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

 

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.”

Horse Racing Fans Need to Step Up to the Plate

by Art Parker

About the only time I go to a track is when I am on vacation, have a business trip or visit my daughter in the D.C. area. I’m definitely part of the growing Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) legion of players. Last week I took a few days off and visited my daughter, who lives on the Maryland side of our nation’s capital. She invited me to come since it was around Father’s Day time and, of course, she sweetened the invitation with the one line I love to here, “Dad, we can go to the track one day.”

My daughter, now 32 years old, was taught how to read a Racing Form when she was in the third grade and she is a good handicapper. Even though we are separated by 700 miles we “play the races together” online and in online tournaments. I can say that the love of horse racing is a family affair, so you can imagine the priority we place on going to the track together whenever possible.

Delaware Park walking ring, horses. June 2013. Photo by Art Parker for AGameofskill.com

copyright Art Parker & AllStarPress.com

When I visit her in the summer we go to Delaware Park (DEL). It is not too far from the D.C. area, and if not for the ridiculous road tolls in Maryland, it would be a delightful trip especially when the weather is nice. We went to DEL on the Saturday before Father’s Day and the weather was picture perfect. It was a great day to be outside and we decided to hang out in the picnic area. DEL is a beautiful track in a beautiful setting.

“Racing missed the original sports television era and then has tried to play ‘catch up’ ever since. It has been forced to fight a massive swell of casino operations that have covered the landscape far beyond the borders of Nevada where all of that started.”

We shared the track that day with many others. I don’t know if there was a special promotional day or not, but there was a ton of kids there. You could tell it was a day for mom and dad, or grandpa and grandma, to take kids to the track.  The track has a great outdoor area with plenty of “climbing” equipment that young kids love, which located next to the picnic area at the clubhouse turn. For those with kids it is a good area to watch the races especially when the race goes around two turns.

One could also tell that many in attendance were “rookies,” not just because of the kids but because of the long lines at the tellers and how slow they moved. It is safe to assume that many in the teller lines were rookies because the self service machines had no waiting lines.

For one race I strolled up to the fence hoping to see my horse win with ease, which didn’t happen. The man standing next to me was in a bad way and said with disgust, “I’ve never seen so many rookies in my life.” I asked him what he meant just to make sure I knew since he directed the line toward me. “All of these damn rookies get in the way, hold up the lines, and they probably brought all of these kids,” he growled. I just nodded primarily to acknowledge the fellow and avoid an argument. I came close to chewing his butt out, but I thought better of it and remained silent.

I thought it was a great day. I was glad to see the rookies and I was glad to see the kids. We need them. We need new enthusiasts. We need kids to come to the track and have fun and then pester their folks about coming back again.

Racing has not been wise when it comes to fan development. Racing missed the original sports television era and then has tried to play ‘catch up’ ever since. It has been forced to fight a massive swell of casino operations that have covered the landscape far beyond the borders of Nevada where all of that started. In addition to those near mindless games found in a casino, horse racing has had to fight the completely mindless games called lotteries. The fight is ongoing and it is a tough one. And the fight will remain tough if we do not open every possible door to potential newcomers. Having tracks open up for families to go to the track and take the kids is necessary for horse racing to continue the fight for its share of, not only the gambling dollar, but the entertainment dollar.

We have many great tracks in America like Delaware Park. And these tracks can be a great place to take the family. Let’s make sure we let all people feel welcome. We need new blood and new enthusiasts. Once they get there then we have to teach them how to play or we will lose them. Remember, our game is a game of skill, not a mindless game of chance.

If you see a rookie at the track be sure and welcome him or her, then offer to help. After all, that person may want to bring his whole family next week. And that’s not a bad thing. I promise.

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.

 

How to Quickly and Easily Identify the “Sucker” Horse

by Rich Nilsen

Trainer Chad Stewart has been on a tear since the Tampa Bay Downs meeting opened in early December, scoring with 35 percent of his starters, 8 winners in total. Every horse of his has to be seriously considered. At first glance it looked he might add to that impressive win total with Misidentified in the finale (race 10) on Wednesday, January 9.

