June 27, 2019: Handicapping the Dishware

What is it with the Canadians using dishware as trophies? Hockey has Lord Stanley’s Cup and horse racing has the Queen’s Plate. We bring up this deep question because summer racing kicks into high gear this weekend, and it doesn’t get higher than Canadian racing’s BIG day, Queen’s Plate Day at Woodbine. If you’ve never experienced it, then try to follow the day via live streaming. The activities going on between the races are just as much fun as the races themselves.


The Queen’s Plate is Canada’s Kentucky Derby with a few differences. It still is a stakes race restricted to three-year-olds, but with the added restriction of those three-year-olds being Canadian foals. The length of the race is the same mile and a quarter required for the Derby; however, the surface is not dirt, but Tapeta, a synthetic one. The card is full of stakes races, mostly turf ones because of the Euro-like turf course found at Woodbine. So, the races will give your turf handicapping a real workout.


Of course, there’s a lot of pageantry that goes along with the event. Instead of My Old Kentucky Home, you’ll hear The Maple Leaf Forever being sung. There are celebrities both in attendance and performing. You may see the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “The Mounties” performing intricate maneuvers with their steeds on the track between races, and one never knows when some member of British Royalty will just pop over the pond. 

So, do we handicap these races being run on foreign soil any differently than usual? Absolutely not. Odds are still odds, no matter where the track is located. As for some Gut Handicapping, we have an angle to follow, as it will be interesting to see if trainer Mark Casse can capture another big three-year-old race. His horses won two legs of the U.S. Triple Crown this year and his horses have won the Queen’s Plate twice in the past. Always, one of the top trainers of the meet, can he keep the successes rolling?

Tune in and find out, even if you are only live streaming the day. Fun at the track is fun at the track, even if the track is in another country!


June 20, 2019: A Summer of Races is Here

Well, just don’t sit there saying Triple Crown season is over, so, no good racing until the three-year-olds come back. Get up! There’s handicapping to do with plenty of great race in all the divisions of the sport to look over all summer long. While the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth in July is the next Grade 1 for the three-year-olds, there are many Derby and Oaks on the schedule being held all over the country between now and then. No, they aren’t Grade 1’s like the Kentucky Derby, but with this three-year-old crop, we can be almost certain there is value to be found for the handicapper.


Then there are the stakes involving horses in the other divisions of the sport like for the older horses. Last Saturday, the Stephen Foster was run, a race that has seen winners go on to the Horse of the Year title. This year is so wide open with talent in each division, we shouldn’t limit our handicapping to just one, nor should we concentrate on just one track when summer meets are running in just about every state. Don’t forget about Woodbine in Canada too, as their BIG day is coming up in a couple of weeks.


What do we have to do handicapping-wise to cover all this action? First thing is to look over cards at, not just your usual track, but a bunch, since stakes racing is found everywhere this time of year. When looking over the cards, see if any of the races jump out at you. Do they fit your choice of handicapping tool, Head, Gut, Eye, Pedigree, etc. If you’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out if there is sole speed in a race or challenged speed, then look for those kinds of races. If you like to see who the meet leaders are in terms of jockeys and trainers, then put your Gut Handicapping to use. What about those turf=distance races? Why not do some turf pedigree research to find out who the leading turf sires are right now.


As for your Tail Handicapping (what we call constructing wagers), brush off the heavy favorites if you can, and look to some horses worth your bankroll. If you did that in the stakes at Churchill Downs last Saturday night, you did very well, and probably can’t wait to get back at it this weekend and all the summer weekends to follow!

June 14, 2019: Handicapping for Success

We’re sure you’ve heard the phrase, we learn more from our failures than our successes. When it comes to handicapping, we better learn more from our failures, because we are bound to lose many more times than win. We’ll repeat a line from our book, The Anatomy of Horse Race Handicapping Or How to Have Fun at the Track by saying if you win three races on a ten race card, then you’re batting .300 (for you non-baseball fans, that’s good.)


While following the three-year-old crop this year, we have certainly found out that backing favorites just isn’t worth the effort. As a result, we have been working using our handicapping tools to find the horses that are worth it. The Belmont Stakes was just another example. We knew it would be a cavalry charge down the stretch as most races of a mile and a half are, whether run on dirt or turf. Even with that scenario of how the race would unfold, how could you have landed on the winner?


As we said last week, we needed to look at the pedigrees that could get the distance, then look for horses with improving form. Even if we got our number of contenders down to a reasonable number using Head, Gut, and Pedigree Handicapping, there was the puzzle of how to construct a bet on the race. One way was a simple win bet on all your contenders who were going off at decent, preferably double-digit, odds. You could also use all your contenders in a boxed exacta, triple, or superfecta, but risk using a large portion of your bankroll in the process. Then there are those Pick bets. You could have keyed or singled horses like Bricks and Mortar in the Manhattan Stakes and Mitole in the Met Mile to use all of the contenders in the Belmont to construct a Pick 3 bet.


Regardless of how to structure the bet, there’s still the question of whether you would have included Sir Winston in your group of contenders. He had improving form finishing second in his last race the Peter Pan, the distance of which wasn’t suited to his closing style. If you watched a replay of that race or even just read the race chart, you would have found out he finished very well. Going two races back (he had trouble in the Blue Grass Stakes, so, we’ll draw a line through that one) he displayed a nice late kick in the Tampa Bay Derby.

You may have included Sir Winston as a contender when you found out his jockey, Joel Rosario left the second-place finisher in the Preakness, Everfast to ride him. What about pedigree handicapping then? Sir Winston is the son of Awesome Again out of an Afleet Alex mare. These aren’t the names of claimers folks, but Hall of Famers.


There you have it, how to handicap around favorites. With three more big three-year-old races on the calendar, the Haskell in July, the Travers in August, and the Pennsylvania Derby, things are only going to get more interesting in the coming months. Are you sure you want to keep following the chalk along the way or take a walk on the wild side with us?

June 6, 2019: The Test of the Race Fan

Last week, we suggested starting our Belmont Stakes Day handicapping early, if for no other reason than the card consists of eight Grade 1 races and nine graded stakes overall. Folks, we aren’t going to see a card like this until the Breeders’ Cup in November. We need to seize the day and handicap our little hearts out!


We also said we are going to need all of our handicapping tools to handicap such a card. Let’s start with the feature race, the Belmont Stakes. This is an interesting race every year, even when a Triple Crown isn’t on the line. It asks three-year-olds to go a distance they will probably never go again, and that most racehorses never run, a mile and a half. If they have never run such a distance before, how can we handicap who can do it? That’s where our Head Handicapping works with our Pedigree Handicapping.


Head Handicapping is needed, but not the kind we typically use for dirt races of a lesser distance. We have to look at races that are run in this day and age at the distance. “You just said the horses don’t run a mile and a half races any longer, so, what races do we use?” you exclaim. We have to figure that the race will be run like distance turf races. With longer distanced turf races, the pace is very slow. You won’t see those 24-second quarters and don’t usually see loose speed on the lead. Yes, American Pharoah and Justify went to the lead and slowed things down, but they were exceptions. So, we expect the cavalry charge coming down the stretch this time. When you get such an outcome, it is anybody’s race to win.


So, how can we land on some contenders? We go to the pedigrees. We look for horses with a pedigree leaning towards stamina versus speed. Until recent times, stamina was wanted in a pedigree, and then things shifted to speed, whereby, the horses won early and often. There is no waiting around for the two-year-olds to work up to races at longer distances to be successful.


When we looked over the pedigrees of the Belmont Stakes field, what did we look for? We looked for names in the lineages that indicate stamina. For example, War of Will’s pedigree shows he is inbred to Northern Dancer three times. His sire, War Front is a grandson of Northern Dancer; his Dam’s sire, Sadler’s Wells (a great sire in his own right) is a son of Northern Dancer; and his Dam’s mother’s lineage has Northern Dancer there as well. If that pedigree doesn’t scream distance? What makes War of Will different though from his ancestors is his ability to run well on dirt. Most of the names jumping out at us in his pedigree are known for passing on their distance genes.


While Pedigree Handicapping is certainly nice to do when looking for the stamina needed for the Belmont Stakes, our other handicapping tools like Gut and Eye Handicapping will come in handy for the other stakes too. For example, Chad Brown dominated turf racing the past two years in North America. So, look over the fields for those turf stakes, and then your problem becomes, which Brown trainee do you pick? Can’t figure it out, then construct a bet type to capitalize on the ones offering a better return on your investment (even if the investment is two bucks).


