With the Breeders’ Cup dominating the headlines for all of last week, it was easy to overlook that last weekend was opening weekend at Aqueduct, which began its 22-racing day fall season on Friday, November 1. The fall portion of the Aqueduct meet offers among the best racing there is to be found for much of the month of November on a five-day-per-week schedule, Wednesday-through-Sundays through Thanksgiving weekend.
How is The Big A fall meet differentiated from the rest of the winter racing season at Aqueduct, you ask?
The answer is turf racing. Lots of turf racing. Aqueduct features two grass courses, and If you like grass racing, you can bet that the Aqueduct turf will be used to its fullest throughout November for as long as the New York climate will allow grass racing to continue.
The other thing that differentiates the first part of the Aqueduct meet from the rest of the season is stakes racing. Meaningful stakes are sparse in New York for most of December, January, February, and March, but the first six weeks of the Aqueduct meet through December 8 will feature plenty of good stakes action. Thanksgiving weekend, for example, will be headlined by a total of nine stakes including a quartet of Grade 3 events – The Fall Highweight Handicap on that Thursday, the Comely on that Friday, and the Discovery and the Long Island on that Saturday.
Aqueduct’s biggest stakes of the season have all been moved to the following Saturday, December 7. That tremendous day of racing will feature four Graded stakes headlined by the $750,000 Cigar Mile Handicap (G1). The rest of the Cigar Mile Day card will include the Go For Wand Handicap (G3) for fillies and mares, as well as two important two-year-old stakes, the Demoiselle (G2) and the Remsen (G2), which will both be run at 1 1/8 miles on the dirt for Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby aspirants, respectively.
The Demoiselle and Remsen are standouts at the increasingly rarely-used 1 1/8-mile distance at Aqueduct. Because of the main track circumference, dirt route races at The Big A are run mostly around one turn. No races can be carded at 1 1/16 miles or one mile and 70 yards. Almost all Aqueduct “routes” will be one-turn miles, with the exception of some 1 1/8-mile races and a smattering of longer events. There are so few two-turn races run on a daily basis, that they are a virtual non-factor for handicappers throughout the season.
After two full years of racing at the new Aqueduct in the books (no more inner dirt track), we have a solid collection of stats to help us handicap through the next six months. What we’ve learned already is that this Aqueduct main track has proven to be an entirely new surface than the previous Big A main track as well as the old inner track. The old horses for the course have been replaced with new ones who prefer the new limestone base to the old clay base on the Big A main track. Races at 6 1/2 furlongs and seven furlongs and one-turn miles are now run all winter, not just in the fall, and there are no more winter past performances at 1 1/16 miles or one mile and 70 yards to mess you up as you concentrate mostly on one-turn racing just like at the recently concluded Belmont meet.
Aqueduct Track Trends and Prevailing Bias
Two seasons into its existence, the new Aqueduct main track mostly has played fairly to all running styles – a far cry from the old Aqueduct inner track which usually favored speed. Now speed horses appear to have no real advantage against pressers, stalkers, or closers based only in their running style. As a matter of fact, if anything, off-the-pace runners might even have a slight edge, because Aqueduct seems to have fewer wire-to-wire winners than the other main tracks on the New York circuit.
Aqueduct’s main track, however, does often show itself to be at the mercy of anti-inside track biases. The overall prevailing profile of the Aqueduct main track often plays against inside paths, particularly for horses breaking from posts 1-2, so you should definitely factor this into your handicapping as the meet begins.
The handicapping angle you can take out of this is to look for horses exiting sub-par efforts with inside trips in their recent Big A past performances. Horses that lost with inside trips in their last start may be worth upgrading next time out. In other words, bet back horses exiting inside trips, and bet against horses exiting perfect outside trips in their last starts.
Interestingly, the slow rail on the Aqueduct main track does not always affect post position statistics, mainly because field sizes are relatively small and jockeys can usually work out off-the-rail trips even if they draw post 1 or 2. The jockeys all know to stay off the inside for the most part, so the post position statistics mostly are unaffected. Keep a list detailing certain days when the rail and/or inside paths are bad, or in some cases when the rail and inside paths were actually good, and factor these bias days into your handicapping and you will definitely win more races and pick better-priced winners than the players who ignore this kind of valuable information.
Good luck during the Aqueduct fall meet. Just because New York racing has shifted to Aqueduct doesn’t mean that there’s not plenty of good racing and wagering still to come. Enjoy the season.