Winter Handicapping Update

WINTER HANDICAPPING UPDATE: All Eyes on Five Top Tracks

By Noel Michaels - OTBLearingLabs.com

Although it is not often regarded as such, the winter is perhaps the best time of the year for horseplayers.  As opposed to other times of the year when good racing and wagering are scattered all around the country at various far flung race circuits, and stakes races take center stage every weekend, the winter is a time of the year when hardcore handicapping and serious horseplayers are basically all focusing on the same five tracks - Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Gulfstream, Oaklawn, and Santa Anita.  With so much good racing taking place in January and February at so few tracks, is becomes relatively easy at this one time of year to keep close tabs on the races and results from all five of the major winter signals, and thereby keep your finger on the pulse of everything that's important in the sport of racing. 

Let's take a tour around this season's five major circuits and get fully up-to-speed on what it's taking to win at the season's various epicenters of pari-mutuel wagering.

AQUEDUCT

Aqueduct's purses have skyrocketed the last couple of winters due to an influx of cash for the NYRA from Aqueduct's new racino, and the added purse money, along with the elimination of most couplings, has also made a positive impact on field sizes and betting opportunities at Aqueduct's inner track meet. However, the impact has still been less than expected due to difficult medication rules in New York that have severely limited the amount of shippers coming in and out of New York during the meet.

The resulting Aqueduct winter product is basically the same as it's been for many years, with very bettable no frills racing being conducted five-days a week, weather permitting.  It might not be glamorous, but he handle is still on par with any other winter signal racing at this time of the year.

There are two big stories currently on the radar that are having a huge impact on the 2013 Aqueduct inner track meet - a major injury to leading jockey Ramon Dominguez and the "death penalty" suspension of leading trainer Richard Dutrow.  These two events have taken away the biggest players at the inner track meet, and have thrown the jockey and trainer into a state of flux with no one person dominating the racing or wagering on either front.

Eclipse Award-winning jockey Ramon Dominguez suffered a skull fracture in a spill on January 18 and is out indefinitely. Dominguez regularly rode just about every favorite and was leading the jockey standings with 31 wins (25% win percentage) at the time of his injury. Ramon is unlikely to ride for the rest of the winter, and while everyone sends their hopes and prayers in his direction, his absence on the track is likely to really open-up the prime riding assignments at Aqueduct.

Gone is the tough proposition for New York bettors in the winter -either taking Dominguez at a low price or being forced to bet against s the country's leading rider who continually puts up three, four, and five-win days against the winter riding colony.  The jockey standings are now likely to be hotly-contested amongst the second tier of Aqueduct winter riders including Cornelio Velasquez, Junior Alvarado, and the meet's new leading riders, apprentice Jose Ortiz, and brother Irad Ortiz Jr.

Irad Ortiz continues his emergence on the New York circuit after breaking out at this time last year as the 3rd-leading rider on the Aqueduct inner track. Jose Ortiz, meanwhile, has made his presence felt quickly and dominantly as the new leading rider at Aqueduct who benefits from the 5-pound bug weight allowance.  The other jockey making a strong impression again this season has been Junior Alvarado, who is out-riding expectations to the tune of his customary 18% win percentage.

In terms of Aqueduct's top trainers, as mentioned, the big story is the loss of leading trainer Richard Dutrow to suspension and the redistribution of all of his horses to other stables.  Dutrow's appeals process finally ran out on the 10-year suspension that was handed down to him more than a year ago for repeated drug violations and positive tests. Dutrow vows to keep fighting the "death penalty" ban, but in the mean time he is gone and his spot atop the trainer standings is likely to be taken by either Rudy Rodriguez or David Jacobson.

As for the majority of Dutrow's large string of horses stabled at Aqueduct, they will go to trainers Wesley Ward and Rudy Rodroguez, thereby bolstering their stock at the remainder of this year's inner track meet.

