Monthly Archives: August 2014

Arbitrary Thoughts from the Miz

The Travers

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.

Parting Ways

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.

Scott Stevens on Broadway Empire
Scott Stevens on Broadway Empire

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.

Alex Can’t-chari

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.

Denny Velazquez
Denny Velazquez

The Bounce

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.

A Million Ways ….

 

DSC01829

Where to begin? This was a day to remember for this horse racing fan! Some of the best horses, trainers and jockeys came to Arlington Park for the 2014 International Festival of Racing. I was literally so excited to witness my first Grade 1 stakes that I spent most of my time taking pictures! The facility at Arlington is gorgeous, well-groomed and very classy.

DSC01836 - Copy

I missed the first race because the taxi was late, but it gave me a chance to study the card for the day. I decided to “get my feet wet” with the second race and bet a simple 10 cent superfecta and hit it ($243.33), thanks to Melo Mason, a horse I saw race at Prairie Meadows and today had leading Arlington rider James Graham in the irons.

IMG_3333

Race 5 on the card was the Hatoof stakes, and I was down at the paddock waiting to see with my own eyes Joel Rosario and Javier Castellano, two of the top riders in the country. If you follow me, you know I’ve made it known that I respect these two jockeys to the highest degree (and Rosario makes my heart go pitter patter).   But, it was Frankie Detorri on High Wire Kitten that stole the Hatoof. Being the railbird that I am, I was right on the Winner’s Circle and got to see the Flying Frankie dismount!

Frankie Detorri on High Wire Kitten
Frankie Detorri on High Wire Kitten

In the Straight Line stakes, the money was all over Julien Leparoux on Bourbonize, but jockey Channing Hill had it all, on I Got It All to win the Straight Line.

Channing Hill on I Got It All
Channing Hill on I Got It All

Race 7 began the International Festival of Racing with the $400,000 American St. Leger. (It is important to note that Hardest Core was initially entered in this race but scratched and re-entered in the Million.) Some of the Arlington locals were not backing the hometown favorite The Pizza Man. I found that surprising actually. I have been watching The Pizza Man because of the Midwest Thoroughbreds/Brueggemann connections from Canterbury Park. Florent Geroux is riding extremely well and has been with the horse and connections for awhile and knows the horse well. He was patient enough to let the speed go around the first lap and then The Pizza Man delivered. I actually went with the two local boys here The Pizza Man and Big Kick and had the race been one lap around instead of the one mile and eleven sixteenth, Big Kick had it won, but the extra distance gave The Pizza Man the advantage. When The Pizza Man broke away down the stretch and crossed the wire, the crowd literally erupted! It was awesome! Geroux was fueling the cheers in the winner’s circle with fist pumps to the crowd.

Florent Geroux and The Pizza Man
Florent Geroux and The Pizza Man

DSC01848

The $500,000 Secretariat Stakes was a highlight for me. I have learned my lesson about European horses on the turf. I was all over Adelaide, the ultimate winner of the Secretariat. Ryan Moore is such a skilled jockey. Of course, you had to put Tourist and Rosario on the ticket, and I was very impressed with the way Sheldon with Castellano aboard looked in the paddock. A beautiful horse – very Cali Chrome-looking. I wanted a 6-9-5 exacta but never made it to the window. Even though Arlington has ample betting stations, it was very difficult to get up to the machines or window.   The crowd was a bit overwhelming, and at 5’4” with my heels, I couldn’t see over the crowd on the apron. I missed this whole race. I was able to see glimpses on the big screen but found out after the race that I hit the exacta – too bad I never bet it. Would have been boosted my confidence in the play of the turf after hitting the super in Race 2.

