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.