Bizzaro World of Racing

by Ed Meyer

posted on April 14, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

How many times would you have liked to heard the truth? Not the P.C. answers aimed to please, but the ones we’ll talk about around the water cooler. There have been some goings on this year, and I would have loved to been a fly on the wall taking in the real truth. Sometimes we take that mental break, and just dream about a world that doesn’t resemble this one at times. When you turn off the bull-crap filter. You may hear a little different story.

The Asmussen / Blasi / PETA / debacle = Hello, we’re from PETA, and we want to speak to you gents. “No, not you with that filthy mouth. It’s hard to understand what a trainer sees  in your silly crap.” Well gents, we have a little problem and now the world has seen behind the curtain of the sport. What should we do? Ban you, fine you, suspend you? “The public thinks this is going on everywhere, and you have helped them see that bad decisions get made everyday.”

Asmussen – “I don’t know what happened. There are 500 horses around the country under my care, and I can’t see everything. I am INNOCENT!!”

Blasi  – ” $%^&*^$$#@v !!! – &**$$#@^^&% !!!! – Me too….”

PETA – “We have gotten together with racing officials from around the nation, and have sought guidance from other countries. Mr. Blasi, you’re next up for taking care of injured horses who no longer race. Maybe some of them were under your care. You’ll be highly supervised, and you’ll work with special needs children and the benefits of therapeutic riding. Maybe you’ll see the joy it is to be around horses. Don’t worry, we’re going to muzzle you, and give you a tongue tie. The hours will be long, the pay will be small, and your efforts will just begin to scratch the surface of your lack of professionalism. Oh, and social media will follow you everywhere for the rest of your life. If you don’t like this, there’s always barber college.”

“Mr. Asmussen, you’re going to be punished as well. We don’t want to take you away from the sport. We’re going to make you the “snitch” when things are going wrong anywhere. Bad horsemen will hate you, the good outfits will have no use for you, and the public will never believe you. Think of this like your own personal Elba. By the end of your life, you would have begged to be under Mr. Blasi’s care. When you win a race, you’ll invite all of the media to video, take pics, and download your post-race operations. From this day forward, 50% of all of your earnings will be redirected to retirement facilities, after-care programs, and fan education. We sure hope you win the Derby this year, there are many operations who need the money.”


Synthetic Track Surfaces – “Has anyone seen that rubbery stuff the horses across the pond have been running on? Is can be safer, and we’ll make a heap load of money trying to peddle this to big tracks. Hell, they might even buy a big chunk of the product!”

We’ll claim it is impervious to all elements. “You know, like Superman.” We know it doesn’t belong at more than a handful of tracks around the nation. The ones who use to lose weeks of racing due to freeze/thaw conditions.  It sure doesn’t belong in California, as they have perfect weather in the northern areas, and in the south the heat will cause the surface to get sticky, uneven, and unsafe. Aqueduct could probably use it on the inner-track, but they would tell us where to go in short order. How about Kentucky, the capital of the Thoroughbred? Yeah, that’s the ticket. I’ll bet they’ll buy it. We’ll sell the safety angle, and they will have a hard time saying no to that!

Kentucky – “How can we say no to safety? We have to examine this, and no matter the cost we will do what is right for racing.”

California – “Don’t leave us out. If there is a safer surface as you say, we’ll take it. We would be in the wrong business if we didn’t think about the athletes.”

The Truth – “Pull that crap up! Impervious my ass… It makes the track sticky, and players hated when we went away from dirt. They may downgrade the Bluegrass to a starter allowance race! Just think, racing was conducted for about 200 years in the states, and a manicured dirt surface was fine. I hear every horse from California gets the “doubt test” no matter how good they run. We can’t have this! We want the Breeders’ Cup to set up shop, and our handle to return to the 1980′s. Let’s just use this stuff on some training tracks, and allow horses to heal and get ready to return to the natural dirt.”

“With a wink and a blink I soon awoke, and my bizarro dream went away just like smoke.” All sports have to police themselves and make the game transparent. That doesn’t mean some of the time. But anywhere there is a sport that an edge can be gained by using methods that don’t have a purpose in the sport. Blast off the suckers, jokers, and wannabe doctors who seek that magic elixir. There is no substitute for time, patience, education, and penalties that will rid the game of bad eggs forever. As far as synthetic surfaces. They do not come cheap, and they cost millions of dollars to design and upkeep. Tracks fall into a bad place when safety becomes the big issue. They’ll tend to go the route if there is any money in the coffers. Opting to go back to state-of-the-art dirt surfaces have two reasons. 1) The surfaces didn’t hold up as they were sold. 2) Horses are opting to stick with surfaces where the Derby and main preps would be run. Graded race s could be downgraded, and with the Breeders’ Cup dollars looming in the background. The idea of  the safest dirt course design only makes sense. Not to mention, the handle may jump a bit when players have that old confidence again when going to the windows. If you don’t invest in your sport, nobody is going to play. Casino’s have the eye in the sky, and Big Brother is on many street corners in America. Racing needs to pull back the curtains and show that bad eggs are like needles in haystacks, and if something isn’t working to the advantage of the sport. Changes need to be made.



