About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 17-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He cashed on the 2018 NHC Tour with a 19th overall finish. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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Here are my most recent posts

NYRA: Daily Mandatory Payout of Empire Six Wager Daily in January

the Big A race horseThe New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) announced the Empire 6 wager [Jackpot Pick-6] will offer a daily mandatory payout in the month of January commencing with Friday’s New Year’s Day card at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Featuring a $0.20 bet minimum and 20 percent takeout, the Empire 6 wager requires bettors to select the first-place finisher of the final six races of the card. The full pool, minus takeout, will be distributed to bettors who select the first-place finisher in the greatest number of races on the card.

“Our loyal community of horseplayers has continually expressed interest and support for wagers that reward the daily player with the opportunity for impressive payouts,” said Joe Longo, NYRA Director of Simulcasting. “This pilot program is designed to be responsive to those sentiments while helping NYRA to determine the future of the Empire 6.”

Aqueduct will offer 19 racing dates in January with live racing generally conducted Thursday through Sunday, with the addition of a special Monday card on January 18 for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

The first mandatory payout Empire 6 will feature on Friday’s New Year’s Day card at the Big A which is highlighted by the 151st renewal of the $150,000 Jerome, a one-turn mile for sophomores offering 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top-four finishers. First post on the nine-race card is 12:20 p.m. Eastern, with the Empire 6 set to kick off in Race 4 at 1:50 p.m.

The Empire 6 was launched in August 2019 with a jackpot provision in which the full pool would be paid out only to a single ticket selecting the first-place finisher in all six races, otherwise 75 percent of the day’s net pool would be distributed to those who selected the first-place finisher in the greatest number of races with the remainder added into a jackpot and carried to the next day’s Empire 6.

Thursday’s year-end Big A card will feature mandatory payouts of the Empire 6, Early Pick 5 and Late Pick 5 wagers, in accordance with New York State Gaming Commission rules. The Empire 6, which boasts a jackpot of $183,471, begins in Race 3 at 1:46 p.m. Eastern. First post on Thursday’s eight-race card is 12:50 p.m.

Source: NYRA Press release

Hong Racing on Friday Night from Sha Tin

Leading the Hong Kong trainers’ championship, Caspar Fownes heads to Sha Tin on New Year’s Day with conservative hopes

 By Leo Schlink for Hong Kong Jockey Club

The G3 Chinese Club Challenge Cup Handicap (1400m) – the second of two New Year’s Day features – sits as a symbolic 2020 launching pad for Hong Kong phenomenon Golden Sixty, whose progress to G1 glory was both inevitable and compelling.

The Impact of the Hong Kong International RacesThe 2021 running of the HK$3.5 million contest on Friday (1 January) will not involve Hong Kong’s highest-rated horse, but it presents opportunities for two emerging talents – Winning Dreamer and Sky Darci – to state their case against three of the 2020 crop who chased Golden Sixty home last year.

With Fat Turtle (119lb), Champion’s Way (118lb) and Ka Ying Star (133lb) returning and Frankie Lor’s unbeaten Winning Dreamer (113lb) looming, Caspar Fownes expects to accurately gauge where Sky Darci (113lb) sits ahead of the Four-Year-Old Classic Series which commences on 24 January, 2021 with the first leg, the HK$12 million Hong Kong Classic Mile.

“Sky Darci’s been going really well, but he’s dropping back to 1400m,” Fownes said, explaining the challenge facing the gelding as he chases a fourth successive win.

“Obviously he’s out of the ratings (98), with Ka Ying Star, the top horse (at 124) and he’ll end up carrying 115 with Joao (Moreira) riding two pounds overweight.

“But I still think he’s going to be competitive. He’s a good horse. He’s got draw one and he keeps progressing, so he’s probably there on a place chance.

“Obviously, Winning Dreamer looks very, very good.

 “Sky Darci’s just ticked over since his last run. This race will help him when he goes into the Classic Mile but, hopefully, he can win this race. If not, he’ll still run well because he’s that type of horse.”

Rated 52 in May, Winning Dreamer has vaulted to a mark of 102 but steps beyond 1200m for the first time. To be ridden by Vincent Ho, the son of Deep Field will jump from gate five in the eight-horse field.

