what just happened?

This past weekend I was doing the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt, which is one of the few things in life with strong enough allure to keep me (mostly) away from the races.  I say mostly, because even though I missed going out to the track for the first time since the Hawthorne meet began in February, I couldn’t stay completely away.  I frittered away at least an hour watching Tom Durkin race calls instead of scavenging when it was announced he’d be retiring this summer.  I watched the Laz Barrera live, and shook my head at the bettors who let Top Fortitude go off at 30-1 second off the lay after such an impressive debut last year.  (In a somewhat related note, I was also cursing the fact that I haven’t boarded the ADW train yet…).

Also, I took my usual weekly stab at Public Handicapper.  It felt bizarre not to spend a long evening delving into the past performances, writing copious notes, and writing my picks.  However, I decided to at least read over the PPs, sketch out the pace scenario in my head, and make at least an educated guess at each of the races.  I had nothing to lose, right?

I took five or ten minutes per race to just read through the past performances, assess each horse’s preferred pace, speed, recent works, and affinity for distance and surface, and come to what felt like a snap decision.  I felt a little embarrassed with my picks given how much chalkier they were than usual, but none of the longer shots really jumped out at me as the best selections for win only.  In the Honey Ryder, I settled on Daring Kathy; usually I wouldn’t love taking a Wildcat Heir on a route (much less in a first-time route race) but her works were sharp and she had a great shot at lone speed.  In the Big Drama, I took Dad’z Laugh because he just looked fast enough to wire the rest of the field.  In the Peter Pan, I really liked Tonalist on the strength of his workouts and his maiden win at the nine-furlong distance.  The only race where I was even tempted to go with a longer shot was the Decathlon, where I thought long and hard about whether I would put Ribo Bobo or Javerre as my first choice.  Javerre was a neck shy of being five-for-five at Monmouth, though Ribo Bobo also had won his only previous start over the track.  Javerre was just not as consistent recently as Ribo Bobo had been.  If it were a win/place, I’d have seriously considered Javerre, but the win-only format made Ribo Bobo seem the wiser choice.

All I can say is, I’m glad I decided to take a few minutes to handicap the Public Handicapper races this week.

Daring Kathy broke sharply along the rail, got the lead, and won the Honey Ryder by 3 3/4 lengths.  No one could sustain a serious challenge, though interestingly enough it was the other longer shot Wildcat Heir in the route, Marnesia Wild Heir, who closed strongly for second.

Dad’z Laugh had the Big Drama field as outclassed as I thought he did.  He and Risk Factor got to the front early, and Dad’z Laugh pulled ahead down the backstretch, before he was asked for much.  Risk Factor kept the chase, and held second, but had no chance once Dad’z Laugh was actually asked for run in the final furlong.  He pulled away, winning by 2 3/4 lengths.

Tonalist surprised me a bit in the Peter Pan.  I was expecting him to come in from off the pace.  Instead, he ran this one more like a speed horse.  He was off the pace in the very beginning, but made a very early move along the rail as the field ran down the backstretch to take the lead.  Commissioner looked briefly like he was going to threaten as the field turned for home, but Tonalist found another gear and kicked away.  He won the race by four lengths over Commissioner.

Ribo Bobo ran his sort of race.  He broke from an outside gate, but broke sharply to stalk pacesetter Joe Tess from just behind and just outside.  He started gaining through the far turn, and even though he came out wide as he approached the stretch, he had plenty of run to kick past Joe Tess.  Ribo Bobo took the Decathlon by 1 1/2 lengths over Joe Tess, who held on for second.  As for Javerre, the longer shot I considered?  He did not fare so well; my doubts about his consistency turned out to be reliable warnings.  He broke, ended up at the back of the pack for most of the race, and could only pass the badly tiring Zealevo late.

I had to read the race results about four times each on Saturday to confirm that I wasn’t imagining this.  I had never even gotten three correct in one week before, so getting all four right this week was exciting despite all the chalk.

Does this mean I’m going to switch to back-of-the-envelope handicapping regularly?  No.  However, does this give me a bit more reason to trust my instincts and try and break that bad habit I have of second-guessing myself sometimes?  Hopefully.

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