Submitted by Noel Michaels on Monday, September 19, 2016 at 1:02 PM
There are many categories of handicapping angles in play at this time of year in New York as summer turns to fall. Horses and horsemen who spent summer far and wide, not only at Saratoga but also at Monmouth and other tracks in the mid-Atlantic region, all return to Belmont for the Fall Championship Meet, which continues the East's highest-quality racing and wagering throughout this season until the end of October.
While it is impossible to mention every Belmont fall handicapping angle in one article, we can focus on some of the best, most effective, and perhaps the most overlooked angles for horseplayers to pay attention to at this time of year in New York racing. Many horses have more questions surrounding them than answers for handicappers at this time of the year, but one of the keys to winning at Belmont now can be for bettors to ask the right questions, and then to come up with the correct answers. This will lead to picking many winners at good prices that otherwise may get overlooked by others in the betting public - giving you the advantage.
Some key categories of questions New York handicappers need to ask right now are, 1) How do Saratoga Turf sprinters that went 5 ½ furlongs do at Belmont's more common 6F and 7F turf races under the same conditions? Does speed hold up, do closers improve? By the same token, how do many of the runners that went a mile on the turf at Saratoga do when they cut back at Belmont? 2) How do you deal with the Belmont-only horses, and shippers from Monmouth and the mid-Atlantic tracks, who skipped Saratoga but are now back in New York because Belmont's program is more favorable for their conditions? And 3) How do the advantageous post positions on the differently constructed main and inner turf courses at Saratoga hold up when the same horse run on the main and/or inner turf courses at Belmont?
Let's take an in-depth look at these three handicapping categories that yield plenty of profitable Belmont betting angles at this time of the year:
1) Turf Sprint Running Styles
Speed horses that were successful in Saratoga's 5 1/2F turf sprints often underperform at the Belmont fall meet at low prices. Closers and stalkers and pace-pressers, meanwhile, have an opportunity to do much better at Belmont, especially if they draw post positions toward the outside. These horses didn't have enough real estate to work with at Saratoga.
The same concept also holds true for turf sprinters coming from mid-Atlantic tracks, which all run turf sprints but at distances commonly only 5F or 5 1/2F. During Belmont, horses that prefer the longer turf sprint distances from all over the east have a home in New York, unlike during the Saratoga meet which runs 5 1/2F turf sprints. When Saratoga is running, short turf sprint horses dominate all down the eastern seaboard because the longer-winded turf sprinters have nowhere to go. Those long-winded types rack-up bad records and bad PP lines all summer, but arrive at Belmont ready to roll for their turf sprint stretchouts, usually at overlay prices.
This makes for a good turf sprint angle to use at the Belmont fall meet right now. It capitalizes on the difference between Saratoga's turf sprints (and turf sprints run at places like Monmouth), versus Belmont's turf sprints at longer distances. The speed horses who excelled in the summer will be less effective in the fall. The opposite side of the coin is also true. Turf sprint late runners and longer-winded horses who failed during the summer will often spring to life in the fall turf sprints because they have more real estate to work with.
As a matter of fact, this distance angle even goes beyond just turf sprints, and also impacts many horses who ran at one mile on the turf during the Saratoga meet. With no 7F turf sprint option open to horses at Saratoga, many of these 7F turf specialists opt to try one mile on the turf instead of cutting back to 5 1/2F. Usually those turf horses also fail at Saratoga, because the difference between 7F at Belmont and 1M at Saratoga is not just a difference of one furlong . . . it is also the difference between one turn and two turns. The added distance at two turns makes these turf sprinters fail at Saratoga. Their form looks bad, but they will almost always show positive turnarounds at Belmont in the fall, either in their first and/or second starts of the Belmont fall meet.
This distance angle seems very obvious and straightforward, but nevertheless it is still overlooked by the majority of handicappers, who instead just base their selections on recent results in the past performances, even if those race were run under vastly different circumstances. If you have a chance, it makes more sense to evaluate the chances of Belmont turf sprinters by assessing their Belmont turf sprint PPs, even if they are older past performance lines than a horse's more recent PP lines at Saratoga or Monmouth.
