Submitted by Noel Michaels on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Belmont Fall Preview - Use Jockey, Trainer, and Track Trends To Win
By Noel Michaels
There are few race meets as important as the Belmont fall meet, which follows Saratoga and contains all of New York’s key prep races for the Breeders’ Cup. Besides just stakes races, Belmont also offers top notch racing day-in-and-day-out throughout the season. Every serious horseplayer plays Belmont races at this time of year, so it will pay sure and quick dividends for horseplayers who pay close attention to what’s going on in order to keep up with the handicapping trends that will prevail at the Belmont meet this fall.
The Saratoga meet has come and gone and taken summer racing along with it, much to the chagrin of racing fans and handicappers who relished the full fields, 11- and 12-race cards, and excellent wagering opportunities that the Spa is known for. Thankfully for horseplayers, however, no sooner does Saratoga close than is it time for the next big meet to begin, the Belmont Park Fall Championship Meet. Belmont begins its eight-week run starting on Saturday, Sept. 7 and continues thru fall to Sunday, October 27, as Thoroughbred racing marches steadily onward toward the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita at the start of November.
The recently concluded Saratoga meet was just as high-quality as ever, and we all will be hoping for a Belmont fall meet featuring a similar program of stakes races, turf races, and the best juvenile racing at this time of year. The field sizes at Belmont can be expected to be somewhat smaller than they were at Saratoga, but Belmont still will have plenty to offer horseplayers, especially when weather conditions permit the full array of turf racing.
One area of New York racing that is in the midst of an upheaval this season is the jockey colony, where handicappers will be faced with plenty of new faces this year due to injuries and of course the retirement of Ramon Dominguez, so figuring out the best and hottest jockeys, and when to bet them, will be one of the keys to success this fall at Belmont.
Racing at Belmont is five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays, with only one small schedule change planned for Columbus Day, Monday October 14. There are a couple of exciting new changes to the wagering line-up this fall, with Belmont instituting a new daily Pick 5 wager (an all-time first for NYRA), plus a new Belmont - Penn National Pick 4 bet that hooks up the last two races from Belmont with the first two races from Penn National each and every Thursday throughout the meet. Both wagers are available for a player-friendly 50-cent minimum denomination, and both wagers offer a player-friendly take-out of only 15%.
Some of the biggest days of the meet will be Breeders’ Cup Preview Day on Saturday, Sept. 28 - when the runnings of FIVE Grade 1 races are featured including the Jockey Club Gold Cup (prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic), the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (prep for the Turf), the Flower Bowl (Filly & Mare Turf), the Beldame (Ladies Classic), and the Vosburgh (Sprint), plus the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap (Dirt Mile) - and on Saturday, October 5, when three Grade 1’s will be run including the Champagne Stakes (Juvenile) and Frizette (Juvenile Fillies) for 2-year-olds, and the Jamaica Stakes (Mile or Turf) for 3-year-old turfers.
As always, one important thing to remember and keep in mind at this time of year in New York racing is just how dramatically different Belmont Park is from Saratoga. At Belmont, the route races return to being one-turn events, and 1 mile and 1 1/16-mile route races re-enter the picture on the dirt (distances not run on dirt at Saratoga). Usually, a horse’s two-turn record, especially in mile races, is irrelevant for the purposes of evaluating Belmont’s one-turn routes. When handicapping those races, scan the pp’s for horses’ past performances in one-turn routes, and don’t give as much weight to other mile results run at two-turn layouts such as at places like Monmouth Park and elsewhere.
BELMONT’S RE-TOOLED JOCK’S ROOM - FALL 2013
With one weekend of racing in the books already at Belmont, one of the first things that is probably jumping out at bettors is the upheaval in the New York jockey colony this season. For starters, the obvious change from past seasons is the absence of leading rider Ramon Dominguez, who was forced to retire this year with a head injury. But that’s not all, the jockey roster also took quite a big hit at Saratoga this season with injuries to top-five riders Joel Rosario and Jose Lezcano thinning out the ranks of world-class jockeys substantially at the current Belmont meet.
The leading rider is, and is expected to be Javier Castellano, who is coming off an impressive meet title at Saratoga after having won a battle in the jockey standings over Junior Alvarado at the Belmont Spring/Summer meet. Castellano rules the roost in New York these days anyway, but now really gets by far the best pickings of top mounts for most of the top stables including Chad Brown (second-leading trainer at Saratoga), plus quite a few good mounts for leading trainer Todd Pletcher that don’t go to Pletcher’s first-stringer John Velazquez.
