Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Who knows why people are debating Horse of the Year. The greatest thing horseracing does for this planet is ensure a healthy breed of horse. When America searched her conscience for a reason to restore the sport with legal wagering in the middle of the 19th century, ensuring good stock and proper animal husbandry was the sport's saving grace. Zenyatta furthered the case for her breed and her sport far more than any other horse in this young century. Her magnetic personality and power are positive, untarnished inspiration -- not always easy traits to find in an athletic hero. Her value to the sport can't be quantified, but we can and should award her Horse of the Year.   

It was fifty degrees and sunny on the last day of the meet -- for a few races any way. Timmy Thorton took down the riding title (and perhaps celebrated too early -- anyone know why he was taken off all his mounts after he notched the title?) Joel Berndt won the training title. It was a good meet. Hawthorne really took advantage of the small fields other tracks offered. I'm not sure that's good for the future of racing, but it's good for the future of Hawthorne.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Junior Big A Alvarado

Over the past few years, Arlington's races haven't always been scintilatinig affairs with Calabrese and Catalano stacking the deck for their respective told-you-so titles. Playing the claim game mercilessly, buying for 10 dropping to 5, etc. etc. But one thing that has been really fun to watch has been the emergence of Junior Alvarado.

I was watching a 2YO race at Aqueduct today, trying to avoid christmas shopping. It was a two turn race, the course was playing fast. He was on the second choice from the hot Violette barn (It was race 3). Jeremy Rose was on the first choice. Neither made the lead, but Rose kept moving his horse forward, ensuring the race wouldn't be stolen maybe. Alvarado often got penned in, as jocks were thrusting their horses to the inside and outside of him, he sat chilly. He wouldn't get first go at the leader around the turn but he would have horse under him and a clear lane three wide. In the stretch he pounced with a little urging. But his 2YO didn't want to decimate the slowing horse along the rail. So Junior gave him a slight tap as a reminder then went back to a steady hand on the reins. It was perfect.

Maybe it was watching the Edgar Futurity last week that's made me sensitive to the way jocks ride 2YOs. The power and the aggression are there in both human and equine athletes; how smart you are in channeling it makes all the difference. Easy said, but watch the replay to see how it's done.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hawthorne Happnins

Tomorrow is the Jim Edgar Futurity. Yes, our shrewd, former governor actively supports the horsemen of Illinois, even has a small string. I imagine if our current governor Quinn allows slots at the track, he too will have a stakes race named after him. But enough about politics. I've speedcapped the races for Saturday and have some picks for all my fans out there. If anyone was playing today, it was wise to go with the longshots. My picks envision a more formful afternoon at the oval. I'm gonna key the Kitten horse in the Futurity. How nice of Catalano to involve the Ramsey family in the Hawthorne fold. It's all about family there. Let's get to the picks:

Race 6 Mdn 24k:
I like Jamie Ness's first-timer 8 Mastman. I've always liked Mizzen Mast colts, and this 2YO looks like he could be ready at first asking. This barn isn't great with first timers but I like the outside draw, and if he can track my second choice 10 Lost Forty, and pounce like his poppa, then he should get his picture taken. Lost Forty keeps improving and has raced against nice fields. He could wire if the track is playing to speed, but he really should have won last. 

Race 7 Edgar Futurity:
2 Next Kitten has shown grit in all his races and like many Kittens closes nicely; however there isn't much speed. There also isn't a tremendous amount of quality; however there are three others that I'll put below the kitten in a keyed tri box. Those fellows are 10 Table Games from the connections that brougt us Giant Oak, 9 Domain's Rap from the Becker barn looks to be one of the few with good tactical speed and 3 Forbidden Forest. Give a closer look into the Forest if Lost Forty does well in the previous race. He's always been in contention and I suspect Thorton to start heating up.

Race 8 5k:
The Catrman sends up another chalky entry in Wistful Smile. You won't get much value, but there's a good longshot to place under him, maybe even box if you're feelin lucky. That horse is Southern Mudd, who loves the dirt at Hawthorne.

Best of luck on Edgar day.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How the 5k Claimer Saved Hawthorne

What do handicappers really care about? Thrilling races? Not really. Fair playing tracks? Definitely not. Big stakes races? Maybe. Large fields? Ding ding ding YES! This is the key to the capper's heart -- or so says the handle at Hawthorne. With drastic purse cuts and a 4-day meet that cut out Sunday, Hawthorne has gone lean to attract the moldering core of railbirds who demand value. And they have succeeded. But what does this mean for Illinois horseman -- the ones that didn't leave?

Maybe it helped push Chris Block into going after the big races. Over the weekend he took down a Grade II and a Grade I in Louisville. I can't think of a trainer who's more deserving. He's also done OK at Hawthorne, but the exodus of good trainers and stock has been hastened by the lack of pecuniary enticement. Maybe that's not a terrible thing that the horses are heading down south to places like Tampa and Calder. Fair Grounds too. I'd rather be there, though there are no state restricted races they can sweep up to sweeten the idea of breeding in Illinois, but what are you gonna do? (This is where you say "Slots Railbird! Stop being dense!)

I guess my biggest fear would be that once you cut purses like this, you have no chance of getting trainers back that have moseyed their strings to sunnier climbs. But, that seemed to be inevitable. 5k claiming races aren't as fun to watch trackside, but attendance wasn't really surging in Stickney either. So, they did what had to be done. I haven't capped many days at Hawthorne because I don't like 5k claiming races much. But I still like the brown feel of Hawthorne in winter, listening to the old timers' bedraggled lungs belting out numbers, the latinos chirping at TV screens and the smokestacks sending noxious plumes over the south side.