The trainer in closest pursuit of Dutrow at the time of his suspension is former Dutrow protégé Rudy Rodriguez, who is winning at a 30% clip so far at this inner track meet (down notably from the 40% stratosphere he has at times been at during the winter at Aqueduct).  David Jacobson continues to be deadly in the claiming game and is right behind Rodriguez with a win percentage of 23% that would be much higher if not for a tough-luck season for Jacobson that has included a bunch of second-place finishes. In particular, Jacobson must be wagered on his patented claim-and-drop maneuver - which would be a red flag for many other barns but not this one.

Bruce Levine and Linda Rice have been other conditioners to watch atop the trainer standings this season. Levine is winning at a big 28% and has racked up 10 winners through Jan. 18. Rice is having an exceptional inner track meet, too, with 9 wins and a 23% win percentage.

Other trainers to bet at Aqueduct in February include Jason Servis, (ready to go on a roll after winning only 16% of his races so far), Anthony Dutrow (20% wins with a small winter presence in New York), and Mike Hushion (who is up at a giant 38% winners at this meet where he customarily wins at a huge win percentage).  Additionally, Chad Brown (4-for-11, 36%), Nick Zito (4-for-12, 33%), Rick Violette (6-for-22, 27%), and shockingly John Parisella (4-for-9, 44%), are all having great, high win-percentage meets, as well.

Interestingly, the Aqueduct inner track 2010-2011 leading trainer, Todd Pletcher has largely ignored the Aqueduct meet this winter for the second year in a row (just 4 wins from 21 starters, 19%). Also, Steve Asmussen, who has had big, high-percentage strings of horses here in recent years, has a much smaller and lower profile group of horses at Aqueduct this season (with 3 wins from just 15 starters for a 20% win percentage).

Cold trainers to avoid at this point in the meet include Chris Englehart, and Randi Persaud. Englehart has won at high percentages here at Aqueduct the past couple winters, but is having a tough year this year with a record of just 5-for-48, 10%. Persaud, meanwhile, is not as high-profile as Englehart and the others, but still has not delivered this season with a record of just 4-for-49, 8%).

Track biases
Aqueduct's inner track usually is at the mercy of track biases, but the winter has been relatively mild so far this year and track biases 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).

Speed seemed to be performing exceptionally well at Aqueduct for the end of December and the beginning of January after the track returned from its winter holiday break on December 26. After that, the outside part of the track was the place to be for two straight racing days on Jan. 6 & 9, and then some changing weather conditions wrecked havoc with speed during the week of Jan. 16-19, first with speed at a disadvantage on a sloppy track on Jan. 16 and then with a strong speed bias on Jan. 19 after the track fully dried out.

Here is my view of this season's track bias information from the Aqueduct inner track:

Aqueduct Inner Track biases
Jan. 19 - Strong speed bias
Jan. 16 - Speed disadvantaged on sloppy track
Jan. 9 - Outside preferred
Jan. 6 - Outside advantage
Jan. 5 - Helped to be on or close
Jan. 1 - Helped to be on or close
Dec. 31 - Helped to be on or close
Dec. 30 - Helped to be on or close on drying out track
Dec. 26 - Inside speed bias
Dec. 13 - Good rail

Aside from being known as a speed-favoring track, the Aqueduct inner track is also known as a track that strongly favors inside posts, especially in two-turn route races. This season, however, the track has played fair to all post positions in terms of win percentages in both inner track sprints and routes.  Inside posts have done well as expected, but there is no significant statistical edge for the inside posts as opposed to any other gate slots from the middle and the outside.  This is due mainly to the lower-tan-expected win percentage of horses breaking from the rail in route races at this winter's inner track meet.

