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Kentucky Derby Picks 2015 May 1, 2015

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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whenuseeit.com_8546_1385960416

I’m not sure how I’ll actually spread my bets on the Derby this year, but I think I can narrow the always enormous field down to a handful of likely candidates for finishing in-the-money, if not winning it outright. While I’ve been using a slightly different handicapping protocol for the current season of Santa Anita with mixed (but better than historic) results, I’m making these picks based on my usual parameters for a high profile high stakes race like this one. I’m mostly looking at overall speed, potential to maintain (or increase) speed at this distance, a distance new to the majority of the field, and whatever I can gather about their current condition & training.

So here it is: Like the opening odds, I would favor the two Bob Baffert entries in this one – American Pharoah and Dortmund. They’ve both got lightning times for races leading up to this and have not faded in stretches. They’ve also won at this level, and by a lot, gate-to-wire in numerous instances. I’d give the edge to American Pharoah from a numbers standpoint, but these two are really close.

One horse I could see sneaking  into an upset victory would be Firing Line. He’s lost to Dortmund twice by a head, but he just flew in his last race, and a repeat of that performance, I think, would give him the edge here. He’s 12-1 on the morning line and worth taking a shot at. My other long-shot wild card possibility (though lesser) would be Upstart, who has some great speed ratings (although erratic) and looks to be in great form. I also can’t resist picking a horse that’s also a gag in Duck Soup. And I also can’t resist including a long-shot possibility when he’s 15-1 morning line and seems to have a reasonable shot at it.

Bets? Still not sure. Probably some win bets on all of them and perhaps an exacta box of all four. I’m never comfy going into deeper exotics with a field of this size, and prefer to save my triple crown bankroll for the Belmont, which I always find the easiest of the three to handicap deep into the field. The only thing I can really guarantee is that I’ll be petting the cat while the race is on.

I’ve been toying with the idea of regularly posting Santa Anita picks on a separate blog page for anyone who might be interested in following my picks or betting along with Wagstaff.  After all, I’ll need company in the poor house for Scrabble games and trivia contests , so join in! Though to be honest, I’m up a few hundred bucks since the start of the year overall. I do about the same or better than the professional handicappers in the newspaper and at the Daily Racing Form. Why can’t they hire ME instead? With ME, you get picks you can trust, PLUS bonus  jokes!

Like this one: A little boy runs home from school and says “Mom! Mom! I got a part in the school play! Aren’t you proud of me?” And the mom says “Oh, that’s wonderful! The drama teacher must think the world of your talent! What part did you get?” The little boy answers “I play the role of the Jewish husband.” The mother gets angry and says “You go right back to that school and tell that god damn teacher you want a speaking part!”

You’ll be telling that joke tomorrow. And maybe you’ll win the Derby! See how valuable I am?

Reckoning Update: Well, I’m pretty valuable after all. Out of the 4 horses I gave you, I got the 1, 2 and 3 finishers.  I bet the exacta and made a $60 profit, which will soon be blown at Brent’s Deli, the best deli in Los Angeles. Stay tuned, we’ll see how I do with The Preakness or if I start posting my Santa Anita plays.

Belmont Stakes Predictions 2014 June 6, 2014

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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mred

So will we finally have a Triple Crown winner after all these years?

The morning odds certainly think we will, with California Chrome a heavy favorite at 3-5. The racing world would love a big positive boost of publicity for the sport, especially as (sadly) the sport continues to wane in popularity, especially against other forms of gambling. I guess that means if you believe in conspiracy theories & the mob fixing everything, California Chrome is a certainty.

