Friday, May 26, 2017

The Nomination Is In: The Arlington Classic G3

Millions Day 2016
The Turk loves Arlington.  My first time at the track was a bit unconventional;  July 31, 1985,  the day the old track burned to the ground.

I was in the US Navy at the time, stationed at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, as an E-3 in Machinist Mate A School.   One normal school night, I was told to grab my gear and get on a truck to go help with a large fire.  I spent about 8 hours doing odds and ends in support of the firefighters and the first responders.

The Turk hadn't quite become The Turk at that point, that didn't happen until the following summer of 1986 that I spent at Saratoga Springs, but I was a race fan and was saddened by what I saw that day.  If it wasn't for the fire it's doubtful we would have the beautiful facility we have now, so if there was a silver lining, it's that.  Now if the State of Illinois can get out of their own way and allow horse racing to grow again.

The Turk thinks the Arlington turf course is the best in the United States and doesn't even mind the fake dirt.  He only wishes they could attract better fields with bigger purses.  I was at the Millions last year, and given the choice between an outrageously priced Travers Stakes Day at Saratoga and The Millions, I'll take Chicago any day.

Turf handicapping is my first love.  It doesn't mean I have my best ROI with it, but I love the tactics of the turf racing and a late turn of foot over a route of grass excites me more than the dirt.  Today's handicap is the Arlington Classic, a Grade 3 run at 1 1/16 miles.  Expect the track to be listed as something better than Yielding, but that's just a guess and take a look as race time approaches.  The weather in Arlington Heights appears to be rather crappy tonight but a bit dryer tomorrow.

Anyways. let's get after this!

Trainer Brian Cox has Cowboy Culture, a 3 YO Quality Road baby out of English Willow.  A 90 Beyer over turf is the race high, set a a 1 Mile distance two races back. Cox is 32% off 31-60 day layoff and 33% in 317 starts over turf, while he and Bridgmohan, up, are 27% together.  Training sharply over CD turf.

Fast and Accurate was eased at the Kentucky Derby three weeks back.  The G3 Spiral Stakes winner looks primed for turf sucess but I don't think I like him to win quite yet until he's done it a bit more.  He's close and I'm covering him in Win Spot.

Giant Payday is 3 of 4 in the money over Turf but 0 of 4 in 2017 and 1 win lifetime in 8 starts.  maybe on the lead and setting early pace but I expect a gradual fade to Place thru Exotic.

Parlor is also 3 of 4 in turf starts and returns to the turf 3 weeks after last effort over grass at CD.  Might really surprise for Eddie Kenneally.

Gorgeous Kitten and Sakonnet offer wild card value for me in Place thru Exotic, with expected finishes no higher than Show. Michael Maker trains Gorgeous Kitten for owner/breeders The Ramsey's and this colt could easily crack the Top 3.  Sakonnet is not as high end as Gorgeous Kitten but the maiden will be game.

I'm looking for a bit of low priced fun:  $0.10 Super of 6-8 OVER 6-7-8-9 OVER 3-4-7-8-9 OVER 3-4-7-8-9 for $6 bucks.

Have fun with it friends, Turk Out!

The Nomination Is In: The Santa Anita Gold Cup

Midnight Storm: Photo by Benoit

Welcome friends to The Turk and the Little Turk blog. I'd like to thank The Thorofan and the Handicappers Corner for allowing me an opportunity to share my thoughts with you.  To those of you unaware, Thorofan is a national organization created specifically to serve the horse racing fan.  If you are looking for other like minded racing fans, look no further than The Thorofan.

The Turk cashed zippo tickets on the past two Triple Crown races.  I could tell you how close I was to winning and winning big, but that's loser talk.  My handicapping of some of the longer shots was a bit off but my bet construction was dead on.  I built bets with favorites and long shots interspersed in the Superfecta.  You won't hit all your bets, but that doesn't mean your process was wrong.  Have a plan and follow a plan.  Consistency in betting is the key to breaking even and scratching out positive ROI.  Everything is against you as a horseplayer:  Be honest with yourself, study your ROI, understand the impact of takeout, and treat your betting capital like the precious commodity it is.

The Turk likes the handicap division* because he loves to see the large amount of data in the Past Performances.  The asterisk is that the handicap division is a watered down shell of what it was a decade ago.  The best are off to the breeder's shed and there are just fewer horses overall.  The purpose of this blog isn't to give cutting edge commentary on the state of the sport, its to handicap and build bets on who is racing, so while I may miss the days of past, it doesn't change what I do overall.

