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  • April 30, 2010

    2010 Kentucky Derby - Who's Going To Win?

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    I made my Kentucky Derby pick yesterday, but now it's your turn. Who do you like?

    Keep in mind that they're now calling for 4 to 5 inches of rain in Louisville between tonight and tomorrow. It's going to be a mess. I seriously considered going to the Derby this year and I can't tell you how glad I am that I didn't book the trip. My cute shoes, hat & dress would have been tossed aside in favor of some $10 Wal-Mart rain gear. Blech.

    You can find a horse's Tomlinson Rating in the Daily Racing Form. This is a number, usually between 300 and 500, that's supposed to help you determine, from breeding, if your horse is a mudder. Basically, it's the Kramer approach: "his mudder was a mudder". Anyway, most of this field has high Tomlinson numbers, so, in theory, they're mudders. In practice, people seem to be high on Stately Victor as he (along with Awesome Act) is a son of Awesome Again who's sired some great mudders.

    Who will win the Kentucky Derby?
    Lookin At Lucky
    Ice Box
    Noble's Promise
    Super Saver
    Line Of David
    Stately Victor
    American Lion
    Dean's Kitten
    Make Music For Me
    Paddy O'Prado
    Devil May Care
    Jackson Bend
    Mission Impazible
    Discreetly Mine
    Awesome Act
    Sidney's Candy
  free polls
    Posted by kris at 08:22 AM | Comments (4)     
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    April 29, 2010

    2010 Kentucky Derby Pick

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    Each year, I try to use a series of questions in order to narrow the field and pick my Kentucky Derby winner. While I might not get the winner right, I hope these questions will be a good guide for the rest of you and help you pick a winner.

    Question 1
    Is there an exceptional horse in the race? Because the Derby usually has a large field, racing luck and pace tend to make the race. A truly exceptional horse, however, tends to make its own luck. If you think there's a potential Triple Crown winner in the field, pick him and skip to the end. If not, move on to question 2.

    Maybe Sidney’s Candy, but otherwise no.

    Question 2
    Are there fewer than 14 horses in the field? If so, then you can rely on what happened in the Derby preps to guide your pick. Races with fewer horses tend to have a more reasonable pace and predictable results. If the field isn't full, look to one of the winners of the big prep races (Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes, Florida Derby).

    This year, 20 horses are going to be in the starting gate, so things like racing luck and riders will play a factor. Sidney's Candy drew a terrible post and Super Saver's jockey, Calvin Borel, has been on fire so far at Churchill Downs. Lookin At Lucky has a history of being extremely unlucky and will be on the rail, which could cause problems.

    Question 3
    Who has won multiple stakes races? After backing too many horses that had potential rather than performance, I want a horse that’s proven he or she can win consistently. Potential be damned. I'll let Potential beat me this year.

    Our multiple stakes winners are American Lion, Backtalk, Conveyance, Dean’s Kitten, Devil May Care, Jackson Bend, Lookin At Lucky and Sidney’s Candy.

    Question 4
    Of the remaining horses, who proved their early maturity with some good two-year old form?

    All of these horses showed some precociousness and good form at two.

    Question 5
    How fast will the pace be? Check out the running styles of the field. If there's a ton of horses in the race that all like to be 4th or 5th throughout the race, then they all might plod around in the early part of the race, meaning that one of them will outkick the others for the win OR that a frontrunner might get loose on the lead and win. This is not a common scenario. More likely is the field with a few speedballs. They'll ensure a swift pace and cause those horses who want to be comfortable sitting off the lead to go faster than they want. This pace scenario usually results in a come-from-behind horse winning.

    So, to review, fewer speed horses mean the race sets up for stalkers OR for a lone speed horse. Lots of speed horses mean that the winner will most likely come from way off the pace.

    Line of David and Conveyance seem to be the speed of the speed, so I would expect a pace like 46 and change for the half and 1:10 and change for 3/4 of a mile. That’s perfect for the high quality speed and the stalkers but not for the deep closers unless the field really is just horrible and no one can stay. Of the eight we have left, Conveyance, Sidney’s Candy and American Lion are front runners (although I’d expect that both Sidney & Lion are going to try to lay a bit off of the pace), Devil May Care and Jackson Bend are your stalkers and Backtalk, Dean’s Kitten and Lookin At Lucky will come from the back of the pack. Dean’s Kitten and Lookin At Lucky are more stalker/closers who’ll make their move around the turn, so based on the pace scenario, Backtalk is the only one of these I’d eliminate.

    Question 6
    Will it rain? On some tracks, it doesn't seem to matter if it's muddy. At Churchill Downs (the home of the Derby) it does matter. It's the track comes up wet, look for horses with some history of success in the mud. Extra bonus points if his mother was a mudder. Additionally, who has dirt, rather than synthetic, form. Some horses love synthetic tracks, some only perform on real dirt.

    So it does look like it's going to rain Saturday. Of the seven we have left, all have worked well over the mud this weekend and I wouldn’t have any concerns about how they’d handle the track. However, I think that Churchill’s mud is extra tiring and so I’d give bonus points to horses with strong stamina pedigrees (see the next question).

    Question 7
    Can he go the distance? One common misconception is that horses who come from behind are stayers. This isn't necessarily the case. You still need to find a stretch runner with a pedigree that doesn't scream "sprinter".

    I feel vaguely negative about Jackson Bend’s pedigree, but not enough to knock him from the list. On the positive side, I love American Lion’s pedigree and as a son of Tiznow I’d expect him to be even better later in the year.

    Question 8
    Horses prep all around the country and many never race against each other before the Derby. Therefore, it's useful to rank the regions. If, for example, the Florida horses are much the best this year, that gives you a reason to take a Florida stretch runner over one who stayed in California.

    The big angle this year has been horses from California winning preps outside of the Golden State (winning the Rebel Stakes, Arkansas Derby, Illinois Derby and Kentucky Derby Trial), so let’s take our seven down to the Cali colts so we’re left with American Lion, Conveyance, Lookin At Lucky & Sidney’s Candy.

    Question 9
    Are any of the remaining horses trained by Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas or Nick Zito? Savvy handicappers are known to take out "Lukas insurance". That is, they'll place a small wager on Lukas-trained horses even if they don't really believe that they have a chance. History shows that you ignore Lukas, Baffert & Zito at your own peril.

    Baffert has both Conveyance & Lookin At Lucky, while Lukas will have Dublin and Zito has Jackson Bend & Ice Box. So, in theory, at this point I should be down to Conveyance or Lookin At Lucky. In theory...

    Question 10
    Who do the Derby gods want to win? Really. The Derby gods are a sentimental bunch. If there's some octogenarian owner who has waited his whole life to win the Derby, he usually will. Good stories win.

    But, it's hard to imagine that the Derby Gods want Baffert to win again, right? On the other hand, there are good reasons for the Gods to favor both American Lion and Sidney’s Candy. American Lion is trained by the cool Irish trainer Eoin Harty. He’s the man behind many of Baffert’s early champions. Additionally, he used to train for Sheik Mohammed and would routinely develop nice horses only to have them plucked from his care and sent to Dubai. Sidney’s Candy, on the other hand, will be ridden by Joe Talamo, he would have ridden last year’s Derby favorite I Want Revenge. Sadly, I Want Revenge was scratched on Derby morning. I think the Gods will have some sympathy. Plus, Sidney’s Candy is owned by longtime racing dame Jenny Craig (yes, that Jenny Craig) and is lovingly named for her late husband.

    The Picks

    Okay, so I think it’s been obvious for awhile that I'm going to pick Sidney’s Candy. However, his 20 post position is just awful for a horse like him. Ideally, he would have wanted to lay 3rd or 4th off of the pace and make his move around the turn. Now, to get into that position they'll have to gun it from start, using up precious energy in the process. And even then, he'll probably get hung wide on the turn and lose too much ground. Big Brown won the 2008 Derby from 20, but he was much the best of his field. I think Sidney is the best horse in the race, but I'm not sure he's that much better that he can overcome the post.

    His running style (moderate early - fast late) actually looks more like a closer, so maybe he can get into a good position in the back in the Derby and make a run. But you don't really want to change your horse's successful style. Basically, as much as I love him, I think he's screwed.

    So, here's how I'd spend a hypothetical $100 in Derby wagers (don't worry Mom, I'm not really betting $100)

    • $10 straight up to win on Sidney, just because if he did pull through I still better have some money on him.
    • $2 Exacta box with Sidney, Lucky, American Lion, Ice Box, Paddy O'Prado & Stately Victor for $60
    • $5 across the board bet on American Lion for $15
    • $5 across the board on Ice Box for $15

    For posterity's sake, my official "pick" will still be Sidney's Candy. Although, I feel like if I abandoned him officially now it probably would mean that he'd win.

