HANDICAPPING TRAINERS A KEY TO SUCCESS AT BELMONT FALL MEET
Like The Summer Wind, 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 will the east's next big meet, the Belmont Park Fall Championship Meet, be ready to begin its eight-week run starting on Friday, Sept. 9 as Thoroughbred racing marches steadily onward toward the fall's Breeders' Cup World Championships at the start of November.
There are so many key handicapping factors affecting racing at this time of year for horseplayers, but there is no more important handicapping factor at the Belmont fall meet than knowing the trainer trends.
When it comes to trainer trends, you always want to keep on the lookout for at least two categories: 1) Who will be 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 Belmont? 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.
In this same handicapping vein as betting the barns that are still loaded on the heels of the Saratoga meet, generally speaking, it is also usually a good idea to start betting against trainers who made a lot of noise at Saratoga once they return downstate to Belmont. Many trainers' winning percentages inevitably will go down at Belmont after winning a lot of races and exhausting a lot of their horses' 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."
Belmont Park offers top-notch racing day-in-and-day-out throughout the season. Every serious horseplayer plays Belmont at this time of year, so you will need to 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.
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,
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 all return to being one-turn events, and 1 mile and 1 1/16-mile route races re-enter the picture on the dirt. 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 largely ignore other mile results run at two-turn layouts such as at Saratoga, Monmouth, and elsewhere. The best trainers at the Belmont fall meet have all learned to do this, and as a handicapper, you'll need to learn to do it too.
Here is the list of top trainers from the recently-concluded 2016 Saratoga meet:
Top Trainers - Saratoga 2016
Many times the same trainers will continually do well year-after-year at a certain meet, and this is certainly true at the Belmont fall meet. This is because most trainers have a certain approach to Saratoga in relation to Belmont, choosing to either focus on one or the other, but rarely both. For that reason, it's worthwhile to take a look back to last year for the top of the trainers' standings specifically at the Belmont fall meet.
Here is the list of top trainers from the 2015 Belmont fall meet:
Top Trainers - Belmont Fall 2015
BELMONT FALL MEET TRAINER TRENDS
Getting a look at the two graphics above, handicappers can form a pretty solid snapshot of who may be the top trainers to watch and wager on at the 2016 Belmont fall meet. Let's take an in-depth look at the trainer trends.
Based on the charts of top trainers at the most recent Saratoga and Belmont fall meets, it is safe to assume that Chad Brown, who had another sensational Saratoga meet with 40 winners will again be the top trainer at the 2016 Belmont fall meet. Last year he ran away with the trainer race with 35 wins and can be expected to be as dominant again this fall. Chad Brown's stable doesn't need to regroup after winning at Saratoga, instead, he reloads with a seemingly endless supply of top performers continually ready to win. At the Belmont fall meet, Brown is especially dominant on the grass, and during the second-half of the meet (October). In October of 2015, it seemed at time that Brown never lost a grass race. Perhaps we'll expect more of the same this season.
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 trainer's winning percentages inevitably will go down 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, is difficult to employ in Chad Brown's case, since his horses have been consistently running well race after race, horse after horse.
One trainer who may regress a little bit at the Belmont fall meet after winning a lot at Saratoga is Todd Pletcher, who certainly will be amongst Belmont's top trainers but perhaps not enjoying his best time of the year now based on the numbers from 2015 when he won at a strike rate of only 17% and finished third in the trainers' standings. Todd Pletcher, and the trainer/jockey combination of Pletcher/Velazquez will once again be prolific at the Belmont fall meet, but limit your preference of his horses only to juvenile races and stakes races and you will benefit strongly in the pocketbook much more than simply betting his horses willy-nilly.
Linda Rice is always a trainer you want to focus on at the Belmont fall meet and this year is no exception. Rice was cold during the first half of Saratoga bit then heated up the last three weeks or so. Look at the trainer standings from 2015's Belmont fall meet and you will see she won 19 races here last fall for second in the standings behind only Chad Brown. She's hot and going into her best meet of the year, so it's time to start betting the Linda Rice horses with regularity. This is especially true in the turf sprints, where Rice often dominates.
Besides Brown and Pletcher, the trainers who enjoyed perhaps the best meets at Saratoga this year were Charlton Baker and Jeremiah Englehart - two lower-profile guys who can still offer horseplayers good ROIs. Englehart won 10 races and was in the money 61% of the time. Baker, meanwhile, was sensational with an impressive 34% win percentage and a 62% ITM percentage. The main question that comes up with these two is, will they be in the first category of trainers at Belmont by continuing their hot streaks, or will they fall into the second category of trainers that fired their best shots at Saratoga and will have nothing left in the barn for Belmont? For these two, the answer might be somewhere in the middle. Englehart and Baker won 6 and 4 races, respectively at last year's Belmont fall meet, and those may be realistic numbers to expect again this season.