Despite the black helicopters over my house, I’d put California Chrome as a favorite, but not as the horse-to-beat-against-a-weak-field favorite he was in the Preakness. The Belmont field has a few legitimate spoiler horses who have the potential to take this race. With Chrome running hard to get the crown, barring any freakazoid reason for him to be pulled, I would put together a number of boxed combo bets with him & the following possible spoilers, which I’ll discuss in order of what I think is their likelihood of paying off as winners or merely in the money:

Tonalist ran a great Peter Pan stakes a month ago on a sloppy Belmont track and gained speed and power as he went. The biggest factor for me every year in the Belmont is the distance involved – a lot of route horses simply run out of gas when asked to run a mile and a half, so I always look for the ones who can keep pace and reserve the energy for at least a mile or so before turning it on at the end. Tonalist is a likely candidate for such a finish, and his last speed figures and speed figure potential for Saturday is in the same league with the amazing numbers of California Chrome. And he’s 8-1!

Right up there with Tonalist, I’d put the surprise of the Kentucky Derby, Commanding Curve. The late surge stretch run he did, almost catching Chrome, made me think he’d be the horse to watch in the longer Belmont since he would have passed Chrome on that Derby run if there’d be another quarter mile. All he’d have to do is rest up by skipping the Preakness (check) and keep in top form (check – his works at Belmont are the best out there, better than Chrome). He’ll also probably do better in a smaller field, and one where he isn’t all the way on the outside. With less traffic to negotiate & a better position for a late burst run…. well, it could happen. And he’s 15-1!

After those two, I think Wicked Strong, the #4 Derby finisher, will challenge again here. Well rested after skipping the Preakness, Wicked Strong also has the power to finish well at a mile and a half. The other wild card is Ride On Curlin, who ran a great Preakness and finished the Derby strong, but in each case,  I think the jockey had a lot to do with it. He’s got a new, third, rider this time, so who knows?

If I had to grade them, I’d give California Chrome an A, Tonalist and Commanding Curve A-, Wicked Strong B+ and Ride On Curlin B.

My ten cent superfectas, fifty cent trifectas  and one dollar exactas will be designed accordingly.

Preakness Predictions 2014 May 16, 2014

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marxbrorace

So close…. SO close on that damn Derby, where my 1-2-3 finished 1-3-4 thanks to a last minute surge by a 30-1 shot to sneak into 2nd.  I have to admit that even if I’d spread more money out to throw some longshots in to exotic bets, I don’t think I would have included the placer. Good thing I only bet on the cheap….. but a trifecta hit for what probably would have  been a few hundred bucks would have been very very nice.

After looking at the field for this year’s Preakness, it’s really Derby winner California Chrome‘s race to lose. None of the other horses in the field, I think, can really challenge the speed levels of Chrome, hence the 3-5 opening line.

But there’s always the “too soon after the last race” factor that figures into the Triple Crown cycle, and the way that Chrome faded a little bit towards the end of the Derby stretch, making me think as the races get longer (especially the Belmont coming up), Chrome could be overtaken by a late-surger.

I don’t see a late surger in this field, but if I had to pick a 2nd-likely-candidate to win in case Chrome has a bad day at the track, I’d go with the Baffert trained Bayern, also a nice price at 10-1 right now.

I can’t really put together any combo bets since the rest of the field feels so random to me. I think I’ll wait until the Belmont when some Derby performers return, rested, to see what some more predictable scenarios might be.

Kentucky Derby 2014 Predictions May 2, 2014

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horsedoc

It’s been a while, I’ve been away from this blog, spending far too much time annoying people on Facebook.

But since I did so well in my Oscar predictions, why not continue the psychic vibe into May with some prognostication over the Derby?

Unlike in recent years, this year’s field has a clear favorite, that being California Chrome. Since coming off a layoff, this horse has won a bunch of races in a row, with terrific speed figures and by several lengths. Another thing I like about this horse (and yes, I’ll go ahead and pick it as my most likely winner) is how he gains speed & power as he goes, a necessity for a mile and a quarter race.

The other horses I’d give a chance, or fill out some exotic combo bets with are Danza (and not because we all love Tony Danza) and Wicked Strong. Like California Chrome, they both pick up speed and power as they hit the stretch in a longer race, but their overall speed & form seems slightly below that of the favorite, and Wicked Strong drew the far outside post of the field, something that usually doesn’t help, although a skilled jockey can find ways to compensate in a long multi-turn race. I think both of these two will be in the running, but I figure that California Chrome can simply outrun and outlast them.

