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Sep 15, 2008




Just as was the case at Saratoga, weather played a key role in getting Belmont's 38 day Fall Championship meet off to a less than supreme start. Nonetheless, the backstretch is full, conditions are written for a great upcoming week of racing and there is a chance we'll get back to "almost" normal this week.

In today's edition I discuss a simple but productive method for taking advantage of a Turn-Back in distance as well as present absolutely free my latest list of Horses To Watch From Belmont's opening three days. 

I'll also take a look at the possibility of making some money with First Crop Sire Toccet...Let's get started!


Over the last few decades breeding has led to more and more speed and less and less stamina. That in itself is no great revelation. Nor am I revealing any great secrets when I say that a trainer move I'll refer to here as The Turn-Back Method will, given this reliance on speed, have a reasonable expectation of success in producing winners.

Very generally, The Turn-Back Method focuses on a horse that ran a route last time out (a mile or longer) and is now running in a sprint (seven furlongs or less.)

As bettors have become more and more familiar with this trainer move it has become very popular, even among novice or less than masterful long-term players. As you might expect, it doesn't take a high degree of handicapping acumen to look at the past performances and find a horse that raced at a mile and a sixteenth last time, for instance, and is currently entered for six furlongs. Even more obvious is a horse that showed on the lead or right off it in the route race before tiring in the stretch and is now turning back to the shorter distance.

However, this methodology can sharpen into a double edged sword. On one edge of the blade, depending on the track and turn-back nuances (a two-turn mile to one turn six furlongs on Aqueduct's Inner Dirt Track is a much different dynamic than a one turn mile and an eighth at Saratoga to one turn seven furlong turn-back over Belmont's main oval) the method can produce somewhat more than the occasional winner. On the other side, the method has become so well-attended that more than one horseplayer uses it to such slavish degrees that in far too many instances it leads to over-betting and significant under-lays.

With that in mind let's take a look at the GUIDELINE below with an eye on when it is a play and when it isn't.

Playing The Turn-Back

The first thing to understand about this method is that it is not an ironclad elimination system. It is a method that looks for horses shortening up in distance that may have shown contending speed and relative staying form in a two turn race last time out. While there are rules to be put in play, the analysis is quite general. First we'll take a look at the rules, then look at a couple of sample races to give you an idea how to approach these turn-back horses.

It is also important to know that I am going over this at this time because the turn-back for horses running at Belmont is particularly poignant because the track runs not only 6 and 7 furlong races around one turn but mile races as well, and that the turns at Belmont are not as tight as they are at Saratoga, Monmouth, Delaware and other places these turn-back horse may have last run.

The Rules...

  • Rule One - The horse must be turning back from a two turn race to a one turn race and the one turn race must be 7 furlongs or less.
    Note - This Rule is self-explanatory and needs no discussion.

  • Rule Two - The horse's last race must have been within 28 days or the horse must have had at least three works within the last 22 days prior to the race or be entered by a trainer with at least an 18% success rate with horses off 31 or more day layoffs.
    Note - Each of these qualifications ensures that the horse is in shape and that the connections are looking for more than just a workout.

  • Rule Three - The horse must have been within 3 lengths of the leader at second call of its last race or made up at least 4 lengths from the start call to first call or first call to second call within the course of the race.
    Note - By demanding that the horse be within 3 lengths of the leader at second call, which in most of the two turn races you will be analyzing came six furlongs into that race, you are at least putting into play a contender that should be on or stalking the pace from the start. On the other hand, by highlighting a horse that made a dramatic move from one call to the next, you are putting in play a contender that has the potential to close into an early pace battle. 

  • Rule Four - In its last race the horse must not have lost more than 6 lengths to the winner from second call to the stretch call or from the stretch call to the finish.
    Note - Many handicappers only look for horses that flash early speed in the two turn race and are not concerned with how far a horse drops back in the late stages. Recent analysis, however finds that deep fades are an indication of either physical problems or a sign that the horse in question is not in the sort of proper mental frame to measure his speed when asked at the crucial point in a race.

