Saturday, June 23, 2007

Invasor Retires

He got dinged during a workout Saturday morning. I feel like we hardly got to know the guy. But I'm just glad his people did the right thing and retired him rather than risk serious injury.

Simulcast Blues

I had the day off from work on Friday so I decided to head over the the track and play some simulcast races, particularly races from the Stockton Fair. Hollywood Park had their races at night on Friday so there were no "local" tracks running during the day.

But after yesterdays experience I don't think I'll be going back to Santa Anita on Fridays when Hollywood runs at night. The problem I had is that all the patrons are funneled down into a cavernous, fully enclosed, air-conditioned, underground room, surrounded by banks of television sets and self-service betting machines. How hard would it have been to turn on a couple of betting machines upstairs? The pavilion and the runways under the grandstand were open but the only way to bet from up there was to walk around the corner and go down the stairs.

Things have changed so much at the track in the last 10-20 years. What's the difference between a quinella and an exacta box? For me, the whole simulcast experience is hard to get used to. I mean, I understand it but I don't like it much. There were 10 or more different tracks running yesterday including Mohawk. Mohawk? I was trying to concentrate on Stockton but the TV in front of my table that was featuring Stockton somehow ended up showing races from Mohawk and the Meadowlands. You know, races with horses pulling carts loaded up with an aerodynamic pilot called a driver. Yeah. It was disappointing to say the least.

Part of what makes Santa Anita such a great track is the atmosphere. Yesterday I might as well have been at a sportsbook at some sleezy casino out in the California desert. The pavilion at Santa Anita is a great place. So is the grandstand and the runways behind the grandstand.

The underground room isn't such a nice place.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bay Meadows Lives (in principal)

Long live Bay Meadows! Sounds like the California Racing Board has granted a one-year extension or a waiver, so the track will have extra time to install the required synthetic racing surface. Developers must have been salivating at the chance to build thousands of condos on the site of the 73 year old facility, right in the heart of the inflated Bay Area housing market. Ha ha.

I've never been there but I always refer to the place as "up north". I did drive by it once. I was up there with a girlfriend (in San Mateo) and we were leaving our hotel and we drove south on whatever street it is and I looked to my left and, there she was. Bay Meadows!

We didn't stop though. Everything in life is timing.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Tiago Back In Swaps?

Above is a picture I snapped of Tiago in the paddock before the Santa Anita Derby. Mike Smith looks supremely confident above the 29-1 shot Tiago. Tiago looks nice and relaxed. I was anxious to get to the window and get him into an exacta with King of the Roxy.

It looks like he might be making his next start in the Swaps Stakes, Grade II (1 1/8 miles) for 3-year-olds at Hollywood Park, July 14. You know, he might go off as the favorite that day, and that's funny since he's really only put his nose on the line first in one race (Santa Anita Derby, Grade I). His maiden win was via disqualification.

But he ran a nice race in the Belmont Stakes as Mike Smith held him just off the leaders, instead of far back which seemed to be the tendency. He may grow into this style.

Cobalt Blue is back on Sunday in the Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park(1 1/16 miles for 3-year-olds). He finished second as the heavy favorite in the Alydar a few weeks ago and Merv (Griffin) is trying to get him back into the winner's circle for the first time since his win in the San Felipe Stakes on March 17.

Speaking of action at Hollywood Park, the Hollywood Gold Cup is June 30.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Story About Detachment

On Saturday afternoon, about 10 minutes before the Belmont I scribbled the numbers 7-3-2 in my program. A trifecta bet. Rags to Riches - Curlin - Tiago. I didn't bet it. I instead bet a Rags - Tiago exacta and Rags to win. I covered myself okay. But I was stubbornly still in awe of my own handicapping abilities dating back to April 7 and the Santa Anita Derby when I had the Tiago - King of the Roxy exacta which paid $191 for the $1 bet. How did I do that? I got lucky.

Bettors all around were scratching their heads while I cashed my ticket. Rule #1: Never stand in awe of your own handicapping abilities. As Charles Bukowski teaches us, to "beat the races" you must have, "the character, the knowledge, and the detachment."

So I missed the trifecta in the Belmont because I somehow figured Curlin out of the equation. How is that for detachment? Rule #2: Bet who you think will win, not who you want to win.

As we know Rags won. She'll probably go on to be Horse of the Year and in time will become a "legend of the sport" and the ghost of her as a racehorse will haunt us. The best ever! The best racehorse of all time! That I saw! Never a faster filly! Never a tougher one!

Even as the ghost of Magnificience haunts our dreams and causes us to wake up in a cold sweat in absolute terror as we stare at the ceiling.

So, now what? In some years, when detachment sets in, Rags to Riches will be the kind of horse that will force the most jaded of horse players to stand in awe. Consider the breeding angle. I don't know squat about the politics of breeding but one thing I do know is that attempts will be made to breed Rags with some good horses. Rags to Riches with Point Given for example. Curlin? Oh the horror!

There will be a maiden special weight race at Hollywood Park, in let's say, five or ten years. Two years olds going 5 furlongs. There will be a colt or filly named (insert name here), running in the race. A guy will flip open the Racing Form, turn to the race and take a look at the field. All first time starters. The guy next to him will say:

"What do you think of the 7 horse? Gomez aboard..."
"Forget Gomez, take a look at the mare."

Silence for a moment as both men, grizzled track vets, fight off the chills as they scribble a 7 in their programs.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

This One Was Great

Do you think she'll run against the boys again? Or was the point made? Forget that, do you think she'll be invited back after abusing her rivals today?

