Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Odds and Happy Endings
Los Angeles, October 28, 2013--One of the pleasures of perusing the advance editions of Past Performance charts for the Breeders’ Cup is the absence of time pressure when trying to isolate contenders without the benefit [or hindrance] of data such as post position, jockey assignment, and morning-line odds.
Every now and again, a horse will find its way to my top tier whose actual late odds appear appetizing enough to risk unauthorized amounts. My last successful application of that methodology involved Drosselmeyer who was trained by the wily William Mott and ridden by the propitious Mike Smith.
My first reaction to Santa Anita’s oddsmaker, Jon White’s, installing Game On Dude as the 8-5 morning-line favorite, is that he must have confused the Dude’s Classic competitors with the California-based creampuffs he usually devours.
Not that the Dude doesn’t deserve respect. Despite finishing out of the money in last year’s renewal as the 6-5 favorite, he is arguably more accomplished this year as the undefeated (five-for-five) winner of four Grade I stakes achieved in front-running fashion with excellent speed figures by anyone’s measure.
In doing so, Game On Dude became only the second horse to complete a sweep of the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic.
Indeed, this could finally be the Dude’s year. A Classic victory would hightly likely anoint the durable gelding champion older horse and Horse of the Year honors as well.
So, then, what justification is there for challenging his credentials as established by those performances?
First, his competition has been suspect. He defeated runnerup Kettle Corn in his last two events and Clubhouse Ride as the in the previous three. Those horses were Grade II middle distance winners at best.
Secondly, there was no early serious pace pressure in those wire-to-wire wins. That will not be the case Saturday, not with Fort Larned, Mucho Macho Man and Moreno; all speedy types that have drawn inside the early line favorite.
Since Zenyatta’s victory in 2009, three consecutive Classic winners have come out of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The Dude’s own preps came on “Super Saturday”, too, but at 9 furlongs, not 10.
But this time trainer Bob Baffert is bringing him back in nine weeks. While it should be noted that the Dude did win at the classic distance following a ten week layoff previously, it did require an all-out effort against lesser foes.
There are jockey switches to contemplate as well. Smith gave up the mount on Game On Dude for the Pacific Classic to honor a prior commitment on Royal Delta. Injury prevented Baffert’s first replacement choice, Joel Rosario, so he gave a leg up to Martin Garcia. A one-shot deal, Smith is back aboard on Saturday.
What was it about Garcia’s ride that convinced Baffert he’d be better off with Smith? Did that burst of speed and subsequent extension through the lane take too much out of the horse? What made Smith give up the mount on Palace Malice? Does he think the Dude is so superior? Was Todd Pletcher going to replace Smith with John Velasquez, anyway?
According to Trakus, when Ron The Greek hit the Gold Cup finish line, Palace Malice had already run farther than the winner given his wide trip. Perhaps Smith’s experience confirms the conventional wisdom that discounts the chances of three-year-olds against their elders here.
It may be worth mentioning that none of the last three Classic winners won their Gold Cups butthe winner of the previous two, Flat Out, returns again, this time without that “curse.”
The JCGC “curse” lands on Ron The Greek, whose runaway victory was reportedly aided by a rail bias. The result also has been subjected to further scrutiny by the race’s ground-crumbling start compromising several contenders, including stablemate Flat Out.
I had to laugh while reading the chart for that race which stated “the start was good for all but Cross Traffic,” but later commenting that “Palace Malice, one of only a few to get away unscathed at the break …” Four survivors from that race are entered here, as are two from the Awesome Again and two from the Pennsylvania Derby. Which event will prove the “key race?”
Last year’s Classic winner is returning off a victory in an ungraded stake at Churchill Downs. Fort Larned’s winning prep was little more than a paid workout.
That leaves two Europeans, which will have to endure quarantine prior to being acclimated to Santa Anita’s surroundings. One is a multiple World Cup also-ran. The other has five consecutive competitive Racing Post Ratings and victories on all-weather surfaces and turf. Either Declaration Of War and Planteur would prove to be an upset.
