A Profitable Idea for Trips and Trainers

Post Parade Gulfstream Park maiden race

STS at Gulfstream Park.
Copyright Agameofskill.com

by Art Parker, author of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns

Now is the time of year to pay attention to maidens, particularly what we all call the First Time Starter (FTS). It doesn’t mean you bet on them, necessarily. It is a great time to observe them especially when they become Second Time Starters (STS). The majority of unraced horses are no longer two years old. Those two year olds remind me of human teenagers; young, stupid and unpredictable. The bottom line is that more unraced horses now have enough maturity to start racing and a poor performance is not totally attributable to youth.

The overwhelming majority of those in the FTS category fall into the STS category because only a limited number of horses can win, obviously. But those that move into the STS category often have excuses due to a bad trip in their first race. If you in any way depend upon trip handicapping or believe that horses can have excuses, then these races are the ones where you have pad and pencil ready. For the next few months there will be tons of maiden races that will yield great trip information that is invaluable.

A long time ago a coach told my football team not to underestimate our opponent in the second week of the season. “Most improvement in competitors comes between their first and second games,” he said. I believe it is true in horse racing, or at least the opportunity for the most improvement is between the first and second races of a runner’s career.

If you accept the premise that the second race may demonstrate the best improvement and a horse had a rough trip in his/her first race, then you are well on your way to cashing a ticket. Maybe.

After you made the trip notes and you feel sure that a horse is going to improve then you must look in the other notes to find the icing for the cake. The other notes tell you if the trainer is good with those we call STS, and if they are, what is their normal plan of attack?

Last week I decided to rummage through all of my Keeneland files looking for those trainers good with the STS. The following very recognizable and successful names have enjoyed multiple winners with STS at Keeneland over the last few years: Rusty Arnold, Wayne Catalano, Al Stall, Jr., Eddie Kenneally, Ken McPeek, Graham Motion, Todd Pletcher, Dale Romans, Tom Proctor and Mike Stidham. I would be proud to have any of these guys train for me. But most important is understanding how these guys do it. What are the patterns to their winning second time starters?

All but two wins from all of these trainers with STS at Keeneland came after the horse was off for at least 25 days. Many of these did not run after their debut effort for at least 35-40 days. In other words, they did not rush their horses back to the track. I couldn’t help but jump in to my Woodbine file to check out the trainer, who in my opinion, is the best STS trainer in the business-Reade Baker. I noticed the same patience is exercised by Baker.

While each horse may be different, the best trainers regardless of their record with FTS, must obviously take the time to analyze, plan and determine the very best course of action with great patience for STS. An awful lot can be learned from a horse in its first race even if the trip is a clean one.

Now let’s put it all together. A FTS has a difficult trip and you have it noted, waiting for a possible play when he/she comes back. You know it is worth the note because the trainer has a good record with STS. Also, the trainer does not rush his horses. When the day comes you make sure it all adds up. And if it does, well then you have the makings of a good spot play.

And when you cash a ticket after all of this, you realize that the practice of handicapping can be worthwhile…and is a skill-based game.

The Pace Can Compromise the Best in the Field

A look at the 2013 Fountain of Youth Stakes

By Art Parker

The 2013 edition of the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park proved to be an exciting race that yielded two conclusions. The first conclusion is a confirmation that quite often the pace makes the race and even the best horse in a field is subject to disappointment when the pace is not right.

Gulfstream Park paddockMajestic Hussar popped out of the Gulfstream gate and seized the lead proving to be the quickest of several early speed types. The leader held an advantage of a length or so over the balance of the first flight, which included heavy favorite, Violence. That first flight was clearly running away from all the others in the early stages of the race. Just after Majestic Hussar posted a blistering 45 2/5 half mile you could see the others in the first flight were slipping. At that time the rider of Violence, Javier Castellano, realized that the leader may get away and he was the only one with a shot of stopping a runaway train. Castellano got busy on Violence, who confronted the leader and eventually took the lead when leaving the far turn.

The time for ¾ of a mile was an astonishing 1:08 4/5, a time that is much too hot for even the best older handicap horses, much less a 3 year old in the month of February. Castellano had no choice, in my opinion, but the move drained enough energy out of the leader where he could not hold off the fast charging winner named Orb. Even though the race did not have a speed duel on the front end, the pace made the race for a closer.

Besides confirming that pace can make a race the second conclusion is one regarding a specific horse. The most impressive horse in the race was Violence, who finished second by only a half length. The highly regard Violence turned out to be everything he was cracked up to be.  For those of you who get knee deep in handicapping the Kentucky Derby months in advance I suggest you put a ring around Violence. He was compromised about half way around and had to go all out too soon. The key element is his third quarter, which I calculated at 22 4/5 or 23 flat at worst. Violence is exceptionally well bred and probably has blue blood in his veins. A son of Medaglia d’Oro from the Gone West mare Violent Beauty, Violence is bred to run all day long. He was 3 for 3 coming into the Fountain of Youth and would still be undefeated had he not been compromised quite so much in the race.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Unfortunately, this tremendous effort from Violence took its toll.  The talented 3yo was diagnosed with a fractured sesamoid and is off the Triple Crown trail.