The Kentucky Derby / Fab Four

The time has come to watch and wait. As the song says, “The waiting is the hardest part.” We saw their body of work, and the many obstacles they overcame. The Kentucky Derby countdown officially begun when the big preps hit the books. I believe we have seen their best efforts, and now we’ll wait for them to ship and work a final time. Inevitably, there will be a few defections, and at least one will be one of marquee value. If there wasn’t a process of elimination, we wouldn’t be able to match the best against the best. Nobody said it would be easy, and if it were. Every three-year-old would do it.

Constitution= Todd Pletcher will be bringing this son of Tapit to Louisville. Javier Castellano will probably be named, and you’ll start hearing the “Apollo” jinx theories. You know, how no Derby runner has won since 1882 when Apollo wore the roses.  This guy is different. It has been ten years since his sire Tapit won the Wood Memorial, and finished 9th in the Derby. This guy is being slammed about not being able to get the distance, and they may be selling him short. I admit the fractions in the Florida Derby were average, and he had rail trip to get the job done. If you have forgot, he was under a hammer-lock at the first quarter, settled by the half, and waiting patiently along the rail against three of the powerhouse runners of the season. Does this have the sound of a runner who has matured ? – He showed poise, patience and power. He dug in gamely and beat one of the best stretch fighters in 2014. Is he the one to break the curse? They have the best money rider in the irons for the powerful Todd-Squad. This has been a tough year for most, and he comes in focused and ready off four starts.

Samraat = I wasn’t much of a believer in the beginning, but when a friend was talking about his speed and turn of foot. I began to listen. – I saw three things in the Wood Memorial from this son of Noble Causeway. He had to face  the X-horse in Social Inclusion. (If the wheels hold together, he’ll be a monster.) Samratt broke sharply, took the lead, and allowed Social Inclusion to get the jump as he patiently settled between. As the race unfolded, he moved up and back with ease, and when the real running began he dug in gamely. The pace setters were starting to wear down, and  you could see Wicked Strong benefit from the early street fight. Samratt looked right over at “Wicked” and started running after him. This New York-bred is game. – He has grit, fight, and is learning to settle and wait. Everyone needs a dog fight before Louisville. This was his, and it was a good one.

California Chrome = You probably think I’m crazy, and I should have him wearing the roses. Not just yet… Does anyone remember Kobe’s Back and Tamarando beating him? Now I’m not saying he isn’t the real-deal, or he won’t be the morning line favorite. I like him a good deal, but he’ll need his best “AA game” to run into the winner’s circle. I won’t leave him out, and his trainer Art Sherman was the exercise rider for Swaps who was a Cal-bred to win the Derby. “Chrome” inhaled the field last out, and it looks like it took ten starts to find out he’s a super hero. If he encounters any traffic or can’t blow right by, did he need that dog fight to get his Chrome to shine? – I don’t think Victor Espinoza would trade with any other riders, and his owners turned down $6 million. They will have to be stuck at the airport to miss the Derby.

Chitu = Bob Baffert has another ace up his sleeve, and this son of Henny Hughes is lightly raced, and has a proper four starts to his credit. In his first start in 2014, he looked to run into a buzz saw with Candy Boy, but if you watch a few replays of the Robert B. Lewis. You’ll see he ran his game. The way he went right to rail and fought gamely, was enough to make me keep my eyes peeled. His last effort was a win in the (G-3) Sunland Derby, and Baffert owns the track as everything he sends comes back with the money. Look at it this way, he had two good wins in 2013, and 2 starts with a win and hard fought second in 2014. Lightly raced, and rested. We’ll want to see a few good works, and look for him to put in a game effort.

Here are four contenders that have made my final list. You can go back and watch all of the Kentucky Derby and Oaks replays right here on Winning Ponies.  As we draw closer and the road becomes clearer. Winning Ponies will take you right to the winner’s circle. The E-Z Win exotic payouts have totaled over $2,359,468. We are dialed in everyday, but for the mega-field that assembles in Louisville. Our tier levels will uncover hidden value that will translate into a bumper payday. Keep your eyes peeled, as you’ll be able to prepare for Derby 140 with our stories and updates, Internet radio show, and player-friendly easy-to-use  E-Z Win Forms. The countdown has begun!


