December 6, 2018: Let the Debates Begin!
As we have been talking about the past few weeks, even though the BC took place over a month ago, there is still great racing taking place. This past weekend alone, the Del Mar fall meet finished with two turf Grade 1s, which given the time of year drew many connections based on the cold east coast, where turf racing won’t be seen until spring. In addition to this bonus coverage of the sport, there are still those Eclipse Award categories without a clear winner. “Why should we care?” you ask.
One reason is that it’s fun, as fans match their wits with the know-it-all racing media. Every sport has their year-end awards, but with horse racing the award recipients hold a special importance. The breeders covet those horses receiving the awards. We already talked about how the Horse of the Year award may not be a slam-dunk for Justify.
However, the awards not only go to the equines, but humans as well. Awards go to owner, breeder, trainer, jockey, and apprentice jockey. You might be interested to know that two recent recipients of the apprentice jockey award went to Drayden Van Dyke and Tyler Gaffalione. Drayden just won the Del Mar fall meet title and Tyler won that title at the recently completed Churchill Downs fall meet. Maybe, a good predictor of human excellence?
As for the equines, here is a list, and since the BC winner in the equivalent category typically gets the Eclipse Award, we put this year’s winners along side where applicable:
Two-year-old Male: Game Winner
Two-Year-Old Filly: Jaywalk
Three-Year-Old Male: Justify (although he didn’t run in the BC)
Three-Year-Old Filly: Monomoy Girl
Older Male: Accelerate
Older Female: ?
Sprinter Male: Roy H.
Sprinter Female: ?
Now, you can see where the holes are except for top three-year-old male. Of course, that spot has been Justify’s since his victory in the Belmont. However, the question remains: will he also be named Horse of the Year?
This is just year-end fun stuff since the Eclipse Awards were started in 1971. Since then owner/breeder Frank Stronach leads the way with 12 awards received. Todd Pletcher follows him with 7 and jockey Jerry Bailey, who also has 7. As far as the equines are concerned, Forego has 8 including 3 Horse of the Year titles. He is followed by John Henry and Wise Dan. So, have some fun in the coming weeks as the discussion mounts among the media who get to vote as to which equines will win the awards and go into the history books.
November 30, 2018: It's That Time of Year
It’s that time of year! Well, not that time of year exactly, but the time of year to talk about May and the Kentucky Derby. Maybe it’s because we have all those months of winter in front of us, or maybe it’s because it’s fun to see the two-year-old crop grow-up before our eyes in a matter of weeks.
One of the key stakes for two-year-olds was run Saturday at Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. No, it’s not very predictive of eventual Derby winners. If you looked back at the race’s winners, you’re not going to find a single Derby victor. So, why is it a key race again? Look at the runners the race drew over the years. You only have to go back to 2012 and find that eventual Horse of the Year Gun Runner finished fourth in it. However, if you want to find a bunch of horses to follow on the Derby trail in 2019, then the horses running in this year’s edition would be the ones, if experience is any indication.
There is another key two-year-old stakes to watch in a couple of weeks, the Los Alamitos Futurity. The race was first run at the now gone Hollywood Park and is still remembered as the Hollywood Futurity by many. It still has Grade 1 status too. Now, you may be asking how important can a race won by Bob Baffert almost every year be? Yes, he has won it the past four years, in addition to countless times in the past. However, you have to go back to 1997, when Baff won with eventual Kentucky Derby winner, Real Quiet. Supersire, A.P. Indy also won it, as have many other successful sires like Pioneerof the Nile back in 2008.
Again, given Baffert’s success in the Derby, it’s fun to watch who-is-who in this barn. We know his Game Winner won the BC Juvie along with three other stakes, but this time last year, Justify didn’t run a single race, and it was McKenzie that was star of the barn.
So, have some fun watching these two-year-old stakes. If some of the two-year-olds catch your eye, winners or not, then you have horses to follow through all those Derby preps next year. Here’s to the non-victors!
