2021 BREEDERS’ CUP: Day Two Handicapping Analysis (11/6/21)

I’ll start off this column with a disclaimer: If you don’t want to bet Saturday’s races because of the three-ring circus that happened before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, I completely understand. A lot of people got the short end of the stick with what happened, and I couldn’t write anything else before writing something I posted to Twitter late Friday.

If you want to play, though, there’s plenty to digest Saturday at Del Mar. As with Friday’s races, I’ll spend more time on races where I have a strong opinion and less time on races where I don’t. Let’s take a look!

“Champagne and J.D.,” cued up to our analysis of Saturday’s card!

RACE #1: We’ll start things off with an optional claiming event for older horses. I’m not sure which runner will go favored, but #1 ONE FAST BRO would intrigue me a bit if others took money. His lone recent poor race on turf came in a paceless race at Santa Anita, and it sure seems like he’s taken a step forward late in his 4-year-old season. He’s a stone closer that may need some luck breaking on the rail, but Joe Bravo’s riding style should fit him like a glove, and the jockey got to know this gelding a bit last time out, when he ran second behind next-out stakes-winner Subconscious.

RACE #2: The Grade 2 TAA is the annual marathon race on the Breeders’ Cup undercard, and I think the morning line is off. Yes, #2 LONE ROCK was beaten last time out as a very heavy favorite, but I can’t see #4 TIZAMAGICIAN challenging him for favoritism. I think Lone Rock comes down from his 6/5 morning line price, and that Tizamagician drifts up.

I focused on that because, handicapping-wise, this looks chalky to me. Lone Rock still looks very imposing, and anything close to his races from mid-2021 would make him very tough to beat.

RACE #3: We start cooking with gas in the Grade 2 Goldikova. I respect 8/5 favorite #2 PRINCESS GRACE, who’s won six of seven career starts and wouldn’t be surprising. However, I think there’s value to that one’s inside.

Instead of the chalk, give me #1 ZOFELLE, whose last race is a clear throw-out. She’s shown she detests Belmont Park and its funky one-mile configuration, and she’s also shown she shines going two turns. Her races from early-2021 are sharp, and while the layoff is a concern, she’s been working steadily for a barn that can get fresh horses ready to run.

Zofelle’s best race can win this, and I think things will set up for her. This race isn’t without some early zip, and the faster they go early, the better this one’s chances figure to be. 6-1 hits me as an overlay, and I hope we get that price (or something close to it) come post time.

RACE #4: Many handicappers detest this race, the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. It’s down to a five-horse field, and the likely odds-on favorite, #5 GAMINE, has been in the news several times for the wrong reasons.

However, I think there’s money to be made, as Gamine shouldn’t be alone on the front end. She may be joined by #3 EDGEWAY or #6 BELLA SOFIA, and while she may be good enough to overcome that pressure, I think her likely price is an underlay, and that such a scenario would set things up for #4 CE CE.

Ce Ce didn’t get her desired trip in the Ballerina two starts back. Gamine ran her first quarter-mile in :23 and change, and the race was over at that point. That shouldn’t happen again here, and when Ce Ce gets a pace to run at, she’s very, very good. I wish we were likely to get the 4-1 morning line price, but we’ll probably have to make due with 5/2 or so. Still, she’ll be a single for me on multi-race exotics tickets, and if Gamine loses, the payoff potential on those goes up significantly.

RACE #5: Singling Ce Ce is handy, because the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint is a puzzling race. I’ve been a big fan of #3 GOLDEN PAL all year long, and a win here wouldn’t surprise me. However, if the 3-year-old misfires against open company, any number of his rivals could potentially get the money.

#1 GLASS SLIPPERS won this race last year, and her stablemate, #2 EMARAATY ANA, may be even better than she is. Golden Pal’s stablemate, #9 KIMARI, hasn’t run since April, but she’s been working consistently at Keeneland and is a world-class sprinter when she’s right.

The one I’m most intrigued by at a price, though, is #11 FAST BOAT. Closers in turf sprints make me nervous, but Del Mar’s surface was a fair one on Friday, and a few closers did reasonably well. Additionally, he’s capitalized on several meltdowns against these types this season, and a similar situation may present itself here. His best is certainly good enough to win this, and he’ll be on all of my tickets.

RACE #6: #5 LIFE IS GOOD is a single for me in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (TV won’t say the sponsor, but I will because I’m a rebel and play by my own rules). I can’t see him getting challenged early, and if he gets comfortable, I think he’ll coast.

RACE #7: The Filly and Mare Turf will be a blast. I’m pumped to see #7 WAR LIKE GODDESS tackle the likes of #6 LOVE and #8 LOVES ONLY YOU, who ship in from England and Japan for this event. Consider this: #12 AUDARYA is the defending champ in this race, and she’s the 5-1 fourth choice on the morning line!

The top three choices are all world-class talents, and Audarya would merit attention if not for a terrible post draw. However, there’s another that I need to advise you to consider. #1 GOING TO VEGAS did sit a dream trip last time out in winning the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive, but everything says she could sit that trip again here. There just isn’t a lot of early speed signed on to chase her, and if she gets comfortable, I think she’ll have every chance to grab a big piece of this at a very nice price.

