Belmont Fall Meet Preview

BELMONT FALL MEET PREVIEW - USE SPA BIAS INFO TO WIN BIG

By Noel Michaels - OTBLearning Labs.com

There are few race meets as important as the Belmont fall meet, which follows Saratoga and contains all of New York's key prep races for the Breeders' Cup. Besides just stakes races, Belmont also offers top notch racing day-in-and-day-out throughout the season. Every serious horseplayer plays Belmont races at this time of year, so it will pay large and quick dividends for horseplayers that pay close attention to what's going on in order to keep up with the handicapping trends that will prevail at the Belmont meet this fall.

This year more than ever, I see an excellent opportunity for horseplayers to realize big returns at Belmont Park thanks to one major handicapping factor - the giant track biases that affected the race results on dirt for most of the days of the recently concluded Saratoga meet.  Read onward below for how to cash-in, and for my exclusive list of track bias information from the 2012 Saratoga meet.

The Saratoga meet has come and gone and taken summer racing along with it, much to the chagrin of racing fans and handicappers who relished the full fields and excellent wagering opportunities that the Spa is known for.  Thankfully for horseplayers, however, there are only a few days to lament the close of Saratoga and no sooner is it time for the next big meet to begin, the Belmont Park Fall Championship Meet. Belmont begins its eight-week run starting on Saturday, Sept. 8 and continues thru fall to Sunday, October 28 as Thoroughbred racing marches steadily onward toward the Breeders' Cup World Championships at Santa Anita at the start of November.

The recently concluded Saratoga meet was just as high-quality as ever and we all will be hoping for a Belmont fall meet featuring a similar program of stakes races, turf races, and the best juvenile racing at this time of year. The field sizes at Belmont can be expected to be somewhat smaller than they were at Saratoga, but Belmont still will have plenty to offer horseplayers, especially when weather conditions permit the full array of turf racing.

Racing at Belmont is five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays, with only one small schedule change planned for Columbus Day, Monday October 11.  Some of the biggest days of the meet will be Breeders' Cup Preview Day on Saturday, Sept. 29 featuring the runnings of FIVE Grade 1's including the Jockey Club Gold Cup (prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic), the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (prep for the Turf), the Flower Bowl (Filly & Mare Turf), the Beldame (Ladies Classic), and the Vosburgh (Sprint), plus the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap (Dirt Mile).  Another big Saturday is then set for October 6, with three Grade 1's including the Champagne Stakes (Juvenile) and Frizette (Juvenile Fillies) for 2-year-olds, and the Jamaica Stakes (Mile) for 3-year-old turfers.

As always, one important thing to remember and keep in mind at this time of year in New York racing is just how dramatically different Belmont Park is from Saratoga.  At Belmont, the route races return to being one-turn events, and 1 mile and 1 1/16-mile route races re-enter the picture on the dirt (distances not run on dirt at Saratoga). Usually, a horse's two-turn record, especially in mile races, is irrelevant for the purposes of evaluating Belmont's one-turn routes. When handicapping those races, scan the pp's for horses' past performances in one-turn routes and ignore other mile results run at two-turn layouts such as at Saratoga, Monmouth, and elsewhere.

TRAINER TRENDS

Trainers are an important handicapping factor at this Belmont meet even more so than usual.  When it comes to trainers trends, you always want to keep on the lookout for at least two categories: 1) Who are the hot trainers? And; 2) Who are the trainers who have already fired all their best bullets at Saratoga and will inevitably go cold at this Belmont meet?  Correctly differentiating trainers in both of those categories and staying ahead of the public's learning curve annually are amongst the strongest keys to winning for handicappers at the Belmont Fall meet.

