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Jeff Siegel Handicapper

Wednesday May 17, 2006

Jeff Siegel has been a handicapper since 1978. After making selections as a syndicated handicapper for six Los Angeles area newspapers, he then became co-founder of "Handicapper's Report," an innovative publication that provided speed ratings, trip notes and a racing column on the Southern California racing scene.

Siegel bought his first horse in the mid 1970's and is co-founder of Team Valor, a racing stable whose syndicated runners have won major races including the Breeders' Cup Turf, Arlington Million, Santa Anita Handicap and Dubai Duty Free.

Siegel majored in journalism in college and has been a fixture on television in California for years at Santa Anita Park. Considered by many to be the “dean of California handicappers,” Jeff Siegel shares his knowledge with HRTV viewers by delivering timely insight along with handicapping tips.  

Bethseda, MD:
What race on the Preakness under card will offer the most exciting racing?

Siegel:
There are eight stakes races at Pimlico on Saturday in addition to the Preakness and, since I haven’t yet seen the entries, it's tough to say. I’m not sure what your definition of “exciting” is, but if you’re looking for a race in which anyone of five or six could win, consider the $100,000 Baltimore Breeders’ Cup Turf sprint at five furlong on the turf. I’ve got to think that’s going to be a typical grass grab bag.  

Los Angeles, CA:
Do you think Mike Pegram will be successful in starting a new track at Los Alamitos?

Siegel:
I’m sure he would be successful since he’s successful at everything he does. However, Fairplex Park is making a pitch for whatever dates might be available should Hollywood Park shut down, so the Los Alamitos project will have some competition. And, who knows, maybe Hollywood Park will keep operating for longer than the three more years that have been predicted.  

San Diego, CA:
Do you think Del Mar will ever host a Breeder's Cup? What Southern California track has the Best Turf Course?

Siegel:
Whenever the Breeders’ Cup decides to return to California, I would think Santa Anita (or Hollywood Park, if it's still around) would again be the preferred location. The L.A. tracks are better suited to accommodate more fans. Also, Oak Tree and Hollywood Park operate during that time period (late October, early November).

But if Del Mar management wants to be seriously considered, they’ll have to, among other things, widen their turf course and work out the dates problem. As for the best turf course, I believe Santa Anita rates top billing. The course has a superb drainage system and very few turf races are missed due to rain. It doesn’t seem to have much of a bias, although there was a spell during the most recent meeting where speed wasn’t holding up at all.  

Weston, CT:
What do you think of Barbaro's chances to win the Triple Crown? Do you see Dynaformer's fee going up a lot if he does?

Siegel:
Barbaro has an excellent chance. Unlike Smarty Jones, who failed in the Belmont Stakes when he couldn’t stay the trip, Barbaro acts like the longer he goes, the more dominant he’ll be. However, Barbaro might have more to beat in the Preakness than Smarty Jones did, so he’d better bring his ”A” game on Saturday.

With regards to Dynaformer, he turned 21 this year, and his stud fee was $100,000 live foal. I’m not sure that will change much.  

Baltimore, MD:
Everyone's talking about how, regardless of whether Barbaro wins the Preakness, he'll cruise in the Belmont, and I agree. But, if Barbaro loses the Preakness, should Matz consider skipping the Belmont and opting for the Grand Slam of Grass?

Siegel:
I think Barbaro’s connections will still point for the Belmont, but if they were going to switch to the turf, they might as well consider the English Derby. No colt has ever won both the Kentucky Derby and the Derby at Epsom and, in some circles, that might even be considered more of an accomplishment that winning the Triple Crown.  

Tustin, CA:
What is California going to do about getting slots?

Siegel:
There’s been an enormous amount of lobbying in Sacramento by racetrack interests and there was talk last summer that some progress was being made, but I haven’t heard much about it lately. I’ll believe it when I see it.  

Riverside, CA:
When you choose a jockey as an owner, do you stick with certain jockeys all the time or do you look at the horse’s running style and then make a decision? Who are your favorite riders to use in graded races?

Siegel:
We (Team Valor) pretty much leave it up to the trainer to select the jockeys. Since we employ trainers like Pletcher, Romans, Matz, Drysdale, and Kimmel, we pretty much end up with the best, anyway. There are occasions in which we might match a particular jockey with a horse’s running style, but it’s usually not a concern. Velasquez, Prado, and Bejarano are always good to have in the East, where most of our horses race.  

Chicago, IL:
Much has been made of Barbaro's final two furlongs and how fast he closed. I am not taking anything away from him, but doesn't the 1:37 mile contribute to that? For example, Funny Cide was just off a 1:35 and change. It just seems that he got a War Emblem, Proud Citizen type of trip--just in his familiar stalking position. I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Siegel:
Barbaro did enjoy a relatively soft fourth quarter, so, yes, that did contribute to his ability to re-accelerate through the stretch. But, don’t forget, the Churchill Downs main track on Derby day wasn’t the paved highway that we’re used to seeing. As to his trip, you should recall that Barbaro stumbled at the start, but was athletic enough to gather himself and quickly move into an ideal position, and you’ve got to give him plenty of credit for that.  

