New York racing has returned downstate for the start of the Belmont Park Fall Championship Meet, which will offer top-notch racing throughout the late summer/early fall season. For the average horseplayer, Belmont can be a much easier meet to win at than Saratoga, because field sizes at Belmont can be expected to be somewhat smaller than they were at Saratoga, especially on the dirt. Belmont still will have plenty to offer horseplayers, including the best two-year-olds, the best turf racing of the season, and the best and most widely-inclusive stakes program of the fall season. Most of the horses running at the Belmont Fall Championship Meet will be exiting starts at Saratoga. When evaluating horses’ form from Saratoga when they show up back at Belmont Park in the fall, you can learn from trends at the recent Saratoga meet. One place to begin the discussion of handicapping the Belmont fall meet is to look at the human trends from the Saratoga meet directly preceding it. Saratoga-to-Belmont Jockey/Trainer Trends Irad Ortiz Jr. and Jose Ortiz continued their reign atop the jockeys’ standings for yet another New York meet up at Saratoga. Jose Ortiz won the Saratoga riding title with 60 victories to reclaim the crown he also won in 2016 and 2017. Last year’s lending rider, Irad Ortiz Jr., overcame a slow start to the 2019 Saratoga meet to finish second in the standings with 53 wins. Coming off a strong Belmont spring/summer meet, Javier Castellano enjoyed another good meet at Saratoga with 39 wins from 175 mounts to lead all jockeys in win percentage at 22%. That group of riders, along with the other jockeys in the top 5 at Saratoga, Luis Saez (36 wins) and Joel Rosario (37), should continue to get the plumb mounts at Belmont, along with Jose Lezcano, who was hot when last seen at Belmont and actually won the spring/summer jockey title with 44 victories. It should be noted that a key group of jockeys will miss days at the start of Belmont Fall Meet. Jose Ortiz will miss several days at the beginning of the meet in order to ride at Kentucky Downs, where he was leading rider in 2018. Irad Ortiz Jr. will miss five days (three racing days) due to a suspension, as will Luis Saez. Kendrick Carmouche will miss the entire opening weekend due to suspension/Kentucky Downs. Many jockeys and trainers enjoyed success during the course of the Saratoga meet but obviously trainer Chad Brown was in a class all by himself at The Spa in 2019. Brown won 24% of his starts and had 64% ITM while scoring 41 victories, which was more than double the wins than his next-closest competitor, Todd Pletcher, who had only 19 Spa wins for the second straight season. With fewer wins at Saratoga, however, Pletcher’s horses still have their conditions and are likely to be loaded for Belmont. Beyond Brown and Pletcher, there are two groups of trainers to watch for at the Belmont Fall Meet: 1) those who are hot on the heels of strong meets at Saratoga, and 2) trainers that won big at the most recent Belmont meet this spring. From the first category, based on hot meets at Saratoga, you can continue to bet Danny Gargan (11-for-41, 27% at Saratoga), Jason Servis (13-for-53, 25%), Graham Motion (9-for-40, 23%), Robertino Diodoro (6-for-26, 23%) and Rusty Arnold (4-for-17, 24%). From the second category of trainer who should heat up based on the return to Belmont, go ahead and bet the likes of Raymond Handal (7-for-29, 24% at Belmont spring/summer meet), Jeremiah Englehart (18-for-71, 25%), and Brad Cox (12-for-33, 36%). There were also several trainers who had very tough meets at Saratoga. At Belmont you have two options with this group: 1) you can continue to avoid betting them because they’re ice cold, or 2) you can bet the horses from those stables because their horses kept their conditions and are due for a positive turnaround. This group of trainers includes David Donk (3-for-51, 6% at Saratoga), Mark Hennig (2-for-40, 5%), George Weaver (3-for-39, 8%), Gary Gullo (2-for-29, 7%), Nick Zito (1-for-26, 4%), and some trainers who took “the duck” at Saratoga, Edmund Davis (0-for-22), Edward Barker (0-for-21), and Randi Persaud (0-for-20). Saratoga-to-Belmont Dirt Angles Now moving to handicapping the main track at Belmont this time of year. Evaluating out-of-town and returning-to-town talent is one of the keys to handicapping the Belmont Fall Meet, because the local horses who’ve excelled at Saratoga are not necessarily the horses you want to bet at Belmont. Many of the best horses at the Belmont Fall Meet will be returning from Saratoga, but those horses don’t always win and often times it is the other horses running at Belmont that are the better bets at better prices. Additionally, for a variety of reasons, certain horses that lost at Saratoga will actually be the better bets at Belmont than the horses who won. One of the reasons for Saratoga-to-Belmont form reversals is that horses with the best form up at Saratoga are horses that were excelling, in part, thanks to their preference for two-turn dirt route races at Saratoga. However, this factor flip-flops at Belmont, away from helping the two-turn specialists who excelled at Saratoga, and instead favoring the one-turn horses who like the routes at Belmont. Also, horses better at one mile and 1 1/16 miles have better chances again versus the ones who liked the 1 1/8-mile dirt routes run at Saratoga. At Saratoga, because of the track layout, there were no one-mile races and no 1 1/16-mile races on dirt. The vast majority of all main track Saratoga routes are run at 1 1/8 miles. This creates lots of problems for horses whose best distances are one mile and/or 1 1/16 miles. At Saratoga, those horses must either stretch out to 1 1/8 miles (perhaps too long), or cutback to seven furlongs around one turn (too short). When those horses return to Belmont in the fall, they often come off a bad recent race or two, and they are ready for a positive turnaround, often at a good price, back at their preferred distances at Belmont. Also watch for the horses returning from layoffs during Saratoga who never left Belmont Park to go upstate. They passed on trips to Saratoga due to distance preferences, and now they are rested and ready to roll and have been pointed to races in the condition book at Belmont all along. This angle is most pertinent right now! Saratoga-to-Belmont Turf Angles In turf routes run at Saratoga this year, post positions were remarkably fair on the Inner turf, with horses winning at decent percentages from all posts out to Post 10. The Mellon (outer) turf course at Saratoga, however, was a different story. Most turf routes run on the Mellon turf course this season were won by horses breaking from posts 3-7, with wins in 22 of the 30 races run. Horses breaking from posts 1-2 won just 4 of the 30 races, and posts also 8-12 yielded just 4 winners. When you see horses exiting turf losses on either course at Saratoga from posts 11-12, upgrade that horse at Belmont (horses from posts 11-12 at Saratoga were a combined 1-for-23 for 4%). You can also upgrade horses that broke from the inside or outside exiting Saratoga Mellon turf routes. Starters from posts 1-2 and 8-12 on the Mellon turf at Saratoga went only a combined 8-for-113 (7%). There is also a Belmont handicapping angle for horses exiting Inner turf course races at Saratoga. It doesn’t involve post positions, but rather, running style. The Inner turf course carries speed under firm conditions. These horses are going to come back in droves at Belmont and provide a strong betting angle this fall. When you see horses at Belmont who won or ran big with front-running efforts on Saratoga’s Inner turf, perhaps you can downgrade those horses in their next starts. Conversely, when you see a horse exiting a Saratoga loss or sub-par effort(s) at Saratoga with a late-closing running style, you can go ahead and upgrade those horses at Belmont because they had lesser chances with that kind of running style on the Inner turf at Saratoga. Remember this angle is for horses exiting Saratoga Inner turf races on firm turf only. ***** I hope these tips and trends give you an edge at the betting windows for a successful and enjoyable start to the 2019 Belmont Fall Championship meet. Best of luck! PHOTO: Belmont Park (c) Adam Coglianese Photography