35 Years and 3,000 Miles Between

19 Jun

By Lucky Kalanges

While my first experience with horse racing and working a Fair didn’t intersect exactly at the same time, it happened at virtually the same place – a strip mall anchored by a Grand Union Supermarket and the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds and Grandstand almost directly behind it.

The horse racing wasn’t live, it was a pre-recorded half-hour TV show sponsored by the Grand Union, a prevalent supermarket chain in upstate New York and New England of the 1970s and 80s. Each purchase at the store earned you a ticket with a number of a horse in six races, if I remember correctly. You got the ticket, went home, peeled off the tabs to see your numbers and watched the races to see if you won a cash prize.

Fair to Fair

Of course, the races were old and pre-recorded, and very few people I knew ever won anything more than a couple bucks. But it was fun just thinking you had a chance.

Every now and then my horse would open up a huge lead for a big prize like $100, and for a minute I’d think I was going to win big. Then it would spit the bit and lose by 20 lengths, but the damage was done. The money was almost in my hands, and surely my steed would hold on, or the rider wouldn’t fall off, next time.

I was hooked, so it was back to the GU for more Bubblicious or Big League Chew.

I wanted those tickets because with every horse, I had a chance to win. They got so used to seeing me at the Grand Union buying bubble gum and candy bars that the store manager once handed me a fat stack of tickets.

Here kid, knock yourself out.

Eventually, the promotion grew stale and faded into oblivion, but the Champlain Valley Fair, held from late August through Labor Day in Essex Junction, Vermont, always marked the end of summer, with school beginning the Tuesday after closing day.

The Fair days were summer decadence in its final throes. The Fair nights, like clockwork, brought with them an ominous chill accompanied by the dreaded ‘back to school’ signs in the town store fronts. The grown ups were rubbing it in, at least that’s how it felt to my teenage self.

As I grew older, the Fair meant different things to me, and during my high school years, it was an opportunity to make some quick cash heading into the school year. I sold Cokes and Lemonade in the Grandstand for minimum wage ($3.15 an hour at the time), plus a nickel commission and a quarter case bonus.

The concerts, like Jerry Reed and Crystal Gayle, were fun because you also got to watch the show, but the big money maker was always the tractor pull on Labor Day. And if it was a hot day, you could empty your case before even getting two rows up the Grandstand.

Just like the Grand Union races, I was hooked.

I’d run back downstairs for refills and run right back up as quickly as I could. On a good day with tips, I could clear three figures, which felt like a small fortune to a teenager with no expenses in the mid-80s.

Now, 35 years and 3,022 miles later, I’m back at it, running up and down the Grandstand at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, CA. This time, there’s no commission to be earned, but the hustle is just as real.

You might see me in the winner’s circle calling out the winners of our Win, Place and Show contest, on the track dropping the starter’s flag for a Hippity Hop race, or in the infield, announcing the contestants for our $10,000 putting challenge.

You might see me in the Sky Lounge or Trackside Terrace talking to guests. You might spot me mopping up a spill near the paddock bar, emptying a garbage can or changing a TV channel. Almost every minute or so, something needs to be done.

And once again, with the urgency and energy only a Fair can bring, I’m hooked.

So if you see this half-centenarian kid in the Grandstand, stop and say hello.

Fair to Fair 2 Photo

Know When to Fold ‘Em

8 Jun

By Lucky Kalanges

A few factors have led me to decide to pass on this year’s Belmont Stakes card, despite the fact it resembles a Spring Breeders’ Cup.

  1. My results over the Triple Crown season are a clear indication I cannot pick my nose right now.
  2. The three-week break between the Preakness and Belmont means that it doesn’t fall a day after payday.
  3. With the Pleasanton Racing meeting right around the corner, I need to keep some of my power dry to get through the summer.

Every horse player needs to make a periodic self-assessment, and adjust his or her play based what the data says. And right now it’s saying read it and weep.

For me, this means drastically reducing my play until I can prove to myself that I can have a profitable day or two. Resisting the urge to bet just because it’s a big day is not easy. These days are among the best to play if you are seeing things clearly. There’s more tourist money in the pools and the computer bettors are often less efficient on days when there’s a big collection of stakes races with a large fields of real contenders, like the Breeders’ Cup.