The G3 Bauhinia Sprint Trophy Handicap (1000m) is the first black-type contest of 2021 and has drawn just five combatants.

Earn great cash rewards on Hong Kong racing.  Learn more here.

Fownes is optimistic Explosive Witness can acquit himself well.

“He’s a bit out of his depth there but there’s only a small field there. He’s only three points out of the handicap, so it’s not much,” the championship-leading trainer said.

“He’s a nice horse on his day. It wouldn’t surprise me if he could sneak in and pick up some prize money.

“He’s a good horse – he ran alright the other night. The race really didn’t pan out ideally for him but the run was really good.”

Explosive Witness finished sixth behind Californiadeepshot in the 1200m Class 2 at Happy Valley on 23 December after enduring a chequered run.

Holding a five-win lead over Lor in the race for the premiership, Fownes is hopeful The Rock can perform strongly in the Class 2 Chinese Banyan Handicap (1600m) with a weight drop of 16 pounds to 116 under Matthew Chadwick.

“He’s going up in class and down in weight, hopefully he can show something,” Fownes said.

Friday’s (1 January) 11-race fixture at Sha Tin kicks off at 12.30pm with the Class 4 Palm Handicap (1200m).

Sports betting front and center in Georgia legalized gambling debate

ATLANTA — Advocates for bringing legalized gambling to Georgia will be back under the Gold Dome next month, pitching the financial benefits of casinos, horse racing and sports betting together and separately.

But legislation authorizing online sports betting in the Peach State may have the best odds to advance.

“It’s the easiest one to pass,” said Georgia Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, chairman of the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee. “It clearly does not require a constitutional amendment. … It’s just a matter of us giving the [Georgia] Lottery Commission direction and authority they already have.”

Efforts going back the better part of a decade to legalize casino gambling and pari-mutuel betting on horse racing in Georgia have been unable to muster the two-thirds majorities in the state House and Senate required to approve constitutional amendments and put them on the statewide ballot…

Another Baffert Star, Charlatan Crushes ‘em in Malibu

Trainer Bob Baffert has another Horse of a Lifetime…another…this year.

“Everyone came talking about the horse Nashville, but everyone left with Charlatan on their mind. In Saturday’s fan-less opening day at Santa Anita, there was a good mixture of stars in the making, good betting fields, and longshots to make it interesting.

The feature was the Grade 1 $300,000 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs. All the talk was about Nashville, an undefeated shipper for Steve Asmussen. He wowed everyone in an undercard race on Breeders’ Cup day and most were expecting to see his greatness on Saturday…”

Handicapping Tip of the Day #64 – Red Flags on Rag Tag

Handicapping Tip of the Day

by Rich Nilsen

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

On a recent Wednesday card at Tampa Bay Downs (Dec. 9, 2020), the 2nd race of the day featured a nice field of maiden special weight runners going 6 1/2 furlongs.  The 3/2 morning line favorite in the race was the Eoin Harty-trained Rag Tag, a three year old who sported good form and superior numbers (speed figures, class ratings, BRIS Prime Power rating, etc.).  The well-bred colt from famed Calumet Farm also was coming in off a solid workout pattern.  What wasn’t there to like?

In Rag Tag’s case, quite a bit.  In his brief, nine-race career the colt had been beaten at short odds SIX times.  Three of those times he was the heavy favorite, as he was expected to be on this sunny Florida afternoon.

The most dangerous ‘Professional Maidens’ for chalk lovers (bettors who like to wager on favorites) are those that have numerous changes applied by their trainer(s) and continue to fail.  Rag Tag was a shining example:

  • He had raced at four different distances, from 4 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles.
  • He had tried the dirt, the turf, and the slop.
  • He had been ridden by six different jockeys, including top jocks Luis Saez and John Velasquez, Jr.
  • He had run with blinkers and without blinkers.
  • He had dropped in class and lost.
  • He had attempted five different racetracks.
  • He had never gained ground AND passed a horse in the stretch…ever.
  • Finally, he had raced for three different barns (Pletcher, Sisterson, and Harty)

All this in a 9-race career.  When the morning line favorite has been beaten, especially recently, at short odds, that is the first neon light to the handicapper to dig deeper.  Has this horse been in races where he or she should have won previously and didn’t?  When there is a lot of evidence pointing out that this horse is a hanger and lacks the will to win, it can open up a big opportunity for the horseplayer.  It doesn’t mean you’re going to pick the winner, but it does guarantee that you get extra value on your play(s).

