Saratoga's Early Trends

SARATOGA'S EARLY TRAINER AND POST TRENDS

By Noel Michaels - OTBLearningLabs.com

There are only two weeks in the books so far at the 2012 Saratoga meet, but the season has already gotten off to an exciting start. The quality of racing and wagering has been very lofty so far thanks to large field sizes, big payoffs, and competitive races for all ages and at all class levels. The second week of the meet featured the first variable weather of the season with a couple rain showers leading to a wet track or two and a few races off the turf. Still, with the racing continuing fast and furious six days a week Wednesday thru Monday, several trends have started to take shape in the first 10 days of racing that could help handicappers survive and thrive through the rest of the first half of the Saratoga meet.

One of the big stories early in the 2012 Saratoga meet was the slow start of defending Spa training champion Todd Pletcher, who began the season with 1-for-22 start (5% wins). After burning money faster than anyone at Saratoga during week 1, with just one winner coming with a favorite in a 2-year-old maiden race and a 0-for-8 record on the grass, Pletcher has finally begun to heat-up as expected. He is not yet leading in the trainer's standings and has not quite yet raised his winning percentage the to level of his standards, Pletcher has not gotten rolling with 5 wins in week 2 of the meet raising his overall total early in the meet to 6 wins from 38 starters for a respectable 16% wins. Pletcher's numbers, which include 3 dirt wins and 3 turf wins, should be expected to continue to rise for the rest of the meet until he hits his usual 25% win percentage with 30+ winners.

The slow start for Todd Pletcher also meant a slow start to the meet for Javier Castellano, who was riding first-call for Pletcher at Saratoga due to the absence of Pletcher's traditional No. 1 rider, John Velazquez, who has since returned from his shoulder injury that sidelined him for the last month of the Belmont meet and for the first week at Saratoga. Since returning, Pletcher has certainly helped Velazquez, and Velazquez has helped Pletcher. The jockey/trainer combo wins about 30% of their races at Saratoga, and they should be able to continue to do so now with Velazquez returning to optimal form and gaining back his No. 1 status with Pletcher.

John Velazquez won with 3 of his first 13 mounts for 23% wins in his first week back in action and is already creeping up into the top 10 in the jockey standings. Ramon Dominguez continues to dominate The Spa's very strong and deep jockey colony with 21 wins from 73 mounts for 29% wins and a 10-win advantage on the second-leading rider so far, Jose Lezcano. Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario, and the up-and-coming Junior Alvarado are all tied for third with 8 wins each through the end of July.

As the Saratoga meet heads into August, the trainer to watch continues to be July's leading trainer Chad Brown, who scored 8 victories at the Spa in July to top the early trainer's standings over Pletcher. Chad Brown, a former assistant to the late Bobby Frankel, annually gears up his stable for the Saratoga meet and has certainly been no surprise with his high wining percentage thus far after coming off tremendous Saratoga meets in both of the last two years in 2010 and 2011. Based on what we've seen so far, 2012 will be Brown's third giant season in a row at The Spa.

Chad Brown usually uses the top riders at Saratoga with Dominguez, Castellano and Lezcano getting the lion's share of the mounts. In particular, the jockey trainer combinations with Brown alongside Dominguez and Lezcano are ones to watch. Dating back to last season at Saratoga, the Brown/Dominguez combo has gone 12-for-29 for a huge 41% win percentage, while the Brown/Lezcano combo has gone 5-for-9 for an ever bigger 44% win percentage.

When is the best time to zero-in on betting Chad Brown horses? Well so far at the 2012 Saratoga meet, Brown has gone 4-for-7 in allowance races. He owns 5 turf wins, and has finished in-the-money with 71% of his starters in route races.

Here are the Saratoga trainer standings from July 20 through July 30:

SARATOGA LEADING TRAINERS

Jockey

Starters

Wins

Win%

ITM%

C. Brown

27

8

30%

67%

T. Pletcher

38

6

16%

55%

S. Asmussen

22

5

23%

55%

G. Weaver

19

5

26%

42%

R. Rodriguez

19

3

16%

47%

W. Mott

24

3

13%

38%

A. Dutrow

10

3

30%

60%

Behind Pletcher and Chad Brown, the big stories in terms of the Saratoga trainers early in the 2012 meet have included many hot-and-cold starts to the meet by many key conditioners.

