09/20/2007 12:48PM

Question Time


gary says: Being from Florida I just started noticing this Grand Slam bet, what exactly is it?

The Grand Slam, currently offered only at NYRA tracks, is a four-race bet dreamed up by former NYRA VP Bill Nader. Think of it as a pick-four where you only have to pick a horse to show in the first three legs, then a winner in the finale. Hence the name: You "load the bases" with the three show picks, then hit the round-tripper by picking the winner in the last leg. The bet usually concludes with the day's featured race.

You can use as many horses in each leg as you like, but while it may help to think of it as a pick-four I don't think the optimal approach is to play it like one. This isn't a bet where you want to spread out and catch a buck of it. I think there are two reasons to play the bet: 1)To capitalize on the possibility that a favorite you really don't like will finish off the board and 2)To improve the win price of a horse you like in the last leg at fairly low risk. These goals are not mutually exclusive.

Travers Day, when the Grand Slam carried a $100k guarantee (pools usually run in the $20k-$50k range), showed one way that the bet can provide exceptional value. The Grand Slam sequence consisted of a maiden race, the Baruch, the King's Bishop and the Travers, where Street Sense paid an unappetizing $2.70. The Grand Slam ending with him, however, paid over 10 times as much at $28.20 even though the favorites won (and thus obviously showed) in the first and third legs. The key was getting Cosmonaut off the board in the Baruch, where Shakis won at an overlaid 5-1 while longshots Big Prairie and Drum Major ran 2-3.

mikethedog says: If you owned a horse and could have any trainer in the world train your horse for only one race with the biggest purse ever, who would you want to train your horse and why?

That's such an intriguing question, I'm going to give you about a half-dozen different answers, because it all depends what kind of hypothetical race this is.

If it's a mile and a half on the dirt at Belmont Park, I'll take Woody Stephens. Same distance on turf out west? Charlie Whittingham. If it's the Kentucky Derby, I'll go with Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas or Nick Zito. Get my drift? You can't go far wrong with any of these Hall of Famers, but I'd want whatever tiny edge they bring in their areas of greatest success.

tony says: In recent Litfin article he mentions Beyer pars for each race . Can you explain further how he comes up with that par number for the race .

Pars are simple historical averages and easy to compute if you have a sufficiently large sample size. You simply look at all the races of a certain class/type/distance over a broad period, average the winning figures, and there's your par. Where it can get a little tricky is in dealing with seasonality: There's no single maiden-special-weight par for "New York" because those races are stronger at Saratoga in August than at Aqueduct in February. Also, 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds are developing and improving, so you use different (higher) pars as the season progresses and they age or improve.

andyscoggin says: The SHOWdown contest is back, a lot of action for very little money!

The SHOWdown is a single-elimination 20-day contest with a $10 entry fee where you try to stay alive by picking one horse a day at NYRA to show. You can get the details here. The game begins next Wednesday, Sept. 26th.

scout2 says: Do you see any conflict of interest on the part of the two main sheet makers,and there greatly expanding client advisory business?

I don't see any conflict of interest. The Ragozin Sheets and Thoro-Graph have both long been in the business of recommending bloodstock purchases to owners and trainers as well as selling their products to handicappers. I'm personally not a fan of sheet numbers, because I disagree with their inclusion of ground loss and weight carried and their system of quantifying these factors, but other people swear by them. The more differing opinions, the merrier the game.

bob_cordaro says: Don't know if you can conclude that New York's dirt racing surfaces in general, and the Belmont Stakes in particular, have shortened the career of yet another great horse[Rags to Riches]. But it is a question worth researching. It would be interesting to do some research to see if there is some correlation here.

It would indeed be interesting, and the industry is in fact belatedly launching a comprehensive breakdown-reporting system so that we can all have more than anecdotal numbers about surface safety. In the meantime, I don't know of any reason to consider the dirt surfaces in New York unsafe. This summer, there reportedly were two racing fatalities on dirt at Saratoga and four on Polytrack at Del Mar. Yet Polytrack proponents and salesmen continue to insist that dirt is dangerous, Polytrack is a miracle, and that anyone who disagrees with them is a callous gambler opposed to animal welfare.