Those who follow horse racing casually get excited for the Triple Crown, and maybe the Breeders Cup if there is a compelling storyline. Those who follow the sport a little more closely know that Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York has the best racing, the most fans, and the smartest opportunities for bettors all year. Saratoga opens its 40-day meet on Friday. Along with the racing terminology and how to wager on superfectas to Pick 6’s, here is some good information to take into the rich summer-racing season in New York.
Saratoga is dominated by four riders. Of 409 races last year, brothers Jose and Irad Ortiz, Javier Castellano, and John Velazquez won 217, combined. They were the only jockeys to win at least 18-percent of their races (among those with at least five victories). The next four riders — Joel Rosario, Luis Saez, Manny Franco, and Jose Lezcano — accounted for 100 victories. That means eight riders took home 78-percent of the races. Over a five-year span, Lezcano and the two Ortiz brothers have the highest ROI’s. Castellano won 10 of the Spa’s 38 graded stakes races last year.
Pay close attention to the surface of the race when you’re assessing the jockeys. Jose Ortiz was particularly strong on turf last season. Saez and Lezcano were extremely profitable on the dirt.
Outside of the octet discussed above, take note when California based Mike Smith flies into town. He was four for eight last year, and has 10 victories in 43 starts over five years. On the flip side, a lot of big-name jocks who don’t regularly ride in New York — see Julien Leparoux, Florent Geroux, and Corey Lanerie — have struggled in recent years.
Chad Brown wrestled the Saratoga training title away from Todd Pletcher last year. Brown’s 40 wins bested Pletcher’s 31. No other trainer won more than 13 times. That said, trainers tend to specialize. Over the last five years at Saratoga, Brown has 147 victories, with 112 coming on turf. Meanwhile, all nine of Bill Mott’s wins last year came on the grass, and seven of Shug McGaughey eight victories were on turf. Christophe Clement has 46 wins in the past five years, with 38 coming on turf. Clement is particularly strong with juvenile turf horses.
Pletcher’s dominance at the track is well know so the value isn’t always there. He has 165 victories over the last five years, and the average payout is only $5.40. He wins a lot in the biggest races, and also has a ton of very talented two year olds.
Like the jockey colony, trainers from outside of New York (like Tom Amoss, Rusty Arnold, Kenny McPeek, Ron Moquett, Dale Romans, and Ian Wilkes) have struggled the past couple years at the Spa.
Saratoga has three courses: dirt, main turf, and inner turf. In 6.5 and seven-furlong dirt races, horses breaking from the rail went only five for 80 in 2016. Two years ago, they were eight for 71. In turf sprints — run exclusively on the main/outer (Mellon) turf course — rail horses went three for 58 last season.
The outer positions were equally miserable; in all turf races last year, horses number 9, 10, 11, and 12 were a combined 19 for 232, a winning percentage of just eight percent.
Favorites on the other hand were a great bet last year, at least on dirt. On the dirt course, favorites hit at 41-percent. Incredibly, at 5.5 furlongs, favorites won 10 of 18 dirt races last season.
Horse racing provides opportunity. However, you must understand how to bet and how to handicap. Saratoga gives savvy bettors ample opportunity to do both, but you are much better equipped to cash in when you know the numbers and use them to your advantage. Good luck at the Spa this year!
Photo Credit: UpstateNYer [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0]
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