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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


There is no question that any horse coming in off a five race winning streak, including a graded stakes and undefeated in three races at a mile or longer is a deserving favorite. And it seems every time handicappers pick up their heads this year, Shug McGaughey is winning another big race.

I know… I’ll simply argue that Code of Honor was the exception that proves the rule and, anyway, it’s 2020. Furthermore, hasn’t Joel Rosario had the kind of year in big spots that thrusts him into the Eclipse Award conversation for Jockey of the Year?

Yes, Performer (7-5) should be the favorite to win New York’s final Grade 1 of the season. But at 1.40-to-1? From the rail? He might be the most probable winner but he’s not for me today.

This is undoubtedly the biggest challenge Performer has faced and he very likely will be under pressure throughout from his pole position. It’s something that Shug and Joel will just have to figure out. As for the rest, it’s not that difficult to make a case for almost all of them. From the inside, out:

Mind Control (20-1) is the poster child for fast race, bad race, and he’s on the fast race pattern of his form cycle here. He ran badly at Keeneland last time out but then a lot of horses don’t perform at Keeneland for whatever reason. His record at the trip is (2) 1-1-0 but, of greater significance, is (5) 4-1-0 in Queens County.

What’s Snapper Sinclair (20-1) doing in here? His record indicates he’s more turf than dirt but Steve Asmussen switches this two-turn dirt-mile winner from three straight grass tries back to the main track. You don’t win a lot of Troy Ounces betting against a guy that’s won 9,000+ races.

Firenze Fire (5-2) probably owns the best upset chance based on logic and his record. For one thing, he’s already beaten the odds by not losing a step after leaving the Jason Servis barn.

Kelly Breen’s got this guy humming. He’s a two-time Big A winner, has won half of his six starts at a mile, is certainly fast enough, and his big, too-late finish when third in the BC Sprint should have him right on the edge.

New York-bred Mr. Buff (6-1) is interesting. Yes, he stubs his hooves often when he steps into graded open company but repeats a winning nine-furlong to eight-furlong pattern that worked nicely in February, he’s fresh, is (10) 2-4-1 at the trip but a remarkable eight-time winner with three seconds at the Big A.

King Guillermo (9-2) has been away since his runnerup finish to the brilliant albeit ill-fated Nadal in the G1 Arkansas Derby following his G2 Tampa Bay Derby 49-1 shocker in Oldsmar. Can he beat this kind off the bench is a fair question to ask.

A flat mile seems tailor made for his talent and style and he’s drawn nicely outside. But our guess is that the connections are using this as a Pegasus World Cup prep. That doesn’t mean he can’t beat these horses. Talented three year old gets in this handicap at 117. Does Jose Ortiz fit speed types?

Majestic Dunhill (20-1) is far from a no-hoper. Even lacking a win at the trip or over this surface, what in hell is he doing in here? George Weaver has had a great fall that has continued into the last month of the year.

But the kicker is that Majestic Dunhill is back in six days after trailing throughout in the Fall Highweight under 133–that’s a lot of lead. Picking up Dylan Davis, who’s enjoyed a breakout season, he won the G3 Bold Ruler in fast time two back.

True Timber (20-1) lacks winning credentials at one mile and is only 1-for-8 at Aqueduct, but he was third in this race last year, third in the G1 Forego this year and, we believe he was third at a big price in another Grade 1 when Kiaran McLaughlin was tightening the girth. So there’s that.

Bon Raison (20-1) is True Timber’s uncoupled mate who owns a win at the trip and three victories over the track and stretches to a mile off two sprints, his latest an appearance in the BC Sprint where we was clearly overmatched but was taking a shot off a previous Keeneland score. Nice horse but badly in need of class relief.

We’re not taking the favorite to win here but not sure where to go after that. We’ll sleep on it and get back to you Saturday with the upset special.

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22 Responses

  1. I have a few observations on the Cigar Mile. Observation number one. He’s not the fastest horse in the field, not by a long shot or the second or the third or even the fourth. He’s the 7/5 favorite from the one hole. So we are going to back the favorite at a mile from the one post on his second race in a year? I know I can’t.
    On the positive side he’s second off a layoff and has the best chance of moving forward. He’s trained by a hall of fame trainer, a 30% jockey and gets in light compared to the other fast horses. Mixed signals.
    Mind Control and Firenze fire are fast just not consistently. Both have had a hard campaign and it’s 70/30 they don’t pair their tops. Of the two Firenze fire does not like it wet, saddles the most weight and will be overbet off his effort in the Breeder’s Cup Sprint. Mind Control doesn’t like it wet, BUT is fast, likes inside posts is 4-5 lifetime at Aqueduct and has tactical speed which should help. He would have been the pick at 20/1 if the track came up dry. Useable.
    The choice here is Mr. Buff. He’s the controlling speed from the 5 post, Kimmel/Alvarado is 28% winner’s at Aqueduct, has run the fastest lifetime figure of any horse in the field, gets weight from the top 2 and signaled a return to form with the fastest last race figure. 6/1 is square. I would suggest a key using the 1,2,4. Hitting the all for third in one trifecta wouldn’t be a bad thing.
    Let’s face it with the track wet you could get split. Good luck and as always, Let’s go get the bad guys!

