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 Tips # 6 – Be Mentally Strong

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

Handicapping Tip of the Day # 6  — Sept. 24, 2014

Horseplayers know all too well that the game has ups and downs.  One bad decision can cost you big time, but worst yet, the outcome of that decision can lead to more bad decisions.  An example would be a player who decides to chase his losses but when he or she should just accept that today was losing day.   Tomorrow there are plenty of races to possibly play and invest your time and money.  Don’t let the outcome of one race (one bad play), one steward’s decision, one bad ride dictate the rest of your day.  Be mentally strong by thinking long term instead of in the moment.

This video went viral this week, and you’ll see why after watching this kid’s post-game inspirational speech.  I may have to watch this again before I compete in the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) this coming January!  Good stuff:

 

A Method for Attacking Races with Lightly Raced Horses

Handicapper Kelzenberg Tonyby Tony Kelzenberg, aka The Flat Bet Prophet

Not everyone likes betting on lightly raced horses in maidens or allowance races. These types of races have few horses with starts under them (in fact many races are filled with First Time Starters – a.k.a. FTS), and evaluating pedigrees of race horses can confound experienced players, much less the novice fan. Despite these challenges, I can attest I do very well playing lightly raced horses every year. I have a basic method that combines QUANTITATIVE and QUALITATIVE analysis of experienced runners and FTS.

 

Lightly raced runners – QUANTITATIVE FACTORS
(1) Trainer stats – some trainers are very successful winning with a FTS. Winning trainers will have developed a “winning pattern” to get their horses ready to win.  Most data services in the States will provide this information to punters.  A guideline I use is a trainer that can win with 14% of his FTS is a solid threat to win with a FTS in today’s race.

(2) Pedigree information – I uses Brisnet.com’s Ultimate Past Performances, and they are really effective at identifying which horses have a pedigree to “win early” in their first or second start. Using Brisnet.com’s data I can identify if a sire (father of the runner) and damsire (father of the MOTHER of the runner) both produce 14% winners or more from FTS. The higher a sire’s percentage of winners from FTS, the more likely the combination produces a quick firster. Another stat I look at is the dam (mother of the runner). If a dam has produced 50% or greater 2yo winners from 2yo starters that also implies today’s runner could be quick. Lastly, a good rule of thumb for “win early” breeding is look for a sire and damsire that both had sprinter/miler speed when they raced

2YO RACES – QUALITATIVE FACTORS

(1) Workout Pattern – To me, workout pattern of any lightly-raced runner is the key to determining the type of runner a horse is (early speed, mid-pack, or back marker), and how fit the horse in question really is.  I look at the initial work first, to see if the horse “breezed” well.  Usually a North American-trained horse makes his first breeze at three furlongs.  I want to see a decent time. A good initial breeze would be 36 3/5 or faster, but 37 1/5 would be OK. This demonstrates that the FTS has some talent. Then, the FTS should work every 6 to 7 days, leading up to race day with NO BREAKS in its work tab.  If there is a break in the work tab either the horse may be lacking in fitness or may have had a training mishap.  Lastly, I want to see some 4 furlong works in 48 seconds or faster works mixed in with some 5 furlong works for stamina.  I consider it a strong negative if a horse shows ONLY fast workouts.  Very often, these horses are hard to control and they “pull” against the exercise rider in the mornings, and it is likely they will do the same thing in the afternoons.  Ironically, these types of runners take a lot of public money, because they are “fast!”  But alas, most likely too fast to last, it seems.

There was the workout pattern for a nice 5/1 FTS winner named Anusara who won a $50,000 Maiden Claimer (all horses were up for sale from $45,000 to $50,000) going 1300m in Race 8 on May 19, 2013 at Churchill Downs.  The purse was $25,701 (maiden races where there is no claiming price run for a much higher purse – $50,000).   Anusara won by 5 and ¼ lengths.

Feb 27       3 furlongs   38.0 seconds (first career work)

Mar 7        3f             36.8 sec (Note the quick second breeze)

Mar 17       3f             36.0 sec (even faster)

Mar 26       4f             48.4 sec (very nice)

Apr 8         4f             49.6 sec (stamina work)

Apr 22       5f             62.6 sec (stamina work)

May 1        4f             48.6 sec (work out of the gate)

May 10      4f             48.0 sec (best speed work yet – also out of the gate)

In North America the Form has to include every work for lightly raced horses.  In the “olden days,” the Form only included a horse’s last four works, which would be incomplete, at best.  It is easy to see that reviewing the Anusara’s work pattern, from the START of the workout cycle, indicated she was ready to win and was a must use in the exotics.  5/1 on this kind of horse is OK, but I was able to bet some exotics that hit after Anusara won her race.  I should add that Anusara’s works were not every 6 or 7 days, so this would not be ideal.  Note Anusara was entered against claiming maidens, so it might be inferred that she needed those extra days to recover between works and/or may have some soundness issues.