Slow-Starting Spa Trainers in 2012

Among the cold trainers early in the 2012 Spa meet include some surprises like, most notably, Richard Dutrow. Granted, Dutrow rarely does his best work of the year up at Saratoga, but his 1-for-15 (7% wins) start to the meet is slow even for him. At least he has been nibbling away in the place and show spots quite a bit, with a total of 8 in-the-money finishes for 53% ITM. Gary Contessa is hitting only just about 10% (2-for-19), but that is to be expected for Contessa, who usually wins at near the 10 percent mark at The Spa. Bill Mott also hasn't gotten off to the best start, going just 3-for-24 to begin the meet. That's only 13% wins. Mark Casse, dangerous from the Woodbine circuit, is winless with his first 7 runners, David Jacobson, at or near the top in the Aqueduct and Belmont standings, is not near the top at Saratoga with a 1-for-15 record (7% wins) to begin, and Ken McPeek really hasn't gotten on track yet with a record of only 1-for-7.

Linda Rice has gotten off to a shockingly slow start with a record of just 1-for-15 (7% wins) and only 3 in-the-money finishes. This is in spite of the fact that there are so many of her wheelhouse turf sprint races carded up at Saratoga each week.

Like his fellow Kentucky-based trainers, Dale Romans is having a forgettable meet so far with a record of just 1-for-18 (6% wins). Previously, I warned against putting too many hopes behind the Kentucky trainers, as a whole, at Saratoga. This is because the drug restrictions are so much tougher in New York than they are in Kentucky. Because of this, Kentucky-based horses often have a difficult time performing up to their good recent Churchill form when they hit the ground at Saratoga. To that end, while you can consider Wesley Ward more of a national trainer than strictly a Kentucky one, it is still only semi-surprising that his barn is off to only a 1-for-20 start to the Saratoga meet for just 5% winners. At least Ward has been in the money with a respectable 9-for-20 so far for 45% ITM.

Aside from Mark Casse, the "Duck" alert has been sounded for some others with whom the pressure is starting to build to win a race. Mike Maker leads (or trails, depending on how you look at it) what has been a generally cold Kentucky contingent with a 0-for-15 record so far, and is only 3-for-15 in the money for just 20% ITM. Graham Motion has been in-the-money with 4 horses already, but he too is still looking for his first winner with a 0-for-9 tally so far. Nick Zito, having a quiet year, has started 0-for-14.

Other "Duck" candidates (no wins) include some trainers who surprisingly have barely gotten out of the starting blocks so far, like Barclay Tagg and Seth Benzel, who each started just two runners during the first 10 days of the meet.

Hot-Starting Saratoga Trainers in 2012

Steve Asmussen has been hot-and-cold in recent years up at Saratoga, but 2012 definitely already qualifies as a hot year. Asmussen is 5-for-22 (23% wins), and has finished in the exacta with 50% of his 22 horses so far. Asmussen has won only 1 of his textbook 2-year-old races so far (1-for-8), so as hot as he's been, he's a candidate to only get hotter as the meet progresses if his juveniles can get on a roll.

Another trainer with a blazing hot start is George Weaver with a 5-for-19 record for 26% winners. Weaver, who is usually dangerous on the grass and in routes, has already won 3 dirt races, which is a good indication that his barn is doing well and very dangerous at present.

Also in the "hot" category is Tony Dutrow, who owns 3 wins with his first 10 starters (30% wins). He's been in the money with 6-of-10, and in the exacta 50 percent of the time, including 2 wins with his first 4 turf starters. Dutrow is also 5-for-10 (50% wins) dating back to last year with his trainer/jockey combination along with Ramon Dominguez.