IMG_3288 IMG_3289 IMG_3290 IMG_3291

The Beverly D. was a “win and you’re in” for the 2014 Breeders’ Cup. I was in awe seeing the caliber and talent of Grade 1 runners. I have been following Somali Lemonade since she boosted me to the top of a handicapping challenge by winning the Gallorette at Pimlico and then winning the Diana at Saratoga. Somali Lemonade also had her usual pilot, Luis Saez. With horses like Stephanie’s Kitten, Emollient, Alterite, and I’m Already Sexy, I overlooked Euro Charline in this race. Big mistake. We will all be seeing Euro Charline at the Breeders’ Cup. Ryan Moore again stepped into the Winner’s Circle at Arlington and took home a nice paycheck that day winning back-to-back Grade 1 stakes.

IMG_3310
Somali Lemonade

IMG_3287

IMG_3305
Joel Rosario and Emollient

 

The 10th race of the day was the Arlington Million, and to my surprise, it was a small field. Seven on the turf at a mile and a quarter. I knew before I even bought my plane ticket that Magician was my horse in this race. So before the horses entered the paddock, I did a series of exacta boxes with every horse in the race, except the #1 – Hardest Core. Doh! Handicapper brain-fart. How did I miss the #1 in all my tickets?! Quite possibly because Hardest Core was scratched and re-entered, or maybe it’s because I was preoccupied with taking selfies with Joel Rosario, Luis Saez and Joey O’Brien (who is insanely tall and thin)!

IMG_3319

Regardless, Magician was on his way to victory until a fast-closing Hardest Core caught him at the wire with jockey Eriluis Vaz. (Who?) The betting favorite was Magician and Real Solution. But Real Solution did not look right in the paddock. Real Solution looked Real Sleepy, in fact, he finished last. Side Glance looked amazingly good, on his toes and alert and finished third behind Hardest Core and Magician.

DSC01844

The second half of the Hatoof was race 11. I knew I wanted to get a couple photos with the jockeys so I skipped this race trackside and went to the paddock. I was able to stop Luis Saez who graciously stopped for a photo and even asked if he could take the selfie himself. Unfortunately, he literally took a selfie and missed me in the photo altogether!  He was very personable and funny. One of my early jockey features was on Luis Saez. He has dealt with a great deal in his young career and I have the utmost respect for him, especially after meeting this charming, funny young rider.

DSC01853 - Copy
Julien Leparoux
DSC01856
Robby Albarado

DSC01838 - Copy

Hardest Core
Hardest Core

I was very impressed with the beautiful paddock area at Arlington, and how accessible the jockeys were. It doesn’t happen like that in many tracks. When I visited Hawthorne and Prairie Meadows (and even at Canterbury to some extent) the jockeys seem distant – they are not approachable at all. At Arlington, they walk around in the crowd. It’s no big deal. One of the very first articles I ever wrote was on Timothy Thornton, whom I’d never met, until Saturday. When I went to Hawthorne, I desperately wanted to meet Tim and shake his hand. It was not possible.

IMG_3313

But on Saturday, I walked right up to Tim Thornton and he was probably the coolest guy I’ve ever met. We talked for a long time and he was very nice. At the end day, I was sitting in the shade, with my heels kicked off, hot, and thirsty. Tim came over and sat with me on the bench, he offered me some water that he got from the jock’s room. He told me how his sister, Maria, an apprentice at Arlington won her first race in Indiana that day. He was so proud of her. And, on Sunday at Arlington, Maria won on a long shot, which I bet on because her brother spoke so highly of her the day before. Her win on Franklin County paid $25.80.

IMG_3325
Tim Thornton

Also on Sunday I had the opportunity to speak with Israel Ocampo, who was riding at Canterbury last summer. He was part of my hidden gem, the” Israel Israel” ticket (Ocampo and Hernandez). He gave me a big hug like he knew me! I told him how much we missed him at Canterbury.

All in all, it was an amazing weekend at Arlington. The venue is gorgeous, the races were amazing and the ability to meet some of my favorite jockeys was just unimaginable. I truly sat back and could not believe I was part of it. I will be visiting Arlington again next summer, maybe not on the Arlington Million, but will definitely be returning.

