The Fork in the Road

Horseplayer’s Decision Time

by Rich Nilsen

When we arrive at the fork in the road, which path we choose plays a major role in our future success as horseplayers. Each time we come to the split, the decision we make reaffirms the type of bettor we have become, be it good or bad. Fortunately, it is never too late to take the right path, just harder. One of those forks in the road, for me, came two decades ago at Churchill Downs.

SINAN CIERO deserved to be the public choice in the last race of the day at Churchill Downs on June 5, 1996. Winner of his only start while earning an “off the chart” Speed Rating (99) for a first time starter, Sinan Ciero appeared to have tremendous potential. This was a well-bred horse by a top young sire and out of a good producing mare who had already thrown a turf winner.  He had the looks of a future stakes horse.

On the BRIS Ultimate Past Performances, the favorite’s pedigree stats read as follows:

SIRE: 21% turf, 27% 1st Turf, 6.2 AWD (Average Winning Distance)

DAM: 1 turf winner, 9 starters, 6 winners [at the time of the race]

Sinan Ciero was making his first start on the grass, a surface he was obviously bred for, and he was stretching out to one mile. With an outstanding figure earned in his six-furlong maiden win and sporting two workouts over the Churchill lawn, Sinan Ciero seemed more than capable of winning this race.

Most within the wagering public seemed to see the same thing because Sinan Ciero was being bet down below even-money in this field. On the surface, this race appeared fairly weak, so he looked formidable at 4-5. The chink in the armor, of course, was that this was an inexperienced horse trying a new surface and two turns for the first time. No big deal, right?

In the field of twelve, only one other runner, MAJESTIC RANSOM, had the type of pedigree stats that screamed “I want turf, please!” Making his grass debut, Majestic Ransom had the following turf pedigree:

SIRE: 24% turf, 21% 1st Turf, 7.3 AWD

DAM: 1 turf winner, 5 starters, 5 winners  [at the time of the race]

Horse racing PPs

copyright Brisnet.com

Exiting a win in a conditioned $25,000 claimer, Majestic Ransom did not have the “future stakes horse” look that the favorite had, but he was in sharp form and bred just as well for the lawn. Majestic Ransom had run a 92 Speed Rating in his recent win and also had won a Maiden Special Weight race two back, running a 91 fig in the mud. It was worth noting that Majestic Ransom’s sire, Red Ransom, had a much higher AWD than Dayjur, indicating that the stretch out in distance should be easier for him than for the favorite.

Majestic Ransom opened at 8-1, which was slightly below his 10-1 morning line.  Shortly after the post parade, the odds on Majestic Ransom began to drift up as Sinan Ciero continued to hover around 4-5.

What’s a horseplayer to do? This race was the classic example of the dilemma that handicappers face on a regular basis. All horseplayers at one time or another have fallen into the trap of assuming a horse will win just because he is a prohibitive favorite.

“Well, he looks like a future superstar,” they think to themselves, “and someone is betting him heavy, so he’s probably unbeatable. I’ll key him on top in the exotics.  I’ll key him in the Pick-4.”

With experience, many handicappers are able to overcome that detrimental thinking and take advantage of opportunities like the one that was presented in this race.

When it came to pedigree for the turf, there was not much separating Sinan Ciero from Majestic Ransom. However, the same could not be said for the pari-mutuel odds.  As the horses were nearing the gate, the former was 4-5 and the latter was 13-1. The decision was easy. Take the high road and bet Majestic Ransom.

The astute horseplayers who strayed from the masses were well rewarded on this day. As the latches sprung open, Majestic Ransom pounced to the early lead, while Sinan Ciero broke sluggishly and went wide in his first race around two turns.  The favorite was finished after six furlongs, but Majestic Ransom cruised home easily by three lengths. He topped an unbelievable $41,141.50 superfecta while returning $28.60, $12.40 and $9.00 across the board.

Making the decision to key on a horse such as Majestic Ransom instead of Sinan Ciero is the difference between being a winning horseplayer and a losing one.  It takes conviction and experience. It is important to remember that no one makes money doing the same thing that everyone else is doing. The Majestic Ransoms will not win all the time, but they will be victorious often enough to make it worthwhile in the long run.

