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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Wednesday, December 7, 2016 at 4:17 PM

LADIES AND GENTS . . . HERE COMES AQUEDUCT'S INNER TRACK MEET!

Aqueduct racing season does not end with the recently concluded main track fall meet. As a matter of fact, racing at Aqueduct is just getting started now as it moves its meet to the winterized inner track beginning on December 7. New York racing will continue all through the winter on the inner track until The beginning of April, when it again will move to The Big A main track and onward to Belmont Park after that.

Some people love to bet the Aqueduct inner track while others can't stand it. But no matter which side of the fence you land on, you'd at least better get used to it, because inner track racing is all you've got for the next three months if you intend to keep betting New York racing.

Even though winter racing is the most low-profile time of the year on the New York racing calendar, there is still much for horseplayers to anticipate during the long cold winter months in the Big Apple. Graded stakes racing and turf racing might not be a part of the New York racing scene at this time of the year, but that doesn't mean there isn't a great deal of bet-able action in the winter season for bettors and handicappers who consider Aqueduct's inner track meet to be the best meat-and-potatoes money-making opportunity of the year.

The best news is that racing at Aqueduct's inner track is not sparse like it used to be in years gone past. Racino money now pumps big sums into giant purses at the Aqueduct inner track meet these days, and whenever there is extra purse money going around, you know that more horsemen and more horses will stick around and forego the trip to Florida in order to spend the winter at Aqueduct. The maiden and allowance purses are better than Gulfstream's as a matter of fact, and that alone will be enough to ensure sufficient fields and good betting opportunities at Aqueduct all winter.

 

AQUEDUCT INNER TRACK INTRODUCTION

Winter racing in New York 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. The race cards become dirt-only affairs, of course, as turf racing migrates south and west for the winter. What you're left with at the Aqueduct inner track meet are dirt sprints - which are all no longer than six furlongs - plus plenty of two-turn route racing mostly conducted at 1 mile and 70 yards, and 1 1/16-miles, with occasional one-mile and 1 1/8-mile races sprinkled into the mix.

Why are most of the two-turn route races on the Aqueduct inner track run at 1 mile and 70 yards and 1 1/16 miles instead of at a flat mile, you ask? The answer is because the turns on the inner track are tight, and the route races here all feature a relatively short run to the first turn. This is especially true at the distance of one mile, which features a very short run-up into the first turn, and therefore has the biggest disadvantage for horses drawn in outside posts.

With the transition from main track racing to inner-track racing at Aqueduct, a lot of variety is lost with the wintertime demise of the middle sprint distances of 6 1/2 furlongs and 7 furlongs. The inner track configuration prohibits these distances from being run at this time of year. However, aside from the monotony that handicappers must face by looking only at sprint races all being run at the same distance of 6 furlongs over-and-over, this not-so-subtle difference is nevertheless a major factor for handicappers to use to their best advantage.

Many of the sprint horses whose connections stick around New York for the winter have horses that would prefer 6 1/2 and/or 7 furlongs. However, those horses must be shoe-horned into 6 furlong races whether they like it or not (or else stretched out around two turns, which is often even less preferable). This equates to a major disadvantage for such horses, and the fact that a lot of horses will spend the whole winter at Aqueduct racing at a distance that is not their best is an important handicapping factor that should not be overlooked. Therefore, scan down horses' past performances and try to find the ones that would rather be entered at better 6 1/2 of 7 furlong races, but have had to be either shortened up to 6 furlongs or stretched out to two-turn races instead. When you find these horses, bet against them whenever possible.

Also remember that this 6-furlong factor is yet another thing that results in speed horses performing very well on the Aqueduct inner track. Many late-running sprinters that could rally to win a 6 1/2- or 7-furlong race will now be having their rallies fall short because they are forced to sprint 6 furlongs at a distance that just isn't long enough to aid their late-running chances.

 

AQUEDUCT INNER TRACK JOCKEYS AND TRAINERS

For the purpose of jockey and trainer stats, the inner track begins a new meet at Aqueduct that is distinct from the fall main track meet, which just finished. At the recently concluded Aqueduct Fall Meet, Jose Ortiz and Rudy Rodriguez were the leading jockey and trainer. Both will obviously also figure prominently at or near the top of the standings on the inner track.

As the inner track meet opens, there is no hotter jockey anywhere than Jose Ortiz. After starting slowly at 1-for-26 during the Fall Meet, Ortiz won 34 races from his final 108 mounts to win the Aqueduct riding title (35 wins). Manny Franco, who also finished the Aqueduct Fall Meet on fire with two three-win days closing weekend, finished second with 25 victories. Irad Ortiz was third with 20 wins, and Javier Castellano and Antonio Gallardo rounded out the top five with 13 wins each.

In 2016, Jose Ortiz won the Aqueduct winter, spring, and fall meets and must be considered the circuit's current top rider after also winning the Belmont spring/summer meet and the Saratoga (he rode too frequently at Keeneland to have also been able to win the Belmont fall meet title.

Rudy Rodriguez won the Aqueduct Fall Meet training title with 11 wins, narrowly edging out Chad Brown and Linda Rice, who also had excellent meets with 10 wins apiece. Bill Mott was fourth with nine wins, then David Cannizzo and Steve Asmussen followed each with 8 wins.

New York jock's room from December through March certainly won't look the same as at other times of the year. Big names like Castellano and Velazquez move down to Florida for the winter. That leaves brothers Jose Ortiz and Irad Ortiz to battle it out atop the jockey standings again, just as they have the last several seasons on the Aqueduct inner track, finishing 1-2 in the jockey standings at the 2015-16, 2014-15, 2013-14, and 2012-13 Aqueduct inner track meets.

