Thursday, August 31, 2006

Success at Saratoga is a Nightmare Affair

A very wise and handsome man who drives around in a 1993 Subaru with no air-conditioning and a large quantity of old Big Mac wrappers on the floorboards, recently provided me with some notable facts that I thought was pertinent to one's ability to handicap horse races,
It takes 43 muscles to frown but only 17 to smile. It takes absolutely no muscles to look stupid.

I have been busy over the past week ... Busy kicking myself for being a complete dolt in my wagering strategy for the Travers' weekend. It was easy. I should have just put up the bucks, coughed on the chalk dust, collected my loot, and pretended that I was a genius. But no. In my quest to secure a potentially sizeable portion of the $1M NTRA Pick 4, I got carried away, wheeling in longshots that would provide some value if, in some strange voo-doo kind of way, they actually beat the likes of Henny Hughes or Bernardini. And if you are a wheeling-n-dealing Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 6 individual, you know that when you get carried away or you are not paying attention to the cost of the ticket or you are busy chasing the 4-year-old giggling child who you had to bring along with you and you hit Print Ticket before you are really ready, the cost of the wager can get out of hand. And eventually, that $1 wager turns into a $16 wager which in turn only pays a paltry $29 for all of the hard work you did and you then begin to question the value of playing the multi-race wagers when your Granny always warned you that they're just sucker bets.

Saturday, one of my ol' reliables is racing: Nightmare Affair. I have been following this big gray horse since his first race and he generally never lets me down, considering that he wins 44% of the time (66% ITM). When he won the Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder last month at odds of 14-1, you better believe that it was a nice payday. I figured that I would never have the opportunity to see odds like that again in his career. However, it seems I have figured wrong. Nightmare Affair is turning up in Saratoga, racing in the Forego Handicap. I'm skeptical of his chances. Oh sure, he's racing against some of the same horses he beat in Calder, such as Pomeroy, but that's because it was at Calder. Nightmare Affair wins at Calder but ship him a few miles across town to Gulfstream, he loses. And now he's shipping to New York ...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Feel-Good Story in the Midst of Tragedy

It's been tough for our equine friends of late. Lost in the Fog is destined to spend the rest of his days, how many they may be, in his stall at Golden Gate, consuming all the feed he wants and nipping at all the veterinarians that stroll by, until he becomes "uncomfortable". I hope if I ever have that kind of prognosis befall me, I'm given the same options; only let me nip at Johnny Depp or Patrick Swayze in my last hours and not some dumb doctor. Then the tragic news of Saint Liam, who merely was "led to his paddock" and broke his tibia in a 1,000,044 places and was euthanized, leaving 115 knocked-up mares with the only progeny of an exceptional horse. And in other Tough-to-Digest horse news (no pun intended, which is unusual for this blog), our nation's crack-precision legislature is scheduled to vote on HR 503 that is aimed to end horse slaughter in America. The Humane Society of the United States and organizations such as Just Say Whoa! are putting out the word. And according to the AP wires, my good friend and Country Legend, Willie Nelson, has given up singing to become a lobbiest.
If you've ever been around horses, you know they are part of the American heritage. I don't think that it's right that we kill them and eat them. [Willie Nelson - AP]

So on my search to find some happy or silly news to share with all of you, I went through my usual cyber hunting grounds. Thus, I eventually visited Dan Illman's FormBlog, only because if Dan doesn't post something ridiculous or silly, usually some other person does. Imagine my surprise this afternoon when I read Dan's entry, extolling praises of a horse named Movement! I'd put in the link but DRF requires registration so I'll provide the quote for you:

Aug 23, 2006 12:25 PM
Congrats to poster, questionable dq

First off, I'd like to congratulate poster Tote Board Brad as his 2-year-old filly Movement ran a good second in her career debut at the Bay Meadows Fair on Saturday. She showed good speed from the get-go, and finished six lengths clear of the third-place finisher. Sorry I couldn't have been there to cheer her on, but here' s hoping she reaches the winner's circle real soon.By the way, Brad has a great blog over at so check it out along with the rest of the folks at the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance.

