by Johnny D
October 9, 2020
In case you hadn’t noticed, the National Football League is back in action. Actually, except for a game here and there postponed due to positive COVID tests, they’ve been playing a full schedule since Sept. 10.
One of my weekly rituals is to watch the local postgame show which features interviews with Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Peterson, quarterback Carson Wentz and other players. Don’t know if you’re a football fan or not but my home side is off to a rocky start. They’re 1-2-1, currently best in the ‘NFC Worst’ division that includes a team or two that would struggle to win the NCAA SEC title.
Philly fans have a reputation for being ‘tough’ on players. Add coaches, general managers, broadcasters and water boys into the mix and you get the complete picture. City of Brotherly Love fans are ‘tough’ on everyone, including themselves. ‘Boo birds’ nest here. To be fair, Philly fans also can be among the world’s most loving and loyal. Proof in that pudding is the number of former Philly athletes that remain in the area to raise families and to pursue business opportunities.
The love/hate attitude divider in this fan base usually corresponds to a team’s win-loss record. But not always. For example, even though Andy Reid-coached teams were perennial winners, the town, ultimately turned on Big Red. Near the end, his postgame press conferences were clich-riddled gatherings, “That’s on me…I take full responsibility…We’ve got to work to get better…We’ve got to put the players in a position to succeed” and other mea culpas. There’s only so many times you can fall on your sword before it ends up puncturing an organ. BTW…as solid a coach as Reid was in Philly, he emerged as an ‘offensive genius’ when Patrick Mahomes arrived in Kansas City. Bet the mood in Reid’s postgame pressers also improved.
In a fabulous scene in Bull Durham, Kevin Costner’s character veteran ‘Crash’ Davis outlines the proper way for Tim Robbins’ character wet-behind-the-ears ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh to deal with the media. Here’s a link to the (R-rated for language) scene https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeVca9MwDX8
Following this weekend’s massive Preakness Day coast-to-coast racing extravaganza, I wondered how a handicapper might handle a pointed interrogation following an afternoon of horseplay?
Q: How would you rate your performance today?
A: I did some good things. Made some mistakes. You know, that’s the way the game goes. You’re ‘gonna lose more than you win. Just gotta make sure you’re getting value. That’s the key. Winning’s nice but in this game, like in life, you can’t always win. You gotta take it one day at a time. You’re gonna have more bad days than good. Today wasn’t a good day. I lost more than I won. I’ll go back and look at the tape to see where I stumbled, and I’ll work on that and get better.
Q: During the week, you said you were going to concentrate on horses with speed and yet in a few of the afternoon’s later races you keyed closers. Any reason for the switch?
A: What is it Mike Tyson supposedly said? “Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.” Something like that. (Chuckles) At that point, I may have been pressing a bit. Maybe. Anyway, in those races I thought closers gave me the best chances for success. Period. Those opinions didn’t work out. I’ll review my handicapping materials, watch replays to see what did and didn’t happen and I’ll work to get better.
Q: I noticed you played an inordinate number of low-percentage bets—Pick 6s, Pick 5s, Superfectas, etc.—that didn’t work. In the future, would you, perhaps, consider a more conservative approach like Win, Place, Show or Exacta wagers?
A: Look, here’s the deal, you begin with a game plan you hope to execute. Early on I made some conservative wagers that didn’t cash. I got behind, so I opened things up and fired some low percentage/high yield plays to get back in the game. There was a Superfecta in the third at Belmont, I think, that nearly hit. If the bomb 7 finishes fourth instead of fifth, everything changes. I’m playing with a lead. But if you get behind early and you have to adjust on the fly… I decided to take a few Pick 5 swings—late ones at Belmont and Keeneland and an early one at Santa Anita. You know, at that point, you’re just trying to get something going. Some momentum. And, if I connect on one of those, it’s a ‘W’ instead of an ‘L.’
Q: Going forward, do you believe that a more balanced attack would be more effective?
A: Like I said, the original game plan didn’t include as many Pick 5s. I got behind early and threw bombs to catch up. Unfortunately, none connected.
Q: Would you say you panicked?
A: (An icy stare toward the questioner) No. I’d say I adjusted to circumstances and made plays that put me in the best position to win.
