FEBRUARY HANDICAPPING: All Eyes on the Five Top Tracks

FEBRUARY HANDICAPPING: All Eyes on the Five Top Tracks

By Noel Michaels - OTB Learning Labs

Although it is not often regarded as such, the winter is perhaps the best time of the year for horseplayers. As opposed to other times of the year when good racing and wagering are scattered all around the country at various far flung race circuits, and stakes races take center stage every weekend, the winter is a time of the year when hardcore handicapping and serious horseplayers are basically all focusing on the same five tracks - Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Gulfstream, Oaklawn, and Santa Anita. With so much good racing taking place in February at so few tracks, is becomes relatively easy at this one time of year to keep close tabs on the races and results from all five of the major winter signals, and thereby keep your finger on the pulse of everything that's important in the sport of racing.

Let's take a tour around this season's five major circuits and get fully up-to-speed on what it's taking to win at the season's various epicenters of pari-mutuel wagering.

AQUEDUCT

More so than ever before, the name of the game at the current Aqueduct meet has been all Ramon Dominguez all the time. Dominguez is a tough proposition for New York bettors in the winter - you either take Dominguez at a low price or you bet against him as the country's leading rider continually puts up three, four, and five-win days while besting the win totals of the New York circuit's next-best riders. Dominguez is winning 26% at the current inner-track meet with 50 victories - relatively low by his standards but still rebounding from a slow start. Still, Dominguez has already caught Cornelio Velasquez atop the jockey standings and will only pull away further from here despite occasional out-of-town travel opportunities that may arise on the Triple Crown trail as the winter goes one.

Alan Garcia decided to return to his roots and spend the winter in New York again this season. Garcia has done well to win 21 races for 21% wins - primarily riding first call for Kiaran McLaughlin's winter NY string that has won 13 races for a 33% win percentage. However, Garcia is not riding enough to be as high up in the jockey standings as you would imagine against a slew of other riders that are having good meets. This group includes Irad Ortiz Jr., who continues his emergence on the New York circuit as the 3rd-leading rider with 43 wins and a 20% win percentage. Ryan Curatolo continues to dominate the circuit's apprentice rider colony with 32 wins and a solid 16% win percentage. The other jockey making a strong impression this season has been Junior Alvarado, who is out-riding expectations to the tune of 43 wins and an 18% win percentage.

Aqueduct's purses have really begun to skyrocket this winter due to a new influx of cash for the NYRA from Aqueduct's new racino, and the added purse money has also made a positive impact on field sizes and betting opportunities at this winter's inner track meet. As expected, with all that extra cash floating around, new trainers have decided to focus their attention on New York racing this winter - either with new NY barns or with increased NY presence so far this season. The biggest beneficiary of Aqueduct's new purse structure has been trainer Richard Dutrow, who leads the trainer standings with 21 victories and a giant 37% win percentage. Dutrow continues to train while appealing a 10-year drug-related ban he received last year, and all of his entrants must be respected by bettors and handicappers all the time due to his current strike rate with over one-third of his starters.

The trainer in closest pursuit of Dutrow has been David Jacobson, who continues to be deadly in the claiming game. Jacobson has won 19 races at the inner track meet so far, and cannot be overlooked with a win percentage of 26%. In particular, Jacobson must be wagered on his patented claim-and-drop maneuver - which would be a red flag for many other barns but not this one.

Rudy Rodriguez and Chris Englehart have been the other conditioners to watch atop the trainer standings this season. Englehart is winning 18% of his races and has racked up 15 winners. Rodriguez is currently tied for third with Emglehart in the trainer standings with 15 winners, but his win percentage is better at 25% (notably down from the 40% stratosphere where it had sometimes been at Aqueduct the past couple of years).

Other trainers to bet at Aqueduct in February include the red hot Jason Servis (34% wins), Anthony Dutrow (8 wins, 32%), and Mike Hushion (who is up near 30% at this meet once again this season). Meanwhile, Chad Brown, Dominic Galluscio, Chad Brown, and shockingly John Campo are all having great, high win-percentage meets, as meet.

Interestingly, last year's leading inner track trainer, Todd Pletcher has largely ignored the Aqueduct meet this winter (9 wins, 23%), as has Steve Asmussen, who has had big, high-percentage strings here the past few years but a much smaller group of horses this season (7 wins but a 33% win percentage).

