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!

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Nomination Is In: The Commonwealth Turf at Churchill Downs

Welcome friends to The Turk and the Little Turk blog.  I'd like to begin by wishing the many horse players I know who served in our Military a Happy Veteran's Day. I myself am I veteran of the first Gulf War and a proud former submariner.

My nickname, The Turk, was a common nickname given to the best handicapper in a military man's unit.  Those nicknames stuck with the person, and I have read several obituaries over time of former "Turk's" who served our country proudly and just enjoyed the peace and quiet of the track the rest of their days.  This has been a tumultuous week in our Country, and this Blog is not being political, just expressing the sincere hope that average American's can embrace the differences of opinion and come together to grow jobs and be respectful of the personal choices we all make.

Today's blog is written for The Thorofan's Handicapper's Corner.  Today's target is a very nice 11 horse, 3 YO turf Grade 3, the Commonwealth Turf, at Churchill Downs.  I avoid 3 YO Turf racing like the plague until late in the year as it allows some historical perspective to develop on the past performances.  You typically get a funny mixture of direct to turf runners, modestly bred animals, triple crown trail rejects coming off the dirt, and future turf stars.  Today is no different and the field is both challenging and lacks  and heavy duty chalk which should make for an exciting race with money to be made.

Let's get after it!

Check the track conditions always when preparing your handicaps.  You can find Churchill Down's conditions here.  The weather does not appear to be an issue, with only a 10% chance of rain today and tomorrow.  Expect the turf to be firm.

Let's start with the base handicap and then develop some bet strategies off of that.  My two readers can tell you that sometimes my base handicap is pretty straightforward and I can bet directly from it, or I'll deviate.  With 11 horses, I have them in stratified layers of class and ability, and the bet construction has to take some educated risks and place a few high prices more forward or we might as well bet the tote board order.  33% of chalks win, a metric that has been very consistent for decades.  With big fields, you can get carried away with covering multiple horses Win, Place Show and the bets can get very expensive.  Avoid that trap and only bet what you are willing to lose.  This is not batting average:  Don't worry so much about picking winners that you are afraid to take a chance on putting a 15-1 in the Place Spot.  Public handicapping like this was very hard for me for a long time because, lets face it, no one likes to look stupid.  With that fear I found the handicaps I blogged lagged severely in ROI that the ones I didn't blog.  It was a horrifying prospect.  I had to get past the idea I was going to get a part of the prize, even a minor part, on every bet, and instead focus my handicap on identifying who should finish, and in what order, if the race was raced on paper, and the bet construction takes that base handicap and makes the best educated guesses possible to maximize the risk-reward relationship.  I'm OK with winning 3 out of 10 if those three cover the seven losses and makes me 15% on my money.  That is not always what unfolds but it's what I am always aiming for. Have something you aim for, your betting capital should be treated with deep respect.

Ok Turk, stop rambling and get on with it.  Ok ok...

I have Canadian bred (A shout out to my neighbors to the North courtesy of the Hip) Sir Dudley Digges in my win spot, light-ish chalk I may add.  5 pf 6 in the money on turf, he should handle the firm turf OK and he should like the distance.  He's with a serious group of connections, with The Ramsey's as owners, Trainer Michael Maker and J. Leparoux, up.  He's got class, he's got experience, he's been training over Churchill turf since late September.  I'm covering him in Win and Place on most of my tickets.

Tizarunner is a big stretch for me, both in the base handicap and the bet.  The A--- means he's really a B, but I see a horse who last time out set a 90 Beyer over a firm 1 1/8 miles at KEE winning with a nice late turn of foot. 4 of 5 in the money, a high price at the March 2015 OBS sale of $325,000, classy Tizway son may just be a late bloomer.  Trainer Casse is 17% winner over the turf and I think I'm going to like his price at >6-1 for the Place and Show spots.

Bondurant  is a War Front making just his sixth start, all over grass.  He's never gone past 1 mile and he's taking a big step up in conditions.  I may have him too high and will cover Show/Exotic only.

One Mean Man carries the race high weight of 123 pounds and I may have this modestly bred Mizzen Mast son too low.  He had an OK, somewhat slow summer over grass, with some success at Arlington and CD.  Making Dirt/Turf swap, something Trainer Flint wins 12% of the time.  5 wins in 12 turf starts, 9 of 123 in the money over turf, no wins at the distance and 1 in in two CD starts.  Win isn't unreasonable, Place and Show very possible.

Surgical Strike had moderate success this summer after coming off some nice Spring runs at Turfway and Arlington.  Similar Beyer as many of the runners here, 80-84 with one 90+.  Place/Show/Exotic possible.

Scholar Athlete is a son of a Turk favorite, Einstein (Brz).  This video, the Arlington Million from 2009, has no relevance other than to watch Sir Dudley Digges sire, Gio Ponti sweep to victory over, among others, Einstein.  Scholar Athlete is another Ontario bred, trained by Graham Motion who takes the blinkers off, an angle  he's won 22% on 9 tries. This horse gives way late fairly regulatory.  No better than Place or Exotic, but he has talent.

Finally from the group of horses that will make up my bet selection, Black Out (Fr).  A third Casse entry.  4 wins in 9 turf starts and a field best 92 Beyer.  Ran an exceptional N1X $77K ALW at Belmont over good turf at 1 mile in mid October, his second North America start.  Something makes me wonder that I should have flip flopped Tizarunner and Black Out (Fr) as i get the feeling he's live and Casse is looking for an under the radar score.  I'll be covering in Win down.

I tossed the 1,9,11 and 4 at my own peril.

So what do we have?  We have a pretty level playing field without much separating these runners. Class is my tie breaker: Sir Dudley Digges, Bondurant, Tizarunner, and Scholar Athlete bring the class and I'll hang my hat on them.

a $1 Trifecta Bet costing $46 might look like this:

2-3 OVER 2-3-5-7-8-10 OVER 3-5-6-7-8-10

That may be too pricey and you may not like the risk-reward.  I don't blame you and you can try something with a bit more risk but more reward.

A $2 Exacta for $36 may look like this:

2-10-3 OVER 2-10-3-8-7-5-6

and for $18

2-3-10 over 2-3-10-7-8

These are fun races to bet and I would expect the payouts will be handsome.  Enjoy!

Turk Out.