 

FAIR GROUNDS

The Fair Grounds has long been one of the best fall-winter race meets in the country, yet it is often overlooked on the winter wagering landscape that also includes popular, high-profile tracks like Aqueduct, Gulfstream, and Santa Anita.  Nevertheless, the Fair Grounds is a quality track with big, competitive fields that most bettors love. Plus, the track also hosts its share of quality wintertime grass races, not to mention a solid stakes line-up with a good 3-year-old stakes program that leads to the meet's premier event, the Louisiana Derby.

One of the most notable things for handicappers to discover when it comes to the "Fair Grounds", is that the track is one of the most fair tracks in the country when it comes to running styles because the Fair Grounds seems to remain one of the few tracks that legitimately does not provide a consistent edge to any one running style or inside or outside paths.  No matter if your horse is a front runner, a pace-presser, a stalker, or a closer, you should indeed have a fair chance to win at the Fair Grounds.

Even at fair race tracks like the Fair Grounds, it is always worth looking at the long term trends and statistics to try to determine what running styles and post positions give horses their best chances at success. Certain prevailing biases can be arrived at by a careful look at the results from the past several years.

In sprints, both early speed/pressers and the closers can usually be depended on to run well from just about any post position. The segment of horses at the most risk from bad trips in Fair Grounds sprints are the mid-pack stalkers, who could get caught in a bad spot wide on the turn if they draw outside posts in big fields. These horses often have to be used too hard to gain position going into the turn, or else end up falling into the Fair Grounds trap of trying to make their middle moves while wide on the turn instead of using the more prudent strategy of waiting until the long straightaway before launching their late bids.

Meanwhile, in Fair Grounds route races run at 1 mile & 70 yards and 1 1/16-miles, post position is a key issue thanks to the short run up to the first turn due to the starting gate's close proximity to the turn. Horses that break from wide posts in these races usually suffer wide, ground-losing trips - especially at a 1m & 70 yards when speed horses and pressers who break from the inside enjoy a huge tactical advantage.

Here is my list of track biases so far from the current 2012-2013 Fair Grounds meet. As you can see, except for a stretch from mid-December to early January, the track has played remarkably fair:

Fair Grounds Track Biases
Jan. 5 - Outside bias on fast but drying track
Dec. 30 - Outside advantage
Dec. 29 - Outside bias
Dec. 27 - Outside preferred
Dec. 26 - Outside rally wide bias
Dec. 15 - Outside advantage
Dec. 2 - Helped to be on or close
Nov. 24 - Turf races favored outside closers
Nov. 23 - Turf races favored outside closers
Nov. 22 - Turf races favored outside closers

As you can see, the main bias noted so far at the 2012-2013 Fair Grounds meet was an outside (or anti-inside) bias for much of the second half of December.  Keep close tabs on horses returning for their next starts coming out of races on those days. Upgrade losing horses exiting races on those days that suffered from inside trips, and downgrade winners exiting races on those days who benefitted from outside trips on the best part of the track.

Aside from that, the other major notable bias was on the grass on the opening week of the meet. I do not generally subscribe to the existence of track biases in turf races. Trips and pace or the main factors in grass races - not biases, which are mainly imagined when it comes to turf courses. However, at the start of the 2012-2013 meet, for the second year in a row, the inside part of the Fair Grounds turf course was completely dead, and it not only ruined the chances of any inside horse, but also most front runners.  Perhaps the grass was deeper down inside toward the rail, or the ground drained down toward the inside making that part of the turf less-than-firm.

Switching gears now to the human connections at Fair Grounds, you can bet there is always a strong crew of Midwestern and national barns wintering in New Orleans with strings of horses of varying abilities in New Orleans for the winter meet. You can usually count on a few big-name out-of-towners showing up for the Fair Grounds meet with a few horses, however, these horses usually have varying degrees of success in relation to the local blue chip barns that can always be counted on to win here at huge percentages including Steve Asmussen, Cody Autrey, Merell Scherer, Mike Stidham, Wesley Hawley, Bret Calhoun, Bernie Flint, Larry Jones, and of course, last but not least, Al Stall and particularly Tom Amoss, who has been winning races in bunches around here since some of these other guys were in diapers.  Also, Mike Maker has sent in a solid string of horses this winter, as opposed to Aqueduct, and he has done exceptionally well from a win-percentage standpoint with 9 winners from 24 starters for a huge 38% winners.

