Submitted by Noel Michaels on Monday, July 13, 2015 at 12:00 AM
CASH-IN ON BELMONT-TO-SARATOGA DIRT ROUTE DISTANCE CHANGES
By Noel Michaels
With the impending move from Belmont Park to Saratoga fast approaching, we’re coming up to one of those times of the year in New York racing where the difference between one-turn and two-turn races is so important. Pay attention to this important difference, and you will have a distinct edge over the majority of the betting public.
One of Saratoga’s long-standing nicknames is "The Graveyard of Favorites," and the track has that reputation for a number of reasons. Much of it has to do with the fact that bettors get the odds all wrong in route races by misinterpreting horses’ one-turn route form from Belmont - either better than it really is, or worse - when handicapping races on Saratoga’s totally different two-turn layout.
Two-turn route races have always been a big element of handicapping at Saratoga, unlike at New York’s bookend race meets at Belmont Park which almost no two-turn routes. Saratoga, on the other hand, cards roughly 40 two-turn dirt routes a season - an average of about one per day - and those events are quite different than the dirt route races run around one turn at Belmont Park. Plus, when it rains a lot, you can expect even more dirt routes at Saratoga due to all of the races moved from turf to dirt. In 2014 for example, there were a total of 62 dirt route races run at Saratoga, for an average of 1.5 of these races per day.
Oftentimes the New York horses that come to Saratoga with the best form from Belmont are horses that have been excelling, in part, thanks to their preference for one-turn races. At Saratoga, this factor flip-flops away from the one-turn specialists who’ve excelled at Belmont, and instead favors two-turn horses that like the routes at Saratoga, and other more traditional track layouts including at Aqueduct.
This adds an interesting handicapping wrinkle in this track change situations to- and away from- Belmont Park. This upcoming move in New York racing from Belmont to Saratoga is one of those pertinent times of year.
In order to figure out if a horse prefers one turn or two turns, handicappers need to scan down a horse’s past performances and see where its past route wins and/or highest route speed figures have come from. If you see a horse that has demonstrated its best route form at Belmont going 1 mile, 1 1/16 miles, or 1 1/8 miles, then that horse can probably be termed a "one-turn router." However, if you see a horse whose best route races came on more traditional layouts such as Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Monmouth, the mid-Atlantic region, or in past races at Saratoga, then you have a potential key play or wake-up horse at Saratoga, particularly if the horse’s past good two-turn efforts came at or near 1 1/8 miles.
With the move to Saratoga the focus in New York racing flip-flops from benefiting one-turn route specialists down at Belmont (and one-turn miles at other tracks such as Churchill Downs) to favoring route horses that do their best running around two turns. Bet horses whose best route races came on traditional two-turn route layouts, or in past races at Saratoga (i.e. horses for the course). Give these two-turn horses the edge against overbet horses that do their best running at Belmont.
Remember also, that at Saratoga, because of the track layout, there are no one-mile races and no 1 1/16-mile races. The vast majority of all main track routes are run at 1 1/8 miles. This creates lots of problems for horses whose best distances are one mile and/or 1 1/16 miles. Those horses must either stretchout to 1 1/8 miles (perhaps too long), or cutback to seven furlongs around one turn (too short).
In addition to looking for two-turn-type horses, you need to work on eliminating horses that just-plain don’t want to go 1 1/8 miles on the dirt. Many horses are much the best at one mile and/or 1 1/16 miles, but those options are closed to them at Saratoga. Bet against those horses that prefer the shorter dirt route distances, and upgrade the chances of horses that are proven at 1 1/8 miles and beyond.
This distance angle goes beyond just Belmont and Saratoga handicapping at this time of year and actually extends to horses running in dirt routes all over the eastern region including, most notably, Monmouth Park, Parx, and Delaware Park. Many of the better New York barns are well aware of this distance angle, and instead choose to ship-off their one mile and 1 1/16-mile dirt specialists to other tracks during the Saratoga meet, because they just can’t win at either 7F or 1 1/8 miles.
Trainers with lot of resources and/or out-of-town operations have the advantage in this regard, such as Todd Pletcher, Jason Servis, Bruce Levine, Tony Dutrow, and Steve Asmussen. These guys will pick-out their mis-matched distance horses early and ship them to races at Monmouth, Parx, Delaware, or elsewhere before Saratoga even begins, or else they’ll run them off their feet with several races at Belmont before giving them a break when the meet ends.
Other trainers with smaller operations, however, without the resources to run strings of horses out of town, stick around at Saratoga and lose races all season long with these types of races at 7F and 1 1/8 miles with horses that should be entered at 1 mile or 1 1/16 miles.
