In-depth Saratoga trainer capsules (Part 1)

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 first part of a three-part series.

Please click for Part 2 (D-M) and Part 3 (P-Z).


Tom Albertrani

Albertrani is most dangerous at Saratoga with his high-priced stock, including mostly allowance horses. He also wins doing second-time anything, including second off the layoff and second-time starters.

  • Bet: Second off the layoff, second starters
  • Bet against: Claimers
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

Steve Asmussen

One of the country’s top trainers, Asmussen is hot-and-cold at The Spa. The time you want to play Asmussen is in dirt sprints, especially when he sends out his expensive juveniles in either their first- or second-starts.

  • Bet: Dirt sprints, 2-year-old first- and second-time starters
  • Bet against: All turf races
  • Neutral: Dirt routes

Bob Baffert

Not as much of a day-to-day factor at Saratoga as he was several years ago since Del Mar brought back dirt racing, Baffert still ships top stakes horses and expensive 2-year-olds and first-time starters.

Charlton Baker

Baker runs good horses both upstate at Finger Lakes and downstate at Belmont and Aqueduct, and he will take his shots at Saratoga with live horses from both categories. Baker’s best area of expertise is with the kinds of long layoff horses that you’d toss out from other barns. He also has been known to pop at The Spa with first-time starters, particularly versus New York-breds.

  • Bet: First starters, horses returning from long layoffs
  • Bet against: Turf routes
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

Bruce Brown

Bruce Brown struggled to win a race – any kind of race – in many recent Saratoga meets. Who he is at Saratoga is a guy who can win an occasional dirt claiming race. No big surprises, stick to his horses in good form only, and don’t expect positive turnarounds.

  • Bet: Older claimers with good form
  • Bet against: Maidens and first starters; turf
  • Neutral: Dirt routes

Chad Brown

Brown is the heavy favorite for the Saratoga training title, with dozens of wins rolling-in in all categories including maidens, allowances and stakes, and every kind of turf route race. You can be guaranteed that all of Brown’s horses at The Spa will be live. His wins tend to come early in the meet, and you know he’ll be pointing many good horses for Saratoga stakes.

  • Bet: Maiden special weights on turf, dirt sprints (not maidens), and every kind of turf router
  • Bet against: Maiden claimers, maidens on the dirt
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

Tom Bush

Bush has main been ice cold in some recent years, but he still can heat-up at the Spa for a win or two. He’s been known to jack-up his game at Saratoga and is quietly a trainer to watch in terms of ROI, especially on the dirt. When his number of turf starters increase, so do his number of turf wins.

  • Bet: Dirt routes
  • Bet against: Cheap claimers
  • Neutral: Turf races

Mark Casse

Mark Casse has expanded his operation nationally in recent years and has also expanded his reach at Saratoga, but will have fewer stalls at Saratoga in 2019.  You can count on Casse for some turf winners, but he is a notorious Spa snail – a trainer who starts slow but whose horses win their second or third starts of the meet  Casse has particularly upped his game at Saratoga with 2-year-olds, first-time turf starters, and horses making their career debut in grass races.

  • Bet: 2-year-olds, turf career debuts, first-time turf, horses making 2nd or 3rd start of meet
  • Bet against: Dirt sprints for 3yo & up, horses making first start of the meet
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

Christophe Clement

Turf ace trainer Clement’s game is on the grass, of course, and he is good in turf stakes wins. Expect 25% wins or better in turf routes, and Clement also focuses on turf sprints at this meet (he unseated Linda Rice’s multi-year domination to lead all trainers with six turf sprint wins in 2015). Clement isn’t usually much of a factor on the dirt at Saratoga. He occasionally throws in a dirt sprint winner here and there.

  • Bet: Turf routes, turf sprints, turf stakes
  • Bet against: Dirt routes
  • Neutral: Dirt sprints

Gary Contessa

Contessa is one of the most prolific trainers on the New York circuit in terms of starters, but he’s generally a very bad bet at Saratoga with low percentages in dirt routes, turf sprints and turf routes. His wins will come mostly with dirt sprinters in claiming races. One sneaky angle for Contessa at Saratoga is with first-time turfers, who can occasionally win and pay giant prices when they do.

