Submitted by Noel Michaels on Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 12:00 AM
WINTER RACING - THE AQUEUDUCT INNER TRACK IS WHERE IT’S AT
By Noel Michaels
Winter racing in New York is here, and huge purses have basically been the key to keeping field sizes decent enough to keep the good wagering opportunities coming at a steady pace at Aqueduct this season. New York winter racing 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.
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 from now through the end of March.
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 January in the world of Thoroughbred racing.
Aqueduct Inner Track January Progress Report
Aqueduct’s purses have skyrocketed the last couple of winters due to an influx of cash from Aqueduct’s bustling racino, and the added purse money, along with the elimination of most couplings, has also made a positive impact on field sizes and betting opportunities at Aqueduct’s inner track meet.
The resulting Aqueduct winter product is unlike the rest of the year in New York, yet still basically very bettable. The winter in New York is a no frills product, but nevertheless is still top-notch racing. One big change this winter at Aqueduct involves the schedule, which has added Monday racing throughout most of January, February, and March. Racing will be conducted five-days a week, weather permitting, on a Thursday-through-Monday schedule for the rest of January and March, and on a four-day-a-week schedule Friday-through-Monday in February.
It might not be glamorous, but the handle at the Aqueduct inner track is still on par with any other winter signal racing at this time of the year believe it or not.
There are two big human-related stories currently on the radar that are having a huge impact on the 2013 Aqueduct inner track meet – the domination in the jockey standings of the Ortiz brothers, Irad and Jose, and the domination atop the trainers ranks of David Jacobson and Rudy Rodriguez.
Multiple Eclipse Award-winning jockey Ramon Dominguez suffered a skull fracture in a spill almost exactly a year ago on January 18, 2013, and has since been forced to retire. Dominguez regularly rode just about every favorite and was regularly leading the winter jockey standings with 30-40% wins, and his absence, along with the absence of other top New York circuit jockeys in the winter, has left a void in the Aqueduct inner track jockey colony. Making things even worse on the New York jockey scene is the recent injury of top five New York jockey Junior Alvarado, who will also miss the winter Aqueduct meet.
That void has been filled largely by Irad Ortiz and Jose Ortiz, who finished 1-2 in the jockey standings at the 2012-2013 Aqueduct inner track meet, and are again clearly atop the jockey standings at the current meet by a wide margin – each winning over 20% of their mounts. The only other jockey over 20% wins currently is Cornelio Velasquez, who has wisely chosen to stay in New York over the winter to take advantage of the thin jockey colony, smaller fields, and huge purses. Another rider who will take advantage of the missing jockeys this season will be David Cohen, who should stay in the top 5 all winter and will get the majority of the Todd Pletcher-trained mounts at the meet.
Speaking of Pletcher, he is not the dominant force he once was on the inner track, even just a couple of years ago when he pushed up near the 40% win percentage mark before finishing the meet near 35% wins. Beginning in 2013, Pletcher started to put less focus on the Aqueduct inner track with much fewer starters, and that trend is continuing in 2014. Nevertheless, even with Pletcher starting fewer horses at Aqueduct over the winter these days, he still is making quite an impression and winning at a high percentage (9-for-32 at 28% wins though 1/9/14). He can be expected to stay high in the trainer standings all winter long with his second-string, right behind Jacobson and Rodriguez.
Jacobson continues to be deadly in the claiming game and leads the way in the Aqueduct trainer standings thanks to sheer numbers. During the first 5 weeks of the 2013-2014 inner track meet, Jacobson started 89 horses and won 25 races for 28% wins. These are typical numbers for the Jacobson stable and he should maintain these kinds of win percentages all winter while eventually running away with the training title. In particular, Jacobson must be wagered on when he pulls his patented claim-and-drop maneuver – which would be a red flag for many other barns, but not this one which racks up the wins with class drops all year long.
The trainer in closest pursuit of Jacobson is former Richard Dutrow protégé Rudy Rodriguez, who is winning at a giant 33% clip so far at this inner track meet, and has been known on occasion to flirt with a 40% win percentage at the Aqueduct inner track meet. You can count on Rodriguez’s winning ways to continue all season long.
