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Why Handicap Turf Like You Handicap Dirt?

Class is the most important factor when evaluating a turf horse.

A more obvious sentence has probably never been uttered on the internet. Well, if the importance of class when handicapping turf is so important, then why are most people such terrible turf handicappers?

I think most people are set in their ways. Even if they aren’t, they fail to realize how to make the data truly work for them. A turf race is basically a test of how well a horse can run from the three-eighths pole to the wire. Lure, Wise Dan, Frankel and even Secreatriat all won the same exact way. So, if we can agree that the running of a turf race is much less nuanced than the running of a dirt race, why can’t we handicap dirt races?

I like watching people handicap a card. I never tell them that I’m Jameel from Thoroughbred Analytics because I don’t want to ruin the fun. I want them to handicap like they normally do. After having done this several times, I’ve noticed a few things. First; most handicappers think the pace scenario is equally important in turf as well as dirt. Second; the majority of people think that post position is equally important. Third; the true class of a horse is an afterthought for most handicappers.

Basically, most handicappers don’t switch up their style when going from dirt to turf. They’ll complain about a jockey who rides turf like he does dirt, but they think that it’s okay for them to handicap turf the way they handicap dirt. In a dirt race, a horse can be three lengths better than the competition and lose because of a disadvantageous pace scenario; the same will never be true for turf. I once had an 8-1 shot go ¾ in 1:14.5 in a ten furlong race over a firm turf course and still get gobbled up. It was an aha moment for me to rely on “true class” rather than an advantageous pace scenario.

So, how do I define “true class”? I take the TA Class rating of a horse and times it by two. I then take the TA Speed Rating of that horse and add it all up and divide by three. So, a horse with a class rating of 100.0 and a speed rating of 85.0 would have a “true class” rating of 95.0  ((100+100+85)/3).

Now, do this mean that you pick the horse with the highest true class rating everytime? I would not. However, I would eliminate any horse who’s true class rating isn’t competitve with the top horse’s rating. I would also play close attention to the horse with the top rating, as he will most likely be in the money regardless of the pace scenario.

Here is the important part: In order to get a “true class” rating, the horse needs to have run primarily on the turf and have made a minimum of two starts.

I’ll be handicapping several turf races this weekend and tweeting about horses who’s odds are way higher than their “true-class” would suggest. If you’re on Twitter, feel free to follow along.

Thoroughbred Analytics

The Horse of the Year Award Doesn’t Matter!

Forget the guy at the sandwich shop who constantly talks about the greatness of Shared Belief. Ignore the cult of people who try to convince you that California Chrome is the second coming of Swaps. Run away as fast as you can from anyone who tells you that Bayern doesn’t need the lead to win even an allowance race.

None of these people matter because the Horse of the Year award doesn’t matter

Back when the first recipoent Ack Ack won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year, horses would run up to ten times per year, and it was almost sacrilegious for the best horses to avoid one another for fear of losing their value as stallions. If you look at the five horses who won the award during the 70′s, the list is littered with horses who will live on in the hearts and minds of the racing public for all of time, and this is why there can be no true horse of the year this year. We the racing public still don’t know how we feel about any of the three main contenders.

Here’s a simple excercise:

If Main Sequence was kidnapped and forced to race at a bush track in Mongolia, how would you feel? How about if California Chrome and Bayern suffered the same fate? The answer to this question is that you simply don’t know. Main Sequence only ran four times this year. Bayern spent the better part of 6 months constantly disappointing his backers. California Chrome hadn’t won since May before his win in the Hollywood Derby. The race that could’ve provided clarity; the Breeder’s Cup Classic, only raised more doubts. Basically, these horses have unfinished business.

Hopefully, California Chrome and Bayern can meet at the Donn Handicap. It would be interesting to see what another head to head meeting would result in. Maybe, Bayern can go ¾ in 1:09.00 and still win a route race, but until that question is answered we can’t call him great.

California Chrome has answered many questions, but there is still one that is on the minds of many; can he win decisively outside of California. If he cannot, he is Lava Man; if he can, the Chromies will light up the internet like never before.

As much as I like Main Sequence, he has the furthest to go in his journey to win the hearts and minds of the American public. While four grade one wins is certainly impressive, he’s still seen as a European horse.

