The Pontiff’s Keys to Winning – Horse Racing’s Crystal Ball

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

A seven length victory in a horse’s most recent race stands out like a sore thumb. A 96 Beyer speed figure is a beacon on the page and three in-the-money finishes in its last three starts makes a horse an automatic contender. That’s the way most people handicap.

They open the Daily Racing Form to their favorite track and look at the most recent race or two. Horses that show decent recent races stay in and those that look bad get tossed out. Nine out of 10 times they settle on one of the first three odds choices, circle him and go on to the next race where the process is repeated.

At the track, every horse they’ve picked is 7-2 or less and they lament about a “chalky” day and how it is impossible to make any money. When a $25 horse romps in the fourth, they look back and see that seven races back, the horse won at today’s distance, at today’s class, on today’s surface, with today’s rider.

Upon further review, they notice that after that victory, the horse was raised in class and ran a sharp second. Then the trainer stretched the horse out in his next start and he ran third. The next race was on the grass, which is a surface that the horse didn’t seem to relish and he finished eighth.

Back to a sprint in the third race back, the horse broke slowly but rallied through the lane and finished fifth. Two races back, the trainer tried him in a turf sprint, with the hot bugboy aboard and the horse finished eleventh. Last time out was a sprint in the slop at today’s level, which resulted in a sixth-place effort.

Today, back in where he belonged all along, on a fast track, with a rider up who has had success with him the past, the horse wins and pays boxcars.

This happens every day – sometimes a couple of times on the same card.

In order to win more money at the races, you need to figure out why a horse is running in today’s race. How did the horse get here? Is this a race that suits him? What is the trainer trying to do?

We accomplish this by handicapping from the bottom of a horse’s chart to the most recent race. This is our window to the horse’s preparation for today’s race and his trainer’s intentions. It gives you a crystal clear vision of the horse’s career and how he should perform today.

With a little effort, you can have a solid line on every entrant and know who are the contenders and who are the pretenders. You will bet on a lot more double-digit winners and your friends will think you own a crystal ball.

Eliminating Horses with Little Chance of Success – by the Pontiff of the Pick-4

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

I made my first wager on a horse race when I was 11 years-old. During the last 43 years, I have developed a systematic way of handicapping that suits my personality and style. For me, it is best to eliminate the dead wood, pruning the race down to the top contenders, instead of looking at all the entrants and finding the one I like best.

People often ask me where I start when handicapping a race. There are three basic “negative” factors that get horses tossed early in my process.

#1 No good race in a horse’s last three starts.

Any neophyte horseplayer can tell you that a horse beaten double digits in its most recent races is probably not a top contender. For me, if a horse hasn’t run at least one decent race recently, I don’t need to be wasting my hard-earned cash on him. I consider any in-the-money finish acceptable and any race where the horse’s finish position and beaten lengths equal 8 or less.

#2 No winning race in a horse’s last 10 starts.

We want winners. Winning is contagious. Losing is contagious too and backing horses that don’t have the will to win is a quick way to lose your bankroll. It always amazes me to see a 24-race maiden go favored. The public is usually a pretty good handicapper but when they embrace a perennial loser, there is usually some money to be made.

#3 Not fast enough.

New York sportswriter and author Damon Runyon said, “The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.” If a horse is slower than his competition, he is going to lose. I find the horse with the highest lowest speed figure in its last three starts and eliminate all the competition whose best speed figure in their last three starts is below that highest lowest figure.

For example, let’s take a six-horse field:

#1) 92-90-89

#2) 90-94-86

#3) 86-87-88

#4) 72-90-84

#5) 83-83-85

#6) 90-91-87

The highest lowest is the 89 run by horse #1 three starts back, so any horse who has run under an 89 in all of their last three starts would be eliminated. In this case, #3 and #5.

You can find winners every day that break one, two or even all three of these rules, but the money wasted betting on horses that have little chance of success can better spent on a solid betting proposition. Avoiding stiffs is extremely important, especially in Pick Six through Pick Three wagering, when your ticket grows exponentially as your profit margin diminishes.