Bucking the trend of slow-starting Kentucky trainers so far has been Eddie Kenneally, with a record of 2-for-11 (18% wins) including 6-for-11 in-the-money for 55% ITM, and Al Stahl, with 2 wins with his first 5 runners at the meet.

Rudy Rodriguez can usually be counted on to be dangerous at any time of the year in New York, and this Saratoga meet has been no exception. Rodriguez has a respectable 3-for-19 win record (16% winners), but has been even better than that when place finishers are added into the equation. Rudy has finished in the exacta with 8 of his first 19 starters at The Spa for 42% in-the-exacta.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention a trainer I have been high on all year long after strong meets this year at Gulfstream, Belmont, and Monmouth. Jason Servis is set to have a breakout Saratoga meet in 2012 in my opinion, and he has not disappointed so far with a record of 2 wins and a place in his first 5 starts for 60% in-the-exacta.

Post Position Stats and Trends

On the grass, the rail and the inside posts have been predictably bad so far in turf sprints to start the meet, with a combined record of just 1 win from 26 starters (the "death rail" surprisingly already has yielded a winner, however, matching the win total from all of 2011). Post 2 has been equally deadly with a record of 0-for-13 so far. The bad inside stats are no shock on the turf in sprints, but the surprising news on the turf so far is that the inside posts have been bad in routes as well, especially on the Mellon (outer) turf where the inside posts 1 and 2 are only a combined 1-for-22 to start the meet with the rail post yielding just one winner and the No. 2 post going 0-for-11. The inside posts are predictably a little better on the Inner turf course, but the rail post nevertheless has not been great with a record of only 2-for-22 so far.

Saratoga Turf Post Position Stats
(July 20 - July 30)

Turf Sprints

Mellon Routes

Inner Routes

Post

Wins-Starts

%

Wins-Starts

%

Wins-Starts

%

1

1-13

8%

1-11

9%

2-22

9%

2

0-13

0%

0-11

0%

4-22

18%

3

1-13

8%

2-11

18%

2-22

9%

4

2-13

15%

4-11

36%

3-22

14%

5

4-13

31%

1-11

9%

3-22

14%

6

1-13

8%

0-11

0%

1-22

5%

7

2-13

15%

0-11

0%

2-20

10%

8

1-12

8%

1-11

9%

2-19

11%

9

1-7

14%

1-10

10%

1-16

6%

10-12

0-14

0%

1-20

5%

2-15

13%

On the main track, the inside posts have not been dominant so far, but the best post position trend so far has been in the dirt routes, where the outside posts have been very bad so far. Horses breaking from posts 8 and outward are 0-for-11 through the first 10 days of the 2012 Saratoga meet. All other posts 1-7 have yielded winners with no strong bias either toward the inside or the outside.

In dirt sprints at Saratoga through July 30, horses have managed to win from all parts of the starting gate, including the far outside where horses drawing 10 and out have won a total of 3 races including 2 wins from post 12. The inside posts have done well, too, but there has been no discernable favoritism overall for the rail or other inside gates.

Saratoga Dirt Post Position Stats
(July 20 - July 30)

Dirt Sprints

Dirt Routes

Post Wins-Starts % Wins-Starts %
1 3-41 7% 2-14 14%
2 5-41 12% 2-14 14%
3 5-41 12% 1-14 14%
4 4-41 10% 1-14 14%
5 6-41 15% 2-14 14%
6 6-38 16% 2-13 15%
7 3-34 9% 4-10 40%
8 3-23 13% 0-6 0%
9 3-14 21% 0-3 0%
10 1-9 11% 0-1 0%
11 0-6 0% 0-1 0%
12 2-3 67%
13-14 0-3 0%

The 2012 Saratoga meet is off to an amazing start. Continue to keep an eye out for developing trainer and post position trends. When you notice these kinds of trends and are able to spot them sooner than the general public, you are on your way to cashing-in on some valuable information that could help you stay ahead of the other bettors in the line to cash tickets at the mutuels. Good luck at Saratoga, and please continue to enjoy the year's best racing at the country's premier racetrack.

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