Gary Gullo and Linda Rice have been other conditioners to watch atop the trainer standings this season. Gullo is off to a hot start to the meet winning a big 29% of his races with 5 wins from 17 starters. Rice is having an exceptional inner track meet, too, with 5 wins from her first 23 starters amongst the horses she left in New York apart from her main Florida-bound first-string.
Other trainers to bet at Aqueduct in January and February at Aqueduct include Jason Servis, (off to a slow start but ready to heat-up in New York and Florida), Anthony Dutrow (with a small winter presence in New York), and Mike Hushion (who customarily wins at a huge win percentage on the inner track). Additionally, Chad Brown (3-for-11, 27%), Kiaran McLaughlin (3-for-11, 27%), Rick Violette (4-for-13, 31%), and shockingly Joe Orseno (3-for-8, 38%) and Leo O’Brien (3-for-11, 27%), are all having great, high win-percentage meets, so far.
Aqueduct’s inner track usually is at the mercy of track biases, and not surprisingly, the track has shown various favoritisms since opening early in December (refer to my chart below).
The main bias of note so far this winter on the Aqueduct inner track occurred on the last week of 2013 when racing resumed after Christmas from Dec. 26-31 – a span that included a few outside-biased racing days.
Here is my view of this season’s track bias information from the Aqueduct inner track:
Aqueduct Inner Track biases
Jan. 4 – Helped to be on or close to the pace
Jan. 2 – Off the pace advantage
Dec. 31 – Outside good on drying track
Dec. 29 – Outside bias on rainy track
Dec. 26 – Outside bias
Dec. 22 – Speed good
Dec. 21 – Helped to be on or close to the pace
Dec. 19 – Speed bias
Dec. 11 – Rally wide trips preferred
Running Styles and Post Positions
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. Do yourself a favor and upgrade early speed horses while slightly downgrading the closers, especially in a race where 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.
Aside from being known as a speed-favoring track, the Aqueduct inner track is also known as a track that strongly favors inside posts, especially in two-turn route races.
Let’s take a look at the Aqueduct inner track post position statistics through the first part of the meet for an idea of how the track has been playing so far this season.
Aqueduct Winning Post Positions
As you can see from the post positions stats from early in the current Aqueduct inner track meet, there has been very little advantage or disadvantage for inside, middle, or outside posts at any of the distances – routes or sprints. Since Aqueduct’s inner track usually favors inside posts, especially in routes, the numbers so far really demonstrate the toll the post-Christmas outside biases have taken on the overall statistics at the young meet. Not only have plenty of outside horses been winning in sprints, but outside horses have also been winning route races as well.
In particular, look at the percentages for the far outside post 10 in inner track routes early this season. Usually a death sentence, post 10 has been extremely productive with 5 winners from 14 starters for an alarming 36% wins. Inside posts meanwhile, both in routes and sprints, have not been bad but certainly have not provided any advantage so far.
Since there has been an early outside bias noted on several days of the young inner track meet, that bias has clearly affected the early post position win percentages. Go ahead and downgrade horses that did well with outside trips on the above-noted outside-biased days, and upgrade inside horses that were hurt by the biases on those same days.
Additionally, you can expect that during the course of the entire Aqueduct inner track meet, the win percentages for the inside posts, especially in routes, will continue to improve to go up toward where you would expect the highest win percentages to be down inside, where horses can save all the ground with the short run to the first turn. Conversely, the outside posts, especially in route races, will not continue to win at the high percentages they have been able to win at so far. Expect the win percentage from post 10 to drop dramatically as the season goes on.
Good luck during the Aqueduct inner track meet, and enjoy the upcoming 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 good bets to be cashed in New York at this time of year. Get with me and my Daily Best Bets to turn this sound analysis into an endless parade of winners! I hope you can make this winter a winning one on the Aqueduct inner track. Enjoy!