Beat Saratoga! 8 Tips for Turning a Profit

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8 Tips for Turning a Profit!

UPDATED FOR 2018

Download this free guide "Beat Saratoga: 8 Tips for Turning a Profit" by AGameofSkill.com founder Rich Nilsen and play the 2018 Saratoga meet successfully.  Beating this 40-day meet with so many contentious races is no easy task, even for experienced horseplayers, but the tips in this guide will get you on track to do just that.

15-time NHC Qualifier and 7-time major contest winner Rich Nilsen walks you through the steps required to beat this prestigious race meet.   In "Beat Saratoga: 8 Tips for Turning a Profit" you'll learn:

  • What steps it takes to beat this meet successfully
  • Which jockeys and trainers dominate the Saratoga meet
  • Which 'dark horse' jockeys and trainers you need to know about.  These guys bring home the prices, and one trainer in particular is the King of Saratoga Longshots!
  • How each of the three tracks (dirt and turf) play and how this affects you as a handicapper
  • Plus .... be on the lookout for this one important trend - it occurs every year!

Fill out the short form below to claim your free report "Beat Saratoga!"  You will automatically receive an email with a link to the PDF document that you can download to any device.

8 Tips for Turning a Profit at Saratoga

Expert advice for beating the Saratoga meet

The 2018 Travers Stakes Begins in...

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Superfecta Strategies for the Kentucky Derby

The goal between now and Derby Day is to figure out how to maximize my coverage and opportunity based on the opinions I will have developed on the 20 Derby entrants.

by Justin Dew

Favorites have won the last five Kentucky Derby. In 2016, the top four betting choices ran 1-2-3-4 in order. As a bettor who likes to use the Derby as an opportunity at a life-changing score (or at least a year-making score), an edition dominated by low odds horses usually means a bad day for me. But that doesn’t have to be the case, and to my credit I feel I have learned from past mistakes.

Take 2004, for example. Smarty Jones and Lion Heart were the top two betting choices in the Kentucky Derby, and they ran 1-2 in order of favoritism. Imperialism finished 3rd at a modest 10-1. But the fourth-place finisher, Limehouse, helped to light up the tote board by contributing to a $41,000 (for $2) superfecta at odds of 41-1. The trifecta only paid $987. So let’s say you liked the two favorites to run 1-2, and then used every horse that was under 20-1 the 3rd spot, with all in 4th. As a $2 play, that’s $380 and a return of over $41,000…..with the two favorites running 1-2 in order!

Easy game, right?

Not so fast. Last year, I liked Always Dreaming as a top win candidate, but wouldn’t have had Battle of Midway or Lookin at Lee even WITH the ALL button (joke). In 2013, Orb was my top pick, and I used runner-up Golden Soul on all tickets, but didn’t match them up with the rest of the superfecta.

Thus, one of my goals for this year is to make sure I am in a position to cash a big ticket if I am right about the most likely winner and also right about a longshot who runs big. And I need to do it economically. But at the same time, how many horses can I confidently eliminate from superfecta consideration? Six? Seven? Can I trim down my selections near the top of the ticket and allow myself to use the ALL button? Do I need to just single my top pick in the 1st spot in lieu of a win bet on him, and then spread heavily underneath?

Maybe I’m looking at something like 1x13x12x11 at a cost of $1,716 (that’s one horse keyed on top over the other 13 in spots 2-4). If one of the seven horses that I eliminate from superfecta consideration runs 4th, then I guess I can just accept the fact that I didn’t deserve to cash. Or maybe the thing to do is play my top two in 1st and demand that one of my top five or six longshots runs somewhere in the 2nd and 3rd spots, with the other logical horses in there as well. So, something like this:

1st: Top two horses
2nd: Top six longshots
3rd: Top seven overall (including the top two)
4th: Top seven plus top six longshots

So that’s 2x6x6x10, for a cost of $720. And then I play it with longshots only in 2nd and 3rd at a cost of $600, followed by using the top seven in 2nd with just the longshots in 3rd for another $720.

So overall, I would spend more on the superfecta that way, but I’d have my top two on top instead of just a single horse. And in exchange for having that extra coverage on top, I must have at least one of my longshots run 2nd or 3rd, with a big payday coming my way if I’m right about the winner and the non-super-contenders, AND I get more than one one my longshots in the 2-4 spots.

