Bounce or No Bounce

Last Saturday at Saratoga, we saw two impressive performances from the likely Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks favorites. Gamine dominated the 7 Furlong Grade 1 Test Stakes, and Tiz the Law annihilated the field in the mile and a quarter Grade 1 Travers Stakes. Both horses pretty much assured themselves favoritism in their next starts, and we don’t even know who they will be running against, what the track will be like, how the pace sets up or what posts they will draw. 

What would be hard to imagine is that both these exceptionally horses will be able to repeat the efforts we saw last Saturday. Impossible, no, unlikely, yes. 

Gamine cut back from a smashing one-turn mile at Belmont to the 7 eighths at Saratoga. She’ll stretch out to a mile and an eighth for the Oaks, assuming that is where she goes. In a rare event, Tiz the Law will race in the Kentucky Derby at the same mile and a quarter distance of his last race. 

To be fair, both horses were so impressive it is reasonable to think they can bounce, or regress and still win. They were dominating. That said, in big races, Grade 1 races, major stake races, I almost always prefer a horse I anticipate moving forward or peaking as opposed to one I think may regress. This is especially true with younger horses like three-year-olds. 

Considering both these horses will be short prices, and both probably over bet and under-analyzed, and also likely to regress, I have to take an in-depth look. This is when you want to spot a nick in the armor if there is one. 

Both horses are tough to knock. Gamine has yet to finish a race anywhere but first. Tiz the Law lost once, but he had a troubled trip or might also be unbeaten. I note his loss came at Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby is run. 

With both horses trained by men who know how to win big races, and know how to keep a horse good, I think the answer to the puzzle is whether or not anyone in their respective fields is good enough to beat them if they in fact regress. 

Of the two, Tiz the Law worries me more. That is probably not a popular opinion. I am fine with that. Here are my reasons. He has been really good and maintained his form for two seasons now. That is not easy. As aforementioned, he was beaten over the Derby track, and he will run over it in a bigger field this time. I can’t help but think if I owned or trained him, after The Travers, I’d have said that’s the race we need in The Derby. Last and maybe not least, in the stretch, he seemed to be wheeling his legs a tad. I never like to see that. Vekoma does it, but as a rule, it concerns me. 

Gamine will stretch back out to a two-turn race. I actually think that change may help to prevent a regression. I may be wrong, but Bob Baffert took this route for a reason. I tag her as the less likely to regress. Again, probably not the popular opinion. 

The bounce or regression race following a big effort is something a lot of players miss, disregard, don’t believe in, or don’t understand. I believe understanding it gives you an edge and can help you take down a short-priced favorite. One of the confusing aspects is some horses can bounce and win. 

In closing, here is what a bounce truly is. When a horse runs a significantly faster figure, usually on the Rags or on Thoro-Graph, than they ever have before, or than they normally do, more often than not, they will regress or bounce in their next start. This is NOT affected by how easily they may visually appear to win. Horses who win under wraps can still bounce. The clock doesn’t lie. Appearances do. You know, “who you gonna believe, me or your lyin eyes?”

When trying to determine if a horse can bounce and win, I look at two things primarily. This is in addition to my regular handicapping regimen. I see how many points forward from their previous best figure the monster race was. I’ll allow for a regression of anywhere from 3-7 points most times. Where does that put this horse in relation to what the competition will likely run? If it is a competitive number and all else is in line, they can bounce and win. If it isn’t, it is a scenario I love to try and capitalize on—big time. 

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Jon Stettin

Since childhood, Jon has always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. His years of experience have earned him a well respected spot in the industry as a handicapper. He now is a frequent contributor to AmWager as well as writing for his own site.

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