Tuesday, May 08, 2012

How Greed Cost CDI Stockholders…and One Oaks Day Horseplayer

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 8, 2012—Despite racing’s issues, the popularity of the Kentucky Derby continues to grow: To attract more than 165,000 spectators is a testimony to an event, the Derby Experience. And many of them brought money; the $12.3 million bet on-track also was a new record.

And gambling America loves ‘America’s Race’ card, too. All-sources wagering was up a whopping 13.2 percent to $187-million; heady numbers considering the game’s recent travails and an economy that’s improved but far from back to pre-crash levels. A record $113-million was bet on the Derby alone.

But the numbers could have been better were it not for shortsightedness and greed. I’m sure Churchill Downs Inc. will say Dime Superfectas are not available on Derby weekend because it would mean chaos at the betting windows, the tourists creating insanely long lines and shut-outs; counter-productive.

But there are ways around this, such as additional self-service machines specifically dedicated to Dime Super wagering, or designated windows at the end of each betting bay for Dime Super betting only.

If it wasn’t about greed why would the minimum Super bet go from a dime to a dollar on the two biggest days of the year including the Breeders’ Cup championships? Here’s an example of how CDI Inc. cost its shareholders, and one horseplayer, money.

I consider myself an average bettor, big by $2 standards, guppy-like when compared to the whales. As such, I try to be in as many of my preferred pools possible, considering each event part of a wagering portfolio.

In the main, a typical race wager would include win, exacta, and Dime Supers. My bankroll generally can accommodate handle of from $40 to $60 per race, as much as 50 percent more on a handful of preferred bets.

The lack of Dime Supers, available at Churchill since 2007, cost me a minimum of $387 on Oaks day alone. And that amount doesn’t include churn, a concept many industry leaders, including horsemen, fail to grasp when they think it’s time to raise the takeout.

I didn’t have a strong opinion about the Oaks but I did have what I thought were good ideas earlier, in the Eight Belles and Edgewood Stakes. The Eight Belles was a sprint for 3-year-old fillies and the exacta of Contested (even) and Good Money (3-1) appeared to be a cold proposition.

I rarely bet even-money shots to win. Instead I hope optimize the odds in the multiple pools. First would come a one-way exacta and next the superfectas using the “all button” in the third and fourth positions and second and fourth positions.

(This strategy allows bettors to be wrong by definition but likely to cash a bigger ticket. To make the play suggested above in an 8-horse field would cost $6, or two separate $3 bets. But at $1 per combination, the cost is $60).

Not only is $60 too rich for my bankroll but it takes me out of my comfort zone for a race and situation like this; after all, the keys here are a heavy favorite and a 3-1 shot in a relatively small field. Chances of making a score are slim.

I played a cold 7-3 exacta for $10 and collected $70 when the two Eight Belles favorites finished 1-2. If Dime Supers were available, I could have taken two tickets on the favorites running 1-2 with “All,” and one ticket with “All” finishing first and third.

In that case, the $9 wager would have returned $143. Had the favorites been split, I might have collected more, even if I one combination and not two. These are good percentage plays because “All” makes a friend of chaos.

The Edgewood result really stung. The turf event for 3-year-old fillies marked the return of Stephanie’s Kitten to Churchill, the course over which she won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last year. Her Equiform performance figures towered over the field.

Another strong favorite, but this one coupled with two price-shot exacta opinions, virtually the same approach as was used in the Eight Belles. Two cold exactas using ‘Stephanie’ over Welcome Dance, 12-1 with Julien, and Treasured Up, also 12-1, with Garrett Gomez.

When faced with this situation in the Super pool, I would use ‘Stephanie” over the two pricey fillies, hoping for a 2-3, 2-4 or 3-4 finish, with “All” to finish fourth or third or second.

The Edgewood had a full field of 12. Taking a series of $1 Superfectas using Stephanie first with 10,13 with 10,13 with All; Stephanie with 10,13 with All with 10,13, and finally Stephanie with All with 10,13 with 10,13, combinations costing $54 (3 x $18)--out of my price range.

For a Dime, however, each of those three tickets cost $5.40, a total of $16.20. Even if I had lost the Eight Belles, it’s likely I would have taken each ticket twice. But another longshot, Firehouse Red, finished second, at 26-1. The Dime Super payout on the 3-5-13-10 would have paid $315.25.

