Talkin' Horses - Live Discussions

Ken Kirchner NTRA

Wednesday October 20, 2005

Ken Kirchner is National Thoroughbred Racing Association/Breeders' Cup senior vice-president for product development.

Ken's many contributions to the Breeders' Cup experience include creation of  the Head-2-Head wagers and the idea for setting the order of races once the fields have been determined.

Ken has graciously agreed to join us for a look ahead to this year's races and will entertain questions pertaining to BC wagering, simulcasting, Head-2-Head, race order, types of wagers, or anything else that's on your mind.

MODERATOR:
First of all, we'd like to thank Ken for taking time to chat with us so soon before the big event next week. I'm sure we have a lot of ground to cover, so let's get going.

Cincinnati, OH:
Why are they starting the Classic on the turn? It looks as if it is going to be a rather large field. Won't starting on the turn be a severe disadvantage to the outside horses? If a horse you like is starting to the outside, does this change your wager?

Kirchner:
It would seem that starting from the outside would be a disadvantage but in previous Classic runnings at Belmont Park, the outside has produced all three winners. Tiznow and Cigar each broke from post 10, in 2001 and 1995 respectively, and Unbridled unleashed a big move from post 14 to win in 1990.

Lynchburg, VA:
We have all see how Lost In the Fog has blown away every horse he has faced in prior races. However, there are many who question the quality of fields he has faced in every race. Do you agree with that assessment and is there any horse out there that can pose a serious threat to him in the BC?

Kirchner:
Yes, there are a number of questions about Lost in the Fog, but he has crossed the wire first in every race and there is nothing more you can ask of a horse.

With a full field of 14 horses, it will be interesting to see if he obtains the clear early lead he's gotten in his previous races.

As to others springing an upset, I'll swing for the fences with some long shots like Silver Train, who trains at Belmont and ran a 110 Beyer in the Jerome, Wildcat Heir, who ran a 117 Beyer but has been plagued by injuries, and Gygistar, who is 5 of 8 at Belmont and should have a big closing kick.

Harrisburg, PA:
This year's Classic is shaping up interestingly enough, despite the absence of such horses as Roses in May and Ghostzapper. But the top three have had deceiving performances last time out. Saint Liam needed a rabbit to win, Borrego cantered home, and Rock Hard Ten (who beat both horses) almost never wins by open lengths. Who has the upper hand in this race?

Kirchner:
A really tough choice because all three of these horses are coming off monster wins.

Jerry Bailey told me yesterday that St Liam is the best horse if he fires his race.

Rock Hard Ten has the advantage of Richard Mandella who has demonstrated he can win this race as he did with Pleasantly Perfect.

Borrego seems to be a different horse in his last two races and the Jockey Club Gold Cup was exceptional.

I haven't made my decision yet on this one.

Chicago, IL:
How are you, Ken? What do you think of Perfect Drift in the Classic? I would throw out his last race at Hawthorne because I don't think he handled the slop. He should be a nice price and his style is perfect for Belmont and that 1 1/4 distance.

Kirchner:
I'm fine, thank you. Perfect Drift deserves a lot of credit for making it back to the Classic for a record fourth time. That alone is an outstanding accomplishment.

He always seems to be on the edge of running a big race in the Classic but doesn't quite get there. His form surprisingly only shows one unplaced start at Belmont Park.

I'd demand good odds for my money, at least 12-1.

Olive Hill, KY:
I have better luck with show betting on horses with decent odds. Are there any horses that jump out at you that will have better odds that stand a good chance of hitting the board.

Kirchner:
I haven't studied the pp's close enough to identify all my price plays yet, but I'd offer you a way to make good money if you're good at finding price horses.

I love to reverse key horses; in other words, I'll single a horse in third place in the trifecta at big odds. I might use five horses on top, four in second, and my single in third (odds of 15-1 and higher) for a $20 ticket.

