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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


One of the hardest variables to decipher now that many of the major venues have returned, is dealing with those revamped schedules. Most inscrutably, what does one do with a fast Grade 1 horse coming back in a Grade 3 for “no money.”

The first race we see below is the case of Arklow (8-5), the consistently fastest winner of the 2019 G1 Turf Classic, and toughened in a competitive series of Grade 2s.

Today he makes his season’s debut in the hopes of collecting a winner’s share of a $100,000 purse. Contextually, this is chump change. So why bother?

Being the first race of his six-year-old season, Brad Cox doesn’t doesn’t to have him wound too tightly. And he is the co-highweight at 124 pounds. The wound-up Arklow would win this match five out of 10 times; that’s even money pre-takeout.

So what will players get for their money? Damned if I know, and that’s why he’s worth trying to beat. We have been facing these scenarios for about a month and a tough game has become even more problematic.


RACE 11: The three most likely winners of the Louisville Stakes are the favorites. In addition to Arklow, Admission Office (3-1) and Tiz A Slam (7-2) are major players. We posit that Admission Office has the best chance to pull off a minor upset.

Second off a layup here, his prior was a wild mid-race move placing before tiring in deep stretch behind classy, streaking Zulu Alpha. This rates to be easier and the connections couldn’t be better.

We’re taking Admission Office to win at 5-2 or greater, and key-boxing exactas with his main rivals. In addition, we will key ‘Admission’ 1-2 in trifectas/


RACE 11: Coaltown Handicap

Same story, different event. Pre-race storylines billed this as a match-up between Horse for Course Diamond Oops (8-5) and Horse for Course Math Wizard (3-1), why not? A multiple Grade 1-placed runner vs a Grade 1 winner.

But they’re pointed here seeking the lion’s share of a $55,000 pot? Well, yes and no, but this is meant as a bridge to bigger and better.

Math Wizard is likely looking for two turns down the road, and who knows what Patrick Biancone has in mind with this sprinter/miler that also can turf. Patrick has a deserved King of the Unorthodox profile.

There is no denying Diamond Oops’ talent and versatile. His effort in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational was a very good fourth behind Mucho Gusto, who freaked on the day. This will be a lot easier, even toting 125 pounds.

Math Wizard returns for supertrainer Saffie Joseph Jr. who cooled off for about five minutes this past winter but is back to being his prolific self. A runnerup in the Ohio Derby and Pa Derby victory speaks to his class and he’s working lights out.

We believe Noble Drama has an excellent upset chance and offers value at early line odds of 9-2. Very sharp and nicely posted, a plethora of speed sets the table nicely and Joe Bravo might time his rally better, now that he’s gotten to know him.

Taking Noble Drama to win at 7-2 or greater, boxing an exacta with Diamond Oops, and we’re adding Math Wizard, the filly Letruska (5-1), and price shot Eye of a Jedi (15-1) to the super-exotics mix.


RACE 9: Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes

The lone Grade 1 offered this day drew six fillies looking to build their resumes. Maybe it’s the timing, uncertainty or the late pandemic scheduling, but there are no current stars among the half-dozen older fillies and mares.

Four of the six can win this. Given the dynamics–a one-turn 1-1/16 miles and a short field–this will be a rider’s race and the best tripper is the most likely winner. Price will determine the play because we have very little idea how that might shake out.

Listed in morning line order, the preferences are for Ollie’s Candy (8-5), Point of Honor (2-1), Golden Award (7-2) and Pink Sands (6-1).

Ollie’s Candy gave Ce Ce all she wanted in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom, just missing after making all the pace through fast fractions.

Ollie’s Candy owns SoCal speed which is double tough shipping into New York. She’s had enough time to recover but that was a very demanding effort, plus the shipping, etc. etc.

Less than three lengths behind ‘Candy’ was Point of Honor who came from last following a very slow beginning, circling the group extremely wide and was still finding at the end. She gets three pounds from the favorite and switches to Castellano.

