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Location: Stockton, California, United States

Some call me OlRailbird.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Zenyatta Saturday

I have nothing to say about the Derby except the winner shocked me. The cowboys pulled a fast one. The cat was out of the bag in the Preakness, but the filly still beat him.She didn't look like she wanted another quarter mile, though. Could have 3 different winners in 3 races.

Nice filly though, huh? Like the males, she's probably more valuable in the shed than on the track.

Speaking of fillies, may we present the Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park. A mile and a sixteenth on whatever track this is – cushion track? It's remarkably better for bettors than the Santa Anita crap. Fillies and Mares, 3 and up.

An ungraded $150K purse seems like peanuts to Zenyatta, who is looking to tune up after a seven month layoff. Her average money per start is $238K and a win here is only worth $90K. She appears head and shoulders better than what usually competes in such races, but will she turn in a good effort off the long layoff?

While Zenyatta rested, Life Is Sweet assumed the mantle of most feared female by reeling off two Grade 2 wins and a Grade 1. Both are trained by John Shirreffs but are not a betting entry. Strange how often the longest shot of an uncoupled entry wins. I think that's why they used to be coupled.

The rest of the horses appear to be a fairly humble group of turf horses, several trying this artificial surface for the first time. I think turf horses react favorably to artificial surfaces. Look for some of these guys to step up their game.

They are up against the best female in the world, as measured by the Breeder's Cup. Is anything these horses can do going to be enough? It's doubtful, but they're offering long odds.

There's little room for error playing 2 to 5 five shots. I can make excuses for practically any of these horses winning, as shocking as that might seem at first. A loss here risks Zenyatta's undefeated stature, but if you run her long enough she'll get beat. Is it today? Today's the best excuse she'll get for losing.

It's tempting to bet everyone except the top two, that's six win tickets because I'm sure Hot N Dusty is scratched. One of them might turn the trick for a tidy profit. I don't think of trying stuff like this very often, because its usually a bad idea to back more than one horse to win. You need long odds and live horses along with the hope that something goes wrong for the favorites.

Zenyatta is using this race as a workout. Shirreffs has the next best thing if the big horse somehow falters. On paper, they are 1-2 by a city block. They don't run on paper, so there's a chance to upset.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Derby Picks

Here are my 2009 Kentucky Derby picks:

Ra 11 Horse ML FAIR
13 I WANT REVENGE 3.0 3.90
7 PAPA CLEM 20.0 9.20
2 MUSKET MAN 20.0 10.50
5 HOLD ME BACK 15.0 12.40
11 CHOCOLATE CANDY 20.0 14.30
3 MR. HOT STUFF 30.0 14.50
1 WEST SIDE BERNIE 30.0 16.70
10 REGAL RANSOM 30.0 20.30
19 DESERT PARTY 15.0 20.30
6 FRIESAN FIRE 5.0 20.50
12 GENERAL QUARTERS 20.0 22.70
15 DUNKIRK 4.0 24.30
20 FLYING PRIVATE 50.0 32.80
14 ATOMIC RAIN 50.0 38.40
17 SUMMER BIRD 50.0 38.40
9 JOIN IN THE DANCE 50.0 46.50
8 MINE THAT BIRD 50.0 47.00
4 ADVICE 30.0 49.00
18 NOWHERE TO HIDE 50.0 58.50

Here's a video of the top three in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. Pioneer of the Nile looked like a monster that day and he hasn't done anything wrong since.

I'm not saying this is going to be a two horse race, but the top two look pretty strong against these. If money gets spread around, a simple exacta box might pay well.

If you're looking for longshots, don't expect Papa Clem to reach his morning line. He might be less than 10-1. Musket Man and Hold Me Back could get a piece at a price.

Good Luck and Safe Racing!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Derby Odds

Mike Battaglia has published his morning line on the 2009 Kentucky Derby.

Battaglia is widely acknowledged as the best in the business.

Post Position
1West Side BernieStewart ElliottKelly Breen30-1
2Musket ManEibar CoaDerek Ryan20-1
3Mr. Hot StuffJohn VelazquezEoin Harty30-1
4AdviceRene DouglasTodd Pletcher30-1
5Hold Me BackKent DesormeauxBill Mott15-1
6Friesan FireGabriel SaezJ. Larry Jones5-1
7Papa ClemRafael BejaranoGary Stute20-1
8Mine That BirdCalvin BorelBennie Woolley Jr.50-1
9Join in the DanceChris DeCarloTodd Pletcher50-1
10Regal RansomAlan GarciaSaeed bin Suroor30-1
11Chocolate CandyMike SmithJerry Hollendorfer20-1
12General QuartersJulien LeparouxTom McCarthy20-1
13I Want RevengeJoe TalamoJeff Mullins3-1
14Atomic RainJoe BravoKelly Breen50-1
15DunkirkEdgar PradoTodd Pletcher4-1
16Pioneerof the NileGarrett GomezBob Baffert4-1
17Summer BirdChris RosierTim Ice50-1
18Nowhere to HideShaun BridgmohanNick Zito50-1
19Desert PartyRamon Dominguez Saeed bin Suroor15-1
20Flying PrivateRobby AlbaradoD. Wayne Lukas50-1

I'll be posting my handicap on HorseCalc and here Friday night.

