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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, July 24, 2015 at 12:00 AM

SARATOGA PRIMER
VOLUME 12 - Number 4
Friday 7/24
/15

SOME GRASS IS GREENER...TAKING AN INNER LOOK AT THE SPA TURF!

Last year at Saratoga there were a total of 181 races run on the grass.

There were 92 races run over the Inner Dirt Track at 5 different distances ranging from a mile to a mile and a half. By far the most races were run at the one mile distance.

On the Main Track there were a total of 89 races run and sprint races run at the only one turn distance they are run at (5.5 furlongs) dominated with 51 contests.

While all but the sprint races (more on that below) do share the commonality of bettors being able to have faith in most of the field being well meant on the surface it is well looking at some break downs from last year, breakdowns based on which turf course and in a few samples which distance in order to be aware that some grass is greener than others.


FIRST A SHORT NOTE ON TURF SPRINT RACES

When Saratoga continued to expand the number of days they ran during the meet, early on they found that despite so many barns wanting to be in the Spa limelight there were times when they had to go looking for horses to build the larger fields that not only made for such competitive racing but also for higher payout returns.

In 2006 track officials solved some of the problem when they began to card turf sprints. This certainly added a number of runners to the programs but at the same time created a unique handicapping challenge because while at Belmont they can run turf sprints at 6 furlongs and 7 furlongs (they also run at 7.5 but it is open to discussion if this is a sprint or mid-distance race) at Saratoga due to where a starting gate can be logistically placed these sprints can only be run on the Main Turf course and only at 5.5 furlongs.

This unique situation means that a handicapper has to weigh whether a horse that was showing speed at 7 furlongs or a mile on turf and is now shortened up has enough speed to run early with a dedicated 5.5 furlong or 6 furlong turf speed horse or dirt sprinter that is being tried on grass either because the trainer believes the runner will handle the grass or for that matter is failing on dirt and it is a hope-against-hope option.

On the other hand that same handicapper must match up the projected speed, factor in gate placement and decide if a runner that has been closing at 6 or 7 furlongs will, even with a big pace set up, manage to move in enough time going the shorter distance.

What has turned out to be interesting since the commencement of turf sprinting is that since 2006 when it was a new game and handicappers dealt with the learning curve, and despite there being a growing data base of angles and trends over the years (from which jockeys handle the distance better to which post positions are strongest based on how many horses run in an individual race) the value of these races has held up.

That being said, let’s take a look at last year’s results so you can get an idea of where you might want to focus your attention when considering your best opportunity to find overlay returns.

5.5 FURLONG TURF SPRINTS

-There were 51 turf sprints.
-The average field size was 8.5 runners. This is slightly below the average the last few years.
-Nonetheless the average winning payout last year was $13.86
-There were 22 double digit payers or 43% of the winners.
-There were 17 winning favorites or 33%, slightly below the overall winning favorite percentage for all Saratoga races a year ago. Notably there were 8 winning favorites in the first 16 races last year and then 9 in the last 35.
-There were only 2 odds-on winners and the mean payoff was $32.40.

TWO TURN MAIN TURF COURSE RACES

The two turn Main Turf races were run at 4 different distances...8.5, 9, 9.5 and 13 furlongs. Again, these distances are based on where the staring gates are logistically placed on the course in order to guarantee a fair start heading into a first turn.

-There were 38 Main Turf two turn races.
-The average field size was 8.9 runners. This is in keeping with the average the last few years.
-The average payoff was $11.48, which is below the overall turf payoffs for all grass races a year ago and below the overall average payoff for all races run at Saratoga in 2014. And this number was inflated a bit by the mean payoff of $47.55 created by a $91.00 payoff. Main Turf course two turn races were the most formful of all the grass designations a year ago.
-There were 16 double digit payers or 42.1% of the winners.
-There were 14 winning favorites or 36.8%, which was close to the percentage for all Saratoga races a year ago.
-There were only 2 odds-on winners.


OVERALL TWO TURN INNER TURF RACES

The two turn Inner Turf races were run at 5 different distances...8, 8.5, 9, 11 and 12 furlongs. Again, these distances are based on where the staring gates are logistically placed on the course in order to guarantee a fair start heading into a first turn. Of the 92 races run on the Inner Turf course the predominant number of races were run at One Mile (43 races.) The results below reflect the overall statistics for the total of 91 races and that will be followed by a separate breakdown of only those races run a One Mile on the Inner Turf course.

-There were 92 Inner Turf two turn races.
-The average field size was 8.9 runners. This is in keeping with the average the last few years.
-The average payoff was $12.38, which is slightly below the overall turf payoffs for all grass races a year ago and slightly below the overall average payoff for all races run at Saratoga in 2014. HOWEVER...as you will see below based on the average payoff for One Mile Inner Turf races, the average overall payoff for every other Inner Turf race NOT RUN at that mile distance was much higher...AND WAS THE BEST VALUE OF ALL GRASS RACING.
-There were 38 double digit payers or 41% of the winners.
-There were 32 winning favorites or 41.4%, which was high compared to the overall percentage of winning favorites for all Saratoga races a year ago.
-The mean payoff was $36.40
-There was only 1 odds-on winner.

 

ONE MILE INNER TURF RACES

-There were 43 One Mile Inner Turf races.
-The average field size was 9.5 runners. This is just slightly higher than the average the last few years.
-The average payoff was $10.60, which is considerably below the overall turf payoffs for all grass races a year ago and well below the overall average payoff for all races run at Saratoga in 2014.
-There were 16 double digit payers or 37.2% of the winners.
-There were 18 winning favorites or 41.9%, which was above the percentage for all Saratoga turf and overall races a year ago.
-Despite the low average winning payout there was only one odds-on winning favorite.

 

CONCLUSION

As I have mentioned many times in past editions of these results articles, they are merely the foundation upon which I begin my handicapping. Once I am in a Higher Than Average Return On Investment History data base I then begin to break the races down based on dozens of factors.

I input trainer history at the distance and over the surface. As I stated above, I know which post positions are better than others, not simply based on which post positions win but which ones win based on the number of horses in any race run at the same distance on a comparative bases.

I also input trip angles, knowing how form at Belmont and at the tracks so many live runners ship in from were either aided or hindered by the construction of the race(s) they are exiting and how that will aid or hinder them today.

As I say, these results are only a starting point. But they are a good foundation and give you an idea of just how much work goes into FINDING A WINNER!

SARATOGA

"Graveyard of Favorites" for losers…"Longshot Heaven" for winners
And the difference is INFORMATION!
Jim Hurley has the winning information at Saratoga - Click here

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