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Monday, December 19, 2005

Sometimes You Just Gotta Laugh

- There were some upsets in stakes races over the weekend – some big ones such as Diplomat Lady taking the Hollywood Starlet at 39-1, and some mild ones like Brother Derek taking the Hollywood Futurity as the 7-2 third choice.

But for me, the biggest surprise of the weekend was a win by a 7-10 shot. I’d become so married to the idea that Andromeda’s Hero would never, ever win any race, at least any one shorter than around two and a sixteenth miles, that I tossed him out of Saturday’s Fred W. Hooper Handicap at Calder with as much confidence as I could ever do so with an odds-on favorite. (I also found it rather ironic that this horse would be such a short price in a race named after a man who made his mark primarily with sprinters.) The presence of his stablemate Seek Gold didn’t faze me in the least, and I was actually laughing out loud as the entry’s price got hammered from an opening of 6-5. I should know by now not to do stuff like that.

There were obviously no horses in the field such as the kind that Andromeda’s Hero had been chasing all year, but there were others with at least competitive figs and a touch of class (though the truth is I would have bet against him even if he was facing a field of retired catchers.) So I used Military Major on top in some exactas and triples, reluctantly tossing in Andromeda’s Hero for third.

And as they came down the stretch in a race in which it didn’t look for a nanosecond that Zito’s entry would NOT win the race, the sound you may have heard in the Manhattan room up on the third floor of the Big A was me laughing out loud again. At myself. Because not only did Andromeda’s Hero pass his stablemate with ease to get his first win since March at Tampa Bay, but it was another seven lengths back from Seek Gold to the third place horse. I think it may have be the wrongest I’ve ever been about a race; and if you can’t laugh at yourself from time to time in this game, then perhaps you don’t have the proper temperament for it. After all, how often are even the best horseplayers actually right? (Besides, I knew that, as ESPN's Ed McNamara wrote when he also picked against the pair, the entry is a terrible bet at odds-on even if it runs 1-2).

Take for example this guy sitting at a table nearby. He was losing all day, and letting everyone know about it. But as they came down the stretch in the 7th at Laurel, and Red Gulch came surging on the outside at 23-1, the one lone voice screaming “GO FOUR, GO FOUR!” was, happily, this guy. However, even this didn’t make him happy. “I can’t believe I ONLY wheel two dollar exactas! If I spend $52 instead of $26, then I win SIX hundred. With my luck, the favorite HAS to come in second and I ONLY win three!” This was obviously one of those gentleman who will never be happy at the track, always finding something to complain about, and it would probably do him well to find some other pastime.

Happily, I was rewarded for my good sportsmanship and ability to laugh and shake it off by hitting Laurel’s 9th, a rare, for me, win-only bet on drop-down Power of the Porgi ($17.40). And that was after also having hit the 6th exacta at Aqueduct (though I did in this case mumble just a little bit to myself about the $80 payoff resulting from a 10-1 shot over a 7-2 favorite in a nine horse field…that seems a bit short, don’t it?) Since I pick my spots, bet exotics almost exclusively and always demand good value, I can literally go weeks and weeks without cashing a single ticket. Being able to weather the long losing streaks with at least a bit of frivolity is crucial, I think, to anyone being successful. Given the way I bet, it only takes a couple of scores to make up for a lot of losing days, and when I nailed the 8th race triple at the Big A on Sunday ($190.50) with my only wager of the day, it capped a successful weekend after a long drought.

- Of course, my successes did not include the two juvenile stakes races at Hollywood this past weekend, for which I picked losers for both right here on this blog. Are you guys mad at me when I tell you that I didn’t bet either of them myself? :-/ Does handicapping ethics demand that I back up my picks with my own money, or is just making a fool of myself and feeling bad about it enough penance? In the case of the Hollywood Futurity, I felt the price just wasn’t right on A.P. Warrior at 5-2, as I fretted more and more about his outside post as the race approached. The starting gate at a mile and a sixteenth at Hollywood is practically on top of the turn, at least according to the diagram in the Form. Not sure though if his wide trip around the first turn was enough to account to his disappointing 4th place effort. And in the Hollywood Starlet, I think that 3-1 was actually more than fair on Meetmeinthewoods, but the truth is that I was at a 5 P.M. Rangers game. So I just missed the race, and given that I’d had a good weekend, I didn’t bother playing it blind without knowing what her odds would be. The Rangers lost, so there’s my punishment.

In any event, they were both good races, and Brother Derek moves towards the top of the Derby list with his win. Trainer Dan Hendricks reiterated that his colt prefers two turns, and said that the horse really seemed to blossom after his 4th in the Juvenile. "For some reason, he just matured from then until now….We just started to see him ripple and grow up some more. I don't know what brought it about, but it was good timing." [LA Times] Your Tent Or Mine acquitted himself very well in his first route try, and I don’t think that Bob Baffert or most anyone else had much sympathy for Pat Valenzuela when he bitched about getting slammed by the winner leaving the gate.

Starlet winner Diplomat Lady (Forestry) is the first Grade 1 winner for her trainer Chris Paasch. She had two poor races at Del Mar on her pp lines which contributed to her long odds, but the trainer explained that the filly was sick. "We went over and over this filly and found some ulcers, but she still wouldn't give 100….We looked deeper into her lungs and found she had a pretty serious lung infection." [LA Times] Unlike Your Tent Or Mine, Meetmeinthewoods had no apparent excuse other, of course, the fact that she was racing in a Grade 1 stakes in her second lifetime start. Wouldn't give up on this one yet.