Tuesday, November 9, 2010

BC2010 Handicapping: You Have To Be Lucky To Be Good

Normally, I'm a below average bettor when it comes to the Breeders' Cup. I'm pretty sure it's because I like to keep my wagers cheap and efficient - a good example being my five-for-six attempt at the now defunct Woodbine Turbo-Charged Pick Six where I singled three of six legs on a $16 ticket missing out only on the last leg. Five of six paid $175, while the payout on six correct was $46K. Ouch. Sometimes, being cheap can cost you money.

Success at the Breeders' Cup

Knowing full well there would be huge payouts on Breeders' Cup Saturday, I decided to open up my wallet for the Pick 3 and Pick 4 starting with the Juvenile Turf. I was banking that the Turf and Sprint events were deep enough to go fishing for a long shot, whereas the later races would have some obvious keys such as Goldikova and Zenyatta/Blame that might water down the payouts.

The theory did not hold true as the late P4 paid $3,898.05 for $0.50. However, even with the benefit of hindsight I have a hard time believing I could have hooked the longest shot on the board, Dakota Phone, in the Dirt Mile at odds of 37-1. The late Pick 4 paid more money, but the early Pick 4 was gettable.

Getting back to my ticket, the layout was simple enough. Playing with a $1 minimum at Woodbine, I constructed a ticket that cost $48.

Juvenile Turf - Master of Hounds, Pluck
Sprint - Big Drama, Kinsale King, Atta Boy Roy
Turf Sprint - Chamberlain Bridge, Unzip Me, Silver Timber, Rose Catherine
Juvenile - J.B.'s Thunder, Uncle Mo

As you can see from the ticket receipt posted above, I worked a similar Pick 3 ticket at a cost of $45 that added in a few insurance horses (Mantoba with Dettori aboard in the Juvenile Turf and defending champ California Flag in the Turf Sprint.)

The above noted additions offered nothing but more money to the good folks at HPI as both finished well back.

There was some local logic to my selection of Todd Pletcher's Pluck in the Juvenile Turf. After all, Pletcher scored on Friday with More Than Real in the Juvenile Fillies Turf and both these horses arrived at the Breeders' Cup from Woodbine wins in the Natalma and Summer Stakes respectively. My other choice in this event, Master of Hounds, is a G1 placed colt trained by Aidan O'Brien and had the benefit of first time lasix. Plenty to like.

The whole ticket nearly went pear shaped from the get go. Pluck bobbled the start and then dawdled the opening quarter while weaving around a fallen jockey (Rosie Napravnik who fell from Rough Sailing. The horse had to be euthanized.). It wasn't much better for Master of Hounds who left the gate well enough but was steadied while entering the first turn. Although John Murtagh would eventually get Master of Hounds barking, it wouldn't match the well-steered stretch run by Garret Gomez aboard Pluck who dove through an opening at the three-sixteenths pole and kicked home a winner.

Pluck wins the 2010 Juvenile Turf

The second leg of my wager was a lot easier. I had plenty of confidence in the speedy, multiple graded stakes winning, Big Drama and felt I had a definite shot at 6-1 with the combination of Atta Boy Roy and jockey Calvin Borel. My third selection of Kinsale King was a wildcard - the Yankee Victor gelding spent his summer chasing Starspangledbanner across the English turf and would now be trying dirt for the first time. In hindsight, I needed better than 13-1.

The race ended up being a breeze. Big Drama left the gate well and Eibar Coa secured a comfortable lead and took off when asked in the stretch coasting home a length and a half in front of Hamazing Destiny. Kinsale King finished seventh. Atta Boy Roy was eased through the stretch and then vanned off with a non-life threatening suspensory injury.

Big Drama gets it done in the BC Sprint

Of the four races, the Turf Sprint scared me the most. The five furlong grass frenzy offered the widest margin for disaster. I don't think it's coincidence that the top three finishers of this race left the gate from inside of post four. There just wasn't much time for outside-placed horses to leave the gate and get position. Woodbine's Grand Adventure had a terrible time out of post eleven.

By design, I went looking for inside horses and selected Chamberlain Bridge (PP1), Unzip Me (PP4), Silver Timber (PP5) and Rose Catherine (PP9.) It was Unzip Me that intrigued me most - the City Zip filly won bravely in the Royal North at Woodbine last August and odds of 10-1 were enticing. The public may regret letting Chamberlain Bridge go to post at odds of 7-1 considering his three turf wins at Churchill (in four starts) and thirteen lifetime wins at the distance - but hindsight handicapping is a powerful tool.

Nothing in this race went right - except for the fact that I expected not much in this race could go right. Grand Adventure started slow and raced wide. California Flag started slow and may as well not have raced. Due Date, under Garret Gomez, might have done better had he not been steadied mid-turn.

When Central City turned into the stretch in front, I was pretty sure I was going to lose this leg of my wager. In fact, less than a hundred yards from the finish I was getting a bit mopey but then Chamberlain Bridge appeared from behind a wall of horses and surged past the wire an easy winner...sort of. Central City held for second and the filly, Unzip Me, rallied for show in a picture over Bridgetown.

The Pick 3 paid $193.60 and I had it twice. Better yet, I was alive to two horses in the Pick 4.

Chamberlain Bridge gets out late to win the Turf Sprint

The best part about getting to the last leg of a Pick 4 is checking out the probable payouts. I felt pretty confident of my chances in the Juvenile with the freaky Uncle Mo on my ticket. The Indian Charlie colt would pay out $1100 to complete the Pick 4. But for thirty minutes or so I was freaking out over the possibility of J.B.'s Thunder, the winner of the Futurity at Keeneland over 8.5 furlongs, who was offering an $11K payout.