While this method of isolating a potential solid run horse does not produce a large number of candidates it does produce consistent results.

Over the course of the first three days at Belmont Park there were only two such candidates, but the weather eliminated three and you can rest assured once the meet settles in you'll have five to seven opportunities a week to take advantage. Multiply that by the number of tracks in operation and you'll find plenty of opportunities.

Friday 9/5 - East End Boy - Never lifted a hoof moving from a mile to 6 furlongs. Perhaps he didn't care for the turf to dirt switch. But surface switches should not deter you, especially if the horse has shown good races on the surface in the past.

Saturday 9/6 - Coyoteshighestcall - WON - $4.00 - One of two horses in the race to shortening from two turns to 7 furlongs...Clay County was the other. The former was a head off the lead at second call in a 9 furlong race 35 days prior at Canterbury and finished third, beaten 2 ½ lengths. While his layoff took him outside the 28 day window for running back, trainer Scott Lake wins with over 20% of his starters off a 31 day or longer break. Clay County also showed the qualifying speed in his last race, but was returning from a 31 day break with only one work and trainer David Jacobson does not have a high enough layoff percentage.

Coyoteshighestcall took the lead from just off the pace shortly after the start and won off by 10 lengths while the short on foundation Clay County checked in third.

Horses To Watch At Belmont

The horses listed below ran during the short opening week of 9/5-9/7 at Belmont Park and gave plenty of indication that they are ready to run back to a top performance soon. You should play the horses listed under the conditions described in the analysis and play them twice or until they which point they should be dropped.

A Zero Trap - The 3-year old NYSB gelding might have tipped his hand as he rallied well before running out of ground in his most recent. The son of Quiet American began his career by beating MSW peers in his debut at 6 furlongs in early March and then ran the best speed figure of his career with a one length beaten third in a mile allowance try. Shortened back to six furlongs he ran an even fourth as he made up a little ground before failing on the turf when trainer Tom Bush tried him there. Two back he was no threat off a nine week break, but in his most recent got back to his late running form as he broke last in the 6 furlong restricted allowance test and made up six lengths in the final quarter to miss it all by 1 ½ lengths. He just needs a bit more ground to win vs these...7 furlongs or a mile at the one turn should do it. Stay with him.

Chanced - After a one race excursion at a distance (9 furlongs) and over a surface (Saratoga), neither of which she liked, the NYSB allowance filly returned to familiar territory in her most recent. The daughter of American Chance now has a 5-1-2-2 mark sprinting at Belmont after battling for the lead and grudgingly giving way vs entry level allowance peers at 6 furlongs. The Bruce Levine trainee rated off the pace early on, moved up outside of rivals entering the stretch and got to the lead inside the furlong marker. She was engaged by the winner soon after and fought to the wire and a head loss while 2 ¾ lengths clear of the show filly. She's in good form and will eclipse this level soon.

Classy Concern - The 3-year old claiming filly continues to show consistency as she checked in a strong second in her most recent. The Patrick Reynolds trainee made it a pair of seconds and a pair of wins from her last four in the 20K-25K range when she settled back off a trio of dueling leaders and moved up willingly from the outside and cleared the front runners while just being out-gunned by the winner. The daughter of West Acre should continue to hold good form and could win right off the claim by new conditioner Gary Contessa, who took her for the 20K tag. Stay with her.

Coyoteshighestcall - Trainer Scott Lake certainly found the right spot for this 6-year old horse as he sent him out to blitz starter-allowance foes in his most recent. The son of Regal Humor was making his eleventh start of the year at his eighth different race track in the 7 furlong test for those that had started for a claiming price of 14K or less in the last three years. He easily assumed the lead at the five-eighths pole and continued to widen his margin to draw off by 10 lengths. He has now posted an 11-6-3-1 mark this year, failing to hit the board only in the Frisk Me Now Stakes at Monmouth in early June. He can surely handle a higher starter allowance standard and is worth another play if Lake finds one. Also check entries on the mid-Atlantic circuit as the conditioner has a lot of vans.