Coming Up Roses

About this time you’re reading who is shipping in, and how the final 20+ days will take shape. We have seen so many incredible races, and to think it all comes down to a full gate of three-year-old runners. Do you have a favorite runner? Will you go to the Derby, or watch the full coverage on TV? Are you a Derby party goer, or will you enjoy the race at home? There are so many options, and you only have about 20 days to make up your mind.

If you’re a fan of trivia, or Derby jinx talk. Here is some fuel for your fire. Remember, there is a first for everything, and records are made to be broken. Best of luck from your friends at Winning Ponies!

California Chrome = We started the year not having an idea who would be the favorite. Now we are pretty sure the “Left-Coast” invader will be short on the morning line. But before we etch anything into stone, someone should let C.C. know that only three California-breds have won the Derby. – Morvich (1922), Swaps (1955) and Decidedly (1962). By the way, the exercise rider for Swaps was Art Sherman, the trainer of California Chrome.

Vicar’s in Trouble = This son of Into Mischief brings some interesting firsts. – Could this be the year a lady rider wears the roses ? – This could be the year that not only a lady rider could win the Derby, but she could pull off the Oaks – Derby double as she will be riding Untapable in the Kentucky Oaks. Rosie Napravnik’s husband Joe Sharp is the assistant trainer to Mike Maker. We could have a husband-wife duo getting their picture taken in the winner’s circle. Oh, and don’t forget that only three Louisiana-bred runners have competed in the Derby, and he’ll be the first since Zarb’s Magic in 1996.

The “Apollo” Jinx = It’s not a hard rule, but there’s been no runner since Apollo in 1882 to win the Kentucky Derby without racing a two-year-old season. Somebody needs to tell: Constitution, Bayern, Social Inclusion, Divine Oath, Hoppertunity, if they all make the gate with Derby points.

Could Bob Baffert join the next level? He belongs to an esteemed group of trainers who have won three Kentucky Derbies. He could join D. Wayne Lukas (4), who could win with Strong Mandate to become the oldest trainer to win since Charlie Whittingham (76) with Sunday Silence in 1989. About 94% of the Derby winners must have finished 1st-2nd-3rd in a prep race, and runners must have won a 1 1/8th race in their career before going on to wear the roses. There are more stories this year than hot dogs will be sold at Churchill Downs. With all of the Derby fever that will take hold; take a deep breath and enjoy the “greatest two minutes in sports.”



Common Denominator

by Ed Meyer

posted on April 8, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

For those who gamble on the sport of kings there was a road you took to making your first wager. Was is Uncle Ted or Grandpa that gave you that first glimpse of the Daily Racing Form? Or, was it something you picked up on your own? I guess it could be a case of nature versus nurture, or what came first the chicken or the egg. Either way, racing is  sure glad you came.

For me it was a family thing. My dad, my grandpa, and the picnics under the maple tree at old River Downs. I started off playing ball in the parking lot as a youngster with other track kids. It was a safe place where we could stay out of dad’s hair. As the racing meets passed, the ball games ended. You started going down to the paddock as they saddled the majestic beasts. For what was no concern yesterday, was now catching your eyes for the first time. You started asking who your dad liked in the next race, and then you rooted as hard he did. Then came that magical time when your interest was rewarded with a $2 place ticket on your own selection. This was the beginning. The crossroads where you hangout until you’re old enough to be someplace else, or you become intoxicated with the idea of going every-time dad heads to the races. For me, the choice was simple.

I started going with dad, and I can remember the first time he let me take the car and go out to the races. Many of my friends wanted to swill warm beer in a basement, and I wanted to go the track. They saved their money for concert tickets and cassette tapes, and I cut lawns to build my bankroll. I hung out with the same fellas my old man had known for years. Over time, the education that took them a lifetime to accumulate was rubbing off on me. I think many came along this way, and only a few will share the truth. Playing the races has been a great part of my life. My bills get paid, I haven’t missed a meal, and my clothes are not torn or tattered. Thoroughbred racing was my first love, and as the old saying goes, “You never forget your first.”

Then there is the guy or gal who stumbles on the sport. They’re attracted by a free concert, or dollar beer night. When there is a big race that becomes an event, they want to be in the whirl of humanity. Sharing the energy, the new player takes on the look of every track brochure that shows a group of happy people cheering together. They fall in love slowly using the venue as a place to meet friends and swig $1 beers. Eventually they stop using the track as a meeting place, and find themselves learning the ropes. As with any sport, gaming, or gambling. The “old-timers” frown down on this new player. They don’t have that common thread, and they start off being as close as apples and bowling balls. I have found many cases where the old guard takes a liking to the new player. Some become friends, and I see many sitting together talking about the game. The fans come in many forms, and eventually they all become the same or move onto something else. Think about the ball park, and the guy with the team jersey keeping score in his program as his dad showed him years ago. Or, there is the fan who enjoys a few libations and keeps track of the game by what the scoreboard is flashing. Either way, they are both there for the same reason. The differences become hard to see after awhile, and you see them talking and enjoying the game together. It just takes time.

