USE SPA’S FIRST-HALF BIAS TO WIN BIG THE REST OF THE WAY
By Noel Michaels
It’s five weekends down and two big weekends still to go at Saratoga, and if the first part of the race meet at The Spa is any indication, the last two weeks are going to be ones to remember. The quality of racing and wagering is off to a very lofty beginning at the 2014 Saratoga meet, with field sizes large, payoffs big, and the races competitive.
As far as horseplayers are concerned, you must make yourself aware of the track biases have been a big part of the 2014 Saratoga meet so far, setting things up for a strong home stretch that should help astute handicappers survive and thrive through the remainder of the Saratoga meet.
When speaking of the track bias, of course I am talking about the slow rail on the main track that has affected much of the Saratoga meet so far. The outside bias that has prevailed at this year’s meet has strongly affected the main track racing at The Spa. The outside, anti-rail bias has helped outside horses and hurt the chances of inside runners for many days since opening day on July 18, up to and including this past week of action.
Here is my exclusive list of 2014 Saratoga daily main track biases noted so far this season. Remember that horses who raced on the days listed below are still coming back to run their next races at Saratoga, and the track bias information will help you handicap the horses exiting those races when they make their following starts.
Saratoga 2014 Daily Track Biases
Aug. 17 – Outside rally wide advantage
Aug. 13 – Helped to be on or close in the mud; outside preferred
Aug. 11 – Speed good
Aug. 10 – Gold rail inside bias
Aug. 9 – Front-end bias
Aug. 8 – Outside preferred
Aug. 7 – Outside was the best part of the track
Aug. 6 – Off the rail preferred
July 31 – Outside good, slow rail on fast but drying track
July 30 – Outside good, slow rail on muddy sealed track
July 28 – Outside good, horses avoided the rail on muddy sealed track
July 27 – Outside good, horses avoided the rail on muddy sealed track
Why are these track biases so important to notate and keep track of? It’s because when those biases appear, especially the strong ones that we’ve seen at Saratoga so far, they can be valuable things to take notice of and capitalize on when horses return to the track for their next starts.
Smart and successful horseplayers will keep the biases in mind, and cross-reference them when doing their daily handicapping in order to downgrade horses that benefitted from the biases while at the same time upgrading the chances of horses who were hurt by the track biases. This is especially worthwhile, because all the bias-aided winners will be underlays on the tote board in their next starts with little chance of repeating their recent success, while the horses who lost due to the track biases will be live overlays in their upcoming races with great chances of showing immediate and dramatic improvement. That’s a great recipe for cashing tickets, and catching your share of good prices.
Handicappers should not underestimate the impact that these biases can have on the race results. This bias information can be invaluable when it comes to evaluating the relative strength or weakness of the contenders in future races in cases where horses are exiting races where they ran with, or against, the noticeable track biases.
Highlighting the Second Half of the Saratoga Meet
Capitalizing on the track biases of the first half of the meet is not the only thing that horseplayers have to look forward to from here on out at Saratoga. The second half of The Spa meet is the premier part of the country’s premier annual race meet. The best horses and horsemen are all here, and the second half of the Saratoga meet will be their showcase thanks to a tremendous stakes line-up over the course of three great remaining weekends at The Spa.
The Saratoga meet is always highlighted by the Travers Stakes, which is nicknamed “The Mid-Summer Derby.” That moniker has never been more appropriate perhaps than this year, since the 3-year-old division has been totally reshuffled and is basically starting completely anew after the flop of the overrated Derby and Preakness winner in the Belmont Stakes. The remaining 3-year-olds have their eyes on the fall’s top races, and the leaders of that division will start to be decided in the Travers at Saratoga.
Travers Day 2014 at Saratoga on Saturday, August 23 will be ginormous this year – one of the top days of racing on this year’s calendar without a doubt. In addition to the Travers, which features a newly revamped purse of $1.25 million and will feature a showdown between Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, Jim Dandy winner Wicked Strong, and Haskell winner Bayern, Travers Day will also include the runnings of several other important stakes races. This includes the Grade 1 $500,000 King’s Bishop for 3-year-old sprinters, the Grade 1 $500,000 Ballerina for female sprinters, and the Grade 2 $250,000 Ballston Spa for female turf horses.