Let's get after this!

The Turk has been a big Santa Anita player, especially since the return to dirt, but even I have been a bit soured by field sizes and consistency over this Winters Meet.  I was happy to see the news that Mr. Stronach was sending his fixer, Tim Ritvo to Santa Anita to fix this horse racing gem.

Today's race, the Santa Anita Gold Cup, is a Grade 1 with 9 runners over the dirt at the classic distance of 1 1/4 Miles.  There are 12 starts in this field at that distance and one win.   Let's take a look at a few of the competitors.

The Californian Grade 2 (April 22) ;  A five horse field at  1 1/8 Miles

The Tokyo City Grade 3 (2 April);  a six horse field at 1 1/2 Miles

Not a prep but San Pasquale Grade 2 at 1 1/16 (January 1 2017)

Santa Anita Handicap G1 (March 11) 1 1/4 Miles

Alysheba Stakes Grade 2 at CD 5 May 2017  at 1 1/16 Miles

Oaklawn Handicap Grade 2 at Oaklawn (15 April 2017)

not a prep but Cupid's last good start West Virginia Derby Grade 2 (6 August 2016)

Takeaways:  Small fields and a lot of off tracks this Winter!  The only horse making a start off a win is Hard Aces, who won the marathon distance Tokyo City over Big John B by a neck.  Hard Aces and Big John B collectively have 82 starts.  Journeymen, not stars, fill the cards in the handicap division. I digress.

By all measures, Midnight Storm at six years old is the class of the group.  He'll be on the lead with Cupid and perhaps American Freedom.  I think those two will both crack and fade.  It may set up one of the many one run horses who will be coming hard at the pace.

Accelerate has been training well at Santa Anita although he doesn't win much lately.   No wins in 3 2017 starts, no wins in six starts at Santa Anita.  I like him in the top three, perhaps Place.

A Quality Road 5 year old, Follow Me Crev, is in the same group as Accelerate.  He'll make one run and it just depends on early pace and if Midnight Storm can finish or not. He's also training well at Santa Anita but his barn hasn't won a graded stakes in sometime.  Place or Show.

Cupid is the class of the race, a $900,000  2014 Keeneland purchase, who had a nice run in 2016 with minor Derby's before cracking in the PA Derby in September, and he's been on the shelf since.  A bit slow but he has won at Santa Anita and his trainer Baffert placed him here, with a track record over the past year of 28% winners on 180+ layoffs.  I'm not sold on the Top Four for without more work to show me.  Cover/not Cover: It's the biggest decision you will make at the windows.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this yet.  If forced for early thoughts I'll single Midnight Storm and have a group of horses including Follow Me Crev, Accelerate and Cupid in Place and Show with American Freedom and Big John B in the Exotic spot.  I'm not sure about the value of the bet until I see the tote board and ultimately may just pass on betting depending on scratches.

Have fun with it friends, Turk Out!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Nomination Is In: The 142nd Preakness Stakes

Welcome friends to the Turk and the Little Turk Blog. While most of my hardcore, degenerate readers know my story, I'll quickly tell you about me and this blog for the 3 times per year readers on the Triple Crown Days.  I'm a 50 something numbers geek, with limited social skills, no friends and I live with three cats, a big dog, a Korean (AKA Little Turk) and my wife of 25 years. I fixate on two very distinct things:  Who can win (the Base Handicap) and Value Betting.  I like exotics and Multi Race Pick 3-4-5's.  That's all you really need to know!

This edition of The Preakness is the sort of race that makes me work both sides of the coin very hard.  I have a base handicap that tells me Always Dreaming and Classic Empire are clearly better than the other horses by most measures: Class, top speed, off track speed, fast dirt track win percentage.  That said, ehh, I'm not that excited to bet a 4-5 Boxed Exacta.  It just doesn't do it for me and my desire to find value.  Let's take a look instead at the base handicap and see if we can construct a bet strategy that is reasonably priced and offers real value if the ticket scores.  Let's get after it!

I've tossed from consideration three horses.  It's important to understand that I'm not saying these horses will finish last.  I'm saying you can't cover every runner, or I should say you can, but the tickets would be very pricey.  For example, a 7 horse tri-box will cost $420 for a 42 bet.  That's just  a very bad bet.  Alternatively, a $2 Tri with a single horse on top and 3 horses covered in Place and Show  will set you back $12.  I'm not your mother, but betting irresponsibly isn't going to increase your chances of winning.  There is nothing cool about the magic trick of turning a $350 bet into $190 of winnings.  