IMG_3323

 

Saturday Night Lights

CAN1B8LR

Tonight marks the first night of Saturday night racing under the big lights at Canterbury Park. A welcome relief to all the riders, horses and fans who brave the Minnesota humidity in August! But if you want to make a name for yourself under the lights of this grandstand you need to be an expert at making a good first impression or have a really good agent. The jockey colony at Canterbury is full, and that’s a severe understatement. It’s overloaded, overcapacity and brimming with talented jockeys fighting for quality mounts. Veterans like Hall of Famer Scott Stevens can be more selective with their mounts and when they want to ride. Stevens has been picking up mounts for Diodoro and Mac Robertson this summer, the two leading trainers.

It seems there is always a new face in the paddock, and some familiar ones as well. Another Hall of Famer Derek Bell took a few mounts this weekend for Robertson and hit the winner’s circle on his first night back. Bell, who has been riding at Prairie Meadows, was in the hunt last year for the riding title but suffered an injury late in the season bowing out to let Dean Butler and Alex Canchari fight for the title. Bell holds the most wins for any Minnesota jockey at Canterbury Park, and we are glad to see him back riding, and riding well. Giovanni Franco is another regular summer rider at Canterbury but just entered the scene this week and picked up mounts for Diodoro. Most notably on African Gray who is a very, very good horse. In 2014, African Gray has 8 races and has NEVER missed the board. Giovanni Franco is so popular among the Canterbury regulars (and the press box) that he has his own theme music when he enters the winners circle. It is, of course, from the movie The Godfather. The only other Canterbury “celeb” with theme music is the sprinter Heliskier, Hells Bells by AC/DC. (Yeah, we’re silly like that.)

As lucky as we are to have all of these talented and successful jockeys coming and going in the jockey room, it is making it very difficult for those young riders to get mounts. There just aren’t enough entries in any race to suffice the 30-40 regular riders in any given week. Leading rider Alex Canchari has regular mounts with Mac Robertson but has been picking up mounts from a variety of trainers this season. Dean Butler does the same. It’s really come down to this: If you get a single mount, or two, on the card you’d better ride lights out or you’ll be watching the races on the TV in the jock’s room. Israel Hernandez, Justin Shepherd and Cesar Ordaz have all figured this out. Hernandez was one of my go-to jockeys last summer when he was the Canterbury bug boy. This summer, Hernandez is consistently riding the “bosses” horses (i.e, the Sampson Family) for trainer Tony Rengstorf. Hernandez has taken the opportunity and put it in the winner’s circle. If Israel Hernandez is wearing the Sampson red silks, and he is on the rail, he will be posing for pictures. This lil’ capper and my fellow Canterbury handicappers affectionately call him “Is-rail” Hernandez.

Israel Hernandez
Israel Hernandez

I mentioned briefly the name Cesar Ordaz when I wrote about Jockey Day at Canterbury Park. Ordaz is a shy, pleasant young man. He’s also coming into his own as a rider at Canterbury. He rides nearly full-time for Silva Racing and the Miguel Silva barn. This is a barn I’ve been following for several years. I think Silva is a good trainer and produces good horses. Friday night at Canterbury, Silva’s horses snatched three victories – two ridden by Ordaz. This kid can ride on turf or dirt. It doesn’t matter. He’s incredibly skilled at keeping the horse out of trouble and waiting for the seam. After meeting Ordaz, I’m not surprised that this is his riding style. He certainly doesn’t exhibit the hyper-activity disorder that I think some of these young jockeys ride with! Ordaz’s riding style reminds me of the Ortiz brothers (Jose and Irad), and that’s quite a compliment, but true. As much as I praise the talents of Alex Canchari, he made a bonehead move on Thursday night. He rode 12-1 Schindler’s Risk into a hole that an ant wouldn’t even try. The horse stumbled and unseated Alex, who ended up lying with his back, motionless on the turf looking up at the sky. It was a scary moment for everyone. Alex’s guardian angel must have been watching over him. Thankfully, he just had the wind knocked out of him and was able to finish his riding assignments. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t have a visit with the Stewards, again, because of that impatient, risky move.