RACE #8: Neither of my two opinions in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint should surprise you. The first is that #2 JACKIE’S WARRIOR looks very tough, by any conceivable measure. His figures only seem to be going up, he’s very fast out of the gate, and he’s shown an ability to grind his foes into dust. He’s my top pick.

My other opinion is that #7 LEXITONIAN, a first-ballot inductee into the Andrew Champagne Gambling Hall of Fame, hits the board. Toss the Forego, where he got left at the gate, and toss the Met Mile, which I think is a toss for every horse that ran in it (it was a WEIRD race). His two-back Grade 1 win in the Vanderbilt was sharp, and it also helps that he ran very well in his lone Del Mar start, when he fell by a dirty nose after a big late run in the 2020 Bing Crosby. Lexitonian’s an honest horse that should be going the right way late, and I think he’ll clunk up for a piece of it at a big number.

RACE #9: The Breeders’ Cup Mile is always a blast. Some of my favorite horses (Lure and Wise Dan, to name two) have won this race over the years, and from a handicapping perspective, you can make cases for a bunch of these runners.

I’m spreading in multi-race exotics. #3 SPACE BLUES is a win machine from Europe, and his best race would absolutely put him right there, but he’s stretching out to a mile from seven furlongs, and that’s not insignificant. By contrast, #9 MOTHER EARTH has won at this distance before and ran into Aunt Pearl last fall in her lone stateside start to date. I need to use her, too, especially since she’s run very well over firmer going in the past. Of the American runners, I prefer #6 MO FORZA and #7 IN LOVE, who both come in off of strong wins in prep races a few weeks ago.

RACE #10: The Breeders’ Cup Distaff features #6 LETRUSKA, who enters on a five-race win streak and figures to be one of the day’s heaviest favorites. However, I’m against her in here. I think there’s a lot of other early speed signed on (specifically #7 HOROLOGIST and #8 SHEDARESTHEDEVIL), and I think the race shape could set up for a closer to come from out of the clouds.

With that in mind, I prefer #2 ROYAL FLAG on top. She exits a very nice win in the Beldame at Belmont, where she won by more than four lengths despite a pretty slow early pace. She’s shown an ability to rally from well back in races without much early zip. Given the likelihood of some fast fractions, I think her chances go way up, and 8-1 hits me as an overlay.

Of the front-running types, I prefer #8 SHEDARESTHEDEVIL, who beat Letruska earlier this year and has shown she doesn’t necessarily need the lead in order to run well. Given how fast they’ll probably be going, that could prove valuable.

RACE #11: I could wind up having plenty of fun in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. #13 TARNAWA is logical and hasn’t run a bad race in more than two years. She could win this for the second year in a row, but there’s another runner I like at a significantly bigger price.

Toss the Arc de Triomphe, and doesn’t the form of #8 BROOME look a lot better? He’s run plenty of races at this distance that would be good enough to win, and I love the presence of Frankie Dettori, whose record in this race is excellent. The same can be said of trainer Aidan O’Brien, who has won this race six times. At his likely price, Broome is a must-use, and he’d be a day-maker for me.

RACE #12: We’ll finish, of course, with the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I can’t go too in-depth on this, as I’ll have a longer, race-specific writeup available on Oddschecker US. However, I think #5 KNICKS GO will be very tough to beat, and you can head over there for my reasoning and betting strategy.

2021 BREEDERS’ CUP: Day One Handicapping Analysis (11/5/21)

This week’s “Champagne and J.D.,” filmed before news broke about Jack Christopher scratching out of the Juvenile.

It’s Breeders’ Cup time, and I’m going to do things a little bit differently this year. In the past, I’ve written walls of text on every race. This year, I’m going to follow my own advice about being smarter with time and money management.

I’ll still take looks at every race, but I’ll expound far more on ones where I have strong opinions. Friday’s card, for my money, is far more intriguing than Saturday’s, and I’m looking forward to getting things rolling and hopefully setting us up for more success over the weekend. Let’s dive in, shall we?

RACE #1: We’re bringing some firepower right off the bat. #4 TRIPLE TAP is American Pharoah’s younger half-brother, and he’s been on the sidelines since an impressive first-out score in March at Santa Anita. He’s been working very well, and I think he’s well-meant, but I also think the likely race shape may be kind to others. There’s a lot of other speed in this event, and as a result, I’d advise you to use two closers in your exotics tickets.

#2 I’LL STAND TALLER has rounded into form for Doug O’Neill. He’s won two of his last three starts, and the race shape in his most recent effort didn’t set up for a closer. He’s a Cal-bred stepping up into open company, but his connections saw fit to run him in two stakes races earlier this year, and perhaps he’s just getting better as he gets older.

I’ll also get a little crazy and include #8 EL DIABLO ROJO, whose record looks far better if you toss the turf races. I’m not entirely sure why he’s been running on it, since it’s clear he’s better on dirt, and he has back form from early-2021 that would make him dangerous at a price.

RACE #2: I don’t find the Qatar Golden Mile nearly as appealing. Likely favorite #8 READY TO PURRFORM looms large off of an impressive win in a similar spot at Laurel, and the most appealing alternative will be the likely second choice, #3 DEGREE OF RISK. That one exits a decent third in the Grade 1 Summer at Woodbine and adds both blinkers and Flavien Prat.