November 22, 2018: The Sport that keeps on Giving
Happy Thanksgiving! And boy, do race fans have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to the sport we all love so much. When other sports have definitive endings, racing just keeps on giving to its fans. Just when you think the Breeders’ Cup is the end of the season, BAM, the winter meets kick off with a seemingly endless line up of stakes racing. We have Grade 1s; Grade 2s; and Grade 3’s on every surface for every division. These stakes come in handy at this time of year for those divisions of racing that are still without a clear leader. As we talked about last week, even the Horse of the Year title may not be as obvious as first thought.
Oh, and if you’re still trying to figure out who can give Justify a run for his money for that Horse of the Year title, here are the answers to last week’s list of possibles:
Horse #1: The BC Classic winner, Accelerate. He went 6 for 6 in 2018 and hit the California older horse trifecta by winning the Santa Anita Handicap; the Hollywood Gold Cup; and the Pacific Classic. Besides all those accomplishments, he really looks the part.
Horse #2: Monomoy Girl is clearly the three-old-old filly champion of 2018, but what about being named Horse of the Year too. Will the voters overlook her because she didn’t beat the boys despite finishing first in each of her 7 starts for 2018 (that’s finished first, not won because of a stupid DQ in the Cotillion Stakes being the only blemish).
Horse #3 is Sistercharlie, who became the turf star in 2018 successfully filling the shoes of Lady Eli as she won 4 Grade 1’s, with one of those being the Beverly D. and the other being the BC Filly and Mare Turf.
Horse #4 is the two-year-old champion for 2018, Game Winner, who won three Grade 1’s including the BC Juvenile, a race, which usually rubber stamps an Eclipse Award in that division.
Horse #5 is Justify. He also won 4 Grade 1’s in 2018, but three of them were the ones everyone wants to win in the same year to achieve a Triple Crown. You have to ask yourselves though, if he beat the best three-year-olds for 2018, who did he beat? None of his competition appears to have made the impression they would be leaders in the division in his absence. Certainly, none of them including Justify beat their elders in the BC or other significant stakes. So, should Justify be Horse of the Year?
The weeks leading up to the end of the calendar year have plenty of great races to give us a chance to decide who the divisional leaders should be in our humble opinions. They also provide a chance to take a break from the holiday chaos. Why, you don’t even have to practice with those handicapping tools. Just use whatever appeals to you in the moment. This “thoughtless” handicapping is a good way to find out just what your strengths are, or not. We can always start fresh come January 1st, and we usually do!
In the spirit of the season, just have fun, and thank the horses and the people who bring them to us. Happy Thanksgiving everyone !
November 15, 2018: There are Decision, then there are Decisions
With the Breeders’ Cup over and the migration south of the stakes racing for the winter, our thoughts turn to the Eclipse Awards. Every year there are categories up for grabs and this year is no different. The one category that is most unexpected to be up for discussion is horse of the year. Why? Let’s have some fun with picking the horse most worthy of the title. Below, we have listed five horses, who had an outstanding 2018. We didn’t give the names, just some relevant facts.
Horse 1: Was 6 for 7 with 5 of the wins being Grade 1s. Won its BC race. Accomplished the rare feat of winning all three of the major Grade 1s for older horses run in Southern California, specifically, the Santa Anita Handicap; the Hollywood Gold Cup; and the Pacific Classic.
Horse 2: Was first in seven races, with one being a very questionable DQ to second being the only blemish on this horse’s record for 2018. Six of the wins were in Grade 1s. Finished the year with a BC victory.
Horse 3: Had 4 wins in 5 starts. Won 4 Grade 1’s and had a BC victory on turf against competition that included Euros.
Horse 4: Went 4 for 4 in 2018 with 3 being Grade 1’s and a BC win.
Horse 5: Went 6 for 6 in 2018 with 4 Grade 1 victories.
Looking over these horses’ stats, who would you pick as Horse of the Year? Would your decision change, if you knew that horses #2 and #3 were female, and being so, would need a victory against males to capture your vote ala Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and Harve de Grace?
Or does age matter more to you? Would horse #4 being a two-year-old disqualify him from any possibility of being HOY? It is very rare to have a two-year-old be Horse of the Year, but it has happened, especially in years with no stand out older horse. However, horse #1 was a 5 year old in 2018 and horses #2 and #5 were 3, with horse #3 being 4.