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.


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.

All Ubercapper

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

Jude Feld, handicapper and blogger for HRRNEquibase handicapper Ellis Starr and I have been friends for over a decade. Both Kentucky transplants from California, we share a love of Thoroughbred racing and a fascination with the puzzles of handicapping. He was my regular cohort during my stint as host for, “Today in Thoroughbred Racing,” a weekly radio show devoted to the betterment of the sport and the intricacies of playing the horses.

Monday morning, Ellis, known publicly as, “The Ubercapper,” sent out a tweet:

Ellis Starr @Ubercapper
Compliments to @racehorsereport for helping me many years ago to understand how the “all” button can be your friend.

Over the years, Ellis and I have had countless handicapping conversations – on the air, at handicapping seminars, tournaments and privately, usually in the Keeneland press box. Despite being an excellent handicapper, he is understandably a conservative bettor. Ellis sometimes handicaps and writes reports on five or six cards a day, which are sold at, and despite their quality, to wager on 50-60 races a day is a sure path to financial ruin.

He picks his spots.

I did not become, “The Pontiff of the Pick Four,” by keeping the rubber band on the bankroll. Nowadays, my handicapping concentration centers around the late Pick Four at the tracks I play. The later races are usually the better ones on the card and being at the end of the day, I have more time to address them.

My process begins by eliminating the horses who I don’t think can win. Locating any possible singles or doubles is next. Then I formulate my ticket and decide whether the payoff is worth the risk. Finally, it is pass or play?

Sometimes I don’t have a clue about a race and sometimes I can’t eliminate enough horses. This is where, “the ‘all’ button can be your friend.”

Ellis hates wasting money on losing bets. Who can blame him? But he was the first guy to say to me, “Why didn’t you back wheel him for $2?” when Closing Argument ran second to Giacomo in the Kentucky Derby (G1), keying a $9000 exacta. Ugh.

In his defense, the Ubercapper seldom “wheels” anything or hits the “all” button. He sticks to the selections he sells, unless some new tidbit of information is revealed after publication, but having seen me make some pretty nice Pick Four scores, he has become aware that even as “Uber” as his handicapping is, sometimes a race is so chaotic, “all” is the best selection.

Ellis loves Pick Threes, and the one that spurred the tweet was a 2x7x1 combination that returned $481 for every buck invested. Now that ladies and gentlemen is a nifty payoff, and certainly better than stabbing at four top “contenders” in the “all” race to save $6.

One last note.

No crying when you “all” a 12-horse race and get the favorite home on top. Remember, the public is right a third of the time so this will happen. You can console yourself with the memories of the $98 winner who provided a $13,000 score that sent you on a winter trip to the islands.

“Good night, Barbados.”

Lessons from the Golden Bear

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

Jude Feld, handicapper and blogger for HRRNWin, lose or draw, Jack Nicklaus probably has done more post-round television interviews than any golfer in history. One of those had a big influence on my life, as a person and a horseplayer.

Leading the tournament at the time, after a birdie-filled day when many other tour players seemed lost, the Golden Bear said something to the effect of: “It’s great to have a game plan, but you’ve got to be able to adjust. Things change on the golf course and the players that can make the adjustments are the ones at the top of the leaderboard.”

I’ve got my handicapping rules and stick with them pretty faithfully, but once in a while, when something changes, I kick them to the curb. Like everything else, sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s not so good, but in the long run, taking Jack’s advice has been profitable for me.

When I put out my public handicaps, what you read is what I like. I don’t save the good ones for myself and put people on the chalk so I can get a better price. But it is important to remember that I ordinarily make these selections a couple of days out and things can change dramatically in 48 hours. Usually, I check the weather forecast and plan for track conditions, but “the weatherman is a lousy handicapper,” as we all know.

My analysis of the 2012 Summit of Speed stakes was pretty good, if I say so myself. I had the winner of five out of the six races listed on my sheet, with the lone miss coming in the Smile Sprint Handicap (G2) when Gantry romped home an easy winner over my pick, Indiano.

