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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Changing the Thoroughbred Birthday from January 1 to July 1

There has been plenty of debate on whether the Triple Crown races (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes) should be changed from 3-year-old’s only to 4-year-old’s only.  Many argue that it will ruin the tradition of the series and those that win a Triple Crown as a 4-year-old would not be comparable to those that have won as a 3-year-old.  The opponents suggest that today’s thoroughbred is not durable enough to win all three races and that many that go thru the series often do not race again or can continue to compete at a top level.

Both ideas seem to be in neutral so why don’t we meet it in the middle.  Let’s change the universal birthday for a thoroughbred from Jan 1 to July 1.  This will allow a 3-year-old to be a mature sophomore instead of a less mature one.  Right now, if a runner in the Kentucky Derby was born in mid-May or later, they are actually not a full three years old.  With this new birth date, they all will be a full three years of age (of course many will be in real life a 4-year-old).  Either way, the rules are broken so let’s make it for a more mature horse for the sake of this argument.

Horse racing peaks in interest around the Triple Crown so why not move the Breeders’ Cup Championships to one of the last two weekends in June to help keep the sport in the spotlight.  Currently, the Breeders’ Cup tries to compete with the NFL, NCAA College Football, NHL and NBA in late October/early November while a move to late June would only have one other major sport to compete with (MLB).  Summer hours would also keep it daylight longer and that can allow the Breeders’ Cup to be run near prime time.

As for the Breeders’ Cup, we can see a change to help keep our star runners in training by making all races for 4-year-old’s and older while switching the Juvenile races (2-year-old’s) to the Breeders’ Cup Derby and Oaks (dirt and turf) which would be for 3-year-old’s only.   Once these sophomores turn four years old on July 1, they can compete in some big events such as the Haskell Invitational and the Travers Stakes.  Note that neither one of these are called Derby’s so maybe they can restrict those races for 4-year-old’s only.

What opens in July?  Two of the most popular meets: Saratoga and Del Mar.  This can be the start of the 2-year-old season instead of April and in some cases March.  By changing the birthday, this will give the young thoroughbreds time to mature and more time to gain experience as they run towards the Triple Crown.  Also, this will allow a bigger window should an injury occur.  Nowadays when there is an injury, it is basically the end of a horse’s chance to race in the Triple Crown as there is little time to recover.   Some notable names we have lost this year due to injury are Violence, Ive Struck A Nerve, Hear The Ghost and Shanghai Bobby.

For this industry to flourish, changes need to be made.  We’ve seen public interest decline over the past 25 years and there is not a quick fix to turn it around.  There would be more than a few challenges to make this birthday move happen as races would have to be rewritten, horse/breeding information for all data would have to be changed, there could possibly be a two-time Kentucky Derby winner, etc.   For an industry that seems to only be stepping on its own feet, this could be a step in the right direction.

What do you think?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Keep your heads up horse racing fans

There is a lot of negativity in the horse racing industry these days and there is plenty of reason for it. From high takeout rates to short fields to closing of race tracks, there is plenty of blame to go around. While it is human nature to complain more than to compliment, we’ll take a look at five positive things that the industry can be happy about.

1. Hall Of Famer’s still got it:  Every sport has its young stars, but it also has its crafty veterans that can still teach the youngsters a lesson or two.  Trainer Shug McGaughey won his first Kentucky Derby this year with Orb while trainer D. Wayne Lukas saddled Oxbow to win the Preakness with jockey Gary Stevens aboard.  All three human connections are in the Hall Of Fame and it surely makes fans of the “old school” proud.  It also makes for a great story which the industry seems to thrive on.

2. International racing:  The internet and social media has helped make the world smaller as we can see and find out what is going on all over the world in a few seconds.  Over the last few years, we got to see a pair of superstar horses from overseas: Frankel from Europe and Black Caviar from Australia.  Frankel went undefeated in 15 starts and won 10 Group 1 events.  Black Caviar went undefeated in 25 starts and won 15 Group 1 events.  Horses like these help create new horse racing fans as Zenyatta did here in the U.S. and we were able to follow along with each victory whether it was on HRTV or TVG, via TV simulcast at race tracks or OTB’s, or on the internet.

