I started this blog in the middle of February last year with hopes of sharing some of my opinions and getting the chance to discuss them with fellow handicappers. I’ll admit that at the beginning I was writing mostly for myself, since I knew that no one aside from my family was really reading. Still, I continued doing it because I found it be a great tool in my own handicapping.
Writing these entries and keeping track of Bankrolls and ROIs has taught me to pick my spots and be sure in my convictions. I’ve learned to bet more when I’m confident and less when I’m not. It’s become second nature for me to handicap a race looking for value rather than the winner. Of course It’s still useful to recognize who the likely winners are, but it’s just as important to know when and when not to support them.
I can say with little doubt that I’ve become a better handicapper over these past 11 months and I can attribute that to maintaining this website. Since 2012 has come to a close, I thought I’d take a bit of time during the break at Aqueduct this week to highlight some memorable moments and successes from the past year. A little further down, I’ll also discuss some plans for this new year.
But first, let’s take a look at the statistics:
As I state on the About This Site page, I started the year with a mythical bankroll of $1,000. At the end of the racecard on December 31st, that bankroll was at $2,744.75. It wasn’t a steady climb and I spent the first few months of this blog in the red. But ever since Saratoga things have been looking up and it seemed like the winning bets just kept coming in through the fall and early winter. I usually bet between $150 and $300 in these mythical bets every week, so I give myself plenty of opportunities to win or lose. Still, to win consistently enough to increase my bankroll by $1,744.75–a gain of 174%–even impresses me (my harshest critic).
As far as the “Horses to Watch” are concerned, I kept more detailed records. My final statistics concerning horses who ran back from “Horses to Watch” list (with my wagering support) stood like this at the end of 2012:
Winning Percentage: 20.3%
Total Winning Payouts (based on a $2 wager): $689.30
Return On Investment (also based on a $2 wager): $2.25
Again, these numbers weren’t so positive for the entirety of 2012 and my statistics for the last portion of the year were much better than for the beginning. Specifically, between October 13th and December 31st, my “Horses to Watch” won at a rate of 32% with an ROI of $4.42. I’ll admit that those numbers include the outlier of my highest paying winner, Noosh’s Tale ($111.50), but even without including him in the math those figures come out to a winning rate of 31% and ROI of $3.09.
I titled the site That’s A Horse To Watch without knowing if my concept of betting back these “Horses to Watch” would actually prove to be profitable, so it’s comforting to know that I’m not doing this for naught.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s story time. Here’s a look back at some of my most memorable wins from this past year:
My First Winner
I started compiling my list of “Horses to Watch” on February 16th, but it wasn’t until nearly a month later that one of them finally came back to win. I had placed Sky Colors on my list after watching him finish second in a New York-bred maiden race on February 25th. He was hard to come up with that day as his prior form was not much to speak of, but I could not deny that he had run the best race. After being gunned to the lead, he led the field through quick fractions on a day when the track was playing pretty slowly. Yet what really impressed me was the way that he turned away multiple challenges throughout the race before getting passed by the winner in the late stages. I knew that some might think the race was a fluke, but I thought that perhaps he was just maturing and would repeat the effort next time.
He showed up again on March 14th as the sixth “Horse to Watch” from my list to run back. Based on the past performances, his last race was obviously going to make him very tough, but the public was not convinced. They instead made Chad Brown’s second time starter The Thinker a heavy favorite. I became concerned when they broke from the gate and Sky Colors was off near the back of the six horse field since he had run his best race when put on the lead. The Thinker, the 1-4 favorite, went on to take the lead as Julio Pezua rated the headstrong Sky Colors in third place early. Coming to the top of the stretch, Pezua asked Sky Colors for run and he responded immediately, overtaking The Thinker. But the favorite wasn’t done yet and he battled back along the rail. These two threw it down through the final quarter mile, but Sky Colors showed the same grit and determination he had displayed in his previous start and prevailed by a neck. He paid $12.20 to win, but as my first successful pick as a public handicapper, winning with a 5-1 shot never felt better.
Wood Memorial Day
I convinced my father to drive over to Aqueduct with me for Wood Memorial Day in the hopes of seeing some potential Derby candidates, but I was just as excited that two of my “Horses to Watch” that I had been looking forward to betting back were entered on the card. One of them, Jackson Bend, was entered in the real feature race of the day, the Carter Handicap (G1), which this year also featured Caleb’s Posse, Shackleford, and Emcee.
But first, Le Bernardin, who I had tabbed as a horse who had run better than it appeared on paper when breaking his maiden going six furlongs, was running in a N1X allowance race at a flat mile. I had also looked at his pedigree and was familiar with his dam, La Rosa, as a graded stakes winning router. I thought the stretch out in distance would suit him perfectly and bet him at 6-1. I was pleased to see him overtake the favored leader at the top of the stretch and then use his stamina to gamely hold off the closers late. He paid $14.20 to win and became the 5th winner off my “Horses to Watch” list as well as the highest priced winner to date.
A few races later, Jackson Bend was up to bat in the Carter Handicap. He was dismissed at 9-2 after a subpar performance in the Gulfstream Park Handicap behind Mucho Macho Man, but I thought he had not run as bad as it seemed. Mucho Macho Man got to set a slow early pace at Gulfstream that day and then took off around the far turn when Jackson Bend was trying to make his move. Jackson Bend then couldn’t make up any ground in the stretch after trying to make a run into the fastest part of the race. With a fairer setup, I thought he might still be capable of running the races he had in the Forego and Kelso in 2011.