RACE #3: One of my strongest opinions of the undercard is here, in the Golden State Juvenile Fillies. It looks like a fantastic betting race if you have one of those, and I like a runner enough to single her in multi-race exotics.

#9 VIVACIOUS VANESSA ran exceptionally well in her debut. Gary Mandella’s first-time starters aren’t usually fully-cranked, and going two turns at first asking isn’t easy to do. However, she broke slowly, uncorked a big rally, and won going away. The fast pace did help her that day, but that’s not the kind of effort that can simply be chalked up to a race falling apart.

Vivacious Vanessa goes turf to dirt here, and the dirt works tell me she’ll take to the new surface just fine. I think there’s plenty of pace signed on to set up for the way she wants to run, and if she wins, it’ll provide a nice stake for the rest of the weekend.

RACE #4: The Ken Maddy is a grass grab bag with a 10-horse field, and many of these fillies and mares have shown plenty of talent. #8 SUPERSTITION loves Del Mar and doesn’t need the lead, which are both good things. She’s not a bad favorite, but she also doesn’t tower over this group, and I think there are two others worthy of consideration.

#1 HEAR MY PRAYER is probably my other “A horse” in multi-race exotics. She’s run just once since February, but that was a winning effort at this route, and she’s been training lights-out at Santa Anita ahead of this event. Given the layoff lines, it’s safe to assume she’s had her issues, but when she’s right, she’s very fast.

I’ll also have some saver tickets with #5 TIME LIMIT, who gets a significant class test but hasn’t run a poor race on turf. She’s got plenty of early zip, but showed she can rate a bit in two wins at Saratoga. One of those wins was over a very good turf sprinter named Risky Mischief, who’s run some fast races and wouldn’t have been out-of-place in this race. Irad Ortiz, Jr., sees fit to ride for Mike Maker, and we’ll likely be assured a square price on a very nice horse.

RACE #5: The brother race to the third event of the day, the Golden State Juvenile for 2-year-old colts has drawn another big field. I do have a lean here, and while it’s not strong enough to single the horse on all tickets, it’s probably a “lone A” situation.

#11 SLOW DOWN ANDY won his debut like a very good horse. He cruised home clear by nearly five lengths, and that day’s runner-up (#10 MOOSE MITCHELL) came right back to win at next asking. Doug O’Neill’s first-time starters aren’t always fully-cranked, but when this barn gets horses on the right track, they tend to stay there. I don’t know if we’ll get 5-1, but I also don’t think he’ll be favored, so we should get a little bit of value.

If Slow Down Andy doesn’t win, I’m not quite sure who does. #1 JOKER BOY will likely be favored, but I just don’t think he beat much in his two wins earlier this year. The bigger price that intrigues me is #4 BILLY’S BET, who led at every call in a five-furlong turf sprint and gets a big class test for a small barn. For a 2-year-old sprint, there isn’t a metric ton of early speed signed on, so maybe he’ll get comfortable and give the field something to think about turning for home.

RACE #6: And now we punch the accelerator, because this is the first Breeders’ Cup race of the day. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint has attracted plenty of speedy, precocious 2-year-olds that will go five furlongs. Traditionally in these races, speed is king, but there’s so much of it signed on that I need to back a closer, and there’s one in here I really like.

#7 ARMOR had nowhere to go most of the way last time out in a Group 1. Still, once he finally got a seam, he finished very nicely and was beaten less than a length by multiple Group 1 winner Perfect Power. Perfect Power would almost certainly be favored in this spot had he shipped over, so it’s tough to see a narrow loss to that rival as a bad thing.

Between his back class and the likely race shape, I think there’s a ton to like here. I don’t think we’ll get the 6-1 morning line, but 9/2 and up would hit me as a pretty fair value. If you’re looking for a closer at an even bigger price, #11 DERRYNANE’s two-back clunker over a boggy turf course is a total throw-out. Her score at Woodbine was excellent, and while the post is awful, she’s got enough talent to where I’ll still be alive on a few tickets if she pops at a price. Having said that, Armor is the heavier lean.

RACE #7: It stinks that the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies only drew six horses. Having said that, it’s headed by the flashy #6 ECHO ZULU, who’s 3-for-3 and has never been truly tested.

On one hand, I’m not crazy about betting a horse, as the favorite, doing something it’s never done before (hi, Harvey Pack!). On the other, she’s bred up and down to get better as the distances get longer. She’s by Gun Runner, out of a Menifee mare, and sure looks like the controlling speed. This race won’t get much of my money, as I think the favorite is legitimate and the field size is too short for vertical exotics to pay much.

RACE #8: I’ve got a play here in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. I don’t think there’s much in the way of early speed signed on, and I think a filly stretching out in distance for a top-class barn will sit an ideal trip.

#5 BUBBLE ROCK broke her maiden like a very good horse two starts ago at Saratoga. She finished powerfully, which is no shock since she’s bred to go much longer than that 5 1/2-furlong route. She’s since added a win in the Matron, and while that was more workmanlike than I anticipated, I think it’s entirely possible she just bounced off of her big performance prior to that. She’s shown sprinter speed, and she’s bred to go two turns. Her second dam is a multiple stakes-winner going two turns, and her dam is a half to Blue Chipper, who ran third in the Dirt Mile a few years ago.

