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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Back to Basics

- Went to the Meadowlands last night. I wouldn’t say I’ve been a slump lately; it’s more like a lull. In fact, I’ve done very little betting and handicapping at all the last few weeks, as I’ve felt in need of a break from more than just blogging. I haven’t used my phone account for several weeks. So I resolved to keep it simple, resist the lure of simulcasting (there were 11 tracks available, and it’s no easy task for me to ignore them), and stick to the live harness racing (though I brought along the pp’s for Evangeline in case I couldn’t totally resist). Kinda like a light jog as I try to work myself back up to speed for the spring classic season.

I find that it’s a great tonic to bet harness races when I’m in a slump or in a daze like I am now, because it gets me back to what I consider the basics of handicapping and betting - FCPT (form, class, pace, and tote). One can really go nuts with all the too-much-information available these days, and it’s easy to stray from those crucial fundamentals in favor of some esoteric trainer stats, trip or bias factors, and the like. While those tools can certainly provide the needed edge at times, it’s the times that I start to depend too much on them and stray from the fundamentals that I get myself in trouble and off track. At the trotters, with all the races at a mile, FCPT is all you got, so I find that it can be an excellent handicapping exercise for me. Even if I don't end up winning, as was the case last night.

And you never know what to expect at a night at any track or any breed, especially when you’re actually concentrating on the live races! In the 7th, there was a horse named Night Sounds, listed at 10-1. And rightly so - he had run at the same 20K claiming level in his last, finishing 5th at a whopping 67-1; and that was a typical PP line (and odds) for his races at the Big M. But he was claimed out of that last race, and reappeared here with top driver Brian Sears. 10-1? Try 7-5 at post time, and talk about getting bet on the nose - with a minute to go, he had $4000 bet on him to win, but only $91 in the show pool, what a riot. You know I had that one on top; yes me, Mr. Must-Have-Value; that all goes down the drain when I see a betting move like that, I can’t help it. You gotta love this game, eh? No matter that he went off stride while making a big move in the stretch and finished last!

I also found a new favorite horse to follow, a four-year old pacing mare named Vysoke Tatry. I saw in the pp’s that in her last race, the final of a conditional stakes series, she had won despite breaking stride, and the comment line said simply Amazing Mile. The race analysis in the program read:

Words cannot describe that amazing recovery. Just go watch the replay for entertainment.
So off I went to the replay machines, where, of course, people were already there watching the race. And I gotta tell you, harness race or not, words truly cannot describe that performance. She had already raced outside and without cover after breaking from the dreaded ten post. She was 5th when she went off stride as they were about to go into the last turn, dropped all the way back two lengths behind the last horse before regaining her gait, and was out of the race for all practical purposes. But not only did she somehow rally to win, she did so by two lengths! It’s like if Afleet Alex had actually fallen in the Preakness, gotten up, dusted himself off, waved to the crowd “I’m alright,” and proceeded to blow by the field.

No break last night for Vysoke Tatry, a daughter of Dragon’s Lair, but still an extremely impressive and late wide rally to get up by a neck, though I suppose that wasn’t exactly what those who backed her at 2-5 had in mind!

I’m just a sucker for dead closers like that; you may have noticed that as I’ve bounced onto and off of Derby pretenders like Itsallboutthechase, Hesanoldsalt, and Jazil. All of those have since been discredited by awful performances, and I have no patience for that in my Derby hopefuls. You'll recall that even Giacomo never ran a truly bad race; he always at least showed a little rally in his preps. Nick Zito, however, says to give Hesanoldsalt another shot when he goes in the Gotham on Saturday against Keyed Entry, Achilles of Troy, and Sweetnorthernsaint, noting that he wouldn't be the first horse based at Gulfstream Park who didn't fare well at Tampa.
What Zito likes about Hesanoldsalt is that he has run well against good company. In his debut, he finished third behind Lawyer Ron, who has won several stakes and will be favored in the Rebel on Saturday at Oaklawn. In winning an allowance race at Gulfstream on Jan. 15, Hesanoldsalt beat Sunriver, who has since come back to win an allowance at Gulfstream and is being pointed to the Florida Derby. [Daily Racing Form]
- Skagway, who I mentioned yesterday, was dead on the board at 6.60-1 in the 8th at Gulfstream on Wednesday, and ran that way, finishing 6th. The hazards of trying to handicap in advance; I never would have bet him at the track. Winner Remarkable News looks like a nice one for Angel Penna Jr.

- Before my vacation, I’d noted how Pletcher was doing so incredibly well with layoff horses, and I noticed that he did it again while I was away. When English Channel won the Canadian Turf Handicap at the Gulf on Saturday, it was his first start since Breeders Cup Day on October 29, a layoff of 133 days.