Q: In the third leg of the Santa Anita Late Pick 5 you considered including the number 3 and the number 6 but chose to just single the number 6. As we know, the 3 won the race triggering a five-figure payoff and, unfortunately, leaving you with 4 out of 5 winners. Can you explain your thinking in that situation?
A: (Big sigh) That was a tough one. It still stings. You know, you prepare, do the work and play the game. Still, sometimes, it all comes down to zigging when you should zag. Multi-leg wagers are tough. You’ve got to be perfect. Miss one and you’re toast. The 3 and 6 are both good horses. I wanted to use ‘em both but couldn’t. It doubles the ticket, you know, and I was down at that point so…I was forced to single somewhere. Tough call. You gotta break some eggs. You can’t use ‘em all.
Q: Specifically, though, why the 6 instead of the 3?
A: (A trifle irritated) I thought the 6 would win. It’s that simple. Looking back. Leading jock. Top trainer. Great workouts. Speed. Strong record on the surface, at the distance. What’s not to like. I mean, I thought the 3 had a good chance, too. Positive factors, sure. That’s why I was down to those two. Like I said, you can’t use ‘em all. In this game you’ve got to shake losses off…have a short memory
Q: It’s October and, in light of your recent losses, how would you rate your chances of qualifying for and winning the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas?
A: You know, they don’t play this game in short pants. It’s tough. Every day. So, I gotta take ‘em one at a time. It’s October. We’ve still got a few months to go, plenty of chances to qualify between now and the end of the year. The competition is intense. There are so many great players out there. The NHC is our Super Bowl, you know, it’s where every horseplayer wants to be. I want a ring. I just gotta keep my head down and put myself in a position to win.
Q: And not go broke in the process?
A: Look, I’m just happy to be here. I hope I can turn it around…give it my best shot, and the good Lord willing, things will work out. Now, if you’ll excuse me. I’ve got races to handicap.
Here’s one man’s opinion of Saturday’s Late Pick 4 at Santa Anita. When it’s over, don’t interview him…unless, of course, it hits.
Race 6 Allowance Optional Claiming – Five and One-Half Furlongs Turf
This $20k allowance optional claimer matches females with some fast dirt numbers against each other on turf. Handicappers often are faced with surface dilemmas and it’s our experience that most horses favor one surface over another—specifically dirt/turf. There are a few that can handle both well, but they are the exception and not the rule. So, the suggestion here is to avoid backing turf runners off sharp dirt form. They’re usually overbet and there’s no evidence they’ll run as well on grass as they do on dirt.
3. Miss Megan changed hands from trainer Andy Mathis to Phil D’Amato and moved from Golden Gate synthetics to Santa Anita dirt and won at this level last out. That was back in February. D’Amato is 20% off long layoffs and the 5-year-old mare is 0-2 on turf. She’s fired some random big races on dirt and her first lifetime start was an OK turf try.
4. A Melis used speed to parlay a runner-up effort sprinting into a mile romp at this level during the Del Mar stand. She’s won 2 of 4 overall and this will be her first turf try for a sire that is 9% with first time turf runners and 12% on grass overall, according to Thoro-Graph stats. She’s lightly raced and could have additional upside.
8. Hotitude made a couple of stakes starts at 2 and wasn’t disgraced. The 4-year-old has had only 9 career outings—3 last year and 2 this year—so it’s clear she’s had issues. Breeder/trainer Kristin Mulhall is patient with stock and this one seems in form now. She ran a career best Thoro-Graph figure last out sprinting on turf. Expect a solid effort.
Must Use/Possible Single for Aggressive Players
9. Time for Ebby is a popular 7-year-old. She has started at this level 6 times this year and has been claimed 4 times—twice by current trainer Steve Knapp who originally lost her for this price in January! She’s 0-9 this year with 4 seconds and 3 thirds. Overall, she’s just 1 for 8 on turf.
Race 7 $50k Starter Allowance – Six Furlongs
This is a strange race where 9-5 favorite #1 Brittle and Yoo is closely followed by a pair of 5-2 runners and a 3-1 contender. Morning-line maker Jon White is telling you he thinks the public will see this as a wide-open event (except for 10-1 shot #5 Happy Trails). We agree. Tough to get much of a firm grip on this bunch. Since this Pick 4 includes short fields the best idea probably is to try and stay ‘skinny’ with the ticket and hope to get by with using just 2 runners in here.
