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Wagstaff’s Picks: Kentucky Derby 2017 May 4, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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This year’s Derby gives us one of the most open fields in years. Add to that the weather conditions – 3 straight days of likely rain – and we get the random factor of sloppy track conditions to make it all the more unpredictable.

So I’ll go ahead and make some predictions. It’s the rebel in me.

After going through the past performances, I looked at speed, condition, jockey and trainer records… the usual sort of thing. I looked at which horses like to close, which like to lead, and which ones like stouts and porters as opposed to pale ales.

Twenty horses running on a sloppy track means a lot of mud kicked up in the faces of the horses off the lead. The majority of the horses running have no racing experience with that. How will they react?

Some horses have run in the mud before. Some of ’em did pretty well, too. Some of ’em came from behind to win, telling us that the mud-in-the-face factor only makes ’em MAD!

When I put it all together, I’d lean towards the following. I don’t have a definite winner like I did with American Pharoah & The Belmont, or like I did with the pasta I made last night. But I think I’ve got some good prospects here with some good odds to use in various combo bets that might pay well.

#8 Hence at 15-1 (!) looks fast, well conditioned and ready to go. He closes well, and has closed well in sloppy track conditions.

#5 Always Dreaming at 5-1 hasn’t run in the mud, but his overall speed is near the top, and he’s in great shape right now. If (and it’s always a big if) he can handle the mud, he should do fine.

#14 Classic Empire is the current favorite at 4-1, and usually when an opening line favorite is that high, it means there’ll be a lot of changing of that particular status come post time. He’s got the best speed of the bunch, but the only time he ran in mud was for a 4 1/2 furlong low-level race…. but he came from behind and won. I wouldn’t count him out here, not at all.

#2 Thunder Snow at a big 20-1 is my wildcard. He’s only been races overseas, I have no fraction times for him… but he wins. And he wins at decent times, and at least from the reports, he comes from behind and closes. No mud, but he’s one of the few horses who have run on turf, and he’s run & won on soft turf. That tells me the feel of a muddy track won’t bother him at all – it’s only the mud-in-the-face factor that might come into play. Still, I’ll have him in my combo bets, and 50 cent trifecta combos might be the way I go overall.

I had two other horses as possibles before cutting them on a second go-round, and they were #16 Tapcrit and #18 Gormley. I just don’t think the speed is there in either case, and I think trainer Todd Pletcher has a better shot with Always Dreaming than he does with Tapcrit. Could they finish 3rd or 4th for a trifecta or superfecta? Maybe, but I’m thinking my top 4 picks will out run them.

Will I bet a lot under these conditions? Probably not. But with the odds where they are, the idea of hitting a trifecta could potentially mean a big payoff for a small bet, my favorite score at the track every time.

It’s also supposed to rain here in sunny southern California on Saturday, a rarity for May. Maybe I’ll take that as a sign to stay indoors & gamble.

And on other days, I’ll remind myself that it’s probably raining somewhere.

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Kentucky Derby Picks 2015 May 1, 2015

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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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.

Kentucky Derby 2014 Predictions May 2, 2014

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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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

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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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!

Derby Day 2012 May 4, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in Horse Racing.
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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.