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HomeHorse RacingThey Didn’t Know: a weekly look back at horses that fooled the...

They Didn’t Know: a weekly look back at horses that fooled the public (July 15)

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If we want to score big at the races, we need to know when the public’s money is on the wrong horse. When we are confident in our opinion, we should be confident at the windows–no matter where the public’s money is going. This column is all about looking back to find the kinds of horses that trick the public time and again. 


Brad Cox Value?! a.k.a. a flat effort on debut 

Like it or not, if you want to cash in horse racing you have to watch the tape. All pro coaches and players do it. Hell, I bet little leaguers do it these days the way sports have gotten so nuts. As a horseplayer, you’ve got to do it, too. Why? So you can get 6-1 on a horse trained by Brad Cox. 


Take Dai Vernon, winner of Race 8 on Sunday at Ellis Park. This Good Magic colt was purchased for $500,000, so you know there are high expectations. Now a 3-year-old, he just made his first start in June going long on the turf. He finished a flat tenth. Thus the 10-1 morning line and 6-1 once all bets were in. But here is something everyone needs to know when they watch a horse run at first asking: they are not always raced to win. Bettors might not like this fact, but it’s true. 


Horses learn so much from a race and they get fitness from a race, so trainers will enter them to “get a run in.” You can’t always know this going into that race, but watch Dai Vernon’s debut outing. You see that his jockey never really asked him to run–only giving some mild encouragement in the second turn, otherwise, he kept his hands quiet and the crop at his side. If you don’t want to watch races to find this out, then listen to the analysis from the track handicapper–the best ones will point this out to you, as Scott Shapiro did at Ellis on Sunday. It would have also helped to know that Dai Vernon recently outworked Everso Mischievous, a 90+ Beyer figure 3-year-old in Cox’s barn. The second-time starter settled in last through the first half mile, and then my friends, he was asked. Scorching past eleven others, he went way wide and carried his run over five lengths the best. Easy money.


Two-Year-Olds After a Big Effort

Gold Sweep, the 3-5 morning line favorite in the $175,000 Grade 3 Sanford last Saturday, was bet down to 1-5. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he was singled on most tickets and wherever I looked, he was picked on top by every public handicapper. He lost. They didn’t know.


The reactions after were to the tune of How unlucky! What a shock! But in reality, this happens all the time.  In juvenile races like the Sanford, bettors tend to overvalue one strong race, ignoring the fact that young horses are maturing every day and often take giant steps forward from race to race. They also can hit their ceiling early and burn bettors’ money from there on out.


Yes, Gold Sweep’s Beyer figures towered over the competition, but this was a field of ten 2-year-olds with no more than two races under their belts. Jumping up 16 points between his first and second race, a regression from Gold Sweep was as likely as another step forward. It didn’t take much creativity to imagine a handful of his foes rising to the occasion. Horses with running lines like his get bet to smithereens, and if you faded him, and got the four other legs right, a 50-cent Pick 5 paid $22,139.50.


Surface Specialist with a Buried Running Line/Fillies vs The Fellas


In Race 8 at Colonial Downs on Friday, Micheaux upset the field of six, paying 6.70-1 as the fourth choice. She had the top Beyer figure in the field. How did they miss her? Two reasons obviously came into play: 

1) It had been one year since she ran that top number, and Micheaux’s recent figures

were low, and 

2) in an open $10,000 Claimer for non-winners of two, she was the only filly in the field

facing males.


Micheaux’s best race happened at Colonial Downs, sprinting on the turf–and she had not been back on grass since. No, not because she was staying clean and listening to her parole officer. She had been at Charles Town, which does not have a turf course. Thirteen races in as a 4-year-old, she had one standout running line. On August 3, 2022 at Colonial Downs she ran a 59 Beyer–the highest in the field. Yes, that was nine races back, but that was the only time she had run on turf. Micheaux won by two lengths and earned another 59. 


Dirt, turf, synthetic, mud, soft--surface is all about footing. When a horse goes to dig in and open up a huge run, if they don’t feel confident in their footing, they just won’t produce their top effort. They are nervous, cautious prey animals like that. I guarantee a cheetah wouldn’t shy away from a track surface he didn’t like. When you see a buried running line that supports the case for why the horse might love this surface, track, and distance, and you’re getting value, then it is a strong handicapping angle to play.


Ironically, here’s something I learned from Al Stall Jr., the trainer of Blame, who in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic ended the filly Zenyatta’s perfect record: At sprint distances, fillies are 100% competitive with the males. (For more evidence just look at who the top sprinter in the country is right now: Caravel, a filly.) So don’t let that throw you off when handicapping a sprint race and you find a filly facing males. Thanks, Al–but I’m still mad at you for beating Zenyatta. 

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