Golden Award came into her own late last year and comes off a game placing to track-loving Cookie Dough last time out at Gulfstream Park. Her edge is a preference for this surface and trip and, well posted, she reunites with her favorite partner.

Pre-pandemic, we spent some time around Pink Sands at Gulfstream. My sense was that Shug McGaughey and Jose Ortiz really liked this filly as she made her way up the ladder, winning a Grade 3 then a Grade 2. She’s won three of six since adding blinkers.

We have no idea how to attack this race as this is posted. We will need to see odds, how the track is playing, the usual. Gun to my head, given early line odds? Golden Award.

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44 Responses

      1. C, understand your meaning but not quite accurate, now that the state has the absolute last word.

        The reference re Shug is understandable, of course, but it’s Gainesway and Andrew Rosen who own Pink Sands.

        Besides, Shug’s five-year-old mare won the Inside Information this year, so why not a race for someone he’s trained for, not one he conditioned?

    1. One thing you can bet on Den, this spot was no coincidence or necessitated by timing, etc.

  1. Thanks for the write up – I love reading these. One question; you don’t think She’s a Julie has a shot in the Phipps? Only million dollar earner in the field, only horse other than Ollie’s Candy to own a grade 1 win, and Santana comes in just to ride her, 2nd off a lay-off. Not saying she’s any better than the other 4, but she seems to deserve some sort of consideration.

    Not sure what to make of the fact that CeCe came up totally flat last out, but if the Apple Blossom took as much starch out of Ollie’s Candy, then it would seem to bump up the prospects of the other runners here. Point of Honor ran a very different race that day, so I won’t expect her to have quite the same bounce as CeCe and, potentially, Ollie.

    Again, loved the write up, and this was just throwing in my two cents, nothing more. Enjoy the races.

    1. Good points, Doc. I like the Julie filly as a horse. Considered her and finally decided not good enough–judgment call. But I considered her because I could see Santana working out a pocket trip, and anything is possible under those circumstances.

      The effort could have taken as much out of ‘Ollie’ as it did Ce Ce. And would be remiss to mention that while she’s had a ton of time, Pink Sands coming off consecutive top efforts, so there’s that. Yes, as stated, a tough race.

    2. All hail Doc! Great pick in the Phipps. And the upset happened just as I wrote yesterday in your comment that ‘Julie’ could win–that Santana would save ground and trip out–then, like many of us many a day–I overthought the problem instead of fitting the answer into some contrivance..

      Saturday evenings, as I await the feature races and plan on what to write on Sunday, I make advance wagers, and watch the races as they enter the gate, often not knowing the price. $31 was stunning and hope you stuck to your guns.

      I might have made a small saver at those odds but can’t say for sure. Did say it was wide wide — and half the field were heads apart at the wire. Anyway, good on you!

      1. Haha thanks guys – thankfully I did stick to my guns. I agree with you on the price; it definitely shocked me as well. She was around 8/1-9/1 in that range close to post, but she must have had nothing come in on her when that last second at the gate money poured in. In addition, If you would have told me yesterday morning that Blamed was going to go off at 6/1 I would have questioned your grasp on reality. When I made my line for the race, I had Blamed at 13/1 and I thought I might have been too generous even at that.

        The at the post money brings up a big pet peeve; I love that the pools are fat and everything, but making fair odds calculations on exactas and doubles is massively frustrating when you’re demanding a 50% overlay on your lines, and the probables table 10 seconds out of the gate is so drastically different than what it was as the horses are approaching the gate. You end up with money on combos that are no longer overlays in your opinion, and ones you crossed out are now the playable ones. It makes you feel like you’re just wasting your time calculating out your fair odds for the exa and dd.

  2. One of Wendell’s claimers might be a better option. Not knowing which trainers are merely stretching their runners legs for a bigger purse down the road is a puzzle not answered. Might be best to just take a shot or best guess on a tri box for the fun of it. Got any win intended alternates Wendell?

