Bettin’ on the bias at Saratoga’s ‘Spa’

Jul 24, 2001 4:21 AM

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY ”” Over the next six weeks, Saratoga will offer just 36 days and approximately 340 races. Here is a brief synopsis in attacking “the summer place to be,” as well as a few pointers for picking winners here.

First off, Saratoga has another nickname: “The graveyard of favorites.” Man o’ War in the 1919 Sanford, Gallant Fox in the 1930 Travers and Secretariat in the 1973 Whitney were all champions that lost here.

So my first and most important rule applies to all wagering ”” don’t bet unless you are getting value. If I see a horse that will be odds-on and that horse looks unbeatable, I will either use the horse in exotics (pick threes are my current bet-of-the-day) or pass the race completely. Personally, I try to use a 2-1 minimum on any straight bets.

The second rule is to be patient at the beginning of the meet. Here at Saratoga, more than any other racetrack in the country, track biases will show themselves and play out. Take advantage of these. For example, the following running styles have been shown to be reliable trends over past meets:

SPRINTS: Last year, horses breaking from post 1 won just one race at 5 and 5 1/2 furlongs. Also avoid any starter without any speed. Over 60 percent of the winners at these distances were wire-to-wire. At 6 furlongs, deep closers only won 16 percent of the time and 45 percent of the winners were wire-to-wire. Also, posts 11 and 12 accounted for just three trips to the winner’s circle at distances up to 6 furlongs.

In the chute sprints at 6 1/2 and 7 furlongs, watch for an early meet trend favoring the outside posts. This unexplained phenomenon has exhibited itself during the past two meets. For another unknown reason, this bias disappears after the first three weeks of the meet.

ROUTES: Over the past seven meets, there were no advantageous running styles in route races. Speed won 36 percent , stalkers won 38 percent and the closers won 25 percent ”” all basically pretty normal percentages.

TURF COURSES: Saratoga has two turf courses, inner and outer (main). On the inner turf course, speed hardly holds up. But for some reason last year, the wire-to-wire winners had a better percentage than in previous meets. In eight marathon (1 3/8 and 1½ miles) turf races on the inner course, only one was won by a wire-to-wirer. In the marathon races run on the main turf course, the stalkers and closers accounted for all seven winners.

Again I say, the most important wagering strategy here at “The Spa” is to watch for trends/biases that exhibit themselves. The previous observations can be thrown right out the window if some others begin to develop.

JOCKEYS: Jerry Bailey has been the leading rider six of the past seven meets. But everyone knows that and the public bets on JD ”” probably over-bets him.

While everyone is betting on Bailey, horses ridden by other jocks may offer more value. Some to watch are John Velazquez, who just wrapped up the jock’s crown downstate at Belmont, Jorge Chavez, Richard Migliore, Edgar Prado, Pat Day and Robbie Davis. There is a new addition to the colony this year who could ride some winners is the “Rajun Cajun,” Mark Guidry.

Note that during the past three meets, the Top 10 riders won 75 percent of the races yet rode only 57 percent of the mounts.

TRAINERS: A total of 315 trainers saddled at least one starter last year. More than half, 183, came away empty; 40 of the 315 had three winners or more. Trainers and owners point their horses for Saratoga.

Bill Mott has won the trainer’s title seven times but, like Bailey, gets over bet most of the time. However, when Mott uses another rider instead of Bailey, he gets some telephone numbers on the tote board. Watch when Mott uses Davis, Day and Aaron Gryder.

Another trainer to watch is Harold “James” Bond. Mr. 007 has especially done well with 2-year olds winning with 50 percent of his juvenile first timers.

Other trainers to watch are: Richard Dutrow, Neal Howard, Allen Iwinski, John Kimmel, Joe Orseno, Linda Rice, Richard Schosberg, John Terranova, James Toner and Thomas Voss.

Sharp horses in good barns win most of the races. There are some big form reversals, but these are difficult to predict. A horse’s form can change dramatically in a year. That is why a trainer who had a great meet last year can be ice cold this time.

As with post position and running style trends, watch for hot trainers and jockeys throughout the meet. Also, avoid any cold trainers and jockeys. Trainers will also have the option to using live jocks for their hot mounts. I have seen many trainers go 0-for-whatever and still get bet.

2 YEAR OLDS: Saratoga is loaded with baby races. Everyone gets hot tips, knows the clockers and inside information. You will see many first timers bet down to favoritism. They may win but I won’t bet. That does not mean that I don’t bet the 2-year-olds. Maybe I bet exotics in such situations. Sometimes I bet against them. Some of my biggest scores have come in these races. But please, tread with care. Watch the board.

As I said earlier, trainers and owners point their horses for the Spa and as such you have many shippers from other tracks. Give these horses a look. Shippers win their share of races up here.

(Editors note: You can read Anthony Kelly’s daily online column with analysis at It will be posted after the late scratches and track conditions become available, which is usually by 9 a.m. Pacific time.)