With the 1x13x12x11 approach, I could easily envision a scenario where I hit the superfecta but lose money. See: 2016. But with the “demand a longshot” approach, my top pick could win, spots 2-3 could be filled by logical horses, one of my longshots could run 4th, and I lose. Again, that’s the price (in this example) of using two horses on top.

Or…maybe I try this…..

Use my top two in first, trim it down to three longshots, and leverage the ALL button.

1st: Top two horses
2nd: Top three longshots
3rd: Top seven overall
4th: ALL

That would run me $612, plus another $612 when I move the longshots into 3rd and the top seven into 2nd, plus another $510 when I play it this way….

1st: Top two horses
2nd: Top three longshots
3rd: Top six longshots
4th: ALL

The $510 play gives me a big score if my longshots run 2nd and 3rd, with some extra coverage in 3rd.

I am not after bragging rights. And having been very lucky in recent years to cash some very large tickets at the track, I am not excited by the prospect of winning a few thousand dollars on Derby Day. Apologies if anyone doesn’t like the way that sounds. But I don’t want to see another $75,000 superfecta pass me by.  I feel like I need to be willing to spend the money to hit it.

handicappers Dew Justin Rich Nilsen

Justin Dew (Left) and AGOS Founder Rich Nilsen (Right)

The goal between now and Derby Day is to figure out how to maximize my coverage and opportunity based on the opinions I will have developed on the 20 Derby entrants. And I am willing to use all or most of my bankroll to take a swing at that payday. Because if someone guaranteed me I could double my bankroll on the Kentucky Derby, I wouldn’t sign up.

Now, if my Derby bankroll is $2,000, and the horse I like is 12-1, maybe the thing to do is abandon the entire approach that I just spent the last hour writing about and simply bet to win.

I have a lot of thinking to do.

Who’s a 2018 Kentucky Derby Contender According to Dew

Obviously I still think he is a major threat to win the Kentucky Derby, but I am far less excited about betting on him than I was previously.

by Justin Dew

Even though there are still four hugely important Kentucky Derby prep races to be run, I have already made some key decisions about my Derby Day wagering. That’s not to say I can’t go back and change my mind later. It’s possible that the upcoming prep races will change everything. But things are definitely starting to take shape.

Gulfstream Park horse toteThere is a 0% chance that Mendelssohn makes a prominent appearance on my tickets. I don’t care that he is related to Beholder, nor do I care that he allegedly earned a huge Beyer Speed Figure in winning the UAE Derby. That racetrack was a conveyor belt, and that race had to take a lot out of him. I think he will be over-bet based on the margin of victory and the track record time. If he is a freak of nature and runs huge in Louisville, then I will tip my cap and tear up my tickets. I am definitely glad that he is coming to America, and there is no doubt that he is a very exciting racehorse. I’ll even go a step further and say that I’d like to see the Coolmore people win the Kentucky Derby someday. But Mendelssohn is a bet against for me.

How much did we really learn about Audible from his Florida Derby win? I had him ranked very high before the race, and he certainly did not disappoint. But with the insane early pace, and with Catholic Boy apparently bleeding, he almost had no choice but to win. I am clearly not going to fault him for winning, but we can expect to see much lower odds in the Kentucky Derby based on how visually impressive he was in the Florida Derby. Obviously I still think he is a major threat to win the Kentucky Derby, but I am far less excited about betting on him than I was previously.

And speaking of the Florida Derby, if Hofburg runs in the Kentucky Derby, I have a strange feeling he is going to become the wiseguy horse. Everyone will start talking about how he will love a mile and a quarter and is just learning what the racing game is all about, and how Bill Mott is the greatest trainer in history and blah blah blah. But just like Audible, Hofburg benefited from the blazing early fractions and passed a bunch of horses that were stopping and/or bleeding. I actually thought Mississippi ran a fantastic race, but I don’t think he will have enough points to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate. It sounds like Promises Fulfilled will continue on to Louisville, where I see him finishing somewhere between ninth and 16th.

Perhaps the most significant Kentucky Derby development this weekend was the announcement that McKinzie is injured and will miss his start in the Santa Anita Derby. I’ll have more to say about him later this week, but suffice it to say I was looking forward to betting against him in Kentucky also.