    Posted by kris at 07:45 AM | Comments (7)     
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    April 28, 2010

    2010 Kentucky Derby - Kentucky Derby Field

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    Post PositionHorseMorning LineJockeyTrainer
    1Lookin At Lucky3-1GomezBaffert
    2Ice Box10-1LezcanoZito
    3Noble's Promise12-1MartinezMcPeek
    4Super Saver15-1BorelPletcher
    5Line Of David30-1BejaranoSadler
    6Stately Victor30-1GarciaMaker
    7American Lion30-1FloresHarty
    8Dean's Kitten50-1AlbaradoMaker
    9Make Music For Me50-1RosarioBarbra
    10Paddy O'Prado20-1DesormeauxRomans
    11Devil May Care12-1VelazquezPletcher
    13Jackson Bend15-1SmithZito
    14Mission Impazible20-1MaraghPletcher
    15Discreetly Mine30-1CastellanoPletcher
    16Awesome Act10-1LeparouxNoseda
    20Sidney's Candy5-1TalamoSadler
    Posted by kris at 11:40 AM | Comments (11)     
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    April 27, 2010

    2010 Kentucky Derby - Contender Pedigrees

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    While there's plenty to learn from past Derbies, I thought I'd spend a little time looking more closely at the contenders' pedigrees. When I make my Derby picks, I kind of gloss over pedigree, but it really is something I think about. Plus, I think it's fun to see horses you've liked in the past reflected in today's field. If nothing else, it gives you some rooting interests.

    American Lion: is by Tiznow, who won two straight Breeders Cup Classics in a tough, gritty way. So far, Tiznow tends to sire later-developing horses who like some distance. It's a little surprising that American Lion is already a stakes winner this early in his career. I like Tiznow as a sire mostly because he traces directly back to Man O'War and the Godolphin Arabian, which is a little unusual these days. American Lion is out of a Storm Cat mare and has a lot of sprinter types on his female side. While a typical Tiznow shouldn't have a problem with the Derby distance, I do have a little bit of doubt about American Lion due to his speedy female side.

    Awesome Act: is by the Canadian Awesome Again, who defeated Silver Charm and Swain in the memorable 1998 Breeders Cup Classic. He's sired some excellent horses like Ghostzapper and Ginger Punch and distance really isn't a question with him. Awesome Act is out of a Mr. Prospector mare who raced in Europe and his second dam is a nice Halo (sire of Sunday Silence) mare who has proved to be an excellent broodmare. Basically, I like Awesome Act's pedigree a lot more than I like the actual horse.

    Backtalk: is a son of the popular Smarty Jones. So far, Smarty hasn't been a super sire, but there's definitely still time for him to sire some good ones. Backtalk is out of a daughter of Triple Crown winner Affirmed and looks to have lots of quality on that side of the pedigree with names like Nijinsky, Coaltown and Nashua. It's kind of a fun pedigree to look at because it's a little unusual, but I'm not getting any green or red flags from it.

    Conveyance: is by the swift California colt Indian Charlie and out of a Holy Bull mare. As such, he traces back to Caro (sire of Derby winning filly Winning Colors). When I see this pedigree I see speed, speed and more speed. I expect Conveyance to lead the race, but this pedigree doesn't inspire any confidence that he'll get the Derby distance.

    Dean's Kitten: is a son of grass racing star Kitten's Joy. His mother is a daughter of Ide and thus traces to the gutsy Forty Niner, one of my Dad's favorite horses. I'm not in love with this pedigree at all. I think it looks like he would be an excellent grass miler, not a Derby horse.

    Devil May Care: is a daughter of Malibu Moon, a lightly raced son of A.P. Indy who has been lights out in the breeding shed. On her mother's side she traces to the classy Epsom Derby winner Roberto. I think Malibu Moon sires speedier types than A.P. Indy himself and I think I'd want more stoutness in a pedigree before I could back this filly in the Derby.

    Discreetly Mine: is another grandson of A.P. Indy, this time through his Horse of the Year son Mineshaft. He comes from a very good female family. His mother got the good miler Discreet Cat when bred to the speedy Forestry, so it's reasonable she could get a classic type when bred to Mineshaft.

    Dublin: is by the beloved Preakness/Belmont winner Afleet Alex. His mother ran 25 times and won over $700,000. This pedigree looks like it'd produce a tough, hard-knocking horse than shouldn't be distance challenged.

    Endorsement: is a son of Distorted Humor, who sired 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide. He's a son of a nice A.P. Indy mare who has a lot of South American horses in her pedigree. For some reason, I always associate the South Americans with tough horses who like to run distances. I love seeing them in a pedigree. Again, I think I like this pedigree more than I like the actual horse.

    Homeboykris: is a grandson of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus (yeah, FuPeg is already a grandpa. Time flies) out of a mare by Salutely, who primarily sired distance and steeplechase horses. This looks like a nice example of what lots of breeders like to do: get speed from the sire and stamina from the dam.

    Ice Box: is yet another grandson of A.P. Indy, this time through his son Pulpit. On his mother's side, Ice Box descends from Storm Cat. I love the cross of Storm Cat and A.P. Indy because it means a horse is inbred to Secretariat through two of his best daughters. This is probably my favorite pedigree in the field as he also has some Alysheba, Alydar and distance influences like Prince John. Not to mention that his sire Pulpit comes from a classy Claiborne Farm family.

    Jackson Bend: is by the relatively unknown Florida stallion Hear No Evil and is out of a daughter of Preakness/Belmont winner Tabasco Cat. It's not the most distinguished or distance-oriented pedigree, but you can kinda see how it could have produced a tough little bugger like Jackson Bend.

    Line Of David:: is a son of Lion Heart, who finished second in Smarty Jones' Kentucky Derby. I always admired Lion Heart because I thought he was an exceptionally brave front runner. Ideally, he's passed that heart onto his runners. If I was breeding to Lion Heart, I'd want to make sure that the mare had some stamina, but in this case Line Of David is out of a Capote mare and Capote is typically a speed influence. I think this pedigree was designed to get a fast, front-running horse who's going to shown some courage but may not get the Derby distance. I think that's Line Of David to a tee.

    Lookin At Lucky: is by leading sire Smart Strike, sire of Horse of the Year Curlin and turf champion English Channel, among others. On his female side, Lucky descends from Danzig and Ruffian's half brother, Icecapade. He's got some speed and turf influences there, but overall I wouldn't be at all concerned about his ability to either get the Derby distance or run effectively on dirt.

    Make Music For Me: is by Bernstein, a son of Storm Cat, out of a Carson City mare. To me, that spells speed. I also see some turf influences in his pedigree, but nothing that gives me confidence that he'll go the Derby distance.

    Mission Impazible: is a grandson of Unbridled through his son Unbridled's Song. Descendants of Unbridled won both the Derby and the Belmont last year. His mother's pedigree is interesting as she's a relatively old mare who was from what had to be one of the last crops by Hold Your Peace. As such, she has names like the stamina influence Princequillo pretty close up in her pedigree. Even though Mission Impazible has a high dosage index number, this really is, I think, a nice stamina pedigree.

    Noble's Promise: has, to me, a very speed oriented pedigree. He's by the two-year old star Cuvee and his mother is a daughter of the quick Clever Trick (which means, Ruffian fans, that he too descends from Ruffian's half brother Icecapade). The only saving grace here is that he also has distance runners like Proud Truth and Nijinsky too. I don't know. I don't like this pedigree at all for the Kentucky Derby.

    Paddy O'Prado: has horses like European star Sadler's Wells, Prized and Kris S. in his pedigree, my problem with Paddy O'Prado isn't that he won't get the Derby distance, but rather that his pedigree indicates that he should be running on grass, not dirt.

    Sidney's Candy: is a son of Argentinian champion Candy Ride. Candy Ride ran a few times in the United States and proved his worth by winning the Pacific Classic and breaking the track record for the Derby distance of a mile and a quarter. Candy Ride also traces back to the exciting stretch runner Cryptoclearance. On his mother's side, Sidney is out of a Storm Cat mare. His grandam, Exchange, was a millionaire, so he's got some quality on that side of the family. I think this pedigree shows a nice balance of speed and stamina and although Sidney hasn't raced on dirt, his pedigree indicates he shouldn't have a problem with it.

