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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Monday, February 16, 2015 at 12:00 AM


By Noel Michaels -

A lot of focus is on racing at Gulfstream Park this time of the season with the track in the midst of its best racing of the year in the heart of the meat-and-potatoes portion of the winter championship meet.

The road to the Kentucky Derby starts early at Gulfstream Park with races such as the Holy Bull Stakes, the Hutcheson Stakes, and a slew of other important allowance races all a part of Gulfstream Park’s schedule so far. Next up will be a pair of particularly important races for 3-year-olds, with the Fountain of Youth set for Saturday, Feb. 21 and the Florida Derby ahead on March 28. When you look at the daily race cards at Gulfstream this season, you can always notice the big, competitive fields and high quality competition amongst the east’s top trainers, jockeys, and horses. Plus, with Aqueduct suffering through such a bad winter this year, Gulfstream’s terrific betting affairs should keep attracting even more attention than usual from simulcast players from coast to coast.

Here are some keys to successful betting at Gulfstream Park, based on information and statistics compiled through recent years and the first couple months of the 2014-15 meet.

1) Stick With the Top Jockeys

The Gulfstream jockey colony is deep and competitive again this year, with stalwarts like John Velazquez, and Javier Castellano competing for mounts against Paco Lopez and the newer guard of Gulfstream riders who have been strong this season including Edgard Zayas and Luis Saez. In total, the top seven riders in the Gulfstream jockey standings, also including Joel Rosario and Rafael Hernandez have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, with the majority of wins being earned by just that small group. Any of those top jockeys can be bet interchangeably and with confidence, and if you are stuck between betting two or more contenders in a race, it usually has proven wise to go with a horse ridden by one of the above-named jockeys over any of the numerous other riders in the jock’s room.

There have also been a few trainer/jockey combinations worth mentioning so far at the Gulfstream meet. Some top jockey/trainer combinations to watch, include:

Trainer/Jockey Combo Starts Wins Win %
Jorge Navarro / Edgard Zayas 16 8 50%
Todd Pletcher / Javier Castellano 36 13 36%
Kirk Ziadie / Edgard Zayas 21 7 33%

The first interesting note worth pointing out from these three combos are that two of them involve Edgard Zayas, who has earned many of his first 39 wins riding for Jorge Navarro (50% combo), and Kirk Ziadie (33% combo). The second interesting note is that many handicappers automatically assume that John Velazquez gets all the first-call Todd Pletcher horses, but this stat along with Javier Castellano (36% combo) indicates otherwise.

This is the toughest part of the Gulfstream meet where the competition is fiercest and the quality of the racing is highest. During this prime stretch of the Gulfstream meet, it is imperative to place your bets on horses ridden by top jockeys.

If you need further food for thought, consider that during the last 10 racing days, jockeys Lanerie, Prado, Contreras, Vasquez, Rios, Bravo, and Maragh have gone a combined 5-for-151 in the win column.

2) Bet Inside Posts in Dirt Routes

The post position bias against outside posts in two-turn races on Gulfstream’s main track remains a solid handicapping factor. Not only can’t you bet outside posts with that short run to the first turn, but apparently you can’t even bet middle posts, either, based on the horrible numbers from the meet thru Feb. 14.

In 25 dirt route races run on Gulfstream’s main track ranging from 1 1/16 miles and upward, 16 have been won from the four inside posts. All other posts have yielded only 9 wins from a combined 119 starts. Only 2 wins have been recorded from outside post 8 in those races. The remaining four wins were all one win each from posts 5 through 8. Posts 9 and out accounted for zero wins from a total of 32 starters.

GP dirt route winning posts

Posts 1-4 16 wins 100 starters
Posts 5-8 7 wins 88 starters
Posts 9-14 2 wins 32 starters

If this graphic illustration isn’t enough to scare you away from betting anything except the inside posts in Gulfstream routes, then you will be doomed to defeat in those dirt routes much more often than not. Pass on those outside-drawn horses when you see them, take note, and bet them back next time as live overlays assuming they get a better draw.

One final note on dirt route posts: The rail has been great in these races, winning 6-for-25 for 24%.