There’s really no telling how much money Churchill Downs management cost me--and their company--the remainder of the weekend. We were terrible in the Derby itself but had a tremendous undercard.

Between Cary Fotias and myself at Equiform’s E-Seminar Derby Eve, we selected Top Projected Value Plays of $33.30, keying a $2 Super worth $3,129.20, and a $10.80 winner, keying a $1,341 Super. Further, three Top Projected Tote Busters returned $17 ($72 exacta), $13.80 and $42.40 ($203.60 exacta). [All results are verifiable on the Equiform website].

But I wasn’t the only player who jumped OUT of Churchill’s Superfecta pool last weekend. Here’s an admittedly small, but instructive sample:

On four racing days prior to the Oaks, when Dime Supers were available, Super handle on the day’s feature races, as a percentage of 50-Cent Trifecta handle, was 54%, 60%, 51% and 60%. These were allowance events featuring three 8-horse and one 7-horse field--not an attractive Super proposition.

But in the 14-filly Oaks and 20-horse Derby, $1 Super wagering only attracted 33% and 38%, respectively, as a percentage Trifecta handle. The positive effects of fractional wagering cannot be starker even in this small sample.

Hopefully, Churchill Downs management will study this phenomenon more closely and make Dime Supers available on and off track come Derby 139 week-end. And maybe the New York Racing Association can take a look at this, too.

Despite years of making suggestions to NYRA executives, bettors still are unable to make fractional bets such as 50-Cent Trifectas at simulcast tracks that offer them. It’s a simple programming issue, so the question is why not?

The other question is why fan/horseplayer grass roots organizations purporting to be bettor-friendly are not fighting for fractional wagering across the board in an effort to make racing’s costly learning curve more affordable? Isn’t it about the player? Or is it about advancing some other agenda? How about some enlightened self-interest?

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, May 06, 2012

Derby 138: Impertinent Post Mortums

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 6, 2012—So, how might things have gone if, say, Bodemeister had four weeks between races instead of three? Might he have lasted? Did he bounce, or simply get tired after excruciating fractions? Probably the latter, but who really knows.

What is certain is that this is one free running top class animal that didn’t deserve his fate. Did Bob Baffert actually suggest to Mike Smith, that if the opportunity presented itself, to bottom out the field? Baffert said Sunday that he’ll wait a week before deciding on a Preakness run.

The $48,046.40 Question: What if the first four finishers did not come from the Raise A Native sire line? Even If I’ll Have Another is a grandson of the prolific Distorted Humor, did you think the colt’s father, Flower Alley, a $7,500 stallion, would have this kind of recent Grade 1 fortune? First Lilacs And Lace, and now this guy.

Let It Rain: What if biblical rains did not descend on Louisville late Friday afternoon and into Saturday morning? Did all the sealing and floating pack the surface down to the degree that speed kept right on going, from the Kentucky Oaks right through the 13th and final on Saturday night?

And does the Equibase chart expect anyone who witnessed the Oaks to believe that the official surface designation should be "fast?" Wouldn’t a designation of “wet-fast” been closer to reality, and less misleading?

What is Churchill Downs going to do without track superintendent Butch Lehr? Wasn’t it amazing how the track harrowed up fast for Saturday’s third race? Churchill in the spring is so fast-drying, in fact, that water trucks were on the track prior to the Turf Classic--the race before the Derby--applying some H2O despite an anticipated elongated delay. Churchill might be the only surface that doesn’t cause this handicapper to freak out when the track comes up “sloppy.”

Proud As Peacocks: Undercard coverage by the new NBCSports Network was first rate and a stark improvement over similar coverage of recent years. You might not always agree with analyst Jerry Bailey, but he never fails to impart useful information to neophytes and veteran fans alike.

Host Laffit Pincay III—we don’t have to refer to him as LP3, now do we?—was a revelation; easy listening, good banter, doesn’t get in the way of a story, and asks insightful questions. Reporting turns by Gary Stevens, Randy Moss, Jay Privman and Donna Brothers hit the right notes. On the network side, viewers were treated to a side of Bob Baffert never before seen. Terrific feature.

No More Rag-Tag Trips: Union Rags will never get a chance to reach his full potential this year until he gets a different rider. Julien Leparoux is top class, but his style doesn't suit the colt. With Hall of Fame Johnny V. likely committed to Preakness probable Went The Day Well--who galloped out like a wild horse--and with Hansen unlikely to try the Belmont, Ramon Dominguez is probably available at this point in time.

