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July 2008

(full article for the Handicapping Times monthly newsletter)

Saratoga racecourse, a picture-perfect vacation spot nestled in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, annually offers some of the best racing in the country. Tackling this track successfully is never an easy task but with the help of superior information and some diligent research, it can prove to be both a profitable and fun meet.

Secretariat may have been upset here by Onion, but this is hardly the graveyard of favorites. From 2003 through 2005 favorites won at a success rate close to 40 percent. Think twice before excluding the favorite from your exotic wagers.

Favorite Avg.
Year Win % Trifecta
2007 32% $330.00
2006 33% $232.00
2005 38% $234.25
2004 38% $219.25
2003 40% $280.00
2002 34% $222.00

Whether we're talking human or equine, the cream of the crop dominates this meeting. Although Prado dropped out of the top four last year, finishing fifth, note the similar names in the final jockey standings over the past four seasons.

2007 Top Jockeys Starts Wins Win% ITM%
Cornelio Velasquez 258 44 17% 40%
Kent Desormeaux 227 43 19% 44%
Garrett Gomez 175 29 17% 45%
Ramon Dominguez 212 28 13% 39%

2006 Top Jockeys Starts WinsWin% ITM%
Edgar Prado 216 46 21% 49%
Garrett Gomez 191 42 22% 54%
John Velazquez 192 30 16% 46%
Cornelio Velasquez 220 30 14% 42%

2005 Top Jockeys Starts WinsWin% ITM%
Edgar Prado 231 44 19% 52%
John Velazquez 229 40 17% 43%
Javier Castellano 200 36 18% 44%
Jerry Bailey (retired) 136 32 24% 60%

2004 Top Jockeys Starts WinsWin% ITM%
John Velazquez 227 65 29% 54%
Edgar Prado 242 39 16% 50%
Jerry Bailey (retired) 131 29 22% 58%
Javier Castellano 220 29 13% 45%

Pay attention to lower profile riders who come into the meeting riding well and getting "live" mounts. At high profiles meets such as Saratoga, the jockeys and trainers who start out "cold" typically don't turn it around.

Two year old racing is a highlight of the meet, and a majority of the juvenile events are won by certain trainers. Steve Asmussen (31%), Bob Baffert (50%), Rick Dutrow, Jr. (33%), Dominic Galluscio (25%), Ramon Hernandez (29%), Mike Hushion (25%), Graham Motion (27%), Richard Violette, Jr. (18%) and Nick Zito (18%) are the trainers you need to know when it comes to Saratoga two-year-old races. Take note that Todd Pletcher's win rate in two year old races has dropped to 17% the past three years, sharply lower than his usual 25% success rate.

All of these fine horseman have won a healthy percentage of their two-year-old starts over the past three seasons according to the popular handicapping guide Track Stats 2008 (available at, 1-800-354-9206, x. 254).

In this section we're going take an in-depth look at some of the high profiles trainers. At least one of these guys (and gal) typically will have a horse in every race at the Spa. We've looked back at the past three seasons to figure out their specific strengths and weaknesses at Saratoga. Next to each trainer's name is their record at the Spa dating back to 2005.

STEVEN ASMUSSEN (93-22-13-10, 23.7% Win, -0.03 ROI)
It seems unlikely that Curlin will start here this summer, but trainer Steve Asmussen always has a presence at the Spa. We found two categories that have been very profitable for players. Asmussen has won with 8 of his 30 runners (26.7%, 0.42) who finished second or third in their last start. He is also profitable with shippers coming in from out of state, hitting with 9 of 38 such starters (23.7%, 0.29).

THOMAS BUSH (95-20-15-12, 21.1% Win, 1.26 ROI)
One could have made a living betting on this lower profile horseman over the past several years. Bush shows huge ROI figures in multiple categories: Sprints of 6.5 to 7 furlongs (46.2%, 6.15); Turf to Dirt (37.5%, 12.00); Longshots of 10-1 or higher (15%, 3.27); 4th or worse in last start (15.6%, 2.96).