Churchill Downs also threw in a guaranteed million dollar pick 6, ending with the Derby, so even though I’m not familiar with the ins-and-outs and other subtleties of betting that particular track, I put together a very cheap ticket which I view akin to buying a Megabucks ticket and I’ll be spending about as much on it. Why the hell not?

 

Kentucky Derby Predictions 2013 May 2, 2013

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horsedoc

It’s been crunch time for your humble Per-fesser lately… getting ready to move has meant signing my name to more documents than I ever thought I’d sign in my LIFE .

Well, except for the time I signed that pre-nup with Kim Jong-Un. We were going to be “The Odd Couple: The New Generation” next fall, but we tested poorly during pilot season. Alas, I’ll never be a sitcom star, I fear.

The idea of packing up Chez Wagstsaff’s numerous books & other chazerei has also been daunting… but thy will be done! A month or so from now I’ll be in new digs, with plenty of time off to acclimate the cat & get crackin’ on editing another book for publication as well as writing the next installment of the Professor Wagstaff mystery-thriller series.

EVEN WITH ALL THAT, I found the time to handicap this year’s Kentucky Derby. Let’s see if I can call the damn thing 2 years in a row, shall we?

I guess I’ll need Doug O’Neill to help me out on that one, since I picked his horse I’ll Have Another to win last year, and I’m going with him again this year. I think Goldencents has the best shot here. He’s flat-out faster than any horse in this huge field, his condition has been steadily improving has he moves up towards the length of this race, and I can easily see him reserving energy while keeping up just off the pace early on to burn up a late run and overtake the field. I think his current 5-1 odds will lower as we get closer to post time, and I would not be surprised at all if he became the post-time favorite.

My “B” group of possibilities, in order, are: Normandy Invasion, who at 12-1 is a nice bet & has the fastest stretch time of any horse in this race. If he’s near the front when they come into the homestretch and has an unblocked lane,  look out. His form has been improving, and even though he lost to my next B pick, Verrazano, I think Normandy could outrun Verrazano this time. Verrazano has been impressive, however, winning every one of his races by comfortable margins while leading or near-leading throughout. I can’t really count him out of this one. I also would place Mylute in this B group – great speed, and a great combo with Napravnik in the driver’s seat.

My two “C” picks, each long shots to win the thing but horses I’d include in any exotic combo bets, are Java’s War & Revolutionary. They’re 15-1 and 10-1 respectively right now, but they’re nearly as fast as any of the entries in my B group, are in decent shape, and either one have the potential to be the “it was just their day!” type of horse, especially with Leparoux and Borel riding, respectively. Java’s War might be way on the outside, but that hasn’t stopped him before in a large field, and Borel always does amazing at Churchill.

Not sure what sorts of betting combos I’ll be going with, to be honest. It’s tempting to put Goldencents as the key winner to a superfecta or trifecta box with the rest, but I might have to sleep on that. A wuss exacta box of ’em all might be one way to buy all my picks.  Like I said at the outset of this post, between wrapping up the academic year & designing two new courses & moving & planning two novels, my head is spinning. I’m not sure if I’m clear enough to do anything other than a few $2 win bets, to be honest.

The answer, clearly, is: more red wine. I’ll have some film blogging up after a few more bottles, promise!

Belmont Stakes Predictions 2012 June 7, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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So, will we have a triple crown? It’s certainly been a while since Affirmed took it, back when disco ruled the airwaves and Saturday Night Live was funny.  1978 was a long long time ago to be sure.

