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TrackNotes: Roeper Goes To The Dogs

Seems a lot like CB radio or swing dancing or expensive cigars, this faddish gambling fetish Richard Roeper's latched on to as fuel for his latest non-fat, pop-culture lite tree killer of a book. Ever the now hipster, Roeper cites Super Size Me as an inspiration for his Bet the House, excerpted in Sunday's Sun-Times.

Isn't gambling in a slump and isn't the Texas Hold 'Em craze kind of fading? And Super Size Me was six years ago already. RR seems typically late to this one.

And you can kind of smell a rat in Roeper's theme if you check out the premise of Horseplayers: Life at the Track by Ted McClelland, where McClelland uses a book advance to spend a year as a horseplayer. Horseplayers is a great book and I'll wager it's of much more substance than Roeper's.

Yes, I did read the Roeper excerpt, and you wish Jason Robards was in the newsroom to tell the guy "Come back when you've got something." I understand the automatic hype of the S-T's featured columnist brands, but as Albert Brooks protested in Real Life, he's shallow.

And Roeper completely blows his gambling cred in the first installment. Who picked this excerpt?

Of his trip to Kenosha's dog racing track, Roeper reminisces: "I'm trying to pick medium shots and long shots, but there's a problem: Every time I put $100 or more on a dog, it substantially affects the odds. Because I am an idiot, it takes me a while to figure this out." At least he admits it. "In some cases, the amount I'm wagering on these dogs is more than their entire career winnings. It's a substantial percentage of the entire pool on each race."

That's right, Rich. You're showing either a complete lack of knowledge of pari-mutuel wagering and betting pools, or you're figuring readers of the book won't know the difference anyway. Ever heard of ROI (return on investment)? In a venue like that, you bet small for the big ROI, or else the pools get skewed.

But at the Kenosha windows, you're Lex Luthor, tilting the balance of the pools. Any real player would know that those kinds of bets would have that effect on a small pool such as Kenosha dog racing. The other thing to remember is that a fair number of people in that small crowd were probably also betting the horses on simulcast, perhaps exclusively. Making the dog pools even smaller.

So if this excerpt sets the tone, how can we not figure Roeper is getting joyously fleeced at the poker table by Ben Affleck and his buddies as Richard gets to hang around some really cool guys? And by the way, what credibility will there be in Roeper's review of the next Ben Affleck movie?

* * *

So here comes the segue.

I was all over the pools and the odds Saturday morning after wiping the sleep away, firing up the Keurig and tuning in early to the Dubai Festival of Racing from the brand new Meydan Racecourse, an indescribably opulent racing complex where the grandstand building is over a mile long and the hotel has a wind hole in it in the shape of a horse's head.

It was the best single day of my horseplaying career. I've always enjoyed the Dubai festival every year because you get to see the international crowd of race horses. Then you take a breather and come back in the afternoon for a couple of big Kentucky Derby preps.

The Dubai Festival is the richest in the world, paying out more than $25 million in purses across eight races, culminating in the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the richest race on the planet.

Unable to really study beforehand, the first two races were just a losing blur, as deciphering different kinds of data on horses from circuits all over the world proved daunting. I recognized a few names and tried to remember that just because I've heard a horse's name before, especially the Americans, doesn't make him or her the best horse here.

It's against the law to wager in Dubai. I've got to think they send a family emissary to Paris or London to do their betting for them, so the pools they showed were generated primarily in Europe. We in the U.S. were betting into pools generated here. Even in my two domestic betting accounts, I was seeing different odds, so it was something I had to watch for.

I cashed a very small ticket on the place horse Raihana in the fourth, the UAE Derby. Then it was another cold spell with a lesson built in. I started to notice a few things that all tied together.

1. The American pools were stubbornly favorable to the American horses, although I didn't think they were any great shakes in these races. When the clowns on TVG tried to make The Usual Q.T. out to be Curlin or Invasor simply because he is a California horse familiar to them, I knew the provincialism was running rampant. And you could see it on the tote board as Q.T. immediately started taking money, getting hammered to under 10-1. They also touted Presious Passion, the hellbent-for-leather speedster who always just takes off and then often gets caught, as he did Saturday.