The dirt races offer us so many returning champions; they are going to challenge our handicapping for sure. So, how do we handle the challenges? Maybe just do what we have been doing all year. Avoid the heavy favorites by looking for horses going off at decent odds, the ones who are showing some improving form. Improving form doesn’t mean they won their last race. It means they have been running well in each of their starts this year and may be peaking.


If you must choose a favorite, structure your wagers with some higher odds horses in either vertical bets, like exactas or horizontal bets, like Pick 3’s. Ration your bankroll because a card with that many great races will have us acting like kids in a candy store. Pace yourself so you don’t get a bellyache by running out of bankroll before the feature Belmont Stakes- the Test of the Champion. Perhaps the test of the race fan as well. 

May 29, 2019: It's All in the Preparation

Are you ready for Belmont Stakes Day? “WHAT!” you exclaim. “The Belmont isn’t for another two weeks, besides there’s no Triple Crown on the line,” you continue a little less loudly. Note, we said Belmont Stakes Day, and not the Belmont Stakes. “What’s the difference?” you remark. Belmont Stakes DAY has NINE Graded Stakes on the card. You don’t get cards like that to handicap every weekend, so, we have to prepare. Look, if it took us four months to handicap the Kentucky Derby, a card like the one found on Belmont Stakes Day is certainly worth a couple of weeks of preparation, yes?


Any of these stakes would be the feature race on a regular weekend. So, why not look over the divisions represented, like the three-year-old fillies in the Acorn or the three-year-old sprinters in the Woody Stephens. These fields will draw the best in racing and horses we will be following the rest of the year. So, why not get acquainted with them now while we have the time. “How do we do that?” you ask with renewed interest.


Start reading articles that can be found on most racing sites like the DRF or Bloodhorse. Search around for sites, then when you find one you like, you can keep going back before and after the BIG days of racing ahead of us. Yes, it may sound old-fashioned, reading about horse racing, but who knows what gems you can find to help enhance the handicapping tools you’ve acquired so far this year.

May 23, 2019: The Game is Afoot

Was the BIG winner of the Preakness War of Will? Hmmm, let’s think about this. Did his win just keep the controversy started in the Derby with the DQ of Maximum Security going further than anyone connected with the sport could have known? When you get more questions after a horse race, or any sporting event for that matter, the “What-If” game ensues. (Kind of like Game of Thrones without all the bloodshed we hope, and in this case, where all the humans are wanting a “Classic” winner in their barn, not an Iron Throne.)


With the exception of the surface difference between the Preakness and the Derby, with the Preakness run on a dry track and the Derby in that slop, we got the same race in both instances. In the Derby, Maximum Security went to the lead, a place he evidently likes given it was his chosen running style in the Florida Derby. Like in that Derby prep, he set a fast fractional time to get the lead, then slowed things down when he achieved it. That fractional time was recorded as 22.31. The split times show the slow down with quarters of 24.31; 25.88; 26.13; and 25.30. Not exactly the preferred 24-second quarter times. With no one horse challenging him for the lead until the end, he became the proverbial loose speed on the lead and had plenty in the tank at the end. Plenty enough it seems to not only run straight, but side-to-side.


So, how can the Preakness be similar when Maximum Security wasn’t even in the race? Warrior’s Charge took over the role of Maximum Security and shot to the lead. Why couldn’t he hold it? Was it because he didn’t race side-to-side? We go back to that first fractional time posted. It was 22.50. The split or quarter times were: 23.66; 24:40; 24.92; and 18.86 (remember the Preakness is run at one and three-sixteenths mile, and not the mile and a quarter of the Derby.) Warrior’s Charge didn’t slow things down when he got to the lead probably because he was pressured by other horses, who were not in sight at the end. War of Will was ridden just as he had in the Derby. Taking the shortest route around the track in the one path and saving his energy for the stretch. This time the strategy worked because of what was going on in front of him (challenged speed on the lead) and not like in the Derby because of what was going on in front of him (loose speed on the lead.)


