“It’s Party Time in Chicago!”

We all have lines from race calls that stick in our heads, and pop up in our memories whenever a horse races.  Sometimes, those lines come from huge races, calls we all know by heart: “the unconquerable, unbeatable, invincible, Cigar!”…”In a spectacular, spectacular upset, Mine That Bird has won the Kentucky Derby?!  An impossible result here!”…”Sunday Silence holds on, and he wins by a desperate neck!”

Other times, the races aren’t quite so high-profile, or the connection may be far more subjective or individual.  Still, that’s the wonder of a race call…one catchy line, one fun turn of phrase, one fortuitous moment…and the line sticks.  I can’t think of Donnaguska, or even of other horses in the Hawthorne 8th on October 23, 2008, without hearing Peter Galassi in my head, “Here comes Donnaguska, where did she come from?”  Even though Work All Week has so rarely lost, every time I think of him, I hear a line from John G. Dooley’s call of this year’s Addison Cammack Handicap, one of his rare losses.  After he crossed the wire, after declaring it for Sweet Luca, he declared that “Work.  All.  Week, saddled with all that weight…” was a candidate for the place photo.  As with many things in racing, or in sports fandom in general…sometimes there’s no logic to it.  Certain lines and certain horses just click.

Read More »

weekend racing recap: part 2

Finally, it’s time for a few words about each of the Hawthorne races from last Sunday’s card.  There were some races I got right, there were some races I got wrong, and there were some races I prognosticated fairly well, but didn’t bet particularly well.  Unlike my contest recaps, this is going to be a bit more focused on the betting aspect of it, since I actually do bet when I go to the track.

As much room as I have for growth as a handicapper, I probably have even more room for improvement as a bettor.  It wasn’t too long ago that I was your run-of-the-mill Scaredy-Cat $2 Show Bettor, and I’m not that far past that yet.  However, my current crutches du jour are the exacta box and the across-the-board, and I’m fully aware that I need to read up on better ticket construction strategies, and get better about keying horses, instead of just picking a few and boxing them.

All of that said, let’s dive in — we need to get through last Sunday before we start diving into any of this weekend’s races, right?

Race 1:  $5,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, N3L, 6f on the dirt

In this race, I pegged Wild Command (5) as the early speed with a good chance of keeping it, and C. C. Banjo (4) as the closer most likely to nab him.  I thought Diver (2) may have had a decent shot from a stalking position, depending on what kind of shape he was in after the lay.  The price was rubbish on both C. C. Banjo and Diver, whereas Wild Command hovered near (and often just over) 10-1.  I wasn’t exactly confident on any particular exacta combination, so I just put $2 on Wild Command across the board here.

Turns out, it was Diver who set the early fractions, with Wild Command stalking just behind early, and Dustincase a few back.  Dustincase pulled ahead into the stretch, and pulled away to win.  Wild Command faded to third; C. C. Banjo closed as expected, but could only pull ahead for the place.  The show on Wild Command paid $3.20, which was better than getting skunked, but still not as much as I bet on him.

As for Dustincase, the winner?  He was part of why I wasn’t too excited about an exacta or tri combination in this six-horse field, as he did pop up second and third sometimes.  However, I absolutely hated him to win, since he hadn’t done so since March of 2012, in his first allowance after breaking his maiden.

As an aside, I also bet a $1 Pick 3 before this race: 4,5/7,8/2.  Without the 1, Dustincase, it was dead in the water after the first race.  In fact, the only one I would have hit in the Pick 3 was my single in the 3rd.  It was the only multi-race wager I made all day.  Multi-race wagers are something I am occasionally starting to dabble in, but I still feel I need to learn more about constructing them and identifying good times to make them, so I don’t bet them much.

Race 2: $5,000 claiming, four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, non-winners of 2 since August 23, 2013 or N4L, 5.5f on the dirt

In this race, I really liked Rock Hard Legacy (7) to get up front and just wire the field; I had her pegged as the best of the early speed.  I thought Shes Got To Run (8) could do a decent job trying to close, but would likely run out of room.

There was one horse in the race, My Place Or Yours (1), who was the morning line favourite at 5-2, and bet down to the 1.7-1 second choice.  I hated her on paper since she needed to be the early speed, there were so many speed horses in the race, and I didn’t think she was the best among them.  I hated her even more on paper because she had no published works since September, and no races since December 5.  However, she probably spent all that layoff time watching videos of Zenyatta on YouTube, because she was putting on one heck of a dance show in the paddock.  I mean, she looked fantastic.  Neither Rock Hard Legacy nor Shes Got To Run looked bad, but My Place Or Yours outshined everyone walking around that paddock by a mile.