    Stately Victor: is a son of Horse of the Year Ghostzapper out of a mare by Dynaformer (sire of Barbaro). This is nice pedigree and Stately Victor should be able to run the distance. The only question mark is that this could really be more of a grass pedigree and Stately Victor hasn't had good form on dirt.

    Super Saver: is our final grandson of A.P. Indy, this time through his daughter Supercharger. His sire is the beautiful gray Maria's Mon, who also sired 2001 Derby winner Monarchos. This is, to put it simply, an awesome pedigree. Supercharger comes from one of the best female families in the world, tracing back directly to the great foundation mare La Troienne. Of all of the horses in the race, Super Saver would probably be the most valuable stallion if he won.

    So, of all of the horses in the race, my top five on pedigree alone would be:

    1. Ice Box
    2. Super Saver
    3. Awesome Act
    4. Endorsement Lookin At Lucky
    5. American Lion

    Posted by kris at 12:29 PM | Comments (2)     
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    April 26, 2010

    2010 Kentucky Derby - The Heart of the Matter

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    The Bedouin legend says:

    Allah took a handful of southerly wind, blew His breath over it, and created the horse.... Thou shall fly without wings, and conquer without any sword

    The spirit from that South Wind flowed in the blood of the three foundation stallions of the Thoroughbred breed, the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian (click this link for the coolest pedigree you'll ever see) down through the generations to today's Derby contenders. American Lion is 22 generations removed from the Godolphin Arabian in an unbroken male line that includes two-time Breeders Cup Classic winner Tiznow, the great Man O'War and the first English Triple Crown winner West Australian. Sidney's Candy goes back 26 generations to the Darley Arabian through the great gray Native Dancer and the unbeaten Eclipse. And in between the Derby contenders' pedigrees sparkle with legends of the sport like Secretariat, the famed "Flying Filly" Mumtaz Mahal, Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and the noble English champion Roberto, among many others.

    But, as Dan Fogelberg sang

    It's breeding and it's training
    and it's something unknown
    that drives you and carries you home

    I can make spreadsheets for days, but a Thoroughbred is more than numbers on a piece of paper. He's desire, heart and that "something unknown". In other words, we can measure a horse's heart, but we can't measure his heart.

    At the top of that long Churchill Downs homestretch, what horse will have the speed, strength and courage to win? I wish I knew the answer, but the question itself is why I care about the Derby in the first place. The horses aren't running for money, fame or glory. They run because running is simply what they were born to do. They're more beautiful, more noble and more wonderful than us mere humans.

    Back in the 1950s, Sports Illustrated used to send great writers to the Kentucky Derby to get a more literary spin on things. In 1955, they sent William Faulkner to Louisville. He wrote a truly magnificent article and succinctly says why racing matters:

    Once the horse moved man's physical body and his household goods and his articles of commerce from one place to another. Nowadays all it moves is a part or the whole of his bank account, either through betting on it or trying to keep owning and feeding it.

    So, in a way, unlike the other animals which he has domesticated—cows and sheep and hogs and chickens and dogs (I don't include cats; man has never tamed cats)—the horse is economically obsolete. Yet it still endures and probably will continue to as long as man himself does, long after the cows and sheep and hogs and chickens, and the dogs which control and protect them, are extinct. Because the other beasts and their guardians merely supply man with food, and someday science will feed him by means of synthetic gases and so eliminate the economic need which they fill. While what the horse supplies to man is something deep and profound in his emotional nature and need.

    It will endure and survive until man's own nature changes. Because you can almost count on your thumbs the types and classes of human beings in whose lives and memories and experience and glandular discharge the horse has no place. These will be the ones who don't like to bet on anything which involves the element of chance or skill or the unforeseen. They will be the ones who don't like to watch something in motion, either big or going fast, no matter what it is. They will be the ones who don't like to watch something alive and bigger and stronger than man, under the control of puny man's will, doing something which man himself is too weak or too inferior in sight or hearing or speed to do.

    To me, that's the beauty the Kentucky Derby. It tests the horses, but also celebrates them with the kind of pageantry and bold actions such creatures deserve. As Faulkner said, they may not move our bodies anymore, but they still have the power to move our souls.

    Posted by kris at 11:59 AM | Comments (1)     
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    2010 Kentucky Derby - The Works

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    Eskendereya's Derby-ending injury was one of the worst kept secrets in racing. On the backstretch, everybody seemed to know something was wrong with him, but no one official was saying anything about it until Daily Racing Form reporter Jay Privman finally wrote about the speculation on Saturday after Eskendereya missed a scheduled workout. In the same column Privman also mentioned the fact that Sidney's Candy is wearing a quarter crack patch. His trainer John Sadler says the patch is several months old, but who knows, there could also be something not quite right with Sidney too.

    While workouts (or lack of workouts) can expose a horse with something wrong, they can also point you to a horse who is sitting on a big effort. I looked back at old past performances to see if Derby winners typically worked bullets (the fastest work of the day at a given distance), had works over Churchill Downs or had some other common pattern. They don't. Some winners worked bullets, some didn't. Some winners showed that they loved Churchill Downs with good works, but other winners never worked over the track.

    Without a pattern and without being at the track, handicappers are stuck with the observations of others. While there are some horses this year that everyone thinks look bad (Rule & Dublin) and some that are universally loved for their morning gallops (the filly Devil May Care, Super Saver, Ice Box & American Lion) most horses have admirers and detractors. No one has stood out yet the way that Barbaro, Smarty Jones and Street Sense did with brilliant works before the Derby.

    I think if you know a lot about horses you might be able to get some clues in the morning about who is going to perform well Derby afternoon, but for the average (or below average) punter like me, works are going to be something I think about more than I act on at the betting window.

    Next time - maybe some fun & frivolity (finally) or maybe an actual pick. We'll see.

    Posted by kris at 08:58 AM | Comments (2)     
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    April 23, 2010

    2010 Kentucky Derby - Ponder the Plodders

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    To be honest, I don't have the appetite for anguish necessary to bet anything more exotic than an exacta box. But, payouts for Derby exotics are large enough to tempt even the wimpiest bettor.

    I put together this chart of Kentucky Derbies from 1990 on that shows the pace scenario, top four finishers and payouts. The average $2 exacta payout is $921.97 while hitting the trifecta will get you, on average, $14,686.39. Damn.

    Of course, hitting a winning ticket like that can require a big initial investment as you're probably going to have to box 5 or 6 horses or at least mix it up at the bottom of your ticket. I found this handy guide to figuring out how much multi-horse wagers cost. In the equations below use x as the number of horses in your wager and y as the dollar amount of your bet:

    Exacta boxes: x*(x-1)*y. So, a four horse exacta box will cost you 4*3*2 or $12
    Trifecta boxes: x*(x-1)*(x-2)*y. So those same four horses in a trifecta box will cost 4*3*2*2 or $48
    Superfecta boxes: x*(x-1)*(x-2)*(x-3)*y. So let's say you want to box 6 horses, it's 6*5*4*3*2 or $720.

    Luckily for big spenders, the minimum superfecta bet on Derby day is only $1, so you could get your box for $360 instead of $720. Either way, good luck.

    Typically, rather than spend that much to box a bunch of horses, a bettor will chose the top of the ticket and then box the rest. So, for example, I might build a superfecta ticket with Sidney's Candy and Eskendereya on top and then box a bunch of longshots for the 3rd and 4th positions in order to minimize my cost.

    But who should those longshots be? I believe my little charty might show the way. In the chart, the running style of the horses is designated by red for closers, yellow stalkers and green for front runners. While horses of all styles win the Derby, it's startling to see how many closers hit the board. I think a lot of quality speed and stalkers just get tired during their first time at the distance and the closers just pick up the pieces.

    So as you build your exotic tickets for the Derby, ponder the plodders. Horses like Dublin, Stately Victor, Ice Box, Interactif and Pleasant Prince (if he makes it in) may not win, but they very well might lumber down the stretch and make you a nice chunk of change.

    Next time: Some fun & frivolity.

    Posted by kris at 07:08 AM | Comments (1)     
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    April 22, 2010

    2010 Kentucky Derby - The Prep Report (Part 2)

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    As a Kentucky Derby handicapper, I don't think you should put too much weight into a horse's final Derby prep. That said, you should look closely at their entire body of work.

    Horse racing fans, like all sports fans, tend to fall in love with beautiful Potential. Lots and lots of money has been wasted at her altar. Too often we ignore Potential's ugly sister, Reality. Reality has a big dowry. One might do well to court Reality.

