By Jude “Pontiff of the Pick Four” Feld
Bud Strelitz was one of the best handicappers I have ever known. His sons, Roger and Lenny, were classmates of mine at Temple City High School. Bud was a daily visitor to Santa Anita, often found reading the Form, under a shade tree, in the paddock garden near the walking ring.
Since he spent so much time at the track, Bud saw a lot of races. He had a keen eye for trips, and was a great source of information in the days when replays were not nearly as readily available as they are today.
Because the paddock was his main hang out, he also had an eye for horseflesh, although he often downplayed those skills to me, saying, “You would know better than I.”
We often compared notes on the races and although we were not always on the same horse, we had mutual respect for one another’s skills. Bud cashed on more longshots and had more big exactas than anybody I have ever known. His secret?
“I never bet a horse dropping in class.”
We were standing on the mezzanine level near the escalator at the Great Race Place when Bud said those words to me. I remember it like it was yesterday. He had just cashed an exacta for $976.
I had thought the odds-on favorite, a W.R. Johnson-owned gelding, trained by Joe Arena, who was dropping in for $10,000 off a victory for $12,500, looked too tough to bet against and I passed the race.
“Any horse can get beat,” Bud said, “Especially at this level. Nobody gives money away. I like to bet horses that are improving. If the trainer thinks they can win a bigger purse, who am I to argue?”
This was an important moment in my development as a horseplayer.
The public gravitates to class droppers and sometimes they win, but the prices are so short that they are a bad long term investment. Any time your handicapping turns you into Captain Obvious, it is probably best to keep your money in your pocket.
Always be on the lookout for the improving horse – one with speed figures on the rise or one showing better early speed or one moving up off a solid maiden victory. Jump on the bandwagon before the public catches on to them.
Whenever I am handicapping my final contenders, I always hear Bud’s soft-spoken words in my head and it helps me to focus on the best bet among them. It was just a 30-second conversation as we passed each other in the grandstand, but it turned into a lifetime of better-priced winners for me.
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