3. Account wagering: How awesome it is that we can now make a wager from home or from anywhere with a phone?  While there is no comparison to watching a race live in person, we all can’t be at the track every day.  For a long time, we California residents could not wager on all tracks as there was a limit of simulcast races allowed for each day.  Nowadays, we can wager on tracks across the country with account wagering either online or by phone.  This convenience is much appreciated and we have seen an increase in account wagering year by year.

4. Star horses still in training: For a while there, it seemed like when a horse won a Graded Stakes race or two they were retired shortly for breeding purposes.  It is difficult to build a following when a horse is only around for a year or even less.  In recent years we have seen that trend slowly reversing.  This year, we’ve seen the return of Horse of the Year Wise Dan win a pair of Grade 1 Stakes already (of course he is a gelding).  2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom won this year’s Dubai World Cup.  Champion mare Royal Delta was unplaced in the Dubai World Cup, but is scheduled to return to racing in this country later this month.  We appreciate the connections of these and other runners who are still around and let’s hope this trend will continue in the future.

5. The Mid-Atlantic Uniform Medication Program: There is not much nationwide solidarity in the industry and this new program gives us some hope.  Eight states have agreed to enforce the same medication regulation and testing regarding thresholds and withdrawal guidelines beginning in 2014.  Many race tracks in that region are in close proximity of each other and this will make it easier for horsemen to understand the regulations instead of trying to figure them out by each state.  Recently, it was announced that California will join the program next year as well.  Maybe this is a step towards national regulation and hopefully that will lead to other nationwide programs in the future.

All of us became a fan of horse racing for one reason or another.  We did not become fans because of the negative reasons.  Whether it was the beauty of the sport and/or the gambling/handicapping aspect, we want others to understand why we like horse racing.  These are just five and we would like to hear from you why we should all keep our heads up by commenting below!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Three Handicapping Lessons to be Learned

(This is a blog I wrote on the Today's Racing Digest blog from June 11, 2013)

All of us have had our share of bad beats. It could be a bad ride, a bad bet or just plain bad luck. The one that comes to mind for me is with Arcangues in the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Yeah, the one that was 133/1 with Jerry Bailey that won!  As a budding young handicapper, I would always try to beat the favorite and I could not figure out why they brought Arcangues all the way over from Europe to run in this race.  His form was not good, but I figured they know more than I do.

I can remember I played an Exacta box using Arcangues, Best Pal and Devil His Due with the latter two a pair of favorite horses of mine at the time.  By my own stubbornness I did not use the favored three-horse entry of Bertrando, Marquetry and Missionary Ridge.  Looking back, how stupid was I not only to not use a three-horse entry, but those three horses were pretty damn good.

As it turns out, Arcangues won the race with Bertrando running 2nd.  The Exacta paid just over $1,000 and I did not have it.  I searched frantically thru my tickets hoping I had it by accident and I did have a ticket to collect:  $2 show on Arcangues.  How could I not have this horse to win and have the Exacta!  Instead of a big win, I collected my $18.20 and walked to the car with my head down questioning my own sanity.

Handicapping lesson #1: Always play the horse you like to win.
Even if the win is small, it is a win and if anything it helps mentally to collect a winning ticket.  For me personally, I do not play odds-on horses to win. 

There are different ways to play Exactas.  You can bet them straight, you can box, you can key or you can wheel.  Many people often advise to always box your Exactas, but I’m not a fan of that if it is more than two horses in a box.  Even then, if Quinella wagering is available, I advise to play the Exacta the way you think it will come in straight and then play the Quinella using those two horses.  That way, if it comes in the way you think it will, you collect on both tickets.  If Quinella wagering is not available, play a two-horse box, but three or more I would use another method.

Lately, the way I play a lot of races is to play the horse I like to win and then using a few contenders on top in the Exacta with my horse in the second slot.  Handicapper Steve Fierro taught me this as he said you will probably catch more higher-paying Exactas this way instead of playing the horse to win and backing it up to place.  It has been sound advice as I have caught some nice Exacta payoffs since using this method.

