To Bet or Not to Bet

Jude Feld, handicapper and blogger for HRRNby Jude Feld (reprinted with permission of our friends at Horse Racing Radio Network)

When Oakland A’s catcher George Kottaras hit an important game-winning home run against the Texas Rangers in the final throes of the 2012 season, he said, “We stuck to our game plan.”

Often you hear professional golfers say, “You have to take what the course gives you.”

St. Augustine said, “Patience is the companion of wisdom.”

William Shakespeare may have just as well written, “To bet or not to bet. That is the question.”

Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup preview day at Santa Anita on Sept. 29 was the place and time to utilize all of those wise sayings.

The final Pick Four sequence included four stakes, three of them Grade 1 events. It kicked off with the Zenyatta (G1) with local favorites Include Me Out, Amani and Switch squaring off against Todd Pletcher shipper Love and Pride and Larry Jones invader Joyful Victory.

For the sake of argument, let’s say you buy the race with those five.

It could be suggested that the Rodeo Drive (G1) held the best place to single. Glen Hill Farm’s Marketing Mix held a current condition and class edge over the field. To me, the second-best filly in the race was Stormy Lucy, but she is three and although vey talented, not nearly as accomplished as the favorite.

The big race of the day was the Awesome Again (G1). Game On Dude was the heavy favorite, by virtue of his multiple Grade 1 victories and a perfect four-for-four record at The Great Race Place.

Some fans fancied one of the geriatric handicappers – Richard’s Kid and Rail Trip. Suggestive Boy, an Argentine import, had his backers as well. Really, it was all wishful thinking, as “GOD,” as he has become known, looked lengths the best on paper.

Four fillies seemed to dominate the Unzip Me Stakes, the final leg of the Pick Four.

Viva Carina had never run a bad race in three starts. She was shortening up to six and a half furlongs down the hill from a second-place finish in the Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar.

Koko Loca owned a nice turn of foot and seemed like she would like the hill. Her best U.S. race was on the turf and she was getting back on it for this race.

Stable whispers were out on Madoffwiththemoney, a winner of three of her five lifetime starts, shipping in from Golden Gate Fields, whose best Beyer speed figure had been earned on the grass.

Byrama rounded out the contention. She was a stakes winner already and had placed in two graded stakes. Jockey Rafael Bejarano was back aboard her after a three-race absence and he had won twice on her this year.

At the very minimum, your Pick Four ticket is 5 x 1 x 1 x 4 or $20 in $1.00 increments.

If Stormy Lucy or some other filly or mare worried you in the Rodeo Drive (G1), the ticket goes up to $40 and if you thought Richard’s Kid or Rail Trip might give Game On Dude a run for his money, the ticket climbs to $80.

The $1.00 winning Pick Four of Love and Pride, Marketing Mix, Game On Dude and Byrama returned $88 – Certainly far from a life changing payoff and a tremendous risk considering the need to pick four winners in-a-row.

Saturday’s card was not a great opportunity to get wealthy. It was much too chalky. Surely better opportunities await on [future race cards].

Stick to your game plan. Take what the racing secretary gives you. Be patient and save your money for the days when you can make a big score.

You never want to bet a lot to win a little. The idea is to bet a little to win a lot.

Rollingwiththetide

by Jude Feld, (reprinted with permission of our friends at Horse Racing Radio Network)

Jude Feld, handicapper and blogger for HRRNI just had one of the best winning streaks of my life. Several factors contributed to the rarified air I was breathing, most importantly the weather, which was about as spectacular as one could imagine during upstate New York and Chicago summers. Focused handicapping and solid betting also played their part. It is never a bad thing when you get to know your mutuel clerk on a first name basis.

When The Silver Machine ($68.50) wired her field on the inner turf course at Saratoga on August 2, I was very pleased, but I had no idea her victory would be the start of a month of horseplaying bliss.

On Whitney (G1) day I was unconscious, nailing Julie’s Love ($10.20), Emma’s Encore ($12.40) and Fort Larned ($16.40) in three straight races and picking up the late Pick Four in the process.

Later on the trip, trainer Merrill Scherer went on a mini winning streak, saddling three winners in a 24-hour period and I bet on all of them – Do I Do ($16.20), Nubin Ridge ($10.60) and Megalith ($10.00).

Leaving the Spa after the Hall of Fame inductions on Friday was bittersweet. I wanted to get home and see my wife, but I didn’t want this winning streak to come to an end.

After five days home, and no past performance studying, it was off to Chicago for the Arlington Million.

I picked up at Arlington where I left off in Saratoga, nailing the late Pick Four on Thursday. Oh wait, the objection sign is on the board.

