I don’t think anyone was surprised at how the Travers played out down the stretch. The speed failing and the closer coming. Wicked Strong gobbling up the fading Tonalist and heading toward the wire, until V.E. Day came flying up his side. The look on Rajiv Maragh’s face was priceless. It was a look of disbelief and prayer at the same time. “No! Come on wire! Come on wire!” I’m sure Rajiv was counting on galloping back Wicked Strong right into the Winner’s Circle, but it was a mistake to be that confident with Javier “The Gift” Castellano still in the race. While all the attention was focused on the big three, V.E. Day came closing … quickly. On NBC’s coverage of the Travers, Randy Moss called Irad Ortiz, Jr. “the hottest jockey on the planet right now.” I disagree, Mr. Moss. Javier Castellano is the hottest (and most consistent) jockey on the planet. His Eclipse-award winning year in 2013 was only the beginning.
A Not-So Shared Belief
Hold your horses everybody, just hold your horses. I disagreed with Randy Moss regarding his reference to the hottest jockey on the planet, but was pleased when he pulled the reins on engaging in the Shared Belief v. California Chrome debate on NBC’s broadcast on Sunday from Del Mar. It’s just too early to be comparing Shared Belief and Cali Chrome and I couldn’t agree more. However, the trash-talking between Coburn and Rome should be entertaining … in an extremely arrogant and annoying way.
We are sad to see Track Superintendent Javier Barajas leave the Canterbury Family but wish him well in his new position at Keeneland.
We are also sad to say goodbye to jockey Scott Stevens who will not be returning to Canterbury Park next year. Scott suffered a compound fracture to his wrist when his horse stumbled and unseated him a few weeks ago. Scott will be returning to his home in Phoenix and hopes to be riding at Turf Paradise when the meet opens in early October. We will miss Scott very much. He has been a mentor to many young jocks at Canterbury. Truly, a class act.
A Band of Brothers
The Canterbury Family extends from the brass to the paddock. It’s something that I love most about our track. There’s something so wonderful about being home and the family feel at Canterbury Park. We have two sets of brothers that are jockeys: Jacob and Jordan Olesiak and Alex and Patrick Canchari. We also have the brother/sister riding team of Nik and Chamisa Goodwin. And, the top tiers at Canterbury are mostly members of the Sampson family.
This kid just can’t get a break. He’s tied with Ry Eikleberry for the riding title and he manages to get himself suspended for seven days with only three weeks left in the meet. (He’ll be back riding August 30.) Same thing happened last year and he came back to win 5 in one day but still fell two short of Dean Butler. I could go on all day about how the steward’s try to keep Canchari in check. I feel like he could sneeze and they’d bring him up on days. Alex must have a chair with his name on it in the stew’s office, and it’s probably a metal folding chair facing the wall. A horse owner at Canterbury once said to me, “Alex Canchari rides horses like he stole ‘em.” You know what? I’m very okay with that. I want to see the jockeys trying to win, not galloping around in a circle. I believe it’s called a horse race, not a pony ride.
The Velazquez Factor
This year, I discovered a very useful handicapping technique. It’s called the Velazquez Factor. When Denny Velazquez is in a race, the race unfolds in an unexpected fashion. He can ride (and win) in the mud, rain, weather conditions don’t seem to bother him and he seems to be the one bringing down the favorite. When I handicap a race, I always try to find a beatable favorite and in most cases, Velazquez has the mount on the long shot to do it. On Saturday, August 23, Denny Velazquez was on #11 Parading Gold, a Prairie Meadows shipper. Unfortunately, Parading Gold broke down during the race. Denny was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis for observation of the injuries he sustained during the accident. Denny spent the night in the hospital and underwent surgery on Sunday morning to repair a lacerated spleen. The 20-year old rider was having the best meet of his young career at Canterbury. Why does this sport have to be to so humbling? The Racing Gods giveth, and with abrupt cruelty, taketh away.
It’s not just for racehorses. As a handicapper, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose so badly you are grateful to be somewhat anonymous! Thursday was an epic disaster for most of the handicappers at Canterbury. We were challenged to do better the following night. Arriving at the park on Friday night with the proverbial “cone of shame,” I was able to redeem myself to some extent. On Saturday, however, I came to life with the trifecta box in the first, the superfecta box in the second and two winners on the night as well as a scattering of place/show horses. I think we just draw a line through Thursday and move on.
Playing by the Numbers
It’s true that most patrons at the track are win/place/show bettors. I rarely bump into people who play the Pick 3 or Pick 4 (as those bets require more research than the occasional racing fan is willing to do), and find myself explaining an exotic wager several times throughout the day. I notice the odds board after the track handicappers’ selections go up. The odds are almost immediately affected, which means the betting public is paying attention to what we say. But we are not the horse, nor the jockey, nor the trainer. What I do to the best of my ability using the tools available to me, observations at the track and researching past performances is provide the top three horses that I feel have a chance of hitting the board. The betting public can do with those numbers what they want. All I can do is put my skills to use to give the bettor a chance at winning some money and having a fun day at the track. I always look for long shots when researching a race. Nothing is more exciting for a patron then to catch the 30-1 at the wire. (That’s the kind of thrill that brings them back to the track.) If there is a playable long shot and a beatable favorite, you will see the long shot in my top three. I may be the only one out of the four handicappers with that horse, and it may look silly to some, but if you bet the favorite every race, you might go home with your admission paid for and maybe cover the beers you had too. But if I can find a payable long shot with a chance and it hits … you’ll be back the next day. People play the favorites because they’re safe, there’s little risk but it’s the thrill of cashing that big ticket that they brag about.
When I’m at the track I talk to everyone; handicappers, owners, trainers, jockeys, track brass, as well as the betting public. There are educated racing fans out there and then there are just plain buffoons. Since I am relatively anonymous as the track, I have heard people comment on my selections. My selections are simply numbers on the board. They don’t come with explanation. Once, I even overheard someone call me as a “stupid bitch.” That one is my favorite. It makes me fight harder to prove myself as a credible handicapper. Credibility and respect are not given, they’re earned. What softens the blow of criticism is that I’ve also heard people say, “She must know something I don’t.”
If you think you can do better …
I hate it when I hear people cursing at the jockeys. Grow up! The best jockey in the country can be on the best horse and it just simply won’t be his day. It happens all the time. Unfortunately, we cannot (nor should we) count on the unpredictability of the animal or the jockey. What we have to do is focus on what the horse CAN do. Jockeys are given instructions in the paddock from the trainers prior to the race. Often times, they work the horses in the morning. What we look for in past performances is whether or not the jockey has ridden the horse in prior races. As horseplayers, consistency is our bread and butter. I don’t shy away from horses that consistently finish second or third, those are payable trifecta horses – and “payable” is the magic word!
Conversations and Observations
I spoke with trainer Miguel Silva who told me he was not taking horses to Turf Paradise this year. Instead, he’s heading to Tampa Bay (via Hawthorne).
It’s been a relatively wet summer in Iowa and the Prairie Meadows horses and riders have been racing in some challenging conditions. They must be grateful for the dry conditions in Minnesota since the Prairie Meadows shippers are winning … often … at Canterbury Park. The shippers from our south have arrived with the intentions of being spoilers, and they are succeeding.