Submitted by Noel Michaels on Friday, January 20, 2017 at 10:55 AM
For many horseplayers and handicappers, winter racing means Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Oaklawn, and the Fair Grounds, as the betting masses migrate away from playing at cold places like Kentucky, and closed meets in Chicago and at Woodbine. But there's one cold weather place where racing continues fast and furious through the winter, and it's a place that handicappers need to not overlook - the Aqueduct inner track.
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, the Aqueduct inner track offers excellent betting opportunities for winter racing horseplayers, particularly on weekends, with big pools and big purses and good racing during the otherwise sparse months of January and February in the world of Thoroughbred racing outside of Florida and California.
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 months of racing scheduled over the Big A inner track from now through the end of March.
The 2017 Aqueduct inner track schedule had not been strongly effected by winter weather thus far, with the exception of a couple cancelled days. Because of the mild weather, the rest of the meet has been relatively unaffected by weather, resulting in few scratches and solid fields.
With so many of the top horses and trainers gone to Florida this time of year, horses from circuits like Parx and Finger Lakes have chances to make an impact on the tote board, and cannot be downgraded this year based on the level of competition. They are on par, basically, with the New York horses that stay at Aqueduct for the inner track meet.
It might not be glamorous, and many people might like not to admit it, but they're probably betting Aqueduct all winter long in addition to playing other winter tracks like Gulfstream and Santa Anita. Any meet, however, no matter what it is and even it's the inner track, is a lot better if you are winning. In my opinion, it is easier to win at Aqueduct that it is at the other winter tracks including Gulfstream, Tampa, Fair Grounds, and Oaklawn, if you only learn, know, and follow the track trends and prevailing biases in terms of running styles and post positions. There's no turf, so you can focus all of your effort on the dirt trends in order to find the best ways to win. Let's take a closer look . . .
Inner Track Jockeys and Trainers
The top human-related stories currently on the radar that are having an impact on the 2016-17 Aqueduct inner track meet - the top jockeys Irad Ortiz and Jose Ortiz, and the domination of trainer Rudy Rodriguez, who is far atop the trainer standings with nearly twice as many wins as the next winningest conditioner.
The leading Aqueduct inner track jockeys, as they have been in all recent years, are Irad Ortiz (first with 24 winners through Jan. 16), and Jose Ortiz (second with 21 wins). The Ortiz brothers finished 1-2 in the jockey standings at the 2015-16, 2014-15, 2013-14, and 2012-13 Aqueduct inner track meets, are again on pace to do it again this season. Both Irad and Jose are winning at 23% this season, with both riders strong in all categories. Specifically, both Ortiz's are strong in routes (24% wins for Irad and 30% wins for Jose), Both riders can be counted on to continue those kinds of numbers all winter long on the inner track.
The other stories in the jock's room at Aqueduct this winter have been Kendrick Carmouche (19 wins, 18%), Manny Franco (19 wins, 15%), and Angel Arroyo (18 wins, 15%) who round out the top 5 riders in terms of wins.
Besides and beyond just the leaders in the standings, some other things you want to pay attention to in your jockey handicapping include Cornelio Velasquez, who is back riding in New York this winter, mainly thanks to his association with trainer Linda Rice. Cornelio has 9 wins from 46 starts so far (17%), and is particularly deadly in route races with 23% wins. Rosario Montanez has quietly been good with 7 wins from 30 mounts for a strong 23% win percentage, including 26% winners in maiden and claiming races and 40% winners in sprints. In terms of highest average win payoffs, Aaron Gryder and Jackie Davis have only 4 and 3 wins, but they're riding longshots with average payoffs of $48.30 and $47.20, respectively. The up-and-coming bug rider at the meet is Hector Diaz, and he can ride. He has 2 wins and 3 seconds from his first 16 mounts, and many more in-the-money finishes on the way.
The leading winter trainer in New York, as mentioned, is Rudy Rodriguez with 18 wins from 75 starters for a 24% win percentage. Rudy is strong in all categories and can't ever be ignored, despite his low average win payoff of $5.80.