There are a few horses who have already made their final prep that I would like to discuss. Noble Indy doesn’t do it for me, and based on what I’m reading he doesn’t do it for many other people either. I have a feeling Jon Velazquez will end up on Audible instead of this guy. Bravazo is interesting to me. Let’s see how he trains at Churchill Downs. And Runaway Ghost didn’t look like a horse who will have trouble with the Derby distance when he won at Sunland. I can see him closing late for a big piece of the Derby pie.

handicappers Dew Justin Rich NilsenLots to look forward to this weekend. It seems as if the Blue Grass Stakes is shaping up as an absolute battle. And it will feature the horse who I think is the most likely winner of the Kentucky Derby.

 

— Editor’s Note: I got to know Justin Dew (left) when he was the official blogger for the very official Kentucky Derby website.  He’s an amazing father and fantastic gambler.  Just ask him.  He’ll tell you.  Welcome aboard, Justin!

 

Overcoming Yourself

A Plan for a Day at the Horse Races

by Rich Nilsen

You’ve arrived at the feature race, and you’re down $180 for the day. Mentally, you are frustrated from having played every race on the card, losing two costly photo finishes, and having wagered on a “too good to be true” favorite who still hasn’t finished. You’ve narrowed the feature race down to two solid horses, but lack of conviction and failure to have a positive mindset is playing havoc on your decision making.

Lookin’ Good is the favorite at 2-to-1, and Darkened Form is an enticing wager at 6-to-1. In a moment of indecision, you glance at the past performances again in hopes of finally separating the two selections. Noticing the company line from three races back, you see that Lookin’ Good defeated Darkened Form by five widening lengths. You quickly scan your eyes to the closest monitor to see that there’s only two minutes to post, meanwhile, failing to notice that Darkened Form fell on his face at the start of that particular race. The rushed decision is finalized. Your remaining $20 is played as $10 to win on Lookin’ Good and a $10 straight exacta Lookin’ Good over Darkened Form.

horses racingYou return to your seat with zero minutes to post, grasping the tickets in your hands and praying for your luck to turn around. Darkened Form breaks to a clean lead as Lookin’ Good gets shuffled back into fifth. Your second selection continues on an uncontested lead while Lookin’ Good begins to weave his way through traffic. The favorite gets stopped behind a wall of horses as Darkened Form leads the field to the top of the stretch. You realized that your worst nightmare is coming true, as the 6-1 shot opens an insurmountable lead past the eighth pole. The favorite finally gets clear and closes with a tremendous rush. The rally falls a length short of Darkened Form, who scores at juicy dds.

You wanted to stay for the last race on the card, but you’re tapped out. On your way out, you see from the monitors that Darkened Form returned $15.40 to win and the “reverse” exacta returned $42.20. Then you recall what your good friend, a disciple of proper money management, would have done in this scenario. He would have used the $20 as follows: wager $10 to win on the longer priced horse, and box a $5 exacta with the two runners. Such a bet would have returned $182.50, covering your losses for the day.

This scenario is repeated numerous times a day at every betting facility in the country and every online wagering platform. The bettor encounters a race in which he or she does not know what they will do. This is the root of many handicappers’ problems. When a betting situation occurs, they either do not know what to do, or they let recent failures dictate their wager. The result is usually devastating to the struggling horseplayer.

Do you know what you would do in a particular situation? Having a betting plan puts you far ahead of the general public. Many handicappers do not think that they have a problem with betting scenarios, but they will end up wagering on similar situations completely different.

The wagering menu available may also dictate their bets. What normally would be a win and exacta box bet becomes a trifecta bet with the “chance” at a bigger payoff. The win and exacta are forgotten. The top selection wins but the other plays fail to complete the trifecta.

Does any of this sound familiar? How often has it occurred to you that the way you bet caused you to lose the race? Every handicapper has made this mistake. Some just continue to make it everyday.

For players who feel a change is required, let’s go through the steps required to become a better bettor.

 

STEP ONE: Determine Your Level of Risk – Exactly what kind of bettor are you? Are you a $2 win bettor, a $50 win bettor, a $100 multi-race exotics player, or a combination? Know what you are and stick to it.

STEP TWO: Build a Bankroll – The answer to the first step determines the size of your bankroll. The amount you wager on a daily basis, e.g. $200, should be about 5% of your bankroll, which, in this example, would be $4,000.

STEP THREE: Discipline – Avoid spreading your daily bankroll across 10 races. Spot playing does not have to mean one bet per week. Spot playing can be $200 wagered, in aggregate, on your two or three best races of the day.

