Are Kentucky Derby and Oaks Points a Useful Selection Tool?

by Art Parker

In 2013 the criteria for being able to enter the Kentucky Derby was measured by graded stakes earnings accumulated during the career of a three year old. The idea was to award those that performed well in certain races known as “Derby Preps.” These races are the traditional big races in the spring when racing eyes are beginning to envision the first Saturday in May.

While this year has been quite a bit different due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Kentucky Derby points system is still the measurement used to determine who gets into the gate on September 5, the Derby Day of 2020. The actual races may have changed a bit but the point system is still the determinant.

On the Derby Leaderboard the clear favorite for the race, Tiz the Law, has 372 points after embarrassing competition in several outings this year, most notably the Travers, which was his last start.

Churchill Downs Stock UpgradedThe second horse behind the leader is Authentic, one of two Bob Baffert charges. Authentic has 200 points which puts him slightly above half of what the Tiz the Law has accumulated. Comparing the point differential from first to second in prior years tells us that Tiz the Law is in a league of his own – at least based on points. This has been the difference in other years: zero, one, 13, 16, 18, 21, and 30. The number that looks so big, 30, was Derby winner’s California Chrome’s number over Vicar’s in Trouble in 2014. By the way, only one other point’s leader that has won the Derby was in 2013, when Orb romped home on a muddy track.

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Since California Chrome no point’s leader has won the Derby. The winner in 2019, Country House, was 17th in points in a Derby we all wish to forget, except the winner’s connections. In 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify was ninth sporting only his Santa Anita Derby win. In 2017 Always Dreaming was seventh in points. In 2016 Derby winner Nyquist was second in points to eventual great Gun Runner. When American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015 he was fourth on the points list.

Should you select a Derby winner based upon on points? According to this, the answer is no, based on history. However, no other horse has held such a colossal amount of points over the competition.

The points leaderboard for the Kentucky Oaks looks similar. Swiss Skydiver has been on tour winning four major races in four different states. Her point total for the Kentucky Oaks is a whopping 450. In second is Speech with only 160 points. The difference of 290 points is hard to imagine. Like the Derby, let’s look at the point differential between the leader and second place. The only Oaks winner that led in points was Untapable in 2014. The point differential between first and second on the leaderboard has been, zero, zero, 6, 10, 19, 20, and Untapable’s 40.

In 2019 Serengeti Empress won the Oaks and was eighth on the points list. In 2018 Oaks winner Monomy Girl was second on the points list to Midnight Bisou. Abel Tasman won the Oaks in 2017 and was seventh on the points list. In 2016 Cathryn Sophia captured the Oaks while finishing sixth in the points race. Lovely Maria won the 2015 Oaks and was fifth in points. Before Untapable in 2013 Princess of Sylmar finished seventh on the points list and won the Oaks.

Like the points question asked earlier about the Derby, should you select an Oaks winner based upon on points? According to this, the answer is no, based on history. However, just like the point differential in the Derby, no other horse has held such a colossal amount of points over the competition in the Oaks.

A major consideration in the Oaks points this year is Bob Baffert’s filly, Gamine. The superstar is ninth on the points list but has raced in only one race with points – The Acorn at Belmont.

For a final, up to date listing of points for the Derby and the Oaks.

Handicapping Tip of the Day #60 – Watch ‘em and Learn

Watch ‘em and Learn, even If You Don’t Bet ‘em

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

By Art Parker

We are hitting that time of year when we see frequent two-year-old races. I don‘t care to play juveniles unless there seems to be something unusual.

For a good example of finding something unusual with a juvenile, I go back to August 2013 at Woodbine. In the first race of the day, a two-year-old debut filly by the name of Unspurned stalked a hot early pace and slipped past in mid-stretch for an impressive victory. The race at 7/8 miles had the following fractions: 22 4/5, 45 3/5, 1:10 3/5, and a final of 1:24 1/5. That seemed to be much better than average for baby fillies that time of year. I made a note about the young filly with the cool name.

The next race told me even more. Just 28 minutes later a field of three-year-old Maiden Special Weights males battle at the same distance, 7/8 miles. The fractions for the sophomore males were: 23 2/5, 46 4/5, 1:12, and a final of 1:25.

This is when Unspurned got my attention.

For the record, Unspurned went on to a very successful career with several stakes victories and ran behind the great filly and future Queen’s Plate winner, Lexie Lou, on a couple of occasions.

