Stealing Money from the Crowd

A contrarian guide to betting on horse racing. Please click on the images below for preview:

 

Table of Contents:

Introduction 2

The Favorite/Longshot Bias 6

Deconstructing the Past Performances 12

Conclusion 17

19 pp.

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Indiana Jones & The Willingness to Be Wrong

To play the races well, you have to be willing to be wrong. And this means everything involved in losing – the loss of capital, the embarrassment, and, especially, the ego blow. The game is far too competitive to avoid good value propositions simply out of fear of feeling and looking stupid.

An interesting example of the mindset needed for risk taking comes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. For those who might be unfamiliar, Indiana Jones, who is a university archeology professor with a fairly adventurous side, is about to find the Holy Grail, perhaps the greatest artifact in history. Very close to his goal and with his father’s life on the line, Indiana Jones has to pass a series of obstacles to see if he is worthy of possessing the Grail. The first two are riddles, which Indiana Jones thankfully solves just in the nick of time. But the third ordeal is different.

The scene is epic.  Here’s the clip:

He looks down at his father’s journal – and sees a scribble of person walking in the air across to the other side. But when he looks across the chasm, all he sees is air, and a terrible drop to certain doom.  The only solution is to take a step into the air – with nothing under his feet.  He has some evidence on which to base his belief — the picture in the journal – but, based on what he sees, there’s still a pretty good chance that he could fall right down into the chasm. He had to bet everything on his belief that, despite what he saw, he would not fall. He was willing to be wrong.

You need to have an unwavering belief that you will be right over time and an absolute acceptance that you may be wrong often.

Just as Indiana Jones takes a step into the air and passes the point of no return, his foot hits a bridge. Despite not being able to see it, it was there all along. It was a test of his faith, and he only passed when he was willing to take the risk. He had to be willing to be wrong in order to pass this challenge.

Betting well certainly doesn’t require religion and it doesn’t require that you put your life on the life, but it does need require strong conviction. You need to have an unwavering belief that you will be right over time and an absolute acceptance that you may be wrong often. You need to have a deep faith in your own ability and you must be willing to look silly, even foolish, in the short-term. Simply put, you need to be willing to be wrong.

It is, of course, perfectly acceptable to not like being wrong – I can’t imagine any scenario where being wrong actually feels good. But, embracing it as a possibility – even a very strong possibility based on style – is required in order to survive the long-term.

Image: Rob Young. Copyright 2008.

 

From the Archive: Horseplayer’s Axis of Evil (2006)

[I wrote this article back in 2006. A little dated with Bush-era terminology, but still applicable, it was the first piece on playing the races that I ever wrote. SA]

As horseplayers, we are always seeking value in our selections. Whether you’re wagering on a horse at 15-1, 4-1, 8-5, or 3-5, the ultimate goal is to find the overlay. Yet, while the overlay concept is sound in theory, it’s typically wrecked in practice by all but the most emotionally disciplined of players. This is the work of the horseplayer’s axis of evil, which gains its strength by praying on our all-too-human characteristics. Without further ado, let’s meet its membership:

(1) GREED: This first member of the axis is deceptive and devious, and, when we’re not looking, he runs off with large portions of our bankrolls. He makes us think we’re getting value when we’re really just looking to get something for nothing. Through his subtle manipulations, he throws wrenches into a well-reasoned handicapping process, and causes us to lose more money than we would simply by betting the favorite.

Greed shows up all the time in our handicapping, especially in our search for overlays. As horseplayers, we hate short prices. There’s risk in every horse race — a jockey error, a catastrophic injury — and we must be compensated for this risk. But, unfortunately, on many occasions, a disdain for short prices often clouds our judgment. We perceive negative value and move away from a horse solely because of the low anticipated payout.

(2) HOPE: Red, of The Shawshank Redemption, had it right: “Hope is a dangerous thing.” And, much like the classic handicapping quote about time and prison, when it comes to playing the races, hope is best left behind the prison walls. Yes, hope is a wonderful, inspiring feeling that makes you feel happy when things aren’t going well. It’s also something that has absolutely no place in handicapping.

Hope rears its ugly head all throughout the handicapping process, but it’s especially dangerous when you’re dissatisfied with the price you’re going to get on your top selection. You may begin to desperately look for positive things in the other horses. You’ll use words like “maybe…could…possibly.” You know the types of horses, and you’ve seen enough of them come in to convince yourself. But, unfortunately, you’ve come under the spell of hope, and started to let it guide your selections.

Overlays are great theory, but finding one in the heat of the handicapping moment can be an emotional minefield.

(3) FEAR: By far the trickiest of the members of the axis, fear subtly influences our selections in several ways. Aware of the effect of scared money and facing the fear of loss, the horseplayer must fearlessly enter a risky environment and stay brave amid tremendous uncertainty. Yet, despite our bravery, fear is not without a weapon here. For if we feign fearlessness where it is unwarranted, he attacks with the fear of regret, which guides us into situations where the risk does not equal the reward.

The player may seem confident in his selection, but will still be motivated by fear. When making this type of decision, the horseplayer’s phrases are well-known: “I’ll be devastated if I passed on this one”; “This big payday will make my day/week/month; I can’t miss it if it comes in.” (And, believe me. . . I know these phrases all too well. ) Fearful of missing the big payday, you turn a deaf ear to the important cautions in your gut.

Together, greed, hope, and fear constitute a nasty confederation that confounds the reasoning of the value-seeking horseplayer. Overlays are great theory, but finding one in the heat of the handicapping moment can, indeed, be an emotional minefield.

Wise Dan: Let it Ride

I’ve tried to constantly beat Wise Dan on the turf, but instead, he always beats me. Not only have I lost money, but also the opportunity to wager on one of the most reliable horses in all of racing. So, out of curiosity, I decided I wanted to figure what he would have paid if I had fully embraced him from the beginning.

Let’s say a bettor put a minimum $2 on him back in August 2012 when he made the (now) permanent move to the turf. This bettor would have won only $5.00 that day, but let’s say he saw a turf monster in the making. So, wanting to make more, he decides to “Let it Ride” and re-invests his entire winnings each time Wise Dan runs on the turf, or he retires. For argument’s sake, he doesn’t bet Wise Dan when the Shadwell is moved to the polytrack last year knowing that there’s more risk with the surface change (a fair assumption, I think).

Sounds silly, and a bet that surely would have to catch up to you eventually. And, besides, what could it possibly pay? I mean, he’s been odds-on in every start since the Breeders’ Cup, so you can’t possibly make any money doing this. But, I was curious, so I opened up excel, typed in some odds, and let it do its magic.

If our hypothetical bettor had put $2 on Wise Dan and just let it ride through the streak, he would have made over $1,100 going into tomorrow. 

The result, of course, is very dependent on “letting it ride.” Pocketing just 20% of your winnings demolishes the return and leaves you with $75 pocketed and only a very Douglas-Adams-like $42.42 headed to tomorrow.

It would, of course, be much tougher to make these bets with $100 units (and rationally, I can’t imagine not taking profits) but, just for fun, here’s how it would have turned out:

Here’s the 20% pocketed at $100 units.

Can he do it again on Saturday? Well, he’s certainly done it before, and I’m officially done trying to beat him.  I’m not recommending this type of bet (one wipe out is catastrophic), but at least with Wise Dan, it would have paid very handsomely.