STEP FOUR: Conviction – If you have to spread your bets too thin, a common occurrence for many at the track, then the wager is not worth making. Conviction results in smart bets with the prospect of a profitable return.

STEP FIVE: Strategy – The theme of this article. You need to predetermine the type of bets you will make depending on the scenario. Nothing needs to be written in stone, but guidelines do need to be decided upon beforehand.

If you have a solid selection in the second race, are you going to play the daily double and for how much? How much will you wager on your second race selection? If there are two horses you figure can run second to your top selection, how will you play the exacta? Of course, there are hundreds of scenarios, depending on your selections and the types of wagers offered. Make a conscious decision to predetermine the type of bets you will make. Be consistent and good luck!

 

  • Rich Nilsen is the founder of AGameofSkill.com. He will be making his 14th trip to the NHC next month.

Breeders’ Cup Winners Profiles – Day One, Friday, Nov. 3, 2017

 By Craig Spencer

I have gone back and looked at the winner of each Breeders’ Cup race since 1999.  I will look at each of the races and discuss historically successful prep races and other interesting things to keep in mind as you begin to look at past performances and formulate your wagering strategies

As you read through this you will see in the tables for each race an “Angles” field.  The legend for that field is:

In 2016, the qualifiers performed quite well with 9 of the 13 winners being “qualifiers”, the exceptions being:

  • Oscar Performance who became just the second winner in the Juvenile Turf not to make their final prep start in Europe
  • Champagne Room who surprised everyone when winning the Juvenile fillies and returning $69.20 after finishing 4th in the G1 Chandelier
  • Finest City who did not run in the Thoroughbred Club of America but did come into the race off a second place finish in the G2 Finest City and a good final workout
  • Queen’s Trust did come out of a decent Group 1 performance to win the Filly and Mare Turf but the qualifying requirement is a 1st or 2nd in a Group 1 and she had finished fourth

One final preface, you may hear that foreign shippers run better when the BC is held on the East Coast due to the heat and/or the closer proximity/less travel time.  That is just not true.  7 times since 1999 the BC was held at SA, 157 horses who made their last start outside of North America raced, taking home 25 winner’s trophies (15.9%).  In the 11 years when other venues hosted the Cup there were 18 foreign winners from 173 starters (10.4%).

 

JUVENILE FILLIES

Juvenile Fillies Turf Trends:  Group 1 exiters from Foreign shippers. For North American entrants: Top 2 in a Graded Stakes last out, 60%+ top 3 finishes in their turf outs, and last raced within 5 weeks. The Miss Grillo Stakes has been a key race for North American entrants:

The US representatives have been successful the last three years after being beaten by foreign invaders in ’12-‘13.  I still wouldn’t ignore the Group 1 exiting foreign horses.

The two traditional key East Coast prep races are the Grade 3 Miss Grillo where Significant Form brought in only a win in her career debut but promptly extended her unbeaten string to two and the Grade 2 Natalma where Capla Temptress rallied to get a victory in her first North American try after winning two out of three across the pond. She was transferred to Bill Mott’s barn for the Natalma.  While in the UK she finished 3rd in her only defeat in the Group 3 Sweet Solera Stakes at Newmarket finishing a length behind Juliet Capulet who is pre-entered in this race for John Gosden and followed up her second place finish in the Sweet Solera by winning the Group 2 Shadwell Rockfell Stakes at Newmarket.  Juliet Capulet, will retain the services of Frankie Dettori and that is never a bad thing.

Of the rest of the foreign contingency, September is coming off a nose defeat in the Group 1 Bet365 Fillies Mile Stakes, but she finished nearly 4 lengths behind Happily when third in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh.  Happily followed up that victory with another victory on the Arc undercard at Chantilly when winning the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere Stakes.  The European trainers do not typically send their best over for this race.  Once again, all Group 1 exiting filly should be looked at closely even no matter where they finished.  The other foreign pre-entrants coming out of Group 1 races are Madeline and Now You’re Talking.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

Best Performance finished reasonably close to Significant Form in the Miss Grillo. Orbulation was not too far back behind Best Performance while not having the best trip in the world.

Rushing Fall is a non-qualifier that you might still consider, she rallied very impressively in both of her starts to date.  In her most recent start she was a convincing winner of the Grade 3 Jessamine at Keeneland where she ran a BRIS figure of 91, which is the tops of the pre-entered US based fillies.  In the Jessamine she rallied from 9 lengths back to win by a widening 3 lengths.