Why? Well, probably because horses really aren’t being bred and trained for the Triple Crown anymore. There are hardly any mile and a half races like the Belmont, and horses aren’t running long routes every two to three weeks the way the Kentucky Derby-Preakness-Belmont clip comes along. So most often, the Derby winners fail to win the Preakness. Every so often like this year, we get the excitement of a Derby/Preakness winner going into the Belmont, usually as a favorite only because of the wishful thinking that a Triple Crown winner will generate excitement for the sport in a time when its popularity is waning, especially when pitted against other forms of gambling.

Which is too bad, since it’s a great sport. And all the PR damage & lack of market-building to a younger audience is nearly entirely self-inflicted. Stupid infighting means we have no HD cable channel entirely devoted to the sport, covering all races & providing high quality analysis featuring the leading handicappers from around the nation. The star power of both specific horses, trainers & jockeys is frittered away.

Oh, don’t get me started. But I won’t fly into a rant here about how I’m often the youngest guy in the Vegas sports book betting horses, and I’m an OLD FART, fer cryin out loud.

It’s time to pick the Belmont! Yay!

Well, I’ll state right off that I don’t think we’ll have a Triple Crown. Yeah, I’m sure I’ll Have Another will run a great race, but it’s that long length of the Belmont that becomes the final test, where horses who run a mile or even a mile and a quarter like lightning weaken and falter towards the end of that final stretch. Think back to the Kentucky Derby when I’ll Have Another pulled that late surge to pass Bodemeister… there was also another horse putting on an amazing late surge, but without enough speed to overtake the winner, and that horse was Dullahan. But Dullahan was moving faster than I’ll Have Another at that point, and would passed him with another quarter mile tacked on. And that was after chasing the lightning pace being set by Bodemeister, something that will not be happening here. And Dullahan has had more rest than I’ll Have Another by skipping the Preakness.

So, I’ll be picking Dullahan as my top choice to win.

I think I’ll Have Another has a great chance to hit the board, however, and I’ll certainly include him in any exotics I put together, although I can only see two other horses possibly winning this race: Paynter & Union Rags.  Both of them can probably run this distance well, and both accelerate nicely in route stretches.

And that’s the 1-2-3-4 order I think they’ll finish. The only possible surprise I might throw into the mix for hitting the board and not winning would be Street Life, who has gotten steadily better with each race, is in good condition, and also runs very well in a route stretch.

I’d love to see another Triple Crown, but I don’t think it’ll happen this year. But I’ll be happy to be wrong since it’ll be good for the sport (though not as good as all the ideas that would flow from my brilliant rant. And that rule applies to nearly all subjects.)

UPDATE: So, the radio greets me this morning with the news that I’ll Have Another has been scratched due to tendonitis & will also be retired to the stud farm. I keep writing to Victoria’s Secret about the idea of retiring me to a slightly different style of stud farm with no success. Conspiracy theories abound on various horse racing boards, but the bottom line is that a lot of the excitement has gone out of this race. I’ll stick with my picks for the top 4 possibilities, however… although after seeing how many random posts to comment boards list the same horses I have, I’m guessing the payoffs on exotics will be minimal here. Dullahan has already gone from 5-1 to 9-5 in the morning line. Ah well.

Preakness Picks 2012 May 18, 2012

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Considering how well I did in calling the Kentucky Derby a couple of weeks ago, I fully expect some 50-1 longshot to flush me down the toilet on my picks for the second leg of the Triple Crown, but I’ll post them anyway.

It’s the eternal optimist in me, I guess. One of the main considerations in this race is the short two week interval between the Preakness and the Derby – usually horses ought to be given a three week (at least) rest between races, especially major stakes races where even finishing fifth can mean decent purse money. The first thing I look for when handicapping this thing are competitive horses who did not run in the Kentucky Derby.  This year, I can only really see one of these, Zetterholm, having any sort of shot at it, although I’d say the chances for a win are slim.  He’s won his last 3 races, though all of them were at a considerably lower class level and his running times are not quite competitive with the top picks I’ll name below… BUT: this horse closes well in the stretch and will most likely pass a lot of the field once they come around that final turn. He’s in better form now than he was a month ago at Aqueduct when he won a 75K stakes race, and at 20-1, he makes a very tempting bet to simply wind up in the money or be part of any exotic combo.