Scared Money & Multi-race Wagers

One reason I’m handicapping in public through this Belmont meet is to share the “inner game” of playing the races everyday. The game of betting is much more than just analytics; it is also a constant battle for self-discipline and emotional control. And this means more than not just staying strong through the lean times, but also maintaining proper perspective through the great times. In fact, this is one reason this game is so challenging, and why betting is growing more popular everyday. It not only requires analytical thought, but also strong self-discipline and constant learning.

One thing that often gets in the way is a phenomenon known as “scared money.” Essentially, it’s when you make any wager that you are afraid to lose. It’s related to “pressing,” or making bets because you really want a score right now.  In contrast, I find that when I’m playing patiently, I never expect any particular bet to hit, but I know that somewhere and sometime, the right number of bets will hit. Scared money–motivated by impatience–makes any one particular bet far more important than the long-term.

Scared money can be very deadly in in a multi-race wagers, such as the P3, P4 or P5. I find that if I am adding horses to a ticket only because I am afraid that the ticket is going to miss if I don’t, then I’m making a mistake. Even if the bet hits, it still was a bad bet. In contrast, like any set of wagers, each multi-race ticket needs to be part of a bigger long-term, value-seeking strategy.

Hindsight is always perfect, but in both making my wagers and reviewing my wagers, I always try to ask myself if I’m motivated by fear of missing the ticket, and whether adding additional horses actually adds value to the ticket. I’ll still screw up — although thankfully much less than I did when I was younger — but seeing and learning from mistakes is the key to avoiding the same pitfall in the future. But, then again, nobody said that playing the races was easy!

 

 

 

 

Trying to Not Smash the Egg

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.” — Arnold H. Glasgow

One reason that I love wagering — whether at the racetrack, OTB, or at the sports book — is that it forces me to be emotionally-disciplined in order to succeed. You can be a brilliant analyst, but this game will eat you alive if you can’t keep your feelings in check. And, to be honest, being emotionally-disciplined is not natural for me. In fact, if I let emotion rule my betting (as I did when I was younger), I might as well just burn my money instead.

For example, it is simply not natural for me to sit on the sidelines and watch and wait. Many times, I’ll look at the card a number of times, and just not t see any plays. With potential opportunities ahead, I want to preserve my capital for bigger chances into the P3 and P5 pools. Sounds rational, so it should be easy, right? Wrong. Even though I know that it’s in my long-term interest to pass the card, the lure of betting is always strong. I know I’ll be tempted by action and, especially, the fear of missing out on an opportunity. Nothing motivates bad decisions, in betting or in life, like fear of regret.

But fear of regret is, perhaps, the worst reason to make a bet. I’ve learned through the years that the only reason to make a bet is value, and not for some sort of emotional satisfaction. Yet, like most things in this terrific game, that is so much easier said than done. I still violate this cardinal rule all the time, especially after very tough losses or very big wins. And, that’s why I love this game — it is just so freaking hard.

Wish me luck sitting on my hands, and good luck if you are playing.

Image: Mark Turnauckas, Chicken and Egg. Copyright 2011.

 

On Context: Interpreting the PP’s

I fell in love with racing for many reasons, but none greater than a love of the data, specifically the past performances. As a kid, I’d always read the box scores in the sports section with breakfast. I’d recreate last night’s games (or the late games from the previous night) in my head over my frosted flakes. I love taking the data and trying to understand not only what’s on the surface, but what fascinating stories are hidden below the data.

With horse racing, the data tells several stories. In particular, the past performances telling the histories of the horses. There’s tons of data available — typically, the running lines of the last 10 races with speed figures and a race/class level description. Some more advanced past performances add pace, pedigree, and trainer statistics.

Interpreting the past performances entails understanding a horse’s history to predict what that horse will likely do today. Indeed, that’s the essence of handicapping. In interpreting the PP’s, there are many different stories. The first story is simply what happened in a race. It recounts the basic facts of what happened. An example of this is the running line, which tells how far behind/ahead a horse was at certain points in a race. A similar story is also told by speed and pace figures, which add context for track condition/speed. This permits taking a race and comparing it to other races.

Interpreting the past performances entails understanding a horse’s history to predict what that horse will likely do today. Indeed, that’s the essence of handicapping.

But another story is also told by the past performances, and one that requires more than surface analysis to see. This story is crafted by looking deeper into the circumstances surrounding a particular race and understanding why that race may or may not be predictive for today’s race. Importantly, in doing so, this type of analysis raises more questions than answers, but ultimately brings about a relatively accurate assessment of the riskiness of a contender. In particular, relevant data from other contexts, such as trainer intent or class shifts, often informs understanding the previous races and the reasoning behind today’s entry.

Because they are difficult to see, these second stories — the contextual ones that require analysis — are the ones that offer opportunities for profit at the racetrack. In short, context matters, especially when betting against the public.

Image: Lauren Turner, Uttoxeter Races_026. Copyright 2011.

Gladwell on Taleb (and Niederhoffer)

It’s simply one of the best articles of the past 20 years: Malcolm Gladwell on the investment strategy of Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

I remember the first time I read it vividly; it substantially changed the way I think about the world. I had already read Taleb’s classic “Fooled by Randomness.” But when Taleb’s philosophy is placed against rival Niederhoffer’s, more insights are formed. Much is due to the skilled storytelling (as always) from Gladwell.

Click here for article

Image: John Morgan, Probability and Measure. Copyright 2009.

“Interesting Noise” and the Perils of Mining for Data

Bizarre statistics typically grab headlines. For example, everybody at Saratoga yesterday was smitten with the “A.P. Indy Curse,” the data-mined finding that no offspring of the great, now-pensioned A.P. Indy had ever won a six furlong (or lower) sprint at the premier summer meets of Saratoga or Del Mar. Believing this stat to be predictive of today’s race (a six furlong, NY-bred maiden allowance for 3-year olds and up), the public shied away from the speedy A.P. Indy daughter Girlaboutown and, instead, made a first time starter the favorite. Girlaboutown, just a tad shy of 5-2, dominated the field on the front end and never looked in trouble, ending the “curse.”

But there was absolutely no reason to believe that this statistic was particularly predictive for these lower-level sprints at Saratoga or Del Mar. The “A.P. Indy Curse” was the quintessential bad stat. It was simply the result of clever data-mining — a technique that often looks for patterns before theory. It’s great for finding fun stories, but not all that useful for predicting the future. Finding useful predictive stats in horse racing requires more than just combing through data and finding patterns. Not only do you need to find an interesting stat, but it is generally smart to also ask yourself why a particular stat might, in fact, independently be true. Stats must follow theory, not the other way around. This is often best done by using theory to drive research questions, not data.

Stats must follow theory, not the other way around.

That said, knowing what we know about sires, speed, and about A.P. Indy’s overall performance as a sire, was there any independent, theoretical reason to believe this stat to be anything other than “clever noise?” It has been fairly well-established that A.P. Indy’s progeny prefer routing (and there is ample theoretical basis for this belief), but there is no reason to believe that sprinting at Saratoga and Del Mar was ever a particular problem when compared to other tracks. The curse in general is merely a restatement of A.P. Indy’s weakness as a sprint sire, but it is misleading in regards to its increased severity at the marquee summer meets. There is no particular reason to believe him worse across the board — independent of class level — at Saratoga and Del Mar. A good sprinter by A.P. Indy, while rare, is not unheard of; for example, Giralimo was a G1 winner, and A.P. Indy still sires occasional winners in lower-level sprints around the United States. In sum, the Saratoga/Del Mar version of the “A.P. Indy Curse” provided a great example of seeing meaning in noise, and a great place to exploit how the public misuses and misapplies information.