Therefore, during this time of year, bet against horses stuck at the wrong distance at Saratoga from the smaller and/or New York-only stables. On the flip side, bet on the horses from the barns like Pletcher, Servis, Levine, Dutrow, Asmussen, and others that run in the 7F and 1 1/8-mile dirt races at Saratoga, and hammer them when you see them out of town, especially at Monmouth, when you see them entered at 1 mile and 1 1/16 miles. This is because they’ve already assessed their horses based on distance, and sorted them out to run in races at the tracks where they’ll be most effective.
Saratoga: 1 1/8-Mile Races on the Dirt
When it comes to post positions, the inside four posts historically have had a slight advantage in all two-turn dirt races at Saratoga, particularly at the most common dirt route distance of 1 1/8 miles. This way of thinking is prevalent amongst many bettors, and it is strong enough to affect the odds, making inside-drawn horses favorites and bumping-up the odds on outside horses. However, take note that but this post position factor has played a smaller role at recent Saratoga meets, perhaps because of some kind of difference with the recent track superintendents as opposed to former track maintenance crews.
A look at the post position stats at the most commonly run two-turn distance of 1 1/8 miles at the 2014 Saratoga meet reveals, surprisingly to many, that there is very little post position advantage in these races, with plenty of winners originating from all posts from the inside all the way out on out to post 8. Posts outside 8 are still a disadvantage, but the outside posts 5-8 currently show no statistical disadvantage at all in these races at Saratoga.
Winning Post Positions - 2014 Saratoga Dirt Routes
Belmont Dirt Trends to Use in July Handicapping (Belmont and Saratoga)
Now let’s move over to the Belmont Park dirt track and look at some trends we’ve noticed this season. These notes will be helpful for handicappers to know in the waning days at the Belmont meet, and once the action shifts to Saratoga with horses exiting outings at Belmont in their last races.
There have been a limited amount of track bias days so far at this Belmont meet, but if there’s one prevailing bias that has affected racing so far, it has been that outside running paths have seemed to be better than inside paths on a few different occasions.
Here are my noted track biases so far at Belmont 2015:
Belmont Track Biases 2015
July 4 - Outside advantage
July 3 - Outside preferred
June 24 - Outside preferred
June 11 - Helped to be on or close to the pace
June 6 - Speed bias on Belmont Stakes Day
May 31 - Outside preferred
May 30 - Outside good
May 29 - Outside good
May 21 - Outside good
May 20 - Closers won 3-of-4 races
May 6 - Outside good, slow rail
When it comes to post position angles on the Belmont main track, it has been the inside and middle posts that have been by far the best. Outside posts are bad at Belmont this year starting with post 7 (i.e. you need to be in posts 1-6 in Belmont dirt routes at have your best chance). Combined with the way the track has been playing better on the outside some days at Belmont, the best trips in Belmont routes have been by horses breaking from inside posts that can work-out trips from off the rail.
Outside posts in Belmont dirt routes have been downright awful so far at this meet. Based on the raw post position figures listed below, you truly need a post 1-6 in order to have you best chance in a Belmont dirt route at this year’s meet.
Belmont Dirt Route Winning Post Positions
(2015 spring/summer meet thru July 12)
|Post||Dirt Route Wins|
As you can see in the Belmont dirt route post position chart, horses breaking from the outside posts 7-12 have won only a combined 8-for-111 races for a 7% win percentage.
A Final Note about Synthetic-Track Shippers
Early in the Saratoga meet you will be looking for trends in terms of where the majority of the winning horses are coming from. Are horses from the New York circuit (i.e. Belmont) performing the best, or are shippers from Churchill doing better? What will be the strongest group of out-of-town shippers? Where are the winners coming from? Is it Monmouth, Parx, Finger Lakes, Delaware, Florida, California, or somewhere in between?
Amongst the different groups of shippers, Kentucky shippers who last raced at Churchill Downs usually win the most races, but also tend to have by far the most starters of any group of shippers. Kentucky shippers, by overall percentage, tend to perform no better than shippers from Monmouth Park. This is a general rule, however, and Monmouth Park invaders certainly can, and do, win at Saratoga when they are good enough.
One group of horses that tends to do exceptionally poorly in dirt races at Saratoga, however, are horses who ran their most recent races on artificial surfaces. Shippers who ran their most recent races on the main tracks at Arlington, Presque Isle, and Woodbine, rarely win Saratoga dirt races.
Thankfully, however, this angle is quickly diminishing in importance as fast as artificial tracks seem to be diminishing in importance. In the last couple years, the number of artificial tracks has shrunk with tracks like Del Mar and Keeneland re-installing dirt surfaces.
Many handicapping factors come into play at this time of year when racing and wagering shifts between Belmont and Saratoga. However, there is a method to the madness when it comes to the differences between the types of horses that tend to win route races at each of these two very different racetracks.
Dirt route races are just one of the many facets of racing in New York at this time of year, but handicappers who understand the differences between horses that excel in two-turn races as opposed to one-turn races will enjoy a strong betting advantage in these particular races, against the horseplayers out there who fail to notice this enormously important difference between Belmont Park and Saratoga.