handicapping contest recap

Last week, I posted my thoughts on the ten races in the Danonymous Racing handicapping contest.  Formatted like many handicapping contests, we had to pick a horse in each of the ten races, and we had a hypothetical $2 win bet and $2 place bet on the horses we chose.  The results are in; when all was said and done, I didn’t do so great, but I didn’t come in dead last either.

Here are a few observations about the races, including who I picked in each — since even though it was probably relatively easy to narrow my likely choices down to a couple based on my discussions of the races last week, I wanted to keep who exactly I was picking for the contest at least slightly under wraps.


  • Forward Gal Stakes – In this race, Aurelia’s Belle was my first pick, and Onlyforyou was my second pick.  (The secondary horses were picked in case the first one scratched; this week, none of my first choices scratched.)  These were the 1-2 horses, but Onlyforyou won and Aurelia’s Belle came in second.  I picked Aurelia’s Belle because I thought Onlyforyou and Resistivity would get into a speed duel, with Aurelia’s Belle the beneficiary.  That didn’t happen.  Onlyforyou led basically the entire race, and Aurelia’s Belle was second basically the entire race.  She stalked Onlyforyou, but it became clear she wouldn’t be able to catch up.  I was correct, however, in my thought that the aforementioned three horses would be the better ones; there was an approximately five length gap between third-place Resistivity and the other three horses bringing up the rear.
  • Holy Bull Stakes – In this race, Conquest Titan was my first pick, and Our Caravan was my second.  Conquest Titan, though probably too far back early, managed to close strongly enough to catch everyone but the winner, Cairo Prince.  I said last week that I would be equally unsurprised whether Our Caravan did well or didn’t — and, he flopped.  He finished 8th, and wasn’t ever really a factor.  I was correct in my guess that Coup De Grace would be early speed, though incorrect in assessing that it would be Cairo Prince and Wicked Strong up there with him from the start.  Instead, Almost Famous and Mr. Speaker were likewise on the lead early.  Cairo Prince stalked and then took control coming toward the stretch; Wicked Strong just didn’t fire at all.


  • Miracle Wood Stakes – In this race, Jessethemarine was my first pick, and Master Lightning was my second.  Neither of these horses were much of a factor.  Jessethemarine finished fifth after just plain failing to fire, and Master Lightning was entirely too far back early to make up.  I had expected Master Lightning to be a speed horse in the race; that turned out to be completely wrong.  Once the gate opened, neither one was anywhere near the winning Extrasexyhippzster or second-place Joint Custody.
  • Native Dancer Stakes – In this race, Indian Jones was my first choice and Managed Account second.  Indian Jones finished well — he was the closer I expected him to be, but he just couldn’t catch the winner.  Managed Account wasn’t the speed in the race like I expected (that was mainly Warrioroftheroses, as Mail scratched), but he stalked the pace, was a head from the lead coming into the stretch, but then faded a bit.  I made a point of talking myself off of Bold Curlin, forcing myself not to be too swayed by the fact that I am a raving Curlin fandork, and what did that get me?  Throwing out a winner at a pretty nice price, that’s what.  I was completely wrong to think he was outclassed here.
  • What a Summer Stakes – In this race, She’s Ordained was my first choice, and Winning Image was my second.  They filled out the exacta, though in the less advantageous order since Winning Image won.  I was dead-on with picking the horses who would do well in this race, but rubbish at predicting how the bettors would direct their money.  I thought I’d get a better price on She’s Ordained than I would with Winning Image; that’s why I placed her first.  Turns out, She’s Ordained went out at odds-on, Winning Image went off at 3.7 to one, and I made a costly mistake.

Sam Houston

  • John B. Connally Turf Cup – In this race, Admiral Kitten was my first choice, and King David was my second.  This was my only winner among my first choices.  I nabbed the Kitten as the strongest of the closing-style horses in the bunch, and he did not disappoint, catching Fredericksburg just in time.  King David, who I thought to be the other class of the field, was second behind Fredericksburg most of the race but just couldn’t stay the distance, and faded to fourth.  All in all, I didn’t do a terrible job of predicting how this race would go, and I was glad to see Admiral Kitten prove himself once again to be the classy closer I thought he was.
  • Houston Ladies Classic – In this race, Awesome Flower was my first choice, and Rose to Gold was my second.  This was a risk that blew up in my face, hard.  I knew that Awesome Flower was a gamble: if she got the lead straight out she’d be a force to be reckoned with, but if she didn’t, it was over.  She didn’t get that lead; she finished sixth, beaten over ten lengths.  Rose to Gold looked like the class of the field on paper, but I placed her as my backup instead of my primary because I thought I was going to get a terrible, terrible price on her.  Turns out, she actually went off at a better price than Awesome Flower, and won the race to boot.