As far as I’m concerned, I view this as a gift. I’m tired of horses retiring at three. I’m tired of having to guess how two horses would have stacked up against one another because they refuse to actually race one another. I see this as the start of a new era in racing. The legacy that Affirmed and Alydar gave to Sunday Silence and Easy Goer is now being carried by California Chrome and Bayern. They have some unfinished business, lets cast our judgement after the dust has truly settled.

Will Chrome Conquer the Turf?

No horse in recent memory has divided those who live east and west of the Mississippi more than California Chrome. Each race that Chrome enters carries more significance than it should because it is as though he is carrying the pride of an entire region on his undersized back. So, with the entry of California Chrome, the Hollywood Derby becomes the most important race of the week. With a win, not even the most critical east coast voter can deny California Chrome Horse of the Year; however, a loss pretty much seals Chrome’s fate as it provided ample ammunition for his critics to tout the accomplishments of turf specialist Main Sequence. Let’s look at the race and see if the diminutive California bred has a chance.

California Chrome is by the dirt/polytrack sire Lucky Pulpit. Though horses by Lucky Pulpit seem to perform best over dirt and polytrack, his prescense as a sire doesn’t mean doom and gloom when it comes to turf. I would rate his turf influence as neutral or a non-factor. The part of California Chrome’s pedigree that I would look closely at is his dam side, in particular his broodmare sire.

For reasons unknown to most of us, Chrome seems to take after his broodmare sire more than any other relative in his lineage. This means that if we’re looking to figure out whether or not he can handle turf, Not for Love is the best place to start. Not for Love’s most intriguing quality was that he didn’t have any preferences. He enjoyed distances from 6 furlongs all the way to 9 and a half furlongs, He enjoyed a fast dirt track, a sloppy track as well as a turf track; nothing really seemed to bother the son of Mr. Prospector. The progeny of Not for Love seem to have a preference for the dirt, but can handle turf without a problem.

California Chrome may also have inherited quite a bit from the 2nd dam sire:Polish Numbers. Of course, like most horses by Danzig, Polish Numbers went on to sire more graded stakes winners on turf than he did on dirt.

So, the bottom line is that I believe that California Chrome will not lose more than half a step going from dirt to turf. If he loses the Hollywood Derby, it will be because of the competition, in particular Lexie Lou.

Lexie Lou has shown an affinity for the turf as well as beating colts. Though the class of horses that she has faced at Woodbine aren’t nearly as good as the types of horses that California Chrome has beaten, she seems to relish 10 furlongs whereas Chrome seems to be most comfortable at 9 furlongs. It also doesn’t help Chrome’s chances that Lexie Lou seems to have taken a liking to Southern California and is in peak form.

The biggest obstacle standing in California Chrome’s way is Victor Espinoza. While Espinoza is a terrific jockey, he may not know exactly which adjustments to make in order to bring out Chrome’s best performance. He’ll have to save ground most of the way, but he’ll also have to swing outside of horses before the quarter pole. Though Espinoza is skilled, he is no Frankie Dettori or Jerry Bailey when it comes to turf riding.

The Play:

California Chrome will not disappoint in this spot. He’ll take to the turf just fine, and run valiantly against these foes. The problem is Lexie Lou will run just as well and probably get a better ride from her jockey, Corey Nakatani. The finish will be one for the ages, as Lexie Lou edges out California Chrome by the slimmest of margins.

The Most Underrated Trainer

Several weeks ago I spoke about which jockeys were most likely to bring in a logshot. Today, I talk about which trainers are most likely to bring in a longshot.

Though jockey handicapping and trainer handicapping are both important, an understanding of trainers is more beneficial to your growth as a handicapper. Trainers understand their horses in a way that the jockey simply cannot, and an understanding of trainer tendencies and patterns will yield better results than being a student of jockeys alone. We looked at the number of longshots a trainer saddled from January 1st 2014 to October 31st 2014. We only included trainers who saddled 20 longshots or more so as not to skew the results. The list is arranged based on the trainer’s TA Trainer Rating with longshots, not his overall TA Trainer rating. We also looked at each trainer’s Win, Place and Show ROI to give you some insight into how to incorporate each trainer in your handicapping.