The same day, I used a three year old filly, a once-raced runner named Intelyhente, who last ran November 24, 2012 at CD on the grass, showing some early dash before being beaten by 12 lengths.  Not a very auspicious debut.  The level was straight maidens – a $50,000 purse.  The pedigree was good for grass (Smart Strike out of a Boundary mare) and the price was right (8/1 on the morning line and 6/1 when she won by going “over the top”).  The race distance was 1800m.  Here was her workout pattern:

Apr 7         4f             50.0 sec (first work back)

Apr 13       4f             49.2 sec (stamina work)

Apr 20       5f             63.4 sec (stamina work)

Apr 27       4f             48.6 sec (speed work)

May 4        4f             48.0 sec (speed work)

May 14      5f             60.2 sec (speed work)

Most of the works were EXACTLY seven days apart, meaning everything was going to plan and she was fit and well.  The speed works put some speed into her.

 (2) Sales Prices – generally yearling sales prices are meaningless in trying to predict success in sprint baby races, so I would submit not using yearling prices as a benchmark. I can recall a 2yo MSW at Saratoga a few years ago where a $50,000 yearling THRASHED a $250,000 yearling. 2 year old buys, on the other hand, are extremely dangerous. Why? Because 2yo buys have another 6 to 8 months to develop, they are thoroughly vetted, and they have to work out under a STOPWATCH. Expensive 2 year old buys ($250,000 and up) almost always can run. Cheaper 2 year old buys ($50,000 to $245,000) often times can be overlooked at the windows and should be considered live animals.

(3) Number of starts – Horses that don’t break their maidens by their third start are huge under performers at the windows. They often tend to lose by narrow margins, so their odds will be low, but it is my experience you are better off with a horse making its first or second start than betting on a potential “career maiden.”

How to Quickly and Easily Identify the “Sucker” Horse – Part II

by Rich Nilsen

A few weeks ago we took a look at a horse from the barn of Chad Stewart, one of the leading trainers at Tampa Bay Downs. I detailed how this horse was an easy-to-spot “sucker” horse because she had been well bet in each of her three career starts and disappointed each time. The kicker was the second start back when her previous connections dropped her sharply in class into what should have been a winning spot, and she failed to hit the board. Once again, she was well bet and once again, she disappointed, finishing fourth.

Today we are going to look at a horse I spotted at Aqueduct while I was participating in the Horse Player World Series. At first glance, this runner looked like a formidable rival in the short field of five. SALTAMONTES had the following, very attractive attributes:

  • The five year old mare was making her third start off a layoff
  • She was dropping in class into a race with perfect conditions for her lifetime record
  • Trained by the red hot barn of Rudy Rodriguez
  • Tops on several BRIS ratings including Class
  • Getting a major rider switch to Cornelio Velasquez

For these various reasons she was listed as the 2/1 morning line favorite in race 5 at Aqueduct, February 21, 2013. Two of the seven runners had scratched, bringing the field down to five horses, and in essence, making her morning line significantly lower.

However, New York bettors are some of the sharpest around and many were not fooled by this Rudy Rodriguez class dropper.

 

Aqueduct race horse example

copyright 2013 Equibase and Brisnet.com

The mare returned from an eight-month layoff in December, and her first start back in the slop could easily be forgiven. She finished a distant 6th while earning a paltry 74 BRIS Speed Rating. But it was the next race that really held the clue that this New York-bred runner had not recovered from whatever had put her on the shelf in the first place.  Off at odds of just over 2-1, she finished a lackluster 4th in a six-horse field. Her Pace Ratings (84, 90) were significantly lower than in past races, and one could see from her running lines that she had lost her good early speed. Her final figure of 81 in that start was weak. In fact it matched the worst figure she had run in the distant past (back on Dec. 8, 2011).

So, in two starts since the return from the layoff, she had earned 74 and 81 figures, respectively. This was a mare that had cracked low to mid 90’s in three of her six prior starts. So, to say she was off-form since coming off the shelf would be an understatement.

The other red flag was the fact that she only had five total starts in the calendar year 2012. Whenever you see that, you can be assured that the horse has serious physical ailments. Horses don’t make money sitting in the barn and very few stables are charitable organizations.

result chart for Aqueduct

Chart displayed with actual PP running lines.

 Saltamontes had sucker bet written all over her, and at overlaid odds, there is no doubt that many horseplayers took the plunge on the lukewarm second choice. Once again, she failed to show any speed and she finished a terrible 4th, beaten nearly eight lengths.