Michael Matz’s choice of the Belmont over the Preakness would more likely be about the five weeks than the marathon trip. As for getting the distance, Union Rags is going to need to be more Nijinsky II and less Dixie Union. Meanwhile, a Preakness run has not been ruled out.

Headless Horse Sees All Tracks Alike: Dullahan may be 0-4 on dirt but certainly doesn’t give the impression that anything but turf or synthetics is beyond him. After breaking inward at the start and knocking Union Rags around, he too was forced to steady while in close quarters at the first turn; nothing serious but certainly making for a few uncomfortable moments.

The colt finally settled nicely on the backside but was forced to angle out about 7 wide into the stretch. It took him awhile to find his best stride but when he did, he set sail for the wire only to fall short by 1¾ lengths. Did he have 1¾ lengths worth of trouble? Quite possibly. The connections are sitting on the Preakness fence.

No Comment, No Time, No Obligation: Eclipse Award winning turf writer Claire Novak tweeted yesterday that when a reporter asked Eclipse winning trainer Steve Asmussen if he had a minute to talk about the finish of Derby horses Daddy Nose Best and Sabercat, 10th and 15th, respectively. The answer was “no.” When asked what would be more convenient later on, the answer was “next year.”

With all the interest in the Derby, with the positive press his horses got Derby week, and with the sport under siege, it would have been nice had Asmussen, who does not avoid the spotlight when things are going well, found a few minutes to tell fans what he thought might have happened to his entrants. And that’s a bad job on his part.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Chance Of A Lifetime

HorseRaceInsider executive editor John Pricci has constructed thumbnail sketches of all 20 Kentucky Derby 138 entrants. Listed in post order with early line odds:

1-DADDY LONG LEGS 30-1: A multiple Group winner on turf and synthetic Tapeta surface but awful in his lone dirt start, beaten 19-1/2 legs in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile against most of his Derby rivals. Looks impossible.

OPTIMIZER 50-1: Caught the last train to Louisville with defection of Mark Valeski. Always showing promise at 2, his only excellent effort this year was a rapid-finish second in the Rebel to streaking Secret Circle. Better than his subsequent Arkansas Derby flop and can finish like a train; for superfecta players only.

3-TAKE CHARGE INDY 15-1: Maligned for winning Florida Derby under ideal circumstances; lack of pressured lead and a speed-kind surface. But where is it written this he is one-dimensional speed? A grand looking individual with classy pedigree, he’s flying under the radar, Calvin Borel notwithstanding. It would be a mistake to dismiss him out of hand. Price play at double-digit odds.

4-UNION RAGS 9-2: Multiple graded stakes winner has had the screws tightened by trainer Matz following his tough trip, too late finish in Florida Derby. Lost photo to juvenile champion here last fall while racing greenly but showed his liking for surface with recent strong five-furlong breeze. Julien Leparoux, riding with great confidence again, unlikely to make the same mistake twice. Most probable winner.

5-DULLAHAN 8-1: Grand looking colt came with a scintillating finish to win the Blue Grass Stakes on Keeneland Polytrack, and therein may lie the problem. Both lifetime victories have come on synthetic surfaces, over which he also has trained better, compared to his dirt trials. Returning in three weeks off enervating effort is a concern.

6-BODEMEISTER 4-1: Freakishly fast and powerful winner of the Arkansas Derby in a must-win-to-get-in situation and has come back to work strongly over wet Churchill surface. The early line favorite must prove he has that same energy level against much tougher rivals on relatively short rest, and enough foundation for 10 furlongs in early May. Post draw did him no favors.

7-ROUSING SERMON 50-1: Like Liaison, his sophomore season has been something of a disaster, his Louisiana Derby third notwithstanding. He lags early, doesn’t own an explosive turn of foot, and has yet to prove fast enough on the Equiform scale. Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer says all the speed that’s signed on will help. Point taken, but it won’t help enough.

8-CREATIVE CAUSE 12-1: The other strong handsome gray contender in Derby 138. Best attributes are his proven ability against the division’s best and highly laudable consistency. Has winning Derby style, especially given the speedy pace dynamic, and a star, Joel Rosario, in the boot. Blinkers stay off appears the proper tack. Very solid; great draw.