When it comes to the top trainers at Aqueduct, there are other good stories to mention besides just Rudy Rodriguez. Other trainers are approaching, mirroring, or surpassing Rudy in terms of win percentage including standouts Chris Englehart (10 wins, 26%), Linda Rice (9 wins, 24%), Jason Servis (5 wins, 23%), Bruce Levine (5 wins, 20%), Michelle Nevin (5 wins, 23%), Rick Violette (5 wins, 36%), Steve Asmussen (4 wins, 21%), Bill Mott (4 wins, 27%), and surprising Joe Parker (4 wins, 25%).
All of the above-mentioned trainers are worth betting, especially in their best categories. All 5 of Michelle Nevin's winners were favorites, and she is deadly with chalk with a record of 5-for-11. Aside from Rudy, Bruce Levine (4-for-11) and Linda Rice (4-for-17) have been the best with young horses (2yos and now 3yos). In sprints, Chris Englehart has been best with a record of 8-for-28 (29%), and in routes the best have been Linda Rice with a record of 8-for-21 (38%, mostly with Cornelio Velasquez aboard), and Rick Violette with a record of 4-for-10 (40%). Violette has been lights-out with allowance horses with a record of 4-for-7 (57%).
Leading the way in terms of ROI have been trainers doing well with more limited starters with high average win payoffs, led by Joe Parker (4 wins at an average payoff of $39.70), John Toscano (5 wins averaging $20.10), and Gary Gullo (4 wins averaging $15.10).
Todd Pletcher, and David Jacobson are doing okay if you just concentrate on betting their favorites since both are at 33% in that category with Pletcher winning 3-of-9 and Jacobson 5-of-15. One trainer taking you the poorhouse at present is David Cannizzo, who is just 3-for-37 for 8% wins
Prevailing Biases: Running Styles and Post Positions
Aside from day-to-day biases that may or may not affect any racing surface, you should always be aware of the longer-term prevailing biases of any race track. 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. 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 on the Aqueduct inner track. In routes, the short run to the first turn makes ground-saving trips valuable 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 2016-17 meet for an idea of how the track has been playing so far this season.
Aqueduct Winning Post Positions
Dec. 7 - Jan. 16
As you can see from the post positions stats from the first month-and-a-half in the current Aqueduct inner track meet, the preferences that we have seen so far show that the track has been kind to inside posts 1-4 in route races, with a solid drop-off in effectiveness after that. Middle posts 5-7, and particularly outside posts 8-11, as groups, are disadvantages when compared to the inside post draws. Horses can win from anywhere this season in routes, but let's face it, it has definitely helped to be inside.
In sprints, the inside three posts 1-3 have definitely been the best places to be, but really all post positions are relatively fair and all posts offer horses a fair chance to win all the way on out to post 12. The farthest outside posts 10-12 are 4-for-26 for a very solid combined 15% win percentage - much better than you would expect.
Moving forward, you can expect during the course of the entire Aqueduct inner track meet that the win percentages for the inside posts, especially in routes, will continue to improve, because horses that can save all the ground with the short run to the first turn will always have the advantage on the inner track. Conversely, the outside posts, especially in route races, don't win at high percentages ever on the inner track, and even in sprints those gates probably will not continue to win at the high percentages they have been able to win at so far. Expect those far outside sprint win percentages to drop as the season goes on.
Aqueduct Inner Track biases
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 track biases chart below). The main biases to mention during the meet so far have been the effectiveness and advantage for early speed in several dates, and a favoritism for the inside paths on a couple days in mid-January, so far through January 16.
Here is my view of this season's track bias information from the Aqueduct inner track:
Aqueduct Inner Track biases 2016-17 meet
Jan. 16 - Rail was good
Jan. 13 - Inside speed bias; inside speed 6-for-6 in sprints and 7-for-9 overall
Jan. 5 - Speed bias
Dec. 31 - Front-end bias due to strong headwind
Dec. 29 - Speed bias on muddy sealed track
Dec. 16 - Speed good
Dec. 9 - Speed bias
Dec. 7 - Outside good on muddy sealed track
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. I hope you can make this winter a winning one on the Aqueduct inner track. Enjoy!
By Noel Michaels