Betting all of his 95 starters over the past three years resulted in a $1.26 positive return for every $2 wagered.

GARY CONTESSA (319-27-44-43, 8.5% Win, -0.50 ROI)
Claiming specialist Gary Contessa has had limited success at the Spa. Surprisingly, it has been a disaster playing his horses first off the claim. Contessa has only scored with one of 30 starters (3.3%, -1.43). Contessa's one shining spot is with horses making their first start at a route (37.5%, 7.23).

CHRISTOPHE CLEMENT (103-23-18-11, 22.3% Win, 0.14 ROI)
One of the finest horseman in the country, Clement shows a nice big profit in two categories with his Saratoga runners: Shippers (33.3%, 2.90) and runners who finished 2nd or 3rd in their last start (31.4%, 1.42).

RICHARD E. DUTROW, JR. (147-38-19-18, 25.9% Win, -0.08 ROI)
Not surprisingly, "Babe" does extremely well with new acquisitions. His 1st off the claim (50%, 1.06) and 1st start with trainer - no claim (30.8%, 0.10) are both high percentage moves. Dutrow wins a high rate in maiden claimers (50%, 2.08). His weakness is in graded stakes (5.9%, -1.40) and 3yo non-claiming starts (13.9%, -1.05).

ROBERT FRANKEL (127-23-26-20, 18.1% Win, -0.47 ROI)
Most of Bobby Frankel's runners are overbet, and that is fact regardless of the track. There is one sneaky move that he has exceled with at the Spa, hitting with 3 of 5 starters, and all five placing first or second. That is the "sprint to route to sprint" maneuver (60%, 8.38). Keep a close eye because Frankel may only make this move once or twice per meet.

MICHAEL E. HUSHION (97-16-15-15, 16.5% Win, 0.09 ROI)
You may want to avoid Dutrow in the 3yo non-claiming starts, but that is not the case with Mike Hushion (23.7%, 0.91). Despite his popularity with regular New York bettors, Hushion has been a flat-bet profit with all of his starters over the past three seasons.

JOHN KIMMEL (98-19-16-9, 19.4% Win, 0.88 ROI)
This veteran horseman continues to fare well with young horses. Kimmel is a strong flat-bet profit in two year old races (23.3%, 1.76) and with 2nd time starters (50%, 3.61).

KIARAN MCLAUGHLIN (131-19-25-14, 14.5% Win, -0.40 ROI)
It was a surprise to realize how much McLaughlin has struggled at the Spa, winning less than 15-percent of his starts. Turf was not a problem, however, as McLaughlin won at his usual high rate (19.1%, 0.41). Look for his runners to rebound off finishes of 4th or worse in their latest start (18.8%, 0.59).

GRAHAM MOTION (97-18-15-11, 18.6% Win, 0.22 ROI)
Turf specialist Motion lived up to his reputation with his grass runners (23.6%, 0.73), but was even better with claiming runners (29.6%, 0.72). Most of those claiming winners came in grass races.

BILL MOTT (246-49-41-37, 19.9% Win, -0.23 ROI)
Popular trainer Bill Mott shows four categories with win percentages exceeding 30 percent: dirt to turf (30.8%, 3.08); winner last start (32.5%, 0.82); broke maiden last start (38.5%, 2.50); and 91+ days layoff (33.3%, 0.89).

TODD PLETCHER (331-59-45-44, 17.8% Win, -0.65 ROI)
Think again if you think you'll find a Pletcher runner at a price. Not a single one of his 59 runners since 2005 went off a odds of 10-1 or higher. Pletcher is so overbet, in general, that there are no positive angles to bet on. Looking to bet against Pletcher? Look for him in claiming races (8.3%, -1.60). He has only had two claiming start winners in the past three seasons.

LINDA RICE (129-26-12-14, 20.2% Win, 0.03 ROI)
There is one place to bet Linda Rice and that is on the grass (26%, 0.85). Regular New York players know how good Rice is with her grass runners, yet Rice still shows an incredible +0.85 ROI over three meets.

