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2010 Preakness – Sometimes It Pays To Not Be A Wiseguy!

I love beating favorites and taking contrarian opinions, but sometimes the obvious answer is staring you right in the face.  Super Saver benefited from a perfect trip to win a weak 2010 Kentucky Derby earning a slow speed figure.   Obvious bet against next time out, right?  But a closer look at the 2010 Preakness says that Super Saver is actually pretty good value at 9-to-5 or so.

Super Saver ran a pretty ordinary race in his debut in the Tampa Bay Derby when he wasn’t cranked up and then followed with a decent but umimpressive 2nd in the Arkansas Derby.  Set for his best, he moved forward to win the Derby running a 104 BSF.  He earned it under favorable circumstances, but why won’t he repeat that figure in the Preakness?  He should find himself on or near the lead in a race with little speed.  The Derby represented only a small forward move and from a pattern perspective he certainly figures to run a similar effort again and by all reports he’s doing very well since his Derby effort.  So if he runs in the 102-105 range who can beat him?  The only horse I can make a case for is Caracortado who is going synth to dirt with some decent efforts in California and a win on dirt in his debut.

I suppose Lookin At Lucky is an obvious horse off his trouble-filled trip in the Derby but I’m starting to wonder just how good this horse really is.  He’s never run all that fast, seems to always find trouble, and is a question mark to me at longer distances.  Plus he’ll be no value.

Bottom line:  I see little reason why Super Saver won’t run a similar figure as he did in the Derby and if he does (no matter how slow it is by historical standards) he’ll be tough to beat.  Throw in his tactical advantage and he’s a nice price at 9/5.   I’ll be rooting for Caracortado as I’m alive for a nice double with him.  Yawanna Twist and Aikenite are the next 2 that I’ll use.   It would certainly be a shame to see a horse like Super Saver going for a shot at the crown considering he wouldn’t finish in the top half of the Derby field in some years, but this is a betting game and he’s value in the Preakness.  Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be a wiseguy!

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Get ‘Lucky’ with Chaos?

I love betting the Kentucky Derby!  Normally you can identify a select few horses who have a chance to win and the large field and often chaotic results underneath can produce the type of wagering opportunities and payoffs you won’t see for another year.

This year finds us with almost the entire field having recorded a last figure within a length or two of each other, and a pace scenario that figures to make for a lot of easy eliminations.  It should be a recipe for big score but I find myself confused.  Looking at Lucky is no faster than a dozen other horses in the race and he’s coming off a performance that’s way too slow to contend, but he had a legitimate excuse in his last and he’s the horse who, gun to my head, I believe has the best chance to hit the board given his ability and running style.  What to do, what to do?

It doesn’t take a master’s in handicapping to look at the Racing Form and conclude that there will be  a pace meltdown in the Derby, but as much as I’d like to be cute, I can’t see any other plausible scenario.  There’s just too many horses with speed and no sign they can rate or have the stamina to last.  To me this race comes down to a group are really the only ones I can see finishing in the top 2 spots:

Looking At Lucky – No value whatsoever, but most likely to run his race

Ice Box – 50% he’s improving/maturing and ready to move forward again and run a winning race – especially given the race shape – and 50% he just exploded in the Florida Derby due to circumstances and isn’t really a strong closer or a 100+ Beyer horse at this stage.  Note he wasn’t finishing all that well in several of his earlier races.

Super Saver – Will be very tough IF he can rate a little.  Wasn’t cranked up at Tampa and then moved forward in Arkansas.  Could be sitting on a BIG one here especially if he can sit behind the likely speed duel.

Stately Victor – My intention was to make him an obvious toss but he could just be an improving horse and he’ll obviously get the trip.  His dirt races were similar to his grass races previously so he might just be forging forward as much as he may have just loved synthetics.  A definite use for me at a big price.

Devil May Care – No clue what to do with this horse.  She’s actually as fast as anyone based on her last and gets the right setup, but even with excuses she’s run too many mediocre races to feel confident about and her last was under favorable conditions.   A must-use though.

Mission Impazible – Looks like he’s moving forward…and he can rate a little, but I’m not sure if he’s good enough.  A use.

Awesome Act – I’m kinda indifferent on this horse.  He had trouble last time but he’s lost ground in the stretch in both of his last 2 and the Gotham wasn’t a strong race.  He’s easy to make a case for but I’m just not convinced he’s any kind of star.

Others I’ll use a bit on the bottom of the ticket:

Dean’s Kitten, Make Music For Me, Conveyance, Dublin, Sidney’s Candy

So basically I’m looking for some combo of the top 7 to finish 1-2 with something wacky and chaotic to happen underneath for some boxcar payoffs.  I’ll use Looking At Lucky a bit extra as a defensive measure.

I’m heading to Louisville for the 2010 Kentucky Derby – my first in-person Derby.  Best of luck to all.

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Hope everyone is well.  I intend to go back to posting regularly when racing heats up again come triple crown season and the big summer races.

In the meantime, I recently qualified for the National Handicapping Championship for the 3rd time so I’m definitely psyched about that.  My previous 2 times qualifying I did it in November so it’s nice to do it in March and know that I’m all set this early in the year.

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Zenyatta 2010?

I have always subscribed to the idea that actions speak louder than words.  So when a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner works 4 furlongs in :48 flat 2 months after winning the Classic – their 3rd workout in a month – logic tells me that the horse is still in training.

I have absolutely no inside information here but “retired” horses simply don’t post formal workouts every couple of weeks after they’ve retired.  I don’t care whether they’re full of energy, taking the edge off, or sneaking out of the barn late at night while their caretakers aren’t looking…it’s not logical and it doesn’t happen.  There are injury risks as well as the fact that horses in the process of being “let down” don’t work progressively faster.