Image: Microsoft Sweden, “Excel 2.0. Box Shot 1987,” Copyright 2011. Creative Commons 2.0.

Book Review: Exotic Betting

Winning at the horse races is about two things. The first is handicapping the race — finding the questions, assessing uncertainty, and understanding the possibilities. The second is wagering — how to structure your bets to maximize your return given your handicapping of the race.  The mainstream handicapping literature on bet structuring is quite thin and one of its main entrants is our subject here, Steven Crist’s Exotic Betting.

At its core, Exotic Betting is  an introduction to exotic bet structuring. It is appropriate for the beginning to intermediate horseplayer. Crist discusses basic strategies for both within-race (exacta, trifecta, and superfecta) and multi-race (daily double, pick three, pick four, pick five, and pick six) wagers. For the most part, the strategies are sound and provide a good, launching pad for deeper thinking about the exotics. In particular, Crist mentions the single, most important piece of advice for the exotics bettor: Exotics can not be used as a means to profit from an overall lack of clarity. You simply can not use these bets as a replacement for difficult decision making. While you may occasionally reap the reward from this method, the bettor is typically not getting a return in accordance with the risk undertaken. And that is what exotic betting is about — finding ways to increase the return while managing risk — all based upon your opinion and analysis of the race.
Written on such a narrow topic, I would have preferred Crist to emphasize and detail strategies for maximizing potential return at appropriate levels of risk through the use of exotic wagering. Simply put, I wanted to read a discussion of when to add that extra horse to a trifecta or Pick 4 ticket. Unfortunately, Exotic Betting does not delve deeply into a fundamental dilemma of wagering.  For example, in devising his tickets for the Pick Four and Pick Six, he normally divides his horses into four groups – A’s (likely winners), B’s (horses that can win if the A’s fail), C’s (horses that could conceivably win, but are unlikely) and X’s (eliminations). Based on these classifications, he then creates tickets with various combinations of the non-eliminated horses to cover a vast range of possibilities. While Crist gives some examples of his “Chinese Menu” selection process (e.g. three from Group A with one from Group C), there is no discussion of the reasons why certain combinations are used. As a result, the reader is left wondering why he determined that potential financial rewards are best served by these combinations, and how to make these adjustments to their wagers. The same problem occurs in discussing the amounts to bet on certain combinations. In fashioning his tickets, Crist mentions that when he plays a Pick Four ticket with four A’s (the likeliest winners), he buys it four times to compensate for the lower payoff. Yet, much like the earlier discussion regarding the selection of combinations, no explanation is given on why or how these amounts were calculated. There is nothing worse than putting out capital at an undue amount of risk for the range and likelihoods of various returns, and, consequently, the horseplayer needs better tools to assess when he has either overplayed or underplayed their capital.

Exotic Betting is available used at Better World Books.

 

The Newcomer’s Guide to the Races — Essential Reading

As an occasional series, I plan to discuss the basics that every horseplayer should know.  Yesterday, I re-published “The Generic Horseplayer,” an article that I wrote back in 2006 that argued against too many early consumption of handicapping knowledge.  I still believe that avoiding mainstream thinking is essential to becoming a contrarian player.  But, a player still needs to understand the basics in order to interpret data.  These are:

  • Speed
  • Bias/Trip
  • Pace
  • Class
  • Form
  • Value
  • Bet Structuring

The best general book on the market is Steven Davidowitz’s, “Betting Thoroughbreds.”  He covers just about everything, and does it in clear, enjoyable prose.  I learned a ton about the basics from this book, and I keep it handy for reference.  Right behind is Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing”  which only is second because it is, sadly, dated in parts.  But Ainslie, which was the pen name of Richard Carter, has insights into the game that still apply today, and he provides angles that still are a steady source of mid-price to longshot winners.  It also is an important book in the history of handicapping, representing one of the first serious attempt to publish widely on handicapping.

The other books are focused on particular areas and serve a solid intermediary-level introductions to the field.

For speed, it has to be Andrew Beyer’s “Picking Winners.”  Understanding how speed figures are made — and their inherent subjectivity — is paramount.

For pace, I recommend Tom Bromaher’s sensational “Modern Pace Handicapping.”  You don’t hear the name Doc Sartin all that much anymore, but at one time, you did.  There are very good insights here.

For trip and bias, I go to again to Beyer, but this time to “The Winning Horseplayer.”  Here, Beyer is  is born again as a trip handicapper, and he imparts valuable wisdom about modifying speed figures for these factors.

For class, I love James Quinn’s “The Handicapper’s Condition Book.”  Understanding the conditions for races put you immediately on the next level of handicapping.  No one explains this like Quinn, whose entire body of work is superb.

For form, I like Mark Cramer’s  “Thoroughbred Cycles”.  It’s a great work that tries to nail down some of the elusiveness of form. Cramer’s narrative style makes this book flow like a novel.

For value, I like Cramer’s ” Value Handicapping.”  It is an excellent introduction into making your own line — something that all beginning handicappers should  do (at least informally).

Lastly, I recommend Barry Meadow’s “Money Secrets at the Racetrack” for beginning to understand basic money management.  This is what separates the good players and the great ones.

What do you think?  Vote in the poll here.

Links are through Better World Books. They are a leader in “Triple Bottom Line,” which means that they not only care about profit, but also planet and people. As part of their mission, Better World Books has raised an enormous amount of money for literacy and libraries, and I encourage you to check them out.  I’ve used them for years — they ship quick and are reliable.

Image: “Happy Turn of Fortune in Hong Kong” Copyright 2008 Akshay Mahajan.

 

The Generic Horseplayer Revisited

I wrote this column back in the summer of 2006.  Back then, I had been playing the races seriously for a few years and was beginning to put some central ideas to paper.  While I don’t agree with every word in it (I hope not after eight more years of playing!), the core message of the challenge of continued contrarianism remains one of the important obstacles facing horseplayers.  Enjoy!

The Generic Horseplayer

Conformity is a curious thing. In many walks of life, it is a pathway to comfort; a means to attain a predetermined level of security. If you play along, do what you’re told, obey the rules, then you’ll be taken care of – an above-average, yet cookie cutter life will exist for you. There’s almost no risk in taking the safe path; while the non-conventional person may attain or acquire more or less, conformity brings safety, although perhaps not deep satisfaction.  However, if you lean towards conformity and its resulting safety, then I’m fairly positive that you shouldn’t be expecting to profit from the horses, whether recreationally or professionally. Because in playing the horses, it’s exactly the opposite of many other aspects of life. Thinking like everyone else will not create even an average level of success. As in any speculative activity, profit can only result from an opinion that is different from the norm, so long as the difference of opinion is based on something tangible, and not merely different for difference sake.

