March 23, 2001

Practical Pointer #10
Two strikes and yer out!

Huh?

Favorites are under the oppressive burden of carrying the weight of all that money (not to mention that of the mopes in the grandstand). But when they have to tote the extra baggage of a potentially taxing change (as will be defined shortly), it gets even worse.

Simply put, when the public choice has a couple of different, perhaps negative elements going on in this race--major changes from the last race or from the overall record--their chances aren't as rosy as most of the crowd would have you believe.

A two-part experiment (sorry, no university-level design--we'll just have to live with the consequences) was carried out to see what this phenomenon was all about.

Part 1 was to pluck 158 recent favorites (sorry--no first-time starters) and measure their frequency of winning with respect to certain major changes from their last race or their overall record. These major changes included:

    First or second off the layoff (traditionally, the most accepted vulnerable spots of the classic form cycle)
    New top (a last-out speed figure better than any previous figure in the horse's record)
    Lowest claiming-price level (ties were OK--any regression to a new low or previous low could be construed as negative)
    Distance switch (either stretching-in or stretching-out, or first-time route)
    Surface switch (either way, or first-time turf)
    First off claim (yes, this might end up being a positive for the horse, but it still represents a major change)

No equipment changes (blinkers, Lasix) were taken into account, since most of these are made for the benefit of the horse, and tend to signify at trainer who is at least trying.

To boil Part 1 down to its essence, the favorites who had no changes from the last race, or just one change, won at the rate their odds suggested (!). The favorites who had two changes (or more) from the above list didn't win as expected (!).

In terms of return on investment, the favorites with no changes or one change lost just 11 cents on the dollar. Conversely, the favorites undergoing the multiple changes cost their finger-crossing backers nearly a third on the invested dollar.

So go ahead and back that comebacker, or the horse that is trying something new. But only one new thing at a time! The combinations of layoff and a new thing, or any combination of perceived negatives, was not too kind to the favorites.

That led to Part 2. Take a closer look at these multiple-change favorites. See if they could do any better on another sample.

So in went another 107 favorites--this time, all multiple-changers--and these guys performed a little better, won a little more, but still underachieved, though less dramatically in Part 1.

The ROI "improved," too, but still was liable for a 25 percent loss.

Overbet and underachieving--precisely the kind of attributes we like to see in any favorite, especially those we try to beat.

In sum, forgive a fave a single major change, but don't be so lenient when a combination of those changes is heaped on the choice.

Your Weekly Three-Year-Old Review
This year, maybe they'll be running the Louisville escort for just Baffert.

Lukas looks thin (though that's never stopped him), and it's a little too early for Zito (though he's going to need to get crackin' soon!).

So Saturday at Santa Anita, Baffert alone made noise, letting the undeniably talented Congaree stretch his legs some, and unveiling the 2001 edition of Point Given.

Where to begin? Congaree has shown awesome talent in his last two starts, all the more awesome given that he's started but thrice. It's doubtful he can go backwards from here, and it'll be both instructive and interesting to see where his trainer maps his continued development.

That map won't intersect anywhere near Point Given's itinerary, if Mr. Baffert is to be believed. Nor should it.

Point Given retained his hold on the throne, thanks to a professional, maybe too-easy-at-the-end win in the San Felipe. There might have been holes in the pro tem leader of the division, but they didn't spring a leak in the comebacker. He can only move ahead off that impressive effort.

Next time, recaps of the Spiral Stairs (heh, heh) and the UAE Derby, where all those Godolphin sophomores try to sort themselves out.

Practical Pointer #10a
Call this a corollary of PP #10, or "Bounce Me to the Moon." (Sorry, Frank.)

Those wiseguys with the undersized pieces of paper resembling filmstrips might have been right.

The term "new top" is pervasive in their lingo, and the guys who are best-versed in that manner of speaking often shy away from the horse that just put in the new top.

Such a horse, they reason, is probably not going to put in that kind of race again. OK.

But what's even more prescient is that even if they do run reasonably well again, they don't win as much as they should! How come?

Maybe some other horse is putting in its new top in that next race. Or, for the regresser, pushing forth such a monster effort takes that little bit of "wound-up-tightness" out of the animal, causing it to come up a little short in the late stages.

Whatever the explanations, the new-top bounce does happen, and this type horse, when favored, also underperforms--and it loses about 28 cents on the invested dollar.

If the faves in PP #10 and PP#10a are bogus, the trick would be to find a random scheme of wagering on some other beast in the race. We'll work on it for you.