    For a Derby contender, Reality is reflected in their past performances. Through the bitter experience of past Derby picks like Atswhatimtalknbout, A.P. Warrior and Andromeda's Hero, I've learned that maybe, just maybe, I should pick a horse based on what's he done, not what he might do.

    In trying to figure out how Mine That Bird won the Derby last year, I wrote this:

    I have an eight question guide to picking the Derby, but Mine That Bird's victory is going to make me add a ninth question. Who has won two or more stakes races? This year, seven horses in the field of 19 had. Boxing them together would have gotten you the $41,500 trifecta. If you looked for horses who had won at least one graded stakes race, you would have also found the $557K superfecta as well as the Super High Five that not a single horse player cashed on. Not bad for a day's work.

    Okay, so that's easy - just pick a multiple stakes winner and you're good to go. Of course, it's horse racing, so it's never that simple. Going to the recent past Derby winners chart you'll see that nearly half of the them wouldn't qualify. So, maybe it won't get me a winner all of the time, but it can definitely help with exotic wagering strategies.

    In any case, I put together this quick chart of recent Derbies where I had past performances handy and you can see that there's something to the approach. In 2003, there were 5 multiple stakes winners in the field and they finished 1-2-3-4. If you had boxed them in a superfecta (at a cost of $120) you'd have made $2,675. If you did the same thing in 2004 (there were more multiple stakes winners so it would have cost $3,024) you would have hit the enormous $41,380 superfecta.

    Multiple stakes wins certainly aren't a magic bullet that will easily guide you to a winning Derby bet, but it's certainly one of the most important factors to look at to help you narrow the field to an affordable bet. This year, 10 or 11 horses have won multiple stakes (it'll ultimately depend on who gets into the race). This list includes the favorites like Eskendereya, Lookin' At Lucky and Sidney's Candy, but excludes well regarded horses like Super Saver, Endorsement, Ice Box, Dublin and Mission Impazible.

    Next time - exotic wagering, what I like to call "ponder the plodder".

    Posted by kris at 11:16 AM | Comments (0)     
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    2010 Kentucky Derby - The Prep Report

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    A typical handicapper might spend half an hour analyzing any given race but will spend weeks on the Kentucky Derby. It's not just that the Derby is more important, it's that it's harder to figure out. Horses in the Derby have never run the distance, most haven't run at Churchill Downs and many have never run against each other. What's a bettor to do?

    Well, you could just take the winners of the major prep races and choose from among them. After all, if a horse can't win the Wood Memorial or Santa Anita Derby, how can he win the Kentucky Derby? Not so fast, my about-to-lose-their-$2 friend. I'd like to introduce you to the 2003 Kentucky Derby past performances. The winner, Funny Cide, lost the Wood Memorial to Empire Maker and the Louisiana Derby to Peace Rules, but somehow was able to turn the tables on both of them in the Kentucky Derby. Likewise, Silver Charm lost his two prep races prior to the 1997 Kentucky Derby to the magnificent Free House, but was able to defeat his great rival when it counted.

    In fact, if you look at Derby winners since 1993 you'll notice that only 6 of the last 17 Derby winners won their final prep race. Even Secretariat lost his final Derby prep.

    So what the heck is going on around here? Well, it goes back to the fact that the Kentucky Derby is a whole new ballgame for these horses. Some horses that fall short in prep races may want the Derby's added distance, others may love the Churchill Downs surface or may just be peaking physically at exactly the right time.

    Some of it may even be by design with trainers that treat prep races like NFL preseason games. Actually, that's a great analogy. Horses like Eskendereya and Lookin' At Lucky are like your Pro Bowl QBs. You know they're going to start and so you don't need to see that much from them in the preseason. You just want a solid performance to make sure they're healthy. I liken Sidney's Candy to Aaron Rodgers in his first post-Favre season: you knew he was good and that he was going to start, but you still wanted to see something big from him, if only to make you more excited about what was to come. Horses like Line Of David, Stately Victor and Ice Box, on the other hand, are like those guys fighting for the 53rd spot on the roster. They have to lay it all on the line in their prep races. To me, those horses are running their best possible race in their prep, so the question are a) do they have another performance like that in them and b) if they do, is it even good enough to win? For the big horses, I have to imagine that, like Peyton Manning in August, there's a little bit of playing possum going on.

    Prep races are just that: preps. Don't get too excited or too discouraged about what happens to them. Keep your eye on the big picture.

    Next time - part 2 of the Prep Report, which will contradict nearly everything I've just written.

    Posted by kris at 07:33 AM | Comments (0)     
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    April 21, 2010

    2010 Kentucky Derby - Jockeys, Trainers & Trips (Oh My!)

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    Back in the day, savvy handicappers used to take out "Lukas insurance" on big races. That is, they'd place a little bet on any horse trained by D. Wayne Lukas (Antigo, WI and Valley Conference represent!) no matter how over matched that horse appeared to be. Lukas just had too good of a record in the Derby to ignore. Over the years, I've added trainers Bob Baffert & Nick Zito to the insurance list. Between the three of them they've won nearly 41% of Kentucky Derbies since Lukas' first victory in 1988. They haven't won since 2002, but Baffert came close last year with Pioneerofthenile and all three have entrants this year. This year, Lukas will have Dublin, Baffert has Lookin' At Lucky and Conveyance and Zito will have Ice Box and possibly Jackson Bend. All but Lookin' At Lucky should be a good price, so a little insurance could go a long way.

    On the other hand, much will be made of trainer Todd Pletcher's winless streak in the Derby. This year, he'll be trying to win with numbers as he'll have 6 or 7 horses in the race (favorite Eskendereya as well as Interactif, Super Saver, Rule, Mission Impazible, Discreetly Mine and a new contender in the filly Devil May Care). On one hand, you can forgive Pletcher's lack of Derby wins because, frankly, he hasn't had the best horses in the race. On the other hand, there may be something to it. Pletcher has proven to be a master at winning Derby preps. The triumvirate of Baffert, Lukas and Zito, on the other hand, don't necessary win the preps. They don't care about that. They want to win the Derby and they train their horses to be at their best for the first Saturday in May, not April. Maybe Pletcher, who worked under Lukas for years, just hasn't learned that lesson yet.

    As I said before, Lukas, Baffert and Zito haven't won a Derby since 2002. In their absence, the winner's circle has been filled with a variety of different trainers, including old school horsemen like John Shirreffs (Giacomo) and flashy asshats like Rick Dutrow (Big Brown). The lesson to be learned here is that anyone can have a big horse. Don't be too negative if your Derby trainer hasn't competed much in the Triple Crown. It doesn't seem to matter that much anymore.

    With the Derby field still up in the air a little bit, jockeys aren't yet set in stone. However, I think one thing people need to know is that the torch has passed in the tack room. You can't bet on known quantities like Bailey, Stevens, McCarron and Day. Those guys are long gone. In fact, it's pretty likely that the Derby winning jockey will be a first time victor as most of the top picks will be ridden by "new" guys (but not bad guys - think of them like the Cleveland Indians in Major League). The one glaring exception is, of course, Calvin Borel. Borel's won two of the last three Derbies by propelling his mount through explosive moves on the rail (hence his nickname "Bo-Rail"). This year he'll be aboard Super Saver and therefore I expect Super Saver to have lower than expected odds (I think by post time he'll probably be the fifth or sixth choice). Reading the Daily Racing Form is hard, but picking a jockey is easy. Again, thank God for parimutuel wagering!

    As for trips, well, I don't think you can necessarily handicap for them. Big Brown won from the 20 post position and horses have won from the rail, from the middle and from the auxiliary gate. With a big field, it's a kind of a crapshoot. Anything can happen. One thing I will say, however, is that some horses seem to make their own luck. Lookin' At Lucky, ironically enough, has a history of being unlucky. There might be something about the horse and his running style that gets him in trouble. Likewise, horses like Sidney's Candy get downgraded because they've had "perfect trips". There might be something about Sidney's running style that allows him to run free and clear.

    One final thing to think about with trips is that sometimes horses throw in the bucket as soon as something goes wrong. In the Derby, something is bound to go wrong and I want a horse who can overcome it. For all of his bad luck, Lookin' At Lucky always puts in a good run. Last year in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, on the other hand, Eskendereya got bumped around and basically gave up. If something happens in the Derby, will he do that again? I don't particularly want to take low odds to find out.

    Next time: the prep report - does it matter if your Derby horse lost his last race?

