Handicapper Steve Moody

Steve Moody, 50, grew up in Louisville, Ky. His first connection to horse racing was listening to Cawood Ledford call the feature races during the Keeneland and Churchill Downs meets. When WHAS-TV would broadcast from Churchill Downs on Saturdays in the spring and summer, Moody would watch the races and make his selections. He picked his first Derby winner at age nine "when the name Kauai King sounded good to me," Moody said.

His first visit to a racetrack came at age 17 when he was a student at the University of Kentucky. "I bet on two winners that first day, made $40, and was hooked on the game thereafter," Moody said. After attending UK, he taught school for six years and ran a small business before coming back to Lexington in February 1991 to produce the "Kentucky Handicapper's Sheet for Bloodstock Research."

As a handicapper who primarily focuses on the Kentucky racing scene as a result of his 16 years' experience with the "Kentucky Handicapper's Sheet," Moody can offer insight on the Kentucky circuit, handicapping horses that have run on Polytrack at Turfway Park, handicapping the Derby, and handicapping in general.  

Harrisburg, PA:
Steve, my Road to the Roses stable is failing miserably. With supplemental nominations coming up, is there a particular horse(s) that you'd recommend adding? Is Corinthian worth it?

It's hard to know without knowing who you have in your stable. My top choice right now is probably Strong Contender (Maria's Mon), trained by John Ward, who won with another Maria's Mon colt, Monarchos, in 2001. Both Allowance winners on Saturday's Fountain of Youth card at Gulfstream ran faster than the Swale and Fountain of Youth winners. Exclusive Quality (Elusive Quality) and Sunriver (Saint Ballado) are both trained by Todd Pletcher. The latter is a full brother to multiple Gr. 1 winner Ashado.

Newark, DE:
Do a horse’s work outs play much of a part in your handicapping? Some horse's work outs are really good and then the horse doesn't come in the money.

I give more weight to workouts with first-time starters and horses returning from layoffs, but you also need to know which trainers tend to work their horses quickly and others that don't. Trainer stats will give you some clues about which trainers do best with layoff horses or first timers. For example, Bill Mott excels with layoff horses, but doesn't usually work his horses quickly. If Mott had a layoff horse, I'd generally feel his horse would be ready to run even though the works don't look all that quick.

Cedar Rapids, IA:
Thank you for taking my question, I appreciate it. I really like Doctor Decherd and Lawyer Ron, but the question of them getting the Derby distance always seems to be in everyone's mind. Can you please give me your opinion on that?

As for Doctor Decherd, I believe his next race is the WinStar Derby, which is ungraded, so I'm not sure how serious his connections are about the Kentucky Derby. Lawyer Ron is certainly on the Triple Crown Trail. My advice about him and all the other Derby runners would be to pay attention to their last race before the Run for the Roses. Ten of the last eleven Derby winners went the last furlong of their final Derby prep in less than 13 seconds and 9 of the last 11 went the final 3 furlongs in less than 38 seconds.

Lexington, KY:
What do you consider the most compelling positive change when handicapping a horse? First time bleeder medication? New trainer? First time blinkers? Third start off a layoff? Other?

First Lasix is always a strong factor to consider, and I have a particular fondness for "third start after a layoff." The addition of blinkers is a situational change. A horse adding blinkers that draws into a race that appears lacking much early speed is obviously a stronger contender than one that lands in a race filled with early-speed types. As far as trainers go, it depends on who the new trainer is and who the old trainer was.

Saratoga, NY:
Any plans for a New York Handicapper's Sheet? Florida? California?

BRISnet currently produces the Florida Handicapper's Sheet in addition to the Kentucky edition. Toby Callet, a longtime handicapper, does the selections for the Florida sheet and is the definitive source for Florida racing. Besides clocking horses in the mornings at Pompano, he has lots of contacts in south Florida and other racing centers. The Florida Handicapper's Sheet is a must if you're playing Gulfstream or Calder.

Neptune, NJ:
Hi Steve, I agreed with Andy Beyer's recent article that handicapping races at Turfway on the new polytrack surface is kind of bland. It seems that pace handicapping in particular is thrown out the window. When quality sprinters go 46 and change for the half mile in a 6 furlong race, it just doesn't interest me. I understand it may be better for the horses health-wise, which is great, but it is a complete bore handicapping-wise. I know many other horseplayers who feel the same. What is your take on it?

One of the things I don't like about the Polytrack are the slow times, but part of that is the quality of the horses running at Turfway during the winter. Let's face it, $7,500 maiden claimers are slow regardless of where they're running. I do hope that over time as the track settles more that the times will improve across the board. As a pace handicapper, I don't have any qualms about taking a horse I believe will get to the front without too much pressure. Polytrack or dirt, that horse would still be my choice.