Salt Lake City, UT:
I am still not convinced that Barbaro was the best horse in the Kentucky Derby. Hypothetically, if Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint were as equally talented as the winner, does their loss in the Derby make it less likely that they will perform well in the Preakness? I am really interested in your opinion about how a very good horse may be affected by a loss due to a bad trip -- is it less likely to rebound in two weeks with a return to its winning form?

Siegel:
How a race affects a horse’s performance next time out, whether he won or lost, depends on the individual horse’s ability to handle the stress and exertion caused by the effort. Logically, the longer the time in between races, the more likely the horse will be able to sufficiently recover.

Both Sweetnorthernsaint and Brother Derek did encounter tough trips; but in attempting to overcome their poor racing luck, both were subjected to physically taxing efforts. Barbaro, on the other hand, just cruised. Seems to me Barbaro would be much more likely to repeat his Derby performance simply because he very likely had an easier time of it. However, we don’t know for sure how Barbaro reacts to a two-week turnaround.

I guess we’ll find out.  

Van Nuys, CA:
Are you really thinking of racing Oh So Awesome in the Belmont? And how are your babies coming around this spring? Any names you would like to drop?

Siegel:
Oh So Awesome is a real nice colt we (Team Valor) bought in France a couple of months ago. He’s by Awesome Again, so we’re expecting he’ll show his best form on dirt.

If he runs in the Belmont Stakes, it’ll be his U.S. debut, so between now and then he’ll have to show Jimmy Jerkins that he’s worthy of consideration. That’s our hope, but we’ll see how he acclimates and trains in the next couple of weeks. He just recently arrived, so we’ll just have to see.

As for two year olds, Audacious Chloe ran second in her debut at Keeneland, and we’re hoping she’ll win her next start later this month at Belmont Park.  

Seattle, WA:
Going into the Kentucky Derby, I was quite high on Barbaro, but also could make a case for Sweetnorthernsaint, Brother Derek, Lawyer Ron, and possibly Bob and John and Point Determined. Now that the Preakness field is a lot smaller, so traffic should not be an issue, some will make a case for those competitors that are left, saying that Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint should have a 'fairer' shot at Barbaro. What are your thoughts as to the seven or so that will face him? Can any horse really compete, or are they all running for second?

Siegel:
I don’t believe any of the colts mentioned above can beat Barbaro, but Barbaro could beat himself if he doesn’t reproduce his best form. Will that happen? Of course, it’s possible that Barbaro, who always has had his races spaced, reacts unfavorably to a quick turnaround. But I believed Barbaro going in was the best colt in the Kentucky Derby, and nothing that happened in the Derby itself has changed my mind.  

Torrance, CA:
Surf Cat sure looks like one of the top older horses to me. What are your thoughts on him?

Siegel:
There’s no question Surf Cat is among the very best older handicap runners in the U.S. He was plenty good last year, but in distance races as a 3-year-old he was asked to press the pace, and now they’re taking him back and allowing him to be a devout stretch runner. That’s his style, and they’re likely to stick to it.  

Evergreen Park, IL:
I believe this Saturday's race will be a classic. Barbaro's biggest test on this year's Triple Crown Trail will come in the Preakness. Do you think the quick trip back to the starting gate for Barbaro will catch him off guard, or is he just a monster?

Siegel:
Given the relatively easy trip in the Derby – relatively being the key word – I would expect Barbaro to duplicate his best form at Pimlico. He was never touched with the stick and appeared to have plenty left at the end of his 10-furlong journey at Churchill Downs. From what I’ve heard, he came out of the race just fine. So, why shouldn’t he win again?  

Christiana, DE:
Who were your top four horses for the Kentucky Derby before the race?

Siegel:
On our final Target Louisville show on HRTV – broadcast two days before the race – I picked my top four as follows: Barbaro, Sweetnorthernsaint, Lawyer Ron, and Brother Derek. My co-host, Laffit Pincay III, also tabbed Barbaro. So, we’re on a one-race winning streak.  

Fontana, CA:
The California state senate has approved synthetic surfaces for all tracks open over three or four weeks. Is this a good or bad thing for the fans, horses, trainers or tracks?

Siegel:
I have never seen polytrack nor set foot on it, so I really don’t know. If it keeps horses sounder for a longer period of time, I’m all for it. But who knows? I don’t even know if all polytrack surfaces are the same. There sure seemed to be a lot of kick back at Turfway Park, kind of like the pre-water truck days in those old races on film from the 30’s.  