Gantry had spent the early part of his career in New York, going through his conditions in the care of Michael Hushion. Shipped to the barn of young, up-and-coming trainer Ron Faucheux, he won three stakes in-a-row in New Orleans before finishing a respectable third behind Shackleford and Amazombie in the Churchill Downs (G2) on Derby day.

How did I leave him off my handicap?

He was an out of towner. It has been my experience, having attended the Summit of Speed the last five years, that the Calder horses have a tremendous advantage. As a matter of fact, local horses had won seven out of the eight graded stakes in the last two years. A shipper from middle America, Gantry got the redline.

Things changed on Friday morning.

It seemed like everyone I talked to was discussing Gantry and how good he training. “Who?” I asked when told about him the first time. I was very high on Indiano and until then, never really had shipper Gantry on my radar.

In discussing the race on our Saturday morning Equine Forum show, I talked about, “the wise-guy horse,” and how the whispers were out. After scratch time, as I formulated my pick five and pick four tickets, that bullet :47 3/5 workout over the Calder surface on July 1 began sticking out like a sore thumb – indicating he liked the surface and had been in town for at least a week to acclimate to the oppressive south Florida humidity. I decided that it would be prudent to include him, even though it was going to double the price of my ticket.

“It’s great to have a game plan, but you’ve got to be able to adjust. Things change on the golf course and the players that can make the adjustments are the ones at the top of the leaderboard.” – the Golden Bear

It was the right adjustment.

Gantry beat Indiano on the square and I hit both the pick five and pick four instead of ripping up my tickets.

That little adjustment made Saturday evening so much more enjoyable, as my wife and I celebrated my score at Luca Bella in Aventura and later had Manhattans with friends, in a penthouse overlooking the Atlantic, the moon over Miami shining on the waves.

All Things Being Equal

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

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerThe horseplayer’s main job is to look for mistakes and exploit them. Most often this involves public perception of a horse and the wagering on it. Multiple wins, high speed figures and a solid performance in a troubled trip are just a few of the things that people latch on to when handicapping and the prices on those horses becomes deflated.

In the 2012 Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) run at Churchill Downs, Wise Dan embodied two of those harbingers of favoritism – three wins in-a-row and a massive 117 Beyer speed figure earned in his last race – a 10-length score in the Ben Ali (G3) at Keeneland.

All things being equal, it seemed like his race to lose.

Alternation had won four straight races coming into the Foster, including a game performance in the prestigious Pimlico Special (G3) in his last start. He has a legion of fans and was certain to take some betting action.

Churchill Downs’ racing secretary and handicapper, Ben Huffman, assigned Wise Dan 123 pounds and made Alternation one pound less at 122. It is clear that he, like most of the fans, found the two pretty close in form and ability.

People who listen to the Horse Racing Radio Network broadcasts often hear me say, “Grade 1 horses win Grade 1 races.” This is a good rule to follow, especially in handicap races, where the horses are experienced and have proven form.

There were only two Foster entrants who had won a Grade 1 – Wise Dan captured the Clark (G1) at Churchill Downs and the Ron the Greek won the Santa Anita Handicap (G1).

Ron the Greek hadn’t run a bad race in over a year. He had a troubled trip in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) in his most recent start, but still managed a second-place finish. His speed figures weren’t as gaudy as Wise Dan’s, but they were, for the most part, better than Alternation’s.

He was assigned 119 pounds for the Foster, four pounds less than Wise Dan and three pounds fewer than Alternation. Here was an inconsistency to exploit.

If Ron the Greek was indeed faster than Alternation and carrying less weight, he should beat him like a drum. So his real competition was Wise Dan, who was giving him four pounds. At a price 10 times better than his only true rival, it was probably a good idea to back Ron the Greek.

The actual result was a lot closer than you might think.

According to Trakus Racing, Wise Dan traveled 42 feet more in the race than Ron the Greek, who had a ground saving trip. This translates into a nearly five-length difference at the wire, so all things being equal, Wise Dan, beaten a short head, should have won.

