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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Friday, November 20, 2015 at 12:00 AM


The table is set for a big holiday weekend of horseracing this Thanksgiving, with the season's biggest and best tracks -  Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, and Del Mar - all serving up extra helpings of great racing with all the trimmings for the four-day weekend. Thanksgiving weekend has something for all racing fans, and the premier tracks all are set to offer up one last hurrah to cap-off the fall racing season at the end of November.

Both Churchill Downs and the Aqueduct main track meets are scheduled to end with a bang over the holiday weekend as they both roll out their remaining stakes before calling it a year.  Del Mar, meanwhile, will be hosting the final weeks of its fall season before racing shifts to Los Alamitos in December.

Also, in addition to ushering-out the fall racing season, the week before Thanksgiving weekend also serves to welcome-in the winter racing season, with the first winter racetrack opening taking place in New Orleans with the Fair Grounds starting its meet on Thursday, Nov. 19.  And finally, far, far off the beaten track on Saturday, Nov. 21, it is $1 million Delta Jackpot Day at Delta Downs.

The biggest name races expected to take place over the Thanksgiving weekend arguably will be Aqueduct's running of the $500,000 G1 Cigar Mile on Saturday, Nov. 28, and the running of the $500,000 Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Friday, Nov. 27.

The Clark Handicap will be a big race, no doubt, featuring Santa Anita Derby winner Dortmund on the comeback trail against the returning best horses from this race last year, Hoppertunity and Protonico, plus the Travers Stakes winner Keen Ice, and Breeders' Cup Classic second-place finisher Effinex.

The 2015 Clark will be a doozy, but there will be no bigger race run this Thanksgiving weekend than the Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct. This year's running has drawn defending Cigar champion and BC Sprint runner-up Private Zone against back-to-back Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Tonalist, as well as Mshawish switching from turf-to-dirt for Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown's Matrooh, who is coming off a Bold Ruler upset of Mylute in his last race.  Privare Zone will be extraordinarily tough to beat.

One new addition this year to the Thanksgiving weekend stakes racing schedule will be the Grade 2, $250,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup, which will headline a good card at Hawthorne on Saturday, Nov. 28.

In addition to the Hawthorne Gold Cup, the Clark Handicap, and the Cigar Mile, there are many other stakes races scheduled for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, Del Mar, and elsewhere. Here is a list of the Thanksgiving weekend's top stakes races:

Key Thanksgiving Weekend Stakes Races

Wednesday, Nov. 25
Zia Park: $300,000 Zia Park Oaks, 3-year-old fillies
Zia Park: $200,000 Zia Pak Derby, 3-year-olds
Penn National: $200,000 Fabulous Strike Stakes, 3&up, 6F

Thursday, Nov. 26
Churchill: Grade II, $200,000 Falls City, Hcp., 3&up, 1 1/8 M
Churchill: Grade III, $100,000 River City Hcp., 3&up, 1 1/8 M (T)
Aqueduct: Grade III, $250,000 Fall Highweight Hcp., 3&up, 6F
Del Mar: Grade II, $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup, 3&up. 1 1/2 M (T)
Fair Grounds:  $60,000 Thanksgiving Handicap, 3&up, 6F

Friday, Nov. 27
Churchill: Grade I, $500,000 Clark Handicap, 3&up, 1 1/8 M
Aqueduct: Grade II, $250,000 Go For Wand Handicap, 3&up, F&M, 1M
Del Mar: Grade II, $250,000 Seabiscuit Handicap, 3&up, 1 1/16 M (T)

Saturday, Nov. 28
Aqueduct: Grade I, $500,000 Cigar Mile, 3&up, 1 M
Aqueduct: Grade II, $300,000 Remsen Stakes, 2yo, 1 1/8 M
Aqueduct: Grade II, $300,000 Demoiselle Stakes, 2yo, 1 1/8 M
Aqueduct: Grade III, $300,000 Comely Stakes, 3yo fillies, 1 M
Churchill: Grade II, $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club, 2yo, 1 1/16 M
Churchill: Grade II, $200,000 Golden Rod, 2yo fillies, 1 1/16 M
Hawthorne: Grade II, $250,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup, 3&up, 1 1/4 M
Del Mar: Grade I, $300,000 Hollywood Derby, 3yo, 1 1/4 M (T)
Del Mar: Grade III, $150,000 Native Diver Hcp., 3&up, 1 1/16 M
Del Mar: Grade III, $100,000 Jimmy Durante Stakes, 2yo, 1 M (T)

Sunday, Nov. 29
Del Mar: Grade I, $300,000 Matriarch Stakes, F&M, 1 M (T)
Del Mar: Grade III, $100,000 Cecil B. Demille Stakes, 2yo f, 1 M (T)

The Aqueduct and Churchill Downs Fall meets are in the midst of good seasons and both offer horseplayers great options during the month of November. Yep, there is great betting action still going on at this time of year, and the icing on the cake will be taking place over the long holiday weekend.