Would the deciding factor for you be a Breeders’ Cup victory, which in this case would eliminate the #5 horse, as he is the only one not to win a BC race in the group? The bottom line is: should a Triple Crown rubber stamp the Horse of the Year title?
( If you are having trouble identifying these champions listed here, we will give you the answers - next week.)
November 8, 2018: The Always Remarkable BC
Another edition of the Breeders’ Cup is in the books. How’d you do? Did you follow the special angles for the BIGGEST days in racing or did you stick to your old faithful ways of handicapping? It really doesn’t matter how you chose your contenders for the races, as long as you are happy with the results, and, you didn’t run out of bankroll.
The races were certainly formful. What does that mean exactly you ask? Most of the fields ran to their current form (just re-read the Gut Handicapping chapter in The Anatomy of Horse Race Handicapping to review form.) The short explanation is that there were no surprise long shots. That’s what should happen when the best of the best goes at each other though. The Euros and Chad Brown horses dominated the turf races. The California-based horses and those having run at the Saratoga meet won the majority of the races (four each to be specific).
Need examples? The first day of the BC was all about the two-year-olds. Euro horses finished first in the Juvenile Turf; second in the Juvenile Fillies Turf; and third in the Turf Sprint. So, Euros being in the money for the turf races is nothing new there. Out of the 15 juvenile in the money finishers, 7 ran at the Saratoga meet and 3 of those broke their maidens there. Overall for both days, 21 of in the money finishers ran at Saratoga. BC winners: Newspaperofrecord; City of Light; Sistercharlie; and Monomoy Girl all ran at the Spa in 2018. With California-based trainers Peter Miller winning two races and John Sadler getting off an oh-for-44 streak with Accelerator’s Classic win, the West Coast did well too, even with Bob Baffert being held to the one win in the Juvenile.
Euros won two turf races on Day 2, with Frankie Dettori aboard for both. Overall, it looks like the Euros coming in after running on Arc de Triumph day held their form from that day. Wild Illusion, who finished second to Sistercharlie; Expert Eye, who won the Mile; Line of Duty, winner of the Juvenile Turf; and of course, the great Enable, all came to CD in good form from running on Arc day.
If you were wondering how the trainer and jockey angles played for the event, well, nothing out of the ordinary there either. Chad Brown from the East Coast and Peter Miller from the West each had two BC winners. The East Coast jockeys also led the way with Javy Castellano coming in the money 7 times; Irad Ortiz Jr. 6; Joel Rosario 3; and Johnny Velazquez having 1 win and 2 thirds.
We did give out a nicely paying tip a few weeks ago when profiling Knicks Go and why he was a long shot in a BC prep that was worthy of contender consideration at the time. He proved he was no fluke by giving Game Winner every bit of trouble down the stretch in the Juvenile to finish a close second.
Some might say the BC 2018 was unremarkable because stars like Justify weren’t there. Yet, the best of the best put on their best for the event. Monomoy Girl showed why she is the best three-year-old in racing. Roy H did a rarely seen repeat win in the Sprint. Sistercharlie beat the Euros on turf once again. Enable made an entire country fall in love with her, if they already had not. Then there was Accelerate. Looking at the horses coming out of the paddock for the Classic, he stood out among all the talent there. He oozed the air of a champion. One look at him and all doubts that he couldn’t win from the 14 post vanished. The performance he gave certainly makes the discussion about Horse of the Year much more interesting. All those things are what makes the BC, the BC, so, how can anyone say it wasn’t a notable renewal?
November 1, 2018: The BC Candy Store
Now that the post positions have been made for all the BC races, we can proceed with our Head Handicapping, which is figuring out how each race will unfold. To do this, we need to know the running styles of each entry by looking at their past races. We also have to take into account track conditions, because Churchill Downs has received ark-building type rains during the week.
Maybe the “bright” spot with these rains is that we are used to handicapping such conditions by now thinking back to the Derby and Preakness, as well as, the entire Saratoga meet. The majority of Euros don’t mind running on soft turf, but don’t blindly bet them on that fact alone. You still have to figure out how their races will unfold because it is very difficult to figure out their form unless you have been focused on Euro racing.