Chino Hills, CA:
Your insight out on the West Coast has been excellent. Do you think it would be beneficial for West Coast racing if Holly Park closes and the racing dates are divided between Santa Anita and Del Mar?

Siegel:
I think we could use three major racetracks in Southern California and, under your scenario, we would only have two. If and when Hollywood Park ceases to exist, I would think the extra racing days would be sought by the organizations at Los Alamitos and Fairplex Park, both of which would need a couple of years to develop their property (expansion to a mile track, building a turf course, improving the grandstand, etc.).  

Bethesda, MD:
Where can I find a comparison of all the major racetrack layouts? I'd like to see something that shows how sharp or how shallow the turns are and the length of the straight-aways. Something along the lines of seeing them with transparent overlays would be helpful. I've been in a discussion about whether or not Pimlico has unusually tight turns--at least compared to Churchill Downs. Seeing the tracks in scale drawings would be helpful. Thanks!

Siegel:
I recall about 20 years ago during the Preakness telecast ABC did the very same thing – superimposing the Churchill Downs racetrack over the Pimlico racetrack to prove that the turns are not tighter at Pimlico like everybody seems to think. But I haven’t seen anything in print as you describe. The American Racing Manual has dimensions for each track (length of stretch, etc.) but you’re going to have to draw the sketches yourself. Or hire an architect.  

Evergreen Park, IL:
I know this is somewhat out of left field but why do you think Chritophe Clement never put Dynever on the turf, seeing as he was extremely well bred for it?

Siegel:
Dynever made $2.6 million racing exclusively on dirt, so maybe Clement didn’t feel the need. But, yes, it would have been interesting to see what that son of Dynaformer could have done if given the chance.  

Columbus, OH:
Do you think it's easier or tougher to handicap a race that has a short field like the Preakness will? Do jockeys start thinking too much in this type of race, versus one with 10 or 12 horses?

Siegel:
It stands to reason that the smaller the field, the less chance there should be for a troubled trip, hence a truer result. Why doesn’t it always work that way? As for the jockeys thinking too much, I once asked one of my jockeys if he had done that, and he said, no, he didn’t think at all.  

Milaca, MN:
Very few handicappers were picking Barbaro for the Derby. Now most folks seem to think he is a lock for the Triple Crown. Why the big change? Is it based just on his win in the Derby, or are people seeing something in the horse beyond his record?

Siegel:
You don’t have to look much beyond his record. He’s undefeated. And, while 6-1 seems like a very generous price in retrospect, he was second choice in the Kentucky Derby, so I wouldn’t say that “very few handicappers” picked Barbaro. I did, so I’m happy. As for being “a lock” for the Triple Crown, he’s hardly that, but something unforeseen will have to happen to prevent it.  

Chicago, IL:
I'll be following the chat intently to see if you give away any of your handicapping trade secrets, but my question concerns your approach to straight betting. Specifically, when you're betting one horse in a particular race, do you always back him up with a place bet and/or an across-the-board bet, or does it depend on the horse's odds or field size? My racetrack friends tell me that show betting in the long run isn't cost effective, regardless of odds or field size. Some even say the same thing about place betting. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Siegel:
I never bet to place or show, and I don’t make very many old fashioned straight bets, either. I’m a rolling exotic guy – Pick 3s, Pick 4s, and Pick 6s. The axiom I subscribe to is, bet a little to win a lot. You can’t do that betting place and show.  

Elmont, NY:
When looking at the PP's, how should we interpret the track variant? For example, if two horses in the their last race received the same Beyers (95) but one had a 10 TV and the other a 22 TV in their last race, how does the TV support or not support that recent race when handicapping?

Siegel:
The number itself reflects how much slower than the track record that the average race was run during that day’s program, but it does not take into consideration the quality of horse that raced during that particular program.

The Beyer numbers that appears in DRF have been manually adjusted by a track variant (at the discretion of the person constructing the number), so if you believe in the Beyers, you can take them at face value without worrying about any further track variant adjustment.  

Escondido, CA:
Since they use graded earnings to qualify colts for the Derby-why not use the same criteria for picking post positions?

Siegel:
Interesting concept. You mean like seeding teams in the NCAA tournament with the better teams getting the higher seeds?

I suppose you’re suggesting that the owner of the horse with the highest graded earnings gets to choose his post position first. I wouldn’t have a problem with the concept, but to be truthful I’m not a big fan of ranking horses by graded stakes earnings. It’s straightforward and easy to understand if you do it that way, but there’s got be a better method of evaluating the merits of the contenders.  

Lutherville, MD:
Have you ever wondered why Maryland has turned out so many great trainers over the years? The Capuanos, Dutrows, Delps, the King, and many more have demonstrated their expertise. What is it about Maryland?.

