Gulfstream Trip Handicapping and Picking Winners on the Aqueduct Inner Track

TURF TRIP HANDICAPPING: MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER AT GULFSTREAM

Ask any serious handicapper and bettor how much he or she weighs "Trip Handicapping" as part of their overall analysis protocol and if they are the kind of serious handicapper and bettor that makes money they will likely answer...heavily!

I'm sure the majority reading this are fully knowledgeable regarding what is meant by "Trip Handicapping" but for those just learning the game a brief explanation is as follows. Trip handicapping is the practice of watching and re-watching races in order to discover if and when a horse that otherwise was considered a solid contender was compromised by a "bad trip." The definition of a bad trip could be anything as obvious as being in a "bad" post position (meaning a starting gate position that has produced little success regardless of the quality of the horse) to an race ride problem such as being caught in traffic, getting bumped, away to a slow start at the gate or running wide on one or more turns among other obstacles.

Identifying a bad trip will not make every horse a winner in its next race based simply on the bad trip but such finite analysis can point out an otherwise overlooked horse in its present race if that horse has other positive angles to its advantage.

That being said, right now "Trip Handicapping" is ultra-important at Gulfstream Park. There are numerous reasons for making sure you watch and re-watch Gulfstream Turf races in particular:

One - Racing during the Gulfstream Championship meet, which runs through the end of March produces the largest and most competitive fields in the nation over that time period. Positioning with the fewest problems or clean trips are essential.

Two - Different distances are run over both the inner turf and outer turf courses with conditioners having the option of switching distances to accommodate what a runner has shown as preferential style in recent races.

Three - With weather as suddenly changeable as it is, Gulfstream more than any other track in the nation moves their inner rails as far as 108 feet out into the course, both narrowing the area on the turns and straightaways and fanning horses out or blocking them inside based on how they begin their races and what positioning they get. Many times a jockey will "anticipate" problems and either ask his horse to run too fast too early or reserve off the pace even if that is not what a horse likes to do.

Four - As we have seen early on in this meet, this placement of the inner rail is in an attempt to keep as much racing on turf as possible which means that there are many different surface designations to consider such as soft, yielding, good, firm with even those varying in qualification if the wide variation in times shown at the same distances by the same level of horse is any indication.

These are the key points, but there are also other subtleties that can be gleaned from "Trip Handicapping."

At this point the best way to reaffirm this point is to give you a few examples of turf races run early in the meet with a few brief comments.

Wednesday 12/9...Race 9 - CHANGE OF COMMAND
7.5 Furlongs. (Turf) OC 25000n1x
FOR 3-YO & UPWARD WHICH HAVE NEVER WON A RACE OTHER THAN MAIDEN, CLAIMING, STARTER OR RESTRICTED ALLOWANCE OR WHICH HAVE NEVER WON TWO RACES OR CLAIMING PRICE $25,000.

The veteran 8-year old gelding was making his first start since September 6 at Monmouth and because he was a 10 time winner from 38 career starts was racing for the 25K claiming tag. He broke slowly out of the gate from mid-pack in the crowded 12 horse field, was forced towards the rear and reserved until it was necessary to fan out wide leaving the turn for home. He ran on from 12th to 4th in less than a furlong and finish evenly while wide and beaten only a total of 1-3/4 lengths. A close look at his running style (always towards the front or on the lead at middle distance races) indicates the slow start compromised his chances completely. This trip (which had to help since it was also the first following a layoff) indicates that all he needs is a better break from the gate vs the same level next time.

Sunday 12/13...Race 4 - NEVELEE
1 1/16 Miles. (Turf) Alw 41000n1x
FOR FILLIES AND MARES 3-YO OLD & UPWARD WHICH HAVE NEVER WON A RACE OTHER THAN MAIDEN, CLAIMING, STARTER OR RESTRICTED ALLOWANCE OR WHICH HAVE NEVER WON TWO RACES.

Entering the race the 3-year old Maimonides filly had shown consistent enough versatility throughout her 9 race career, with a number of good efforts over the GP turf course that her 22-1 off odds in this race were a significant overlay. She was allow to settle off the pace on the backstretch over the "good" (and tiring) surface and was into the bit when asked by her jockey as they began to look for position on the far turn. But at a crucial point she was fanned 5 wide and lost considerable ground before her jockey allowed her to finish on her own terms and she did run on evenly through the lane and was only 3 lengths off the winner at the finish. It was a significant enough obstacle and at 22-1 in her last the public might disregard her when she runs back against the same. It is also worth noting that her jockey, Jose Caraballo, who wins at a 17% clip on the circuit was riding for the first time and will be more familiar with her should he ride back.