Imthequeenofqueens - The juvenile NYSB filly took a step forward in her second career start last time out and it shouldn't be long before she gets the initial win. The daughter of More Than Ready broke slowly, went five wide and flattened out in a sloppy five furlong restricted debut in late July. In her most recent, however, the Tom Albertrani trainee broke sharply from her outside post, took over at the quarter pole, but was no match for the winner while digging in to hold the place in the six furlong MSW test vs her peers. All she needs is a bit more seasoning and she carries her speed to the winner's circle. Bet her back vs the same.

Mahopac - The NYSB MSW made his second start last time out and still raced a bit greenly while showing marked improvement. It was the first time on the grass for the son of Lido Palace and he found himself outside of rivals from his one post in the early going of the 6 furlong test. He angled over to the inside in the stretch and made a run at the leaders before flattening out late and settling for fourth. This restricted older maiden group isn't that talented and he is one of the few with room to improve as the Michael Hushion 3-year old gelding has only raced twice now. One more bit of improvement and he beats this kind...preferably sprinting on turf.

Ventana - Very rarely that people on the East Coast get to see a promising Bob Baffert trained youngster make his or her debut, but with the trainer being more and more specific with which horses should race on traditional dirt and which on the synthetic surface that rarity is becoming more commonplace. Such was the case on opening day as this juvenile son of Toccet (an absolutely brilliant two-year old performer who struggled at ages three and four - see quick analysis which follows this segment of HTW) ran right out of the box as though the conditioner could be back on the Triple Crown in a serious way in 2009. This guy had twelve published works beginning on the west coast and continuing during the Saratoga meet before finally making his debut 9/5. Each and every work was well in hand by Baffert standards and when the gate opened in the 6 furlong MSW dash the colt was taken under a hold as a speed duel developed.  He was moved up three wide, easily took command outside the furlong marker and drew off to win by 5 ½ widening lengths in 1:09 4/5, which was only three lengths slower than the winner of an older third level allowance sprint in the very next race. The future? Could be...keep playing whatever level.


Early Play Sires - Take A Look At Toccet

As of Sunday 9/7, first crop sire Toccet had seen 25 of his 77 two-year olds race at least once and had 7 of those win at least one race.  Collectively the group had run 65 times with 8 wins, 9 seconds and 9 thirds. What is interesting about Toccet as a sire is that it may behoove you to consider him as a developer of precocious youngsters.

The son of Awesome Again out of the Cozzene mare Cozzene's Angel broke his maiden vs special weights at Laurel at 7 furlongs. It was an impressive performance, but gave little indication that by the time his juvenile campaign ended he would have won 6 of 8 starts, including victories in the Grade I Champagne Stakes, Grade I Hollywood Futurity, Grade II Remsen Stakes, and Grade III Laurel Futurity.

Unfortunately, the two-year old brilliance that had made him one of the  early Triple Crown favorites as he prepared for his three-year old campaign may have taken its toll, because the colt managed just one win, three seconds and a third from 15 starts combined at ages three and four.

Sometimes the precociousness shows up in the next generation, so it is definitely worth tracking the early performances by Toccet. But it is also germane to remember that his handling as a juvenile, especially how often he raced early on, was always in question, and now in the breeding shed, he might very well finish off what he started as a two-year old.

Toccet's  sire, Awesome Again is a son of Deputy Minister who is a product of two champions, sire Vice Regent and dam sire Blushing Groom. On his female side Toccet's line through Cozzene goes directly to chef-de-race Caro. That would indicate that the first crop sire's get might have his precociousness, but there is so much class, foundation and turf built into his lines you might want to consider his sons and daughters even if they don't win early. After all, if indeed he was mishandled by his connections on the race track, none of that matters when he visits the ladies.

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