My top selection in this event is Happily who is a half to four time Group 1 winner Gleneagles  (Irish 2000 Guineas, British 2000 Guineas, St. James Place, Vincent O’Brien).

LAS VEGAS DIRT MILE

Las Vegas Dirt Mile Trends:  last raced within 6 weeks in a Grade 1 or Grade 2; a good last work is a plus.

The first five winners of this race all were 6-1 or better, the next three were a bit easier to figure.  Last year we returned to a more chaotic result.  If you are a horizontal player, I would truly suspect this race to be one in which you should consider going a bit deeper in than the others.   Only once had a horse won this race off more than a 6 week break and 6 of the 9 winners had a good last work (top 1/3rd at the distance, within 14 days of the race), so watching the workout tabs heading into the Breeders’ Cup seems like a good idea.

Dirt Mile

Pre-entrants exiting a Grade 1 or Grade 2 race within 6 weeks of BC Weekend include Cupid (4th in G1 Awesome Again), Giant Expectations (5th in the G1 SA Sprint Championship), Midnight Storm (2nd in G1 Awesome Again), Sharp Azteca (1st in G2 Kelso).

Mor Spirit last raced in June when winning the G1 Metropolitan.  His trainer, Bob Baffert, is exceptional with horses coming back off layoffs of any duration.  Practical Joke, last raced in the G1 Jerkins at Saratoga at the end of August.  His trainer, Chad Brown, has a very similar success rate as Baffert.

If one wins this race after being defeated in the Awesome Again, that horse would join the company of Albertus Maximus won the inaugural Dirt Mile after finishing third in the Goodwood, which is now known as the Awesome Again and Dakota Phone who also raced in the Goodwood prior to his success in the Dirt Mile.

I would like Mor Spirit more than I do had he had a race since early June.  If he wins I will probably not cash a ticket in this race or in any multi-race wagers involving this race.  The main horses I was interested in are racing in different spots over the big weekend.

 

JUVENILE TURF

Juvenile Turf: Foreign Shippers Reign.

The European contingent have been deadly in this race with 7 winners in the 9 Running’s (Foreign Tacks are shaded).  Four of the 7 European winners last raced at Newmarket (Hootenanny was US based, trained by Wesley Ward, but last start was across the pond).  One of the two US based winners, Pluck, didn’t make his last start in the US either, although I wouldn’t call a race at Woodbine a real foreign test.

Most of the best US talent at this stage of their 2 year-old year are still trying to make a name for themselves on the dirt so they can make a run at the Triple Crown.  The European shippers are definitely at an advantage in this race.  Not only have they been racing on turf against the best 2 year olds that Europe has to offer, they are trained over turf in the mornings and are well prepared to handle the lower rate North American talent that they will typically face.

If O’Brien brings U S Navy Flag to Del Mar, he will be the first winner of the Group 1 Darley Dewhurst, a race that has sent us two victors from horses who were not good enough to win at Newmarket but were easily good enough to win stateside.  He would be heavily favored and would be the most likely winner on Friday’s card if he makes the trip.

Top 3 finishers (either European or from at least a US based G3) include Catholic Boy (1st in G3 With Anticipation at Saratoga, which is probably a little bit too long between races to strongly consider), Flameaway (Winner of the off-the turf G3 Bourbon), Hemp Hemp Hurray (2nd in the G2 Summer Stakes), James Garfield (1st in G2 Mill Reef at Newbury), Masar (3rd in G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lugardere at Chantilly), Mendelssohn (2nd for O’Brien in the historically significant G1 Darley Dewhust at Newmarket), Nelson (2nd for O’Brien in the G2 Royal Lodge at Newmarket),  Untamed Domain (1st in the G2 Summer Stakes), Voting Control (2nd in the G3 Pilgrim), Tap Daddy (3rd in the G3 Bourbon), Tip Two Win (2nd in the G3 Tattersalls Stakes  at Newmarket), Tangled (who finished a nose behind Tip Two Win in the Tattersalls)

Pedigree information to consider:

Mendelssohn is a half to Beholder and Into Mischief, both of which did their running on the dirt.  Into Mischief’s offspring have been solid on both dirt and turf but based on that pedigree I would think they might try the Juvenile on Saturday and not the Juvenile Turf on Friday.

US Navy Flag is a full to double pre-entrant Roly Poly both being by War Front and out of the Galileo mare ($1.1M earner) Misty For Me.

