04/01/2015 9:28AM

Fornatale: Longshot hit wasn't just luck


Critics of the mythical-money tournament format were out in droves Saturday night. Paul Shurman played a 60-1 shot to end up second for $100,000 in a tournament, and out came the complaints.

“These mythical-money tournaments are a joke.”

“It’s not fair. People just play longshots at the end.”

“To say that you liked that horse based on handicapping is an insult to handicappers.”

“He never would have played that horse had he already been in the top three.”

These reactions proved to be way off base. Shurman, in fact, really did like Trident Hero. He was kind enough to revisit his notes on the race in question, Race 14 at Fair Grounds on Saturday night. The race was a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint and an optional starter allowance. Those facts alone meant that chaos was a strong possibility. All the quotes below belong to Shurman.

#1 VOODOO SPELL: “This was the favorite, coming off a 10-week layoff with a vet scratch in the middle. He also had a two-month gap last October and November. Many of his races were fast enough to win, but he was not a horse to be trusted.”

#2 TRIDENT HERO: “On the Thorograph figures, he matched his top in his last race in his first time on turf – that suggests a forward move off that race. That would put him ahead of every horse in the field other than the favorites, both of whom had question marks. He’d also been racing much better after going back to original trainer. This is a play any day of the week, tournament or not.”

#3 SLIP KID: “Nothing for me to like about it. My brother Bill played this one, expecting improvement from age 3 to 4 and because he showed the best closing fraction rating on HTR, a software program we use.”

#4 SOUTH FLOYD: scratched

#5 MEAN MARINE: “Unplayable off the two straight vet scratches, although he ran some intermittent good numbers last year. Turf numbers dreadful. Still lower odds than my 60-1.”

#6 WOLF PACK JACK: “Too slow and trying turf for first time as 5-year-old after 16 tries on dirt. Lower odds than my horse.”

#7 EXPECTING CASH: “This was the second favorite who threw a hideous race last out, the worst of his career. Granted, he was stretching out then and now back to best distance, but not an exciting betting prospect at 3-1.”

#8 BILLY TWO HATS: “Competitive numbers. Consistently a tick faster than Trident Hero’s last race, but again, I was expecting Trident Hero to move forward. I wasn’t expecting any improvement from this one – he is a 7-year-old and will not get any faster.  This one was 4-1. Trident Hero was just as good, with more potential.”

#9 FOREST ELF: “He also looked decent, but the new trainer hadn’t moved him up.  Wouldn't expect anything more than a small move forward off that last race. At 8-1, he seemed an underlay compared to Trident Hero.”

#10 OUIMET: scratched

#11: RUN RIGHT AT IT: “Not the healthiest of horses. His recent sporadic dirt numbers were decent, but his couple of turf races were nothing special. No reason to consider this one, even at 16-1.”

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Trident Hero made a little sense on old-school Daily Racing Form handicapping as well. He only lost to Billy Two Hats by three lengths last out, and he was moving inside now, and that rival was moving out. Three lengths in a chaotic race shouldn’t be the difference between 4-1 and 60-1.

Like almost all mythical-money contests, there was an odds cap. But this cap works a bit differently than most. Contestants are given full odds on the first $2 to win and place. The remaining $18 to win and place are capped at 19-1 to win and 9-1 to place. Still, a 60-1 shot is worth a significant amount more proportionately than your average capper.

Shurman was in 25th place going into the last race and was genuinely surprised that no one ahead of him used Trident Hero. “I think the big price actually might have scared some people off,” he said. Of course, if you want to do well in contests, a big price should cause the opposite reaction.

It’s important to note that Shurman attached special importance to this race because of where it was in the sequence. “I always look at the last race of a tournament first,” he said. “That way, I know what my range of options is depending on what I need.”

Now that we’ve established that this wasn’t a stab, what about the next question: What would Paul have played had he been in the top three going into that race?

“I would still have played Trident Hero,” he said. “I liked the horse, and even a place price at those odds would have moved me up.”