Introducing The Redboard Report: right about the races after they've been run
The title of this series of blog posts is intentionally tongue-in-cheek. While I will indeed partake in that frowned-upon practice of explaining why horses that I did not pick beforehand won, should have won, or just ran well, my purpose is not to impress under false pretenses. Rather, my aim is to encourage us all to put as much effort into handicapping a race after it has been run as we had prior to placing our bets. Such reflexive handicapping will not only help you better assess races in the future, but it can also save you quite a bit of aggravation in the heat of the moment.
I often feel overwhelmed by the general lack of ownership from fellow horseplayers in the immediate aftermath of races. Whether the blame has been placed on the trainer, the jockey, or those all-powerful racing gods—someone or something was conspiring against them, someone else’s error or incompetence was responsible for their defeat. In the typical sea of post-race exclamations and kneejerk reactions, there are three words that you rarely hear:
“I was wrong.”
It should not be that hard to say, especially if your aim is to win in the future when the same horses run back, or when a similar race is carded. Sometimes—more accurately, oftentimes—we are indeed wrong, and it only helps us in the long run to realize and admit it as soon as we are able.
After one of my selections loses, there are two questions that I routinely ask myself:
Was I wrong?
Why was I wrong?
While on occasion we may have trouble getting past the first question, the second one is typically the more difficult to answer. Therefore, these are precisely the questions that I will attempt to resolve in this series of posts.
Here’s the Redboard Report rundown:
Each week I will choose a recent race in which I had put forth a losing opinion. I will then look back at how I had arrived at that opinion, assess how the race was run, and revisit the past performances to make sense of the results. Through this process, we will be able to see more clearly if there is a lesson to be learned, or some knowledge that we can apply next time a similar situation presents itself.
I focus primarily on the NYRA circuit, so let’s begin with one of the most discussed races run at Aqueduct last week.
February 11, Race 7 at Aqueduct (click for Brisnet.com Ultimate PPs of the race)
This was a conditioned allowance race for New York-bred fillies and mares going a mile. It presented trip handicappers such as myself with a unique opportunity, in which five of the six runners were exiting the same race, the Bay Ridge run on New Year’s Eve.
After assessing each runners’ form and rewatching the Bay Ridge several times, I came to the conclusion that Miss Da Point, despite finishing second, had put in an effort that was superior to her competitors’—including the winner, Storied Lady. While Storied Lady was wide in the Bay Ridge, she was allowed to comfortably rate a few lengths behind a strong pace while racing in the clear. Miss Da Point, meanwhile, was sent up three-wide to force that contested pace. Miss Da Point made a decisive move to take the lead at the head of the stretch, putting away the other two speeds, but the race fell apart in the late stages and Storied Lady was able to run her down past the eighth pole.
The other runners entered back here—Macha (3rd), Royal Suspicion (5th), and Hot Rendezvous (6th)—were along to pick up the pieces while never seriously threatening, having benefited from race dynamics to varying extents.
This time, the speed types that Miss Da Point had chased through the early stages of the Bay Ridge were not entered back, and the lone new shooter, Lady Gracenote, was a confirmed plodder. On paper, Miss Da Point projected to control the pace, and given the strength of her prior effort, I was confident in her chances to turn the tables on Storied Lady and win.
The Running of the Race
Miss Da Point was away from the gate about a half-length behind the other runners, which would not have been a significant disadvantage had her rider planned on sending her forward from that position. However, her jockey, apprentice Angel Cruz, was not interested in sending her to the lead, and instead allowed the horses that broke well, namely Storied Lady and an unusually sharp Royal Suspicion, to move clear of Miss Da Point into the clubhouse turn.
As Storied Lady and Royal Suspicion ran side-by-side at the head of the pack, Miss Da Point took up a position three-wide, just outside of Hot Rendezvous and race favorite Macha, ahead of only the late-running Lady Gracenote. The positions remained unchanged as the field moved onto the backstretch, with the leaders completing the opening quarter mile in a very slow 25.06 seconds.
With Miss Da Point relegated to midpack, Storied Lady figured to control this race on the front end. However, long shot Royal Suspicion, wearing blinkers for the first time in her 46th lifetime start, had broken very sharply and was able to keep pace with Storied Lady through a slow opening quarter mile. Seizing the opportunity, Royal Suspicion’s rider, Kendrick Carmouche, kept after his mount, never letting Storied Lady get more than a neck ahead.
