Monday, August 31, 2009

Weekend Review (Travers Edition)

I’m finally back in the fray after some time on the shelf. Despite popular belief I have not been on vacation, to the contrary it’s been a very busy few weeks on the work front. I finally got a respite this weekend and it was nice to be able to kick back and watch some sports. There was some good racing on Saturday, as well as the showdown between Manchester United and Arsenal and the Couture vs. Nogueira fight in the UFC. Not a bad sporting trifecta at all.

Year Of The Mudder

I can’t remember a year in recent memory so dominated by off track going. The Derby, Haskell and Travers were run over sloppy tracks and the Preakness was drying out from significant rain.

I typically don’t mind the odd race over less than ideal footing. Versatility is important to me when evaluating the quality of a horse and I like to see horses able to overcome any hurdle. This year has really taken it to an extreme though. Since the Triple Crown started only one 3yo G1 race has been run over a dry, fast track. 2009 will be known as the year of the off track.

G1 Travers

Pretty convincing win by Summer Bird, who has really blossomed into a fine horse. My dark horse Derby selection has finally put it all together. The interesting thing is the horse has really picked it up pace wise in his last two starts. He used to be a dead closer, now they are using some new found tactical speed and it’s helping him stay in contention. I’d say he has a big future beating up on the handicap division, but with two G1 wins in classic events he is surely on the fast track for the breeding shed in 2010.

This win officially ends his status as the “Other Bird”. From now on if that term is used here it’s in regards to Mine That Bird.

Quality Road didn’t fire his best shot but he was a solid play against in this race. There was no way to be sure he wanted the distance without a two-turn prep, never mind off a track record effort sprinting three weeks earlier. With the fear of a bounce in the air, he had the question mark exacta nailed cold. I still believe he may be the best male horse in the division, but Pletcher had to play catch-up to get him in the race. Not to be overly dramatic about a horse that may or may not have liked the wet going, but sometimes I wish horses were prepped and raced on their terms, not based on the stakes calendar. The horse could have used a race at a shorter route distance before diving into the 10-furlong deep end. He could have prepped for the prestigious G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, but perhaps he’ll be a candidate for that anyways. I hope he stays sound and willing.

Charitable Man confirmed my belief that he is an overrated G3 type.

Kensei laid the big egg, but I’m inclined to give him a mulligan here for a variety of reasons.


The Birdie Ran a monster race, but there is no reason to believe Rachel wouldn’t have won the Travers. She was 6 lengths better than him 3 weeks prior and she would have likely been about 3-4 better then him on Saturday.

Some wanted her in the Travers, but I think her entry in the Woodward, against older males, is way more intriguing than anything against her own division. Also, I think people are overlooking just how difficult it is for any 3yo to beat their elders, much less 3yo filly doing so against older males.

No filly has ever won the event and that race will be must see TV.

Haskin wrote a great article about the race here.

G1 Kings Bishop

Congrats to Capt. Candyman Can. He is a tough, consistent horse. I’ve never really been a big fan of him and ultimately the race doesn’t really change much of my opinion of his ability, but whenever you win the division’s signature sprint race, you deserve a tip of the hat. At the end of the day I don’t believe he is better than either Munnings or Big Drama around one turn and you have to figure Vineyard Haven, who reappeared after a vanishing act in Dubai, is the more dynamic individual as well. With that said, he is tough and consistent and you tend to find your way in to the winner’s circle more often than not when you can repeatedly show up regardless of the track or conditions.

Its taken the Sheik a year but it seems like he might, just maybe, have Vineyard Haven in the same form he was before they bought him and trotted him halfway across the globe last year. It’s nice to see the big grey back on his native soil showing a pulse.

Munnings never fired, but he had a somewhat similar issue as Quality Road, but in reverse. In some ways I can understand trying to stretch the horse out, but I never understood why they chose to do so in a race like the Haskell, which had the best horse in training (Rachel) and the best active 3yo male (Summer Bird) How that was a legit option with the idea of falling back to the Kings Bishop is beyond me. Horses are creatures of habit and they shook this colt up too soon. I’m not saying he lost the Bishop because of the Haskell, but it is certainly a valid talking point. I always cringe when a trainer or owner talks about “taking a shot”. That is generally code for “willing to sacrifice my horses form on a foolish gamble”. I like to see a horse take a shot in the Breeders Cup or a signature event like the Triple Crown or Dubai World Cup, but the Haskell against the best horses in the country, when your horses will be the favorite in the only G1 sprint of the year? Come on.