Monday, November 29, 2010

GIANT OAK to the rescue

The Clark Handicap ushered out the 2010 season, which like the race went out swinging. Somehow through the illuminated dust-up Giant Oak's big run finally came through. Not first to the wire, Giant Oak has always been a gentlemanly horse, GO won thanks to the contrary nature of Successful Dan who learned the price of Success at all costs: a DQ. Dan's French cargo, Julien Leparoux, got three days for failure to control his bump- and grind-happy mount. Watching the race it looked like Successful Dan might have been reacting to some very precarious angling by the ten horse, but in his efforts he blasted the surging Redding Coillery about three times. Speaking of Redding, he kept away from the front end and was running a very smart race. Keep your eyes on him if he sticks around.

Zenyatta's loss in the Breeders Cup Classic will probably define the year. Though the game in Illinois faces bigger losses if the huge purse cut at Hawthorne and the looming charge of the one-armed bandit point to the future. How ironic that an Illinois Bred, Giant Oak, should take down the G.I Clark Handicap just as Hawthorne's purse cuts which support Illinois-breds takes a hit.

I've said before, I'm not excited about slots making their way onto the oval. The cheaper the criminal the gaudier the patter -- one of my favorite lines from the Maltese Falcon sums up my sentiments for the prospect of slots. But that's just my snobbery. The real problem strings back to the complicated nature of horse racing in America, which was for a long while given the lone provenance of legal gambling. It was provided this because it was able to use our more base, human nature to promote the bettering of our equine stock. We needed to do more than award 4-H blue ribbons at state fairs to keep our animal husbandry up to snuff. Since gambling, like the rest of technology and modern world, has unfettered itself from the horse, the racing industry's perils continue. Maybe a complete rethinking of the Illinois meets and the idea that less is more might be the answer, but most in the industry disagree.

Unfortunately I have no answer. I'd love to see the tracks hold off the bandits, but that thinking is very wishful.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Breeders Cup Recap

I haven't blogged in while. While the national economy has petered, the railbird's free time has come under fire. I've been a passive fan, fans. Giant Oak lost, Goldikova won -- not much has changed. A lot has happened though. The Breeders Cup was pretty fascinating this year, thanks mostly to the queen Zenyatta. Does she go down as a horse of the ages? She does. Don't listen to fools who suggest that the fact that much of her career was on sythetic diminishes or even qualifies more narrowly any of her achievements. Kincsmen's record as best racemare remains, but Zenyatta sits second alongside Miss Woodford.

Bad Behavior
So what's worse Borel's rage or team Pletcher's incompetence? Life at Ten raced while not fit, and it should have been avoided. It's all still under investigation. I should reserve judgment till all the info is in. But watching her break after the jockey stated on national tv that she wasn't her usual self was very disturbing. 

I wasn't all that disturbed by the jockey fight. It's hard to blame someone for rage when you put them and others in real danger. Race riding. It wasn't your typical Castellano ride nor typical Borel antics. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't entertaining.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Talkin Dirt

A dip of twenty degrees and a purse cut of $250,000. So starts the Hawthorne fall meet. The only two-turn mile and a quarter dirt race one month before the Breeders Cup, and no superstars decide to prep on the south side. Giant Oak, or Giant Slug if you caught the DRF online article about the race, did his usual second place thing. I've thought this horse lacks brains not legs, but he shows up. His connections are the type you can get behind even if GO's record doesn't seem the type you'd want to back. And while I admit to having a chuckle at the DRF's sobriquet, it was a bit of a cheap shot. Giant Oak may be a plodder but he's banked over half a million, so unlike the DRF, he knows how to make a profit.

The rail shone golden on the first day of the meet, while the track was tiring. Hawthorne is a front-runner's paradise, speed typicall holds like a vice, but not opening weekend. The Gold Cup was wired, but this was an exertion of class not an exploitation of bias. Oddly Kiaran didn't even send an assistant with Redding Coillery, but it was a big day at Belmont and the New Yorker can be forgiven. Maybe he got wind about the Fan Friendly Friday prices doubling to two dollars. Still, the way I see it Chicago has the best of both worlds. Iconic Arlington with all her beauty and dirty Hawthorne keepin it real and in the family in Stickney. What more could you want?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Million Preview

Tuscan Evening getting ready to show the way

Rainbow View and adoring connections

Bejarano giving thanks

Inez keeping Rahystrada calm

General Quarters not happy about the heat

You want me to run in this? Really?

Inez waves to her fan club

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Grays

In honor of Black Tie Affair who passed last week I've been painting grays. Above is Informed Decision who, carrying 10 lbs more than the rest of the field swept up the Chicago Handicap last weekend. She's a very bossy sprinter, dictating who does what in the Winner's Circle. Like Black Tie Affair she is a rhone and is more susceptible to melanoma, which is what took Black Tie Affair. The gray coat is so stunning and yet can be so heartbreaking.

Lots to talk about with Arlington. Canani is serving a 15 day suspension. Catalano has shifted Sellers on his mounts even though Baze has been riding lights out for him, and the Catman was instrumental in getting Baze here. The purses for major stakes (not Million Day stakes) have been reduced, threatening Informed Decision's visit, but Sheppard decided to bring her anyway and she apparently broke her halter when rearing during the 3rd of July fireworks -- hopefully she'll be back next year. Junior Alvarado is still making all the right moves and has the right barns behind him.