The following is the BC Classic field in morning-line odds-rank sequence [common last races are indicated via a combination of italics and underscores]:
w – denotes last start won
* - denotes favored last start
w*GAME ON DUDE
w*MUCHO MACHO MAN
w RON THE GREEK
w DECLARATION OF WAR
_ PALACE MALICE
w*WILL TAKE CHARGE
_ LAST GUNFIGHTER
I suspect White’s odds ranking but not necessarily the values. Clearly, White expects the crowd to prefer horses that have won their preps and those with victories over the host track.
I believe Ron The Greek is the closer most likely to prevail at Santa Anita if the early pace is contested as expected. Such a scenario would also enhance the chances of three-year-olds Will Take Charge and Palace Malice.
I doubt that Flat Out can outfinish all three but he should be in the mix. Mucho Macho Man must still prove he can pass a top horse in the stretch.
With such a competitive field, a single win bet is less a demonstration of confidence than a display of arrogance; and that is why the great gambling spirit in the sky gave us the superfecta. My primary play will use the closers I prefer on top:
11,10,8 // 11,10,8,12,6,7,9 // 11,10,8,12,6,7,9 // 11,10,8,12,6,7,9 (3x6x5x4)
My other assumes the Dude outlasts the speed and holds off the closers:
9 // 11,10,8,6 //11,10,8,6,12 // ALL (1x4x4x9)
Finally, I’ll save with exacta boxes using the three-year-olds. May the best horse win and all horses return safely.
Written by Indulto
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Breeders’ Cup Musings
LOS ANGELES, October 20, 2013--According to a Breeders’ Cup press release through the auspices of the NTRA on Monday, here is the television lineup for Breeders’ Cup 30 at Santa Anita Friday, Nov. 1 and Saturday, Nov. 2:
The Breeders’ Cup will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network. (All times Eastern)
Friday, Nov. 1: 4:00 - 8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN
Saturday, Nov. 2: 3:30 - 8:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN
Saturday, Nov. 2: 8:00 - 9:00 p.m. ET on NBC
According to a Bloodhorse post last week, this is the tentative schedule for Saturday’s Pick Six sequence, concluding with the centerpiece Classic:
Turf Sprint 2:05 pm
Juvenile 2:45 pm
Turf 3:25 pm
Sprint 4:05 pm
Mile 4:45 pm
Classic 5:35 pm
Although the wagering menu wasn't available at this writing, it appears that the Breeders’ Cup Ultra Pick Six will include the BC Juvenile which, for the second year in succession, will not permit its starters race-day use of Lasix.
Recall that the original plan was to extend the Lasix ban this year from two-year-olds to all divisions. As everyone knows, that will not happen, yet the ban for juveniles continues.
Thus far, no one has asked why, why the failed noble experiment is still a price bettors are asked to pay by placing such a race in the Pick Six. Must it always come down to potential higher handle?
Why are bettors, even those with deep pockets, being asked to spend inordinate amounts to cover as many combinations as possible? The answer, apparently, is that Breeders’ Cup Ltd. believes that one is born every minute and that an effort must be made to ensure that these fools and their money will be parted sooner rather than later.
Even if the consistency and competitiveness of the affected equines isn't compromised by a change in their medication regimen, their true form is still unknowable except perhaps for a handful of insiders.
Last year's Lasix-free Juvenile field was a short one; a situation likely to recur. The highly regarded Honor Code will await the Remsen instead, but his Champagne conqueror, Havana, will be one of the Juvenile choices.
It appears trainer Todd Pletcher believes he’ll be charmed a third time should the classy speedster emulate predecessors Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby and complete the Champagne-Juvenile parlay, Shanghai Bobby racing Lasix-free, of course.
As usual, Pletcher's barn is loaded with potential champions, but by pointing Verrazano toward the Dirt Mile he seems to be conceding the three-year-old championship for his multiple Grade I winner while it’s still within reach.
(Even if the connections won’t run him in the Classic, a win over Wise Dan in The Mile on turf would get him more respect than another victory over Grade 2 competition).