So what’s your story? Were you shown the pageantry long ago, or did you discover the beauty on your own? Either way, the sport of kings is glad you’re there. Long ago the grandstands were filled with thousands of fans, and now the hard-core bettors can be found betting on-line. No more standing in lines, and you can play when the mood strikes. The game now depends on “newbies” to keep the track alive. It may be a free concert, a car show, or the wiener dog races that get more coverage. Times have changed and the game will adapt. You either bend with the wind, or get blown over by the breeze. The future is uncertain at times, and the competition is closing on the ponies like Silky Sullivan. Racing will survive, but it may not look like the same game your grandpa introduced you to. If you’re the type that was introduced the traditional way, take some time and get to know the new player. You’re there for the same reason, and who knows, maybe we’ll both enjoy what the future holds.

Derby Fever / Free Selections / Saturday 4-5-2014

Saturday is going to be an incredible day of racing, but can you name a day where we ever had doubtThere are some Derbies on tap for the day, and the boutique meet at Keeneland has opened the doors for the best three weeks of spring. – Here are some solid betting plays, but as always you’ll want to defer to the E-Z Win Forms for the complete and comprehensive breakdown of every race. Think of this as an appetizer, and the main course will be served up chock-full of value when you download the Winning Ponies E-Z Win Forms. – Best of luck, and remember that Kentucky Derby 140 is four weeks away when you read this.



The weather forecast calls for 59 degrees and cloudy.

The (G-1) Wood Memorial – 1 1/8 – 5:40 pm ET

#6 – Kristo (6-1) – Martin Garcia gets the nod for the John Sadler barn, and they have a big weekend on tap. This son of Distorted Humor comes in from Santa Anita, and he has three nice works capped off with a bullet. He is 5/5 ITM lifetime, and this will be his third off the shelf in 2014. He finished third in the San Felipe, and his last effort was an eventful trip as he was shuffle around a bit. A clean trip and a plethora of speed may allow him to have a perfect stalking trip. Use #6 with #1 – Kid Cruz, #8 – Samratt, and #10 – Uncle Sigh.


Santa Anita

The forecast calls for 75 degrees and sunny.

The (G-1) Santa Anita Derby – 1 1/8 – 6:30 pm ET

#6 – Candy Boy (9-5) – Gary Stevens (24%) in the irons for John Sadler (22%), and this son of Candy Ride is getting good at the right time. Stevens is seeking his 10th win the SA Derby, and if you saw his run-out in the Robert B. Lewis. You would have double the confidence as Gary Stevens was thinking about this race with the horsepower he displayed. His last three works have been good, and I think he fits this race very well. He needs a big effort to score needed Kentucky derby points, and you can look for his A ++ game today.



The weather forecast calls for 79 degrees and sunny.

The $250,000 Calder Derby – 1 1/8 – 4:00 pm ET

#2 – Ring Weekend (8-5) – Alan Garcia in the driver’s seat for Graham Motion, and this son of Tapit is dropping in class. He scored in the (G-2) Tampa Derby, and dropping down to non-graded territory should help his cause. He was $310,000 sales purchase and he had to be gelded. That has changed his attitude, and there is more focus on business. Garcia rode him two back and he replaces the hot hand of Daniel Centeno. His works are solid, and I think they will look to get a clean race and keep plenty in the tank for Louisville. Use with – #4 – Our Caravan, #5 – General Sham’mah, and #8 – Cleburne.




The (G-1) Ashland – 1 1/16 – 5:22 pm ET

#6 – Testa Rossi (3-1) – Jose Lezcano gets the nod from Chad Brown, and they bring a very nice daughter of Dr. Fong. They are winning (38%) as a team, and she is making her second start in 2014. The barn does well with shippers as she comes in from Tampa (26%), and 2nd time efforts yield a (29%) win clip. Her late turn of foot will be perfect for the 1 1/16 distance with the short finish line, and her works at Palm Meadows have looked tough.


There are four big races left until the Kentucky Derby curtain closes. Be sure to check-in with Winning Ponies as they are dialed in on the marquee days. To date, they E-Z Win Forms have paid out over $2,158,431 in exotic payouts. All you need to do is follow the color coded tier levels and move your game to the next level. There are guaranteed pools, large fields, and mega payouts awaiting. Go ahead and make this weekend a winner. After-all, the Derby is just weeks away and we need to put some finishing touches on our bankrolls.









