Friday, January 27, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: Pegasus World Cup Invitational

Stronach Ideas Take Flight in 2017 Pegasus

By: The Turk

Welcome Friends to The Turk and the Little Turk, now entering our ninth year of giving unsolicited horse racing handicaps to people who never asked for them.  Today the Turk has the honor of writing the handicap for The Pegasus World Cup Invitational, a $12,000,000 purse doozy of a Grade 1 race.  I'd be remiss if right out of the gate I don't thank the good people at The Thorofan and the Handicapper's Corner for allowing me this pulpit to ramble from.

The hip bloggers like to criticize.  The Turk ain't hip (in case you didn't know, 3rd person references are oh so not hip.)  This inaugural Pegasus Invitational to me seemed like a real revolutionary idea, not a complete game changer because you couldn't do too many of these without upsetting the natural order of the racing calendar and dates, but still a real unique idea to develop another destination day for fans of the sport between the Breeders' Cup in early November and the Kentucky Derby in May.  Because of the decentralized nature of horse racing, anyone who steps outside the lines gets criticized, and The Stronach Group took plenty of criticism for the event.  There is a rant that relates perfectly to horse racing, the definition of insanity is.....blah blah blah.  I'm old enough to remember horse racing still as culturally relevant sport in the 1970's.  I'm old enough to remember the beauty of Hialeah and I shake my head at the loss of Hollywood.  The sport is dying but critics keep on doing what they do best.

What about this race?  The idea was announced May 12, 2016.  For this race which replaces the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, the traditional first Handicap Division Grade 1 of the Winter Season,  12 spots in the starting gate were sold for $1.0 Million each, with all participants sharing equally the net income (net: expenses paid first) from handle, media rights and sponsorship's.  The purse was purely raised by the participants.  For a track like Gulfstream, the scene of Saturday's race, this will have the effect of a second Florida Derby, by far the premier date in the South Florida tracks calendar every year.  According to Tim Ritvo, President of Gulfstream and Chief Operating Officer of Stronach Group, Florida Derby is about $36.0 Million each year and the internal goal was to reach $40.0 Million for Saturday's card (TDN).  That's meaningful, especially combined with other streams of revenue not normal to their business, parking and a general admission. Television, the big prize, is an interesting subject.  How many of you realize the only three races that the networks pay for each year are the Triple Crown Races?  That's it.  Stronach Group is paying the network, NBC, to televise this event in the hopes that their is enough interest to create a television revenue stream in future years.    (Let's just keep criticizing them though).

It did take until January 16th to fill the final two slots in the race.  While California Chrome's connections were early slot purchaser's,  the big buzz building action occurred on December 22, when Coolmore sold to Juddmonte a slot and Arrogate was then in the mix.  Grade 1 winner Gun Runner, winner of Clark Handicap in late November, was penciled into the slot owned by Mick Ruis, but a EHV-1 quarantine at Fairgrounds, and an unwillingness by the connections to take a nose swap test (which has a 15% false positive rate) which if failed, would have forced the horse to be at risk standing around with other quarantined horses for 30 more days, was too big a risk to take (Paulick Report 1/22).  It's unfortunate as this race could have used another relevant Grade 1 winner.

So while the number of opportunities to pull something like this off seem limited during a race calendar without throwing the conditions book a tizzy, this late January date has some intriguing possibilities. A horse running in this race ($12 Million) could use it as a prep for Dubai World Cup ($10 Million) and top his year with the Breeders' Cup Classic ($6 Million).  That's a $28 Million dollar year.  American Pharoah's connections, specifically Justin Zayat states they would have highly considered running the Triple Crown winner at four if Pegasus was an option (Ehalt.)  Steve Asmussen says "I wish I had Curlin running next year" (Ehalt.) Baffert wishes he had Game On Dude.  Paul Reddam, owner of Nyquist, bought a slot.  Doug O'Neill, Nyquist's trainer says "It would be a dream come true to have a huge Breeders' Cup Classic performance and then look at the Pegasus.  Anyone with a 3 Year Old or older top male is thinking that way" (Ehalt.)  These are the biggest names in the sport and they realize that this race, if successful and if it becomes an annual fixture, might slow the run to the breeding shed a bit and keep those stars active in their fourth year.

