Aqueduct Inner Track March Update

AQUEDUCT INNER TRACK MARCH UPDATE

By Noel Michaels

As far as winters in New York go, this has been a good one- both in terms of the winter weather, and when it comes to winter inner track winter horseracing at Aqueduct - which has been bolstered by largely increased purses, slightly increased field sizes, and of course, the spring-like winter weather that has limited cancellations and other winter weather-related challenges to a minimum this year. In any case, as we approach the end of February and move into March, the monotony of the three-month-old winter racing season presses on, and still has one more month yet to go. We might as well make it a winning one.

There are some bright spots on the horizon for New York racing fans at this time of year. For starters, post times will return to their customary 1:00 p.m. time slot beginning on Leap Day, Wednesday, February 29 (this also brings about a coinciding switch in Gulfstream's first post time from 12:35 pm to 1:05 pm starting on the same day).

As the calendar continues to march forward toward spring, we now can look forward to the home stretch of the long winter inner track season at Aqueduct. There is just about one more month to go until Aqueduct racing switches back to the main track on Wednesday, April 4. From there, it is only a quick three-week turnaround for the brief duration of the Aqueduct main track meet before New York racing and handicapping shifts to the friendlier confines of Belmont Park starting on April 27.

Coming up even sooner than that will be what racing fans consider to be the official, "un-official start of spring" for New York horseplayers - Wood Memorial Day on Saturday, April 7 - when the true racing season in New York really begins.

The main local prep race for the Wood Memorial will be the upcoming Gotham Stakes, which is just right around the corner on Saturday, March 3. The Gotham will be notable this year, among other reasons, because it is the next scheduled Kentucky Derby prep race destination of Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Hansen, who exits a second-place finish in Gulfstream's Holy Bull Stakes in his last start. The top challenger, as of now, for the G3, 1 1/16-mile Gotham will be the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Consortium, who most recently finished sixth in the Holy Bull.

Beyond the stakes races, which are simply a sideshow in New York at this time of year, racing at Aqueduct has been solid this winter with big purses and unseasonably nice weather. Field sizes haven't been bad, favorites are winning at a reasonable percentage (as are price horses), and these trends should continue to hold true throughout the remainder of the meet.

Here is a look at the trends of the current Aqueduct inner track meet which could help you be successful the rest of the way.

AQUEDUCT INNER TRACK TRENDS

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).

Aqueduct Inner Track Biases
Feb. 20 - Speed died down inside
Feb. 15 - Helped to be on or close to the pace
Feb. 9 - Inside bias; helped to be on or close to the pace
Feb. 2 - All 5 routes won from off the pace
Jan. 28 - Speed bias on drying out track
Jan. 27 - Had to be on or close in slop
Jan. 26 - 8 of 9 winners & 19 of 27 ITM finishers on or close; rail not the best
Jan. 25 - Outside rally wide bias
Jan. 22 - Helped to be on or close
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

With the exception of an anti-inside speed track on Presidents' Day when front-runners had a difficult time holding on into the stretch after running into a strong headwind down the backstretch, the Aqueduct inner track has played relatively fairly for much of February.

The primary recent bias worth mentioning that will be affecting many horses coming back to make their next starts this week and next week happened on the inner track from January 26-28 when the track was very favorable to speed and severely hindered horses trying to come from off the pace. Closers exiting races on those dates should be upgraded, while the chances of horses who took advantage of the speed favoring tracks those days should be downgraded in their upcoming starts.

When it comes to post positions, the 2011-2012 winter inner track meet has shown little consistent bias or favoritism for any post or group of posts in either sprint races or route races.

The one exception worth mentioning has been in sprint races, where you can make a case that a horse needs to draw one of the inside five posts 1-5 in order to have its best chance. Posts 1, 2, 4, and 5 have been winning between 15%-16% from those posts in sprint races, while no other post position has enjoyed a winning percentage higher than 12%. Far, far outside posts in sprints, on the other hand, have been difficult. Starters from those posts 10-12 combined have gone only 3-for-84 for just a 4% winning percentage.

Surprisingly, route races have shown no real post position bias. Many handicappers consider the inside posts to be gospel in Aqueduct inner track route races, but the number this season don't lie and there has been no advantage for the inside posts versus the middle or even outside parts of the starting gate.

