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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, May 8, 2015 at 12:00 AM


While it is still early in the process to fly the alarm flag it can’t be lost on veteran horse players and public handicappers alike that the Belmont Park Spring/Summer Race Meet has had at best an inauspicious start...and that can be clearly traced to the average size of the pari-mutuel fields.

Over the course of the first six racing days of the meet (Weds.4/29 - Weds. 5/6) racing officials have been pulling teeth to get horses into the entry box.  That is clearly reflected in the average number of runners in the 56 races run those six days...just 6.8 runners per race.

The 32 dirt races were particularly sparse as they averaged 5.9 horses per race. The 24 turf races found better attendance at 8.1 runners per race.

These kind of short fields tend to leave serious betters going elsewhere for value, but as you know, there is always value to be found and although 6 days is a small sample let’s take a "sideways" look at how you might want to approach those six days in order to draw an overview.


I mentioned above that you can take a "sideways" look at the sample so far and what I mean by that is, for example, looking at what the average dirt winning payoffs have been compared to the average winning turf payoffs.

Despite just 5.9 horses per race the winners in the 32 dirt races have averaged a payoff of $8.75. On the other hand, the turf races, with an average of 8.1 horses have paid $9.52.

These numbers are also a bit "off kilter" in another manner because in the 32 dirt races there have been 14 winning favorites, or 44%, a number that given the short field and high favorite percentages should have yielded a much shorter average payoff. The reason that this has occurred is seen in which horses have won when the favorite hasn’t.

In these dirt races the 14 winning favorites had an average payoff of just $4.05. Yet when the favorite doesn’t win the average payoff is $11.57.

In the 24 turf races, despite the bigger fields there were 10 winning favorites or 41.7%, another relatively high number.

And in these turf races the 10 winning favorites had an average winning payoff of $6.12, a 100% higher profit than the favored dirt winner payoffs. However, the non favored turf winning payoff averaged $11.95, which was not far from that of the dirt non favored winners’ average.

In the abstract these might seem like just numbers...BUT THERE IS SOMETHIG TO BE DRAWN IN CONCLUSION.

First off, long time studies have more than proven that the psychology of horse players leads them to further "over bet" the favorites the shorter the fields. When you think about it this might not make sound handicapping sense but it does speak to human nature. The shorter the field, the less horses they have to beat, the stronger the backing of the choice.

This might sound simplistic, but think about it because until the fields begin to expand and the level of opposition becomes more competitive, a bettor is operating within these wagering parameters and as I have told you many times over the years, handicapping and releasing information to the public has always been about finding the Right Horse under the Right Circumstances and at the Right Price.

This practice can also apply to betting the turf races, especially in the shorter field races that have so far been prevalent in the early days of the Belmont Spring/Summer Meet.

However, there is also another dynamic at work regarding these early in the meet turf races at Belmont and why despite the larger fields the payoffs are very similar. What I would offer in that regard is this consideration. Right now with turf racing back on the schedule in New York, a number of trainers who have tried horses on dirt a number of times to no avail as their charges can’t seem to reverse their off enter them on the grass. Many of these runners have no experience at all, but as last gasp effort at something and with a hope against hope the conditioners go to the grass to maybe reverse the form of the horse.

Most serious handicappers and bettors know that bad form is bad form. And just because there are more runners on average in the turf race, it doesn’t mean there are a larger number of live contenders. In that sense there are simply a larger number of runners that can be eliminated in the bigger size turf fields whereas the smaller dirt fields with a few better contenders and with fewer horses contributing to the prospects for cleaner trips, those things, as the resulting payoffs show, even out.



Last year, California Chrome’s decisive Kentucky Derby win was so emphatic that only 7th place Derby finisher Ride On Curlin and 11th place finisher General A Rod took another shot in the Preakness.
This year, as of one week out and the prospective Preakness runners still in place, players get a much better shot at cashing a series of solid winning combos as second, third, fifth and sixth place Kentucky Derby finishers; in order Firing Line, Dortmund, Danzig Moon and Materiality as well as Carpe Diem and Mr. Z.

No matter where a serious Preakness player looks he’ll find plusses and minuses so to say that this year’s second leg of the Triple Crown presents all sorts of possibilities that will demand very specific information and knowledge is an understatement.

American Pharoah did get the job done, but the way Firing Line and Dortmund set it up for him and the way he got a perfect trip, he still needed to be whipped repeatedly by Espinoza and still needed every ounce of energy to get by Firing Line.

As for the second place finisher, there are two ways to view his comeback two weeks after his hard try in the Derby. His Sunland Derby win came 6 weeks after the Robert Lewis head defeat to Dortmund and the Run for the Roses placing was 6 weeks after the Sunland triumph. Does that mean he is better when his races are spaced or will he be even fitter now that the Derby is under him and he can use his speed to an advantage a sixteenth of a mile shorter?

Is Dortmund going off form right now, if a third in the Derby can be called off form or was he compromised by the rail? And what about Danzig Moon’s sneaky decent fifth place finish in the Derby. He was closer up to the pace than in recent races and that was either a sign of the slower pace or maybe that quicker early attention added some speed which means he could sit off what might be a contested early pace.

Materiality, who broke horribly in the Derby but still got up for sixth is right back at it for Todd Pletcher and a cleaner break could even have him on the lead, but certainly he’ll also contribute to the pace.
Carpe Diem, a huge disappointment in the Derby is also on the prospect’s list as of now and one thing the racing industry does know is that regardless of results, Pletcher (who also saddles Carpe Diem) will not run a horse if he isn’t well meant.

And of course if the plot wasn’t thickened enough by all of those, local wire-to-wire Federico Tesio Stakes winner Bodhisativa and impressive Lexington Stakes winner Diving Rod and equally impressive Pat Day Mile (formerly the Derby Trial) winner Competitive Edge, who blistered the Churchill surface on the Derby undercard are also looking for a spot in the starting gate.

There is little gimme in this year’s Preakness...the field should provide plenty of solid return for the Right Choices.

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