If successful, the Pegasus could be the race that extends careers and provides a distraction in late January, especially on a slow before Super Bowl weekend.  That's the idea.  If I was going to criticize anything, it's the distance at 1 1/8 miles.  The classic US dirt distance is 1 1/4 miles.  The track:  Running a 1 1/8 mile race on a 1 1/8 oval creates issues, namely the first turn is very close to the starting gate.  The track will be speed favoring most likely.  The break and where you go into and out of that first turn is most likely the key to handicapping this race.  Handicapping this race is what I was asked to do and I've rambled quite a bit about the race because of the uniqueness of it, but the field, a real ugh.  Arrogate, not traditionally a good starter. Baffert himself said "Out of the blocks, he doesn't fire away from there (the gate).  He's got a tremendous stride, a tremendous kick and he does have speed" (Paulick 1/10).   California Chrome is way out in gate 12.  In between represents my biggest disappointment with North American racing, the dearth of quality handicap division horses.

With two huge favorites expected to go off much less than 2-1, I'm thinking betting strategy before I even handicap, typically a no-no in my rule book.  I could spend a bunch of time trying to be a wise guy and and explain why Semper Fortis is flying under the radar, but instead I'm already thinking about lightly priced exotic tickets with Arrogate and Chrome covering the top spots and a few other runners mixed in at the bottom of the ticket.  Risk/Reward.  What are you willing to risk in betting capital and opportunity cost (the time handicapping this race when you can be handicapping a race with less sex appeal and more earnings appeal) and what is the reward.  Do you see payouts that excite you with two heavy favorites 1-2 and someone from the field in 3 and 4?  Me either.  Yes, handle will be good and Will Pay suggests an investment expecting a positive ROI should cause you to take pause betting more than $45-50 on a $2 trifecta ticket.  I'm not your mother, I don't care what you bet as you are a grown up, but what's the reward is a question you have to ask yourself.

 Another thing I think Stronach deserves credit for: a 5 pound weight break if they run lasix free. One runner  took them up on it, hopefully this trend will spread in the condition book.

Let's get after this!

I saw absolutely no reason to make much of a consideration for five of the entrants and for better or worse I tossed them.  You can't cover everybody, or technically you can, but again, Risk/Reward.  The larger the number of covers and the larger the bet cost, and I'm not hip (as we established early on) enough to make a decent wise guy case that War Envoy will be shocking the world.  Class.  Current Condition. Pace. Quality of Competition. The hallmarks of my handicapping style make me lean very heavy towards Chrome and Arrogate.  They will be in the top four barring injury or some sort of unavoidable, horrible trip.  And then there is that first turn.  I'm focused purely on who will be forward positioned enough going into that first turn that they can make a late race mild rally to challenge for a spot in the ticket. 

I'm not going to overthink this at all.  I expect Chrome and Arrogate will challenge for the top spot.  If forced to pick I give a slight edge to Arrogate and Mike Smith Up.  Chrome has to move a long way over to not be too wide through the first turn.  If it was classic distance I'd be more concerned about running out of gas, but the shorter distance should allow him to expend early or 1st corner energy. 

 I think Johnny V will have Pletcher's Neolitic near the front and on the rail through the first turn.  That should set him up well to be part of cavalry charge at the end, maybe moving forward or backwards.  Only horse in this race with 2 Gulfstream wins, an N1X (smh) in December. 

I like Shaman Ghost quite a bit.  What a boon to Ontario Racing and breeding if he would pull an upset here (and what a hoot if Stronach wins their own race.) Training well and winner of a watered down Woodward G1.

 Keen Ice, Noble Bird and Breaking Lucky round out my contenders.

So what to do? Risk/Reward should govern us.

A Super High Five might look like this:  $2 Super High Five with 1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7-9-4-10 X 3-7-9-4-10 X 3-7-9-4-10 would cost $240.  You'd cover your bet easily but this is no better than a scratch off lottery ticket.
A $2 Superfecta might look like this: $2 Superfecta with 1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7-9-4-10 X 3-7-9-4-10 would cost $80.
A $2 Trifecta might look like this: $2 Trifecta with 1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7-9-4-10  would cost $20. 

I'll most likely assemble bets that look a bit like this:  $2 Superfecta  1-12 X 1-12 X 3-7 X 3-7-9-4-10 for $32.

Have fun with it and whatever risk level you feel is appropriate.

Turk Out! 

Works Cited: 
Ehalt, Bob "The Pegasus: The Growing World Wide buzz over a Race that could change the Economics of Racing." Thoroughbred Racing Commentary.  Web 23 August 2016. 

Paulick Report. "Gun Runner's Connections Opt Out of Pegasus World Cup Consideration"  22 January 2017. Web. 

Paulick Report. "Baffert: Arrogate's Post Position draw in Pegasus 'Very Important' "  10 January 2017. Web. 