The biggest mistake I made in betting this race was not altering my betting plan based on how much better My Place Or Yours looked than everyone else in the paddock.  I considered it, hard.  I jotted down that I was going to bet a 1,7,8 exacta box, and then scratched it out.  I then jotted down that I was going to bet a 1,7,8/2 Daily Double, and then scratched it out.  I finally settled on $2 to win and place on Rock Hard Legacy.


It was My Place Or Yours, not Rock Hard Legacy, who got up front and wired the field.  Shes Got To Run ran exactly as I expected, mounting a good closing push but running out of space to finish second, a length and a quarter behind the winner.  Rock Hard Legacy had a bad day: she got nervous in the gate, didn’t start particularly well, and faded badly to finish fifth, beaten 10 1/4.

Race 3: $27,000 maiden special weight, three-year-olds and up, 5.5f on the dirt

In this race, Do Not Enter (2) looked like the clear choice to win, but the odds on him were terrible as a result.  He ended up going off the 0.3-1 favourite.  I considered betting an exacta with him atop and Giacomo Strap (5) and Just For Papa (6) (the horses I liked best in the rest of the field) in the second slot, but decided against it.  Giacomo Strap looked pretty good in the paddock; Just For Papa didn’t look terrible, but did look a little not-quite-back-yet-off-the-lay.

However, there was one horse who looked absolutely beautiful in the paddock: Affirmed Once More.  I had seen him in the paddock several times during the Hawthorne fall meet, and he looked like…a horse?  Nothing awesome, nothing awful.  Sunday?  Ears pricked, neck arched, energetic, the very image of a racehorse ready to go.  Even though he was probably in over his head classwise — he was running in Maiden Special company despite the fact that he hasn’t mustered better than third place in a $25,000 maiden claimer — he looked so good that I couldn’t not bet on him, especially after getting burned by ignoring my paddock sense last race.  I ended up going $2 across the board on Giacomo Strap, and $2 across the board on Affirmed Once More.

Do Not Enter wired the field, as expected.  Giacomo Strap stalked from a length, length and a half behind, but couldn’t quite catch up and had to settle for the place.  Just For Papa was near the pace early, but faded through the turn and finished a well-beaten fifth.  Affirmed Once More, for as good as he looked in the paddock, ran a race better befitting his actual racing class; he was nowhere close to the front at any call, and finished 7th of the 8 in the field.

In retrospect, I bet this race terribly.  I should have had the confidence to go with the exacta box I pondered: 2/5,6; if there is a horse I am that convinced is going to win, and I can narrow down the likely second place horses to such a small list, I am still going to make money even on a relatively low exacta payout.

The $2 across the board on Giacomo Strap wasn’t a bad bet — he was a horse with a legitimate chance to hit the board.  It ended up being profitable with the place and show payouts as the race ended.  Also, if Giacomo Strap would have won that win bet would have returned 10.9-1, and if Do Not Enter had somehow failed to hit the board, that show bet would have been a windfall given the bridgejumper pattern on Do Not Enter.

The way I really screwed up was on Affirmed Once More.  Yes, he looked awesome in the paddock, and the last horse who looked that awesome in the paddock won.  However, My Place Or Yours wasn’t obviously outclassed.  Affirmed Once More was.  I don’t completely regret putting money on him — but should have just stuck with $2 to show in case he absolutely freaked and managed to hit the board.  However, the win and place parts of that across the board?  Wasted money, because I got carried away.

Race 4: $8,000 maiden claiming, three-year-olds and up, 5f on the dirt

In this race, it was a little hard to tell what the pace was going to be, since these were all maidens and they had so many different (and mostly poor) trips that it was anyone’s guess how these horses liked to run.  I handicapped it mainly on speed and class.  I liked Hush My Mouth (6) and Voodoo Spell (1) most of the bunch, and decided that the good works and the previous class levels of Totee (9) made him worth considering despite his huge history of layoffs.

My only major note from the paddock was that Itty Bitty Yankee (5) was a nutcase: bucking, rearing, just not happy to be there.  It was so bad that Jim, the track handicapper, made a side comment not to bet on 5, as he walked away from doing his television segment down there.  I told him I was already on that, which was the truth — he didn’t interest me before going down to the paddock (this $8000 maiden claimer was a jump in class, after all!), and he sure didn’t interest me after seeing him there.

I ended up betting a $1 exacta box with 1, 6, 9.

Totee ran up for the lead, and managed to hold it most of the race.  Voodoo Spell stalked a few lengths back, made up ground into the stretch, and pulled ahead to win by 1 3/4 lengths.  Clever Yank, near the back of the pack early, put on a big closing run and made me sweat in a photo — but Totee ended up holding a nose in front of Clever Yank, which meant the difference between hitting $17.80 on that exacta bet, and hitting absolutely nothing.  Hush My Mouth was just off the pace for most of it, but just didn’t have what it took down the stretch; he finished 4th beaten 5 1/2.