Maybe Bubble Rock turns out to just be a sprinter, or maybe she peaked too early in the season. However, at her 8-1 morning line price, I’ll absolutely pay to find out. She’ll be a “separator single” for me on at least a few of my tickets, and while I respect the likes of #11 HAUGHTY and #13 MISE EN SCENE, Bubble Rock would be a day-maker if she runs like I think she can.

RACE #9: I was looking forward to this race a lot more before the scratch of #1 JACK CHRISTOPHER. I didn’t like him, I thought he was a beatable favorite, and I thought his presence would help set things up for a closer.

Now that he’s out, I don’t know what to think. Bob Baffert has three runners in here, including #12 CORNICHE, who will likely assume the favorite’s role. I actually think #9 PINEHURST has some appeal given his two-turn pedigree and a recent stretch of excellent workouts, but he hasn’t yet shown that he can rate.

I’ll use both of those as well as a pair of runners from the Todd Pletcher barn. #10 COMMANDPERFORMANCE sure seems like a wise guy horse, given how many people on horse racing Twitter seem to love him, but there’s no doubt he made up a lot of ground in the Champagne. I’m also intrigued by #5 DOUBLE THUNDER, who’s bred to run all day and has been taking steps forward with each start. These two would benefit from a pace meltdown, as well as a scenario where the Baffert runners just aren’t that special.

RACE #10: In my opinion, they saved the most puzzling Breeders’ Cup race for last. The Juvenile Turf features several well-meant runners from Europe, and those would be my two “A horses,” but there are two Americans that intrigue me a bit, too.

Charles Appleby has a very powerful hand here. He trains #1 MODERN GAMES and #2 ALBAHR, and they’ve combined to win seven of 10 races with just one off-the-board finish (Modern Games was fifth in his debut). Neither would surprise me, though I’d probably give the slight edge to Modern Games, whose Group 3 win at Newmarket last time out was excellent.

Of the Americans, I prefer #4 TIZ THE BOMB, who has won three straight and has shown some versatility in his two recent stakes wins. I wouldn’t be shocked if he was fairly close to a soft pace, which might be set by the other horse I have my eye on, #10 PORTFOLIO COMPANY. I’m not crazy about him having set a very slow pace last time and still getting beat, but I think he’ll be the controlling early speed in here, and the presence of Flavien Prat is encouraging.

For Norm Macdonald

Earlier this month, I went to a wedding and saw a bunch of people I hadn’t seen for 3 1/2 years. When I lived in Los Angeles, I was a regular at Tompkins Square, an old-school bar near Loyola Marymount with a weekly trivia night (for a brief time, it was two, until your fearless scribe killed the sports game by winning enough that nobody else showed up). I started going with a friend who got married in Mammoth Lakes a few weeks ago, and in turn made several new friends I hadn’t seen since moving to Northern California in early-2018.

That intro had a purpose, trust me. Also at those trivia nights, sitting in a corner booth with a small circle of friends and fellow trivia competitors, was Norm Macdonald. LA is full of random celebrity sightings, so seeing the former “Weekend Update” host indulging an urge for friendly competition wasn’t anything too unusual.

What WAS unusual was how accessible he was, to everyone. He’d hang around after the games and chat with anyone about anything. He wasn’t the former SNL cast member, or the guy who headlined stand-up shows everywhere in the world. He was just Norm.

We had a few really good conversations, especially once he realized I worked in horse racing. One of the first things he brought up was the story of Sylvester Carmouche, who famously hid in the fog at Delta Downs and came out of it a city block clear of the rest of the field. It was funny, and our conversation was interrupted a few times by cheers at the nearby television. There was an NBA game going on, and he had the “over.”

“Norm’s a great guy who’s very approachable and has a significant gambling itch,” I’d tell friends and family members. “In other words, he’s my kind of human being.”

Well, he was. Norm passed away Tuesday morning after a nine-year battle with cancer very few people knew about.

I’m not going to pretend we were super close. We saw each other once a week for about two and a half years. After I moved, we still followed each other on Twitter and we exchanged direct messages a few times. We briefly talked about working on a book together, and while I’m not sure Norm was totally serious, it sure made my day when he brought it up.

Time passes way too fast. Many of my friends from Tompkins Square moved to Alaska. The bar closed not long after I moved, the longtime trivia host passed away in early-2020, and other than a few very brief trips (most recently for a funeral in late-2018), I haven’t been back to Los Angeles.

I didn’t see Norm in-person between when I moved and when he died. I certainly never knew he was sick.

A lot of people have their memories of Norm as a comedian, and for good reason. Much of his stuff stands the test of time, including his recent work for Netflix (which, as we now know, came when he was fighting a secret battle with cancer). This tribute wouldn’t be complete without a video of my favorite bit of his, so here you go.

All of that being said, though, I won’t remember Norm, the comedian. I’ll remember Norm, the person, who was incredibly kind to many people when he didn’t have to be.

