Travers Week Preview

TWO WEEKS LEFT AT SARATOGA

By Noel Michaels

Four weeks are down and there's still two weeks to go at Saratoga, but this is certainly no time for handicappers to abandon ship and start looking for better racing elsewhere. Saratoga is still the best racing available to horseplayers from now through Labor Day, and there is much money still to be made during Travers week and onward into the final week of the meet that will conclude on Monday, September 5.

With much of the 2011 Saratoga meet already in the books, we have a wealth of information to help us attack the final weeks of action at the Spa. Some of the key areas I want to focus on include track biases, which trainers have been winning with 2-year-olds, which trainers have been winning turf races, and which post positions have been winning the turf sprints and the other Spa races on both turf and dirt.

First off, let's take a look at the track bias days that have affected the running of the races on Saratoga's main track. The track biases are very important to log as the meet goes on, because horses exiting bias-aided performances on the days listed below should be downgraded by handicappers in their next races, while horses exiting against-the-bias efforts on the days listed below should be upgraded by handicappers in the next races.

Saratoga Main Track Biases, 2011

  • Aug. 13 - Inside front-end bias
  • Aug. 12 - Needed to be on or close to the pace
  • Aug. 11 - Speed bias (only 3 dirt races)
  • Aug. 10 - Speed bias
  • Aug. 8 - Speed bias on muddy but drying track
  • Aug. 7 - Outside bias, bad rail in mud; helped to be on or close
  • Aug. 3 - All winners on or close to the pace
  • July 30 - Sprints favored speed and close-up horses
  • July 29 - Inside speed bias
  • July 28 - Outside good
  • July 27 - 4 of 5 races won from on or close to the pace
  • July 25 - Fast to sloppy races 3-9; speed bias in sprints, outside bias in 3-9
  • July 24 - Speed held in 4 of 5 dirt races
  • July 22 - Inside bias

The most pronounced bias of the Saratoga meet so far was the speed bias that affected the track for basically an entire week from Aug. 7-13. Off the pace horses running back after losing on those days could be live overlays, and winning pace horses from those days could be solid bet-againsts when they return for their next starts.

Use the bias chart above to help you through the difficult maze of main track races for the final weeks of racing at Saratoga. The information could help you uncover live overlays, or overrated underlays you can make money by avoiding.

SARATOGA'S FINAL WEEKS

Races become slightly more difficult for the Racing Secretary's office to fill throughout the final week of the Saratoga meet, since most of the horses who've pointed to this meet have already run once or twice, and the out-of-town trainers are already starting to ship out their horses little by little. This means that we'll begin to see more and more of certain types of races through the final week. Some of the races we'll be seeing the most of will be 2-year-old maiden races, turf races and turf sprints, because these categories always attract plenty of entries and are good vehicles for the racetrack to use to try to fill races and provide large fields.

Also, as a side note, great weather is forecast throughout Travers week, so turf handicappers should get plenty of opportunities to bet grass races - which will probably make up at least half of the total amount of races remaining to be run at the meet.

TRAVERS STAKES DAY 2011

Rarely is the prestigious 3-year-old division as wide-open as it is this season, with the title basically totally undecided heading into late August. That all could change, however, if any number of would-be champions wins “The Mid-Summer Derby” at Saratoga on Saturday, August 27.  (I'm Offering a Full Card Travers Day...All 13 Races including Best Bets, Exactas, Trifectas and Pick-3's and
$1 million Pick-4. Just $50

As of now, all of the major 3-year-old divisional races have been won by different horses, and the de-facto leader of the division, Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, is injured and out for the year. That leaves several contenders for the 3-year-old crown including Preakness winner Shackleford, Belmont winner Ruler On Ice, Jim Dandy winner Stay Thirsty, and Haskell winner Coil all still challenging for the divisional title. Three of the four aforementioned sophomores are considered definite for the Travers, and Coil is still under consideration for the race by trainer Bob Baffert. Other probable starters for the Travers include Bowman's Causeway, J W Blue, Moonshine Mullin, Raison d'Etat, Rattlesnake Bridge, and possibly West Virginia Derby winner Prayer For Relief (also trained by Baffert).

