Thanksgiving Racing Serves-Up the Season's Last Hurrah


By Noel Michaels

The table is set for a big holiday weekend of horseracing this Thanksgiving, with the season’s biggest and best tracks – Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, and Hollywood – all serving up extra helpings of great racing with all the trimmings for the four-day weekend. Thanksgiving weekend truly has something for all racing fans, and the premier tracks all are set to offer up one last hurrah to cap off the fall stakes racing season at the end of November.

Both the Churchill Downs and Aqueduct main track meets are scheduled to end with a bang this holiday weekend as they both roll out their remaining stakes before calling it a year. Hollywood Park, meanwhile, will be hosting its acclaimed Turf Festival for what figures to be a top-class weekend of racing on the West coast for the autumn meet that extends all the way until the middle of December.

On a sentimental side note, the 2013 fall meet will be the last race meet ever at Hollywod Park – the historic and formerly beautiful showplace for SoCal racing once known as “The Track of Lakes and Flowers.”

Also, in addition to ushering-out the fall racing season, the Thanksgiving weekend also serves to welcome-in the winter racing season with the first winter racetrack opening taking place in New Orleans with the Fair Grounds starting its meet on Thanksgiving Day. And finally, far, far off the beaten track this week will also be the biggest day of racing ever held at Zia Park in New Mexico on Wednesday, Nov. 27 with the runnings of seven stakes races worth $1.125 million, including the Zia Park Oaks and Zia Park Derby.

The biggest name horse expected to take to the track over the Thanksgiving weekend arguably will be Breeders’ Cup Classic two-time beaten favorite Game On Dude, who hopes to revive his Eclipse Award campaign for leading older male in the running of the $500,000 Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Friday, Nov. 29.

The Clark Handicap will be a big race, no doubt, but there will be no bigger race run this Thanksgiving weekend than the Grade 1, $400,000 Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct. This year’s running to be contested on Saturday, Nov. 30 has drawn a pair of Breeders’ Cup winning Eclipse Award hopefuls – F&M Sprint winner Groupie Doll, and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents. The latter is the 120-pound high weight who is expected to be favored over a field that will also include Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out, Haskell and Wood Memorial winner Verrazano, Vosburgh winner Private Zone, and King’s Bishop winner Cape Bastone.

One new addition this year to the Thanksgiving weekend stakes racing schedule will be the Grade 2, $350,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup, which will headline a good card at Hawthorne.

In addition to the Hawthorne Gold Cup, the Clark Handicap, and the Cigar Mile, there are many other stakes races scheduled for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, Hollywood Park, and elsewhere. Here is a list of the Thanksgiving weekend’s top stakes races:

Key Thanksgiving Weekend Stakes Races

Wednesday, Nov. 27

Zia Park: $300,000 Zia Park Oaks, 3-year-old fillies
Zia Park: $200,000 Zia Pak Derby, 3-year-olds
Penn National: $250,000 Fabulous Strike Stakes, 3&up, 6F

Thursday, Nov. 28

Churchill: Grade II, $150,000 Falls City, Hcp., 3&up, 1 1/8 M
Aqueduct: Grade III, $100,000 Fall Highweight Hcp., 3&up, 6F
Hollywood: Grade III, $100,000 Vernon Underwood Stakes, 3&up, 6F
Fair Grounds: $100,000 Thanksgiving Handicap, 3&up, 6F

Friday, Nov. 29

Churchill: Grade I, $500,000 Clark Handicap, 3&up, 1 1/8 M
Aqueduct: Grade II, $250,000 Go For Wand Handicap, 3&up, F&M, 1M
Hollywood: Grade II, $250,000 Citation Handicap, 3&up, 1 1/16 M (T)

Saturday, Nov. 30

Aqueduct: Grade I, $400,000 Cigar Mile, 3&up, 1 M
Aqueduct: Grade I, $350,000 Gazelle, 3yo fillies, 1 1/8 M
Aqueduct: Grade II, $250,000 Remsen Stakes, 2yo, 1 1/8 M
Aqueduct: Grade II, $250,000 Demoiselle Stakes, 2yo, 1 1/8 M
Aqueduct: Grade III, $200,000 Comely Stakes, 3yo Filles, 1 mile
Churchill: Grade II, $175,000 Kentucky Jockey Club, 2yo
Churchill: Grade II, $175,000 Golden Rod, 2yo fillies, 1 1/16 miles
Hawthorne: Grade II, $350,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup, 3&up, 1 1/4 miles
Hollywood: Grade III, $100,000 Miesque Stakes, 2yo f, 1 M (T)
Hollywood: Grade III, $100,000 Generous Stakes, 2yo, 1 M (T)