I remember one night after trivia, everyone congregated by the bar. Someone walked up to Norm and asked if he wanted to play golf that Friday at Westchester, a golf course just down the road. Norm paused, and looked genuinely downtrodden as he responded.

“I don’t think I can,” he said. “I think I’m in New York with Sandler.”

Norm Macdonald was a kind, gentle, decent man, and the world’s a lesser place without him in it. Some trivia bar in the sky somewhere, though, got itself a heck of a competitor and someone who’ll hang around to watch whatever game is on the big screen.

Rest in peace, Norm. We’ll miss you.

A Different Kind of Recap

“Writing is easy. Just sit in front of a typewriter, open up a vein, and bleed it out drop by drop.”

Red Smith, one of the best writers of all-time, said that, and anyone who’s ever tried to put their thoughts into prose can relate. It’s in that spirit that I’m sitting down to write this and feeling equal parts pride and exhaustion.

I’m going to do something I don’t do often. There’s no shtick here. There’s no over-the-top, wannabe-pro-wrestling-manager delivery with a message that flies over the heads of two-thirds of my audience but hits the other third right between the eyes (often with words they don’t want to hear). This is me, as stripped-down as I can possibly present myself, explaining the mental construction of my brain for two months of the year, why certain numbers matter to me that couldn’t matter less to a lot of people, and what my next steps are.

You might’ve seen it or heard about it by now, but I had a really good summer at Saratoga. With 142 top-pick winners, I led The Pink Sheet for the third consecutive season (and fifth overall), and that total paced all members of the media who picked every race, every day, for a variety of different outlets available to the public. If you think that’s an easy job, you’re incredibly ignorant. The people who do this are sharp, dedicated to the game, and enjoy informing and educating the public, and every man and woman in this group has my eternal respect.

If you were on Twitter Monday night, what you saw was me comparing myself and a few friends/family members to Ric Flair and his entourage. I can be a little twisted, and rest assured, living with the way my mind works is a heck of a cross to bear sometimes.

Here’s what you didn’t see: After Ocean Air and Don’t Wait Up won the sixth and seventh races of the day and clinched the all-media title for me, I excused myself from a Labor Day party at my girlfriend’s house, went into the bathroom, locked the door, and cried my eyes out.

That probably sounds crazy to some of you. I don’t blame you for thinking that, and contrary to what some may think, I’m not writing this to change anyone’s perception of me. The Champagne family curse is that, no matter what, we can’t be invisible, and people cannot have neutral opinions of us. I’ve found ways to live with it, and I can sleep at night knowing those who have taken the time to get to know me know who I am and (mostly) seem to like me. What this will do, however, is peel back the onion in a way I’ve never done before. At a minimum, I hope it pays an appropriate amount of respect to a few things I’ve dealt with this summer.

I grew up in upstate New York going to Saratoga with my family. I’m not in New York anymore, and I don’t see my family nearly enough. That’s why I took a spur-of-the-moment, cross-country trip last month that involved more time on planes and in cars than time spent doing meaningful things.

I worked for The Saratogian as a full-timer for a year and a half, and was part of a packed press box during the 2012 and 2013 summer meets. The press box now looks like Thanos snapped his fingers and wiped out half the population. When I made my appearance at Saratoga, I didn’t even bother going up there.

I wanted nothing more than to be part of the horse racing industry, and for six years, I did a lot of great full-time work for some of the most recognizable brands in the business. I’ve been out of it for three years, ever since my position at The Daily Racing Form was shifted to part-time as a money move three days after I worked 36 hours over Labor Day weekend.

I’ve busted my butt freelancing for several outlets, and I’ve done work I’m incredibly proud of (including for DRF, the source of several relationships I greatly value). Much of the industry, however, has put me in a pool with other incredibly passionate people that it keeps at an arm’s length.

My full-time job is as a Communications and Marketing Manager for SHELTER, Inc., a non-profit in Northern California’s Bay Area. I enjoy what I do, but after putting in eight hours a day, the thing I most looked forward to other than spending time with my girlfriend was going home, handicapping, writing up cards, and going on podcasts/shows to talk about what I saw and how I planned to attack the racing programs in question.

If you saw me use the hashtag #OutWorkEveryone this summer and thought it was a total ego trip, you were wrong. I spent 40 hours a week getting the word out about how my agency is battling the homelessness problem in Contra Costa, Solano, and Sacramento counties, and then went home and, on average, produced between 10,000 and 12,000 written words per week for The Pink Sheet, TwinSpires Sportsbook, and Oddschecker US. In addition, I co-host my own YouTube show, am a weekly guest on Gino Buccola’s podcast, produce several weekly video hits for DRF, and was a featured guest at seminars held at this summer’s Pleasanton meet, which shared a weekend with Saratoga in July.

I’m not in an office at a racetrack, or in a casino somewhere mooching free wi-fi. I’m a guy with a “normal” job that, two months out of the year, has as abnormal a job as possible on top of it. It isn’t because I need the money, it’s not because I crave attention, and it’s not even because of the competition that comes with doing what I do.

It’s because I love Saratoga, I love horse racing, I love turf writing, and I long for the days where EVERYONE took it as seriously as I do.

