Monday, May 26, 2014

Somewhere Over the Rainbow Lives the Wisest Wise Guy of Them All

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 26, 2014—I can forget about reloading my Xpressbet account today, or worry about those pesky higher base-wagers suggestions, or consulting my Rainbow 6 Player Advantage Chart.

As the late, great John Lennon once put it: The dream is over, what can I say?

That thud you heard crashing down late Sunday was not the Boston Red Sox losing their 10th straight, or the Montreal Canadiens falling to the New York Rangers again--in overtime yet. Rather, it was the sound of handicapping computer programs crashing all over America.

It was the handicapping score heard round the racing world to the chagrin of every horseplayer not named Daniel Borislow.

The chance for the little guy to make that potential life-changing score is gone, as is Gulfstream Park’s dream of a $10 million handle day without costing them a dime—pardon the expression—from their stakes-race purse account.

But no one should feel sorry for Gulfstream today; their Rainbow 6 jackpot has gotten them at least $6,678,939.12 worth of free publicity.

No sooner had the news broken late Sunday afternoon that the wager was hit one day before the entire jackpot pool was to be dispersed that cyber-players began to react:

Rumors of the “Gulfstream conspiracy,” whereby the track itself would have/should have invested about $30,000 of their own to insure that no one would be the lone winner before today by buying the rack, twice.

There was praise for great handicapping on the part of Borislow, but those people were corrected by several others who called him a “skilled player,” not a “skilled handicapper.”

Does it matter? Either way, it’s over, and everyone who had a few dollars and a dream can now return to their drawing boards or go back to buying their billion-to-one lottery tickets, the worst bet ever conceived in the history of gambling mankind.

Horseplayers have been talking intently about today for a week, and probably will continue to do so for another seven days about what might have been.

There will be much chagrining and gnashing of teeth because other deep-pocketed players, and big, small syndicates and individuals alike, will not get a chance to hatch their secret plan to take down as much of a seven-figure pool as possible.

Quoted in a press release, Gulfstream Park president Tim Ritvo congratulated the winner, admitted disappointment in not having a chance to see how high the pool could have gone under the mandatory provision, and how “the Rainbow 6 was designed to be a life-changing wager.”

I guess Borislow now can afford to enjoy that new restaurant that was just opened in his home town of Palm Beach, maybe with a nice Chianti.

I have never met the man, only know him from his name on a track program as the owner of the talented, brilliantly fast, stakes-winning Toccet, so I can’t be happy for him on a personal level.

But I’ll give him this: In a game where everyone who has been around longer than five minutes considers himself a “wise guy,” myself included, Borislow turned out to be the wisest wise guy of them all, jumping the gun while the competition was burning the midnight oil. That part of making a score he figured correctly one-thousand percent.

But as for the part where “I’ve been one of the larger bettors for a period of years…I guess, probably, I’ve gotten good at it…I really liked [the sixth race]…I keyed that race, and it worked out well?”

It surely did. He used two horses in that race--no need for a single in that spot—pressed the ALL button in the other five races and, of the 19 live ducats going into the Gulfstream finale, six were unique tickets, all belonging to the winner since the eighth race was one of Borislow’s five ALL races.

So, in the life-changing, dream-realizing department, the Rainbow 6 failed, as most big-payoff sequential wagers invariably will. This type of bet will be won by the handicappers who can most afford to throw money at a solution.

And the tracks and ADWs love them for their marketing sizzle and bottom-line potential. Welcome to the Thoroughbred commodities market.

For his part, Borislow, who reportedly retired at 38 and subsequently founded the successful magicJack discount phone service, is likely praying right now that his life never changes. By any measure, life is good.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a drawing board to get back to.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Short-Breeze Pattern Historical Challenge for California Chrome

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 14, 2014—In the lull between waiting for the next shoe to drop and Monday’s potential for biggest Jackpot payoff in the history of Thoroughbred racing , I decided to delve deeply into the Belmont Stakes past performances to see if I might be a witness to history a fortnight from now.