Rag Tag went off at 70 cents on the dollar and was a closing 2nd to the lukewarm 2nd choice, a lightly raced Monmouth Park shipper.  He’ll got into his next race with a record of 10-0-5-1 and he’ll be heavily bet again.

Did you miss this Handicapping Tip of the Day?

Horse Racing Tip of the Day – the Fewer this the better…

Horse Racing Tip of the Day – Evaluating Layoff Horses

Striking the Balance Between Luck and Skill

Maria Konnikova:

A few years ago, I went through a period in my life where it seemed like everything that could go wrong did.

Out of nowhere, I came down with an autoimmune disorder that no one could diagnose. My grandmother, totally healthy, slipped on her way to the bathroom, and never woke up. My husband lost his job. My mom lost her job, all in a span of weeks.

We don’t really think about the importance of luck in life when things are going our way. But all it takes is a series of events totally outside our control to make it clear just how limited our agency can sometimes be.

So, what should we do? For an answer, I turned to a less-than-traditional teacher, the game of poker. And more than any experience in my life, including my Ph.D. in psychology, it has taught me both the crucial importance of skill and its limits.

Most people assume that poker is luck. It isn’t. You can win with the worst hand and lose with the best hand. Remind you of anything? In fact, it turns out the actual best hand wins only some 12 percent of the time. What happens the other 88 percent? The best hand gets outplayed by superior skill…

New! NTRA Eclipse 50 Contest

personal ensign

Personal Ensign at Saratoga. Copyright agameofskill.com

NEW CONTEST ASKS FANS TO SELECT TOP ECLIPSE AWARDS CHAMPIONS OF ALL-TIME

One Participant Will Win a Trip for Two to Lexington as Part of Celebration of 50th Eclipse Awards

LEXINGTON, Ky. (December, 2020)—The NTRA announced that voting is underway at www.NTRA.com in the NTRA Eclipse 50 Contest which asks fans to select their top 10 favorite Eclipse Awards champions, along with their favorite champion jockey and trainer, from the past 50 years.

One contest participant will be selected to win a trip for two to Lexington, Ky., and spend a day at the races at Keeneland Race Course, tour the Four Roses Bourbon Distillery and visit historic Spendthrift Farm, one of the world’s most prestigious Thoroughbred stallion farms.

The Eclipse 50 ballot consists of 10 horses, one jockey and one trainer from each of the past five decades selected by a panel consisting of media, racing historians and others. The complete list of the Eclipse 50 champion horses and individuals can be accessed here.

Fans may enter the Eclipse 50 Contest one time per valid name, e-mail address and phone number at https://www.ntra.com/fanvote/. Eclipse 50 voting will conclude on Monday, January 25. The winning entry along with the all-time top 10 equine champions, jockey and trainer will be announced on January 28 on the Eclipse Awards virtual broadcast on TVG, Racetrack Television Network and other outlets.

Each day throughout the promotional period the NTRA will release video vignettes of different Champions selected to be among the Eclipse 50 greats. Click on the following links to view the first two vignettes in the series to be released: https://www.ntra.com/eclipse50-horse1/ and https://www.ntra.com/eclipse50-horse2/.

Individuals participating on the panel that selected the Eclipse 50 and Champion trainers and jockeys were: Edward L. Bowen, Charlsie Cantey, Adam Coglianese, Irwin Cohen, Steven Crist, Dora Delgado, Tom Durkin, Bob Ehalt, Bill Finley, Tracy Gantz, Jim Gluckson, Amy Gregory, Tom Hammond, Evan Hammonds, Gregory Harbut, Steve Haskin, Charles Hayward, Jay Hovdey, Alicia Hughes, Dave Johnson, Jonathon Kinchen, Cate Masterson, Tom Law, Tim Layden, Amy Owens, Ray Paulick, Tom Pedulla, Mike Penna, Jay Privman, William (Billy) Reed, Jennie Rees, Ramiro Restrepo, Tom Robbins, Peter Rotondo, Andy Serling, Ellis Starr, Todd Schrupp, Mary Simon, Lynne Snierson, Denise Steffanus, Sonny Taylor, and Jon White.