Race 5: $25,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, N2L, 5f on the dirt

I liked Mnmssweepinbeauty (6), Foxie’s Beauty (8), and Virginia’s Joy (4) to be near the front, and to have good chances to win the race. In my preview I noted that I would be likely to exacta box those three, and that’s exactly what I did: $1 exacta box, 4, 6, 8.

The race transpired mostly as expected.  Mnmssweepinbeauty got the early lead with Virginia’s Joy just behind, but Virginia’s Joy pulled equal coming into the stretch, and inched ahead down the stretch to win by a length.  Foxie’s Beauty didn’t break very well and so couldn’t get that early lead; she pulled close to it through the far turn, but couldn’t hang.  Still, she finished third, beaten four lengths.

The good news?  $10.20 for the exacta, making the bet a profitable one.  The bad news?  I had the trifecta in my exacta box, for the first (but not last) time of the day.

Race 6: $4,000 claiming, four-year-olds and up, non-winners of 2 races in 2013-14 or non-winners since April 23, 2013, 5.5f on the dirt

In this race, I thought One For Biscuit (9) and Tsunami King (8) were the best horses, but may be hampered by the distance. Come On Man (5) looked like the best of the horses who liked the distance.  Nothing I saw in the paddock really pushed me one way or the other, so I stuck with these three horses.  I bet a $1 exacta box, 5/8/9.  (Hold your laughter, if you can — I promise, once I describe what happened in the race, I will state in detail the errors of my ways here!)

Sure enough, my thought that One For Biscuit and Tsunami King would be thwarted by the short distance panned out.  One For Biscuit was as far as sixteen lengths off the pace, gained powerfully down the stretch, and closed to finish fifth beaten 4th.  Tsunami King got almost twenty lengths back, also closed hard down the stretch, but didn’t get there either — he finished 7th, 5 3/4 lengths behind Mr. Mostly.  Come On Man, the one I found best suited to the distance, stalked the pace but just couldn’t kick to the lead; he finished 3rd, beaten 1 1/4 lengths.  Todi Bee, the other horse who I thought liked the distance but I didn’t think could get his act together on dirt…well, he came closer than ever to getting his act together on dirt.  He maintained the lead for most of the race, though crossed the wire 3/4 length behind Mr. Mostly.

In retrospect, it was not a good bet on my part.  Two of the horses I boxed were ones I thought could easily run out of room given the short distance.  I assessed them correctly, and bet them poorly.  They were good unders if I decided to bet a tri or an exacta, but an exacta box with those and one other horse?  Realising that I bet this race in that manner almost makes me want to revoke my horseplayer’s license.

How I should have bet an exacta-type bet, given who I liked pre-race?  An exacta, 5/8,9.  It would not only have been a third of the cost of the bet I actually made, but would have conveyed the idea of Come On Man running well at the distance, and giving either One For Biscuit or Tsunami King the opening to close powerfully but run out of room.

My favourite thing about the race?  Peter Galassi’s enthusiastic inflection when saying the name, “Come On Man”.  Peter Galassi usually has a relatively understated race-calling style, which I love, but also made this call even more entertaining since it’s a bit of a diversion from that normal, straight-laced style.  If you’re a fan of fun race calls, I suggest listening to this one, either on Horse Races Now or the Hawthorne website.

Race 7: Allowance Optional Claiming ($50,000), three-year-0ld fillies, non-winners of a race other than maiden/claiming/starter or N2L or $50,000 claiming price, 5f on the dirt

I liked Gabio (5), Pistols Drawn (6), and Doc Galore (4) in this race.  All three of them were on a class drop, and the speeds in most of their races compared favourably enough to the field.  They all liked being near the lead…but really, in a five furlong sprint, who doesn’t?  I expected them to be the class of the field, and did a $1 exacta box, 4,5,6.

That said, I missed a live long shot here.  I did note in my program, as I was handicapping the race, that Look Who’s Here (3) looked like she really wanted a very short sprint.  Her only career win going into this race was in a 5 furlong Maiden Special at Arlington this summer.  Her next race out, the 1 mile Arlington-Washington Lassie, was not so good — she finished dead last, 11th beaten 25 1/4 lengths.  Wisely, she switched back to sprints, though her best finish in her five races since her maiden race was 3rd place in a $75000 AOC N1X during the Hawthorne fall meet.  That was her first race after the Lassie, though, and she had three thoroughly uninspiring finishes since that.  I figured that part of it may be that she needed an even shorter sprint, but did I bet her in this shorter sprint?  Nope.

Who wired the field, and won by a widening 4 1/4 lengths?  Look Who’s Here, at odds of 19.10-1.  Pistols Drawn, Doc Galore, and Gabio finished second, third, and fourth respectively.  They weren’t terrible bets, and I left out the horse in the field who raised a siren that they wanted this distance, and the only horse in the field who had ever run in an unrestricted filly stakes.  There were so many signs that Look Who’s Here would be good value, I overlooked them all, and I missed a nice payoff as a result.