The Races in the Oasis
Dubai World Cup VI. (How's that for a switch--using Roman numerals for an Arabic race!)

Captain Steve will take all the money--he's 8-5 on the morning line--but he has exactly one fewer win at a mile and a quarter than fellow American and hyperlongshot Early Warning.

A look at the Captain's figs at the classic distance suggests he loses something in the late-going.

Conversely, 5-1 second choice Aptitude, though absent of the accolades of the Stevester, seems to do better at 10 furlongs. However, those figures aren't much, unfortunately. But the name of the game is to beat baffling Bobby B.

Hightori, 8-1, offers some hope and is this electronic newsletter's longshot scare in the desert.

Your Weekly Three-Year-Old Preview
First off, let's get this A P Valentine stuff out of the way.

Nick Zito is either a genius or a nuthead. It's hard to say which.

Genius in that he's won the Derby twice. Nuthead in that if he's trying to get back there, he's not going to do it by running his prize three-year-old at Hialeah.

The Flamingo and its erstwhile importance in determining Triple Crown candidates will forever live in the examples from the 1970s-set books by Andrew Beyer and S. Davidowitz. But today...

It's even worse than that! It's just an allowance race for A P Valentine, this after a half-hearted comebacker in a seven-furlong allowance!

Zito knows how to put his runners where they belong, and Strike the Gold and Go For Gin got to tussle in races like the Florida Derby and Blue Grass and Wood Memorial before moving ahead. A P Valentine gets to beat up on ninth-tier sophomores at a track that's a shell of its old self.

OK. Good luck, Nicky Z. Pretty subtle there, that waving of the white flag. We wish you only well.

Tomorrow's Turfway Spiral Stakes has drawn an uninspiring field of 9, and the figures these guys run are noticeably slack, especially when you look at them in relation to where the Point Givens and Congarees and Monarchos's of the world hang out.

But three-fifths of a million is hard to ignore, and as we attempted in the Florida Derby, let's go with a rail-out rundown, followed by a forecast for the nonafecta.

Fan Club's Mister - This guy doesn't rally too good, and this time there's no easy pace to attend. It's hard enough to improve a figure without having to change style or go faster earlier, but that's what he'll need to do.

Keats - First time around two turns, and your likely leader. Unfortunately, this trainer has lost with 27 or his last 28 stretchout horses.

Clutch Player - Jerry West might do better in this spot. The pace here seems sterner, and his late-punch seems weak.

Balto Star - Good freakout figure last time, but the occasions he's had to keep up with a legitimate set of fractions, he's caved.

Halo's Stride - One of the local heroes, and a horse that knows how to close some, although the times of his final furlongs have been half-fast, at best. The pace slows down, but with a weird dynamic on in here, he can plod home for some part of this, maybe.

Mongoose - He'll be flanked off Keats, waiting to pounce when the that one's negative trainer stats kick in around the far turn. That sounds far-fetched, but it's pretty fantastical and literate, too. Looks like a serious player at the end.

Camden Park - The typical three-year-old lament in these Triple Crown preps: outpaced, with no hope of a rally.

Buckle Down Ben - Lukas bit it hard last Sunday, when the Scorpion got stomped in the Gotham Mile. He'll want to rally, but this year, anyway, 'Halo has been a more reliable rallier.

Meetyouathebrig - Nothing around two turns against legitimate beasts. Here's a good one to try to keep out of the equation.

Now for the condensed version:

9. Fan Club's Mister
8. Clutch Player
7. Balto Star
6. Camden Park
5. Meetyouathebrig
4. Keats
3. Buckle Down Ben
2. Halo's Stride
1. Mongoose

Mongoose gets no glowing recommendation, but he's mildly attractive as but the third choice (at 7-2) on the morning line. Halo's Stride gets a more enthusiastic nod to make the race pay, especially at scrumptiously high odds from everyone's favorite linemaker, Mr Michael Battaglia, Esq.

The End Is Nigh!
That's a lot of material, but at least it's not talking off steam, eh?

Time for the hard sell. Don't forget to participate in the March Madness! Edition of the Big-Prize Handicapping Contest. You can win cool stuff, and the results are tabluated promptly, not to mention accurately! Such a deal! People don't have to work so hard on evenings and weekends until they e-terrorize someone else's business, that's for sure!

And coming next month, our very first April Foolishness competition--amazingly, almost as trivial as no prize at all!

And also coming (even sooner), a new midweek (OK, Tuesday) version of an electronic newsletter, by a commentator you all know, love and respect. (Well, all right...you know this person, at least.)

Enjoy your racing week. See you next time.

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