Welcome to the latest edition of Past Performances: a chance to take a look back at the week that was, see what I have gotten right in my handicapping, and see what I have gotten ever-so-wrong. As always, what I got right or wrong may have to do with how I handicapped the race, or it may have to do with how I chose to bet the race. It may even have to do with the interplay of those two aspects. No matter what, they’re races I can learn from, and hopefully you can learn from as well.
On The Board
Race 3, Arlington, 7.26.14: $5,000 beaten claiming, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic
Before I started doing much in the way of pace handicapping, I was not the most concerned about scratches. If a horse (or two…or three…) scratched out of a race, I just moved on to the ones I liked next best. Looking back, the fact that I ever did that makes me cringe. However, it wasn’t exactly obvious to me when I was first trying to make sense of a racing form.
As I have gotten more into using pace in my handicapping, scratches have become more important. If horses who are key to specific elements of the pace scratch out, that may change how much I like horses in the race who are still in there. They may get a better or worse pace setup, and finding viable candidates requires taking a second look at the race shape.
Saturday’s third race at Arlington was a crystal-clear example of how scratches can change the race. In my initial analysis, my preference went toward off-the-pace types. Since Richieslildarling, Beertent Baby, and Friendly’s Rap were all can’t-rate types and Mirka often ran on or near the lead as well, it looked as though there would be a hot pace. With that much on the front end, I had zeroed in on closers Sarah’s Splendor and Arrested by Duffy. Sarah’s Splendor was stretching out off a win, and seemed the more likely (albeit short-priced) choice; Arrested by Duffy was a little more erratic, but with the plum pace setup he was worth the likely long price. I also thought Mirka, a synthetic-favouring horse who had a chance if she stalked and let the three speedballs tire each other out, had a shot.
The scratches came out. One of them was Mirka, one of my selections. The others? Richieslildarling and Beertent Baby. In an instant, the race went from a likely fight on the front end to a lone speed scenario for Friendly’s Rap. She went from a likely casualty of the pace scenario to a must-use. The only wagering I did on this race was as a leg in a Pick 4, and even though Friendly’s Rap became my top choice in light of the scratches, I used two others since $5,000 beaten claimers are not always the most formful races in the world. I kept Sarah’s Splendor because she didn’t have to come in from all the way out in the clouds, and I added Tonzie because she was the only horse left who liked to be close to the front. Arrested By Duffy went right off my list, because no price was going to make this fairly spotty closer attractive in a five-horse field with a lone speed scenario.
For a race of this level, the predictions on paper were surprisingly close to what actually happened. Friendly’s Rap got up front and took full advantage of her lone speed. She ticked off the quarter in 25.51, the half in 50.21…and made it all the way around to stop the clock in 1:48.44. Tonzie stalked closest in the early stages, but faded in the final quarter. Sarah’s Splendor tried to stalk, and ran evenly enough, but the slow fractions meant her late run fell short. It was actually I’ve Heard Rumors who closed the best of the bunch, though she still missed by 2 1/4 lengths and ran right to her history of seconds and thirds since her last win two years ago.
What about Arrested By Duffy, the closer who I found so interesting for a price but tossed altogether after the pace change? She did go off at 12/1, longest in the field. However, the pace did her no favours, and she didn’t fire. She was fifth and last. Of course, the risk that she wasn’t going to fire was a risk built into the price no matter what — but it was only a risk worth taking if she was going to get the pace setup. She wasn’t, and it made sense to look elsewhere.
Up The Track
Race 8, Arlington, 7.26.14: $25,000 maiden claiming, three-year-olds and up, Illinois-bred, 1 1/16 miles on the turf
Winnowing out vulnerable favourites is important when handicapping a horse race, especially when you eventually plan to construct tickets based on those opinions. Just as important, though, is being able to identify a live longshot. The real bombs are few and far between, but there are few more frustrating feelings than when you have jotted down on your past performances the reasons why a horse might be live, shoved that aside, and then find yourself watching that long shot you cast aside come in at a price so steep that only a gossamer thread was needed to make them valuable.
This brings us to Regimented. Regimented was making his three-year-old debut. He had raced in two open $25,000 claimers on the Hawthorne dirt last fall, and finished far up the track. He was coming back for the first time since December for a Brian Williamson barn that was neither amazing nor terrible percentage-wise with lays of over three months: 13%. However, the ROI was just shy of even (-$0.09), suggesting that the ones who got home were fairly decent prices. The trainer/jockey statistics for Williamson and rider Edgar Perez fell into this same category of suggesting the occasional bomb: 21 mounts in the last two months, 14% winners, +0.89 ROI. This was Perez’s first ride on Regimented, another good thing to see when a horse was well beaten previously.
He was also trying the grass for the first time. Especially since Regimented was a first-time turf runner, I did take a peek into his pedigree. Both sire Albert the Great and damsire J P Hamer hit with over ten percent of their turf starts. Out of two of Regimented’s half-siblings to race, they had both won, and one of them had won on the turf. Pale Hose, the half-sibling, wasn’t any sort of stakes star, but he did win an open $25,000 maiden claimer last year over the Arlington turf last August.
Regimented got bumped, settled back along the rail, and chased the pace from about seven or eight lengths back early. He made up ground through the far turn, angled out, and found his best stride in the final furlong. Secret Jinn and Tiz Vivid, two of the horses who looked strongest going in (with the short prices to back it up) were fighting for the lead, but Regimented mowed them both down to win by a length.
The information present before the race would not have been enough to justify taking a short price on this horse. He hadn’t shown quite enough in her two outings on dirt to be a strong form play, his trainer had a solid but not amazing record off the lay, and his turf breeding was useful but not outstanding. However, the right question to ask had nothing to do with a short price. Long shots are long shots for a reason — they are riskier, they have more drawbacks or uncertainties, but they can be very rewarding if identified with confidence. Regimented was 20/1 on the morning line, 31/1 when the gates sprang open, and had enough going for him to merit more thought than I gave him, given the price. Just as enough little things pointing toward a horse can suggest a likely winner, enough little things are often all you will get to point out a live long shot.