Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Game On Dude Rant

Half of you are going to agree with this. The other half of you are going to think I'm the biggest moron on the face of the planet. Maybe some of you will be in the middle, not agreeing with me but understanding where I'm coming from. But it's time to get this out.

      Game On Dude is overrated. He is so overrated. I have thought so for a long time. I have thought so after all of his wins. I have thought so after all of his wins. He's a talented horse. He's just not as fantastic as a lot of people think he is.

     "You're an idiot, Doug. He's won half of his races and made well over $6,000,000."
     Be that as it may, I've always looked at horses like this: it's not what they win or lose, it's how they win or lose it. Game On Dude wins when things go totally his way, and loses whenever something goes wrong.

     Look at Game On Dude's last win in the Santa Anita Handicap. After Hear the Ghost got send wide and lost ground around he first turn, the Dude got clear and was never pressured. Everyone knows that a horse who gets a clear lead is going to be dangerous, lone speed is the best trip in horse racing. Game On Dude is a talented enough horse that when he's clear he doesn't get passed, even when good horses are trying to close on him, and for that I respect him a lot. He also has the ability to sit behind a cheap speed leader and overtake him, but a horse as good as him should be able to do that.

    When he gets pressured on the lead, he can't take it. Look at the Charles Town Classic, the San Antonio, the Clark, the Breeder's Cup. He's not gutsy enough to keep fighting. In my opinion, the Clark was his most impressive race in a long time, all of his wins included. He took some pressure and still fought back. Will Take Charge was just a bit better, but Dude was really game. In his other recent losses, I'm not willing to forgive him. If he was as great as he's cracked up to be, he would be able to put away opposing speed runners (who usually aren't Grade 1 quality horses) and fight back. But he caves.

     In my opinion, true greatness is a horse who can fight when a race doesn't set up exactly how he needs it and still wins. When Game On Dude gets his way, which he usually does, he can beat almost anybody. I respect that. Based on raw talent, he's certainly one of the best horses racing. I'm not going to take that away from him. But in order for me to be able to acknowledge him as one of the truly greatest horses of our time, a horse I will rave about when I look back, I need to see a bit more fight from him. I'm tired of seeing him fail to overcome anything that isn't completely ideal for him.
     Finally, Game On Dude does represent one thing that I absolutely love in racing: the veteran. He's seven years old, he's still racing, his fans love him and he gets a lot of people excited when he races. I would love to see more of that. 

     You either love Game On Dude or you don't. I certainly don't hate him. I'm not in love with him like a lot of people are. I think he's overrated. What he does is great, how he does it isn't. I don't think he'll do anything in the future to change my opinion. Maybe he will. Maybe my standards are too high. Regardless of how you feel about Game On Dude, thanks for reading.




Thursday, 10 April 2014

Bye Bye, CDI

I'm going to keep this short.
     Churchill Downs is raising takeout rates. 17.5% WPS, and 22% for exotics. Just like every other takeout increase, they claim it's because they need to sustain purses, and just like every other takeout increase it won't work because bettors will bet less. It's simple math. It's terrible business.
     I am not a big money gambler. In 2014 I have bet $624 in total. I don't make a difference to Churchill Downs. But I do make a difference to myself. If I bet into a high takeout pool, I hurt myself because my potential winnings decrease. Because of the increase, I won't bet on Churchill's races, or on any races at any of their other tracks. Why would I as a bettor play a track where I will not win as much money?
     Not only will I refuse to bet any Churchill races (including the Kentucky Derby), I will tell other horseplayers about the increase. Many players don't know much about takeout. I will explain to them what Churchill is doing, and why it's bad for them as horseplayers. If they decide they want to support bettors, the people who fund racing, they will follow me in boycotting CDI. If they enjoy Churchill's racing and want to continue playing it, that's fine. It's their choice. The least I can do is tell inform them of the takeout increase.
     As horseplayers who want to succeed, and also want the sport to succeed, it's important to let any track that wants to raise prices on us know that we will not meekly accept a takeout increase that will do nothing but hurt horse racing in the long run. Bye bye, CDI. Thank you for hurting the sport we love.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Fastest Qualifier