Next up is Million Preview day. I'll have cappin notes for that later in the week. Hope everyone's enjoying the summer.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Junior Alvarado

Who's gonna step up in Rene's absence? 

Junior Alvarado seems to be making all the right moves. Notching the Calabrese mounts virtually ensures him a spot  atop the leader board, but this kid can win on anything. Healing in the winter hasn't slowed this prodigious jock in the slightest. Placing his tack next to the racing greats at Keeneland, Junior  got his share of photos in the Winner's Circle.

I look for him to go wire to wire on the AP leader board. But he'll have many challengers. Emigh showed his best days may be ahead with a sharp riding triple on Illinois Owners' Stakes day. Timmy Thorton has shown some pluck. Tanner might not be getting the best mounts now, but he's staking his claim for the future -- as is Lyndie. And shipping in, Michael Baze picks up the Catalano string and Castonon is back for more. To Be Continued.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rene Sues

Rene Douglas has hired the same outfit that took down George Ryan in the Licenses for Bribes scandal to take on Arlington Park for failure to install and maintain a safe racing surface. Of course, we're talking about the polytrack, which Rene didn't seem to blame for the horrible crash that paralyzed him last year. His unwillingness to talk to Theriot seemed to suggest blame fell squarely on the other rider. Apparently not. The Railbird will continue to track the events, though the outlook is not good for any sort of happy ending here.

With two weeks of action charted, the polytrack has played pretty fairly, inside posts and speed has done a little better, but not as dramatically as we saw at Hawthorne after a rain. Faves are dovetailing with the national average: 33%. Even the turf seems to be responding as expected with the rail out a lot farther -- giving the paint skimmers an advantage.

I went out on a cold and clammy Saturday and had the track pretty much to myself compared to the trip to Keeneland for the Blue Grass Stakes.

Junior Alvarado gave the most interesting ride that day on Last Wompus who was taking on some nice shippers in a sprint allowance. The fractions were suicidal -- I think everyone went on the tack that speed was holding and the clocks in their heads just melted. A half in 45 delivered a lot of spent horses at the stretch that Wompus reeled in after Alvarado dropped his whip. It was better to keep both hands on the wheel anyway. He threaded through the tiring foes. I was standing next to Percy Scherbenshke (spelling?), Last Wonpus's trainer during the race. It was really fun listening to him whoop WOMPUS, WOMPUS, WOMPUS while beating the form against his thigh. He scored at 10-1 in a 6 horse field. Way to go Wompus!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Super Saver

Super Saver came through. Calvin Borel came through. Xpressbet and Twinspires did not. They broke. On fucking Derby day. So to finish Baffert. It's not enough to have the horse ... you have to have the right online wagering service.

To make matters worse they sent out a quasi-apology in which they state "matters out of our control" caused the shutdown. Surely they're talking about an act of God right? No, they are not. They are diffusing their resposibility to the network they hire to carry out their bets. Sort of like if you were to go to McDonalds and they hand you a raw hamburger and say sorry our ovens don't work but it was completely out of our control -- we didn't make the ovens.

Derby Talk 
It was a tough race. Definitely a jockey race. It was a lot of fun to watch. Ice Box was absolutely flying at the end, man he looked good. And it seems like they all came home sound. Well, almost. Awesome Act came up lame, but it could have been worse under a lesser jock. Leparoux eased him in. It could be that he's just really body sore, and that's what everyone hopes. It's not tragic, but he could have made an impact on the Triple Crown. Instead he'll get some rest. Like his dad, he's not meant for the mud. He'll also get a new stablemate in Rachel Alexandra with the trainer switch to Asmussen.

Everyone is gonna try to take Super Saver down. And I sorta hope they do. After Big Brown then Rachel Alexandra this seems like a lackluster year for a Triple Crown. Still kudos to Super Saver who ran a smart race dropping off the suicidal fractions Conveyance and Sidney's Candy set.

Arlington Begins
Junior Alvarado picks up where he left off winning the first race of the meet at AP. Only difference is this year he's wearing the Calabrese silks. He's earned the good mounts and he's getting them. Michael Baze moves his tack to the Heights and has picked up Catalano's mounts. They both have done well so far, as has Tanner Riggs who's single-handedly breathed new life into the Kirby string. This kid is really coming into his own. Inez is back and will have to work hard; she's not getting the choice mounts, but that hasn't kept her from the winner's circle.

Lissa's Star the prodigous sprinter who had a 109 Beyer at Hawthorne last year went up for a 25k tag that she took down easily with Inez. I think Slazenger picked up the tab. I guess it shouldn't be that surprising, they tried the big leagues and it never panned out. Still, quite a sprinter to go off at that price.

After last year, we deserve a good, safe meet. The Chicago horsemen deserve to make some money. Let's hope for a great year of racing. Welcome Michael Baze and welcome back Javier Castellano -- and the usual colonists. It's gonna be fun.

Friday, April 30, 2010


You never really know where a Midwestern storm in May will end up, but it now seems rain is imminent in Louisville. Lots of it. There is no straight way to play the mud, but often it favors the early speed and, of course, some horses seem to relish it while others can't pick their feet up on it. It's possible the mud could tire the front tier as well, so I'll hedge my position, but I've narrowed the field now to about five.

Super Saver
Devil May Care
Lookin at Lucky
American Lion

As the sagely Baffert said, it's more important to have the horse than to have the post. He said something like that.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thursday -- The Works are In

The Buzz horses:
American Lion
Stately Victor
Super Saver
Sidney's Candy
Devil May Care
Mission Impazible

Noble's Promise
Line of David

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Picks That Will Change

Endorsement's last minute defection due to a condyular fracture that the connections may or may not have been suspicious of allows Backtalk in. He'll be a big longshot, but not as improbable as Mine That Bird last year. He did very well as a 2YO and probably left a race on the training track in New Orleans. With the favorites taking opposite poles, the Derby is even more wide open. 

