Submitted by Noel Michaels on Wednesday, February 24, 2016 at 5:45 PM
A lot of focus is on racing at Gulfstream Park this time of the season with the track in the midst of its best racing of the year in the heart of the meat-and-potatoes portion of the winter championship meet.
The road to the Kentucky Derby goes through Gulfstream Park, with important races such as the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby getting all the headlines. However, the Gulfstream meet is about much more than just the stakes. When you look at the daily race cards at Gulfstream this season, you can always find the big, competitive fields and high quality competition amongst the east's best trainers, jockeys, and horses. Plus, Gulfstream's terrific betting races this season should keep attracting more and more play from simulcast players from coast to coast as the meet progresses into March - the best month of the meet.
Here are some keys to successful betting at Gulfstream Park, based on information and statistics compiled through recent years and the first couple months of the 2015-16 meet.
1) Bet Inside Posts 1-3 in Dirt Routes
The post position bias against outside posts in two-turn races on Gulfstream's main track remains a solid handicapping factor in 2016, just as it has been for the past several years. Not only can't you bet outside posts with that short run to the first turn in dirt routes, but apparently you can't even bet middle posts, either, based on the horrible numbers from the meet thru Feb. 23.
In 39 dirt route races run on Gulfstream's main track ranging from 1 1/16 miles and upward, 23 of them have been won from the three inside posts (from a total of only 117 starters). This means that nearly two-thirds of Gulfstream's dirt routes are won from posts 1-3. All other posts have yielded only a combined 16 wins from 222 starts in those races.
See the following graphic regarding winning dirt route posts at Gulfstream this season:
GP dirt route winning posts
Posts 1-3 23 wins 117 starters
Posts 4-7 9 wins 143 starters
Posts 8-14 7 wins 79 starters
If this graphic illustration isn't enough to scare you away from betting anything except the inside posts in Gulfstream routes, then you will be doomed to defeat in those dirt routes more often than not. Pass on those outside-drawn horses when you see them, take note, and bet them back next time as live overlays assuming they get a better draw.
2) Bet the Top Jockeys
The Gulfstream jockey colony is deep and competitive again this year, with stalwarts like John Velazquez, Joel Rosario, and Javier Castellano competing for mounts against veterans Luis Saez, and Paco Lopez as well the newer guard of Gulfstream riders who have been solid this season, including Emisael Jaramillo who is having a breakout meet and sits third in the standings as of the last week of February with 39 wins and a 16% win percentage.
In total, the top five riders in the Gulfstream jockey standings have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, with the majority of wins being earned by just that small group - Castellano (71), Saez (60), Jaramillo, Lopez (37), and Rosario (35). Add in the selectively-riding John Velazquez, who has 29 wins but also owns a 21% win percentage that is second only to Castellano, and you have a core of six jockeys to key your wagers on. Any of those top jockeys can be bet interchangeably and with confidence, and if you are stuck between betting two or more contenders in a race, it usually has proven to be wise to go with the horses ridden by one of the above-named jockeys over any of the numerous other riders in the jock's room. Other jockeys like Tyler Gaffalione and Edgard Zayas have won quite a few races, but have win percentages of 8-9% that are just too low to bet with any confidence.
During the toughest part of the Gulfstream meet where the competition is fiercest and the quality of the racing is highest, it is imperative to place your bets on horses ridden by top jockeys. If you need further food for thought, consider that during the last 10 racing days, jockeys Lanerie (1-for-24), Olivero (1-for-15), Corrales (1-for-13), Vasquez (1-for-22), Panici (1-for-21), Leyva (1-for-13), Bocachica (1-for-17), and Cruz (0-for-13) have gone a combined 7-for-138 in the win column since February 10.
3) Avoid Front Runners in Turf Routes, Play Only Front Runners in Turf Sprints
Gulfstream's turf course is generally not friendly to early speed horses, and through the past several years it has became one of the most difficult courses in the country on which to go wire-to-wire on the grass in two-turn races ranging from 7 ½ furlongs and up.
The exact opposite is true in Gulfstream's many 5 furlong turf sprint races, which put an extreme necessity on early speed and make it very difficult for horses to win from more than a couple of lengths off the early pace - no matter how fast the pace is.
Interestingly, outside post positions aren't much of a detriment for horses on the Gulfstream turf (in both sprints and routes), which is contrary to the way most turf courses play where inside draws are key factors in turf routes. As a matter of fact, all turf posts have been fair and have relatively even win percentages when inside, middle, and outside areas of the starting gate are considered. This generally makes post position a meaningless handicapping factor on the grass at Gulfstream.