    1. McD, this is nothing new. An example, this might have been a disaster had his proposal been adopted but Alfred G. Vanderbilt, when Chairman of the Board at NYRA, proposed that if a horse were prepping for a future target, the fact that it was intended as a prep should be noted in the track program to protect the public.

      Someone had the foresight to talk him out of it. Imagine all the trash cans that would have been overturned had a “prep” horse won!

  3. Second guess, they’ll all take the 100K and be looking to step forward. Will watch the board and look for best value.

  4. Yea, McD I got an alternative. Making only one bet today and it is Paco in the last race at Gulf. Afraid that the plug will be over bet, and may pass the race. Last evening I watched a documentary on Gen. Grant which has me inclined to put a Grant on Just Kidding.

    A few days ago I wrote that I was fascinated by ‘expert’ ‘cappers writing books about how to pick winners. I am also fascinated by how many commentators here at HRI are enthralled with discussing what blue blood trained by Baffert, Pletcher, ‘shug’, and others are gonna win the Belmont Stakes, Preakness, Kentucky Derby, Travers, et cetera (which one is up first, Alice?).

    I dunno, isn’t this ‘game’ about cashing tickets, making money, or cheering on blue bloods owned by wealthy owners? Seems to me that I understand the reason I follow racing; but, many times over the years I wish that the characters, when I was employed at a huge company in my state, had not dragged me to Lincoln Downs one Friday night in 1959 not knowing what a thoroughbred even looked like.

    After many beers and betting on what I had no idea, I was the only one to win – and big! A bit over $200. Almost quit my job, thinking I had found ……(yes, Alice, we ‘hit’ just about every bar on the way home).

    1. One of best price horses was Deputed Testimony . I was watching over my at the time girlfriend’s nephews and bought them both $2 tickets to get them inside to watch the Preakness. I had never even met the parents and had to explain to both that their boys aged 6 and 9 had both won $80 bucks. It hit me after the wire when they went to commercial. An “Ah Crap Homer” minute. Ended well as both opened bank accounts at the parents direction.

      A deuce on Paco it is if 5-1 or better. On your counsel, I wont chase him. My neighbor Milt, RIP, was a diehard Paco fan. Always said to give Paco a second look.

  5. Nice to read that a commentator here at HRI went ‘out-of-the-box’ so to write and selected a horse that wasn’t already the favorite or second favorite via the M/L or the media.

  6. sent you an email JP and hope you got it, wasn’t sure about your address
    an idea for doing something for the site

  7. Don’t know what you have in mind, Denny, but I’ll take a guess: A ‘Longshot of the Day’ with a detailed explanation similar to the usual analysis given to the figure horses which are, almost without exception, usually odds-on.

  8. John, It seems that John Shirreffs is thinking of only ONE more start for the Honor A.P., which I hope he forgets as I think the colt would really benefit from two starts. But, he knows what he’s doing, so….More importantly, I think the Shared Belied makes no sense as a prep – for any Derby horse. At 1 1/16, how does that help Honor A.P. prep for a mile and a quarter race? Why isn’t it at a mile and an eighth? I get not wanting to fly East for Travers, back West, then East again for Derby, but there has to be another way.. Other options

  9. One can go from New York right to Kentucky. Or if he ran in the Haskell–doesn’t have to win–the spacing is better and also 9 furlongs…

    1. Yes, he could do that. Based on what I read from Tim Wilkin of the Albany Times-Union, however, it doesn’t sound like they’d do that. That said, the Travers hasn’t been ruled out….I’m going to cross my fingers, lol.