    Posted by kris at 10:36 AM | Comments (0)     
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    April 20, 2010

    2010 Kentucky Derby - Surface Tensions

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    In recent years, the biggest controversy in horse racing is the expansion of racetracks with synthetic surfaces. About half of the major racetracks in America now have synthetic surfaces. For the sake of Kentucky Derby analysis, however, it's important to know that horses who prepped in California or Kentucky will have done so on synthetics.

    In theory, synthetics are thought to be kinder to horses and help prevent injuries. Additionally, synthetic surfaces are more tiring and typically eliminate the speed bias that most dirt tracks have. In my opinion, synthetic tracks are controversial because a) horsemen are a bunch of old timers who fear change, b) betters have to make adjustments to their analysis on synthetics and they lost money in the meantime, c) trainers and owners whose horses lost on synthetics would rather blame the track than admit that their horse just got beat (I'm talking about you, Jess Jackson and Curlin) and d) it exacerbates the existing regional rivalry between California & New York racing.

    But, in the short history of synthetics (just a few years now), horses that raced on them have been successful in the Derby. Street Sense and Mine That Bird both prepped on synthetics and California shippers like Pioneerofthenile have placed in the Derby despite their lack of experience on dirt.

    In fact, this year, a successful betting angle has been to wager on horses coming from California synthetic tracks to dirt tracks in other parts of the country. Line Of David and Lookin' At Lucky both came from California to win prep races in Arkansas and the great mare Zenyatta did the same a few weeks ago. Horses like Line of David and Sidney's Candy could, in fact, be helped by racing on dirt tracks that are more conducive to their running style. Or, given the similar success of California closers, it could be that because California tracks are more tiring, training and racing on them is like training at altitude and horses have a little extra spring in their step when they get on dirt again.

    Some handicappers refuse to bet on horses until they've won on dirt. I'm thrilled with their close mindedness because I think it'll only raise the odds on horses that I like. Ah, the joys of parimutuel wagering.

    I also think that trainers are more flexible these days. They don't rigidly decide that a horse is a turf or a dirt horse and never try them on the other surface. Recent Derby winners like Barbaro and Big Brown started their careers on turf, as did this year's Derby favorite Eskendereya.

    In this brave new world of racing, my advice is to not worry too much about synthetics and remember horses like John Henry, Zenyatta & Secretariat that won on whatever they raced over.

    Next time - trips, trainers and jockeys.

    Posted by kris at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)     
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    April 19, 2010

    Demonizing the Tea Party

    [Posted by kris]

    I'm not a member of the Tea Party. I'm not a member of any political party. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I would never want to be part of any political party that would have me. But, I have to say that rhetoric like Bill Clinton's New York Times op-ed almost makes me want to join, if only as a gesture of defiance against those who would use fear to try to silence their fellow Americans.

    Here's what Clinton says:

    Finally, we should never forget what drove the bombers, and how they justified their actions to themselves. They took to the ultimate extreme an idea advocated in the months and years before the bombing by an increasingly vocal minority: the belief that the greatest threat to American freedom is our government, and that public servants do not protect our freedoms, but abuse them. On that April 19, the second anniversary of the assault of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, deeply alienated and disconnected Americans decided murder was a blow for liberty.

    Americans have more freedom and broader rights than citizens of almost any other nation in the world, including the capacity to criticize their government and their elected officials. But we do not have the right to resort to violence — or the threat of violence — when we don’t get our way. Our founders constructed a system of government so that reason could prevail over fear. Oklahoma City proved once again that without the law there is no freedom.

    Criticism is part of the lifeblood of democracy. No one is right all the time. But we should remember that there is a big difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws.

    We are again dealing with difficulties in a contentious, partisan time. We are more connected than ever before, more able to spread our ideas and beliefs, our anger and fears. As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters, we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged.

    Civic virtue can include harsh criticism, protest, even civil disobedience. But not violence or its advocacy. That is the bright line that protects our freedom. It has held for a long time, since President George Washington called out 13,000 troops in response to the Whiskey Rebellion.

    Fifteen years ago, the line was crossed in Oklahoma City. In the current climate, with so many threats against the president, members of Congress and other public servants, we owe it to the victims of Oklahoma City, and those who survived and responded so bravely, not to cross it again.

    Clinton is creating a Tea Party strawman. There is no more of a widespread movement to violently overthrow the government now than there was in 2004. However, painting your political opponents as a bunch of scary lunatics ("demonizing" them, if you will) is always a great strategy to marginalize their views. Shouldn't we expect a higher level of statesmanship from our ex-Presidents?

    Remember how after 9/11 so many bleeding hearts asked that Americans try to understand where the terrorists were coming from and the reasons behind their heinous actions. The implication was that America was, at least in part, to blame.

    Why doesn't Clinton take that attitude to heart with domestic terrorism or his implied threat of terrorism from the Tea Party? If they hate us, shouldn't we examine why? What is it about the government that people are reacting to - whether they react violently or not?

    If Americans are dissatisfied and angry, is the correct reaction to try to make them shut up? Isn't that the dreaded "chilling of dissent" that we heard about ad nauseum after 9/11? And isn't that exactly the kind of reaction that really would make people think that the only way they can be heard is through ever more extreme actions?

    The Tea Party makes both Democrats and Republicans very uncomfortable. Whether you agree with them or not, this can only be a good thing. I don't think we ever want our leaders getting too cozy on the throne. We want them to remember that they're accountable to the people, not the other way around.

    Posted by kris at 03:07 PM | Comments (0)     
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    2010 Kentucky Derby - Pace Makes the Race

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    When analyzing the Kentucky Derby you'll hear lots of platitudes like "pace makes the race". Okay, but what does that mean?

    Basically, in horse racing, if the pace is fast, the horses running up front will get tired and come-from-behind horses are more likely to win. If the pace is slower, those same front runners are more likely to hold on and win. If the pace is moderate, "stalkers", those horses that run just a little bit behind the leaders, have a better chance.

    I think there's a common misperception that the Kentucky Derby always has a fast pace and is always won by a closer. Looking at the chart below, you can see that that couldn't be further from the truth.

    So what's a "fast" pace in the Derby. To simplify the analysis, I'd say that anything under 1:10 is fast for 3/4 of a mile and anything below 1:36 is a quick mile. The last time that kind of pace happened was in 2005 when Giacomo came from the clouds to win it.

    If you look at the chart above, you'll notice that in most cases, a "red" pace begets a "red" winner and a "green' pace gets a "green" or "yellow" winner. The big exception is last year - the pace was exceptionally slow and Mine That Bird still came from way behind to win it. The 2009 Derby was just odd - the favorites dropped out of the race or were eliminated at the start and the track was muddy. The result didn't really make sense then and still doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense. My recommendation is to consider it an outlier.

    How do you know what kind of pace the Derby will have? You don't, but looking at the major prep races may give you a clue:

    As you can see from all of that green, most of this year's prep races have had slow paces. Frankly, it doesn't look like many of the contenders have enough early speed to guarantee the stereotypical swift pace. That said, it's important to note that the trainers of the Derby favorites, Eskendereya & Lookin' At Lucky, both have speedier horses in their stable that will run in the Derby. They could very well use these horses to make sure the pace is fast enough to help their big horses.

    One thing I like to look at in the chart above is if there are Derby horses who were able to overcome a disadvantageous pace scenario to win. In other words, are there closers who won despite a slow pace or front runners who set quick fractions and still had enough left at the end? That could be a sign of a superior horse. Three performances stand out. First, Derby favorite Eskendereya closed into a slow pace to win the Wood Memorial (a note of caution - sometimes horses that win closing into a slow pace are just beating bad or distance-challenged fields). Second, Line Of David won the Arkansas Derby on the lead while setting fast-to-moderate fractions. Third, Sidney's Candy won the Santa Anita Derby by running an exceptionally fast final 3/8 of a mile from the lead - he didn't hang on to win, he accelerated away to win.

    Special horses like those might be can overcome the pace, but a good general rule to win a Derby bet by is to make a bold stand about what kind of pace scenario you think the race is going to have and pick a winner who will be helped by it. If you think it's going to be slow, look at the front runners. If it's moderate, find yourself a stalker and if it's going to be fast up front, you're going to want to choose a closer.

    Next time - surfaces - turf, dirt, Pro Ride, Polytrack and more. What does it mean for the Derby?

    Posted by kris at 12:29 PM | Comments (3)     
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    April 18, 2010

    2010 Kentucky Derby - The Derby Gods

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    I believe that somewhere in the great beyond lives a group of men, women, horses, cats & goats known collectively as the Derby Gods. These past icons of the sport, at their capricious whim, help determine the Derby winner.

