twin spires going up in 1895. The driving force behind the creation of the track was Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, grandson of the famous American explorer, General William Clark of the William and Clark expedition of 1804-1806, the first transcontinental expedition of the United States, and whose mother was from one of Kentucky's first and leading families, the Churchill's.
At the age of 29, Meriwether Clark saw the first edition of this race run. As in all things in life, you don't really own something unless you really own it, and his mother's two brothers left the land to others after their death and Meriwether found himself as nothing more than a race steward by 1897. Already hurt deeply by poor financial investments, and followed by the loss of the track, Meriwether committed suicide in 1899 at the age of 53 years old. One can't help but think he stands along the rail along with all the other horse players we've said goodbye to over the years, players like Shawn Murphy, Rose Rizzo and Tiznow Reynolds. Our dead horse players watch these equine heroes run over the same route of dirt in South of Louisville like they been doing for the past 141 years.
I love old racetracks. I stare out at the track and I see and hear the ghosts of races past thundering up the stretch. The Clark Handicap is a tradition of mine, a wonderful post Thanksgiving Day event that I look forward too, an echo of the season that has essentially concluded, a harbinger of the coming winter, and a hint of handicap division to come once the sun returns.
Let's get after this!
I'm leaning towards Noble Bird being my fairly tepid Chalk. 3 of 4 in the money at Churchill Downs, 3 wins in 6 starts at the distance, a trainer-jock combo clipping along at a 29% win rate at CD, this on the lead runner has my nod and we'll see if he can hold what should be his lead at the top of the stretch.
Here's Noble Bird winning the G2 Hagyand Fayette at KEE in late October setting a track record in the process.
I sure like Gun Runner an awful lot, just another great son of Candy Ride (Arg). He won the G3 Matt Wynn here in June, his first back off Show in the Kentucky Derby. I'm not a big fan of first race back off Breeders' Cup efforts but I like the horse alot, he likes this track and he's 9 of 9 in the money on fast dirt.
Hopportunity is no stranger to the race and he's coming in off an outclassed Breeders' Cup Classic. I think you have to respect Baffert bringing him here as well as his Jockey Club Gold Cup G1 win in early October. He'll be coming late, which the Belmont stretch played well to his strength, and he should have enough speed in front of him to make a late move.
Shaman Ghost, the Ontario bred 4 YO, has been on the shelf since winning at 9-1 in The Woodward G1. first start at CD, 4 wins in 8 starts on fast dirt, 1 win at the distance in 1 try, 6 wins in 12 lifetime starts.
Do I have last year's winner, Effinex, too low? he came off a stalking trip in last year's edition and if he's in that spot again this year of course he'll be dangerous. I'm covering him in multiple spots.
The last horse I'm going to consider is a bit of a wildcard, Roger Attfield's Are You Kidding Me. No wins in two dirt starts, winless in only attempt at CD, the modestly bred 6 YO has a combined 29 turf and fake dirt starts, mostly at Woodbine, and he is running very well but this seems like a very odd placing for him. I like him showing up in the ticket, as I suspect he will be on the lead and dropping like a stone near the wire. Here he is at Churchill Downs running a flat effort in the Stephen Foster Handicap.
So what to do with all this? First of all, I love the big field of handicap division warriors. This race would be an example of what I describe to people as to why I love horse racing. I love the stories, I love seeing a 44 start 6 YO still doing what he does. Everyone loves the triple crown races, but this level of Grade 1 action is what does it for me. I'm tossing at my own peril Breaking Lucky, Mr. Z, Prayers for Relief and Hawaakom. Murphy's Law: One of them will screw us up.
I'm really torn, and while a horse racing fan can be torn, a bettor cannot be. My base bet (below) isn't even worth me pricing out as I'm never going to make such an investment in a wide open race.
After mulling about a $69 bet $1 Super and a $50 bet $2 Exacta I settled on $1 Tri bet for $20 which I would be OK with taking to $2/$40. The bet forces me to single Noble Bird and put the rest of my survivor pool under him. Regardless of the horse I single, the bet construction will be what I settle on. What do I mean by that? I'm not sold on Noble Bird and I'm not sure if he's going to get smaller or bigger than 4-1, so if Gun Runner down to 8-1, perhaps I flip flop Noble Bird and Gun Runner.
Watch the tote and only invest what you are prepared to lose. My exotic hit rate on Tri's has been hovering around 25% but my IRR is positive, albeit slightly. That's over many years. I have had stretches where it is mind numbing horrible and also savant like fantastic. Welcome to horse racing!
To bet or not to bet? When you sit down with a card, certain races will pop out to you, after you have invested the time and effort to develop the craft, that are much easier marks than this race. As a horse player, why bet a hard race when you can take advantage of a no brainer race on the same card or a different track. Don't fall into the trap of betting every race but if you handicap, take the time to build out your bets, review what coulda shoulda woulda when its over, and be honest with yourself.
Have fun with this friends. Happy Turk(ey) Day. Turk(s) out!