by NICOLLE NEULIST
Summer in Chicago is right around the corner, and Arlington Park is gearing up for its meet. The track opens with a nine-race card on Friday, May 5—Kentucky Oaks Day—and live racing continues until September 23.
New for this year, Brisnet.com is making its Premium Past Performances product FREE for every day of the Arlington meeting. These .pdf PPs include Speed and Pace Ratings, trainer stats, and https://www.brisnet.com/product/past-performances/FPPPrime Power. Check it out!
Arlington has two courses. The main track is the synthetic Polytrack with a chute allowing one-turn races as long as a mile. The inner course is turf. One note about the polytrack: look for horses who excel over Arlington’s, specifically. Due to differences in weather, track composition, and track maintenance, every synthetic surface varies. Some horses can carry their form to different all-weather variants, but liking the course at Turfway or Presque Isle or Woodbine does not guarantee affinity for Arlington. Keep an eye out – sometimes shippers from other synthetic tracks can take money and lead to an overlay on a better-proven local horse.
From a running style perspective, focus on forwardly placed horses (E or E/P types in Brisnet PPs) on Arlington’s polytrack. The friendliness toward speed was most profound in the shortest races: in polytrack sprints six furlongs or shorter, a wire-to-wire or stalking trip won 72% of the races in 2016. Interestingly, the rate for extended one-turn races (six and a half furlongs to a mile) was more similar to that of routes: a forward trip won 60% of those longer one-turn races on polytrack, and 58% of two-turn main-track races.
Looking to the grass, it again makes sense to discern between sprints and routes when evaluating running styles. In turf sprints, speed ruled. 70% of the races were won in wire-to-wire or close-stalking style. On the other hand, off-pace types dominated turf races a mile or longer. Front-end trips won just 16% of the turf routes at Arlington in 2016. However, “off-pace” did not necessarily mean far from the front: stalking, midpack, and closing trips all did well enough over the course of the meet to suggest that the track plays fairly across those styles.
What tracks do winners come from? Over both surfaces, most of the winners raced at Arlington in their previous start: 68% of the polytrack races and 69% of the turf races during the 2016 meet were won by a horse who raced last out at Arlington. Once the meet is a few weeks old, look for most of the winners to come from there.
During the first month of the meet, many of the winners last raced at Hawthorne – as expected, since it is the local track that ends the week before Arlington begins. Winners also frequently come from Fair Grounds and Tampa Bay Downs, two tracks where many Chicago snowbirds go. Last-out Keeneland horses also fare well during the opening few weeks of Arlington, on both turf and polytrack.
What about the connections? Last year’s clear leading trainers, Larry Rivelli and Mike Stidham, had relatively low average win odds: 2.13-1 for Rivelli, 1.89-1 for Stidham. Stidham will not likely show up at Arlington as often as he did last year. He won’t be completely absent, as a few of his horses remain: mainly Illinois-breds for Arlington chairman Richard Duchossois and a few other owners. But, most of Stidham’s string now resides at Fair Hill for the summer, not Arlington.
Rivelli, on the other hand, remains in the Arlington barn with RIV emblazoned on the side. The perennial win leader at Arlington, Rivelli won 58 of 226 starts last year, good for a 26% strike rate. 54% of his starters hit the board. The drawback? If you ride Rivelli, you are likely taking a short price.
Regular Chicago players find it hard to trust a Larry Rivelli horse at a long price, and the numbers bear it out. 12 of his 59 winners were odds-on; 36 were 2/1 or below. 55 of the 59 were below 4/1. The public has an uncanny instinct for which Rivelli runners are the goods; if you find one you like, be prepared to take a short win price or key them in an exotic bet. On the other hand, if you see a Larry Rivelli horse dead on the board? Proceed with caution, or consider looking elsewhere.
Value players ought to watch last year’s third leading trainer by wins: Steve Manley. The veteran Illinois conditioner had attractive 4.53/1 average odds across his 29 winners last year. Only one of those 29 winners went off odds-on, 23 went off north of 2/1, and 11 paid better than 5/1. The general wisdom associates Manley with the main track more than the grass, and last summer’s meet bears that out. 26 of his 29 wins came over the main track. Looking just at his main-track starters at Arlington last year, Manley’s all-weather starters in 2016 showed a flat-bet profit: $2.11 returned for every $2.00 win wager.
Jose Valdivia, Jr. has been the win leader at Arlington each of the last two years, and he returns to the jockey colony this year. Look for this skilled rider to win a lot of races again, as he is one who rides well no matter the surface, distance, or running style. Based on opening day entries, he will likely be working extensively with Larry Rivelli. Valdivia rode often for Rivelli last year as well, and with E. T. Baird not actively riding this year, Valdivia stands to get even more calls from that barn in 2017.
Valdivia was a force on both Arlington surfaces in 2016, as evidenced by his 24% win rate on both all-weather and turf. That win rate surpassed anyone with fifteen or more starts on the meet – and was particularly impressive given that his 416 starts were the second most of any rider last year. By measure of horses finishing in the money, Valdivia saw a bit more success on polytrack: 60% in the money there last year versus 49% on grass.
As far as trainer/jockey pairs that offer more value than Rivelli and Valdivia, keep an eye on trainer Michael Reavis and rider Carlos H. Marquez, Jr. Alone, each has been solid at Arlington. Reavis started just 77 horses last summer, but won 18 races with average win odds of 3.06/1. Marquez was the only rider other than Valdivia to have a win rate of at least 20% last year among riders with more than 20 starts; he won 71 of his 348 races.
Together? Every one of Reavis’s wins at Arlington last year came with Marquez in the irons. They closed last year’s Arlington meet particularly strongly last year, with 8 wins in 24 starts (and a +$0.44 ROI) through the last two months of the meet. Their success should continue in 2017. Marquez piloted two of Reavis’s three spring-meet winners at Hawthorne, and has a live horse for Reavis on opening day.
Good luck playing Arlington this summer! If you’re near Chicago, make sure to come out to the track. And, no matter where you’re playing from, this should get you started – if you have any questions, find me on Twitter at @rogueclown, or say hi to me at the track!