Monmouth Preview - Follow The Money To The Jersey Shore

 


Noel Michaels is director of player development for New York (Nassau) OTB, and the handicapper for The Race Palace, Long Island's premier simulcast center in the Northeast. Is also the author of the best-selling Handicapping Contest Handbook (DRF Press), Winning Angles A to Z, Players' Angle Almanac and his newest book, Handicapping The Big Winter Meets. He was a long-time racetrack correspondent and online editor for The Daily Racing Form.

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MONMOUTH PREVIEW - FOLLOW THE MONEY TO THE JERSEY SHORE

By Noel Michaels

Monmouth Park racing is back, and this year's meet is expected to be the best New Jersey race meet in history with $1 million in purses offered daily, making it the country's richest race meet ever.  The Monmouth Park meet began Saturday, May 22, and from here on out will race three days a week (plus holidays) throughout the summer on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, for a total of 50 days for $50 million in purses. By comparison to 2009, those 50 days of racing in 2010, through Labor Day, will offer triple the amount of purse money as last year on just over half of last year's racing dates.

The new and improved meet is being called a "game changer" for Thoroughbred racing, stressing high-quality racing for big money in a short and sweet three-days-a-week format.  As a result, field sizes and thus good wagering opportunities, are expected to be at an all-time high at the Jersey shore this summer.  And where there's big money, you know there will be big-name jockeys, trainers, and horses there chasing it.

Jockeys riding regularly at Monmouth this season will include Garrett Gomez and John Velazquez, in addition to all the usual New Jersey suspects.  Trainers running large strings at the meet will include Todd Pletcher, Nick Zito, Steve Asmussen, Linda Rice, Gary Contessa, Mike Maker, Wesley Ward, and many, many more.

The centerpiece of the meet, as always, will be the traditional Monmouth marquee event event, the $1 million Haskell Invitational for 3-year-olds on Saturday August 1. The Haskell will headline an eight-stakes card, and is expected to be the summertime goal for both Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky.

In addition to the customary full wagering menu, Monmouth will also be featuring a daily 50-cent Pick 5 wager on races 6-10 each day this season. The bet has a low 15% takeout, and has been known to have carryover days and offer payoffs in the thousands.

With just one two-day weekend in the books for Monmouth Park 2010, the grand experiment appears to be working.  Monmouth's Saturday all sources handle was over $9 million, and on-track attendance was 17,000, as opposed to 10,000 for opening day 2009.  On Sunday, Belmont Park offered a steady stream of five-, six-, and seven horse fields, while Monmouth ran races with nine horses per race, or more.

As more and more attention gets heaped upon Monmouth Park this summer, it will be necessary to try to learn as much information as possible about racing at Monmouth, because a bigger and bigger amount of betting is likely to gravitate in that direction as the days and weeks progress and people start to realize that Monmouth will for this year be the predominant summer meet - at least until Saratoga opens in late July.

Perhaps more so than any other track, racing at Monmouth Park is defined by one predominant factor: Speed, speed, and more speed. Thanks to a lightning-fast track surface, tight turns, and a short stretch, Monmouth Park very well might be the most speed conducive track in the country. Closers are fun to cheer for, but if you're betting Monmouth and you want to make money, toss the closers and bet speed horses and close-to-the-pace horses that should have the lead or be no more than a length behind at the eighth pole.

Running Styles

The Monmouth Park speed bias is apparent at all distances on the main track. It is greatest in short sprints and gets gradually milder as the distances increase. In short sprints at 5 1/2 to 6 furlongs on the Monmouth dirt, front-runners win over 34% of all races, with the most of the remaining winners pressing or stalking the pace no further than a couple lengths back off the pace.

The speed bias is a little bit less in two turn routes than it is in sprints, but front-runners still win 20% of all Monmouth races at a mile, or a mile and 70 yards. Still, despite the fact that the pace-setter does not win as many of Monmouth's routes as sprints, horses with speed than can at least press the early pace far outperform horses coming from father off the pace.

One of the reasons that speed is slightly less effective in routes has a lot to do with post positions, which add another dimension to the two turn races on the compact oval at the New Jersey shore.