It's amazing how often a lone speed horse will hold on for third or a deep closer gets up at big odds in the tri. You can win a lot more by being right once in a while with this method than taking the show price, which gets diluted when the favorites finish first or second.

Garfield, NJ:
Hi Mr. Kirchner. I was a little tentative about there being a new race order this year for the Breeder's Cup, but I am pleasantly surprised at the sequence. My problem is with the article that had quoted you about the churn of money on Breeder's Cup day. All it seemed to this horseplayer is that you guys want us to feed the handle as much as possible. While from a business standpoint obviously you guys want the handle to grow as much as possible, but why no mention of the horseplayer? Why is there never a mention of something being beneficial to the horseplayer? Why are we constantly pushed aside in this sport with incredibly high takeouts and constant mistreatment? If you want the handle to grow, why not have the takeout lowered for one day only on Breeder's Cup day? Get through whatever legislation would need to be done because the handle will skyrocket then. There could be 8 horse fields continuously throughout the day and the handle would be the highest in racing history. Maybe one day racing officials will realize that the horseplayer keeps the game alive. One day they'll realize that "hey we need to take care of these people". Unfortunately by the time racing officials and racetracks realize this vital fact, it may be too late. Good luck this Breeder's Cup day. Mike

Kirchner:
Feel better now that you’ve gotten that off your chest, Mike? I can understand your frustration and concur that the industry was guilty for many years of ignoring the needs of the horseplayer. I believe that some of that is changing though. A number of tracks have built special simulcast rooms and facilities to accommodate today’s players. A few tracks are now launching rebate and player reward programs to give benefits back to the players. So I don’t think its all doom and gloom for players.

As to BC day, churn is the name of the game. We want players cashing and reinvesting their dollars all day long. Many of the actions we’ve taken on BC day have been directed straight at the player. New bets like the Pick 4 and Head2Head. The expanded wagering menu with rolling Pick 3s, superfectas every race, the biggest bet in North America, the BC Pick 6, are all geared towards the player. BC day is the players’ day.

Good luck to you.

Covington, KY:
Ken, Where can we find dosage information on the horses competing in the breeder's cup races? Also is it more profitable to just bet pick 3 & 4 on the races and stay away from exactas, tris, supers, etc?

Kirchner:
Not sure about dosage information sources. As to bet types, that's a personal preference.

I told a friend today that I'm sticking to exacta, tri, and super bets on BC day. I'm just better at those types of bets. It always seems that I'm getting whacked in one of the legs of a Pick 3.

I will play the BC Pick 4 and 6, simply due to the huge value in winning if I'm right. But most of my money will be in the exacta and tri pools.

Louisville, KY:
Ken: We have a little local rooting interest in Suave in the Classic and I was wondering what kind of a chance you thought this horse at the top of HIS game may have? I guess it may come down to the same question as always... is he good enough? Thanks!!!

Kirchner: 
I don’t give him much of a chance.  He just hasn’t run fast enough to compete against these horses.

Eureka, CA:
Hello Ken, I was just wondering if there has been any thought to adding a couple more races to the BC lineup. Off the top of my head, I know there has been a lot of discussion about adding a Dirt Mile. Also perhaps a Grass Sprint? Looking forward to watching this years BC!!!

Kirchner:
There have been discussions about additional races, but I don’t anticipate any action for a few years. You’re right in naming the dirt mile and a grass sprint as the most likely races to be added.  

I believe the emphasis will be on raising the BC day purses to approximately $20 million and then we can look at the races to be added.

Des Moines, IA:
What do you think of the American horses in the BC Turf -- particularly Better Talk Now.

Kirchner:
I believe the Euros are stronger. This is their surface and they have brought over several very good horses.

Bago is last year’s Arc winner and was very impressive two weeks ago in the 2005 Arc. Azamour and Motivator are Group 1 winners. Shirocco (Andre Fabre) is a sleeper. Better Talk Now will be ready but I don’t think he’s good enough.