2) Belmont-Only Horses and Shippers
At the Belmont fall meet, one group of horses that handicappers must always learn to deal with are the Belmont-only horses, and the Monmouth, Parx, Laurel, and Delaware shippers who skipped Saratoga but are now back in New York because the track layout at Belmont, as well as Belmont's condition book, are more favorable for their conditions than the races run at Saratoga or at any of the mid-Atlantic tracks.
Certain mid-Atlantic barns have made a habit of shipping to New York but not going to Saratoga. Many NY-based trainers like Bruce Brown, David Jacobson, Bruce Levine, Mike Maker, Kiaran McLaughlin, and Jason Service had mid-Atlantic strings. This time of year, those mid-Atlantic strings will usually merge with their New York strings. How do those runners do when they run at Belmont Park?
Oftentimes the New York horses that arrive back at Belmont in the fall are the best bets at the Fall Championship Meet. Horses with the best form up at Saratoga are horses were excelling, in part, thanks to their preference for two-turn dirt route races at Saratoga. However, this factor flip-flops at Belmont, away from the two-turn specialists who excelled at Saratoga and towards the one-turn horses who like the routes at Belmont, and who like the distances of 1 mile and 1 1/16 miles better than the 1 1/8-mile routes run at Saratoga (there are no 1 mile and 1 1/16-mile dirt races run at Saratoga).
This adds an interesting handicapping wrinkle when the meets in New York switch to- and-from Belmont Park. This move in New York from racing at Saratoga to racing at Belmont, along with the impending close of Monmouth, is one of those pertinent times of year.
Remember that at Saratoga, because of the track layout, there are no one-mile races and no 1 1/16-mile races on dirt. The vast majority of all main track Saratoga routes are run at 1 1/8 miles. This creates lots of problems for horses whose best distances are one mile and/or 1 1/16 miles. At Saratoga, those horses must either stretchout to 1 1/8 miles (perhaps too long), or cutback to seven furlongs around one turn (too short).
When those horses return to Belmont in the fall, they often come off a bad recent race or two, and they are ready for a positive turnaround, often at a good price, back at their preferred distances at Belmont.
This distance angle goes beyond just Belmont and Saratoga handicapping at this time of year and actually extends to horses running in dirt routes all over the eastern region including, most notably, Monmouth Park, Parx, and Delaware Park.
Many of the better New York barns are well aware of this distance-change angle, and instead choose to ship-off their one mile and 1 1/16-mile dirt specialists to other tracks during the Saratoga meet, because they just can't win at either 7F or 1 1/8 miles. When racing returns to Belmont Park, watch for the horses returning to Belmont Park off of 1 mile and 1 1/16-mile dirt races at lesser tracks. They are often prime bets despite the fact that they've run at lesser circuits.
Trainers with lot of resources, and/or out-of-town operations, have the advantage in this regard. These trainers include Todd Pletcher, Jason Servis, Bruce Levine, Tony Dutrow, and Steve Asmussen. These guys will pick-out their mis-matched distance horses ahead of the Saratoga meet and ship those horses to races at Monmouth, Parx, Delaware, or elsewhere, with varying degrees of success. When these horses return to Belmont, however, they often become some of the best winning longshots of the meet.
Other trainers with smaller operations, who are without the resources to run strings of horses out of town, stick around at Saratoga and lose races all season long with these types of runners at 7F and 1 1/8 miles with horses that should be entered at 1 mile or 1 1/16 miles. Back at Belmont, those horses are also some of the best longshot plays, because you can usually expect a positive turnaround from them in the fall.
Therefore, during the Belmont fall meet, bet horses that were stuck at the wrong distances at Saratoga, especially if they hail from the smaller and/or New York-only stables. Also bet on the horses from the barns like Pletcher, Servis, Levine, Dutrow, Asmussen, and others, who shipped out of town to tracks like Monmouth or Parx or Delaware, to enter races at 1 mile and 1 1/16 miles over the summer. They can surprise a lot of people when they come back to Belmont Park for the fall meet.
Evaluating out-of-town and returning-to-town talent is one of the keys to handicapping the Belmont Park meet, because the local horses who've excelled at Saratoga are not necessarily the horses you want to bet at Belmont.
Other Belmont entrants to watch for in the fall are the ones who've been given the Saratoga seven weeks off, and never left Belmont Park to go upstate. They are rested and ready to roll and have been pointed to races at Belmont due to the track layout, or distance preferences, or freshening, or maybe because they are cheaper horses whose kinds of races are not commonly run at Saratoga.