Siegel:
All regions seem to develop their fair share of highly successful trainers. Heck, in Northern California, there are about four guys who should be in the Hall of Fame right now – at least based on their win percentages.  

Omaha, NE:
Jeff, I enjoy listening to your views on HRTV. I, too, am an owner. What is the solution to short fields across the race tracks in America?

Siegel:
Where I'm based in California, there are too many racing dates and not enough quality horses to meet the demand. I'd love to see California go to a four day week and have the tracks allowed to open up for simulcasting on dark days.

This winter at Santa Anita, the field size was up and that in part might have been a result of the gap between the Hollywood Park fall meeting and the traditional Dec. 26 opening in Arcadia. If such a gap (week to 10 days) between meetings could exist year round, I think the field size average would increase considerably.

Lexington, KY:
Everyone ranks this crop of 3-year-olds as one of the most talented and deepest in years. Over the last 20 years, which particular 3-year-old would you consider the most talented, and would Point Given rank up there?

Siegel:
Point Given certainly would rank among the best, certainly one of the best that did not win the Kentucky Derby. I though Smarty Jones was terrific, but he just wasn't able to stay 12 furlongs - that's not what he was bred to do. A. P. Indy, in 1992, may have been the best, especially if you consider his performances at the end of his 3-year-old season.

Chicago, IL:
In the last 20 years, only three horses have won the Preakness that had pure stamina points in their professional wing. Barbaro has 1. How much should one put into this when handicapping the Preakness?

Siegel:
I pay zero attention to dosage.

Dallas, TX:
Which Triple Crown race do you think is the easiest to win? And do you believe, as Steve Haskin does, that the Preakness is the best chance for someone to defeat Barbaro?

Siegel:
None of them are easy, but since I believe Barbaro will improve as the distances increase, I suppose he might be more vulnerable in the Preakness than in the Belmont. But I expect him to keep winning in Baltimore and in New York as well, as long as he stays fit and healthy.

Berkeley, CA:
I've heard a lot of hype about Bernardini. But with only three career starts, do you think he has the foundation and experience to take on the likes of Barbaro, Brother Derek, and Sweetnorthernsaint?

Siegel:
Bernardini is very talented, but the lack of foundation and experience certainly plays against him. However, he is fresh, sharp, and improving and should love the added distance--and I expect him to run very well on Saturday, maybe even second. But I'll be surprised if he can handle Barbaro.

Pittsburgh, PA:
Hey, Jeff, how about a nice price on a horse from Friday's card at Pimlico?

Siegel:
I'd love to help you out, but I haven't done the work yet. Watch us on HRTV Friday, and I'll try to accommodate you.

Sonoma, CA:
Hi Jeff,. New to handicapping and a fan of HRTV. Wonder how the basic pick 4 ticket works?

Siegel:
Pick the winner in four consecutive races (usually the first four or the last four on the program depending upon the track's wagering menu). You can use multiple horses in each race. Multiply the number of horses you're using in each of the legs and you'll have the cost of your ticket based on a $1 denomination.

New York City, NY:
Thank you for stopping by today. What do you think of the later entrants for the Preakness and type of effect they will have? What does the typical Preakness winner in the past have in terms of running style, jockey, speed? Thank you Jeff, keep up the great work.

Siegel:
I'm not sure the late entrants will effect the race at all, I think they're all overmatched. Bernardini is a newcomer who can run, and I wouldn't take him lightly. But the colts that Barbaro just beat in the Kentucky Derby - their poor trips in the Derby notwithstanding - look up against it once again, assuming Barbaro runs his race. Pace wise, I wouldn't want a deep closer, and I don't the a front runner stealing it. Barbaro is a stalker, and he can accommodate any pace. That's the kind of horse I'd want in the Preakness.

Florence, KY:
Jeff, I just recently retired from this business that we love so much. My last job was with Darby Dan as stallion manager. I would like to know your thoughts on getting the two dollar better back in the stands. It used to be the number one spectator sport when I was growing up in the game.... Ron

Siegel:
The competition for the sports wagering dollar in present times didn't exist when horse racing was as popular as you recall it back in the early to middle part of 20th century.

Yes, I remember the big Saturday crowds (50,000 or more) every Saturday at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. Those days are gone, but wagering is still strong because fans (like me) have become accustomed to playing the races at home while watching the sport on TV.

Seasonal tracks (such as Saratoga and Del Mar) will still enjoy outstanding on-track attendance. But, as a whole, the $2 bettor, as you call him, doesn't need to go to the track anymore to get his action. And since year-round racing became a reality around the nation in the early 1970's, there's no sense of urgency, either.

Maybe this will change in the future, when a combination of racing and gaming is offered at various racetracks around the country, where slots have been legalized. That's what track operators are banking on. But will this generate a new wave of horseplayers? Or will the $2 horse player just play the slots?

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