The boys in the other race were far from remarkable. The winner was C.C. Mobil, who finished a career with two wins from 46 starts. The second-place horse, Jobber Bill, finished his career with two wins from 34 starts.

One may not play juvenile races, but paying attention to them can be very worthwhile. Not only may one discover a good young ‘un, but it can help sort out some others.

Did you miss this Handicapping Tip of the Day?

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

 

Handicapping Tip of the Day #59 – The Off the Turf Bomber

Look for These Attributes for an Off-the-turf Winner

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

by Rich Nilsen

This is the story of how I gave my buddies a 27-1 winner that won for fun, and I think they wagered a total of $10 on her.

A few weeks back I picked up my Brisnet Past Performances for the 8th race at Gulfstream Park, an off-the-turf claimer for non-winners of two races lifetime.  First thing I did was look at the MTO (Main Track Only) runner who had drawn into the field and was now the favorite. The four year old filly had so-so early speed and just struck me as a one-paced runner, the type that makes a slow, steady late run that isn’t going to win many races…especially at Gulfstream Park.  She also showed declining speed figures for her 9% trainer.

Immediately, I was interested in who might be able to beat this vulnerable favorite.  The #2, 5, and 12 were all turf runners that had no show little-to-no ability on the main track.  Toss.

That left only the #4, 6, 11, and 13.  The #11 was a terribly slow horse for a bad trainer.  Easy toss.   The #4 had won a maiden $10,000 claimer at Tampa and this was a $25,000 2-life at Gulfstream.   She looked slow and outclassed for this level in South Florida.

That left only two possibilities if I was going to play this race.  The #6 Just A Bit Sassy had run twice on the dirt and had placed twice both times while earning decent figures.  However, she was beaten a total of 18 lengths and had failed to show much early speed.  She was being heavily bet as the second choice and I felt the risk/reward wasn’t there.

#13 Lilo’s Call, on the other hand, had gone wire to wire in her maiden win first time out at Laurel last March.  Off that start she ran a lackluster 6th on the turf (toss).  She was then well beaten in her next two starts in tough allowance races and one of those starts came in the slop.  I only needed to forgive her last start in order to make her a play.

Sometimes you just have to forgive a bad last race for no reason.  Today,  the daughter of Drosselmeyer was making her first start for her new trainer, a low profile but solid 21% trainer John Collins.  She had three solid works for the new barn, a very positive sign that she might revert to her prior good form.  Lilo’s Call was bred to love the distance and dirt, and she was already a proven, front-running winner in a one-turn mile race.  Went I looked at the toteboard on BetPTC.com I couldn’t believe my eyes.  She was 40-1.

I’m a privileged member of the LoneSpeed.com text thread, a select group of really good handicappers.  The small group of six includes superstar handicapper Dylan Donnelly (currently #1 on the NHC Tour) and wanna-be star Justin Dew.

It was 6 minutes to post and I texted my buddies about a longshot that I thought had a big shot.  Radio silence.

They broke from the gate and Lilo’s Call moved up into a perfect stalking position in third, just off the early pace setters.  At the 3/8th pole Miguel Vasquez asked and Lilo responded, cruising to the front.  From there she took command and then proceeded to just run the rest of her rivals off their feet.  She hit the wire 6 3/4 lengths in front.   The MTO favorite plodded along in second.  My phone exploded.

Chart of a longshot off the turf winner

copyright 2020 Equibase.com and Brisnet

The filly paid $57.20 win.  The congrats came in via the text thread, and double NHC qualifer Dew acknowledged that he had a few bucks on her.

Overlays like this aren’t easy to come by.  When you handicap an off the turf race, look for a horse that is proven on the dirt or has an excellent dirt pedigree.  Give the edge to runners with good early speed or strong tactical speed.  Couple that with an angle or two that makes sense, and you have the icing on the cake.   Best of luck!

Handicapping Tip of the Day #57 – Wide with Intent

“Now do you get it?” my friend asked me. “He wasn’t intending to win.”

By ART PARKER

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

One of the things I learned to do years ago with my trip handicapping was to watch for the wide running horse. A buddy of mine that followed a dozen or so trainers told me how some will prep for the winning race by telling the rider to go wide and give the horse a good public workout.

