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 Tip of the Day #42 – Beware the Triple Drop

by Rich Nilsen

On opening day at Del Mar racetrack (July 19, 2017) top local trainer and crafty claiming horseman Peter Miller entered the 6yo gelding, Belisarius (Ire), in a $16,000 claiming race going one mile on the dirt.  On the ‘surface’ the winner of $174,659 lifetime looked like a major player. Although all his wins were on the grass (and this was on the dirt), Belisarius was making his third start off the layoff, getting a switch to a high percentage jockey, and was getting a sharp drop in class. At morning line odds of 8-1, he looked juicy … at first glance.

However, handicappers are always warned to look beyond the first glance.  With a closer look, one could see that Miller had dropped this runner in class three consecutive times since he had been moved into his barn from that of Hall of Famer Bill Mott.  His first start for Miller was an also-ran effort in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap. He then returned off a layoff, dropping sharply in class to an optional claimer, two other than.  He ran dead last in the field of six, beaten nearly 16 lengths.

He then received an sharp drop in class to a $35,000 claimer for non-winners of three races lifetime.  Off at 6-1, he defeated two horses.  So, let’s try another drop in class and a surface switch. Red flags don’t come any bigger.  Miller was desperately trying to find a spot where the once-sound horse could be competitive.  We don’t know why, but some reason this horse had soured on racing.

race horse from Peter Miller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bet down to odds of 6.10 to 1, Belisarius was never competitive en route to a fifth place finish.   Miller wasn’t done yet with the class drops.  On August 5, he ran for $8,000 at Del Mar and finished a non-competitive sixth.

Class drops are not always positive, especially when it is a series of consecutive class drops that do not result in improved performances.

Handicapping Tip #39 – Pace Makes the Race

Handicapping Tip of the Day

by Rich Nilsen

On select major days throughout the year, I offer my professional analysis of the big race, e.g. Preakness, and the undercard races at that track.   This past Saturday I did the 14 races on the Pimlico Preakness card, which is always a great day of wagering.  One of the key aspects of my report is the pace scenario analysis for each race.  If you don’t understand the expected pace of the race, it can be very difficult to select the winner or the top finishers.  How the race sets up is critical to predicting the outcome.

In turf sprints I almost always emphasize early speed, especially if it is a 5 furlong grass race.  In analyzing the pace of race #2 on Saturday (May 20, 2017) one horse jumped out to be as the lone speed.  #1A FLIGHT CREW was 20/1 on the morning line, enough to scare off many horseplayers.  After determining that he was probably the early pace setter, I needed to look at the overall early pace to determine if he could “hold on.”  Was there enough other early speed to put pressure on him at some critical early juncture of the race?  I came to the conclusion that the answer was “no.”  It looked like a moderate pace, so now I was very intrigued with this longshot and dug deeper.

Pace makes the race

He was the son of Elusive Quality, who has sired many good horses sprinting on the law, and out of a mare by Danzig (enough said).  The pedigree was certainly there.  This was only the 2nd career grass start for Flight Crew.  In his only other attempt, he pressed a fast pace (+17 +19 on the BRIS Race Shape figures) while going 1 1/16 miles on a good turf course.  Despite that, and breaking from a poor outside post, he still ended up defeating half the field, finishing 5th.   He was trained by 15% local horseman Hugh McMahon.  What else did one need to pull the trigger on a big longshot?

Pace makes the race.  Flight Crew did not get the initial lead but by the time the field hit the far turn of this turf dash, he was in complete control.  At odds of 9-1, he opened up under Katie Davis and kept the field at bay down the lane. Scores like this are very sweet indeed.

Make sure you analyze the pace of every race you wager.  It’s the first step to selecting many winners.

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Handicapping Tip of the Day #38 – Does the Favorite Make Sense?

by Rich Nilsen

Claiming races have often been compared to poker games.  The crafty trainers are making moves and hoping that their competition guesses wrong.  Recently at Laurel Park, red hot trainer Linda Rice (43% winner on the meet) had the overwhelming favorite Cheering On Al.  On the surface and with a cursory glance, the four-year-old filly look near unbeatable.  She had been very competitive at claiming levels more than three times the price of today’s race.  But therein lied the rub.  Why in the world was she in for only a nickel ($5,000) given her recent form?  Also, why had she not run back within two or three weeks off the claim?