Past the half-mile pole, Angel Cruz finally began to ask Miss Da Point for run, and she moved willingly into third place while continuing to race three-wide chasing the two leaders. Simultaneously, Kendrick Carmouche really began to get after Royal Suspicion in an attempt to put more pressure on Storied Lady and distance themselves from the rest of the pack. Angel Cruz and Miss Da Point were still moving forward, but had been forced to gain into the fastest part of the race while giving up ground due to their wide trip.
Storied Lady cut the corner, but Royal Suspicion, now being asked for her best by Carmouche, stuck right with her. Miss Da Point also came under a hard drive on the outside, but was suddenly struggling to get to the leaders, who had been afforded the benefit of conserving energy early in the race.
Ultimately Carmouche was rewarded for his aggression as Royal Suspicion, typically a closer, was able to use her finishing power to drive past Storied Lady and on to a one-length victory. Miss Da Point paid the price for her rider’s ill-conceived tactics, and faded late to finish third, a couple of lengths behind Storied Lady. Easily the longest shot in the field, Royal Suspicion paid $56.50 to win.
Was I wrong?
Yes. Regardless of who was actually best, there is no denying that my selection, Miss Da Point, did not run the race that I had expected her to run. Her rider did not take advantage of the favorable pace scenario that I had drawn up on paper, and Miss Da Point was not able to overcome that decision. I also did not foresee that the winner would show as much early speed as she did, or that her rider, Kendrick Carmouche, would capitalize on this by outriding the other five jockeys.
While I admit that I was wrong, I also acknowledge that Miss Da Point did not run a bad race, and may have actually won had Angel Cruz been more aggressive in the opening furlong. In racing three-wide all the way around the track, Miss Da Point covered 63 more feet than runner-up Storied Lady, and 26 more feet than the winner. Miss Da Point is a versatile mare and has proven herself capable of winning from almost any early position, but in this particular instance she would have been more effective had she been asked to go to the front out of the gate.
Why was I wrong?
I had a strong opinion about a horse that I trust, but put too much faith in her relatively inexperienced young jockey. NYRA horseplayers like myself are only just acquainting themselves with Angel Cruz, who is indeed a promising young rider, but one that still makes mistakes typical of apprentices. One major advantage of focusing on just one racing circuit is that you come to familiarize yourself with the traits of the individual jockeys, and thus are able to more accurately figure their tendencies into your pace projections. Yet during the winter months at Aqueduct we come across a greater number of apprentices and out-of-town jockeys, making it more difficult for horseplayers like myself to formulate accurate predictions about pace.
The Redboard: So how do you come up with a horse like Royal Suspicion?
One angle that could have reasonably pointed someone in Royal Suspicion’s direction was the fact that Kendrick Carmouche was back aboard her. He had piloted her to a win two races back, which is notable considering that this mare had previously shown an unwillingness to win races. In that effort at Parx, after making the lead past midstretch, Royal Suspicion pricked her ears and attempted to pull herself up as she is wont to do, but Carmouche strongly kept after her and she responded by holding her advantage. Moving forward to this race, he was aware of her tendencies, but knew that he could be aggressive with her as long as he did not allow her to pull herself up in the lane.
What can we learn?
When wagering on long shots, as I tend to do, it is necessary to perform your own cost-benefit analysis of each horse’s chances. One of the keys to being successful in the long run is allowing value to be your guide.
In my opinion, Royal Suspicion was the least likely winner of this race, but it is still worth asking: Was her price too high? At 27/1, she was nearly three times the price of the second longest shot in the race. Was she really that unlikely to win?
Perhaps not. However, it must be noted that this newly-blinkered Royal Suspicion was clearly not the same mare that had raced six weeks prior in the Bay Ridge, and certainly not the same runner that had racked up 16 runner-up placings to go along with her paltry 6 career wins. Horses can indeed change, but generally speaking, Royal Suspicion represents an exception to the rule. Relying on experienced older runners such as Royal Suspicion to change this drastically from one race to the next is not a winning strategy in the long-term.
David is a New Jersey-based handicapper with a strong focus on the New York Racing Association circuit. Follow him on Twitter @horsetowatch & access his daily thoughts at ThatsAHorseToWatch.com