Bottoms up. In a genius bit of marketing, we'll switch things up a little, putting the hard-sell up top and letting you push through it before getting to the good stuff. Almost like the way the casinos in 'Vegas make you cut into the casino in order to get anywhere else in the building. Forgive us!
And away we go...
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Mike Helm's Debut Trainer Guide 2002 is now available. It goes beyond the unthinking monotony of the fat numbers-crunchers by providing specific situations behind a trainer's debut wins. It adds texture to the numbing stats provided by everyone else. For a better understanding of the hows and whys behind debut-trainer patterns, definitely check out Helm's work. Click on this link to the Cynthia Publishing Company Handicapping Store.
Of course, don't forget about the newest offering from the illustrious Mark Cramer: the 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.
"Chicago, Chicago, that Thoroughbred town..."
That's not how the tune goes, but it might as well, since the galloping horses have made their seasonal return to the Chicagoland tracks, right now at Sportsman's Park.
They generally run a lot of five-furlong races early in the meet there, and don't be so quick -- literally -- to dismiss the pressers and closers, even the deepest ones. For though the distance is short and you'd think early speed would run away with things, that's not the case, or at least it wasn't last year.
At five furlongs in 2001, the winners came from all parts of the racetrack, not just the front flight. Horses that had to do some accelerating in the deep stretch weren't necessarily doomed. They passed some horses on their way to victory more than enough.
The next distance, five and a half furlongs, is all speed, all the time. the closers can't be entirely ruled out, but an emphasis on first- and second-call speed will go a long way.
At six furlongs, the final sprint distance at Sportsman's, the track plays reasonably fair, and winners can emerge from all the various running styles.
When it's wet in sprints, the overall tendency is for closers to suffer.
In routes (the dry-fast variety) early speed sticks quite well at one-mile. Most of the winners will get into serious contention no later than the six furlong mark. Those who don't usually win merely by default.
However, a half a furlong longer, at a mile and a sixteenth, the profile turns around, and horses that let the first six furlongs go on without them still have enough time to launch a winning bid. That doesn't mean deep closers are favored; rather, first-call leaders have a tougher time sticking around at a mile and a sixteenth.
Interestingly, the wet-track routes behave oppositely of sprints: the most effective style is that of the closers and laggards, who can overhaul the speed.
Trainers are another matter, and with so many horses coming off layoffs (remember, there hasn't been live Thoroughbred racing in Chicago for more than two months), you'll want to look out for horsemen who string together a cluster of wins in the opening days of the meet. Other analysts say you should be on the lookout for shippers from other regional circuits (say, Fair Grounds) to have a fitness edge over the comebacking hometowners.
It's another busy weekend for the sophomores, with such outposts as Laurel, Turfway and Oaklawn carding the initial round of their three-year stakes races. Never a dull moment for the developing nonclaiming three-year-olds.
We begin at Laurel Park for that track's Deputed Testamony Stakes at a mile and a sixteenth. Seven are entered, but two coupled entries reduce the number of betting interests to five.
Magic Weisner shoots for his fourth straight victory, though this time the crowd might finally catch on and send him off at a price fitting of his ability. Surely, he's an obvious contender.
So is Invent, one of the horses paired in a coupled entry. Invent, like Magic Weisner, is a stout late-runner, and might need a touch more pace to do his best. The other coupled entry, a Tony Dutrow-trained tandem, is the morning-line favorite but might have its difficulties. Touch Love makes his first route start but isn't blessed with a solid middle-distance pedigree, especially on the dam's side. Radio One, his entrymate, was horrible in his first route try, but that was around but a single turn.
Forecast: Take the easy way out with the obvious cold exacta- box candidates -- Magic Weisner and Invent. Would that it were not so!
Over at Turfway, it's the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, also at a mile and a sixteenth. Dynamically, it seems like a carbon copy of the Laurel race, with two strong contenders standing out from the rest.
In this case, it's the consistent late-runner Request for Parole, 3-5 on the morning line as part of a coupled entry. He seems like a good candidate for a bridgejumper to get hot and bothered over.
Then there's Perfect Drift, a loser to Request for Parole last time. It very well could be that this race ends up a rerun of their earlier meeting. The rest seem a little overmatched, though it is three-year-olds, and anything is possible.
Forecast: Again, no hope for a meaningful stab, what with the top two choices dominating the running. It's hard to look past Request for Parole and Perfect Drift.
Finally, at Oaklawn, it's the Southwest Stakes, this one at a flat mile. Interesting to note that this one drew 16 runners, sorted into equal batches of eight in two divisions.
In the first division, the eighth race on the card, trainer Steve Asmussen saddles the top two choices on the morning line, but we'll try to beat 'em. Astounding.
King Zonic added the blinkers last time, and was a totally different beast. He set an excellent pace before drawing off to a competitive final-time figure. He'll try to repeat that tactic in here. Could happen, at a nice price, too.
The other logical contender is Clergy, son of super-hot sire Pulpit. Clergy makes his first two-turn try in this one, and he's bred all over to appreciate the extra ground.
Forecast (for Southwest, first division): Play against the Asmussen juggernaut with nonfavored Clergy and King Zonic. Try King Zonic straight-up at his morning-line of 6-1 or better.
In the second division, we'll try to beat a low-priced Asmussen again. (Gluttons for punishment?) Bay Monster made his three-year-old debut last time, winning when he didn't have to, and can still keep moving forward without regressing. He'll try to be toward the front throughout.
Windward Passage is an Asmussen runner we like, and not just because of a forecast decent price. Windward Passage came back last time to make his three-year-old debut an intriguing one, posting his best figure yet, suggesting he's matured some. He did it by trying to rally in a small field against a nothing pace, and this time the splits should be much more to his liking. Tab for continued improvement.
Forecast (for Southwest, second division): Box up nonfavored Bay Monster and Windward Passage. Try Windward Passage at his morning-line odds of 6-1 or better.
The best card of the meet so far happens tomorrow at the track they call The Great Race Place. Eleven races, most of them completely indecipherable, and a guaranteed $1 million in the gimmick before even a single ticket is punched. How do you like it now?
The race they'll all be waiting for is, of course, the Santa Anita Handicap, a Grade I, $1 million race for four-year-olds and up at a mile and a quarter. With no Mizzen Mast to set sail, the field blew up to an overflow 14. And not a one of them with a single North American Grade I victory to his credit.
Futural has come the closest to being a winner at this level. Remember, he crossed the wire first in last year's Hollywood Gold Cup, only to be taken down for some sort of phantom contact. Hopefully, the stewards won't have to leave their fingerprints on the outcome of this one.
An in-shape Futural would probably throttle this field, a decidedly weak one. The big prices will be all over the board, but it's hard to settle on which one to take. If Frankel's duo of Euchre and Milwaukee Brew attract too much money -- a distinct possibility since, after all, it is Frankel -- then Futural might drift up to a respectable 7-2 or so. That still might be a little slack, but not the worst bet in the world.
Longshot exotic candidates are Kudos and Sky Jack.
Congrats to the endurance champs, Marty A. in the Win Division and Jon W. in the Bankroll Division. Check out their tourney strategies in the new Horsetalk Forum. Perhaps a lesson or two in there worth learning.
In honor of the NCAA basketball tournament later this month, we're throwing the big March Madness Edition of the Big-Prize Handicapping Contest. For details -- hey, start playing now, because it's a whole new contest and all the scores are level at zero -- please click on our current contest page.
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