Updated on 09/15/2011 12:50PM

Turn Classic upside down to profit


DEL MAR, Calif. - From early on, handicappers are taught to find the most likely winner. Indeed, the very title of the book that revolutionized handicapping - "Picking Winners" by Andrew Beyer - crystalized the find-the-winner concept, through application of speed figures.

Trouble is, horses with the highest figures recurrently are favored. The same applies to pace. Horses with "hidden" advantages are typically identified by modern pace handicappers, and hammered accordingly. With increasing regularity, picking winners yields only marginal value. Found the likely winner? Join the crowd.

Instead, many bettors have chosen to turn the handicapping equation upside down. Rather than find winners, many attempt to find the losers. Most of the time, it is a simple task.

The practice of eliminating losers generally produces few surprises. Most toss-outs are longshots, anyway. Upside-down analysis, however, can open up a range of possibilities when one or more low-priced entrants do not make the cut. Even with only six starters in the Pacific Classic on Sunday at Del Mar, the idea the third and fourth choices can be eliminated may turn the race into a potentially rewarding exercise.

Beyond handicapping, the Pacific Classic requires upside-down wagering strategy. While strategy typically is formulated from the top down, one might also build the wager from the bottom up by finding a bomber who may clunk into the three hole in the trifecta. First, it is necessary to eliminate two Pacific Classic runners who have defects that justify wagering against.

Trainer Bob Baffert's management of Captain Steve has been brilliant. The horse Mike Pegram purchased for $70,000 has has earned $6.7 million over a carefully planned career that peaked this March with victory in the $6 million Dubai World Cup.

Captain Steve has tailed off since, however. After finishing second in the Stephen Foster Handicap, he finished fourth in the Hollywood Gold Cup and third in the San Diego Handicap. His owner recognizes the decline. Said Pegram: "We came out here and ran two duds; maybe third time's the charm."

Captain Steve would require a complete form reversal to contend, and there is no evidence to suggest one is forthcoming. It behooves bettors to take a cold-hearted approach and wager that Captain Steve, as 3-1 third choice on the track's morning line, will not hit the board.

Until Sundown, a 3-year-old, has fired every start. Trainer Laura de Seroux has campaigned him judiciously, with clear rewards: three wins including a Grade 3, three seconds including a Grade 1 runner-up. Until Sundown, however, is not a fast horse. He has never earned a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure. His pace figures are well below the Grade 1 par. Although 3-year-olds Best Pal and General Challenge achieved success in the Pacific Classic, both had established themselves as seriously fast horses going into the race.

Until Sundown's lifetime top Beyer Figure is 99. He must improve some 15 points (nearly 10 lengths) to win. Notwithstanding a seven-pound weight break, Until Sundown meets five others who are faster. Based on figures, bettors are required to wager that Until Sundown, 6-1 fourth choice, will not hit the board.

That leaves Skimming, Futural, Dixie Dot Com, and Dig for It.

The attributes of Skimming, 8-5; and Futural, 9-5, are clear. So are those of Dixie Dot Com, a surprising 8-1.

Dixie Dot Com enters the Pacific Classic with one main question - distance. At 6 years-old, he is fast; he consistently earns Beyers in the 110's. His class is indisputable, he is Grade 1-placed and a multiple Grade 2 winner. This season, he has held his form longer than any time in his career.

Concerns about distance are assuaged. At Del Mar, nine-furlong horses can stay 10 furlongs. Bertrando did it; Skimming did it. At Del Mar, speed carries farther at a mile and a quarter than any other racetrack in California. Dixie Dot Com would inherit the lead if Skimming tires. Dixie Dot Com is a serious contender.

With three logicals and only two throw-outs, the Pacific Classic trifecta can only be memorable for bettors willing to employ imagination and faith. Enter longshot grinder Dig for It, fresh from fifth-place finish at odds of 56-1 in the San Diego Handicap.

Dig for It had an excuse for the debacle. After the race, Dig for It's right front foot was in bad shape. He had grabbed an inch-deep quarter, which explains why he was throwing his head up, lugging out, and struggling home more than 15 lengths behind the winner.

The question is whether a healthy Dig for It would have been a contender in the 1 1/16-mile San Diego. Perhaps not. The the longer distance of the Classic, however, plays in favor of the one-paced runner. Gus Headley, who gallops Dig for It, said the 6-year-old has recovered. "He's as smooth as ever, and he's going to keep plugging away."

If he plugs away long enough, and one of the top three contenders misfires, Dig for It can hit the board at 30-1 and make the 2001 Pacific Classic a wagering bonanza.

The bet is a $1 trifecta partial wheel. Skimming, Futural, and Dixie Dot Com; with the same three; with Dig for It, for a total of $6 in trifectas. On the chance Dig for It clunks up for second, the backup wager is a $1 exacta partial wheel. Skimming, Futural, and Dixie Dot Com; with Dig for It, for a total of $3 in exactas.

And to think, it's a bet one can cash without even picking the winner.

Go to Del Mar coverage.