If I was going to play the Belmont Stakes, I’d take a close look at Tax (15/1). I think his clunker over the slop in the Kentucky Derby might be an aberration for a horse who’s finished no worse than third over a fast track. He should lay close to the pace and I think this son of Awesome Again has as good as shot as any to carry his speed the distance. I think he should be the third betting choice in the race, and his 15/1 morning-line might be an indication that he’ll be overlooked.

Live Racing Returns to Pleasanton with Great Deals on Opening Weekend

There’s plenty of reasons to be excited about the return of live racing to the historic one-mile oval at Pleasanton next Friday, June 14.

For one, admission to the Alameda County Fair will be FREE from 11am to 3pm on Opening Day. If you have family in tow, this is one of the best days to check out the Fair and catch the opening day card free-of-charge.

Next is the popular Brew Fest which takes place Saturday, June 15 in the Stella Artois Grandstand. You can bet the horses while sampling all the craft beer you can take for just $40, which includes Fair Admission if you purchase tickets in advance.

Click here to purchase tickets to the Beer Fest or the Beer Fest, Cocktail Fest and Wine Fest trio for just $75 total.

Finally, if you’re a Dad and missed out on opening day, or want to take in two days of live racing free-of-charge, come on down on Sunday, June 16, when all Dads get into the Fair FREE on Father’s Day until 5pm.

Keep in mind, the betting action at Pleasanton can be as profitable as anywhere. Last year’s Pick 5 averaged a robust payout of $3,925, and the Late Pick 4 returned an average of $720. Both can be played for a 50-cent minimum.

There’s money to be made at the home track if you can find the right horses.

Preakness Postmortem

21 May

By Lucky Kalanges

While my wallet didn’t appreciate War of Will’s rail-skimming ride to Preakness glory, it was a more than satisfying outcome given what had unfolded two weeks ago in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

This time, given a fair chance to fire his best shot, War of Will came through with a winning performance under a patient ride from Tyler Gaffalione. And it was great to see a guy as classy and well-spoken as trainer Mark Casse accept the Woodlawn Vase in the post-race ceremony. It’s probably too much to ask for all three horses to come back in three weeks, but a Belmont with War of Will and either Maximum Security or Country House should command at least a little of the sporting public’s attention on June 8.

It seems unlikely Maximum Security will show up, given his connections have already indicated they are pointing to the nine-furlong Haskell Invitational at Monmouth. But what’s not to like about a rubber-match between the official Derby and Preakness winner in the Belmont?


War of Will’s Preakness victory also validates the decision to disqualify Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby.  War of Will was clearly loaded and ready to launch a bid for the lead when he was fouled, and denied any chance to pass when Maximum Security drifted out. If he had actually passed Maximum Security, could he have finished the drive for the win? We will never know, but he clearly could have cashed a check for his owners with a fifth place finish or better.

Looking back my Preakness betting, I can’t complain at all about the effort I got from my win bet and exotics key, Owendale, who was forced seven-wide into the stretch still came running to miss second by a nose to Everfast. Speaking of Everfast, if we were in court, an opposing counselor who had done his homework might ask for the record to be read back to me. In this case, what I had written about Everfast two days before the Preakness:

10 EVERFAST (50/1) – Seldom fast is more like it, but ever ambitiously placed. Connections have bitten off more than this guy can chew again. Toss.

My apologies to trainer Dale Romans, as he clearly knows more than I do about placing horses. Had I not foolishly left War of Will off all of my tickets, Everfast would have taken this billboard material and pinned it to my forehead.

The only thing I was right about was dismissing post-time favorite Improbable, and only using him in defensive positions in second and third. He reared in the gate before the start, settled in sixth early and never came running late. He might be a miler.

Unfortunately, in this game, there’s no glory in tossing out the favorite if you can’t find the winner. Just more tuition due to OTBU.

On to the Belmont!


It’s Preakness Picks Time!

18 May

By Lucky Kalanges

Without the Kentucky Derby winner or any of its top four finishers, for that matter, this year’s edition of the Preakness Stakes seems to be a more challenging handicapping puzzle than usual. That might make it a good betting race if you happen to land on the right horse or combination of horses.