Aiden O’Brien has had at least one starter in this race in each of it’s 9 running’s, after going 0 for 3 in the first 3, he has won 3 of the last 6 renditions.  Based on the strength of his stable my selection will be whichever horse he enters in this race between U S Navy Flag and Mendelssohn.  If he leaves U S Navy Flag home and runs Mendelssohn on the dirt, his third possible starter Nelson will have to be used on the ticket but likely with some others as backup.  Those would include Untamed Domain and Voting Control.

 

DISTAFF

Longines Distaff: Zenyatta and Beldame are key prep races, a race within 5 weeks is a plus, but historically either decent early or decent late pace presence is required.

In the 18 running’s of this event since 1999, we have had only two winners that last raced over 5 weeks out, however they were in two of the last three years.  I wouldn’t bet on that trend continuing but might extend the requirement a week so the Cotillion can be included as a major prep race.  With the Beldame and the Zenyatta (formerly the Lady’s Secret) providing 8 of the last 10 winners. A good last work (GLW) does not appear to be of much importance, as five of the last 10 winners did not have a “good last work.”

Either a decent early pace presence or the best late pace ability seems to be a requirement with Pleasant Home and Unbridled Elaine being the only victors to not meet one of those requirements.  The last 5 had shown decent early pace presence, with Life is Sweet, Zenyatta and Ginger Punch all being monsters in the final stages of the event.

Distaff profile

Elate’s last two victories were extremely impressive to see.  Her win in the G1 Beldame paired the same figure with her Alabama and is the best BRIS figure given to any horse in this race this year. She should be a pretty low priced favorite and not one that I would leave off any horizontal wagers I made.

Forever Unbridled is a sneaky horse in this race, as she is the late pace presence.  It’s been a while since she last raced at Saratoga when winning the G1 Personal Ensign but if the pace is hot up front and Elate is unable to get clear to get first run on the leaders or gets embroiled in the pace duel, don’t be shocked if she is able to rally at a good price.  If the layoff doesn’t get the better of her, she will be picking up some of the pieces late.  Don’t leave her out of your exacta’s and trifecta’s.

Paradise Woods returned to form when romping in the G1 Zenyatta at Santa Anita.  This was after two very poor performances in the Kentucky Oaks and the Torrey Pines, which was held at Del Mar.  The real question mark with this filly is whether or not she can win anywhere but in Arcadia since she has yet to succeed in doing so.  No other participants in the Zenyatta will be running in the Distaff.

As for the other 3 year old fillies in this race, Kentucky Oaks heroin Abel Tasman got a very strange ride by Mike Smith being allowed to rally to the lead approaching the final turn before tiring from that early move.  The most interesting longshot possibility in this field is Champagne Room who has only raced twice since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile fillies last year at 33 to 1.  She ran a tiring 3rd to Unique Bella in February and then returned in September to win the Remington Park Oaks convincingly and she continues to impress in the mornings.  This year’s “Champagne Room” might indeed be Champagne Room again.

If Stellar Wind races, I think she is a play against.  She hasn’t raced since the end of July and her worktab has not been very flattering.  Sadler doesn’t usually work his horses fast, so maybe that shouldn’t be concerning, but for this type of a test I believe she needs to be working significantly quicker to be ready.

My main selection in this race is Elate with the value plays being Champagne Room and Forever Unbridled.

Craig Spencer former jockey

  • Craig Spencer is a former jockey who has ridden at numerous tracks around the country including Saratoga, Finger Lakes and Turf Paradise. The second part of Craig’s BC preview will be available later this week at agameofskill.com

 

Handicapping Tip of the Day #43 – Hard Races

by Rich Nilsen

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

On just a few select days of the year I put out a selection sheet.  It’s a way of producing some revenue for AGOS, helping many of the visitors of this site and doing so in a very affordable fashion.   This past Travers Day (2017) I did an analysis for the full card, all 13 races.  Along with pace scenarios for each race, I provide top selections and a few spot plays, which are my best bets with wagers.  Even though I missed the featured Travers, it was the type of day I would take anytime.  With 6 winners on top from 13 races, along with two out of three Spot Plays (Best Bets) scoring, I was very pleased with the results.