The Singletary mare was making her second start off a layoff, had a race over the track, and was getting a switch to 15% rider Jose Garcia. She came up solid on the class and speed figures and was a competitive 3rd on the BRIS Prime Power Rating. Best of all, based on her debut, it looked like she could sit a good trip in this weak field of $8,000 maiden claiming runners.

Racehorse sucker horse

copyright 2013 Equibase and Bloodstock Research Information Services.

 

But then the “quick-and-easy sucker horse identifier” caught my eye. Misidentified had been well bet in all three career starts. Certainly nothing wrong with that, right? Some horseplayers love to see horses that regularly take action. The problem for this five-year-old mare was that she had not once been competitive in any of those starts. The kicker was the second career start when her connections gave her a huge drop in class from maiden special weights company at Golden Gate to a low-level maiden claimer at the Iowa racetrack. Off at odds of just under 3-1, she had trouble at the start and then was quickly pulled up. If that wasn’t a red flag enough, she was then given a long layoff during the heart of the racing season.

When she returned this December at Tampa Bay Downs, she was making her first start for a red-hot barn, was placed in a logical spot, and was well bet accordingly. She never lifted a hoof.

So despite her competitive numbers, the impressive trainer stats, and the various angles she had going for her, Misidentified was clearly a sucker horse.

Off at odds of 4-1 on Wednesday, she attended the pace and then called it a day when the real running started. She narrowly won the photo for 4th while well beaten behind a trio of horses who were a combined 0 for 30 lifetime.

Identifying low-priced sucker horses can be as easy as just looking back within the recent starts and spotting horses that should have run well in a given spot and failed to do so. When you see a runner that meets that criteria in 2-3 consecutive starts, at low odds, chances are you’ve found a horse that will once again disappoint. That’s almost as good as finding a winner.

Out of Many Figures, One Result

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

This week, it seemed like every top handicapper I know was lauding the speed figures they use. These people are not just casual fans, but folks who make a living with Thoroughbred racing – turf writers, handicappers, owners, trainers and breeding farm executives.

Beyer aficionados, Brisnet followers, Equibase devotees and Ragozin sheets users – they all cited their favored speed figures as a reason they liked a particular horse or credited them for their success at the windows on Saturday at Keeneland [Lexington Stakes day, April 21, 2012].

All this discussion caused me to reflect on a couple of issues that often come up in handicapping discussions during forums at every level and on every medium. It also helped confirm to me that my assertions about those issues are correct.

Many people say handicapping at Keeneland is “impossible.”

Evidently this idea is nothing but a bunch of crap perpetuated by people who don’t know a good horse when it stares them in the face.

Two of the handicappers I know cashed winning late pick four tickets to the tune of $32,294.25 for 50-cents.

Another had the $3,715.30 late pick three for a buck.

Others managed to hit exactas and trifectas whose payoffs were excellent bankroll boosters.

The bottom line is these players did not consult tea leaves or flip playing cards to find the winning combinations, they used traditional handicapping methods and although the payoffs were not totally life-changing for any of them, they were considerably more than what was risked and will certainly allow them a nice Caribbean vacation should they opt to take one.

Keeneland’s Polytrack can be beaten by conventional handicapping – including speed figures. I have been doing it and saying it since 2006.

There is a speed figure pecking order – Some speed figures are better than others.

In his classic book Picking Winners, Andrew Beyer put the spotlight on speed figures. Handicappers were fascinated and some become as obsessed as he with the numbers. Ragozin and Thoro-Graph become hugely successful in the final 10 years of the last century and their refined numbers command a legion of followers. Brisnet and Equibase have both spent tons of money and countless hours developing their speed figures and also have their own devotees.

It is easier to convert a Muslim to a Jew or a Baptist to a Catholic than it is to get a “Rags” player to use an Equibase speed figure or a Brisnet purchaser to buy a Daily Racing Form to get the Beyer figures. It would be close to miraculous.

People will argue ferociously that the brand the use is, “the way, the truth and the light,” to cashing more pari-mutuel tickets and anyone who uses another type is doomed to eternal losing.

How can it be that they all show up at the same cashier’s line when their numbers are not aligned? How can Beyer, Brisnet, Equibase and sheets people all cash in on the same race?