Glancing at the past performances, you have to respect Pioneer of the Nile. Since Baffert took over as trainer he is 4 for 4. I Want Revenge is 0 for 2 against him. IWR and Papa Clem were both run out of Southern California by Pioneer...Can they beat him now?

Good Luck.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Shoot the 7 and I Got It!

Is there anything you hate worse than watching your trifecta run 2,3,4 behind some longshot winner that you didn't figure? That's when even the most optimistic of us start suspecting foul play.

I just watched two races in a row where the seven horse wiped out scrumptious superfectas by romping to an easy win. The saddle cloth number doesn't matter, just the fact that there was no way in my world view that horse would hit the board, much less annihilate the field.

For Southern California, I started a text file I call cheaters.txt just for this type of horse. I'm not going to post it because it's an incomplete work in progress. Maybe they're not "cheaters," either but something was weird according to my race perceptions.

So far, two theories stand out:

1) If the trainer and the owner are "connected" (same guy, same family, his farm) and the odds are good, look out.

2) If the jockey is J Rosario and the odds are good, look out.

This isn't going to work at small tracks where the trainers and owners are nearly all inter-related. Hell, it may not make money at a big track where trainers have many clients -- it just seems like it could.

The Pamplemousse is out of the Kentucky Derby and will likely miss six months of racing.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Pamplemousse

First, read this article and watch the video of the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita.

The first time I saw this horse entered I was attracted to his bizarre name -- The Pamplemousse! "What the hell is a Pamplemousse?" I thought. His name was wacky enough to stand out as a maiden and be remembered as he started winning.

It turns out Pamplemousse is French for grapefruit, a fact that exposes my poor breeding. Had I had a Hoity-Toity upbringing I would have known this and never enjoyed watching the horse develop. Ignorance really can be bliss!

It turns out the horse isn't so much named for a fruit as named for a restaurant near Del Mar racetrack that is popular with jockeys and trainers. Some of the same people who own the horse own the restaurant and so the name of the horse makes sense after all.

There is more strangeness to this story, however. It turns out the son of the horse's jockey, Alex Solis, owns a piece so it will be a cold day in hell before The Pamplemousse suffers a jockey change. Add to the mix the colorful Julio Canani as trainer and we have a tale worthy of a bonefide Derby Contender. The LATimes reveals details in this great story.

There is still more than two (2) months until the Kentucky Derby and a lot can change for fragile thoroughbreds in such a long span of time. Between now and then lies the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, and even a win there may only label The Pamplemousse as a synthetic specialist.

Well, I have a theory about synthetics (but it may be wrong.) I think they're slippery, nasty surfaces in the heat and clumpy, holey obstacle courses in the cold. Maybe horses that run well on synthetics are horses that watch where to put their feet. Dirt and turf horses just run along stepping where they please without paying attention to their footing. A switch from dirt to synthetic might be the kiss of death, but a switch from synthetic to dirt might be fine.

Anyway, The Pamplemousse is a big, strong, fast horse. I don't know who on the West Coast has the credentials to challenge him in the Santa Anita Derby. If he wires the field there, look for him to try the same on the first Saturday in May.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Random Santa Anita

I haven't written for a while because everything I previously said is still true. Santa Anita still sucks. The results seem only slightly beyond random. There is a Pick Six carryover nearly every day, including today. Thanks to a $115 horse, there is a $169,000 carry into Wednesday.

Still, I continue to make and publish selections everyday at www.horsecalc.com.

Most experts will tell you to avoid minor tracks because the animals are sore and cannot be counted upon to give their best effort. They insist you limit your play to major tracks with valuable horses as their "class" makes them more consistent. Steven Crist, Publisher of the Daily Racing Form, adheres strictly to the class track theory and only plays Southern California and New York.

Well, I can't speak for New York, but the artificial surface at Santa Anita can make a Grade I Stakes the functional equivalent of a $4,500 claimer at Retama. The footing negates track class and we are left trying to profit from as few "right run" races at Santa Anita as anywhere else.

The only advantage Anita now has over the smaller tracks is larger pools. Sometimes, larger pools can be a disadvantage -- I once swiped $2,550 on a $1 exacta from a small US pool bet on Australia because I had the only winning ticket (and the horses were only 12-1 & 25-1.)