Even though the shape of the race screams closer, I find myself drawn a bit to Conveyance and American Lion, especially American Lion. I'm also prone to suckerdom with the filly, but she's pretty fast and seems to be in perfect form. Supers Saver also seems primed, but I have to put some closers up. The photo of the victorious, mud-caked Icebox galloping out after the Florida Derby is etched in my head. And Mission Impazible's strong, improbable late run in New Orleans also lays in my head. MI wasn't all that fast and Icebox has been shelved for 6 months but their styles are propitious. Awesome Act will be covered for most of the race and with a nicely timed move could shine. Of course there's Stately Victor too, who appears to be this year's Wiseguy. He's a looker, for sure.

1. Lookin at Lucky
2. American Lion

3. Devil May Care
4. Conveyance
5. Super Saver
6. Awesome Act
7. Mission Impazible
8. Stately Victor
9. Noble's Promise
10. Icebox
11. Sidney's Candy
12. Dublin
13. Jackson Bend
14. Backtalk

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Filly Makes the Gate

Devil May Care is a beautiful filly who will not run for the lillies; she's going for the roses. Watching her work, she really moves elegantly and didn't seem to tire. She worked alone, which really shows her pure determination and will. She reminded me of Rags to Riches in that work, she just kept going. Steady headed. Grinding away. Will she have that composure on Derby day? I hope so.

The Works
Looking at Lucky
Devil May Care
American Lion
Super Saver

Sidney's Candy
Line of David
Endorsement's lack of work

Monday, April 26, 2010

Derby Week is Upon Us

The front wraps and shaved knees Eskendereya sported for the Wood proved harbingers for a dour news conference announcing the colt was "off" and would not run in the 136th Kentucky Derby. Eskendereya won with such grace and so within himself; still the scuttle about his leg problems from blogggers and Indian Charlie turned out to have merit. He was clearly the best of the crop, and I'm really bummed we won't get to see him run for the roses.

Velazquez who's Derby woes mirror Pletcher's loses his first shot on a Derby favorite. He'll try to make that a moot point, moving his tack onto the filly Devil May Care who's worked very well over the Churchill dirt. Though she's a longshot given her record against fillies (not colts). But so much of this race depends on form after the grueling preps. Who looks good the week of the Derby. So far Looking At Lucky has worked very well over the track and will go off the fave. His stablemate Conveyance has run the fastest, but the distance question and the poor Sunland Derby performance hang over him. You can expect him to keep the race honest and set it up for his more-lauded stablemate. I think he's gonna expose Sidney's Candy, but maybe I'm wrong.

I'll have more on the works throughout the week. And more watercolors. Time to get psyched railbirds!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Groping for Purchase in Louisiana and Thoughts about the Jockey Club Data

The Jockey Club has released data it has collected over the past three years. The rate of catastrophic breakdown for racehorses in North America is about 2 for every 1,000 starters. More than double the figure in Europe, Asia and Australia (pretty much the rest of the racing world). Why?
Gate-to-Wire riding?
Year-round glut?
All of these are somewhat unique characteristics to North America. The rate of breakdown did not decrease in training hours either, suggesting race-day drug violations may not be the culprit. Also, the figure for All-Weather is a lot less at 1.44.

So that's the bad news; now for the good. The Jockey Club had the courage to conduct the study and publish its results. And this is a huge improvement that will undoubtedly have very positive effects on equine welfare in the States. We all knew about this problem, but willfully relegated it to the bottom-tier tracks, the lowly claimers ... until Barbaro, George Washington and Eight Belles illuminated a very difficult aspect to the sport.

Now we just have to figure out how many pigs have to die for the sport of football so, as fans, we keep our superiority over those cretins.

The Louisiana Derby

Let's hope it's better than the Risen Star. The San Felipe and Risen Star were the two worst Derby preps to date. Both stolen on the front end. But with a nice injection of pace, the derby looks to have more dimension. Drosselmeyer draws lucky 13,  which doesn't hurt him too much since he's a closer, but I was really unimpressed with his inability to run down Discretely Mine in the Risen Star. The pace set up so poorly for big Dross, but I felt he still had a shot in the stretch and was unable to make a move. In a race like the Risen Star that's exactly what you look for -- someone to rise above circumstances and be able to take races that don't set up to their style. I'm not tossing Dross, but I'm placing him behind Stay Put. I'm also gonna use A Little Warm who Tony Dutrow ships in and stretches out from 7f to 9 --  quite a stretch. A Little Warm is an unknown quantity which could be a better bet than the known mediocrity this field has shown. Maybe mediocrity is a little harsh. I look for Discretely Mine to do what Rule did last week in Florida, but who knows ... the only thing I can say for sure is that there'll be no value with him.

Lanes End
Lots of horses lined up in Florence for that Derby bid, none of them seem to be in optimal Derby form for this time of year. These are the darts the trainers throw at the wall in hopes of securing a Derby spot. Connemara is a very classy colt and should take favortism. I have a hard time opposing him, but will pair him with Kettle River who performed inexplicably poorly in the Sham. Good luck everyone.