The speculation could be put to rest very easily.  All the Moss’s have to do is say “Zenyatta is officially retired.”  They haven’t done so.   Even today, John Shirreffs said everything BUT those magic words.  He said the owner’s haven’t deviated from their plan.  He said she’s accomplished enough.  He said he hasn’t been told anything new.  But he never said “She’s officially retired” and he never explained why she’s working out the way she is.  Hmmm…

Does this mean she’ll run again?  Definitely not.  So what’s really going on?  Well here’s my theory:

1. They’re keeping their options open.  She still wants to run, the Moss’s don’t want to let go, there are still nagging questions about dirt, about her being handled conservatively, about beating Rachel Alexandra, about her reputation catching up with what they perceive her ability to be – so they’re leaving the door open while they continue to ponder.

2. They’re waiting to see what happens with Horse of the Year.  If she wins, then they can retire happy.  If she loses, then maybe they take their shot against Rachel or keep her in training for another campaign to try to win the title.

3. There are offers on the table for a race against Rachel Alexandra that are too intriguing and too rich to pass out – so again, they’re keeping their options open while they keep listening.  Rachel figures to return in March.  With this light training schedule she could easily be ready for a prep race in March and then hook up in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn (a track that Zenyatta has already won at) in a showdown for the ages.

Here’s what I think happened.  When Rachel was dominating last year and Zenyatta was barely nosing out second-tier horses while posting Beyer figures of under 100 there was some question about if she was tailing off.  If she was as good as last year.  I’m sure that there was a small measure of doubt at that point about whether she was good enough to beat Rachel at that point.  But her Breeders’ Cup Classic tour-de-force combined with the way she came out of it gave them a confidence spike that she could indeed beat Rachel or anyone else for that matter.  It’s no secret that Zenyatta still has the reputation of a horse who was too conservatively handled, a horse who stayed in her comfort zone for too long, and a horse who never really got the chance to show what she can do.  Her connections feel she’s better than that and given the shape she’s in, they likely feel confident that a few more races could serve to answer all questions, put any doubts to rest, and allow her reputation to catch up with her ability.

Should Zenyatta beat Rachel Alexandra in a dirt race outside California she would unequivocally be considered the greatest female racehorse in American history and one of the best horses overall to ever race.  That’s got to be tempting – especially as the Moss’s read article after article about how Rachel had the better season and traveled more and accomplished more and Zenyatta was just a synthetic track specialist whose reputation is built around a single big win over a questionable surface in an otherwise “safe” season.

With a couple of races standing between Zenyatta and true immortality – and confidence no doubt running high in her camp – clearly her connections aren’t ready to slam the door shut just yet.

Zenyatta vs Rachel Alexandra – let’s hope…

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Horses of the Decade: 2000-2009

I skipped the customary Christmas Day movie/Chinese Food routine, so what better time to look back on a fascinating decade of racing and crunch some PP’s to figure out the best of the best in each category.

Annual Eclipse Awards are sometimes difficult because there are no clear guidelines in how to comparatively assess ability vs accomplishment.  The general understanding is to simply measure the strength of the overall campaign (although this logic seems to have fallen by the wayside for Zenyatta supporters when it comes to the Zenyatta vs Rachel Alexandra debate for 2009 Horse of the Year). Selecting a champion for the decade is even more difficult because you’re facing the same questions multiplied by 10.  How do you treat a horse who had the most accomplished championship year vs a horse who was clearly the best and most talented champion but perhaps slightly less accomplished?

I’m going to go with a blended answer and take a little from both sides.  My list of champions for the decade are determined by seeing who rises to the top at the intersection between ability and accomplishment.  I will limit it to their individual championship years and not how they performed outside of those years.

2 Year Old Colt – This has to be War Pass who was absolutely brilliant is going 4-for-4 including G1 wins in the Champagne and Breeders’ Cup and recorded Beyers of 103 and 113 in those races.

2 Year Old Female –  I have to narrowly give this to Storm Flag Flying who was sensational as a 2 year old in going 4-for-4 with 3 Grade 1 wins (Matron, Frizette, Breeders’ Cup) and ran fast in the process (94-98-102 BSF’s).  Storm Flag Flying seemed to be getting better and looked poised to become an  all-time superstar before developing some issues at 3, subsequently getting hurt and never really regaining that elite form when she came back.  Closely behind is Halfbridled who was also sensational as a 2yo filly.  Sweet Catamine and Tempera were both extremely fast and quite good but they both lost races unlike the top 2.

3 Year Old Colt – What a tough call as most of these had somewhat incomplete seasons.  Tiznow only won 2 Grade 1’s.  Same with Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex.  Curlin won 3 Grade 1’s in a 6-for9 season.    Bernardini won 3 Grade 1’s in a 6-for-8 season.   My winner is Point Given who won 5 Grade 1’s and Horse of the Year in a 6-for-7 season that was cut short by injury.  His only loss was in the Derby where he inexplicably didn’t fire after making a big middle move – but his overall record was as good as anyone, his accomplishments as strong as anyone, and he won 2 more Grade 1’s than anyone else during the decade.

3 Year Old FillyRachel Alexandra…by as big a margin as she won the Kentucky Oaks & Mother Goose.

Older Male - Another difficult call in comparing ability and accomplishment as only Saint Liam and Mineshaft (and now Gio Ponti – who is not considered because his wins were on turf) won 4 Grade 1’s.   Saint Liam was generally not brilliant and certainly wouldn’t make for a popular choice.  Mineshaft had an extremely strong year going 7-for-9, winning in January through September, and running fast.  But he passed on the Breeders’ Cup and beat a fairly weak group (Quest, Hold That Tiger, Volponi, Western Pride, American Style, Olmodavor, Learned, Halo’s Tiger, Revised Note ran 2nd in his wins) so a little luster is lost.