  2. You stole my thunder Mr. O’Connell. I too am taking Mr. Buff and would have on any surface; just looks like excellent value and love the repeat two-turn back to one that produced his lifetime best effort and loves the Big A. If ‘Firenze’ and Mind’ scratch, I’d still require about 3-1 straight. Like the ALL button concept for this race, pressing with the favorite to ensure a decent return. Otherwise, let chaos reign…

  3. Tough game, eh? Try claimers, believe, in fact know, you will get to the cashing window more often. Where’s the handicapping when you use the ‘all’ button? Keeping track of the cost of all those tickets hitting the floor when you bet against yourself? Just won’drin.

    BTY, what’s going on here at HRI? Where have the contributors gone? Where are the commentators?

  4. Oh, and yes, it’s a tough game, was able to find some solace, and dollars, at Gulfstream; fast and firm Gulfstream.

    Riddle me this WMC; Is a Claiming Crown event a claiming race, or is it a stakes race, can’t figure that one out.

  5. As you well know, the Claiming Crown involves plodders that have raced in claiming races; many entrants having raced numerous times over several years; not blue bloods who have raced a handful of times then are retired to the breeding shed, usually entered in stake races (supposedly the best racing, Alice) before retirement – the owner’s being embarrassed to enter their investment in lower-level races.

    You gave a poor explanation as to why this site has blocked out so many headings.

  6. Blocked out so many headings? What does that mean, don’t understand the question…

    Contributors? Well, Mark and Tom retired. Others who don’t take deadlines seriously here are not welcome.

    As for commenters, I have no idea. Maybe they don’t care for my political takes. It’s still a free country… at least until the military coup led by a pardoned traitor goes down …

    I hope you’re staying safe, WMC

  7. At this moment in front of me I have the HRI main page; the headings News Writer, Keith Pettyjohn, Pricci, FRS, Berner, Jicha, Indulto, News and Dealer Choice are the color of blue with the aforementioned titles barely visible. Only Lawrence, Sports, Harness, HRT Staff, and Sponsored Content are clearly visible. I assumed those headings not clearly visible were no longer active; they aren’t as I just tested Pettyjohn and Pricce headings. Must be something involving my computer. Sorry for causing confusion.


    May Georgia voters make the right choices.

    1. It is NOT your pc or tablet that are going bad. I could say more but it would not be anything new. Use your intuition and logic. Picking horses in advance is a crapshoot which I gave up many moons ago ,..and very happy to have done it. Made comparisons among my picks a couple of minutes from post time with ( yrs ago) newspapers picks,which basically are first, second ML choices, and I was,and still beat the various” xperts” on the tube. The only person who gains my respect was the former jockey,hall of famer,Stevens. The rest are just blabbering away. Betting,gambling,picking is a very subjective way of life since you are playing with your own $$. You,we,are stuck in a certain way of choosing who and what to play,and when,that is,in how many races. Some of us are as selective as what to eat,even be at 4 am,as we are at betting what,how much and when. On cable Saturday they only offered the last couple of Aquaduct races. Got the exacta on the first and the winner on the last race.How?Well,not by listening who was picking who(m) but by watching the board,,My Way,as the French song played.. If betting is a solitary game,it cannot do well publicly.Just like after a losing bet,everyone hides and/ or has excuses which no one believes,least of all,other gamblers. I wish that I learned something from here but I did not,gamblers are not social ,affable beings. Everyone goes about their way,as in real life,especially these horrifically scary times. Daily survival is more important than watching most of today’s sports,including those quadruped athletes,from $4000 claimers to Million$ showpieces.Even winning is not as fun as it used to be,,,Can I blame that on Covid-19 and all the confusion that comes with it ,political,financial or Imaginary ? This Hybernation continues to shut down businesses of all kinds and,yes, Minds,even those who used to pleasure themselves by talking about how their horse is going to run ( on turf,mud,or sloppy track) when they,we,us,bet them. There are other more prevailing ,serious things between our ears, I Hope ,which occupy our daily interests esp about our and our loved ones’health,happiness or at least contentment and survival.Last one out,Pull the plugPS,:.John Pricci has been honest before and he should close,at least,the year,the same way. Just a friendly suggestion,until this crappy situation flows out.Sincerely.. Buon Natale to all ! JGR.

    2. Now I what what you’re saying and I meant to ask my tech guy about that. Think it maybe was part of our effort to rid the site of spammers.

      I had four different techs look into that and posting issues and one of them might inadvertently opened some floodgate. New posts weren’t being affected, but older ones.

      My inbox was 30-40 full everyday with spam, meaning it got through, Fortunately, many were a year or two old and there no longer was traffic. One went back to my series on Dutrow, that started in 2013-14, in that neighborhood.