In this year’s running, I am going to stick my neck out a bit and go with the Lexington Stakes winner, Owendale (10/1) . The last live check of the odds I saw, he was 11/1 and I think that is great value for a horse coming off a smashing win. Also, with an abundance of front-running or pressing speed in here, this race seems to set up even better for him than the Lexington did. Granted, the competition is steeper, but I am thinking if the pace is quicker he’ll be coming with a late run down the lane. The track configuration from Keeneland to Pimlico is similar, and he comes in with a bullet work.

Only reservation is he’s a deep closer and there are times they just don’t fire, whereas speed horses usually give you a run at least to the far turn.

For the minor awards, I’m looking at speed at a price who can hold for second and I think a trio of horses fit the bill here.

12 Anothertwistafate (6/1) Has drifted up to double digit odds and I like the price for a horse who looks like he could be the best stayer of the speed types. Was compromised a bit with a boxed-in trip in the Lexington, but came running after he got free to chase home Owendale. I think he stalks again here, the question is whether Jose Ortiz can tuck behind the early speed and save some ground.

3 Warriors Charge (12/1) Brad Cox’s other entry has blossomed into a back-to-back winner after employing front-running tactics, which he’ll likely try here. He’ll get tested by local hero Alwaysmining, who is taking action at 7/2 as I type this, and I’ll take the speed at a price, thank you very much.

9 Bodexpress (20/1) Maiden will be boxcars for that reason, but stayed in contention well into the far turn despite a wide trip in the Derby. Probably presses the speed here and looks to get a jump on the closers down the lane.

The closer I’m looking at to pump up the Trifecta is 11 Laughing Fox (20/1), who seems to be rounding into form after chasing Omaha Beach in his prior two starts. He’s won three of five this year and got a confidence-building win at Oaklawn.

If 3 Improbable (5/2) or 1 War of Will (4/1) win this race, I will accept defeat. With three seconds in three starts thus far this year, I see no reason not to take a stand against the likely Preakness favorite from Bob Baffert bar. If you like the latter, you’ll probably get closer to 7/1, which is a decent price. But with the rail draw, I think Tyler Gaffalione has no choice but to gun for the lead out of the gate, which I think compromises his chances off a huge effort just two weeks ago in the Derby.

Lastly, 2 Bourbon War (12/1) is getting some steam and he’ll be far shorter than his morning-line come post time. I’ll use him defensively, but will side with closers at a better price. He had no shot chasing Maximum Security in the Florida Derby and almost caught Code of Honor for third in that one. With an expected better pace setup, I get why his backers like him today. I’ll use him defensively, but will side with closers at a better price for the win.

This is how I’ll play a $100 bankroll:

$30 Win and $22 Place on 5 Owendale for $52

$2 Trifecta ($24 total): 5 Owendale with
3 Warrior’s Charge, 9 Bodexpress, 12 Anothertwistafate wtih
#2 Bourbon War, 4 Improbable, 8 Signalman, 11 Laughing Fox

$2 Trifecta: ($12 total): 5 Owendale with
2 Bourbon War, 4 Improbable, 11 Laughing Fox with
3 Warrior’s Charge, 9 Bodexpress, 12 Anothertwistafate

$2 Trifecta ($12 total): 2 Bourbon War, 12 Anothertwistafate with
5 Owendale with
3 Warrior’s Charge, 9 Bodexpress, 11 Laughing Fox, 12 Anothertwistafate

Don’t forget we’ll be giving away a FREE Preakness t-shirt at the OTB today. Be sure to stop by and say hello. I’ll be there just before the Preakness.

Best of luck everybody.


Preakness First Pass

16 May

By Lucky Kalanges

With the official draw completed, here’s a quick looked at the Preakness Stakes contenders from the rail out:

1 WAR OF WILL (4/1) – Draws the rail again after working out a decent trip from that notoriously tough spot in the Derby, only to be taken out on the far turn by Maximum Security. Battled honorably until the final sixteenth, but failed to finish and faded to eighth. Either a glass half-full or empty depending on how you look at his last two out-of-the-money efforts. Should be fit coming back in two weeks, and will be a threat if he can work out a trip. Must gun it from the rail to establish position early, and can’t get too excited about him from a value standpoint, as the expected second choice.

