Friday, February 10, 2012

It's Friday - No Politics - No Problems


It's Friday, February 10 in Southern Maryland.  The weather has now become so confused that when Punxsutawney Phil, you all know him, the famous Groundhog Day prognosticator who checks his shadow to see when winter will be over.

According to the tradition, if Phil sees his shadow and returns to his hole, he has predicted six more weeks of winter-like weather. If Phil does not see his shadow, he has predicted an "early spring."

The date of Phil's prognostication is known as Groundhog Day in the United States and Canada. He is considered to be the world's most famous prognosticating rodent. During the rest of the year, Phil lives in the town library with his "wife" Phyllis.

Did you know the first official Groundhog Day was February 2, 1887 , at Gobbler's Knob, which was about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, but there is reference that the first Groundhog Day was in 1841.

Who cares?  So when Phil stepped out of his condo February 2, this year's Groundhog Day, what did he see?  I think he got a sunburn.  Anyway, he's only been accurate 39% of the time over the past 125 or 170 years.

Better than our weatherman but no where near the accuracy of my Irish Grandfather, God rest his mischievous soul, who could feel the weather in his bones.

This is supposed to be the doldrums of winter yet the Crocus are popping out all over.  It is the Dead Zone of the primary campaign with only one debate the entire month after debates every other day for the past year.

We need a break from politics, from Obama, from Democrats, from Republicans and from the media.  So I thought about it and realized at this moment we are only 85 days, 8 hours and 17 minutes from the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby.

Now that coincidence should not go unnoticed.

So it's time for my Derby preview thus turning our attention from the weird weather and weirder political and international events.  Forget about the End Times, the Kentucky Derby is well before December 21, 2012 (the end of the Mayan calendar).

Visualize with me tens of thousands of beautiful Southern Belles in these most extraordinary hats.

Nearly 200,000 people fill the enchanted Twin Spires of Churchill Downs.

Mint Juleps rule the day, the Kentucky Blue Blood cocktail invented to sell bourbon to the sophisticated socialites.

And then there are the thundering herd of million dollar horses pounding around the final turn and heading for the stretch run of the fastest two minutes in sports.

Oh Lordly what a sight as these fire-breathing behemoths remind us of the greatest of Greek Mythology, the Immortal Horses of the gods. The majority of these divine steeds were offspring of the four Wind-Gods who themselves were said to draw the chariot of Zeus.

It is only about three months before the draw for the post positions for Derby horses so I am going to share with you the Churchill Downs tracking of horses most likely to get into the Derby.

Before that I must share my experience with pari-mutuel betting, picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby and next superstar of the h0rse racing world.

You see, I'm not a gambling man in the sense of betting on things.  I already take enough foolish risk with the things I do in my life.  Still, my memory of the Kentucky Derby seems to predate even the World Series.

There was the end of World War II, then the mighty Citation winning the triple crown in 1948, the fourth time in the 1940's there was a triple crown champion.  It would be the last triple crown champion for 25 long years.

Then along came Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978, three triple crown champions in five years, and no winners since 1978.  Winning the triple crown is among the most difficult achievements in all of sports.

So I grew up trying to pick the winner of the Derby for family bragging rights.  Later in life I would place a single bet on the Derby every year and more often than not I picked the winner.

When I worked for the governor of New Jersey one of my assignments was to be chief of staff for a cabinet commissioner who loved the challenge of handicapping the horses.  He was pretty good at it and just recently was appointed to the Board of Directors at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.

I have family in the Lexington, Kentucky area and some are involved and all follow the Kentucky thoroughbred industry and Kentucky Derby.  One is involved in thoroughbred auctions and the millions of millions of dollars involved in race horses.  Others, like my nieces and nephews, can be found in a box on Derby Day plastered on Mint Juleps hidden somewhere under the outrageous hats.  Just kidding.

So this last year when I was travelling to Lexington for treatment for this and that (see other stories on my tragic medical odyssey), my younger brother, we shall call him Bosco in order to hide his identity and protect his right to privacy, asked if I knew the Breeders Cup races were at Churchill Downs.

Now the Breeder's cup races are a really big deal like the Derby.  You see, the top horses in all the world are invited to race each other to see who is horse of the year in the different categories.  Over two days about $35 million in purses are awarded and millions more in breeding rights can be earned.

Now my betting experience over the decades never got any farther than picking horses to win, place or show.  I just had no time for all the variations of betting like the following.