When you come to the fork in the road with two horses of similar credentials but vastly different odds, take the less crowded highway. When you reach your destination, the payoff is always more rewarding.

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Sunset Glow – Can the 2yo G1 Winner Handle the Keeneland Dirt?

by Bob Schless, guest post for Agameofskill.com

Two-year-old Sunset Glow won the Grade 1 $300,000 Del Mar Debutante in a gutsy performance on Saturday, August 30th . The Wesley Ward trained filly squeezed through an opening in the stretch run and repelled a late bid by Her Emmynency to win by a neck going 7 furlongs. She showed great versatility by sitting back and rating behind horses for most of the race where in the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes she led gate to wire. She also galloped out well past the wire which was nice to see as well. View the winning performance here:

httpv://youtu.be/9s6R3Wf_4XM

Sunset Glow is a $140,000 purchase and has 3 wins and 2 places from five starts. She broke her maiden on turf against males by two lengths in June at Belmont Park, then shipped to England for the Royal Ascot meet where she finished second of twenty one fillies in the Group III Albany Stakes on June 20 after leading for much of the race. Given some rest while transferred to Del Mar, she regrouped to take the Sorrento by 3 1/4 lengths in a small field. By looking at her success both on turf and synthetics it appeared the logical choice would be to point her to The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf going a mile in November.

But Ward had other plans for her, bringing her with him to Kentucky to train her to run in the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades at Keenland in early October.  It would be the filly’s first attempt on a conventional dirt surface. “I don’t think it will be a problem,” Ward told the Daily Racing Form. “I’m excited about getting her back here (Keeneland). I think she’ll take to the dirt here.” Obviously Ward’s intentions are to run her in The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies race if she shows well at Keenland. She would probably be going up against some strong competition there. Luminance, Enchanting Lady, Tara’s Tango from out west and Condo Commando, Fashion Alert, and Cavorting from the east coast should present Sunset Glow with a competitive race to say the least. Does she have the talent to beat these foes? Can she run well on dirt? Will she like the added distance? Let’s examine her pedigree and other factors and find out.

Sire: Exchange Rate

Three Chimneys Farm says Exchange Rate is, “One of Danzig’s best sons at stud”. He is a beautiful horse that adds strong physical attributes and good looks to his babies.  So far in his career he’s accounted for 53 stakes winners. He has a reputation as a sire of sharp two year olds, shown by the fact that 45% of his stakes winners earned black type at 2. Exchange rate has sired winners on dirt, synthetic, and turf. His typical runners have fared well going one turn and he does add more of a speed influence to his offspring rather than stamina. Exchange rate is also noted for producing more talented fillies than colts. His best accomplishments on the track were winning the Risen Star Stakes at 3 and the Grade 2 Tom Fool Handicap at 4.

Sunset Glow’s 2nd sire is one of the all-time great North American sires Danzig. He was undefeated on the track with 3 wins when knee issues ended his career prematurely.  Danzig is represented by 188 stakes winners (107 Graded), tops among North American stallions, and ranks among the leaders by number of Breeders’ Cup winners. His offspring earned $101 million dollars on the track. He is also a superb sire of sires, giving us greats like Danehill (309 stakes winners/all-time record), Belong to Me, Langfuhr, and Polish Navy. Danzig was a legendary turf sire but he would also produce dirt greats, as evidenced by Chief’s Crown, Dance Smartly, War Chant and Pine Bluff.

Her 3rd sire is Northern Dancer who  The National Thoroughbred Racing Association called him “one of the most influential sires in Thoroughbred history”. So by looking at Sunset Glow’s sire line you see superstar stallions who sired winners on all surfaces which shows that she does have the ability to succeed on dirt. Now let’s turn to her distaff family which will tell us more about the surface she prefers, her class, and her ability to run longer distances.

Dam: Perfectforthepart

Perfectforthepart was a winner at 2 and 3 and placed in the Sarah Lane’s Oates Stakes at Fairgrounds (1 mile, turf). Sunset Glow is her first foal.