The diminished status of the Dirt Mile is confirmed by its exile to Friday, which now includes only five Cup races as compared to nine on Saturday. Since the "Filly Friday" fiasco was finally euthanized - and the original name for the older female division event restored - the Filly & Mare Turf and Distaff should have led off Saturday's Pick Six in place of the Turf Sprint and Juvenile, respectively.
The final Breeders’ Cup Pick Three (Sprint-Mile-Classic) offers an intriguing sequence that is potentially lucrative. The Pick Four, which includes the Turf, is a similar opportunity. A sequence starting with two routes for older females could have been promoted as an All-Champion Pick Six.
In contrast to this proposed "Sequence of Excellence" for Saturday, let’s take a look at Friday's "Series of Shortchangers."
Marathon 1:45 PM
Juvenile Fillies Turf 2:25 pm
Dirt Mile 3:05 pm
Juvenile Turf 3:50 pm
Distaff 4:35 pm
Whether a sixth non-Cup race will be added at the beginning or end of the above sequence, only the Distaff represents racing at the top level in North America.
The Marathon is a mediocrity whose purse mirrors the lack of stamina that characterizes its contestants. It shouldn't be part of any Breeders’ Cup Pick Six. Does anyone else wonder why no legitimate all-Breeders’ Cup Pick Six for Friday was configured from among Saturday’s surfeit? Are the Arabians coming?
If the Cup's official position is that Lasix-free competition represents racing’s best, then why not flaunt that decision by featuring the freshmen on Friday? The Juvenile Turf races are already there. Add the two on dirt to the sequence, culminating with the Juvenile.
As an aside, I was surprised to see it reported that Pletcher is planning to enter Graydar along with Verrazano. It would seem unlikely that two speed proponents would actually start. Who knows, maybe we'll get a chance to see if the former can extend his front-running Donn performance a furlong farther without having to fight Cross Traffic for the lead?
Furthur, wouldn’t it make sense to ensure a fast pace in the Classic for the Belmont winner who seems poised to become the poster boy for Trakus. Palace Malice finally gets the stable's go-to guy, and would seem no worse off for Smith's defection back to Game On Dude.
Assuming the front-running "Dude" breaks well this year under Smith, he might finally face some continuous quality pressure.
HRI columnist Tom Jicha opined that HOTY "shouldn’t go through Moreno" to justify his case against Will Take Charge. I would argue better Moreno than Clubhouse Ride.
Another three-year-old hoping to salvage his reputation in the Dirt Mile is sprint-sharpened Goldenscents, returning to the track where he twice triumphed around two turns. This should encourage Pletcher to consider running closers Capo Bastone (who will run on grass) and Forty Tales. It's hard to visualize either one reeling in Private Zone or Pointsoffthebench in the Sprint.
This year's Classic could crown either of two divisional champions. If the "Dude" were to win then both champion older horse and Horse of the Year would be his. But if either Will Take Charge or Palace Malice wins, that colt becomes champion three-year-old.
Back-to-back victories over stellar fields by Ron the Greek should ensure older horse honors, as should back-to-back Classics by Fort Larned. Any other result leaves everything up for grabs.
The preceding five contenders--with more at stake than purse money--suggest a possible superfecta box. I’d rather play a six-horse box that included Verrazano than work Mucho Macho Man, Flat Out, and/or Moreno into the bottom slots in the mix.
But it’s possibilities such as this that makes the event worth viewing and betting on.
Written by Indulto
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Nothing Exceeds Like Excess
Los Angeles, October 11, 2013--Even as stamina has decreased among thoroughbreds, it has apparently increased among horseplayers as simulcasting extended their play from coast to coast, and expanded their day by three hours at the back end. Time on the front end also increased for those whose handicapping is not automated.
The graded stakes smorgasbord introduced by the Breeders' Cup (BC) whet players' appetites for sequences of large, competitive fields prone to producing profitable plays on pick-able longshots; a phenomenon unmatched even by the undercards for the three year-old classics.
The attention paid to the BC came at the expense of several traditional fall graded fixtures that previously determined the equine recipients of Eclipse awards but which now function largely as preps.
Many of these are among the 47 North American races designated as "Win-And-You're-In” (WAYI) events, guaranteeing the winner a starting berth in the corresponding divisional race, along with the entry fee and travel expenses.