TDN Thoroughbred Daily News. "Ritvo Discusses Pegasus Planning, Expectations" 24 January 2017. Web.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: Sunshine Millions Classic

Eight Contest Sunshine Millions Stakes

By: Jeff Cobb, Chalk Eating Weasel

The big race at Gulfstream Park on Saturday is the Sunshine Millions Classic run at 9 furlongs. Although the name sounds grand with Millions and Classic in the title, this race will yield neither millions or a classic as the field seems to be a motley gathering of claiming horses and a couple of marginally competent stakes horses.

Let's polish off the obvious throw out. #5 Joshua's Comprise should be running in $10,000 claimers for non-winner of 3. The fact that he has won over 300k in his racing career is testament to his hardy stock and ability to stay healthy. The fact that it has taken him 55 races to earn this bankroll is a testament to his woeful lack of ability. I think GP must pay Barry Rose to enter this guy over his head to help fill out fields. Why else would you enter him? Yet he does have a snowball's chance because the field is so mediocre. Put him on your pick 6 ticket. If, by some miracle he can win, you'll take the pool.

#1 Tiger of Wales looks moderately interesting. Back on the mainland after spending the 2nd half of 2016 in Puerto Rico. Michael Maker put's up Tyler Gafflione who has won 5 of 15 for the trainer with 67% ITM finishes in the last 60 days. I like the post position and the 20/1 morning line. Tiger likes the track and there are a couple of speedsters on the outside that could set up the race for this one. The knock is that 3 of his 5 wins come from Indiana, Thistledown, and Belterra Park, not exactly race tracks of champions

#2 Nauset Beach, ridden by Paco Lopez and trained by Teresa Pompey, is another possibility. Not as many wins as the tiger, but the track quality is superior to the Tiger's as witnessed by the greater total winnings. Nauset Beach is another which could benefit if the pace gets hot.  Speaking of hot, Paco has been, and his aggressive riding style should position Nauset Beach perfectly to exploit any pace meltdown. At 12/1 this one is worth a serious look.

#3 Hy Riverside is trained by Antonio Sano and gets the services of Jose Ortiz. Hy has some stakes experience, including running roughly 5 lengths behind the morning line fave Awesome Slew. Hy  has somewhat better figures than the a fore discussed horses. Distance may be an issue for him as he doesn't seem to make up much ground when stretching out. This one looks like he'd be happier at 7 to 8 furlongs than 9.

#4 We're All Set gets another hot jock in Luis Saez riding for Fernando Abreu who is quietly having a respectable meet winning at a 16% clip. This is another I think will not thrive at the distance; however, he has he had good success last year at GP and comes in fresh having been off for about 6 weeks.

#6 Piloting is one of the outside speedsters. Trained by Mark Casse and ridden by Luca Panici. Luca is a competent jock, but if Piloting had a real shot, he'd be getting a bigger name on the back. The best I think he can hope for is spoiling the race for the other speed, Awesome Slew (#8).

#7 Uncle Vinny gets the classic Pletcher/Johnny V. connection. Uncle Vinny was highly thought of as a 2yo but never delivered on that optimism. There are others in here that seem to be faster and since he finished 13 lengths behind Awesome Slew in the Smarty Jones at Parx. Not likely to improve here.

Finally, the #8 Awesome Slew.  I hate the 8 post out at this distance at GP.  Awesome Slew is 7/5 on the morning line and is clearly the cream of this crop. However, the combination of the PP and #6 Piloting showing speed on the inside could send the Slewster wide into the 1st turn or over extended early to avoid the wide trip.  I think, if you are interested in getting some value, we can play against Awesome Slew. Eddie Plesa wins a lot of races of this sort, but this isn't Monmouth. So I suggest playing against Awesome Slew here.  Don't worry that Castellano is riding. The real question here is why isn't Paco riding for Plesa. These two are as thick as thieves at Monmouth.

I will try to beat the fave with Paco on #2 Nauset Beach. It maybe that Awesome Slew will flex his class muscle and out run the field, but you won't get paid.  Of course, for some people, getting paid is enough. The pace scenario sets up perfectly for Nauset Beach and the 2nd post position will work in his favor.

Play Nauset Beach to win. Use Awesome Slew, Hy Riverside and Tiger Beach in your exotics. 

Handicapper's Corner: LeComte Stakes (G3)

A Dozen Colts Lineup for 2012 LeComte Stakes

By: Nicolle Neulist, Blinkers Off

Race 11: Lecomte Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt, post time 5:00pm CST

This year marks the 73rd running of the Lecomte Stakes, a race that has held Grade III designation since 2003, and been run at distances varying from a mile to a mile and an eighth.  

