Category Archives: Handicapping

Down The Stretch They Come

The RTIP, including me, with Mike Smith at the Symposium on Racing & Gaming. Phot0 by John Engelhardt

In two weeks, my great adventure out west will end with a 350 yard dash and a jubilant winner’s circle ceremony – Commencement!

I can’t believe it has been 2 years already!

I have completed my Race Track Industry Program courses, presented at the Symposium, consumed way too many cups of caramel-flavored coffee, cheered for cheap claimers at Rillito, banged on my apartment ceiling with a Swiffer handle to shut up (encourage?) my rowdy upstairs neighbors, lived in California, swam in the Pacific, survived a windstorm and an earthquake, baked 500 minicupcakes and met sooo many AWESOME people!

As for a career, I’m still looking, but I have several apps out, have had a few good interviews, and am waiting patiently for good news on a couple of options. I hope the next time I blog, I will have a great announcement to make, but until then, I’ll give you my KENTUCKY DERBY PRELIMINARY PICKS!!

As of today, I like these 5 horses, and they will be on all of my tickets:






I may add a longshot or two, like TWICE THE APPEAL (can’t ignore Bo-Rail), but these are my favorite 5 for the Run for the Roses!

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Filed under Brag sheet, career track, Handicapping, Kentucky Derby, Race Track Industry Program

This Blog is about Gambling – FINALLY

Da Boomer heads to the winner's circle after his victorious first career start!

Working at Del Mar has given me many opportunities for academic and personal growth and has also allowed my bankroll to grow, too!

Early on my cohorts decided I would be the one to make the picks for Team Intern wagering based on my encyclopedic knowledge of racing history & the horses currently on-track.  After all, I was the one going out to watch the morning workouts, right?  I *had* to know something.

After about 3 weeks I finally got it together to actually do some handicapping, and Team Intern bankroll was born — with $2 from each of us.  I did the most basic bet, an across-the-board on a favorite.  Favorite won, we doubled our initial investment.  I looked at the second race, made the exact same bet on a mid-priced horse, and we hit again!  Long story short, by the end of the day the B-52s were playing Love Shack in the infield and Team Intern’s earnings were bang-bang-bangin’ on the door of $55!

Each week I’ve also worked the Sunday Handicapping Contest booth with honorary Team Intern member, Caso.  (If you’ve been to Del Mar this season, he’s the dude who looks like a secret service agent in the crisp white shirt & shades.)  I’ve tried to pick up some tips from the players, who all have systems and hints for making the best bets for the contest.  (I’ve also had a mini-heart attack each week when I cash out the bank because someone thought it would be a good idea for me to be responsible for the money.)   It’s a really cool contest (and I’m not just sayin’ that ‘cuz they pay me) and easy to play: $20 entry fee, $50 live bankroll, pick a single horse in 5 Del Mar races & bet it $5 to win/$5 to place. Biggest bankroll after the last race wins $1000.  It’s so easy I could do it (& I would have won it the day we made $55!) .

The best thing is going to the infield and hearing the folks out there talk about wagering strategy.  Saturday, before Weezer rocked the place’s face off, I took a trip back to where it all started for me.  There was a beerfest going on, too, which made for some very interesting, slurred conversations to eavesdrop on:  3 guys in fedoras deep into a discussion of the 4th race, making hilarious arguments for one horse over another, how losing tickets reflected on the player’s manhood, quotes from The Hangover, and some goofy guffaws… though the horses about to go to post were for the 6th race!

Today I worked my final handicapping contest, and it was a milestone – we got 150 players, the most ever!

During lunch, I sat with Julio Canani and had a surreal conversation – it started out me asking (probably dumb) questions about training, and then shifted to (pretty much verbatim what was said):

ME: I’m never going to be able to go to another track again, I’m spoiled for life.


ME: I’ve got this pass that gets me everywhere! I can go to the backside, to the paddock, to the Turf Club…

JULIO: I’d rather take a pass to the movies…

ME: Oh, that would be nice, too, if there were anything good out to see.

