Play Aqueduct's Overlooked Main Track Fall Meet

Play Aqueduct's Overlooked Main Track Fall Meet

By Noel Michaels

Feeling the post Breeders' Cup blues? Looking for the best racing in the country to bet over the course of the next few weeks or so up through Thanksgiving weekend? Don't overlook the Aqueduct Fall Meet -it is always one of the most overlooked -and underrated race meets of the year. I'm on the scene, with best bet action each day.

The Aqueduct Fall meet, which opened Friday, November 4, is already off to a great start, and as always, the short but sweet 18-day meet will offer horseplayers one of their best wagering options during the month of November alongside the other great seasonal racing going on now at Churchill Downs and Hollywood Park.

Many people associate Aqueduct with small fields and low-priced winning favorites, but that reputation mainly pertains to Aqueduct's winter inner track meet that begins in December. The Aqueduct main track meet still features big, wide-open fields, turf racing, and plenty of good betting opportunities. Also, NEW this year, is the new-and-improved purse structure at Aqueduct, which for the first time is being bolstered by the long-awaited Aqueduct casino. The new "racino" money has already raised purses, and should account for another purse rise again at some point this winter. This added money will be enough to keep more horses and horsemen running in New York throughout the fall and the winter, resulting in bigger fields and a lower percentage of odd-on favorites, which were more prevalent than ever at the 2010-2011 Aqueduct fall, winter, and spring meets.

The Aqueduct main track Fall Meet offers handicappers a great betting product at a time of year that is generally pretty lean in terms of classy racing from around the country. To some bettors, Aqueduct simply means the start of the long, cold winter in New York racing. However, this brief high-quality month of November at the Big A should not be confused with the Aqueduct inner track meet that follows it for the next four months. All horseplayers should instead make the distinction between the inner track and Aqueduct's main track, which is among the fairest racing surfaces in all of North American racing.

Racing at Aqueduct in November, along with Churchill Downs' Fall Meet this month, should be more than enough to help handicappers fend off the post-Breeders' Cup blues. If you've had about enough of the Breeders' Cup at this point, and you've had more than your fair share of artificial track racing by now at tracks such as Arlington and Keeneland, Aqueduct's high-quality traditional dirt track racing is ideal for handicappers.
This is because there is usually very little track bias at Aqueduct, there is still good turf racing on the schedule, and most of the best New York-based horses, trainers, and jockeys are still around during the month of November to ensure that there is still plenty to bet on before winter ushers in racing on Aqueduct's inner track.

The Aqueduct Main Track Fall Meet

NYRA's top-class stakes program is not finished, for all-intents-and-purposes, until racing moves to the inner track in December. Aqueduct's premier Fall stakes races are all still ahead of us on what is called the "Final Stretch Weekend" over the Thanksgiving holiday with the running of the G3-Fall Highweight on Thursday, Nov. 24, the G2-Top Flight Handicap for fillies & mares on Friday, Nov. 25, and the G2-Gazelle, the G2-Remsen, the G2-Demoiselle, and of course the G1-Cigar Mile all scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 26.

The Cigar Mile could take on additional significance this year with the Horse of the Year race being so completely wide-open. This could draw additional contenders into the Cigar Mile this season, because the race is one of the few Grade 1 races left on the schedule, and it certainly is the one with the most significance.

The fall meet at Aqueduct is in many ways essentially just an extension of the Belmont meet lasting until Thanksgiving weekend. Higher-profile horses and barns have not yet left New York for Florida, and turf racing continues in New York as long as weather permits, often until Dec. 1 or so.

Perhaps the biggest change with the move to the main track at Aqueduct from Belmont is the different track configuration that hastens the return of two-turn route races to the New York racing scene following a Belmont season where all routes except races at 1 ½-miles and longer are run around one turn. This change cannot be underestimated because different horses generally excel in one-turn races than in two-turn races. For starters, one-turn routes at Belmont give stretchout sprinters a better chance to handle an added distance as opposed to Aqueduct's two-turn routes, which favor true route horses with no distance limitations. This is why we often see big turnarounds in form from horses moving from Belmont to Aqueduct. The routes at the Big A are actually more akin to routes run at Saratoga and Monmouth than they are to the races at Belmont. Therefore, give preference to route horses that show good route form from Saratoga, Monmouth, and especially back class and form from the Aqueduct main track when you place your bets at the Aqueduct Fall Meet, and don't be afraid to bet against the horses that had been taking advantage of Belmont's one-turn routes in order to rack up their sharp recent form.