    Some years, like Sea Hero in 1993, Swale in 1984 or Ferdinand in 1986, the Derby Gods reward longtime owners or trainers with a long awaited Derby winner. Other years, they make sure that a "good guy" wins, like in 2006 when Barbaro won for trainer Michael Matz, a man who years earlier had saved several children from the wreckage of a terrible Iowa plane crash.

    The Derby Gods can be cruel, but also kind. They may hurt you one year, but they'll eventually make it up to you. Bob Baffert's Cavonnier lost the 1996 Kentucky Derby by a nose, so the Gods made sure that Baffert won the next two years with Silver Charm & Real Quiet. In 1992, trainer Neil Drysdale had to scratch the almost-sure Derby winner in A.P. Indy. The Gods gave him Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.

    Finally, the Derby Gods sometimes reward good behavior with multiple Derby wins. In 1990, trainer Carl Nafzger charmed the world when he described Unbridled's win to the colt's elderly owner Frances Genter.

    The Gods were pleased and in 2007 Nafzger found himself in the winner's circle again with Street Sense. Likewise, the Gods loved jockey Calvin Borel's joy after his win on Street Sense and opened up the rail for Borel and Mine That Bird just last year.

    The Gods are powerful. Do not discount the Gods in your Derby analysis. If someone or some horse should win the Kentucky Derby, there's a good chance they will. This is one of the few sporting events where the human interest stories actually seem to matter.

    Next time: pace make the race.

    Posted by kris at 08:39 AM | Comments (0)     
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    April 15, 2010

    2010 Kentucky Derby - Terrible Twos

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    Of all of the statistics in sports, this is one of the most compelling:

    The last horse to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a two-year old was Apollo. When? 1882. That's right, 1882. Since all of this year's contenders have raced at two, it'll be at least 128 years before that streak is broken. That's one hell of a streak.

    But beyond just racing at two, what you find when you look past Derby winners is that they didn't just race at two, they excelled. I think there's a good reason for this. The Kentucky Derby is a tough race for a young horse. Horses that win need to be precocious and they demonstrate that precociousness by showing good form at two.

    For the sake of my analysis, I define "good form" as either horses that won stakes races at two or horses that had an excellent performance at two - let's say they ran a Beyer Speed Figure of at least 90.

    While the prior year's two-year old champion isn't a lock to win the Derby (only Street Sense did it since 1993), most Derby winners did win a stakes race and many that didn't, like the lightly raced Big Brown and Grindstone, managed to show brilliance in their limited racing. For example, Big Brown ran one race in August of his two-year old year but won for fun and earned a huge Beyer. He didn't win a stakes race but he marked his quality. Good enough.

    In fact, good two-year old form is so important and so many hyped horses have failed without it that it is, to me, one of the best ways to quickly narrow the field to the true contenders.

    Looking at this year's contender's past performances you can see that many of the big names like Lookin At Lucky, Eskendereya, Dublin & Super Saver all were stakes winners last year. Sidney's Candy wasn't a stakes winner, but did break Del Mar's track record, earning a big Beyer number last August. However, some contenders like Endorsement, Stately Victor, Line of David & Mission Impazible don't have that necessary good two-year old form. Bet them at your own risk.

    Next time - a quick break from stats into a short discussion of the Derby Gods and why you should care about the most exciting two minutes in sports.

    Posted by kris at 12:09 PM | Comments (0)     
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    April 13, 2010

    2010 Kentucky Derby - Pedigrees

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    Back in 1973, racing wise guys proclaimed that no son of Bold Ruler could ever win the Kentucky Derby. He simply didn't give his offspring enough stamina. Secretariat made them all look like fools.

    In the 1980s, dosage index was the key. If a horse had a dosage index above 4.00 he couldn't win the Derby. (Watch this great Tom Durkin video that totally and hilariously destroys the theory.) Of course, dosage completely ignores a mare's influence and doesn't properly measure the influence of younger sires. A good example of that is with last year's Derby winner Mine That Bird. He has a Dosage Index of 5.40, so supposedly he doesn't have the stamina to win the Derby. However, he's from the first crop of Birdstone, who won the Belmont Stakes and would not only have the Derby winner in his first crop, but also last year's Belmont winner Summer Bird. Furthermore, Mine That Bird's grandsire Grindstone won the Kentucky Derby as did his great-grandsire Unbridled. Going further, his "aunt" Bird Town won the Kentucky Oaks. The magical dosage number may not show it, but Mine That Bird certainly had the pedigree power to win the Derby.

    Looking at the chart of recent Derby winners you can see that dosage doesn't mean jack. Sometimes you have to rely on your own knowledge and observations. Charismatic may have had a high dosage number, but if you just looked at the horse it was obvious that he was a throwback to his damsire Secretariat and probably wouldn't have distance limitations.

    One of the new pedigree hot buttons is the X-Factor. The idea is that some horses (most famously Secretariat) have large hearts that enable them to run faster, longer. The gene for large hearts is located on the X chromosome, so therefore colts can only inherit it from their mother. Because the Derby is a demanding race that requires both speed & stamina, it kind of makes sense that the X-Factor could be important. And looking at the past Derby winners list, a large percentage of them do have the X-Factor. Two of this year's top contenders, Eskendereya and Sidney's Candy, are X-Factor horses. Well, to put it more precisely, Eskendereya definitely is since his mother is what is called a "double copy" mare, meaning that she carries the large heart gene on both her X chromosomes. Sidney's Candy's mother, on the other hand, has only one large heart X chromosome and we don't know which one she passed to Sidney.

    But again, rather than being a magic bullet what the X-Factor is basically saying is that horses who come from strong female families are likelier to be good runners. That's old news.

    So, what should you look for in a Derby runner's pedigree? I want a sire that won big races at a mile and up. I want great horses in the five-generation pedigree. It should be peppered with names like Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Northern Dancer, Secretariat and Ribot. But that's really about it. There's no standout sire line and no sire line that just can't get the job done. I think you want to just look for quality.

    Because stallions are retired so early these days, I like a horse whose mother ran enough to exhibit some toughness that she hopefully passed on to her son. For example, Barbaro's dam ran 25 times. Street Sense's mother ran 22. Silver Charm's dam ran an astounding (for now) 63 times in her career. Now, again, this isn't an absolute rule. Mine That Bird's mother was unraced and Big Brown's dam only ran twice. But, it's something I give horses points for. This year, for example, I'll give a little extra consideration to Dublin because his mom, Classy Mirage, started 25 times in her career earning over $700,000.

    Next time - I'll talk about 2-year old racing and why it's important for your Derby prospect to have shown some early brilliance.

    Posted by kris at 10:44 AM | Comments (0)     
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    Them's fightin' words

    [Posted by kris]

    This could be an interesting article about the waning of social conservatives, but instead the author, like so many other American political columnists, ignores the actual issues and policies to instead talk about the political implications - as if the most important thing about health care reform or foreign policy is who it's going to help or hurt in elections.

    I'm calling out this particular article because of the language used. Here's a sample of some of the carefully chosen words:

    • impassioned rhetoric
    • lightning rod of anger and agitation
    • provocative, incendiary topics of abortion, guns and gay rights
    • ultimate manifestation
    • apocalyptic terms
    • political red meat
    • hell-bent
    • supercharged
    • raw, intense and emotional
    • ire
    • heavy artillery
    • whipping their base
    • lather in anticipation
    • epic fight

    That sounds like pulp fiction, not thoughtful analysis. Either that or someone got a thesaurus in his Easter basket.

    But seriously, what's going on here? I have a theory. I think that political activists on both the left and the right and their media partners want to frame policy in terms of Democrats and Republicans. It keeps up this idea that you're on one "team" or the other. That kind of thinking makes it a lot easier to sell your agenda. You don't actually have to talk about the substance of your plans, you just have to make it clear that the other team is either for or against it. If you're a Democratic, you've been trained to accept Democratic policies without question - because that's who you are. Likewise, Republicans should be against any of the President's initiatives, simply because they're coming from a different party.

    Now obviously, given the name of this site, I'm practicing some major hypocrisy here, but read our FAQ and maybe you'll get it. Believe or not, neither party has a monopoly on either genius or stupidity. I want to see more coverage and discussion on what's good for Americans, rather than what's good for Nancy Pelosi or Newt Gingrich. Is that too much to ask for?

    Posted by kris at 09:03 AM | Comments (0)     
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    April 12, 2010

    Poland, revolution, reconciliation & peace

    [Posted by kris]

    The New York Times' Roger Cohen has one of the best articles I've ever read about Poland, revolution, reconciliation and peace.