I said after the Preakness I was afraid that the connections of Big Drama would not make up their minds as to what type of horse they wanted Big Drama to be. My fears have come true. He’s similar to Munnings, except he’s been jerked around all year, not just a single race. It was incredibly obvious the horse was a miler type when it came to routing and why they’ve elected to run him in second-class route races at second-tier tracks en route to a G1 sprint is beyond me. Horses like him only highlight the fact that humans are just as eligible to get in a good horses way as aide them.

The Kings Bishop is not a fall back race and should not be treated as such. When you have a horse that loves to sprint, keep them sprinting until the penultimate sprint, then get cute or experimental.

Tomorrow I will update the 3yo Top Ten

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Sound Of Silence

I'd like to apologize for my absence in this space the last week or so. I've had a hectic week on the work front that drastically reduced my free time to post.

Things should get back to normal this week and I will go back and recap everything that's happened since the last post.


The Rail Tout

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Saratoga (Weekend) Wrap Up

Sorry for the delays. Quite busy times at work and not nearly enough hours in the day to obsess over racing in this space.

Saratoga 2009

Had a disastrous Saturday with both of my picks (Heart Ashley and Smooth Air) finishing off the board. They were my first picks to not finish in the money and they destroyed the minor profits I was pulling for the meet. I'm down $3.80 for the meet now. Again, for those wishing to see my picks for the meet and their performance in spreadsheet format, click here.

G1 Clement Hirsch

With each race I am more and more convinced Zenyatta needs to stay away from the BC Classic and any race involving Rachel Alexandra. She'd be well beaten in either spot.

Next graded stakes at the Spa is Friday so I'll be back tomorrow with the pick.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Saratoga Saturday (Day 10)

G1 Test

Its hard for me to lean either way between First Passage and Heart Ashley. First Passage has won her last three and is coming in off her career best effort and Heart Ashley had won three straight before a less than stellar performance in the Prioress.

Tough race and a tough one to pick with so many good options but perhaps foolishly I'll take Heart Ashley because she'll be overlooked at the windows after the last start.

G1 Whitney

This is a rather bland edition of what is typically one of the best older horse races of the year. With that said its got a great story as the old man Commentator (8yo) comes back again looking for his thrid win in this prestigious race.

Sadly I think its safe to say he has lost a step, the question is has he lost enough to go against comfortably over a track he has made his personal punching bag for years.

He'll be over bet relative to his current form and as a result I'll look in another direction. Smooth Air has had a bad case of seconditis this year but he has a ton of back class and his speed figures stand up to anyone in the field. He'll go off at a playable 4-5/1 and I think thats fair here and he's my pick.

Dry Martini is the horse that scares me. He is hot and has the figures to win off the last race, but I'm banking his true class will show here as he has not been on the level with this until his upset in in the Suburban.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Catching Up

We have a few dead days on the “pick” front, with the next graded stake at the Spa on Saturday. That gives me the time catch up on a few stories and some items I've overlooked during the hectic opening weekend.

Del Mar Breakdowns

Del Mar had a rash of breakdowns to start the meet and has prompted many trainers to question the condition of the track, which does not seem to play with any consistency.

This again brings up the debate of the value of synthetic tracks. They were sold as the cure to many of racings ills yet a basic look at the facts says they haven't lived up to the hype. Kentucky Horse Racing Medical Director Mary Scollay said while the switch to synthetic tracks did indeed reduce breakdowns initially, though most figures have now risen back to previous numbers.

The question is, if the synthetic track is not definitively safer than dirt, what is the point?

New Time For The Amsterdam

The time for Quality Road's track record performance in the Amsterdam on Monday was changed today. It is still a track record but the time was changed from 1:13.45 to 1:13.74

Either way Quality Road is a brilliant horse. Hopefully he can stay together physically for the remainder of the year. He is special.

