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Saratoga Opening Day; Pick 5 Score Explained


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 maiden fillies


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 FIGURES.

#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 Stakes


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 weight


#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 of one


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 post.


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 were:


    • * - 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.




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Tony Bada Bing began his lifelong quest of finding winners more than 35 years ago as a fifth grade student. This is when his grandfather first took him to the many Off Track Betting facilities sprinkled throughout Long Island, NY. While many kids his age were clamoring to hit the beach or an amusement park during summer vacation, Bada Bing was spending it in stuffy, smoked-filled rooms filled with retirees and reprobates listening to Marshall Cassidy on tape delay calling Saratoga.

This passion was further lit by his father, who took Bada Bing to East Boston's Suffolk Downs, only after Bada Bing learned to read the Racing Form. For most of his young adult life a summer rotation of NY OTB, Suffolk, and the now shuddered Rockingham Park in Salem, NH filled his betting days. 

Notable winners along the way: Willow Hour's and Runaway Groom's Travers wins as well as Derby winners Grindstone, Thunder Gulch (which he called in print the day before) and Super Saver. His latest quest is to hit the Kentucky Derby superfecta.

Bada Bing plays tournaments at Derby Wars, bets through several account wagering sites and has blogged about Thoroughbred racing for the past four years. He prefers the bigger meets of NYRA and California as well as seasonal meets of Gulfstream, Churchill and Oaklawn. He likes vertical, multirace wagers like Pick 4s.

He has produced several Horse Racing Nation videos, in addition to blogging. He can be found at Twitter @tonycbadabing. While away from the track Bada Bing enjoys time with his wife, who tolerates and supports his passion, and his two children.


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