As a devoted horseplayer, I’ve had my own experiences with the pressures of conforming. When I began handicapping, I was wildly successful, despite only using incomplete bits of knowledge based on repeated observation to reach my selections. My first big winner (35-1) was selected on a drop in class combined with a last race decent close — an analysis derived solely from watching several races mixed in with a good dose of common sense. Believing that I was probably just lucky and wishing to perpetually sustain this luck, I embarked on a journey to learn as much as I could about the game. In the following months, I read the classics of Ainsle, Beyer, Brohamer, and Quinn – and a host of other authors who all added something to the equation. In fact, as of this writing, I own and have read 47 books related to handicapping – all catalogued neatly in a veritable library of truth in my office.

After reading all these books, I was armed with an almost complete body of handicapping knowledge. However, after incorporating this information into my handicapping, I noticed a not-so-positive change in my thought processes and in my ultimate selections. I now routinely settled on favorites or other top horses, and I no longer found the less than obvious horse. I routinely supported the horses that met the proven, well-trodden angles learned from the books, such as best last race finish, top speed, top trainer and jockey, best class, and improving form cycle. At the same time, I was chanting to myself the mantras of value at every turn. Although I was acutely aware of the importance of the overlay, I would incorrectly support false overlays repeatedly. And then, one day, I realized what had happened. I had become nothing but an organization man – an unthinking disciple of a dominant ideology. Stripped down of my early individuality, I had become a generic horseplayer.

Aware of my now commonplace handicapping, I began to suspect that the success at the beginning was more than just beginner’s luck and that it contained seeds of an individualized method that I had abandoned to subscribe to the views of the orthodoxy. Determined to recapture some of the methods that had worked so well at the beginning, I began to disregard conclusions based solely on the surface of the form. In an effort not to be swayed, I would make my selections ignorant of the odds, and only bet when the public did not mirror my assessment. I tried to predict how the public would value the horses – using the knowledge that I gained in my exhaustive study of the literature – and tried to find less than obvious reasons why the public might be in error. But, mostly, I tried to unlearn what the books led me to believe – that the past performances completely reflect the possibilities of the race and that an individual race can predicted with accuracy. Indeed, I discovered that, in a speculative endeavor, the illusion of certainty can be fatal. By returning to a view that anything can happen, which I held at the beginning of my horse playing days, I recaptured the looseness of thought necessary to distinguish my thought process from the crowd.

These duel perils of extensive handicapping study – conformity and the illusion of certainty – present traps for the novice and experienced player alike. For the novice player, I would caution against too much early infusion of the technical handicapping techniques of others. Seek only to understand what a past performance means and only approach the technical works when you have the base of knowledge to critically assess them. However, anything dealing with the game that does not involve the technical part of picking winners, i.e. bet structuring, money management, or emotional control, is incredibly useful to the novice (and veteran) horseplayer. And, for the seasoned horseplayer who has read the classics and is familiar with all the established techniques, a consistent check to see if you have entered the realm of the generic is always useful. This game’s ups and downs can push all but the most emotionally disciplined handicapper into moments of doubt and towards more accepted approaches and a vain quest for certainty.

– First published July 16, 2006

 

Robert Rubin

You find insight into playing the races from all walks of life.  One common area of overlap is with the financial world.  Written in 1998 (but still very relevant) Jacob Weisberg profiles then-Treasury secretary Robert Rubin with a focus on his probabilistic way of thinking. Two quotes from this must-read:

“At Harvard and Yale Law School I learned to think about the uncertainties and the ambiguities of life intellectually,” he says. ”When I got to Goldman, Sachs, I learned it was a matter of financial life and death to learn to be probabilistic. If you thought in absolutes and black-and-whites, sooner or later you got wiped out. The odds would catch up with you.”

“What was paradoxical about Rubin’s risk-taking was how reasoned it was. ”Arbitrage is an actuarial business, just like so much of life,” Rubin says. ”Each judgment was probabilistic. What you needed to do was make sure you didn’t get so big in one position, even if the odds were very good, that if it went bad it wiped out everything else. You had to maintain your balance.’

Full NY Times article here

Those looking deeper may also enjoy Rubin’s biography available at Amazon:

On Casual Fandom, the World Cup, and the Importance of Story

I’m never been terribly sure why mainstream media coverage of horse racing essentially disappears post-Triple Crown.  As someone who did not grow up around horse racing (a very suburban, generation X’er, Midwestern childhood — my father is a law professor and my mother writes about macrobiotic foods and healthy living), I too once inhabited the limited place known as the”Triple Crown-only” horse racing world. In comparison to my now deep involvement in the sport of horse racing, I  am very much a casual sports fan for another of America’s part-time sports, soccer.  Like many, I only really pay attention to the World Cup, and I’m enjoying the current one.

So, I ask myself — what keeps me from turning on an MLS game or even the highest-level football, such as the Champions League?  I actually really enjoying watching soccer, and it’s fun to watch the action and opportunities develop so deliberately. I don’t watch outside the World Cup because I don’t know the stories. And knowing the stories — the personalities, the histories, the sentiments —  is essential to the enjoyment of sports.  It’s why rivalries are always compelling theater — the history is known and  usually angry — and its why seven-game series and championship rematches can develop an epic quality.

Yes, the Triple Crown is compelling, but not any more so than other dramatic arcs of racing. Wise Dan’s and Palice Malice’s recent campaigns have been astonishing, and Moonshine Mullin’s rise to grade I winner has been sensational. He is a horse in simply amazing condition. Mucho Macho Man‘s triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Classic is a testament to life after the Triple Crown. Furthermore,  the racetrack and its community tend to be deeply intermingled in ways not typically found in contemporary life.  Rich stories are found in these settings everyday.

We’ve seen recently how much a good story can move the needle.  The American sport-viewing public (and, perhaps, the public in general) has a constant desire for drama and story.  Horse racing — year-round, from all levels — has the ability to provide it.

 

 

Rethinking Multi-Race Exotics

Having a ticket crafted out of various combinations of your “A”, “B,” and “C” rated horses is all the rage in wagering. Generally, you hit your ticket if all of your A’s win, or some combination of A’s & B’s, or A & C’s. Explained by Steven Crist in “Exotic Betting,” (full review here) and the basis for the DRF wagering calculator, this method lets you go deeper for less money in pick four, pick fives, and pick sixes. It is colloquially known as the “Chinese Menu” approach, in reference to Chinese food family-style menus that let you choose a couple of items from column A and B, respectively.

This method — now considered the mainstream approach — is flawed from a value perspective.  By eliminating tickets with multiple longshot horses, you cut out the rarest combinations and those that will pay the most. Many of these combinations can potentially scoop the pool at smaller tracks. Getting into these “soft spots” is where the outsized payoffs are. The proponents of the Chinese Menu approach need to show that the money saved by leaving these combinations off the tickets makes financial sense by giving up chances at year-changing payouts.  It is my experience that they do not.

I prefer the combinations of different levels of “unlikely” in order to maximize return. The greatest payoffs occur when you can combine “very unlikely” (in the eyes of the public, but still a contender) with “only slightly unlikely.”  The tighter the multi-race exotics, the better (Daily Double over Pick 3/Pick 3 over Pick 4 and 5), with the maximum amount of money pushed onto your opinion.  That said, there are many “soft spots” that can bring about outsized returns throughout the longer multi-race exotics.  Knowing how to play these well can make a significant difference in your bottom line.

