Take note of hot and cold jockeys/trainers at Saratoga

Racing at Saratoga is great, in part because the best horsemen are involved, well-meant horses are coming from everywhere, everyone is trying, and good prices and prime betting opportunities can be found day-by-day and race-by-race on good horses. When you can pair up the best jockeys and trainers with the best horses, you will have the recipe for success. Here are some examples of some hot and cold jockeys and trainers at The Spa meet so far in 2019.

The trainers’ standings through August 15 at Saratoga contain very few surprises. Chad Brown is running away with the title at present with 20 wins from 111 starters for 19%. It’s a long way back to Todd Pletcher in second with 9 wins and a surprisingly low (for him) 13% win percentage. His slower than usual meet has also affected Johnny Velazquez’s numbers. Steve Asmussen has 9 winners from only 44 starters, making his win percentage better at 20%. Bill Mott, Christophe Clement, Jason Servis and Jeremiah Englehart each have 8 wins and all are dangerous. Of that quartet, Clement (23%) and Servis (22%) are winning at particularly high win percentages. Both do great in turf sprints, among other spots.

The other standout trainer to bet at Saratoga this season has been Danny Gargan, who had 7 wins from his first 25 starters and is among the leaders in terms of ROI and winning percentage at 28%. Another trainer you’ve gotta bet pretty much whenever you see him entered is Robertino Diodoro, who owns 5 wins from his first 17 starters at the meet (28%). With fewer starters, you can also put Jorge Navarro (4-for-11, 36%) and Rusty Arnold (3-for-10) into the “hot” category.

It should also be noted that H. James Bond, who is based year-round at Saratoga, has been loaded this season and it shows with his 6-for-24 record (25%). Finally, Mark Casse, who normally starts slow and finishes fast up at The Spa, has already reached 7 wins from his first 40 starters (18%) and is only expected to improve further upon those numbers has his horses make their second and third starts of the meet.

Trainers to steer clear of betting who really struggled the first month of the 2019 Saratoga meet include George Weaver (1-for-19, 5%); Gary Contessa, who had a couple early winners but now is 2-for-52 for 6%; and David Donk, who is just 2-for-32 for 6%.

In the jock’s room, the first couple weeks at the Saratoga meet were notable because of the ice-cold start that perennial leading rider contender Irad Ortiz Jr. had at the meet. However, after a losing July, Irad Ortiz has gone on a tear in August and has quickly made up ground on the upper echelons of the jockey standings to be in hot pursuit of Jose Ortiz for top honors. Currently, Irad Ortiz is second in the jockey race with 31 wins from 150 starters for 21% to trail only Jose Ortiz, who leads with 36 wins from 162 mounts and a 22% win percentage.

It’s a long way back to third place in the jock’s standings where Javier Castellano has passed Luis Saez with 22 victories over 21 for Saez thanks to a very good 20% win percentage (plus 57% ITM). Aside from the Ortiz brothers and Castellano, no other rider is even approaching the 20% mark. The next tier of riders who have more than 10 wins, as of August 15, all have winning percentages between 13%-16% including Saez (13%) and Joel Rosario (18 wins, 13%), Jose Lezcano (16 wins, 16%), Junior Alvarado (15 wins, 16%) and Ricardo Santana (13 wins for 13%).

The Ortiz brothers and Castellano are all riding the Chad Brown wave and generally have the choice of the plumb mounts for other barns, as well. Junior Alvarado benefits from Bill Mott having a strong meet, and of course, as Steve Asmussen goes, so goes Santana who rides his first call.

Jockeys having tough meets at Saratoga in 2019 include Manny Franco (9-for-151, 6%); Tyler Gaffalione who has not yet cut it in NY with a record of just 9-for-104 (9%); Dylan Davis, who is 4-for-102 (4%); and Rajiv Maragh, who is 3-for-52 (6%).

