Belmont Fall Meet Update

BELMONT FALL MEET HANDICAPPING UPDATE

By Noel Michaels

There are few race meets as important as the Belmont fall meet, which contains all of New York's key prep races for the Breeders' Cup, which is coming up this fall on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4-5.  Besides just stakes races, Belmont also offers top notch racing day-in-and-day-out throughout the season. Every serious horseplayer plays Belmont races at this time of year, so it will pay for you pay close attention to what's going on in order to keep up with the handicapping trends prevailing at the Belmont meet this fall.

The Belmont Fall Championship Meet began on Saturday, September 10 and will continue through closing day on Sunday October 30.  Most of the biggest days of the meet are still ahead including "Super Saturday" on Saturday, Oct. 1, which features the runnings of four Grade 1's including the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, the Flower Bowl, and the Vosburgh.  Another big Saturday is then set for October 9, with three Grade 1's including the Champagne Stakes and Frizette for 2-year-olds, and the Jamaica Stakes for 3-year-old turfers.

The best way to win at Belmont, or at any track for that matter is to follow the trainer trends in order to keep on top of who's hot and who's not.  Beyond that, several factors play into the general handicapping of a meet, including track trends and track biases, and post position trends. Let's start with the trainers.

TRAINER TRENDS

Trainers are an important handicapping factor at this Belmont meet even more so than usual.  Readers of my Belmont fall meet preview article from a couple weeks ago hopefully benefitted from some of my observations predicting which trainers would get off to hot starts at the meet.  Some of the trainers I mentioned included Kiaran McLaughlin, Rudy Rodriguez, Gary Contessa and Bruce Levine, and of course Todd Pletcher, and so far those predictions have been right on.

Contessa and Levine are two of those trainers who have offered particularly strong value at Belmont and I would expect that to continue into the near future. Contessa and Levine annually win their share of races at Belmont no matter what their performances were at Saratoga.  Contessa in particular quietly put together a very solid Saratoga meet - better than usual - and even won some turf races upstate. His stable is very live right now in my opinion and should continue as such.  Rodriguez is another guy you definitely don't want to overlook now. The fact that Rodriguez's stock ran so well at Saratoga boded well for his stable Belmont, and he is currently the leading trainer at Belmont with 5 wins from his first 15 starters (33%). Plus, he's been in the exacta with 8 of 15 runners for more than 50%.

Bill Mott has gotten off to a slow start at Belmont with his mostly turf string of horses, but I would expect that trend to turn around favorably in Belmont's grass races this fall.  Of all the trainers listed above, Kiaran McLaughlin might be the hottest. He debuted a ton of first starters at Saratoga and is sitting on a barn full horses sitting on maiden wins. Expect Alan Garcia to be the beneficiary of most of McLaughlin's winners.  McLaughin has started the Belmont meet with 3 wins from his first 8 starters (38%), and has been in the money with 6-of-8 (75%).

Of all the trainers I did not mention in my meet preview article two weeks ago, one pleasant surprise so far has been David Jacobson, who has picked up right where he left off at the end of the Belmont spring/summer meet with a high percentage of winners. So far at the Belmont fall meet, Jacobson has matched McLaughlin's strong record of 3 winners from his first 8 starters (38%).

 

Top Trainers - Belmont Fall Meet
(Sept. 10-Sept. 18)

Trainer Wins Starts Win%
Rudy Rodriguez 5 15 33%
Gary Contessa 4 16 25%
Bruce Levine 3 7 43%
Kiaran McLaughlin 3 8 38%
David Jacobson 3 8 38%
Todd Pletcher 3 11 27%
Bruce Brown 3 11 27%

On the cold side of the Belmont trainers' ledger, I warned in my Belmont preview that Linda Rice's barn has been ice cold.  She had a horrific Saratoga meet this year with few wins and a low win percentage - even in the turf sprint category that she usually dominates.  She is to be avoided right now, especially in the turf sprints where her horses are always heavily bet and lately have been bad underlays. The Belmont fall meet is traditionally a slow meet for Rice anyway in terms of bad win percentages and low return on investment (ROI).  The only value to be had on Linda Rice at the Belmont fall meet can be found by betting against her.

Another trainer who is off to a slow start at Belmont is Chad Brown, who had a giant Saratoga meet with 22 winners and an impressive 30% win percentage.  Brown appears to be suffering the classic Saratoga hangover, where often trainers who make a lot of noise at Saratoga cool off dramatically once they return to Belmont because many of that trainer's horses have already burned through their conditions, especially against maidens, and the stable is in need of some time in order to reload.

Richard Dutrow is also not off to a great start at Belmont, with just 2 wins from his first 13 starters (15%).  His horses have been rather untrustworthy lately, and while a 15% win percentage certainly isn't bas, it's not typically what you would expect from the normally high percentage Dutrow barn.  Perhaps too many recent drug positives have finally limited this barn's ability to maneuver their horses they way they'd like to.

TRACK BIASES

On the Belmont dirt track, speed is always very handy and it's better to bet a horse who will on or close to the pace there than it is to bet a horse who needs to come from far back off the pace to win..  Of course, just like everywhere else on the dirt, horseplayers always must be aware of the day-to-day track biases affecting the outcomes at Belmont, both in terms of inside/outside biases and in terms of speed/closers biases. When those biases appear, they can stay in place for up to a week at time until the weather changes.  All things being equal, always assume Belmont will play to its prevailing main track bias favoring speed horses and horses that can stay within 2 1/2 lengths of the early pace in sprints and within 4 lengths of the early pace in routes.