Other trainers who won 10 or more races at the recently concluded Saratoga meet include David Jacobson, and Rudy Rodriguez. Jacobson in the past has been very quiet at The Spa, and his performance this summer bodes well for him being a major factor at Belmont, because Belmont runs many more of the types of races that Jacobson's horses excel in, and his claimers can do a lot more damage at Belmont than they can upstate. Always bet Jacobson off the claim, especially when he claims-and-drops. The same can be true for Rudy Rodriguez, who should be able to improve upon his 14% win percentage at Saratoga.
Bill Mott is a very interesting case this year, indeed. Normally Mott wins a ton of races at Saratoga and cools down considerably at the Belmont fall meet. This year however, Mott had a down year at Saratoga. Will he be able to improve upon his 10 winners and 12% win percentage from last season's Belmont fall meet? Probably not, the numbers from last year are probably indicative of where he'll be this season, as well.
Kiaran McLaughlin won at a typically high win-percentage at Saratoga and finished a strong third in the 2016 Spa standings with 13 wins (20%/50%). He should continue his winning ways at Belmont. When betting McLaughlin horses, keep in mind the longer the race, the better.
Jason Servis has been winning races all over the place including at Monmouth where he's won everything in sight this summer. Servis is a master of dividing his stable between Saratoga and Monmouth during the summer - similar to the way Bruce Levine used to do - in order to maximize the effectiveness of his runners. Horses that like 1 mile and 1 1/16th miles, or would be outclassed at Saratoga go to Monmouth where they can win. Servis's barn will all come together again at Belmont this fall, but beware. After a sensational year in 2015 with high win percentages everywhere all year long from Gulfstream to Saratoga and Monmouth, Servis cooled off last fall at Belmont. Will we see a similar situation this season?
On the opposite end of the spectrum is turf ace trainer Christophe Clement whose grass string is always powerful at Belmont at the fall meet. Clement will lead the parade of top stables returning to full force in Belmont turf races after the conclusion of a very sub-par meet at Saratoga. One great thing about Clement, is that he'll keep winning on the turf all fall season long, including plenty of wins in October as well as September. Shug McGaughey is another trainer that can be counted on for high winning percentages at Belmont in the fall, but his numbers will drop-off at Belmont once half of his good runners leave for Keeneland.
James Jerkens will be another trainer to watch at Belmont. He doesn't focus much on Saratoga usually, but he does focus his stable on the bookend meets at Belmont. You can also expect Bruce Levine to win races, as always, at Belmont. Continue to watch for Levine with first-time Lasix (the "Bruce Juice").
Gary Contessa put together a very solid Saratoga meet this season and even won some turf races upstate. His stable was very live at Saratoga, but in my opinion this bodes poorly for him at Belmont, where his stable will likely need to do a lot of re-loading after firing the best bullets at The Spa.
Along with the previously-mentioned Christophe Clement, and of course Chad Brown and Linda Rice, two more trainers you really have to put at the top of your list at the 2016 Belmont Fall Championship Meet also are Steve Asmussen and Mike Maker.
For Steve Asmussen, 2016 has been a banner year with his Hall of Fame induction this summer following his win in the Belmont Stakes with Creator. Beware Asmussen at the Belmont fall meet again based on his 10-win performance at Saratoga this summer, and based on the tremendous Belmont fall meet he put together in 2015 when he went 9-for-30 for 30% wins and a giant 73% ITM! He didn't use all his bullets at Saratoga and he's ready for another big Belmont season.
Mike Maker is another trainer who should do well this fall at Belmont. He was solid but not spectacular at Saratoga with 10 wins but only a 16% win percentage. That usually portends good things for barns like that at Belmont in the fall when their stable is still loaded with good horses that still have all their maiden and allowance conditions. Maker will particularly be tough on the turf, and he should be able to duplicate his numbers from last fall at Belmont when he won 9-for-31 for 29% wins and 55% ITM.
Here is a recap of my top trainers to bet at the upcoming Belmont Fall Championship Meet, listed in order to preference:
Trainers to Bet at Belmont Fall Meet
Todd Pletcher (2yos and stakes)
Bet trainers at their strengths and bet against them at their weaknesses, and your win percentage and return on investment will go upward quickly. The Belmont Fall Championship Meet will be filled with extremely competitive fields and difficult handicapping puzzles, but the best way to make handicapping easier is by following trainer trends, which can help you narrow down many races to only the top contenders. When you focus on the contenders and bet against the pretenders, you will be on your way to winning races at Belmont Park. Best of Luck!
By Noel Michaels
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