 

The Pennsylvania Derby

Today, it’s the GI Pennsylvania Derby from PARX — a 3YO only race going 9 furlongs which has evolved into a Breeders’ Cup Classic Prep. Paired with the Cotillion, it’s the biggest racing day of the year for the Philadelphia-based track. It’s a $1 Million race and it’s likely that the top finishers will be at Churchill Downs in November contesting the $6 million Classic. It’s a very solid field with high Beyer Speed Figures all around — 3 horses have run over 100 during their careers.

The race begins with Curlin Stakes winner Hofburg. He was all set for the Travers before a fever derailed him. Instead, the target became today’s race. He ran a 100 Beyer Speed Figure as the heavy 1/4 favorite. He slowly had been improving all spring and summer, highlighted by a 3rd by 3 1/2 to Justify in the Belmont. He’s 3/1 on the M/L and may drop a bit to 2/1 or below. He needed to go to a lower level to get the win, however. McKinzie is 5/2 and makes his first start since an injury derailed his Kentucky Derby Trail in March. His last win was a 101 Beyer Speed Figure in the G2 San Felipe. Mike Smith takes the reins for Bob Baffert — a vicious combination which has hit at 43% this year and won a Triple Crown. He was at the top of the group before the injury (and before Justify’s ascendance) and, perhaps, will take his place near the top today. It’s worth noting Baffert does well with layoffs. Axelrod, a surprising 5-1 M/L, has been a new horse since winning the Indiana Derby and then dominating the local prep, the Smarty Jones. He’s shown a new dimension with closing.

Core Beliefs was a bit of a mid-summer darling, winning the Ohio Derby and making a nice showing in the Peter Pan. He hit a bit of a ceiling in the GI Haskell and would need to improve to contend today. He’s 10-1 on the M/L. He’s had some time off, but it’s likely not enough to get him to the triple-digit Beyer. There’s some buzz on Bravazo and he ran a very solid Travers with a 97 Beyer Speed Figure. Except for the Louisiana Derby, he’s brought his race, including decent performances in the Triple Crown, Haskell, and Travers. He just needs to break through and win at the G1 level. It’s his 6th straight G1 try. Mr Freeze ran away and hid in the West Virginia Derby, winning by 8 lengths and earning a far and away lifetime-best Beyer Speed Figure of 102 (previous high was 89). With an easy lead today (harder to predict), he could do it again. I’d be surprised.

Instilled Regard moves to the Chad Brown barn from the Hollendorfer barn for his first start since a 4th in the Kentucky Derby. He earned a lifetime best Beyer in that race — 97. He was a million dollar purchase. He’s 15-1 on the M/L and I doubt he’ll stay that high — Chad Brown runners don’t usually double-digit float. King Zachary’s seasonal highlight is a lights-out win in the G3 Matt Winn. He disappointed in the Indiana Derby, but ran a fast 4th in the Travers. He’s at 20-1, but still has a shot. Trigger Warning has shown speed to mid-stretch through the summer but was outclassed in the Travers. I expect a similar result today.

Analysis: This is a deep race with several win contenders. I’m warming to Bravazo and his deep resume, although have concerns that he can win against this group. Odds higher than 5-1 will ease those concerns. Instilled Regard shows value at double-digits — and is a must play above 10-1 — but he’ll probably be much much lower. It will be interesting to see how the race is bet — many horses coming off layoffs — and then searching for value.

The Iroquois

The Iroquois is the first race on the Kentucky Derby trail for 2019 — offering 10 points for the winner. A large field of 12 goes to the gate in this GIII event in which 2YO’s will navigate 2 turns and 8.5 furlongs. 2YO’s routing in a graded stake — that’s all you need to say in order to bring up the Derby antenna.  It is, of course, still very early, but serious contenders for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile tend to emerge in these early races. In turn, the Juvenile is an important “prep” race for the Kentucky Derby.

Tight Ten (2-1) looks the overwhelming favorite on paper. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he has a Beyer Speed Figure of 80 last time out, finishing second in the Saratoga Special. His biggest question is whether he can get the route of ground — something that seems likely with Tapit as his sire. Distorted Humor — who I think of as producing more milers — is his damsire. To confirm that, his dam has produced more sprinters than routers and was a sprinter herself on the racetrack. If you’re going to take a shot that Tight Ten is a better sprinter than a router, you will likely get paid – the key is to find the right horse (or horses — if you put it in a multi-race exotic). Even with a sprinting propensity,  It’s also possible he’s still a better router than this group. He’s likely to be odds-on.

The rest of the field comes in as slower sprinters. Here are a few that could improve with distance. Tobacco Road (6-1), who is also trained by Steve Asmussen, broke his maiden at Ellis Park and followed it up with a win as the favorite in the Ellis Park Juvenile. He is bred for routing with Quality Road as his sire and Lomitas (GB) as his damsire. His dam has never produced a route winner, however. She has produced her share of 2YO winners — with 5 winners from 12 starts. He rates a chance. Manny Wah (8-1) is trained by Wayne Catalano and broke his maiden over artificial surface at Arlington Park. He then finished a close third in the Ellis Park Juvenile. His sire, Will Take Charge, should eventually produce routers. Proud Citizen on the bottom should help stamina as well. His trainer doesn’t excel at first-time routing — only 10% — which raises some red flags, even though he’s only adding 1.5 furlongs.

Everfast (12-1) is trained by Dale Romans who relatively excels at first time route. This horse won first time out at Ellis Park coming from off the pace — always a nice sign. His sire is Take Charge Indy and his dame sire Awesome Again, so distance shouldn’t be a problem. Pole Setter (6-1) has already shown an ability to get a route, although it has been over the turf. He finished 6th after a competitive run in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile. Trained by Brad Cox, he adds blinkers today after weakening late in his last race. His last workout is a bullet, so it’s likely that the blinkers help the focus.

Analysis: It’s too hard to take a low price on Tight Ten, even though odds-on in graded stakes, especially 2YOs, tend to be formful. I’m leaning towards the upside of Everfast, who at 12-1, could be a daymaker in the multi-race exotics if the odds stay high. Multi-race players can play several and I’d also include Pole Setter who has enough dirt in his pedigree to make an interesting run as well and stamina built-in from that Kentucky Downs run.

Good luck at the races!

The Del Mar Futurity

The Del Mar Futurity, a GI event for 2YO’s going 7 furlongs, is one my favorite races all year. It is filled with memories. I can still hear my friend Josh yelling, “Stevie Wonderboy,” like it was yesterday. It typically sums up the meet for 2YO dirt colts, providing a 7f distance in anticipation of the 8.5 furlong American Pharoah (formally the Frontrunner). Unfortunately, this year one of the two standouts — Instagrand — will skip this race and train into the American Pharoah. According to DRF, it was the owner’s decision. Instagrand cost $1.2 million and won his debut at Los Al by open lengths and then won the GII Best Pal at Del Mar, earning one of the top 2YO Beyers of the year. So, we will always wonder whether Instagrand would have won here. That said, he may have been favored here, but maybe not. He would have been challenged by the horse that now takes on the position of heavy favorite, Roadster.

Roadster ran an 81 Beyer Speed Figure in winning his maiden race on July 29. But, prior to that maiden race, Bob Baffert had been touting this horse whenever asked “Who’s the next great one in your barn?” The maiden race was especially deep and he won by 4 1/4 lengths. He would seem to appreciate the extra furlong as his sire is Quality Road and his damsire of Silver Ghost. At some point, we may have questions about distance, but definitely not today. Another reason to support Roadster — Baffert owns this race — he has 13 wins. He definitely knows what it takes to win. With Instagram out, Roadster is likely to be 3/5, perhaps even 1/5. Can you beat him?