Trainers to avoid at this point still include Linda Rice, who cooled down significantly starting midway through the 2011 Saratoga meet and has yet to really pick things back up based on her 10% win percentage at Aqueduct thus far. Gary Contessa is also having an uncharacteristically slow winter inner track meet with only 10% winners.

Aqueduct's inner track usually seems to be at the mercy of track biases, but the winter has been relatively mild so far this year and track biases have so far not been as fierce as they sometimes can be. That said, the track has still shown various favoritisms since opening at the start of December (refer to my chart below).

Speed seemed to be performing exceptionally well at Aqueduct for much of December. This all changed, however, after the track's holiday break starting Dec. 18. When racing resumed after the break, the speed bias was all but disappeared, having instead been replaced by shifting inside/outside biases that have effected the outcomes on certain days.

Since the start of the new year, the Aqueduct inner track has essentially been through two different trends, with outside lanes looking the best through the first half of January followed by the inside improving steadily and strongly during the second half of January 2012.

Here is my view of this season's track bias information from the Aqueduct inner track:

Aqueduct Inner Track biases
Jan. 28 - Inside speed preferred
Jan. 27 - Inside speed preferred
Jan. 20 - Rally wide bias
Jan. 19 - Inside bias; had to be on or close to the pace
Jan. 15 - Slow rail, outside better
Jan. 14 - Had to stay on or close to pace
Jan. 12 - Speed good in mud
Jan. 11 - Rally wide bias
Jan. 8 - Outside preferred
Jan. 5 - Outside preferred
Jan. 1 - Outside preferred
Dec. 31 - Had to be on or close
Dec. 29 - Helped to be on or close
Dec. 18 - Speed favoring, 8 of 9 winners on or close to the pace
Dec. 17 - Speed bias, all winners on or close to the pace
Dec. 15 - Speed bias, had to be on or close to the pace
Dec. 14 - Speed bias, had to be on or close to the pace
Dec. 11 - Speed helped
Dec. 10 - Speed bias, 8 of 9 winners on or close to the lead
Dec. 9 - Gold rail inside bias; speed good
Dec. 3 - Anti-speed bias

Aside from being known as a speed-favoring track, the Aqueduct inner track is also known as a track that strongly favors inside posts, especially in two-turn route races. This season, however, the track has played remarkably fair to all post positions in terms of win percentages in both inner track sprints and routes. Inside posts have done well as expected, but there is no significant statistical edge for the inside posts as opposed to any other gate slots from the middle and the outside.

GULFSTREAM

Gulfstream Park is the Eastern epicenter of Thoroughbred racing during the winter, and another exceptional and challenging meet is now upon us. As always, Gulfstream offers the best horses, trainers, jockeys, grass races, and stakes races of the winter season with the top barns from New York and Kentucky and all points in-between all converging on South Florida for a sensational four-month sunshine-filled standout race meet.

For bettors, some changes to the 2011-2012 Gulfstream meet that have stood out include the new post time of 12:35 integrating East coast signals with Aqueduct, and this year's earlier shift of the meet from an early January start date to this season's new early December start date, which was a rousing and unparalleled success for bettors and horsemen alike.

Gulfstream's 50-cent bets, including Pick-4s and a daily Pick-5 bet, with a low 15 % takeout on the day's last five races, also keep the action pumping at Gulfstream, which has to be considered the most player-friendly meet to bet at during this time of year. There are even 50-cent trifectas that offer unrivaled value at Gulfstream, not-to-mention the return of the 10-cent Sunshine Pick 6, with a jackpot that will only be awarded to a winner with one unique ticket. On days when there are multiple winners, 60% of the pool will be shared equally while 40% will go into a carryover pool. The bet has already been hit once at this season's meet, but the jackpot is once again quickly building.

Gulfstream once again is playing host to the wintertime's best trainer line-up and jockey colony. The earlier December start to the meet has resulted in a dramatic shift in this season's jockey standings, because the dates of the Gulfstream meet now more closely coincide with the schedules of all of the east and midwest's top riders. Paco Lopez, who won the 2011 and 2010 jockey titles at Gulfstream winning 70 races, is again riding high, but no longer the leading rider. That distinction has so far instead gone to Javier Castellano, who is running away from the pack in the jockey standings with 44 wins. He's comfortably 13 wins ahead of current second-leading rider John Velazquez, who has 31 wins and a similar winning percentage to Castellano's. Castellano rules the Gulfstream turf races along with fellow Eclipse Award-winning rider Julien Leparoux, who has won 23 races at the meet so far.