The winner of the Preakness was War of Will, but would we have had a Triple Crown on the line going into the Belmont, if Maximum Security wasn’t loose on the lead which enable him to race side-to-side? Regardless, the what-if plot is in place and sure to hold our interest all summer long. Stay tuned. What will happen when War of Will and Maximum Security meet again? What about the forgotten morning line Derby favorite that scratched, Omaha Beach? What about the Maximum Security ‘s owners’ “A” horse and Eclipse winner, Game Winner? Will Bob Baffert win a Grade 1 for three-year-olds in 2019?


One thing seems to be certain and that’s following a betting strategy of ignoring favorites and pounding those long-shots for place and show bets if nothing else! So, hold on tight for what promises to be one crazy summer of racing!


May 16, 2019: The Preakness for the Preakness' Sake

It’s here, the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes! No, there isn’t a Triple Crown attempt on the line. No, the declared Derby winner, Country House isn’t running. He had a cough, so, his Hall of Fame trainer decided there are more Grade 1s in the summer for his three-year-old to try when healthy. No, the disqualified horse isn’t entered either. He is happily at Monmouth Park awaiting his next start there. Look, if we had Triple Crowns attempted or achieved every year, then how special would the feat be?


Have you looked over the field for the race? It offers handicappers much value, and if the trend of heavy favorites losing during the Derby preps continues, the race should prove to be wide open. You have to think Improbable is the Morning Line favorite because his owners, trainer, and jockey are the same as Justify’s. As every handicapper knows, that fact alone isn’t enough to not handicap the race. Actually, it is the very reason to handicap the race.


If you find yourself not finding a contender outside of the favorite, then structure a bet using that favorite that will pay more than just a single bet on him. Look over the entries and come up with some horses going off at double-digit odds. Then use those picks under the favorite in an exacta. Better yet, use the long-shots on top of that exacta over the favorite. How do you pick a long-shot, you ask. Just do what we have been doing the entire Derby prep season. You have Gut Handicapping, Head Handicapping, Eye Handicapping, and Pedigree Handicapping at your disposal. You are more ready than you realize.


Be creative within the perimeters of your bankroll. The Preakness has a long tradition of being a great race to handicap and watch. Unfortunately, it tends to get lost in the middle of the Triple Crown series. Since the Triple Crown isn’t a target this year, have fun handicapping what looks like a great field of three-year-olds. There are no Justify’s nor American Pharoah’s in this three-year-old crop, so, stop moping over the Derby by getting out your handicapping tools and getting into the spirit of this great race!

May 8, 2019: Like it or Not, It was an Historic Derby

Can we at least all agree that the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby is one for the sport’s very long history book? Maybe instead of focusing on why or why not Maximum Security should have been or not been DQ’d, we might want to ask why there have been only two disqualifications in the history of the race.


On the surface, it appears that horse racing has joined the collective “sports” in the 21st century. Major League Baseball uses replays more and more to determine outcomes of plays. An area that once was the domain of human umpires on the field. The NFL has all sorts of guidelines to promote safety, like the rules concerning concussions. For racing it was a no win situation. If the stewards didn’t take down Maximum Security, the sport’s naysayers would have more fuel for their complaints. By taking the horse down, you wound up with a bunch of angry gamblers and newbies. As for the gamblers, have you ever met one who wasn’t a sore loser when a play didn’t go their way? As for the once-a-year participants, maybe the controversy will have them coming back to learn just what happened and why they shouldn’t bet favorites.


True race fans have been here before, whether as the beneficiaries of a DQ or the victims of one. We can only hope the odds of being beneficiary or victim will balance out over time. As long as the DQ’s make sense in regards to the safety of the athletes and not become an outlet for overzealous stewards, we might have a better sport in the long run. Maybe that’s being optimistic, but can’t we all can be thankful that no human or equine athletes were seriously injured during the race, and maybe that will be the legacy of this historic event in horse racing. So, cheer up, when was the last time our sport’s biggest event got such attention?


May 1, 2019: The FUN Run

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know a horse’s mane from its tail or if you’ve been watching horse racing so long, you’re called a railbird, the arrival of Kentucky Derby has certainly got your “fun” gene in overdrive right now. We race fans have been getting ready for the race for months, heck, since those three-year-olds took their first steps on a racetrack.