JULIO: There’s lots out now.

ME: What was the last movie you saw?

JULIO: Beverly Hills Chihuahua


I asked Julio if he liked anyone on the card today, and he shook his head no.  He asked me who I liked today.

ME: Number 6 horse in the 7th race, Da Boomer


ME: Because I fed him candy on Friday

JULIO: (Laughing) You should have fed him more candy!


Later, I met Del Mar’s Mayor of FourSquare, Weldon.  He’s a laid back guy, and he enjoyed his tour of the paddock that Amy & I did before the 7th race.  It was a maiden special weight for 2 year olds, all of them first time starters, an absolute nightmare to handicap.  Weldon said he always did longshots in those kinds of races and asked me who I liked, I said I liked #6, Da Boomer, because I knew his trainer, Tom Blincoe, and had fed the horse candy one morning.

Weldon and his friends had picked #2, Bruno B.  They kind of gave me that, “ok well good on you then” smile.

Tell me what happened after Da Boomer won the race?  I was the smartest person in the room then!  I was so happy for Tom, too!  I’ll have to give Boomer an extra candy next Friday;)  When I congratulated Tom after the winner’s circle photo, he gave me a hug – when I turned around I realized I was in front of Christina O and TVG cameras! YIKES!

The sad part of this story is, even though I picked Da Boomer, told Julio Canani & Weldon the FourSquare Mayor & Amy Intern, I didn’t place the bet!  Da Boomer paid $28.40, $13.40 and $6.40… talk about wouldacouldashouldas!!!


Filed under Brag sheet, Del Mar, Handicapping, internship

Favorable Conditions

Once again, I have left my dear readers hanging for another unforgivably long span.  It’s hard to keep up a blog as well-written as this one (ha!) in the middle of a stressful semester of school.  But since people have been begging for an update (yeah right!), why not explain a little bit about what I’ve been learning this year?  I mean, I’ve talked up the generalities of the RTIP, but the specifics are really cool, and have increased my enjoyment of (and irritation with) the sport tremendously.

First off, let me tell you what I have been working on this past week: creating a matrix to write a condition book.

YIKES. Sounds like a bunch of words just stuck together, like, “beating parabolas to edit a banana tree”.  But in reality, the matrix and the condition book are two crucial elements to putting on the racing show each day.  Those readers who are experts on racing, or who are RTIP alums, forgive me for delving into this ultra-basic concept.  I find that explaining stuff out loud helps me learn the material, too.  And hey, if you’ve never written a condition book you may find this blog entry enlightening.

“Conditions” are the requirements for entry in a race, such as claiming price, age, sex, number of wins, distance and

The Condition Book, or horseman's Bible at the track.

surface.  The condition book is a listing of all the races a track has to offer for a period of time.  Most condition books come out a few weeks in advance of the race meet and only cover a few weeks of the meet.  This allows the racing secretary to make adjustments to the offerings based on the number and class of horses at the track. There is an art to writing a condition book, and this semester I’ve been learning the basic strokes to create my own masterpiece.

Figuring out the amount of purse money a track can offer is the first step in making a condition book.  Purses are determined from the percentage of takeout from the handle wagered through the track.  I could write pages on how the takeout is divvied up between the tracks, horsemen, states, and account wagering facilities, so let’s save that for another blog.  In the end, the total amount for purses I have to work with is about $10.2 million.  I take 22% of that for the stakes races and the rest must be spread out among the rest of the races, or overnights.

The big question I had before I started this project was, how do you know how many races to run?  The track and racing secretary decide the total number to be run each day, and on my calendar the track runs between 9 and 12 races.  Another step in determining how many races to offer is figuring out what kinds of horses you will have on the backside.  Of course, they’re all going to be thoroughbreds (or QH or STB or both if it’s a mixed meet), but the number of horses in each class category determines how many races of a type you can offer.  The vast majority of race horses are older, mid-to-low-level claimers.  My track has a pretty good mix of horses, though, so I can write some pretty juicy allowance races, too.