Laurel past performances PPs

copyright 2017 Equibase and Brisnet.com

Her last race gave a clue as to why.  Bet down to odds of 7/5 she failed to hit the board, fading quickly in the final 1/16th of a mile.  Still, the fourth place finish beaten just over four lengths was a performance that should crush today’s competition.  Right? That disappointing race, however, came for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, who is difficult to claim off of, and she had been shelved since the race in late December.  Red flags were popping up.

Does the betting favorite make sense?  If you had just claimed this filly, would run her in this spot?  You would only do so if her soundness was less than 100 percentage, and you were not happy with your $16,000 purchase.  That apparently was the case in this spot, as the connections were willing to unload her for $5,000.  She was a sucker bet at odds of 0.60 to 1, and she ran accordingly.

These opportunities don’t come along every day but they do appear frequently enough.  I just happened to be on 5-1 shot Weatherurnot, who looked like a winner in deep stretch, only to be nailed by a big longshot with improving form.

Laurel race chart

 

Handicapping Tip of the Day #34 – the Usain Bolt Lesson

Usain Bolt lessonHandicapping Tip of the Day – the Usain Bolt Lesson

by Rich Nilsen

Once again champion sprinter from Jamaica, Usain Bolt, dazzled the world with his brilliant sprinter performances.  Two Olympic Games back, he became the first sprinter in history to win gold in both the Men’s 100 meter and 200 meter races.  He did it again in London in 2012, and then he repeated the feat last week in the 2016 Rio Games.  Bolt competed in nine events over the three Olympic games, all at distances for him of 200 meters or less, and he won all nine.  For those wondering, 100 meters is equivalent to 109.36 yards.

So what lesson could Bolt give to a horse racing handicapper?  Well, it came out recently that Bolt, the fastest sprinter in the world, had never run one mile. Huh?

It’s hard enough to beat this game without making wagers with a low probability of success.

Time Story: Bolt Has Never Run a Mile

It’s hard to believe but true.  Usain Bolt has never done the thing that most American high school kids have had to do at some point in their lives. His agent, Ricky Simms, confirmed this amazing fact in a statement to the New Yorker publication.

So why would Bolt never run a mile?  Simply because it would not benefit him.  His game is all about those fast-twitch muscles involved in short-distance racing – his strength.  Usain Bolt has stuck to his strengths, not deviating away from what he does best, and the results have paid off in spades.

As handicappers we are often tempted to tackle challenges where we do not excel.  Of course there is nothing wrong with trying to improve your overall game, but too often players can get sucked into playing races, tracks or wager types, e.g. Pick 6s, where they simply are out of their element.  It’s hard enough to beat this game without making wagers with a low probability of success.  Review your recent wagering actions and determine if the Usain Bolt lesson applies to you.  I bet for many reading this, that it does.

https://youtu.be/93dC0o2aHto

 

Handicapping Tip of the Day #25 – Eyes Right

The Most Underrated Number in the PPs

By Art Parker

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

Those that have any military experience and have spent time at “drill” are familiar with a command given during a specific ceremony. During a parade when passing the reviewing stand (or something similar) the command of “Eyes right” is given so that the marching troops will momentarily look at those doing the review, usually a dignitary or high ranking officer.

West point marchers When handicapping races you need to do “Eyes right.”  In fact, eyes all the way to right. What is way over there? The number of horses in a race that is printed as a past performance. For example, when you read a specific running line, from left to right, a great deal of information is gathered, such as class, date of race, track, points of call, fractions, speed figure, etc. At the end of the running line you will see a final number and that states the number of horses in that race. This information can be critical.