He showed me what he was talking about one day when the replays were on the track monitors about an hour before post time of the first race of the day. As the replay from yesterday’s third race began, he said, “Here it comes. Watch the number two horse.” The gelding broke well and was allowed to gradually fall back near the rear of the field. I saw the horse fall behind by about a dozen lengths. Once the horse was about a dozen lengths behind, it ran even with the field and was wide entering the stretch. He finished about ten lengths behind. “I looked at my buddy and quizzically said, “Okay?”  In other words, “so what?”

Access the Head-On Replay

That is when he told me to watch the head-on replay. There it was on the monitors. After allowing to fall gradually behind, the rider shifted his mount off the inside and was in the middle of the track and drifting wider. There was no need for that – no bias in the surface. Once he was in the clear the rider allowed the horse to keep up but away from traffic and then proceeded to maintain the same wide course in the turn, again for no reason. Once in mid-stretch, the rider asked him for a little more and the horse ran well but finished behind and well beaten.

“Now do you get it?” my friend asked me. “He wasn’t intending to win.” I responded. “But what do I do with this information?” I asked. That was when my buddy pulled out a small notebook and showed me how he recorded the effort with the horses’ names on his list of notes for that specific trainer. He explained to me this trainer would usually give his horses a race after a layoff. “If he (the trainer in question) runs one wide like this it is strictly a prep for the big effort next time out. Be looking for this horse in a couple of weeks in the same class or with a slight drop,” my friend explained.

Of course, I forgot about the lesson I should have learned that day. A couple of weeks later the horse was entered. I passed the race for one reason or another. When the race was official I noticed the winner paid nearly $20.00. About that time I heard a voice ask me, “Did you bet him?” It was my friend who reminded me that I just missed a lucrative opportunity.

From that moment on I have always remembered to make a note of any horse that looked to be running intentionally wide. It’s helped me catch some good winners over the years. Just remember, the head-on replay is what tells the tale.

Did you miss Handicapping Tip #56 – 2nd time starters

Handicapping Tip of the Day #56 – Assessing Second Timers with Changes and Trainers

Handicapper Art ParkerBy ART PARKER

If horseplayers wager on maiden races often they are faced with a tough assessment. A second-time starter that failed to graduate in ts debut offers a unique challenge to the horseplayer. There are many reasons why this situation is a challenge. Therefore, it makes sense to first find and assess any changes made for the runner’s second outing.

Even good trainers search for the right mix for a horse. What is the best distance, best equipment, best rider, best surface, etc.? This is one reason so many trainers rarely win a debut race – they are searching for answers. This is one reason I generally do not play maiden races. I really need to spot changes and answer the question of “What’s going on here?”

The 2020 Belmont Stakes will be run in June.

If I analyze a maiden race and see a field full of horses that have run five, six times or more I usually cease and move on. I look at those races like I do the horrible non-winners of two lifetime with a field of horses that can’t get to the next level and have the record to prove it. Playing the races is tough enough without having to find the best of a bad bunch. On the other hand, I generally avoid a race with debut runners simply because too many questions cannot be answered.

Changes and Trainers

So what is attention-getting in a maiden second timer?

I look for a troubled first journey, on paper, and then pull up the replay to see for myself. Watching a trip, especially on rookie runner, can tell one quite a bit.

horse racing blinkersI look for a change of equipment, especially blinkers going on. If a trainer adds blinkers to a horse it is because the horse didn’t pay attention, didn’t get into the race early enough, didn’t run straight or other reasons. When I see a blinker change on a second-timer it tells me that the connections are paying close attention to their horse. My interest elevates when I see a sizzling workout after the debut race with a blinker change.

Was the horse heavily bet in the debut? If so, then that tells me something didn’t go as planned or he was just beaten by a better horse(s). If not bet heavily it suggests that the connections may not have been expecting too much.

Of course one looks at a jockey change. If the trainer goes from an occasional rider to the stable’s money man, then that is viewed as a major plus.

Distance changes, surface changes, and medication changes tell a huge story especially if the breeding suggests it to be a smart move.

Last but not least, and probably most important, is trainer habit and history. What the trainer does well is critical. When I find a change in a second timer, I try to discover if it is a proven, successful move for this conditioner.

When examining a second-time starter first look for a change. Remember having knowledge of a trainer helps to answer any questions regarding changes.