I sat behind Paul Moran and John Pricci, and next to Tom Amello and Mike Veitch, in 2012 and 2013. This was a summer after I worked for the Clancy brothers at The Saratoga Special, and those three summers gave me as good of an education as I could’ve hoped for. The stories I heard about packed press boxes and every writer/handicapper actively competing with one another for the best stories and handicapping records inspired me and lined up with how I’d approach days at the races as a kid. I’d tear out pages from The Daily News and The New York Post, grab whatever papers were available for free on the way in, and soak up as much as I could.

Russ Harris was the dean of New York handicappers, and the stuff he did allowed mine to exist. The Battle of Saratoga in The Daily News was required reading, for aspiring turf writers and handicappers alike, and I pay homage to that with The Pink Sheet’s daily bankroll blurb. 

The people who created that content are mostly gone now. They’ve either passed away, retired, or moved to freelance work. Paul Moran passed following the 2013 meet, John Pricci’s in Florida, and the Daily News and Post both eliminated most of their racing staffs in similar cost-cutting moves. Nick Kling, my Pink Sheet predecessor, retired after a stellar career a few years ago, and Harris passed in 2016. I’ll spend the rest of my career (or however long The Pink Sheet will have me) chasing the success rates they had.

It’s easy to take what you see on social media and extrapolate that into an image that isn’t the real McCoy. I sometimes do myself no favors in this regard, and I’ll be the first to admit it. Between several stories involving major entities within the game, and the fact that nobody is doing the sort of thing I’m doing the way I’m doing it, it sometimes feels like a “one vs. all” situation, and there are times that bites me in the butt. That was the case a few weeks ago when trainer Chad Brown took exception to a tweet of mine. I didn’t say what he thought I said, but I understood why he thought I said it (I sent his barn doughnuts a few days later, along with a note I hope he read, and I’m going to call us even).

Chad’s response didn’t bother me. What hit me hard was the fact that people automatically assumed I said something I didn’t say and believed things I didn’t believe. That’s a byproduct of the age we’re in, and my body of work, skill as a writer/horseplayer, and history of turning my passion into final products didn’t matter one bit.

This is who I am: I’m the guy who works a 9-to-5 shift, goes home, eats dinner, and is up until after midnight working a day in advance so his editor doesn’t have to worry about a dude who left the paper eight years ago to live three timezones away blowing a deadline. I’m the guy that isn’t supposed to be a big deal in the business, and one who, 10 months out of the year, generally isn’t. However, I’m also someone who drove nearly 22,000 hits to the little-promoted website you’re on right now with daily content that had the highest strike rate of anyone actively handicapping Saratoga and giving information out in this way.

I don’t do what I do for points or political capital within the industry. If something hits me as broken, I’ll say it and I’ll say it in ways everyone can hopefully understand. I’m probably never going to be a simulcast host, or someone trusted by a major circuit to convey points on television and drive fan interest and betting money. I’ll never shut the door on that sort of opportunity, and I firmly believe I’d excel in that capacity, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that the call’s probably never coming.

There aren’t many people in racing like me. Some people think that’s a great thing, and those are the people my success ticks off. A bunch more, though, see past the gimmicky, sarcastic exterior and have said very positive things about the breadth and depth of my work, and that’s always something I’ll greatly appreciate. If you like what I do, know that I deeply value your support. When I thanked readers in my final bankroll blurb of the season, I meant every word. If even one person is enjoying my stuff like I enjoyed the work of Russ Harris and the Battle of Saratoga crew, that’s a win.

Now that Labor Day is over, though, we’re in the 10-month period where, to many, I’m just another guy who knows how to read a form. I’ll still be around, hosting my show and helping anyone who’ll have me, not because I’m some attention hound or someone who needs a spotlight, but because I want the industry to be at its best and I want to produce content that helps it get there.

My mind works in unconventional ways. With how much I work and how much of myself goes into each product, you bet I’ll celebrate when great things happen. If you think I’m an arrogant showoff, that’s your right, but it’s my right to tell you how hard I work and how much passion goes into what you see in articles, podcasts, and shows. Without that passion, I’m useless, so that’s a trade-off I’ll take 100 times out of 100.

142 winners is a big part of the story. However, it’s nowhere close to the full story…and THAT is called foreshadowing, kids.

Stay tuned.

SARATOGA RACE COURSE: Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll (9/6/21; CLOSING DAY)

BANKROLL

BANKROLL: $1,204.60

It’s closing day, and that means it’s time for me to thank a bunch of people. First of all, thanks to everyone at The Saratogian for once again allowing me to contribute to The Pink Sheet. Special kudos go out to Joe Boyle, one of the hardest-working folks in sports journalism. He’s editing multiple sports sections, and if you think that sounds easy, try it sometime.

In addition, the New York Racing Association deserves credit for putting forth another spectacular Saratoga meet. I’m hard on them when it’s merited, but Saratoga is Saratoga for a reason, and the work that gets put into each summer meet isn’t unnoticed. On a similar note, the “Saratoga Live” crew deserves a ton of credit. The on-air and production teams put together a product that’s second to none and brings the Spa into living rooms as effectively as possible.

