By Jonathan Stettin
I hope you all like the new logo. Thanks to Jockey Agent Lou who was good enough to donate it, we’ll be using it from now on. In addition to obvious artistic skills, Lou is currently the business manager for Kent Desormeaux and a long time agent and race tracker. He’s knowledgeable and always ready to help out. You can follow him on twitter at @jockeyagentlou and find him on Facebook under the same name.
One of the best things about writing one’s own column is the inherent ability to choose the topic. While sometimes circumstances and happenings steer things, there are those times where you can just write about what you like and feel your readers will enjoy. This is one of those times however I would be remiss if I did not point out I was somewhat led by a recent slump at the windows. You all know what I mean, zigging when you should zag, bad rides, tough trips, and all the other factors that contribute to the countless ways to lose a race and only one way to win. An interesting and knowledgeable twitter follower @johndeseyo also asked me a few weeks ago to go into measuring your performance as a handicapper and I will address that as well.
Tough game this horseracing, one of my more famous quotes after a tough beat or some other racing nuance. Considering we have chosen a game where we will all be wrong more often than right, it only stands to reason I say that more often than I’d like. It is a tough game however and sometimes the powers that be only seem to make it tougher than it has to be.
Even with all the tools we have available today and the accuracy and advancement of technology, it remains difficult to predict the outcome of a horse race on a level playing field. It would seem to me that the various racing venues should be doing all they can to make it easier and not adding intangibles and detractors from an already challenging task. While I love and support Gulfstream Park as many of you know, I can’t quite understand their teletimer issues and ridiculous run ups to trip the darn thing. If horses are running several yards, maybe even a hundred before the teletimer trips than how accurate are those times, the speed and sheet figures associated with them, and where do they stand in relation to other tracks? To the casual player this may seem not all that significant but to the professional it is beyond frustrating. Leveling the field in this area is a piece of cake. Time the horses from the opening of the gate. Yes raw times will “appear” slower but in reality they are not. They would simply be accurate. Interesting concept especially for those who thought times were actually accurate. Tracks and breeders and even some owners I guess are against this as they like the appearance of that speed.
While takeout is a subject that can fill a book let alone a column, this is hardly the time to be raising it. Churchill Downs has long held the philosophy we can do what we want we have the greatest two minutes in sports, along with a little build up to it called the Kentucky Oaks. I wouldn’t be surprised if behind closed doors Churchill management wishes it could only run those two days a year. After all they do just about all they can to telegraph that. Both Calder and the Fair Grounds have been allowed to deteriorate to where they have become embarrassments to the industry, and at least part of the new raised take out is going towards executive salary raises. At least the voiceless players took to a twitter rampage calling for a boycott that will never happen or have an impact. After all they do own the greatest two minutes in sports and all that goes along with that. Too bad they aren’t true leaders for the entire industry. It would be nice if they were part of the solution and not the problem.
We all go through those times that leave us scratching our heads and questioning our methods. One key to long term success is learning how to deal with those times and weather them. The two secrets to that are patience and value. You have to be patient and pick your spots and you have to make it count with value when you are right. If you chase, and forego value, in the long run you will get swallowed up. Treat those two like a bad drug, just say no.
Handicappers have large egos, as do most people who choose to make a living doing something that is extremely competitive. Most think they are the best and that can only be true of one or maybe two. While after cashing a ticket on a long shot we loved or closing out a pick 6 or pick 4 in the thousands we get that feeling but there is really only one sole benchmark that determines whether or not you are good. Do you beat the game? If you don’t keep a record of where you stand year to year you are cheating yourself. Your goal should be to come out ahead and have a positive ROI. Most ADW’s do that for you but a simple spreadsheet can work. It will help tremendously in forcing you to choose your spots and look for value.
As the late not so great Hyman Roth once said and as I often quote myself, “this is the life we’ve chosen”. It isn’t an easy one for sure. The good news is that slumps don’t last and it only takes one race to be right in to turn it all around. Make it count. There is a new opportunity for that with each new set of past performances you pick up.
Danza blitzed the Arkansas Derby field on the stretch-out under a rail skimming ride and earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby. Considering all the Pletcher fans and people on Twitter and Facebook who had him after the race I’m not quite sure how he was an ice cold dead on the board 41-1. I’m not ready to hand him superstar or Derby contender status just yet. While I like a young improving horse the first Saturday in May, I am not sure anyone was doing much running behind him. Sure he won off and ran fast but these fast times on these lightning strips have to be downplayed a bit in my book. I’ve got him labeled a pretender at this point. You should also note Pletcher hitting at huge odds in big races is no rarity, remember Princess of Slymar in the Oaks, and Capo Bastone in the Kings Bishop. Both of those, as did Danza, beat Pletcher shorter priced runners an angle we touched on following Florida Derby day.
Dance with Fate ran big over Keeneland’s polytrack taking the Blue Grass. He is not quite the same horse on dirt and likely skips the Run for the Roses.
If you’re a replay watcher and want to feel my pain, my slump continued through three key bets this weekend. Discreet Marq, a game second in the Jenny Wiley makes my month. Bikini Beauty a much the best horrendous trip and ride second at Keeneland makes my year, and Filimbi a game and again much the best second following a rough trip of traffic and steadying could have saved it all. Tough game this horse racing. This is the life I’ve chosen.
This week’s high five goes to Jockey Agent Lou for the new logo. Maybe someday we’ll do caps or something and send them out.
Churchill Downs raising takeout and giving exec raises at the same time. Do that with your money not mine.
Horses to Watch
This is painful as all three horses mentioned in the column bear watching next time. I’ll go with Bikini Beauty as that one hurt the most.