Paco Lopez currently sits third in the standings behind Castellano and Leparoux. Lopez wins a lot of races and a high percentage was the first-call rider for the owner/trainer combination of Frank Calabrese and Nick Canani. Right behind Lopez in the standings are Jose Lezcano (25 wins), Elvis Trujillo (23 wins), and Rajiv Maragh (23 wins), who are all enjoying solid meets so far at Gulfstream Park.

When it comes to trainers at the Gulfstream meet, especially this season, the story has been all about perennial leading trainer Todd Pletcher, who is off to a dominant start this season - even for him - more than doubling the next-leading trainer with 30 victories already. The aforementioned second-leading trainer is Chad Brown with 13 victories. Brown is clicking with 24% of his starters, a great percentage but still far short of Pletcher's numbers which are capped off by a 36% win percentage and good numbers in almost every category (mostly with leading riders Castellano and Velazquez aboard).

Nick Canani is next among leading trainers with 11 winners through January 29, but it is worth noting that even with his good win percentage of 21%, he is nonetheless down dramatically from the lofty 40% win highs that he's been at at Gulfstream in recent years. Also worth mentioning is Peter Walder, who has been up-and-down at Gulfstream in recent years but now is definitely enjoying one of those "up" times with a win percentage of 40% thanks to wins with a lot of turf sprinters and young horses.

The prevailing running style preference in Gulfstream dirt races tends to favor horses with early speed, or at least tactical speed, at all distances. Stalkers and mid-pack horses sometimes run well, but deep closers are generally not good bets at Gulfstream, except on days when a temporary anti-speed bias occasionally develops to help-out closers.

Since deep closers generally don't do well on this main track, and inside posts and rail-skimming trips are usually not an advantage, the two prevailing track biases on Gulfstream Park's main track are, 1) Gulfstream's dirt track favors horses with speed and tactical speed, and; 2) Gulfstream one-turn dirt races favor outside paths, while Gulfstream two-turn races favor inside posts - except for, perhaps, the rail post #1.

Much to the adulation of both horsemen and bettors this season, Gulfstream has added a new 1-1/16-mile distance on the main track. This has greatly increased the number of two-turn races being run at Gulfstream this year. Just by utilizing a new alternate finish line further down the stretch, Gulfstream has been able to card this distance that has been overlooked for six years since the track was re-configured by Frank Stronach.

Here are the Gulfstream track biases noted so far this season:

Gulfstream Track Biases
Jan. 22 - Outside was the better part of the track
Jan. 21 - Slow rail
Jan. 15 - Outside preferred
Jan. 14 - Outside preferred
Jan. 13 - Speed bias
Jan. 12 - Couldn't come from too far back
Jan. 8 - Outside advantage
Jan. 7 - Outside advantage
Jan. 2 - Outside preferred
Dec. 26 - Outside & anti-speed favoring; rally wide moves ruled the day
Dec. 24 - Speed helped
Dec. 9 - Best trips were close to the pace and outside
Dec. 8 - Couldn't close from too far back
Dec. 4 - Outside good
Dec. 3 - Outside good

Some of the prime golden rules at Gulfstream Park are to stay away from outside posts in main track two-turn routes, and to stay away from far inside posts in dirt miles. Don't bet the rail horse in any sprint at 6 1/2 furlongs or longer, and stack your bets against front-runners on the turf (unless the turf rails are out - the further the better). These axioms cannot be repeated often enough, because these elements when added together with winning running styles and trainer trends can provide you the framework of everything you'll need to make money at Gulfstream Park.

In Gulfstream miles, the three inside posts are also much more of a disadvantage than an advantage. Note, however, that the far outside posts in those races aren't great either. Mid-pack posts from 4-7 seem to be the best gate slots at one mile.

These post position trends are not solely based on short-term statistics. It has always been this way on Gulfstream's current track layout to one degree or another since 2005.

Now let's move to the grass, where a large part of the action takes place each winter at Gulfstream. Like many turf courses, the Gulfstream turf usually favors horses with good turn-of-foot acceleration in the stretch. It is difficult to go wire-to-wire on the Gulfstream turf course, and Gulfstream's turf course is definitely not friendly to early speed horses. Through the last couple years the Gulftsream grass course has became one of the most difficult courses in the country on which to win going wire-to-wire.

If you must bet a Gulfstream turf front-runner, try to make sure 1) The horse is the lone speed in the race, preferably from an inside post, 2) The horse has a solid class edge on the rest of the field, and 3) Look and see if the turf rails are moved out from the hedge.