With the post-positions being drawn, one of the most important components of not only our Gut Handicapping of the race, but our Head Handicapping as well is in place. Gut Handicapping as you recall is looking at appropriate angles of a race. In the case of the Derby, there are angles to follow every year. For example, horses drawing the #1 post and the #14 have their work cut out for them. The poor #1 horse is staring at the rail from the gate. This means all the horses to his right will be moving to the rail as soon as the gates open, while he has to move left to avoid the rail in front of him. Crunch! The poor #14 has the last position in the main gate, which means all the horses in the auxiliary gate to his right will be pushing him out of the way as soon as the gates open. Push? They’ll run right over him! Crunch times six!


The post-positions also influence how we Head Handicap the race. With Head Handicapping, we want to know the entries’ running styles so we can figure out how the race will unfold. Do the horses to the far outside have a enough speed to get a position where they won’t be racing 5 or 6 or 7 wide going into the first turn? A closer like Country House may not find the 20th post a problem because his jockey can just put him in the back where he can run without trouble until the stretch. Then it becomes a question of whether he has a late kick to get to the lead. The favorite Omaha Beach can use his tactical speed from the 12 spot to miss all the banging around that is going to happen when the gates open.


The same is true of the speedy types like Maximum Security and Vekoma. Whether that early speed will last until the finish becomes a question that needs to be answered before finalizing our contenders. That’s where our Pedigree Handicappingcomes in handy. The post and pedigree of Tacitus look hopeful for his connections, as do Baffert’s trainees Game Winner and Roadster, who have posts on the outside, right next to each other


One handicapping tool we need to address as soon as we separate our contenders from our non-contenders is Tail Handicapping, which is the construction of wagers with a profitable return on our investment. As we did with the Derby prep races, spending our bankrolls on heavy favorites is just not profitable. Looking at the results of past runnings of the race, we find that long shots typically finish second and third. So, why not go with that angle by playing some exactas or triples using the favorites on top and some long shot underneath. If you don’t want to spend that much on these kind of bets, then just go with some long shots to place or show. You don’t have to get cute with constructing bets. Just be in it for the fun of it all.


Speaking of fun, the entire card Derby day is packed with stakes races featuring some of the sport’s finest runners. Why concentrate all your handicapping energy on just the Derby, when you can build that bankroll all day long by handicapping these others races? A day like Kentucky Derby Day comes just once a year making it special for race fans and all those who just want to have fun at the track! Fun may be having all your handicapping pay off bushels or it may be soaking in the pageantry that only the sport of horseracing can provide. It may just be watching these equine athletes doing what they were born to do - run, and in this case, Run for the Roses!

April 25, 2019: Having FUN looking for Derby Genes

One of the fun ways to handicap the Kentucky Derby is to do what we call in the book, The Anatomy of Horse Race Handicapping, Handicapping the Blood aka pedigrees. Why are you smirking? Looking at pedigree charts can be fun, even if you aren’t a self-professed pedigree handicapper, especially when you are handicapping the nation’s BIGGEST race, the Kentucky Derby. Of course, true pedigree handicappers just need to read the sire’s and broodmare’s sire names to know the pedigree. We may not want to get to that level of proficiency, but you have to think a little knowledge about who is who in the sport can go a long way.


It comes in handy for the Derby for several reasons. One of them being a desire to know which entries have the genes to go a mile and a quarter. Another is to identify which runners have a turf influence in their genes or perhaps some speed. Breeders of classic runners seem to love to get those turf genes in a pedigree. Last year’s field had several horses whose genes showed some turf preference, specifically one sire, Scat Daddy. The eventually winner, Justify was a son of Scat daddy.


When choosing what pedigrees to investigate for this year’s entries, we didn’t focus on turf genes exactly. Instead, we chose a hand-full of entries for reasons like they showed improving form on the Derby trail, or they had connections that were successful in prior runnings of the race, or they just were very well-bred individuals.


