Submitted by Noel Michaels on Wednesday, June 1, 2016 at 1:45 PM
BUILD BANKROLL FOR BELMONT STAKES DAY AND BEYOND
A full month of the Belmont Park spring/summer meet is already in the books, and we are now approaching the best part of the Belmont season as the date draws near for the 2016 running of the Belmont Stakes - the third jewel in racing's Triple Crown. In addition to the Belmont Stakes, there is also still plenty of other great action going on at Belmont between now and Saturday, June 11.
There are lots of great handicapping and wagering opportunities at Belmont this summer at what has always been the early summer season's premier racetrack. Now that we have a full month of statistics to sink our teeth into, horseplayers who have been paying attention to Belmont have accumulated a solid set of data from the meet so far that can be used to break down what we expect to happen the rest of the way. Therefore, let's attempt to delve into some key statistics and trends in order to formulate a successful plan for Belmont Stakes week and the remainder of the meet.
Several trends have quietly - and not so quietly - been taking shape at Belmont Park this season as the meet has progressed. From what I've seen so far, I have noticed some trends developing that can help handicappers cash tickets and show profits. Additionally, I've also been able to pinpoint some hot and cold jockeys and trainers to either key or avoid.
BELMONT RUNNING STYLES / TRACK BIASES
As always on Belmont's 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 front runners and pressers always have an edge.
Besides the prevailing speed-favoring nature of the Belmont main track, there are usually certain day-to-day track biases that affect the results and either help or hurt the chances of certain horses on any given afternoon. This year, however, as I have noted below, so far this season's Belmont spring/summer meet has been amazingly without too many daily track biases. When you do see those biases appear, however, they can be valuable things to take notice of and capitalize on when horses return to the track for their next starts by downgrading horses who benefitted from biases and upgrading the chances of horses who've been hurt by track biases.
The weather has been chilly and often rainy in New York throughout the month of May, and this is going to play a huge role in handicapping the second half of the meet in terms of the turf races. On the Belmont turf courses, under dry conditions, speed tends to play a lot better than it does under wet conditions or wet-and-dry conditions. Thus far in the meet at Belmont, the turf courses have mainly been less-than-firm, even when listed as "firm" on the tote board. Those conditions typically help the closers at Belmont, with the best trips of all being the "inside-out" wide rallies to victory.
This is expected to change drastically, however, during the second half of the meet when the weather usually dries out and heats up in the Belmont Park area. Under dry, sunny, warm conditions, the "firm" turf at Belmont is often very different than the "firm" turf conditions we encounter during May. The turf courses then go from favoring the rally wide inside-out trips to favoring speed and pressers much more during June and July.
This leads to great betting opportunities in the Belmont grass races during the warmer and drier part of the spring/summer meet. Closers that ran big races early in the meet often don't repeat those efforts, and should be downgraded as underlays you can bet against. Front runners and pressers, on the other hand, often were at a disadvantage in May, but should be in store for positive turnarounds during June and July when the turf dries, hardens, and begins to favor their running style. Speedy losers from May often turn into longshot value-added winners in June and July.
Going back to the Belmont main track handicapping. Here is my list of New York racing track biases so far at the 2016 Belmont meet:
Belmont/Aqueduct Track Biases
May 26 - Helped to be on or close to the pace
May 8 - Outside bias on muddy track; speed died down inside
May 7 - Outside bias on muddy track
May 4 - Outside bias on a wet track
As you can see, the main track bias to affect the Belmont meet so far happened during wet weather conditions from May 4-8, then the inside was heavy and slow and the track favored outside paths and posts. Be on the lookout for horses coming back for their next starts after exiting dirt races on those dates. Downgrade the horses that took advantage of bias-aided big outside efforts, and upgrade horses in their next starts that were stuck down on the worst, inside part of the track.
BELMONT JOCKEY TRENDS
This season's Belmont jockey standings have featured several good storylines, including the fact that Jose Ortiz (43 wins) has managed to carve-out a giant lead in the win column over veterans like Javier Castellano and John Velazquez (15 wins apiece) and others. The other big surprise involves Irad Ortiz, but not in a good way. Despite riding good horses for top barns, Irad Ortiz is off to a slower-than-expected start at Belmont in 2016. Usually contending for the riding title along with Jose Ortiz, Irad Ortiz trails Jose by 25 wins, and currently sits tied for third in the jockey standings with 18 victories so far. That's disappointing, because Irad Ortiz has had 118 mounts, and his win percentage is only 15%, compared with a big 25% wins for hot riding Jose Ortiz.
