Tuesday, April 17, 2018


When the swallows return to Capistrano...when the red, red robin comes a bob, bob, bobin' along...and when The Assembled resume their handicapping in pursuit of winners and exactas at Aqueduct...these are all signs that winter should be over.

And until just now I always thought Capistrano was a village in Italy, not a mission in California. I also knew of sparrows, but not swallows, apparently a colorful bird that annually migrates from Argentina to San Juan Capistrano and lives in the nooks and crannies of the mission there, starting on March 19, and not leaving for the return flight back until October 23.

So in a way, The Assembled really are cliff swallows that take up a table on the 3rd floor aerie of Aqueduct, past the finish line and any obligation to pay for the seating, and any lousy $43 buffet meal that is catered by the adjoining casino. It is either nothing to eat, or something simple from a lunch brought in, or something from the snack bar located just outside the doors of Equestris.

When Equestris was built from the 3rd and 4th floors of the Clubhouse in the 1970s there was true attendance at the races. There was a premium price that was needed to be paid for seating. Now, the TVs at the tables are old and not flat panels, and the place is a bit frayed at the edges. Admission to the track is free, and Equestris is as well. Times certainly change.

What doesn't change is the joy of winning, and Johnny D. and Johnny M. hit the first race with a hammer. It's great when the self-created numerical rating system gives you a horse who is starting off on the board at 5-1 and steadily goes up, finally going off at 11-1.

What is also nice is not realizing the odds have ascended leaving the $4 win ticket to cash out at $47.60. Spring is bustin' out all over.

Buss the Bell broke alertly from the gate, stalked the leader, then took over in the stretch to win the 6½ furlong race on the main track by 1½ lengths. The 11-1 odds were a steep drop from the last out
115-1 and the prior 129-1 the horse went off at, finishing a decent second the last time out.

On to the second race. Another affair that is cashed in on. As was the third race. The exacta was hit in the second race, and the third race. So far, everything's been perfect. No uncashed tickets, other than the non-winning portion of the exacta boxes. At this point, Bobby G. has climbed on board and also hit the second and third races. No real bombs, so Jose has yet to cash. But it's early.

To start the on-track betting off for the season with three in a row is a very special felling. Gone are the frustrations of the difficult Saratoga summer. Winning creates amnesia for the losing efforts.

Bobby G. completes his triple with a payoff in the fourth race. When a jockey wins three races they of course complete a triple. When they win four races on the card it is called an Ecuador for some reason. I never knew why. (Alert readers?) Triples for a jockey are somewhat common. Ecuadors are not.

And an Ecuador eluded Johnny D, Johnny M. and Bobby G. Try as they might, neither of them could pull the fourth win across the finish line. Meanwhile Jose was licking his wounds from forgetting to bet the second race at Parx, a track in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, the old Philadelphia Park, now a racino.

Unlike the others, Jose comes prepared to play races available via simulcasting. On a slip of paper Jose had outlined to play Nice Surprise in the 2nd at Parx. This was highlighted in one of Jose's colors of the day, pink. True to form, Jose came with three different colored highlight pens. His selections rival the lit colors of the Empire State Building on special occasions.

Simulcasting keeps you on your toes. The 2nd at Parx went off at 1:24, with the first at Aqueduct going off at 1:20. The proximity to Aqueduct's first threw Jose off. And what was the horses's name that won the 2nd at Parx? Nice Surprise, at $54.50 for a deuce. Not a nice surprise when you forget to bet it.

In fact, until you're accustomed to the scheduling of simulcasting races, you can sometimes wonder what the hell are a small knot of people yelling at? All of a sudden there will be a noisy outburst coming from several yards away as one of the simulcast races at another track is nearing its conclusion. After the finish, the noise drifts away. As do the bettors from underneath the TV screens.

Six races, and no bombs. Three of the Assembled have hit half the races. With three races left, the elusive Ecuador is still being sought.

The 7th race unloads numbers on the tote board that haven't been used yet. A 14-1 shot finishes first, with a 29-1 shot finishing second. A $30 win mutuel, combined with a $21 place price produces the payouts that are dreamed of: a $420 exacta for a deuce; a $1,951 triple for a deuce. Hefty payouts.
Nobody's close.

In fact, at this point, Jose picks up his multi-colored highlighters, scraps of paper and announces his departure. He's with his father-in-law and they have somewhere else they need to be.

The 8th race rewards the few with much. Another bomb. A $38.60 win mutuel. The 8th race was the co-feature, a 6 furlong turf affair. In fact, there have already been four races on the turf, with one more scheduled for the 9th. Six in all.

Aqueduct recently went back to a configuration they had 40 years ago: two turf courses. The inner winterized surface was restored to its days of being a turf course. Due to the months that Aqueduct operates, there aren't a great deal of dates on the calendar for turf racing. It is nice to see two turf courses again.

The numerical rating system devised by Johnny D. had several horses in the eight horse 8th all very close to one another. Allowing for vagaries it was hard to separate the choices, with the top five coming in at: 123,124, 125, 128 and 129.

The winner, Black Stetson, had never run on the turf, although earning a 125. The other four all had turf experience. It is not unusual to have a horse race on a given surface for the first time; it just adds a further unknown to the equation. The clue to this can be recognizing turf breeding. In the absence of that, the Tomlinson Rating numbers given in the past performances can be relied on to rate the turf pedigree. Black Stetson had a decent 334, but given the others, he remained an outsider from the rest. Until he won.

The Assembled, now reduced to three commented that Jose left too early. A long shot came in that he might have had. Johnny D. commented he was reading a book titled 'Thinking in Bets' by Annie Duke, a professional poker player and one of the few top women to play in the World Series of Poker. Her tournament winnings are reported to be $4 million.

Ms. Duke holds advanced degrees in cognitive psychology and has lately been more about writing and speaking than appearing in poker tournaments. One of her dictums is that you recognize that you can have good outcomes from poor decisions, and vice versa. You need to separate the outcome from the decision to go a certain way; to make the play you did.

A bad decision can produce a good result through luck; a good decision can have a bad outcome. A bad decision can produce disaster, and a good decision can be rewarding. There are four ways things can go. The goal is to not beat yourself up over the good decisions you made that just didn't come out your way because of any number of factors, luck being one of them, could have not gone your way. But you need to go back over your moves and see where you might have improved your decisions.

Looking back over the closely rated race there wasn't anything that was felt to be overlooked. At the end of a day of racing I've always mentally thought about the plays I made. I usually come up with at least one bone head play that just shouldn't have been made.

At the mention of Annie Duke's name Bobby G's ears perked up. "I've seen her play poker on TV. She's one of the top women players."

To know Bobby G. is to also know he loves games of chance. He has explained how to play craps many times, and reported some decent winnings and modest losses whenever he and his wife vacation where there is a casino with croupiers. He loves craps.

He has been a member of perhaps one of the oldest, established permanent floating hi-low poker games played in the New York City area amongst lifelong friends. Playing poker for recreation and money since he was 13 has given Bobby G. an education in addition to the one he earned in medical school. Craps and horse racing put him on the short list of triple threats.

Winning three races usually means wining money for the day, and Saturday was no exception. The Ecuador wasn't hit, but we're just getting warmed up.


1 comment:

  1. Re. Hot Jockeys - there was a time in New Jersey when the chant was "Every day with Hartack!" By the 8th race I'm usually heading for the parking lot.