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The first thing I did was look for trainers that had enough wins so that I could effectively capitalize on any trends that I saw. I felt it was more beneficial to look for a trainer who could bring in multiple 12-1 horses as opposed to a trainer that brought in one 60-1 the entire year. I then looked at the Win ROI to make sure this trainer was getting some good prices. Of course, whose the first trainer who caught my eye? Marty Wolfson of course. Marty is easily the top trainer on this when looking at TA Trainer rating, longshot wins and the ROI he has with those longshots. The results seem to make sense considering that Marty seems to have an uncanny ability to improve horses by four to five speed figure points when assuming training duties from another trainer. His most famous example was when he took over the grade three horse Miesque’s Approval and won the Breeder’s Cup Mile with him. It’s nothing short of amazing that after all these years people do not overbet Marty Wolfson horses. Kathleen Demasi and Jimmy Jerkens are very similar to Marty Wolfson in that they can take a horse from another trainer and improve that horse’s current form by four to five speed figure points. So, lets focus our efforts on Marty Wolfson and Kathleen Demasi and try to play them when they are in races that they are most likely to win. In order to do this, we need their trainer profiles. I’m not going to embed their profiles in this article, but I will reference them and you can pull them up on your own by going to our site and clicking on trainer analytics distance/surface comparison.

There isn’t anything too outlandish that jumps out at me when looking at each trainer’s profile, but there are some things worth pointing out. In the 124 route races that Marty Wolfson has contested in the past 12 months, he has 26 wins, 17 places and 19 shows. Demasi has contested 86 routes over this same time period and has 9 wins, 15 places and 11 shows. I wasn’t born yesterday. I am well aware of the fact that Wolfson gets better route horses than Demasi, but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that Wolfson is just a phenomenal trainer when it comes to route races period. It also has to be said that Demasi is fairly competant regardless of the distance; causation vs causality is always a slippery slope.

In the end, you still need to use your judgement when interpreting the data. For instance, I put a ton of stock in Demasi’s ability to improve horses. I do not put too much stock in her record in route races because I am of the opinion that she gets some awful routers that even D. Wayne Lukas couldn’t help. I’ll continue to play the Demasi trainer switch angle till the public starts valuing her at the level that they should.

I’ll continue to bump up any horse that’s getting a trainer switch to Marty Wolfson as well. I’ll also look for horses that are switching over to Wolfson and going up in distance, as he has an excellent route race record. I’ll also play horses that have switched over to the Marty Wolfson barn and are coming off of a layoff. It seems that these horses recieve the biggest boost in performance.

California Chrome May Make History

I think that California Chrome has a shot at making history. If the voting for Champion Three-Year old goes the way I think it will, California Chrome will be the first horse in the modern era to win the Kentucky Derby and Pimlico Preakness and be denied the Eclipse Award for Champion Three-Year old.

Since 1987, ten horses have won the first two legs of the triple crown, and all ten of those horses have been awarded champion three-year old. Some of these horses had spectacular records and little opposition-these horses bear little resemblance to California Chrome and his circumstances. With some of these Derby/Preakness winners, one could have easily made an argument against them, but didn’t. These horses are the reason why I believe a vote for California Chrome stays consistent with the criteria normally used to decide champion three year old.

In 1989, Sunday Silence-much like California Chrome- won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and was still seen by many to be inferior to Easy Goer. The fact that he won the Eclipse Award anyway is important because it gives us a precedent. The selection of Sunday Silence proved that the cumulative results of the Triple Crown and the Breeder’s Cup Classic would guide champion three-year old voting. There are other less stark examples of this unwritten rule such as 1999 when Charismatic won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but Cat Thief won the Classic. Voters decided that Charismatic gave his all throughout the Triple Crown and simply won a greater share of races that actually counted than Cat Thief did. If they had only looked at the Breeder’s Cup Classic, Cat Thief would’ve won.

Now, let’s get to the elephant in the room; Steve Coburn. Throughout the season, Coburn has been a divisive personality. His remarks at the Belmont Stakes was a huge black eye for the sport. However, the Eclipse Awards have historically been about results and nothing more. It is not the horse’s fault that his owner is tempermental; nor is it the horses fault that he was ill-prepared for the Pennsylvania Derby and received a pretty poor ride.

So, let me ask you this, if California Chrome never contested the Pennsylvania Derby and was owned by someone like Mike Repole would he get your vote for Champion Three-Year Old? The scary thing is that he actually might.