Freehold, NJ:
Can you really see California tracks, where horses routinely go 21 and change for a quarter mile, installing Polytrack surfaces?

My understanding is the California Horse Racing Board has mandated the change take place. I know Del Mar has taken the lead in making the change. I'm not sure about what the timetable, though I think the date for the charge over is by the end of 2007. See the following link for the related story that appeared on BloodHorse.com. http://news.bloodhorse.com/viewstory.asp?id=32227

New York, NY:
I thought the Fountain of Youth was a very interesting race. Based on trips, post position, and that wild stretch run, I was impressed with Flashy Bull but was more inspired by My Golden Song. I think My Golden Song is being perfectly prepared for the 1st Saturday in May. You thoughts? Also, Sunriver (3rd race GP same day) ran the 1 1/8 almost a full second faster than the FOY . . . comments?

No doubt that both Flashy Bull and My Golden Song were bothered late in the FOY, and both will be worth watching next time out. Todd Pletcher, trainer of My Golden Song, may have a barn full of Derby hopefuls including Sunriver whom I talked about earlier. I thought he was very game in the Allowance race he won earlier on Saturday. It appeared the runner-up, High Blues, was going to run by him late; but he dug in and turned him away.

Peytona, KY:
Who is the last Derby winner you picked?

Silver Charm in 1997.

La Grange, KY:
I've always thought the best value at the track is in the Pick Three. What do you think?

My favorites are the Pick-3 and the Pick-4, but there's nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned win bet when the price is right.

Frankfort, KY:
I bet Steppenwolfer at 24-1 in the last Derby pool. What do you think of his chances?

I can't knock him. He finished well in the Southwest Stakes and looks like he wants to go farther. His pedigree would suggest he can as well. Good luck with him!

Pleasureville, KY:
What do you consider the most important factors in handicapping?

Pace scenario, class, speed.

Nashville, TN:
Do you find it harder to handicap dirt or turf races? Why?

I think turf races are more difficult. Turf races generally draw fuller fields and traffic problems are more common since most turf courses are inside of the main track. They have tighter turns and less room for maneuvering. In addition, turf races have more off-the-pace winners than dirt races and cavalry-charge stretch runs along with blanket finishes are commonplace.

Hendersonville, TN:
Are you a believer in speed figures?

There's no doubt that speed figures along with pace figures have revolutionized handicapping. At BRISnetwe produce our own speed, pace, and class figures - and I think they are tough to beat. They are consistent from day to day, race to race, and track to track. Consistency is the key. It doesn't do you any good to have great numbers from one circuit, but lousy ones at another.

Trenton, NJ:
What do you think of Michael Matz' decision to wait nine weeks for the Florida Derby and then go into the Kentucky Derby off a five-week layoff?

In two words, not much. Look, he knows his horse better than I do, but I don't think you're going to win the Kentucky Derby by training up to it for five weeks. I made that mistake two years ago when I selected Read the Footnotes. It's a mistake I won't make again.

Pierre, SD:
How much value should I put into prep races when handicapping the Derby?

Even though Derby horses have few fewer preps than those of 10, 20, or 30 years ago by far, preps themselves are still very important In my opinion, asking a 3-year-old to run a mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May is a lot as it is. Trying to do it on works and gallops and next to no seasoning is near impossible.

Lexington, KY:
What is your favorite track to handicap?

I would have to say Churchill Downs, though I love going to Keeneland.

Ironton, OH:
Have you seen Brass Hat run? What do you think of his chances in Dubai?

I was at Turfway when he broke his maiden in the Rushaway. He's definitely on top of his game now with 3 straight wins, and he could not have won any easier in the Grade 1 Donn. It's obviously the first trip of this kind for the horse as well as his connections, but the horse seems to be doing great, if his last work is any indication. He's worth a long look over there at a decent price.

Berryville, VA:
The baby races at Keeneland are so much fun to watch, 2-year-olds going 4 1/2 furlongs. But how do you possibly handicap them?

Trainer tendencies as well as pedigree analysis are the keys to handicapping "baby" races. Trainers like Steve Asmussen, Ronny Werner, and Todd Pletcher are all ones that usually have their horses ready to run early on. As far as pedigrees go, I'd suggest the reports which BRISnet puts out. Our past performances have sire and dam analysis on all maiden and turf races and that information can be invaluable.

Chicago, IL:
Because of his performance in the Fountain of Youth, First Samurai is no longer considered a Kentucky Derby top contender by most. Let's remember that this was his first time around 2 turns and he fought back and finished strong. His Beyer was not what most were looking for, but could have bounced and I believe he will move forward in his next prep which I hope will be the Blue Grass. Let's remember he has great 2 year old credentials and has already run a 107 in the Holy Bull. If he runs first or second in the Blue Grass and runs a 103 or better, I will be all over him in the Kentucky Derby at a good price. Your thoughts, please.