2 BOURBON WAR (12/1) – Comes in off a layoff after finishing a no-chance 4th behind Maximum Security who crawled on the lead in the Florida Derby. He’s a dead closer so a lot will depend on how fast they go up front, but the pace does figure to be a bit quicker than it was at Gulfstream. Only finished 3/4 a length behind Code of Honor in last heat. Exotics threat.

3 WARRIOR’S CHARGE (12/1) – Ships in for the Brad Cox barn off wire-to-wire maiden and optional claiming victories by six or more lengths. Figures to gun for the lead here. Pace factor and a threat if he can clear, which looks like a much tougher assignment today with ALWAYS MINING and BODEXPRESS drawn to his outside. Florent Geroux opts for stablemate Owendale.

4 IMPROBABLE (5/2) – Three wins in six starts, but is still looking for his first victory as a three-year-old. Figures to have a better shot this time with a smaller field and a fast track. However, as the lone Baffert entry and morning-line favorite, he doesn’t figure to offer much value and is clearly beatable for the win.

5 OWENDALE (10/1) – Stablemate of the #3 horse, comes in off an impressive victory over Antohertwistafate in the Lexington, a race in which he made a sweeping move around the far turn. 2nd off a layoff, figures to sit and finish. Last speed figure fits with this bunch and could get the trip. Win contender and a key exotics player at 8/1 or better.

6 MARKET KING (30/1) – Maiden winner with eight starts. Cheap speed from the Lukas barn looks overmatched here. Toss.

7 ALWAYSMINING (8/1) – Local hero has ripped off six straight wins by open lengths at Laurel and is well-deserving of this shot. Speed figures fit with this group and gets a great draw in the middle of the field. Will take them as far as he can.

8 SIGNALMAN (30/1) – Improving figures, 3rd off a layoff for the McPeek barn, this mid-pack type has had quick paces to chase in his last two and managed only to grab third in the Blue Grass last out. He’s very experienced in fields of 13 or more, and has four solid works in tow. Should offer some value in lower half of exotics if he’s forgotten at 30/1.

9 BODEXPRESS (20/1) – Still a maiden, but throw out his Derby effort from a hopeless post and he split Maximum Security and Code of Honor in the Florida Derby. All those two did was cross the wire first and third in America’s biggest race. Should be putting the heat on the pacesetters and will try to get first run on the closers turning for home. Offers value in the exotics and can’t completely eliminate him for the win. Velazquez up is a plus.

10 EVERFAST (50/1) – Seldom fast is more like it, but ever ambitiously placed. Connections have bitten off more than this guy can chew again. Toss.

11 LAUGHING FOX (20/1) – Don’t laugh, prior to his last win he finished 4th behind would-be Derby favorite Omaha Beach, today’s likely favorite, and actual Derby winner, Country House, in the Arkansas Derby. This dead-closer fits from a class standpoint if he can get a lively pace to chase and a decent trip. Must use in the bottom half of the exotics.

12 ANOTHERTWISTAFATE (6/1) – Hard not to like this hard-knocking colt from the Bay Area who has managed five exacta finishes in six lifetime starts. Got stuck in a bit of traffic stalking the pace in the Lexington Stakes, which allowed Owendale to get the jump on him. He should be involved early and with the outside draw, he should manage to stay out of trouble. Gets Jose Ortiz this time. Still needs to prove he can win outside of Golden Gate, but offers value as the third choice. Win contender and exotics key for me.

13 WIN WIN WIN (15/1) – Deep closer with local connections can pick up the pieces late with the right trip. Wide draw shouldn’t hurt him. Finished behind the local hero Alwaysmining when he was racing at Laurel. Really had no shot in the Derby with the wet track. Will consider in the lower half of the exotics, third and fourth.

That’s my first impressions of the field. I’ll be back Friday night with my picks for the 144th Preakness.

Superfecta Score Heals Old Derby Wounds

11 May

By Lucky Kalanges

It was the 2015 Kentucky Derby and the unthinkable had happened.

The Road to the Kentucky Derby Showdown, a TwinSpires contest with a $1 Million Bonus Prize that I was responsible for running had more than a dozen contestants still alive heading into the Derby. And all they had to do was cash a winning $20 Show bet on the Derby to claim a share of the million-dollar prize.