Finally, of course, I’d like to thank you, the reader. Whether you’ve read my stuff in print or on my website every day, know that I appreciate your time and attention and that your support is as big a factor as any in why I continue to do this. It’s been a really fun summer to this point, and I’m hoping we’ve still got some tickets left to cash!

SUNDAY’S RESULTS: My ninth-race exacta box fizzled, and while I hit the double ending there, it wasn’t enough to offset the total investment. I dropped $13.20.

MONDAY’S PLAY: There’s one I really like in the sixth, and that’s where I’ll focus my action (which is sizable since I can play a significant sum and be guaranteed a profit on the meet). #6 OCEAN AIR drops into the claiming ranks after running well against starter allowance foes several times, and 3-1 hits me as an overlay. I’ll start with a $50 win bet on her, and I’ll add $10 exactas with her on top of #3 ENTWINE, #7 PRINCESS PINKY, and #11 PERHAPS TONIGHT and $5 exactas with those runners atop Ocean Air.

TOTAL WAGERED: $95

ANALYSIS/SELECTIONS

Best Bet: Ocean Air, Race 6
Longshot: Ghost Giant, Race 11

R1

Equal Pay
Someday Maybe
I’m Perfect Too

#1 EQUAL PAY: Gets one more shot after a strange beginning to her career. She unseated Irad Ortiz, Jr., in her debut, then abruptly dropped anchor in the mud last time out. She’s still flashed talent in the mornings, though, and if she’s right, I think she’ll have a chance to put it all together; #7 SOMEDAY MAYBE: Debuts for Bill Mott, who’s finishing the meet with a flourish, and she’s been working well downstate. The outside draw should help her, and the way she’s been working, I don’t think the seven-furlong distance will be an issue; #4 I’M PERFECT TOO: Came flying late to be beaten just a half-length in her debut earlier this summer. This barn’s first-time starters aren’t usually fully-cranked, so her rally was noteworthy, but this seems like a stronger group that may require a step forward.

R2

Belarus
Caragate
Call Sign Charlie

#4 BELARUS: Debuts for Horacio DePaz, who has done well with first-time starters and found the winner’s circle several times this meet with a small string. This daughter of Sky Mesa has been working well, and the presence of John Velazquez doesn’t hurt, either; #6 CARAGATE: Ran third in her debut going six furlongs despite a pedigree that says she’ll want to go way longer. I’m a bit surprised she runs back going short, but the most recent four-furlong drill indicates she’s moved forward since her unveiling; #7 CALL SIGN CHARLIE: Is set to make her first start for trainer Jorge Abreu, whose first-out numbers are as strong as those of any barn on the circuit. She sold for just $20,000 as a weanling, but she’s worked well and may be ready to run at first asking.

R3

En Wye Cee
L’Imperator
Tell Your Daddy

#2 EN WYE CEE: Didn’t have a great trip in his return off a long layoff, when he salvaged third despite racing in tight quarters late. He’s shown plenty of versatility, should improve second off the bench, and attracts leading rider Luis Saez in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch; #3 L’IMPERATOR: Won the race my top pick exits and certainly has a shot in here. He also returned from a very long layoff that day and didn’t have a perfect journey, but he did have room to roll late while my top pick was stymied; #1 TELL YOUR DADDY: Hasn’t won in a long, long time, but he sure looks like the main speed and draws the rail for Tom Morley and Johnny V. He ran a good second in the Lure last time out behind Flavius, and he should have every chance to lead them a long way.

R4

Frills
My Roxy Girl
No Deal

#6 FRILLS: Is a tepid top pick in an event that looks extremely wide-open. She did everything but win last time out, when she set scorching fractions for the level and was beaten just a half-length. I think she’s the speed of the speed here, and Linda Rice does excellent work with horses first off the claim; #2 MY ROXY GIRL: Comes back into the claiming ranks after two starts against state-bred optional foes, and the last time she ran at this level, she won. I don’t love that she’s 1-for-10 at Saratoga, but she’s shown an ability to run well from just off the pace, which may help her; #3 NO DEAL: Was freshened up after being claimed by Wayne Potts in January and enters this one without a claiming tag, as the barn utilizes a rule that allows for one free shot first off the bench. I love that move, as I think it’s a sign they don’t want to lose the horse, and she’s got races from 2020 that show she can be competitive here.

R5

American Law
Abaan
Realm of Law

#8 AMERICAN LAW: Was strangely taken back in his turf debut, where he still ran second despite rating a bit off of a slow early pace. I think he’ll be a bit sharper in this event, and if Luis Saez boots him to the front out of the gate, I don’t think he’ll have much company; #4 ABAAN: Was a close-up second in his turf debut against maiden claiming company, and I think it’s telling he’s coming back in a race where he can’t get claimed. If there’s hesitation here, it’s because Saez saw fit to hop off, but we do get the Pletcher/Velazquez tag team; #6 REALM OF LAW: Has burned a lot of money in his four-start career, having failed as the chalk in all four opportunities. He may have been compromised by the race shape last time, but he’ll face a similar one today, and at his likely price, I cannot endorse him on top.

