03/05/2013 5:43PM

Keith Gisser: Horses not the only ones good off a layoff

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Last month I detailed my several-month-long “turn-out” from playing horses. Then, last week, in an excellent column, Bob Pandolfo talked about horses who were ready off a layoff, as opposed to racing back into shape. I am glad I read that article in the afternoon, because that night I returned to the wagering and racing wars, heading out to Northfield Park.

My initial idea was to play a few races, have a cigar, watch the horses, and hang out with the group I was a guest of, the accounting/wealth management firm that does my taxes and manages my paltry IRA. It was a free meal, a chance to network with some nice folks, and a chance to see if my layoff helped. But thanks to Pandy’s article, I decided to see if I would be ready at first asking, instead of racing back into shape. I downloaded my program the day before and went to work.

While Northfield is a mess a right now, with construction rerouting traffic and limiting parking, it didn’t take long for me to realize one key element of my own wagering strategy. I need to be at the track to succeed. It’s not just the ability to watch horses warm up and see the post parades when I want to see them, as opposed to when the TV department chooses to show them. It’s not just the chance to exchange ideas with others. It’s not just the endorphins flowing every time I set foot on to the grandstand apron. It’s a combination of all those factors. It’s what was missing last fall when I realized I needed a break.

I started the evening with a pair of second choices winning. That yielded a small daily double payoff, but it put me ahead a few bucks. More importantly, since both races basically played out the way I saw them on paper, it built my confidence, even though I did not cash my big ticket. In the third, I had the winner and second-place finisher, but lost a three-horse photo for the trifecta. I had two of the horses in that picture, but a 17-1 edged me out. The only aggravation here is that we had a 4-5 winner in Buck I Time (which is why I stretched into the exotic pool instead of playing flat) over a 6-1 third choice (the veteran Final Scorpion) in the wagering. Had I been a little more conservative, I would have hit the exacta, which yielded $29.80. A loss, yes, but good handicapping despite the “iffy” money management. The fourth race yielded an 8-5 winner, Nata K, and my win $20 wager provided a $34 profit. Some may scoff at playing an 8-5 flat, but he was 5-2 as the horses went to the gate, meeting my old criteria for a win wagering – looking for at least 2-1. We can’t control what happens after we make our play, but we always try to play as late as we can. (See Pandolfo’s comments on early money from last week for more on this).

We had a 4-5 favorite in the fifth and that yielded a $136.80 trifecta for a $12 investment, and I was feeling pretty good. The sixth race saw a totally illogical 4-5 horse win from the pocket (he had shown no tactical speed at all previously, but did get an inside draw), while my pick cut the fractions before tiring on the sloppy track.

In the seventh race, the 3, Ineja, was a clear choice to me, but the 4, La’sent, seemed to have a solid chance. La’sent lingered between 18 and 25-1 throughout the wagering, so as they went to the gate, I bet $20 to win and place on La’sent and I bet a $1 Tri 34/134/1234, spending an additional $8. While the trifecta play is a pretty normal one for me, the flat wager was not. A horse at those odds would normally get a $5 win and place bet, but I felt my handicapping had been solid and this horse really figured. Unfortunately, everyone else figured the same thing and La’Sent ended up going off at 5-1. Ineja led at every call, while La’sent got trapped third on the pylons, tried to get out at the half, but couldn’t and then had a horse just hang on the outside of her all the way up the backstretch as she was shuffled to fifth. The outside horse made a break entering the final turn and Tyler Smith and La’sent came flying late to get second, missing by a quarter-length. With 6-5 favorite, the #2, Sweet Billy, third, we hit a $207.20 trifecta and picked up another $28 for our place bet.  The fourth horse was #1, Passionate Gold, who was just shy of 8-1 and who I used only because I saw her warm up very well. Had she been third, the trifecta probably pays $400 or so. Or, we could have a superfecta, but I am happy with what we did get.

By the way, La’Sent is back in to go on Wednesday, March 6, at Northfield. She is 9-2 on the morning line and gets Tyler Smith again, this time from post 3. I don’t think the morning line will hold, but this may be a 3-1 horse. She was my strongest bet-back of the night last week.

That was another thing I realized. I had become so sour at the end of 2012 that I not only stopped seeing troubled trips, but I stopped recording them, as well. That is a cardinal sin in my book and just confirms that I needed the break.

I finished the night with a losing $20 win bet on Kickstand in the 8th race, who yielded the lead in mid-stretch to finish second. I felt that was enough for a first night back. I had a couple hundred bucks of the track’s money and I figured it was a good time to call it a night.

As I look back at my return to the races, my handicapping was pretty good. I was seeing the form, not just reading. Just as pro baseball players say the baseball looks like a basketball when they are in a hitting streak and basketball stars who are shooting well say the basket looks larger, the idea of seeing and not just reading the form is an important one. When you are just reading, you tend to force plays, as I did late last fall.

My money management, on the other hand, was not as good as it could have been. But it was good enough. I had no feel for the pools at all, which is understandable, having been away for so long. So we still have some things to work on for next time, but I have to say, it’s great to be back. Now go cash. See you next month.