NY Circuit Moves To Aqueduct's Bettable Inner Track


The winter racing season in New York officially begins with the opening of the Aqueduct inner track on Wednesday, November 30. Even though winter racing is the most low-profile time of the year on the New York racing calendar, there is still much for horseplayers to anticipate during the long cold winter months in the Big Apple.  Stakes racing and turf racing might not be a big part of the New York racing scene at this time of the year, but that doesn't mean there is not a lot of bettable action for bettors and handicappers who consider Aqueduct's inner track meet to be the meat-and-potatoes money-making and bet-cashing meet for avid horseplayers and handicappers.

Some people love to bet the inner track while others can't stand it, but even if you don't like it, you'd at least better get used to it because there are 84 scheduled days of racing over the Big A inner track now through March 31, 2012.

Last year's Aqueduct season wasn't pretty. You might remember that Aqueduct suffered from small fields and a nearly race-by-race dose of heavy favorites all season long when racing was last conducted on the inner track.  Things figure to improve this season, however, thanks to the long-awaited opening of the Aqueduct racino, which has already accounted for a 36% raise in purses for the current race meet.  All that extra money will help ensure more horses and horsemen will be spending the winter at Aqueduct, thereby ensuring bigger fields and better betting opportunities.  In this regard there is plenty of reason for optimism. There will be 15%-20% more horses stabled locally this year than last year.

Even if you are the type of winter horseplayer who prefers to play the "big winter meets" opening in warm weather locales at this time of year, there is no denying that the Aqueduct inner track is where it's at for winter racing horseplayers, especially during much of the otherwise sparse month of December in the world of horseracing.


Winter racing in New York is essentially a scaled-down but yet very bettable version of NYRA's five-day-a-week racing schedule without all the bells and whistles of graded stakes and turf racing. The race cards will now become dirt-only affairs, of course, as turf racing migrates south and west for the winter, so what we're left with are the Aqueduct inner track's dirt sprints, which are all at one mile, and two-turn route racing mostly conducted at 1 mile and 70 yards, and 1 1/16-miles with some occasional one-mile and 1 1/8-mile races sprinkled in to make things a little more interesting.

Why are most of the two-turn route races on the Aqueduct inner track run at 1 mile and 70 yards and 1 1/16 miles instead of at a flat mile, you ask?  The answer is because the turns on the inner track are tight, and the route races here all feature a relatively short run to the first turn.  This is especially true at the distance of one mile, which features a very short run up into the first turn, and therefore has the biggest disadvantage for horses drawn in outside posts.

As far as post positions are concerned, the inside posts have been beneficial for the most part, but still not as dominant recently as in many years past, especially in two-turn route races and miles where the three inside posts often dominated.

At last year's 2010-11 Aqueduct inner track meet, the inside four posts 1-4 were still the best, but posts 5-6 weren't bad either, and horses as far out as post 8 even managed to win at a high percentage (post 8 was at around 15%, for example), which made it one of the best posts last winter in Aqueduct inner track routes. What this means more than anything is that you just can't dismiss an outside horse's chances just because of its post position like you could in the old days of the Big A inner track.

Interestingly, the inside posts were slightly more beneficial in sprints than in routes last season on the inner track. All Aqueduct inner track sprints are run at 5 ½ and mostly 6 furlongs, and in these races it was the inside two posts 1-2 that were the best places to break from last year with win percentages of 16% and 18%, respectively.  Nevertheless, outside of posts 1-2, all other posts were fair all the way outward to post 12, with little difference observed in a horse's chances of winning given any post from 3 through 12.  Therefore, if you notice an inside slant on the tote board toward horses closer to the rail, then alert handicapper should be looking for value odds horses on the outside half of the starting gate.

Just when things begin moving along fast and furious at the Aqueduct inner track meet, the track will take a 9-day holiday break after racing concludes on Sunday, December 18.  Racing will then resume its normal Wednesday thru Sunday weekly schedule through the rest of the winter - not including holiday Mondays for President's Day and MLK Day in January and February.