Santa Anita

  • Santa Monica Stakes – In this race, Teddy’s Promise was my first choice, and Heir Kitty was my second.  Teddy’s Promise finished third; she had the lead going into the stretch, but just couldn’t stay up to remain ahead of Scherzinger and Iotapa.  Heir Kitty stalked and tried to make a run for it on the far turn, but just couldn’t mount enough of a bid, and faded to fourth.  My prediction that Lexington Pearl would be the spoiler was no good; she was never any factor.  When handicapping the race, I wasn’t feeling Scherzinger at all — I thought she was significantly outclassed, and likely to bounce off her AOC63 win earlier in January.  In short, there wasn’t a whole lot I got correct about this race.
  • California Cup Turf – In this race, Jules Journey was my first choice, and Stoney Creek was my second.  Neither of them ran a bad race.  Jules Journey closed to cross the wire third, and Stoney Creek closed to finish second.  I was right to try and beat Summer Hit, both because he would go off at a bad price and because I had worries about the distance.  He went off at 1.2 to 1, and he weakened down the stretch.  Weewinnin, I wasn’t going to touch with a ten foot pole — this race was the longest of his career, and he was well beaten in his only attempt at a mile.  I had him pegged for a decent Cal-bred sprinter, nothing more.  Instead, to my surprise (and that of most of the bettors, as he went off at better than 20-1…), he found nine furlongs in him, and won by daylight.
  • California Cup Derby – In this race, Lucky Views was my first choice, and Aotearoa was my second.  I got approximately nothing right in this race.  I said Lucky Views would do well in a race without a lot of early speed.  The fractions were not as slow as I thought they’d be, Lucky Views kept drifting all over the place, and he finished last of all of the horses who finished the race.  Aotearoa, who I knew was somewhat of a gamble because it was his first dirt race, absolutely hated the dirt and didn’t finish the race.  I blew off Tamarando, despite his presence in my fantasy stable, because I knew the price would be bad, and I wasn’t sure how he would do.  I was right in that his price was bad; that was about the only thing I got right in this race.  He’s a deep closer, and did close to make second place, but couldn’t catch California Chrome.  There was no favourite or near-favourite who I felt as strongly would fail as that horse.  Instead, he proved me wrong, and won the race in an absolute blowout.

My overall biggest lessons?

One, I am still a total newbie when it comes to handicapping races based on pace, and I think I put too much emphasis in my selections on horses who I thought would close well.  Though more speed horses help the closers, closers are not going to win every single race in which there’s not merely a lone speed.

Two, I am completely inept at predicting the whims of the betting public, and need to pay attention to those patterns and adjust matters accordingly.  However, this second bit will be less of an issue in handicapping when I don’t have to turn in my bets hours in advance, as i did with this contest; this is what the tote board is for.

Since I spent a nice chunk of Saturday muttering at the TV about how my second choice horse had done better than my first, I calculated how I would have scored with my second choices.  There were fewer of my second choices who cashed (four for my second choices, versus five for my first), though more first places in my second choice list (three for my second choices, versus one for my first).  Turns out, it would have been significantly better.  Between wins from Rose To Gold, Winning Image, and Onlyforyou, combined with the second place finish of Stoney Fleece, I would have scored $47.00 — which would have placed me third, instead of close to the cellar.

You live and learn.  I, for one, am looking forward to the next contest.

Some Saturday Stakes at Santa Anita and Sam Houston

She Sells Sea Shells by the Sea Shore…oh, wait, wrong sentence with a ton of S’s in it.  Still, in preparation for this weekend’s Danonymous Racing handicapping contest (the first of them that I have entered), I have had my nose buried in PPs.  There are ten races in the contest.  Five of them I puzzled my way through tonight; the other five I shall attack tomorrow night.

This was my first attempt to handicap using PDF PPs instead of a paper program at a track.  It’s nice to handicap before race day (if nothing else, it means I will have a bit more sleep on Saturday before I wander out to watch the races!), but I felt like it took significantly longer to gather my thoughts this way than it does to mark up a program.  I’m such a luddite; if I am going to make a habit of handicapping from places other than the track, I really need to buy a cheap printer so I can have paper PPs to scribble all over.  Alternately, I may consider buying a tablet and a stylus, but even then I think I would prefer just paper and pen.

Also, it is the first time in a while that I have gone through the race handicapping process with so many unfamiliar horses.  I hung around Arlington and (especially) Hawthorne so much this year that by the end of the Hawthorne fall meet, it was rare to see a race in which I wasn’t at least somewhat familiar with at least half the field.  Today?  I knew a few horses here and there going in, but that was it.