Race 8: Allowance ($29,000), Illinois-bred, three-year-olds and up, non-winners of $8,800 or a state-bred race other than maiden, claiming, or starter, or N2L, 5.5f on the dirt

In this race, I liked Gita’s Mahal (3) best of all, and saw Sweep E Prado (11) and Azeg (10) as my best shots to fill the exacta with Gita’s Mahal.  I figured Gita’s Mahal loved the distance and had the fitness advantage.  Azeg had shown the ability to hang with Gita’s Mahal in the past; in Azeg’s last out, he beat Gita’s Mahal by a head in a $22,500 conditioned claimer.  Sweep E Prado, though a risk because he is so young (one of only two three-year-olds in the field)

Gita’s Mahal ran out to the lead, with Vbreeze and Azeg stalking him.  As I expected, Gita’s Mahal wired the field, though Azeg was gaining on him.  However, Vbreeze was gaining on the leader from his stalking spot as well, and it was a tense photo finish between him and Azeg for the place.  The photo finish powers-that-be were on my side that day, and Azeg won the place photo — netting me a $12.70 exacta payoff, instead of the zippo I would have gotten had Vbreeze won that photo.  What made the photo extra nerve-racking was that Vbreeze was the horse I was most afraid would beat my exacta, since his class fit the race and he was the only horse other than Gita’s Mahal to have raced over the winter.

As for Sweep E Prado, he didn’t run badly, though he may need some combination of a little more distance or a little more maturity to run with the older guys.  He got off a bit slow, but made up a ton of distance down the stretch; he crossed the wire fifth, but was only beaten 3 1/2 lengths after being over ten back coming into the stretch.  The only other three-year-old in the field, Purely Given, was never a serious factor in the race.  He finished 11th (last), 17 lengths behind Gita’s Mahal.

This is another race where my penchant for boxing probably cost me a bit of money.  I thought Gita’s Mahal was a clear best, and therefore probably should have bet a 3/10,11 exacta instead of the full box.

Race 9: $17,500 maiden claiming, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 1 mile and 70 yards on the dirt.

In this race, A Unique Lady (9) and Sweet Jess (2) were really the only horses I liked leading into it, and I was very close to just exacta boxing the two and calling it a day.  However, Wedding Trifecta (4) (one of the horses I dismissed as a professional maiden) had come so close so many times that I decided to throw her in there.  I did a three horse exacta box with those three, made my way trackside, and immediately jotted in my program that I should have saved myself the dollar by betting 2,9/2,4,9 instead of the full box. However, it was so close to post time that I kept my ticket as was, instead of cancelling it and taking Wedding Trifecta out of the top spot.

Turned out, I was glad I did — Wedding Trifecta pulled ahead of A Unique Lady to win, with Sweet Jess a well-beaten third.  The $1 exacta paid $8.80 – not a huge return on the $6 I put in, but it was something.  Yet again, however, I had an exacta box that would have come in as the trifecta had I had the guts to bet it, and the tri would have paid $16.90 on $1.

In the long run, though, I should probably heed those instincts to cut a horse like Wedding Trifecta out of the top spot in the exacta, and learn to feel them before going to the window.  There were several times this day where I lost money by not thinking harder about how to tailor my exacta bet, and in general, betting on a horse like Wedding Trifecta (a maiden after fourteen starts) to win is a bad bet.  I got lucky that time, but I can’t expect that to happen.

And, that’s it from my first race day back at Hawthorne.  I will be back at Hawthorne one day this weekend, and will post my thoughts on the card the day I go.  I haven’t decided yet whether it will be Saturday or Sunday, though I am leaning toward Saturday.  Stay tuned!

that is…Mine That Bird…?

As much as I love watching new races, I love going back to old ones as well. Maybe it’s because there’s a horse I’m a fan of who was racing it, and I wanted to relive the glory. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to piece together an upcoming race. And, maybe, it’s just because I love listening to the race call. The 2009 Kentucky Derby falls into that category.

I know what you’re probably about to say — that the call was terrible, that Tom Durkin screwed up, that there’s a reason he doesn’t call the Kentucky Derby anymore. All of those are perfectly valid points. Purely considering the question of how to call a race, it’s a poor example.

Be that as it may, I love listening to this call.

I can only imagine that a race announcer gets involved in racing originally because they like the sport, and want to get more involved in it. And, that is what I love about this call: he saw something compelling in the front of the race, got carried away, and then reacted with pure, unbridled disbelief when he finally saw the long shot Mine That Bird pulling away near the rail.  It’s proof that even someone who has been involved in racing for decades upon decades, who has watched thousands of races and called thousands of races, can still get distracted and carried away by the sport.

It’s compelling because it’s so human.