With speed and tactical speed and inside-out trips, and good rides and knowledge of the track biases so important on the Aqueduct inner track, it puts a high premium on betting horses ridden by the top jockeys even more so than usual. Both Ortiz brothers can be counted on to win roughly 25% of their mounts, and are in the money (ITM) more than 58% of the time.  Both Ortiz brothers can be counted on for those kinds of numbers all winter long through March.

Beyond the Ortiz's, the other riders making a big splash on the inner track are likely to be Kendrick Carmouche, Manny Franco, Junior Alvarado, and perhaps a guy like Eric Cancel.

Angel Arroyo will be moving his tack to New York this winter for the inner track meet. He should do as well or better than last season when he was the eighth-leading rider at the 2015-16 inner track meet with 21 wins.

In the training ranks, there will be a Florida exodus of trainers just like there is for jockeys, and many of the top training names will be absent, all or in part, on the inner track. Top trainers like Todd Pletcher and Kiaran McLaughlin still will be represented at Aqueduct, but not in as big numbers as at other times of the year as their primary attention turns to Florida. Other big names like Shug McGaughey and Christophe Clement will be largely absent from NY in favor of Florida.

On the tote board at Aqueduct on the inner track, the story often revolves around the top inner track trainers, Rudy Rodriguez, and David Jacobson. Their runners will all see heavy action pretty much whenever they are entered. Rodriguez and Jacobson and are likely to battle it out for top honors at Aqueduct inner-track meet. However, Rodriguez's and Jacobson's expected high win percentages may or may not be enough to boost them up into positive ROI territory for handicappers, because all of their horses are bet down to low odds and there are not as many national powerhouse stables around in the winter to deflect that betting money onto other horses.

Therefore, you are going to need to look deeper than just Rodriguez and Jacobson to make money. One place to start that quest is with Linda Rice, who was a clear second to Rodriguez in 2015-16 while racking-up a 28% win percentage with good performances in just about all categories. One lower-profile trainer who also should be mentioned amongst the inner track meet standouts is Danny Gargan, who could win as much as 25% of his races on the inner track while hitting the board with more than half his starters.

The top names in the trainer standings taking their places on the Aqueduct inner track winners list will also include familiar New York names such as Gary Contessa, Bruce Levine, and Gary Gullo, and when listing other live trainers to bet besides Pletcher, Rodriguez, Rice, McLaughlin, and Jacobson, the list also includes trainers will be at Aqueduct with highly-bet-able winter strings like Jason Servis, James Jerkens, Rick Violette, Mike Hushion, and Tony Dutrow.

 

INNER TRACK RUNNING STYLES, AND POST POSITION TRENDS

The first thing to understand and try to capitalize on when handicapping Aqueduct's inner track meet is that the inner track is much more speed-friendly than Aqueduct's main track, which encompasses nearly all of the most recent races in most local horses' past performances. 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 - as opposed to the racing on Aqueduct's very non-biased, non-speed-favoring main track. Do yourself a favor and upgrade early speed horses while slightly downgrading the closers, especially if 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 racing on 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.

When you can handicap a horse with a good rider that figures to get a good pace set-up in a race, and with a not-too-wide post position in route races, you might have the recipe for the best trip of the season at Aqueduct in route races . . . the "inside out" trip.

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. This advantage does not seem as strong in recent years as it was years ago when it used to dominate, but is still is a valid handicapping point for all players to recognize.

In route races, the inside posts (1-4) are the preferred places to be, with a slight advantage over horses drawing the middle part of the gate (posts 5-6), and a stronger advantage over horses drawing the outside posts (10-12). In total, horses breaking from inside posts 1-4 are likely to account for victories in 60% of the routes races. Horses drawn far outside (10-12), on the other hand, will likely combine for 6%.  Specifically, there is a strong advantage to note for the rail horse, which wins at a standout 22% win rate, on average.

Interestingly, the inside posts seem to be slightly more beneficial in sprints than in routes in recent meets on the inner track.

All Aqueduct inner track sprints are run at either 5 ½, or mostly 6 furlongs, and in these races it has been the inside two posts 1-2 that are definitely the best places for your horse to break from. Outside of posts 1-2, however, all of the other posts all the way outward to post 10 in sprints seem to play about even with each other, with little difference in a horse's win chances from any of the posts from 3 through 10.  This means that value odds can usually be found on horses from the outside half of the starting gate in sprints. Outside of post 10, things do get sketchy for the horses drawn in posts 11-12.  Horses breaking from those gates have won only a combined win percentage of roughly 6%.

Looking for a short-cut to picking winners on the Aqueduct Inner?  Here is a very good place to start to give certain horses in your past performances an immediate edge: Look for two-turn specialists (showing wins on the inner track, Monmouth, Parx, Finger Lakes, Saratoga, and other two-turn layouts - but not at Belmont) when handicapping inner track route races.  One way to make money on Aqueduct's inner track, especially early in the meet, is to capitalize on the many differences between main track racing and inner track racing at Aqueduct. Many of the races that had been run around one turn at Belmont and on Aqueduct's main track will now be run around two turns. So scan down horses' pp's and find the ones that should benefit from the extra turn. Horses with two-turn route wins are preferred over one-turn mile winners and horses who've benefited from the one-turn route racing at Belmont.

 

WRAP-UP

Good luck during the Aqueduct inner track meet, and enjoy the four months of true 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 bets to be cashed in New York at this time of year. By following some of these trends, angles, and advice, you can make your winter a winning one on the Aqueduct inner track.  Enjoy!

By Noel Michaels

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