I'm generally of the opinion that Always Dreaming will win this race.   I think the fun thing is who finishes 2-5.  I've been handicapping the better part of 30 years and I'll tell you honestly and with no shame: I dunno!  This is a pretty even field of even quality and quite a few one run horses that if they get loose could either nip the wire or just be going forward while others are dropping. Looking at Lee, Gunnevera, Hence, Senior Investment, Cloud Computing and Multiplier will most likely make one big run at the top of the stretch.  Conquest Mo Money, Always Dreaming and Classic Empire should be on the pace.

So, I tossed three horses like I started to say before I rambled off into a tangent.  Multiplier is the one I'm concerned about, but again, you can't cover everyone.  I intend to build a series of exotic bets, mostly centered (but not all) around Always Dreaming singled with the rest of this six horses in some combination of finish.  Sorry to disappoint, but I have no "wiseguy" insights to offer with this group.  My strong suggestion is to watch the track today and see how the speed is carrying.  More likely than not Always Dreaming will have no problem carrying speed if his trip is fairly clean.  I sorta like an Always Dreaming OVER 6 OVER 6 for $60 but that isn't very value so I have to get to a 1 X 3 X 3 and it's just going to be some combination, and if forced to choose:  Always Dreaming 4 OVER 3-9-6 OVER 3-9-6 (Hence, Looking at Lee, Gunnevera).  

I'm most likely not settling on my bets until the post parade.  Whatever you do, have fun and don't bet the mortgage or the kid's school tuition.

Turk Out!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Nomination Is In: The Kentucky Derby G1 plus Video Review of Prep Races

Classic Empire: Photo by Rick Samuels with appreciation for its use

Welcome friends to The Turk and the Little Turk blog.

Kentucky Derby is such a big, fun, and inclusive day on the race calendar.  Friends and family that never talk horse racing suddenly stop their lives each first Saturday in May for a chance at picking the winner in the fastest two minutes in sports.  Little do they realize how many other great racing days their are in the calendar year, but I don't blame them: The sport is not really run by anyone.  In my own home stake, political appointed hacks make most of the decisions.  The sport is at the mercy of track owners who only care about their small slice of life, the mostly 1% 'ers who own the horses for their own reasons, and that leaves the fans a sport that is poorly promoted, contracted and not grown, and feel good moments squandered. If your looking for answers, you are reading the wrong blog!  This horse racing fan has no magic dust or great ideas other than to repeat over and over again that a single central body should be in charge and make decisions for the best of the sport.

For my readers, you know how little I pay attention to three year old prep races.  To me, it creates an opportunity that comes with some downside.  The opportunity is I am free of the hype.  I didn't even watch the Breeders' Cup Juvenile race that closely, as I dislike 2 YO racing more than I like 3 YO racing.  The names mean almost nothing to me.  When I sat down with the DRF Formulator Past Performances (which I set up to grey out horses not within 1 length of the lead at first call and times given in fractions at the different calls) I had a true beginners min in Zen terms.

Twenty horses: sensory overload.  I miss the days when these Triple Crown babies had 10+ starts by this time.  The more ink the better.  The downside of my stance is you can miss stuff when you pay no attention to media reports.  Little things, important things, like Girvin's quarter crack issues.  So, one qualifier on my position is I will try to read clocker reports (I won't pay for the service even though the best ones are at a premium and deserve to be paid), I'll pay attention to some serious horse player twitter feeds, and I'll avoid Bloodhorse, DRF and ESPN fluff pieces about the connections, a sick kid, etc. etc. etc.  I love sick kids, would give anything to help them, but I'm a sucker for sentimental things like that and sentimentality and handicapping should never mix.

Anyway's, I don't plan on rambling too much today.  I'll get 1000X my normal hits today and all anyone wants to see is if this idiot has the same picks as they do.  Let's start with watching all the major prep races just to get a feel.  The track is expected to be sloppy and the weather not very good. My base handicap downplays the track conditions a bit but its a wildcard.

