MAKE MONMOUTH A PART OF YOUR SUMMER WEEKEND ROUTINE
By Noel Michaels - OTB Learning Labs
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer, and one of the first rites of summer for many northeasterners - including horseplayers - is a trip to the Jersey shore. However, while the public at large tends to head straight to the beach, horseplayers and handicappers have a nearby, but entirely different destination in mind - Monmouth Park, a.k.a., "the Jersey Shore's Greatest Stretch."
The Monmouth Park meet began on Saturday, May 12, and from here on out will race three days a week throughout the summer on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, for a total of 64 racing days, with Monday, May 28 replacing Friday, May 25 racing on Memorial Day weekend. This will be the third year in a row Monmouth will be stressing high-quality racing in a short and sweet three-day-a-week format with anywhere between 10-12 races per day. As a result, field sizes are generally large and good wagering opportunities will abound at Monmouth Park all summer long.
If you are not familiar with handicapping the track on a day-to-day basis, there is still plenty of time to brush up on what it takes to pick winners at Monmouth. Here is a brief handicapping overview at Monmouth Park to cover just a few of the key basics for horseplayers at the summer New Jersey race meet.
MONMOUTH PARK JOCKEYS AND TRAINERS
In the trainer standings, there will be many prominent barns stationed at Monmouth Park this summer, and still other national name trainers will have significant strings of horses at Monmouth for all or most of the season.
Todd Pletcher, for one, is targeting the Monmouth meet again this year after leading the way in 2011 and even making a strong impact back in 2010 - both times with his second string. Others such as Bill Mott and Christophe Clement figure to be targeting Monmouth's turf races, Kiaran McLaughlin will be winning turf and route races, and guys like Richard Dutrow and Bruce Levine should have a big say in allowance races.
Wesley Ward, will be a force in the short Monmouth turf sprints all summer long, as should Anthony Dutrow, and Linda Rice. Ward will also get rolling with his juveniles once the 2-year-old season heats up. Meanwhile, Derek Ryan, and Juan Serey, will be working the claiming ranks par excellence. Jason Servis has really emerged as a force at the highest levels at Gulfstream and then at Belmont, and he will be very active here at Monmouth all season long and should be one to respect, especially based on his quick start with 6 in-the-money finishers with his first 6 starters at the meet.
Even with all the out-of-town blood coming to the Jersey shore for this meet, you still can't ignore the local heavyweights. This is still a New Jersey meet, and locals will win more than their share including trainers such as Jane Cibelli, Patricia Farro, James Ryerson, and Timothy Hills. Some other trainers to watch for include high percentage, high ROI winners such as Kelly Breen, who can never be overlooked, but particularly so in claiming and maiden races, and with 2-year-olds, and Scott Volk, who routinely wins with 25% or more of his starters on this circuit.
Jockeys riding regularly at Monmouth this season will include Elvis Trujillo and Paco Lopez, in addition to all the usual New Jersey suspects including Joe Bravo and Chuckie Lopez. Trujillo has an early lead in the standings after the first couple weeks of action with 10 wins from his first 34 mounts. Lopez also started fast with 7 wins from 27 mounts, and Philly Park leader Kendrick Carmouche also started quick with 6 wins, but with a much lower percentage from 35 mounts. Angel Serpa, Joe Rocco, and Carlos Marquez should round out the top of the jockey standings at the Monmouth meet.
WINNING RUNNING STYLES AND TRACK PROFILE
Perhaps more so than any other track, racing at Monmouth Park is defined by one predominant factor: Speed. As a matter of fact, if you want to know the top 3 factors, they would be speed, speed, and more speed. Thanks to a lightning-fast track surface, tight turns, and a short stretch, Monmouth Park very well might be the most speed conducive track in the country. Closers are fun to cheer for, but if you're betting Monmouth and you want to make money, downgrade the closers and bet speed horses and close-to-the-pace horses that should have the lead or be no more than a length behind at the eighth pole or two lengths behind at the quarter pole.
The Monmouth Park speed bias is apparent at all distances on the main track. It is greatest in short sprints and gets gradually milder as the distances increase. In short sprints at 5 1/2 to 6 furlongs on the Monmouth dirt, front-runners win over 34% of all races, with most of the remaining winners either pressing or stalking the pace no further than a couple lengths back.
The speed bias is a little bit less in two turn routes than it is in sprints, but front-runners still win 20% of all Monmouth races at a mile and at 1 mile & 70 yards. Still, despite the fact that the pace-setter does not win as many of Monmouth's routes as sprints, horses with speed than can at least press the early pace tend to far outperform horses coming from father off the pace.
One of the reasons that speed is slightly less effective in routes has a lot to do with post positions, which add another dimension to the two turn races on the compact oval at the New Jersey shore.
MONMOUTH POST POSITIONS
The majority of Monmouth's sprints are run at 6 furlongs, and while the rail (Post #1) is the best place to be at that distance, it is not a strong enough bias to prevent the front runner(s) from winning from nearly any gate draw (interestingly, at 5 1/2 furlongs, middle posts 4-7 do slightly better than inside draws). It should be noted, however, that speed and the rail in six furlong races is an especially deadly angle at Monmouth Park.
In routes, however, the post position plays a much bigger role in the outcomes of Monmouth's races. In routes, it is not only important to have speed, but it is also important to break from a beneficial post position. But be careful when handicapping Monmouth routes not to make the mistake of assuming that the innermost posts are always the best places to break from.
At most route distances, it holds true that the inside posts 1-3 are the best gates to break from. At a mile, however, it is somewhat of a surprise to note that middle posts 4-7 usually do a little better than the three inside gates. This is counterintuitive since one mile races have the shortest run to the first turn and you'd expect the inside bias to be at its strongest in these races. Nevertheless, it is the middle posts, not the far inside ones, that are the best at Monmouth at a flat mile.
Finally, just as you'd expect, post draws Nos. 8 and outward are almost always detrimental in Monmouth routes.
MONMOUTH TURF RACING
On the Monmouth turf course, meanwhile, it is not surprising to note that inside posts are also the best posts, since it follows suit that if the main track has tight turns and a short stretch then the turf course must also have an even smaller and tighter layout. The inside posts are best on Monmouth's turf course at all distances, and the rail post, in particular, seems like the best place to be.
Just like on the main track, speed is handy on the Monmouth grass, especially in turf sprints. Speed does well in routes, too, but wire-to-wire types win only about 13% of the races proving that it is tough to lead all the way on grass no matter where you are. Still, while wire-to-wire horses don't always go all the way, tactical speed is still the key on the Monmouth course, where you at least want to bet pace-pressers who can stay within early striking distance of the leader(s).Fast times are in store at the Jersey shore, and it's all happening this summer at Monmouth Park. Bet on it every Friday through Sunday until October, follow the trends and winning profile, and you should be a winner. Best of luck!
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