Photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire
There were not many smiles around Aqueduct Racetrack after Saturday’s fourth race.
Yet those who did indeed have a grin on their face were wearing it from one ear to the other.
That's the general range of emotions when a horse crosses the finish line first and a payoff of $230 to win flashes on the toteboard – like it did when Firstbellathenkk won the aforementioned 4th race at Aqueduct.
Most people trashed their tickets after that $16,000 state-bred maiden claimer, but those who didn’t were rather richly rewarded to the tune of a gargantuan win ticket, or a $1,010 exacta, or a $4,849 Pick Three when Santa Claus arrived in January instead of December.
Some might say impossible, but it wasn’t really that. Let’s say it was nearly impossible to predict Firstbellathenkk would win because there was one small, nearly microscopic reason to have some interest in the 5-year-old New York State-bred gelding – and there’s a lesson to be learned from that.
Yes, Firstbellathenkk illustrated why people push the “ALL” button, and someone named “Bella” or with the initials “K.K.” had better insight into the race than most handicappers. Yet Firstbellathenkk was also the right horse in the right place on the right day – a handicapping stratagem to remember.
Specifically, he had some early speed and that was the key to success in sprint races that afternoon over the Big A’s winterized inner track. The inner track, with its sharp turns, is generally kind to frontrunners and on Saturday the day’s first two sprint races were won by horses that went gate-to-wire.
Firstbellathenkk made it 3-for-3.
Simple, right? Except that you had to put Firstbellathenkk’s past performances under a magnifying glass to see it.
Three starts ago at Finger Lakes, he set the early pace in a 5 ½-furlong race before tiring to finish third. Then he was shipped to Aqueduct where he ran in a six-furlong $20,000 state-bred claimer and was no closer than fifth at any call.
His next start was a $16,000 open maiden claimer at a mile where he was third at the first calls and then faded to eighth, 30 ¾ lengths behind the winner.
That’s hardly a reason to cash in a CD and head the betting windows, but in a weak race where someone might be looking to spread and include several horses in an exotic wager, Firstbellathenkk might have been worth a look. A very short look, but a look nonetheless.
Reviewing the race with 20-20 hindsight, apparently that two-turn effort increased his stamina for a sprint and a return to state-bred company provided some class relief. Having the 8-5 favorite, Cameron Canyon, turn in a clunker also helped quite a bit as he also has early speed and would have pressed Firstbellathenkk on the front end under normal circumstances. Instead, when Cameron Canyon failed to flash his customary turn of speed, the 114-1 shot was allowed to cruise along on a clear lead and found some courage in the final furlong – thanks to the track bias – to hang on for a seemingly impossible 2 ¼-length win.
The lesson here, of course, is not to chase every 100-1 shot on the toteboard. Rather it’s to understand the power of a track bias. Some of the best rewards in racing can come from identifying a trend before it becomes too obvious – and in the case of Saturday’s 4th race a couple of front-running winners over a traditionally speed-favoring surface was a pretty big clue that a speed horse would fare rather well in the race.
Finding the right horse at the right time isn’t easy, but when you do, there’s generally a nice reward.
Just ask anyone who cashed on Firstbellathenkk.