Some of you may be thinking I'm full of sour grapes because my top selections haven't been winning. I don't keep close records, but I can say that my top picks are winning at a clip consistent with my past performance. I would even bet that Santa Anita will record winning favorite percentages close to the norm of 30%. Most of that number comes from short fields and of course no record is kept of how often rude longshots finish in the money to screw up your exotic bets. The favorite can win one in three while unhandicapable horses win the other two.

All in all, I'll be glad when Santa Anita closes.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Why Bother with Horse Racing?

Joe Hirsch, racing's inimitable chronicler, died three days ago at the ripe old age of eighty. Mr. Hirsch was an unflappable fan of thoroughbred racing who reported only the bright side and never focused on the unseemly.

Yes, Joe was a cheerleader for the sport. He was a bright ray of hope even as the industry declined before his retirement in 2003. He struggled with the infirmities of Parkinson's Disease, but never let it dim his positive image of the sport he loved.

Joe was an admirable man, but was he racing's Pollyanna? He always saw the decent side of horse racing, the noble spirit of the animals and the good-natured competition between racing people. His writings reflected great truths of racing while ignoring its great lies.

Sometimes, when I get depressed (which, I admit, is quite often) I wonder why I would care which rich man's horse is faster than other rich men's horses. Ultimately, in the big picture that is human civilization, does it really matter how fast an animal ran or who it beat? For that matter, does the Super Bowl or the World Series matter a smidgen in the greater scheme of things? No. No, of course none of these things truly matter.

Do the starving millions matter? Does it matter who is President or who wins an Academy Award? Does it matter if you pray or who you pray to? Is there anything at all that matters except what you will eat next and where you might lay your head tonight?

In the larger scope of things, it wouldn't really matter to the Universe if the earth were rendered lifeless by a massive plasma discharge from the sun.

In the end, nothing matters. Most scientists believe the universe is expanding to infinity and no life will be possible once we're positioned into the cold expanse of space.

So, what do we do? We diddle around with sports and politics and literature and history and science and we pretend that what we concern ourselves with is somehow meaningful, despite knowing it is all just illusion.

Well, the world is not ending tomorrow despite what you read about Wall Street. So, we have this time to fill with idle pursuits. Mostly, we pursue what fills our bellies and fulfills our desires.

We look around and wonder how to invigorate our curiosity and fill our wallets. We realize that horse racing can possibly do both. We can gamble on the outcome of competition between the horses of rich men and possibly enrich ourselves. The sport entices our avarice!

I mourn the passing of Joe as I mourn the passing of all things. Times seem more complicated now, and I wonder if a cheerleader such as Joe Hirsch would find success today. I wonder if a Pollyanna view of the "Sport of Kings" is even beneficial given the difficulties we now face.

I love racing. I love the mental challenge of picking not only winners, but the formulation of structured bets on exotic wagers. I doubt there is a drug that can compare to the mental rush of cashing a high payoff. If I lose today, I play tomorrow, convinced my insight into the sport will prove profitable.

As much as I love it, I know the pitfalls of being involved with a game that is designed to take my money and give it to other people. I know the takeout is way too high and that critical handicapping information is purposely withheld. I further understand that the combination of poor information and high takeouts leads to the financial demise of 99.9% of handicappers. If that weren't enough, there are the cheaters and all the new ways they find to cheat.

Still, I play.

Am I a fool or an optimist? Either way, maybe I'm not so different from Joe Hirsch.

Beat a Dead Horse

First, read this.

Santa Anita might be bankrupting me, but it is killing horses.

I'll tell you what I think -- I think synthetic racing surfaces have a narrow temperature band where they are viable. Maybe 65F-75F. European temperatures?

Above the band, the horses slosh around the track, seeking traction on rubber-coated ball bearings. Below the band the junk clumps into a minefield of chunks and stumbles.

No wonder the results seem random...the surface is so bad it equalizes the odds. The only thing worse than asking bettors to gamble on this surface is asking horses to run over it.

As I see it, we have three choices:

1. Regulate the sun.
2. Only race in May and October.
3. Return to real dirt.

Carryovers prove my theory

The track at Santa Anita sucks.

The Pick Six carries over most days, with 1.2 million on a 3 day spurt last Saturday. Oddly, the horses were formful that day resulting in a modest $9K or so payoff.

Still, the track just seems really, really weird to me.

Sure, management points to 1/3 of winners being favorites last year, but that was a different track. Even if it were the same track, having one third favorites win doesn't mean the track is fair or normal. You know what Mark Twain said about statistics.

If I had two eyes, a nose and a mouth you would think I was normal until I told you they were all on my ass. Now you know from whence I speak...

Still, I soldier on, trying to make sense of the senseless.

Today, Bob Baffert had three horses entered in the feature race and won it, of course, with the longest odds of the bunch paying $51. Explaining the failure of one of his well-backed entrants he casually remarked that the horse is "better on dirt." The horse that won was entered via showing some promise on grass.

Bob must think this synthetic ain't dirt, but it ain't grass neither...