Mineshaft is still probably the most logical winner but I cannot vote against Ghostzapper who was simply incredible in his short 4 win Horse of the Year  season.  His accomplishments were obviously less than some others, but he was as talented as any horse to run since Spectacular Bid and lengths better than any other horse to run this decade.  His Breeders’ Cup was the fastest Classic ever and he beat a very strong field in what was, amazingly, just his 2nd career start around 2-turns and first time ever running 10 furlongs.  He’s my choice.

Older Filly/Mare – Had she not ran horribly in the Breeders’ Cup I’d give the nod to the often-forgotten Riboletta who was as good as just about any filly or mare in years for a few months in 2000.   She was 7-for-11 that year (with 2 of those losses coming on turf)  with Beyers of 115-115-111-110.   But with her glaring 7th place finish in the Breeders’ Cup, this becomes a toss-up between Zenyatta’s 7-for-7 season in 2008 (4 Grade 1’s) and Azeri’s 8-for-9 season in 2002 (5 Grade 1’s).  Ability-wise they were pretty similar – with Azeri perhaps a touch faster than year.  Neither campaign was super aggressive.  Azeri won 1 more race, and 1 more Grade 1, but she also lost a race while Zenyatta didn’t.  But because of those extra wins and the fact that she was slightly more dominant in her victories and didn’t earn most of her wins over synthetics, I’d give the nod to Azeri by a nose.

Turf MaleHigh Chaparral by a small margin for his 2002 campaign in which he went 5-for-6 with 4 Grade 1 wins including the Epsom Derby, Irish Derby and an easy win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.   Close runner-up is Fantastic Light for his 2001 campaign where he went 4-for-6 with 4 Grade 1’s and was ultra impressive winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf running a 117 Beyer (vs 111 for High Chaparral).

Turf FemaleOuija Board (2004) where she was 4-for-5 including wins in the English Oaks, Irish Oaks, and an easy win in the BC Filly & Mare Turf.  Her only loss was a 3rd to Bago in the Arc.

On a sidenote, Ouija Board is a horse that I think has been overrated a bit.  People consider her among the best turf females of all-time but her record against males was actually pretty weak.  Ouija Board was actually just 2-for-11 in Grade 1 races against males over the course of her career – with one of those wins coming in Hong Kong.

Sprinter – Tough call between Kona Gold (2000) and Orientate (2002).  Kona Gold in 2000 was 5-for-6 with his only loss coming by a nose.  His Beyers that year were 112-109-119-118-117-114.   Orientate was 6-for-10 in 2002, however his 4 losses were either on turf (2) or going long (2).  Sprinting he was 6-for-6 with Beyers of 109-115-115-112-116-114.   This is a toss-up for me but since it’s impossible not to love a horse like Kona Gold who was very good for a long time, and since he was slightly faster, we’ll give him the nod.

Agree?  Disagree?  Let’s hear your thoughts…

Happy Holidays to all – and as Harvey Pack would say “May the horse be with you!”

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Zenyatta = Horse of the Year and 1+1 = 3

Every racing article or internet post promoting Zenyatta for Horse of the Year usually goes something like this:  “She beat the best so she’s Horse of the Year” or “She showed up and won when it counted – so she’s Horse the Year” or “She’s the greatest I’ve ever seen so she’s Horse of the Year.”  SO WHAT?  Those things have as much to do with why she should win the Horse of the Year award as the fact that I had Pizza for dinner last night.  There is simply no cause and effect relationship between these points.  It’s like concluding that 1 + 1 = 3.   It just doesn’t add up.

The one argument I have yet to see?  “Zenyatta had a better year than Rachel Alexandra.”  Why?  Because you cannot make that argument.  By no logical measurement did Zenyatta do more or accomplish more than Rachel Alexandra in 2009 – and THAT is what Horse of the Year is about…WHO HAD THE BEST OVERALL CAMPAIGN.

Yes – Zenyatta’s Breeders’ Cup Classic win was more meaningful than any single race Rachel Alexandra won.  But we don’t automatically award Horse of the Year to the BC Classic winner.  If we did, Raven’s Pass would have been Horse of the Year last year and Volponi would have been Horse of the Year in 2002 and the great Cat Thief would have been Horse of the Year in 1999.  Certainly undefeated Awesome Again would have been Horse of the Year in 1998 ahead of Skip Away, but he wasn’t…because Skip Away’s accomplishments for the year dwarfed what Awesome Again did.  This is the same situation.  If Zenyatta’s Breeders’ Cup Classic win was the most meaningful win of the year by either horse, certainly numbers two, three, four, and five on the list belong to Rachel in the form of her wins in the Preakness, Woodward, Haskell and Kentucky Oaks by 20 lengths.   That speaks to the difference in their overall campaigns: Of the 5 most significant wins of the season between the two horses, 4 of them belong to Rachel Alexandra.

By now we all know the stats: Rachel was 8-for-8 while Zenyatta was 5-for-5.  Rachel won 5 Grade 1’s and Zenyatta won 4.  Rachel beat males 3 times, Zenyatta once.  Rachel won over 7 racetracks in 6 different states, under all conditions, while Zenyatta never left California, never ran over anything but a synthetic surface, and was scratched the one time the track came up muddy.  They all favor Rachel.  From the total domination of her division, to stepping outside her division and beating males while encountering tough trips and pace scenarios that would have done in many other top horses, to becoming the first 3 year old filly to ever beat older males in the Woodward, Rachel Alexandra’s season was one for the ages.  Her connections challenged her at every turn – from running her in different states, on different racetracks, on wet tracks, to facing males in the Preakness from Post 13  just 2 weeks after her Kentucky Oaks win while switching barns, to facing older males at a time when most 3 year old fillies are still running in their own division.  There was absolutely nothing “safe” about her campaign.  They constantly took risks and challenged her when easier races were available.  This type of mentality absolutely needs to be rewarded – particularly in this day and age when horses run so infrequently and rivalries between top class horse so uncommon because most horses run campaigns built around the path of least resistance.