Lecomte, by Boston out of the mare Reel, is best known as the only horse to hand Lexington a defeat.  On April 8, 1854, Lecomte beat Lexington in two straight four-mile heats, with his setting a new four-mile record of 7 minutes, 26 seconds. Lecomte is also a half-brother of another horse whose name lives on as the namesake of a three-year-old stakes race: his dam Reel also produced Prioress, by Sovereign.  Racing from ages two through seven, Prioress was the first American-bred and American-owned horse to win in England, and still has a sophomore fillies' sprint stakes run in her honor at Saratoga.

Though no winner of the Lecomte has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby, 2013 hero Oxbow would go on to win the Preakness.  Several other Lecomte victors have gone on to Classic placings: No Le Hace (1972) finished second in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, Linkage (1982) finished second in the Preakness, and Hard Spun (2007) finished second in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness.

This year's edition of the Lecomte Stakes drew a full field of twelve to vie for a share of $200,000 – and Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) for the top four finishers.  The morning line anticipates that this will be a wide-open betting race, with five of the twelve runners sitting between 9/2 and 6/1 on the line.  This space agrees that the Lecomte is wide open -- and with that the case, we will go for a price.

Trainer Steve Asmussen sends out three of the twelve runners in the Lecomte, all uncoupled.  "A" entry Untrapped is the morning line favorite, and we will circle back to him later.  "C" entry Tip Tap Tapizar looks a bit overmatched here. 

However, "B" entry Totality looks primed to take a step forward from a second-place effort in the Remington Springboard Mile last out.  There, loose leader Cool Arrow gave him nothing to run at, and he still rallied well to come in second.  Here, Totality should have more of a target, with Phat Man, Tip Tap Tapizar, Running Mate, and Takeoff all showing some early speed.  Barring a speed bias, Totality should be well suited to improve.  He also gets a return to rider David Flores in the irons.  Flores is striking at a respectable 15% this Fair Grounds meet, and he booted Totality home to a maiden victory at Churchill Downs back in October.  In a race without a clear standout, Totality has enough upside to back.

Totality's shorter-priced stablemate Untrapped stretches out to a route for the first time.  He debuted sprinting at Keeneland, finishing second behind eventual Smarty Jones Stakes winner Uncontested after a tough start.  Untrapped returned the next month at Churchill Downs, drawing off to win with authority.  This will be his first start since that victory, but he has been working regularly and trainer Steve Asmussen sends horses out ready off of layoffs.  The stretch out to a mile and seventy yards should be okay; Untrapped is by Trappe Shot out of a Giant's Causeway mare who has produced a winner at a mile.  On pace, Untrapped has proven that he can stalk the pace, a good thing with a few speed horses in the field.  And, should he get a better start, he may prove the goods, albeit at a relatively short price in this competitive race.

Saint’s Fan originally occupied the third slot, but Dallas Stewart has opted to scratch him due to the outside post draw.  Instead, Takeoff intrigues.  Takeoff broke his maiden last out over the same course and distance as the Lecomte.  That came on the front end, which may not be the best way to go here.  However, dig back through his form lines and you see his debut: a close call at Keeneland in which Takeoff rallied from well off the pace to be beaten less than a length.  That came at a sprint, so Takeoff still has to prove he's equally versatile going long.  But, the connections inspire confidence.  Florent Geroux keeps the mount, and he is firing at 29% over the Fair Grounds meet.  Geroux has also been strong for Mark Casse, with three wins and five money finishes in eight tries over the last two months.  The weather may also play to Takeoff's advantage.  Though he has not run over an off track yet, his breeding (by Arch out of an Officer mare) suggests he has upside in the mud.

#3 Totality (12/1)
#5 Untrapped (9/2)
#10 Takeoff (6/1)

Longshot:  #11 Pat On the Back (12/1) was well-beaten last out in the Delta Jackpot, but perhaps he did not take to the love-it-or-hate-it Delta Downs track.  He rattled off a nice series of races against state-bred company in New York, with speeds right in rage of what he needs to contend in the Lecomte.  He also showed good pace versatility: though he has shown speed, he has also won from off the pace, a style that ought to serve him better here.  Pat On the Back also gets rider Dylan Davis back from those New York efforts; he did not have Davis's services in Cajun country.  He also adds Lasix for the first time, and has a regular series of work at Fair Grounds stretching back to mid-December.  The weather also shows a good chance of rain for Saturday.  Pat On the Back romped in the slop two back at Belmont, and more rain here would help him factor at a price.