You Learn More When You Lose Than When You Win


Many benefits come my way in my real profession of a newspaper editor. Located in a bedroom community next to our state capital I have the luxury (or burden) of knowing many politicians and knowing the real truth about what is going on. This puts me in a position where people running for office often seek my counsel, especially those running for the first time that need of votes from my community. It is true, and don’t let anyone tell you different, that good columnists and editors of local newspapers have a colossal impact on the political landscape in this country, especially at the state and local level. But the time we have the greatest impact is with verbal communication with a candidate or one who already holds office.

I’m getting around to horse racing after this last piece of political chat so hang on. When a new comer to the political scene comes in my office and tells me he/she wants to run for a position I eventually get around to the key question. “What happens if you lose?” That is the question that starts the world turning in the other direction. They usually stammer or say “I’m not going to lose,” or something else. Never, do they say what they need to say to reflect wisdom. Eventually I get around to asking them that you may lose, especially if you run against an incumbent, so, what are you going to do then? Usually, there is no answer. Then I give them what I think is the best advice I could give anyone.

The advice applies to everything we do in life and certainly applies to politics and those that run for office. I tell them to run and don’t worry about winning. I tell them to get all involved and do everything you can to win. “But, if you lose it may be the best thing for you,” and that is when I get looks like I’m crazy. I always say, “You learn more when you lose than when you win.” It is a fact. I tell them run and don’t worry about it, just take a lot of notes. You get your name out there. You learn how to run. You may even find another office to seek besides the one you seek now. But whatever you do just remember, “You learn more when you lose than when you win.” Just ask Abe Lincoln. You look at his track record and one wonders how he was ever elected President.

Now, on to horse racing with this thought in mind. We are currently in the time of year where most everyone is in a “Derby craze.” Those who have played less than a few years are more susceptible to this mental state. The Derby craze will only get stronger the closer we get to the first Saturday in May.  So many players start reading everything about the ‘Run for the Roses’ and making decisions about this one race months away. They do not know what the weather will be on that Saturday, much less what horses will even be running. So every day that they do play, many of these horseplayers make their bets (and usually lose), but they always keep up with the Derby trail, what trainer said what, and read all about the latest hot horse, etc.

I’m glad there is much enthusiasm for our most sacred day, Kentucky Derby Day. It is a great day for racing. But that one race means so little in the grand scheme of things to the individual horseplayer.

Like many players, I spent several years at a track with my favorite bunch of “track buddies,” and pretty much every Friday, Saturday and Sunday we were together playing the horses. It was like guys that play golf together every weekend. Many of you have the same experience. One member of our group was the source of all the latest news on most everything that meant nothing at the moment. In the spring he knew just about everything about every horse that was a potential Derby runner. He would tell us all this stuff all weekend, every weekend. And he was a terrible horse player. He was a terrible “selector” and a terrible “bettor.” He was terrible. But, he was as great a fan of the game as you will ever find.

One weekend only a few races remained before quitting time rolled around and our friend leaned over to me and asked, “Hey buddy, you got a hundred I can borrow?” I looked at him and asked, “How many tickets have you cashed all weekend, maybe two or three? And last weekend it was the same, right?” He hung his head and shrugged his shoulders. I looked at him, rolled up my Racing Form and popped him in the back of the head. “If you would quit trying to be a Derby expert and try to figure out why you get your butt kicked all the time you would not need to borrow money,” I said with an authoritative, fatherly tone. I was the oldest in age and had more tenure in the game than anyone else in our group, so I guess I got by with it and no one else said anything.

Well, our friend didn’t show up for the next five weeks at the track. He wouldn’t return phone calls from anyone in the group. Some of the other guys let me know I was too tough on him. I started to feel bad. Then he showed up on a Saturday, all smiles. He sat next to me and said, “That was the best thing you could ever do for me,” which, of course, made me feel a lot better. He saved everything and probably had a thousand Racing Forms in his house and the charts to go with them. Our weak player had decided to pay attention to what he was doing. He looked at me and said, “I didn’t pay attention to my losing ways and that is why I never learned anything. I’ve started to go back and see a ton of mistakes I’ve made.”

I’m happy to say that my friend from many years ago is a fine player now. He pays attention to what he is doing, especially the losing efforts. Today, if you ask him in late April about the Derby he probably will say nothing because he is analyzing the $7,500 claiming race from Delaware Park he just lost (he doesn’t have as many of these losers as he once did) .

You learn more when you lose than when you win.  It’s one of the greatest lessons in politics, in horse racing and in life. Remembering this lesson will surely improve your effort as a horse player.

Handicapper Art Parker  — Art Parker is the author of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns.” A new edition is due out in March, 2012 and available here at AGameofSkill.com