Handicapping Tip of the Day #61 – The Extended Layoff Horse

The Best Way to Discern If a Layoff Horse is Ready

By Art Parker for agameofskill.com

 

I call it the extended layoff. That’s when a horse has been away from the track for at least six months. When examining a race these horses present a problem in the selection process. Are they fit and ready to run? Why did they go on the shelf?

Derby144 workout Justify at Santa AnitaThe questions can go on forever. What about the horse than won its last race and then is nowhere to be seen for six months or more? It doesn’t make any sense. Why would you take a horse out of action if he is doing well? Did something go wrong with the horse? Those that were running well and then sidelined are even harder to figure.

A longtime ago a friend of mine told me that no matter what the reason a horse is sidelined for a half-year or longer makes no difference. What one needs to know is if the horse is ready to run now. That’s the real question.

Long Workouts or Bust

Over the years I concluded after much observation that the only way to have confidence in an extended layoff, other than the trainer be successful at long layoffs, is to demand a string of workouts that are long. I define long as five furlongs our longer. In some case good trainers will build their horse up from three furlongs to a half mile and then to five furlongs as race time nears. The question one must ask is, “Has the horse been on a planned return with a series of workouts, preferably long morning drills?”

If the answer to that question is yes then one needs to pay attention to that race entrant.

Alabama Stakes Set for August 15 at the Spa

 

The year 2020 will be the only time the Travers has been run before the Kentucky Derby and the only time The Alabama has been run before the Kentucky Oaks.

By Art Parker

Like the Travers Stakes, the Alabama Stakes is one of the great historic races held annually at Saratoga. Like the Travers it is run at 1 ¼ miles and usually one week before it. This year the Alabama will be run on August 15th, a week after the Travers due to COVID-19 rescheduling. The Alabama is restricted to three year old fillies.

walking horse through Saratoga crowdThe Alabama was first run in 1872 making it one of the oldest races for females in America and the longest continuously run stakes race for three year old fillies. The race is named in honor of William Cottrell of Alabama. The race is named in honor of the Confederate Captain who was heavily involved with thoroughbred racing and breeding before and after his service in the Civil War. When approached by the Saratoga Association in 1872 about having a race named in his honor, he declined and requested the race instead be named for his home state of Alabama. Cottrell used his activity in racing to help and mend relations between the North and the South after the Civil War.

While the Kentucky Oaks stands as the female version of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, the Alabama is the female edition of the Travers Stakes, which is open to all 3-year-olds at Saratoga.

The great filly Go For Wand set the stakes record in 1990 for the Alabama at 2:00 4/5 minutes.

Jockeys Jorge Velasquez, Jerry D. Bailey and Mike Smith have all won five Alabama Stakes.

Many great fillies have won the Alabama such as:  Elate, Songbird, Royal Delta, Silverbulletday, Heavenly Prize, Sky Beauty, Open Mind, Shuvee, Gamely, Vagrancy and Beldame to name a few.

Only four fillies and have ever won the Kentucky Oaks and the Alabama Stakes: Open Mind, Make Sail, Princess of Sylmar and Blind Luck.

The year 2020 will be the only time the Travers has been run before the Kentucky Derby and the only time The Alabama has been run before the Kentucky Oaks.

The purse for the 2020 Alabama is $600,000.

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Handicapping Tip #60 – Watch ’em and Learn

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.

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

 

Horse Racing Fans Will Talk about 2020 for a Long Time

Handicapper Art ParkerBy Art Parker

My, how the Triple Crown trail has changed. It wasn’t that long ago we had a system that was based on Graded Stakes earnings, either as a two-year-old or a three-year-old. That led us to one memorable muddy day at Churchill Downs in 2009. Mine That Bird, a gelding that came from a no-name trainer and a no-name barn, won the Kentucky Derby closing from the Heavens at 50-1. Before the race, there was only one thing anyone could relate to regarding Mine That Bird, and that was his rider Calvin Borel who wasn’t even planning to ride the virtual unknown.

So, how did Mine That Bird get into the Kentucky Derby? He won the Grey Stakes at Woodbine as a two-year-old. That’s how. The graded earnings got him high enough on the list to gain Derby entrance. Mine That Bird cost a whopping $9,500 at auction, and for the most part, he looked to be a disaster as a three-year-old. However, he made it to the Derby and won.