Fifty Bucks

Sunday, March 21, 2010


"It's not like he's some obscure Greek God," says Chris as we listen to the caller at Tampa Bay butcher Odysseus's name again. "He's getting closer," I console. Also, no longer obscure and getting closer is Odysseus's Derby dream. Yes, I'm a week back railbird fans, but there isn't much to say about the Florida Derby other than a really nice Winstar horse wasn't able to get the distance that the closing fractions of the Sam F. Davis pressaged a few weeks ago. Too bad, I like Rule. Of course, if you can't win the Derby then the breeders like nothing better than a prodigious miler, and Rule could turn out to be just that. But back to Odysseus.

There's an intensity and an aloofness to this guy. Sort of like Kramer on Seinfeld. He gets a bit washy and doesn't seem to have his timing synched up, but I look back to last year's Tampa Bay Derby when another horse won at the wire -- Musket Man, who has the same connections as the nippee (not the nipper) of this year's TBD. Schoolyard Dreams. I apologize if this is getting convoluted, main point being: it was one of the most enjoyable stops along the Triple Crown Trail last year. Watching Musket Man leave his childish ways behind. Did we see a repeat of that? Will this be the turning point for Odysseus? Next up is the Wood, unless he goes to Arkansas. Either way, it's a big step up.

He's been a lot of fun to watch and I hope he sticks around. He's my Derby horse!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Gotham and Sham Redux

The two fading coasts send up two fields of non-graded winners. How did Florida and Arkansas usurp LA and NYC? Still, both races are interesting and great betting affairs. I'm not going to revise my Sham picks from last week much, though Kettle River might have benefited from the extra week and I've gained a little more respect for Setsuko. I'm still gonna oppose Baffert; if I get bit, I get bit.

Typically I don't forgive horses with excuses, but the Whirlaway was an extremely strange race. Three Day Rush got biffed by Eightyfive as he bored out. Still he ran well and, if you throw in the lost momentum you could argue he ran the best race. So, I'll use him on top of many tickets. Ramon Dominguez jumps off Dickey Du's Yawana Twist, which is cause for concern. Every prep race, you're faced with the decision: Do I stick with proven Mediocrity (Turf  Melody) or go for a horse taking the class test for the first time? I usually choose the latter, but I hate to see Dominguez off the mount. He's been schooling jocks at the Big A -- though Leparoux, Prado, Nakatani and Bravo aren't his typical foes. Yawana has to do a lot today, not only two turns and stakes but also open company are new conditions for him. His pedigree doesn't suggest stamina, but I think he can get this distance. And, speaking of pedigree, Vinery Stables brings Awesome Act to try dirt. He looked good at the Breeders Cup, and if there's a strong pace watch out for this guy who'll swallow em up.

Fifty Bucks
$5 exacta Three Day Rush over Peppi Knows, Awesome Act, Turf Melody ($15)
$20 exacta Three Day Rush over Yawana Twist ($20)
$5 exacta box Three Day Rush, Awesome Act ($10)
$5 exacta Peppi Knows over Three Day Rush ($10)

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Appropriately named Derby prep race this week. Giacomo got the show money in it a couple years back. None of the horses have gone the distance on Pro-Ride, none are stakes winners, many just graduated from maiden. The big barns like Baffert, Harty, Oneil, McPeek and Mandella send candidates, but all of them seem subpar or not primed. Kettle River, a Harty boy, shows a lot of promise but had a small setback in his training. It's a blemish, but no one comes in without one so I'm gonna use him in my exactas.

Bejarano who can't stop winning hops off Nextdoorneighbor for Setsuko, which doesn't flatter Next but I think this decision is probably based on the Mandella business that he wants to keep, Machowsky who trains wunderkind Caracortado, only has 13 horses in his stable so Bejarano prolly went with the money. I'm gonna play Next atop a lot of tickets because he seems to be moving upward not sputtering like many others in here. He should sit a clean trip and have gas in the last furlong.

And it'd be crazy not to look for some value in here, so I'll play Alfie's Best a little bit and keep Setsuko around to hedge. I'm gonna try to beat Baffert in this spot.

Fifty Bucks
$10 exacta Nextdoorneighbor, Setsuko/Kettle River ($20)
$5 exacta  Nextdoorneighbor, Alfie's Bet/The Program ($10)
$5 trifecta Nextdoorneighbor, Setsuko/Kettle River, Setsuko/Kettle River ($10)
$5 exacta Kettle River/Setsuko, Nextdoorneigbor ($10)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Star is Born -- Maybe Two

I had a hunch with Eskendereya -- yeah yeah, sure you did. I did. I just didn't play it as hard as I should have. I watched the first level allowance he cruised through and hit the exacta for ten bucks, which was pretty small after a gate scratch knocked out one of the big contenders. Still it was apparent then that he was the genuine article and assumed the lead because the cheap speed wasn't going fast enough. He pulled away and ran in what probably wasn't his preferred style -- if a horse can win not running in his preferred way, that's a horse to watch. So now Pletcher holds an ace. 2YO form is no longer very significant.

In the Southwest Conveyance impressed. Running down Dryfly who came out of the front end battle with the beginnings of a stress fracture. Kudos to the connections for the thorough scope that'll allow Dryfly to recoup without surgery. People may knock Conveyance because Dublin was moving quicker at the end, but having gutted out the duel with Dryfly proved a lot to me -- he'd had to deal with much softer fractions in California. And people are gonna get behind the revitalized Dublin who closed very well after some trouble in the early parts. So he's passed the two turn test, but for some reason I think he's gonna have a tough time getting a trouble-free trip. Maybe I'm being harsh since this was his first off the layoff and post-surgery, but I see a lot of Dunkirk in this one.