Aqueduct Inner Track Winning Post Positions
(November 30 - February 26)

Post Sprints Routes
1 49-300 (16%) 31-222 (14%)
2 45-300 (15%) 31-222 (14%)
3 33-300 (11%) 27-222 (12%)
4 49-300 (16%) 34-222 (15%)
5 46-293 (16%) 34-219 (16%)
6 26-260 (10%) 24-197 (12%)
7 25-209 (12%) 18-162 (11%)
8 14-140 (10%) 16-112 (14%)
9 10-85 (12%) 5-49 (10%)
10 0-48 (0%) 2-22 (9%)
11 2-22 (9%) 0-2 (0%)
12 1-14 (7%) 0-1 (0%)

AQUEDUCT JOCKEYS

Aqueduct is the wintertime home of the nation's top jockey and current Eclipse Award winner Ramon Dominguez, and Ramon is dominating once again this season on the inner track just as you would expect he should be. Betting the Big A is an exercise of knowing when to bet on the dominating rider, and when to seek value elsewhere by betting against him. While Dominguez is only seven total wins ahead of second-leading rider Cornelio Velasquez, he leads Cornelio by a large margin in terms of percentage, 28% to 20%. This means that Dominguez has earned his 85 wins with only 302 mounts (for 28% winners), while it took Velasquez nearly 70 more mounts to get his 73 wins from 368 starters for a 20% win percentage. Based on this, Dominguez is, in fact, a dominant factor on the inner track and can rarely be overlooked. The negative flip side of that argument, however, is that everyone bets Dominguez accordingly, and therefore his mounts seldom can offer any value. In other words: you can't live with him and you can't live with him and you can't live without him.

Behind Dominguez, the clear second fiddle on the Aqueduct inner track this season has been Cornelio Velasquez, who has done a good job of trying to stay even with Dominguez for much of the meet, even if he has to ride many many more mounts than Dominguez in the process. In other words, it is always good to see Cornelio named aboard a mount here at this time of year, but based on his average 20% win percentage he still cannot be considered a slam dunk must-bet rider.

Cornelio was thrown off his final mount of the day on Saturday, February 25 and taken to the hospital complaining of back and neck pain. He missed his mounts that Sunday, but he appears to be okay and is expected to resume riding after the dark days on Wednesday, February 29.

For the last three inner track meets, David Cohen has been a reliable second- or third-banana behind Dominguez, but Cohen's impact has not been as significant this season with only 48 wins and a 17% win percentage.

While David Cohen's stock has dropped a bit this season, conversely we have witnessed the rise of a pair of up-and-coming riders, Junior Alvarado and Irad Ortiz Jr.

With 64 wins in 332 mounts (19% winners), there are days when Junior Alvarado can look like the best rider on the grounds. He's young and a little bit inconsistent, but he doesn't fall short in terms of talent, currently ranking third in the jockey standings. Irad Ortiz, meanwhile, gets a lot of live mounts and has responded so far with 58 wins from 328 starters for a solid win percentage of 18%.Ortiz recently lost his "bug" on February 2, and is now a fully-weighted journeyman rider, so it'll be interesting to see if he is able to keep his live mounts going strong enough to keep his winning percentage up where it currently is. Usually, when a rider loses his "bug," his winning percentage will soon drop at least a little - even under the best of circumstances.

The other big-name rider wintering at Aqueduct this season on the inner track has been Alan Garcia, who has had a much more low-key meet than the other top riders with just 33 wins from only 151 starters. Garcia has primarily been spot riding for trainers like Kiaran McLaughlin and Linda Rice, and even though he's kept a fairly low-profile when riding locally this winter, he nevertheless has racked-up a good 22% win percentage.

Besides the top jockeys in the standings, the other rider you want to pay close attention to and bet whenever he's an overlay - which should be often - is Eddie Castro. Castro has just recently returned from a long absence after an injury sidelined him for part of 2011 and is quickly returning into top form. Castro might not ring a bell for you as a top local rider, but if you can remember back to the 2010-2011 Aqueduct inner track season, you will remember he enjoyed a dynamite breakout meet here behind Ramon Dominguez. Castro was the 6th-leading rider in the NYRA circuit in 2011 - despite missing significant time with his injury - and should never be overlooked, especially on the inner track.

Aqueduct's inner track season is always a hot-bed of activity for apprentice jockeys, and this season has been no exception. The NYRA circuit's leading apprentice these days has been Ryan Curatolo, who recently returned from a seven-day suspension and is still ranked sixth on Aqueduct's inner track list of leading riders with 32 wins from 234 mounts for 14% winners.