To get here, they had to cash a winning $20 Show bet in 19 Kentucky Derby prep races without losing. Nobody had ever gone more than 9 races without losing in the four years we had held the contest. Now, an incredibly chalky prep season had led to 13 players hitting 19 Show bets in a row, and advancing to the Kentucky Derby.

With 13 players in the hunt, it was a mortal lock that we would be giving away a million bucks. Of course, we had insured the prize, or it would have been extremely unlikely that I would have attended the next three Kentucky Derbies as a Churchill Downs employee.

With the pressure off, all I had to do was make sure each contestant got their $20 Show bet down in the final round. A handful accepted our invitation to attend the Derby and I had the pleasure of showing them around Churchill Downs. One of the players who couldn’t make it was Matthew Ball, who hails from Burbank, California and paints movie sets for a living.

He was probably thankful for not having made the trip after being one of three players to choose a horse other than the post-time favorite, American Pharoah, or “the other Baffert,” second choice, Dortmund. He stuck to his original Derby pick, Blue Grass Stakes winner, Carpe Diem.

When his pick finished up the track in 10th place, he was one of the unenviable three who failed to claim a share of the million-dollar prize. Those who picked American Pharoah, Firing Line or Dortmund decided to split the $500,000 lump sum payout and bagged about $50,000 each, before taxes, from a $20 Show bet.

I took a photo with the winners who attended the Derby, but all I could find was this old Facebook picture of me donning a discarded Ladies’ hat with the million-dollar check.

Derby Photo

I can say from experience, if you want to be the most popular guy at the Kentucky Derby, just walk around with a giant ceremonial check made out for One Million Dollars. Everyone wants a picture with it.

As luck would have it, Matt’s story didn’t end here. After this year’s Kentucky Derby, I received a Twitter Direct Message from Matt’s father, John Ball, whose ties to the Bay Area can be traced back to the days when the Navy flew the P-3 Orion sub hunters out of Moffett Field in Sunnyvale. John said he very much enjoyed attending the Alameda County Fair and the Pleasanton horse races while he was stationed in the Bay Area.

His message came with an attachment that revealed Matt had taken another contrarian approach to betting the Kentucky Derby. After reading it, I had to reach out to Matt to see how the heck he had landed on Country House as a viable win contender.

“My dad had been touting Bill Mott all year saying he was going to win the Derby with whoever he got there with,” Matt wrote. 

My interest peaked in Country House when Flavien Prat was named to ride. I love that dude and think he’s a terrific jock, so it was a great sign to me.

I always give an extra look at the chestnuts, especially ones with a white blaze, as they remind me of our dog, Z. He passed away in December, and the name Country House also had some deep emotions tied to a friend of 12 years, who we lost last December.

Still, heading into Derby Week, Country House was only one of five horses Matt was considering as his prime win contenders.

“At this point, I’m still on Tax, Long Range Toddy, Honor Code, and Vekoma as my other win candidates,” Matt said. 

Like many handicappers, he began to pare down his list after the draw.

Country House draws the 20, which is a bummer, but he’s a closer, so it’s not the end of the world. Toddy draws the 18 and the weather looks sloppy, so I’m losing interest. Vekoma draws terrific in the 6, but Honor Code gets my lucky number 13. Tax gets the Carpe Diem post 2, so he is mostly out, but I’m also left wondering if it’s a sign.

Two days out.

Omaha Beach is scratched. This moves Honor Code (technically) out of post 13, putting a wrinkle in my lucky number angle. It also brings Country House in one spot to 19. It sounds insane, but it started to seem more plausible to me that he could have a good trip.

It’s Around this time is when I came up with “the bet”. My derby wagering strategy is always the same. Key one winner on top of as many Superfecta combos as I can afford, which is usually about $60. Thankfully, an $8 bet on Owendale a few weeks prior had given me a little more wiggle room. Thinking about the horses to use underneath my winner, at some point, it just popped in.

3 Bafferts and 2 Motts.

I didn’t know which Baffert horse to use but obviously one of them would be up there, and both of Mott’s looked like ideal derby horses. Yes, this was the correct bet. Stop thinking about it, now just find the winner. 

Oaks Day arrives.

I am working but my mind is solely on the Derby field. Vekoma is irritating me in that I keep picturing him winning. But the breeding is off and the numbers are way too slow.