Aqueduct's remaining 2011 racing schedule is, as follows:

Upcoming Aqueduct Racing Schedule
Nov. 30                       - Opening Day, inner track season.
Nov. 30-Dec. 18        - Open daily, Wednesday thru Sunday, first post, 12:20 pm.
Dec. 19-27                  - Aqueduct closed for holiday break - no racing,
Dec. 28                        - Aqueduct re-opens, Wednesday thru Sunday schedule resumes.



The other main thing to understand and try to capitalize on when handicapping the inner track meet is that the inner track is much more speed friendly than Aqueduct's main track, which encompasses nearly all of the most recent races in local horse's past performances.  If you are going to be able enjoy any kind of success betting the inner track, you must learn to acknowledge the increased success of speed - and particularly inside speed - as opposed to the racing on Aqueduct's main track. Do yourself a favor and upgrade early speed horses while slightly downgrading the closers, especially if there doesn't figure to be a contentious pace.

Early speed is king on the Aqueduct inner track, and speed and the rail is a deadly combination. Upgrade early speed horses and make good use of the lone speed angle, while at the same time downgrading deep closers in all but the most contentious pace scenarios.

The three- and four-wide trips that win other times of the year in New York don't win nearly as often once NYRA racing shifts to the Aqueduct inner track. In routes, the short run to the first turn makes ground-saving trips invaluable and puts the pressure on the riders of the outermost horses in big fields to somehow work out ground-saving trips. Outside posts can indeed win, but the horses from those gates generally need good "inside-out" trips and rides, meaning that they should save ground early before swinging out leaving the turn and rallying into the stretch from not too far behind.

One way to make money on Aqueduct's inner track, especially early in the meet, is to capitalize on the many differences between main track racing and inner track racing at Aqueduct. Many of the races that had been run around one turn at Belmont and on Aqueduct's main track will now be run around two turns, so scan down horses' pp's and find the ones that should benefit from the extra turn.  Horses with two-turn route wins are preferred over one-turn mile winners and horses who've benefited from the one-turn route racing at Belmont.

Another aspect of looking for two-turn horses is the importance of finding horses for the course, that thrive specifically on Aqueduct's inner track. Certain horses love Aqueduct's inner-track surface while others can't stand it, and many veteran horses have compiled great long-term records over the inner oval which makes them very attractive bets, sometimes at long odds if those horses have poor recent form earned on other race surfaces.

Sometimes horses will ship out of town to Philadelphia Park, Finger Lakes, New Jersey, and the Mid-Atlantic region for the rest of the year, but their connections will ship them back to Aqueduct for the inner-track meet if they've proven to have an affinity for the inner track surface in the past. These horses can often be terrific bets, especially when they are trained by top conditioners such as Bruce Levine and Anthony Dutrow.

With the transition from main track racing to inner-track racing at Aqueduct, a lot of variety is lost with the wintertime demise of the middle sprint distances of 6 1/2 furlongs and 7 furlongs. The inner track configuration prohibits these distances from being run this time of year. However, aside from the monotony that handicappers must face by looking only at sprint races all being run at the same distance of 6 furlongs over-and-over, this not-so-subtle difference is nevertheless a major factor for handicappers to use to their best advantage.

Many of the sprint horses whose connections stick around New York for the winter have horses that prefer 6 1/2 and/or 7 furlongs. However, those horses must be shoe-horned into 6 furlong races whether they like it or not (or else stretched out around two turns, which is even less preferable). The fact that a lot of horses will spend the whole winter at Aqueduct racing at a distance that is not their favorite is an important handicapping factor that should not be overlooked.  Therefore, scan down horses' past performances and try to find the ones that would rather be entered at better 6 1/2 of 7 furlong races, but have had to be either shortened up to 6 furlongs or stretched out to two-turn races instead. When you find these horses, bet against them whenever possible.

