When it comes to trainer stats, nuance matters

April 25th, 2023

Trainer stats are among the most valuable tools horseplayers have at their disposal. Knowing Trainer A wins with 27% of his or her starters is often the foundation for a winning bet.

But a trainer’s overall win percentage is only one part of the story. Trainers can win at varying percentages at different racetracks, or with different types of horses. The more granular the stat, the more valuable it becomes, so long as sample sizes don’t shrink too small.

You might assume you’re being granular by knowing how Trainer A wins 32% of the time with first-time starters, but it’s actually possible to dig deeper. Using tools like StatsMaster from Equibase (or Brisnet Trainer Stats), you can delve deep into the nitty-gritty of trainer stats and uncover valuable but less heralded angles.

Consider trainer Wesley Ward, who compiled an overall win rate between 24% and 28% every year from 2018 through 2022. Ward is an example of a high-percentage trainer who regularly compiles high win rates across a wide variety of categories. He’s particularly renowned for his success in early-season sprints for juveniles, which isn’t surprising since his lifetime win rate with first-time starters stands at a lofty 25%.

But even when faced with strong overall numbers like these, it’s worth digging around in search of nuance. And in this case, it’s worth noting Ward’s win rate with early-season juvenile first-time starters varies from track to track.

Great examples come from Keeneland and Gulfstream Park. First, some context: From the beginning of 2021 through April 24, 2023, Ward went 67-for-213 (31%) with all starters at Keeneland and 19-for-71 (27%) with all starters at Gulfstream Park. It would seem Ward trainees excel at both tracks.

Or do they? The overall win rates might be similar, but when looking specifically at Ward’s success rate with juvenile first-time starters, the numbers diverge dramatically.

Every spring, Ward takes aim at the prestigious Keeneland spring meet, where many short sprints for juveniles are contested. From the beginning of 2021 through April 24, 2023, Ward compiled a 15-for-35 (43%) record saddling juvenile first-time starters during Keeneland spring meets, a phenomenal record made even more remarkable by the fact Ward often runs his horses against each other, which by definition lowers his win percentage.

Ward’s high-profile successes at Keeneland tend to ensure that his juveniles receive betting support wherever they debut. But since the beginning of 2021, Ward has gone 0-for-7 debuting juveniles at any time of year at Gulfstream Park. On April 20, 2023, Ward saddled 1-2 favorite American Rascal to smash a 4 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Keeneland by 10 1/4 lengths. The following afternoon at Gulfstream Park, Ward’s Quiver of Fear finished seventh as the even-money favorite in a similar 4 1/2-furlong maiden special weight.

Ward’s overall win percentage doesn’t tell you to bet his juvenile first-time starters during the spring at Keeneland and avoid them at Gulfstream Park. Nor can we glean that information from Ward’s overall win percentages at Keeneland and Gulfstream, or his overall win percentage with first-time starters. To find the 15-for-35 Keeneland angle or the 0-for-7 Gulfstream stat requires digging deep into the nuances of trainer stats, and the rewards are well worth the effort.