Unfortunately, there was one race in particular, the G1 Ballerina S. that I really messed up on and I was very disappointed in myself.  I always analyze the pace when dissecting a race, and there was clearly a lack of early speed types in this 7 furlong affair.  Given that this was a Grade 1 race for sprinters, the lack of early pace was unusual to say the least.  Races where you can’t really figure out who is going to get the lead are some of the toughest to handicap and find the winner.

I finally came to the conclusion that top gate rider and leading Saratoga jockey Jose Ortiz would put Paulassilverling on the front end, giving her an excellent chance of extending her graded stakes win streak to four races.  But therein lied the rub.  The 5yo mare had run three times this year, since April, and each and every race resulted in a gritty, close win.  She won the G1 Madison by a neck, then followed that up with another neck victory in the G1 Humana Distaff over a sloppy going.  She returned at Saratoga for trainer Chad Brown and gutted out another neck victory in the G2 Honorable Miss.

Brown didn’t work the Ghostzapper mare for 17 days after that win, but gave her two modest half-mile drills in preparation for this race.  Horses are not machines, and Paulassilverling was a prime candidate to regress off three hard races since returning as an older mare. That’s exactly what happened.  Despite a favorable pace scenario, Paulassilverling failed to get the early lead and “came up empty.”  She beat only two horses in the field of seven as the lukewarm favorite of 5/2.  Hard races, especially in succession, take its toll.

After owning horses for 10 years, one of the major things I learned is that horses are way more than the speed ratings, figs and past performances that you see in the ‘Form.’  It helps to look at them as what they are: living, breathing athletes who are affected the same way from competing that other athletes are affected.  When you add that into your handicapping, you improve your game.

Chart 2017 Ballerina Stakes

copyright 2017 Equibase Brisnet.com

Handicapping Tip of the Day #42 – Beware the Triple Drop

by Rich Nilsen

On opening day at Del Mar racetrack (July 19, 2017) top local trainer and crafty claiming horseman Peter Miller entered the 6yo gelding, Belisarius (Ire), in a $16,000 claiming race going one mile on the dirt.  On the ‘surface’ the winner of $174,659 lifetime looked like a major player. Although all his wins were on the grass (and this was on the dirt), Belisarius was making his third start off the layoff, getting a switch to a high percentage jockey, and was getting a sharp drop in class. At morning line odds of 8-1, he looked juicy … at first glance.

However, handicappers are always warned to look beyond the first glance.  With a closer look, one could see that Miller had dropped this runner in class three consecutive times since he had been moved into his barn from that of Hall of Famer Bill Mott.  His first start for Miller was an also-ran effort in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap. He then returned off a layoff, dropping sharply in class to an optional claimer, two other than.  He ran dead last in the field of six, beaten nearly 16 lengths.

He then received an sharp drop in class to a $35,000 claimer for non-winners of three races lifetime.  Off at 6-1, he defeated two horses.  So, let’s try another drop in class and a surface switch. Red flags don’t come any bigger.  Miller was desperately trying to find a spot where the once-sound horse could be competitive.  We don’t know why, but some reason this horse had soured on racing.

race horse from Peter Miller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bet down to odds of 6.10 to 1, Belisarius was never competitive en route to a fifth place finish.   Miller wasn’t done yet with the class drops.  On August 5, he ran for $8,000 at Del Mar and finished a non-competitive sixth.

Class drops are not always positive, especially when it is a series of consecutive class drops that do not result in improved performances.

Handicapping Tip of the Day #41 – Millions of Ways to Lose

Sad but True Reality for Everyone in the Horse Racing Game

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

Thirty yards out of the gate, Saturday’s $300,000 Grade I Bing Crosby Stakes [July 29, 2017] went from high expectations to high anxiety.

When 2016 Eclipse Award sprinter Drefong suddenly shot to the left at the gap where the chute meets the main track, sending Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith flying, the race was changed and so were the thoughts of fans and the connections of the horses speeding down the backstretch.

“There’s a million reasons to get beat and that was one of them,” Bob Baffert, trainer of Drefong, said Sunday morning. “He (Drefong) could just as easily have hit the rail and broken his shoulder. But everybody came out of it fine, and that’s all you can hope for.”

Drefong put himself back into the race and completed it without a rider. The 4-year-old colt’s position among the front-runners caused concern among the other riders and it affected the outcome when Drefong forced eventual runner-up Roy H. six paths wide turning into the stretch and created an inside route that Ransom the Moon and Flavien Prat took to victory.

