Updated on 09/16/2011 7:39AM

Profit by finding the 'why' behind the 'what'


ARCADIA, Calif. - Handicapping would be an easy game if every factor stood alone. Thankfully, they do not. Who wants an easy game?

In truth, most handicapping factors are interconnected, and they provide many great mysteries. It is the challenge of handicappers and horsemen to identify the interconnections, to find out the "why" behind the "what."

On occasions when a bettor recognizes an association between two factors that are not clearly related, the parimutuel advantage becomes significant. Likewise, a competent trainer can look beyond the obvious and discover why a horse did something unexpected, good or bad.

Two recent examples at Santa Anita illustrate the point. The first - a handicapping dilemma - was a bad trip, gallantly overcome by a race winner. Another was an unexpected bleeding incident - a trainer's problem - that led to a disastrous finish by an even-money favorite.

Yet the interpretations that followed Wooden Phone's victory in the San Pasqual on Jan. 5, in the first case, and Jeweled Pirate's seventh-place finish in the Survive Stakes on Jan. 2, in the second case, remain open to debate.

Wooden Phone had a wide-trip victory in the San Pasqual, a race that he was expected to win at even money. He received wide acclaim for his effort, racing four- and five-wide throughout, and grinding out a victory despite not making the lead until near the end. The facts are not in question. Wooden Phone, normally a front-runner, overcame adversity. Good for him.

Unfortunately, the San Pasqual also reveals a possible decline in form by Wooden Phone, who entered the winter meet as pro tem leader of a weak handicap division. While he deserves credit for victory, the race left several questions unresolved. Why was Wooden Phone unable to make the lead? Was it because of his slow start? Why did he break slowly? Why was he caught wide start to finish?

Superficially, one might excuse the entire debacle. Wooden Phone did break poorly, and three rivals inside him were intent on showing speed. That left Wooden Phone in the proverbial parking lot. However, he cannot be summarily excused for the blanket-finish victory. A year ago, Wooden Phone would have run away from the field despite the slow start. A year ago, Wooden Phone was a better horse.

Pace-figure analysis regularly uncovers signs of imminent form decline, and Wooden Phone's pace figures this season suggest he is a shadow of his former self. When he strung together three huge efforts against Tiznow last winter, Wooden Phone's Quirin-style pace figures (generated by Tom Brohamer) were Grade 1 caliber (114, 118, and 118). In two wins this year, Wooden Phone's pace figures (106, 105) have not reached Grade 3 caliber.

What's it mean? Only this: Wooden Phone appears headed downhill, and the honest gelding will be badly underlaid when he starts next, on Feb. 3 in the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap. Of course, that's only one interpretation.

Jeweled Pirae: Excuse her defeat

Vulnerable favorites consistently provide some of the best wagering opportunities in racing for creative bettors willing to take a stand against a short price. Still, the California-bred filly Jeweled Pirate appeared to have much in her favor when she started as the even-money favorite Jan. 2 in the Survive Stakes.

However, the Racing Form headline foretold the issue: "Jeweled Pirate must quickly adapt to change."

Switching from a series of grass races to dirt, a surface she had not raced on in six starts, Jeweled Pirate started at a short price against a field she appeared to have outclassed. The fact that the meet's most severe main track speed bias emerged Jan. 2 did not help her chances, but there was another underlying reason for her floundering seventh-place finish: Jeweled Pirate bled.

It happens. The question is, why? Her trainer, Ray Bell, has a pretty good idea why. He believes Jeweled Pirate bled because she was racing on a surface on which she is less effective. "Maybe she's got to put that little extra into it," he said. "So we'll get her back to a surface and distance she likes."

Jeweled Pirate bled, then, because she was scrambling trying to keep up in a fast-pace dirt sprint. It is one thing to win on dirt against allowance or maiden foes, as Jeweled Pirate had done, but her foes in the Survive were tougher. If Bell is correct, if Jeweled Pirate bled because of the surface, then she can be forgiven. And when she starts next, on March 17 in the Irish O'Brien Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs on turf, she may be a deserving favorite once again.