3) Avoid Front Runners on the Grass Unless the Rails are Way Out

Gulfstream’s turf course is generally not friendly to early speed horses, and through the last few years it has became one of the most difficult courses in the country on which to go wire-to-wire on the grass.

Interestingly, outside post positions have not been as much of a detriment for horses on the turf as they’ve been on the dirt, which is opposite to the way most tracks play where inside draws are key factors in turf routes. As a matter of fact, all posts in turf routes have been fair and have relatively even win percentages. There have even been several times at this meet - including notably the weekend of Feb. 7-8 - where outside posts ruled on the GP turf. So far at this year’s Gulfstream meet, running style - not post draw - has been a key determining factor how well a horse is expected to run on the Gulfstream lawn.

If you must bet a Gulfstream turf front-runner, make sure 1) it’s the lone speed in the race, preferably from an inside post, 2) the horse has an enormous class edge on the rest of the field, and 3) Look and see if the turf rails are moved far out from the hedge. The Gulfstream turf course is extremely wide, and the track superintendent has been known to move the rails out over 80 feet and sometimes over 100 feet in order to preserve the course conditions for big race days and weekends. Traditionally, turf rails out is a handicapping factor that favors front runners on the turf, and even Gulfstream Park is no exception.

4) The Old Bias Against Inside Posts in One Turn Races is Gone This Season

The long-time winning track profile in the longer sprint races at 7F, 7 1/2F, and 1 mile has been an advantage toward outside horses and a disadvantage for inside posts - particularly the rail post. That winning profile has disappeared this season, however, with fair chances for all horses, and, if anything, perhaps a slight preference for inside draws.

Most stunning has been how good the rail has done this season from the previously terrible one post in one mile races. Horses breaking from that post have won 13-of-80 races for 16% - very good indeed.

Seven furlongs still offers outside horses their best advantage on the main track, and no advantage at all can be gained at that distance from an inside post versus an outside one.

In shorter sprints, the inside and middle posts are the best places to be, but that is no surprise because the old bias against inside posts never really affected races at 6F or shorter on the main track.

5) Turf Races at 7.5 Furlongs Have Nothing to Do With 5 Furlong Turf Sprints

From a purely technical standpoint, both Gulfstream’s 5 furlong turf races and 7.5 furlong turf races are all turf sprints. But really for all intents and purposes, races at the two distances have nothing in common and should not be regarded as similar by handicappers in any way.

Turf sprints at 5 furlongs are true turf dashes of pure speed, while 7.5 furlong races, while technically sprints, are run around two turns and must really be classified more like one mile turf races because that is the way they tend to be contested - as routes and not like sprints at all (remember, they’re two-turn races!).

Some statistical outlets lump these two races into the same category (i.e. "turf sprints"), thereby messing up the accuracy of the stats. These two kinds of races must be broken down individually from the other.
When handicapping 5 furlong turf sprints at Gulfstream, speed is the key word and it is usually difficult to rally from too far back off the pace in these races. They are usually won by "the speed of the speed," or by a close-up presser or stalker who can pass tired front runners late. Also, it should be noted that unlike turf sprints at a lot of other venues, like Saratoga and Santa Anita, there is not a bias against horses drawn inside in these GP turf sprints. All post positions yield fair results all the way on out to post 9. Outside post nine has proven to be a near death sentence.

Horses breaking from posts 10-14 in 5 furlong turf sprints this season have gone a combined 1-for-62. Ouch, that’s brutal!

As for the 7.5 furlong turf races at Gulfstream, two things are surprising to note. First, horses can effectively close from behind at this distance (this shouldn’t be surprising based on #3 from earlier in this article, stating that front runners always have difficulty in Gulfstream two-turn turf races), and second, the outside posts are not a disadvantage like you would think due to the short run into the first turn. Outside horses have been winning these races, and that is true all the way out to post 12 which has posted 4 wins from 20 starters for a 20% win percentage so far.

Use these five tips to your advantage, and cash more tickets at Gulfstream Park as a result. Good luck, and enjoy racing and wagering from Gulfstream!

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