Her granddam, Capote Ann, was a winner at 2 and produced three winners.

Sunset Glow’s 3rd dam is Andestine. She earned $288,275 on the race track with a G1 win in the Milady Handicap (1 1/16 miles, dirt) and 2 other stakes wins. She also had 1 winner from one foal.

Sunset Glow has 3 Reines De Course mares in the 4th generation of her female family. Bramelea (dam of the great sire Roberto), On the Trail (Dam of Andover Way who was the dam of Dynaformer) and Too Bald (Broodmare of the Year in 1986). She is from family number 14 that produced Foolish Pleasure (Hall of Fame 2 year old American champion and Kentucky Derby winner). So as you can see there is a touch of class with the females Sunset Glow has on her distaff line. Now let’s look at her dam sires.

Dam Sire: Dynaformer

Sunset Glow is by the dam sire Dynaformer who was a 17 hands colt and a G2 winner on the race track. It was in the breeding shed where he shined, giving his progeny a great deal of stamina, stoutness, and superb turf performance. In 2012 at age 27, Dynaformer led all Kentucky and North American sires by turf progeny earnings (his sixth time as a leader in 11 years) and over 77% of his stakes winners scored on turf. But like Danzig, he was able to get horses who performed remarkably on dirt, such as Barbaro, Perfect Drift, Dynever and Critical Eye.

Her 2nd dam sire is the European raced turf superstar Roberto. On the track he was a champion 2 and 3 year old in Ireland and a champion 3 year old in England as well. He too added a ton of stamina to his offspring and was an excellent turf influence, giving us 1988 Eclipse award winning turfer Sunshine Forever, Australia Melbourne Cup winner At Talaq and British classic winner Touching Wood.

Sunset Glow’s 3rd dam sire is Hail to Reason. He was a champion 2 year old colt and the Leading Sire of North America in 1970. He sired 42 stakes winners and six champions. Hail to Reason was also a very successful broodmare sire whose daughters have produced more than one hundred stakes winners.

When looking at Sunset Glow’s dam sires you see offspring with a definite tilt towards turf greatness and horses who can travel long distances.

Sunset Glow’s Outlook:

I wrote a blog before the Travers Stakes asking how Mr. Speaker, a nice turf horse, would be able to handle the dirt. He finished a respectable fourth at long odds but his pedigree was filled with more dirt influences than Sunset Glow. Danzig was the sire of Hard Spun and grand sire of Big Brown, one performing well on polytrack before having dirt success while the other won twice on turf while almost winning the Triple Crown.. Dynaformer’s Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro won his first three races on turf. But Barbaro and Hard Spun had more dirt influences throughout there pedigree than Sunset Glow(She has great turf influences top to bottom in the first 2 generations of her pedigree). Almost every horse owner and trainer wants their horse on the Kentucky Derby or Oaks trail. I understand why Ward and her connections want to run her on dirt-she has shown to be a great filly so far on turf and synthetics. She shouldn’t have any problems running a mile and a sixteenth. If she can prove herself on dirt it puts her in the direction of a Kentucky Oaks run at three. She definitely deserves a shot-though I’m not thoroughly confident after looking at her pedigree that she has the bloodlines to succeed. If she is truly special than all bets are off. And if she doesn’t fare well at Keenland I hope they put her back on the lawn because her pedigree smacks of her being a real superstar there.

About the Author: Ever since 2004 when I picked Smarty Jones to win The Kentucky Derby I have been smitten by the horse racing bug. I love everything about horse racing-the handicapping, fans, writers, tracks, history, horses of course. I wanted to learn how they ran the way they did but more importantly why; their bloodlines. I truly enjoy learning and writing about horse pedigree and hope to share my enthusiasm with you so you can learn about a particular horse and how he/she is made up of a line of horses to form a family. Enjoy reading and please leave feedback. I will usually write an article a week so check back at bobschless@wordpress.com for more articles. You can also follow me on Twitter at @columbia7644 and Facebook. Thank you.