      When I get an answer, I’ll pass it along. Have many fish to fry…

  8. JGR: You are the first horseplayer (?) that appears from your comments here at HRI to never lose a bet. Either you are an excellent handicapper or extremely lucky. I wish I were one or the other. For decades I have been losing with 70% of my win bets; I keep hoping to improve. I get the most ‘bang for a few bucks’ when gambling on the plodders; haven’t found another gambling vehicle that offers such excitement when my selection is in the hunt heading down the stretch. If, after a race is off, the finish line was moved fifty yards toward the sixteenth pole, my win percentage would skyrocket.

    1. WMC, I too prefer to be lucky than good, and what is it they luck, luck is the residue of hard work?

      Often, CGR doesn’t make BitsNPieces of sense, but he did seem to make a few interesting observations this time. It’s sometimes difficult to know after deciphering the babble.

      So, let’s see. Once upon a time, I used to be honest? Now I have suddenly lost my way?

      To him, and others who feel that way: Please don’t waste your time by reading what’s offered here. I should have deleted his post, for the personal attack on my integrity, but didn’t because all are entitled to their opinion.

      I will not dignify this “honesty” observation but will, as promised, respect differences of opinion but will delete attacks of a personal nature by anyone.

      Part of the reasons why Mark and Tom “retired” is because nothing in the game will change substantively and is a waste of time and effort, i.e., continue trying to make a difference.

      I don’t disagree with their observations, but know that the only way to affect change, with respect to any issue in life, is from within. There are many good people in this game who have loyal fans, followers, and supporters via their wagers. I will continue to advocate for them. Sometimes the good guys win one because they continue trying to chip away.

  9. Mr. Pricci: I have never understood why Mr. Berner and Mr. Jicha ‘threw in the towel’. I’ve waded through Oscar, Peter F, and the ‘gas man’ Moschera’s (sp?) finding another training method; the increase in takeout; and the proliferation of exotic bets that have eliminated the need, as most bettors now believe, to require the past performances and to do any serious handicapping. For me I am very content to find one or two racetracks operating daily, anywhere, and to handicap their races. As you know, all races to me look the same for wagering purposes (btw, nice card at Philly today).

    If you are a gambler on horseracing, then all races anywhere s/be of interest. If you are only interested in following blue bloods and stake races, then, I think, I might understand a bit why Mr. Berner and Mr. Jicha’s lost interest.

    For me little has changed since my first visit to a track in 1960. Several trainers at many racetracks usually dominate. I simply follow them and try to determine when they have ‘spotted’ a plodder nicely. Been right about 30% of the time – nothing to brag about, but I’m not broke yet.

  10. Can’t disagree with anything you say. Wendell, this game was always about streaks. You follow the hot barn, the hot rider. But in the age of PEDs, it’s more sinister than that.
    Horseplayers incorporate “juice” into their handicapping and wagering. I think that’s what Mark and TJ objected to, that there’s no real interest in change, from the tracks to the backstretch, and the marketers, especially now in the Covid era, are just happy to have a job and I don’t blame them for that: Family first.
    If winking and nodding were outlawed, then maybe the little guy would stand a chance.

    The great Jimmy Toner–whose politics I abhor–left the game in NY after going 4-for-57 this year. Did he forget how to train, this man who has developed his share of turf champions? Or can he just not compete with “super trainers” whose horses just “keep finding?”

  11. Mr. Pricci: Look (Biden’s favorite word), as a gambler on the platers I ‘go with the flow’. The ‘game’ is tainted obviously. But, I ask myself: which trainers are winning? I can’t change anything, but I can bet on the ponies – juiced or not. Have wondered for years why trainers at racetracks don’t get together and settle with known trainers who are under suspicion of irregular activity which affects their livelihood, unless, of course, they are in cahoots also.

    I’m a little guy and I simply go percentage wise with the trainers and jocks that seem to find the finish line the most.

  12. Can’t argue with that logic. We’re more alike than you might think… (I know, it surprises me too!)

  13. TTT

    WMC, used to contribute horse racing opinions here, now I occasionally visit, like a dog returns to his vomit, to get a good laugh, and for the genius of a few of the commentators who have something to offer. Run by a leftist, censoring, tightwad, who’s beliefs regarding horse racing and politics are driven by which way the wind blows, it is not surprise where all the conservative and honest persons have gone.

    Chalk up another loser for Pricci, especially if the inquiry is unsuccessful.

  14. I would ask that we all keep HRI a place where politics are not discussed. This space is open for horseplayers and racing fans to discuss the sport without political commentary.

    There are plenty of forums to discuss politics, can we please have ONE place HRI where we can avoid any political discussion.

  15. Tony, the comment referenced was about more than politics. It questioned my honesty, something I have worked at for a half century to establish. I believe you missed the point.

    Did you know, BTW, that Paulick Report has temporarily put its comment section on furlough and is reevaluating. In a You Tube post, PR addressed this possible change in policy and whether or not to suspend the comment section permanently.

    Here’s the thing. Politics is very seldom discussed on PR. Mr. Paulick objected to the negative personal attacks, political or not, that “ruin it for everyone.”

    [Ed Note: A column on this issue will be posted today upon completion]

  16. If a trainer keeps a horse in shape, eventually he will find a racing condition that favors him. Saturday, with the favorite having problems at the start, and with stalking behind fast fractions on a tiring track, enabled a third time charm winner.

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