It is because there is more to handicapping than that tiny bold-face number in the past performances. That is what makes handicapping so much fun – there are many ways to reach the same conclusion.
Trainer angles, horses for courses, pedigrees, distance switches, jockey changes, pace scenarios, trouble lines and weight shifts are just a few of the subtleties.

Speed figures have their place in that litany too.

No matter what the brand, they are an excellent way to compare entrants and narrow down the competition.

Nobody wants to bet on a horse that is too slow to win the race, but it is important to remember figures are just a guide. Some creativity of thought in regard to improvement or regression will pay dividends to the player. “Past performance is no guarantee of future success.”

And now there is Trakus – A figure for the rest of us.

How to avoid your arm falling off? Go to the races!

 Handicapper Art ParkerBy ART PARKER

At one time you either went to the track or to Las Vegas to gamble. Now, Americans can gamble in almost every state and the greatest opportunity to do so comes in the form of a slot machine, or video poker or electronic bingo. No matter what name is given to it, the activity features man against machine. The machine is often called by its popular nickname, a one-armed bandit.

I do not know why people like to play against the bandit. These machines are programmed to pay back a certain percentage of the amount deposited over the long haul. That’s how the casino makes money and stays in business. This method of gambling is known as “playing against the house,” which legally fixes odds in its favor. Thoroughbred racing involves pari-mutuel wagering, which simply means the participants play against each other with the winners of a race sharing a common pool of wagers.

One reason I was drawn to thoroughbred racing was because of my educational background.

A large part of America that gambles knows no other method than a slot machine or similar device. The growth of casino gaming came at the perfect time in America because it fit well with the video generation. That generation has generally ignored thoroughbred racing because wagering on racing requires more than pushing a few buttons or pulling a handle. Mechanical gaming appeals to current lifestyle and is accepted by a couple of generations with “easy to do” mentalities. That is the nicest way I can say “lazy.”

Thoroughbred racing has faced challenges in maintaining its share of the gambling market and capturing America’s entertainment dollar. A big problem for thoroughbred racing is that it requires the use of brain power to have any level of success. It is not for those that are lazy and refuse to accept a challenge.  

One reason I was drawn to thoroughbred racing was because of my educational background. A corporate finance major, I was required to read all kinds of financial statements including the stock sheets found in the Wall Street Journal and other financial publications. When you view the past performances you find a similarity to the stock sheets. Bid, ask, PE ratios, fractions, etc. and racing times, finishes and racing records provide statistical evidence for one to consume. All of this is information one can use to evaluate a corporation or an individual horse, depending on which publication is being held at the moment.

While the casino patron sits in front of a machine and must only decide to pull the handle again or quit, the horse player is using brain power, logic and deep thought to make a good bet, which doesn’t necessarily mean a winning bet. A good bet is one where you have an advantage based upon odds. When I bet a horse to win, I try to do the same thing as if I am buying stock in a corporation. I am looking for a bargain. I want a horse that is going off at 10-1 while I am convinced the horse should be 4-1. When I by a stock I want a corporation that is selling for $20 per share when my evaluation tells me it should be $32 per share.

I want a bargain. A slot machine never gives you a bargain because you do not get to make a decision on the individual wager. You only decide whether or not to pull the handle…again.

If people like to gamble, large or small, thoroughbred racing offers the perfect deal. You can go to the actual track, or a simulcast parlor, or you can play via Advanced Deposit Wagering (ADW) on the internet. You can have all of the recreation you want and you can decide if you want company or not. And while you are enjoying your recreational time you can do something mentally challenging and stimulating. I promise you, a slot machine provides no mental challenge or stimulation.

To top things off you can fall in love with the greatest sport of all. It is a sport that involves interesting people and athletes, plus all of the action centers around one of God’s greatest and truly magnificent creations, a horse.

If you have not tried to be a horse player give it a shot. If you occasionally play the horses but also sit on a stool in front of a slot machine, well, come on back to the track. Play the horses where you get to make decisions about investing your dollar. If you keep playing those machines you will either eventually lose all your money or your arm will fall off trying to lose all of your money.

— Art Parker is the author of the recently released handicapping guide “KEENELAND WINNING TRAINER PATTERNS” available now for the upcoming 2011 fall meet. It can be purchased here for less than $10, or for Kindle readers at Amazon.com.