One of the latter is Tacitus. He is the son of Tapit, a stallion who is called “America’s Dominant Sire” because 25 of his offspring are Grade 1 winners. In recent years, this group included horses like Unique Bella, Cupid, Dream Pauline, Frosted, and Belmont Stakes winners, Tapwrit and Creator. Through Tapit, Tacitus has a lineage that includes Derby prominent names like Pulpit, AP Indy, Seattle Slew, Weekend Surprise and our favorite Derby sire, Fappiano. Fappiano is also found on the horse’s Dam side of the pedigree. The Dam, Closed Hatches being a champion herself.


Even with these credentials, a Tapit offspring has never won the Kentucky Derby. Although his trainer is the Hall of Famer, Bill Mott and his jockey is the Eclipse Award winning, Jose Ortiz, neither of them has won a Kentucky Derby. Does this lack of success mean we should exclude the horse from our contenders? We’ll have to wait for other factors like how he trains up to the race, what post position he draws, and what are the odds?


Another pedigree we glanced through was that of Omaha Beach. He has shown improving form by winning his last three starts, with each start at a higher level of competition too. So, what does his pedigree show? His sire is War Front, a turf champion, which makes him related to the great stamina sire, Northern Dancer. He is inbred to Fappiano through that horse’s son Rubiano, Rubiano was a champion in his own right, but at distances like 7 furlongs. By the way, another entry, War of Will is also a son of War Front. Again, we find the turf genes in these Derby horses.


One horse that may be overlooked is the Juvenile BC champion, Game Winner. His trainer has won the race a few times and his jockey won on Orb a few years back. Both of his 2019 starts found him finishing second. So, does that mean we should exclude him from our contenders? Of course not, for the same reason we listed above. His sire is Candy Ride, another descendant of Fappiano, but this time through that horse’s son Cryptoclearance. That line of Fappiano decedents have not found the Derby success of other Fappiano sons, like Derby winner, Unbridled, who is found in the pedigrees of Derby champions American Pharoah, Always Dreaming, and Grindstone. Game Winner is related to Indian Charlie through his Dam and Indian Charlie was the Grand-Sire of Derby winner Nyquist.


So, there’s just a few pedigrees. We will probably go through some more before the BIG race. One reason is that many of the horses are lightly raced and/or late foals meaning they won’t be three-years-old on the time of the race. Another reason to get in the habit of pedigree handicapping is the large number of two-year-old debuts that are just beginning this time of year. With MSWs for two-year-olds not having any prior races to look over, we need to recognize who their parents are, if only because we don’t want to miss one of America Pharoah’s offspring making their debut this year!

April 18, 2019: But the FUN has just Begun!

Okay, now that the Derby preps are over, do we still go with this gut handicapping stuff, you ponder. The Gut Handicapping stuff as you call it will be more beneficial to us for the other stakes races on both the Derby and Oaks cards, as well as, any stakes. The Derby being America’s most well-known and followed race deserves all of our handicapping tools.


Of course, with a twenty-horse field, the post positions take on added importance, but we won’t know those until a few days before the race. So, how will our Gut Handicapping and other tools help before then? Our Gut Handicapping will have us looking at the horse, who may not have won their last Derby prep, but are showing improving form. Which horses looked like they had enough left in the tank at the end of their preps?


Our Head Handicapping will have us looking at replays of past Derby’s to see what running style is best suited for a race a mile and a quarter long. Looking at the fractional and quarter times of the major Derby preps, they all appear to be very slowly run events. The best final time was 1:48.86 in the Florida Derby at a dry Gulfstream Park. So, we need to look at where the winners were during the race. Were they off-the-pace, setting the pace, or stalking the pace.


The one tool we have been ignoring throughout Derby prep season has been our Pedigree Handicapping. Of course, they all seem very well bred, but which ones come from a line of Derby winners? Last year’s winner, Justify came from a turf family with Scat Daddy being his sire. Turf runners typically have the stamina to go the Derby distance. So, which runners in this year’s event have those genes? Go check out a few pedigrees of the entries to see the prominent families that usually turn up in a Derby winner.


We still have plenty of Eye Handicapping to do as well. No, our most important eye handicapping comes when watching the workouts at Churchill Downs the days before the race. Then there’s always the quick look in the paddock and post parade too. Our Eye Handicapping right now consists of looking at old Derby replays and re-watching the preps.