We're now in Futurity season in Quarter Horse racing, which means that analyzing trial races will be important for handicappers. One thing handicappers should be aware of is that the fastest qualifier in a futurity isn't necessarily the fastest horse in the race.
      First off, for those who may not know, the vast majority of Quarter Horse futurities and derbies have trial races to determine their fields. Every horse in every trial is timed individually (just like any Quarter Horse race) and the top ten fastest individual times run in the final. It's a fairly effective way of determining who the best ten entrants are, but things like a poor break or changing wind speed in the middle of the trials can have a negative effect on the quality of the final.
      In Thoroughbred racing, it is not uncommon to see a horse make an easy lead, draw off to win by many lengths and finish in a very fast time, earning an inflated speed figure. A horse who makes a late rally, or a horse who wins on the front end taking pressure may win in a slower time. If these two horses come back in the same race, the handicapper needs to figure out who's faster/who will be faster on that day. Of course there are many possible scenarios, but looking at things in a basic, general sense there are two. Scenario #1: the speed horse once again gets an easy lead, wins easily again. Scenario #2: the speed horse takes pressure, cannot keep going and the rallying horse gets the win. If the rallying horse wins, his time is likely not as fast as the speed horse's previous win, but he has proven that he can outrun the speed horse.
      Since Quarter Horse racing is based around raw speed, many people believe that a horse who runs the fastest time in a trial will be the fastest in the final. This is simply not true. A great example of this came up in Sunland Park's New Mexican Spring Futurity.
     Fastest qualifier Quamados Version was very fast out of the gate in his trial, and dusted his competition by 2 3/4 lengths, clocking the 300 yards in 15.034. It was a very impressive race. Impressive enough that he was bet down to 4-5 in the final. Funnily enough, nobody who he competed with in the trial was fast enough to make it to the final. Instantly you have to question how much he beat. Class is always important. We know his fast time is aided by the lack of pressure he took. The next step is identifying who was the true fastest qualifier.
     When I handicapped this race, the horse I instantly took note of was Winning Merlot. Take a look at her running line in her trial.
The comment reads "bumped start & late, PL1st"
     As you can see, she was bumped more than once, pressured the leader, and was beaten only a nose before being placed first. Her final time of 15.154 was the fifth fastest qualifying time, but it appeared that she ran the best trial of the field. The morning line of 10-1 made her an irresistible pick.
     In the final, Winning Merlot broke quickly, dueled, and prevailed by a 1/2 length, returning $15.60 to win. Quemados Version didn't get a great break and ran a disappointing fifth at 4-5. Although Winning Merlot was not the fastest qualifier, smart handicappers could see that she ran the best trial race. Her 6-1 odds were more than fair. I believe that she should have been about 7-2.
      Don't fall for a fast time when handicapping futurity races. If a horse makes a clear lead in short race and draws off in a fast time, it likely means it didn't have to beat a tough bunch of horses. A horse who dueled and ran a slower trial can be just as, if not more talented than the fastest qualifier and will usually offer much more value. There's more to Quarter Horse racing than a fast final time. Always remember that.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Road to the Kentucky Derby: The Wood Memorial & The Santa Anita Derby

We're getting close to the end of the Derby Trail. This week we have the Wood and the Santa Anita Derby, next week we have the Bluegrass and the Arkansas Derby. Then there's the Lexington, which doesn't really matter but whatever. After bombing last week's trio of prep races I'm hoping I can do a lot better this week. Let's start with the Wood.

The Wood Memorial
Aqueduct's signature race, the $1,000,000 Wood Memorial, hasn't had a winner come back to win the Kentucky Derby since Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. I'm not liking the chances of that changing this year. The classic New York bred duo of the undefeated #8 Samraat and second-fiddle #10 Uncle Sigh return here with a new foe in the form of the ultra-impressive #11 Social Inclusion. A quick rundown on these horses: Samraat is undefeated and has won the last two local preps, the Withers and the Gotham, with Uncle Sigh finishing second to him resiliantly in both of those races. Social Inclusion comes up from Gulfstream, exiting a romp in what was supposed to be Honor Code's easy allowance return. His 111 Beyer and track record performance in that race has made him a big hype horse. They're certainly a talented bunch. Social Inclusion will likely be the favourite. From the far outside post, they have two options: go the lead, take pressure and hope he's good enough, or try to rate a bit and grab a stalking position. Either way, he's likely wide around the first turn. Uncle Sigh will be going for the lead as he has in all of his route starts, while Samraat will definitely try to stalk. The frontrunners will be accompanied by #6 Kristo, who ships in from Cali off of a well beaten third behind California Chrome. That was a failed attempt to take him off the front. I doubt they'll be doing that again. #3 Noble Moon comes back from his win in the Jerome back on January 4th. He has some early speed, maybe not as much as the top contenders but from an inside post they may try and get out quickly as well. So there's a potential pace duel with Samraat getting a beautiful set up. But how well will Samraat progress? In his last race he got everything set up perfectly: Uncle Sigh and In Trouble dueled in fairly decent fractions, he sat off of them a bit, made a move and won. However, Uncle Sigh made a great re-rally and was only a neck behind and coming. That makes me question how well Samraat will do with more distance. It also makes me respect Uncle Sigh more than I did before. Not enough for me to pick Uncle Sigh to win, the speed he'll have to contend with here is more serious than In Trouble, but it gives me more respect. Of all the others, there's only one I like: #4 Harpoon. He was my Gotham pick and I will stay loyal. In the Gotham he drew post 10, got a ridiculously stupid wide trip, and eventually started making a run. He's definitely got some talent, his runner up finish in the Sam F. Davis shows something. With a better draw and some added distance, he should be able to run a much more competitive race.