Straight bet or Single or Win bet. This is the simplest and most common bet. You bet on a winner at given odds. You collect only if your chosen horse is the first across the finish line.
  • Place. A wager for place means you collect if your selected horse finishes either first or second.
  • Show. The third horse across the finish line. A wager to show means you collect if your selected horse finishes either first, second or third.
  • Combination Bet. Combinations cover from two to four horses to win in chosen order.
  • Pick 3. This wager requires the player to pick the winners of three consecutive races. Some race tracks have a rolling pick 3 which is when the player must pick three races in a row and it continues for the next three races.
  • Pick 6. This wager requires the player to select the winner of six consecutive races prior to the first race of the pick six. Some tracks place the pick six as the first six races, the middle six races, or the last six races. Many tracks have carry over pools for the pick six that can grow to as high as a million dollars.
  • Quiniela or Reverse Forecast (UK). A bet placed on two horses to finish first and second in either order.
  • Perfecta or Exacta or Straight Forecast (UK). A bet placed on two horses but they must cross the finish line in exact chosen order.
  • Trifecta or Tricast or Treble Forecast (UK). A bet placed on three horses to cross the finish line in exact chosen order.
  • Superfecta. A bet placed on four horses to cross the finish line in exact chosen order.
  • Daily Double. Similar to an accumulator you select the winners of the first and second races on that day. You must place your bet before the start of the first race.
  • Jackpot. Pick six winners in six races to share in a Jackpot prize. The rules and prizes will vary from race track to race track.
  • Parlay or Accumulator. A multiple bet. A kind of 'let-it-ride' bet. Making simultaneous selections on two or more races with the intent of pressing the winnings of the first win on the bet of the following race selected, and so on. All the selections made must win for you to win the parlay. If a race is a tie, postponed or cancelled, your parlay is automatically reduced by one selection; a double parlay becomes a straight bet, a triple parlay becomes a double. A parlay bet can yield huge dividends if won.
  • Future. A bet on a future event. At the start of each season, the sportsbooks give out odds for horses to win a certain event. The odds change as the race date approaches and in most cases get shorter, but if you win you get paid at the original odds that you took. This is possibly one of the most profitable bets if you have considerable knowledge of the race that you are betting on including the jockeys, and a good sense of judgement.
  • Exotic Bets. Betting on unusual events. Some sports books post odds and take bets on a wide variety of other sports related events and activities. A few others will take bets on just about anything you can think of.
  • Proposition Bet or Prop Bet. An offer of bets at odds and conditions chosen by the sportsbook, usually on 'Exotic' bets. 

But Bosco says he wants to bet on the Breeders Cup races.  The first day we won about four races but lost money on the rest.  The second day we won about the same and were slightly ahead when he said he wanted to bet a Superfecta in the last race.

I had no clue what he was talking about.  He said we had to pick the first four horses in order. I told him he was mad, we couldn't even pick the first horse most races, let alone four in a row.

So I asked if he ever won a Superfecta and he said no but his kids did.  He said the payouts were in the thousands of dollars.  I was intrigued and said why not, it's only a few bucks and one race.

We each picked out the horses we wanted and he went and bet the ticket.  The race, on the big screen TV, went off and I had the winner again, for about $5.  It was the last I thought about it until the next afternoon.

I heard the Superfecta paid around $1,500 a ticket.  It meant nothing to me but I still pulled out our Superfacta ticket to check the horses.  To my complete and utter astonishment our ticket accurately picked the first four horses in order.

So I grabbed my brother and said how much did he bet on the Superfecta.  Since I would bet between $5 and $50 on a horse my brain was already multiplying the massive winnings. Let's see, 5 times 1500 is $7500 and 50 times 1500 is a staggering $75,000.

So Bosco, how much did you bet! I shouted.  He gave me that dumb Cheshire Cat look from Wonderland as if I should know better than to ask.  Then he whispered something.

What! I demanded.  Whatever he mumbled, it didn't register on my brain or my brain refused to let it register.  Then I heard the worst words I had heard in who knows how long.  "Ten cents!".

That did not even compute.  What ten cents?  He said he bet ten cents per horse, not $1, $5 or $50.

Somehow his math indicated we might have won our first Superfecta and in the featured race of the breeders Cup, no less.  But his fractional betting left us with about 1 /1000 of what we were supposed to make. because he bet ten cents rather than more.

I asked if there was any reason he decided to bet pennies instead of dollars and he said he'd never won a Superfecta and never expected to win so he bet pennies instead of dollars.

So now my brother and I have finally won a Superfecta.  Yes, we nailed them from first to fourth place.  We even had the foresight to bet the race.  But don't ever have your slightly crazy brother place the bet without checking the tickets or you may wind up winning parking money rather than $75,000.

As for me, I'm back to sticking with picking just the winner.  So here are the horses that Churchill Downs says are qualified for the Derby so far.  More will be added later as other three year olds win the Derby prep races.

Owner: Starlight Racing
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Javier Castellano

Owner: Godolphin
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin
Jockey: Ramon Dominguez

Owner: Heinz Steinmann
Trainer: Mike Harrington
Jockey: Joel Rosario

Owner: Donegal Racing
Trainer: Dale Romans
Jockey: Kent Desormeaux

Owner: WinStar Farm LLC.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Javier Castellano

Owner: Dr. Kendall Hansen & Sky Chai Racing
Trainer:Mike Maker
Jockey: Ramon Dominguez

Owner: J. Paul Reddam
Trainer: Doug O'Neill
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez

Owner: Arnold Zetcher
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Rafael Bejarano

Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds
Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owner: Chadds Ford Stable
Trainer: Michael Matz

As for me, maybe I'll just have to go on a bike ride.  Might as well enjoy early spring.


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