By contrast, Zenyatta’s connections managed her as conservatively as possible right up until the time of the Breeders’ Cup.  She ran a total of just 5 races.  She was scratched from her seasonal debut in Kentucky when the track came up wet and never shipped again.  She didn’t run in the Hollywood Gold Cup – a race her stablemate Life Is Sweet ran in.  She skipped the Pacific Classic – instead getting an extra month off going into the fall.  She ran in exactly the same races she won last year against competition she had proven superior to.  Her connections resisted all attempts to set up a matchup against Rachel Alexandra during fall citing the Breeders’ Cup as the setting for a race like that.  The racing season is more than just the Breeders’ Cup.  Connections who believe that there is no need to challenge their horses or push their horses until they get to the Breeders’ Cup set a bad precedent for the game and certainly don’t deserve to rewarded for that type of mentality.  Suggesting that good horses should never face each other outside of the Breeders’ Cup is just bad policy.

For those who suggest that Rachel’s connections should similarly be punished for passing on the Breeders’ Cup I’d agree had the BC been held on a standard dirt track and had she not shown signs of her challenging campaign beginning to catch up with her.  But it’s now beyond all reasonable doubt that pro-ride is an entirely different surface from dirt and running Rachel on that surface would have meant little more than running her in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.  Regardless, to use an overly cliched phrase in racing: She had done enough by that point.

There is no possible interpretation of their comparative seasons that places Zenyatta even at a level of equality with Rachel Alexandra in 2009 let alone ahead of her.  You cannot possibly compare the years side by side and suggest that Zenyatta had the better year or that she accomplished more.  Take Zenyatta’s BC Classic win for what it was – a single incredible performance – but not something that magically makes an otherwise nondescript year suddenly more impressive than the extraordinary season Rachel had.  Had Zenyatta’s year ended prior to the Breeders’ Cup she wouldn’t have even been # 2 or # 3 in the Horse of the Year voting based upon what she had accomplished to date.  Thus, any argument for her receiving Horse of the Year is built entirely around a single win in the Breeders’ Cup and that’s just not what Horse of the Year is based upon.

Horse of the Year goes to the horse who had the best and most impressive overall season.  In 2009 it all unequivocally adds up to Rachel Alexandra.

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Breeders’ Cup Implications on the Eclipse Awards

The Breeders’ Cup went a long way toward deciding some year-end championships, while throwing other Eclipse Award races into complete disarray.  Some quick thoughts on each category:

2 Year Old Colt – I don’t sense any groundswell of support for Vale of York getting it off a victory at 30-1 and Lookin At Lucky lost little in defeat after just missing while breaking from Post 13.  With 4 wins and a second in 5 starts including wins in the Del Mar Futurity & Norfolk, Lookin At Lucky appears in the driver’s seat.

2 Year Old Filly – Hot Dixie Chick was clearly the standout in the division but she called it a season before they even moved back to Belmont and never even went a mile.  BC winner She Be Wild generates little excitement, but her BC win coupled with a runner-up finish in the G1 Alcibiades and a solid record overall should be enough to earn the crown in a year with no standouts in the route races.

3 Year Old Colt – Summer Bird.  Easy.

3 Year Old FillyRachel Alexandra.  Easiest vote ever.  If anyone else gets a first place vote, the voter should not only lose their right to vote in the future but also have their name, email address, and Facebook profile link revealed for public humiliation.

Older Horse – Pass please.   This is really a tough one.  At first glance Gio Ponti seems like the obvious answer by default, however I do have a bit of a problem giving an Older Horse Eclipse Award to a horse who never raced on dirt and was only 1-for-3 on fake-dirt (synthetics).  Gio Ponti’s success came primarily on turf…and that’s why they have a Grass championship category.   But if not him, who?  Einstein ran horribly in the BC and Macho Again didn’t even run at all (although I don’t think I could justify seeing him win an Eclipse under any circumstances).  If you have to give an award in this category to a grass horse, isn’t that reason enough for not distributing the award at all?  I guess they can’t collude and persuade every single voter to abstain so it has to be Gio Ponti truly by default.

Older Filly & MareZenyatta.  No witty comment here, sorry.  She’s clearly without equal.

Turf Male – I’m not sure that Gio Ponti would have beaten Conduit even though Conduit didn’t seem to run nearly as well this year compared to last year in winning the BC Turf – and clearly Gio Ponti running in the Classic was strictly a risk/reward proposition as I discussed previously – however his 4 Grade 1 wins on grass still entitle him to the award.  Nevertheless it definitely would have made things a little interesting if he had run in this race and lost – especially as a follow-up to getting beat by the great Interpretation in the Turf Classic at Belmont.   Too bad Precious Passion didn’t get good a little sooner as he’s a tough horse not to like.

Turf Female - No American standout so I think this is where Goldikova gets a lifetime achievement award for her back-to-back wins in the BC Turf Mile.  She’s a well-liked horse so I think she’ll win pretty easily in the absence of any other standouts. and a pretty disappointing year from defending champ Forever Together.