Once Emcee broke slowly I was afraid the pace might not be fast enough for Jackson Bend or Caleb’s Posse, who was one of my personal favorites as a fan. Sensing the slow pace, Corey Nakatani deftly sent Jackson Bend through on the inside of Tahitian Warrior and up to challenge Shackleford, who was galloping along on the lead. The diminutive Jackson Bend kept Shackleford honest all the way around the turn and then used his swift turn of foot to put that foe away by midstretch. But just as quickly Caleb’s Posse was running at him from the outside. Right up until the final strides it looked like Caleb’s Posse would get there, but Jackson Bend is a gritty little horse and he just held on to win by a head. It was a thrilling extremely satisfying race, especially for me since I was a fan of both horses. Jackson bend paid $11.40 to win as the sixth winner off my “Horses to Watch” list.
On the way home from Aqueduct I started thinking that I should have a place on the site to document horses with potential like Le Bernardin or old warriors like Jackson Bend who had graduated from my “Horses to Watch” list. So I created the Alumni page to keep track of some of the winners I was most proud of and to keep tabs on some potential stars of the future.
Saratoga Daily Bets
For the Saratoga meet, I made a little pledge to myself to start making daily picks (and entries, if I could find the time). In addition, I would choose one “Best Bet of the Day” each day at Saratoga and keep track of my ROI for those strongest opinions. By the end of the meet I had won with 10 of those 40 bets (a winning rate of 25%) and compiled an ROI of $2.87. You can check out all of those picks with links to the corresponding entries on my Saratoga page.
That ROI probably wouldn’t be as impressive if not for my best score of the Saratoga meet, a win bet on 17-1 Majestic Raffy in the second week of the meet. I was very familiar with the horse having already scored on him when he won off my “Horses to Watch” list at Belmont Park, so I felt pretty confident that he would stack up with the field despite the class hike. Wilmer Garcia engineered a perfect trip for him, saving ground before angling out at the top of the stretch and having enough stamina to hold off the closers late. He paid $36.40 to win and was my highest paying Best Bet of the Saratoga meet.
The most memorable day of the seven-week Saratoga meet for me was Alabama Day. I had taken a trip up to Saratoga for the weekend with my sister, her boyfriend, and a mutual friend of ours. While my sister and her friend did some shopping in town, her boyfriend Chuck and I spent Saturday at the races and got to see two of the performances of the meet when Point of Entry took the Sword Dance and Questing blew the doors off the Alabama field.
You can check out my Alabama Day entry here, in which I detail the stakes action and describe how Questing absolutely amazed Chuck and gave him–someone who was new to horse racing–a glimpse at what I love about this sport.
A Productive Autumn
As I noted earlier when discussing my year-end statistics, I really got rolling in the fall of this year late in the Belmont Park meeting. Things really stared picking up when I won with 5 “Horses to Watch” over the weekend of October 20th and 21st culminating in an 17-1 upset by Sandyinthesun.
I’ve talked about Sandyinthesun many times on this blog before and since that race (he’s still on the list). He’s the first horse trained by ex-jockey Robbie Davis and had shown flashes of potential on a number of occasions before his allowance win on October 21st. The track came up yielding, going that Sandyinthesun had shown an affinity for in the past, so I felt confident enough to put $10 to win on him. He had also been compromised by some bad rides by Robbie Davis’s son Dylan in some recent starts and now was switching to Davis’s daughter Jackie, who is much more competent in the saddle. After an eventful trip that saw Sandyinthesun weaving through traffic almost the entire way, he got up in the final strides to pay $37.60 to win.
Finally, my biggest win and most profitable day of 2012 came on November 14th. The entry I wrote that day speaks for itself, but in a nutshell I picked 70-1 My Four Rewards and 54-1 Noosh’s Tale, one of my “Horses to Watch,” successfully to win on the same card. Noosh’s Tale in particular was unforgettable since I not only cashed win bets on him, but he helped complete a $0.50 Pick-4 that paid over $8,000 ($6,000 after taxes). He was a horse who I had an eye on since his debut at Saratoga because I was familiar with his female family of good Fox Ridge Farm turf horses. I placed him on the “Horse to Watch” list after his saddle slipped in a maiden race at Belmont where I thought he would have run much better without that equipment failure.
Watching him take the lead at the eighth pole of that November 14th maiden race with the knowledge that I had picked him out months earlier and was being proven right was easily the most satisfying moment of my year. (Although I guess knowing that I was hitting that ridiculously large Pick-4 may have contributed to that feeling as well…)
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing these entries and getting comments from those who have graciously taken the time to read them. In the upcoming year I hope to make some improvements. On my end, I’m going to keep better records of each “Horse to Watch” that runs (rather than just the winners) so that I can better learn who to add and drop from my list at the appropriate times.
Also, upon the recommendation of a few people, I’m entertaining the idea of eventually doing some video entries. I know that practically everyone is on YouTube these days, but perhaps it might be easier for people to digest my opinions if I verbally talk through them rather than right these 1,000+ word entries. I’m not making any promises, but perhaps I’ll fool around with it.
But for the most part I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I’ve gotten only positive feedback from the people who’ve been reading and that’s all I can really ask for. Thank you for your comments and I hope you enjoy what’s to come in 2013!