The position of the turf rails on the Gulfstream grass course, which has been divided into inner and outer turf courses to help the condition of the course stay good throughout the long meet, is key for the chances of an early speed grass horse. Since they are always moving the turf rail around, always be aware of where the turf rail is before you consider a front-runner's chances on turf.

At Gulfstream on the grass, unlike on the dirt, a horse's chances of success are based more on running style than post draw. Running style has been a key determining factor how well a horse is expected to run on the Gulfstream lawn with pressers and stalkers having the best chances overall.

SANTA ANITA

With Santa Anita's switch back to dirt, we have seen a slight increase in the emphasis for early speed in sprints, especially at the track's two most popular sprint distances of 6 furlongs and 6 1/2 furlongs.

The average beaten lengths at the first call at these sprint distances is about 2 lengths behind at the quarter-mile mark. Horses definitely don't want to be too far back, however, based on the fact that about 85 percent of the dirt sprint winners have raced within 5 lengths of the lead at the first call (quarter mile). It has been difficult to win from very far back in the pack on the Santa Anita dirt based on these stats, and clearly the need for good tactical speed has increased now that Santa Anita has gone back to dirt.

Now that Santa Anita is back to a dirt track, handicappers can again take advantage of daily track bias information affecting the main track. Here are the track biases from the first part of the current Santa Anita meet, which began on Dec. 26:

Santa Anita Track Biases
Jan. 22 - Outside, rally wide advantage
Jan. 21 - 5 wire-to-wire winners in 8 dirt races
Jan. 19 - Outside rally wide bias
Jan. 6 - Rally wide moves excelled
Jan. 2 - Speed good; inside good
Jan. 1 - Outside looked a bit the best
Dec. 31 - Outside preferred
Dec. 30 - Outside preferred
Dec. 29 - Speed good, 5 of 6 winners laid 1st or 2nd

The best policy for Southern California handicappers is to immediately downgrade any late closer. There have, however, been some exceptions to this rule at the current meet. Three days in particular, January 22, January 19, and January 6 all played kindly to horses rallying off the pace. As far as inside/outside biases are concerned, Santa Anita has generally been playing better to outside runners than inside trips, although usually a horse can certainly win from any part of the racing strip with no problems.

Where post positions were concerned in the past, usually the rail and inside posts (1-3) are preferred spots on dirt. This is pretty much the exact opposite from the way the track played when artificial surfaces were installed. So far in the current, the rail post #1 has not been an advantage at any distance, but the other inside and middle posts 2-6 are all winning at by far the best percentages.

The best way to proceed with your Santa Anita dirt track handicapping is to toss out the artificial track races a horse has run (at Hollywood, for instance), while instead focusing your attention on either a horse's most recent dirt races, if any, or else waiting for horses to compile past performances on dirt during this year's Santa Anita meet.

The switch to dirt is also affecting trainers. Certain trainers have been hurt by the synthetic track era in California racing over the past few years - let's face it. Trainers such as Bob Baffert, Richard Mandella, all the way on down to Vladimir Cerin and Jeff Mullins and many others including Doug O'Neill certainly haven't been helped by California's synthetic tracks in recent years, but all of those barns are benefitting from higher winning percentages back on the dirt at Santa Anita these days.

Bob Baffert is currently the leading trainer at the Santa Anita meet with a large 14 win to 9 win lead over Mike Puype, who is winning at 24% and posting a strong ROI (return on investment). At times in the past, Baffert was able to post dirt win percentages somewhere in the ballpark of 40% wins. His current 26% win percentage is far below that high standard, but still nevertheless very high and impressive. O'Neill is currently the fifth leading trainer at the meet with 7 wins, but his win percentage of 13% leaves something still to be desired. Vladimir Cerin is winning at a 24% clip, while Jeff Mullins has won 5 of his first 17 races for 29%.

John Sadler and Mike Mitchell both currently continue to be major factors, obviously, at Santa Anita. The fourth- and third-leading trainers at the meet, respectively, Sadler are Mitchell both have 8 wins and are constant threats. Do take note, however, that Mitchell's win percentage of 21% is far better than Sadler's win rate of 14%.

A couple other trainers you currently want to have high on your radar include Art Shurman, who is putting together a very strong low-profile meet with 4 winners from his first 9 starters (44%), and Vann Belvoir, who is shipping in stock that normally runs elsewhere at other times of the year and winning at a 31% clip (4 wins with his first 13 SA starters.

