Luck, Pace and Pace Figures: My $50K Derby Wars Story

Danza Arkansas Derby 615 X 415
Photo: Coady Photography

In my previous post I discussed how pace affects the outcome of most horse races. This past weekend it also affected the outcome of the Derby Wars $50K Game.

This story and the lessons shared in it were very close to not occurring at all. After failing to qualify for the $50K Game in the super qualifier on Friday I had written off a chance at taking home the $20,000 top prize. Instead I planned on entering the Xpressbet Showdown.  My plans changed when I found out I could not deposit enough money into my Xpressbet account because of their limit on ACH deposits. I noticed there were several spots available in the last chance qualifiers on Derby Wars and decided to take a shot in one of them.

After eight races of the last chance qualifier I had only managed to pick a single winner and single runner-up. In the last race I needed a long shot to get me into the top three, which would earn a spot in the $50K Game. Fortunately one of the three horses I liked was sitting on the board at 17/1 so my choice was easy.  Having just watched a Ben Colebrook first time starter (that I also liked but didn't pick) run a game second at a big price in the fifth at Keeneland gave me confidence that his first time starter in the sixth could get the job done. In fact that horse was his eighth first time starter in the past year and six of them had run in the money.  In the sixth World is Watching made it seven for nine in the money and three for nine in the winner's circle. After running down the leader late and surviving a 10 minute jockey's objection World is Watching put me into the $50K Game.

As luck would have it the very first race of the $50K Game would be the deciding factor in whether or not I took down the top prize, although I didn't know it until the final race was complete. In that race, the Shakertown at Keeneland, I considered seven of the twelve horses contenders. My top choice was Positive Side, a 33/1 outsider in many players opinion, based on his very good second at the same distance in his previous race and his closing running style, which figured to benefit him based on the traffic jam projected up front.

This is where pace entered the equation. While TimeformUS didn't project a fast pace it did project a contested pace with the top three coming from the outside three posts. From my experience, when speed horses are in the outside posts in a one turn race the pace is often fast because those horses must be sent hard to clear the field and make the lead. Unfortunately none of the three were sent and the pace ended up being slow.

Marchman was able to make the lead and as mentioned didn't have to run all that fast to do it he had plenty left in the final furlong. Positive Side was in the rear half of the field and made a furious run up the rail. He came up a neck short at the wire and was ahead a few yards past it. One of the sixty players had Marchman and collected the maximum $50 and myself and one other player had Positive Side and collected the $18 maximum place payout.

In the second race of the $50K Game, the Madison at Keeneland, I went with Byrama who was never in it and ran off the board.  My second choice, Judy the Beauty, won as the favorite and the $5.80 she returned for win and place would haunt me at the end of the day.

Race three was an allowance at Oaklawn and the TimeformUS pace projector labeled it a fast pace. I liked a closer anyway so my selection was easy. The pace collapsed as predicted and Bourbonize ran down the leader just before the wire. He returned $19.80 to win and place.

My next winner didn't occur until the tenth race of the contest as Will Take Charge survived a stewards inquiry in the Oaklawn Handicap and returned $5.00 to win and place. I was tempted to stab at a price but after passing on Judy the Beauty earlier I resisted and went with the highly logical winner.

Race eleven was another miss but race twelve was the race that got me back in the game. The Arkansas Derby had, in my opinion, a very vulnerable favorite. Bayern was, on paper, exactly like Social Inclusion in the Wood Memorial. He was two for two with two easy front running wins. He also won his second start by double digits after setting a below par pace. The pace of the Arkansas Derby was projected by TimeformUS to be fast and contested so I tossed Bayern. I narrowed the race down to three horses, the obvious Tapiture and the two Todd Pletcher trained closers Commissioner and Danza.

My preference was Tapiture, then Commissioner, then Danza. With a minute to post the three were 2/1, 6/1 and 41/1 respectively. I was surprised that Danza was such a big price as he not only figured to benefit from the fast pace but also was stretching out to a route for the first time. From experience it is situations like this, where a horse is doing something for the first time or getting an equipment or trainer change, that produce cap horses (horses that return the maximum in a handicapping contest). It didn't hurt that I also needed a long shot to get into contention so I went with Danza.

As he opened up in the stretch I was thinking two things: don't fall off and did anyone ahead of me pick him? Joe Bravo didn't fall off and no one ahead of me picked him. I vaulted to third with two races to go.

In the penultimate race, the Potrero Grande at Santa Anita, I took a shot with Zeewat at a big price. He didn't fire, and favorites ran one-two so no change at the top of the leader board.

n the last race I had a decision to make. Do I go for the win or pick the horse I like best and go for second? I didn't like any of the horses that would get me into first and I didn't want to get passed by several players so I went with my top choice in the finale.

Unfortunately Broadcaster, who should have been on or very close to the lead, was rated well off the pace and had no impact on the race. The winner was second choice Distillery, who was at the bottom of my list of contenders.  Also to my dismay one of the players just behind me had the overlaid runner-up and passed me by $0.20 costing me $2,000.

Looking at the final leader board I realized that had Positive Side won I would have won the $20,000 top prize and had I picked Judy the Beauty I would have finished second and taken home the $10,000 second prize. One bad break and one bad decision cost me $16,000 and $6,000 respectively.

I can't complain about the $4,025 ($3,500 cash and a $525 token) payday and I learned several valuable lessons in the process so it was a win-win day.

The important things to remember are:

  • Always be ready to adjust as I did when realizing I couldn't play in the Xpressbet Showdown.

  • Luck will even out over time as it did for me when I survived two inquires but lost a photo with 33/1 Positive Side.

  • Pace and pace figures are two handicapping factors that can't be ignored.

  • Don't be afraid to pick a favorite if none of the other horses look like a better alternative.

  • Let the tote board be your guide and don't ignore a huge odds discrepancy between your contenders.

  • You are never out of the game until you are mathematically eliminated because cap horses have a way of finding the winner's circle late in contests.

  • Derby Wars offers great value as I parlayed $77 into $4,025.


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Older Comments about Luck, Pace and Pace Figures: My $50K Derby Wars Story...

Great recap, Lenny and congrats on your score!
Congrats, Lenny. That is one of things that bother me about tournament play. The need to pass on lock horses like Judy the Beauty to try for bigger prices.

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