After a lengthy review, the stewards allowed the claim of foul and my ticket was no good. I felt the incident nearing the wire had no bearing on the outcome, but they didn’t ask me.

Circumstances coupled with the dubious decision from the steward’s stand kept me away from the windows on Friday, but I was back in full force for the Million day Pick Five.

Alastair Donald was in love with Jakkalberry ($5.20) in the new American St. Leger race that Arlington had developed. He is the director of the International Racing Bureau and a man whose opinion I highly respect, so I singled.

I loved Bayrir ($8.40) in the Secretariat (G1), figuring he would get the perfect trip behind the two speedy favorites. When Dave Zenner, the Senior Manager of Communications at Arlington Park, came on our Equine Forum show Saturday morning, he commented that Bayrir had looked better and trained better than any Euro he had seen all week. Another single.

Spreading the third and fourth legs, I caught the favorite in the Hatoof Stakes, Leading Astray ($6.80) and I’m a Dreamer ($14.60) in the Beverly D. (G1).

Little Mike, Crackerjack King and Boisterous were my top contenders in the Arlington Million (G1) and I was not shocked to see Little Mike ($9.80) go wire-to-wire. He is an amazing horse and was no doubt short-changed by the European bettors in the wagering, as the Pick Five returned $1633.40 for half a buck – nearly a grand more than the parlay price.

Back to the Spa the following Tuesday, it was more of the same. Hitting Pick Fours never gets old, even if they are somewhat chalky. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I was still en fuego, with Horses to Watch lister Central Banker ($7.80), inside to outside turf sprinter Madame Giry ($7.20) and Sally’s Dream ($19.60) anchoring key plays.

Then Saturday it happened.

Unbridled’s Note was the victim of a horrid trip in the King’s Bishop (G1). He should have been posing for pictures and I should have had a massive Pick Four, but Julien Leparoux took care of that, finding more trouble than Snooki on a Saturday night.

To make matters worse, “the Leper,” as my nephew has affectionately dubbed him, nails my Pick Three single, Rollingwiththetide, in the finale, costing me a $4,000 payday.

I knew it. The crimson tide told the story. This roll was over.

Weighing In

by Jude Feld (reprinted with permission from our friends at Horse Racing Radio Network)

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerI was standing near the customer service booth adjacent to the paddock at Gulfstream Thursday afternoon when a large man with a big personality approached. Although I was attired more like a beach bum than a Gulfstream employee, I think the fellow was under the impression that I manned the booth.

“Can I ask you a question?” he said.

“Sure,” I replied. “Fire away.”

“Why don’t the jockeys weigh out in front of the public here? I’m from New York and I can watch the jockeys weigh out right in front of me. Here, I don’t know if the jockey that I bet on carried more weight than it says in the program.”

“I think the main reason is that not too many people care about weight anymore,” I said. “It has really become an afterthought to the bulk of handicappers in the United States. It is a handicapping factor that American players don’t consider much.”

“Well I consider it”, he said. “And I would like to see them weigh out. I’m not a schmuck. I wanna know the game is on the level.”

“I’m sure the game is on the level,” I replied, knowing that I was now representing Gulfstream Park, albeit unofficially. “They weigh out in the jock’s room here and the Clerk of Scales is very astute. I’m sure he has the public’s interest at heart. “

The guy seemed somewhat satisfied, thanked me and headed off to the hot dog cart.

Sunday, I was the guest of Gulfstream Park’s house handicapper, Ron Nicoletti, on his paddock handicapping show, so I had spent considerable time Saturday night and Sunday morning reading the Form.

My marathon ratings had come up with two horses with a big figure advantage over the Mac Diarmida (G3) field, Musketier and Simmard. Both were trained by Roger Attfield and although it was obvious looking at their charts that he tried to keep them apart, the few occasions they competed against one another, Musketier had proved the better of the two every time.

Now 10-years-old, Musketier had narrowly defeated Simmard, now seven, in their last start, the William L. McKnight Handicap (G2) at Calder Race Course, on November 26, 2011. Musketier had shouldered 121 pounds that day, with Simmard in at 116.

Musketier was asked to shoulder 123 pounds in the Mac Diarmida (G3) while Simmard would carry 117, a mere one pound shift in the latter’s favor.

I called attention to this weight shift during the paddock show and made Simmard my selection. Ronnie looked at me a little strangely, as I am sure most of his guests refer to Rag numbers and Beyer speed figures, not weight shifts. They went out with the ark.

As it always happens in handicapping articles, Simmard won the race. Did the one pound make the difference? Who really knows?