Handicapping Tip of the Day #55 – The Only Race

A sharp trainer uses the condition book to plan the future of a horse especially when it comes to conditioning and training. However, things don’t always work out.

by Art Parker for AGameofSkill.com

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

I became friends with a trainer during my first year of playing the horses – the days when I was learning something new every day. One day I noticed he entered a horse above his usual class. After thinking he couldn’t possibly win, I decided to ask him why. I caught up with the trainer late in the day and asked him that very question after his horse finished seventh in a field of nine.

“It’s the only race I could find for him. He is fit and ready to run. That was the only thing close to where he belongs, so I entered. It looked like it would be another week or so before another race would be available, and I would rather run him and keep him in shape,” the trainer explained.

Understanding the Condition Book

That was before I learned all about a condition book. Once I got my hands on a book, I began to understand. We know that racing secretaries must write races that have a higher probability to fill and to make the races as competitive as possible. What is not possible is to have a ready-made class system that is fair to all and will provide an abundance of opportunities to all horses. Nor is it possible to have enough horses to fill all races and all races be competitive.

Understanding the Condition Book

I borrowed the words from a West Point Thoroughbreds website that best describes a condition book. “A condition book is the schedule of races for a given track during a certain period of time, usually a few weeks or a month. It is this schedule that provides a framework for trainers to develop the training regimens for their horses for this time period. While this seems straightforward, there are a number of factors that can change the timing of races. You see, just because a race is in the condition book doesn’t mean that enough horses will enter the race to warrant it being used. That is why you’ll see substitute races in the book as well. These are races that also get entries and can be used in place of another race on the card.”

A sharp trainer uses the condition book to plan the future of a horse especially when it comes to conditioning and training. However, things don’t always work out. A race perfect for one horse may not fill and a substitute race is used. When that happens a trainer that has a horse ready must find another race that fits his charge, but that is not always possible; hence, the horse may be placed in less than an ideal event.

When you examine past performances and you see an awful race last time out, don’t quickly conclude that the horse isn’t what he used to be. That last race may have been the only option for the trainer.

Great horse racing videos – the late, great Forty Niner versus two of his top rivals

Spanish Handicapping 101

Gulfstream Park host Claudia Spadaro has put together this 4:40 minute video discussing the different types of race classes.  She is the popular host of the daily Hipica TV Spanish horseracing broadcast.

Identifying the difficulty of the races with Claudia Spadaro

Handicapping Tip of the Day #54 – Risk Evaluation in Horse Racing

By Art Parker for agameofskill.com

In the financial world the “risk-return tradeoff” states that the potential return rises with an increase in risk. Individuals associate low levels of uncertainty with low potential returns, and high levels of uncertainty or risk with high potential returns. According to the risk-return tradeoff, invested money can render higher profits only if the investor will accept a higher possibility of losses.

What exactly is risk? Risk is the likelihood of an adverse event occurring within an identifiable sector, such as the private sector or government sector. Those who are risk analysts often work with forecasting professionals to minimize future negative unforeseen effects.

Profit Risk Evaluation in Horse RacingLet’s look at what happens when you go to the bank for a loan. The bank asks you to complete the application first. Why? This is the primary method by which the bank can analyze you as a risk. If the application looks good the bank orders a credit report, which is a critical way to evaluate you as a risk. If the bank then lends you the money it will tell you the terms, which is primarily the interest rate and other things. If your interest rate is lower than most, it is because you are a good risk.  If it is higher, then you are riskier to do business with. All of this is done so that the lender can expect a certain return with all risks balanced.

As far as horse racing goes, it would be unwise to select a horse in an upcoming race, regardless of the odds, without considering the risks, or what could happen to prevent the horse from entering the “Winner’s Circle.” Once the risks are analyzed it should be easier to grasp what the return should be.

How many times have we seen the lone speed horse miss the start, get squeezed or have early traffic trouble? If that lone speed horse can’t get the lead and no matter what the odds, all is lost. How many times have we seen the closer from hell become a victim of a slow pace or have traffic trouble and just can’t catch the speed?

It reminds me of a friend of mine, a very good player who loved to analyze pace. If he determined a horse was the lone speed in the race he would then look at those in the adjacent post positions. If those runners next to the lone speed have gate problems then the probability of the lone speed could be compromised. That’s very good risk analysis in our game.

In a recent piece I talked about finding the bargain horse, an effort that requires risk analysis in the overall race evaluation. A horse may be a bargain at 7-1, but if the amount of risk is excessive then 7-1 may not be enough.