Speaking of Velazquez, he rode the coat-tails of Pletcher to round-out a very good meet upstate at Saratoga this summer, and should have a great Belmont fall meet as well while battling for second in the standings this season with the aforementioned Junior Alvarado.
With so many big-name riders gone or sidelined, there are plenty of opportunities open to other jockeys to pick-up plenty of good mounts and distinguish themselves in the Belmont fall meet rider standings. So far, the biggest beneficiary of all the absent jockeys has been apprentice Manuel Franco, who won 3 races from 15 mounts (15%) opening weekend and finished in the exacta a total of 5 times (33%). Franco might indeed become the bug boy of choice at this meet and that, alone, will be enough to get him a bunch of wins this season, however, I for one have watched Franco ride for the better part of this year and am not a fan of his abilities. I expect him to win races, but tally a low win-percentage and bad ROI numbers the rest of the meet.
Instead of Franco, some other under-the-radar riders I will be trying to catch at a price this season at Belmont will include Luis Saez, who despite a quiet 0-for18 start on opening weekend has ridden well on the New York circuit and has struck-up good relationships with many top trainers including Kiaran McLaughlin and others who figure to have strong seasons at Belmont this fall. I also will be betting the back-from-the-dead Mike Luzzi, who is coming back from yet another injury and looks confident and hungry to prove himself despite an apathetic response from the bettors. Also, Cornelio Velazquez is the best rider in town in turf sprints, and he will get plenty of chances this season with very many turf sprints in the condition book. I am not a fan of Joe Bravo, but he will also get numerous good riding opportunities at this meet.
Trainers are an important handicapping factor at this Belmont meet even more so than usual. When it comes to trainers trends, you always want to keep on the lookout for at least two categories: 1) Who are the hot trainers? And; 2) Who are the trainers who have already fired all their best bullets at Saratoga and will inevitably go cold at this Belmont meet? Correctly differentiating trainers in both of those categories and staying ahead of the public’s learning curve annually are amongst the strongest keys to winning for handicappers at the Belmont Fall meet.
Here is the list of top trainers from the recently concluded 2013 Saratoga meet:
Top Trainers - Saratoga 2013
Based on the chart of top trainers at the most recent Saratoga meet, it is safe to assume that Todd Pletcher will once again dominate the 2013 Belmont Fall meet. Pletcher is coming off another of the most dominant Saratoga training meets again this year after a nearly identically strong Saratoga the last two years. Last year, in fact, he won an identical 36 races up at Saratoga, and annually his stable reloads no matter how fast he shoots his bullets, especially in turf races and 2-year-old races.
Linda Rice, notably, had a slow Saratoga meet again this year with few wins and a low win percentage - even in the turf sprint category that she usually dominates - until her barn finally heated up toward the end of the season to bump up her total to a respectable 8 wins. Her barn may be due to continue its rebound at the upcoming Belmont Fall meet. This is especially true in the turf sprints, where her horses may be less heavily bet than usual. The Belmont fall meet is traditionally a slow meet for Rice when she does well at Saratoga, but she could do better here after a quiet summer at Saratoga like she had this season.
One trainer who it is currently very difficult to try to go against is Chad Brown, who is coming off another good Saratoga meet where he won 24 races. He is now the perennial Saratoga second-banana behind only Todd Pletcher (not an entirely bad place to be in the standings). In 2012, Brown had a giant Saratoga meet in which he won 29 races at a 30% clip, with 66% in-the-money. He is especially dominant at Saratoga on the grass, and even though his horses have blown through a lot of conditions lately, it still may be worth trying to ride the hot hand and back Chad Brown’s horses strongly at Belmont this fall.
Trainers who had nearly identical Saratoga meets in 2013 to the ones they had in 2012 include Steve Asmussen, Bill Mott, Rudy Rodriguez, and George Weaver. Since they are swinging basically at par, you can go ahead and expect solid Belmont meets from this entire group with all expected to do well but none expected to have wildly breakout meets. This bodes extremely well for Rodriguez’s stable at the Belmont Fall meet, since there are many more and easier spots for him to run his horses in downstate, and he didn’t blow all his conditions at The Spa. I also would expect Bill Mott to continue to do very well with his turf-centric stable in Belmont’s grass races this fall. Kiaran McLaughlin had a breakout Saratoga meet, for him, with 16 wins. He therefore might have an unusually quiet Belmont fall meet this season.
