Before we get to the handicapping bits, just a quick reminder to you that there's a brand-new Cynthia Publishing Company Web site to check out. And to match the new look is a new address: www.cynthiapublishing.com. Enjoy!
You'll find a great new Horsetalk forum in which you can have a pleasant exchange with your fellow horseplayers and handicappers. Knock wood, you don't have to sharpen your knives or brace yourself for an onslaught of egos! That means you can expect nothing but good and edifying discussion. Please feel free to explore and learn. And don't forget to have a wonderful time.
And, oh yeah, if you missed your e-mail fix of this electronic newsletter last week, don't worry. Just go to the new site and click on the link on the left that says "The Short Line" and head right to the archives on the top of the next page that appears. There it is.
No more predictable, prefab look for your favorite horse racing Web site. To your eyes, the new Cynthia Publishing Company site will be crisp and clean...no caffeine...feeling 7-Up! Or something like that.
Well, it opened last week actually, but now we are equipped to discuss things the way the should be discussed -- with facts, figures and real-life flesh-and-blood names to enhance the presentation. That's nice, isn't it?
The Track Itself: Dirt only in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Oh, please don't misunderstand. They've always wanted to install a turf course inside the main track, but given the time of year they conduct live racing at Oaklawn, grass just won't grow. They've tried. Honest, they have! See, sometimes there is a logical explanation to things.
Back to the main track, however. The five-and-a-half-furlong distance is going to get more action this year, and if last year was any indication, early speed will dominate, as in leading through the opening quarter-mile. True, horses that make a decisive move after the three-eighths or even in the final furlong do win, but stay toward the front and you'll be in the thick of things.
At six furlongs, it's easy to conclude that the speedsters in the initial two furlongs do the bulk of the winning. And that would be a correct conclusion. But there are plenty enough winners who launch their big move after the first four furlongs or in the relatively long home straightaway. In sum, this distance doesn't discriminate against distinct running styles. Early speed can win, mid-pack runners can win (a whole bunch) and even the deep ralliers can get up in time.
It's a similarly fair pattern at the flat-mile distance, with one notable exception: really, really deep closers rarely win. You can count on the fingers of one hand how many times a horse successfully closed last year at a mile after trailing by as little as one length with a furlong to go. If you have to back a rallier at a mile, you should pretty much demand that your come-from-behinder will be putting in a meaningful move somewhere between the opening half-mile and the seven-furlong mark.
At a mile and a sixteenth, they push the finish line to its usual position, and ralliers benefit from the increased distance in the homestretch. Front-speed wins well enough, but a mile and a sixteenth at Oaklawn really is the province of the horses that take it easy through the opening six furlongs. In these races, the real running begins midway along the far turn, and sustained bids are most effective. Or at least that's how it played last year.
In sum, the Oaklawn surface is difficult for handicappers in that prohibitive biases infrequently pop up, except for the rally-unfriendly, short-stretch trip at a flat mile, where deep closers are penalized. But if you're the type of handicapper whose selections represent the entire range of the running-style spectrum, you'll probably enjoy Oaklawn's strip.
When it's sloppy or wet-fast (in other words, splashy on the surface), the early-speed is not prohibitively favored at six furlongs. In fact, it's the horses that wait through the opening half-mile that win the bulk of the wet events. At a mile in the slop, it's best to make sure your runner will secure a contending position somewhere during the first six furlongs.
When the track condition is listed as "good" or muddy, Oaklawn's late-runners tend to respond, especially at six furlongs and at a mile and a sixteenth. The flat-mile seems to consistently thwart the back-markers.
The Trainers Themselves: One of the excitements of winter racing at the major plants -- your Santa Anitas, Gulfstreams, Aqueducts and so on -- is the emergence of Triple Crown contenders. Oaklawn can be included in that throng; after all, it does have its own prep-race series leading up to its big race, the Arkansas Derby. True, the three-year-olds who whistle "Arkansas Traveler" haven't generally been bona fide top-three contenders for the Run for the Roses, but they've been reasonably decent runners.
Robert Holthus is good with all sorts of nonclaiming three-year-olds -- distance, gender, it doesn't matter. Prefer his horses early in the form cycle, either first or second off the layoff, or the second-time starters. Another tipoff to Holthus's intent: Joe Judice or Terry Thompson in the saddle.
All-world trainer Cole Norman wasn't as active as you might have guessed. He's one who's the opposite of Holthus in that he figures to get serious with his three-year-olds only after they've had at least two starts since the layoff.
Donnie Von Hemel is an early-in-the-form-cycle trainer when it comes to his three-year-olds, and is good with firsters and second-timers. He'll do well with recent straight-maiden grads taking the baby step to the entry-level allowance level.
And last year's king of the three-year-olds was Peter Vestal, though it's hard to get anything resembling a decent price on his best sophomores. He tends to shoot early in the form cycle, and doesn't really put his runners through too much in terms of changes, though he is good at stretching horses out, first time at a route or not.
