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Homeracing

The Redboard Report: Native Hero Emigrates With My Money

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TwinSpires Staff

March 6th, 2015

by DAVID ARAGONA

See the initial Redboard Report for an overview of this series of post-race ruminations.

As horseplayers, we all have shared the painful experience of watching a horse that we had considered during the handicapping process, but ultimately chose not to bet, cross the finish line in front.

“I should have had it.”

I could not help but utter those words after watching the 7th race on Sunday, March 1, at Aqueduct (click for Brisnet.com Ultimate Past Performances).

MY OPINION

For handicappers, the most difficult decision to make was determining what to do with #8 Doc Daneka. After two failed attempts against maiden claiming company on the turf last fall, Doc Daneka resurfaced in February against a weak group of $25,000 maiden claimers going two turns on the inner track. He broke from the gate as if on a mission, opening up under his own power early and continuing to extend his lead thereafter, ultimately winning by over 21 lengths. It was a visually stunning performance, and his respectable final time (and gaudy 91 Brisnet.com Speed Rating) suggested that he was perhaps the horse to beat even in this tougher spot.

Yet in spite of that rousing victory, I came to the conclusion that, while Doc Daneka was certainly a win candidate, he was bound to encounter at least some adversity in this far more competitive race. Whether it would be in the form of early pace pressure or just another rival looking him in the eye, it seemed unlikely that Doc Daneka would saunter through the race totally unhampered, as he had in his maiden win. Therefore, I did not think it reasonable to expect him to repeat that score.

Instead, I decided to lend my support to S’maverlous, the lukewarm morning line favorite. He had run competitive speed ratings sprinting last winter, and had recently returned from an 11-month layoff to put in a decent, if unspectacular, effort at this level. His lone previous route try was admittedly poor, but I was willing to pardon the effort since he had not received a particularly heady ride and was on the sidelines for so long thereafter. From a pedigree standpoint, being by Tiz Wonderful, out of an A. P. Indy mare, S’maverlous was bred to relish two turns.

Beyond obvious contenders Doc Daneka and S’maverlous, the other main players were:

• Identity Crisis, who had been disqualified after winning a similar race last time.

• Inca Saint, who was coming off a couple of moderately troubled trips at this level, but had been soundly defeated by Identity Crisis.

• Zander Zone, who had finished behind Inca Saint last time and, as a fellow frontrunner, figured to be the biggest thorn in Doc Daneka’s side.

• Native Hero, a New York-bred with a touch of class who had most recently finished second in a sprint at this level, but had never raced around two turns.

THE RUNNING OF THE RACE

Zander Zone broke better than Doc Daneka, and entered the clubhouse turn with a slight lead. However, Doc Daneka soon ranged up outside under a niggling Jose Ortiz. Not wanting to get involved in a duel, Angel Cruz reined in Zander Zone, allowing Doc Daneka to go on and set his own pace. S’maverlous took up a rail position in behind Zander Zone, followed by Native Hero in midpack, who raced just ahead of the late-running duo of Identity Crisis and Inca Saint.

Doc Daneka set a very comfortable pace, getting the first quarter in 25 seconds flat, and a half in 49 2/5 seconds. Fringe player Laghubaar raced up to apply some pressure exiting the backstretch, and Native Hero, now advancing outside in the clear, followed that move. At this point Zander Zone, who evidently did not appreciate being ridden from off the pace, started to back up, as did S’maverlous, who apparently did not want to race around two turns after all.

Entering the stretch, even with the advantage of a relatively soft front-running trip, Doc Daneka did not have an adequate response to Laghubaar’s challenge and surrendered the lead. But Native Hero was now perched just off them, poised to pounce as they straightened away for the drive. Full of run, he quickly disposed of Laghubaar and drew off to a comfortable two-length win over the late-running Inca Saint.

As the order of finish was posted on the monitor, I looked back down at my past performances and felt a little sick to my stomach. Native Hero was paying a whopping $58.50 to win.

THE AFTERMATH

Was I wrong?

Yes. In getting caught up in my evaluation of Doc Daneka’s chances against proven runners like Identity Crisis and Inca Saint, I completely missed that Native Hero was dismissed as the longest shot on the board. To make matters worse, I picked a horse (S’maverlous) merely because he was a seemingly viable alternative to a horse that I had decided against supporting (Doc Daneka), and not because he offered value.

While I was indeed right about Doc Daneka regressing, handicapping a race is far more complicated than assessing the chances of just one horse. In focusing so much on this one aspect of the race, I prevented myself from entertaining other possibilities. I often preach that the key to success in this game is always allowing value to be your guide, and in my search for the right horse to beat Doc Daneka, I inadvertently missed out on an opportunity to capitalize on the inflated price of an outsider like Native Hero.

So was Native Hero really worth betting at 28/1?

It seemed possible that Native Hero might be an improving horse after he returned from his most recent layoff with a surprisingly strong effort in early December. Then three weeks later on December 28th, he never had a chance when forced to endure a four-wide trip while racing over an intensely rail-biased surface. One could basically draw a line through that race and, as would be expected, he was able to rebound with a decent runner-up effort in his most recent start while competing at this class level.

The major issue with Native Hero was the fact that he had never raced around two turns. Previously, the longest race had had contested was a one-turn seven-and-a-half furlong allowance, in which he finished second to a young Samraat. While not necessarily indicative that Native Hero would appreciate a true route, that effort should have been at least mildly encouraging to someone looking for a reason to endorse a long shot such as him. Even his pedigree could conceivably have gone either way. His dam was a pure sprinter, but his sire, Andromeda’s Hero, was second in the Belmont Stakes, and has been a modest source of stamina.

Native Hero absolutely had some questions to answer on this day, but given his proven class and the competitive speed figure he had earned just three races back, he was far from an impossible proposition. As I alluded to earlier, there were several possible winners of this race, among which Native Hero was by far the biggest price. I would have deemed fair odds on him to be around 15/1, and he ended up going off at nearly twice those odds.

But let’s be clear about this: You do not bet horses like Native Hero because you are certain they are going to win. Rather, if you pick your spots and bet enough long shots like Native Hero—overlays with outside chances—you will be rewarded in the long run. However, this approach is not for the faint of heart. It requires patience, sound reasoning, and an understanding that you are still going to lose far more often than you win.

David Aragona is a New Jersey-based handicapper with a focus on New York Racing Association tracks. Follow him on Twitter @HorseToWatch

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