Saratoga Springs, NY:
Does the Breeders' Cup regret allowing NYRA to host this year's event after they found out that selected rebate shop bettors will not be allowed to bet on it? Doesn't this assure that betting will be down on this year's event?

Kirchner:
We certainly wish that there had been a rationale explanation and policy on the offshore shops. I don’t believe we regret the decision; certainly the fields are indicative of the benefit of running in NY.

We lose $7 million in handle from the banned locations. We’ll see if that leads to a downturn. At the same time, I hope some of those offshore players participate via US simulcast sites. The betting value is just too good to say no to.

Detroit, MI:
Have the Head2Head wagers been determined and announced? If so, what are they?

Kirchner:
We will announce them next Wednesday when post positions are drawn.

St Louis, MO:
Mr. Kirchner, How can the “Head-2-Head” wager progress to provide a more attractive proposition for bettors as its record to date have been laden with mostly miniscule payoffs?

Kirchner: 
Good question.  We’re adding parlay wagering to the Head2Head this year, so that you’ll be able to make your best six selections (maximum number of races allowed by tote) in the Head2Head matchups and let it ride.  

Last year, if you were right on six H2H bets, you could have turned two dollars into $190, or $10 into $900.  And the beauty of the H2H parlay is that you only have to beat 6 to 8 other horses.  

Remember that Head2Head sports betting in Vegas, you’re laying $11 to win $10.  If they paid on a pari-mutuel basis, you’d receive about $3.60 on a winning $2.00 bet, no different than our bet.   

Lexington, KY:
Ken, I think this new Choose Six concept (choose your own personal pick 6) would be a great addition to the BC wagering menu? Love to get your take. Thanks

Kirchner:
The Choose Six has some interesting options, but I don’t believe its right for BC day.  

While the Pick 6 is North America’s biggest bet, we want to make it the biggest bet in the world, with players from Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and other countries all betting into it.  The Choose Six would dilute that Pick 6 pool and reduce potential payouts. 

Might see some application for a Choose Three or Four, but not for the Six.

Torrance, CA:
Like a lot of other bettors out there the big question on my mind is what races are going to be featured on the pick 6. Any insight as to which races may not be a part of it?

Kirchner:
The Pick 6 should be very interesting this year.  The order is Filly/Mare Turf, Sprint, Mile, Distaff, Turf and Classic.  

With four defending champions competing and potential singles in several legs, the bettors are going to have the ability to spread in several races while making that tough single in others.  

In the past six years, we’ve had two multi-million payouts, two years when no one hit 6 of 6, and two years with multiple winners.  Potentially then, you could have become a millionaire, in four of the past six years.  That opportunity presents itself again this year. 

Remember that in 2003, Graham Stone won $2.7 million on an $8 Pick 6 ticket.  It sort of like Powerball, you have to put a ticket in.  Even if you single three or four horses, it could be your day and if you review past Pick 6s, usually three of the six are favorites or low odds horses.  

The key is to pick the right three but if you’re right, you’re an instant legend.

Sacramento, CA:
Is Starcraft a better bet for the mile or Classic?

Kirchner:
He worked the other day on an all weather track, so that it appears he may go to the Classic. He’s won at 1 miles in Australia. He appears to be a very special horse and I wouldn’t underestimate him.

Mountain View, CA:
Was there any consideration in putting the Sprint later in the card due to Lost in the Fog's popularity, or was the competitiveness of the field the prime consideration on deciding where to place races on the card?

Kirchner:
Yes, it was considered but other factors moved it to the fourth position. With the full fields in all races, I think fans will get plenty of value.

Frankfort, IL:
In your honest opinion which horse has a better chance at finishing in the money on BC day, Wend in the FM Turf or Sun King in the Classic - Powered by Dodge? I'm trying to organize my exotics.

Kirchner:
I think Wend has the better shot. I just don’t fancy Sun King. He couldn’t beat Roman Ruler, who has retreated to the Sprint because the Classic is too tough.