Simmard had youth, a lighter impost and slightly better odds on his side, so that is the way I bet.

“The whole game is based on weight,” Bobby Frankel said to me one afternoon at Del Mar.

I have never forgotten that.

This Bud’s for You

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerby Jude Feld (reprinted with permission from our friends at Horse Racing Radio Network)

Bud Strelitz was one of the best handicappers I have ever known. His sons, Roger and Lenny, were classmates of mine at Temple City High School. Bud was a daily visitor to Santa Anita, often found reading the Form, under a shade tree, in the paddock garden near the walking ring.

Since he spent so much time at the track, Bud saw a lot of races. He had a keen eye for trips, and was a great source of information in the days when replays were not nearly as readily available as they are today.

Because the paddock was his main hang out, he also had an eye for horseflesh, although he often downplayed those skills to me, saying, “You would know better than I.”

We often compared notes on the races and although we were not always on the same horse, we had mutual respect for one another’s skills. Bud cashed on more longshots and had more big exactas than anybody I have ever known. His secret?

“I never bet a horse dropping in class.”

We were standing on the mezzanine level near the escalator at the Great Race Place when Bud said those words to me. I remember it like it was yesterday. He had just cashed an exacta for $976.

I had thought the odds-on favorite, a W.R. Johnson-owned gelding, trained by Joe Arena, who was dropping in for $10,000 off a victory for $12,500, looked too tough to bet against and I passed the race.

“Any horse can get beat,” Bud said, “Especially at this level. Nobody gives money away. I like to bet horses that are improving. If the trainer thinks they can win a bigger purse, who am I to argue?”

This was an important moment in my development as a horseplayer.

The public gravitates to class droppers and sometimes they win, but the prices are so short that they are a bad long term investment. Any time your handicapping turns you into Captain Obvious, it is probably best to keep your money in your pocket.

Always be on the lookout for the improving horse – one with speed figures on the rise or one showing better early speed or one moving up off a solid maiden victory. Jump on the bandwagon before the public catches on to them.

Whenever I am handicapping my final contenders, I always hear Bud’s soft-spoken words in my head and it helps me to focus on the best bet among them. It was just a 30-second conversation as we passed each other in the grandstand, but it turned into a lifetime of better-priced winners for me.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

by Jude Feld (reprinted with permission of our friends at Horse Racing Radio Network)

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerEvery day, Equibase, the official source for Thoroughbred racing information, publishes a “Top Carryovers” section on the home page of their website. Obviously countless horseplayers are interested in these “bonus” payoffs and the prospects of playing for what amounts to free money, lost on previous days’ races.

Gulfstream Park offers the “Rainbow Six.” Unlike the name suggests, this is not a wager exclusively for gay people and Hawaiians. It is open to everyone and only requires the player to pick six consecutive winners. There is a twist however. You get the whole pool if you possess the ONLY ticket on the winning Rainbow Six combination.

Fair Grounds has the “Black Gold 5.” Not a bet just for Steelers fans or Jed Clampett, it is a five straight winner concoction with same singular ticket payoff rule.

These bets often offer life changing pools and they are certainly preferred to playing the lottery, but to say they are tricky would be the understatement of all time.

Just think about how many times you have hit the Pick Six.

Then think of how many times you had the only ticket.

Do these wagers still interest you?

I have been a serious player since 1978. At one time, I was part of a small Pick Six syndicate that won the bet seven days in-a-row. Only once in that stretch did we have the only ticket – a $75,000 score at Los Alamitos.

Twice in my life I have had a chance at a “whole pool” life changing score in the Pick Six. Once, at Del Mar, when I was singled to a horse I was training, who was running in the last race of the day, for a $200,000 payoff – he finished third. The most painful was a $640,000 chance, when my single in the feature was scratched, and by rule, I got the post time favorite, who also finished third.

In over 30 years, my handicapping and racing luck was that good twice…and I still got beat.

I am certainly no Hindu holy man. The siren call of winning enough money to retire to a beach house in Barbados resonates in my soul almost every time I see huge carryovers. But you’ve gotta pick your spots.

Last year, at Gulfstream, I really liked three longshots in the Rainbow Six sequence. Singling those three, I used four in two races and two in the other race, purposely leaving every morning line favorite off the $32 ticket.

I had four winners and two seconds, making my ticket excellent scratch paper.

That was the only time I played the Rainbow Six in over a dozen days at Gulfstream. The other times, the pool was small or I liked too many chalky types.

Thankfully, I backed my longshots by themselves, so although my day wasn’t life changing, it was extremely lucrative. It is always nice to win when you lose.