The more serious contenders, to me, are all horses that did well in the Derby, starting with my #1 pick for this race, Bodemeister. He barely lost the Derby in the end, after setting a blistering pace for nearly the entire race. My guess would be that he’d once again be the pacesetter, but I’m sure Baffert and Smith would rather he conserve just a little more energy, maybe adding a second or so to those split times, still leading & with enough in the tank in the end to finish this slightly shorter race.  For the #2 and #3, I’d go with Derby winner I’ll Have Another and fellow SoCal entry Creative Cause to once again keep pace with Bodesmeister, with Went The Day Well & Daddy Nose Best as contenders for third or fourth.

So, throw Zetterholm in there and you have six horses to play with for exotic combos, perhaps keying the top choices. I haven’t really figured out how I’ll actually bet yet, I’ll have to sleep on it & see if there are any last minute considerations like weather, but I’ll probably Exacta-box my top 4 at the very least. Unlike the Derby, the Preakness will have a ten cent Superfecta, so I might use all 6 horses in that somehow. I’ll amend this post with my results.

Results: Well, I had the longshot Zetterholm hitting the board in the Super like I figured he might, and got the other top 3, but since I keyed a couple of my exotics to Bodemeister winning, I basically broke even due to the small payoffs all around. Ah well… at least I called it well & I hope any of you who took my advice set up your own tickets more successfully!  I’ll try again in a couple of weeks with the Belmont.

Derby Day 2012 May 4, 2012

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Well, it’s been a while since your humble correspondent has offered some sports prognostications. I didn’t want to keep a blog record of my horse betting – not that the IRS would be chasing after me (trust me, that’s not a major problem), but I thought it would get tedious.  But with a big national race like the Kentucky Derby that gets lots of attention, I thought I’d offer my humble take after handicapping the thing today.

The morning line favorite, Bodemeister, seems a good bet – great speed & stretch performance, properly conditioned, and one of the best trainers in the biz, Bob Bafftert. He ran away with the Arkansas Derby at a pace that suggests even more potential for speed in a tighter race. I have him as my Number 2 horse, however, slightly leaning towards the possibility that Dullahan, who won the Bluegrass and looks in nice shape, might eke out a victory. My only issue with him is that he seems to prefer polytrack to actual dirt, but all his numbers indicate that he does well over long distances.

And think about this – the morning line favorite is 4-1. This is usually a wide-open race anyway, but a favorite with odds that high tells you just how wide-open this year’s field comes out.

My other two choices for upset-special are the two from the Santa Anita Derby. Both I’ll Have Another and Creative Cause have impressive speeds and stretch performances at distances close to the mile and a quarter they’ll run here. I’m also going to include the undefeated Gemologist – a horse with a record of fighting hard to outrun the others, even when falling back early. This one seems to want to win, so despite slightly weaker times & speed figures,  I don’t want to count him out. Another possibility is Daddy Nose Best, a Beyer pick for second, although I think he might be outclassed by some of my other picks.

So in the end, I’ll probably Exacta-box my top 5 of those for $20, and Superfecta-box them for $12, unless I get cute and decide to include Daddy Nose Best and narrow my picks for the top spot on the super ticket.

Here’s hoping I win enough to buy more cat toys…

UPDATE:

Well, I got my Exacta! In the shoulda-woulda-coulda dep’t, there was the Trifecta, but I’m never that comfy betting more than $50 on a combo with a field of this size. Ah well… my top 3 were the top 3, and my top 4 were 1-2-3-5. I guess I should be grateful that Churchill Downs suspends the ten cent superfecta for Derby day since it saved me $12.

Belmont Stakes Results 2009 June 6, 2009

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Shoulda woulda coulda…. boxed that superfecta! Then I would have had it, with #4 Summer Bird sneaking into first instead of finishing second or third. But since all my bets were based on either Dunkirk or Mine That Bird finishing first (and they came in 2nd and 3rd, respectively), down the toilet I go.