Here is the list of top trainers from the recently concluded 2012 Saratoga meet:

Top Trainers - Saratoga 2012

Trainer Wins Win% ITM%
Todd Pletcher 36 24% 47%
Chad Brown 29 30% 66%
Steve Asmussen 12 17% 47%
Bill Mott 11 12% 51%
George Weaver 11 19% 36%
Bruce Levine 11 23% 54%
Anthony Dutrow 11 28% 54%
Rudy Rodriguez 10 15% 46%

Based on the chart of top trainers at the most recent Saratoga meet, it is safe to assume that Todd Pletcher will once again dominate the 2012 Belmont Fall meet.  Pletcher is coming off another of the most dominant Saratoga training meets again this year after a nearly identically strong Saratoga last year, and his stable reloads no matter how fast he shoots his bullets, especially in turf races and 2-year-old races.

Linda Rice, notably, had a slow Saratoga meet again this year with few wins and a low win percentage - even in the turf sprint category that she usually dominates.  Her barn may be due to rebound at the upcoming Belmont Fall meet. This is especially true in the turf sprints, where her horses may be less heavily bet than usual. The Belmont fall meet is traditionally a slow meet for Rice when she does well at Saratoga, but she could do better here after a quiet summer at Saratoga like she had this season.

One trainer who it is currently very difficult to try to cut against the grain with is Chad Brown, who is coming off a giant Saratoga meet in which he won 29 races at a 30% clip, with 66% in-the-money (this follows Brown's breakout Saratoga meet in 2010 with 17 winners, and Brown's 22 wins and an impressive 30% win percentage in 2011.  He was especially dominant at Saratoga on the grass, and even though his horses have blown through a lot of conditions lately, it still may be worth trying to ride the hot hand and back Chad Brown's horses strongly at Belmont.

Otherwise, generally speaking, it is usually a good idea to start betting against trainers who made a lot of noise at Saratoga once they return to the Belmont fall meet, because many trainers' winning percentages inevitably will go down now at Belmont after winning a lot of races and exhausting a lot of their conditions at Saratoga.  This gives you a good chance to try to buck a lot of chalk on the tote board while trying to look elsewhere for the new "hot hand." This strategy, however, will be difficult this fall in Chad Brown's case, since his horses have been consistently running well race after race, horse after horse.

Other trainers who won 10 or more races at the recently concluded Saratoga meet include Bill Mott, George Weaver, Steve Asmussen, Bruce Levine, and even Rudy Rodriguez, who did well at the Spa in 2012, but not nearly as well as in 2011.  That fact bodes extremely well for Rodriguez's stable at the Belmont Fall meet, since there are many more and easier spots for him to run his horses in downstate, and he didn't blow all his conditions like he did last year at The Spa.  I also would expect Bill Mott to continue to do very well with his turf-centric stable in Belmont's grass races this fall.

My top choices for trainers to bet at the Belmont Fall meet will be Christophe Clement and Kiaran McLaughlin, who each did okay at Saratoga but nevertheless were much quieter than usual upstate this summer. Both trainers won eight races up at Saratoga with just about the same amount of starters (50 starters for Clement, 49 for McLaughlin). While those number would be considered very good for most of the conditioners on the backstretch, they must be considered modest by both Clement's and McLaughlin's standards. Therefore, I have to expect that both of those barns are loaded with ready-to-win horses now heading into the Belmont meet, and both should win a ton of races.

Gary Contessa, (number nine in the 2012 Saratoga trainer standings with 9 wins) and Bruce Levine are a pair of trainers who annually win their share of races at Belmont no matter what their performances were at Saratoga. Both guys routinely drop out of the top of the trainer standings at Saratoga but should immediately begin to re-rise in the standings at Belmont, which has a lot more spots for them to run the majority of their claiming stock in than does Saratoga.  Both did better than usual at Saratoga this year, perhaps indicating that their stables are both performing especially well at present.