Even with Ortiz losing his bug recently, however, Curatolo still has a little bit of company from two other rival apprentice jockeys on the grounds with both Jose Rodriguez and Samuel Camacho Jr.

Camacho, a 20-year-old from Venezuela, started riding at Aqueduct on January 15, and through February 24 has compiled a record of 13 wins from 93 starts, good for 10th place in the inner-track standings despite having missed the first six weeks of the meet. It should be noted that 7 of Camacho's first 11 winners came riding for trainer Gary Contessa.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, came north to ride at Aqueduct after riding the second-half of 2011 as an apprentice at Calder. After a slow start at Calder, Rodriguez's career began to pick up a little steam with an improved record at Calder during the month of November. Rodriguez, however, has failed to really catch-on in New York so far. He's getting more and more Aqueduct mounts, but to date has been riding a lot of longshots. It shows in his record, which was 10 wins from his first 161 Aqueduct inner track starters.

AQUEDUCT TRAINERS

Plenty of Aqueduct trainers have been having solid and successful seasons this winter, and many have won at high percentages and posted strong ROIs, but there is still nobody close to having the kind of dominating meet from a training standpoint than Richard Dutrow, who leads the trainers standings with 29 victories from only 78 starters for an strong 37% win percentage. The second-leading trainer at the meet so far, David Jacobson, trails Dutrow by only 2 winners with 27 wins at the meet, but with his 114 starters so far, Jacobson's win percentage of 24 cannot begin to approach what Dutrow is doing at the current inner track meet. Unfortunately for Dutrow backers, he has now become one of those "can't bet on him and can't bet against him" type of trainers at this winter meet, because Dutrow's average win payoff so far has been a very low $5.50.

Of course, for guys like Dutrow and Jacobson to be sitting on top of the trainers standings can mean only that Todd Pletcher has been largely invisible at the Aqueduct inner track meet. Last year's runaway training champion at Aqueduct, Pletcher has kept much fewer horses in New York this winter. The result has been only 16 wins for Pletcher, which is still very very good considering that he's had only 59 starters at the meet. That gives Pletcher a big 27% win percentage, meaning that even when Pletcher's not a factor - he still manages to be a factor no matter what time of year it is in New York racing or how many horses he has on the grounds.

Other trainers like Pletcher that have had relatively few starters at the meet, but are still winning at high percentages include Kiaran McLaughlin with 17 winners from 56 starters (30% wins), and Richard Violette with 16 winners from 54 starters (also 30% wins). McLaughlin's dominant categories have included allowances, where he has won a remarkable 47% of his races, and routes, where he has won a big 38% of his races. Violette, meanwhile, has won with 4 of his 8 starters so far in stakes and handicap races (50% wins). He's also doing well with maiden claimers with 26% wins, and in route races where he is winning at a 32% clip.

A couple of other intesting spot plays have included betting Dominic Galluscio in route races, where he has won at a 30% win percentage, and trainer Bruce Levine in 3-year-old races, where he has won at a 30% win percentage. As usual, also continue to bet Bruce Levine with horses adding first-time Lasix, or as we call it in this case - "the Bruce Juice."

Here is a look at the overall top 12 trainers stats to date at the Aqueduct inner track meet:

Aqueduct Inner Track Leading Trainers
(11/30/11 - 2/26/12)

Trainer

Wins

Win%

ITM%

Richard Dutrow

29

37%

67%

David Jacobson

27

24%

61%

Chris Englehart

25

19%

43%

Rudy Rogriguez

20

20%

57%

Dominic Galluscio

19

23%

54%

Bruce Levine

19

23%

54%

Gary Contessa

18

15%

50%

Kiaran McLaughlin

17

30%

61%

Linda Rice

16

12%

41%

Richard Violette

16

30%

65%

Todd Pletcher

16

27%

64%

Bruce Brown

13

14%

46%

There's still another month to go in the Aqueduct inner track meet, and another three weeks on the main track at Aqueduct after that. Contrary to the beliefs of some, Aqueduct is an excellent place to watch and wager during the winter months, and should not be overlooked in the shadow of the higher-profile race meets at this time of year in Florida and California. With the right information at your fingertips, you can make money at Aqueduct this time of year.

Good luck and good racing at Aqueduct!

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