Arkansas Derby

Florida Derby

UAE Derby

Spiral Stakes

Wood Memorial

Louisiana Derby

Sunland Derby

Bluegrass Stakes

Another thing this handicapper does his best to avoid until he makes his own decisions are Morning Lines.  It's just another handicappers bias.  When you handicap as much as I do, you start to gain an appreciation for the people you think are really good, and the people you wonder what game are they watching.  Out of respect, I don't talk about the good or the bad ones.  The overriding point is make your own morning line based on your own handicapping.  Use the toteboard as a way to see what the betting public thinks.  On a day like today, a lot of dumb money plays the track.  Be smart, place your bets near post time, watch the moves on the tote after the post parade, and be smart:  Why chase favorites on a Win bet, or worse, a Show bet (that was for you Mother Turk).

I cam away picking a group of horses that I will be playing in the Super High Five, my favorite handicapper challenge.  I have 10 horses who have a shot at the Top 5 spots.  If you boxed 10 horses for the Super Hi-Five it would cost for a $2 bet more money than most luxury SUVs.  You have to build a matrix and hope for the best.  Someone outside of this top 10 will screw up the works, but again, that's why its called gambling.

In layers I like Classic Empire, Hence and Irap   followed by Always Dreaming and McCraken, followed by Sonneteer, Irish War Cry, Gormley, Thundersnow and Girvin.

In my expected to screw me up group are the C+ horses led by Gunnevera, Practical Joke and Patch.

I won't bore you too much with the why's and why not's, just a few thoughts:

  • Pioneerof the Nile's son, Classic Empire, was a beast in my favorite prep, the Arkansas Derby.  Trainer Mark Casse has been building towards the pinnacle of racing for sometime. Not sure I like Leparoux up but I'll defer to smarter minds. 
  • I love how the O'Neill/Reddam team were flat at Sunland Derby and came right back in the Blue Grass, so much more relevant again on dirt.  Irap, a Tiznow son, could surprise.  
  • Calumet Farms is finally relevant again.  I wish they still had the devil red silks, but you can't have everything.  I loved Hence at the Sunland Derby and I like him here.
  • Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming is a serious contender.  Don't take my positioning the wrong way.  He could easily win, but I'm contrarian by nature. 
  • Sonneteer is a long shot I like to be moving forward at the 1/8 pole instead of backwards.  He may bring some real value in 5th or 4th spot.  
  • Gunnevera will eat a lot of dirt in his face today with his running style.  My making a gamble that he doesn't have the will to finish strong by the end but the downside risk he makes the top 5.  
There's 20 horses; You can't pick everyone in your exotics, you can't cover and box the field, well you can, it just wouldn't be reasonably financially.  Have fun picking horses.  Just like we say at our Catholic Church, we hope you enjoy it enough to come more than Christmas and Easter, and I hope to see you reading the Turk more often than Derby Day.  

So what is the Turk going to do?  

Have fun
Bet responsibly

I'm going to bet the Pick 3 (Race 10-11-12).  If your new to the sport, these multi-race bets are a fun way to enjoy the track experience and quite frankly you can be pretty successful even as a novice if you cover the favorites and throw a value horse in as well.  Don't waste too much money chasing the big exotics like a Super Hi-5.  The Trifecta and Exacta bets will pay well, especially if a value horse sneaks in .  

If I was betting, here is two versions of a Super High 5 and  Exacta bet.  I'm partial to the $48 exacta and the $134 Super High Five (a power ball ticket with a much smaller pot). 

Turk Out!

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Nomination Is In: The Louisiana Derby

Girvin: Amanda Hodges Weir/Weir Photography
Welcome friends to The Turk and the Little Turk, a horse racing blog that has been blissfully bringing handicapping thoughts to a group of hardcore readers since 2008.  I'd like to thank the good people of The Thorofan for allowing me the opportunity today to handicap The Louisiana Derby, a 1 1/8 mile prep race for the Kentucky Derby.

That good looking fella to the left is Girvin, winner of the Grade 2 Risen Star in late February at this racetrack, Fair Grounds.  To my long time readers, you'll know that The Turk doesn't really care at all about two year old racing, and I don't really spend much time thinking about these horses on the Derby trail, like the seven in this field of nine that are Triple Crown eligible.  Am I a  curmudgeon or some anti-social horse racing purist?  Not at all, I'm just a guy who likes a Past Performance sheet to be filled with data, data from 10+ career starts after the age of 3.  I like history, I like video, I'm not that partial to talking about things that I have no clue about, like pedigree analysis.  I also don't care for horse racing journalism about the horses.  Again, nothing against the good writers, but I get sucked into the feel good stories, the underdog stories, the can't miss stories, and that bias throws me off as a handicapper.  This is my Sudoku, my game of Chess, and I try to keep the bias out and the data heavy.