The next part is actually scheduling the races.  My track has a 33-day meet spread over 2 months. I scheduled my stakes races first, placing my big-money events on closing weekend.  Then working backward, I scheduled allowance preps about 30 days prior. This was the easy part of matrix creation.  Claiming is on a whole ‘nother level of complexity.

Scheduling claiming races begins with determining the claiming prices.  Many jurisdictions have a “jail rule”, where a claimed horse cannot run back within 30 days unless it races at a 25% higher price.  Therefore, the racing secretary sets up claiming prices in 25% intervals, for example,

$8,000 -> $10,000 -> $12,500 ->$16,000 -> $20,000 ->$25,000 ->$32,000

…and then there’s the “ladder” of claiming.  This is so much easier to explain in pictures, but since I don’t have a whiteboard, here’s the best I can do in words:

On the first day of the meet, you schedule the lowest-level claiming race.

On day 2, you schedule the next highest level claiming race.

Day three, the next highest, and so on.

On the matrix grid, the group of races would look like this:  /

Then you count out about 25-30 days later to start your ladder again.  The concept of “authentic anticipation” is important when making the matrix — trainers know how long between races so they can point their horses for the right ones.  Racing secretaries who go along with the authentic anticipation concept write condition books that make trainers happy and also allow bettors to become familiar with the horses racing at a track.

There may be some modifications to the ladders depending on if the day the race should be run is a dark day, or if the race conflicts with another, similar race. Sometimes tracks have a truncated claiming ladder, where the claiming prices are offered every other time.  The distances of races are “flip-flopped” to give horses a fair chance at their best distance at their claiming price.

Even though the card you play only has 9 races, the racing secretary most likely wrote between 12-15 races for the day.  The final card is determined by the entries taken a few days before the race.  Since not all races fill, and some overfill, the racing secretary keeps this in mind as the meet goes on, and can offer extra races that fit the conditions of those overfilled ones later in the meet.

A good condition book is one that covers everything well so there is no need to write many extra races.  It takes experience and a good relationship with horsemen to create such a successful condition book.  In the past, it took years of working under a racing secretary, catching bits of expertise as it trickled down, for people to learn how to write these things.  But this weekend, I will be doing it after only half a semester of classes!  YIKES!  Whatever unholy set of conditions comes out of this project, I will have gained a totally new appreciation for the racing officials who do all this work before my silly self goes to the track to play.

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Filed under career track, Handicapping, Race Track Industry Program, RTIP classwork, University of Arizona


The Filly will face The Derby Winner in The Preakness

The Filly will face The Derby Winner in The Preakness

The Preakness must suffer from the “middle child syndrome” — there can be no other reason why this otherwise unremarkable race has offered fans such rich drama and curious occurances over its 134 runnings. 

It’s the only Triple Crown race to have ever been run in two divisions, resulting in 2 different winners in 1918.  The clubhouse has been struck by lightning (1909) and even burned down (1966).  The race was homeless for several years in the late 1800s, when five runnings were held at Belmont Park. 

In more recent history, the Preakness has suffered a track-wide power outage (1998); a drunken (and suicidal) infielder ran out onto the track and punched at horses racing in the 1999 sprint race on the Preakness undercard.  Afleet ALex clipped heels with Scrappy T and stumbled to his knees, but his athletic jockey stayed on and the colt galloped home by daylight in 2005.  Of course, there has been plenty said about Barbaro in 2006.

This year’s drama has so far happened off the track: Rachel Alexandra was sold to Jess Jackson for the sole purpose of competing in the Preakness.  Ahmed Zayat then threatened on TVG that he’d stuff the gate with his own runners so that the filly couldn’t get in.  Marylou Whitney was even wrapped up in the controversy.  By Monday, all of the craziness was over, Zayat recanted and Rachel was in. 

