Saratoga, in all its summer splendor, remains relevant and
important for a variety for reasons, chief among them:
- * - Grade
1 races aplenty including such historic markers of time and championships like
the Whitney and Travers Stakes
- * - A
starting ground for those promising two-year-olds gauged so by breeding,
evident talent, price at auction or some combination of all three
- * - A
vacation destination for friends looking to play the ponies, partnerships
looking to purchase the next champion in the sales ring or casual fans mixing
an opportunity to shop, swim and celebrate, as well as make a bet or two
- * - Potential indicator of overall horse racing health by how well or not the meet
does both in attendance and through betting handle
This year, Saratoga’s opening day was very, very good to me, cashing my first plays of the meet – a Pick Five and Pick Four. What follows is my reflection on how I gave myself the opportunity to hit those plays, how I think I did and why I decided to make the play. In addition in a second blog post, I will give my impressions from my 22nd straight Saratoga visit. So, let’s get started with a worthwhile gamble.
First and foremost, I am not a professional or expert
horseplayer. I know my way around the track and certainly have played almost
every wager. I think of myself as a good to excellent handicapper to a poor to
OK a bettor. This is an important distinction, in my mind and what it means is
that I do well in narrowing down betting choices for each race, but can miss a
wager when I weigh some variable incorrectly. This happens often enough.
As I learn my way to make better bets, I try to minimize my
misses while trying to capitalize on opportunities for success, hopefully
having at least one or two long shots along the way for a big return.
Last Friday, I went after the Pick Five for a few reasons,
which I have culled from other experts along the way. Jay Cronley of ESPN fame
has written about the great opportunities that opening cards at new meets present
simply because these races bring together horses from across the country
perplexing bettors with race results from so many different tracks.
A more recent conversation with Lee Davis from the reality
show, Horseplayers, has also stuck with me. In talking through dinner in
Boston’s North End, he told me his angle for finding double-digit scores is to
look for any reasonable excuse to explain a horse’s latest, poor performance.
If I recall our conversation correctly, everything from racing in the wrong
condition to not liking a particular racing surface goes through Lee’s lens
when formulating bets. This advice came in handy in the first race of the meet.
So will all due credit to Jay and Lee, I went about the
business of crafting both Pick 5 and early Pick 4 tickets.
Race 1 – 1 1/8 miles on main track for $25,000 claimers
non-winning two races lifetime
In my mind this race screamed out for a long shot. For this
reason, I spread far and wide using six horses and they were:
#1 Kowboy Boots – he appeared to be the lone speed coming
off a decent effort in his last race after a short layoff, but traveling 9
furlongs for the first time. POSSIBLE PACE ADVANTAGE
#2 Winter Games – came off a dull return in the slop and was
making his second consecutive drop after three straight 4th place
finishes in the allowance ranks. His lone victory was winning a maiden special
weight at 1 mile. HIS EXCUSE WAS AN APPARENT CLASS ADVANTAGE IN HIS LAST RACE
WAS LOST OVER A MUDDY TRACK.
#3 Successful Brothers – a surface sycophantic racing on
five different surfaces in his last five races…but he ran a decent second at
the day’s distance in allowance ranks on dirt. HIS EXCUSE WAS DIRT MAY BE HIS
BEST SURFACE, AND I WAS WILLING TO FIND OUT TODAY AND GET PAID IF I’M RIGHT.
#4 King of Broadway – a bit of conundrum since he hadn’t
strung together good efforts in better company, but his trainer, Bill Mott,
rarely drops a horse into these ranks with a 30% success rate. HIS EXCUSE IS
THAT HE’S A WELL-BREED HORSE THAT REALLY BELONGS COMPETING AGAINST CLAIMERS.
#5 Grandpa Len – he was included simply because a
handicapping tweep I trust liked him a lot. I didn’t, but I thought I might be
blinded by my own basis. HIS EXCUSE WAS THAT I COULDN’T SEE HIM WINNING BUT I
TRUSTED A HANDICAPPER WHO DID.
#8 Goodnewsisnonews – is a Mike Repole-owned horse that has
raced in better company, but I’ve noticed a lot of these types starting in
Saratoga successfully the last few years because I believe Repole would like to
win bragging rights that come with Saratoga’s owner title. A PICK BASED ON
OWNER PRIDE AND COMPETITION.