Horseplayers – One for the Good Guys

by Ed Meyer

posted on April 3, 2014 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

If you have been keeping tabs on the series, you got a rare peek at the players. This episode was one of discovery. Just when you thought you had the stars sized up, this week was all about the good guys. – Yep, you heard it right. Every once in awhile the good guys take the prize.

It was opening night at the Fair Grounds, and the night before the mega-contest. You see the guys letting off a little steam watching camel races, and seeking advice from higher sources. Team Rotondo was embracing the voodoo energy of New Orleans, and the only guy who looked to enjoy the evening was Lee Davis. Christian Hellmers was not playing one against the other for the first time, and even gave some sage-like to a fellow player on the brink of a score. Michael Beychok was back home, and he wanted to win where he cut his teeth as a youngster. Having lunch with James Carville was a “remember when moment,” and his advice to the youngster Matt Bernier was far from political. “It’s a brand new meet, and you have to get in there and kick their ass.” Well, maybe it did have some political base as the young Bernier soaked it in. John Conte is still in there ,and if ever there was an old-school guy who deserves to take it down. You know Conte is right at the top. This week Kevin Cox gets unveiled a bit when it shows him winning a contest, and Christian is talking about him playing multiple tickets and having his wife play as a team. All the while you would thought the “Cowboy”was a lone wolf player who believes in getting it done himself. – So there is the set up.

They are playing in the Twin Spires mega-contest (which is a great value) and Kevin and Christian have already qualified. The only question you could ask; who is next? When Cox hits a (40-1) shot in the first race, he should be dictating the pace all the way to the winner’s circle.  This had me thinking he would win it easily. Micheal Beychok had a tough run of third-itis, and he wanted to do well in his own backyard. You can feel his slump as we’ve all have had times like these. Cream rises to the top, just give it time.  Matt Bernier is still doing well for a newbie to the circuit, but he needs to stop talking about how mom, dad, and grandma are his stake horses. Mark my word, you’ll see him in the end doing battle for a big shot at the money. Team Rotondo is doing the father-son thing, and Lee Davis is along for the ride as usual. But this episode has foreshadowing. Lee Davis shows his New Orleans voodoo may have power. Team Rotondo keeps chanting their magic voodoo mistress name for any edge to be had. When you hear Lee Davis’ story, about how he was a big money man on Wall Street, lost his job, and now works in construction. You’ll have a soft spot in your heart for the big fella. Conte is always in the hunt and you never see him sweat.

The turning point is when Lee Davis is in 5th with one race to go. Christian is out of the hunt, and he talks to Lee about looking at the betting patterns of the players above him and the few right behind him. This was the best advice, and only a seasoned veteran would have examined their playing strategies. Christian (Oddball) Hellmers moved up in stock when he took his time with Davis. This rarely happens, and you only see this when players are teaming together. But this was not the case.

The last race goes to post and Davis is in 5th. You can feel the sweat running down his back as the top five qualify, and the race is as tough as a coffin nail. I gained confidence when the Rotondo boys get behind him playing a (2-1) shot named P’Ferd to win and place. The even money chalk opens up down the lane, and Davis’ runner gets a bad trip and runs a hard-luck second. The long wait, and watching him wipe the sweat from his brow is enough to put you in the seat next to him. When the leader board appears and you see his name highlighted in 4th place. I think they should rename it “Team Davis.”  As Lee wiped the tears from his big blue eyes, you know it’s more than just about the money.

You think you’ve seen it all when all of the players are telling their tales, and they head down with Beychok as he shows the guys his town. It’s a good moment when the viewers feel connected to the players. You see them outside of their arena, and watch as they kickback and relax. You can see yourself grabbing a brew, and listening to New Orleans jazz. One of the best moments for this viewer is about Kevin Cox. He pays a visit to an Old Friends Racehorse Retirement facility to see his favorite horse Zippy Chippy. He was 0 for 100 in his races. – Quote of the show belongs to the big “Cowboy”… “I try to do things charity related to the sport. So many lower level horses fall through the cracks. I made a vow after my parents passed away to do more for the charitable aspect of the game. No matter how much money you have, you can’t spend it all, but its always nice to give back.” He showed that side you never would have bet on. He wants to do good in Vegas so he can do more for the retired horses. The good guys did win on this episode.


Change is Coming – Fall 2014

Keeneland has come a long way from eight races, one daily double, and no announcer. Now that was ancient ages ago, but the track that is branded  “Racing as it was meant to be” has taken a big step. Long ago, change was a nasty word for the beautiful Lexington track. They have proven they are innovators on every front of racing.