On the other hand, other trainers will figured to be hurt by the switch back to dirt track racing have mainly struggled, including the likes of Neil Drysdale, Peter Eurton, Carla Gaines, Paddy Gallagher, and Kathy Walsh.

When it comes to jockeys, handicappers can narrow down the top choices really fast in Southern California, starting with Rafael Bejarano, Garrett Gomez, Joel Rosario. It is this group - especially Rosario and Bejerano - that has totally dominated the top of the jockey's standings recently in SoCal, and continue to battle it out for pretty much each and every local meet title.

Also headlining the high-quality Santa Anita jockeys' colony are names like Hall of Famer Mike Smith, Victor Espinoza, David Flores, Martin Garcia, Corey Nakatani, Martin Pedroza, Joe Talamo, Alonso Quinonez, Chantal Sutherland and others.

The leading rider at the current SA meet is Joel Rosario, who now has a slim lead over his main competition, Rafael Bejarano in the jockey standings.

Finally, one tried-and-true handicapping angle at Santa Anita has continued its long-term trend this season, proving perhaps that the more things change the more things stay the same. The inside posts, and particularly the rail, remain big disadvantages in Santa Anita's signature down-the-hill 6 ½-furlong down-the-hill turf races. The inside three posts in these races are each winning at about 5% apiece. This is in stark contrast to post positions 4-9, which each have been winning at anywhere between 14%-30%.

OAKLAWN PARK

Oaklawn Park generally does not get the notoriety of the other key winter meets from around the country, due in large part to the fact that Oaklawn does not have a turf course. Nevertheless, the day-to-day racing at Oaklawn is good and bettable, and as the meet goes on into late March and early April, the quality of the racing there will end up nearly on par with anyone else running at that of year. Oaklawn regularly features big wide-open fields, a real dirt main track, and plenty of the nation's top racing stables, much to the delight of Midwestern horseplayers and handicappers at this time of year who must go without racing in Chicago and a top-quality option to wager on in Kentucky.

One reliable rallying cry at Oaklawn is sometimes "Cal-vin Bo-rail," but that angle has been absent so far this year with Calvin Borel riding at Gulfstream Park throughout the majority of January. Take heed, however, that Borel, who had been quiet at best this season at Gulfstream, has announced that he is leaving Gulfstream and will be riding daily at Oaklawn the rest of the meet, starting the beginning of February. He will no doubt make a big dent on the jockey standings in Hot Springs, but keep in mind, that along with his many wins and good win percentage will come a caveat for handicappers - his average win-price is likely to be low and his ROI is not something that Oaklawn horseplayers can count on to make money.

Handicapping at Oaklawn Park has its nuances, and it pays to pay attention to the daily happenings at the meet. While the racing surface is mostly regarded as fair at Oaklawn, the track does have some prevailing biases to watch out for, in addition to some occasional track biases that tend to pop-up here and there in terms of inside or outside paths, or speed or off-the-pace running style biases as the weather tends to change track conditions from day to day.

The Oaklawn dirt course is a one-mile oval with two different finish lines - the traditional finish line and an auxiliary finish line at the sixteenth pole which serves as the finish for one-mile races. This makes the run-up into the first turn longer at a mile and therefore slightly lessens the disadvantages to outside posts.

Oaklawn's inside posts, and particularly the rail, are still good at all distances. In addition to using post positions to help you narrow down the fields when handicapping Oaklawn, you can also use a horse's running style. Then combine this with a careful eye on the track's changing track biases when hunting for Oaklawn winners. I have kept close tabs on the racing at Oaklawn early in this 2012 season and have compiled bias information for the start of the meet. Here is my information for 2012 Oaklawn track biases so far. For the most part the track has played fairly, with the exception of a mostly dead inside part of the track during the opening week of the meet.

Oaklawn Track Biases
Jan. 16 - Rally wide bias; helped to be outside and a bit off the pace
Jan. 14 - Outside advantage
Jan. 13 - Slow rail, outside advantage

At Oaklawn, the tried-and-true prevailing running-style bias is always toward horses with early speed or at least tactical speed who can stay within 2-3 lengths of the early lead. Due to the one-mile Oaklawn track layout and relatively short stretch-run in comparison to other tracks, Oaklawn always has been this way and probably always will be - except on days when the bias changes and noticeably favors one particular running style over another.

