August 16, 2018: Next Up, World Domination
Gut Handicappers must be rejoicing after Chad Brown’s trainees keep his barn marching towards what seems like a national domination of racing. Sure, his horses took two of the three Grade 1s on Arlington Million Day last Saturday, but he also had horses finish second in all three of the Grade 1 offerings. When Sistercharlie won the Beverly D. Stakes, it was Brown’s fourth straight win of that race. Any trainer will tell you that winning four stakes of any kind is an achievement, so, what does that say about Brown’s ability to win four straight of one of the top turf stakes for fillies and mares?
To add to his riches, Brown horses won races 1, 6, and 9 at Saratoga that day. Gut Handicappers have certainly noticed his statistics at the meet so far. Specifically, as of August 14th, the barn has the most starters at 84, with 25 wins overall for a 30% win percentage, and a remarkable 62% of his horses finished in the top three in their races. If you handicap with racing angles (what we call Gut Handicapping), you’ll know that Brown does well all year long, but he seems to target the summer months when turf races are abundant.
You have to think he is on his way to a third straight Eclipse Award for top trainer of the year. After all, last year he had 35 Graded Stakes victories with 13 of those being Grade 1s. He also won his first classic when Cloud Computing captured the Preakness in 2017. So, this performance in 2018 should come as no surprise. The problem for handicappers, whether the Gut type or Head, Eye, Pedigree kinds is how to Tail Handicap. Tail Handicapping is what we call in the book, The Anatomy of Horse Race Handicapping Or How to Have Fun at the Track, the second decision one has to make when handicapping a race and that is how to structure a wager to get the most profit.
As you have noticed, Chad loves to enter multiple runners in stakes races especially. IF you bet the favorite among his runners, you’ll probably not win much when making WPS, exacta, and other what are called vertical bets. So, do you just bet the higher odds horse from the barn? Do you take all the runners in a leg of a multi-race wager like a Pick 3 or 4? This decision seems like a lot of work considering our first decision of which horses to pick as contenders is pretty much made up for us just picking Chad’s.
Deciding on how to use his runners in a bet type is great practice in how to structure bets and bankroll management. So, use the opportunities during the second half of the Saratoga meet and enjoy the historic training performance of one Chad Brown.
August 9, 2018: Your Kind of Town
So, are you drooling at the prospect of trainer Chad Brown shipping in his turf runners for Arlington Million Day at Arlington International Race Course this Saturday? You might want to hold your horses though. Why wouldn’t you just do what you have been doing and that’s Gut Handicapping by picking Chad’s runners at Saratoga, where he is leading the trainer standings, or any track he ships to like at Monmouth Park for Haskell Stakes day?
Gut Handicapping is just one handicapping tool we can use, so, what if you combined your Gut Handicapping with Eye, Head, and Pedigree Handicapping. The three Grade 1 stakes at Arlington on Saturday provide the perfect opportunity for us to do so. Here’s why: given that Arlington is all about turf racing all the time with a near perfect turf course (they have an all-weather synthetic track instead of a dirt one too), the BIG races there draw many foreign-based horses on an annual basis. The turf course there has been described as not having a blade of grass out of place. Of course, the facility is like a palace with marble included making Saratoga look ramshackle and Del Mar resemble a lifeguard shack. Where else do you see waiters in black tie serving adult beverages in the paddock, but at Arlington on Arlington Million Day.
The history is there, so, such a race track deserves to have the best turf runners showing up from all over the globe. You’ll not only have Chad Brown runners to pick, but ten European shippers including Deauville and Athena from the international training star Aidan O’Brien. Please note when Head Handicapping, the Euro past performances only give you the horse’s position at the start and end of the races they ran in as opposed to the various points in a race the American horses’ past performances will show. Therefore, our Head Handicapping will have a wrinkle. This really won’t be a big problem though considering these are turf stakes. Like most turf races run at long distances, they will be going slowly for most of the race only to give us a cavalry charge coming down the stretch.
So, how do we pick contenders if there are horses coming to the wire six or seven across? Do some Head and Ear Handicapping by reading the comments on the past performances and listening to the on-track analysts. Did the runners do better on firm turf or soft turf? Then do some Eye Handicapping looking them over in the paddock and post parade. The Euros don’t use post ponies, so, don’t be alarmed.
Most of all, don’t panic with this influx of foreign invaders. Enjoy how competitive these races usually are. Big fields offer us many betting options, so, you might want to get out of your rut of always using the same bet type. Watch the odds board if you must, but with many runners, you’ll probably get decent value on some very good horses making even WPS bets profitable.