The thrill didn't last for long. Uncle Mo was hand-ridden throughout and though he seemed a bit casually paced at the top of the stretch there was no denying his class as he zipped away from the field with ease confirming his status as the early favourite for the 2011 Kentucky Derby. J.B's Thunder kept me sweating until the half but faded and finished ninth.

Uncle Mo carried his momentum to a win in the BC Juvenile

In hindsight, I'm very fortunate to have wagered across races instead of trying for exactors, tris and superfectas. In each race I had the winner but my selections didn't come close at the in-race exotics.

The rest of the card was fairly tame for me until the Classic. My late Pick 4 started easily enough with Goldikova but ended a race later when Morning Line (I also had Tizway) could not hold off a rallying Dakota Phone. I swung and missed in the third leg as well when Behkabad lacked response.

Still, with money in my pocket I was prepared to make one last score in the Breeders' Cup Classic. There was nothing spectacular about the handicapping. I used the top three choices - Zenyatta, Blame and Lookin At Lucky - in various combinations mixing in a little bit of Fly Down and Quality Road for the third and fourth position and nailed the exactor and triactor. If Martin Garcia could have urged Lookin At Lucky home in front of Fly Down, I'd have had the superfecta as well.

It was a very successful day of wagering in that I made a substantial profit, but I'm not sure I'd call it good handicapping as the tickets were far more costly than I'm comfortable playing. As well, nearly every race was burdened with the unexpected - bobbled starts, hurting horses, hard checks, tough post positions. One could argue that's the case with every horse race - but the difference is that not every race card has the payouts to match the Breeders' Cup. It was worth the risk to open my wallet. I'll take this approach again next year in the 2011 Breeders' Cup and hope I get a better trip than Jaycito, Etched and Here Comes Ben. Sometimes, you have to be lucky to be good.

* * *

The Canadian Connections had a good showing at the 2010 Breeders' Cup.

Prince Will I Am (trained by Michelle Nihei, native of Calgary) - The hearty fellow burrowed between rivals and finished second - however, the stewards disqualified him and placed him tenth for veering out and bumping Romp at the five-sixteenths marker.

New Normal (Woodbine-based runner, trained by Mark Frostad) - Perhaps a victim of post position, the Frostad trainee never got rolling finishing 8th.

Quiet Oasis (Canadian-owned by John Paul Reddam, native of Windsor) - Looked to be in good postition at the top of the stretch but faded into seventh place.

Wyomia (Woodbine-based runner, trained by Dan Vella) - Angled in and looked ready to run in the stretch but lacked response settling for sixth.

Delightful Mary (Woodbine-based runner, trained by Mark Casse) - An impressive third behind Awesome Feather and R Heat Lightning.

Joyful Victory (Canadian-bred by Bill Graham of Toronto) - Fifth, coming up empty in the stretch run, but earning $60K for his owner!

Miss Keller (Woodbine-based runner, trained by Roger Attfield) - A troubled trip with a bump in the late going and a ninth place showing.

Milwaukee Appeal (Canadian-bred, Canadian-owned by Eugene George, Woodbine-based runner, trained by Scott Fairlie) - Rated well and looked in prime position at the half before fading to finish 8th.

Seeking the Title (Canadian-owned by Charles Fipke, native of Edmonton) - 8th, never really got going.

Unrivaled Belle (Canadian-co-owned by Peter Vegso of Montreal) - Ka-ching! Challenged for the lead on the turn and then ferocious in the stretch running away from closer Blind Luck.

Unrivalled Belle was unmatched in Friday's Ladies Classic


Madman Diaries - (Co-owned by a group that includes Warren Byrne.) - Led the field to the top of the stretch and showed marked determination to hang on for fourth when stretching out for the first time.

Bridgetown (Canadian-owned by Eugene Melnyk, native of Toronto) - Showed good early speed and held on for fourth.

Grand Adventure (Woodbine-based runner, trained by Mark Frostad, owned by Sam-Son Farm) - Had a troubled trip from an outside post and finished ninth.

Society’s Chairman (Woodbine-based runner, trained by Roger Attfield, co-owned by Charles Fipke) - Never really got going finishing ninth in a race won by the brilliant Goldikova.

Pleasant Prince - Bred by Frank Stronach in Florida - Squeezed back early and finished in ninth position.

A compilation of Goldikova's three BC Mile victories

* * *

There was plenty of racing action at Woodbine over the weekend as Chantal Sutherland and Pachattack set a track record in the ten furlong Maple Leaf Stakes. The Pulpit filly seemed to be moving casually enough early on but Sutherland and Pachattack continued to widen in the stretch under a hand ride winning by almost six lengths in a time of 2:02.18 - 1.29 seconds faster than the previous record held by Helicopter. Impossible Time and Satan's Quick Chick made up the triactor.

Pachattack wins the Maple Leaf Stakes in record time

On Sunday, eleven horses went to post in the Coronation Futurity and it was Strike Oil, a bay colt by Forest Wildcat who entered the Winter Book for the Queen's Plate with a rousing last-to-first charge under jockey Luis Contreras. The second place finisher, Charlie's The Man, a Roger Attfield trainee by Indian Charlie, was also impressive getting the lead at the top of the lane and kept on well to wire of Woodbine's long stretch. Enduring Star finished third. The win topped off a great weekend for trainer Mark Casse who had six Woodbine winners from Friday to Sunday, plus the great run by Delightful Mary at the Breeders' Cup.

Strike Oil strikes it rich in the Coronation Futurity

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