As mentioned, this factor makes the horse for the course angle on Aqueduct's main track even more important than it is elsewhere. Scan horse's career record boxes in the past performances for their past Aqueduct main track form, and give the edge to horses for the course that are proven on the Big A main track. These horses can turn their fortunes around immediately with the switch away from Belmont.


Aqueduct Main Track Trends

In terms of running styles and post position favoritism, keep in mind that Aqueduct's main track is among the fairest there is. Very little advantage can be gleaned by any one post position or running style versus any other. Interestingly, too, is the fact that the rail (post 1) has a bad reputation in the main track's one-turn miles, but the statistics fail to back up that belief. All posts, -including the rail -appear to be fair in one-turn miles, and if anything, based strictly on the numbers from recent main track meets under the current track superintendent, the rail seems to be better in mile races (one turn) than it is in longer two-turn routes. This is exactly the opposite from what many handicappers automatically and incorrectly assume is an Aqueduct inside post bias in two turn races and an outside post bias in one-turn miles.

At other distances, post positions and running style preferences also are virtual non-factors at Aqueduct. If anything, perhaps sprints can occasionally favor inside posts, but this is not a big enough bias to base your bets on.

Here is my list of recent track biases that have affected Belmont and Aqueduct:

Belmont/Aqueduct Track Biases, Oct. 1-Nov. 6

Aqueduct
Nov. 6 -Turf course favored wide, off-the-pace runners
Nov. 5 -Turf course favored wide, off-the-pace runners
Nov. 4 -Turf course favored wide, off-the-pace runners
Belmont
Oct. 29 -Had to be on or close -racing canceled after race 3
Oct. 28 -Outside better races 1-7; had to be on or close to pace races 1-7
Oct. 27 -Dead rail
Oct. 26 -Outside deep closers were 3-for-3 on dirt
Oct. 23 -Had to be on or close; outside slightly better on drying out track
Oct. 22 -Had to be on or close to pace; inside preferred
Oct. 21 -Inside paths did well
Oct. 20 -Rally wide advantage; drying track was unsealed races 5-9
Oct. 16 -Outside preferred
Oct. 15 -Outside bias
Oct. 14 -Outside bias
Oct. 13 -Outside advantage
Oct. 10 -Helped to be on or close
Oct. 9 -Outside good
Oct. 8 -Speed good
Oct. 7 -Outside preferred
Oct. 1 -Front-end bias, all winners on or close

At the most recent Aqueduct main track fall meet, the two inside posts 1 and 2 had great success with an average win rate approaching 21% in sprint races under one mile. At that same meet, outside posts, which you really wouldn't think would be at a disadvantage in one-turn sprints, including the seven-furlong sprints, interestingly were dead in last fall's Aqueduct main track meet, with posts 10-14 only a combining for about a 7% winning percentage in Aqueduct sprints.

Another strange trend we noticed in the Aqueduct main track meet last fall was in main track routes, where inside posts 1-3 underperformed with an average win rate of about 10%. Last fall, it was instead the middle and outside posts where horses performed the best in route races, with an average win rate of 17% for middle posts 4-7, and average win rate of 24% for posts outside and including Post 8.