If you enjoy live streaming the BIG days of racing, then you’ll certainly enjoy all the pageantry Arlington Park will provide. If you can get to the track for live racing, by all means do so, but following the broadcast no matter where you are located can be fun. Maybe you’ll even be singing Chicago, My Kind of Town along with the crowd.
August 2, 2018: When You Can't Find That Special Horse
If you’ve been following along the past couple of weeks with the handicapping angles that comprise Gut Handicapping that we have been talking and talking about, then it might have dawned on you to use them at tracks other than Saratoga or Del Mar. If you kept track of who is leading the trainer standings at the Saratoga meet so far, you could easily guess that either Chad Brown or Todd Pletcher would be fighting it out even though it is still early in the meet. Unlike the other summer meets though, Saratoga is only 40 days long, which magnifies every win.
Now, if you were handicapping the BIG day of racing at Monmouth Park in New Jersey on Sunday, you might think, well, the leading trainers and jockeys there are the ones to pick. However, if you looked over the Haskell Day card, you’d find several stakes races and Chad Brown shipping horses there for them. Knowing how well Chad is doing at Saratoga right now, especially with turf races and stakes, why not just zero in on his shippers?
What happened if you did just that? Well, the third race at Monmouth on Sunday was a turf race at a mile and 1/16th, which won by Brown’s horse that paid $5.60. Race 5 was another mile and 1/16th turf race and again won by a Brown horse, this one paying $6.00. Then the Grade 3 Stakes on the turf saw his trainees finish 1-2 with the longer odds Elysea’s World coming in first and paying a nice $10.80.
With three turf wins under his belt, Brown had the favorite Good Magic in the Haskell. Sure, it was run on dirt, but Good Magic was the Juvenile Eclipse winner last year making him ‘the” Derby prospect until Justify came along, and Chad is hot right now. Good Magic’s Haskell win topped off a good day for the Chad Brown barn and it could have topped off a good day for you as well, if you did some Gut Handicapping.
There will be other important races in the last weeks of summer at Saratoga, Del Mar, and other tracks as well, where our Gut Handicapping will be useful. Arlington Million day comes to mind, with Chad Brown typically doing well with his shippers there. It may not seem the same rooting for trainers and jockeys as it does for a specific horse.
Race fans are moaning how there doesn’t seem to be that special horse to follow this year with the retirement of Justify. Last year, there wasn’t a leader in the three-year-old division, but Gun Runner was fun to watch as he won Grade 1 after Grade 1 throughout the summer. You have to think though, by not having clear-cut leaders of the divisions, the competition will be strong in each race and how much fun is that race fans to handicap. Horses come and go in a short span of time, so, we tend to gravitate to the humans like the trainers, jockeys, and owners, who can be counted on to be there year after year to cheer, or even boo!
July 26, 2018: Those Off-Track Races
Last week, we were talking about Gut Handicapping in regards to the two BIG summer meets at Saratoga and Del Mar. One thing Gut Handicapping is not, is Head Handicapping. Both involve numbers, with Head Handicapping utilizing the numbers found in the past performances. Those numbers are raw meaning you need to look at an individual entry and figure out what their running style is to predict how they will fair at the race conditions listed. Gut Handicapping involves handicapping angles, which often consists of statistics. Therefore, the statistics seem to be a short cut for our handicapping because the same trainers, jockeys, owners capture the titles at the same meets year after year.
So, how do we capitalize on this sameness. We can’t take the stats at face value though. If we look at the leading trainers for this year’s Saratoga meet, we’ll find Chad Brown on top with 20 starters and 35% of those starters winning and 60% of those starters being in the money (getting in the top three places in a race). If you were to break down the statistics to another layer, say, which trainer had the most wins on dirt, we’ll find Todd Pletcher has a 33% winning percentage on dirt for the first week of the meet.
You have to remember these stats are for the first few days of the meet, but if you looked at last year’s meet, the same names had the same success. With Gut Handicapping, we need to look at a combination of stats to be effective in our handicapping. For example, trainer Chad Brown had three entries in the Grade 1 Diana Stakes on Saturday. He also has won the race numerous times. Therefore, do you just place win bets on all of his entries? Well, if the payoff doesn’t cover those bets, then the answer is no way. So, how do we differentiate the Brown entries? Go by the odds board before the race? How about looking at the jockeys? Looking at the jockey statistics for the meet so far, you’d find that Johnny Velasquez is second with a 17% winning percentage in 24 starts, but leads in turf race wins. Who won the Diana Stakes, why Johnny V.