Game Winner aka the “other Baffert.” He ran a very good Beyer and then Baffert removes the blinkers. He’s an amazing 45% with this angle. Obviously, he must think this horse can run better, which makes him competitive for the winner’s circle. He’s the best chance to upset Roadster and a possible value play. Sparky Ville finished second behind Instagrand last time out in the Best Pal. It may have been a race that improves him. Rowayton was hot on debut and didn’t disappoint. He has an extra 2 furlongs to get; that’s a bigger jump than I like to see, but his speed isn’t terrible and there is some hype. Spin Lightning closed in a maiden, which is always notable. He earned a very slow speed figure, although there are hints of potential.

I don’t terribly care for Savagery. Front-running Beyer Speed Figures at the maiden claiming level tend to be inflated. Sigalert seems to slow to win this race.

Good luck at the races!

The Travers Stakes

The Travers Stakes is a 10 furlong race for 3YOs on the dirt from Saratoga. It is the most prestigious non-Triple Crown race exclusively for 3YO’s; some may argue that it is more prestigious than the Preakness. It can be a landmark race for great horses. It is a GI and the key point on the summer calendar for 3YO.

[Horses are in order from most likely to least likely]

In this year’s edition, The 2-1 M/L favorite is Good Magic, the winner of the Haskell. No horse since Point Given — who was a great racehorse — has pulled off this feat. Point Given did it in 2001. That said, he’s the fastest horse in the race and is remarkably consistent. He was the Kentucky Derby runner-up, finishing 2 1/2 lengths behind Justify. He’s generally considered the best 3YO in training and is trained by Chad Brown. He may be fast enough to win here, but he’ll have to up his game when the divisions merge, particularly in the Classic. A triple-digit Beyer today would go a long way toward assuaging those fears.

But there are still some other horses which I expect to challenge Good Magic, especially because of the Haskell-Travers “curse.” Gronkowski shocked nearly everyone by running a close 2nd to Justify in the Belmont. Unkown whether he’d like traditional dirt going into the race, he turned out to be a more than capable dirt horse — running a 99 Beyer speed figure. He’s had even more time with Chad Brown since then. He certainly could find the winner’s circle. Todd Pletcher’s Vino Rosso looms a threat. He ran a 97 BSF in the Belmont (and Hofburg came back and ran well in the Curlin.) He ran a useful Jim Dandy. His only try at the distance was in the Derby, where he finished 9th, 10 1/2 lengths back. But he’s run 1 1/2 well, so we know the 9 furlongs are within his wheelhouse. On his best day, he could win this. Will we get the really good version of Vino Rosso or better?

Tenfold hasn’t run fast enough to win this race, even with his win in the Jim Dandy. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he broke through and got the Graded Stakes win. Tenfold has an impressive resume, even if he’s lost the biggest races in the Preakness and the Belmont. After clearing his first-level allowance, he has run exclusively in Graded Stakes. He didn’t move forward for the Arkansas Derby — granted it was in his 3rd start — and the question is whether he’ll move forward today. If you like him — and there are lots of reasons to — make sure you are getting paid for the risk.

Wonder Gadot makes a great story. She’s the first filly to start in the Travers since Davona Dale in 1979 and seeking the first win by a filly since Lady Rotha in 1915. She is trained by Mark Casse. Unfortunately, she’s probably not fast enough to win here and she’s been facing restricted company (Canadian-breds) in her most impressive triumphs. She can win if she possesses the ability to rise to the occasion against males, much like Beholder running a lifetime high in the Pacific Classic or several of Rachel Alexandra’s races. If she wins, expect the chants of “How good is Monomoy Girl?” to be loud.

Catholic Boy is another with a chance. His key is being as good on dirt and he is on turf. That’s hard to argue for when he’s 4 for 5 on the surface (the only loss is the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf) and his highest BSF’s (by far) are recently going long on the turf. He is trained by Jonathan Thomas. It’s hard to know what to make of Mendelssohn. He ran lights out in the UAE Derby, terrible in the Kentucky Derby, and okay, but not great, in the Dwyer. He is trained by Aiden O’Brien, who does much better on turf than dirt in America. It’s possible that Mendelssohn rounds back into form and dominates the field from the front. King Zachary — trained by Dale Romans — gets consideration because of his Matt Winn score. However, the Matt Winn was nowhere as deep as this race, and his failure to back it up in the Indiana Derby raises concerns.

Bravazo is proving to be a good second place horse. Granted he’s facing the best competition, he has a second in the Haskell and a second in the Preakness. His non-maidens wins are by a neck and a nose. Trained by D. Wayne Lukas, he’d need to be on his best. Trigger Warning has been hitting the board throughout the midwest, and earned a 94 for his 2nd place in Indiana. He’ll be a pace factor for sure, but unlikely to be there at the end. He’s trained by Mike Rone. Meistermind — another Asmussen trainee — makes the jump from a fifth place in the 1st level allowance to a GI. He may have talent, but this is above-his-head right now.

 

 

The Pacific Classic

It’s time for the Grade I Pacific Classic, a 10-furlong dirt race from Del Mar. Along with the Del Mar Futurity, it’s one of the high points of a terrific, loaded meet. The race is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic and it’s likely that a couple will point in that direction based on today’s performance. We have a competitive field of 6, with a clear, but not unbeatable favorite. That favorite is Accelerate, trained by John Sadler and ridden by Joel Rosario for the first time. He has a speed edge over the field and he is at his best at 10 furlongs. He loves this distance. He’s 3 for 4 this year overall; and while he lost this race last year, he still ran a 110 Beyer. If he runs his race, it’s his. On the downside, he has been off since the end of May — although some of this has to do with avoiding a confrontation with barn-mate San Diego Handicap (GII) winner Catalina Cruiser.

Dr. Dorr flirted with the possibility of being a top-of-the-division horse earlier this year, especially with his 7 1/4 length win in the GII Californian and accompanying 108 Beyer Speed Figure. He was well-beaten by Catalina Cruiser last time out. He’d need a form reversal — and while there are some factors that hint at that — it’s always tough to bank on a return to a horse’s best in order to win. He is trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Joe Talamo. Bob Baffert has another horse in the race in Roman Rosso. Ths horse has been running in Argentina and Uruguay and gobbling up GI’s. Baffert doesn’t have great first start with trainer records and he’s certainly ambitious with this one. Ultimately, this horse is very hard to gauge, although I’d err on the side of devaluing those South American GI’s and consider this horse for minor placings only. He’s ridden by Flavien Prat.

Prime Attraction is interesting. He’s never run fast enough to win this race and his last dirt campaign never got close to the 104 Beyer again. He comes off a strong performance in the GII Eddie Read on the turf, which is the surface this horse likely needs to be at his best. He could win today, but I’d be more confident if it were on turf. He’s trained by James Cassidy and ridden by Kent Desormeaux. Pavel finally broke through and won the GI Steven Foster at odds of almost 7-1. He had been flirting with being a GI winner since running a 97 Beyer on debut, the GIII Smarty Jones by open lengths, and finishing only 1 3/4 lengths behind Diversify in the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup. The placings this year were ambitious — and he lost to several of these here in the GI Gold Cup at Santa Anita and GII San Pasquel already. If he improved, he’ll still have to improve more to turn the tables on the others. But, as it stands right now, I don’t think he’s fast enough to win. Pavel is trained by Doug O’Neil and ridden by Mario Gutierrez.