BARCLAY TAGG (104-17-18-18, 16.3% Win, -0.46 ROI)
Like Todd Pletcher, you won't find many longshot winners with Barclay Tagg trained runners (3.2%, -1.28). Tagg excels with runners making their first start off a layoff in route races (41.7%, 2.99).


The 2007 meet began the Polytrack era at Del Mar. The switch to an all-weather-surface was mandated by the CTBA under the near universal belief that it is a kinder, more forgiving racing surface. Let's dive into the Track Bias data and see how much of a difference the new surface made in '07.

Track Bias
Traditionally, Del Mar's main track has favored horses that possess early speed. This has held true for both sprint and route races. However, there was compelling data to be found that suggested this trend was likely to change with the installation of Polytrack.

Like Del Mar, Hollywood Park's main track historically showed a preference for early speed. This early speed track bias at Hollywood Park abruptly came to end in the fall of 2006 after the installation of the Cushion Track surface. Would the same thing happen at Del Mar?

At Del Mar last summer, early speed held up well going 5 1/2 furlongs with 34 percent wire-to-wire winners. This dropped sharply to only 21 percent at the most common distance of 6 furlongs. Frontrunners fared slightly better at 6 1/2 furlongs with a win rate of 26 percent. Only one of the 19 races contested at 7 furlongs was won gate to finish.

Overall, tactical speed was still an asset sprinting. Across all sprints, the same number of Early (E) and Early/Presser (E/P) types won in 2007 (65 percent) as in 2006. Runners with a close stalking runstyle, E/P types, won at a higher rate, making up for the drop in frontrunning winners.

In dirt routes it was much more difficult for the early speed types. Sixty percent of the races were won by horses labeled as Pressers (P) or Sustained (S) types. At one mile 15 percent of the races were won wire to wire, but only 5 percent of those "thefts" occurred at 1 1/16 miles.

As for the Del Mar turf course, closers fared the best. Only 18 percent of all turf routes were won wire to wire. It was fairly consistent across all turf distances, but closers fared even better at the one mile distance. Only 31 percent of those races were won by either E or E/P types.

The middle (4-7) posts have been the place to be in turf sprints with early speed types dominating. Nearly 60 percent of the 5 furlong turf sprints were won in front running fashion. Closers had a very difficult time "getting up" last season.

False Favorites - Sophomores
The public choice won 32 percent of all 371 races last seasons, but in races restricted to three year olds, the favorite scored only 22 percent of the time for a big, flat-bet loss of -0.80 (based on $2 wagers).

Here are some more track-specific trainer angle nuggets to keep an eye out for this meets. Included below are the trainers' win percentages for Del Mar over the past three years.

Rafael Becerra
Routes (29%)

V. Cerin
Down 2+ classes (43%)

Craig Dollase
Routes (26%)
Turf (27%)
1st career race (33%)

Ron Ellis
1st off claim (83%)
Up 1 class (75%)
31-90 day layoff (39%)

Bobby Frankel
2nd start off layoff (50%)

Juan Garcia
Up 1 Class (60%)

Jerry Holendorfer
Down 1 class (43%)

Brian Koriner
All Del Mar Starts (23%)
Routes (43%)

Mike Mitchell
1st career race (30%)
2nd career race (27%)

Jeff Mullins
Shippers (41%)
Down 1 class (38%)

Chris Paasch
1st career race (43%)

John Shirreffs
Dirt to Turf (40%)
91+ day layoff (38%)

Clifford Sise
2nd career race (44%)

Wesley Ward
1st career race (40%)

HANDICAPPER'S EDGE's free daily newsletter, the Handicapper's Edge, provides some of the best Del Mar and Saratoga information available anywhere. The daily Notebooks recap the previous day's races with horses to watch and offers two best plays of the day for the current day's card.

Log on to for the free Del Mar and Saratoga Notebooks in the Handicapper's Edge and get your Past Performances for these premier summer meets up to three nights out.

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