Tried as I might, and I tried hard, I looked for holes in the form of California Chrome. Could he be vulnerable if a rival rider got overly aggressive early, in the manner that Jerry Bailey aboard Eddington a decade ago never allowed Smarty Jones a moment’s peace.

The field was approaching the six furlong marker, Stewart Elliott was attempting to secure a comfortable stalking position from the 3-path sitting off dueling leaders but Bailey moved four wide across the track, forcing Elliott’s hand.

If Smarty Jones and Elliott were to hold their position, they would have to clear the two inside horses, similar to the way Victor Esposito had to step on the gas when Luis Contreras attacked California Chrome from the outside at mid-far turn. “It was the longest [California Chrome] had even been in a drive,” said Art Sherman post-Preakness.

Now committed to the lead, Elliott went on the with it, and Smarty Jones opened a six length lead around the far turn and appeared to the 120,000 screaming fans that he was home free as he entered the stretch. The rest is history as Smarty tired perceptibly in deep stretch and “Birdstone wins the Belmont Stakes.”

All else being equal, California Chrome has the early pace figures to out-foot his rivals, he has the sustaining speed to thwart the mid-race movers, possible kamikaze missions notwithstanding, and the class to and turn out foot to blow races open before the competition knows what hit them. Espinoza usually arrives at the wire with stick down.

But a mile and a half is a different animal entirely. Billy Turner, the only trainer to win the Belmont with an undefeated Triple Crown champion, said at the time that a horse has to be able to make three runs if he wants to get all 12 furlongs and arrive at the finish ahead of the competition. Turner knew what he was talking about and Sherman has pulled every correct strong imaginable.

But there is a variable that Sherman might not be have thought through completely: To my knowledge, nor to anyone else’s I’ve spoken to this week, no Belmont ever has been won with a series of long gallops and a single half-mile breeze in the three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont.

No one knows their horse better than Art and Alan Sherman. And, of course, as this is posted he’s just about the fittest horse in North America: Three races in six weeks, nine furlongs being the shortest in duration, guarantees that.

But this is Big Sandy; this is a mile and a half; this is a quality laden field from top to button with seven top quality rivals by my count among those considered Belmont probables. And if Sherman and Espinoza believe that his rivals ran relays at him in Baltimore, it’s not called New York, New York for no reason. Nothing comes easy here.

As series of long, slow two mile gallops certainly will retain his fitness and hopefully help him to maintain his energy level. So far, so good; but anything unforeseen can happen in the next two weeks.

There’s nothing at all wrong with a half-mile in 49 seconds; keeping your speed edge is certainly important at Belmont Spark no matter how big its circumference. But did we mention that this race is run at a mile and a half?

Isn’t something such as a ‘Chief-like’ mile breeze in something like 1:54, with a final furlong in roughly 13 seconds and low change accomplish what Sherman has in mind while getting him a little closer to the bottom. He’s going to need all the air he can get. It’s not a whimsical exercise by racing historians to refer to the race as ‘Test of the Champion’.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Alas, Common Sense Prevails in L’Affaire Strip

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 19, 2014—When it comes to nasal strips, New York State’s Thoroughbred Rule 4033.8, stating “only equipment specifically approved by the stewards shall be worn or carried by a jockey or a horse in a race” no more longer applies.

Finally, a victory of sensible thinking over politically autocratic overkill.

In a way it’s a little too bad that officials caved in so quickly on the will-he-or-won’t-he-run controversy. Had officials waited another day or two, it might have gotten people outside the game who watch three races a year fired up, providing enhanced interest in the proceedings.

It actually might have created some new racing fans, those that have fallen in love with a charismatic, handsome Thoroughbred with the cool name of California Chrome. Let’s face it; how many other concerted efforts by the industry to grow the base succeeded?