I cut my teeth on the dirt oval in Lexington, Kentucky. It had the best-of-the best entering  races, and what memories they created for this horse player. I’m sure I’m not alone as many used to love the speed favoring bias. But Keeneland has had this on the burner for quite awhile. When you watch the Bluegrass Stakes next week, take a look at the field. There will be some quality entries looking for one of the last 100-40-20-10 point races to get a spot in the Kentucky Derby. – How many big outfits will one again target the Bluegrass Stakes as a final stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby gate? Do you think it will boost the star power for next year?

According to the Daily Racing Form article by Marty McGee: “Construction is set to begin on May 19, and a completion date of August 15th.” I wouldn’t be looking for that old dirt oval which was a conveyor belt for speed runners. When Keeneland makes major changes, you can bet dollars to donuts that they have done their homework. “Keeneland joins Santa Anita, which reverted to dirt in 2010, and Del Mar, which will scrap Polytrack after its 2014 meet, as iconic North American tracks that installed a synthetic track as its main racing surface, only to dispose of it after a relatively short period. While the number of synthetic tracks in North America peaked at nine by early 2008, there will be only five after this year: Arlington Park, Golden Gate Fields, Presque Isle Downs, Woodbine, and Turfway Park.”

We are just days away from the kickoff of the spring meet. I’m sure there will be plenty who will miss the synthetic revolution, and there will be plenty of handicappers waiting to see how the new surface will play. Keeneland president Bill Thomason said the Polytrack surface, first used for racing at the 2006 fall meet, will be replaced by a “state-of-the-art” dirt surface using locally mined material composed of sand, clay, and silt, and that track officials strongly feel that safety is not being compromised “in any way” after conducting “diligent research” into the new surface;” according to the Daily Racing Form interview.

There has always been great concern about safety for the equine athletes and riders. I also think feel that Keeneland is ready to toss their hat into the ring for big events.

“This is something we have looked at very seriously. We’ve been doing research on every element of the racetrack for the last year, so it’s not a decision that’s been made lightly. It’s not a decision made without a lot of thought from all of us. We’ve told everyone, including our board members, that we weren’t going to change unless we were 100 percent confident in this next-generation surface,” said Thomason.

Thomason said a recent statement by Keeneland that the track is seriously considering making a bid to host a Breeders’ Cup in the near future was not a major consideration in replacing the surface.

The track that magically appears 15-16 days every April and October, once again proves it is one-of-a-kind. I’m sure there will be some bumps in the road ahead, and if we think back to the installation of the Poly Track. How long did it take for bettors to finally adjust to the surface? How many were going to give up on betting the oval? Well, they got used to it, and the learning curve was quick. It won’t take near as long to allow players to adjust to the original surface again. Kudos, Keeneland. I think many players will welcome the new addition, and I would love to think about the Breeders’ Cup being held on the historic grounds of Keeneland. They’ll take baby steps, and look to the future. After all, that was the original idea behind Keeneland.





Winner’s Never Quit

We’re all glued to the screen when “Horseplayers” comes on the Esquire Network. It’s a solid show that gives you a glimpse behind the world of contest play, and follows some of the best handicappers in the world. Now, if you noticed I said SOME of the best players. Not to take a cheap shot at any of the on-screen talent, but there are a bevy of players who can win any contest. They were playing long before the show was on-air, and will be bringing the heat each and every time. The Horse Player World Series is held at the Orleans Casino in Las Vegas, and by now you have read the “Guru” Christian Hellmers has won the contest. He took down $269,640 for his winning efforts, and this guy can handicap. There are some that just have the knack, and others that are not afraid to swing for the fences. I think he fits both categories, and his latest victory was enough to keep him in eucalyptus and magic magnets for a hundred-years.

This year there were 749 handicappers playing in the HPWS. They do their homework, and bring the methods to their madness. I wanted to follow a long time contest player. One who is versed and ready to take his shot at any opportunity. His name is Les Instone, and he has played in the HPWS eight times. He won his entry on Horse Tourneys, and the package included a $500 travel voucher, and a four-night stay at the Orleans. Here is a glimpse at his bio:

Les Instone is in VIP Services with, and has been with Bloodstock Research and since 1996. He hosted handicapping seminars at Keeneland for 13 years, and was tournament director for the first seven years of Keeneland’s handicapping contests.