Saratoga will round out Travers weekend on Sunday, August 24 with the brand-new Saratoga New York Showcase Day, consisting of six stakes races for New York breds headlined by the $200,000 Albany for 3-year-olds.
Saratoga’s unrivaled stakes schedule will finish up on Labor Day weekend, with eight more Graded stakes races from Saturday, Aug. 30 to Monday, Sept. 1.
More Handicapping Trends to Watch
By the time the latter half of the Saratoga meet comes around, the statistics relating to shippers tend to be pretty reliable based on the numbers from recent meets. Based on past meet results, the expected percentages of winning horses can be broken down as follows, during the second half of the meet, beginning with Alabama week and extending through the end of the meet.
Saratoga Winners’ Most Recent Starts, Second Half of the Meet
55% making 2nd or 3rd or 4th start of the meet
22% last raced elsewhere on NYRA circuit (Belmont, Aqueduct)
15% Out-of-town shippers
8% first-time starters
Post Position Stats and Trends
On the grass, the rail and the inside posts have been predictably bad so far in turf sprints so far. The Saratoga turf sprint “death rail” surprisingly already has yielded five winners, and since it has already exceeded the total amount of winners your would expect from one of the worst posts in all of racing, statistically I would not except much if any more winners from that gate – or any of the three inside posts in turf sprints. Based on the law of averages, the turf sprint rail post probably won’t win another race all meet.
The bad inside stats are no shock on the turf in sprints, but the surprising news on the Saratoga turf so far is that far outside posts in inner course turf routes have performed exceptionally well and have shown no sign whatsoever of being the disadvantage they usually are at Saratoga. Horses breaking from posts 9-11 have won 8 of the 64 turf routes at Saratoga so far on the inner turf course. They have a good win percentage despite having far fewer starters overall than the inside posts.
Outside posts have not done as well on the Mellon (outer) turf course. If you don’t count the excellent stats for outside posts in Mellon turf sprints, the far outside posts have struggled in Mellon turf routes with no winners so far breaking from posts 10-12 (0-for-18).
On the main track, the inside posts have not been dominant so far, especially in routes, due mainly to the long sustained dead rail track bias that affected parts of the opening weeks of action at The Spa. Outside posts 6-18, as a group, have been putting up great numbers in Saratoga dirt routes so far, but that trend might start to even out a bit if the outside bias goes away.
Inside posts haven’t done badly on the Saratoga dirt track, however, especially in sprints where the inside posts have been better than any other spot in the starting gate. This is due mainly to the fast that Saratoga has the world’s best jockey colony, and the jock’s room is totally clued-in on the track bias. You can see it in every race with most horses being kept off the inside paths on bias-affected days.
Saratoga Dirt Post Position Stats
(July 18 – August 18)
Dirt Sprints Dirt Routes
Post Wins-Starts % Wins-Starts %
1 17-109 16% 9-42 21%
2 16-109 15% 7-42 17%
3 12-109 11% 5-42 12%
4 21-109 19% 4-42 10%
5 8-106 8% 4-39 10%
6 22-96 23% 7-35 20%
7 9-76 12% 3-20 15%
8 3-51 6% 3-12 25%
9 1-24 4% 0-5 0%
10 0-13 0%
11 0-4 0%
Keeping track of post position trends and especially the daily biases can lead you to some interesting overlays that offer good value, while at the same time helping you steer clear of horses that have been aided by track biases in their recent good efforts. Handicappers should not underestimate the impact that these biases can have on the race results. This bias information can be invaluable when it comes to evaluating the relative strength or weakness of the contenders in future races in cases where horses are exiting races where they ran with, or against, a noticeable track bias, or from a positive or negative post position.
And so, with all that money floating around upstate New York during August along with so many novice handicappers and tourists pumping money into Saratoga’s mutuel pools, you will certainly have your chances to get your hands on some of the big-time profits available during the second half of the Saratoga meet. When you notice the track bias trends mentioned in this article and learn to capitalize on them sooner than the rest of 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 mutuel windows. Good luck at Saratoga, and I hope you continue to enjoy the year’s best racing at the country’s premier racetrack.