November 23, 2001

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Now for a limited time only, you can receive a free exotic-wagering-strategy booklet valued at $49 when you purchase any Cynthia Publishing Company handicapping or wagering video. Check it out by clicking here, and visiting the new Handicapping Store storefront, complete with a more robust order-processor easier-to-navigate pages. Do it now, and get a jump on the competition and on your holiday shopping!

Fair Grounds Facts
Way down yonder in New Orleans, they card a winter meet that has what every bettor wants: full fields; a good mix of all classifications of horses, ranging from cheap statebred maiden-claimers to Graded-stakes runners prepping for the Spring Classics; a solid turf program; and outfits and runners that ship in from throughout North America to seek a piece of rising purses bolstered by a growing handle stemming from an increasingly desirable simulcast signal.

The venerable Fair Grounds opened its meet yesterday with its traditional Thanksgiving Day card, and horseplayers looking for an alternative to the frostbitten product offered in New York and Kentucky, the short fields infesting the California game or the wait for Gulfstream should enjoy deciphering the races at the fabled New Orleans oval.

Indeed, the initial card of Fair Grounds 2001-2002 featured a couple of 15-1 surprises, even if those surprises were well-connected in terms of trainers and jockeys who did well at the track earlier in the year. More on that later.

Another nice feature of the Fair Grounds is a track oddsmaker who knows what he's doing. Add to that pools that are large enough so as not to result in wild fluctuations in the prices (win, place, show, exacta) at the last flash. How maddening is it to wager on a 5-1 shot with a minute to post and see its closing odds shrink to 5-2? That rarely happens at Fair Grounds.

Of course, much of the discussion of Fair Grounds centers on the nature of the main track, frequently a damp, moisture-sucking deep surface that saps frontrunners and boosts closers. In combination with the long, long homestretch, and closers should rule.

Those old notions actually prove to be true. Most tracks in North America promote opening-quarter-mile and opening-half-mile striking position, but you can lag far back early at Fair Grounds and still have plenty of chances to win.

At six furlongs, for instance, the large marjority of winning moves will take place well before the top of the lane, even as early as quarter-pole. Not so at Fair Grounds, where frontrunners can win, but are much more likely to be overhauled by horses who begin launching a decisive move sometime afterthe first four furlongs. Indeed, it's no big deal for the eventual winner to start accelerating really late, inside the furlong grounds!

Even at the two-turn mile distance on the main track -- the kind of trip that strongly favors frontrunning-types at other tracks -- late-runners do exceedingly well.

And at a mile and a sixteenth on dirt, the frontrunning trip is frequently death. You don't want a horse who dominates the early or even the middle of the race. Only the closing parts of the race really matter.

About the only place that frontrunners have a reasonably equal chance is the weird mile-and-40-yard distance. Even then, the speed doesn't dominate.

In short, you have to approach Fair Grounds not from a "speed kills" perspective -- but a "speed dies" one! Habitual come-from-behinders are at no disadvantage. Even when the track is in its familiarly soggy state, the frontrunners don't pick up the slack.

On turf, same thing, though the five-and-a-half-furlong sprint distance played more fairly in 2001 than previously. Especially at the route distances on the Fair Grounds grass, last run is king.

Trainers who strike at a price include last year's co-leading conditioner, Steve Asmussen. Low-profile Dale Angelle and Patrick Mouton also had success with surprises. Yesterday, Opening Day, trainer Albert Stall Jr. struck with a 15-1; Stall had the sixth-highest number of wins after Jan. 1 at Fair Grounds.

Lonnie Meche was the leading rider, and he was the rare bird who could effectively balance the late-running characteristics of the racetrack with the once-in-a-while necessity of seizing the initiative and rolling gate-to-wire. If you're going with an up-front type and have L. Meche aboard, you should be OK.

Plenty at/of Stake(s)
The post-BC blues are already upon us -- Distaff winner Unbridled Elaine and runner-up Spain were not close in the Thanksgiving Day Falls City at Churchill, and top Sprint finishers Xtra Heat and Caller One could not crack the exacta in last weekend's De Francis Dash, won by the previously well-beaten Delaware Township.

The beat went on this afternoon at Churchill, when Classic survivors Gander and Include were buried in the Clark Handicap, won by frontrunning Ubiquity. Who's next?

Tomorrow at Aqueduct, the Cigar Mile is the last Grade I of the year in New York, and three of the nine running for the $350,000 purse are BC Sprint longshots Left Bank and Peeping Tom and major Mile disappointment Affirmed Success. If the early post-BC results are any indication, the three will have a shot in the Cigar, given their up-the-track status in the BC.

Of the three, Left Bank figures to have the best chance. Peeping Tom was much better earlier in the year, while Affirmed Success tried the BC Mile-to-Cigar Mile move last year with little success.

Graeme Hall also has a look at things toward the front, and two sleeper candidates -- the enigmatic Volponi and the sneaky Capsized -- will be trying to run 'em all down at the end. Should things get crazy on the pace, Volponi and Capsized will hit the board at better-than-fair prices.

On the West Coast, there's $500,000 up for grabs in the Grade II Citation Handicap at a mile and a sixteenth on turf, and 13 are signed on.

Val Royal won the Breeders' Cup Mile in a tour de force, and is in here in the hopes a win can secure an Eclipse Award over invader Fantastic Light.

But he's not the only one from the Mile in the Citation field. Sarafan and Irish Prize closed in the wake of Val Royal's earlier move, but to no avail. What about this time?

The Citation running shakes out thusly: Purely Cozzene and front-loving jockey Tyler Baze assume command down the backstretch, with El Cielo positioned perfectly and ready to pounce on that one somewhere rounding the far turn. This pair dominates the preliminary action, to the top of the lane.

Storming from behind, a la his BC Mile trip, is Val Royal. But it's a stubborn Purely Cozzene who could make the exacta or trifecta (or both) pay exceedingly well.

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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