R6

Ocean Air
Hollywood Gina (MTO)
Entwine

#6 OCEAN AIR: Drops into the claiming ranks after collecting three checks in as many starts against starter allowance fields that seemed far, far tougher. She won her lone claiming race to date, and I think she’ll find these shallower waters to her liking; #3 ENTWINE: Merits a long look at a big price going back to the turf. Her races on grass haven’t been bad, and her last two outings have come in races that were moved to main tracks she clearly didn’t prefer. A return to her early-2021 form gives her a shot; #8 LINNY KATE: Drops in for Chad Brown and will likely take plenty of money because of that. However, she’s spent a lot of time down at Monmouth and hasn’t won since February of 2020. It’s entirely possible she capitalizes on the drop in class, but this is another instance where I simply cannot back the morning-line favorite at the likely price.

R7

Don’t Wait Up
Drakon
Torpedo Run

#4 DON’T WAIT UP: Got beaten by a dirty nose in his debut last month, and he runs for a trainer whose horses tend to improve with experience. His lone work since that effort was sharp, and any sort of improvement from his first-out form would make him a handful; #6 DRAKON: Hammered for $200,000 in April and sports several flashy gate drills ahead of his unveiling. His dam is a half to a multiple stakes winner, and it wouldn’t be shocking if Brad Cox has him ready to run on debut; #9 TORPEDO RUN: Sold for $450,000 earlier this season, and offspring of young sire Gun Runner have done very well to this point. John Kimmel is no first-out juggernaut, but the improving work pattern is encouraging and 12-1 hits me as a considerable overlay.

R8

Silvery Rill
Consumer Spending
Dancin Dee

#7 SILVERY RILL: Exits a maiden race that hit me as extremely live, and she was beaten just a head that day. She was set to come back in the P.G. Johnson, but that race was rained off the turf, and this spot, while no cakewalk, seems considerably softer; #2 CONSUMER SPENDING: Ran second behind talented stablemate McKulick in her debut, and she rallied from last to complete the exacta in that spot. She merits plenty of respect, and it wouldn’t be surprising if she’s set to take a step forward for Brown; #3 DANCIN DEE: Was one-paced in her debut, where she ran fourth in the same race my top pick exits. As I’ve mentioned, I think that was a very tough spot, and if I love the runner-up, surely I need to respect another horse that wasn’t beaten by much that day.

R9

Honey Money
Awesome Debate
Betsy Blue

#8 HONEY MONEY: Has run one bad race since being claimed by Wayne Potts, and that came over a muddy track she clearly didn’t care for. She was a good second last time out despite a stumble at the start, and a cleaner journey would give her a big chance in a wide-open event; #6 AWESOME DEBATE: Drew off to win the Union Avenue by more than four lengths earlier this summer. Perhaps she’s a bit better over wet racetracks, but at 6-for-13 over fast surfaces, it’s not like she’s a slouch in those circumstances, either; #7 BETSY BLUE: Has hit the board in all eight of her career outings, including three earlier this meet. She’s shown an ability to sit off the pace and pounce turning for home, and she may have a say in the outcome if she gets that desired trip.

R10

High Oak
Wit
Defend

#8 HIGH OAK: Won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special over a pretty nice field and earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure. He’s shown he doesn’t need the lead in order to run well, and it’s uncommon for a 2-year-old to show that kind of maturity at such an early stage; #6 WIT: Stormed away to win the Grade 3 Sanford in the opening days of the meet and is certainly a deserving favorite. He’s worked well since that effort and has every right to run his record to 3-for-3, but I was just more impressed by the opponents my top pick beat last time out; #2 DEFEND: Zipped home clear by eight lengths at Delaware Park in his unveiling and gets the riding services of leading jockey Luis Saez here. This is a huge class test, to be sure, but he’s fired nothing but bullets this month and has every right to be a very talented horse.

R11

Air Show (MTO)
Ghost Giant
Klickitat

#4 GHOST GIANT: Has been very popular at the claim box this season and will start for his fourth different trainer in 2021 here. He was third last time out at Belmont over yielding going, but I loved his two-back effort and I think he’ll have a big chance at a square price if he can recapture that form; #12 KLICKITAT: Has recorded two of his three career wins over this turf course and may be well-meant enough to overcome a far outside draw. He’s got plenty of early speed, and he may be able to clear many of his rivals going into the first turn; #6 COLD HARD CASH: Has found a new home on the turf of late and was a close-up third beaten just a neck last time out. Two back, though, this Linda Rice trainee got into the winner’s circle, and this barn has sent out a bunch of live runners this season.

R12

New York Supreme
Norman Queen
Orma

#6 NEW YORK SUPREME: Has been competitive twice at this level this summer and looms a major threat in the final race of the meet. She was third behind a next-out winner two back before compromising her chances with a very wide run last time out. Smoother sailing could be all she needs to break her maiden; #5 NORMAN QUEEN: Debuts for Wesley Ward in a turf sprint, which automatically prompts many handicappers to take a second look. Her last two workouts appear very fast, and while this pedigree doesn’t exactly scream turf, she may simply be faster than a less-than-inspiring group; #10 ORMA: Was third last time out in the race my top pick exits, and she’s another that didn’t have a clean journey that day. Saez sees fit to ride back, and he’s certainly talented enough to find ways to save some ground from the outside post.