So, where do I start when looking at a Derby prep race?  The same place I always start, with the weather and the track condition and tote board.  Things can change rapidly with the weather here but it appears Friday and Saturday will be mostly rain free and for now we will assume a fast dirt route.

Let's also take a look at last year's LA Derby G2 and Gun Runner.

And this year's Risen Star at 1 1/16 on fast dirt with Local Hero/3, Guest Suite/6, Sorry Erik/7 and Girvin/8 returning in this match.

Trainer Joe Sharp and Brian Hernandez, up, look like they have prepared a very professional Girvin. I also liked Guest Suite who didn't have a great trip but was really coming late wide and I would expect more of the same from Local Hero, lots of speed, but can he carry it? Sorry Erik should be a non factor.

Let's get it on!

When I look at the scant past performance data on Girvin and Guest Suite (9 races between them: 5 wins, 1 place and 2 Shows) I see the Class of the race.  Monaco, a $1.3 Million dollar Uncle Mo purchase at the Spring 2016 sale is very lightly raced, works rather consistently, but hasn't done anything yet, while $0.5 Million dollar purchase Local Hero has enough speed that he will be a factor in his races. Money doesn't buy you happiness or race results, just promise.  It's still very early in the development of these race horses, but The Turk likes horses that have done it before, not just thinking about doing it.

Girvin has been on the shelf and training at Fair Grounds since winning the Risen Star and gamely coming up just short in a 1 Mile Turf race at Fair Grounds in early February.  He appears to have been genetically born to rate.  I could ramble some more but just watch the Risen Star video above, you'll see a nice late turn afoot and a confident ride by Hernandez.  I've always liked the second/third tier Jock Hernandez, the 2004 apprentice jockey of the year.  Maybe his career goes a bit more high profile if he doesn't lose the Rachel Alexandra mount to Calvin Borel.  

Being contrarian in nature, I like Guest Suite in the win spot.  The gelded son of Turk favorite Quality Road, he trains fast, his Beyer's are increasing, and with the extra distance he may be able to collar Girvin.

Patch, a very lightly raced Calumet Farms runner for Todd Pletcher, comes in off a fast one turn affair.  Local Hero, a fast Hard Spun/Liam's Dream creation, will be near the front and the only real question for me is how far does he carry and can he hold on for a minor prize.

Rounding out my contenders for Show and Exotic are Senior Investment and Hollywood Handsome. Senior Investment is a bit slow but rating really well and will be coming late.  Minor prize possible.  Hollywood Handsome has been training very sharply at Fair Grounds and also has shown a late turn of foot.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this yet.  I think I'll be looking at something like:

a $2 Trifecta of 6/8 OVER 6/8 OVER 1/3/4/2 would cost $16.

Whatever you do, have fun with it and bet responsibly.

Turk out!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Nomination is In: The Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park

Welcome Friends to The Turk and the Little Turk blog, a service to the horse racing community that neither needs nor asked for it.  I'd like to thank the good people at The Thorofan Handicapper's Corner for allowing me to share my thoughts on the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap with you today.

Instead of focusing on the lack of quality in the handicap division, I'd like to stay positive and thank Oaklawn for trying to grow the sport by increasing the purse in this year's 58th edition of this race to $500,000, up from $350,000.  The idea, even if the current quality isn't there, is to build towards Oaklawn Derby/Arkansas Derby Day in purses and rivalries.

The race was advanced a month as well to better position it as a handicap division pathway.  Oaklawn General Manager Eric Jackson explained  "...We've been so pleased with the way the Southwest Stakes has come up in recent years, we decided to build on that in the older divisions," Jackson said. "Until you get there and do it, you don't really know how it's going to work out, but it certainly looks excellent on paper at this point" (Perkins).  
Oaklawn to me is the place that I think gives the truest test of Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown contenders, recent history aside.  I love the way the track plays, wet or dry, and the locals give the invaders all they can handle.  
Up and coming trainer Ron Moquett echoed what we all know in this game, you need the purses to attract the horses (Arlington Park are you listening?).  Moquett said, "...the purses here make for very competitive races," he said. "For the horsemen, it's not easy to win here, but for the fans, look who they get to see here every year. I mean, it's not an accident that Curlin and Rachel Alexandra and Afleet Alex and Summer Bird and Lawyer Ron and Zenyatta and American Pharoah and all these guys come here. They come here because we have the equivalent of Wrigley Field in our backyard. It's just a classic place to watch horse racing" (Perkins).
Anyway, let's get it on!