      Haskell must be a definite out as Mike Smith (!) is riding Authentic in that race. It seems odd to me that Baffert didn’t choose a jockey who’s not already committed to another…

    1. Thanks, John! What about the Shared Belief? Don’t you find it odd that it would serve as a prep for a much longer race? All Derby preps are mile and an eighth, so going from a mile and a sixteenth to a mile and a quarter is a huge jump. If Shirreffs chooses that race, then I have faith in his decision and his ability to get HAP ready …but, it still seems odd to me.

      1. I have complete confidence in this trainer’s handling of this colt. Maybe he’s thinking easy prep, stay close to home, and put in strong drills up to the race…

  10. John: Its time for another NYRA “blunder’ request. They just put out the second condition book for Belmont. As you know, among other things, the condition book has the closing dates for nominations for upcoming stakes races. In this book, there are dates for the first two weeks of the Saratoga meet. John, NYRA still hasn’t announced any schedule for the meet, let alone put out a Saratoga stakes schedule. Why would NYRA let a part of the stakes schedule “leak out” without an accompanying press release? It smacks of either gross negligence or utter stupidity. For example, the opening day feature will be the Peter Pan, at 9F, for 100k ( the Schuylerville will also be run). Interestingly, the Coaching Club will still be run on opening Saturday, at 500K, which is the same amount as last year( but no Diana). So, in another still unannounced move, some stakes will carry the same purse as last year-contrary to what has been done at the Belmont meet.
    Another matter to be gleaned from this condition book, is that the Wednesday-Sunday schedule will be maintained, since the feature for Wednesday, the 22nd, is the Rick Violette. By the way, for the second Saturday, the 25th, there are three stake races, including, the Vanderbilt( 100K less than last year), the Ballston Spa ( 200K less), and the Baruch ( 100K less-both the Ballston & the Baruch moved from the end of the meet).
    One last thing, if you check the NYRA /Saratoga website for the stakes schedule, they still have the 2019 schedule on it. So, with bits and pieces leaking out, NYRA is still pretending that its last year. John, its just the same old song!

    1. Fram, can’t speak to the inconsistency. It seems to me they have things in mind but don’t know what they want to do–and if they do know, can they do it?

      It is odd but these times demand that we accept uncertainty as the norm. There has been no announcement about live Spa attendees, so they may be waiting on that re purses.

      Purse cuts are no surprise and those that remain at high levels may be there to attract an equine star, or please some powerful connections–part of the time since the beginning of time.

      Moving race dates up might be a nod to horsemen they know will support the Derby undercard SEP 5, and want to offer a high profile bridge race to those horsemen.

      I can’t believe there would be no Diana; may be a question of purse money available and/or where to place it in relation to the horse population. The early July KEE meet doesn’t help the early Spa stakes program.

      I don’t see how you can publish an incomplete stakes schedule, so I’m inclined to cut slack there. There are just too many variables in a highly fluid situation.

      Neither knocking nor praising here; I just don’t have enough information to offer a cogent opinion either way…

  11. John: I certainly appreciate your input. Selfishly, I have reservations, at various hotels, for three separate weekends. Obviously, the world has been on hold due to the virus. However, we are only now only a month away from the start of the Spa season. Even giving NYRA the benefit of the doubt, the Town, the customers, and certainly, the trainers and owners, would like some reasonable notice as to what is being planned. I was hoping that you, as a long-time Saratogian, would have some inside info about what is really going on. Maybe Tom and /or Mark may have heard something. However, putting out morsels, as they have in this condition book, is only going to raise people’s antenna and encourage rampant speculation. Moreover, Del Mar has already put forward their entire stakes calendar. NYRA should be the leader in thoroughbred racing. It now appears that they are quickly becoming a lagging follower.

    1. Fram, I spoke with two plugged in locals and everyone is guessing, like the rest of us. What do we infer from the closing of the Racing Museum and Hall of Fame for renovations?

      Seems like you have things covered with for three different weekends and can move your tack readily. You know the drill. Evern in normal years, the move upstate has a million moving parts.