Jose Ortiz's lead in the jockey standings is enormous with a 21-win advantage over surprise second-leading jockey Manuel Franco, who has 22 wins and is thus far enjoying his best meet ever. For handicappers, Franco is a good bet, too, because his horses often offer much better odds than the ones ridden by Irad Ortiz. Joel Rosario, who is coming back from an injury, is tied for third in the standings with 18 wins. Unlike Irad Ortiz, however, Rosario accomplished the 18 victories with just 92 mounts, for a better win percentage of 20%.
Javier Castellano and Johnny V. might not be leading the standings in terms of wins, but they are riding higher-quality horses generally and are being more selective with their mounts. Castellano and Velazquez therefore have compiled healthy win percentages of 18% and 19% respectively, and their stock is only going to go up now that the stakes-heavy portion of the Belmont meet approaches. Both of these veterans will start racking-up the wins for top barns such as Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown, as well as picking up cream-of-the-crop stakes mounts from other trainers.
A couple of other jockeys worth mentioning include Cornelio Velasquez, who is 11-for-79 (14%) and riding a bunch of winners for trainer Linda Rice as the undisputed best jockey on the grounds in turf sprints, and Junior Alvarado, who is 8-for-73 at the meet but riding first-call for Bill Mott. When Mott heats up, so will Alvarado's win percentage and ROI.
Among the jockeys who are colder than you would expect at Belmont, besides Irad Ortiz, include some riders who are really struggling like Mike Luzzi (1-for-43, 2%), Sam Camacho (2-for-22, 9%), Jose Lezcano (5-for-58, 9%), Angel Arroyo (5-for-86, 6%), Dylan Davis (6-for-74, 8%) and Luis Saez (9-for-95, 9%), who had a breakout year in 2015 but has yet to get his groove back in 2016. Right now, you would really need to think twice before betting a horse ridden by any member of this group until you start to notice signs of a turnaround.
On the plus side of the ledger, while Dylan Davis and Angel Arroyo have indeed been winning at low percentages, betting on them has not been entirely un-profitable at times in terms of ROI. Davis's winners have had a high average win price of $24.90, while Arroyo has almost made himself a positive ROI buy thanks to a giant average win payoff of $36.00.
Conversely, here comes our guy Irad Ortiz again. Not only has his win percentage of 15% been disappointing at this meet, but his winners have paid the lowest average win payoff at just $6.80. His ROI has been awful. In other words, he's been riding a lot of favorites but still not winning a lot.
BELMONT TRAINER TRENDS
Chad Brown has officially come into his own and is leading all Belmont Park trainers with 15 wins through the end of May. Brown is one of the country's top trainers, but he has always had to play second-fiddle to Todd Pletcher at Belmont Park . . . until now.
Brown has picked up right where he left off at Belmont Park last fall, when he had a totally dominant meet, especially in turf routes. Brown far-and-away leads all Belmont trainers in turf wins with 11 victories. The next-leading trainer, is far back with 6 turf wins, and that has been the surprisingly hot veteran David Donk, whose average winner is paying $17.40 to win. Brown is 11-for-44 (25% wins) on the turf, and 15-for-53 (28% wins) overall, making him and Donk two of the must-bet trainers of the meet so far.
Other trainers who are currently sitting in a lofty stratosphere in terms of win percentages who are so hot that they cannot be overlooked, at least for now, include trainers like Jason Servis (7-for-14, 50%!, 86% ITM!), and James Jerkens (6-for-19, 32%, 74% ITM), and more quietly Mike Micelli, who is 3-for-4 in the win column and 4-for-4 ITM.
Of course, you can always count on Todd Pletcher, who is tied for second in wins with 10, but his win percentage is not a standout so far (17%), and as always his average win price is low ($8.60). This means one of two things for handicappers - Pleather's runners will either explode during the second half of the Belmont meet, or he is already gearing-up for a giant meet at Saratoga.
The other trainer you really need to watch and wager right now is Linda Rice, who is tied for second in the standings currently with 10 wins (26% winners). As always, Rice is the queen of the turf sprints and you must bet her accordingly. But so far at Belmont 2016, Rice hasn't just been a one-trick pony. All of her sprinters are winning, not just turf sprinters. She has a sprint record at Belmont so far of 9-for-27 (33% wins), with a 67% in-the-money percentage.
Rudy Rodriguez has been a surprise so far at the Belmont meet, but not in a good way. Aqueduct's leading trainer is struggling at Belmont with a record of only 5-for-49 (10%), meaning that his backers are losing some serious money.
