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Book Review

The Triple Crown Handicapper 2005 by Jim Mazur
from Progressive Handicapping Inc., 110 pages spiralbound

Jim Mazur's Progressive Handicapping has earned a reputation over the last two decades as the source for winning angles for the Breeders' Cup, with their popular Crushing the Cup books that come out every fall. After the initial success of the Crushing series, Progressive Handicapping expanded its offerings to the next logical step, the Triple Crown. Like the Breeders' Cup, the Triple Crown events are often won by longshots, with boxcar payouts especially in the exotics. Mazur's (and every bettor's) ultimate goal is to find the right longshot to bet on to make for a profitable day at the races. Triple Crown Handicapper gives you the keys to find that longshot, in the large and competitive fields that make up the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. New for 2005, Mazur added an additional chapter covering the Kentucky Oaks, which is held the day before the Derby and also attracts a huge betting handle and often brings longshot winners.

The basis of Mazur's technique is the "knock", specifically, negative angles, all of which are backed up by statistics. Horses which have such knocks earn demerit points and horses with the fewest knocks are the likely contenders to win the race. These knocks draw from many factors, including races at two, races at three, stakes wins, workouts and layoffs prior to the race, pedigree, jockey, and trainer. Some knocks are worth more than others; for example, horses that need the lead to win are bad bets overall in the Derby since 7 of the last 57 top-4 (superfecta) horses did so from the front end, the last wire-to-wire winner being War Emblem in 2002. The vast majority of Derby winners rally from off the pace, with a small number stalking the pace, the preferred runstyle of 2003 winner Funny Cide and 2004 winner Smarty Jones. As he puts it, "But the times do seem to be a'changin'... Is this a new trend? Or will a classy closer resurface?", warning that the closer bias may have come to an end. The book is a real eye-opener for a casual bettor/fan since it gives such a participant so many different angles to work with to find that elusive "crush" on the big day, but would definitely be useful to horseplayers at all levels of betting.

As is standard practice in both Crushing the Cup and Triple Crown Handicapper, Mazur devotes an entire chapter on the previous year's edition and how it fared, explaining in detail which horses he bet on and why. He explains, "Now, this is NOT a forum for us to gloat about our successes. As you will see, we slip and fall numerous times en route to the windows! We want YOU to learn from these real-life lessons and build on them." This is in distinct contrast to many other handicapping books on the market which conveniently show where the techniques worked, but conveniently ignore when it didn't, in typical "redboarding" fashion. Mazur not only gives you a realistic expectation of success, but also shows that he puts his money where his mouth is by including pictures of the actual betting tickets he purchased, win or lose.

Each of the four events is given its own chapter, since each race is played differently. What works at Churchill and Pimlico may not necessarily work at Belmont, which partly explains just how difficult it is to win the Triple Crown. Throw in a muddy track like last year's Derby or the 2003 Belmont and suddenly the entire race shape changes. For each race, Mazur includes numerous charts describing the basis for the various knocks he employs in his handicapping method. These summarize such factors as winning runstyle, fractional times, workout patterns, Beyer figures in prep races, prep race path, trainer and jockey statistics, and dosage profiles. The first chart in each chapter lists the last 19 winners, trainer, jockey, post position, win payout, and running time. Immediately after the chart is a short paragraph summarizing how the favorites in that race have historically fared, which demonstrates in a hurry that most often there is a false favorite who is overbet and overlays are readily found elsewhere.

This makes it easy to match up the current year's crop of Triple Crown hopefuls with past winners to see which ones look most like a contender and which are more likely to be pretenders. One item which is worth a second look is dosage index in the Belmont. Apparently, this is an even stronger angle over the Belmont's 1 1/2 mile marathon, yet after the Derby people quickly forget about dosage until the next year. Birdstone's 1.77 dosage comes to mind here. Mazur created a "Mazur Index" for each race, which is a way to combine the strongest angles together to determine who the contenders are. Those who want a less labor-intensive, "quick-and-dirty" handicapping method will appreciate this technique. Also included in each chapter are the Daily Racing Form past performances of the last ten winners (13 for the Derby), so you can see where the knocks can be found and know what to look for this year.

To accompany The Triple Crown Handicapper, Mazur releases The Derby Zone on the Sunday night before Derby day, likewise the Preakness Zone and Belmont Zone over the same timeframe. New for this year, the Oaks Zone comes out 2 days before that event. These publications, also available online, sorts each race's pre-entrants into the three categories of Contenders, Gray Zone, and Pretenders, based on the factors detailed in Triple Crown Handicapper. Only the Derby Zone can be mailed out to subscribers; the Oaks, Preakness and Belmont Zones are only available at Progressive Handicapping's website, www.proghandicap.com.

Triple Crown Handicapper is an excellent publication for anybody wanting to bet the tough Triple Crown races, or for newer horseplayers wanting to learn more about the use of angles and biases when selecting their horses. Triple Crown Handicapper has a cover price of $29.95 and is available from Progressive Handicapping Inc. and DRF.com. There are also some package deals available which include Triple Crown Handicapper with the various Zones.

Rating:     5/5

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