The result: Winter Games under Jose Ortiz went to the front,
set reasonable fractions and held off a furious charge from the second betting
choice, Goodnewsisnonews ridden by John Velazquez, to win by a nose. Great
start to the sequence with a 14-1 winner.
Race 2 – 5 ½ furlongs on the main track for 2-year-old
I’ve learned to love maiden special weights because prices
can be had by looking for potential breeding edges, quick horses that might
outrun their trainers difficulty in winning with first time starters or looking
to beat an unproven, short price horse.
#2 Know It All Anna – in a field of unproven and first-time
starters, it was worth putting this filly in the mix because she had run at
least one race. EDGE OF EXPERIENCE VERSUS THOSE YET TO START
#3 By the Moon – both her sire, Indian Charlie and dam’s
sire Malibu Moon have solid numbers with first time starters; 16% and 15%,
respectively. Now trainer Michelle Nevin is not great with firsters, but
sometimes a horse is simply too good not to win regardless of trainer stats.
WITH DUEL, POSITIVE FIRST TIME STATS SHE’S WORTH A SHOT.
#1 Aimone – again placed greater weight on first time
starter percentage by sire and dame’s sire than trainer Gary Contessa’s low
first time starter win percentage of 8%. In addition, Aimone held a training
angle I love to play for first time starters, three or more works when a horse
runs faster than half of those working the same distance on the same day.
POSITIVES FROM BREEDING SHED AND ON THE TRAINING TRACK TRUMPED LOW TRAINER
#4 Lady of Victory – again I placed greater weight on first
time figures from sire and grandsire versus trainer Bill Mott’s low first time
figures. FAST TRAINING RUNS PUT HER IN THE MIX
#6 Vinolicious – here more weight was placed on trainer
Wesley Ward and works versus sire and grandsire numbers. Plus most Ward runners
are ready at first asking to the tune of 50% in the money finishes. BASICALLY
WARD RUNNERS ARE LIVE AND WHY TAKE A STAND AGAINST HERE?
#8 Wall Street Lady – I tried tossing this horse, but with
an outside post and solid first time starter breeding figures, I figured why
not. The works weren’t fast, but I respect trainer Anthony Dutrow. SOMETIMES
YOU HAVE TO LISTEN TO YOUR GUT.
The result: By the Moon ran into some decent fractions of
:22 and :46 to defeat the longest shot on the board #7 Ring Knocker, who was
only one of two horses I didn’t have on the ticket. I sweated out this race
until the top of the stretch and had my second horse home at 6-1.
Race 3 – 6 furlongs on the main track, Grade 3 Schuylerville
This short field of promising two-years came down to my
thoughts on whether the less than even money favorite, Fashion Alert, could
repeat her opening stakes performance.
#2 Turlira’s Star – I may have been reaching here when you
considered the strong favorite, Fashion Alert, but this 2 year-old was recently
purchased by Team Valor International and who knew if the favorite could
repeat. DESPITE CHANCES OF WINNING, 5-2 MORNING LINE WOULD PLAY MORE LIKE 5-1
IN PICK FIVE.
#4 Fashion Alert – she absolutely jumps off the page winning
a $100, 000 overnight stake in her first start – even for trainer Todd
Pletcher, who is stacked with talented two-year-olds, this is an unusual first
race. In addition, I always look at works following a big, first effort and
Fashion Alert just kept on running, firing a bullet from 16 workers, getting a
rank of 5 from 24 and finally getting a rank of 7 from 34 workers in her
training since the win. EVEN THOUGH I DON’T LIKE TO EAT CHALK IN MULTIPLE RACE
WAGERS, SOMETIMES YOU SIMPLY HAVE TO.
The result: Fashion Alert was just too classy for these four
foes on this day and won pretty easily at 1-5 odds.
Race 4 – 6 furlongs on the main track, filly maiden special
#3 Mumtaazah – this second time starter finished a
well-beaten second to eventual graded stakes winner Onlyforyou last fall in a
maiden affair at Aqueduct. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin knows how to get them
running off long layoffs and this three-year-old put in a fast work at the end
of June. IN THE SEQUENCE BECAUSE THE COMPANY YOU KEEP CAN BE A PRECURSOR OF
BETTER RESULTS AGAINST INFERIOR COMPETITION.