There have been some good trends for handicappers to take note of at the current Aqueduct Fall Meet.  Here is a more detailed look at some factors that could help you win at The Big A before the meet comes to an end.



The Aqueduct main track fall meet is one of the most overlooked, and underrated race meets on the annual New York racing calendar. The current Aqueduct fall meet is now in full stride, but generally has suffered from small field sizes. However, that will all change during the last week of November.

One great thing for horseplayers to keep in mind is that Aqueduct's main track, and turf course, are among the fairest racing surfaces in all of North American racing. There is usually (but not always) very little track bias, and very little advantage can be gleaned by any one post position or running style versus any other. This mostly has been the case again so far this season, however, when there have been preferences, it has either been to favor outside trips, or front runners.

Track Biases

Here is a list of track biases noted so far at the current Aqueduct meet. Keep on the lookout for horses coming back next time out of races on the following days who may have been either positively or negatively affected by the bias.

Aqueduct Main Track Biases
(Fall Meet, Nov. 4-Nov. 19)
Nov. 19 - Speed good
Nov. 13 - Drying-out, unsealed track
Nov. 12 - Outside good, difficult to close from far back on wet track
Nov. 11 - Speed bias on sloppy track
Nov. 8 - Speed good
Nov. 7 - Speed good
Nov. 5 - Outside preferred

The primary main track bias to rear its ugly head so far at the Aqueduct Fall Meet was a front-end advantage almost every racing day that took place between Nov. 7-12 when it was difficult to close from mid-pack or further off the pace. There were also a couple days when the track favored outside and off-the rail trips, on Nov. 5 and Nov. 12.  Keep an eye out for horses exiting races on those days, and either upgrade or downgrade the chances of horses that were positively or negatively affected by those biases, as well as the horses that were either positively or negatively affected by the front-end biases on most days between Nov. 7-12.

Post Position Advantages/Disadvantages

When it comes to day-to-day racing on the Aqueduct main track, the rail (Post 1) and inside posts in general have a great reputation in dirt routes and a not-as-good reputation in sprints, but recent statistics from fall meets fail to back up those beliefs. All posts, including the rail, appear to be fair in one-turn races, and if anything, the rail seems to be better at one-mile (one turn) than it is in other two-turn routes.

Inside and middle posts currently are doing very well in both main track sprints and miles, and in two-turn routes. The outside posts have been a disadvantage. In sprints, no horse has won from outside post 8 (0-for-12 combined). In routes at one mile and over, there have been 32 races run so far at the meet on the main track, and there has been only one winner that broke wider than post 6. Posts 7-11 are a combined 1-for-37 so far in Aqueduct main track races at one mile or more.

On the Big A turf course, all posts 1-8 have been fair. The disadvantages have been toward horses from the far outside posts 9-12.  Horses breaking from posts 9 and wider on the grass have gone a combined 1-for-56. That's less than a 2% winning percentage!

Jockeys and Trainers

The list of leading jockeys at Aqueduct includes Irad Ortiz (13 wins), and John Velazquez, Javier Castellano, and Jose Ortiz, who have 11 wins apiece.  The real surprise at the meet so far has been Kendrick Carmouche with 12 winners.  This means that Carmouche is successfully positioning himself for a strong winter inner track meet at Aqueduct.

In terms of winning percentage, it is the Javier Castellano show at the Big A so far. Castellano has a big 33% win percentage, while all of the other top riders are between 19-24% wins.

Breaking down the top jockeys into categories, Jose Ortiz is the winningest dirt rider of the meet with 11 winners (Irad Ortiz is next with 8 wins). The winningest turf rider of the meet so far, believe it or not, is Kendrick Carmouche with 7 wins. John Velazquez is next with 6.  Speaking of John Velazquez, he is the runaway-leading 2-year-old rider at the meet with 7 wins so far, with Irad Ortiz next with 4 wins.

In the trainer's standings, Chad Brown has been on fire the entire second half of the year everywhere in 2015, and this Aqueduct main track meet has been no exception. He leads the training race with 9 winners, including a dominant 7 turf wins. The next-best winning turf trainer at the meet is Shug McGaughey, but he is far behind with 3 turf wins. Todd Pletcher has 2 turf wins and Christophe Clement has 2 turf wins at Aqueduct.

Todd Pletcher, part of the Pletcher/Velazquez trainer/jockey combo, has been the best 2-year-old trainer of the meet with 4 wins from 6 starters. Pletcher with 4 dirt wins, in addition to Rudy Rodriguez and Chris Englehart with 5 wins apiece have been best on the main track.  Other trainers to watch having good meets this fall include Linda Rice with 4 wins, 4 places, and 4 shows from 16 starters, and surprisingly Gary Sciacca with 4 dirt wins and a 29% dirt win percentage so far. John Parisella has won 4 races with only 6 starters.


Whether you will be concentrating on Aqueduct, or Churchill, or Del Mar, or all three tracks this fall, you will be in store for some great horseracing and wagering action over the next week through Thanksgiving weekend.  It is fall racing's last hurrah, so don't miss it.  Best of luck, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

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