In this vein, generally speaking, it is usually a good idea to start betting against trainers who made a lot of noise at Saratoga once they return to the Belmont fall meet, because many trainers’ winning percentages inevitably will go down now at Belmont after winning a lot of races and exhausting a lot of their horses’ conditions at Saratoga. This gives you a good chance to try to buck a lot of chalk on the tote board while trying to look elsewhere for the new "hot hand."
My top choice for a trainer to bet at the Belmont Fall meet will be Christophe Clement, who did okay at Saratoga but nevertheless was much quieter than usual upstate this summer. Clement won eight races up at Saratoga (the same amount as last year, but at a lower win percentage because he had 6 more starters). While that would be considered very good for most of the conditioners on the backstretch, they must be considered modest by Clement’s standards. Therefore, I have to expect him to be loaded with ready-to-win horses now heading into the Belmont meet.
Dominic Galluscio, (tied for eighth in the Saratoga trainer standings with 10 wins) is a trainer that I would expect to have a big negative bounce at the 2013 Belmont fall meet. He did so well up at Saratoga that is will be difficult to bet against him, but nevertheless it is doubtful that he will be able to continue to win at that kind of win percentage, or anything close to it, after letting it all rip at Saratoga. Another trainer I would be careful with this fall at Belmont is David Jacobson, who won way more than his average Saratoga win total this summer with 16 winners. Jacobson was the Belmont Spring/Summer meet champion trainer, and he will obviously win more than his share of races, but I would expect both his win percentage and ROI to take a dip this fall at Belmont before revving-up against to full speed at Aqueduct.
On the Belmont dirt track, speed is an extremely handy commodity. Sure, late runners will have every opportunity to close at Belmont with its wide sweeping turns and long stretch, but you always must be wary of the times when Belmont’s main track bias kicks into effect and strongly favors the front runners regardless. When those biases appear, they can stay in place for up to a week at time when the weather goes through a stretch without changing. Otherwise, always assume the prevailing main track bias at Belmont, favoring speed horses and horses able to stay within 2 1/2 lengths of the early pace in sprints and within 4 lengths of the early pace in routes.
Most of the horses running at the Belmont fall meet will be exiting races at Saratoga for one or more of their most-recent outings. This is important, because it will give handicappers a great chance to cash-in on overlays and overlooked horses based on the track biases from the 2013 Saratoga meet, which concluded on Sept. 2.
For example, a Saratoga winner might look nearly unbeatable based on a recent win upstate, but that when that win turns out to have been bias-aided, that horse is likely to be a giant underlay, and in fact very beatable, when it runs back at Belmont. Conversely, a horse that has a seemingly dreadful or disappointing loss in its last race at Saratoga might just have been hurt by running against a track bias, and thus be better than he or she actually looks and actually a live overlay on the tote board at Belmont.
See the chart below for a list of main track biases compiled at the recent Saratoga meet. This information will be invaluable throughout the first month of action at Belmont:
Noel Michaels’ exclusive Saratoga Daily Main Track Bias List - 2013 Meet
Sept. 1 - Off-the-pace advantage on sloppy track
Aug. 30 - Outside good
Aug. 26 - Anti-speed bias
Aug. 24 - Advantage to horses on or near the pace
Aug. 14 - Outside preferred on drying track
Aug. 12 - Front-end bias, all winners on or close
Aug. 9 - Outside bias on a sloppy track
Aug. 4 - Helped to be on or close to the pace
Aug. 3 - Speed advantage
Aug. 1 - Speed bias
July 31 - Outside rally wide advantage
July 26 - Outside preferred
July 24 - Outside rally wide bias
When betting horses at Belmont who are exiting races on any of the above-listed bias days at Saratoga, I recommend upgrading horses that are coming out of losses in against-the-bias efforts, while at the same time downgrading horses coming out of wins in efforts that may have been aided by running with the biases listed above.I hope these tips and trends give you an edge at the betting windows for a successful and enjoyable 2013 Belmont Fall Championship meet. Best of luck!