Saturday, November 30, 2013
The Weekend That Was
SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY, November 30, 2013—For racing fans, those stationed at Churchill Downs with the rest tethered to their video monitors, it was anything but a Black Friday.
Put another way, Will Take Charge and Game On Dude set the bar pretty high for the Cigar horses and all those babies, the ones in New York and Kentucky.
Interesting how Thanksgiving weekend has become a player in the special events section that racetracks everywhere have acknowledged, turning good races into top class events. This is one thing that works—big time.
And, so, in the final strides Will take Charge did to Game On Dude what Mucho Macho Man did to him four weeks earlier; a photo finish that didn’t deserve a loser.
Indeed, the Clark was going to be a tough act to follow, but with so many actors on the final big racing stage of 2013, it just had to happen. So which was the more impressive?
Was it the fact that there was a three-horse battle in the Demoiselle stretch with the issue still in doubt with a furlong to go?
Was it Wedding Toast holding off Toasting, when she appeared beaten with less than a sixteenth left in the Comely, giving Javier Castellano his fourth win on the day?
Maybe it was the Bill Mott frequent flyer magic show--from Santa Anita to Payson Park to South Ozone Park with the 7 year old Flat Out, a dual Jockey Club Gold Cup winner that now boasts a worthy 3-2-1 slate in six starts at a mile?
But if you’re a Kentucky Derby fan then it had to be Honor Code snatching victory from defeat’s jaws with two Remsen jumps left, giving Castellano his fifth and Shug McGaughey a leg up on a second straight Derby score.
Not that Churchill Downs should be left out of the mix, with a vexatious result in the Golden Rod if you backed favored Stonetastic as Little Al Stall got the money with, well, a filly named Vexed.
Then came the Jockey Club Stakes for juvenile colts which when thrown together with the Remsen the wise guys would call negative key races as intended Derby barometers.
Ricardo Santana confidently rode Tapiture as if he won on the best horse, then went out and proved it to trainer Steve Asmussen.
Parenthetically, I’m not sure about that, but it does seem the winners of these two juvenile fixtures should do a lot better on May’s first Saturday.
So, qualitatively, what do we have? After Saturday, we know for sure that Stopshoppingmaria is classy and game, but the feeling is she will be found lacking when the brilliance meter is turned up a notch or two.
Then, who knows, Saturday’s Aqueduct surface was very dull, you might even say dead, a combination of a few factors.
When Wednesday’s races were cancelled due to high winds, the temperature was warm and it rained hard. Then the temps dropped like a stone. Thursday’s main track was good, rated fast Friday and Saturday. That’s “fast” in name only.
It took a lot of bottom from the horses that ran well to ultimately get their jobs done on Saturday. The atmospherics gave them a chance to show their heart is inside those beautiful bodies. So perhaps we should not rush to judgment, but I digress.
In the Cigar, Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents was made a 3-1 favorite in the open contest. Instead, it was Doug O’Neill’s uncoupled Private Zone that nearly stole the show at 32.50-to-1.
In fact, the race wasn’t even on Goldencents’ dance card until O’Neill learned that the purse would be worth $1 million had his horse or Filly & Mare Distaff winner Groupie Doll won the incentivized purse.
Winning Flat Out got himself a bonus as a prior Grade 1 winner. The speedy Private Zone did the dirty work but Flat Out, under a perfectly timed finish beneath Junior Alvarado, ran him down inside the final furlong.
The time of 1:34.68 on Saturday’s racetrack was first rate.
The Remsen, meanwhile, could have been timed with a hour glass, as the saying goes, but the running time must be taken in an atmospherics context.
Without being choked down on the lead, pacesetting Master Lightning laid down splits of 25.84, 52.74, 1:17.56 and a mile in 1:41.13. In that perspective, a final time of 1:52.92 showed Honor Code’s courageous determination.
This was a colt that came from 22 lengths behind in its 7 furlong debut at Saratoga and won going away. Yesterday, he was in hand stalking the slow pace, a new dimension.
A final furlong in 11.79 will win plenty of two-turn races, pace notwithstanding. The impressive aspect is that Honor Code was taken out of his demonstrated best game and still won.
“When the leader went that slow, we went on and engaged him,” said McGaughey. “He got down on the inside of [Cairo Prince] and he got by him. He showed a lot of guts. I think [Cairo Prince] is a nice horse. It was a peculiar race.”
“That was a tough beat,” said the runner-up’s trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin. “The winner is a good horse but that was a tough won. I thought we had it won.”
And they did, until the last jump. Both horses, if all goes well, will have lots to say about the 2014 classics. Third finisher Wicked Strong also appears to have a good future.
“Any time they finish strong, it’s good,” said trainer Jimmy Jerkens. “With the slow pace, everyone was in the same boat.”
Next stop for all three--and Flat Out, too--is South Florida.
Written by John Pricci
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Thanksgiving: Lessons For a Life
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, November 28, 2013—Given that there are exceptions to every rule, it’s fair to say that this hasn’t been a great year for the planet Earth in general, for America in particular.
All know what the issues are and rather than spell them out, if you’re that curious google-up any date on the calendar and the positive lead stories are few and far in between.
This is not the fault of mainstream media, although they work tirelessly at sensationalizing the truly trivial, lest they incur the wrath of underwriters. After all, corporations are people, too.
It is doubtless that many have had positive outcomes to the thankful for, but the overwhelmingly majority of all those people will, like their families, have to work overtime at the spin factory.
But, still, today is still the greatest of the secular holidays and it needs to be acknowledged by anyone who still is drawing breath. I personally have learned the hard lesson of 2013; that every day is a gift.