She deserves Horse of the Year honors already. I doubt another horse will win 4 straight Grade I races this year. And she might win 5 (or more)!

What an impressive run it was too. She broke slow and was wide around every turn. Curlin is still a bit of a freak but what does that make Rags? A monster!

Tiago and Hard Spun are still nice horses. I expected a little more from Imawildandcrazyguy but what can be expected when a deep closer spots world class horses 20 lengths.

It was exciting watching it on the big screen outside at Santa Anita. People were excited. And like we were saying today, 'the smart money was on her'. She's ours and now she belongs to everybody.

Not to mention the fact that I only cashed two tickets today, and she gave me one of them. Thanks Rags!

2007 Belmont Stakes

Friday, June 8, 2007

Let's Play Beat The Favorite: The So-Cal Exacta

Every handicappers favorite game: Beat the favorite.

Curlin has to be feared and respected. He's the best horse in the race (on paper) and has really done nothing wrong in his 5 career races. His performance in The Preakness shows why he will go off as the favorite tomorrow in the Belmont. He'll probably go off near his 6-5 morning line.


With that said, Rags to Riches is the class of the field. Three straight Grade I wins. All class. She's done nothing wrong either. She may go off at 3-1 or maybe even 2-1 if people start to get real excited about her. She's bred for the distance. Todd Pletcher has to pick up a Triple Crown win sooner or later, why not with his best 3-year-old? She wins.

Tiago seems to be improving and if Mike Smith keeps him close and keeps his head in the game, he'll be flying late in the stretch when half the horses start running backwards. He might go off around 8-1.

Let's put Rags (Santa Anita Oaks winner) and Tiago (Santa Anita Derby winner) in a $1 exacta box and see what happens.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Belmont Horror Stories

My first Belmont heartbreak was Alysheba. I still think he could have handled the mile-and-a-half if he hadn't decided to throw in a clunker that day in 1987.

In 1998, when Victory Gallop ran down Real Quiet with an inch to go in the race to deny him history and the Triple Crown I was at a baby shower. Yep. But I did watch the race. I found a TV at the house and watched the darn thing by myself, with the party going on in the background. Never again.

In 2004, I had myself all set up in my living room to watch Smarty Jones take his run at the Triple Crown. As the horses were being loaded into the gate, there was a knock on my screen door. It was two Mormon missionaries asking me if I believed in God. "Well, I believe in Smarty Jones, so ask me after the race."

They waited at my door while I watched the race. I watched as Smarty Jones succumbed to Birdstone and the Curse of Billy Penn.

This year, I've already made plans for the race, and will be watching it at my local off-track wagering site. No interruptions.

1987 Belmont Stakes

The First Bet Should Be The Win Bet

Lots of characters populate the betting section of a local race track. Some people bet longshots, others bet fifty 10-cent superfectas per race, while others place wagers based on the color of the jockey's silks.

Very little can be learned from the above group of "handicappers".

But there is this one guy I run into at the track and he is a consistent winner. He bets big and wins more than he loses, so he comes out on top. He mostly a "tote board" handicapper but reads the form inside out and understands it.

He follows the money being bet and understands it to the point of absurdity. Baffert's crew had a horse in a maiden race recently and this guy remarked that if the barn is going to "hit" their horse (bet on it), they do it about half way through the betting. Sure enough, with 12 minutes to post the horse took a "hit" and went from 8-1 to 5-1. A sign? Isn't everything? I didn't bet the horse who ended up running third.

This guy teaches that the first bet on a race should be the win bet. In other words, if you feel strongly about a horse in a race and think you have the race nailed you should bet the horse to win before you make any crazy exotic bets. Of course, I rarely do this since I am looking for "value" as he says. He also recently scolded me for failing to "open up the key" properly on a trifecta bet that made. In that race, I bet "around" the winners and spent five minutes showings others my losing ticket.

Anyway, I had a race nailed and told people I liked the 2. He was 5-1 so I placed him on top of some trifectas and exactas. I also told people that I liked the 2, who had by post time drifted up to 8-1. Sure enough, he won. After the race:

"You got it," he said.
"No I didn't bet him to win."
He just looked at me. "He went off at 8."

I just returned the look and shrugged my shoulders.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Class Is In Session

Sorry to ruin everybody's party but "Rags" is gonna win this thing.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Beat The Races

There's an old picture of my grandfather. I just dug it out of a box. He's standing outside the walking ring at Hialeah Park sometime during the week of February 21, 1941.

The year Dispose won the Flamingo Stakes, Big Pebble the Widener Handicap and Whirlaway the Triple Crown. Before the U.S was pulled into WWII. Back when men wore shirts and ties to the track.

He was standing with his back to the ring and the old-fashioned win-place-show tote board is over his left shoulder. There's a skinny, crooked palm tree over his right. Lots of men, mostly men, are behind him, wearing fedoras and jackets, and are between him and ring, so I can't see any horses in the photo.

I never knew him. He died in '48. I didn't come along for another 24 years. My grandmother snapped the photo, I'm sure. They were on their honeymoon and on a vacation away from the West Philadelphia winter. On the back of the photo she wrote "Week of 2-21-41".

I doubt that they decided to go to the races as an afterthought. There are so many pictures from that day with him standing at various locations at the park. His new wife, my grandmother, nice enough to play along.

He had binoculars hanging from his neck and a cigarette in his left hand. I'm not sure where his program and form were though. He probably left them on the table like my dad does.