Whoa! The great Dan Illman provides a direct link to good ol' Tote Board Brad! The love affair has begun. Dan will probably propose by the end of the year. And to think I made of fun Dan inferring that he did not know the meaning of restrictive paradigm?

And speaking of the new Wonder-Filly, Movement, apparently I was the only person on the planet who made some money on her last Saturday. I sat around Lone Star Park's Post Time Pavillion for an hour and a half, just waiting for this race. And I will have you know, for that hour and a half, I had to consume two (2) frozen margaritas and have a conversation with some guy named Wally. Was it Wally? Maybe his name was Stanley ... no wait a minute, maybe it was Billy. No matter: it's not like he paid for my margaritas or anything like that (although as we chatted about the 7th race at San Mateo Fair at Bay Meadows, he did agree that "the 9 horse seems to have the best pedigree, and of course, she is Kentucky Bred.")

So congratualtions to my good friend as well as Dan Illman's good friend and everybody's good friend, Tote Board Brad, on an outstanding achievement. And it should be noted that the silks worn by jockey Jorge Bourdieu, were the debut of Brad's silks. Note to Brad: The silks are very attractive but there is some kind of blue note emblem on them (perhaps the St. Louis Blues?) which would be kind of weird; you being a CPA in the Bay Area, which, geographically is nowhere near the city of St. Louis.:
If you were to have and some kind of "emblem" on your signatures silks, I was sure that it would look like this one (hic):

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Pondering Points

If you are a regular reader to this blog, you probably noted that it is affiliated with the horse racing genius collective, the TBA. We all love horse racing. We all love writing about horse racing, except for maybe The Lemon Drop Kid who got so excited that Barbaro won the Florida Derby that he has since forgot how to blog. Regardless, we all have a primary goal: promote horse racing.

There is, however, another objective of the TBA and that is the pursuit of thoroughbred standings by using a point system based on graded races. Patrick of Pulling Hair and Betting Horses and his Harvard-educated sibling developed an algorithm for the standings that are posted on each TBA blog. Patrick and Brother Harvard put serious thought, effort, and logic, and probably consumed a six-pack or two, in the development and implementation of the TBA Standings.

Personally, I believe this mechanism merits thought. We could all just stand around, whining about the decline of attendance or space devoted in the daily newspaper, or we can encourage change. Point system standings are objective. Let’s face it, when we open the sports section, our eyes are drawn to numbers and rankings to assess our teams and athletes. My brother can look at the American League standings and note that his beloved Red Sox are in second place, two games behind the Yankees. My husband can look at the National League standings and see that his beloved Cubs are in fifth place, 11 games out. How many points Jeff Burton has in the Nextel Cup Points Standings (2,879). How many days Terrell Owens sat out of Cowboy’s training camp (14). Yes, in sports, it is natural to look at numbers.

Another positive to the notion of horse rankings is that it enables casual fans to see and recognize names of outstanding horses. My friend, Sheryl, knows of Barbaro and Funny Cide. And her husband thinks that Alysheba was the name of Omar Sharif’s girlfriend in the movie, Doctor Zhivago. It should be noted that I have hauled this couple to the track on more than one occasion, too. Therefore, name recognition would be a real promotion for the sport of horse racing.

So, those are my thoughts, which basically mean nothing. Crowning a champion is not my personal goal. Objectively naming the Horse of the Year is not my ambition. As a horseplayer, my relationship with the horse is connected to how much money a pari-mutuel teller hands to me after I turn in a winning ticket. At this writing, Malibu Mint should be HOTY.

But others in the TBA continue to search for improvements. A few weeks ago there was a deluge of emails, suggesting changes in the point distribution and giving more recognition to the horses that win Grade II races. A couple of members dragged out their soapboxes. I remained silent during the volley of emails because, quite honestly, I’m na├»ve when it came to the importance of certain races. And if I have something to say, then I better at least have a clue.