When all done with that task, you have another decision to make and that is how to bet the contenders you came up with. All the handicapping in the world isn’t going to work unless you correctly wager on them. It means, you can’t be like a kid in a candy store: “I’ll have a couple of WPS, several boxed exactas, oh, and throw in a handful of those fifty-cent triples.” It is tempting to wager like this given that we know most of the runners having watched the American stakes racing all year.
Many race fans have a wager type they live, and mostly die upon. Say, you come up with four contenders in the BC Mile. How do you bet them? Well, if you always make exacta wagers, do you just box the four? Maybe so, or maybe not. Construct wagers that won’t blow your bankroll. Boxing horses or using that “all” button can make you fly through your bankroll. If you’re lucky enough to hit one early, then you might be in a hurry to throw it all back too.
With the size of these fields, you probably will get nice payoffs on the higher odds horses that were favorites in their BC preps. Since these are two of the BIGGEST days in racing, there will be many fans flooding the betting pools, who are occasional race goers. That makes the chalk, chalkier. So, watch the odds board. You don’t have to dig up those 50-1 shots, but maybe land on a favorite beaten in their BC prep with good reason, such as, traffic, trainer using the race as a public workout, etc.
Know your connections in these cases. Are your contenders trained by successful BC trainers or ridden by successful BC jockeys or owned by successful BC owners? Would such connections just send a horse if they weren’t BC worthy? If you have several contenders in a race with successful BC connections, then construct your bet appropriately, and not just use the bet type you use every race day.
Be thoughtful. Playing the chalk is just not worth it, when there are so many opportunities for a decent payoff in these races. Take a chance, but not at the expense of your bankroll. Keep that bankroll in mind at all times. At the same time, go with your gut if it’s telling you something your head missed, and if it comes down to your gut and your bankroll, find a comprise that will keep both happy.
All these tips sound so easy. Just leave yourself enough funds to have fun. If you hit a couple of races and have a profit at the end of Saturday, then you’re a winner. If you had fun doing so, then you’ve succeeded. The BC is the event all of racing looks forward to. Trainers point their champions to it and fans can’t wait to see the best of the best go head-to-head. Enjoy!
October 25, 2018: Gutting to the BC
After talking about the importance of Head Handicapping for the Breeders’ Cup, the other tool we can’t be without is our Gut Handicapping. Yes, we discussed Gut Handicapping quite a bit this year, probably because of the competitive fields given us in the majority of stakes run. There really weren’t that many dominant performers in each of the divisions of racing. There was no Gun Runner, Arrogate, American Pharoah, and California Chrome for the older horse division. Justify came and went so quickly, we tend to forget there even was a Triple Crown winner this year. The turf saw no champions like Tepin or Wise Dan. The Euros we talked about the most were running in dirt stakes and not their preferred turf. The two-year-old picture is just as muddled as always. So, how do we handicap such wide open fields if we don’t supplement our Head Handicapping with some of the Gut version?
We know by now that every track has its meet angles to follow, as well as, its BIG day angles. So, how about the BIGGEST of the BIG days, the Breeders’ Cup? Of course, there are angles specific to the event, but with the location changing every year, how can we come up with regular handicapping angles for it? Do we go back to the last time the races were run at Churchill Downs? That’s a start, even though the BC hasn’t been held there since 2011 when Drosselmeyer upset the Classic. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to go through the winners from that year’s event. It probably will hurt Zenyatta fans to go back to 2010 when the BC was also held at Churchill Downs.
Watching replays of the races from those years may gave us some idea of how the track played. Was there a bias kind of thing? Now, the last time the BC was held in Kentucky was in 2015, when American Pharoah became the very first Grand Slam winner. However, that year the location was Keenland. Still, given the closeness geographically of the two Kentucky tracks, we might pick up something angle-wise by re-watching the races there.