It was Ron the Greek who got the trophy and the bulk of the $400,000 purse, while rewarding his backers with $20.80 for every $2.00 wagered. That left everyone who singled Wise Dan in their all-stakes pick fours heading home to make pari-mutuel ticket soup.

They don’t run them on paper.

The Five Percent

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

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerA lot of talk during the weeks leading up to the 2012 Belmont Stakes (G1) centered on jockey switches. Two of the main contenders, Union Rags and Dullahan, who on race day would be the top two odds choices when I’ll Have Another scratched, were both changing riders.

Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux was being replaced on Dullahan after a bad breathalyzer test weeks earlier upset his connections.

Union Rags probably should have won the Florida Derby (G1) but was never given the chance by jockey Julien Leparoux. After another troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby (G1), he was sent packing in favor of Hall of Fame elect John Velazquez.

The switch to Velazquez proved positive for Union Rags with a huge and trouble-free victory, while Dullahan was so unthreatening, he obviously wasn’t going to win, even if the great Isaac Murphy rose from the dead to ride him.

Jockey switches in major races always draw headlines, but what about your average race – a maiden claimer on a Thursday or an allowance race on Friday afternoon?

There are three types of jockey switches the handicapper should pay attention to in every race on the card.

Switching to a top rider.

This is basically a no-brainer, and therefore most noticed by the general public, usually making the odds drop. It is a very positive indicator however.

Owners and trainers need rank and file jocks to ride their horses as they learn the racing game or get ready for winning efforts coming off a layoff, but when the horse is ready to win, they often tip their hand by hiring a top five rider. It happens every day, some days many times. It is not a guarantee of success at the windows but it is a solid indication of trainer intent.

Switching to a rider who has won with the horse before.

This switch is a lot more subtle and can be responsible for some excellent prices. Because many fans use a track program for their handicapping, it is more easily spotted by players with a full set of past performance charts.

I claimed a horse named Slay the Dragon when I first started training. He hadn’t won a race in three years. I had cashed a ticket on him in his last win and Fernando Toro had ridden him that day. He got fit and happy while I had him and after a nice gate work, he was ready to enter. I had to really make a case to Toro’s agent, Chick McClellan, to give me the call, but he did in the end and it worked out perfectly. Slay the Dragon was an easy winner.

Some riders have a knack with certain horses, some horses prefer certain riders. It might be something subtle like the pressure of the bit in their mouth or how the rider holds the reins that matters to a horse or it can be a matter of riding style that causes horse and rider to gel.

The great John H. M Gosden trained a horse many years ago who had a breathing problem. Jockey Terry Lipham knew this and found a way to ride him that allowed the horse to breathe better. He was one of the greatest betting tools ever. Without Lipham he ran horribly. With Lipham, he was near stakes caliber.

Top rider jumps ship.

This can be a big negative. Top jockeys usually have top agents and the two are usually in constant contact with each other. Every mount is discussed post race and even if the conversation is brief, it is important. Riders know which horses they like, who they think has potential and who they wish to avoid in the future.

It helps to know the rider’s regular client base because sometimes jockeys are first call jockeys of a particular stable and may be forced to ride a lesser horse because of their commitments, but all things being equal, if a top five rider gets off of a horse it is not a good sign. It is even more glaring if he sits the race out.

It’s been said that Thoroughbred horse racing is 95% horse and 5% jockey, and in handicapping players should concentrate the bulk of their attention on the horse’s form. But there are instances when noticing a jockey switch can mean adding hundreds of dollars to your bottom line and that’s what horseplaying is all about.

Who Would’ve Thought? Reflections on Hiring a Young Doug O’Neill

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

Penned May 22, 2012, post Preakness Day.

I thought about the Saturday morning Doug showed up at my barn, a skinny kid with sandy hair and an engaging manner. I remembered him walking that first horse…at arms length as most neophyte hotwalkers do.

Jude Feld, handicapper and bloggerIt was five o’clock on Friday afternoon in Baltimore. The spring weather was absolutely beautiful and Old Hilltop was awash in varying shades of pink, from the tablecloths on the infield tables to the dresses, shoes and hats worn by the bevy of pretty ladies at Pimlico for Black-Eyed Susan day.