Of course, I was dumb enough in my early days of handicapping not to back my horse up either in the Exacta or to win.  The 1996 Pacific Classic was the race where I learned my lesson the hard way.  I played a straight $20 Exacta with Cigar on top and Dare And Go in 2nd.  I did not play it once the other way nor did I play Dare And Go to win.  Dare And Go paid $81 to win and the Exacta with Cigar running 2nd paid $123.  Not only did I learn my lesson, I also learned there is no “sure thing” in horse racing as Cigar’s 15 race win streak was now over.

Handicapping lesson #2: When playing the Exacta, always back up your bet.

Playing a straight Exacta is playing with fire.  There are so many ways to lose a race and now you are trying to predict the first two finishers in exact order.  Back up your straight Exacta with a win wager or box the Exacta on the other horse if it is a two-horse Exacta.

Whether you place your bets with a human teller, a self-service machine or your own computer, you should always check your ticket to make sure it is the one you asked for.  We humans are not perfect and will make errors from time to time whether it is yourself or someone else.

Before wagering online, the local OTB’s would be packed especially on big days like the Breeders’ Cup.  I was at an OTB for the 1994 Breeders’ Cup and the wagering lines were so long that I decided to use the self-service machine using a betting card.  I filled it out and it only took a few minutes to wait in line and for the wager to go thru.  I played $20 to win on Timber Country and cheered him home as he won.  However, I did not mark the right box on the betting card and had $20 on some other horse.  I just cost myself $48 in winnings and the mentality that I just lost on a winner.

Handicapping lesson #3: Always check your tickets.

We all make mistakes and assuming your tickets are always right will lead to a losing ticket.  I’m sure there has been a time or two that the mistake ticket has won, but the wrong ticket will almost always lead to more losers.  It only takes a few seconds and that precious time will help to eliminate those mistakes.

Bad beats make for great stories to tell later on in the future, but by following these three lessons you are more likely to have less bad beats and more winners which we all love to have!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Deep Closers: Are they worth the risk?

(Another blog from the Today's Racing Digest website that I wrote)
As a horse racing fan, there may not be anything more exciting then a horse passing all others in the stretch to win the race at the wire. In recent times, Zenyatta thrilled us all with her stretch rallies and even her lone loss in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic was exciting and memorable. Of course, back in the day there was the legendary Silky Sullivan.  (click his name below for a video)

Silky Sullivan

As a horseplayer, deep closers are often bad bets especially in main track races (dirt or synthetics).  The pace of the race, jockey error and clear sailing through traffic are all obstacles these runners have to overcome.  As we observed in this year’s first two legs of the Triple Crown, Orb looked great winning the Kentucky Derby, but looked rather ordinary in the Preakness Stakes.

After watching a replay of the Kentucky Derby, Orb reminded me of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos.  Both winners circled the field around the far turn and both had very fast paces to set up their rallies.  The six furlong split in 2001 was 1:09.25 while this year’s six furlong split was 1:09.80.

The pace was much different for both in the Preakness as the six furlong split in 2001 was 1:11.86 and Monarchos finished 6th at 2/1.  This year’s six furlong split was 1:13.26 and Orb finished 4th at 3/5.  This is just one example as it was under the spotlight, but these type of situations happen day in and day out at tracks across the country.

Perhaps the best example of deep closers to bet against are for Maiden second-time starters.  Horses that are slow into stride and rally strongly to finish 2nd or 3rd are usually well-played at the windows second time out.  You hear the handicappers on TV or the track feed say “that is a horse you should watch for next time”.  That flashy turn of foot is easy to remember and the betting public tends to jump all over these types.

However, these second-timers often show better early speed and come up short.  Below are a few examples of these type of second-timers.
Second-timer 1
Coconut Cream Pie was off a bit slow, was 6th early and rallied to finish 2nd in her debut Feb 10.  In her next start March 21, she was 4th early and finished 5th at 9/5.

Izy Power was 6th early and finished 2nd in her debut at 36/1 April 21.  In start #2 May 10, she was 2nd early and finished 5th at 7/2.

Top Marc In Class was 9th early and finished 2nd in his debut at 46/1 Aug 11.  For his second start Sept 9, he rallied for 2nd again at 5/2.

Now, we are not saying that these type never win because they do.  Our point is that they are usually well-bet or overbet at the windows and long term they are not good plays.  While we wait for the next Zenyatta or Silky Sullivan to arrive, playing against deep closers can be a way to help you find more winners and fatten your wallet.