Finally the Risen Star was a pretty bad race. I wouldn't trust the form. Speed reigned and no one really took a big step forward. So Louisiana will have to sit in the shadows for now.

Meanwhile Tampa Bay had an interesting run from a lively chestnut from the Albertani barn. Odysseus emerged from a Wednesday conditioned allowance looking really sharp and explosive. I really loved watching this guy on the turn for home. The jock let him do what he knew he could do. It was very impressive.

Fifty Bucks:
So, I notched a $6 exacta in the Fountain of Youth which returned a little over a bill, but paid dearly for doubting Conveyance. Dryfly's injury and Dublin's rough trip didn't help, but really I had fifty bucks; no excuses. I'll give myself a break in the Big Easy. Speed held and maybe I should  have planned for that too, but, you know, whateva.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Risen Fountain of the Southwest

First off, hoping for the speedy recovery of Lyndie Wade who took a nasty spill turning for home atop the filly Millenium Park on Friday. He fractured some vertebrae in the crash which will sideline him for 4-6 weeks, and Millenium Park had to be put down. Wishing him the best.

Onto the trail. We're all over the map this weekend. It's enough to scatter a humble man's brains. Dublin is the biggest winner from the Southwest's redraw. I've gone back and forth around this horse, whether or not I can see him as a new horse after the surgery or a return to the old Dublin that won. The propitious redraw was enough to swing the pendulum in his favor. The more I hear about Dryfly, the more I like. And I've thought less of the closing horses because, if they couldn't close in the Smarty Jones when the last furlong was a crawl why should they able to close now? For the Foutain of Youth I really like Jackson Bend. He's been working great and should be able to get a better trip. I feel less certain about Buddy's Saint because of the layoff and Eskedreya looked great in that first level allowance, but there's still too much we don't know about these guys. And then there's the anti-chalk pics of Aikenite, Pulsion and Prince Will I Am. I'll use them in my exotics. And now the Big Easy. I really like Drosselmeyer in this spot. I also like the big time closers Ron the Greek and Stay Put. Amoss always has a nice string at Arlington and I've cashed many a ticket with him -- of course that's a claiming circuit and Amoss is in loftier territory here. Stay Put may be overlooked even though he has two wins over the track and closed very nicely in last off some dull fractions. He's probably my value pick of all three stakes this weekend. Good luck everyone!

Fifty Bucks
Foutain of Youth
$1 trifecta 5,2 with 5,2,8 with 2,3,1,6,8
$6 exacta box 5/2/8

Risen Star
$10 exacta Drosselmeyer over Stay Put/Ron the Greek/Discretely Mine
$5 exacta box Stay Put/Ron the Greek
$5 exacta Stay Put, Drosselmeyer
$5 exacta Ron the Greek, Drosselmeyer

$10 exacta Dryfly over Dublin/Conveyance
$5 exacta Dublin over Dryfly/Conveyance
$5 WPS Dryfly
$3 trifecta Conveyance, Dryfly, Dublin
$2 trifecta Conveyance, Dublin, Dryfly

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Weekend Recap

Yet another cancellation. The clods in Arkansas were shattering goggles. D Wayne was the only one looking at the silver lining, noting his regally bred Dublin could draw a better post now. And the post will be important if you want your horse to settle under what could be a boiling pace. But we'll worry about that in a later post.

Scarface, or Caracortada, whose namesake is pictured a couple posts earlier swept up the shotgun couple of American Lion and Tiz Chrome. Those Tiz colts simply couldn't reach the finish line. I was hoping the Lion might save my exacta, but the spoiler horse Dave in Dixie denied that. So I was shamefully blanked after pointing to Scarface as a viable longshot -- my cappin and wagerin didn't correspond, and that's something I need to be more vigilant about. No excuse for not cashing. It appears Tiz Chrome is a sprinter. I think people may have been overly excited by his dirt form -- a Baffert horse with dirt form! But the route form was never established and still isn't. A point of intrique for this race was Caracortado's gallop out. He hung his head awful low. He's gonna need to get another furlong, so that's cause for worry, but minor worry right now as he blew by the top pair with utter professionalism.

Rule dispatched the Davis field and looked great doing so. He was on the front and had the big target on his back, but he repelled all bids. Uptowncharley once again showed a lack of focus at the top of the stretch. He may get blinks next out, but this is an intriquing horse. They'll tighten the screws another turn and keep him in Tampa, even though that closing kick seems to scream Fair Grounds.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Robert Lew Part II, Sam D and the Onus of the Target

Last week jockey Richard Migliore, the Mig, gave a clinic at the Whirlaway Stakes on the mental precariousness of the three year old thoroughbred  in February. He watched eightyfiveinafifty's races and gate works, and he saw a pattern. An angle. Eightfive always broke flat-footed.

The Mig knew that eightyfive had posted the highest speed figure of any 3YO, but he also knew eightfiveinafifty didn't have to work through any tough spot that might in some way interfere with that explosive turn of foot. The Mig knew he broke flat so he saw his opportunity. He would guide his mount in front of eightyfive and steal the rail, making jockey Chavez commit early to a position. Chavez responded by asking the eightyfive for run, which may have been like dropping a pail of cold water on someone that was sleeping. Eightfive got the rail, but did so akwardly. There was worry about how he'd handle two turns, but he was already out after one. The Mig's tactic rattled the colt and Chavez made the wrong move, though neither are to blame for what would happen next. Eightyfive would crash through the temporary rail then hop another. He was found by a security guard on the backstretch with torn reins and a bit that some say was broke others say wasn't.