Another angle to look at with any meet is the horse for the course. If you look up last year’s Saratoga stats (just go to Equibase.com) you’d find that Voodoo Song went four-for-four at last year’s meet and New York’s Finest went three-for-three. These horses typically aren’t stakes runners because those horses may run twice at the most for a short meet like Saratoga or Del Mar. Gun Runner won two races at Saratoga last year, both Grade 1’s, the Whitney and the Woodward. The meet is set up so that a champion like the eventual Horse of the Year Gun Runner can run two races at the Grade 1 level.
It will be interesting to see if the current leaders hold up. It certainly looks like Pletcher and Brown will be fighting it out once again for the Saratoga trainer’s title. Right now Hall of Fame jockeys Javy Castellano and Johnny V. are one-two in the jockey standings. Will they be able to stay there given the fact that the Ortiz brothers have gotten the most mounts in recent meets leading them to the meet jockey titles. Overall, these meet titles can add to the excitement of a meet, especially these short ones. It makes fans wonder if trainers and owners make certain decisions for their horses based on these off-track competitions, so, any additional information we can garner for our handicapping is surely welcome.
July 19, 2018: No Guts, No Glory
With the two BIG summer meets starting, it is time to concentrate on our Gut Handicapping. That’s right, it sounds disgusting, but it just means we need to look at each meets’ statistics. In this day and age of data mining, the statistics provided in the race programs may seem sparse, but there is enough there to add to our own anecdotal information gathered through the years of following these two meets.
The hang-up is how the stats are shown in the race program. Being presented as a bunch of tables poses trouble to some folks, but they shouldn’t be feared. There is a table for how jockeys are performing and how the trainers are doing too. The wins are broken down to age, e.g. two-year-olds, three-year-olds and by track surface, e.g., main course or turf courses. There is usually a breakout of win % by level of race, e.g., Maiden; Allowance; Stakes, etc. and distances of the races, either routes or sprints.
So, how do we use this information to our advantage? Certainly, in the first week of the meets, there aren’t enough results to separate the performances. So we rely on our guts, specifically, we know from prior years that trainers Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown rule the trainer standings. Does this mean we just bet their horses regardless of their probably very low odds? Of course not. We are handicappers. We need to handicap and realize that statistics don’t tell the story.
Here’s what we mean. If you go back through the “Facts and Figures” from prior Saratoga meets, you’ll find the same successful performers found at the other NYC meets at Belmont and Aqueduct. Sure, Saratoga touts having a meet that draws the best horses, trainers, and jockeys from all over the world, but that is typically for those big stakes run there. Most of the races are comprised of the same people and horses found on the NY circuit. With double-digit races being run 6 days a week at Saratoga, they are filled with state-restricted races. What are state-restricted races? In this case, races for only those horses bred in New York State. So, if you are shipping into the meet from another state and your barn is filled with horses bred in other states or countries even, you are shut out of a number of races each race day.
What’s a handicapper to do then? We do what we always do. We look through the program first. If we see a Maiden Special Weight race for two-year-olds, our guts will tell us to look for a Todd Pletcher trainee because he has the most success in that area annually. This information helps us develop our betting strategy. With Todd’s success in this example, his horses probably will go off as favorites and not pay much. So, we might want to single that horse in a multi-race wager like a Pick 3. You could also key the horse in an exacta or triple taking long shots underneath. Now, say the typical Pletcher two-year-old is going off at high odds or non-favorite odds. We might just make WPS bets taking a chance that the betting public was misled. It happens. Just wait for it over the course of the meet.
The same scenario plays out at Del Mar, where Bob Baffert understandably seems to own the MSWs. In either case, here’s where watching the odds board may pay off. Remember, no guts, no glory.
July 12, 2018: The Eyes Have It
This is really the last weekend of racing before the BIG summer meets at Saratoga and Del Mar begin, where we can concentrate our handicapping efforts on our local tracks. Maybe you still don’t know what information you rely on to make your decisions in regards to handicapping, or perhaps life in general. Maybe, you experimented so much with the different ways in which we handicapping, e.g. Head, Gut, Eyes, Blood, etc. that you are having an identity crisis of sorts.