The contest offers cash prizes for the final top 60 players, and cash prizes for the top ten each day. You could say there’s quite a bit of money on the line, and every player who is sitting in the ballrooms know what’s at stake. Les came in to day #1 with a plan of making $1,800 as a first day goal, as each player has to make $600 in mythical wagers each of the three days. That’s a total of $1,800 for the contest, and each handicapper will make a $20 win and place bet on 15 player selected contest wagers daily. Day #1 allows you to get on your feet, and adjust as needed. It’s always good to have a plan, and it’s even better to follow your plan. Les did just that, and the leader after day #1 had $1,800. His score was not his best effort yielding only $40 for the day. But his optimism and focus had him ready to begin day #2. If you can take anything from day one, it’s that his projections were correct, and the adjusting part was going to be employed.

Les was up and ready at 5:30 am Pacific Time, and this was after a long night of making adjustments and doing homework. He gets to the ballroom at 8:45 am, and if you have ever played in a three-day contest, it can take a toll. Real players eat and breathe the competition, and you won’t catch many on the strip doing up the town. – His day was focusing on false favorites, and beating the chalk can get you caught up in a hurry. He found a 3-5 shot in the 4th race at Laurel, and looked to beat the vulnerable chalk. He was right, but selected the wrong big price runner to win. “You can’t panic or become desperate. Keep your cool and your selections will start to fall into place.” With a slow start to day #1, he adjusted his daily win projection to be $2,500 to get back in the game. There weren’t many price plays for day#2, but he found a solid (9-2) and (8-1) shots to give him a total of $445 for the two days. The wagering was effected by bad weather, and Fair Grounds cancelled the day before the Louisiana Derby card. This can make it tough to handicap as you may have had your big money plays on the FG card.

Day #3 ushered in a early start to watch the Dubai World Cup races. This was a time to make some cash wagers on his Twin Spires account, and get his day started with positive mojo. The third day of the contest was a much improved effort, but far from the needed $3,559.20 that catapulted Christian Hellmers to win. This was much lower than Les’ projected amount of $1,800 per day, and now comes the time where you question your methods and figure out what went wrong. Handicappers are a breed unto themselves, and are never satisfied without making  adjustments for future contests. Les said, “The three-day format can be exhausting and overwhelming to some.” But the true handicapper congratulates the winner, and began making plans for the next contest. That’s what it takes. Playing in a contest format and playing for money are like apples and bowling balls. Les Instone is a true handicapper, and he’ll come prepared every time. No excuses, and no second guesses. He knows the rules all too well, and he’ll be back. That’s one sure thing you can bet on.


Driven by Greed

By now I’m sure the most of the world has viewed the PETA video. If you have been in deep Alaska or living under a rock, you are probably better off. The first knee-jerk response when seeing this was shock, surprise, and anger. But now that the initial wave has passed, where do we go from here to ensure this is eradicated?

Steve Asmussen fired Scott Blasi after the profanity laced tirade that created an explosive video to be judged by the world.  Didn’t someone give him a life-coaching lesson about using his head?  It’s right after eat all of your veggies, and look both ways when crossing the street. I wonder where he’ll get a job? I guarantee no outfit worth their salt will touch this guy unless they lose a bet.

Mr. Asmussen hails from a horse racing family. He calls Arlington, Texas home and over a 26-year career, he has built one of the largest and most successful racing operations in the nation. His runners could be found at any track at any time, and when their names appeared in the PP’s. You made a mental note to take a good look at this race. His record speaks volumes, and with over 6,700 wins to his name. Asmussen was a name that always came up in conversation when a big race was on tap. His name was on the ballot for the National Museum Racing’s Hall of Fame. That was until the PETA accusation video made the light of day.  That’s on hold right now, as he and his assistant are being investigated by regulators in New York and Kentucky.

What would you do if you were the “King of Racing?” I know, many of us feel the same. But we have to remember that due process is part of the investigation, and we’re not convicted in the court of You Tube. I think a full and detailed report will be forth coming, and we need to patiently wait for all for all of the answers. As the song goes: “The waiting is the hardest part.”

I have known many blue-collar trainers who barely make ends meet. They feed their horses better than they eat, and when a runner is “off” they will not hesitate to get them off the track. Then there are the mid-level operations. Sometimes they have a good run, and many times there is a drought. But that is the business of racing, and they know it all too well as they begin their day before the sun comes up. If the PETA video and investigation all prove to be true. There should be swift and harsh penalties to deter this type of behavior, and take measures to ensure  transparency.  By no means is this the way  everyone in racing conducts business. As we await the long investigation, try and remember that all parties are not guilty. It would be like blaming all professional athletes for the few that take performance enhancing drugs. One case at a time, and this one has center stage right now.

Scott Blasi was talking more than a little kid full of Halloween candy. If half of what he said is true. There could be stricter standards coming down. But, that’s not a problem for the many that keep their nose clean and love their horses. There are so many hard-working people that feel as if they should be ashamed of their sport. Not the case, and now more than ever be proud of your efforts. You may not have the stakes race winner, but your runners are sound and ready. They do battle on the track and sometimes they win, and sometimes they don’t. That is racing.

