Saratoga Handicapping Primer

July 24th, 2015

Last week, I profiled Del Mar; this week, I’m looking at Saratoga.

Saratoga Race Course opened its gates in 1863, making it the third oldest racetrack in the United States and one of the oldest sporting venues in the country. The track's first pari-mutuel betting machines were unveiled in 1940 and the first grumpy old man muttering under his breath for the guy at the window in front of him to “hurry up, other people want to bet too” also occurred in 1940 — reportedly moments after the pari-mutuel machines were up and running.


Saratoga is known as the “Graveyard of Champions,” thanks in large part to Jim Dandy’s 100-1 upset of Triple Crown champ Gallant Fox in the 1930 Travers. It was Jim Dandy’s only win in 20 starts that year, but it was convincing — an 8-length score over a track listed as “heavy.”

Nonetheless, and despite other notable upsets (one involving a famous horse named Upset), the Spa is actually very formful, with traditional handicapping factors like speed and class holding up well, producing a 33 percent winning average for the post-time choice.


Horses that last raced in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Illinois or Canada hold their own at Saratoga. What’s more, animals shipping in from Indiana Grand produced an ROI of 325 percent in 2014.


Steeds that last competed at Churchill Downs, Parx Racing, Penn National, Presque Isle Downs or any Southern California track (Santa Anita or Del Mar) were a combined 19-for-239 (7.9 percent) at the Spa in 2014.


As the chart above shows, Saratoga is very kind to early runners, especially — albeit somewhat surprisingly — on the lawn, where horses with the best last-race early speed ration (ESR) produced a 1.7 percent ROI last year.

Furthermore, races less than 6 ½ furlongs on the main track witnessed a 39 percent wire-to-wire rate and even seven-furlong races produced a 31 percent wire-to-wire rate.