Sprinter – Ummm yeah.  I’m gonna need you to go ahead and not give out this award this year.  Thaaaaanks!  Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Dancing In Silks was 4-for-5 however he never even ran in a graded stakes race prior to the BC.  Not nearly enough.  Zensational will get some support with his 5-for-7 record including 3 Grade 1’s, but he beat really crappy competition in those wins, benefited from soft trips each time, and ran exclusively over synthetics.  I think he had something to prove in the Breeders’ Cup and I can’t see rewarding him for completely failing to meet that challenge.  That brings us to the dirt horses.  Fabulous Strike is a tough horse not to like and will get a little support but I think he lost a step this year.  2-for-5 with no Grade 1 wins ain’t going to get it done.   Finally, Kodiak Kowboy presently has a fairly unimpressive 3-for-7 record however he did win 2 major Grade 1’s (The Carter & The Vosburgh) while finishing a close 2nd in another (The Forego).  He also beat Fabulous Strike in both of those Grade 1 wins – which is a lot more than you can say about the competition that Zensational was facing.  Again, I’d be in favor of not giving out the award here but since they probably have to my vote would go to Kodiak Kowboy by virtue of having the most going for him on the positive side as a result of his performances in the Carter, Forego, & Vosburgh.

Female Sprinter - Obviously Informed Decision after going 6-for-7 this year including her win in the BC F&M Sprint.  Ventura was clearly best in that race as Informed Decision got the best of the pace scenario, but she’s the one with the win on her resume and an otherwise strong record so she gets the award.  Ever think you’d be hearing the words “Sprint Champion” and “Jonathan Sheppard” in the same sentence?  Me neither!

I’m less interested in the human awards so I’ll skip those for now (other than to say that John Shirreffs definitely deserves the trainer title for getting both Zenyatta & Life Is Sweet to step it up and turn in career best efforts on their biggest days)  and I couldn’t name a single steeplechase contender for a million dollars so no comment there.  As for Horse of the Year…well that will be my next post! :)  Hopefully Sunday if time and life permit.

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Breeders’ Cup Wrap-UP

I’ve been debating about putting up a Breeders’ Cup post today because there really isn’t too much left to say that hasn’t already been said in 1,000 other places by now.   Nevertheless I think I’d feel like something was missing if I didn’t say a few words at least:

  • Santa Anita – Wow!  For those of you who go there routinely I guess this goes without saying, but WOW (did I say that already?!)…what a view!  Those mountains make for a breathtaking backdrop.
Wow!

Wow!

  • Pro-Ride – Is there any doubt at this point that this is a completely separate surface that bears no resemblance to dirt, plays more like turf, and is extremely difficult to navigate for dirt horses with no past turf or synthetic experience?  When you see consistent horses with strong dirt form completely fail to fire time after time that’s telling you something.  You know the facts by now – not a single dirt horse won or even ran well.  Consistent dirt horses like Music Note, Sara Louise, Summer Bird, D’Funnybone, Devil May Care etc etc all failed to display anywhere near their established form over this track.  Bottom line – these races mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things when it comes to dirt horses.  For all intents and purposes you need to treat them the same way you’d treat a grass race for these horses.  America is built around dirt racing so it’s just sad to see us run prominent and championship races on an entirely different surface that holds no historical value or relative significance.  In addition, you can now view some of the performances from last year (ie – Curlin) through an even more colored lense and realize those races are dead throwouts.
What is this stuff?

What is this stuff?

This really isn't my living room carpet!

This really isn't my living room carpet!

  • Marathon – If not for the fact that some of these horses were coming from Europe you’d otherwise be hard-pressed to distinguish this race from the Gallant Fox Handicap in December at Aqueduct.  Just silly.
  • Juvenile Filllies Turf – Why?  Surprised no one closed into pretty fast fractions.  Nice effort by Rose Catherine stretching out off that sensational debut in a turf sprint at Belmont.
  • Juvenile Fillies – Zzzzzzz.  Lots of horses in the picture.  No one all that impressive.  Not sure this race means much in the grand scheme of things except to the winners.  Tough trip for Biofuel (who I bet of course) going 100 wide and getting sideswiped as she was making her move…and still closing well for 4th.
  • F&M Turf – Midday figured better than these if Forever Together didn’t return to peak form.  Forever Together didn’t and Midday was.
  • F&M Sprint – Some people must be looking at an $8.80 payoff for 7-for-7 on synthetics Informed Decision and thinking “Wow…what an easy game” but this race was as much about pace as anything else.  The race was essentially over after the first quarter as  Informed Decision sat just off a slow 23:1 quarter while probably-best Ventura attempted to close from the back of the pack.  Sara Louise had nothing on the pro-ride.
Informed Decision

Informed Decision

  • DISTAFF(!) – Not sure if Careless Jewel was just entirely rank or another with non Pro-Ride/Keeneland type synthetic experience (Woodbine is a bit of a different surface than those) who also didn’t handle the surface.  Either way, the Rachel Alexandra comparisons should stop for a while.  She should still make for a nice 4 yo if they stick to the dirt.  Obviously this was one that fell apart from the fast pace as Life Is Sweet came from the back to blow by the field.  Seeing a potent finisher like Music Note lack a strong closing punch again validates the stark  contrast in the surface.
  • Juvenile Turf – Whatever.  Congrats to the connections I guess.
  • Turf Sprint – Was hoping for chaos again but California Flag looked best if he could avoid an early duel.  Able to get away with a slow 21:2 quarter (well slow compared to last year’s 20:3 duel) he cruised home.
  • Sprint – Just bet the fastest last race Beyer.  Easy game, right?!  Zensational got off a bit slow and couldn’t make the lead and showed little thereafter so obviously they decided to rest on their laurels and retire him.  After all what’s left to prove after you decisively beat Talking to MomRoo?  Fatal Bullet threw in his first synthetic clunker after everything seemed to set up well for him.  Champion Sprinter for $100, Alex?
  • Juvenile – I’ll leave out the fact that I was alive with 7 of these in the Pick-4 (including Piscitelli for 90k who led through slow fractions and then re-rallied in midstretch) and missed it when I picked the wrong Euros to be my “A’s” (the Sprint eliminated my B’s in this race – which Vale of York was) and just say that obviously Lookin At Lucky lost nothing in defeat here.  I’m sure this race has some Santa Anita Derby or San Felipe  implications or something…but not much else.
  • Turf Mile – Another pretty impressive performance by Goldikova who was obviously back on her “A” game.  Clearly one of the all-time good turf fillies, however I still wouldn’t put her near Miesque who ran faster, had a better career overall, and beat significantly better fields in her back-to-back triumphs.    Check out the fact that Miesque ran exclusively against males in the final EIGHT starts of her career – compiling a record of 6 wins and 2 seconds against a very deep and talented group (both in Europe & the US).
  • Dirt Mile – Wide open race if Mastercraftsman didn’t fire.  Furthest Land obviously ran back to his last race.  Ridiculous to run this race in the heart of the Saturday card.  In other news, the “Dirt Mile” remains on target to actually be run at 1 Mile on the dirt for the first time next year.
  • Turf – Pretty uninteresting race.  Amazing they can only get 7 horses (and just 3 from the US) to run for 3 Million Dollars on the grass.  Conduit wasn’t nearly as good this year as he was last year but it was still enough to get the job done.  Precious Passion is definitely a cool horse who has obviously improved quite a bit and become way more consistent.  It’s rare to see a horse do what he does on the turf so he’s definitely fun to watch.
The Classic!