Julien Leparoux, who has perennially struggled mightily at Saratoga throughout his career, is 2-for-32 for this typical type of Spa 6% win percentage. Another rider surprisingly having a tough 2019 Spa meet is John Velazquez, who has only 9 wins from his first 82 mounts for 11%. Other than blue chip Todd Pletcher runners, Johnny V. really hasn’t done much so far this season.

PHOTO: Saratoga scenic (c) NYRA/Coglianese Photography

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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).

SARATOGA SUMMER TRAINER CAPSULES (A-C)

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/Horsephotos.com

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Tips to help you win Saratoga’s turf sprints

Anyone who follows New York racing knows that turf sprints are a giant part of the Saratoga landscape. So many of the turf sprints are run throughout the meet, and if you can raise your win percentage and ROI solely in those races, you will go a long way to having a much more successful Saratoga meet.  Here are some tips to help you handicap better in Saratoga’s multitude of turf sprints.

All run at 5 1/2 furlongs, Saratoga’s turf sprints differ greatly from Belmont, where turf sprints are mainly run at either six or seven furlongs. The turn in Saratoga turf sprints seems to come-up much quicker than the turn for Belmont’s turf sprints, and Saratoga’s turns are obviously much tighter than Belmont’s. This sets up the first Saratoga turf sprint handicapping angle: Different turns, along with the shorter distance, puts a much higher importance on tactical speed in Saratoga’s turf sprints as opposed to Belmont. This results in form reversals, both positive and negative, with different horses winning at The Spa than at Belmont.

The next thing to understand about Saratoga turf sprints, before anything else, is that outside posts rule. In larger turf sprint fields with more than eight horses, winning from the three inside posts — especially the rail — is very difficult, unless the horse is lone speed or much the best.

As a general rule, you can pass on betting the inside-drawn horses in Saratoga turf sprints (posts 1,2,3). However, all is not lost because inside posts actually set up horses to a great betting angle in their next starts. Take note of the horses who lose from the rail early in the meet and look for opportunities to bet them back next time if not drawn inside.

I recommend steadfastly sticking with this turf sprint post position angle because it has been too much a part of being able to be a winning handicapper at Saratoga over the course of more than a decade.  Examples of this inside post futility in turf sprints included Post 1 winning just 1-for-43 in 2009, and 2010 when Post 1 went 2-for-45.  In 2011, the rail was awful again, going just 1-for-41 (2%).

If you are saying to yourself, “those are old stats, so what have you done for me lately?” the answer is simple. Over the last five years, Saratoga has begun running turf sprints with eight or fewer starters. This skews the overall stats, which recently have shown inside horses can and do win. However, when inside horses do win at 5 1/2F on the grass at Saratoga, it almost always happens in fields of eight horses or less (two-year-old grass sprints top-out at eight horses, for example). Small fields make it possible for inside horses to win. In big fields of turf sprinters with 10 or 12 starters, however, outside posts still dominate.

What are the reasons that inside posts are bad and outside posts are good in Saratoga’s 5 1/2F turf sprints?  Well, if you are a late-running horse with an inside post, it is very difficult to drop back, work your way outside, and then circle around the field and get up in time with so little real estate to work with.  If you are a stalker drawn inside, you get buried down on the rail behind the speed horses who send from the rail or drop over from the outside. Inside speed horses are forced to “send,” but unless a horse has enough speed to get a clear lead, they end up being at the mercy of the outside-drawn speed horses who are the ones able to control the pace. Outside horses with clear runs benefit from momentum and less traffic, and ground loss on the turn seems to be no detriment whatsoever in the turf sprints.

Something like post position seems like such a trivial handicapping tool, but in these wide open Saratoga turf sprints, any way you can narrow down the field can be helpful.

The same set of trainers tends to win the overwhelming vast majority of Saratoga turf sprints and we expect this to continue in 2019. Trainers to bet in Saratoga turf sprints are led by all-time Spa turf sprint queen Linda Rice, as well as Jason Servis, Christophe Clement, and Kiaran McLaughlin, who each can win in the 25% range in these races throughout the Spa meet. Joe Sharp also specializes at turf sprints when he ships to New York for Saratoga. Two trainers who attract plenty of support and win many races every meet — Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown — are terrible bets in The Spa’s turf sprints, both in terms of win percentage and ROI.