Bah.

Not that it would have been a huge payoff on a ten cent bet… $42.60, to be precise. Not really worth it, but better than losing fifty bucks.

Now, the pick 6, which paid nearly a million… THAT’S the bet I’d’ve liked to win…

Maybe next time… or maybe at the end of July, on my next Vegas trip.

Handicapping The Belmont Stakes, 2009 June 4, 2009

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horsedoc
I won’t be in Las Vegas for this year’s Belmont, as my bowling tournament was a week earlier than usual this year and I did all my sportsbooking last week. If you’re curious, I went 7-1 on baseball/basketball/hockey bets, thank you very much, and notice how I HAVEN’T mentioned my horse betting…. well, it wasn’t THAT bad, only lost $26, most of which went towards an all-longshot-filled Pick 4 at Hollywood which would have brought yours truly an astounding $13.5k if I had gotten the other half of it.

But ignore that FAILURE and bear with me as I prognosticate this year’s final leg of what I think will be a personal Triple Crown for Calvin Borel.

Yes, I think #7 Mine That Bird will win the Belmont… after watching him burn up the end of the Preakness and nearly catch the winner, I’m thinking he’s got the stuff to go the distance in a race where maintaining energy to the end of the long mile and half run is usually key. When I went through the past performances of the ten contenders, I was mostly looking at (a) which horses run better at longer distances and (b) who had the best accelerating pace figures late in such races. Sometimes I could gather hints from the works times of some contenders, but nearly all of these horses have run routes at stakes levels (except for #9, Miner’s Escape, a tempting inclusion in exotic combos at 15-1, but I think there are better candidates out there for even that) and the majority of my decision making comes from looking at the results of recent stakes races.

The other horses I can see challenging Mine That Bird until he outruns them in the end are #8 Flying Private (4th in the Preakness) and #2 Dunkirk, whose lousy Derby run I’ll treat as a fluke. They are the only two horses in this race with speed and pace figures comparable to what Mine That Bird has been doing lately.

In the next group, I’d include #3 Mr. Hot Stuff, who ran a lousy Kentucky Derby, but is in great form and has great potential, #4 Summer Bird, who ran a decent Kentucky Derby and closes well, #6 Charitable Man, who runs well towards the end of a route, but it’s still a question mark whether or not he can go this distance, and I’ll take a chance on #10 Brave Victory, whose best races at lower stakes levels come close to the best horses here – so at the long odds he’ll probably get, why not add him to the party?

Ever been to a horse party? The smell is hard to take, but they sure can drink and dance.

The Virtual Bets:

I’d put ten bucks on both #7 Mine That Bird & #2 Dunkirk to win, as well as including #8 Flying Private in an exacta box for another twelve.

Trifecta play: 7/2,8/2,3,4,6,8,10 for ten bucks, and a Superfecta (ten cent bets) of 2,7/2,7,8/2,3,4,6,8,10/2,3,4,6,8,10 for another eight bucks.

Fifty virtual dollars total out there. We’ll see what happens to those odds as we get closer to post-time, but I think I’d probably stick with all of these if this week were last week and I was parked in the Wynn sports book enjoying my free beers (thank you, anonymous angry old Noo Yawka horseplayer who I chatted with & gave me some free drink coupons) and smelling the inevitable douchebags smoking cesspool-brand cigars.

And this year unlike in the past, I think I’ve FINALLY learned how to bet on baseball games and do well! I guess I could do more virtual betting to test this theory, with the possibility of another Vegas trip this summer in the offing… we shall see! Maybe I’ve just been lucky. After all, I DID find a DIME on the sidewalk today!!! Yay!

The rest of the summer? Well, I have VOWED I will finish my new book. I have to design a new art & music history class, which I will model after my film class. I should watch more movies & blog about them here. Stay tuned.