About Eclipse Awards

The Eclipse Awards are named after the great 18th-century racehorse and foundation sire Eclipse, who began racing at age five and was undefeated in 18 starts, including eight walkovers. Eclipse sired the winners of 344 races, including three Epsom Derbies. Eclipse Awards are voted on by representatives of the NTRA, Daily Racing Form, and NTWAB.

Eclipse Awards sponsors include Spendthrift Farm, Keeneland, Roberts Communications, Four Roses Bourbon, Daily Racing Form, Breeders’ Cup, FanDuel Racing, The Stronach Group, TVG, Dean Dorton, Jackson Family Wines, Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, and Hallway Feeds.

December 9th is International Jockeys’ Championship from Hong Kong

Source: HKJC

Joao Moreira expects the LONGINES International Jockeys’ Championship to be highly competitive as a wave of class internationals head to Happy Valley

 

By Leo Schlink

 Joao Moreira predicts a galaxy of international star jockeys will swiftly adapt to Happy Valley’s unique contours as 12 of the world’s best riders vie for LONGINES International Jockeys’ Championship glory on Wednesday 9 December.

As one of four previous winners of the four-race format in this year’s contest, the 2020/21 championship-leading jockey believes Wednesday’s competition looms as one of the most even in the event’s history – a sentiment echoed by the Brazilian’s great championship rival Zac Purton.

“There’s no doubt it’s going to be a very interesting jockeys’ challenge,” Moreira said.

“It looks like the club has done a good job to share the rides to everyone else in a fair way.

“I’m actually happy with the rides I’ve got. There’s no doubt we can have some fun.

“These races are going to be very even races. From the first to the fifth horse, there won’t be much difference.

“Luck is going to play a lot of luck in this game.”

Sha Tin Hong KongAllocated Gouten Of Garo, Royal Racer, Smiling City and Cue The Music, Moreira is impressed by the depth of talent among the visiting riders as Hollie Doyle, Tom Marquand, Ryan Moore, Mickael Barzalona, Pierre-Charles Boudot and William Buick attempt to land the top prize – racing’s richest for such a competition – of HK$500,000.

 “I have no doubt local jockeys have the advantage of riding every day on the city track but don’t forget these jockeys are coming over here, they are high quality jockeys and they are able to adapt very quickly, understand and pick up from everybody, even watching replays,” Moreira said.

“I would describe Happy Valley as one of the most difficult places to adapt and get used to but I also don’t underestimate these guys that are coming because if they’ve been selected, there are no doubts they are good jockeys and they are going to get used to it quick and do the best they can on this track straight away.”

Moreira, winner of the LONGINES International Jockeys’ Championship in 2012, believes Royal Racer will acquit himself well in the Second Leg of the series, a Class 4 contest over 1650m.

“He actually won very impressively with me on last time. If he’s able to able produce what he did last time, I think he’s going to be a very hard horse to beat and I would have him as my best ride of the jockeys’ challenge,” he said.

“Most of the races on the card, particularly of the jockeys’ challenge, seem to be even and if you’re lucky enough to get a good run through, you might win with a horse that might not be one of top favorites.

“It seems like Ryan Moore, as usual, gets good rides. Boudot, also, has decent rides.”

Purton, seeking his second victory in the series after the Australian’s 2017 triumph, will partner Hey Pal, Fearless Fire, Gift Of Lifeline and Flying Bonus.

“It looks a lot more even this year,” he said.

“I don’t have the strongest rides. I have rides that can run some sort of race.

“Hopefully I can have a bit of luck there somewhere and you never know what can happen.”

 Doyle will attempt to crown a supreme 2020 with victory aboard last start Sha Tin winner Harmony N Blessed for David Hayes.

The LONGINES International Jockeys’ Championship meeting starts at Happy Valley on Wednesday 9 December with the running of the Class 5 Australia Handicap (1650m) at 6.30pm.

Allocated jockey rides
Alexis Badel (Hong Kong) – Farm Bumper, Gallant Crown, Hang’s Decision, Lucky Quality.

Mickael Barzalona (France) – Young Victory, Thunder Stomp, Savaquin, Mehboob.