      1. John / Fram:

        It’s exactly one month to go before the start of the Saratoga meet. Without fans or a complete Saratoga stakes schedule, NYRA is best served staying downstate and running most of the Spa 40 days at Aqueduct instead. If conditions permit, run a 24 day meet (September 4 – October 4) at the Spa with spectators allowed in to the track. It will be interesting to see whether any fans are permitted to attend NYRA tracks or Monmouth Park this Summer. Why not, especially if Delaware Park can do so successfully beginning tomorrow ???

  12. Richard, you have an excellent idea. So, I reviewed the stakes listings again. All of the newly scheduled races could be run at Belmont, except one. The Coronation Cup, scheduled for Sunday, the 19th, has been designated to be run at 5&1/2 F, on the Mellon Course. Since the Mellon Course is the Saratoga Outer, NYRA clearly intends to run at Saratoga, with or without fans.

    1. Fram, thanks. I still have my hotel reservation for the Spa opening weekend, but will expect to cancel it soon. I agree with John’s comment that “the move upstate has a million moving parts.” Is it really worth all the aggravation by moving these million parts under these conditions and with no fans ??? I say “No.” NYRA contends that handle will be higher at Saratoga even without fans in attendance. Perhaps they are correct, although I wouldn’t bet that it’s appreciably higher running upstate.

  13. With the announcement that the US Open will be held with no fans, It seems unlikely that a Saratoga meet with fans is going to happen. Throw in the fact that the meet attracts fans from all over the place, and it does seem like a pretty bad idea.

    As a fan, sacrificing one Saratoga meet for the greater health good feels like a very small price to pay.

    1. Doc, missing my first Belmont in years and have no plans to go to the Spa–and that’s killing me; missed one meet since 1970; this will be #2. Guess I still enjoy being on the right side of the turf course, for a little while longer anyway.

      1. The Brook Tavern, at the corner of Union Avenue and Nelson Avenue in Saratoga Springs, has advised that indoor dining returns today. With their close proximity to Saratoga Race Course (diagonally across from the Main Gate) and still another month before the meet begins, who knows . . . ??? All in favor of safety, mind you, yet the Old Spa and Belmont Park are spacious enough to accommodate some hearty fans. Best advice would be to stay away if you’re even the least bit concerned about being in the company of others, even at a safe distance.

  14. John: HRI is becoming a “Group Therapy” site for those of us who are having trouble dealing with not being able to go to Saratoga this Summer. As you note above, “its Killing me” as well. As a kid, we spent our summers in a bungalow colony in Sullivan County. Five years after the bungalow colony closed, I found my way up to the Spa for the ’78 Travers. Like you, I have attended every year since. Its very hard to think of not being able to be there for even one day. I have even mentioned to my wife that, even if we can’t go inside, I would sit, in my folding chair, outside the fence on Union Ave, and watch the races from there. After the races, we could have dinner on the veranda at Wheatfields, as usual. Anyway, thanks for giving us the opportunity to voice our feelings about the Spa. It certainly helps to know that one is not alone.

    1. Fram, it’s a very similar Saratoga story for me. I’ve been there at least once each season beginning in 1985. I missed the Whitney last year, so that consecutive streak ended at 35. Opening day is a must, in any year – apparently – but this one. Lawn chairs and cooler accompany me to my usual location just to the left of the Racing Secretary’s Office and directly across from the shoe shine stand that Chico operated for so many years. If we are not allowed in, all that I’ll say is “Arrr, Arrr, Arrr.” John, would you try to make the trip up, assuming that spectators are permitted to enter, towards the end of the meet ???

      1. Richard, never mentioned it, but too many pre-morbidity issues for me to roll the dice. Sadly, it will be Simo-Spa in 2020.

        1. John, I’m sending some excellent karma in your direction. We may all be on the outside looking in for the 2020 Saratoga meet. It would be startling, however, to see an empty Spa Grandstand, much like Royal Ascot. Better days are coming for all of us . . .

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