    First, he gets what was so different about the American revolution and how we need understand that fundamentally, Poland seeks to be more like America and less like Europe - hence their allegiance to the U.S.:

    My first thought, hearing of the Polish tragedy, was that history’s gyre can be of an unbearable cruelty, decapitating Poland’s elite twice in the same cursed place, Katyn.

    My second was to call my old friend Adam Michnik in Warsaw. Michnik, an intellectual imprisoned six times by the former puppet-Soviet Communist rulers, once told me:

    “Anyone who has suffered that humiliation, at some level, wants revenge. I know all the lies. I saw people being killed. But I also know that revanchism is never ending. And my obsession has been that we should have a revolution that does not resemble the French or Russian, but rather the American, in the sense that it be for something, not against something. A revolution for a constitution, not a paradise. An anti-utopian revolution. Because utopias lead to the guillotine and the gulag.”

    Exactly. But what I really love is how Cohen uses Poland to call out the rest of the world embroiled in their own petty struggles:

    Poland should shame every nation that believes peace and reconciliation are impossible, every state that believes the sacrifice of new generations is needed to avenge the grievances of history. The thing about competitive victimhood, a favorite Middle Eastern pastime, is that it condemns the children of today to join the long list of the dead.

    For scarcely any nation has suffered since 1939 as Poland, carved up by the Hitler-Stalin nonaggression pact, transformed by the Nazis into the epicenter of their program to annihilate European Jewry, land of Auschwitz and Majdanek, killing field for millions of Christian Poles and millions of Polish Jews, brave home to the Warsaw Uprising, Soviet pawn, lonely Solidarity-led leader of post-Yalta Europe’s fight for freedom, a place where, as one of its great poets, Wislawa Szymborska, wrote, “History counts its skeletons in round numbers” — 20,000 of them at Katyn.

    It is this Poland that is now at peace with its neighbors and stable. It is this Poland that has joined Germany in the European Union. It is this Poland that has just seen the very symbols of its tumultuous history (including the Gdansk dock worker Anna Walentynowicz and former president-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski) go down in a Soviet-made jet and responded with dignity, according to the rule of law.

    So do not tell me that cruel history cannot be overcome. Do not tell me that Israelis and Palestinians can never make peace. Do not tell me that the people in the streets of Bangkok and Bishkek and Tehran dream in vain of freedom and democracy. Do not tell me that lies can stand forever.

    Ask the Poles. They know.

    Of course, the Middle East and totalitarian states hardly have a monopoly on victimhood and living in the past. A lot of people, even here in America, would do well to let go of yesterday's wrongs. Believe or not, being a righteous victim isn't half as good as being a graceful winner.

    Posted by kris at 06:50 PM | Comments (0)     
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    What it means to be Polish-American

    [Posted by kris]

    I like this Wall Street Journal article about Polish-Americans' reactions to the plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others Saturday. Like many (most?) Polish-Americans, I feel a bond to the old country, even through language and distance. This quote resonated with me:

    David Jasinski, a 30-year-old project manager for a medical-device maker in New York, said the first thing he thought was that the Russians were behind the crash. Poland's relationship with its eastern neighbor is marked mostly by hostility, but had showed signs of improving recently as Russian authorities became more open about Katyn.

    "If the Russians did it, I think this would've meant war," said Mr. Jasinski, after attending the mass at St. Stanislaus with his family. "And frankly, I would've signed up."

    As the Irish would no doubt remind me, that attitude is not unique to the Poles. But there is something about being Polish and here's what I think it is.

    We share unpronounceable last names that are immediately identifiable as Polish. I'm Polish, Norwegian, Dutch, Danish, French & English - but as soon as someone sees my last name, I'm forever Polish. As such, I've heard every dumb Pollack joke. We all have. Our Polish heritage was mocked at the same time Poland was brutalized by both the Russians and the Germans in WWII. The average American doesn't know about Casimir Pulaski or the Polish fighter pilots who kicked ass in the Battle of Britain. There was no "Casimir Pulaski, we are here" quote uttered by the likes of Patton (although, wouldn't that have been awesome?) Because of that, I think Polish-Americans felt a special pride in how Poland stood up to the Soviet Union in the 1980s. We felt that same pride in our Polish pope. See, we could say, Poles aren't backwards idiots - we're a brave and noble people and now everyone knows it.

    We've learned to celebrate the victories of our Polish cousins and now, sadly, we'll mourn their losses too.

    Posted by kris at 12:46 PM | Comments (2)     
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    April 11, 2010

    2010 Kentucky Derby - Beyer Speed Figures

    [Posted by kris]

    (see all of our 2010 Kentucky Derby preview articles)

    Every year, I've handicapped the Kentucky Derby here. I'll be honest, I'm usually wrong. But, I have a good reason for being wrong!

    Anyway, this year I'm into the Derby more than normal. I have a horse I love in Sidney's Candy and I'm looking forward to the upcoming battle of East Coast-based Eskendereya and the West Coast-based Sidney and two-year old champ Lookin At Lucky. Because I think it's going to be a great Derby, I want to take a deeper dive this year. My plan is to write a series of articles on general things to look for in a Derby winner and then, once the field is set in a little under three weeks, I'll apply those factors and try to pick a winner.

    First, I'm going to tackle Beyer Speed Figures. To put it simply, Beyer Speed Figures ("Beyers") give a single numerical value to a horse's performance based upon the final time and the relative speed of the track. The higher the number, the better the performance. A good stakes winning horse should run Beyers around 100, champions will be in the 110-120 range. Anything over 120 is a tremendous performance. (Fun note - Secretariat's Belmont came before Beyers, but his estimated speed figure for that race is an otherworldly 139). Because track conditions can vary greatly, the idea is that you should be able to compare Beyers across days and tracks and even years.

    It's important to note that while the final time is what it is, the "track condition" is subjective. In fact, there's a tremendous amount of subjectivity that goes into assigning Beyers. Many horseplayers think that their creator, Washington Post writer Andy Beyer, is biased against West Coast racing and therefore horses based in California have artificially low Beyers. So, when they leave California they're able to beat horses with significantly higher numbers. In fact, just last year Beyer himself decided he was downgrading California racing and retroactively added points to West Coast Beyers. Many handicappers think that wasn't enough and they'll add 5-10 points to all West Coast runners.

    Why should you care about these regional rivalries? Well, this year Eskendereya earned a 109 Beyer in his final Derby prep. Sidney's Candy, on the other hand, got only a 100 in winning the Santa Anita Derby. On paper, Eskendereya towers over the potential field, but if you give Sidney those extra points it's suddenly much tighter.

    I put together this chart detailing Kentucky Derby winners since 1993 (see the 2010 contenders tab for information on this year's potential field - it's a work in progress) . Derby winners, with the notable exception of Mine That Bird last year, have speed figures in the low 100s coming into the race. Your pick doesn't have to have the highest Beyer Speed Figure in the field, they just need to be competitive - somewhere in the 100-110 range is good enough.

    Next time I'll talk about pedigree and why it probably doesn't matter anymore.

    Posted by kris at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)     
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    April 08, 2010

    It's a great day for hockey!

    [Posted by kris]

    Our Wisconsin Badgers start play in the Frozen Four today (4 pm Central Time, thanks NCAA)! Here are a couple videos to get your blood pumping!

    I wish I could audio or video of the classic "water bottle fight" between Wisconsin and North Dakota (that's the one where the ND announcer, talking about a Wisconsin fan, immortally said that he'd like to "bop that bozo").

    Posted by kris at 08:49 AM | Comments (4)     
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    April 07, 2010

    Answers to your search queries

    [Posted by kris]

    I love web analytics. There. I said it. One thing I get a kick out of is seeing how people find this site - what search terms did they use? The questions and answers below are based on some common queries I see.

    Q. How long should I boil brats?
    A. You don't boil brats. You parboil them so you don't break the skin and they'll still be nice and juicy inside after you grill them.

    Q. Is Mark Chmura married?
    A. Yes, and apparently he's learned from the past, so don't get your hopes up, ma'am.

    Q. How much are state quarters worth?
    A. $.25

    Q. Why didn't the UN help Rwanda?
    A. Because the rest of the world doesn't care about Africa.

    Q. Are there alligators in Montana?
    A. They are prohibited in the state, but some apparently still find their way there.