  • Bet: Dirt sprints, claimers, first-time turf (only at Saratoga)
  • Bet against: Dirt routes, turf sprints, allowance and stakes races
  • Neutral: Turf routes

Brad Cox

Cox regularly achieves winning percentages around 30% wherever he goes, with around 55% in-the-money (ITM), and 2019 so far has been his best year yet. Basically capable of winning in all categories, his win percentage will drop at Saratoga in turf races due to the stiff competition at the meet. His winning percentage with 2YO and first starters will also fall short of his standards at this meet.

  • Bet: Dirt routes, dirt sprints, second off a layoff
  • Bet against: First time starters and 2-year-olds
  • Neutral: Turf sprints

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 starting gate (c) Harold Roth/

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Fair Grounds Pick of the Week for March 9

Saturday’s feature at Fair Grounds is the $75,000 Allen “Black Cat” Lacombe Memorial for three-year-old fillies at about one mile on the turf.

#2 MANDY BLUE (6-1) is an interesting candidate from the Brad Cox barn and is sure to be overlooked a bit despite winning an allowance by two lengths over the course in late December.

A debut winner on the dirt at Indiana Grand, she was back on that surface last time in the $150,000 Silverbulletday in mid-January, but proved not up to that class when stuck behind a slow pace. Backed down to 5-1, she wound up beating just one of her six rivals.

The return to grass figures to agree with her, and it’s a surface she’s bred to excel over by relative comparison. By Smart Strike, she shares a second dam of French Group 1 winner Macoumba with multiple stakes winner Compelled, who captured the 2018 Mardi Gras over this course.

Mandy Blue’s third dam was another Group 1 winner in France, Maximova, who in turn produced Hollywood Derby (G1) winner Septieme Ciel.

Reunited with jockey Colby Hernandez, who was aboard for the allowance win two back, Mandy Blue could pull a minor surprise in the Lacombe Memorial.


Fair Grounds (Hodges Photography)

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Fair Grounds Pick of the Week for January 26

Saturday’s feature at Fair Grounds is Race 5, a $44,000 third-level allowance for older horses on the turf with an $80,000 claiming option. Returning from a layoff approaching 11 months will be no easy task for #8 HIGH NOON RIDER (4-1), but he appears to be coming into the about 1 1/16-mile event well meant.

One of two Brad Cox trainees in the field, High Noon Rider proved a worthwhile claim for $50,000 at Saratoga in the summer of 2017. Right off the bat, the former stakes winner won a lucrative allowance/optional claimer at Kentucky Downs, earning a first-place check for $87,000.

The son of Distorted Humor made five starts at the 2018-19 meet at Fair Grounds, with one win in a spot similar to this and also second-place finish. His other three losses, all unplaced efforts, perhaps can be attributed in part to the information contained in the comment lines: “Blocked,” “Bumped break,” and “Jostled, steadied” suggest he didn’t have great trips. Two of those races were the Buddy Diliberto Memorial and the Fair Grounds Handicap (G3), much tougher spots.

Besides being a good fit for the level, High Noon Rider’s recent works at Louisiana Downs have been encouraging, twice producing quicker times than Grade 3-winning stablemate #9 EZMOSH, who is also in Saturday’s race.

With a trouble-free trip, High Noon Rider looms a major factor in his comeback.

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Fair Grounds Pick of the Week for January 12

The form of #6 LOUNGE ACT (6-1) has blown hot and cold through her brief five-start career, but there some things to like about her when she returns from an extended layoff Saturday in Race 7 at Fair Grounds, an about 1 1/16-mile turf allowance/optional claimer for fillies and mares.

It’s been nine months since Lounge Act was last seen on the track, setting the pace and folding in the Appalachian (G3) at Keeneland behind generational leader Rushing Fall. It was an aggressive spotting by trainer Brad Cox, but perhaps a signal of the esteem to which she is held despite the fact she was a 45-1 outsider in the race.

She entered that race off a wire-to-wire, first-level allowance score over this course and distance last February, which itself came after an eight-month absence. Though that race was restricted to then three-year-olds, it’s encouraging for Saturday’s race that she’s capable of firing off a lengthy layoff.

Known mostly for racing on the lead, Lounge Act could show more relaxed tactics here as she sheds blinkers for the first time in her career. Also, her worktab has been encouraging, including a best-of-115 half-mile last month. Joe Bravo picks up the mount.

Generally speaking, the opposition in this second-level allowance consists of fillies and mares that are generally exposed. Lounge Act remains with upside and is deserving of serious attention.

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