Horses to Watch and Saratoga Opening Week Review


By John Piesen


Among many of John Piesen's talents is his capacity to WATCHED EVERY RACE AT SARATOGA over and over to make sure that he got every "TRIP" aspect of the race correct. Was a horse hindered or helped unduly by the trip he got. How does that knowledge play forward regarding the next or ensuing race. Below is a short sample list of the sort of HORSES TO WATCH notes John compiles for further use

The following list as compiled based on races run from July 24 to July 27.

HERE COMES ROSIE - This 2-year old filly from the Jeremiah Englehart barn was most impressive in her career debut vs NYSB MSW peers. She willingly chased the pace in the early going, continued to advance 3 wide into the lane and despite being bumped twice by the winning favorite still held second well clear of the show horse. Won't be a maiden long.

OFF THE TRACKS - This juvenile daughter of Curlin easily handled MSW rivals to win her debut by widening margins at Gulfstream in mid-June and was an equally impressive winner of the 6 furlong Schuylerville Stakes in career start number two. She broke just off the paced setter, took over when asked and increased her margin through the lane. With multiple I winner Curlin as her sire and multiple Grade I winner Havre de Grace as the dam she has the class and will only get better as she travels further later in the meet.

SITE READ - This juvenile son of Tizdejavu was dismissed at 21-1 in his debut, as likely due to trainer Bill Mott's propensity to let young horses learn as they race (low MSW first time starter percentage) so the most impressive win by this guy must be noticed. He settled off the pace in the 8½ furlong test, moved outside off the far turn and finished his final 3/16th in a strong :28 4/5. Looks to have a future.

KID TUITION - The Indiana Downs shipper turned in a solid effort vs 50K turf claiming sprinters in first try over the surface. The Michael Smithwick trainee stuck close to a sharp pace, took over briefly inside the sixteenth pole and just failed to hold off the winning favorite while well clear of the show filly. Next time the experience should pay dividends.

DEEDEEZEE - THE Todd Pletcher trainer filly had a rough trip in her career but but the juvenile turf runner still managed a good third in the mile and a sixteenth test. She was bumped at the start, squeezed back by two rivals shortly after but still stayed in the top flight until finding her best stride with a 3 wide move entering the stretch. She moved to take the lead inside the furlong marker and tired slightly from her early efforts. Won't be a maiden for long.

CORNER THREE - Sent off as the 8-5 favorite following an impressive NYSB MSW win in her prior the Chad Brown trainee suffered from a ground losing trip and placeless race that worked against her strengths in the entry level allowance two turn turf affair. From her outside post she was caught 3 wide on the first turn, dropped back to save ground down the backstretch and had to move wide again on the far turn. She rallied late, beaten just 3 lengths for it all but couldn't overcome a :49 half mile and 1:13 six furlongs as the 1-2-3 finishers ran that way throughout. Just needs an honest pace and clean trip to surpass the level.



One of the true rewards of diligent handicapping at Saratoga is the VALUE FROM TURF RACING.

Over the course of the first four days of the meet there were 19 turf races combined over the Mellon Turf Course and Inner Turf Course.

Combined there were 6 favorites among the 19 winners.


*There were 10 races.

*There were 2 favorite winners.

*The 2 winning favorites were $7.10 and $8.10 which is well above the overall Saratoga average payoff for winning favorites as well as the national average.

*The average winning payoff was $22.80. This number was reflective of a $112.50 bomb among the winners but 4 of the 10 were double digits with nothing shorter than the aforementioned $7.10 and $8.10.


*There Were 9 races.

*There were 4 favorite winners. However, 3 of those favorites were winners in the 4 turf sprints whereas there was only 1 winning favorite from the 5 other Inner Turf two turn races.

*That distinction is in keeping with the larger and more competitive fields in the two turn races run on either grass course. That adds up to 3 winning favorites from 15 two turn turf races.

*Despite the 4 winning favorites the average winning payoff for Inner Turf races was $15.03.

*The overall average winning payoff for all 19 turf races was $17.96...well above the overall average payoff during the first 4 days of the meet.

CONCLUSION - These numbers might moderate some but years of statistics don't lie. Turf racing has always provided more value than dirt racing at the Spa.


Last year at Saratoga Todd Pletcher and Bill Chad Brown, as expected finished 1-2 in the trainer standings. The same two conditioners also finished 1-2 in the recently concluded Belmont meet. This also was expected.

What wasn't expected was the increased success of trainer Bill Mott. That is not to say that Mott is an afterthought, far from it, he is a champion trainer with multiple graded stakes success to his credit, but is known for managing smaller barns than Pletcher and Brown and being somewhat more conservative in his approach.

All that being said, Mott had a dynamite Belmont meet as he finished third behind Pletcher and Brown and has absolutely leapfrogged and buried them in the dearly going of the this year's Saratoga meet.

Entering Wednesday (7/29) racing the top three trainers were Mott, Pletcher and Brown, but the standings weren't close.