Finally, keep your eyes out for Chicago horses, who have done very well at the Fair Grounds meet and have also been in fine form at Oaklawn. The Chicago season is just a few weeks away with the opening at Hawthorne scheduled for Friday, February 15.

 

OAKLAWN PARK

Oaklawn Park generally does not get the notoriety of the other key winter meets from around the country, due in large part to the fact that Oaklawn does not have a turf course.  Nevertheless, the day-to-day racing at Oaklawn is good and bettable, and as the meet progresses from winter into spring in late March and early April, the quality of the racing there will end up nearly on par with anywhere else running at that time of year.  Oaklawn regularly features big wide-open fields, a real dirt main track, and plenty of the nation's top racing stables, much to the delight of Midwestern horseplayers and handicappers at this time of year who must go without racing in Chicago and a top-quality option to wager on in Kentucky.

One reliable rallying cry at Oaklawn is sometimes "Cal-vin Bo-rail."  Borel will no doubt make a big dent on the jockey standings in Hot Springs, but keep in mind, that along with his many wins and good win percentage will come a caveat for handicappers - his average win-price is likely to be low and his ROI is not something that Oaklawn horseplayers can count on to make money.

Handicapping at Oaklawn Park has its nuances, and it pays to pay attention to the daily happenings at the meet. While the racing surface is mostly regarded as fair at Oaklawn, the track does have some prevailing biases to watch out for, in addition to some occasional track biases that tend to pop-up here and there in terms of inside or outside paths, or speed or off-the-pace running style biases as the weather tends to change track conditions from day to day.

The Oaklawn dirt course is a one-mile oval with two different finish lines - the traditional finish line and an auxiliary finish line at the sixteenth pole which serves as the finish for one-mile races. This makes the run-up into the first turn longer at a mile and therefore slightly lessens the disadvantages to outside posts.

Oaklawn's inside posts, and particularly the rail, are still good at all distances.  In addition to using post positions to help you narrow down the fields when handicapping Oaklawn, you can also use a horse's running style. Then combine this with a careful eye on the track's changing track biases when hunting for Oaklawn winners.

Running Style Biases
At Oaklawn, the tried-and-true prevailing running-style bias is always toward horses with early speed or at least tactical speed who can stay within 2-3 lengths of the early lead.  Due to the one-mile Oaklawn track layout and relatively short stretch-run in comparison to other tracks, Oaklawn always has been this way and probably always will be - except on days when the bias changes and noticeably favors one particular running style over another.

Use this track bias information in your continued handicapping at Oaklawn.  When you see a horse exiting a race on a bias day, check the horse's running style, post position, or inside/outside trip on the bias day in question.  When a horse exits a race where it benefited from running with a track bias, downgrade that horse in the race you're currently handicapping. When you see a horse that exits a race where it was hurt by running against a track bias, then go ahead and upgrade that horse in the race you're currently handicapping.  This is a great way to find good-odds winners and to ensure that you are betting live overlays while at the same time ignoring bad underlays.

 

GULFSTREAM

Gulfstream Park is the Eastern epicenter of Thoroughbred racing during the winter, and another exceptional and challenging meet is now upon us. As always, Gulfstream offers the best horses, trainers, jockeys, grass races, and stakes races of the winter season with the top barns from New York and Kentucky and all points in-between all converging on South Florida for a sensational four-month sunshine-filled standout race meet.

For bettors, some changes to the 2012-2013 Gulfstream meet that have stood out include the new post time of 12:45 (integrating East coast signals with Aqueduct), and this year's earlier shift of the meet from the customary early January start date to this season's start date on December 1, which took horses away from places like Aqueduct and brought about an earlier "prime" to the Gulfstream meet at the start of January.

Gulfstream's 50-cent bets, including Pick-4s and a daily Pick-5 bet, with a low 15 % takeout on the day's last five races, also keep the action pumping at Gulfstream, which has to be considered the most player-friendly meet to bet at during this time of year.  There are even 50-cent trifectas that offer unrivaled value at Gulfstream, not-to-mention the return of the 10-cent Sunshine Pick 6, with a jackpot that will only be awarded to a winner with one unique ticket. On days when there are multiple winners, 60% of the pool will be shared equally while 40% goes into a carryover pool.

The Sunshine Pick 6 jackpot has not yet been hit at this season's meet, but the jackpot is once again quickly building and is already up to over $515,000.

Gulfstream once again is playing host to the wintertime's best trainer line-up and jockey colony. The earlier December start to the meet has resulted in a dramatic shift in this season's jockey standings, because the dates of the Gulfstream meet now more closely coincide with the schedules of all of the east and midwest's top riders. Paco Lopez, who won the 2011 and 2010 jockey titles at Gulfstream winning 70 races, is no longer the leading rider. That distinction has so far instead gone to Javier Castellano, who is leading the jockey standings with 39 wins and a 24% win percentage after running away from the pack in the jockey standings to win the meet title in 2011-2012. He's comfortably 5 wins ahead of current surprise second-leading rider Luis Saez, who has 34 wins and a 17% win percentage while riding quite a few more horses.  Castellano rules the Gulfstream turf, especially now more than last year now that Julien Leparoux has moved his tack to Santa Anita this winter.

Right behind Saez in the standings are Jose Lezcano (30 wins), and Joel Rosario (30 wins), who are both enjoying solid meets so far at Gulfstream Park. John Velazquez has 20 wins through Jan. 18, and then the aforementioned Paco Lopez is sixth in the standings with 18 wins.

When it comes to trainers at the Gulfstream meet, especially since last season's runaway win for the training title, the story is all about perennial leading trainer Todd Pletcher, who is off to another dominant start this season with 14 wins from 46 starters for 30% winners. Pletcher's numbers are good in almost every category, mostly with leading rider Castellano and main-man Johnny Velazquez aboard.

The Frank Calabrese effect, most recently with trainer Nick Canani, but this year with other trainers such as Kirk Ziadie, is down significantly this season with no Calabrese-affiliated barn winning in the 40% range as like in recent years. This season at Gulfstream, that distinction goes to trainer Peter Walder, who has been up-and-down at Gulfstream in recent years but now is definitely enjoying one of those "up" times with a win percentage of 44% thanks to wins with a lot of turf sprinters and young horses.  If you're keeping score at home, that makes two straight seasons that Walder has racked-up those kinds of numbers after having won up above the 40% mark for much of the meet in 2011-2012.

Aside from Pletcher and Walder, the barns making the most headlines have included Mike Maker, who is second to Pletcher with 12 wins and has an even better 32% win percentage, and Wesley Ward, who used a hot start to the meet to help him to 11 wins and a win percentage of 20% so far. Others to watch include Chad Brown (9 wins, 25%), especially in turf races, and Jamie Ness (7 wins, 32%), especially with claiming horses.

Richard Dutrow's stable was a factor at Gulfstream just as it was a factor at Aqueduct. With Dutrow now suspended indefinitely, his horses will transfer over to his former assistant Michelle Nevin, making her 20-horse stable an instant power at the remainder of the Gulfstream meet. We'll see how she does.

Running Styles and Biases
The prevailing running style preference in Gulfstream dirt races tends to favor horses with early speed, or at least tactical speed, at all distances. Stalkers and mid-pack horses sometimes run well, but deep closers are generally not good bets at Gulfstream, except on days when a temporary anti-speed bias occasionally develops to help-out closers.

Since deep closers generally don't do well on this main track, and inside posts and rail-skimming trips are usually not an advantage, the two prevailing track biases on Gulfstream Park's main track are, 1) Gulfstream's dirt track favors horses with speed and tactical speed, and; 2) Gulfstream one-turn dirt races favor outside paths, while Gulfstream two-turn races favor inside posts - except for, perhaps, the rail post #1.

Much to the adulation of both horsemen and bettors beginning last season, Gulfstream now runs 1 1/16-mile races on the main track with an alternate finish line. This has greatly increased the number of two-turn races being run at Gulfstream just by utilizing a new alternate finish line further up the stretch, Gulfstream has been able to card this distance that has been overlooked for six years since the track was re-configured by Frank Stronach.

As for the day-to-day changing track biases at Gulfstream this season, there have been very few. The main track has enjoyed good weather and has been very consistent so far. Here are the Gulfstream track biases noted so far this season:

Gulfstream Track Biases
Jan. 20 - Speed bias
Jan. 1 - Had to be on or close to the pace
Dec. 15 - Inside bias; had to be on or close on fast-to-good track
Dec. 9 - Outside advantage

As you can see, the 2012-2013 Gulfstream season has been mainly bias-free so far, with only four notable bias days logged in the first month and a half of action, and only one since Jan. 1 (that was the speed bias on Sunday, January 20).

Without a lot of day to day bias info to rely on in 2013, go ahead and stick with the time tested and proven axioms that work at this track. Some of the prime golden rules at Gulfstream Park are to stay away from outside posts in main track two-turn routes, and to stay away from far inside posts in dirt miles. Don't bet the rail horse in any sprint at 6 1/2 furlongs or longer, and stack your bets against front-runners on the turf (unless the turf rails are out - the further the better).  These axioms cannot be repeated often enough, because these elements when added together with winning running styles and trainer trends can provide you the framework of everything you'll need to make money at Gulfstream Park.

In Gulfstream miles, the three inside posts are also much more of a disadvantage than an advantage. Note, however, that the far outside posts in those races aren't great either. Mid-pack posts from 4-7 seem to be the best gate slots at one mile.

Now let's move to the grass, where a large part of the action takes place each winter at Gulfstream. Like many turf courses, the Gulfstream turf usually favors horses with good turn-of-foot acceleration in the stretch. It is difficult to go wire-to-wire on the Gulfstream turf course, and Gulfstream's turf course is definitely not friendly to early speed horses. Through the last couple years the Gulftsream grass course has became one of the most difficult courses in the country on which to win going wire-to-wire.

If you must bet a Gulfstream turf front-runner, try to make sure 1) The horse is the lone speed in the race, preferably from an inside post, 2) The horse has a solid class edge on the rest of the field, and 3) Look and see if the turf rails are moved out from the hedge.

The position of the turf rails on the Gulfstream grass course, which has been divided into inner and outer turf courses to help the condition of the course stay good throughout the long meet, is key for the chances of an early speed grass horse.  Since they are always moving the turf rail around, always be aware of where the turf rail is before you consider a front-runner's chances on turf.

At Gulfstream on the grass, unlike on the dirt, a horse's chances of success are based more on running style than post draw.  Running style has been a key determining factor how well a horse is expected to run on the Gulfstream lawn with pressers and stalkers having the best chances overall.

 

SANTA ANITA

With Santa Anita's switch back to dirt two years ago, there has been a predicable increase in the emphasis for early speed in sprints, especially at the track's two most popular sprint distances of 6 furlongs and 6 1/2 furlongs.

The average beaten lengths at the first call at the 6- and 6 ½ furlong sprint distances is about 2 lengths behind at the quarter-mile mark.  Horses definitely don't want to be too far back, however, based on the fact that about 85 percent of the dirt sprint winners have raced within 5 lengths of the lead at the first call (quarter mile). It has been difficult to win from very far back in the pack on the Santa Anita dirt based on these stats, and clearly the need for good tactical speed has increased now that Santa Anita has gone back to dirt.

Now that Santa Anita is again a dirt track for keeps, handicappers can again take advantage of daily track bias information affecting the main track. Here are the track biases from the first part of the current Santa Anita meet, which began on Dec. 26:

Santa Anita Track Biases
Jan. 21 - Anti-speed bias
Jan. 20 - Anti-speed bias
Jan. 19 - Outside advantage
Jan. 17 - Helped to be on or close to the pace
Jan. 6 - Outside advantage, slow rail
Dec. 30 - Had to be on or close on fast but drying track

Where post positions are concerned, usually the rail and inside posts (1-3) are the preferred spots on dirt.  So far in the current meet, the 1-2 posts are performing strongly in both sprints and routes, but overall there hasn't really been any big advantages or disadvantages in terms of post positions on the main track. The possible exception would be posts 7 and wider in dirt routes, which combined have gone only 3-for-42 (7%) from Dec. 26 through Jan. 21.

The best way to proceed with your Santa Anita dirt track handicapping is to toss out the artificial track races a horse has run (at Hollywood, for instance), while instead focusing your attention on either a horse's most recent dirt races, if any, or else waiting for horses to compile past performances on dirt during this year's Santa Anita meet.

Bob Baffert is currently the co-leading trainer at the Santa Anita meet with a 7 wins. It isn't surprising to see Baffert's name on top of the standings, but what is surprising is that he is no the clear leader this season. Instead of the usual Baffert runaway, we seem to be in for a tight trainer's race with John Sadler, Jerry Hollendorfer, and Doug O'Neill all sharing the lead with Baffert, each with 7 wins through Jan. 18.

Meanwhile, in terms of winning percentage, the top trainers have been none of the aforementioned stables, but rather, they have been John Sherreffs (5-for16, 31%), Richard Mandella (4-for-12, 33%), and Mark Glatt (4-for-15, 27%).

When you look at winning percentage, and return on investment (ROI), Baffert might lead in terms of wins but he pails in comparison to these other trainers with only 13% wins so far to go along with a low ROI.

When it comes to jockeys, handicappers can narrow down the top choices really fast in Southern California, starting with Rafael Bejarano, Garrett Gomez, and Joe Talamo. It is this group that figures to totally dominate the top of the jockey's standings and battle it out for the meet title now that Joel Rosario has moved to the East coast and doesn't appear to be coming back.

Also headlining the high-quality Santa Anita jockeys' colony are names like Hall of Famer Mike Smith, Victor Espinoza, the up-and-coming Edwin Maldonando, Martin Garcia (as Baffert's fortunes go, so go Martin's), Corey Nakatani, Martin Pedroza, Tyler Baze, and Julien Leparoux, who you mainly want to consider only in turf races and who has not really made his mark at all on the Santa Anita dirt.

Finally, one tried-and-true handicapping angle at Santa Anita has continued its long-term trend this season, proving perhaps that the more things change the more things stay the same.  The inside posts, and particularly the rail, remain big disadvantages in Santa Anita's signature down-the-hill 6 ½-furlong down-the-hill turf races. There were 17 turf sprints run at Santa Anita through Jan. 21, and the rail post is 1-for-17 (5.8%). Horses breaking from the inside four posts in these races have won only a combined total of 4 of the 17 turf sprints run so far at the 2012-2013 meet (won less than a quarter of the races run, combined, despite having the greatest amount of starters). This is in stark contrast to the middle and outside post positions 5-12 at the 6 ½-furlong turf sprint distance, which overall have won 13 of the 17 races, including 3-for-10 (30%) from post  9, and 2-for-8 (25%) from post 10.

Wherever you do your winter racing and wagering - whether it be at Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Oaklawn, and/or Fair Grounds, or at a combination of all of them - I wish you best of luck.  Enjoy good racing!

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