Toronto, Ontario:
What do you think of Sorcerer's Stone in the Juvy?

Kirchner:
Can’t argue with a horse that’s 3 for 3.  In his maiden win, he beat Private Vow and he ran very big at Arlington last time out.  Fair odds will be around 12-1 but he could slip by at much higher odds.

Big Bend, WI:
Hey Ken, What's your take on Sensation? Can she spring the "upset" in the Juvenile Fillies even if she hasn't stretched out as of yet? She appears to like Belmont, is very fast, and has the pedigree to handle the distance. What odds do you think she'll go off at? Thanks!!

Kirchner:
Sounds like you’ve already convinced yourself that she’s the play.  I do think an upset is possible in this race and Sensation figures better than most.  Hasn’t gone long yet, so that’s the unknown. 

The two Beyers over 90 stick out at you, though.  Her odds should be double digits.  

Pleasanton, CA:
If you think Lost in the Fog will be a heavy favorite, but the BC Sprint has the maximum field of horses, is it more likely for the Sprint to be early in the card, or because of Lost in the Fog's popularity will the race be scheduled closer to the Classic?

Kirchner: 
The Sprint will remain as race four on the card.  While I would have preferred having the race later in the card, there were a number of factors that were considered in putting the race order together.  

Some of these factors were racing surface (alternating turf and dirt), prior BC race orders, wagering churn and betting progression, sponsorships and other issues. 

The key is that the races all came up with full fields, which will offer tremendous betting value in all pools on the day.  

With 13 or 14 horses in each race, players will be able to find multiple horses paying double what their true odds should be.  Horses that should be 7-1 will go off at 15-1 in a 14 horse field.  

Pleasanton, CA:
Which of the turf courses will the three Breeders' Cup turf races be run on?

Kirchner: 
The Filly/Mare Turf will be run on the Inner Turf course and the Mile and Turf will be run on the Widener (outer) Turf course. 

Remember that Belmont Park is the largest track in America.  The Mile is a one turn race, as are the Distaff and both Juvenile races.  

The sweeping turns allow horses to accelerate through them without losing the ground they would on tighter courses.  

Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and we’ll get fast and firm/good on BC day and everyone gets to run their best race.

San Antonio, TX:
Is there any particular reason that there is not a rolling daily double on the Breeders' Cup card? Also, why a $2.00 minimum on the Pick 6? It should be 50 cents or even a dime. Will there be nickel breakage on the Head to Head this year with the races at Belmont. This should help.

Kirchner:
Rolling doubles have been used on BC day and frankly, the handle on those has not measured up. Where exacta pools average over $3 million and Pick 3s average over $800,000, the doubles only average about $250,000 (except for the opening and closing double)

The Pick 6 is tougher because we don’t want to dilute the pools but we want maximum play. If cut-rate betting were introduced on the Pick 6, I would first want some rules on proportional payouts. I wouldn’t want someone playing a .10cent Pick 6 to be able to take down the whole pool.

You’re correct, there is nickel breakage in NY and this should help the payouts on the Head2Head bets.

Parlin, NJ:
I have researched the Kentucky Cup Juvenile as a prep for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. If my research is correct, every winner of the Ky Cup Juvenile who ran in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile finished no worse than third. With that in mind, what do you think of Stream Cat's chances to continue this trend?

Kirchner:
I didn’t know that. Stream Cat was less than impressive in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, although trying to close on that course is extremely difficult. Still his Beyers are low compared to the rest of the field and he needs to take a big step forward.

I note that he not on Lasix (Pat Biancone should be commended because he doesn’t run every one of his horses on it) but I wouldn’t be surprised if Lasix is added for the BC. I think the horse will be a much stronger performer on the turf next year.

Jersey City, NJ:
Does the fact that the only time St Liam has run the Classic distance he ran out of the money lessen his chances?

Kirchner:
Always a question about the distance when a horse hasn’t won previously. Whether it was the distance, the track, or the trip the California for the Santa Anita Handicap that did him in, he clearly didn’t fire.