These are just a pair of samples as to what a trip handicapper will look for, but you can see how significant making the practiced a part of your analysis protocol can be.

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PICKING WINNERS ON AQUEDUCT'S INNER

The winter racing season in New York officially began with the opening of the Aqueduct inner track meet. 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. Graded stakes racing and turf racing might not be a 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 best meat-and-potatoes money-making opportunity of the year.

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 several months of racing scheduled over the Big A inner track now through the end of March, 2016.

The good news is that Aqueduct still has giant purses - higher than Gulfstream's at this time of year - and that means the inner track meet still should enjoy decent fields and competitive races. Whenever there is extra purse money you know more horsemen and more horses will stick around and forego the trip to Florida in order to spend the winter at Aqueduct, thereby ensuring solid fields and good betting opportunities.

Even if you are the type of winter horseplayer who prefers to play the "big winter meets" 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.

 

AQUEDUCT INNER TRACK LOGISTICS

Winter racing in New York is essentially a scaled-down but yet very bettable version of NYRA's 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 no longer than 6 furlongs, 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 into the mix.

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 years past, especially in two-turn route races where the three inside posts historically dominated.

At recent Aqueduct inner track meets, 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 decent percentage.  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 recently on the inner track. All Aqueduct inner track sprints are run at either 5½ and mostly 6 furlongs, and in these races it has been the inside two posts, posts 1-2, that have been the best places to break from. Nevertheless, besides posts 1-2, all other posts were fair all the way outward to post 12 in sprints, 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 an alert handicapper should start looking for value odds horses on the outside half of the starting gate, because for some reason, those horses still sometimes get overlooked for no good statistical reason.

 

INNER TRACK RUNNING STYLES, TRACK TRENDS, AND BETTING TIPS

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.

Inner Track Tip #1 - Upgrade speed horses and downgrade deep closers
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 very non-biased 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.

Inner Track Tip #2 - Look for two-turn route horses
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.

Inner Track Tip #3 - Always bet inner track horses-for-the-course
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 winterized 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.

Inner Track Tip #4 - Out-of-town invaders do well for good trainers
Sometimes horses will ship out of town to Parx, 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 the horse is 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.

Inner Track Tip #5 - Bet against horses that do best at 6½ and 7 furlongs
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 at 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 would 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 often 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 best 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.

 

TRAINERS and JOCKEYS

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. Top trainers like Todd Pletcher and Kiaran McLaughlin will still be represented, but not in as big numbers as at other times of the year as their primary attention turns to Florida. Other big names like Shug McGaughey and Christophe Clement will be largely absent from NY in favor of Florida.

The top names in the trainer standings taking their places on the Aqueduct inner track winners list will include familiar New York names such as Gary Contessa, Bruce Levine, and Linda Rice.

On the tote board at Aqueduct on the inner track, the story often revolves around the top inner track trainers, Rudy Rodriguez, and David Jacobson. Their runners will all see heavy action pretty much whenever they are entered.

Rodriguez and Jacobson and are likely to battle it out for top honors on the inner at the 2015-2016 Aqueduct inner-track meet, with Jacobson likely to emerge as leading trainer. However, Rodriguez's and Jacobson's expected high win percentages may or may not be enough to boost them up into positive ROI territory for handicappers, because all of their horses are bet down to low odds and there are not as many national powerhouse stables around in the winter to deflect that betting money onto other horses.

Keep in mind that Linda Rice has been a major factor at this Aqueduct inner-track meet in recent winters despite splitting her stable between New York and Florida. Bruce Levine is a definite bet with horses with first-time Lasix (the "Bruce Juice"), but we advise laying off some of his low odds horses at other times.

When listing the live trainers to bet besides Pletcher, Rodriguez, and Jacobson, the list also includes other trainers will be at Aqueduct with highly-bettable winter strings like James Jerkens, Rick Violette, Mike Hushion, and Tony Dutrow.

As far as the jockeys go, the New York jock's room from December through March sure won't look the same as at other times of the year.  Big names like Castellano and Velazquez move down to Florida for the winter. That leaves brothers Jose Ortiz and Irad Ortiz to battle it out atop the jockey standings again, just as they have the last seasons on the Aqueduct inner track.

Beyond the Ortiz's, the other rider who will be making a big splash this season will be Kendrick Carmouche, who moved his tack to New York this fall and enjoyed considerable success. He rest of the top five probably will be rounded out by Manuel Franco and then perhaps a guy like Eric Cancel or Junior Alvarado.

 

Wrap-Up
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

17
Nov

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