Standing on the platform in front of the famous cupola, Aron Wellman, the master of Eclipse Thoroughbreds, was raising the massive crystal trophy of the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes winner over his head, in the manner that has become fashionable whenever you capture a prestigious sporting event.

His In Lingerie had just won the historic race, grabbing her quarter leaving the gate and looping the field to victory, while showing extraordinary gameness despite her sure discomfort.

Zoning out for a minute, I thought of the nine-year-old, at 4:30 in the morning, sitting on the steps of my Del Mar condo, next to my muddy barn high tops, waiting for me to drive him to the track. The little surfer boy, in a Stussy t-shirt and Rusty shorts, who couldn’t wait to get up close and personal with my small stable of racehorses.

My mind then drifted to the 12-year-old version, applying poultice to the fragile legs of a Thoroughbred while oggling the cleavage peeking out from the tube top of my hotwalker Brandy, as she picked out the feet of my pony.

On to stable star Vieille Vigne, as the teenaged Aron groomed her as she prepared for the Chula Vista (G2) and the smile he wore in the winners’ circle picture when she beat Lite Light and Brought to Mind.

Then the day he said goodbye to my crew, as he headed off to college, to play soccer and get smart.

Returning to real time, a smile on my face, I shook my head as I’ve been known to do when life brings great surprises.

“This is really cool. Who would have thought?”

Back at the barn, after the races, I checked on In Lingerie and fist bumped Aron. He stood against the fence, in powder blue pants and a black blazer, cocktail in hand like a guy in a Ralph Lauren ad, watching Todd Pletcher and his staff bandaging the big filly’s foot.

“Such a fabulous race,” I said.

“How game is she? Aron replied. “That was amazing, especially after cutting a blood vessel. The vet says she’ll be fine. We are so fortunate to have a filly like her.”

Saturday brought more fantastic weather.

“Mother Nature must be a racing fan,” Mike Penna would say on the radio.

The 137th Preakness (G1) was going to be run on a fast track, in front over 120,000 people and only one horse would have a shot at the Triple Crown – I’ll Have Another.

The race set up the way I thought it would on paper. Bodemeister went to the lead and a couple of horses stalked him, as his Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith, backed up the pace. I’ll Have Another laid fourth on the outside, in the clear and away from trouble.

When the field turned for home, Smith asked Bodemeister to assert himself, the Zayat colorbearer squirted away and I’ll Have Another was asked by his rider to chase him.

The Kentucky Derby (G1) winner seemed hopelessly beaten as they straightened out in the lane and Hall Of Fame trainer Bob Baffert must have thought that he was about to win his sixth Preakness.

Just then, I’ll Have Another steeled himself for the drive. He put his head down and with jockey Mario Gutierrez encouraging him with hand, boot and whip, he collared Bodemeister in the shadow of the wire and was drawing away from his rival at the finish line.

It was 6:40 p.m. at Pimlico and Doug O’Neill was standing on that same platform that Aron Wellman had occupied the day before.

I thought about the Saturday morning Doug showed up at my barn, a skinny kid with sandy hair and an engaging manner. I remembered him walking that first horse…at arms length as most neophyte hotwalkers do.

Then recalling the day we left for his first Del Mar – vans to load at 3:00 a.m. with departure scheduled for 4:30 – the time that most young guys are just getting to bed on Saturday morning. With a couple dozen doughnuts in hand for his barnmates, a smiling face and a “rah rah” attitude, Doug supervised loading the vans, the more experienced in my crew more than happy to let the new guy do the heavy lifting.

That first week, “where the turf meets the surf,” he was like a kid in a candy store – among the horses, at the track and away from home – every future trainer’s dream.

When Friday morning came, after raking the shedrow and tow ring, he bid the crew adieu for the weekend, much to the chagrin of my assistant. We needed to have a conversation.

“This is a seven-day a week job,” I told him.

“Oh. My Mom’s not gonna like that,” he said.