The Classic will be a very tactical race, with jockeys and pace making the difference. Surprisingly, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of speed in the race, which may force some horses into a style of running they may not want.

Rock Hard Ten shows no wins outside California. I’m told by European friends that Oratorio is a monster on his best day and could be a threat if he takes to the dirt.

But having lost big future book bets in prior years on Swain, Giant’ s Causeway and Shakee, I dubious about any Euro winning the Classic. Although I clearly haven’t learned by lesson, as I had Ace to win the Classic at 100/1, unfortunately, Powerscourt scratched and Ace is going in the Turf.

Cold Spring, KY:
What are your thoughts about the BC moving to ESPN ? Do you see a nighttime BC in the near future ? I think that would bring added excitement ( and wagering).

Kirchner:
I think the move the ESPN should be good for the Breeders’ Cup and racing. ESPN not only brings a targeted sports audience to the event, but they have multiple media platforms upon which to promote the Championships. As to a night-time event, the venue would be a challenge and there are a limited number of facilities that could host the BC that have the ability to race at night. If I believed we could have full interactive wagering for all viewers of the BC telecast, then a primetime BC might be possible. Until we get to that point, it would be difficult.

Lexington, KY:
Ken, Your responses have been very interesting, informative and honest. Thank you. What do you think of Stevie Wonderboy's chances in the Juvenile? Most of my serious handicap buddies have him way down on the list, and I think he should be no worse than second choice behind First Samurai.

Kirchner:
Thank you. Stevie has run well going short in CA and was very impressive at Del Mar. I don’t like the layoff angle coming into the race though. That’s not the pattern most Juvenile winners have followed and the longest layoff was Vindication at 42 days. 

One handicapping tip for all fans, stick to your guns.  There will be plenty of hype over the next 10 days about hot horses, trainers touting their horses, etc.  If you have an opinion, don’t change your mind based on what others think.  Read the articles study the form but remember, every trainer is going to say how great their horse is doing and writers need something to write about.  Trust your own judgments and handicapping.

Old Bridge, NJ:
How do you think Knights Templer measures up to the American Juvenile fillies?

Kirchner:
I can’t see it. The 93 Beyer is certainly competitive but she’s a bet against for me. I know D. Wayne has the favorite in Folklore, but I his other horse (Ex Caelis) a little bit. I’ll probably key him underneath in tris hoping he sneaks in at 25/1.

Seattle, WA:
There are several to like in the BC Distaff. I could make a case for each of them. I really like Happy Ticket, Society Selection. I'll not discount Pleasant Home, a Phipps horse in NY. Two others I'd like your thoughts on: Nothing But Fun and Pampered Princess?

Kirchner:
Pampered Princess didn’t beat much in the Spinster and she’s a five year old with 31 starts. Until the Spinster, she didn’t have even a Grade 3 win.

Compare that to Ashado, who has seven Grade 1 wins. Nothing But Fun is interesting in that she won the Cotillion, the same race as Ashado won last year at 3 prior to winning the Distaff. But I think the similarities end there. Nothing But Fun hasn’t faced the competition yet.

One thing about the Distaff division, it is usually won by a horse that’s competed against the best.

San Antonio, TX:
Which returning champion is most vulnerable in your opinion?

Kirchner: 
Ouija Board.  She just doesn’t look to be the same horse as last year that was coming off a strong 3rd in the Arc.  With her physical problems, I don’t see her repeating against this level of competition.

MODERATOR:
I don't know if I can stop taking notes and put down my pen long enough to thank Ken Kirchner for appearing as our guest today.

Editor's Note: BloodHorse.com moderators retain editorial control over Talkin' Horses discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests; guests may decline to answer questions. Opinions expressed by guests of Talkin' Horses are those of the guest and do not represent the opinions of Blood-Horse Publications, its employees, associates, or affiliated organizations. Guests, dates, and times of Talkin' Horses discussions are subject to change.