156
Alex Canchari

Many of the jockeys that rode at Turf Paradise made the switch to Minnesota this summer. Ordaz is riding well, so is Jorge Carreno, for the most part. I was expecting more from Carreno who was the two-time riding title winner at Turf Paradise. He consistently gets mounts for Diodoro who I’m guessing did a little PR to get Carreno to Canterbury. Erick Lopez, on the other hand, is not having a good meet. His claim to fame at Canterbury will be Burning Fuhry, the 75-1 who paid out the largest win payout in Canterbury history. Since that day, Burning Fuhry has certainly found his way on the turf course. Lopez rode him to a third place finish in his next outing but lost the mount to Seth Martinez. So much for making history. Lopez also lost the mount on Kato Miss, a horse that is a very good sprinter, but has a reputation for going astray down the stretch. Lopez lost her on the lead when she headed toward the grandstand rail. The connections finally realized that blinkers were necessary and Kato Miss broke her maiden the next time out, but another Turf Paradise shipper Wilson Dieguez was in the saddle not Erick Lopez. I have not seen Lopez on the card in several days. I would assume now that “The Godfather” Franco is back in town Lopez is looking for mounts elsewhere.

Taking a look at tonight’s Starlight Card, there are two baby races, and the first kicks off the thoroughbred races in Race 2 at five furlongs. Captains Glory has a few under her belt and gets the guidance from Stormy Smith, a regular quarter horse jockey, who has also found his way deeper in the card by picking up thoroughbred mounts. The rest of the field will have first time racing experience. Silva and Ordaz team up again on the #5 Taedee. Silva is good with first-timers and Ordaz is … well…winning. Trainer Rhone is sending out #2 Spring Training. Dean Butler doesn’t usually ride newbies, so I’m curious to see how he does with this filly. Trifecta Box 2,5,4

The second set of baby girls come up in Race 6. There’s a field of 10 (pending no scratches) going for the five furlongs and trying to break their maidens. Diodoro and Robertson each have two in this race, and each put out quality 2 year olds. The aforementioned Scott Stevens, who certainly doesn’t have to break 2 year olds, is riding the #6 Twelve K Run for Diodoro. Interesting. However, the other Diodoro is Native American. The daughter of Indian Charlie gets the exquisite winning percentage of Diodoro and Carreno. Um, lights out. Robertson’s two are Mabeeitstime and Haley’s Comet. Canchari gets the mount on Haley’s Comet . The last of the impressive pedigree is #9 Pinetop. She’ll get Is-rail Hernandez in the saddle for McFarlane. Pinetop’s daddy is Summer Bird. Yep, Summer Bird. I’ll take the 5,9,10 Trifecta Box in this one too.

It’s a very good, competitive and fairly-matched card tonight. Hard to win any money, but really fun and challenging to handicap. I’ll be playing what I’m sure will be a low-paying Pick 3 and searching for a well-paying long shot. I can always count on that sneaky Patrick Canchari to come from dead last to win by a nose. He’s done it multiple times this meet. Although he’s been riding better and getting better mounts, so I can’t always count on him to put money in my pocket like I used to. Tonight, he’s on some fairly good horses so I think I’ll have to look elsewhere. You can hardly bet on a Canchari these days and expect to make a profit. Any horse Alex sits on gets bet to nothing. I’m hoping the general public overlooks Habitually Golden in Race 8, but not counting on it.

Juan Rivera
Juan Rivera

I want to mention that jockey Juan Rivera was injured in the paddock on Thursday night. He is scheduled to be off mounts today and hopefully riding on Sunday. However, he suffered two injured knees and pain to his thighs when a horse lost control in the walking ring, injuring Juan and an elderly groom attending to another horse. Juan was helped out of the paddock by other jockeys and taken to the hospital. He will undergo an MRI this weekend. Juan is an awesome guy and I wish him the best, and hope his injuries are not serious and he is back riding soon. I met Juan on Jockey Day and now he always has a smile for me when he sees me with my iPhone at the ready! Buena suerte mi amigo!