past performances: 8.5.14

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 8, Saratoga, 8.2.14: Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (GI), three-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the dirt

In last week’s Past Performances, I discussed the need to adapt and revise handicapping decisions based on scratches in a race.  In that subject race, a race that was laden with speed scratched down to a likely lone speed scenario, and required using a horse I had not even originally considered as a contender.  This time around,

There were two likely speed horses in the original draw of the race: Happy My Way and Bakken.  Palace, my original selection, is more of a mid-pack type: he tends to be three or four lengths off early, and mow down the speedy sprinters late.  In the original scenario, there were two likely results: either Happy My Way and Bakken would fight on the front end to set things up beautifully for Palace, or one of the speed horses would misfire, leaving Palace to try to mow down the leader late.  Given Palace’s style, he was lot likely to leave himself too much to do, giving him two logical ways to win.  Combined with his career form this year, that was more than enough to make him a confident top pick.

The morning of the race, Bakken scratched.  This made Happy My Way stronger, because no one in the field had anywhere near the early speed of Happy My Way.  One of Palace’s possible ways to win the race, the speed duel between two front-end dynamos, was highly unlikely.  Unless Edgar Prado decided to send Falling Sky on the front end with Happy My Way, there would not be a duel.  Sending Falling Sky seemed unlikely, since Happy My Way had consistently faster early pace as well as a proven ability to rate.  The scratch of Bakken raised the question: what did I think would happen if Bakken didn’t get on the front end?

As tempting as it was to go “okay, Happy My Way is lone speed, he’s now the top pick”, taking a step back made me realise that thought was a knee-jerk reaction.  This was a situation I had already considered in my handicapping, when both speedballs were in the race.  I had already decided that Palace would likely be close enough to the lead, and in good enough form, to have a strong chance at catching one of the speed horses if the other misfired.  Combine that with the fact that a good portion of the money would probably go on Bakken (from all of the horseplayers who though early speed was going to carry the day), and Palace still seemed like the choice.  Happy My Way’s chance was better with Bakken out, but the scratch of Bakken had no effect on my original decision that Palace would still be able to catch Happy My Way if he were alone on the front.  This was analogous to “what if Bakken misfired early, and Happy My Way set the fractions?”  I kept Palace on top.

The race unfolded almost exactly as I thought it would.  Happy My Way was bet down to the post-time favourite, with Palace second in the betting.  Happy My Way bolted to the lead.  Palace stayed back early, though a little closer in than usual: a smart move by Cornelio Velazquez, given how dangerous Happy My Way has been when loose on the lead.  Turning for home Happy My Way had inched ahead by about three, but Palace fired.  He had come off the rail coming otu of the far turn, and started closing up ground.  Inside the final furlong, he pulled even, and fought ahead to win by a length.  Happy My Way gamely held second.

The lesson here is confidence.  Take into account the scratches, but make an honest assessment of what the scratches are likely to affect.  If the scratch leads you to a scenario you have already considered, do not second-guess yourself.  You have done your due diligence by thoughtfully analyzing the race in light of the scratch, but if it returns you to a scenario for which you have a strong and reasoned opinion already, do not be afraid to stick with it.

Up The Track

Race 6, Arlington, 8.3.14: $12,500 claiming, three-year-olds and up, one mile on the turf

This was less an example of bad handicapping, and more an example of bad adaptability.  In both this week’s and last week’s Past Performances, I discussed the importance of analyzing scratches.  However, that is not the only race-day factor that requires analysis and potential adjustment.  In this race I missed adapting to another race-day factor: track bias.

I played a little ticket in the Pick 5, which started in the 5th race.  It was not a huge ticket, but I had a strong single I liked in the 5th (how often do you say that about a baby race?) and built around that.  I went three deep in the last, a wide open $12,500 claimer.  I went two deep in the sixth, seventh, and eighth, going with my top two choices in each race once I had reevaluated things in light of scratches.  Though I had considered scratches and their pace implications, I hadn’t considered how the track had been playing.

Two races earlier, in the fourth, Seeking Treasure led a classy allowance field on a merry chase, ticking off glacial early fractions en route to a wire-to-wire victory.  That race was the last race before the Pick 5 started.  She was quite likely the speed of the speed, and had been helped a bit by a scratch, but she finished so far ahead of such salty company to suggest that it would be good to make sure any clear speed of the speed should be played strongly.

My two deep in the sixth were Severe Weather and Zippidy Do Hah.  Severe Weather tends to come from a few lengths off the pace; Zippidy Do Hah could either play speed or off-the-pace, but was probably not going to be well served trying the speed because there was a horse in the field with better early zip.  I left out my third selection: It Takes Heart.  I had noted while handicapping that he would likely be the speed of the speed, but did not connect that dot with the romp in the 4th.

It Takes Heart shot to the lead, and never looked back.  He didn’t set quite the sleepy fractions of the race two before: the quarter was in 24.68, the half came in 48.31.  However, he was about two lengths clear until deep stretch, when Outlaw Zen’s long, sustained run fell half a length short.  It Takes Heart took his speed-of-the-speed from wire to wire, and it was raining ticket confetti in my general area.

This teaches a lesson about adaptability.  The races are not discrete events with no connection to each other.  They are run over a surface that is used and re-used, and taking a few notes on the shapes of the races can help make opinions (and wagers) on later ones that much more informed.  It won’t always require a change in plays, and does not mean that the original higher-ranked horses were immediately bad plays once a horse in an earlier race waltzed on the front end.  However, especially in races that are likely to be less formful (like the lower-level or mid-level claimers), it would make sense to adjust rankings for multi-race tickets to make sure decent horses who could be helped by how the track is playing are included.

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