On the cold side, some other trainers who are currently burning betting money include Bruce Levine (2-for-27, 7%), Bill Mott (2-for-35, 6%), Bruce Brown (1-for-35, 3% and now ice-cold for more than a year), Steve Klesaris (1-for-24, 4%), Nick Zito (0-for-18), and Tom Albertrani (1-for-23, 4%).
Speaking of Linda Rice, the "queen of the New York turf sprints," is still dangerous in these races, but perhaps she is gearing up her runners for Saratoga instead of concentrating her efforts here at Belmont.
Readers of my columns know by now that I constantly expound on the virtues of outside posts in turf sprint races in New York. This is mainly true at Saratoga, but it is also true at Belmont Park as well.
This bias toward outside posts in turf sprints has always been a great trend to know about, and amazingly it still continues to be a good angle even now as most handicappers refuse to differentiate post position trends in turf sprints. What this means for bettors is that outside posts are best bets in turf sprints Belmont's turf courses, not only because they have the best chances of winning, but also because they offer value overlay odds and terrific bargains on the tote board.
There have only been 15 turf sprint races run so far on the inner turf course, providing too small of a sample size. Let's take a look at the statistics for the Widener (outer) turf course in turf sprints so far at the Belmont meet. The stats already show a typical bias against horses breaking from the two inside posts in Widener course turf sprints. Remember, the more horses there are in the race, the worse the inside posts are in Belmont (and Saratoga) turf sprints.
Belmont Turf Sprint Winning Post Positions
(April 29 - May 30)
|Post||WIDENER Turf Sprint Wins|
As far as turf sprint running styles are concerned, inside horses better have speed enough to clear in front in order to have a decent chance to win. Inside horses involved in speed battles tend to readily succumb to outside pressure, setting the race up for outside stalkers and closers. Inside horses without speed get shuffled too far back off the pace, and don't have enough chance to get back into the race at the short turf sprint distances.
On the Belmont Widener main turf course this season, the story has been the futility of inside posts. This could be due to the rains in the area and the less-than-firm turf that dries slowest toward the inside. Horses breaking from posts 1-3 in Widener turf routes have won only a combined 4-for-63 starts (6% wins). Middle posts have been excellent in those Widener turf routes, with posts 4-7 winning most of the races. Surprisingly the far outside posts have also done well in a small sample, with 4 winners breaking from posts 8-11 from only 38 total starters (11% win percentage).
In Inner turf course routes, meanwhile, basically all post positions have played fairly so far, with horses winning from inside, middle, and outside post positions.
Belmont Turf Route Winning Post Positions
(April 29 - May 30)
|Post||Turf Routes Widener||Turf Routes Inner|
|1||2-21 (10%)||4-29 (14%)|
|2||1-21 (5%)||2-29 (7%)|
|3||1-21 (5%)||3-29 (10%)|
|4||2-21 (10%)||2-29 (7%)|
|5||4-21 (19%)||4-29 (14%)|
|6||5-20 (25%)||5-27 (19%)|
|7||2-17 (12%)||4-24 (17%)|
|8||1-12 (8%)||2-19 (11%)|
|9||1-9 (11%)||1-15 (7%)|
|10||1-8 (12%)||2-8 (25%)|
|11||1-5 (20%)||0-3 (0%)|
DIRT POST POSITIONS
When it comes to post position angles on the Belmont main track, the track does not always play like you would expect. Remember, Belmont runs almost no two-turn races due to its 1 1/2 -mile circumference. As far as running style, it pays dividends to stay as close to the pace as possible on the Belmont main track, because the prevailing winning profile does not favor deep closers.
As far as post positions at Belmont so far in 2016 on the main track, the inside posts have done exceptionally well in sprints, and the inside five posts have been the place to be so far in route races at 1 mile or more. In sprints, all of the inside posts 1-4 are winning at high percentages.
See the following charts for a post position breakdown on the Belmont main track:
Belmont DIRT Winning Post Positions
(April 29 - May 30)
|Post||Dirt Sprint Wins|
|Post||Dirt Route Wins|
I hope you enjoy a successful Belmont meet, including during the important time leading up to and including Belmont Stakes week and Belmont Stakes Day. Hopefully the information in this article will help raise your own personal winning percentage. After the Belmont Stakes, there will still be five weeks of racing left at Belmont. Keep a close eye on the winning track trends the rest of the way, and you will stay one step ahead of the competition. Best of luck!
By Noel Michaels