April 27, 2001

The Twin Spires greet their many zealots in the racing world tomorrow afternoon, for the first time in 2001, and life as we know it is destined to build to a hype-filled crescendo over the next seven days, culiminating in a fortissimo belting out of the famous verse "Weep no more, m'lady!," all the while a million faces softened by the undeniable wave of sentiment for Americana feel the tears roll down, mingling their salt with a bittersweet sting of the bourbon warming their breath.

In time, in time. Before all that high drama, the witnesses will note "Congaree in 58 and 2; looks sharp" and "Tincin a mile in two minutes flat; doesn't make the worktab." They will gush over the ones with their ears pricked, the ones who prance and dance and snort off steam in the soft light of daybreak. They will know who is in trouble by an absence of such animated behavior.

They will watch the races in the afternoon. "Everything is going toward the front," they will notice. "Gimme some action on Balto Star!" And their companions might chide them, "What do you mean? You know that's no mile and a quarter!"

Their companions will be the ones otherwise keeping quiet counsel, closer to having the thing in proper order, despite a lack of excited talk about it. Their companions will have the observations, to be sure, but only in conjunction with things that are harder to observe, abstract measures the naked eye is unable to express with precision.

The speed figures come out, the pace ratings take over. Projected matchups substitute for loose talk about morning works, about imagined track biases, about which horse Baffert is ignoring.

And that should be the way to go. Even if it doesn't always work out that way by 6 p.m. local time in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.

But no matter the winner, the roses will smell as sweet as ever.

Churchill Opens, Track Plays 'Exactly This Way' Say World-Famous Analysts
So how about it, this surface at the famous racetrack for Thoroughbreds in Louisville, Ky.?

Keeneland speed, especially in sprints, will get a rude awakening, especially if it remains in sprints at Churchill. The six-furlong distance is probably closer to six-and-a-quarter furlongs, and you already know about that long homestretch. The deepest closers can bounce back as quickly as the notorious Keeneland front-speed bias did them in.

Especially troubling for the up-close types are the longer one-turn sprint distances, say, seven-and-a-half furlongs and the mile. Long-winded types can just jog down the backstretch before loosening up through the long final straight.

But at two turns, notably a mile and a sixteenth, the speed gets to hang on much better than at the other distances at Churchill. The closers are thwarted, long stretch or not.

On turf, middle-distance rally-types who have been foiled by the winter-spring course conspiracies at Gulfstream and Keeneland can easily make amends over the Kentucky sod (not as blue) in Louisville.

Practical Pointer #11
Do you realize how unlikely it is you'll hit a pick 3? Any pick 3?

Even if you were trying to get home three 3-5 shots, you'd have a better shot hitting a single 7-2 winner, after making adjustments for track take and breakage, than cashing that serial triple. How about that!

And you know you're rarely, if ever, going to get a sequence that easily! A look at the pick 3s offered in North American from April 1-6, inclusive, suggests that the 346 pick 3s that actually connected had an average probability of winning of 1.3 percent! Yow!

However, that should not necessarily deter you from playing the thing, because there are instances in which you can make it pay. As always, the trick is to isolate those situations that offer -- all together now! -- value! What else?

For starters, this sample of April 1-6 pick 3s was divided into two groups -- one containing actual payoffs no greater than 70 percent of the fair pay, the other containing actual payoffs at least 1.3 times greater than the fair price, based on the win odds of the three winners. (No, that's not a perfect mechanism, but for the purposes of this piece, it serves us well enough.)

For those who might have thought field size was a factor, not really. The average number of runners in both groups was nearly the same: 24.45 horses for the underlaid group, 24.26 horses for the overlaid set.

The underlaid group was characterized by gruesome longshots. The fair series odds (to $1) for the lower-than-expected payoffs were 676-1. By contrast, the better-than-expected payoffs had fair series odds of 212-1.

In terms of average individual odds, the horses making up the grossly unfair payoffs went off at 6.27-1, while the really good payoffs were 4.45-1.

Why should this be? An imperfect analogy might apply.

Think of your typical show prices on a longshot and on a strong favorite. Any kind of action on a longshot to place or show will cut the price dramatically, not to mention subsidize the favorite. In a shallow pick 3 pool, a shoot-the-moon ticket containing lots of longshots will effectively do the same thing. The prices on horses and combinations that don't account for a large portion of the betting are necessarily more sensitive to action, even of the modest variety, especially in minuscule pools.

Back to that theme of subsidizing the favorite, the place-and-show dynamic applies, though not as blatantly, to the pick 3. The longshot accompanying two favorites is likely to be negatively impacted, pick3 price-wise. Conversely, the favorites can be picked-up in pick-3 price with just a single bomber.

And then there's the trainer. Perhaps the horseman is a paranoid type who wants to push a lot of dollars on his horse's back -- but not to win, lest the public catch on to the coup d'course. In such cases, the pick 3 can hide the action.

Witness a trainer named Gary L. Johnson on April 6, 2001. In the pick 3 starting on race 6 at Thistledown and going through race 7 at Beulah and back to race 8 at Thistledown, Johnson's Clever Countess was 4-1 on the morning line, but won at 5.50-1.

The second winner in the sequence also paid $13 on top, with the 6-5 fave taking the last leg. The $2 pick 3 paid $177.80. It should have paid a fair $280.

And wouldn't you know, the next pick 3, the one that contained the other two winners but not Johnson's opening shot, was a huge overlay, returning more than 1.8 times its fair price.

But Mr. Johnson was not finished on the day. Later that evening at Mountaineer Park, his Mournful Defense won and paid $17.40. Granted, this one was bet down some in the win pool, from a morning line of 10-1.

Nonetheless, the pick 3 with Johnson's leadoff hitter returned $287.60 for each $2 ticket. In a fair scheme, it would have paid more than $800! The respective pick 3 pools at Ohio 7-7 and Mountaineer were between $1,500 and $1,900.

Such vigilance, especially in Johnson's case, might require both a Pinkerton and a good pair of night-vision goggles. But it's something to look into.

On the other hand, taking advantage of the good-paying pick 3 prices won't require that much adherence to conspiracy theory, especially since you don't have to put in a ticket with nothing but wild-priced horses on it.

Instead, be prepared to beat at least one of the chalks, and two of them biting the dust would be pretty good, too. Don't stray too far from the public eye, given that it's the subtle nonfavorites who can make this wager pay handsomely, something along the value lines of a $2.80 show price on an even-money shot vs. a $10 place price on a 50-1. Even though the latter pays better in terms of raw dollars, it's a decided underlay.

Don't forget that we're the only place you can get your 2001 PARS PLUS information, including up-to-date, improved par times, plus helpful information on pace characteristics of racetracks and how they behave. It's an exciting new dimension of par-time information.

And don't forget to enter the April Foolishness Edition of the Big-Prize Handicapping Contest, now with three ways to win. If you like handicapping and you like getting psychically and monetarily rewarded for it (without risk!), this is the competition for you. And check out details on the Mayhem Edition of the contest next week.

You can catch all the details on these and Cynthia Publishing Company happenings at our Web site.

See you next time, with -- what else? -- plenty of Derby stuff!

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