New Shooters Don’t Win? Yeah, Right!

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on May 18, 2016.

By now, you should all know what I think of statistics, how I use them, and how they help and hurt handicappers. I’m a little outside the “norm” in my thinking, but, again, you should know by now when it comes to horse racing, as well as some other things, I never mind my opinion being in the minority.

The same applies to rules. Handicapping rules were made to be broken. Statistics and rules only apply to the specific race you are dealing with that day. If you are all-in on the horse who finally breaks the “Apollo Curse” — and, rest assured, it will happen — then what did that rule mean that day?

If you handicap every race as an individual event, which by fact and definition it is, and this is the first time you bet against the Apollo Curse, and you won, of what relevance was that rule to you?

I’m sure by now many of you have read how you should avoid the “new shooters” in the Preakness Stakes. You’ve likely heard that they are at a disadvantage and you should not bet on them. You’d be losing an edge, they’ll tell you.  Statistically, they may be right, but those statistics can cause you to forget that a “fact” is not a “rule.” Each race, crop, field, pace, and scenario is different and an individual event. I take stats into account, as I do other factors, in my handicapping. But I don’t live or die by them — any of them.

As for new shooters being at a disadvantage or not being able to win? Nonsense. You just have to have the right new shooter. From a handicapping standpoint, coming off a race like the Kentucky Derby can work two ways: 1) It can have a horse really fit with a lot of bottom or 2) It can have a horse knocked out.

You just have to be right in your assessment of which Derby horses running back in The Preakness are going forward or regressing. That can be tricky, as we’ll see in a minute.

There weren’t many Derby winners expected to win The Preakness more so than Fusaichi Pegasus. He couldn’t lose, many said. “Fu Peg,” as he was often called, was odds-on in The Preakness and was already being hailed as the next superhorse. A relatively lightly raced and slowly-but-steadily- improving colt, Red Bullet, who ran second in the Wood Memorial, skipped the Kentucky Derby in 2000 and pointed to the Preakness.

The move paid off as the new shooter scored a convincing win against the horse that couldn’t lose and paid $14.40.

Another can’t-lose victim of a new shooter was none other than Secretariat’s stablemate Riva Ridge. Riva Ridge had the misfortune of catching a sloppy track following his Kentucky Derby win in 1972. Riva Ridge hated the slop — and it likely cost him The Triple Crown and back-to-back Triple Crowns for Meadow Stable. Makes you wonder about the Secretariat movie portraying Secretariat’s owners facing financial trouble and having everything ride on Secretariat. That’s for another article however.

In this one, we’ll stick to Bee Bee Bee, who wasn’t in Riva Ridge’s league on paper, yet went wire to wire at 19-1 in Baltimore.  (Interestingly, rain is in the forecast for Saturday.)

Sunny’s Halo was 6-5 to repeat his Kentucky Derby victory in the 1983 Preakness. New shooter Deputed Testamony was 15-1. Sunny’s Halo managed to finish third. Desert Wine, the Derby runner-up was second again. And, yes, you guessed it the new shooter, Deputed Testamony, won.

Can we talk about new shooters who won The Preakness without mentioning Rachel Alexandra? I think not. She surely qualifies, as she didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby in 2009, but was favored and paid $5.60 when she won The Preakness. Considering what she went on to do — and who she faced in that running of The Preakness — the $5.60 seems generous.

Wayne Lukas, a man who knows a thing or two about winning Triple Crown races, won his first with a Preakness new shooter named Codex. Codex upset Kentucky Derby-winning filly Genuine Risk with a masterfully aggressive and controversial ride by Angel Cordero Jr. After a long inquiry, the result stood and Codex backers were rewarded with a $7.40 payoff.

One of my personal favorites was Aloma’s Ruler who paid $15.80 as a new shooter winner of the 1982 Preakness under “Cowboy” Jack Kaenel. He went wire to wire. Gato Del Sol, that year’s Derby victor, skipped the Preakness, with his connections thinking his closing style would be better suited to the Belmont.

Click HERE to watch the 1982 Preakness Stakes.

So, when the experts confuse statistics with handicapping, if you come up with a new shooter you think can win, go to the window. They’re talking about a different race, in a different year, with different horses and circumstances. I’m not saying look for a new shooter, not at all. I’m saying handicap each race, unbiased, as an individual event.

Because that’s what it is.

Jonathan Stettin
Jonathan has always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings, as he practically grew up at the racetrack. His mother, affectionately known as “Ginger,” was in the stands at Belmont Park the day before he was born as his father, Joe, worked behind the windows as a pari-mutuel clerk.

As a toddler, Jonathan cheered for and followed horses and jockeys, knowing many of the names and bloodlines by the time he was in first grade. Morning coffee in his household was always accompanied by the Daily Racing Form or Morning Telegraph.

At the age of 16, Jonathan dropped out of school and has pretty much been at the races full-time ever since. Of course, he had some of the usual childhood racetrack jobs growing up — mucking stalls, walking hots and rubbing horses. He even enjoyed brief stints as a jockey agent and a mutuel clerk (like his dad).

His best day at the track came on August 10, 1994 at Saratoga, when he hit the pick-6 paying $540,367.

Jonathan continues to be an active and successful player. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathanstettin or visit his Web site at www.pastthewire.com.

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