Relax. It’s summertime. Have fun. Go to a track and see the equine athletes perform. The key word here is see. Yes, do some Eye Handicapping. By watching live streaming of races, we just watch the race. We don’t take the time to watch the horses before and after the races. You can gather much information by seeing them in the paddock, especially those two-year-olds just learning their craft. Even with the veteran runners, we need to see the ones look ready to run. Are they “on their toes?” Do they look in shape? (Don’t say you don’t know if a horse looks in shape, because all you have to do is look around you at the humans. If you can figure out if they are in shape, then you certainly can figure out if a horse about to race is in shape, yes?)
Eye Handicapping doesn’t end with the post parade. We need to listen if any of them are having trouble at the gate. Sure, if they are at the gate, there’s no time to change your bet, but it is interesting to see how those who are acting up run. Then after the gates open, there is a lot to watch in a race. Certainly, we tend to focus on just “our” horse. By doing so, we need to see what their rider is doing. Are they sitting still, rubbing their charge’s neck, or getting the whip out early? Maybe, they are pulling back on the reins early in the race and fighting their horse to get it to slow down if it is trying to set a hot early pace.
After the finish line, it is good to watch how the runners look. Do some of them look like they can go around again or are some dragging, heads down, and almost at a dead stop? Then while waiting the results, the track will show the replay. Make a habit of watching it even if your horse finished up the track. We can catch things on the replays, we didn’t during the running of the race. Tracks will usually show a second replay, which is a head-on one. These types of replays are good to watch because we can see how close the horses are running to each other.
One benefit to all this Eye Handicapping is when we read the past performance notes. Comments like: stumbled at the start, or bothered in the stretch, lugged out, hand ride, etc. take on meaning for us because we can then visualize what happened through our past Eye Handicapping experiences.
We often talk about one fun bet to make when with a bunch of family or friends who are newbies is the ten-cent superfecta. Having each person in your group make ten such bets for a total of a dollar will keep their risk low, because the most they can lose is a buck, but with the high ROI potential in play. They don’t have to do much handicapping either with a quick-pick button available on most wagering machines.
How does this relate to Eye Handicapping you ask, when you’re holding a bunch of tickets with a bunch of runners? Having most of the field in your hands, you can’t just focus your Eye Handicapping on one horse (unless you singled a horse to win in each of your superfecta bets that is.) So, you’re going to watch the race with an expanded view. By doing so, you can see the competition as a whole. Most of all, it is fun because you could be holding a winning ticket.
July 5, 2018: Summer Fun at a Track
We didn’t know whether to call this piece a summer of handicapping or handicapping for the summer. “What’s the difference?” you ask. For one thing, there are many more race tracks open in the summer throughout the country than any other time of year, so, there’s probably a meet near you to go and visit. Being at the races is different than just live streaming them of course because you get to see the athletic performance up close, so close, that they can hear you yelling at them. There’s an appreciation for the sport you just don’t find watching from hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
Being at a track, you get to be with your own kind too. You can see how your handicapping measures up to your fellow race fans’ handicapping. You may get ideas of where your handicapping needs some help. Have you been Head Handicapping too much, when a little Gut Handicapping would have sufficed? Just like the horses, we need to race to our strengths, but before we can, we need to know what our strengths are.
Maybe it’s not the handicapping. You find you can hold your own with anyone at the track. It might be how you are taking your contenders and constructing your wagers with hem. Many just stick to one type of wager and pick contenders based on that bet type. Sounds backwards though. “Isn’t constructing a bet just too much work?” you whine. No, it doesn’t have to be. Just keep in mind how much of your bankroll you can afford.
Take our friend Sandy, who we talked about last week. She was a pedigree handicapper, no doubt about it. What we call Handicapping the Blood in our book: The Anatomy of Horse Race Handicapping Or How to Have Fun at the Track. She would pick her contender(s) first, based on their pedigree, then watch the odds board to see if they were amongst the favorites of not. If she found one where she felt the pedigree did not justify its high odds, then she would do some Eye Handicapping by watching them in the paddock and post parade. If she liked what she saw, she would make a show bet on it. “Why a show bet?” you ask. Well, if the horse is going off at double-digit odds, a show wager will pay very nicely, and you don’t have the pressure of having to have it win either. So, that my friends is how to construct a wager based on your way of handicapping.
Of course, this way of handicapping and constructing bets probably won’t match the way you make decisions, so, summertime is the perfect time for you to get your handicapping in synch with your wagers by having fun at a track!