The 2011 Travers will be a great one - even if it lacks any true star power or a standout horse, but that certainly is not the case for the day's undercard feature, the Grade 1 King's Bishop, also for 3-year-olds at 7 furlongs. The story of the King's Bishop, and one of the underlying stories of the Saratoga meet, has been the anticipated return of 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo, who has been working up a storm for his first race in six months. Uncle Mo will be a prohibitive favorite with question marks, and those lining-up to challenge him include Saddleranch, Justin Phillip, Dominus, Cool Blue Red Hot, Caleb's Posse, Flashpoint, Poseidon's Warrior, and Runflatout. Clearly, the 3-year-old sprint division is a strong as the distance division is weak this year.

The rest of the card will include the Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes for fillies and mares going 7 furlongs. The day will feature a $1 million guaranteed pool in the late Pick 4, which will go from race 9 to race 12 (Travers). The 13-race card will have a special early post time of 11:35 am, with post 13 scheduled for 6:18 pm eastern time.

TRAINERS OF 2-YEAR-OLD WINNERS

Trainers With More Than
2-Y-O Winner at Saratoga
Trainer Starts Wins
Todd Pletcher 35 12
Steve Asmussen 13 5
Chad Brown 10 3
Mike Hushion 3 2

Several trainers have distinguished themselves this season at Saratoga with their 2-year-olds, and more winners can be expected from these connections in the final two weeks of the meet. Just because four weeks of the meet are already done, don't assume that every barn would have already sent out all of its live firsters by now. For example, Uncle Mo, a Todd Pletcher juvenile first starter who Pletcher called the best 2-year-old in his barn, was debuted in Saratoga's fifth week in 2010 en route to a monster score at 4-5 odds.

Todd Pletcher has had a great meet overall with 2-year-olds. On the negative side, trainers with no success to mention with 2-year-olds so far at the 2011 Saratoga meet have included Bill Mott (0-for-14), Kiaran McLaughlin (0-for-6), Tom Albertrani (0-for-5) and Richard Dutrow (0-for-5).

TURF RACING

Weather conditions have been favorable for most of the 2011 Saratoga meet, and the weather forecast is mostly looking good for Travers week, except for the small possibility the area could be impacted by Hurricane Irene on Sunday and Monday. The result of all that good weather at the Spa has been plenty of turf racing, and the final weeks of action should continue to be a turf race lover's paradise at Saratoga.

Top Turf Trainers - Saratoga 2011
Trainer Wins Win%
Chad Brown 13 33%
Todd Pletcher 7 20%
Bill Mott 6 16%
Jonathan Sheppard 5 33%
Shug McGaughey 4 29%
Steve Asmussen 3 38%
Graham Motion 3 15%

Here is a list at the dominant turf trainers so far at the 2011 Saratoga meet.

One other note in terms of trainers, Linda Rice - turf sprint queen for several years at Saratoga - has had a horrendous 2011 meet, and her turf sprinters haven't been helping - she's just 4-for-45 overall at the meet for a 9% win percentage.

TURF SPRINTS

Speaking of turf sprints, expect plenty more of these races to be run throughout the rest of the Saratoga meet, particularly in the week after the Travers. These races are early to fill and attract big fields, so they are a favorite of the NYRA racing department through Labor Day.

Everyone who reads my columns knows how much of an advocate I am for outside posts in New York turf sprints - especially in Saratoga's extensive program of 5½-furlong turf sprints. This year's post position statistics show the same old tune when it comes to the rail and inside posts, which are performing as terribly as ever in these races. After a 2010 meet aberration when Post 2 actually showed strong numbers, all inside posts are right back to their usual terrible selves in Saratoga turf sprints, just as they have been regularly and annually for the past seven years.

One fact always has remained the same throughout the history of turf sprints at Saratoga - the rail post in 5½-furlong turf sprints at Saratoga has remained the worst post in all of New York racing, and perhaps even the worst post in all of North American Thoroughbred racing - bar none. Horses breaking from the rail in these races have won just 1 of 29 races for 3% wins so far in 2011. This is following a dreadful performance in 2009-2010, when the rail post in these races won a combined 3 races (1-for-41 record in 2009 and two wins in 2010). The chances of any horse drawing the rail in Saratoga's turf sprints are severely compromised - at least to win. Post 1 in Saratoga turf sprints remains one of the easiest toss-outs in all of racing.