Graded Stakes Committee Gets Its Right.... For Once

The American Graded Stakes Committee, which has failed to reign in the expansion of meaningless graded stakes races in America finally made a good move today, downgrading the previously ranked G2 Lake George at Saratoga to a G3 since it was taken of the dirt. The field was littered with scratches after the rain Saratoga received all week(end) and the race became substantially less relevant.

You have to feel for the connections who thought they were getting G2 placings, but this was the right call.

Too bad the stakes committee can't substantially reduce the amount of races that get graded status each year, which would increase competition and curb the ducking and dodging that plagues the sport.

Moss Gets A Pass

Its quite interesting that Jess Jackson has been the target of a lot of attacks since he has refused to send his filly Rachel Alexandra out west for the Breeders Cup, nixing the possibility for the monumental showdown with the unbeaten Zenyatta.

The forgotten aspect of the situation is Jerry Moss and his 2009 campaign with Zenyatta. While Jackson has been attacked for refusing to run his filly over a synthetic track, Zenyatta has been in one of the most underwhelming campaigns by an undefeated champion ever. Zenyatta took half the season off only to come back and beat up on the same weak California contingent she did last year. If any horse has been handled with the kid gloves its Zenyatta and you can argue that this weak campaign has actually hindered her longterm standing. Rachel has been campaigned so aggressively that she has actually stamped herself in the eyes of many as the greatest filly to ever grace a N.A. racetrack. Zenyatta on the other hand, as an older horse, has been in a campaign that has done nothing to improve her standing.

So the question is who should bend and make this race happen? I think its Jerry Moss that should be under pressure to make the race. The BC Distaff means absolutely nothing in comparison to a match up with Rachel. If he really wanted to prove something with his mare he wouldn't need to use the BC as a crutch. He has a mare that is two years older than Rachel. A fully developed running machine that has had the benefit of a soft schedule. What more advantage does he want?

If this race never happens, many will wrongly blame Jackson, but as the old saying goes, “it takes two to tango.” Rachel's standing in the sport will largely be unaffected if this matchup never happens. The question is, what will history say of Zenyatta after a soft schedule that didn't involve a meaningful race against the boys or the rising star within her own gender?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Quality Road Smashes Record

Quality Road destroyed a track record Monday at Saratoga while taking the G2 Amsterdam. After stumbling at the break the colt tracked in 4th early before making his bid around the turn. He took control at the top of the lane a made a sustained bid to the wire nearly lowering the track record for 6 1/2 furlongs by a second.

If there is a 3yo in training that can test Rachel Alexandra, Quality Road is the one.

It will be interesting to see what Pletcher decides to do with the colt next. The Travers 20 days after a performance like this might not be ideal, but if Rachel doesn't show up for the race he has to feel his B-game is enough to get it done.

My complete results for the Saratoga meet can be seen here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Move Over Ruffian (G1 Haskell)

Rachel Alexandra worked over a talented field of seven to run off with the G1 Haskell Sunday in near track record time. In the process she stamped herself as arguably the greatest filly the sport has ever seen.

In both of her starts against the boys the pace has been brutal. Sunday the early fractions were 22.4, 46.2 and 1:09.4. To be clear, 1:09 wins graded stakes races sprinting. The phenomenal thing about Rachel is the fractions don't bother her. Its like everyone is in overdrive while she's still in cruise control.

To have so much left in the tank after that early pace was amazing.

She's a special filly.

In this sport we often have to break out the history books to read of great horses. Its common on internet forums and fan circles to wonder aloud when the next "great" will grace us. Well, that great horse is here and her name is Rachel Alexandra.

Ruffian was a great filly, but she never beat males like Rachel has twice now. Ruffian set stakes records virtually every time she ran, but she did face suspect competition. Sunday Rachel ran one-fifth off the track record and its worth noting the record was set before modern timers, where hundredths of a second are recorded. Its quite possible Rachel equaled the 31 year old record as we will not know exactly what Majestic Light ran. Rachel also destroyed a stakes record in the Mother Goose, despite gearing down the entire stretch. She's swift and she's having to break infinitely faster records than Ruffian did a quarter century ago. What also goes in her favor is how rateable she is. Ruffian knew one thing, go. Rachel can set the pace, stalk or close. Whatever Calvin asks, she does.