I agree with you. I'm certainly not ready to pitch First Samurai because of his Fountain of Youth performance. He certainly has a license to improve next time out.

Bowling Green, KY:
Do you think that horses racing on Turfway Park's polytrack off of turf races have an edge over horses shipping in there off of dirt races? What is your assessment, in general, of horses that have either done well or done poorly on polytrack at Turfway, then ship out to run on dirt? On turf? Do you find times on polytrack to be consistent, day in and day out within class levels? Do you find times on polytrack, within class levels, to be slower than they were on Turfway's old dirt surface?

I haven't bought into the theory espoused by the "talking heads" at TVG that turf horses are automatically going to run well on the Polytrack. I think more turf horses were winning the first few weeks of the September meet because there more of them shipping there from Ellis Park, where they run a lot of turf races, and Kentucky Downs, where they run nothing but turf races. I do think most turf winners win from off the pace and that running style wins more races at Turfway now than on the old surface. The old speed bias is no longer there and there's not as much kickback on Polytrack. That works in favor of those that are running late. I haven't paid a lot of attention to those that have shipped away from Turfway to run somewhere else since my focus on a daily basis is on Kentucky racing

The new surface appears to be very consistent, though there's no question the times are slower.

Louisville, KY:
Who do you believe is the best trainer at getting a horse ready for 1 Big Race?

It's really tough to pick just one and I'll have to admit that I don't follow the California trainers as closely as the ones that are more likely to run in Kentucky. Bill Mott is great with layoff horses and obviously won a lot of Grade 1's with all different kinds of horses. He'd have to be in the mix.

Las Vegas, NV:
Steve, I was a huge Vindication fan during his brief career. He seems like he has all of the earmarks to be an elite sire. What is your outlook on his future as a stallion and have you seen any of his offspring?

He has a terrific pedigree and even though he racing career was cut short, there have been several great sires over the years that had short racing careers. I have not seen any of his offspring.

Stanton, DE:
Good afternoon Steve, Not sure if you have had time to look at this yet or not. But based on times alone, who appears to have the best "closing kick" out of this year's Derby contenders. I know Afleet Alex did last year and should have won the race.

I haven't look at that as of yet. As this last round of two of prep races are run, that's something I'll look at closely before making a Derby selection.

Fair Lawn, NJ:
Who do you think is the best in the Pletcher barn?

Pletcher is loaded, but I'd lean toward Bluegrass Cat and Sunriver.

Saco, ME:
Steve, Hello. I prefer to bet exotics that require selecting horses to win such as the Pick 3. Do you feel that one of the many "Pick" wagers offers better value than the others? For example, is the return on investment better for P4's than P6's? Lastly, do these wagers offer more value on "big" cards such as the Kentucky Derby or Breeders Cup when you might expect more wagering from casual players? Thank you.

Pick-3's and Pick-4's are the bets I probably play most and those are especially enticing when there are guaranteed pools such as on Derby weekend, etc. The Pick-6 offers value when the carryover builds. I like to play those when the carryover has built up, but maybe not to the point where it attracts a rash of syndicate players.

Lexington, KY:
Do you support casino gambling at Kentucky racetracks?

I personally haven't been to a casino in over 20 years and wouldn't go to one if it were located at Keeneland or Churchill or wherever. That said, I think they are necessary for the long-term health of Kentucky racing. From an economic standpoint, there's a river of money that's being siphoned off to Indiana and Illinois to help their economies and their racing programs and it makes no sense that the lawmakers in Kentucky continue to sit on their hands and do nothing about it. especially when facing huge budget shortfalls.

From a competitive standpoint, as more and more racing states add casino and slots gambling, Kentucky faces a crises in drawing the better horses to keep the racing here as good as it can be.

Kiawah Island, SC:
Do you think they should change the Triple Crown by putting more weeks between the races?

I'm sort of a traditionalist. I would not be in favor of changing the schedule.

Mobile, AL:
Do you find it harder to handicap sprint races or distance races?

I'd say distance races are harder.

Lexington, KY:
How much pedigree research do you do with Kentucky Derby contenders? Have you looked at Brother Derek's pedigree?

Pedigree plays a crucial role in Derby handicapping. As I said earlier, getting 10 furlongs on the first Saturday in May fof a 3-year-old is not easy. I like Brother Derek, even though he's a Cal-bred.

New York, NY:
If you had to make a pick right now, who is your Derby horse. Any sleepers?

My top pick right now is Strong Contender.

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