If you just want to go back to last year when Del Mar held its first BC, you may find the same angles in play there as were seen at other locations. For example, in 2017, the horses running at Saratoga did well, even though the BC was on the west coast. There were 5 horses that won at Saratoga that also won BC races. There were 14 horses finishing in the money at both Saratoga and the BC. The Woodbine Mile proved a key prep race last year, as did the Presque Isle Masters. As for jockeys, the east coast group including Johnny Velazquez, Javy Castellano, Joel Rosario, and the omnipresent Ortiz brothers all did well.
Overall, there are the same handicapping angles presenting themselves every year. The Euro shippers always do well in the turf distance races. The reason people don’t pick up on that successfully is because it probably won’t be the favored Euro shipper that wins, but a long-shot. You can adjust your betting strategy for that type of thing though. Instead of singling the Euro favorite, pick the others and design a bet with them. Remember thought, when it comes to the turf sprints, the American-based horses have the edge there.
The juvenile races, whether on turf or dirt seem to be the toughest to handicap on BC day no matter where the event is held. Going with the trainers who have had the most success with the baby runners may be the best way to approach those races. The sport’s best go up against each other for the BC and nowhere is that more obvious than in the two-year-old BC stakes. Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, and Steve Asmussen corner the market all year with these young horses, so, why should the BC be any different.
There you have the key angles to look at for the Breeders’ Cup. They are best used with your Head Handicapping, where if your head has you picking 5 contenders, your gut may be able to whittle that number down to a manageable amount for betting. It won’t be too early to get going on your handicapping this year because of the great competitive fields. If you just can’t handicap one race no matter which tools you use, then skip it because a short time later another great field will be running in the next BC race. Also, by skipping, you might be able to sit back and just enjoy our once a year racing holiday!
Like any holiday, there’s fun to be had, so, get to it!
October 18, 2018: Heading to the BC
In order to get our handicapping tools sharp for the Breeders’ Cup, we have been talking about the three variables of speed, class, and form. However, we describe them as Handicapping with your Head, Handicapping the Blood, and Gut Handicapping. Why do we do this? To confuse you? No. Actually we do it to make it sounds less scientific and more human.
Head Handicapping involves your brain taking prior race information to figure out how a race will unfold. It is probably the most important of our handicapping tools for the Breeders’ Cup. Here’s why: Unlike the preps, the actual Breeders’ Cup races bring together champions from all over the country and the world for that matter. These champions are easy to spot in the preps and were probably the heavy favorites of their races. Then you have the other champions who skipped the Breeders’ Cup prep races because they already qualified by winning a “Win and You’re In” race.
What they all have in common entering the BC is past performances. We need to look carefully at each entry’s past performances to ascertain what their running style is. After establishing a running style, we have to look at speed. Which ones are fastest getting out of the gate? Which ones are fastest in the later stages of a race? How do we do this? By looking at the fractional and final times of the races they have run in. They are all there in the past performance lines. You can also look at speed figures, but they more than likely will have many triple-digit runners found for each race because these are the best of the best running.
Once we have done this exercise for each entry, then we can visualize how the BC race they are in will unfold. You may find yourself with several scenarios instead of just one. If each scenario has a different winner, then you need to consider each as a contender and construct a bet including each. If each scenario arrives at the same entry, then you might want to single that horse in your bets.
It sounds simple, but we know it is not because of those other two variables of class and form. We can just assume the class will be there because the BC draws the best of the best and we could assume that only the horses in the best form will be running. However, as we found out looking for long shots in the BC preps, class may not be that evident and form may be darkened. So, for the BC races, we will need to become familiar with the particular angles that have developed for the event over the years. As with every BIG day of racing, there are angles. Next week, we will look at some of them. For now, we wait until those entries are finalized for each race before figuring out how they will unfold.
October 11, 2018: Now That's Using Your Head
Any luck finding some long shots in those Breeders’ Cup prep races last weekend? We suggested using your Head Handicapping. If you stayed away from the favorites, you might have hit upon some nice paying double-digit winners. There were horses like: Its Gonna Hurt paying $18.60 in the Speakeasy Stakes; Golden Mischief paying $11.00 in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes; Current paying $11.80 in winning the Dixiana (a Todd Pletcher horse to boot); Blue Prize won the Spinster and paid her backers $11.00; and in the Shadwell Mile, Next Shares paid $48.80. These “Win and You’re In” races were all run at Keeneland, other longshots were found in the BC Preps at Belmont and Santa Anita too. However, the biggest had to be in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity run at Keeneland, where Knicks Go paid $142 for the win.