Sunday, Dec. 1

Hollywood: Grade I, $250,000 Hollywood Derby, 3yo, 1 1/4 M (T)
Hollywood: Grade I, $250,000 Matriarch Stakes, F&M, 1 M (T)

The Aqueduct and Churchill Downs Fall meets are both in the midst of good seasons and both offer horseplayers great options during the month of November. Both Aqueduct and Churchill Downs offer high-quality traditional dirt track racing that are ideal for the handicapper who is tired of the constant curveballs thrown at them by synthetic racetracks. Yep, there is great betting action still going on at this time of year, and the icing on the cake will be taking place over the long holiday weekend.

When playing Churchill Downs, keep in mind that unlike The Big A, Churchill Downs’ main track is susceptible to major day-to-day biases. These biases must be noted by handicappers, because at this current meet and for the past several meets, Churchill Downs has featured a main track that played highly favorable to outside posts and trips.

In short, the rail has been dead as a doornail at Churchill Downs since the 2010 fall meet. The rail and inside posts and paths are disadvantages that give outside runners on the main track a strong edge. Now that we are already almost through with the 2013 Churchill Fall meet, it has already become clear that the rail and inside remain dead. Outside bias is back again this fall. Clearly, the anti-inside bias is present, and constantly affecting the results at Churchill.

There have also been some good trends for handicappers to take note of at the current Aqueduct Fall Meet. Here is a more detailed look at some factors that could help you win at The Big A.


The Aqueduct main track fall meet is one of the most overlooked, and underrated race meets on the annual New York racing calendar, and the current Aqueduct fall meet, which is now in full stride, 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. One great thing for horseplayers to keep in mind is that Aqueduct’s main track is among the fairest racing surfaces in all or North American racing. There is usually (but not always) very little track bias, and very little advantage can be gleaned by any one post position or running style versus any other. This certainly has been the case again so far this season with very few strong biases affecting the main track at Aqueduct so far this meet.

As mentioned 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 several stakes outlined above, plus a lot of other good races.

When it comes to day-to-day racing on the Aqueduct main track, the rail (Post 1) and inside posts in general have a great reputation in dirt routes and a bad reputation in sprints, but recent statistics from fall meets fails to back up those beliefs. All posts, including the rail, appear to be fair in one-turn miles, and if anything, the rail seems to be better at one-mile (one turn) than it is in other two-turn routes.

On the flip side, you would think that inside posts would be good in main track two-turn routes and that outside posts would be a disadvantage, but that is not always the case. As far as this current Aqueduct Fall Meet is concerned, there has been almost zero two-turn racing conducted at this meet and those trends are impossible to decipher.

Here is a list of track biases noted so far at the current Aqueduct meet. Keep on the lookout for horses coming back next time out of races on the following days who may have been either positively or negatively affected by the bias.

Aqueduct Main Track Biases

(Fall Meet, Nov. 1 – Nov. 17)
Nov. 17 – Outside advantage
Nov. 13 – Good rail
Nov. 10 – Outside preferred
Nov. 9 – Helped to be on or close to the pace
Nov. 8 – Helped to be on or close to the pace

The primary main track bias to rear its ugly head so far at the Aqueduct Fall Meet was noted on Wednesday, November 13, when the track had a strong preference for the rail path and inside trips. Conversely, the outside was the best place to be on both November 10 and November 17. Keep an eye out for horses exiting races on those days, and either upgrade or downgrade the chances of horses that were positively or negatively affected by those biases, as well as the horses that were either positively or negatively affected by the front-end biases on Nov. 8-9.

Whether you will be concentrating on Aqueduct, or Churchill, or Hollywood Park, or all three tracks, you will be in store for some great horseracing and wagering action over the Thanksgiving weekend. It is fall racing’s last hurrah, so don’t miss it. Best of luck, and have a happy Thanksgiving!


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