I told Doug to go home for the weekend, we could get by.

“Talk to your Mom,” I said. “If she won’t let you work every day, that’s fine. I understand. If you can talk her into it, we’ll see you Monday for the rest of the meet.”

Monday morning, Doug was at the barn to greet me. He stayed long enough with my stable to learn how to be a good groom and was a tremendous asset to us, full of the same energy and enthusiasm that everyone witnessed from him during Preakness week.

I remembered the day he quit, apologizing, and even asking me if I was o.k. with him going to work for Hector Palma, to groom the horses his brother owned. I remembered the day he won his first race as a trainer and how happy I was for him. I thought about me getting choked up on the air when he won the Kentucky Derby. I was glad I avoided that this time.

Before leaving the pressbox roof, at the end of this wild weekend, I looked out at the cupola again. Shackleford’s blue and white silks had been replaced by the Reddam purple and white on the weather vane. I thought about Frank Wright in his natty hat and Jim McKay in his Wide World of Sports jacket and all the times I watched them broadcast the Preakness on television. I thought of Joe Hirsch and Chick Lang and how many great races they covered here. Say whatever you want to about Pimlico, but the place just oozes history.

Our Horse Racing Radio Network crew went back to the Preakness Barn to have a cocktail and celebrate I’ll Have Another’s important victory. I hugged Doug, we had a Maker’s Mark toast and talked about the race and the possible Triple Crown, as people snapped a few photos.

As we left the grounds I reflected on the last two days. How Friday was big for Aron and his new Eclipse Thoroughbreds partners. How Saturday was huge for Doug and provides him a chance at significant racing history. And how it was my good fortune to be able to share in their moments, by broadcasting those amazing races, “coast to coast and world-wide,” on the Horse Racing Radio Network.

That’s the great thing about Preakness, it brings out the best in everyone.

Handicapping Magic by Jude Feld

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

Jude Feld, handicapper and blogger“Signs point to yes.”

This is one of the 20 possible answers if you ask the “Magic Eight Ball” whether the horse you pick will win or lose. The method of questioning a plastic sphere when to wager or not will undoubtedly supply a few winners, but there is a better way to predict the future.

Sometimes there are so many “signs” in a horse’s chart that it makes them the most probable winner and if the price is right, a magnificent bet.

The last race at Gulfstream Park on April Fools Day of 2012 is a prime example.

Sign #1:

Master Achievement drew the rail in a full field of 12 runners going a flat mile on the turf. In most grass races, run on firm turf, the inside posts are advantageous, as saving ground is of extreme importance.

Sign #2:

He had run twice before, both maiden allowance races at Saratoga, one at six furlongs in the slop and the next going a mile and a sixteenth on the turf. Today’s race was $35,000 maiden claiming event at one mile on the sod. The drop in class from maiden allowance to maiden claiming is the biggest in racing and usually a harbinger of good race.

Sign #2A:

His trainer, David Fawkes, had dropped 21 maidens in class like this in the past year and 19% of them hit the winners’ circle – obviously an excellent move for him, as he is winning at a 12% clip overall.

Sign #3:

In his turf start, Master Achievement had run against Daddy Nose Best, back-to-back winner of the recent El Camino Real Derby (G3) and Sunland Derby (G3) and was only beaten five lengths by the Kentucky Derby (G1) hopeful.

Sign #4:

A $15,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale bargain, even though Master Achievement was dropping in class, he was running well above his purchase price.

Sign #5:

Fawkes gave the riding assignment to Juan Leyva, a jockey he has had a 21% success rate with in 2011-2012.

What do you need, an engraved invitation to bet?

The 12-1 morning line price was too much to ask for, but it certainly would make Master Achievement, “ice cream,” as trainer and top gambler Julio Canani would say.

As always happens in handicapping articles, our hero exerted his class and went wire-to-wire, returning an $18.00 mutuel to his backers.

If you asked the Magic Eight Ball if you will make more money looking at the signs in a horse’s past performance chart or consulting the black orb itself, the answer is likely to be:

“Outlook good.”