So, there you have our homework before the BIG race. It really isn’t as much homework as it is fun. It is fun to re-watch the old Derby’s, especially to hear names in the field that didn’t win, but went on to become champions, like Gun Runner a few years ago. Make the most of it because it is the day when our sport takes on world-wide attraction and knowing more about the race will make it that much more fun to watch!

April 11,2019: Indigestion?

You could argue that our Gut Handicapping let us down given the results of last weekend’s Derby preps, the Bluegrass; the Wood Memorial, and Santa Anita Derby. But did it really? After all, we just want to eliminate the heavy favorite in the Derby preps, not a favorite going off at decent odds. For example, by taking the heavy favorite Game Winner out of the picture when handicapping the Santa Anita Derby, Roadster looked more appealing with his $8.20 return on our investment. You have to remember that it was a short field of 6 horses, so, just how much would any of the non-favorite horses pay if the heavy favorite didn’t win?


In comparison, the Bluegrass had a large field of 14 horses, so, the favorite Vekoma paid $4.80, which seems pretty low on the surface. However, if the field was the size found in the Santa Anita Derby, then Vekoma would have gone off at even shorter odds similar to those Game Winner had. The same held true in the Wood Memorial, where Tacitus presented us with a better paying favorite at $7.20. No, these weren’t double-digit payoffs as found in the previous Derby prep races, but sometimes Gut Handicapping leads us in other directions.

If you were to have handicapped the stakes races at Keeneland Saturday, as well as, the Bluegrass, your Gut Handicapping may have led you to those double-digit payoffs.


Throughout the Derby prep season, our Gut Handicapping has us looking for a meet’s leading connections, and even though the Keeneland meet just started, jockey Javy Castellano has been riding the stakes winners. So, if you were to just pick his mounts in Saturday’s numerous stakes there, you would have had returns of $11.00 in the Madison Stakes and Vekoma in the Bluegrass. However, if by some chance Paco Lopez is a favorite of yours, then you would have not only had the $7.20 winner of the Shakertown Stakes, but the $106.20 winner of the Ashland.


Does this outcome mean you should just bet jockeys? Of course not. Gut Handicapping has us looking for horses with improving form, given that many of the entries in these stakes were coming off long layoffs, it would have you looking for other angles to follow like jockeys or trainers in good form.


When all is said and done handicapping-wise using our Gut Handicapping is really looking for angles to play. With all these angles in play, it will be interesting to see where our Gut Handicapping will lead in the final major Derby prep, the Arkansas Derby.

April 4, 2019: Now that's Gut Handicapping!

The Gut Handicapping struck again in this past weekend’s Derby prep, the Florida Derby. The crowd sent their money to the heavy favorite Hidden Scroll, who impressively broke his maiden at the track by double-digit lengths earlier in the meet. He didn’t do so well in his first graded stakes try though in the Fountain of Youth.


The second favorite in the Florida Derby was Bourbon War, with the meet’s leading jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. The low odds on both of these horses sent us looking for some runners going off at double-digit odds. Using our Gut Handicapping, we just followed the angles to land on the eventual winner, Maximum Security.


Oh, come on, you exclaim. How could we pick a horse that was in a $16,000 claiming race earlier in the Gulfstream Park meet? What horse jumps from the claiming ranks to a Grade 1 stakes, you continue to rant. Actually, all we had to do was look through our track program. Looking over the entries for the race, we saw that jockey Luis Saez was riding Maximum Security. Luis was the two-time meet champion and was fighting for a third against Ortiz Jr.right through Florida Derby day. Then we saw his mount was three-for-three on the track.


The program also provided us with the information that trainer Jason Servis was winning at 45% rate, with 74% of his starters coming in the money. No, he isn’t the Servis who trained Kentucky Derby Winner Smarty Jones. That was his brother John Servis, and having trained a Derby winner wasn’t the angle we were looking for, rather it was the win % that raised our eyebrows.. You could also argue that the winner wasn’t a big long-shot, but we were looking for some other kind of payoffs than those offered by the heavy favorites, and Maximum Security did provide double-digits in that department.


In the end, having been a one-time claimer didn’t deter us from picking Maximum Security. Heck, racing’s Hall of Fame is filled with them, like John Henry and Lava Man. So, it’s onward to more Derby preps this weekend. Will our Guts lead the way once again?