Post Positions

The majority of Monmouth's sprints are run at 6 furlongs, and while the rail (Post #1) is the best place to be at that distance, it is not a strong enough bias to prevent the front runner(s) from winning from nearly any gate draw (interestingly, at 5 1/2 furlongs, middle posts 4-7 do slightly better than inside draws). It should be noted, however, that speed and the rail in six furlong races is an especially deadly angle at Monmouth Park.

In routes, however, the post position plays a much bigger role in the outcomes of Monmouth's races. In routes, it is not only important to have speed, but it is also important to break from a beneficial post position. But be careful when handicapping Monmouth routes not to make the mistake of assuming that the innermost posts are always the best places to break from. At most route distances, it holds true, as expected, that the inside posts 1-3 are the best gates to break from. At a mile, however, it is somewhat of a surprise to note that middle posts 4-7 do a little better than the three inside gates. This is counterintuitive since one mile races have the shortest run to the first turn and you'd expect the inside bias to be at its strongest in these races. Nevertheless, it is the middle posts, not the far inside ones, that are the best at Monmouth at a flat mile. Finally, just as you'd expect, post draws Nos. 8 and outward are almost always detrimental in Monmouth routes.

Turf Racing

On the Monmouth turf course, meanwhile, it is not surprising to note that inside posts are also the best posts, since it follows suit that if the main track has tight turns and a short stretch, then the turf course must also have an even smaller, tighter layout. The inside posts are best on Monmouth's turf course at all distances, and the rail post, in particular, seems like the best place to be.

Just like on the main track, speed is handy on the Monmouth grass, especially in turf sprints. Speed does well in routes, too, but wire-to-wire types win only about 13% of the races proving that it is tough to lead all the way on grass no matter where you are.  Still, while wire-to-wire horses don't always go all the way, speed is still key on the Monmouth course, where you at least want to bet pace pressers who can stay within early striking distance of the leader(s).

Trainers

In the trainer standings, big New York barns will be having more and more of an influence at Monmouth Park, either with strings of horses stabled at Monmouth or with horses shipping down to the shore, particularly for the turf races, and the allowance and maiden special weight races that are worth in excess of $80,000.

Todd Pletcher, for one, is really targeting the Monmouth meet again this year after making a strong impact with essentially his second string last year. Pletcher's first-string rider, John Velazquez, will be riding at Monmouth regularly on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, so you can safely assume that Pletcher's first string will be there along with Johnny V. - at least until Saratoga begins. Others such as Bill Mott and Christophe Clement figure to be targeting Monmouth's turf races, and guys like Richard Dutrow and Bruce Levine should have a big say in allowance races.

Nick Zito should figure prominently in dirt races, particularly in routes, and of course, if Steve Asmussen is around, you can count on him taking a swing in just about every kind of race in the condition book. As usual, he can be counted on for 20%-30% wins. Linda Rice, will be a force in the short Monmouth turf sprints all summer long, as should Tony Dutrow, and Wesley Ward, who will also get rolling once the 2-year-old season heats up. Meanwhile, Gary Contessa, and Mike Maker, will be working the claiming ranks par excellence.

Even with all the out-of-town blood coming to the Jersey shore for this meet, you still can't ignore the local heavyweights. This is still a New Jersey meet, and the Jersey boys will win more than their share including trainers such as Jason Servis, Patricia Farro, James Ryerson, and Timothy Hills. Some other trainers to watch for include high percentage, high ROI winners such as Kelly Breen, who can never be overlooked, but particularly so in claiming and maiden races, and with 2-year-olds, and Scott Volk, who routinely wins with 25% or more of his starters on this circuit.

By the looks of things, Monmouth Park racing will no longer play second fiddle to Belmont Park this summer, and could end up replacing the venerable New York meet as the best day-to-day racing signal in the East.  Saratoga will still be Saratoga, but perhaps just with that one exception, Monmouth Park will be as good as it gets for the next few months.  Get in on the fast times at the Jersey shore's greatest stretch - Monmouth Park.
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