In all, 31 WAYI races out of a total 65 graded stakes were scheduled from September 7 and ending this weekend, including 21 Grade 1s.
The preps most likely to produce BC winners were run during the first two of five weekends. Weekend #1 included one, 11, and four preps on Fri., Sat., and Sun., respectively, and two, 14, and six on weekend #2.
The premier preps, of course, were hosted by industry giants Belmont Park, Santa Anita and Keeneland, with the first two staging 11 WAYI events, 10 of them G1s. “Super Saturday,” indeed.
If the all-you-can-bet buffet can be hyped as "Super," then perhaps last weekend should be called "Stupefying" since the status of several equine stars did not shine in the prep spotlight:
Sweet Reason, Strong Mandate, Obviously, Groupie Doll, and Golden Scents all lost as favorites, and Wise Dan's Horse of the Year candidacy took a major hit, off-the-turf conditions notwithstanding.
These attempts to replicate the appeal of the Breeders’ Cup all at once result in smaller fields and less attendance. Scheduling duplicate divisions on the same day always dilutes fields. Owners and trainers may like it; bettors not so much.
In "Super Saturday is too much of a good thing
," HRI blogger Tom Jicha made a good point when he wrote, "[NYRA] finally managed to bottom itself with the Thursday Pick 4, combining the last two in New York with the first two at Penn National, a track that might as well be Assiniboia Downs to Big Apple players.
Yet with an opportunity to link four championship caliber races on the biggest day of the fall outside the Breeders' Cup, NYRA and Santa Anita did nothing. Why?"
Why indeed? Thirty-six preps were run on those six prep days. And why not offer a multi-venue Pick Six on each day? Such a horizontal wager could be completed in an hour without compromising opportunities for those coming out to the track to get a closer look at the champions as I do.
Using the Classic division as an example, couldn't the Jockey Gold Cup and the Awesome Again be run on separate weekends to offer different rest periods--as well as distances--while also enabling unintended defections to compete the following week?
Here are just two examples of how something like that could work; showcasing the marquee events while also providing a stage for each division. (Perhaps entire weekends—Friday through Sunday—could be devoted to the Breeders’ Cup fall preps. It could prove a marketing bonanza to the host tracks as well as creating special events for the simulcast audience:
SA:*G1-Chandelier -- Juvenile Fillies – 8.5 f
SA:*G1-FrontRunner – Juvenile – 8.5 f
REM: G3-Oklahoma Derby -- Classic -- 9 f
BEL:*G1-Beldame – Distaff – 9 f
BEL:*G1-J.Hirsch Turf Classic – Turf – 12 f T
BEL:*G1-Jockey Club Gold Cup – Classic – 10 f
HAW: G3-Hawthorne Derby – Turf/Mile – 9 f T
IND: G2-Indiana Derby – Classic – 9 f
KEE:*G2-Thoroughbred Club of America – F&M Sprint – 7 f
KEE:*G1-Shadwell Turf Mile – Mile – 1 m T
SA:*G1-Zenyatta – Distaff – 8.5 f
SA:*G1-Awesome Again – Classic – 9 f
*denotes WAYI preps
Players will only return to the tracks on a regular basis for better wagering value and/or an experience that beats staying at home. (A Breeders' Cup Prep Pick Six could have a 50-Cent minimum but with incentives to come out to see the live product).
Additionally, this can provide an excellent opportunity to test a voucher system proposed by cyber-commenter Kyle: On-track bettors could purchase non-refundable discount vouchers for concessions and/or wagering in designated pools.
Such vouchers could also apply to enhanced seating, including multi-purpose rooms providing patrons with amenities such as wireless ear pieces capable of switching between Sunday’s NFL telecasts.
In retrospect, there appeared to be too little cooperation between tracks, leading to fewer people betting fewer horses in too many races over too long a period, subverting the success that should have rewarded the tracks that enable the best equine athletes to compete against one another.
“Super Race Days” are good for the business and for the sport’s fans. But there should be a concerted effort to maximize exposure over the short term as opposed to glutting the market all at once.
Written by Indulto