Again, the division is weak and it shows in these fields.  That said, rain may be the great equalizer. The weather looks like it will be very wet come race time.  It's questionable if Gun Runner, easily the classiest and most accomplished horse in this race, would even run in the slop.  Winchell Thoroughbreds  Manager David Fiske said  if the rains do come that   "There would be some discussion as to scratching him, for sure," Fiske said should the Oaklawn track come up wet for the Razorback. "But...he has to start somewhere. It may come down to that. So we'll see" (Hughes.) Keep your eye on track conditions as well as scratches and changes.  

Gun Runner fired off a :59 4/5ths 5f over the Hot Springs track this week and is showing no signs of his long layoff or his quarantine at Fair Grounds.  Four straight 100+ Beyers, 10 of 12 in the money lifetime, the Candy Ride's only two outings out of the money? Off tracks.  

If the slop does come, I like Blue Tone, shipping in from California.  Trainer Hess has been looking to get the 8 YO gelded Birdstone going since a Grade 3 win in early January at Santa Anita, saying "... I've been watching all the preps and all the horses, Obviously, we were hoping Gun Runner would pass, but we're ready to go. We've been eyeballing races all over, New Orleans, Florida, New York, and Oaklawn as well, for quite a while" (Hughes.)  Hess as well noted the purse as a factor in him coming back to Arkansas.  Hess said he decided on the Razorback because there was nothing for Blue Tone in California and the race is worth a record $500,000 this year, a hefty $150,000 bump from 2016 (Hoyt.) 

Domain's Rap, a 9 year old with 61 career starts, has never gone into 3 digit Beyers, and has only earned $10,300 per race (compared to Gun Runner's $170,000 and $22,400 for Blue Tone) is in my top four for his tenacity at Oaklawn, with 7 starts ending with 5 Wins and a Place.  His current form appears sharp and I project he may be fading at the wire but has more to offer than most of the field.  

I tossed Chief of Staff and D. Wayne Lukas's Goats Town, the son of his late career runner, Dublin.  I just can't strain my brain enough to make a case for either who are collectively 0 of 13 starts at the distance and 0 of 8  at OP and have 5 wins between them in 36 starts.  

Which leads me to my pick em' group of runners: Hawaakom, Smack Smack and Dazzling Gem. Hawaakom is coming in off a slop win at 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds where he put up a 98 Beyer.  7 wins in 16 starts at the distance. Smack Smack  is 0 of 6 at OP, 0 of 4 in the slop.  I'll figure out where to slot him based on track conditions.  Dazzling Gem should be better than he is.  Well bred, classy, the 4 YO son of Misremembered out of Dazzler (Vindication) has 3 wins in 9 starts, a 97 best Beyer over the slop, 4 of 5 in the money at the distance and 2 OP wins in 3 starts.  When looking for value, look here.

So what am I thinking:  If the track is not a complete swamp and Gun Runner doesn't scratch I'll stick most likely by my base handicap.  

If it is sealed or very sloppy, and Gun Runner goes, I don't single him but instead place an Exacta Box on 1-3-5-7.  

If Gun Runner Scratches, I build something that focuses on Blue Tone and Dazzling Gem.  

Whatever you do, have fun and bet to make money, not for the thrill or the action.  Look for value and don't over cover your exotics.  

Turk Out!

Works Cited

Hughes, Alicia Wincze.  "Rain could threaten Gun Runner's Razorback hopes." Web.  The Blood Horse.  17 February 2017.  Retrieved 19 February 2017.

Hoyt, Jennifer.  "Oaklawn:Blue Tone Brings Hess Back."  Web.  Times Record.  17 February 2017. Retrieved 19 February 2017.

Perkins, Pete.  "Elite Oaklawn Races set for President's Day Weekend.  Web.  Arkansas Online.  18 February 2017.  Retrieved 19 February 2017.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Nomination Is In: The Pegasus World Cup Invitational G1 at Gulfstream Park

Welcome Friends to The Turk and the Little Turk, now entering our ninth year of giving unsolicited horse racing handicaps to people who never asked for them.  Today the Turk has the honor of writing the handicap for The Pegasus World Cup Invitational, a $12,000,000 purse doozy of a Grade 1 race.  I'd be remiss if right out of the gate if I don't thank the good people at The Thorofan and the Handicapper's Corner for allowing me this pulpit to ramble from.