“You’re not going to tell us Head Handicapping alone would have us picking that horse are you?” shaking your head in skepticism. We get you. How can you determine an entry’s running style, which is needed to figure out how a race unfolds, if the horses are two-year-olds and don’t have many races run? We certainly don’t mean you could have singled Knicks Go, but instead do your Head Handicapping along with some Gut Handicapping to pick your contenders. Once picking your contenders, watch the odds board to focus on the long shots of your picks and throw out the chalky ones.
Here’s what we mean. The Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity was restricted to two-year-olds and it drew a large field of them. Typically, a large field of two-year-olds will result in good payouts for just the reason you stated. They haven’t raced much. So, instead of going with the favorites in such a field, we suggested, uh, told you to look for the long shots.
Looking at Knicks Go’s past performances, he only raced three times coming into the Futurity. He broke his maiden at Ellis Park in the summer running in front going 6 furlongs. Now, you can’t ascertain his running style is that of a front runner because most two-year-olds run as fast as they can in their first race at a short distance. Based on that performance though, his trainer Ben Colebrook sent him to Saratoga to run in the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes at the same distance.
It is considered that the jump in class from a maiden to any other level is the most difficult because the horse is going from facing non-winners to all winners. In this case, Go Knicks went from facing non-winners in a field of locally based horses at Ellis Park to one where the horses shipped in from all over for a stakes with a high purse. With these two obstacles in place and the fact that both his trainer and jockey Albin Jimenez weren’t well-known on a national level, the horse drew little attention, but finished a respectable 5th in a very slowly run race, one where the field ran as a pack, as there was no need-to-lead type.
From that effort, the horse’s last race before the Futurity was a listed stakes at Arlington Park on their All-Weather surface there (remember there’s no dirt course at Arlington). Even though, he had a bad start, Knicks Go finished third in another slowly run race. So, how in the world would you think of using this horse in your list of long shot contenders when handicapping the Futurity? You go to your Gut Handicapping, where we look at race angles.
The most important angle is the changes a trainer makes to result in a successfully run race for his horse. In the case of Knicks Go, we look back to a race where he ran successfully, which would be his maiden breaker at Ellis, one he set the pace in. Sure, that race was at 6 furlongs and not the mile and 1/16th of the Futurity, but there were no speedy types. The trainer and jockey decided at some point to let the horse go to the lead in the race and see if the others could catch him. The result: no one caught him and the horse, trainer, and jockey won their first Grade 1 stakes race.
Since many in the field had already ran against each other, your reading of the past performance would have shown you which ones could have set the pace and which ones had a chance of catching the pace setters down the stretch. All you had to do was look at their past performances lines, especially the fractional times and their positions throughout their past races. What you would have found is what the trainer and jockey found, their horse won on the lead and the others won in pace-less races.
One last thing we found out about Knicks Go is that the name should read K nicks Go
Where the K stands for the owners the Korea Racing Authority and the nicks for the breeding practice, and go for go. Does the performance of the horse mean he’s the favorite for the BC Juvenile then? No, because the BC field for the Juvenile will draw all the best two-year-olds in training from all over the country and sometimes outside of the country. You still have to do your Head and Gut handicapping for the race. The Head Handicapping will be the same, but the Gut Handicapping may include angles only found for the BC races. So, get your Head Handicapping practice in because the BC will be here soon.
October 4, 2018: It's All in Your Head
A couple of weeks ago, we were yapping about how these Breeders’ Cup Preview days are nothing like the actual event. This past weekend’s BC preps certainly proved that thought. We had the Grade 1 Awesome Again run on the west coast at Santa Anita for the 3 and up crowd at a mile and 1/8th, while at Belmont Park on the east coast, we had the Jockey Club Gold Cup run for the same age restrictions, but at a mile and a quarter. Oh yes, there was one more difference between the two as far as the conditions were concerned, that being the purse in the Awesome Again being $300,000 and the purse for the JCGC was $$750,000, then again, who are we to quibble over a few hundred-thousand dollars.