Okay, enough with the meta-rant about the handicapping process, right?  You’re probably far more curious about my opinions about the races, so here those are:

Santa Anita

  • Santa Monica Stakes (GII) – Surprise, surprise: I like Teddy’s Promise and Heir Kitty in this one.  I like Teddy’s Promise a bit more, as she clearly loves this track, and I am afraid Heir Kitty could easily bounce after her La Brea win.  That said, they’re just the classiest horses in the field by a good margin.  Lexington Pearl’s last two races were of the type that makes sense in this company, so it’s not a surprise to see her there, and she is the most likely spoiler in this race.  However, there’s still a question as to whether those last two were an anomaly, or that’s how she’s going to race.  Passing on her in the contest format, although if I were actually at the track, she would go in my exacta box.
  • California Cup Turf – This race is wide open…there are plenty of horses I think have a legitimate shot of winning it, and then some who just don’t.  Summer Hit is the favourite for a reason, but I don’t exactly like him at what’s destined to be a mediocre-to-rubbish price running the longest race of his career save the Awesome Again, which was at the same distance as this.  He could do well, but I don’t love him enough to take that price.  Instead, I’m looking to Jules Journey or Stoney Fleece.  Jules Journey’s last two races after a long lay have been at a mile; he has been closing and gaining on the leaders, but run out of distance.  Looks like he may want a bit more, and the jock change may be exactly what he needs.  Though this is a clear jump in class for Stoney Fleece, his speeds rack up favourably with those in this field, and he’s got some experience at this distance.
  • California Cup Derby – For fantasy league reasons, I really want to see Tamarando do well here.  If he does well, he’s probably staying on the Derby trail, and more than likely staying in my stable.  If he flops this one, there’s a decent chance I’m giving up on him.  He has some quality wins, as well as some not-so-great outings, so how this will go is anyone’s guess.  However, for handicapping contest reasons?  There are two other horses in this field who I like just as much in this race, and I’m going to get way better prices on for the contest.  One is Lucky Views, who has only raced twice so far…but looks good in a race without a lot of decent early speed.  If he can keep the pace reasonable and hold on as a frontrunner, he has a good chance at this one for what’s likely to be a nice price.  Another is Aotearoa.  Even though he has never raced on dirt, he’s a solid horse, and when he’s running well he can probably smoke anyone in this field.  Furthermore, it’s a bit hard to count out Gary Stevens (who is riding Aotearoa) on the Santa Anita dirt.  California Chrome, on the other hand?  He’s got “vulnerable” written all over him.  He’s the morning line second favourite, he ran poorly his other time on the Santa Anita dirt, and he has bounced massively after both his wins.  I wouldn’t bet a penny on this one.

Sam Houston

  • John B Connally Turf Cup (GIII) – So many horses in this field left me scratching my head as to why they were running a graded stakes race.  Most prominent among the head-scratchers we find Arthur’s Court — if he cannot win an N1X, I cannot fathom why he belongs here.  But, since the goal is to pick horses that have a shot at winning this thing…I really think this race is Admiral Kitten, King David, and the rest nowhere.  The Kitten is the fastest of the bunch, and has been comparing favourably to much classier horses than this as of late.  King David, despite being two races back from a long lay, looks pretty good; his last out in the Diliberto wasn’t so hot, but he had a last-minute shoe replacement in the paddock.  I doubt he can beat Admiral Kitten, but he’s the best of the rest.  Vertiformer has shown a bit in the past, but it has been a while, and he’s coming off a yearlong lay.  There’s also Marine Patrol, who is in a legitimate position to try a GIII (especially this relatively weak one), but he’s going to run into a much stronger closing-style horse in Admiral Kitten.
  • Houston Ladies Classic – Rose to Gold looks to be the classiest of the bunch, though it’s precarious.  Her last two races back after a long lay have been less than good, but they were also both on turf — her only two races on it.  This time, she’s going back to dirt, a surface on which she’s proven, and not facing a particularly tough field compared to the ones she’s faced in the past.  She tends to win her races with early speed — like every decent horse in this race tends to win her races with early speed.  Unusual Way likes early speed.  Awesome Flower is positively screwed if she doesn’t get and hold the lead, though if she gets a good run on the lead, she’s going to dispatch even Rose to Gold, at what’s likely to be a better price to boot.  Moon Philly can maybe hit the board if she’s not early speed, though all her wins have shown it.  And Why Not is the closest thing this race has to a closer (which is sometimes enough, case in point Lakotadreamcatcher in the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante — the second dumbest bet I didn’t make this year!) , but she’s a career N1X who is in way over her head here.  So, I’d probably say Rose to Gold or Awesome Flower, but this one’s wide open, and if it’s weren’t a contest I’d either keep my money in my pocket or end up picking at least half the field if it were a leg of a Pick-N.

And, there are my thoughts on five of the ten contest races on Saturday.   Sometime tomorrow night, I will post a similar entry for the other five, the races at Gulfstream and Laurel.