The Fork in the Road

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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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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 16-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He cashed on the NHC Tour for 2018 with a 19th overall finish. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

Comments

  1. David Juffet says

    Good story Rich. I have a few too!

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