AUGUST 1, 2012—Tuesday’s news from the Jersey Shore via Del Mar was not good, at least as far as the Travers is concerned: The impressive Haskell winner spiked a fever and his appearance in the Derby of Midsummer is in jeopardy.

There must be some weird case of the sniffles going around the Bob Baffert shedrow. First Bodemeister and now Paynter that’s suffering from elevated temperatures. The treatment for it is antibiotics, as it is with humans.

The regimen works but one of its side effects is listlessness. Being listless makes it extremely difficult for racehorses to do their thing and, at this level of competition, anything less than an A-game performance just won’t get the job done.

The last time this same scenario occurred was two years ago when Haskell winner Lookin At Lucky spiked, was forced to skip the Travers, and didn’t reappear until October’s Indiana Derby.

Baffert mentioned the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby in late September is a viable alternative should Paynter miss the Travers, in which he would have been favored. Same case at Parx, only the odds will be much lower.

So, do you go for the “easy money” or a possible Horse of the Year championship? In this instance, it’s extremely unlikely that you can have it both ways.
The 2010 Indiana Derby didn’t toughen Lookin At Lucky sufficiently to defeat his elders in the Breeders’ Cup Classic; the Pennsylvania Derby doesn’t figure to get you there the right way, either.

To beat the absolute best most horses must reach somewhere near the bottom of themselves: Ideally, only tough races with stout competition can achieve success at the highest levels of the sport.

Running the table is something the Zayat family knows it must do if they want to claim the sport’s ultimate honor. A Travers, a Grade 1 prep vs. elders, and a Classic victory certainly would achieve that goal.

It would all add up to four Grade 1 wins including two over older horses. What could go wrong? But maybe Bill Mott has the right thinking on this:

You win the important races as they come up and the championship will take care of itself. At least that was the opinion he expressed in regards to his older runners on Tuesday’s NTRA-sponsored national conference call.

It will be interesting to see how all of it shakes out.

It's Only Money

The defending double Eclipse riding champion, Ramon Dominguez thus far is helping his mounts run away with the Saratoga riding title. Of course, it’s still very early in the game.

Winning titles is nothing new for a man who already owns 18 New York meet championships. But Saratoga is special, so special that Dominguez will ride in Saratoga on Saturday rather than fly to West Virginia and take his seat aboard a 3-5 shot for $900,000.

That odds-on favorite would be Hansen, last year’s juvenile champion that will meet nine other 3-year-olds, including stablemate Morgan’s Guerilla, the late developing Bernardin, and Hero of Order, shocking winner of the Louisiana Derby in late winter.

On yesterday’s call, Dr. Kendall Hansen said that trainer Mike Maker told him the colt is the best he’s ever been, and both he and his trainer are looking for top class redemption in the Travers.

“Mike feels he hasn’t proven that he can’t get a mile and a quarter.

“Would I want to run against Paynter or Bodemeister and every month? No,” answering his own question. “But would I like to prove we can beat the horses people are talking about.”

Hansen will have a new partner in Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who called Hansen’s connections personally to ask whether he could ride the colt on Saturday. Hansen, the handicapping doctor, sounded happy to have him.

It's the Fractional Wagering, Stupid

There are some handle comparisons between Saratoga and Del Mar circling the Internet the past few days, the point being made that the high takeout at Del Mar is hurting its handle while the lower rates are helping Saratoga. The point is valid, of course.

The New York Pick 6 has a takeout rate of 15% on non-carryover days; Del Mar’s is 23.68% every day. The rake and the large, competitive fields have attracted more than its share of Saratoga handle.

But the average serious bettor does not jump into that pool often because he can’t afford it, knowing, too, he cannot possibly hope to match the investment of big bettors who can throw dollars at the sequence in order to have a better chance to win it.

Instead, the average serious bettor invests in sequential wagers with an easier—not easy, but easier—degree of difficulty. But how do we know it’s the fractional wagering that’s making a sizable contribution to the handle?

Intuitively, the Pick 3 easier than the Pick 4. While the takeout in all three-tiered wagers in New York is too high at 24%, wagering in the Pick 3 with its $1 minimum is down .4% year over year, according to data supplied by the Horseplayers Assn. of North America.

However, handle in the Superfecta pools with a 10-Cent minimum is up nearly 25% and will continue to grow as bettors become more comfortable with the added permutations and realizing that, on balance, Super payoffs are roughly four times that of Trifectas.

It’s the same with the Pick 4 which has a 50-Cent minimum. P4 handle has increased by nearly 14%. Yes, larger fields, 8.73 on average, the highest it’s been in three years, have helped.

But as difficult as these sequences are, would Pick 4 handle have maintained, much less increase? Very doubtful and, please, do not suggest that a guaranteed minimum pool makes this increase possible.

Granted that it provides positive publicity as a reminder of just how much money is up for grabs. (New York tracks have different minimums at various times of the year).

Where the guarantee does help is on bad weather days where a bevy of late scratches, especially from turf races, significantly can affect handle adversely. Fractional wagers bring more people into the pools. Isn’t that what everyone wants?