Also remember that this six-furlong factor is yet another thing that results in speed horses performing very well on the Aqueduct inner track. Many late-running sprinters that could rally to win a 6 1/2- or 7-furlong race will now be having their rallies fall short because they are forced to sprint 6 furlongs at a distance that just isn't long enough to aid their late-running chances.



Plenty of Aqueduct trainers had solid and successful seasons last winter, with many winning at high percentages and posting strong ROIs, but there still was nobody around who had the firepower in their stable to compete with Aqueduct 2010-11 inner track leading trainer Todd Pletcher, who ran away atop the trainer standings - not only just winning a lot of races, but also winning at a high-percentage near 30%.  Even though his first string of horses will ship to Florida and turf racing in New York is about to end for the winter, Pletcher is still the top dog in New York and his runners always must be respected accordingly.

There will be a Florida exodus of trainers just like there is for jockeys following the holidays, and many of the top training names will be absent all or in part on the inner track. The top names in the trainer standing taking their places atop the Aqueduct inner track winners list will include familiar New York names such as Gary Contessa, Richard Dutrow, Bruce Levine, Bruce Brown, and of course, Rudy Rodriguez.

Counteracting the southbound exodus of horses this season at Aqueduct - thanks to the added purses - will be a better-than-usual influx of horses and trainers that will be active on the inner track.  Higher purses have enticed trainers such as Dale Romans, Eddie Kenneally, Ken McPeek, Jamie Ness, and Eric Reed among others, to race winter strings of horses in NY to help spice up this inner track meet.

On the tote board at Aqueduct on the inner track, the story often revolves around trainers like Rudy Rodriguez, and Chris Englehart, whose runners will all see heavy action pretty much whenever they are entered.  Rodriguez and Englehart were second and third in the trainer standings throughout most of last year's inner track meet, and the same will probably be true this season.

Rodriguez's and Englehart's expected high win percentages may or may not be enough to boost them up into positive ROI territory for handicappers.  Other guys who may burn a lot of money in terms of ROIs, based on last year's inner track numbers, include Gary Contessa (only a 12% inner track winner last year), and Bruce Levine, who had a low ROI here last season in spite of 17% wins. Bet Levine with first-time Lasix (the "Bruce Juice"), but we advise laying off his horses at other times.

Perhaps you should also steer clear of betting guys who had horrific inner track meets last season until you see evidence of a turnaround. This group includes Frank Martin (1 for his first 60 last season), Bobby Barbara (0 for his first 21 last season), and Daniel Conway (1 for his first 22).  Also keep in mind that Linda Rice has been a major factor at this meet in recent winters, however, her barn has been dead since halfway through the Saratoga meet and it's difficult to recommend her runners off of such a lengthy cold snap for the barn.

When listing the live trainers to bet besides Pletcher, Rodriguez, and Englehart, the list starts with Richard Dutrow, who will win at a very high percentage, particularly off recent claims. Kiaran McLaughlin will have a very good string of horses racing locally again this winter and figures to be high in the standings. Also, David Jacobson, is likely to rev-up his active claiming game at this time of year, compiling a lot of winners with his typical claim-and-drop class maneuvers.

Other trainers will be at Aqueduct with highly bettable winter strings will include James Jerkens, Rick Violette, Mike Hushion, and Tony Dutrow.

Low-profile trainers to keep on your radar in NY at this time of year include H. James Bond, who quietly amassed a huge win percentage at this meet last season. Diane Balsamo also quietly won at a big percentage last year with fewer horses, as did James Hooper, with just a few horses stabled here last season. Finally, Joseph Lostrito, won with 5 of his first 21 Aqueduct inner track starters in 2010-11 despite often being overlooked in the wagering.

Good luck during the Aqueduct inner track meet, and enjoy the next four months of winter racing in New York.  Remember, just because many of the top horses and horsemen will be spending their winters out of town, that doesn't mean there aren't still bets to be cashed in New York at this time of year.  By following some of the trends, angles, and advice in this article, you can make your winter a winning one on the Aqueduct inner track.  Enjoy!

By Noel Michaels - OTB Learning Labs


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