Handicapping Tip of the Day # 53 – Try to love them before you bet them

By ART PARKER

It really makes no difference what handicapping method(s) you use to provide answers for who you wager on in horse racing. What’s important is how you use the answers you come up with. If you use a system and your system says bet number five (#5) then it is unwise to go and make the bet without examining the value of your wager.

I had a friend that utilized some sort of pace formula that, by his own admission, won about 30% of the time. I would shake my head at him when he whooped it up when his system horse would win at odds on. I could not get him to understand that you will lose money (even with a nice 30% strike rate) if winning wagers don’t return enough money.

John Templeton, the legendary mutual-fund manager who was a pioneer of international investing and later committed much of his fortune to scientific and religious causes, was known as the “Owl of Wall Street.” He earned a reputation for bargain-minded stock selection that consistently rewarded shareholders in his Templeton Funds family. Templeton’s number one rule was to look for and buy bargains. Learn from your mistakes was another one of his top rules.

If you have ever been to a brokerage firm you have probably seen the board flashing symbols and numbers across. As a stock is traded its most recent price is given. This is really no different than going to the track since the tote board gives you the information to determine what a horse is going for in terms of odds. If you put Templeton’s practice into horse playing the number one rule would be to bet on horses that are better than their odds; in other words look for a bargain.

Some of the best advice I ever received came years ago from one of the best horseplayers I ever knew. He had a great way to explain bargains at the track.  He once said, “If I think a horse should be 2-1 and he is on the board at 5-1, I really like him. If he goes up to 8-1 I really love him.”

Handicapping Tip of the Day #52 – Prepare for the young ‘uns

It is clear to me that more attention should be paid to Biamonte’s two year old debut runners than other first timers.

by Art Parker

Almost all tracks are down. Racing is nearly at a standstill. By this time of year most horseplayers would be researching everything they could find about the Kentucky Derby.

For us that love horse racing the best part of life is the anticipation of normal days ahead, whenever they come. But what do we do until those days arrive? The answer: Prepare for the future, collect and analyze information.

The best horseplayers I have known do not show up at the track, buy past performances and go wager. The best ones spend a great deal of time preparing, and researching, away from the track. There is never enough information for the good horseplayer.

Delaware Park walking ring, horses. June 2013. Photo by Art Parker for AGameofskill.com

copyright Art Parker & AllStarPress.com

Let’s assume that we get back to normal sometime early or mid-summer. That just happens to be the time we start to see an increase in two year old races. In my opinion races for the freshman class is another world entirely. I’ve never played many two year old races and usually avoid them – unless I see something that gives me a clear advantage.

Those that possess credible information on breeding have something of an advantage when playing two year olds. Sires that produce young speed demons are far more likely to win freshman races than those produced by sires known for late maturity and plodders.

In my opinion the most important advantage in handicapping two year olds is knowledge of trainers. Let’s face it. Different trainers excel at different things. Some are masters at a first time layoff. Others are absolute killers when it comes to a first time claim. The same holds true when it comes to winning with two year olds.

What’s important is not the winning percentage of a certain trainer move, solely. What’s also important is how well that trainer succeeds when compared to other moves and how or what does he/she actually do when winning with a move.

A good case in point about two year trainers can be found at Woodbine. Over the last ten years or so Ralph Biamonte, always one of the more successful conditioners in Toronto, has some unique history with his freshmen debut runners. Overall, Biamonte’s debut winner’s account for about 10% of his total wins. The critical piece of information is that Biamonte’s two year debut winners outnumber all other debut winners about 4-1. It is clear to me that more attention should be paid to Biamonte’s two year old debut runners than other first timers.

So what is the tip off? What is the key to these specific runners winning?

Biamonte’s two year old debut winners have their last work from the gate 80% of the time and it is usually a “hot” work. The other noticeable trainer habit is that that last work comes almost always 6-7 days prior to race day.

Naturally there are other things to consider such as the rider. Eurico Da Silva has ridden about one-half of Biamonte’s winners with a long list of riders making up the other 50%. So if DaSilva is on board a two year old debut runner meeting this description my interest escalates.

It is not always possible to do all of the research you wish to, but it is important to do what you can. One little tidbit may reveal a huge probability of success that can bring you a much larger ROI and, if so, it is worth it.

What to do now? Research the past to unlock the future. By the time we are back to normal the babies will be running. If you are going to play them be prepared by researching thoroughly.

More Handicapping Tips from agameofskill.com