The jousting tournament for three-year-olds resumes tomorrow with a pair of interesting seven-furlong events, one on each coast.
Gulfstream cards the traditional early-season sophomore fixture the Hutcheson as its 11th race on the card. Six are entered.
Maybry's Boy is your 6-5 morning-line favorite, and deservedly so. His best blows this field away, and he's been right there in each of his last three. As one of two horses in here who's actually passed a horse en route to victory, Maybry's Boy should enjoy playing the waiting game against a good pace and several incontrovertible frontrunners. Obviously, the Hutcheson is Maybry's Boy's to lose.
Who can improve? Axis emerges as an interesting proposition. Six-to-one on the morning line, saddled by Elliott Walden and ridden by Jerry Bailey, Axis has improved in each race of his brief career, and has been somewhat versatile in doing so. He'll need to learn how to close from even farther back this time, but if he does, he should be close. Monthir is a bit of a hanger (look at all those second-place finishes), and his tracking style in his numerous routes suggests he'll be far back in this genuinely-paced sprint.
In sum, you can't bet Maybry's Boy to win at what'll be prohibitively short odds. But a one-punch exacta with Axis might not be a bad gamble.
At Santa Anita, seven are entered in the San Vicente, and the West Coast field mirrors the Western Conference's dominance in the NBA -- the second and third choices in the San Vicente would likely clean up if they had been placed in the Hutcheson.
There's also a 6-5 morning-line choice in the San Vicente, and it's Came Home, who makes his seasonal debut after a very good two-year-old campaign in which he won two graded stakes and excelled at sprinting. His most recent race was an ugly try around two turns and a distance, and he was jinxed in that one. For one, trainer Paco Gonzalez is not good at all with first-routers, and Came Home's pedigree is not route-oriented. Other than that...
So, can Came Home make amends in his initial effort as a three-year-old? It depends. The pace in this one is going to be much stricter than anything he saw as a juvenile. And the significant physical/professional edge Came Home wielded in the summer has all but evaporated -- unlike the completely overmatched babies in the summer, these three-year-olds in the San Vicente aren't playing catch-up.
If Came Home doesn't adapt his style accordingly -- that is, by learning how to sit back and rate -- he could be in trouble. Gonzalez is huge off the bench, but he doesn't have much success with the route-to-sprint turnback.
After all that, watch Came Home look like the second coming of Free House or something.
Nonetheless, the prospect for a live longshots seems much better in the San Vicente than in the Hutcheson. Popular was huge in his most recent, dueling all the way around against a wicked pace en route to a remarkably fast final-time figure. That race trounces this. But there's a strong possibility for a regression, isn't there?
Steady Rollin ships in from Northern California, breaking with the field in his last start, dropping back, then finishing gamely against much lesser. He's up against it here, especially given his humble maiden-claiming origins.
Werblin is perfect in two starts, the last of which he tracked a solid pace on the way to a magnificent number.
Beating Came Home should be its own reward; unfortunately, the people behind the mutuel windows require a little more definition than "I'll bet against Came Home" before they'll issue you a ticket, much less pay off on your opinion. That said, let's try a win ticket on Popular, with exactas of Werblin on top of both Popular and Steady Rollin.
There's a big race for the four-year-olds tomorrow, too. It's the Strub at Santa Anita, a mile and an eighth. Throughout its history, the race has been a haven for the previous year's Kentucky Derby winner to get one last crack against his own age group, but not this year. It's a decidedly moderate group this time.
But mediocrity often breeds a contest, and the story lines here are the speed-demon duo of Western Pride and Orientate, who completely dominated their last race while setting sprintlike fractions before gasping in the late stages. Can either replicate the monster effort this time?
It's a tossup, but the way the morning line is, that duo is being disregarded. Mizzen Mast is the 2-1 choice of the track oddsmaker, and if that horse can close from farther back than usual in this route, he'll be dangerous. That's a big if in a big field.
Let's gamble that lightning can strike twice in a three-week span, and that Western Pride and Orientate can lead 'em on a merry chase again. The probability isn't great, and the time to cash in on it was last time, but given Mizzen Mast's status as the probable favorite, it's not the worst try in the world.
Thanks for the kind words and feedback about our new site. It's still a work in progress, however, as we strive to craft a spiffy Track Portals presentation worthy of the high aesthetic values of the rest of the site. We appreciate your patience!
We are starting up a private discussion group on the new Horsetalk Forum so that you can help determine the future direction of Cynthia Publishing's software offerings. We are trying to keep membership to a relatively small number of interested people who actually use computers, handhelds and even programmable calculators to make their selections for the track. We are seeking active participants, not those who just lurk in the background while others do the talking.
If you would like to contribute, please do the following:
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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.
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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