January 4, 2002

Goin' to the Gulf
Happy New Year! Gulfstream Park opened its meet yesterday, and despite the rumblings, it still looks like the premier spot for East Coast winter racing, if not in terms of raw-dollar purses (the Big A looks like the boss there), then at least when it comes to reputation. Note, however, that more top horsemen have kept some of their better charges at Aqueduct due to an overflow stabling situation in South Florida.

Track trends are always a good place to start when trying to get a handle on what to expect for an upcoming meet, and at Gulfstream, as at most ovals that feature better-than-average horses, the front-speed tends to stick. Closers aren't out of it, but the frontrunners generally are fit and classy enough to keep on going all the way to the wire.

Still, in 2001, there were three distinct and weird nodes of dissent among the regularly run distances at the track. The first came at six and a half furlongs, where fromtrunners did best, but ralliers that didn't get into gear until after the half-mile pole managed to win with surprising frequency. Don't dismiss the ralliers at six and a half.

Last year, the mile-and-a-sixteenth races also were the principal domain of the late-runners, and it upheld the trend from the previous year. Closers, even the three-year-olds, can be expected to have better than a fair shake at eight and a half furlongs, with most winners beginning their real running not before the six-furlong mark. Good to know.

And on the turf, frontrunners don't do a bad job of holding their own, unlikely as it may sound. A precious lack of rain in 2000 might have had something to do with it, but up-front-types on the Gulf grass hang on better than their turf counterparts elsewhere, with one notable exception.

That exception occurs at nine furlongs, where in 2000 the front routinely perished without much of a fight. It might happen this year; bet on it early, then adjust accordingly if it doesn't.

In 2000, Gulfstream proved a steady provider of longshot action, with an average mutuel of $13.86, compared with a $12.26 average at Aqueduct and $13.50 at Santa Anita. And the races for three-year-olds led the way at Gulfstream, averaging a win payoff of $14.26. (Likewise at Aqueduct and Santa Anita, average three-year-old win mutuels of $13.50 and $13.66, respectively.)

It obviously pays to get as good as humanly possible with the three-year-olds, mainly by expecting form reversals and overnight improvements from the ever-maturing sophomores. That they're trying so many new and different things (first route, first turf, massive jumps in class) leads to public confusion and, thankfully, seriously higher mutuels. It works anywhere. Three-year-olds rock!

And nowhere do they rock more than in stakes races, especially at the Gulf, where their average mutuel was $16.83. Overblown favorites off layoffs were horrendously overbet early in the season, making for easy-to-pick-off underlays. Upset candidates include long-priced horses who've had a race or more since a break and who are up in class or going back to a racing situation with which they've had past experience.

That takes care of the bluebloods. And here are two interesting trainer angles for three-year-olds that won't be contesting the stakes events. David Donk, long known for high-class turf runners, drops his three-year-old claiming culls in class when he wants to score, putting them in situations (sprints, or dirt) he thinks they'll succeed at after he's given up on any unattainable aspirations. And Richard Arnold kept racing his claimers until they finally sprang the upset, no layoffs or drops or changes necessary.

Enjoy the meet!

Another Crack at Saturday Stakes
Uncle Frank Stronach is almost ready to open up shop for all the disenfranchised bettors out there looking for a way to get down on the action at his top two Magna tracks -- Gulfstream and Santa Anita.

Until he does, however, the following dope-out of the headliners tomorrow at these tracks might not be of any practical use. Solution? To quote the advertisements for harness racing: "Come on out to the track!"

At Gulfstream, they're scheduled for the turf in the Appleton Handicap at a mile. The field is oversubscribed at 14, and no fewer than six look like they have realistic chances.

Billy Mott sends out two (they're not coupled together, but one of them is coupled with a non-Mott runner; you figure it out) and both Motts -- Spindrift and Tubrok -- have obvious hopes, as does Tijiyr, sent out by Niall O'Callaghan, the one paired with Spindrift in the wagering. Got it? Good.

The prices arrive in the form of two 6-1 shots (Mr. Livingston and Galic Boy) and a bonkers 12-1 (Pisces). All three have the necessary turf trait (a knack for doing their best running at the end) and don't figure to be compromised by any jinxy trainer stats.

For the most intrepid, exotic boxes of the three strangers are in order, not to mention win bets at 10-1 or better. The conservatives should attempt to pick a winner among the coupled entry and the other Mott. In-between, you can use the obvious horses on top of the longies.

Eight go in the San Pasqual Handicap at a mile and a sixteenth on the main track at Santa Anita, and the issue is much less complicated. But because it's uncomplicated doesn't mean there isn't a glimmer of value.

That's because you can probably beat morning-line favorite Wooden Phone, who appears to be pushed through a pace faster than he wants to endure. Just a hunch. (Hey, what in horseracing isn't subject to uncertainty?)

Irisheyesareflying and Euchre are going to have unmatched trips, sitting right behind the leader and ready to pounce whenever they want. They'll duke it out in the stretch, and a dead-nuts exacta box...well, hey, why not?

Enjoy the day.

Our Weekly Brazen Attempt to Try to Sell You Something...How Dare We!
Yep, we do have a book for everything. And some mopes have to flap their busy brown beaks in every forum about every fleeting topic, too. We'll let you figure out whether it's the books or the beaks that'll help you win more. And, yes, we are grinning, thanks.

That said, check out the full assortment of books we have to offer. No, they're not free like the bloviations on most message boards, but it is true that you do get what you pay for, though paying anything for a random-number generator is still too much.

OK. Click on this link to the Cynthia Publishing Company Handicapping Store.

The newest offering: Mark Cramer's latest booklet, authoritatively titled Hidden Probabilities: Hard-Core Research for X-Rated Horseplayers.

In inimitable Cramer style and packed with unique research, Galileo-inspired thinking and writing (with high-level concepts made easy to grasp, thanks to Cramer's renowned facility with the English language), this new booklet is an ambitious blend of the nearly mechanical, the almost-magical and the fully inspired. That's because our friend Cramer takes 10 time-honored and simple handicapping concepts and pulses them through the kink-o-master machine, coming up with a stunning creation of staggering beauty and elegance that's good enough to eat.

Whoa. That's just plain silly. But you get the idea. Hidden Probabilities: Hard-Core Research for X-Rated Horseplayers is going to be another valuable addition to the handicapping literature, courtesy of someone who knows how to do just that.

New Contest Is for the Long Run
If you prefer a route of ground to a one-turn sprint, the current edition of the Big-Prize Handicapping Contest is for you! For more details, please click here.

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