The Lieutenant isn’t fast enough to win here, although he has improved as of late. He captured the GIII All American at Golden Gate and then finished second behind Diversify in the Suburban. He’s also the half-brother to Justify, which has helped his breeding value, but hasn’t made him faster.  He could close into an underneath spot, but the top spot seems too ambitious. The horse is trained by Michael McCarthy and ridden by Drayden Van Dyke. Two Thirty Five has climbed from the claiming ranks into a multiple allowance winner.  Racing in routes has made a significant difference for the team of trainer Richard Baltas and jockey Franklin Ceballos. If he likes the added distance and continues at his best form, he’s a longshot contender to win.

 

 

The Best Pal

This year’s version of the Best Pal, a GII 6f sprint for 2YO at Del Mar, is dominated by the presence of Instagrand. He is the 1/2 morning line favorite and a deserving one. Here is his maiden race, where he shows his stamina in the stretch convincingly.

He cost $1.2 million this past March and has been the subject of some serious hype since winning that maiden. On paper, he should dominate today. His Beyer Speed Figure of 88 towers over the field. And 2YO tend to be reliable, the opposite of what people think. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, for him to not win, he’d likely have to not like the track — something it’s hard to tell conclusively from the workouts — or regress off that big effort at the end of June. It was just one race and it’s easy to overstress in a sample size of one. That said, he’d seemingly like the extra furlong — and extra furlongs after that — being out of Into Mischief. He likely goes off better than 1/2, possibly even 1/9. Incidentally, odds-on in Graded Stakes is a historically positive return.

Can you beat him? If so, you’re likeliest to do so with Owning. His sire’s stud fee (Flashback) is only $5K, but he sold for $260K this past April.  A high multiple between the two is usually a sign of a fast horse. Also, Flashback is getting significant buzz as a freshman sire. Owning debuted for Simon Callaghan with Mario Gutierrez aboard with a 72 Beyer Speed Figure. Callaghan was the trainer of Kentucky Derby second-place finisher of Firing Line in 2015. The winner that year? American Pharoah. Owning could always improve in his second start and wasn’t favored first time out. He should appreciate the extra half-furlong. But he’s still overmatched by Instagrand.

Mason Dixon won a 150K Maiden Claimer — the type of races designed to let good horses run, but get away from the million-dollar Instagrand’s of the world. He’s extremely overmatched for Doug O’Neil and Flavien Prat. He should appreciate the extra furlong being by Union Rags. He’s likely to improve for O’Neil, who usually doesn’t have them cranked up the first time, but asking him to catch Instagrand is a tall task.

Sparky Ville would need to move forward significantly in the 2 months since he last raced. It’s not impossible, but still unlikely for trainer Jeff Bonde and jockey Gary Stevens. He has a very nice workout mixed in a bunch of average to below-average ones. He should like the extra distance, being by Candy Ride, but no match for Instagrand.

Synthesis is still a maiden, with 2 3rd place finishes to his record. He looks overmatched and he is. He doesn’t have the pedigree or the race record to be competitive here. He’s already run several times so we have more of a baseline. Trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by his brother, Kent, Synthesis will likely be 20-1 or more and has little chance to spring the huge upset.

Analysis: Based on his impressive maiden score and the high Beyer Speed Figure earned from it, Instagrand should romp in the Best Pal. His purchase price helps pad the argument as well. The most competition will likely come from Owning, who is out of promising sire Flashback and earned the 2nd best Beyer Speed Figure last time out. But it likely won’t be enough to hold off Instagram from getting his first Graded Stakes.

The West Virginia Derby

Normally, Mountaineer Park is a sanctuary for horseplayers who play at night during the week. But once a year, the track garners national attention with the GIII West Viriginia Derby. The race was a GII from 2009-2016 and, for this edition, the purse has seen a reduction to $500,000, its lowest level since 2001. But the race has still brought a field of up and coming horses looking to establish themselves in the division and gain a graded stakes victory.

Two horses in the field already have graded stakes victory and they are likely the two favorites come post time. Draft Pick won the GIII Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita before finishing second to Once on Whiskey in the GIII Los Alamitos Derby. Draft Pick ran much faster in the Affirmed and possibly could simply have not cared for the Los Alamitos or the 9-furlong distance of the Los Alamitos Derby. Once on Whiskey won stretching out after two good races at 7 furlongs. He did not run a very fast Beyer Speed Figure — 86 — in the Los Alamitos Derby win. However, that very well could be fast enough to win in this field today.

High North won the Iowa Derby with an 84 Beyer.  His best win may be the Northern Spur, a competitive race at 8.5 furlongs on the Arkansas Derby undercard. He ran a 91 Beyer in that race. He certainly has a shot, but I’m not sure he wants the distance. Rugbyman tries 9 furlongs for the first time. This is his 5th-lifetime start. Among those area 14 length score in the mud at Belmont and a 2nd by a neck in the Easy Goer on the Belmont undercard. He was crushed by Firenze Fire in the Dwyer, but his Beyer came back from that as a competitive 84.

Mr. Freeze is making only his 4th lifetime start. In his last start, he finished 2nd to High North in Iowas Derby. Before that, he earned an 89 Beyer at Churchill Downs in a 3YO first-level allowance win. This is his first attempt at 9 furlongs. Lionite finished 3rd in the Iowa Derby and won the local prep for that race. But, excluding his maiden breaker, he hasn’t run fast enough to win here. The extra distance is his main hope. Caloric, King Cause, and Pamir haven’t run fast enough in their careers and with the exception of King Cause, significant improvement is unlikely by the other two. I wouldn’t be shocked to see King Cause hit the board, despite being seemingly overmatched.

Analysis: This is as wide-open 3YO race we’ve seen in a while. I like Rugbyman on the stretchout to 9 furlongs. He’s by super-sire Tapit. At this distance, I think he’s faster than the two horses coming from the Los Alamitos Derby (Draft Pick, Once on Whiskey) and faster than the Iowa Derby winner (High North). Hopefully, he’s a price, especially with the presence of a Baffert horse in the field (Once on Whiskey).

The Haskell Invitational

It’s the end of the weekend and we have a special Sunday edition of the blog. This week is the 9f Haskell Invitational, a GI $1 million dollar race from Monmouth Park in New Jersey. It’s the highlight of a weekend with 3 3YO races. At Saratoga, we’ve already seen Hofburg capture the Curlin on Friday and Tenfold took the Jim Dandy on Saturday.

This race begins with Good Magic, who is among the leaders in this now-open division (with the retirement of Justify.) His resume includes wins in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and in the G2 Blue Grass. He had a strong second in the Kentucky Derby, finishing only 2 1/2 lengths behind Justify. He finished a close 4th in the Preakness. He’s run a 100 Beyer — in last’s year Juvenile but hasn’t reached a new level this year. He may be good enough to win today without improvement, but he won’t be at the top of the division unless he moves forward.