    Q. What is the most expensive horse ever sold?
    A. The Green Monkey, who cost $16 million and couldn't run a lick.

    Q. What are some good fake names?
    A. Amy K. Argus.

    Q. Why is Gen X so bitter?
    A. Eff off.

    Q. What's wrong with the Wisconsin quarter?
    A. Some have an extra husk on an ear of corn.

    Q. Where is your Allah now?
    A. In the tub.

    I hope this helps.

    Posted by kris at 04:28 PM | Comments (0)     
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    April 05, 2010

    25 More Summer Songs

    [Posted by kris]

    People keep finding our lists of 25 essential summer songs and since I've noticed a lot of people searching for great summer songs this time of year (and it's Opening Day!) it seems like the perfect time for the 2010 edition of the list. As a reminder, for summer songs, we're looking for something upbeat, something that mentions summer fun or at least something that would be great to listen to with the windows rolled down. Here we go!

    1. Raindrops, by Basement Jaxx: A sexy, but still kinda sweet, song that conjurs up the feeling of a summer storm breaking a heat wave.
    2. If I Had No Loot, by Tony! Toni! Tone!: This is a just a cool, laid back tune that's the perfect background music for a day in the backyard with your friends.
    3. You Never Even Called Me By My Name, by David Allan Coe: You're still listening to this song in your backyard with friends, but wait until after everyone's had a few Summer Shandys so they'll be ready to sing along.
    4. And We Danced, by The Hooters: Just a happy, upbeat summer love song - nothing too serious or angsty here.
    5. Southern Cross, by Crosby, Stills & Nash: The irony, of course, is that if you're seeing the Southern Cross in summer, it's actually winter. In any case, there's always a place for a great song about the sea on any of my musical lists.
    6. The Beat Goes On, by Sonny & Cher: I associate this song with Paul Molitor's 1987 39-game hit streak - it makes me think of the daily summer rhythm of baseball.
    7. California Love, by 2Pac: Even though this song has a classic post-apocalyptic video, I always associate slow West Coast rap songs like this with summer - they just have that kind of coolness to them.
    8. Home, by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros: Oh sure, they're damn, dirty hippies, but this song is just about joy.
    9. Lights Out, by Santigold: I hate that someone as cool as Santigold is associated with Bud, but still, they were right to pick this song as the soundtrack to drinking beer on the beach. Santigold's vocals are just like a cool breeze coming off the ocean and are just as refreshing as a cold beer.
    10. School's Out, by Alice Cooper: A classic summer song that I've tragically overlooked in past lists.
    11. Exception Of Love, by The Truth: The Truth were a mid-80s British mod band that should have been huge. This song is a slice of pop heaven best served under blue, blue skies.
    12. Luckenbach, Texas, by Waylon Jennings: This song doesn't scream summer, but it does make you think of the joys of the simple things in life and how summer fun isn't always about some big trip, it can be about just playing in the sprinkler.
    13. My Sweet Lord, by George Harrison: While Barry Manilow may have written the songs that made the whole world sing, George Harrison writes the songs that the whole world secretly loves because they're so damn happy. Think about it, could anyone else write a popular song mentioning Hare Krishnas and get away with it? Of course not!
    14. Drumsticks, by Doomtree: Not only is this the perfect song to blast with the windows down, it also references Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel's theme song. No really! It's amazing: "Some folk'll never lose a toe, but then again some folk'll"
    15. Mountain Music, by Alabama: I remember sitting around campfires as a kid and when this song would come on my drunken aunts & uncles would start with the "Yee Haws!" and knee slapping. I still think of camping with them whenever I hear this song.
    16. Sweet Potato, by Cracker: When a song actually references dancing around a campfire, it's gotta be a summer classic.
    17. Jambalaya (on the bayou), by Hank Williams: Another down home song that just sounds better when you're outside.
    18. Rock And Roll Band, by Boston: I love all of Boston's music (as an aside, it occurs to me that Boston belongs to a subgenre of corporate rock which I will dub "Spaceship Rock" based soley on their awesome album covers) but this song fits because it expresses the summery exuberance of the band when they started to make it: "Signed a record company contract!"
    19. Doreen, by Old 97's: The Old 97's are always good for some fun & sweaty songs (really, I love Rhett Miller, but the boy sweats a lot). This one reminds me of reckless summer nights in the city.
    20. There She Goes, by The Las: A gentle, happy summer song that just makes you hum along rather than think about anything. There's no thinking in summer!
    21. When You Walk In The Room, by Fyfe Dangerfield: Summer's the time for positive music and I love the lyrics to this song, which are basically about not apologizing for being happy
    22. Take It Easy, by The Eagles: The ultimate laid back summer song that's equally perfect for a road trip or a BBQ.
    23. Funkytown, by Lipps Inc.: Funkytown is more of a summer destination. It's hard to get funky if you're weighted down by a parka, you know?
    24. Under The Bridge, by Red Hot Chili Peppers: If you came of age in the 90's, this is one of your definitive summer songs. It makes me think of late Sunday afternoons, when there's a haze in the air, but the streets are empty.
    25. Kick Drum Heart, by The Avett Brothers: I can't stop listening to Laundry Room by these guys, but this is the better summer song, if only because it's impossible not to bang along with the kick drum!
    Posted by kris at 10:50 AM | Comments (0)     
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    April 04, 2010

    You know you're from Wisconsin if...

    [Posted by kris]

    We've all gotten the chain email. "You know you're from (insert state name) if" and a whole list of items. After seeing more than a few of these, I realized that they're virtually identical. All states have ever-changing weather, unpronouncable cities and Halloween costumes that had to be designed over snowsuits. So, after a drive through my beloved Wisconsin, I decided to come up with a real list that'll help define if you're from Wisconsin.

    You know you're from Wisconsin if:

    1. You've donated a car to the Rawhide Boys Ranch
    2. LAX isn't an airport in California, it's a city on the Mississippi
    3. You get money from a TYME machine
    4. You know that the strongest card in the deck is the Queen of Clubs
    5. To you, Osseo is synonymous with pie
    6. You know that if someone asks "Who do know wants to a buy a car?" the answer is Ernie Von Schledorn: Main Street in Menomonee Falls
    7. You rarely watch a sports event with the sound up on the TV. Instead you listen to Matt Lepay, Bob Uecker and Jim & MaxWayne & Larry
    8. You refer to festivals as "beer tents"
    9. You know that a Spotted Cow has nothing to do with milk
    10. At any given time you have at least four different kinds of cheese in your refrigerator
    11. When you hear Steve Miller's "Swingtown" you immediately raise your hands above your head in the shape of an "O" (funny aside - I did this, pretty much without thinking, at a dueling piano bar in Minneapolis and the performers stopped what they were doing to make fun of me. Luckily, there was another Wisconsinite on the other side of the stage so we didn't look completely crazy together.)
    12. You don't need a license plate to tell which drivers are from Illinois (driver's seat way back, 10-15 mph over the flow of traffic) or Minnesota (have no concept of a passing lane)
    13. You naturally expect every restaurant, no matter how fancy, to have a Friday night fish fry
    14. You assume there will be a horrible snowstorm during the state boy's basketball tournament
    15. At some point in your life, you've seen the BoDeans in concert
    16. You have at least a vague idea of what a Hodag is
    17. Flannels are clothes, not trends
    18. You argue about whether to call fizzy beverages "pop" or "soda" (such is life on the border)
    19. You get offended when people say "WESconsin"
    20. You understand most of this list
    Posted by kris at 11:47 AM | Comments (1)     
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    April 02, 2010

    How to lose your Kentucky Derby bet

    [Posted by kris]

    The easiest way to lose a Kentucky Derby bet is to lose your heart to a horse. Instead of rationally picking a winner (I have a nine-step program!), you go with your heart.

    I think I lost my Derby bet on Feb. 15 when I saw Sidney's Candy's three-year old debut at Santa Anita:

    Most people are afraid to pick front runners in the Kentucky Derby. They don't think they'll get the distance. They forget about classy front running winners like Affirmed, Winning Colors and Spend A Buck. I think Sidney's Candy is in that class (well, maybe not Affirmed). He won his subsequent race at Santa Anita at a longer distance, he's by the Argentinian champion Candy Ride (who also set the 1 1/4 mile (the Derby distance, by the way) track record at Del Mar) and he's got horses like Cryptoclearance, Storm Cat, Secretariat, Lyphard and Northern Dancer in his pedigree.

    He could do it! Of course, he could also lose his final prep tomorrow in the Santa Anita Derby. My fear is that if he does, I'll find a way to rationalize it and pick him anyway. That's what happens when you fall in love with your Derby horse. It can be a bad romance.

    Posted by kris at 11:19 AM | Comments (3)     
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