It’s good that Rachel ALexandra will get to face colts.  She is a big, sturdy filly and should have no problems keeping up with the boys.  She’s already faster than most of them.  Borel is sticking with her over his Derby winner, which speaks volumes to her talent.  Borel will also do everything he can to protect her should the race prove to be too much for her.  I’m not worried about her physical condition or of her getting injured.  Rags To Riches ran in the Belmont, for goodness sakes.  So did Silverbulletday, my #1 favorite filly of all time.  Rachel will be fine.

She will also win.  As much as I’d love for Pioneerof The Nile to turn the tables on Mine That Bird, or even for Mine That Bird to continue the impossible dream, I believe Rachel has the speed and strength to win this race.  The pace will be much faster here than the Derby, with Big Drama and Take The Points in the gate.  But she can sit just off the leaders.  She also has a better tactical turn of foot than most of the colts.  Borel can put her anywhere he wants. 

If it rains, Mine That Bird will be dangerous.

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Filed under Graded Stakes, Handicapping, mine that bird, Preakness


Last year, I smuggled the Magic 8 Ball into the Infield with me and made a few wagers based on its liquid blue wisdom.  The best it could do was assure me Intangaroo was “Very Likely” to win the Humana Distaff.  I had fun with it, though, so here we go again!

Oh Magic 8 Ball, will the track dry out in time for the Derby?  “Answer Unclear, Ask Again Later”  Fine then…

Magic 8 Ball, wise and infalliable, will the Derby winner go off at odds higher than 10-1?   “Don’t Bet On It”

Ok, will the morning line favorite wear the roses?  “Consult Again Later”  Right, right — the ML favorite has scratched.  How about the Post Time Favorite?  Will that horse win?  “The Stars Say NO”

Will the winner break from the auxiliary gate?  “Focus And Ask Again”  OK, (placing my fingers on my temples) oh honorable Magic 8 Ball, will the winner break from a far outside post position?  “YES”

Will the Derby winning jockey be wearing green silks?  “Chances Aren’t Good”

Will the Derby winning jockey be a first time winner?  “Looks Like YES”

Does it matter if the horse has ever run on a traditional dirt surface?  “Cannot Fortell Now”  Hmmm…

How about the Godolphin horses?  DO they have a shot this year?  “So It Shall Be”  WOW!!  DOes this mean Sheik Mohammed will finally get his Derby winner?  “Looks Like Yes”  OMG!  Will it be Desert Party?  “Cannot Foretell Now”  Ok, how about Regal Ransom?  “Chances Aren’t Good”  So it’s gonna be Desert Party, then?  “So It Shall Be”  That does it, I’m placing my bets now!

Ok, you told me to ask about the track again, will it be a fast track by Derby time?  “VERY LIKELY

SWEET!  I don’t know about you, but I’m going to place a couple bucks on Desert Party in the Derby.  People have picked winners off stranger methods!

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Filed under Churchill Downs, Handicapping, Hot Tips, Kentucky Derby, live blogging


Pioneerof The Nile is sharp for the San Felipe on Saturday. Photo from

Pioneerof The Nile is sharp for the San Felipe on Saturday. Photo from

This weekend the FOUR! Big Kentucky Derby Preps feature returning favorites and a few “bubble” horses who could jump onto the list in huge ways.


OLD FASHIONED looks to add another easy victory in Hot Springs.  Silver City comes back to challenge, but I think he’d be better sticking to sprints.  Poltergeist is also back after a lackluster performance in the Southwest, and though I hope he runs better this time, I don’t see him winning.  D.Wayne Lukas has Hamazing Destiny, a maiden winner, entered, and savvy players know you shouldn’t ignore a Lukas horse.  Old Fashioned’s owner, Rick Porter, chose to be at Oaklawn on Saturday instead of New Orleans, where he has Fresian Fire running in the Louisiana Derby.  I think he should make plans to dress for a winners’ circle photo.