TRACK BIASES

On the Belmont dirt track, speed is an extremely handy commodity. Sure, late runners will have every opportunity to close at Belmont with its wide sweeping turns and long stretch, but you always must be wary of the times when Belmont's main track bias kicks into effect and strongly favors the front runners regardless. When those biases appear, they can stay in place for up to a week at time when the weather goes through a stretch without changing.  Otherwise, always assume the prevailing main track bias at Belmont, favoring speed horses and horses able to stay within 2 1/2 lengths of the early pace in sprints and within 4 lengths of the early pace in routes.

Most of the horses running at the Belmont fall meet will be exiting races at Saratoga for one or more of their most-recent outings. This is important, because it will give handicappers a great chance to cash-in on overlays and overlooked horses based on the heavily-biased nature of the 2012 Saratoga meet, which concluded on Sept. 3.  For much of the Saratoga meet, the main track favored outside posts and featured a slow rail when dry, and severely favored speed when wet.

More so than any time in recent memory, the results, charts, and running lines from the recently concluded Saratoga meet will play a giant role in picking winners and losers at Belmont, especially during the first month of the meet.  This is because the Saratoga meet was affected by more serious track bias days than usual this season, and those biases, either positive or negative, will often disguise a horse's true recent and current form in the races they ran at The Spa.

For example, a Saratoga winner might look nearly unbeatable based on a recent win upstate, but that when that win turns out to have been bias-aided, that horse is likely to be a giant underlay and in fact very beatable at Belmont. Conversely, a horse that has a seemingly dreadful or disappointing loss in its last race at Saratoga might just have been hurt by running against a strong bias, and thus be better than he or she actually looks and actually a live overlay on the tote board at Belmont.

See the chart below for the list of main track biases I compiled at the recently concluded Saratoga meet. This information will be invaluable throughout at least the first month of action at Belmont:

Noel Michaels' exclusive Saratoga Daily Main Track Bias List - 2012

Sept. 3 - Strong outside bias; helped to be on or close
Sept. 2 - Outside preferred
Sept. 1 - Strong outside bias
Aug. 31 - Outside bias
Aug. 30 - Outside bias
Aug. 29 - Outside bias
Aug. 28 - Outside bias
Aug. 26 - Outside good
Aug. 25 - Outside bias
Aug. 20 - Outside good
Aug. 19 - Helped to be on or close to the pace
Aug. 18 - Had to be outside and on or close to the pace
Aug. 17 - Helped to be outside and on or close to the pace
Aug. 12 - Strong speed bias; outside good
Aug. 11 - Strong speed bias
Aug. 10 - Strong speed bias
Aug. 9 - Outside bias
Aug. 8 - Outside bias
Aug. 5 - Outside bias
Aug. 4 - Helped to be outside and on or close to the pace
Aug. 3 - Outside bias
July 30 - Outside bias, speed died inside on "fast" but drying track
July 29 - Slow rail, outside bias on drying-out track
July 28 - Speed bias after rain/mud/slop/sealed races 6-11
July 27 - Strong outside rally wide bias on sloppy sealed track
July 26 - Had to be on or close
July 25 - Outside bias
July 23 - Outside bias; rained before Race 6 so track was "fast" but wet
July 22 - Outside preferred
July 21 - Outside preferred
July 20 - Speed good

As the track bias list clearly shows, several track biases had a big impact on the results from Saratoga for many days of the 2012 meet.  Horses with outside trips who avoided the rail had a big advantage for most of the first two weeks and last two weeks of the meet under mostly dry racing conditions.  Rains in the middle part of the meet - especially from Aug. 10 thru Aug. 19 - gave a significant and distinct advantage to speed horses able to stay on or close to the pace.

When betting horses at Belmont who are exiting races on any of the above-listed bias days at Saratoga, I recommend upgrading horses that are coming out of losses in against-the-bias efforts, while at the same time downgrading horses coming out of wins in efforts that may have been aided by running with the biases listed above.

I hope these tips and trends give you an edge at the betting windows for a successful 2012 Belmont Fall Championship meet.  Best of luck!

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