Bet the five trainers listed above, especially when their horses are drawn off the inside three posts, and you can have success in 5 1/2F turf races, which are some of the most common and plentiful races run during the summer racing season at Saratoga.

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Who will be the Top 10 Trainers at Saratoga 2019?

It’s not too early to start thinking about the Saratoga meet, which opens earlier than usual this season on Thursday, July 11. Saratoga will run five days a week in 2019, Wednesdays through Sundays. As usual, the meet will continue until Labor Day, which this year falls on Monday, September 2.

The Saratoga racing season attracts the best horses and horsemen, not only from New York but from everywhere. Trainers from many circuits point their best horses to Saratoga, and the competition for winners is stiffer there than anywhere. With the best barns bringing their best stock to the Spa, there will be some very good trainers excluded from the top 10 in the standings. Here is a look at the cream of the crop – the projected top 10 trainers for the upcoming 2019 Saratoga meet.

The first thing to mention in any Saratoga trainer’s guide is that it is a safe bet that the standings will be dominated by Chad Brown, and that the “exacta” in the trainer’s race should be rounded out by Todd Pletcher. That projected 1-2 finish atop the trainer’s standings would probably be the safest exacta bet you could make at the entire Saratoga meet.

Chad Brown dominated the trainer’s standings like never before in 2018, winning 46 races which smashed the previous all-time Saratoga training record of 40. Brown’s win total was more than double the amount of winners Pletcher had in second place with 19. Rudy Rodriguez was next with 14 winners, followed close by Bill Mott and Steve Asmussen, each with 13 wins. Brown accomplished his 46-win season from 171 starters, for a strong win percentage of 27% and a startling in-the-money (ITM) rate of 64%.

Pletcher had edged out Brown by a single win on the final day of the meet for 40 wins in 2017, and Brown had won the training title at Saratoga in 2016 meet with 40 wins. Pletcher had won the title for five consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2015 (13 overall Saratoga trainer titles).

Behind Pletcher and Brown, it once again should be a battle between Rodriguez, Mott and Asmussen as well as other Saratoga stalwarts like Linda Rice and Kiaran McLaughlin. Jason Servis also had a giant meet at Saratoga in 2018, going 10-for-40 in the win column and an amazing 20-for-40 in the exacta. Jeremiah Englehart also must be respected after a big 2018 meet in which he went 12-for-84 in the win column, good for sixth in the standings.

All of the aforementioned trainers should be respected in all spots, but all have their specialties. Brown wins turf routes and stakes races at an alarming rate. Pletcher reels off two-year-old maiden wins and stakes wins like they are going out of style. Asmussen wins with two-year olds and maidens and mainly a variety of sprinters. Rodriguez wins mostly claiming races and New York-bred races, as does Englehart. Rice is the queen of the turf sprints and also wins with New York-bred maidens and grass horses. Mott wins mainly turf routes, and McLaughlin is one to watch in turf sprints and dirt routes. Servis crushes turf sprints.

The aforementioned nine trainers should all land in the 2019 final top 10 in the trainer’s standings. The last slot in the trainer’s top 10 is up for grabs and could go to any one of a dozen or more top trainers. Perhaps turf ace trainer Christophe Clement is due for a rebound meet with good horses lined up for both turf sprints and routes. Or maybe it will be Joe Sharp, who is lethal in one-mile turf races and turf sprints at Saratoga. Mike Maker brings a wide variety of horses to Saratoga and is always dangerous.

But the edge to sneak into the top 10 amongst everyone else goes to Mark Casse, whose national profile has also risen to elite status the last few years. Casse is a notorious Spa snail, however, who starts slowly but wins the majority of his races in the second half of the meet, and with horses making their second or third starts of the meet.

Stay tuned for more info on even more trainers as the run-up to the start of the 2019 Saratoga meet continues.

PHOTO: Saratoga Race Course (c) Adam Coglianese Photography

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