Because eightfive was such a "sure thing", Aqueduct moved the Whirlaway to be the third race on the card so as not to dillute the pick 6 with a free square. This was supposed to be prefunctory for eightyfive, sent off at 3-5 or so in a field of 6.

So how do we apply this knowledge to the Robert Lewis and Sam Davis? Tiz Chrome also looks precocious and also hasnt gone two turns. He'll likely be the prohib fave. And what about Rule in the Davis? Pletcher had talked about wanting to rate this colt, but with the rail won't his hand be forced? Well, I wish I knew how best to stray from the chalky option. The theme I've held this week is no forgiveness for last out. Sometimes you need to let a horse build off last, in the case of the Davis, Middle of the Nite would have to improve dramatically both the way he starts and finishes to match rule or even uptowncharleybrown. I'm going to oppose that. The only interesting plays I have are the horses getting the class test: Coracortado, uptowncharley and Schoolyard Dreams.  I can't ignore American Lion as much as I'm tempted to, this cat can bite. I think his problems may stem from getting lazy on the lead in the stretch, which you can't do in California. But that shouldn't be a huge threat as he's not facing a tough closer. You could play the pace meltdown with Dave in Dixie, but I think Tiz Chrome will not falter and American Lion, unlike Middle of the Nite, has not thrown in the towel when he sees he can't win.

Fifty Bucks
Robert Lewis
$25 exacta Tiz Chrome-American Lion
$10 exacta American Lion-Tiz Chrome
$10 exacta Tiz Chrome-Coracortado
$2 exacta box Coracortado/American Lion
$1 exacta Dave in Dixie-Tiz Chrome

Sam Davis
$35 Exacta Rule-Uptowncharleybrown
$15 exacta uptowncharleybrown-Rule

$1 trifecta Conveyance,Dryfly/Conveyance,Dryfly,Dublin/ Dublin, Kitty's Turn,Mission Impazible,Pleasant Storm ($14)
$5 exacta box Dublin-Dryfly ($10)
$3 exacta key Conveyance-Mission Impazible, Kitty's Turn ($6)
$5 W Conveyance, Dryfly ($10)
$5 exacta Conveyance-Dublin
$5 exacta Dryfly-Conveyance

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Robert Lewis

It's a rule of handicapping that when picking an exacta you don't simply take the top two horses. The reasoning is simple, a lot of horses lose heart when they get passed and throw in the towel. I've come back to this logic after watching a few races at Gulfstream this week. The same logic can be put forth in not choosing a horse that comes in second a lot as the most logical to win next out -- one of those about-to-breakthroughs are probably better classified as hangers. How do these ideas guide me through the Robert Lewis? Well, obliquely I guess. The best two horses in this race are American Lion and Tiz Chrome, and I'll play that exacta, but I may play another just as hard.

There's some scuttle that Tiz Chrome may not be as precocious as the hype suggests. That maybe people are overvaluing his maiden strike at Churchill. There's talk of his inability this past week to pass a stablemate in a workout. But I'm gonna give him the benefit of the doubt, a Tiznow colt will likely be able to stretch out and I think there could be some serious talent brewing here.

For my second pick I'm going with Coracortado. This guy starts at Fairplex in a claimer going four furlongs and four wins later is in the Robert Lewis. In all of his wins the second place horse has also come back to win, so it's hard to debate quality even though the connections aren't the usual suspects. I'm not sure if he's a Derby horse, but he looks awful good in this spot.

American Lion has the great fortune to have the frenchman on his back. His skills have made his last two wins possible. I didn't like the very last win all that much and am debating if the slight regression is something he can build off of or a crack in the veneer. I'm gonna use him to fill out an exacta and maybe put some coin for him on top, but I'm not as confident in him as many others are.

Fifty Bucks
It's only February so spikes in thoroughbred growth are expected. We may not see it coming; therefore my exotic dancing will be relegated to the exacta -- which is about as exotic as a wet t-shirt contest.

I've strayed from the topic.

I'm going to use the three mentioned above. I've heard Coracortada translates to Scarface. So, say hello to my little friend.

$4 exacta box Coracortada/Tiz Chrome/American Lion ($24)
$16 exacta Tiz Chrome-American Lion
$5 exacta American Lion-Tiz Chrome

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Holy Bull Recap

The pace was hot. Sometimes I forget the jocks and trainers also read the form. If a race doesn't seem to have much pace, what better scenario to send your horse right? All of sudden the pace overfloweth. Aikenite was never able to get settled and Piscetelli and Homeboy Kris outran themselves. For a losing effort, Jackson Bend looked great, just as good as Winslow Homer to me. Homer snuck through on the inside, and it was a bold move, a feather in his cap. But Jackson Bend never gave up, wide throughout he lost by less than a length.

Fifty Bucks
The Railbird returned $80 and change on the first Fifty Bucks. Not bad, but I wish I would have been a little more dubious of Aikenite. I knew he would prolly be near the pace given Pletcher's predilections. I guess I just didn't want to get burned and that cost me. But, hell whats all this wet blanket talk, I'm in the black, baby!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Holy Bull

We've reached the trailhead. At Gulfstream Park, we have a Pletcher horse, an Unbridled from Tony Dutrow, a Dicky Dutrow horse with a goofy name looking to rebound, the Ramseys are represented with a classy colt form the El Prado line -- the frenchman in the irons, Zito has a precocious fast one at the far post and Wolfson adds blinks to a 3YO that needs focus at the rail. This is pretty exciting for the opening shot of the 2010 Derby Trail.