Having already won three Grade 1’s this year, Accelerate has been considered the top older horse running; however, all those wins came in races run on the west coast, thereby, leaving the door open for a showdown in the BC Classic between the best of the west against the beast of the east, Diversify. The problem? Maybe Diversify was the beast in the east, but was he the best in that race? His odds for the JCGC indicated it. The bettors seem to be drawn to recent wins and not things like the class, speed, and form of the competition. There was Mendelssohn, who won the 2018 UAE Derby in Dubai after winning the 2017 BC Juvenile Turf. There was also Thunder Snow, the winner of the 2018 Dubai World Cup, the world’s second richest race. He also won the 2017 UAE Derby, but probably best remembered as the horse that freaked out in the Kentucky Derby that year resulting in a DNF. How could you not notice Gronkowski was in the field, after all he came close to beating Justify in the Belmont Stakes in his first U.S. start.
Yes, that’s all well and good, you say, but Diversify was the only one to win his last race, and that was a Grade 1. So, that’s what your handicapping has come to, just pick the winner of his last race? Sure, you’re mumbling: “How in the world could anyone pick the eventual winner, Discreet Lover. He is owned and trained by relatively unknown, Uriah St. Lewis, who bought him for a whopping $10,000. That’s right, a one followed by only four zeros. What was a horse like that even in the field?”
All you had to do is your Head Handicapping for the race. (And what were you doing betting the chalk anyway in a field like that?) You could think that Discreet Lover ran over his head finishing 12th in the Grade 1 Woodward; 3rd in the Grade 1 Whitney; 3rd in the Grade 2 Suburban; and 4th in the Grade 1 Met Mile. However, if you throw out that Woodward performance, which the trainer says was because the jockey had him too close to the pace set by Diversify, then you have a racehorse in pretty good form.
We know our handicapping involves the variables Class, Speed, and Form (or as we refer to them: Pedigree, Head, and Gut Handicapping.) Head Handicapping dictates that we figure out how a race will unfold by looking at the running styles of the horses and how fast they run. Diversify wasn’t challenged for the lead in his victories, so the first thing we had to do is look for other need-to-lead types in the field. Since the classiest horses are usually the fastest, Diversify’s running style was compromised by Mendelssohn leaving the outcome up to those horses who can close into such a pace. Thunder Snow, being a turf horse at heart could certainly close, as could Gronkowski, who did so in the Belmont. If you looked at Discreet Lover’s past performance lines in your program, and not dismiss him with the thought his owner/trainer just wanted to get a piece of the purse, then you’d see he would be running at the end. The shock came not by Diversify’s defeat, because his running style in distance races would eventually doomed him to such a result. The remarkable feat by lowly Discreet Lover was that he beat Thunder Snow, one of Goldolphin’s gems in the hundreds of gems the Sheikh owns.
The point is: betting chalk just doesn’t provide an adequate ROI to spend your bankroll on. It doesn’t matter when the chalk wins as in the case of Accerlerate, or when it loses as in the case of Diversify. What this comparison of the two BC preps does for us is make us rely on our Head Handicapping. If you can somehow find a long shot, then take a chance. What’s the worst that can happen? Your long shot wins and you win a bunch or you skip a race where the winner pays a nickel on the dollar?
These races are a reminder to use our Head Handicapping to figure out how the actual BC races will unfold when west meets east meets mid-west meets Euros. The horses probably haven’t gone head-to-head before, so, our Head Handicapping becomes even more important. Of course, there are those sore losers who bet Diversify and claim the race didn’t set up for him. Well, if you don’t do your Head Handicapping for the BC Classic, you won’t know if that race will set up for him either.
Discreet Lover may not win another race and maybe Accelerate can’t win outside of California, but those are decisions we’ll have to make for the BC and the only thing we can do now is practice our Head Handicapping with the remaining BC preps in the coming weekend.