The Santa Anita Derby
SoCal's big one, the $1,000,000 Santa Anita Derby features another State-bred superstar, #5 California Chrome. The Cal bred wasn't nearly as impressive to me as many people thought he was in his last race. The San Felipe really wasn't that tough, the high Beyer doesn't do anything for me. Assuming he uses the same frontrunning style he did in that race, we can assume that he'll be taking pace pressure from the maiden duo of #1 Rprettyboyfloyd and #8 Dublin Up. The idea of a 6-5 favourite being worn down in the middle part of a speed duel is pretty exciting for me: it gives me a reason to toss him. This race really comes down to #3 Hoppertunity and #6 Candy Boy. Hoppertunity has been the most impressive prep winner so far in my eyes. The bumping he took at Oaklawn showed that he can handle things not going totally his way. Candy Boy was second in the Cash Call Futurity, then took some time off and returned in the Robert B. Lewis, where he made a great run to beat eventual Sunland Derby winner Chitu. His gallop out was fantastic. Both of these horses have similar stalking styles, so it comes down to a) who you think is better or b) where you'll get more value. For me, Hoppertunity is both the better horse and the better value. I really liked his Oaklawn race and I like how he has more recency than Candy Boy. Hopefully the maidens can wear down California Chrome. If Chrome gets a loose lead, he most likely will not be caught. But Hoppertunity will be my official pick.

Good luck to everybody playing today!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Back to Dirt

Following Del Mar's decision to get rid of their polytrack surface in favour of traditional dirt, Keeneland announced yesterday that they were going to go back to traditional dirt by the fall meet. I approve of the switch back, on a conditional basis.
     As a horseplayer, I am indifferent to synthetics. I learned how to handicap on Woodbine's polytrack, so it's not a big deal to me. However, as a racing fan who is concerned about the safety of racehorses, I believe that dirt can be a safer surface than synthetic.
     My father, who has been training since 1977, has been at Woodbine since 1990 and has first hand experience with polytrack, does not like synthetic surfaces for racing. When I told him that Keeneland was keeping their training track synthetic, he said "It should. Polytrack has it's place, it's just not for racing." Later in the evening I texted my mother, who is the best horseperson I know (and many people who know her would agree with me) to tell her about the news. In our conversation, she said "...when a rider falls, they go thud, instead of bouncing..." "The dirt also breaks away from the hoof where the poly does not. Also there are more shoulder breakdowns on poly." She's right.
     In my opinion, the safest racetrack in North America is Assiniboia Downs, a dirt bullring in Winnipeg with bottom level horses. In 2013, there was one breakdown at Assiniboia. In 60 days of racing, one horse broke down. What sets Assiniboia apart from most dirt tracks that have safety issues? Their surface is a deep one. Very deep. The times at Assiniboia are incredibly slow. But what is more important, fast race times or participant safety? Safety, unquestionably.
     This is why my support of the switch to dirt is conditional. A deep dirt surface is the safest surface in racing. No one will convince me otherwise. I trust that Keeneland will do all they can to ensure the safest surface possible will be installed. Del Mar I worry about, the southern states tend to have the fast dirt that produces more breakdowns. If the deep surface I am in favour of is installed, I am in complete support of the switch because I believe that it will create a safer racing experience for all participants, equine and human. I would rather see a synthetic surface than a lightning fast dirt track. Safety should always come first, no matter what.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Proud to be a Canadian Horseplayer

The Horseplayers Association of North America came out with their 2014 list of track ratings today, and there were a few changes from last years list that I took note of. Actually three significant changes. Three Canadian tracks, Hastings, Northlands and Woodbine all made significant jumps in the ratings. Hastings went from 32 to 19, Northlands went from 58 to 24, and Woodbine went from 43 to 9. This is great news: it shows that tracks across Canada are becoming a better bet for North American bettors.
       All three tracks have one thing in common: they have all lowered takeout rates. Northlands is offering two industry lows this meet: a 10% takeout Pick 5 and 14.5% WPS. Woodbine's Win is the second lowest in the industry at 14.95%, and they also offer a $.20 Jackpot Hi-5 with only 15% takeout. Hastings' WPS and all multi-race wagers are raked at 15%. Although the two western tracks need to attract more horses for more competitive racing, the low takeouts are an attractive proposition for any gambler.
       In Ontario, eight standardbred tracks have recently formed an alliance. For players in Ontario who wager through HPI, they earn a 50% bonus on rewards points and a higher potential take out adjustment (if they wager at least $1,250 a week). This isn't a huge deal, but it's a start. If all of Ontario racing could adapt a universal takeout rate, that would definitely help promote the province's brand. I feel like that is a definite possibility. Handle is up at some Ontario harness tracks such as Western Fair and Grand River, and with proper marketing of the brand, it should go up at every track.
       There is still work to be done in Canada. Field sizes out west and at Fort Erie could certainly be larger. Certain tracks need to lower takeout a lot. But things are going in the right direction. So long as things keep heading in the right direction, I will continue to play Canadian racing, because I am proud to be a Canadian Horseplayer.