But it should be noted that he’s a chestnut, and I always take an extra look at the ones with a white blaze, since they remind me of my dog, Z.

Country House also fits this criteria, and his name recalls some deep emotions, tied to my friend of 12 years, that we lost last December.

I had also read (NYRA Handicapper) David Aragona’s analysis of the Arkansas Derby, and Country House was his pick, just one race ago, to beat Omaha Beach. And Country House had run a respectable third in that race.

Then I read an interview with Laffit Pincay, and he mentioned how Country House was very agile for a big horse, and seemed to bounce across the track. That seemed good to me for a closer trying to come over from post 19.

Not to mention, my dad has been touting Bill Mott all year, saying he would win the derby with “whoever he gets there with”.

It was suddenly painfully obvious. Country House was the pick. He was my “no regrets, all in pick” to win the Derby. And it felt very right.

Still, as I can attest, having used Justify on top of my tickets last year, having the winner does not guarantee success in the Superfecta. Matt still needed to round out the bottom of his ticket on the morning of the Kentucky Derby.

It’s the best morning of the year, as always. I won’t be watching any of undercard as we are attending a kid’s outdoor party. But that’s fine, I don’t want to lose my Derby bankroll anyhow. I am left with a problem, in that I now need to replace Country House as one of the Mott horses I was using underneath. As I stood, watching my 3-year-old devour a sno-cone, I looked at my wife sitting next to him, and remembered her pick, Code of Honor.

My family and friends play a handicapping game throughout the prep races, and we were all fresh off a shellacking from her, so there was no chance I was leaving her pick off my ticket. I logged in at that moment and placed 3 bets.

In the Trifecta (a $20 total bet) and Superfecta (a $60 total bet), he played #20 Country House over five horses:

#5 Improbable (Baffert),  #8 Tacitus (the other Mott), #13 Code of Honor (Wife’s pick), #16 Game Winner (Baffert), and #17 Roadster (Baffert).

He also placed a $5 Win bet on Country House and, as a saver, $5 Win on Long Range Toddy, whose rider would play an important role in the ultimate outcome.

When Maximum Security crossed the finish line a 1 3/4 lengths winner, he was resigned to his fate, but wasn’t overly disappointed.

I was so proud of Country House and really wasn’t disappointed, because he ran so well to get 2nd. I thought for a split second, as Maximum Security crossed the finish line, maybe there will be an inquiry. But then I knew that was impossible…

Then it was announced that Flavien Prat, the rider of Country House, had lodged an objection against the winner. As the drama unfolded over 22 minutes, Matt recalls the moment he knew everything had changed.

The stewards room is empty, and something feels right. They cut to an agent talking to Prat. In a split second, as the smile came over his face, before his arms were even fully raised, I knew what had happened.

I covered my mouth and jumped back from the screen like Joaquin Phoenix seeing an alien (in the movie Signs). The gravity of the situation was instantly felt, not only for my financial stake, but also for the racing world.

Total shock and disbelief.

Standing in the same 10×10 room that buried me alive in 2015 (with Carpe Diem), was it really possible?

Did I have my bets right?

I know I did, but got to log in to make sure. Good lord, 65-1?! What will it pay?!

This is what he saw:

Derby Super

Not a bad return for a $90 investment.

From his Dad to his wife to his old dog Z, and from a good friend he’d lost in December, Matt had taken all the input that had mattered most, and used it to exorcise the Carpe Diem demon that had owned him for the past four years.

And while we only exchanged e-mails, the feeling of relief and exultation came through loud and clear.

“I’m not a very public person (no Facebook, Twitter, etc),” Matt wrote. “But it’s hard not to just enjoy the ride with this one.”

Blowing the Derby Deadline

10 May

By Lucky Kalanges

It probably wasn’t a great sign when an OTB customer asked me last Friday night who I liked in the Derby and I couldn’t tell him.

“I don’t know,” I said. “If you see me tomorrow, ask me then.”

That’s not what anyone, especially a reading audience wants to hear, but it’s generally the way I play it. I have to see the odds, track conditions and whatnot before making my final plays, which this year, occurred probably 90 minutes before the race.

Unfortunately, my son had a Little League game between my final handicapping preparation when the track was fast and the weather was dry, and when the horses were loading into the gate. By the time I rushed home, showered and crawled up the Sunol Grade for my night shift at the OTB, the heavens had opened up, the track was sloppy and I probably should have heeded the impulse to cancel all my bets.