Drefong came out of the race unharmed. Smith was checked at the track first aid station after the race and released, saying he was fine with no reports to the contrary coming from Baffert or Smith’s agent Brad Pegram on Sunday.

“I would have liked to have seen (Drefong) relax and rate himself behind horses,” Baffert said. “But he’s pretty light on his feet and he recovered and bulled his way through on the rail. He’s a competitor and he was still trying to win.”

Phil D’Amato, trainer of Ransom the Moon, was there with Baffert, observing Sunday morning workouts. D’Amato had celebrated exuberantly, just outside the winner’s circle, with his crew and owners Mark Martinez of San Antonio, Texas and Jeffrey Wilke of Omaha, Nebraska, when Ransom the Moon crossed under the wire.

But in his post-race comments he was careful to praise Prat’s skill in assessing the situation on the fly, follow behind Drefong, and be in the right spot to move inside when others were being carried out. “Hat’s off to Peter Miller’s horse (Roy H) who ran a really good race.”

Ransom the Moon came out of the race “in good order,” D’Amato said. Miller, contacted by phone at the San Luis Rey Downs training center in Bonsall, said Roy H “got clipped” in a close encounter with Drefong but the injury didn’t appear to be serious.

“I felt like we were much the best, we just got unlucky,” Miller said. “With a smooth trip, he wins by two lengths. But that’s racing.”

Miller will wait to make a decision on the next start for Roy H. D’Amato indicated that Ransom the Moon would have a race in the fall at Santa Anita and then return here for the $1.5 million TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint on November 4.

The Bing Crosby was a “Win and You’re In” challenge series qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Baffert said the Grade I, seven-furlong Forego Handicap on August 26 at Saratoga was a possibility for Drefong. The Grade II $200,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes, also at seven furlongs, is here the same day. The Pat O’Brien is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the $1 million Las Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile here on November 3.

The major stakes races of the first two Saturdays of the meeting have been upsetting, in more than one sense of the word, for Baffert. In the TVG San Diego Handicap on July 22, world leader Arrogate finished fourth and Saturdaybrought the Crosby misfortune.

But exasperation doesn’t seem to be an option for the 64-year-old Hall of Famer.

“I don’t have any control of those things,” Baffert said. “As long as everybody is OK you just shake it off, laugh it off and go on to the next one.”

Source: Del Mar

Handicapping Tip of the Day #40 – Thoroughbred Race Horses are Not Machines

See Arrogate July 22, 2017 at Del Mar.

 

Handicapping Tip #39 – Pace Makes the Race

Handicapping Tip of the Day

by Rich Nilsen

On select major days throughout the year, I offer my professional analysis of the big race, e.g. Preakness, and the undercard races at that track.   This past Saturday I did the 14 races on the Pimlico Preakness card, which is always a great day of wagering.  One of the key aspects of my report is the pace scenario analysis for each race.  If you don’t understand the expected pace of the race, it can be very difficult to select the winner or the top finishers.  How the race sets up is critical to predicting the outcome.

In turf sprints I almost always emphasize early speed, especially if it is a 5 furlong grass race.  In analyzing the pace of race #2 on Saturday (May 20, 2017) one horse jumped out to be as the lone speed.  #1A FLIGHT CREW was 20/1 on the morning line, enough to scare off many horseplayers.  After determining that he was probably the early pace setter, I needed to look at the overall early pace to determine if he could “hold on.”  Was there enough other early speed to put pressure on him at some critical early juncture of the race?  I came to the conclusion that the answer was “no.”  It looked like a moderate pace, so now I was very intrigued with this longshot and dug deeper.

Pace makes the race

He was the son of Elusive Quality, who has sired many good horses sprinting on the law, and out of a mare by Danzig (enough said).  The pedigree was certainly there.  This was only the 2nd career grass start for Flight Crew.  In his only other attempt, he pressed a fast pace (+17 +19 on the BRIS Race Shape figures) while going 1 1/16 miles on a good turf course.  Despite that, and breaking from a poor outside post, he still ended up defeating half the field, finishing 5th.   He was trained by 15% local horseman Hugh McMahon.  What else did one need to pull the trigger on a big longshot?

Pace makes the race.  Flight Crew did not get the initial lead but by the time the field hit the far turn of this turf dash, he was in complete control.  At odds of 9-1, he opened up under Katie Davis and kept the field at bay down the lane. Scores like this are very sweet indeed.

Make sure you analyze the pace of every race you wager.  It’s the first step to selecting many winners.

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