The same cannot be said about running styles on the Gulfstream turf, where it is running style - not post draw - this is usually a key determining factor to how well a horse is expected to run.
If you must bet a Gulfstream turf route front-runner, make sure 1) it's the lone speed in the race, preferably from an inside post, 2) the horse has an enormous class edge on the rest of the field, and 3) Look and see if the turf rails are moved far out from the hedge. The Gulfstream turf course is extremely wide, and the track superintendent has been known to move the rails out over 80 feet and sometimes over 100 feet in order to preserve the course conditions for big race days and weekends. Traditionally, turf rails out is a handicapping factor that favors front runners on the turf, and even Gulfstream Park is no exception.
4) Bet Inside Dirt Horses at One Mile, and Bet Middle Horses at 7 Furlongs
There was a time not long ago when the Gulfstream winning track profile in the longer dirt sprint races at 7F and 1 mile had given an advantage toward outside horses, while playing against horses from inside posts - particularly the rail. That winning profile has disappeared this season, however, with fair chances for all horses, and, if anything, perhaps a slight preference for inside draws.
Most surprising has been how good the rail has done this season from the previously terrible one post in one mile races. Horses breaking from that post have won 14-of-94 races for 15% at one mile - very good indeed. At 7 furlongs, the percentage is about equal, with 14% of rail starters winning (9-for-65).
Actually, at one mile on the main track, not only has the rail been good, but all of the inside posts 1-4 have been by far the best this season. All of those post positions individually boast 14-15% win percentages at the current meet.
Seven furlongs, however, still remains the trickiest distance for inside horses in Gulfstream main track one-turn races. While the rail post has been holding its own at that distance, the other inside posts 2-4 have all been struggling as compared to horses breaking from the middle posts 5-7, which have been the most successful at 7 furlongs. Horses breaking from middle posts 5-7 have 30 of the 65 races run at the distance. Posts 2-4, meanwhile, have won only a combined 18 of the 65 races, for a far lower win percentage.
At the commonly-run sprint distance of 6 furlongs on the dirt, the inside and middle posts are definitely the best places to be, particularly posts 1-2. However, this comes as no surprise this season, because the track has consistently held that favoritism over the course of recent years at that distance.
5) Turf Races at 7 ½ Furlongs Have Nothing to Do With 5 Furlong Turf Sprints
From a purely technical standpoint, both Gulfstream's 5 furlong turf races and 7 ½ furlong turf races are all turf sprints. But really, for all intents and purposes, races at the two distances have nothing in common and should not be regarded as similar by handicappers in any way.
It never ceases to amaze that track statistics at Gulfstream and at other places like Equibase lump together all of the wrong races in their statistics for post positions, etc., creating a false look at how the track actually plays. For example, Equibase stats consider Gulfstream turf sprints to include both 5 furlong and 7 ½ furlong races, even though the 5F races are one turn and the 7 1/2F races are two turns. Equibase's stats make a similar error on the dirt, too, lumping one mile races into the routes category amongst the two-turn races, when instead the races at that distance should be lumped into the sprints for statistical reasons, because one mile dirt races at Gulfstream are around one turn.
At Gulfstream, turf sprints at 5 furlongs are true turf dashes with a priority on pure speed. The 7 ½ furlong races, while technically sprints, are run around two turns and must really be classified more like one mile turf races because that is the way they tend to be contested - as routes and not at all similar to sprints.
When handicapping 5 furlong turf sprints at Gulfstream, speed is the key word and it is usually difficult to rally from too far back off the pace in these races. They are usually won by "the speed of the speed," or by a close-up presser or stalker who can pass tired front runners late, but who also gets the jump on the closers from farther back. Also, it should be noted that unlike turf sprints at a lot of other venues, like Saratoga and Santa Anita, there is not a bias against horses drawn inside in these GP turf sprints. All post positions yield fair results.
As for the Gulfstream 7 ½ furlong turf races, two things are surprising to note; 1) horses can effectively close from behind at this distance (this shouldn't be surprising based on #3 from earlier in this article, stating that front runners always have difficulty in Gulfstream two-turn turf races); and 2) the outside posts are not a disadvantage like you would think due to the short run into the first turn. Outside horses have been winning these races, and that is true all the way out to the far outside gates.
Use these five tips to your advantage, and cash more tickets at Gulfstream Park as a result. Good luck, and enjoy great winter racing and wagering from Gulfstream Park!