With America’s two best race meets in progress – Saratoga in upstate New York and Del Mar on the southern California coast – I think it’s a perfect time to share some handicapping ideas that should prove useful to horseplayers who enjoy the challenges these tracks present.
For one quick example, if you’re playing Saratoga, you have to be ready for the rain that frequently shows up. To do that, you need to appreciate the edge that often goes to front runners (and near-the pace types) when the dirt racing surface becomes sloppy or is still wet from yesterday’s rains.
To confirm that realistic track profile, all you have to do is look at the Friday, July 27, racing card, when it rained through most of the day. Any reasonable interpretation of the way races ran at Saratoga on that day will confirm these straightforward facts.
The vast majority of races that day were won by horses that showed good speed throughout their respective races. Several went wire to wire. It also is true that when two or more horses tried to dominate the race, the horse(s) that raced closest to the inside rail usually prevailed.
Actually, those two interlocking trends have existed at historic Saratoga for dozens of years. Of equal import, given realistic rainy weather that tends to impact the Albany-Saratoga region, we should expect several more rainy days as we go through the remainder of the meet that will stretch through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 3.
On the turf – which because of the wet weather did not have as many races on Friday and/or Saturday as originally scheduled – the winning pattern was quite different: On the wet grass, stretch running horses were dominant – as they have tended to be on normal turf conditions- during my many years of Saratoga handicapping.
As for the typical pattern on Saratoga’s dirt surface – when dry and fast, inside speed tends to win 40-50 percent of all one turn races and only slightly less often than 40 percent in dirt races around two turns.
Beyond these track trends, several high profile trainers usually do well at this historic track. The most prominent in recent seasons, including the one in progress, are Billy Mott and Steve Asmussen. That said, the highly successful Todd Pletcher tends to get rolling with his solid stable on or about Aug. 10.
At Del Mar, which rarely is hit by rain, its nearness to the Pacific Ocean often produces considerable humidity that can impact track conditions.
The net effect is so subtle, there is no practical way to use the humidity “factor” as part of your handicapping. Nevertheless, a sharp-eyed observer of Del Mar’s races may be able to see, after the fact, the impact extra humidity may have had on the way races were run on any given day. The first step is to be able to identify the following normal trends, which should be a part of your pre-race handicapping analysis.
Specifically, I strongly favor inside speed in all but a few cases involving Del Mar main track races of any length. As hinted earlier, I strongly rely upon this trend to do much of my Del Mar handicapping.
On Friday, July 27, for example, speed horses that took control of the rail, or raced close to it, won almost all of the day’s main track races. At the bottom line, had you failed to take that factor into account before you placed your bets, you had little chance to post a winning day.
To confirm the trend via a handful of examples, I suggest you go to the Equibase.com website and look up the result charts for that day’s card. I’m sure you will notice how frequently races on the dirt track were decided by what occurred in the opening quarter mile. That was true for every class of dirt race including stakes races, unless said stakes involved legit contenders for national championships.
As previously hinted, whenever those trends do not occur in the way a day’s races actually are run, that could be the best hint that humidity played a role in the way the Del Mar racing surface played out.
On the grass, the pattern observed at Saratoga seems to hold true for Del Mar’s turf events. That is, horses with good stretch kicks capable of launching their bids from mid-pack, are the right horses to look for to win Del Mar turf races at one mile or longer. Frankly, I’ve followed that simple formula at Del Mar since I moved to Las Vegas in 2007 and began to focus more on California racing.
As for trainers who are worth keeping tabs on at Del Mar, there is little doubt the great Bob Baffert will unleash some of his most promising 2-year-olds, as he has during most of the past dozen years. Similarly, veteran trainers Peter Miller, Richard Baltas and Mike Puype have come to the California shore armed with several fit and ready runners.