1. Brittle and Yoo closed to be third in a pair of turf sprints in her last 2 outings at about this level at Del Mar. Before that, at Churchill Downs, she was claimed off a romping $7,500 maiden claiming victory. She followed that with a poor effort at long odds in a $75k optional claimer. She figures to be running from off the pace in here.
Must Use but Not a Single
2. Miss Alegria dropped to the $40k maiden claiming level last out and exploded to win by more than 2 lengths at nearly 4-1. It was only the 4-year-old’s third start of her career and second this year. She was fifth at the $62,500 maiden claiming level in her previous start on turf. Her first out at 2 was a good try against straight maidens.
3. Lady On Ice dropped to the bottom maiden claiming level to win by more than 5 lengths last out. She had been a well-beaten fifth behind Miss Alegria for $40k before that in her only other start. She’ll need further progression to win this but that’s not impossible.
4. Secret Square broke maiden in a state-bred $50k and has been second twice since in $40k optional claimers against fellow 3-year-olds. She comes from off the pace and gets in light at 111 pounds including apprentice Alexis Centeno. It should be noted that she is owned and trained by the same connections as #1 Brittle and Yoo—Hronis Racing LLC and John Sadler, respectively. In short fields like this one, connections with a live runner (#1 Brittle and Yoo) sometimes will enter another horse in order to ‘fill the race’ enabling the racing office to let the race ‘go’ with just 5 starters.
Possible Race ‘Filler’
5. Happy Trails broke maiden first out at the $32k level in November ’19. One start since produced a well-beaten third against 3-year-old $32k winners going six and one-half furlongs. She’ll need to go faster to win in here, but she’s only had 2 races so there’s upside.
Race 8 California Distaff Handicap – Five and One-Half Furlongs Turf
3. Althea Gibson is one of a pair of owner/breeder Nick Alexander runners in this race. She’s got speed in a race lacking that commodity. Expect the 3-year-old filly to be sent from the gate in an attempt to win…and if not…at least to set things ups for stablemate #4 Just Grazed Me’s late charge.
Third Best Option
4. Just Grazed Me has won 3 of 7 turf starts, including the Gr. 3 Senator Ken Maddy. She’s the deserving 6-5 morning line favorite. The 5-year-old has been away since late May, but trainer Phil D’Amato is 20% off that type of layoff. The mare has run well off layoffs in the past. Because she’s made just 3 starts this season, one could question if she’s as durable as the filly that won 4 of 5 starts and ripped off 3 consecutive stakes scores a year ago, but she’s difficult to ignore in here.
5. Fantasy Heat was outkicked home to be a close second in her last two starts at the $62k/N2x level, so she’s in form. This 4-year-old filly has 3 wins out of 9 tries at the distance and should be close or setting the early pace. She’s the 3-1 morning line second choice and can’t be ignored.
Second Best Option
Race 9 Maiden Claiming – Six Furlongs
3. Full Draw is 9-5 morning line favorite and deserves top billing off a trio of competitive races at higher levels. The pre-requisite turf try last out made certain he’s not a different horse on that surface. This class drop signals owner/breeder is ready to win a race.
Must Use/Possible Single
5. Raise the Stakes goes first time for Luis Mendez who’s 16% with first-time starters. However, according to Thoro-Graph, Mendez is 0-3 with 3-year-old maiden first-time starters. Some good works showing for this son of Astrology, who’s 10% with first-time starters.
Could be Used on Larger Tickets
9. Time to Testify returned from an extended layoff at Del Mar and dropped in class to finish third at this level. That was his first sprint and first dirt race. Trainer Keith Desormeau is just 9% off an extended layoff and 14% off a recent race.
12. Lucky Ryan Seven has two starts, both compromised by slow beginnings. He is dropped to the lowest level, adds blinkers and gets in light at 110 pounds and apprentice Jessica Pyfer. An outside starting spot might help his breaking behavior.
Could be Used on Larger Tickets
$5 Pick 4 ($20 Total)
Race 6: 8
Race 7: 1, 2
Race 8: 4
Race 9: 3, 9
$.50 Pick 4 ($36 Total)
Race 6: 3, 4, 8
Race 7: 1, 2
Race 8: 3, 4, 5
Race 9: 3, 5, 9, 12