I determined that research was required, and when it comes to research I generally try to do as little as possible. So I opted to contact The Horse Racing Professor Gary West of the Star-Telegram.

Gary kindly responded to my request for his thoughts and opinions on the subject. And he did not disappoint me. He used lots of big words. And I’m sure it will be the only email in my lifetime that uses the Latin phrase, petitio principii. At least, I think it is Latin.

Historically, the North American Graded Stakes Committee was originally created with the intention of assisting buyers and sellers at auctions; they identified most of the important races. However, over time, many began to question its usefulness because, as Gary West said, “Nobody goes to a sale and spends significant money buying a son of Thunder Gulch without knowing the Kentucky Derby, Belmont and Travers are important races.”

But somehow, the grading of stakes began to grow in importance, such as determining the illogical process of limiting the size of the Derby field. The committee, which eventually morphed into the American Graded Stakes Committee when the Canadians decided that it would be in their best interest to remove themselves from such silliness, plundered on, passing out grades that perhaps served to their own interests. Thus, the grading of races has become terribly flawed.

But any serious fan … should be able to recognize the nonsense of the grading system. The Kentucky Derby and the Prioress are the same grade, Barbaro and Acey Deucey forever linked as Grade I winners? Nonsense. Which was the better race, the ungraded Colonial Turf Cup or the Grade II Virginia Derby? Well, the winner of the ungraded Colonial Turf Cup, Showing Up, won the Secretariat while the winner of the Grade II Virginia Derby finished 16 lengths back in last. I’d have to say that regardless of the grading, the Colonial Turf Cup was a much better race. And such examples are abundant. The sport overflows with them, because the grading system is inherently flawed.

Gary continued,

Only by waiting until after a race has been run to assign a grade could the grading have any validity ... To begin the year, only the Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown races, along with such stakes as the Travers and the Santa Anita Handicap, would be inalterably and infrangibly Grade I. All other races could be assigned a minimum grade, with the committee having the opportunity to upgrade the race at the end of the year depending on the quality of the field.

Those who support the point system standings, or an a priori thinker as Gary West so lovingly used (I told you he used some big words!), should not make the assumption that the grading of stakes is meaningful. Thus linking the point system to a flawed grading system is basically “something that the government would do.”

Malibu Mint, anyone?

Monday, August 14, 2006

They Race Horses in Iowa, Don't They?

Last week, my girls and I took a little trip to Iowa (state motto: "This is not Idaho or Ohio"). While there, I was presented with an opportunity to visit the facilities of Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in the hot-spot Iowa vacation destination of Altoona. According to the little pamphlet that I picked up at the Iowa Tourist and Information rest stop on I-35,
Prairie Meadows is the Midwest's only combination full-service casino and live racing venue ... Free Stable Tours ... Complimentary continental breakfast under our apron canopy while you watch the horses during their morning workouts ... Family Day at the Races.
It appeared to be family friendly. Granted, no minors are allowed on the casino floor, but I felt surely, my children and I would have clear access to the racetrack venue. My handy dandy little pamphlet indicated that minors could accompany adults to the track as well as the simulcast parlor.

When we walked into the grandstand ... was it a grandstand? Unsure. It was a casino. But I asked some important looking guy with a walkie talkie and some kind of electronic equipment attached to his ear if an official or marketing representative to speak with me and perhaps give me a tour, alluding that I was some kind of "turf writer" based out of Lone Star Park and that I was just passing through Des Moines. Actually, Mr. Chief Security Guy was rather helpful, saying that if I go to the 4th floor of the grandstand, to the simulcast area, there would be someone there to provide me information. Unfortunately, that is when I discovered that the Prairie Meadows grandstand is phagocytized by the casino. We went up the first set of escalators and found ourselves smack-dab in the middle of the casino with a dozen security officers staring down at my children, ready to pounce if one of them even so much took a breath in the direction of a slot machine. We hurriedly got on the next set of escalators where we reached to the simulcast lounge and had an actual view of the racetrack, winner's circle and finish line, which by the way, is very nice.