Let’s say a horse shows a win in his last race at a $25,000 claiming level and he led the race at every call. Today he runs for the same price and his last race looks so impressive it easy to envision the horse as an easy winner at the same class. But upon further examination your eyes go right and see that the final number is 4. That means the field only had 4 runners and the winner only had to beat 3 others. An easy win, especially if the limited numbers of competitors had suspect class, or what if the winner was the only one with any early speed.

Another reason for “Eyes right” is that the larger the field the higher the probability of traffic trouble, especially in the turns. So often it is said the best horse in the Kentucky Derby doesn’t win, and I promise you traffic trouble is the number one reason why. If you look at a past performance line of any Derby you will see a big number to the far right. Pay close attention to the number in a field – command your eyes to go all the way to the right when handicapping.

Handicapping Tip of the Day #24 – Claiming Jail

Handicapping Tip of the Day – Understanding the Claiming Business

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

By Art Parker

The most common race in North America is the claiming race. Without these horses we call “claimers” most every track could not fill a race card. Probably 80 percent of all our races are claiming events, whereby an entrant can be ‘claimed’ from the race for the stated purchase price by a party eligible to make a claim. The idea of claiming is to provide parity. If you own a horse that is truly worth $50,000 then you will think long and hard about entering that horse in a claiming race of only $25,000. The drop in in claiming price may make for an easy score with purse money but you may also lose an asset for a fraction of its value. One must understand the business of horse racing before they can understand the world of claiming races.

One of the most important things to remember about claiming races is the ‘jail time.’ While the rules vary from state to state, a claimed horse cannot run for the same or lesser claiming value within 30 days after being claimed. This is called “in jail” because the horse cannot run for a lower price until that horse is out of jail. In some states the horse cannot be removed from the state during the jail time, and in some states, the horse cannot run anywhere else until the end of the meeting. To be proficient at handicapping claiming races one needs to be up to date on the various rules in the various states.

When handicapping claiming races it is well worth the time to look at the horses from a business standpoint and play the game as an owner or trainer. Profitable revelations will often come to light when a business examination is made of the entrants in a claiming race.

Handicapping Tip of the Day #20 – Resolve to Do This in the New Year

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

By Rich Nilsen

Maybe you had a great year wagering, or more likely, it didn’t go as well as expected.  Of course, everyone is making some type of resolution for the New Year, and handicappers should do the same.  Now is the time to sit back and reflect.   Think about the many, daily or weekly decisions you made that cost you dearly at the pari-mutuel windows.

If there is one thing you must do as the New Year begins, it is this: Have a plan.  Make plans to be a more successful player, and be very specific in doing so.  What is that going to take?  Maybe it is focusing on only one or two tracks instead of betting everything under the sun.  Maybe it is picking your spots better on any given day.  Maybe it is putting your day’s bankroll into one wager, e.g. a Pick-3 or Win bet, instead of spreading it out throughout the day. Or maybe you are playing without any type of significant rebate.

Of course, you have to weigh these decisions with the enjoyment aspect of the game.  Unless you’re a professional horse player or an aspiring pro, you may not expect to win over the course of a year.  Maybe you’re just happy to have action.  Regardless of your situation, you can resolve to do better – much better in the New Year.  Think about it.

Best of luck!

 

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:

 

Handicapping Tips #5 – Do This With Your Bankroll

Handicapping tips from agameofskill.com

Handicapping Tip of the Day – Budget Your Wagering Dollars

One of the most important aspects of the game for horseplayers is to wager with money that they are comfortable losing.  Sure, no one wants to or plans to lose money when they play the horses, but you also don’t want to be risking the rent money, either.  Regardless, you should have a separate budget for investing in horse racing.  By keeping wagering dollars apart from your personal funds, you can avoid any confusion…and most importantly, any problems.

The additional benefit of having a separate fund for wagering is that you can then budget from within that pool of funds.  Ideally, you should never risk more than five percent of your dollar wagering budget in any one race.  Wagering on horses can oftentimes be a streaky proposition.  By budgeting your dollars appropriately and professionally, you can withstand a losing streak.  When you have the money situation under control, your chances for success rise dramatically.