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Track trends can help you win at Del Mar

By Noel Michaels

It is summer in Southern California, and for horseplayers that can only mean one thing: Del Mar is here!

The annual Del Mar summer Thoroughbred meet opened July 17 and ushered in California’s best and most looked-forward-to eight weeks of racing, five days a week up through Labor Day, September 2.  For handicappers, Del Mar will be a welcome change from the small fields, limited race days and sparse betting opportunities offered at the recently concluded June portion of the Santa Anita meet and Los Alamitos.

Read on for some handicapping advice on what to look for “Where the Turf Meets the Surf.” Good luck and enjoy summer racing at Del Mar!

Del Mar’s Prevailing Main Track Profile

Del Mar’s main track is certainly often speed favoring. However, while the preference on the Del Mar main track goes to speed, the track overall tends to play fair and the front-end preference could not at all be termed a “bias.”  In fact, most other race tracks, including the others on the SoCal circuit, favor speed much more so than Del Mar.

At the most commonly run distance of six furlongs on dirt, Del Mar will likely favor horses with tactical speed, capable of leading, pressing or stalking, but certainly not as much as at Santa Anita. Effectively, this means that come-from-behind horses will have better chances at Del Mar than at the Santa Anita meet and much better than at Los Al. At Del Mar, roughly 20% of all six-furlong races were won wire-to-wire as opposed to roughly 30% at Santa Anita.

If you want to bet against front runners, it is even better to do so at Del Mar at the distances of 6 1/2 furlongs and seven furlongs. At Del Mar, it is still important to race within about three lengths of the lead at the first call at these distances (70% wins and 85% wins, respectively), but front runners win less often, meaning it is tactical speed and not front-running speed that wins the most races at 6 1/2 furlongs and seven furlongs.

And so, this gives us our first betting angle at Del Mar: Downgrade front runners who won at Santa Anita at 6 1/2 furlongs and seven furlongs, and upgrade horses coming from Santa Anita with tactical speed who came up a little short.

Here is another Del Mar betting angle: At the distance of one mile (two turns), tactical speed is a money loser. The two best two ways to win at Del Mar at one mile on the dirt are wire-to-wire (40% wins), or closers coming from more than three lengths off the pace (35% wins). That makes this particular distance the best for closers on the Del Mar main track, and by far the worst for pace pressers and close-up stalkers, who win at only a 25% clip.

Dirt races carded at 1 1/16 miles and beyond, are becoming so infrequent at Del Mar that there is not enough reliable statistical information for those races.

Del Mar Turf Races

Del Mar cards some of the country’s best turf racing of the summer and Del Mar’s turf races can accommodate fields of up to 14 runners. With more horses in the turf races at Del Mar as opposed to Santa Anita typically, the increased field sizes have an effect on the importance of drawing a good post position. This is particularly true in turf routes longer than 1 1/16 miles, where horses from outside post 8 rarely ever win.

At the most commonly-run turf route distance of one mile, it is also worth noting the surprising post position revelation that the inside two posts, posts 1-2, can often be a disadvantage. Those posts may win only at a combined 10% win-percentage, despite the fact that a lot of people falsely assume posts 1-2 provide the greatest advantage on turf at one mile.

Therefore, in terms of post draws in turf routes overall, the best positions to break from are posts 3-8. This is particularly true at one mile and 1 1/8 miles.

In terms of running style preferences in turf routes, 20 percent of Del Mar’s races are won on the lead, while 35% of these races are won by horses who are coming from more than three lengths back at the second call.

This means two things: 1) Turf closers do much better at Del Mar than at Santa Anita and should therefore be upgraded, and 2) The pace pressers and stalkers account for 45% of the victories and do the best in turf routes.

In turf sprints, SA turf sprint form (from the 6 1/2-furlong downhill turf course) does not translate to Del Mar. Different horses win on these very different turf courses. However, in recent months Santa Anita ran its turf sprints at five furlongs, so there might not be much difference in the types of horses who excel at the two tracks. In other years, early speed horses generally have had better chances to hold on in Del Mar’s turf sprints as opposed to Santa Anita’s.

By using this information and these simple trends as a rough guideline, hopefully you will have a foundation for what it takes to win at Del Mar in 2019. Enjoy the season at sunny Del Mar and best of luck!

PHOTO: Del Mar kicked off it’s 80th summer season on July 17, 2019 ©Benoit Photo

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