#8 Street Blush – his sire, Street Boss, is winning at 19%
with his first time starters, which is very impressive. On its own this was
enough for me to include Street Blush on the ticket. Toss in solid, consistent
and fast works for trainer John Kimmel and a lackluster looking field, and I
was sold. WITHOUT KNOWING ALL THE
VARIABLES TO PICKING A WINNER, SOMETIMES JUST ONE, A SIRE’S FIRST TIME STARTER
STATS, IS ENOUGH.
The result: Street Blush came from three wide wearing down
the runner up, #4 Magsamelia, in the final sixteenth of a mile. Street Blush
delivered at 12-1 over a horse I overlooked and could have brought my ticket
down. Magsamelia made all the pace in his last runner up finish was beaten
soundly, but held on to keep second as he had done a race prior. Foolishly, I
left a horse taht could dictate the pace off my Pick 5 bet.
Race 5 – 1 3/8 miles on the turf, allowance for non-winners
Love the turf marathons up and was hoping I could get her
with a chance to cash.
#3 Can’thelpbelieving – when crafting my one big ticket, I
figured if I made it this far, a single was in order simply because I don’t
like to lay down bets greater than $100 under most circumstances. This Graham
Motion trainee was coming off a close third place finish in a $200, 000 stakes
race on the turf, so he was dropping down in class. Also in all but one start,
a Grade 3 stakes try, he has shown an excellent turn of foot through the
stretch. At first pass, I liked both he and #10 Special Agent the best and had
figured that Special Agent would be the chalk. With a better post and turf
distance pedigree, I fell on Can’tstopbelieving as my top choice.
The result: Can’tstopbelieving was given a patient ride
along the two-path and on the rail by jockey, John Velazquez, and in typical
fashion ran hard the final quarter of a mile, taking command within the final
1/16 of a mile to win by more than a length. To my dual surprise,
Can’tstopbelieving went off as the post-time favorite at 7-5 and the will pays
for the Pick 5 with him winning was $1,855!
Some final thoughts:
I have moved in my handicapping from primarily playing
vertical wagers of exactas and trifectas to playing more horizontal wagers like
Pick 3s, 4s and 5s. There are a few reasons for this:
It puts the onus on finding winners without worrying about
who might get up in time for first, second and third in one race
If you get through the first few legs there is something to
look forward to throughout your betting day. (Of course the flip side is getting
knocked out in the first leg, which generally pisses me off)
In a Pick 3, 4 or 5 sequence I can do other things at the
track like take my kids to the paddock or the jockeys pathway to get
autographs, meet friends or make a food run without worrying about missing the
Winning is always better with friends or family around.
Pulling for me in that final race were good friend, Adam Stanco and his family,
cousins Bob and Mary, my mom and my mother-in-law. Now that’s contingent with
clout! We jumped, we shouted and we cheered Can’tstopbelieving all the way down
the stretch. Sitting at the 1/8-pole, it seemed like a long time to encourage
my winning pick home. One lady, sitting just behind us, complained that she
couldn’t see or hear the race from her seat. Sorry, when I have that much
riding on a bet, you’re going to hear me loud and proud. In fact, I think it
should be stated right.
Glancing back at my notes and differing combinations that I
crafted through two days of handicapping, I feel I have reinforced a few
winning strategies for me. First, my first impressions off the past performance
pages are usually my best. My only meaningful changes from first draft to final
- * - Adding the #8 horse in leg one,
- * - Dropping the #5 from leg two and adding the #8,
- * - In leg three, going back and forth on singling the #2 in the
feature, but coming back to my original idea of including both #2 and #4,
- * - Dropping the #6 from leg four and
- * - Dropping the #10 from leg five
The keys to an affordable and worthwhile play were including
#4 in race three (no brainer in hindsight), who won with ease, and singling the
final leg with #3. My final ticket looked like this:
1-2-3-4-5-8 with 1-2-3-4-6-8 with 2-4 with 3-8 with 3 and
for a 50-cent base bet it cost me $72 to play these 144 possible outcomes. I
only backed up my bet with a Pick 4 in case the favorite were to get beat in
the feature and adding some insurance. That ticket looked like this:
1-2-3-6 with 2-4-5 with 3-6-8 with 3-10, and this $36 play
for 50-cents was my insurance policy, which paid $135.25. Had I lost the Pick 5
along the way, I still would have turned a small profit.
That’s it, nothing more, nothing less.