The Classic!

Zenyatta

Zenyatta

  • Classic – Well Zenyatta certainly surprised me.  I didn’t expect her to win going in and she certainly looked beaten throughout most of the race but she managed to blow by the field and make history.  The moment gave you goosebumps and the cheering from the crowd reminded me of a playoff game atmosphere after a game-typing basket or Home Run which is remarkable to see at a racetrack.  Nevertheless my analytical side can’t help but view this effort in a slightly different context.  At the end of the day Zenyatta beat a field of primarily turf horses on a surface that almost none of them had run their best efforts over (Gio Ponti’s best efforts are on grass, Twice Over’s also on grass, & Summer Bird’s on dirt).  If Summer Bird faced Gio Ponti and Twice Over going 10 furlongs on the dirt, would you still bet him to run last of the 3?  Clearly Zenyatta is the queen of synthetics but I just can’t treat that the same way that I’d treat a horse who accomplished the same thing on dirt.  It’s a niche surface and it’s less significant than dirt.  Zenyatta very well might be as good on dirt but unfortunately it doesn’t look like we’ll ever get the chance to find out.

I obviously have a lot more to say about Zenyatta and the Classic and I plan to cover Zenyatta and why Rachel Alexandra is still Horse of the Year in separate posts.  I’ll also give some thoughts on the 2009 Eclipse Award picture later in the week as well.

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30,000 Foot Look at the Breeders’ Cup

Literally. On my way to California – gotta love in-flight Wifi.

I’ve written extensively about the Breeders’ Cup as it pertains to Horse of the Year, Breeders’ Cup Beyer Speed Figures and  Fixing the Breeders’ Cup, but I’ve purposely been rather silent about this year’s Breeders’ Cup from a handicapping point of view because my only real opinion is that most of these races are incredibly wide-open and most favorites and short-priced horses are quite vulnerable. The synthetic aspect really complicates things from a handicapping perspective, but it makes them awfully appealing from a betting perspective.

How will the dirt horses do 1st time on synthetic? How will the turf horses do making their debuts on pro-ride…will their form carry over? Are speed figures really less relevant on synthetics to the extent that a slower horse with a strong finishing kick can beat a faster horse? Interesting questions and they all present opportunities for value. Should these races be chalky I don’t envision myself having a very good weekend.

Here are some very quick thoughts:

Marathon: What a ridiculous race.  Calling this a Breeders’ Cup race dilutes the name.  With that said, I’d probably key around Father Time, Mastery, Man of Iron & Gangbuster while covering Muhnnak, Nite Light, Cloudy’s Knight, & Eldaffer to a smaller degree.

Juvenile Turf Fillies - I’ll be hoping for a bomb here as I could make a case for 12 of the 14, however House of Grace is the one I probably prefer most.

Juvenile Fillies – Looks wide open to me and again I’m spreading and hoping to catch a big price.  Blind Luck, Beautician, Connie & Mike, She Be Wild, Negligee, Always a Princess, and maybe Biofuel.  I’ll use Connie and Michael the heaviest from a defensive perspective as she seems the most talented.

F&M Turf – Forever Together still intrigues me and 10 furlongs and a firm turf could offer her the right conditions to fire again.  Otherwise most of the rest look pretty close aside from Midday who might be better than these.  Not a lot of pace so I’m curious to see if someone tries to steal it.  Maram is another who intrigues me.  She’s slower than several strong closers like Pure Clan & Magical Fantasy but she’s a rare one who seems like she’ll be more effective with added distance and would have a more potent kick going longer.  Not a throwout at all.

F&M Sprint – Ventura is probably better than these.  Curious to see how Sara Louise handles pro-ride bc she’s as good as any if she does and obviously Informed Decision is at her best going 7F on synthetics.

Ladies Classic – D-I-S-T-A-F-F!  I actually think this race is pretty wide open.  I’m not in love with Careless Jewel who has been meeting very soft fields and doesn’t have pro-ride/Keeneland type of experience.  Music Note ran a 98 Beyer on pro-ride last year and is clearly faster this year, however I don’t love the fact that her closing kick seemed less potent on pro-ride for some reason.  Torn on her.  Mushka, Proviso, Life Is Sweet & Rainbow View are also usable.  Yes that’s almost everyone but that’s what A-B-C tickets are for.