Shortly after Mine That Bird won the Derby a point system was devised. Since 2013 various races have been assigned point totals for the top finishers in the designated events. The points assigned to the races designated is pretty much in line with prestige and purse.

Things changed dramatically in 2020 due to the Coronavirus. With the racing season and Triple Crown turned on its head, the designated races have been juggled to accommodate a new Kentucky Derby date of September 5. Most of the usual major Derby preps will figure into the point system even though some races are yet to be run.

The last few Derby prep races in a normal year usually come as follows: (A) Four to five weeks before the Derby we have the Super Saturday with the Blue Grass (Keeneland), The Wood Memorial (Aqueduct) and the Santa Anita Derby (Santa Anita) all on the same day, and (B) the final “biggie” is the Arkansas Derby held a week later.

This year all the big races are in the books except for the Wood Memorial, which was canceled by the New York Racing Association (NYRA). The Arkansas Derby moved its date up to the usual Kentucky Derby date, and that was easy to do since Oaklawn Park was one of the few tracks running. Santa Anita was able to squeeze the Santa Derby in the first week of June. That leaves us with the Blue Grass as the last traditional biggie before the Derby.

Keeneland was able to hold the Blue Grass Stakes on July 11 after the powers-to-be managed to give Keeneland a few days for a spring meet a couple of months later than usual.

The July 11 Blue Grass leaves a long gap before the new Kentucky Derby date of September 5. It was important to do something to replace the Wood Memorial and a few other lesser races that faded into the Corona wind.

Furthermore, some additional opportunities are needed to establish contentious competitors since Bob Baffert’s duo of Nadal (retired) and Charlatan (injured) are off the trail and out of the Derby after sweeping both parts of the divided Arkansas Derby.

Churchill Downs made a smart move by establishing the July 18 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth as a major points race. Then, Churchill did the right thing and included the rich and highly prestigious Travers Stakes as the last major points race, which will be run at Saratoga August 8. The Haskell has a great tradition and history and one of the truly great three-year-old events. The Travers is right up there with the Derby itself in almost all regards.

Churchill Downs seemed to have forced NYRA’s hand when it decided to run the Derby September 5, which was just one week after the usual Travers date of the last Saturday in August. NYRA waited quite a while before the Travers date but it would have been a disaster had they run at the normal date. Either the Travers or the Derby, or most likely both, could have been damaged had the two races been only a week apart.

Not only is the Travers to be the last major points race for Kentucky Derby qualification but it will add another spicy dish to the Triple Crown Buffet. Tiz the Law could change the history books forever. After winning the shortened Belmont stakes, Tiz the Law will aim for the next biggest prize – The Travers. A victory at Saratoga positions him for about a month in between both of the remaining Triple Crown races, a schedule much easier to tolerate than the normal three races in five weeks.

Only one Triple Crown winner has also taken the Travers and that was Whirlaway in 1941. It could be called the Three Year Old Grand Slam. Some have used that moniker for American Pharoah’s feat of winning the Triple Crown and the Breeder’s Cup Classic in the same year.

And what if Tiz The Law wins the Triple Crown and the Travers, then takes the Breeder’s Cup Classic? Just what will we call that? I’m sure someone will think of something and, Tiz The Law may have more asterisks by his name than any horse in history.

Whatever happens, we will be talking about 2020 for a long, long time.

Handicapping Tip of the Day #58 – The Fewer This The Better

Fewer Negatives the Better

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

By ART PARKER

 

About forty years ago on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I sat in the old grandstand building at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. I was in the area where you had a seat without a table among many other patrons. It was shortly after noon and an older man sat down in the row in front of me and opened his Daily Racing Form to examine the races.

I couldn’t help but notice all of the markings on his Form. What I saw was quite an abundance of checkmarks in red ink. I wasn’t surprised to see notations since I, too, make notes all over my racing material. However, I was amazed at the number of markings this man made.