Once again, I babbled about being some kind of writer, and one of the friendly pari-mutuel gals offered to give me a tour. Deb Moss showed us the entire facilities, including paddock and jockey room. And as it turned out, Deb Moss is no racing slouch. She has been a breeder and trainer and groom and pari-mutuel clerk and handicapper and just all-around smart horseperson. She also sits on the board of directors for the Iowa Thoroughbred Breeder's and Owner's Association, so when I actually asked her hard hitting questions, such as "What is happenning to the Iowa foal production?" or "How many ears of corn do patrons consume on Cornhusker Day?" she provided me ready answers ("Increasing" and "They eat too much and don't bet enough").

Great tour. Attractive facilities. Very cool chandelier on the 4th floor. However, it is completely family-unfriendly. It was difficult to walk throughout the facility because the casino encompasses so much. Our little tour group was constantly accosted by secruity personnel because my 4-year-old could potentially look at a slot machine or my 7-year-old could breath casino air. True, the casino has provided the opportunity to increase purses which increases Iowa-breds which in turn is good for the equine industry in the state. But the it's-a-crime-to-be-under-21-in-the-casino law has infected the mentality of the racetrack venue of Prairie Meadows. It doesn't matter if they have a Junior Jockey Club every Saturday morning or Family Fun Days scheduled throughout the meet, because Prairie Meadows has made me, as a mother of young children as well as a horse racing enthusiast, unwelcome. So there's a few bucks that won't be showing up in their on-track handle any time soon.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

News and Notes with a Smattering of Gossip

Apparently, our average horseplayer, David Ruben Jerry George Bailey, is not-so-average. He recently competed in a DRF/NTRA Handicapping tournament at Emerald Downs and finished 9th out of something like 4,267 participants! He won prize money! He had a trip to Las Vegas in his back pocket! He planned on changing the name of his blog to YourAboveAverageHorseplayer! He performed a remarkable feat and was highly congratulated by all. But then ... (insert theme from Dragnet) ... Dum-de-Dum-Dum ... Somebody screwed up. Somebody made an accounting mistake. Somebody had to recalculate the standings. Somebody had to fix things. Anyway, abridged version, David Ruben Jerry George Bailey actually finished 11th, gets to keep his prize money, and in lieu of a trip to Las Vegas for the national tournament, he receives a consolation prize of attending another tournament at another location courtesy of Emerald Downs, according to marketing director, Susie Sourwine.

Regardless, David is to be high-fived and as far as I'm concerned, still has the goods to change the name of his blog. And speaking of names, is Susie Sourwine her real name?

Oh, while we're still on names, famous or otherwise, I recently had a visitor to my blog. Imagine my suprise when I saw the Joe Cocker had read my blog as well posted a comment! I love his music! And to think, he likes horse racing. But upon closer inspection, I note that it is actually Joe Coker of Dallas, and not Joe Cocker. Joe Coker writes over at The Paddock about Texas racing and such. And he is just as famous as Joe Cocker because he had his picture taken with both Lafitt Pincay, Jr. and Edgar Prado.

Since horse racing in North Texas has wrapped up, I noted that Joe is writing about Saratoga. I also noted that just about everybody is writing about Saratoga. I also read the one and only piece of horse racing news in today's Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Saratoga Race Course in New York canceled all of its thoroughbred races Wednesday because of high heat and humidity.

This Texan, who has been enduring more than 20 days over 100 degrees, will refrain from making any comments. However, I did overhear my husband mutter the word pansy.

And finally, for my parent's 51st wedding anniversary, I brought them to Lone Star Park for an afternoon of racing. We didn't win anything that afternoon but we had fun. And they concluded that their daughter wasn't some kind of horse-racing-gambling-addict-type-whacko. There's a good chance I'm not disinherited afterall.