The hip bloggers like to criticize.  The Turk ain't hip (in case you didn't know, 3rd person references are oh so not hip.)  This inaugural Pegasus Invitational to me seemed like a real revolutionary idea, not a complete game changer because you couldn't do too many of these without upsetting the natural order of the racing calendar and dates, but still a real unique idea to develop another destination day for fans of the sport between the Breeders' Cup in early November and the Kentucky Derby in May.  Because of the decentralized nature of horse racing, anyone who steps outside the lines gets criticized, and The Stronach Group took plenty of criticism for the event.  There is a rant that relates perfectly to horse racing, the definition of insanity is.....blah blah blah.  I'm old enough to remember horse racing still as culturally relevant sport in the 1970's.  I'm old enough to remember the beauty of Hiahleah and I shake my head at the loss of Hollywood.  The sport is dying but critics keep on doing what they do best.

What about this race?  The idea was announced May 12, 2016.  For this race which replaces the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, the traditional first Handicap Division Grade 1 of the Winter Season,  12 spots in the starting gate were sold for $1.0 Million each, with all participants sharing equally the net income (net:expenses paid first) from handle, media rights and sponsorship's.  The purse was purely raised by the participants.  For a track like Gulfstream, the scene of Saturday's race, this wil have the effect of a second Florida Derby, by far the premier date in the South Florida tracks calendar every year.  According to Tim Ritvo, President of Gulfstream and Chief Operating Officer of Stronach Group, Florida Derby is about $36.0 Million each year and the internal goal was to reach $40.0 Million for Saturday's card (TDN).  That's meaningful, especially combined with other streams of revenue not normal to their business, parking and a general admission. Television, the big prize, is an interesting subject.  How many of you realize the only three races that the networks pay for each year are the Triple Crown Races?  That's it.  Stronach Group is paying the network, NBC, to televise this event in the hopes that their is enough interest to create a television revenue stream in future years.    (Let's just keep criticizing them though).

It did take until January 16th to fill the final two slots in the race.  While California Chrome's connections were early slot purchaser's,  the big buzz building action occurred on December 22, when Coolmore sold to Juddmonte a slot and Arrogate was then in the mix.  Grade 1 winner Gun Runner, winner of Clark Handicap in late November, was penciled into the slot owned by Mick Ruis, but a EHV-1 quarantine at Fairgrounds, and an unwillingness by the connections to take a nose swap test (which has a 15% false positive rate) which if failed, would have forced the horse to be at risk standing around with other quarantined horses for 30 more days, was too big a risk to take (Paulick Report 1/22).  It's unfortunate as this race could have used another relevant Grade 1 winner.

So while the number of opportunities to pull something like this off seem limited during a race calendar without throwing the conditions book a tizzy, this late January date has some intriguing possibilities. A horse running in this race ($12 Million) could use it as a prep for Dubai World Cup ($10 Million) and top his year with the Breeders' Cup Classic ($6 Million).  That's a $28 Million dollar year.  American Pharoah's connections, specifically Justin Zayat states they would have highly considered running the Triple Crown winner at four if Pegasus was an option (Ehalt.)  Steve Asmussen says "I wish I had Curlin running next year" (Ehalt.) Baffert wishes he had Game On Dude.  Paul Reddam, owner of Nyquist, bought a slot.  Doug O'Neill, Nyquist's trainer says "It would be a dream come true to have a huge Breeders' Cup Classic performance and then look at the Pegasus.  Anyone with a 3 Year Old or older top male is thinking that way" (Ehalt.)  These are the biggest names in the sport and they realize that this race, if successful and if it becomes an annual fixture, might slow the run to the breeding shed a bit and keep those stars active in their fourth year.

If successful, the Pegasus could be the race that extends careers and provides a distraction in late January, especially on a slow before Super Bowl weekend.  That's the idea.  If I was going to criticize anything, it's the distance at 1 1/8 miles.  The classic US dirt distance is 1 1/4 miles.  The track:  Running a 1 1/8 mile race on a 1 1/8 oval creates issues, namely the first turn is very close to the starting gate.  The track will be speed favoring most likely.  The break and where you go into and out of that first turn is most likely the key to handicapping this race.  Handicapping this race is what I was asked to do and I've rambled quite a bit about the race because of the uniqueness of it, but the field, a real ugh.  Arrogate, is not traditionally a good starter.  Baffert himself said "Out of the blocks, he doesn't fire away from there (the gate).  He's got a tremendous stride, a tremendous kick and he does have speed" (Paulick 1/10).   California Chrome is way out in gate 12.  In between represents my biggest disappointment with North American racing, the dearth of quality handicap division horses.