Fifty Bucks
For this year's trail, I'm gonna try a new a segment called fifty bucks. Rather than just a narrative, I'm gonna apply specific wagers (using fifty bucks) to weigh my opinions and perhaps demonstrate good money management throughout the trail.

For the Holy Bull, I'm not goiung to bet anything more exotic than an exacta. It's early in the trail and it's a one-turn race. The pace is hard to determine but will likely be tepid. There is no need for any of these horses to win this race; however they'll need to finish strong and give more of an account of themselves. I want to focus in on three horses for the win in this contest: Aikenite, Winslow Homer and Jackson Bend. I also see Thank U Philippe, Homeboy Kris and especially William's Kitten as threats to hit the frame. 

I'll start with Thank U Philippe. This guy loves to be the bridesmaid, but what he's shown in last is that he is still sort of playing around. He had to be put under a ride for over half the race and never drew within contention. He gets blinks and the rail and I don't see him lasting long on the front end. Homeboy Kris didn't really change trainers as the form suggests; this was Dicky Du passing his horse to his lieutenant while serving a violation. Kris folded miserably when stretched out in last and I don't know what effect that will have on his confidence. He could grab a piece of this race. William's Kitten boasts the powerful Ramsey/Maker/Leparoux connections, which in Kentucky, you would ignore at your own peril. This guy finished well at Churchill in last to take second in a race that had a lot of pace going two turns. The turnback in distance and the lack of pace bode poorly for him here, but I wanna see his last furlong. It could be smoking. And it's wise to trust the punters with him; if he's favored, he wins.

Aikenite had a nice campaign last year placing in a couple grade ones and getting a rough trip at the Breeders Cup. Like the Kitten, it seems he might want more distance, but I have a feeling Pletcher will tweak this guy's running style and ask for more in the early stages. The pace for the one-turn miles at GP are usually pretty tepid; the long backstretch allows for no need to fight to save ground. This combined with Pletcher's pretty blatant tactic to hit the front end could spell Aikenite to be closer to the front, and I think he's gonna have a good shot in here. Winslow Homer loves an Off track and the bettors love the other Dutrow. He's an Unbridled Song, which also gets a lot of attention. This will be a class test for him, but he's live in here and could be ready to take the next step. Jackson Bend has not had the best of trips but finds a way to win. He seems ahead of the curve and the only liability is his trainer Nick Zito doesn't have a good off-the-layoff record. But I think it won't matter and Jackson Bend will continue his dominance.

$10 exacta Jackson Bend/ Winslow Homer-Aikenite ($20)
$5 exacta box Jackson Bend-Winslow Homer-Aikenite ($30)

Monday, January 11, 2010

1: Zenyatta Is Unbelievable in Breeder's Cup Classic

This race decided Horse of the Year for me. It's impossible to knock Rachel Alexandra, but what if she were in the Breeders Cup? And what if Zenyatta were in the Woodward? I would take the behemoth Zenyatta in both, but it's not an easy decision. As well-crafted and astonishing as Rachel's campaign was, it still missed the two biggest days of the year. And, she probably would have won the Derby and had a good chance in the BC. The decision to not run was not based on her abilities, but on different ideas her owners had about racing and fillies. Zenyatta's campaign was lighter, and the problem with this is that we don't know how good she is, and the Breeders Cup showed we may never know, but right now she's unbeatable. So, my choice is Zenyatta for the honors and look forward to maybe watching them both race this year. Maybe against each other.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

2: The Preakness

The boys were stumbling over themselves to get to her. But it wasn't gonna happen. The track was deep and tiring, even Borel commented on how Rachel was not getting over it well. She had the outside post and would have to head the fractious Big Drama on the front and save enough to repel Mine That Bird's late bid.

The NYTimes photographer got a great shot of her eyes around the bend; her focus and intensity and clean coat in the fore ahead of a scrum of many sooon-to-be-injured peers -- General Quarters, Friesan Fire, Pioneerof the Nile and Papa Clem, to name a few. It would be the Pioneer's last race. Friesan Fire and General Quarters have recently returned in Allowance races, both losing efforts. Papa Clem ran a gamely second in his stakes return. Rachel would go on to beat three year olds again in the slop of Monmouth and elders at Saratoga in the Woodward.

Monday, January 4, 2010

3: The Kentucky Derby

"Those cowboys came with a nice horse," said Baffert, who like his stable star Pioneerof the Nile did not see Mine That Bird coming. Tom Durkin also did not see him coming. Jen R. did see it and had a nice payday, though I wasn't able to impress on her the fiduciary benefits of an exacta -- she had the tough part nailed; maybe it's hard for people with crumpled tickets to impress fiduciary benefits on people with cashers, and this was the second year in a row she'd cashed and the second I did not. Jen was the only one screaming in the room when it was all over, everyone else had a frown, queer grin or look of befuddlement. Watching the replay, it's as if the little gelding knew the path he had to take, and was ready to unfurl the courage to take it.

The next day Mine That Bird's connections passed out roses from MTB's blanket in an act of class that will hopefully be repeated. It's hard to think of an analogy for these cowboys coming in and taking the most hallowed award with a 100-1 gelding. It doesn't happen in other sports. And maybe I was the only one laughing when Wooley got exasperated with Costas in the interview after the race when Costas asked about his trip in. People thought Wooley was rude, but the show of honesty and fearlessness parelleled that of the gelding he trains, at least in my eyes. Maybe he hasnt been coached in PR. Perhaps they don't offer those classes where he's from. The sincerity, even if a bit coarse, was refreshing.