Pierre-Charles Boudot (France) – Jazz Steed, Maldives, Reel Bizzy, Storm Warnings.

William Buick (Great Britain) – Happy Good Guys, Regency Master, Noble Steed, Beauty Spark.

Neil Callan (Hong Kong) – Winner’s Heart, Lady First, Lightning Steed, Meridian Genius.

Hollie Doyle (Great Britain) – Happily Friends, Universal Go Go, Sunny Lad, Harmony N Blessed.

Vincent Ho (Hong Kong) – Travel Datuk, Anonyma, Hall of Champ, What A Legend.

Tom Marquand (Great Britain) – Very Sweet Orange, Nunchuks, Surrealism, Wind N Grass.

Ryan Moore (Great Britain) – Packing Champion, Play Wise, Jolly Honour, Grateful Heart.

Joao Moreira (Hong Kong) – Gouten Of Garo, Royal Racer, Smiling City, Cue The Music.

Zac Purton (Hong Kong) – Hey Pal, Fearless Fire, Gift Of Lifeline, Flying Bonus.

Karis Teetan (Hong Kong) – Oversubscribed, Right Honourable, Helene Wisdom Star, Winston’s Lad.

Full replay: LONGINES IJC jockeys’ allocation draw ceremony

Best Way to Win a Horse Race? Mathematicians may have the answer

The best way to win a horse race? Mathematicians may have the answerAttention racehorse jockeys: Start fast, but save enough energy for a final kick. That’s the ideal strategy to win short-distance horse races, according to the first mathematical model to calculate how horses use up energy in races. The researchers say the approach could be used to identify customized pacing plans that, in theory, would optimize individual horses’ chances of winning.

Every racehorse has different capabilities. Like humans, some excel at sprinting, whereas others are marathoners. Figuring out which is which, and how to pace them, can be the difference between faltering in the final furlough and taking home the Kentucky Derby’s $1.3 million winner’s payout. Jockeys and trainers have traditionally relied on centuries of experience, data from previous races, and intuition to plan their races.

Amandine Aftalion, a mathematician at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris, thought she could add to that. Since 2013, she has been analyzing the performances of world champion runners like sprinter Usain Bolt. She’s found that short-distance runners tend to win when they start strong and gradually slow down toward the finish line. But in medium-distance races, such as the 1600-meter, runners perform …

A Brief History of Horse Racing at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds

Nate Newby Promoted to GM of Santa Anita Park

ARCADIA, Calif.  – Santa Anita Park has announced the promotion of Nate Newby to General Manager and Chris Merz to Racing Secretary. Merz adds the title to his current position of Santa Anita’s Director of Racing and will be responsible for writing the condition books for Santa Anita’s upcoming 84th season which begins on Dec. 26.

The increased responsibilities come as Santa Anita has spent the past 18 months successfully implementing industry leading health and safety protocols for horses and riders and keeping the Santa Anita racing community protected during a global pandemic.

The promotion of Newby from his current position as Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager comes as Aidan Butler, who has headed the California Operations for The Stronach Group, transitions to his new role as Chief Operating Officer of 1/ST Racing and President of 1/ST Content and will be based out of Florida. Newby has been at Santa Anita for nearly 20 years and has been the Vice President of Marketing since 2013. A hands-on horseman, Newby also is a skilled tournament director and handicapper.

Merz returned to the Santa Anita racing office in early 2020 after a stint as the Racing Secretary at the Maryland Jockey Club. His familiarity with the Santa Anita horsemen and horses dates back several years from when he served as the stakes coordinator at Santa Anita and Del Mar, and the Assistant Racing Secretary at Los Alamitos, prior to joining the Maryland Jockey Club.

“These well-deserved promotions are a reflection of the great bench strength in place at Santa Anita,” said Craig Fravel, CEO of 1/ST Racing, in making the announcement. “Both Nate and Chris helped guide Santa Anita through a very difficult time and, with Aidan now heading up our company’s East Coast operations, we are fortunate to maintain the continuity of the team.”

Steve Lym, who has served as Santa Anita’s VP-Racing since late 2018, has been appointed Senior VP for Racing Development for 1/ST Racing and will be assisting Butler in his new role