Juvenile Turf – Viscount Nelson, Codoy, Pounced, Gallant Gent, King Ledley, Becky’s Kitten, Interactif, Buzzword, Bridgetown, Awesome Act.  Bomb please!

Turf Sprint – I loved this race last year by settling on Storm Treasure to close into what I knew would be an insane pace and used him in the money in triples and caught a bomb winning with Desert Code.  There doesn’t appear to be quite as much speed this year but with so much potential for chaos in a race like this I can’t play California Flag.  If he doesn;t run his best and Diamondrella doesnt get an insane pace to run into, hopefully something wacky can happen again.

Sprint – I kinda like Fatal Bullet.  Obviously he’s a different horse on synthetics and I think he can sit just off Zensational and run at him in the stretch.  I’d love to play heavily against Zensational who has benefited from soft trips/pace scenarios without running especially fast, but it’s a pretty weak field and other than Fatal Bullet there’s not a ton of speed to run with him and he’s clearly better capable of firing a big fig at 6F than 7F.

Juvenile – If Looking At Lucky wins, I lose.  He’s a nice horse and it wouldn’t stun me if he wins but from a value perspective he’s a horrible play.  There are a number of others who are as fast, faster, or moving forward and intriguing.  Noble’s Promise (might not love this distance – by Cuvee – even though he ran a figure good enough to win at same distance last out), D’Funnybone (if he handles pro-ride), Pulsion (moving forward and by Include which indicates he should continue to develop with time and distance), Eskendereya (don’t love Pletcher on pro-ride but this one is fast and ran well on turf already), Aikenite (big fig at Keeneland on synths and moving forward), + you have Euros with turf form.

Mile – I’ll use but try to beat Goldiskova who has been in and out this year and was more visually impressive than fast in winning last year (albeit with a pretty powerful closing kick).  I could name a ton of horses I’ll be using here but suffice to say I’ll be going pretty deep and spreading and hoping for a price.

Dirt Mile – Pretty funny that in 3 years the “Dirt Mile” has never actually been run at a mile on the dirt.  Speaks volumes about the current absurdity that is the Breeders’ Cup.  You have to like Mastercraftsman.  Beyond that it looks pretty wide open to me.

Turf – No genius ideas here…I think Conduit is a pretty strong candidate to repeat.   Beyond that I can really only make a case for Dar Re Mi, Spanish Moon & Precious Passion.

Classic – Pretend you had been out of racing for 2 years and you called me up and said “I see it’s Breeders’ Cup day…tell me about the favorite for the Classic?”  And I replied “Well…it’s a mare who is coming off Beyers of 97 and 99 in her last 2 races, beat the longest priced horse in the morning line for the Distaff by a length in her last race and beat an allowance type horse by a head in her race before that – AND has never been 1 1/4 miles before and has only run 1 1/8 once this year in June.  Does that sound like enough of  a story to bring you back into action?

Look, Zenyatta is wonderfully talented horse and the source of one of the most complex evaluations of a “great” in history – but she is HORRIBLE value in this race.  This race should serve as a fascinating test for the question of how relevant are speed figures/performance figures on pro-ride and is this a rare example of a horse who literally does just what it takes to win?  If you take 2-1 or less to find out then you’re betting with your heart and not your head.  From a value perspective, there’s tons here.  I think Richard’s Kid looks like a great play to at least hit the board (which in and of itself speaks to the absurdity of this Breeders’ Cup) and perhaps create some big triples if Zenyatta’s out of the money.  I also like Colonel John, Einstein, & the Euros (who will probably win but won’t offer nearly as much value this time around).  Not sure what to do with Gio Ponti who wasn’t very fast on pro-ride in the winter but seems to have improved since then.  Also fascinating to see what happens with Quality Road & Summer Bird who are both immensely talented and pretty consistent dirt horses.  On dirt they would clearly be the 2 favorites.  Should neither run well it will make for a pretty glaring example of the differences between dirt form and pro-ride form – particularly in the case of horses without previous experience on the surface or on grass.

I wrote more than I though there but there’s plenty of time to kill on this 5 1/2 hour flight – and anything to distract me from these wildly uncomfortable seats on American Airlines.

My plan is to focus on Pick 4’s and spread pretty deeply using the standard A-B-C-X ticket style and swing for the fences.  I love these types of days because with the big fields and public money, a bomb or two and favorites losing can produce 50k-100k pick-4 payoffs.  Obviously you need to make fairly large investments, but the potential rewards are enormous on Breeders’ Cup day for those with a big enough bankroll – and this year even more than normal because of all the uncertainties associated with running on pro-ride.  As a fan, I detest it.  As a bettor, I like it!

Good luck to all and may the horse be with you!

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Historical Breeders’ Cup Beyers

In a previous post I talked about Why I Like Speed Figures.  There I mentioned that I had a near-complete archive of Beyer Speed Figures for all Breeders’ Cup races to date that I have accumulated over the years.  The DRF’s Beyer Speed Figure database generally goes back to 1992 but they were published before then in The Racing Times and Bloodstock Research before that.  As a numbers guy I’ve always found it interesting to save and review some of these historic figures.  They’re great for perspective and historical context.

So without further adieu here are the Beyer Speed Figures for all the “real” Breeders’ Cup races going back to 1984 – with the exception of a few of the early turf races.  I’ve highlighted the fastest figures.