Saratoga Turf Sprint Post Position Analysis
Post Wins Starts Win%
1 1 29 3%
2 3 29 10%
3 1 29 3%
4 7 29 24%
5 4 29 14%
6 3 29 10%
7 2 27 7%
8 4 27 15%
9 1 23 4%
10 3 16 19%

Middle and outside posts in turf sprints have done well this season, with Post 4 doing the best with a 7-for-29 record for 24%. Outside posts 8 and 10 have also been good, following the long-term trend in Saratoga turf sprints that says that the outside post in any given turf sprint is perhaps the best slot in the starting gate.

In terms of the in-the-money percentage of posts 1-12 in Saratoga turf sprints, when long-term stats are examined, two of the five best post positions are 9-10, and three of the five best starting draws are posts 6 and outward (these races used to allow more than 10 starters pre-2011, and Post 11 was annually one of the best posts).

When it comes to turf sprint trainers, everybody knows that Linda Rice is the queen of turf sprints, especially at Saratoga. She has struggled in 2011, however, opening the door for other trainers to excel including Chad Brown, Carlos Martin, Mike Hushion, Todd Pletcher, and surprisingly, The Giant Killer, Allen Jerkens.

SARATOGA POST POSITION STATISTICS

Saratoga Dirt Sprints
Post Wins Starts Win%
1 29 135 21%
2 22 135 16%
3 19 135 14%
4 14 135 10%
5 12 131 9%
6 12 121 10%
7 10 98 10%
8 10 64 16%
9 6 37 16%
10 0 22 0%
11 0 16 0%
12 0 8 0%
13 0 5 0%
14 1 2 50%
Saratoga Dirt Routes
Post Wins Starts Win%
1 4 28 14%
2 2 28 7%
3 7 28 25%
4 2 28 7%
5 7 27 26%
6 1 24 4%
7 2 16 12%
8 2 9 22%
9 2 7 29%
10 0 3 0%
11 0 3 0%

On the main track, Saratoga routes and sprints have played very fairly in terms of post positions during the 2011 season (the bias has often been toward running style, i.e. speed, as opposed to post position, or inside or outside). The rail has been a positive factor in both main track sprints (21% wins) and routes (14% wins), but there has been very little other post position bias to speak of on the main track, except for the fact that any post outside post 9 in sprints has been a disadvantage. Horses breaking from posts 10-14 in main track sprints at Saratoga this season are only a combined 1-for-53 (2%).

Saratoga Mellon Turf Routes
Post Wins Starts Win%
1 4 31 13%
2 0 31 0%
3 4 31 13%
4 4 31 13%
5 4 30 13%
6 5 30 17%
7 3 30 10%
8 2 26 8%
9 2 23 9%
10 2 20 10%
11 1 9 11%
12 0 6 0%
Saratoga Inner Turf Routes
Post Wins Starts Win%
1 8 51 16%
2 2 51 4%
3 5 51 10%
4 10 51 20%
5 4 51 8%
6 6 51 12%
7 7 49 14%
8 4 42 10%
9 4 38 11%
10 0 21 0%
11 0 1 0%
12 1 1 100%

In Saratoga turf races other than turf sprints, both courses have played relatively fair to date in 2011. Horses breaking from the rail have done well in the case of both courses (13% wins on the Mellon and 16% on the Inner), but other inside positions really haven't offered much of an advantage. All post positions up to and including post 10 on the Mellon and post 9 on the Inner have afforded horses fair chances of winning.

Enjoy Travers week at Saratoga, and keep on cashing tickets along with me while enjoying the final two weeks of the best race meet of the summer. Through Aug. 15, the First 22 days of racing I've released 32 Winners with an average price $13.05...Exactas averaging $112.00...Trifectas averaging $295.00 Plus 2 Pick-3's one paying $345.50 and the other $183.00.
Blink and it's over, so get those bets down at the Spa, and good luck.

23
Nov

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