Joe Takach

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Since Hollywood Park has begun their long 66 day spring/summer meet, this is a perfect time to see what, if anything, we as players can do whenever we begin a new meet.

I paid attention to what I did first when going to Friday’s opening card 4/20/01 and that was to go to the running profiles for this exact same meet a year ago.  Since these running profiles have always been standard fare in my weekly SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HORSES TO WATCH, I had them in front of me in a heartbeat.

I put up the tallies from that 2000 completed meet on each of Friday’s races so I had a starting point and an overall view of what happened last year.  One thing that I quickly noticed when perusing this completed chart from last year, was the 6 ½ furlong distance where 30 of 43 races were won by horses who were either leading at the 2nd running call or dueling within a half length of the pacesetter.  That’s 69.77% won by very “early” horses.  And unless one sees differently at the beginning of this meet or any meet where past “stats” like these exist, it might be reasonable to assume this trend will continue.  Perhaps not with such a strong aberration, but why fight the obvious if the obvious is still obvious?

Put another way, pay attention to what is happening from day to day, even if you don’t have last year’s running profiles.  If your track is decidedly “early” as is Hollywood Park, play what you see----if favoring “closers” or horses who are 6 or more lengths behind at the 2nd running call, go with what you see!

Coupled with running profiles, of course, are running biases or most favorable “paths”.   For years, the inside at Hollywood Park had been brutally user-UNfriendly!  With some recent renovations, it has become a bit better, but it surely wouldn’t be where I would go if I had my “druthers”!  The 3-4 paths were very good to me at this meet last year in sprints and routes.  Do you recall what happened at your track if not the same as mine?   Were there any favorable “paths” that ruled supreme or gave a decided edge to those who could see them?

What jockeys, owners and trainers gear up for this specific opening meet?

Hollywood’s spring/summer meet is a tricky one because many of the better trainers are merely “tuning up” their horses up for the prestigious Del Mar meet that immediately follows.  This happens as well back in New York before the Saratoga meet begins and most likely before Gulfstream too.

You better know how to separate the “wheat from the chaff” at the beginning of specific meets, to include not only trainers, but owners and jockeys as well.  At this Hollywood meet as we near midpoint in late May/early June, the big barns will give their stock a “breather” and/or ship them early to Del Mar to take advantage of positively pristine air and visually stimulating surroundings. 

These horses usually excel at first asking over the seaside oval no matter what level of competition.  How can they NOT improve?  Gone are the 747s over their heads every 30 seconds as Hollywood’s backstretch is directly under the landing path to LAX and the planes are no more than at 1500 to 2000 feet when “buzzing the barns” non-stop.  Gone is the heavily polluted L.A. basin air, replaced by gentle sea breeze from the gorgeous Pacific Ocean located a mere 300 yards away. 

The point is, horses who get there early, acclimate much better than do day-shippers.  If you know who is who, you gain an edge----a BIG one!!!.

This scenario also goes on at Saratoga as the horses get away from polluted New York and the major meet at Gulfstream, where “winter” is a good word and the surroundings more than pleasant.

Owners are a strange lot in California.  Most see Del Mar as a “social” gathering rather than business.  Trainers have told me countless times over the years that some owners almost refuse to allows their horses to run at Hollywood in hopes of running more than once during Del Mar’s shortened 7 week extravaganza.  The more they can run their horses at Del Mar, the more they can be “seen” by the balance of the “water cress crowd”!

This must also go on at Saratoga and Gulfstream, at least to some degree as well as at other ovals.  How this “holding back” affects your handicapping depends on too many factors to go into here.  Just be aware that it does go on!

No need to go into a jockey dissertation here.  Hardcore players everywhere know that there are specific tracks where certain jockeys excel and other seem to slump.  If you’re not aware of this jockey pattern on your own circuit, you better get the old charts out and find out!

Most of us know about “horses for courses” and simply put, some runners prefer one dirt track or one turf course over another.  Do you have a list of “ready runners” from the old meet where a “horse for this upcoming course” appeared to be merely “prepping” over the closing meet’s surface(s).  This is done, of course, in anticipation of an all-out effort in his first start over his most-favored course in the opening days of that new meet?  Lists of this nature are invaluable for a good mutuel start!

Changing weather patterns can affect new meets.  As we move into Hollywood’s 2001 spring/summer meet, rain becomes a non-factor because it rarely rains from May to December on the Southern California circuit.  But if you play Saratoga’s new meet this year, you might want to bring along  any pedigree books you have for wet, sloppy, muddy and/or drying out tracks.

If you’re going into a new “night racing” meet such as the one at the Meadowlands in the fall, be cognizant of the fact that some horses run better at night and many “daytime” stars won’t pick up a hoof in darkness.

New meets always necessitate a long cold and hard look at what trainers are hot at the moment as the old meet closes.  If on “fire”, don’t necessarily think that they can go on like this at full tilt forever.  Hot barns can get very “cold” almost overnight.   If a barn has “used up” all their ammunition towards the end of an old meet (perhaps trying to win a training title), there’s a good chance the stable will turn to ice at the new meet.  All horses need a “breather”, even the best of them!

I hope I’ve given you food for thought, as the beginning of any new meet is a tricky spot for all handicappers. 

If you get off to a bad start, you’re chasing your own money from day one.  But by paying attention to the above suggestions, you’ll be miles ahead of your competition and most likely “in the black” from the bell!


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