I couldn’t resist, A few minutes later I excused myself and asked, “Did you get the overweights in the first few races?” He responded negatively and smiled. I seized the opportunity and said, “Wow, that’s a lot of checkmarks you got there.” He laughed and said, “I’ve been doing this ever since my dad brought me to the track a long time ago. It was his way of evaluating things.”

Thank goodness I didn’t need to pry further as he simply explained, “I go through the races early in the morning and, I make a checkmark for every negative on each horse. If a horse has a lot more negatives than his competition then it helps in deciding to throw him out.”

I was staying in New Orleans that night and was planning another trip to Fair Grounds the next day. Later that night in my hotel room I was thinking about what the man had told me. At first, it didn’t seem so ingenious. However, the more I thought about it the more sensible the idea became.

I could have kicked myself for not purchasing Sunday‘s Form before I left the track that afternoon. I dashed out of the room and ran a couple of blocks to a liquor store in the French Quarter to buy Sunday’s Form. I purchased the last one sitting on the counter. Back in my hotel room I stayed up late studying the races and making checkmarks by each horse.

I had a good day the next day at Fair Grounds, and I left New Orleans thinking I made a great discovery. In reality, I just stumbled into a new way to improve my selection process.

Over the next couple of weeks, I thought about the negative notations. I realized the first good thing about doing this was that you had to be prepared before you go to the track. Playing the horses well is hard to do. It is very, very difficult. Could you imagine General George Patton leading his army without a plan and without utilizing as much information as possible? Finding the negatives of every horse requires advance study, and you can’t just show up at the track and expect to do all of that between races.

This practice also helped me understand that the best handicapping process must first separate pretenders from contenders. The best way to zero in on a winner is to dismiss those that simply have very little, or no chance to win, and, therefore, picking winners is as much the art of elimination as it is selection.

Arrogate’s Life Unjustly Confiscated

By ART PARKER

Every morning my first action is to make a cup of coffee and go to my office in my home. I turn on the idiot box (computer) to check out the most important news of the day – thoroughbred racing news.

That’s when I saw it.

Champion Arrogate was dead at age seven.

I was stunned.

How much worse can this year get? Track closings, Triple Crown schedule all fouled up, and the deaths of A.P. Indy and Forty Niner, two of our best runners and stallions over the last 35 five years. A.P. Indy and Forty Niner lived long, full lives. Arrogate was not so lucky.

Our sport is no different than other sports or other things close to our hearts. When something unwelcomed happens, it hurts. Sounds silly, right? When Mickey Mantle died, it left an empty feeling for older guys like me that grew up loving baseball. If you have been playing the horses long enough you had that emptiness in September 1989 when Secretariat died. Basketball lovers felt the same way when Kobe Bryant died earlier this year.

Our sport is filled with as much emotion as any other and that is why it is painful to lose a hero, especially if one is gone long before his time. Arrogate was one of those. The term arrogate means to claim or confiscate unjustly. That’s what happened to the horse that bore the name Arrogate. When the news broke yesterday, the vets still did not know what claimed his life. The press report I read simply said, “It is still unclear what the illness was, and a post-mortem is currently being carried out.”

I have talked to many racing fans that say Arrogate was the best they have ever seen – when he was at his best. I believe he was the best since Secretariat. His 2016 Travers win was so impressive I grabbed my wife and made her watch the replay. I told her this guy was something special. His last win came in Dubai and the way he won that race took my breath away. Gate traffic left him way behind at the start and I thought there was no way he could ever win. What I saw next was the most spectacular race I have ever seen other than Secretariat’s Belmont. He went in between and around horses and, in almost of a blink of an eye, went from almost the rear of the field to the lead. He defeated a great horse named Gun Runner by several lengths and Mike Smith was gearing him down before the wire. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I don’t know or can explain why his last three races at Del Mar were bad. Could have been the surface. It could have been that the trip to Dubai took something out of him like the trip did to Cigar in 1996. He just wasn’t the same horse he was before winning the World Cup.

The son of Unbridled’s Song leaves us with only two seasons at stud. That is a real shame and a major loss for both racing and the breed.

We all know that the great ones occasionally get beat and they all die. Sometimes the defeats and deaths just hurt a little more.

This is one of those times.

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

Handicapping Tip of the Day #55 – The Only Race

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

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 #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