Handicapping the Backstretch way

Even the most cursory of looks at racing newspapers, websites, and magazines yields a plethora of handicapping strategies. Beyer guys, Sheets disciples, avowed trip handicappers—everyone’s got an angle, out there for the taking.

I attended and bet on races for years before I became cognizant of my own handicapping strategies. Armed with past performances, I checked earnings, conditions, breeding, taking in and filtering information, ruling out and ruling in.

And slowly, slowly my own particular handicapping method emerged:

–If I’d fed a horse carrots or peppermints, I’d bet her.
–If I’d interviewed his trainer, I’d bet him.
–If I loved his or her sire or dam, I’d probably, but not always, bet him (all of those Lemon Drop Kid offspring got terribly expensive).
–If the horse had “cat” in his name, or maybe the name of one of my family members, I’d be quite likely to bet him.
–If I “discovered” horses as two-year-olds, particularly at Saratoga, into the wager they’d go.

And so those hours of poring over past performances was really whittled down–know what you’re looking for, find it…bang! Wagers planned. Really, life is much simpler when you just bet on the horse that you want to win, rather than on the ones that you think will win. I like this idea of the automatic bet, to which I was introduced in Mark Cramer’s Tropical Downs.

This astute approach is what has led Papa Backstretch to christen me the World’s Worst Handicapper (I disagree—that could be true only if I actually handicapped); it’s why I can make do with the track program rather than the Form; it’s why serious racing fans avoid this site like serious hockey fans avoid the Rangers.

Stubbornly undeterred by potential charges of frivolity, the threat of dismissal by Serious Betting Types, and the possible loss of large sums of money, I offer the 2009 Backstretch picks, a wholly unscientific and Genaro-centric look at Friday’s races:

Marathon: I get that this race makes no sense in the current U.S. racing environment and understand why many call for it to cease to exist…but I love the idea of it, of horses racing a long distance on dirt. That said, I got no dog in this fight. Who ARE these horses? Pass.

Juvenile Fillies Turf: Lisa’s Kitten, for obvious reasons. Tapitsfly, because the first time I saw Dale Romans at Saratoga this past summer, I asked whom he liked in his barn, and he named this filly, and because she won twice at the Spa.

When I was at Keeneland over Columbus Day weekend, I took a break from the races to settle in with some bread pudding on the second floor of the grandstand. Perched next to a big, beautiful, HD simulcast from Belmont, I watched, in awe, as a little speedball of a filly went to the front and never looked back, seemingly lengthening her lead with every stride. She went the six furlongs in 1:08, winning by nearly nine lengths and breaking her maiden in her first start on her turf. Her name was Rose Catherine, and she became a new favorite. She is FUN to watch.

Juvenile Fillies: My favorite two-year-old filly is Worstcasescenario, whom I loved in the Adirondack at Saratoga. She didn’t make it to the Big Event, and she’ll race at Aqueduct this weekend. In her absence, I’m out.

Filly and Mare Turf: In April I was at Keeneland the weekend the Jenny Wiley was run; Forever Together was making her first start of the year and first since winning this race last year. She won, and I had a new hero.

I got lucky this year: I was present for four of Forever Together’s five races; I was assigned to interview her exercise rider and cover the Diana for the Saratogian; and I got to visit her at the barn. I am hers…forever.

But what’s not to love about Rutherienne? I’ve been watching her for years, and she was second to Forever Together in that Jenny Wiley earlier this year. Her last race at Belmont was one of the gamest efforts I’ve seen. Can I hope for a dead heat here?

Filly and Mare Sprint: In the summer of 2008, I was at Dale Romans’s barn when Robby Albarado came to exercise an unraced two-year-old filly named Sara Louise. After the work, Albarado said, “She could win the first time out.”

She didn’t, but she did win her second start, and in six lifetime starts, she finished worst than second only that one time. After a second to Rachel Alexandra in the Golden Rod last fall, she was sold to Godolphin and shipped to Dubai, making her first start in ten months in the Victory Ride at Saratoga. She won easily, and lost the Gallant Bloom at Belmont by a head to Indian Blessing. I’ve fed her carrots since before she was a real racehorse; how could I root for anyone else?

Distaff: In November of 2007, the Backstretch family was firmly camped at Saratoga Raceway on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, to take in a little Aqueduct and Churchill simulcasting. It’s a firmly entrenched tradition.

In the Demoiselle, my eyes kept coming back to one horse: Mushka. Bill Mott trained her; John Velazquez rode her. Don’t why I liked her, but I liked her.

She was way way way way back…and then she wasn’t. She swooped around the turn and around the field, and her win by four+ looked easy.

She got hurt and was gone until the summer of 2008; she was competitive in allowances but not so much in stakes races…until May. Second to the multiple graded stakes winner Criticism in the Sheepshead Bay at Belmont, Mushka then was third in the Dance Smartly at Woodbine. She bombed in the Diana…and won the Glens Falls. I was there at Saratoga for that one, and at Keeneland for her win via DQ in the Spinster last month.

So with all due respect to the thorough and rigorous handicapping methods used by Backstretch regular Brian Nadeau, if he’s not picking my favorites, I won’t be betting his tickets. I’ll kick myself if they win…but I’d kick harder if one of these girls won without my backing. World’s Worst Handicapper? Hm, probably not. World’s Worst Bettor? Ah, maybe…

4 thoughts on “Handicapping the Backstretch way

  1. The very reasons you list is why I refuse to handicap the Ladies Classic. I don't want to find a horse that can beat Careless Jewel. I just want to cheer for the horse and its connections.Agree re the Marathon. Pointless for this calibre of competition but still fun. The Woodbine meet ends in December with a fun 1 3/4M race called The Valedictory. Best watched with flask in gloved hands.

  2. The Distaff is a hard one for me…Careless Jewel won my heart with her craziness at Saratoga and that wacky race at Philadelphia–gotta love a horse with personality. I was tempted to include her; Music Note, too, who seems to exude majesty and elegance. Lovin' the sound of the Valedictory!

  3. This is fun stuff and I wish you luck with your selections. As you may recall from the summer I love that beautiful filly TAPITSFLY, and feel very good about her chances today. The Juv Filly race is really good this year, and I'm all over the place on this one but have decided to go with DEVIL MAY CARE. In the Sprint I love SARAH LOUISE and in the Classic I'll go with MUSIC NOTE.Enjoy!

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