The best strategy with these sorts of layoff horses is to bet them once they've gotten one prep under their belts in their second start of the Belmont fall meet. Give horses with a prep race the advantage over horses coming back first time off layoffs, but always remember that it's OK to bet horses that totally skipped the Saratoga meet. This angle is most pertinent right now!!!
It is also worth mentioning that the October portion of the Belmont fall meet is when the races begin to get taken over more and more by New York-bred events and the trainers that dominate them like David Jacobson, Rudy Rodriguez, Bruce Levine, and Gary Contessa. Come October, those trainers' barns will be loaded with horses fit and ready to win that were pointed for the October part of the Belmont Fall meet. The above-named major national trainers like Pletcher, Clement, McGaughey, etc. tend to point more for the September Belmont races and then split-up their attention in October between Belmont and Keeneland.
Also, it is safe to assume that Chad Brown will continue to dominate for the foreseeable future. Even when Brown comes off another great season at Saratoga he invariably has not even fired all his best bullets at The Spa and he still will be overloaded with live horses at Belmont. He doesn't re-group, he re-loads, especially on the grass at the Belmont fall meet. Brown has firmly emerged as one of the premier trainers on the national scene year-round and is lethal in grass routes and with maiden special weights. During the Belmont fall meet in 2015, Brown rarely lost with well-meant turf routers during the October portion of the meet. He's already the top trainer, and be becomes even more-so during October at Belmont when a lot of the other top barns send many of their turf stars to Keeneland.
Turf ace trainer Christophe Clement's grass string is always powerful at Belmont. Clement will lead the parade of top stables returning to full force New York turf races after the conclusion of the Saratoga meet. One great thing about Clement, is that he'll keep winning on the turf all fall season long, including plenty of wins in October as well as September. Bill Mott and Shug McGaughey can be counted on for high winning percentages at Belmont, but they will drop off at Belmont a bit once Keeneland opens.
James Jerkens will be another trainer to watch at Belmont. He doesn't focus on Saratoga, but he does focus his stable on the bookend meets at Belmont. You can also expect Bruce Levine to be prominent as always at Belmont. Watch for Levine with first-time Lasix (the "Bruce Juice").
Linda Rice is always a trainer you want to focus on at the Belmont fall meet and this year is no exception. Rice was cold during the first half of Saratoga bit then heated up the last three weeks or so. Look at the trainer standings from 2015's Belmont fall meet and you will see she won 19 races here last fall for second in the standings behind only Chad Brown. She's hot and going into her best meet of the year, so it's time to start betting the Linda Rice horses with regularity. This is especially true in the turf sprints, where Rice often dominates.
Jason Servis has been winning races all over the place in 2016, including at Monmouth where he basically won everything in sight this season. Servis is a master of dividing his stable between Saratoga and Monmouth during the summer - similar to the way Bruce Levine used to do - in order to maximize the effectiveness of his runners. Horses that like 1 mile and 1 1/16th miles, or would be outclassed at Saratoga go to Monmouth where they can win. Servis's barn will all come together again at Belmont this fall.
3) Turf Post Positions and Differences Between Saratoga and Belmont Courses
How do the post position trends and angles on the differently constructed turf courses at Saratoga hold up when the same horses run on the main and/or inner turf courses at Belmont? First, let's tackle the turf sprints, which comprise a large portion of the turf program at the Belmont fall meet.
Logic would dictate that inside posts would be preferential in turf sprints, due to the short run-up to the first turn and the fact that ground-saving trips always seem to work well in more traditional turf races. However, not only aren't inside posts better in New York turf sprints (both at Saratoga and at Belmont), but in fact, the OPPOSITE is actually true. Outside posts (often the far outside post) are the best post position draws in New York turf sprints. Inside posts are the worst, unless it's a short field or a horse has the natural speed to send from those inside posts and get to the front. This is not just a short-term trend. The outside posts have always done better in terms of win percentages than the inside posts consistently at each Belmont spring and fall meet.
The anti-rail bias is particularly prevalent in Belmont turf sprints on the Widener (outer) turf course, where the rail Post 1 customarily wins at only 4-5% at both 6 furlongs and 7 furlongs.
On the inner turf course, the turf sprint inside vs. outside bias is still there, but it just works a little differently than on the outer turf. In inner turf sprints at Belmont, the rail post itself is not bad, but instead it is the other inside posts that are disadvantageous, including posts 2-4.