Bravazo was part of that close finish in the Preakness. He’s certainly moved forward this year — putting up 4 of 5 90+ Beyers in his last 5 starts. He tops out with a 96 in the Preakness. It’s tough to read how much he moved forward in the slop, I don’t quite think he’s as good as he was in the Preakness and is probably too slow to win here today. Core Beliefs and Lone Sailor both exit the Ohio Derby. Core Beliefs, who got up by a nose, has been steadily on the improve all season. He ran a 94 Beyer in the Ohio Derby.  Lone Sailor, who also earned a 94 Beyer in the Ohio Derby, ran well in the Preakness as well. He is 1 for 11 — running in top races, but still not finding the winner’s circle since his second start.

Golden Brown seems better on the turf and he’s too slow. Navy Commander won a local prep in the Long Branch but his 84 Beyer is too slow for this race. Roaming Union, who finished second in a different local prep, could be on the improve with the third start in the cycle. He hasn’t found the winner’s circle enough to be a serious contender.

Analysis: I like trying to beat Good Magic, who will play a role in the race. But at 6-5 (or worse), I think there’s risk with this horse if another one improves. Core Beliefs has been improving and can continue to improve. He’s only made 6 starts and it took him to his 3rd start to figure it out. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has another gear and shows it at Monmouth.

 

The San Diego Handicap

We move to the older horses this week, possibly sniffing out some horses for the Pacific Classic, Breeders’ Cup Classic or the Mile. The race is 8.5f on the dirt. While the race is still quite compelling, news came that last year’s champion, Accelerate, who this year has won the Santa Anita Handicap as well as the Gold Cup, had scratched. The scratch of Curlin Rules hurts to a lesser extent, who would have to be on his game and on the improve to win here. We have a field of 6 with several horses having run 100 plus speed figures in their careers.

The race begins for me with Dr. Dorr who cuts back in distance after tiring badly in the Suburban. He did not run well over the Del Mar surface last year and one has to wonder whether he’ll take it the track today. He made the first two starts of his career at Del Mar. Baffert’s horses are usually ready to run, but he also perhaps just wasn’t ready. He didn’t blossom until after leaving San Diego, initially over the turf in New York. His dirt speed had a breakthrough on his return to the races in March, topping out with a win in the G2 Californian, the primary prep for the Gold Cup. There’s a chance that the Suburban was him coming off form or it could just be a one-off bad performance due to the track. On his game, he’s the most consistent and fastest — it’s just a question of how you evaluate the uncertainty.

Dabster will be going the farthest distance of his career. He’s already won twice at a mile (and once at 7f) in 6-lifetime starts. How he reacts to the extra half furlong will determine whether he can find the winner’s circle. He’s a bit slow to win the race if he doesn’t improve, whether due to likely the distance or other factors.  Harlan Punch ships in from the East Coast where he recently won by 5 1/4 lengths G3. That race was run at today’s distance. He’s never run at Del Mar before. He’s run some high Beyer Speed figure several times in his career, including a 97 last time out.

Catalina Cruiser is undefeated in 2 starts and put up an impressive 107 Beyer Speed Figure in 6f sprint last May. His pedigree suggests distance so the stretchout is not out of the question. If he can repeat that number routing, he’s in the winner’s circle. At 8-1 on the morning line, he seems like a good dark horse bet. Two Thirty Five has had a nice run of improvement since breaking his maiden for 20K in November of 2017 (over this surface.) He’s really put it together for trainer Richard Baltas, but he’ll face a class test today. He won an N2X by 4 1/4 lengths last out in a field of 5. This race seems a bit tough for El Huerfano, who recently came in 4th — beaten 6 lengths — in the G2 San Carlos. He a bit too slow for today’s race, even on his best. It’s a return to routing, which should help. The result for him last year in this race wasn’t good; he was beaten 35 lengths.

Analysis: I would not be shocked to see Dr. Dorr in the winner’s circle. It’s easy to forgive the Surbuban. But I think there’s more upside to Catalina Cruiser on the stretchout and that’s my selection for the race. His two races are very nice and Union Rags/Mineshaft suggests the distance won’t be a problem.

The Los Alamitos Derby

A small but intriguing field goes forward in the GIII Los Alamitos Derby later this afternoon. One of the highlights of the short summer meet, it features 5 3YO’s going 9 furlongs for a purse of $150K. Horses that run well could find themselves in any level of 3YO races left this summer, such as the Pennsylvania Derby or even the Travers, or even the Pacific Classic against older at Del Mar with a lights-out performance.

The race begins with Ax Man, who was last seen getting destroyed by Indiana Derby (later today as well) favorite King Zachary in the Matt Winn. He was 1/2 in that race — he’s been the favorite in all his starts and odds-on-in every one but his debut. He’s trained by Bob Baffert. He’s put up two sub-par performances in his career — in the aforementioned Matt Winn and in the 7f San Vincente where he was run of his feet by Kanthaka. It’s possible he didn’t like sprinting and it’s also possible he didn’t care for the Churchill Downs surface. But we have to wonder if he just didn’t feel like putting his best effort forward on either of those days. His other three performances were dominant wins by open lengths. He has three solid works since the Matt Winn. He’ll likely be the favorite again today — how low you’re willing to go on an unreliable, but fast, horse is the question.

Blended Citizen returns from a disappointing Belmont Stakes performance for Doug O’Neil. He previously won the Peter Pan over Core Beliefs and showed the form that earned him a 4th place finish in the Bluegrass. He’s the most experienced runner in the field with 11 lifetime starts and was on an upward trajectory before running into Justify and 12 furlongs. He’s not as fast as Ax Man at Ax Man’s best — no one in the field is — but stands a decent chance to run down the leaders on the long Los Alamitos stretch. I’d be willing to draw a line through the Belmont Stakes performance. Kyle Frey–who has been aboard all year–keeps the mount.

Draft Pick took a while to break his maiden, but when he returned in May from a short break, he did it emphatically. He immediately turned around the next month and took the GIII Affirmed Stakes earning a career-best 92 Beyer Speed Figure in the process. He looks to continue that hot streak today and go for three wins in a row. Trained by Peter Eurton, he is the only runner with experience at Los Al, running in two maiden races here, with 2 third place finishes. He does not seem to have a dislike for the surface — a plus, as everyone else faces a question in this regard. Slight improvement, or a subpar effort from Ax Man, puts him on top.

Once on Whiskey qualifies as the “other Baffert.” He hasn’t run particularly fast and nothing about his workouts are notable. He was last seen finishing 3rd on Derby Day in a 1st level allowance for three year olds. He’s yet to stretchout — something that could favor this son of Bodemeister out of a Mineshaft Dam. He’s a bit of an X-factor, piloted by Flavien Plat, and could make some noise at the end. He won’t be a huge price because of his trainer, but he could be a reasonable mid-to-longshot to include in the late P4.

King Cause is the other “O’Neil.” He’s yet to show the speed necessary to win here today and was beaten by Draft Pick by 10 lengths in the Affirmed. He has some early speed which could challenge Ax Man and set things up for Blended Citizen to make a charge at the end.

Analysis: Ax Man has proven a bit unreliable, and while he can win, I prefer the improving Draft Pick to lay slightly off the speed and make a winning move at the top of the long Los Al Stretch. He’s on a roll and I expect it to continue. Once on Whiskey is intriguing on the stretchout and is playable at 8-1 or better.