And, so, let us give thanks this day with our traditional acknowledgement for a life that may be well lived. Thanks to the efforts of sometime HRI Brad Morgan, let’s devour the words of Max Ehrmann like so many drumsticks and pumpkin pies:
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be
greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Written by John Pricci
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Technology Takes Time, But Time Has Come for TRAKUS For All
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, November 16, 2013—Andy Serling, I owe you a drink, possibly two.
NYRA, I owe you nothing and, in a sense, you owe me.
No matter how Serling's strong personality rubs you, the right way or wrong, he’s worth his weight in dollars. He certainly was this past Saturday.
By doing his homework, Serling helped me to make a few dollars. By NYRA’s foot-dragging on the installation of TRAKUS technology at Aqueduct, they cost me big time.
The wager involved was the late Pick 4 at Aqueduct on Saturday. I was alive to a single, the favorite in the finale.
(Indeed, the Jimmy Toner trained Sheldon was the only horse covered in the Pick 6, but I digress).
In addition to the single, I also was alive to a few smaller sub tickets in the 9th race. But Sheldon was keying a $2 P4 ticket worth $1300+. I had two of the 50-Cent variety.
In his pre-race prattle, Serling informed bettors that there was a discrepancy in the final running time for the 5th race on the Belmont Park inner turf course, October 14.
The official time listed in the past performances was 1:43.06. TRAKUS data had the time as 1:41.25.
What's 9 lengths between bettors, more or less?
Three horses in Saturday’s 9th race were coming out of the Oct. 14th race at Belmont: Smooth Daddy (14-1), Patent (6-1) and Breakeven Analysis (8-1). None were among my smaller-ticket sub horses. What to do?
Since the prices were good, I boxed all three in exactas and keyed them in 50-Cent TRIs with Sheldon second and third. I felt comfortable that I had any eventuality covered.
Patent won at $14.60 and longshot Smooth Daddy was second, with Sheldon finishing third. The $2 exacta paid $179.50. The 50-Cent TRI returned $181.50. It saved a would-be horrible day.
TRAKUS is expensive, but not as expensive as losing customers. How often do these inaccuracies occur? I shudder to think, but this very likely was no isolated instance.
All major tracks need the new technology, one that also helps bettors identify where their horse are running at a glance, particularly useful in large fields.
It’s a difference of opinion that makes a horse race; agreed. But when it comes to the races themselves, a successful old-school handicapper once taught me that “running time is the only absolute truth in the game.”
Incidentally, I earlier keyed Sheldon first and second in Dime Supers to optimize my play. I forgot all about using the three “faster horses” as post time drew near. That’s on me.
Of course, I had used both the 4th and 5th place finishers on my original ticket which were indicated on my BRIS P4 product. The Dime Super paid $271.20.
Just another day at the office.
Lower Pick Six Cost Would Be a HiT
When the recent press release arrived stating that Churchill Downs had received permission to offer a 50-Cent Pick Six, I became excited, parimutuelly speaking.
At last, a bet that, in relative terms, allows the average player to compete with their deep-pocketed parimutuel brethren.
I was about to check the takeout rates on the HANA site then thought that I should read the fine print. That’s when I learned that the entire pool, like the 10-Cent Rainbow Six at Gulfstream Park, is distributed only when there’s a single winner.
Parenthetically, while the initial takeout is high, at least the Dime Six is affordable for many more players. Even non-Jackpot results for six winners relatively pay very well.
Even though professionals abhor high takeout rates, I know whales that make small wagers into the Rainbow 6—often less than $50—because of the real possibility of a high three-figure, or low four-figure, for small money.
Businesswise, there’s no evidence that the Rainbow 6 cannibalizes other pools. But even a 50-Cent Pick Six can be very costly. In their zeal to build carryovers, racetracks do themselves a disservice by adversely affecting player liquidity.
Some time back here at HRI, “Players Up” contributor Indulto posited a concept that is worth revisiting in light of the burgeoning Pick Six Jackpot trend, with an assist from “Roger,” an HRI regular.
By consensus, then, some readers have embraced the thinking behind the new wager, dubbed the HIT-64, its parameters meant to compensate for the advantage deep-pocketed bettors have in Pick Six pools.
Roger promised that he will resume playing the multi-race wager when a major circuit venue offers a P6 with a $1 minimum at a $64 maximum per ticket. Before you can say that won’t work, think about it:
Obviously, whales could buy 50 $64-tickets if they wished. But by limiting the amount spent on any one ticket, most if not all big players would find it arduous and time consuming.
More significantly, by assignment the same economic weight at a maximum cost of $64 per ticket, handicapping the races into tiered preferences becomes highly inefficient from an investment perspective.
In terms of new player recruitment and promotion to the marginal, recreational player, examples of how the player can win a lot for a little is still the best marketing tool.
And one more very important aspect of the new proposed Pick Six: No carryovers! Of course, this will make it a non-starter in many jurisdictions that value instant-handle over fan loyalty.
Further, there should be Pick Five consolations when the Pick Six is hit, but the consolations stop right there; no P4 consolations when there is no perfect P6. The split should be 75% to P6 winners, 25% to P5 conso holders. It’s called liquidity.
Of course, the only way to attract interest from the get-go, seeding the pool notwithstanding—and even if the track guarantees minimum handle, is to make it a low takeout wager.
Multiple wagers seem to be the only ones on which tracks will offer a lower takeout; 15% seems to be the consensus at this point. Additionally, it’s an easier sell to the wagering board and the state house rubber-stampers.
A $64 maximum ticket rewards superior handicapping, not money-management skills that are easier when dollars are in bigger supply. Even the most successful P4 practitioners will admit that the small player has virtually no chance.
So, reward talented handicappers and keep more players in the game. Perhaps a HIT-64, with a 50-Cent minimum, is an even better way to go.
Written by John Pricci