Use this track bias information in your continued handicapping at Oaklawn and keep track for yourself the rest of the way. When you see a horse exiting a race on a bias day, check the horse's running style, post position, or inside/outside trip on the bias day in question. When a horse exits a race where it benefited from running with a track bias, downgrade that horse in the race you're currently handicapping. When you see a horse that exits a race where it was hurt by running against a track bias, then go ahead and upgrade that horse in the race you're currently handicapping. This is a great way to find good-odds winners and to ensure that you are betting live overlays while at the same time ignoring bad underlays.

FAIR GROUNDS

The Fair Grounds has long been one of the best fall-winter race meets in the country, yet it is often overlooked on the winter wagering landscape that also includes popular, high-profile tracks like Aqueduct, Gulfstream, and Santa Anita. Nevertheless, the Fair Grounds is a quality track with big, competitive fields that most bettors love. Plus, the track also hosts its share of quality wintertime grass races, not to mention a solid stakes line-up with a good three-year-old stakes program that leads to the meet's premier event, the Louisiana Derby.

One of the most notable things for handicappers to discover when it comes to the "Fair Grounds", is that the track is one of the most fair tracks in the country when it comes to running styles because the Fair Grounds seems to remain one of the few tracks that legitimately does not provide a consistent edge to any one running style or inside or outside paths. No matter if your horse is a front runner, a pace-presser, a stalker, or a closer, you should indeed have a fair chance to win at the Fair Grounds.

Even at fair race tracks like the Fair Grounds, it is always worth looking at the long term trends and statistics to try to determine what running styles and post positions give horses their best chances at success. Certain prevailing biases can be arrived at by a careful look at the results from the past several years.

In sprints, both early speed/pressers and the closers can usually be depended on to run well from pretty much any post position. The segment of horses at the most risk from bad trips in Fair Grounds sprints are the mid-pack stalkers, who could get caught in a bad spot wide on the turn if they draw outside posts in big fields. These horses often have to be used too hard to gain position going into the turn, or else end up falling into the Fair Grounds trap of trying to make their middle moves while wide on the turn instead of using the more prudent strategy of waiting until the long straightaway before launching their late bids.

Meanwhile, in Fair Grounds route races run at 1 mile & 40 yards and 1 1/16-miles, post position is a key issue thanks to the short run up to the first turn due to the starting gate's close proximity to the turn. Horses that break from wide posts in these races usually suffer wide, ground-losing trips - especially at a 1m & 40 yards when speed horses and pressers who break from the inside enjoy a huge tactical advantage.

Fair Grounds Track Biases
Jan. 19 - Front-end bias
Jan. 18 - Speed bias; outside paths better than inside lanes
Jan. 12 - Late closers 3-for-3 in routes
Jan. 7 - Strong speed bias, dirt wire-to-wire winners 7-for-7
Jan. 4 - Sprints all won by speed; routes favored outside closers; rail questionable at best
Dec. 23 - Outside good on drying track; 9 of 10 winners on or close
Dec. 22 - Dead rail in slop, outside and off-the-pace trips preferred
Dec. 21 - Outside good
Dec. 11 - Front-end bias, all top finishers on or close to the pace
Dec. 10 - Couldn't close from too far back
Dec. 8 - Couldn't close from too far back
Dec. 7 - Speed bias
Nov. 24 - Five w-2-w winners (+ 2 close-up) on fast but drying out track

The biggest bias of the young FG meet so far occurred on Jan. 7 on the main track when there was a solid speed bias. There were also front-end biases of varying degrees noted the week of December 7-11, and on Jan. 18-19. Look for horses who previously raced on this date and either bet on them or bet against them next time out depending on whether or not the aforementioned biases worked for them or against them.

There is always a strong crew of Midwestern and national barns wintering in New Orleans with strings of horses of varying abilities. You can usually count on a few big-name out-of-towners showing up for the Fair Grounds meet with a few horses, however, these horses usually have varying degrees of success in relation to the local blue chip barns that can always be counted on to win here at huge percentages including Steve Asmussen, Cody Autrey, Merell Sherer, Mike Stidham, Steve Margolis, Bret Calhoun, and of course, last but not least, Al Stall and particularly Tom Amoss, who has been winning races in bunches around here since some of these other guys were in diapers.

Finally, keep your eyes out for Chicago horses, who have done very well at the Fair Grounds meet and have also been in fine form at Oaklawn. The Chicago season is just a few weeks away with the opening at Hawthorne scheduled for Friday, February 17.

Wherever you do your winter racing and wagering - whether it be at Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Oaklawn, and/or Fair Grounds, or at a combination of all of them - I wish you best of luck.Click here for my top plays everyday and let's enjoy good racing!

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