Post position seems to mean more in these kinds of races than in any other kind of local race, so bet the Belmont turf sprint races accordingly.
In Belmont turf sprints, just like at Saratoga, inside posts, particularly the rail, are bad in turf sprints. The rail won just 3 of 58 such races at Saratoga, including none the final two weeks of the season. Therefore, upgrade the chances of any horse that was disadvantaged with the inside turf sprint post at Saratoga when they make their next start at Belmont, unless the horse once again draws the rail in a turf sprint at Belmont. Any horse that lost from Post 1 up at Saratoga deserves another shot down at Belmont - most likely at overlay odds.
Many people just don't seem to get it when it comes to the post biases in Belmont turf sprints - including people who should know better such as the turf writers and handicappers from mainstream publications. Maybe it is also because some of the short-term, small sample sizes can occasionally make win percentages for particular posts spike and seem better than they actually are. But long term post stats tell the true story. Over the course of time, middle and outside turf sprint posts are consistently better as a group than inside ones. Since the betting public evidently still has not caught on to this reality (thanks in part to the mis-information spread by public handicappers), this angle still produces solid overlays and plenty of winners meet-after-meet.
Even in turf route races, post positions are an important handicapping angle at the Belmont fall meet. When evaluating horses' form from Saratoga when they show up back at Belmont Park in the fall, many horses will show up with PPs that look either better, or worse, than they really are based on their favorable or non-favorable post positions from recent starts up at Saratoga.
On the Belmont turf, both the inner turf and the outer turf courses are big, wide, and fair, and feature long stretch runs. Outside turf posts are a concern between one mile and 1 1/8 miles, but less so at other distances. Horses breaking from the far outside in one-mile races and 1 1/16-mile races can be most negatively affected by outside posts.
At one mile on the Widener turf course, posts 8-12 should be expected to win for about a combined 5% at a mile, while posts 9-12 should win about 6% at 1 1/16-miles. On the inner turf course at 1 1/16-miles, horses from posts 8 and outward also can be expected to win only about 5% at a time. At 1 1/8-miles, posts 8 and out may win only about 7%.
Notably, weather has a big impact on Belmont Fall turf racing, and it's something worth looking out for. For the first half of the Belmont Fall Championship Meet, temperatures can still be quite hot at times, and the courses can really get baked firm by a lack of rain. During the latter portions of the Belmont fall meet into October, however, things begin to soften up as the area is often affected by raw fall showers that keep the courses a bit moist, even under "firm" conditions.
Belmont firm turf in September is far different from Belmont "firm" turf for the second half of the fall meet after the Breeders' Cup Preview, when cooler temperatures, wetter conditions, and heavy use usually begin to take their toll on the turf courses by softening them up. Because of these turf conditions, handicappers should upgrade turf front-runners during the first half of the meet when the courses are firmer, and then begin to downgrade those horses in favor of closers during the second half of the meet.
Most grass horses will make more than one turf start at the Belmont fall meet. Many will even make three starts and some will make four turf starts. The Belmont fall meet will be filled with turf overlays and underlays during the second half of the meet after horses have already made their first race of the fall season, because they will be bet in their later races based too heavily on how they finished in their earlier races. The problem with that is, differing turf conditions later in the meet mean that horses rarely run the same way in their turf starts later in the meet. Horses that ran well often don't run nearly as good, and horses that ran bad often don't run nearly as lousy.
This angle is a particularly effective moneymaker when you see front-running horses that benefited from the course conditions early in the meet that you can downgrade as likely underlays during the second-half of the meet when the turf plays much less kind to speed. At the same time, you can also catch overlay prices on live turf closers and stalkers who tend to win more often later in the meet, after they've already flopped earlier in the meet.
As a side note, when it rains, the inner turf typically dries out faster than the outer course, so always try to keep that in mind when evaluating horses that prefer good, yielding, or soft turf.
I hope these tips, angles, and trends give you an edge at the betting windows for a successful and enjoyable 2016 Belmont Fall Championship meet. Focusing on some significant Belmont handicapping quirks, as well as the differences between Belmont Park and the summer racing at Saratoga and elsewhere, can really help you pick winners and make good money this fall. Best of luck!
By Noel Michaels