On the flip side, the New York Gaming Commission should be their props for stepping up so quickly and not pass the buck on to the stewards, who would have been under unreasonably inordinate pressure to do something they refused to do two years ago.

Ultimately, the stewards are racing’s final arbiters. Just ask the bettor who lost over a million bucks when his horse was disqualified in the final race of the day this winter at Gulfstream Park.

Like it or not, decisions such as these are the rightful purview of racing’s trained officials--with transparency and accountability, of course.

The use of nasal strips, permitted in harness racing but heretofore banned in New York’s Thoroughbred game, was no big deal and way overblown in the first place.

Ultimately, the stewards acted on the sane rationale of the New York State Gaming Commission’s Equine Medical Director Scott Palmer, DVM, who explained what everyone had surmised; that the use of nasal strips was not performance enhancing.

A nasal strip simply helps a horse breathe a little easier, and improper application of it does not impede its performance.

Additionally, nasal strips may decrease the amount of bleeding associated with exercised induced pulmonary edema without need of a syringe, unlike Lasix which proponents say is needed to control EIPH but is more commonly used as a performance enhancer and potential masking agent.

It is said that raceday Lasix levels an uneven playing field which, in and of itself, is a veiled admission that those who do not administer it somehow are at a competitive disadvantage. So, which one is it?

Clearly, yesterday’s decision by the New York stewards this was more policy change than simple, pragmatic decision making. Now, according to Palmer, equine nasal strips can be classified in the same category as tongue-ties.

Had common sense not prevailed, the precedent cited would have been the I’ll Have Another case of 2012. That dual classics winner was scratched on the eve of the Belmont due to injury but had been denied permission to use a nasal strip.

While the current Triple Crown connections arrive on Long Island all squeaky clean, I’ll Have Another’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, brought some unwelcome baggage into Belmont Park.

It may be that the nasal strip denial had as much do with O’Neill’s admission that he used Shockwave Therapy on I’ll Have Another to treat the colt’s aching back.

But the use of Shockwave Therapy in horses is highly controversial and rightly so. An overzealous horseman could use it to promote faster healing of soft tissue injuries, which more correctly responds to R & R than anything else.

Further, the back issue didn’t ring true with several experts at that time. In addition, there is not universal agreement on the lead time needed between treatment and a return to racing or serious training.

History notwithstanding, it is good that pragmatism prevailed here. If not, strict rules constructionists might have been uncomfortable rolling the dice with people who during the Triple Crown season have shown themselves to act in a principled manner.

If a partial-sale meant that Art Sherman no longer would be the colt’s trainer; it was no sale. If Churchill Downs wasn’t accommodating enough to Perry Martin and his family, there was no reason to move on to Pimlico, however misguided that decision might have been.

It is not inconceivable, then, that Team California Chrome might have elected to stay home. The Belmont will be, after all, his fourth race in nine weeks. And, of course, it’s a mile and a half long.

To ask the colt to perform in any manner that might diminish the capacity to be at his best could have been enough reason to pull the plug on history.

Indeed, a Triple Crown victory conservatively could double his value, guesstimated by some to currently stand in the $15 million range given his recent invincibility. A loss could have a negative impact on his value in the future.

California Chrome is handsome and he’s fast. He’s already a rock star that would have any major track in America stumbling over itself to attract the dual classics winner to its venue.

Strange, too, if you consider this: Ask the ordinary sports fan or casual racing fan to name all 11 Triple Crown winners and they would be very hard pressed to do so.

But ask them five years from now to name the horse that had a chance to win the Triple Crown and stayed home on a matter of principle, they’d blurt out his name in 22-and-44.

Would that decision be unfair to the horse? Undoubtedly, yes. But while California Chrome may be handsome and fast, I’m not sure his feelings wouldn’t be hurt as long as part owner Steve Coburn keeps feeding him those cookies.

Written by John Pricci

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