2. Upsets were possible, so count no horse out. In the sixth, the 9-furlong Dubai Duty Free on turf, I actually liked Al Shemali. While no great shakes on turf, the horse had won two races back in smooth fashion, according to the running line, and had finished just under three lengths from the winner in a Grade 2 on Meydan's artificial Tapeta surface. The top three in that race were to run in the big one later.

The same 99-1 that looked intriguing also put me off the horse. It's the old adages: "There are a lot of other people who know more than I do" and "He's 99-1 for a reason."

You guessed it. The horse won. Paid $292.20! He had to have gone off at over 100-1. It's usually bad form to start chasing longshots after a hit like that, but what did I have to lose? I did like him for legitimate reasons, so the thought process was valid, even if I was a chicken for not pulling the trigger.

3. They run differently over there. In the longer races overseas, the rhythm is to plod along early and then build up speed as you go along, trying to make a frenzied dash down the stretch. So, start looking for the closers. Especially in these fields of 14 or 15 horses.

4. Find a horse in relatively good form, don't hold a single bad recent race amongst good efforts against him. Especially if he ran against classy horses. And does he seem to like the Tapeta in his stay here at Meydan? That proved to be a killer angle.

So while Presious Passion was taking a tote hammering for the Dubai Sheema Classic, 1.5 miles on the turf, I settled on Dar Re Mi, familiar to me from last November's Breeders' Cup Turf. He was bumped around in that race but finished in third less than two lengths back. Six runnings in Grade 1's peppered his sheet, including the ultra-prestigious Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last Fall, where he finished a respectable fifth. Cashing a confidence-building ticket on him, I couldn't believe how surprised so many people were that he won. Oh well.

Time for the big one. The Dubai World Cup at the classic 10 furlongs on the Tapeta. Gitano Hernando, five-for-eight lifetime, went off the favorite. American turf sensation Gio Ponti and the American Richard's Kid were taking money, along with the Japanese filly Red Desire.

With all of the above factors in mind, I fashioned a big Exacta box where I needed longshots to win to hit big, but with the size of these pools, I should have been able to at least get my investment back. So I looked at the Brazilian Gloria de Campeo, South African Lizard's Desire, and the Irish Allybar.

Gloria seemed a no-brainer, at almost 30-1. He'd finished second in this race last year, was unfortunate to get a heavy turf in the Arlington Million last year, and had just done very well in two graded preps at Meydan for this race.

Lizard's Desire is trained by Michael de Kock, who has won nearly half of the Dubai World Cups. The horse had won two of his last three, all at Meydan, and was 12-for-16 in the money lifetime. At over 30-1, I was nearly delirious.

Many of these same things also held true for Allybar, who showed me he likes the Tapeta based on an eight-length victory three back. And he is trained by Mahmoud Al Zarooni, a rookie who had guided Calming Influence to victory in the Godolphin Mile earlier in the day.

I didn't bite on Vision d'Etat, a top-shelf horse who needed a vet's permission slip just to run, or the American, Richard's Kid, who I consider really overrated. I really hated to toss Gio Ponti with his huge heart, but I figured jet lag, or something.

Well, my three hit. I had the exacta (should have had the trifecta) and covered them all in straight bets. The exacta paid $527.40 for a dollar. Gloria de Campeo paid $52.40 to win and Lizard's Desire $20.60 to Place. I don't know why, but they also paid $12.20 for Allybar, even though they don't take show betting.

Win or lose, hindsight is always perfect, except for Mine That Bird, but I felt better than Miss Cleo. It all seemed so logical to me.

After the aforementioned breather, I also hit the exacta on the Louisiana Derby and had the winner in the Lane's End back here in the States.

* * *

There was some bellyaching about the doings in Dubai, as Daily Racing Form editor Steve Crist's blog sounded an awful lot like sour grapes over wagers lost.

"For all that it proved about the quality of the contestants either individually or as a group, the results of the Dubai World Cup might as well have been drawn out of a hat," Crist moaned. He also took another swipe at synthetic surfaces.

If they want Tapeta at Meydan, don't bother me none. It's one day a year at a track on the other side of the world. It seemed to run fairly, there was very little kickback, unlike the Dust Bowl storms during Turfway races, and the races seemed formful. I don't know, but maybe Tapeta is a good synthetic alternative. Leaders and closers were both winning Saturday.

And I sure had fun.

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Thomas Chambers is the Beachwood's man on the rail. He brings you TrackNotes every Friday. He welcomes your comments.

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