The only thing left for her is beating her elders. (Something Ruffian did not do)

Zenyatta vs Rachel Alexandra anyone?

Saratoga Weekend Results

Not a bad weekend, not particularly great.

Saturday was another profitable day. We're not talking massive profits, but cashing bets and grinding it out penny by penny. We had a winner and a second for a modest 32% gain.

Sunday was a tale of what might have been. The disadvantage of posting picks is there is no way to adjust on the fly. The off going made me adjust my handicapping on Sunday, but I put my picks in here on Friday while I hoped for less yielding turf. My picks here finished second and third respectively, for a 37% loss. (All picks are hypothetically played across the board)

Overall now, 6 races in, I have a 16% profit. That's modest considering the 33% win rate and 100% "in the money" rate, but such is life when you're betting chalk. I've yet to feel comfortable in a real long-shot or price, but sometimes its best (and most profitable) to not out think yourself and take easy money if it's there.

For anyone wishing to follow my my plays, you can see the full results with payouts below...

Saratoga 2009 Picks and Results

G2 Diana (RT pick:Forever Together, Finish: 1st)

G2 Jim Dandy (RT pick: Warriors Reward, Finish:2nd)

G2 Fourstardave (RT pick: Cowboy Cal, Finish:3rd)

Click For Video

G1 Go For Wand (RT pick: Miss Isella, Finish: 2nd)

Click For Video

Saratoga Day 6 (G3 Amersterdam)

Had to get this one in under the wire. Its an excellent field, headlined by the return of Quality Road. Hard to look past him in this race. He's arguably the most dynamic male 3yo whether sprinting or routing and he fired a brilliant work in preparation. Everyday Heroes is a legit horse and he is not the only one that flopped on the Belmont undercard. If Quality Road were to falter, he's the man.

I'll take Quality Road by a couple lengths.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Shocker In West Virgina Derby

Well, I thought Big Drama would beat Mine That Bird. What I did not expect was Soul Warrior to beat them all.

Soul Warrior out-staggered the field home in a fairly huge upset.

Its tough to peg Big Drama's effort. He did go a bit fast early, particularly in the second quarter. After setting a pedestrian opening quarter just under 24, he quickened the second quarter to go 46.7. That quarter lost the race. Of course its easy to point to that, but I still believe Big Drama should have finished better despite the fractions. The final time of 1:51 is crawling and I expect more from him. Early word is he'll got to the G1 Kings Bishop next at 7 furlongs. It's a good spot for him. I just hope they make up their minds on what they want to do with the horse (Sprinting or routing at middle distances) He can thrive, he just needs to be placed consistently.

Mine That Bird really ran poor. A lot has been made of Mike Smith asking him for some run on the backstretch rather than making one sweeping move. Frankly, with a final time like 1:51 he should be able to make two or three runs and still cover the distance faster than that. Mike Smith rode him like he would any horse in that type of situation (Small field, dangerous speed horse) and the horse just flattened coming home after making a mild bid. Granted this was a glorified prep for the Travers and it was over a quirky track, but you've got to believe a really elite level horse wins this race regardless of the scenario that unfolds. Soul Warrior, a horse that was eligible for Allowance conditions, didn't run like a G2 horse, he ran a allowance level race against horses that simply couldn't get it done for one reason or another.

I like Mine That Bird and the story, but he's going to have to step it up in a major way to be a threat in the Travers.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

G2 Lake George Rained Off Turf

The G2 Lake George was rained off the turf yesterday and both of my selections were scratched.

Be Fair ended up winning the race over the main track, going wire to wire in a depleted four horse field.

The forecast looks better for today, though tomorrow is iffy.

Anyone wishing to follow my complete results for Saratoga 2009 as well as look at a condensed version of my weekend picks (also discussed below) can follow my spreadsheet below.

Saratoga 2009