Is this caused by greed? Maybe that’s the case, and sometimes when that sweet limelight shines. You crave it more than a cold beer on a hot day. I think the connections enjoyed the game at one time in their career. They learned the ropes and had a bit of success. This draws the attention of the bigger pocket owners, and you find yourself doing things to give you that edge to move to the next level. As we zero in on the road to the Derby, there is something that creeps up every year and exposes a few bad apples to the light of day.

Who are the biggest losers with this accusation? The owners who backed you with mega-cash, and the players whose wagering builds bigger purse structures.  How will we attract new fans to a sport that has to answer allegations like these? Trust is a tough thing to gain, and it only takes one sad event to lose it. According to the Daily Racing Form, “Ahmed Zayat is transferring more than a dozen horses to three trainers on various circuits. – The horses at Oaklawn will be going to D. Wayne Lukas, the Fair Grounds runners will going to the Dale Romans barn, and the string that are stables at Belmont will going to the care of Michael Wilson. Wilson is a graduate of the Darley Flying Start program, and he has worked with horsemen Dick Mandella, Bob Baffert, Doug O’Neill, and Ken McPeek. Mr. Zayat and Steve Asmussen have parted ways.” – This sounds like a step in the right direction.

You Might Be A Horseplayer, If ……

Over the years, I have been extremely lucky. Not to say that I’ve cashed a million dollar powerball winner, or knocked out the pick-six. I came up like many players. I was introduced to the sport by family, and the love has been growing ever since. There were different stages along my journey, and see if any of these sound familiar?

1) You saved some lunch money, cut grass, shoveled snow, or tore apart the couch cushions to build a small bankroll. I used to cut grass as a young man, and would go out with my dad and make $2 place bets. You would have thought the world depended on my 3-1 shot to finish in the top two spots. These were some of the best times for a beginning racing fan.

2) Have you ever taken a job at the track to be closer to the action (and get down some bets)? I started in the parking lot when I was 18-years-old, and it helped me through college. I eventually made my way through the ranks, and once turned down a teaching job to keep climbing the ladder of my first love.

3) Did you ever take a date to the track? Well, about 95% of my first dates have been with the ponies. I figured if they would enjoy a day at the races, there could be a greater shot for love. Only one gal didn’t like her first visit to the track, and five years later I asked her to marry me. Funny how opposites attract. She eventually softened up, and when she didn’t want to go. There were very few objections for my track ventures.

4) How many times have you borrowed money to gamble? I have a few times, but I know the golden rule that borrowed money seldom wins.

5) Have you ever wanted to own a racehorse? Me too… And, I did a few times. Here are a few tips for those who desire the opportunity. 1) If you have other partners, make sure you all have at least two months in advance to pay for the bills. 2) Be sure that everyone has the same vision. 3) Know it is a house payment each month to keep a horse in training.  This does not take into account race day preparations which can be around $150 extra. 4) A fella’ asked me how he could get in the game to claim a horse. He had $5,000, and wanted to know what I thought he should do. “If you have $5,000, wait and save up to $10,000. Cheap horse have no where to go but out, and at the $10,000 level you have some options. Cheap horses eat the same as the good runners, but cheap horses are always in need of extra care or time off $$$$$$$$$$. Save your money, go back to the racing office and you can get to know some trainers, and then you’ll start to narrow your focus on a claim or a direct purchase.”

6) Can you remember your first big winner?? How about your worst bad beat?? Here are my lessons, and they still resonate today. My first daily-double was at Latonia Race Course, and I caught Carl Falconer in both halves of the double. They were two five horse fields, and it paid $12. I couldn’t wait to comeback, but the blizzard of 1978 shut down the track for a couple weeks. My first bad beat was on Sprial day many moons ago. I had saved $100, and couldn’t wait to play a 12 race card. I found this runner by the name of Bet on Tiger and wheeled him with everyone. The cost of the ticket would have cost me the remainder of my bankroll, and if it lost I would have my first $100 losing day. So, I left out the longest shot on the board and had two dollars leftover. Well, he won by about 10 lengths at 7-2, and a bunch of long-shots came flying late. I could see this one about 8 wide rolling, and saw it was the one I left out. For that $2 I saved, I lost a $500 exacta.

What are some of your stories? Have you always had the bug, or were you introduced by a friend or family member? Either way, you’re here now, and it’s your turn to show one new person the sport of kings each year. Think of it as passing the torch, and watch their faces when they have that first winner. I’ll bet dollars to donuts they will be hooked forever.