Classic

08 – Raven’s Pass – 110
07 – Curlin – 119
06 – Invasor – 116
05 – Saint Liam – 112
04 – Ghostzapper – 124
03 – Pleasantly Perfect – 119
02 – Volponi – 116
01 – Tiznow – 117
00 – Tiznow – 116
99 – Cat Thief – 118
98 – Awesome Again – 116
97 – Skip Away – 120
96 – Alphabet Soup – 115
95 – Cigar – 117
94 – Concern – 115
93 – Arcangues – 114
92 – A.P. Indy – 114
91 – Black Tie Affair – 120
90 – Unbridled – 116
89 – Sunday Silence – 124
88 – Alysheba – 122
87 – Ferdinand – 117
86 – Skywalker – 118
85 – Proud Truth – 120
84 – Wild Again – 113

Distaff
08 – Zenyatta – 103
07 – Ginger Punch – 104
06 – Round Pond – 100
05 – Pleasant Home – 107
04 – Ashado – 102
03 – Adoaration – 101
02 – Azeri – 111
01 – Unbridled Elaine – 102
00 – Spain – 108
99 – Beautiful Pleasure – 109
98 – Escena – 105
97 – Ajina – 108
96 – Jewel Princess – 114
95 – Inside Information – 119
94 – One Dreamer – 105
93 – Hollywood Wildcat – 108
92 – Paseana – 105
91 – Dance Smartly – 107
90 – Bayakoa – 113
89 – Bayakoa – 115
88 – Personal Ensign – 115
87 – Sacahuista – 106
86 – Lady’s Secret – 113
85 – Life’s Magic – 110
84 – Princess Rooney – 120

Sprint
08 – Midnight Lute – 112
07- Midnight Lute – 108
06 – Thor’s Echo – 116
05 – Silver Train – 114
04 – Speightstown – 112
03 – Cajun Beat – 120
02 – Orientate – 114
01 – Squirtle Squirt – 119
00 – Kona Gold – 114
99 – Artax – 124
98 – Reraise – 112
97 – Elmhurst – 111
96 – Lit de Justice – 114
95 – Desert Stormer – 107
94 – Cherokee Run – 114
93 – Cardmania – 109
92 – Thirty Slews – 111
91 – Sheikh Albadou – 113
90 – Safely Kept – 116
89 – Dancing Spree – 115
88 – Gulch – 116
87 – Very Subtle – 121
86 – Smile – 118
85 – Precisionist – 125
84 – Eillo – 108

Juvenile
08 – Midshipman – 91
07 – War Pass – 113
06 - Street Sense – 108
05 – Stevie Wonderboy – 104
04 – Wilko – 98
03 – Action This Day – 92
02 – Vindication – 102
01 – Johannesburg – 99
00 – Macho Uno – 99
99 – Anees – 102
98 – Answer Lively – 97
97 – Favorite Trick – 101
96 – Boston Harbor – 99
95 – Unbridled’s Song – 103
94 – Timber Country – 100
93 – Brocco – 97
92 – Gilded Time – 87
91 – Arazi – 101
90 – Fly So Free – 101
89 – Rhythm – 98
88 – Is It True – 102
87 – Success Express – 109
86 – Capote – 93
85 – Tasso – 97
84 - Chief’s Crown – 106

Juvenile Fillies
08 – Stardom Bound – 94
07 – Indian Blessing – 95
06 – Dreaming of Anna – 90
05 – Folklore – 87
04 – Sweet Catomine – 102
03 – Halfbridled – 99
02 – Storm Flag Flying – 102
01 – Tempera – 107
00 – Caressing – 92
99 – Cash Run – 93
98 – Silverbulletday – 101
97 – Countess Diana – 95
96 – Storm Song – 97
95 – My Flag – 95
94 – Flanders – 92
93 – Phone Chatter – 95
92 – Eliza – 92
91 – Pleasant Stage – 85
90 – Meadow Star – 98
89 – Go For Wand – 93
88 – Open Mind – 91
87 – Epitome – 97
86 – Brave Raj – 98
85 – Twilight Ridge – 101
84 – Outstandingly – 89

Turf
08 – Conduit – 116
07 – English Channel – 111
06 – Red Rocks – 109
05 – Shirocco – 114
04 – Bettar Talk Now – 111
03 – High Chaparral/Johar – 112
02 – High Chaparral – 111
01 - Fantastic Light – 117
00 – Kalanisi – 110
99 – Daylami – 118
98 – Buck’s Boy – 111
97 – Chief Bearhart – 110
96 – Pilsudski – 115
95 – Northern Spur – 114
94 – Tikkanen – 115
93 – Kotashaan – 111
92 – Fraise – 110
91 – Miss Alleged – 111
90 – In the Wings – 113
89 – Prized – 110
88 – Great Communicator – 113
87 – Theatrical – 115
86 – Manila – xx
85 – Pebbles – xx
84 – Lashkari – xx

Mile
08 – Goldikova – 107
07 – Kip Deville – 108
06 – Miesque’s Approval – 109
05 – Artie Schiller – 110
04 – Singletary – 109
03 – Six Perfections – 105
02 – Domedriver – 113
01 – Val Royal – 114
00 – War Chant – 108
99 – Silic – 110
98 - Da Hoss – 114
97 – Spinning World – 114
96 – Da Hoss – 114
95 – Ridgewood Pearl – 114
94 – Barathea – 109
93 – Lure – 112
92 – Lure – 112
91 – Opening Verse – 110
90 – Royal Academy – 111
89 – Steinlen – 109
88 – Miesque – 117
87 – Miesque – 119
86 – Last Tycoon – xx
85 – Cozzen – xx
84 – Royal Heroine – xx

F&M Turf
08 – Forever Together – 105
07 – Lahudood – 105
06 – Ouija Board – 108
05 – Intercontinental – 107
04 – Ouija Board – 108
03 – Islington – 109
02 – Starine – 109
01 – Banks Hill – 112
00 – Perfect Sting – 105
99 – Soaring Softly – 105

Hope you enjoyed.  If anyone happens to have the early turf figures that I missed please let me know.  I know I have an old edition of The Racing Times where they included those figures but to my mother’s dismay this isn’t going to be the week that I return home and sort through all the old newspapers piled up in my old room!

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