With two huge favorites expected to go off much less than 2-1, I'm thinking betting strategy before I even handicap, typically a no-no in my rule book.  I could spend a bunch of time trying to be a wise guy and and explain why Semper Fortis is flying under the radar, but instead I'm already thinking about lightly priced exotic tickets with Arrogate and Chrome covering the top spots and a few other runners mixed in at the bottom of the ticket.  Risk/Reward.  What are you willing to risk in betting capital and opportunity cost (the time handicapping this race when you can be handicapping a race with less sex appeal and more earnings appeal) and what is the reward.  Do you see payouts that excite you with two heavy favorites 1-2 and someone from the field in 3 and 4?  Me either.  Yes, handle will be good and Will Pay suggests an investment expecting a positive ROI should cause you to take pause betting more than $45-50 on a $2 trifecta ticket.  I'm not your mother, I don't care what you bet as you are a grown up, but what's the reward is a question you have to ask yourself.

Another thing I think Stronach deserves credit for: a 5 pound weight break if they run lasix free. One runner  took them up on it, hopefully this trend will spread in the condition book.

Let's get after this!

I saw absolutely no reason to make much of a consideration for five of the entrants and for better or worse I tossed them.  You can't cover everybody, or technically you can, but again, Risk/Reward.  The larger the number of covers and the larger the bet cost, and I'm not hip (as we established early on) enough to make a decent wise guy case that War Envoy will be shocking the world.  Class.  Current Condition. Pace. Quality of Competition. The hallmarks of my handicapping style make me lean very heavy towards Chrome and Arrogate.  They will be in the top four barring injury or some sort of unavoidable, horrible trip.  And then there is that first turn.  I'm focused purely on who will be forward positioned enough going into that first turn that they can make a late race mild rally to challenge for a spot in the ticket.

I'm not going to overthink this at all.  I expect Chrome and Arrogate will challenge for the top spot.  If forced to pick I give a slight edge to Arrogate and Mike Smith Up.  Chrome has to move a long way over to not be too wide through the first turn.  If it was classic distance I'd be more concerned about running out of gas, but the shorter distance should allow him to expend early or 1st corner energy.

I think Johnny V will have Pletcher's Neolitic near the front and on the rail through the first turn.  That should set him up well to be part of cavalry charge at the end, maybe moving forward or backwards.  Only horse in this race with 2 Gulfstream wins, an N1X (smh) in December.

I like Shaman Ghost quite a bit.  What a boon to Ontario Racing and breeding if he would pull an upset here (and what a hoot if Stronach wins their own race.) Training well and winner of a watered down Woodward G1.

Keen Ice, Noble Bird and Breaking Lucky round out my contenders.

So what to do? Risk/Reward should govern us.

A Super High Five might look like this:

 $2 Super High Five with 1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7-9-4-10 X 3-7-9-4-10 X 3-7-9-4-10 would cost $240.  You'd cover your bet easily but this is no better than a scratch off lottery ticket.

A $2 Superfecta might look like this:

$2 Superfecta with 1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7-9-4-10 X 3-7-9-4-10 would cost $80

A $2 Trifecta might look like this:

$2 Trifecta with 1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7-9-4-10  would cost $20

I'll most likely assemble bets that look a bit like this:

$2 Superfecta  1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7 X 3-7-9-4-10 for $32.

Have fun with it and whatever risk level you feel is appropriate.

Turk Out!

Works Cited

Ehalt, Bob "The Pegasus: The Growing World Wide buzz over a Race that could change the Economics of Racing." Thoroughbred Racing Commentary.  Web 23 August 2016.

Paulick Report. "Gun Runner's Connections Opt Out of Pegasus World Cup Consideration"  22 January 2017. Web.

Paulick Report. "Baffert: Arrogate's Post Position draw in Pegasus 'Very Important' "  10 January 2017. Web.

TDN Thoroughbred Daily News. "Ritvo Discusses Pegasus Planning, Expectations" 24 January 2017. Web.