9-TRINNIBERG 50-1: One dimensional speed—but of the Twilight Zone variety. He is a bullet away from the barrier, physically much better at 3. Obviously bred for much shorter, he might surprise some people who believe they can blow by this speedster at will. Still, his connections should have skipped this and shipped to Crabtown instead.

10-DADDY NOSE BEST 15-1: All he wants to do is run long and finish, a trait he demonstrated on turf at 2. This year he’s transitioned to synthetics and dirt, handling each graded stakes assignment successfully. Has vast experience in big fields, training strongly, and picks up strong finishing Garrett Gomez, a perfect match for his come-from-behind style. Very live price play; great draw.

11-ALPHA 15-1: A Grade 3 winner and twice Grade 1 placed, has had his Derby preparation interrupted after developing an infection from cuts suffered in Wood Memorial. Back on track with a sharp workout. Had tougher trip when second to Gemologist but failed the “eyeball test.” Has all the pedigree needed to win given a personal best effort.

12-PROSPECTIVE 30-1: improved sharply after adding blinkers to win Tampa Bay Derby, showing true determination when faced with serious stretch challenge. Very wide behind Dullahan in the Blue Grass, has been one of the training stars since shipping to Churchill. Barn excels with synthetic-to-dirt maneuver and figures to run well. Whether he belongs here is the big question.

13-WENT THE DAY WELL 20-1: Might have more talent than last year’s Derby-winning mate Animal Kingdom but is somewhat quirky. Won G3 Spiral following his maiden score and has trained well since, showing more focus since adding blinkers in recent morning trials. Performance figures are marching forward, albeit slowly. Superfecta finish possible.

14-HANSEN 10-1: Won juvenile championship with Breeders’ Cup victory on this track before coming back too fresh in season’s debut when second to the gifted Algorithms. After rebounding strongly with a rated victory in the Gotham, he can be forgiven his Blue Grass defeat owing to fast pace and stressful pre-race handling. Doubtlessly has the talent but 10 furlongs might prove a bridge too far.

15-GEMOLOGIST 6-1: Not especially fast on the Equiform performance figure scale but continues to march forward, remaining undefeated while truly snatching victory from defeat’s jaws when he appeared beaten in the Wood. Taking the same tack for connections that won the Derby with Super Saver. Trainer Pletcher excels with third-off-layup runners; wide draw gives Castellano options.

16-EL PADRINO 20-1: Impressed winning season’s debut over eventual Florida Derby hero and showed true grit winning the Risen Star subsequently before things began heading south. He raced one-paced in Gulfstream’s signature event and worked poorly since. A wet track should be a big plus, but then one of those disappointing works came in the mud.

17-DONE TALKING 50-1: Has taken heat for winning an extremely slow Illinois Derby, an observation with merit. But he’s a natural router, is peaking at the right time and hails from a barn, Hamilton Smith’s, that’s been profitable in graded stakes and in third-off-layoff scenarios. Might complete superfecta at better than 50-1, needing a complete pace meltdown.

18-SABERCAT 30-1: Like stablemate Daddy Knows Best, is coming to hand at the right time. Owing to big juvenile graded earnings, was slated for a two-prep campaign and after his Rebel debacle returned with a flying-too-late third in Bodemeister’s Arkansas Derby, a huge improvement. Has trained purposefully since and can snag a piece of this at extremely long odds.

19-I’LL HAVE ANOTHER 12-1: A revelation this season with a surprising yet comprehensive victory in the Robert B. Lewis Memorial off a five-month absence, then showed grit and class winning the Santa Anita Derby. Everything about him; from his scheduling, to heretofore unknown rider, to his unorthodox training regimen, has been unusual. Wide draw figures to seriously compromise his trip.

20-LIAISON 50-1: Showed lots of promise as a juvenile winner of G1 Cash Call Futurity but has had an extremely disappointing sophomore season. Local workout was very ordinary and doubtful he would be in here if stablemate Bodemeister didn’t help punch his ticket. Even with Bob Baffert’s Hall of Fame talent, this would represent an upset of major proportions.

21-MY ADONIS (NL) Also Eligible: Overmatched colt would have very little chance to hit the board from post 20--should he draw in. In the event of a scratch prior to 9 a.m. Friday, all horses move one position closer to the inside rail.

Written by John Pricci

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