Jay Lietzau – Star Tribune Handicapper

Jay Lietzau has followed racing since the Canterbury Downs days of the ’80s. He has bet on thousands of races and handicapped tens of thousands more. He has participated in Canterbury College and various Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup seminars. This year Jay began to put what he has learned in the pages of the Star Tribune Sports page, selecting contenders and winners in each race, four days a week. Being a public handicapper takes skill and poise while riding the inevitable ups and downs of a race season. Jay took a break from handicapping and race watching to answer a few questions.

Jeff Maday: You’re following in the footsteps of Steve Davidowitz, Sheila Williams, Unowsky, Steve Tall, Kevin Gorg of course did it for a couple of years and then Johnny Love. Is there any pressure? These are some pretty good handicappers especially if you start with Davidowitz who taught us how to handicap.

Jay Lietzau:  His [Betting Thoroughbreds] is one of the best books in horseracing there is as far as handicapping so yeah there’s big shoes to fill. It’s been, what, 35 years? And there have only been seven or eight handicappers. It’s a tough job. It’s tough to pick winners. You’ve got to be able to explain your winners.  I give people that have done it a lot of credit. It’s like the mail. It never stops. The races keep coming.

JM: It used to be that if you didn’t like what a handicapper was doing you’d have to write a letter.

JL :  Right or stop them out here if you happened to see them. I actually have Davidowitz’ autograph from way back when.  It’s on a future book sheet.

JM: Now with social media all one does is send out a tweet.  Have you had any hecklers?

JL: I’m still kind of building my following so no. But hopefully people are passionate enough that they do start heckling. If you stir a little emotion, if they follow you and they get [upset] that means they are following you. It’ll probably take some time to get to that.

JM:  What’s your approach to handicapping?  What are you looking to give the people?

JL: I’ve looked at so many races and I do wish I could express this better in this forum. There are three of four races a day that fit my eye and those are the ones that I would bet. Conveying that to the people, I have a Best Bet and I have a Value Play and that’s a couple spots. There are some races where I try to say it’s a wide open affair to try to give people an idea. I start by looking at the race and the after doing this for so many years there are things that just pop out, good factors or bad factors, be it pace, or  trainer change or maybe I saw something in the last race. In a race I like I can usually find the winner fairly quickly. I’m not very good at dirt route races for claimers. We run a lot of those and they take me a little longer. I’m trying to find some new angles that work for that. That’s a hard part, trying to find those winners in races that I probably would never look at otherwise.

I keep pretty detailed stats in how I do in each race and I think I had maybe one winner last year in a maiden route so I just didn’t play them and now I need to and that’s been a new experience.

If you look at my suggested pick five ticket, and I only give out three selections in each race, but if I’m going ALL [in a pick five leg] that’s obviously a race I don’t have a strong opinion in. People can figure that out.  That’s what I’ve stressed in some of the seminars I’ve done with you. Find the races you like and bet more in those. You don’t have to bet every race the same amount. Find what you’re good at. Focus on those and bet more. You’re going to be better in the long run.

JM:   That’s why they made beer. To fill time during the races you don’t like.

JL:  Exactly and that’s why they have 45 different kinds.

JM:  Are you enjoying it? Is it fun? It’s a job. I know it’s picking horses but you’ve got a deadline to hit and in the newspaper business you have to hit it.

JL:   That’s another [challenge]. The two days before. I submitted Thursday’s selections [Tuesday]. If a monsoon comes through and there is a sloppy track or scratches, this and that. That’s probably the hard part because any race that goes from the turf to the dirt I would handicap differently or if there’s two speed horses in a race and one of them scratches that changes things. That’s been the hardest thing to get used to but I do really like it.  I hope people start recognizing me and asking me questions as I’d love to promote the sport, Canterbury and the Star Tribune all at the same time.

Follow Jay on Twitter:  @JaysPlaysStrib

Find his selections daily at Start Tribune Sports:  https://www.startribune.com/canterbury-park-entries-picks-results-and-more/600058089/

Buck Night is Back

Mister_BernsteinBuck hot dogs, soft drinks, admission and programs returned Thursday night and so, too, did good weather and the fans.

For that matter, so did a horse named Supreme Ghost.

The first buck night of the meet by almost any measuring stick was a rousing success.

Let’s start with the turnout.

A crowd of 7,196 was on hand.

Now the weather.

“Nicest day we’ve had so far,” said identifier Mark Bader.

“Gorgeous night. Just great for watching races,” said Minneapolis Star-Tribune handicapper Johnny Love.

Love doesn’t restrict his analysis of racing to merely a horse’s form. He likes to analyze the crowd as well. “Different people on every level (of the grandstand),” he said. “Different levels of knowledge, too.”

A certain area is frequently occupied by the grumblers, the players who find fault with the jockey, trainer or horse every time their selection comes up short. Then there are the neophytes, the infrequent visitors to Canterbury Park who make their selections based on colors, riders’ looks or the alphabet.

Other factions are divided, too, on their opinions of the handicappers. One side hangs on every word of their favorite handicapper. The other faction calls every word of the same handicapper’s analysis into question.

And so it goes.

Supreme Ghost apparently has some of Brett Favre or Roberto Duran in him. He retired a year ago, but was back in the lineup for Thursday’s sixth race. Trained now by Sandra Sweere, Supreme Ghost has won once and finished second once from eight career starts after finishing in front of one horse Thursday.

No race on the card stood up to the fifth (pictured above), one of those runs to the wire that quickened the pulse of everyone watching. It was obvious over the final 100 yards that a head bob would decide this race, and Mister Bernstein, with Derek Bell up, did just that, dropping his noggin in front of Incognito Bandito and Brandon Meier.

Defending quarter horse riding champion Nik Goodwin moved within one win of the lead by riding the first winner on Thursday’s card, V OS Red Hot Cole in the opener at 350 yards.

The star of the evening was Eddie Martin, Jr., who rode three winners to throw the thoroughbred race into a three-way tie for a short while, but Lori Keith bounced back in front of Martin and Ry Eikleberry with the winner of the ninth race, Ceeya Tuesday.

Keith got the mount on that winner after Justin Shepherd was sidelined following a spill in the fourth race, as was visiting rider Tim Thornton, who might have broken a bone in his shoulder. Shepherd reportedly was checked for an injured wrist.

Such are the vagaries of racing. Keith picks up a winning mount. Thornton pays a visit to Canterbury from Chicago, rides one horse and pays dearly.


Sunday’s Father’s Day card came up impressively strong with 126 horses entered in 12 races including big fields in the co-featured Brooks Fields Stakes and the Skip Zimmerman Memorial Stakes for Quarter Horses. Additionally, as an added bonus, Heliskier makes his debut against open runners! He has been installed as the 3/2 morning line favorite in Race 7, a field of 11. It is likely to be his toughest test to date.

Quite a special treat for the race fans that will be in attendance. Don’t miss it!

This blog was written by Canterbury Staff Writer Jim Wells. Wells was a longtime sportswriter at the Pioneer Press and is a member of the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame.