Trainers, Jockeys and Horses to Watch Now at Saratoga
TRAINERS, JOCKEYS, AND HORSES TO WATCH NOW AT SARATOGA
If the first weeks of racing at The Spa are any indication, this season's meet is going to be one to remember. The quality of racing and wagering is off to a very lofty beginning at the 2015 Saratoga meet, with field sizes large, payoffs big, and the races competitive - so much so that star horses have been showing up pretty much everywhere from stakes races and handicaps to the common races on the card in-between.
The Saratoga meet is off to a fast start, especially if your name is John Velazquez or Todd Pletcher. Those two names have been the big news of the young 2015 Spa meet so far, with John Velazquez making headlines atop the jockey standings with 16 wins from his first 56 mounts during the first 10 days of the 40-day meet for a clear lead over second-place Javier Castellano, who has 10 winners from 71 starters. Not only is Velazquez's 16 wins tops at this point, his 29% win percentage is giant at a meet where no other rider even boasts a 20% win percentage at this point of the meet.
Of course, as Velazquez goes, oftentimes, so goes his bread-and-butter, trainer Todd Pletcher. Much of Johnny V's fast start has come thanks to the red-hot start of Todd Pletcher at the 2015 Saratoga meet. Pletcher has been absolutely on fire early on, with 15 wins (36%!) and a total of 20 horse in the exacta (nearly 50%!) from his first 42 starters. Pletcher has been reliably in-the-money with over half of his runners, and what is so surprising about that is that he really hasn't even heated up yet on the turf. Just 3 of his 15 winners have come on the grass. On the dirt, as they say in New Yawk . . . fuhgetaboudit! Pletcher has win 50% of his starts on dirt so far at Saratoga with a record of 12-for-24!
Pletcher has won 12 dirt races already, and no other trainer has yet to even win more than 2 at this stage of the game. That is what you call total dominance!
In the trainers department, Pletcher isn't the only story. The other big news early in the 2015 meet has been the hot start of Bill Mott. This is no surprise because Mott has been a major factor at Spa meets for two decades. Even so, however, this year's start ranks up there amongst his best ever. He's currently second in the standings with 7 wins from his first 26 starters, for a big 27% win percentage. The other hot start amongst trainers, in terms of early winning percentage, has been Shug McGaughey, who has won with 3 of his first 9 starters for 33% wins.
Two of the biggest categories of racing at Saratoga that handicappers need to excel at, are 2-year-old racing, and turf racing. Those two categories of races make up so much of the Saratoga condition book annually, and this year is no exception. With 2-year-olds, the story is more of the same in terms of hot trainers. Todd Pletcher leads the way so far with 5 winners, and Bill Mott is second with 2 wins. The other 2-year-old races so far have been won by Christophe Clement (1), Kiaran McLaughlin (1), and Steve Asmussen (1).
In terms of turf racing, four trainers have broken out from the pack as the dominant turf winners so far at the 2015 Saratoga meet.
Saratoga Winning Turf Trainers
2015 meet; July 24 to Aug. 2
Several trainers tied w/1 win
No every trainer is off to a hot start at Saratoga, of course. A couple of trainers struggling at present include David Jacobson and George Weaver. Jacobson wins more races on the NY circuit than any other trainer annually, but this is generally not his most effective time of the year. This year has been even worse than usual. Jacobson struggled the last month of the Belmont meet, and has opened the Saratoga meet with just 2 wins from his first 24 starters (8%). Stay away from his until he heats up. George Weaver is cold now with just 2 wins from his first 18 starters (11%). However, unlike Jacobson, Weaver's horses are hitting the board with much more regularity (50%), and he should begin to wake-up and boost his win percentage immediately.
Another surprisingly quiet trainer so far has been Linda Rice, but she remains the queen of the turf sprints, and will begin to rack-up wins, at least in those races, as the meet goes on.
As mentioned, John Velazquez has been the story so far in the Saratoga jock's room at the young 2015 meet. Velazquez has been the beneficiary of Todd Pletcher's hot start, and the pair have been a potent and reliable Jockey/trainer combination.
Velazquez has been ruling the dirt races at The Spa, with 12 dirt wins. The only other guy who's close is Jose Ortiz, who owns 8 dirt wins so far (the next highest dirt-winning jockey so far in 2015 is Javier Castellano with 5 wins).
The turf races are really where the money is at Saratoga, however, because turf races make up more than half the races at the meet, and the payoffs in those races are superior because the giant field sizes result in good value on the tote board.
The turf races are really where you can narrow down the field of contenders in races at Saratoga, and jockeys are a pretty good way to do it because the vast majority of Saratoga turf races are won by a very small group of jockeys.
Here are the Saratoga jockey standings in turf races from July 24 through Aug. 2:
Saratoga Leading TURF Jockeys - 2015
Turf Races; July 24 thru Aug. 2
You really need one of the above-listed jockeys to have your best chance at winning at this season's Saratoga meet. Other riders win at much less regularity. The one notable exception would be Cornelio Velazquez, who is the king of the Saratoga turf sprints, and will definitely start to heat up in those races.
When dealing with betting top jockeys, of course, you are also often dealing with betting lower-priced horses and favorites. John Velazquez, for example, it tearing-up the track, but his average winner so far has paid $10.80 - not bad. If you are looking for longshot riders with much better average win payoffs, the leaders in that respect so far at the 2015 meet have been Shaun Bridgmohan (3 wins with an average payoff of $32.80), and apprentice Eric Cancel (2 wins so far with an average payoff of $27.20).
HORSES TO WATCH AT SARATOGA
Looking for some hot bets at Saratoga? I have some great recommendations for horses to watch in the next couple of weeks. These are horses that have already run at The Spa in 2015, and should have great chances to win their next races.
When it comes to buzz horses, the 2015 Saratoga meet has already featured several tremendous stakes performances. The actual top "buzz horse" so far at this meet, however, wasn't a stakes horse - it was a first-time starter. Champion Rachel Alexadra's daughter, Rachel's Valentina, brought down the house on Aug. 2 when she cruised to victory in her career debut with John Velazquez aboard. The filly, by Bernardini, could be on the way to following in her mother's footsteps, and should be seen in a stakes race very soon.
Spa Winners Likely to Repeat:
Sea Raven: Won a dirt route on July 24 after a poor start that left him last early in the race. Gamely closed and won by a length over a runner-up that was another four lengths clear of the field.
Realm: Winning maiden first-time starter emerged from a 5½-length-gap duel for the lead and rolled to victory. Look like a good juvenile for Barclay Tagg.
Sage Hall: Won a turf route maiden race at first-asking with a sharp surge to the lead after getting blocked and shuffled back to last in the 10-horse field midway through the race. Will be tough vs. first-level allowance horses.
Good Response: Impressive late-closing maiden distance turf winner on July 26 will wait for another marathon opportunity. Closed from last-to-first after falling to his nose at the start and then steadying back again in the early stages behind traffic. High quality and can overcome adversity.
Saturday Appeal: Broke slow when not handling the rail draw when needing a race off a four-month layoff, but won going away anyway. Just needs to get off the rail post and should repeat.
Spa Losers Likely to Rebound:
Daisy a Day: Lunged and stumbled out of the gate to start too far back in a race without much pace to chase on 7/24. Will improve upon close-up fifth-place finish.
Swagger Jagger: Got embroiled in a three-way, six-length-gap speed duel in very fast two-turn turf sprints, and held on for third after his two early challengers faded to last and next-to-last.
Amazing Anne: Tough luck loser on July 26, rallying too late after getting shuffled back in traffic at the top of the stretch.
Power Nap: Stumbled badly and lost all chance at the start off a long layoff for Steve Asmussen. Too early to give up on him.
Mission Driven: Was bothered by rivals, in traffic, and interfered with at various times of a horrible trip on July 26, and it's amazing he even was able to finish as good as third. Just needs a clean trip.
Corner Three: Faster than the vast majority of the NY-bred filly turfers, but had back luck in loss on July 27 when too far back behind a crawling pace. Likely to rebound as an overlay on the tote board due to that sixth-place finish.
Spa Live Longshots Next Time Out:
Regent's House: Needed a race off a year layoff, but showed good speed and lost by only a length despite finishing fifth. Much too early to give up on her.
Market Outlook: Got stuck down inside on traffic on the rail for the entire stretch run in return from a three-month layoff. Toss out that loss and try again at a bargain price.
Awesome Slew: Monmouth invader lost by just two lengths in the Sanford Stakes despite missing the break from the rail post, and then having a hole close on him when trying to rally in the stretch. Live longshot back in a 2-year-old stakes if able to get off the rail draw.
Gear Jammer: Finished sixth so he's likely to be overlooked, but actually was less than a half-length out of second at the end in a blanket finish after having the most demanding trip of all the top finishers, setting a fast and pressured pace in a race that set-up for closers.
The 2015 Saratoga meet is off to an amazing start. Continue to keep an eye out for developing jockey and trainer trends, as well as horses to watch. When you notice these details 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.
By Noel Michaels
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