This is the best betting race of the entire weekend:  a nice field of dangerously good colts.  FRESIAN FIRE has dominated the Fair Grounds and is the morning-line favorite.  IEAH’s Patena ran a great 2nd in the Risen Star and is the wiseguys’ pick.  Giant Oak has run well all winter and could be sitting on a huge race.  Then there is Terrain, making his first start of the year.  The Cali-shipper Papa Clem hopes to replicate I Want Revenge’s poly-to-dirt powerhousing, and I think he just might be able to do it.  He ran 2nd to Pioneerof The Nile in the Bob Lewis Stakes in only his 2nd start; he is by Smart Strike, a triple-threat sire whose get include turf champ English CHannel and repeat HOTY Curlin!  My tickets will have Freisan Fire and Papa Clem at the top.


Street Sense started his 2007 Derby-winning campaign in this race, where he nearly dead-heated with Any Given Saturday.  I don’t see anything like that happening this year, but still, this makes for an interesting Florida prep.  Hello Broadway is out from under Capt. Candyman Can and Quality Road and up against Sam F. Davis winner General QUarters.  Also stopping by is Zito-trained Nowhere To Hide, a son of Vindication who was 4th in the Risen Star.  I like Nowhere To Hide and General Quarters for this one.


Many of the horses PNILES has defeated have shipped out for dirt tracks, like I Want Revenge and Papa Clem.  Facing the Baffert trainee at Santa Anita are six colts praying for PNiles to have a bad day.  Jeranimo looks promising, and I would not ignore this maiden winner sired by Congaree.  Also New Bay and Feisty Suances…but really, PNiles is the big horse, hooves and shoulders above this group.  I kinda wish Bob had shipped him out to a dirt oval, just for some better competition.

And that’s The Infield March Madness !!

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Filed under Derby Prepes, Fairgrounds Race Course, Graded Stakes, Gulfstream Park, Handicapping, Kentucky Derby, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita


1. Old Fashioned (1)

2. Pioneerof The Nile (8)

3. Friesan Fire (new!)

4. Haynesfield (new!)

5. Capt. Candyman Can (new!)

6. The Pamplemousse (new!)

7. Chocolate Candy (new!)

8. Poltergeist (new!)

9. Hello Broadway (new!)

10. Imperial Council (7)

Off The List: Square Eddie (injury), Midshipman & Vineyard Haven (Dubai, could resurface), Beethoven, Breakwater Edison, Well Positioned, Charitable Man (injury)

Lots of changes since the first list Jan. 1.  Old Fashioned remains at the top until he runs next Monday.  Pioneerof The Nile moves up a bunch off of his impressive Bob Lewis effort, and would be #1 if he was a known dirt commodity.  The rest of the list is made up of newcomers.  Friesan Fire has been the strongest 3yo in the South so far, taking the 2 stakes at Fairgrounds and learning how to settle.  Haynesfield is tearing it up at Aqueduct, but distance questions surround him with that sprinter sire.  Capt. Candyman Can looked great winning the Hutcheson.  The Pamplemousse is probably #2 in California, with Chocolate Candy close behind.  Poltergeist is an intriguing allowance winner at Oaklawn looking to prove himself in stakes company.  Hello Broadway is always in the race.  Imperial COuncil is working well and needs to make a start pretty soon; his potential is what is keeping him on the list.

All of the unfortunate list-droppers could make it back in the top 10 with a good effort.  Vineyard Haven makes his 3yo debut in Dubai on Thursday, and if he is still as dominant as he was last year then he’ll be back on the list next week.  Square Eddie is out with sore shins but can rejoin the list if he recovers quickly.  At least four 3yo stakes this weekend means there could be more movementon the list.  Also, ROAD TO THE ROSES is OPEN for ENTRIES!!!

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Filed under Churchill Downs, Derby Prepes, Handicapping, Kentucky Derby, lists