The second race at Gulfstream Park this past Saturday presented, perhaps, the best betting opportunity of the year.
Ballet Diva was the 1-1 morning line favorite in the Florida Sire Three Rings Stakes, a six-furlong affair for 3-year-old fillies that had been previously nominated for the Florida Sire Stakes series.
In some ways, the skimpy price made sense. In 12 career starts, Ballet Diva had finished in the money (third or better) 10 times, including five trips to the winner’s circle. She was both Grade II- and Grade III-placed… but there was a problem that even Houston couldn’t fix.
Ballet Diva is what I like to call a “slow frontrunner,” meaning she does her best running on the lead, yet expends very little energy to get there. Typically, one sees these types of horses on the turf or on synthetic tracks. It is exceedingly rare to see one entered in a dirt sprint, especially at a track as glib as Gulfstream Park.
But here it was, the exception to the rule.
Notice that trainer Mark Casse’s protégé had earned a moderate/brisk early speed ration just once in her past half-dozen starts and, even worse, had recorded late speed rations classified as “poor” (-15 or less) in nine of her past 10 trips to post.
Now, here’s the hooker, as my dad would to say (I’ve tried telling him that “kicker” would probably be better, but he’s set in his ways): The projected ESR in the Three Rings was a -9.
Shakakan, R Kinsley Doll and Sweet Khaleesi all had ESRs superior to Ballet Diva.
This means that in order to get the lead early, the daughter of Hear No Evil would have to expend a lot more energy than she was used to, affecting her late kick (which was already nonexistent). Add to this the fact that Ballet Diva had never won after trailing by more than a half-length at the first call and I was left scratching my head as to how in the world she could be 1-2 on the tote board.
Normally, of course, such a scenario would entail a win bet or bets on alternate contenders, but, in this instance, I took a different tact.
For, as it turned out, Ballet Diva was hammered to show, creating a negative pool.
A negative pool occurs when more than 75% of the total pool (or thereabouts) resides on one entrant. It is called a “negative” pool because the track must kick in its own money in order to make the minimum payoff mandated by law should the horse in question win, place or show (depending on the pool).
Since the advent of net pool pricing, wagering into negative pools has been a favorite pastime of mine. Net pool pricing allows bettors to receive more than the minimum payoff of $2.10 or $2.20 on alternate contenders when the big favorite performs as expected. And even without NPP (not to be confused OPP), its bombs away when the big favorite fails to do what the bridge-jumper (a term given to people who make big place and show bets) anticipated.
In this particular case, I thought there was a very good chance that Ballet Diva would not only lose, but also fail to hit the board. Hence, I made show bets on 4-Sweet Khaleesi and 5-R Kinsley Doll.
The official chart comments on Ballet Diva sums up the race best: “…hustled up at the start but could not move on with the quick speed of SHAKAKAN, flattened out a bit along the inside, made rebid top stretch, roused along the outside but failed to kick on.”
R Kinsley won the Three Rings, paying $13.40, $4.60 and $10.80, while Sweet Khaleesi finished second, returning $5.20 and $7.60.
Ballet Diva finished a well-beaten fifth.