The Anatomy of Horse Race Handicapping
Travers Day 2019 Report
Race 5: The Grade 1 Forego at 7 Furlongs
Head Handicapping: Head Handicapping is all about figuring out how a race will unfold using the information provided in the past performances. The race revolves around Mitole #3. Sure, he had his 7 race win streak snapped last time out losing to Imperial Hint in what proved to be a new track record for 6 furlongs in the Vanderbilt Stakes at the Spa. Mitole did have an excuse for that effort though, as he hit the gate. For a horse who needs to lead right from the gate, being prevented from doing so is excuse enough for us.
Tail Handicapping: Tail Handicapping is the second decision that has to be made when handicapping a race. The first is picking your contenders and the second is how to bet those contenders. Mitole will be one of the lowest odds favorites on the card, so, what betting strategy will help get us a decent ROI. WPS bets won’t do here, but taking Mitole over some higher odds horses could. In which case, Firenze Fire comes into the race with a nice speed figure in a race this year. Another option if you can’t get around the favorite is to play a Pick 3 keying in on Mitole and playing some higher odds horses in the next two legs.
Race 6: The Grade 1 Ballerina at 7 furlongs
Head Handicapping: Come Dancing #2 is the ML favorite because she is one fast mare; however, if she gets caught in a duel up front early (like with long shot Minit to Stardom #6), then Mia Mischief #5 will be there to pick up the pieces.
Gut Handicapping: Gut Handicapping involves statistics and race angles. Separationofpowers #4 is showing improving form with each race this year. She also gets the meet’s leading trainer in Chad Brown and rider in Jose Ortiz.
Tail Handicapping: Keeping the rolling Pick 3 thing going with this race.
Race 7: The Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkins at 7 Furlongs
Gut Handicapping: Shancelot may have only three races run in his career, but look at those past performances. He won his last race, the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes by 12.5 lengths on a day that was oppressively humid. Even a performance half that good should win this race.
Tail Handicapping: If you can’t find a higher odds horse to include in your contenders, then just resign yourself to singling Shancelot in any bet type that’s not WPS. Higher odds horses for us would include #9 Hog Creek Hustle and #6 Mind Control. The former won the G1 Woody Stephens on Belmont Day and the latter had excuses in his last two and won the Grade 1 Hopeful here last year at 7 furlongs.
Race 8: The Grade 2 Ballston Spa at One Mile and a 1/16th on Turf
Head Handicapping: Turf distance races are a matter of running your horse easy until the 1/8th pole, then its every horse going for broke. Whoever has the best late kick, or perhaps the longest neck in the bunch, will win. When looking over the entries, you’ll see most of them will have those late kicks.
Gut Handicapping: Given our Head Handicapping above, we defer to some Gut Handicapping. Trainer Chad Brown has dominated turf stakes at a distance for years now. His trainee Mascha #9 appears primed to repeat her performance when she won at the same distance here over the course. Looking desperately for some high odds horses, we landed on Scottish Jig #7 to use with Mascha. She is trained by HOFer Bill Mott and gets stakes jock Joel Rosario.
Tail Handicapping: We’ll keep the Pick 3s rolling with these 2 and throw in any other of Chad’s runners for the remaining spots in vertical bets.(Vertical bets are bets for that race only like WPS, Exactas, Triples, etc.)
Race 9: The Grade 1 Personal Ensign at a Mile and 1/8th on Dirt
Head Handicapping: Like those heavyweight-boxing matches of old, this race features the third meeting between Midnight Bisou #1 and Elate #4. Some of the suspense is tempered by the fact Bisou is 5 for 5 in 2019 meaning she beat Elate each time they met this year. You have to think though that this just might be poor Elate’s turn, especially after she lost this race last year after a thrilling stretch duel with Abel Tasman. The key to this meeting will be the distance of a mile and 1/8th maybe giving Elate that nose.
Gut Handicapping: The higher odds horse to be watching is Wow Cat. She was second in her first start of 2019, after finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff to the great Monomoy Girl, and get this, a half-length ahead of Midnight Bisou.
Tail Handicapping: Keeping with the rolling Pick 3s including these three. If the odds are high enough on Wow Cat, then we’ll throw in a low WP wager on her too.
Race 10: The Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes at a Mile and a Half on Turf
Head Handicapping: Yes, it’s been Chad Brown world when it comes to distance turf races, but something happened of note when the majority of these entries met the last time in the mile and 3/8ths Bowling Green Stakes. It is unusual for horses to wire a field in a distance turf race. It can be done, and it was done by Channel Cat #4, when Luis Saez, Mr. go-to-the-lead took the horse to the winner’s circle in just that manner.
Pedigree Handicapping: Many race fans look at pedigrees when handicapping, and for them, we focus on Channel Cat’s sire being English Channel and dam the daughter of Kitten’s Joy. Next to the late Scat Daddy, these two sires have the most successful turf prodigy in North America this century.
Tail Handicapping: Single on Channel Cat in Pick 3s.
Race 11: The 150th Running of the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at a Mile and a Quarter
Note: This is such a wide-open race, we need to employ all of our handicapping tools.
Head Handicapping: Not many in this field have run the distance, and those that have are mainly the closing running types. Closers need some speed up front through the early stages of a distance race to give the closers a chance to use their late kicks. Those riding the speed runners will have to have a stop watch in their heads to get the 24-second quarters needed to win a race of this distance on the lead. Fortunately, for the closers, it doesn’t look like those jockeys will be on the speed meaning, the race sets up for an off-the-pace type. Tacitus and Code of Honor have run the distance in the Kentucky Derby and have shown the aforementioned running style.
Eye Handicapping: We haven’t mentioned Eye Handicapping because it happens before the race when the field is in the paddock and in the post parade. We want to look them over to see who looks the part. We don’t want to see a horse who is so worked up they won’t have the energy to go even a half mile, let alone a mile and a quarter. Trainers may say before a race their horse looks great, but there is nothing like looking at them with our own eyes to verify.
Gut Handicapping: Sure, Chad Brown is the hottest trainer on the planet right now and he is slowly migrating his success to dirt stakes winners. His two entries are lightly raced though, but could get a piece of the purse, which isn’t exactly loose change here. The #1 horse, Owendale has the team of Florent Geroux and Brad Cox. These two have been very successful in lesser stakes this year, but this is the oldest stakes for three-year-olds in the country.
Pedigree Handicapping: Tacitus is the son of super-sire Tapit; however, his mother, Closed Hatches won the Grade 1 Personal Ensign here at the Spa not too many years ago. Maybe, those mom-genes will kick in for this one. He is a big horse and will appreciate the distance and a dry track.
Tail Handicapping: A wide-open race, so, have fun playing some long shots. How to do that? Well. you can pick the favorite on top of an exacta and for the second spot put in whatever long-shots you like. Just make sure the odds are high enough on those long shots to make up for the favorites not paying much. Hopefully, you’ve saved enough of your bankroll to do just that!