But you know, it’s the Derby, so I let them ride. The only good news to report is that the disqualification of Maximum Security had no bearing on my outcome. I was a loser either way.

Of the DQ itself, I have nothing to add that hasn’t been discussed ad nauseum, but you know that won’t stop me. When I first saw the objection was from Flavian Prat, the rider of Country House, like everybody I focused on contact between the two. When I couldn’t see any, I figured this objection would be tossed in the circular file like 99% of all jockey objections.

When the inquiry dragged on, I started to get more interested. It’s only when I saw a particular angle of the infraction coming around the turn that I understood why Maximum Security had to come down, based on the rules as written in Kentucky.

I think Eddie Olczyk of NBC Sports breaks it down well here.

At the time Maximum Security bore out badly, it looked like War of Will was loaded ready to at least challenge him for the lead. War of Will did recover and battled until the last 1/16th of a mile before fading to eighth, just a half-length short of finishing fifth and earning a $90,000 check.

The reason I agree with the DQ decision is twofold:

  1. The foul cost War of Will at least a half-length, denying his owners a shot at $90,000 in prize money or more. The way the rules are written in Kentucky, a foul that costs another horse an opportunity at a better placing may be disqualified. That’s pretty much the same way they’re written and enforced in California.
  2. Most agree that the foul could have easily caused War of Will to fall, putting him and his rider in grave danger. Had War of Will fallen, Maximum Security would have almost certainly been disqualified within minutes. Do we really need to see a horse and rider hit the dirt in order to disqualify a horse in the Kentucky Derby?

    I don’t think so.

I can only imagine the frustration of losing the Derby Superfecta or any bet with a sizeable payoff on a DQ like that. With Country House in second, the Superfecta was paying five figures with or without Maximum Security.

As it stood, the Superfecta payoff of $51,400 felt a little light to me given it paid nearly $20,000 last year with Justify on top as opposed to a 65/1 shot. Not surprisingly, there was only one winning ticket in the Super High 5 that paid a whopping $544,185.

Any word on who bought the winning Super High 5 ticket?

Another interesting development was the 20-cent Single 6 Jackpot Pick 6 far outperforming the new, low takeout, two-day $2 Grade I Pick 6.

Here’s the comparison:

$2 two-day All Grade I Pick 6 paid $67,936
$.20 Single 6 Jackpot Pick 6 paid $271,869

The two Pick 6 pools shared the following winners:

  • Mitole ($6.40) in the Churchill Downs Stakes
  • Bricks and Mortar ($4.20) in the Turf Classic
  • Country House ($132.40) in the Derby

Here’s is where they differed:

  • Beau Recall ($23.00) in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (Single 6 Jackpot)
  • Digital Age ($19.20) in the American Turf (Single 6 Jackpot)
  • Mr. Money ($17.00) in the Pat Day Mile (Single 6 Jackpot)
  • She’s a Julie ($12.00) in the La Troienne (G1 Pick 6)
  • Mia Mischief ($25.00) in the Humana Distaff (G1 Pick 6)
  • Serengeti Empress ($28.00) in the Kentucky Oaks (G1 Pick 6)

Given the prices of the winners were very close, even higher in two of the three G1 Pick 6 races, it was a bit surprising that the 15% takeout Pick 6 paid so much less than its Jackpot counterpart, which, in addition to its 15% takeout, rakes another 10% to the Jackpot ($137,594 to be exact).

A lot probably has to do with the Derby day Jackpot Pick 6 handling $1,066,333 vs. the new, two-day Grade I Pick 6 taking in just $479,561.

With time, however, I expect the two-day $2 Pick 6 to grow and I think it is a great way for Churchill Downs to eliminate the negative publicity associated with switching its Pick 6 from a $2 minimum on Oaks and Derby weekend to a 20-cent Jackpot in the middle of its prestigious spring meeting.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’ll be back before the weekend is up with a winning story  for a change. I case you haven’t noticed, I’ve grown a little tired of talking about myself losing money all the time.

Speaking of which, if you’ve got a winning story from the Derby this past weekend, we’d love to hear it. Hit me up at lkalanges@alamedacountyfair.com