Pace yourself and other tips for betting Saratoga
by DICK POWELL
Del Mar opened on Wednesday and Saratoga opens on Friday. California usually races four days a week but Del Mar increases it to five and Saratoga is the last track in America to race six days a week so there are full menus to choose from.
You don’t have to watch and wager on both tracks and you don’t have to play every race at the track you choose to play. Saratoga averages over 10 races per day for a 40-day meet so there is plenty of action. Del Mar made the cutback to five days a week of racing years ago and offers similar full days of racing.
Besides managing money and controlling your bankroll, there are other important factors in getting through an intense boutique meet. First, control your emotions. If you get off to a good start, don’t start doubling your bet amounts because you are bubbling with confidence. Continue to do what works. Don’t expect a hot streak to end but don’t let a cold streak obliterate a hot streak.
I know people that claim that opening day of Saratoga is like Christmas morning for them. For me, it is Friday, July 21 at a track that the racing action just shifted to. The steadier your emotions are, the better your outcomes will be.
Second, there is a physical component of success. Even though the work might not be physical in nature, there are many long hours of concentration required. Going to the races can be grueling and unproductive so with only so many hours in a day, it pays to get the most out of them and being physically fit is a big help.
I have a big advantage since I don’t drink and hardly ever go out after the races. Yes, you might see me somewhere but I can guarantee you it won’t be past 10 p.m. and I will have a ginger ale in my hand. Joe Namath I am not!
Both tracks have made changes to their racing surfaces so I would proceed with caution. At least Del Mar gets consistent amazing weather almost every day but it will be interesting to see how the Saratoga main track, which has had sand and clay added to it, handles rainy weather. It passed its first test Monday afternoon when we had a series of thunderstorms that blew through the area and dropped about three inches of rain in about five hours.
The next day, the main track was fine so that was a positive sign. New sod on the turf course should be perfect because of the weather that we have had up here this spring and summer but as always, we’ll watch to see how it is mowed and plays.
I sit with a salty group of race-watching veterans and we are constantly amazed at the some of the riding tactics we see on a daily basis. Angel Cordero was the King of Saratoga winning 11 riding titles in a row. He did it by sending his horses from the gate. Jerry Bailey and Ramon Dominguez followed suit. But, for some reason, many of today’s riders like to snatch their horses coming out of the gate and try to time a rally.
With only 5 1/2-furlong turf sprints and two-turn races on the turf, horses that were showing decent speed down at Belmont Park going one turn (six, seven and eight furlongs on the Widener turf course) suddenly find themselves eight to 10 lengths behind coming out of the first turn since their rider didn’t send him from the gate.
Fast paces at least keep the fields from bunching up. Slow paces mean the likelihood of more bunching up of the field. The counterintuitive aspect is that I find that horses rallying from behind have a better chance if the pace is slow than if it is fast. The slow pace brings everybody together in the last half-mile of the race and the one with the cleanest trip and best kick can get there.
Saratoga has two turf courses and they play differently. The inner turf course is about seven furlongs in circumference and with its tighter turns, favors horses that gain position. Wide closers are at a disadvantage so pay attention to post position also.
The Mellon turf course is about a mile in circumference and wide closers do not lose their momentum around the turn and can get up in time. Historically, more favorites win on the Mellon than they do on the inner so take that into account in your wagering strategy. You might want to spread out more in a turf race run on the inner course since it tends to be more chaotic than you would on the Mellon.
Finally, the jockey and trainer standings are always fun up here since they are taken seriously. With Johnny Velazquez and Javier Castellano not riding the number of horses they used to, the only question will be which Ortiz brother – Irad, Jr. or Jose – wins the riding title? Chad Brown set a record last year and seems loaded again among the trainers. With six turf races scheduled each day, it’s a big advantage for him over Todd Pletcher but turf racing requires good weather and we will wait and see what this year brings. I just can’t see Chad not winning this year.
Take your top 10 riders and trainers and look at the bottom five of each top 10. That is where you make money. The big trainers and jockeys have negative ROIs and it that group between six and 10 that is competent enough but gets dismissed by the betting public. That is where to focus.