The most recent Aqueduct main track meet overall was the Big A spring meet run from March 30-April 23. Here are the complete post position stats from that meet:

Aqueduct Post Positions
Aqueduct Spring Meet 2011
Dirt (excludes 5 two-turn races)

Post

Wins

Starts

Win%

1

24

139

17%

2

18

139

13%

3

27

139

19%

4

20

138

14%

5

17

132

13%

6

15

105

14%

7

12

63

19%

8

3

33

9%

9

3

11

27%

10-13

0

10

0%

Aqueduct Post Positions
Aqueduct Spring Meet 2011
Turf

Post

Wins

Starts

Win%

1

4

23

17%

2

4

23

17%

3

2

23

9%

4

1

23

4%

5

5

23

22%

6

3

23

13%

7

3

21

14%

8

1

20

5%

9

0

12

0%

10

0

10

0%

Keep a close eye on the opening week or two of the Aqueduct main track meet to try and gauge if these trends appear to be holding up from last spring and fall.

Aqueduct Turf Races

As far as running styles are concerned on the Aqueduct grass course, many handicappers assume speed carries well on the Aqueduct turf because of its tight turns. Take note, however, that that was not the case at last year's Aqueduct fall meet with only about 10% of all turf winners going wire-to-wire. In fact, not only weren't front runners good bets on the Aqueduct grass, but even the pace pressers didn't fare well last Fall. In total, about two-thirds of all grass winners came from fifth-place or further back during the early stages of the running of the race. Therefore, bet the closers on the Aqueduct lawn until you see proof that this trend is reversing.

The other surprise last fall in Aqueduct turf races was the near complete failure of the rail Post #1, which lost 31 times in a row before recording a victory. Horses from other inside posts generally did well, but the horse breaking from the rail itself was nearly non-existent in the Big A winner's circle last fall.

On the not-so-surprising side of the ledger, the far outside posts did not do well on the Aqueduct turf course, as can be expected. Even when the closers tend to win more than their share at the Big A, posts 8 and outward struggle on the Aqueduct turf. This seems to suggest the importance of saving ground early in Aqueduct turf races, especially around the first turn.

Jockey and Trainer Trends

Rudy Rodriquez and Ramon Dominguez are expected to be out in front of the trainer and jockey standings, which certainly will be no surprise to anyone. One of the keys to winning at Aqueduct, however, will be to figure out which other jockeys and trainers to bet on during the month of November.

In addition to perennial leading rider Ramon Dominguez, the Aqueduct winter riding colony got a boost with the recent decision by Alan Garcia to stay in New York for the winter instead of relocating down to Gulfstream. Garcia was already off to a blazing hot start over opening weekend with 5 wins and a second in 9 mounts. Garcia is staying in NY to ride for some strong barns, including the New York string of Kiaran McLaughlin. David Cohen will also return for winter in New York. He rides first call for Todd Pletcher in the winter with John Velezquez out of town.

When all is said and done, expect Ramon Dominguez to run away with the jockey title this month, followed by Alan Garcia. Other jockeys we expect to see in the top five in the winter Aqueduct standings include top apprentice Ryan Curatolo, and Rosie Napravnik, who has a successful recent history riding winter in New York when she was one of the leading riders here in 2009-2010.

In the training ranks, Todd Pletcher enjoyed a hugely successful Aqueduct Fall Meet in 2009 and 2010, and will have enough New York ammo to give win-percentage king Rudy Rodriguez a run for his money in the standings. David Jacobson is coming off his first Belmont training title at the recent Belmont fall championship meet, and should round out the top three in the Aqueduct trainer standings, thanks in large part to his high number of patented claim-and-drop winners.

Other trainer stories that should be mentioned include Bruce Brown, Chad Brown, Bill Mott (for the Aqueduct main track meet and turf races before departing for Florida in December), Kiaran McLaughlin, and Rick Violette. Violette likes to pop with first- and second-time starters on either turf or dirt at this time of year. Chad Brown, the former assistant to the late Bobby Frankel, also will be a big threat at the Aqueduct main track meet. As for Bruce Brown (no relation), play him with anything except for his first-time starters, which is an historically poor statistic for his barn.

If you blink, you'll miss one of the great and underrated race meets of the year in thoroughbred racing -the Big A main track fall meet. Enjoy the meet, and don't miss it. Best of luck! And if you want me to do the legwork for you and pick the winners, get on board for my Best Bet Selection Service, offering 2-3 top plays each racing day.

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