MOTT...13 Starters...6 Wins...3 Seconds...1 Third.


  • Average winning payoff $16.88
  • Has won with a pair of 2-year old first time starters (each at two turns on grass) $44.20 (Site Read) and $25.20 (Sage Hall) which in itself is a tremendous up sign as Mott very seldom has first time starters ready to win in MSW debuts (single digit percentage over years long samples.) In fact, a third first time MSW juvenile starter (Rebelle) ran second to Sage Hall in the same race and created a $258.00 Exacta.
  • A $2 win bet on every one of Mott's runners returned $7.79 for each.

Early on neither Pletcher nor Brown are close.


16 races...4 winners

Average Payoff is $7.73...Average R.O.I. is $1.93


16 races...3 winners

Average Win payoff is $10.13...Average R.O.I. is $1.90

CONCLUSION - If this keeps up the public will adjust and some value on Mott will be lost. However, years and years of data show that the public is slavish when it comes to overall percentages and they will continually over bet both Pletcher and Brown so stay alert.


One of the most challenging handicapping tasks and most rewarding payoffs for those who get it right is the overriding aspect of shippers.

Every year outfits big and small ship into Saratoga with one goal in mind...winning on the big stage.

Already over the course of the first 4 days of racing and a total of 41 races there have been 13 winners who had last raced outside the New York circuit.

This number is in keeping with what usually happens during the first half or so of the meet. It is important to understand that if one is to catch the right shipper at the right price it happens for the most part during the first half because when we get to weeks four and beyond many that were shippers first time over the surface are running their second race at the meet.

So far there have been shippers from 19 different North American tracks...the less than a handful of European winners...are not calculated below.

There are a number of standards from years past that have held up again in 2015.

For instance, Churchill Downs, Gulfstream Park, Monmouth and PARX which regularly provide the largest number of shippers has done so again this year with Churchill the most and PARX the fourth most respectively.

Also both holding firm is Churchill's low percentage of winners and high percentage of off-the-board finishers. From 31 starters there have been only 3 winners, a pair of seconds and a pair of thirds.

However, what makes the Churchill evaluation difficult is that based on conditions there are a number of races where there are multiple CD shippers...sometimes as many as four. Nonetheless, there are no numbers that show Churchill Downs shippers as having any value based simply on them shipping in, so you should demand a number of strong angles if you are going to back Kentucky invaders.

There is, however, one against-the-norm shipping angle during the first four days that sticks out sharply and that is the performance of Santa Anita shippers.

Of immediate note is the performance of Santa Anita shippers. Even before getting to how successful they've been it is noticeable how many have already started. In years past you "might" have the number elevate to low double digits, if that, but this year there have already been seven starters that last raced in Southern California.

What is even more impressive is that ALL SEVEN HAVE HIT THE BOARD with 3 winners, 2 seconds and 2 thirds. And the 3 winners returned $9.30, $11.00 and $14.40.

There are likely a number of reasons for this. Southern California is only 2 years plus removed from Santa Anita returning to traditional dirt, a little over a year removed from Hollywood (synthetic surface) closing and Del Mar now running on traditional dirt beginning this year. That dynamic makes surface switching upon a ship to Saratoga much less problematic.

Getting back to the overall performance by shippers let's take a look at the records from the 19 different export points rated by number of shippers that ran during the first 4 days.

CHURCHILL...31-3-2-2...Wins $51.50...$8.20...$3.00

GULFSTREAM...13-2-0-0...Wins $19.60...$47.40

MONMOUTH...12-2-1-1...Wins $112.50...$12.80

PARX...9-2-0-2...Wins $12.50...$12.80

SANTA ANITA...7-3-2-2...Wins $9.30...$11.00...$14.40




ELLIS PARK...3-0-0-0



FINGER LAKES (Even though in NY a much lower level track)...2-0-0-0








SOME OBSERVATIONS - Although no one would suggest it as methodology it is worth discussing the Value-Laden Opportunities of following shippers. So let's do that with a few statistics.

  • Of the 100 total shippers that ran over the course of the first 4 days of the meet there were 12 winners from the 41 races. And in fact given restricted NYSB and juvenile maiden races there were actually less than the 41 races in which shippers participated, meaning the winning percentage was even higher than 12 of 41.
  • The 12 shippers came from only 5 tracks from which there was a total of 72 starters.
  • The 12 winners returned a total of $315.00 based on a $2 wager. That means you c could have wagered on every starter shipping in from Churchill, Gulfstream, Monmouth, PARX and Santa Anita and for a $144 investment you would have collected $315.00, more than doubling up.
  • Even if you added in the 28 runners from the other 12 tracks (which produced no winners from 28 starters) you still had a $315 return for $200 invested based on a total of 100 runners.  

Obviously this is not what is being recommended but it is being extrapolated in order to show you just how much value there is in following the shippers.



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