Many horses already have a race over the track at Belmont, and most of the other horses running at the meet at this stage will be exiting races at Saratoga.  See the chart below for the list of main track biases I have compiled at Saratoga and so far at Belmont Park:

Belmont Track Biases (Sept. 10-18)
Sept. 16 - All 3 dirt races won by closers
Sept. 11 - Had to stay close, all 6 dirt winners made lead by top of the stretch
Sept. 10 - Outside bias, dead rail

Saratoga Daily Main Track Biases - 2011

Sept. 5 - Outside bias
Aug. 26 - Outside advantage on "fast" but drying out track
Aug. 25 - Speed favoring; sloppy races 5-9
Aug. 15 - Speed bias in slop
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

When betting horses at Belmont who are exiting races on any of the above-listed bias days at Saratoga, I recommend upgrading horses that are coming out of losses in against-the-bias efforts, while at the same time downgrading horses coming out of wins in efforts that may have been aided by running with the biases listed above.

POST POSITIONS

Based on the raw post position numbers from the current Belmont fall meet, the rail post has clearly been the place to be on the main track in race up to 7 ½ furlongs, with horses breaking from that slot going 6-for-20 for a 30% winning percentage.  Aside from the rail itself, however, the other inside posts have offered no advantage over any other posts, and inside and outside posts outward to post 10 have all done alright as a group.

In the limited number of races run at 1 mile and further on the Belmont main track so far, there seems to be no post advantages, at least out to post 7.  In the instances when there are more than 7 horses entered in a Belmont dirt race from 1 mile to 1 1/8 miles, perhaps posts 8 and outward are not the places to be, but the sample is small and few of those races draw more than 7 runners.

In recent Belmont meets at by far the most common longer route distance run at Belmont on the main track at 1 1/16 miles, the rail post 1 has had great success. At the spring-summer meet, the one-hole won in the neighborhood of 40% of the races.  Posts 5 and outward won only about 7% of the time.

Winning Dirt Post Positions - Belmont Fall Meet
(Sept. 10-18)
SPRINTS

Post Wins Starts Win%
1 6 20 30%
2 2 20 10%
3 2 20 10%
4 0 20 0%
5 2 20 10%
6 3 17 15%
7 1 14 18%
8 1 9 7%
9 1 4 25%
10 1 3 33%
11 0 2 0%
12-14 0 3 0%

ROUTES

Post

Wins

Starts

Win%

1

2

12

17%

2

1

12

8%

3

2

12

17%

4

2

12

17%

5

3

12

25%

6

1

9

11%

7

1

5

20%

8

0

2

0%

9

0

2

0%

On the turf, in grass route races between 1 1/16-miles and 1 1/8-miles, as you would expect, the inside post positions performed well for the most part during the spring-summer Belmont meet.  This was true with the possible exception of the rail post itself, especially at 1 1/16 miles on the Widener, where rail starters won at around a 6% clip.  This has held true so far early at the Belmont fall meet, with the rail post going just 2-for-31 (6%) in all turf routes run so far on both turf courses combined.

On the inner turf course, particularly, outside posts have been doing exceptionally well so far at the Belmont fall meet, with a strong percentage of winners coming from posts 6 and 7. That performance, however, does not include horses breaking from outside post 7. During the spring-summer Belmont season, outside posts 7 through 12 on the inner turf won for a combined win percentage of roughly only 5%.  So far at the fall meet, no turf route has been won from outside of post 7.

TURF SPRINTS

Expect plenty of turf sprints throughout the Belmont Fall meet. When it comes to turf sprint trainers, everybody knows that Linda Rice gets bet heavily in turf sprints (see above trainer trends).  Bettors seeking the opportunity to find value with other successful trainers in New York turf sprints can instead focus on trainers such as Chad Brown, Carlos Martin, Mike Hushion, Todd Pletcher, and surprisingly Allen Jerkens.  This group offers more value.

Generally, another way to find value in turf sprints is to bet outside posts. This is primarily a Saratoga angle, where outside posts rule in turf sprints and the rail is death. Rail horses in 2011 Saratoga turf sprints went just 1-for-40 (2%) in those races.  When added to the Spa turf sprint rail's performance last year (2-for-45, 4%), and the Spa turf sprint rail's performance in 2009 (1-for-43, 2%), that post position is now an astoundingly horrific 4-for-128 (3%) in 5 ½-furlong turf sprints at Saratoga the last three years.  Bet horses at value odds at Belmont when they are exiting rail runs in Saratoga turf sprints.

That being said, the rail isn't particularly any bargain in Belmont's turf sprints, either. While not as bad as at Saratoga, the rail had done badly on and off during the last several years - mostly off - in Belmont turf sprints as well. Generally, the inside posts are not the places to be in Belmont's turf sprints, particularly on the Widener Turf Course where outside posts are much better.  We're not saying a horse can't win from the inside in Belmont turf sprints, but given the choice of two equal horses - one on the inside and one on the outside - the outside horse is a better bet in these races.

I hope you have a profitable Belmont fall meet. Enjoy all of the great stakes action the track will have to offer over the next several weeks, and watch those races closely because they will have a huge bearing on what happens at the Breeders' Cup come the beginning of November.  Good luck.

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