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.