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In-depth Saratoga trainer capsules (Part 2)

By Noel Michaels

The Saratoga meet is filled with extremely competitive fields and difficult handicapping puzzles. One of the best ways to make your handicapping easier and better is by following trainer trends, which can be useful in narrowing down the races to their few top contenders.

All trainers have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of following the trainer angles, stats and trends, is that they help you identify these strengths and weaknesses to give you the advantage over the rest of the betting public.

Bet trainers at their strengths and bet against them at their weaknesses, and your win percentage and return on investment (ROI) will go upward quickly.

Read onward for an easy-to-use pocket reference for the best times to bet on, and bet against, most of the top trainers throughout the summer meet at historic Saratoga Race Course. The opinions are based on recent trends and statistics pertaining specifically to this time of year – the racing season at Saratoga. These preferences may differ elsewhere and at other times of the year.

Apologies if a particular trainer is not mentioned in this guide; it’s impossible to feature everyone. The 32 trainers listed will account for the vast majority of starters at the Spa meet. This is the second part of a three-part series.

Please click for Part 1 (A-C) and Part 3 (P-Z).

SARATOGA SUMMER TRAINER CAPSULES (D-M)

David Donk

Honk if you like Donk, because he is always dangerous in Saratoga turf routes and often at a nice price, the vast majority of his Spa wins will come on the grass. Completely avoid his first- or second-time starters, and turf sprints and dirt races really aren’t his wheelhouse.

  • Bet: Turf routes
  • Bet against: First-time and second-time starters
  • Neutral: Turf sprints, dirt races

Chris Englehart

Chris Englehart is making a living on the main New York circuit with his claiming stock, including recent claims, and New York-breds. The shorter the race, the better, since he is much more reliable in sprint races than in routes, especially at Saratoga where routes begin at 1 1/8 miles. Against this caliber of competition, don’t expect him to win a lot of turf races, except for an occasional turf sprint.

  • Bet: Claimers and New York-breds, dirt sprints
  • Bet against: Dirt routes, turf routes
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

Jeremiah Englehart

Jeremiah Englehart enjoyed a breakout meet at Saratoga 2019, winning tons of races and landing in the top 5. He can surprise you at Saratoga in turf sprints, but his turf route numbers are likely to be low. At The Spa, his best game is with claimers and maiden claimers, and 3yo & up at any distance on either surface, with the exception of turf routes.

  • Bet: 3yo & up claimers and maiden claimers, dirt sprints
  • Bet against: Turf routes
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

James Jerkens

Jimmy Jerkens is not usually a high-percentage trainer up at Saratoga. He doesn’t win much on grass and with distance horses on dirt, but he remains dangerous in stakes. He can win dirt sprints at The Spa, particularly if it’s with a maiden second-time starter.

  • Bet: Second-time starters in dirt sprints, 2yos and maidens (not first-starters)
  • Bet against: Route horses, first starters
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

John Kimmel

Kimmel is hot and cold at Saratoga, and he is generally one of the streakiest trainers at the meet. You can also count on him to have a few stakes horses well spotted at The Spa. Kimmel also does well at this meet with first-time turf horses. Other than that, you’ve gotta ride the wave when it comes to Kimmel and watch for one of his hot streaks to begin.

  • Bet: First-time turfers, hot streaks
  • Bet against: 2yos
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

Bruce Levine

Not too many fireworks up at Saratoga. The winners he does catch will probably be in sprints, mainly on dirt, and he may even show up with some recent Monmouth Park winners who are in peak form. His Saratoga dirt routers haven’t been good. Always bet the “Bruce Juice” (first-time Lasix).

  • Bet: Monmouth shippers in top form, first-time Lasix
  • Bet against: Dirt routes
  • Neutral: Turf

D. Wayne Lukas

In recent years, Lukas has been running tons of horses at Saratoga and winning at a very low percentage. Most of his big-money owners have gravitated toward other trainers, meaning he is no longer a big factor in Saratoga’s juvenile races, even though he does show up with a nice two-year-old here and there. Lukas hasn’t been a factor on turf at Saratoga lately, so stay away from him on the green. His Saratoga wins these days tend to come in dirt sprints with expensive horses. His winning ROI at Saratoga will be skewed for a long time thanks to a $230 win horse he had a few years back. Take that win away and his ROI is a disaster.

  • Bet: 2yo stakes-caliber horses and second-time starter sprinters
  • Bet against: Turf races
  • Neutral: Dirt routes

Mike Maker

Maker will be a major factor in Saratoga turf races of all kinds, and he’s always a major factor first off the claim, even though his stable these days tends to be filled with more classy horses. He shipped a smaller barn to Saratoga in 2019 than he has in recent years, so his win total will drop.

  • Bet: Turf routes, first off the claim
  • Bet against: Dirt races not involving claimers or recent claims, dirt sprints
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

Shug McGaughey

Shug is more known as a Belmont trainer, but he is deadly at Saratoga in dirt routes (he won four-of-five such races in 2015). As good as Shug is on the dirt at Saratoga, however, he is awful on the grass. He’s also not a player with first-time starters.

  • Bet: Dirt routes
  • Bet against: All turf races, first starters
  • Neutral: Dirt sprints

Kiaran McLaughlin

McLaughlin steps up his game at Saratoga and usually wins a bunch of races, including plenty of turf races and turf stakes. Bet with caution in all dirt sprints, because he’s much better in routes (dirt). He’s one of the most lethal turf sprint trainers on the grounds, so expect at least 25% wins in this category. Besides the grass, the best time to catch McLaughlin is with his very potent maiden second-time starters.

  • Bet: Turf sprints, Turf routes, dirt routes, and maiden second-time starters
  • Bet against: Dirt sprints
  • Neutral: First starters and 2yos

Graham Motion

Motion rarely wins on the Saratoga main track, but he starts all kinds of live grass horses from a variety of circuits plus foreign imports. He has a generally low percentage in Saratoga dirt races, but on turf it’s a totally different story. His winners are mostly older horses, and horses other than 2-year-olds trying turf for the first time.

  • Bet: Turf races, first-time turfers
  • Bet against: All dirt races, 2yos
  • Neutral: Stakes

Bill Mott

Bill Mott will annually be one of the top turf trainers, and he can still win allowances on the dirt as well, primarily in routes. Surprisingly, however, Mott doesn’t start many dirt routers up at Saratoga (except off-the-turf). He gets a good win percentage in dirt sprints during his good seasons upstate. Mott is not effective with turf sprint winners at Saratoga, however, once they stretch out on the turf, betting Mott’s horses is a no-brainer.

  • Bet: Turf routes, dirt sprints, stakes races
  • Bet against: Turf sprints
  • Neutral: Dirt routes

Many handicappers believe the “trainer angle” is the most important piece of the handicapping pie, especially when top-rung racing takes place, like in New York during the heart of summer in July and August. All trainers have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of following the trainer angles, stats and trends, is that they help you identify these strengths and weaknesses to decisively give you the advantage over the rest of the betting public.

Best of luck, and enjoy summer racing in New York.

PHOTO: Saratoga (c) NYRA/Coglianese Photography

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