Submitted by Noel Michaels on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM
AQUEDUCT INNER TRACK’S WHERE IT’S AT. . .WEATHER PERMITTING
By Noel Michaels - OTBLearningLabs.com
Winter racing in New York is here, and huge purses have basically been the key to keeping field sizes decent enough to keep the good wagering opportunities coming at a steady pace at Aqueduct even during January. New York winter racing is essentially a scaled-down but yet very bettable version of the rest of NYRA’s racing schedule, without all the bells and whistles of graded stakes and turf racing.
Some people love to bet the inner track while others can’t stand it, but even if you don’t like it, you’d at least better get used to it because there are months of racing scheduled over the Big A inner track from now through the end of March.
Even if you are the type of winter horseplayer who prefers to play the "big winter meets" in warm weather locales at this time of year, there is no denying that the Aqueduct inner track is "where it’s at" for winter racing horseplayers, with big pools and big purses, especially during much of the otherwise sparse month of January in the world of Thoroughbred racing outside of Florida and California.
Aqueduct Inner Track January Progress Report
Aqueduct’s purses have skyrocketed the last couple of winters due to an influx of cash from Aqueduct’s bustling racino, and the added purse money has also made a positive impact on field sizes and betting opportunities at Aqueduct’s inner track meet . . . WEATHER PERMITTING!
The 2015 Aqueduct inner track schedule has been strongly effected by winter weather in January, resulting in several cancellations. So far, there have been seven days lost to weather-related cancellations in January alone. Many of the remaining days have been run on wet tracks, resulting in scratches. This obviously impacts the quality of racing.
However, this negative weather impact is not permanent. As a matter of fact, it’s the opposite, as soon as there is a stretch of good weather and no cancellations, Aqueduct should get a shot in the arm of great racing and larger field sizes due to the back-log of horses waiting to get into re-drawn races that were recently cancelled. As soon as the weather permits, therefore, Aqueduct racing will be ready to explode with top quality race days with good fields and excellent betting opportunities.
It might not be glamorous, but the handle at the Aqueduct inner track is still on par with any other winter signal racing at this time of the year, believe it or not. That means that many people might like not to admit it, but they’re betting Aqueduct all season long in addition to playing other winter tracks like Gulfstream and Santa Anita.
Jockeys and Trainers
There are two human-related stories currently on the radar that are having an impact on the 2014-15 Aqueduct inner track meet - the domination in the jockey standings of the Ortiz brothers, Irad and Jose, and the 2015 winter season rise of two female trainers - Linda Rice and Michelle Nevin - atop the trainers ranks along with perennial winter leader David Jacobson.
The leading Aqueduct inner track jockeys, Irad Ortiz and Jose Ortiz, who finished 1-2 in the jockey standings at the 2013-14 and 2012-13 Aqueduct inner track meets, are again clearly atop the jockey standings at the current year, 2015, with 21 wins for Jose and 20 wins for Irad thru Jan. 25. Both jocks are winning with just over 25% of their mounts, and both can be counted on for those kinds of numbers all winter long. The third jockey really making hay at the current inner track meet is Manuel Franco, who is giving the Ortiz boys a run for their money in third-place with 19 victories so far in 2015 (thru 1/25), with a 24% win percentage.
Aside from the top three jockeys above, the duo of Junior Alvarado and apprentice Angel Cruz are the riders that have emerged as the others who will receive the majority of the leftover plum mounts. Both Alvarado and Cruz have 12 wins so far. It is a long way back in the standings to the rest of the jockeys in the Aqueduct winter colony. None currently has more than 4 wins, and most of those guys are winning at a modest 5% to 15%.
Clearly you don’t want to place too much stock in any horse being ridden by anyone other than the top 5 jockeys right now - Jose Ortiz, Irad Ortiz, Manuel Franco, Junior Alvarado, and Angel Cruz.
When it comes to the top trainers at Aqueduct, the story has been all about David Jacobson in recent winters, and this season is no exception. Jacobson leads the training standings with 18 wins since the start of Aqueduct and 9 wins so far this year. However, when it comes to making money, you are going to need to look deeper than Jacobson at the Aqueduct inner track, because his horses are always heavily bet and often favored. Those that aren’t favored probably can be counted on to be underlays.
David Jacobson continues to be deadly in the claiming game and leads the way in the Aqueduct trainer standings thanks to sheer numbers. He is winning at a 28% clip at Aqueduct, and those are typical numbers for the Jacobson stable so he should maintain at least that win percentage all winter while eventually running away with the training title. In particular, Jacobson must be wagered on when he pulls his patented claim-and-drop maneuver - which would be a red flag for many other barns, but not this one which racks up the wins with class drops all year long.
The trainers in closest pursuit of Jacobson include Linda Rice, who is having a hot 2015 with 9 victories and a 30% win percentage, and Michelle Nevin, who has won with 4 of 14 starters for 29 percent this year. Horses sent out from both of these trainers must be bet right now, because their ROIs are so much greater than the Jacobson horses that are always low-priced.
Gary Gullo and Rick Violette have been other conditioners to watch atop the trainer standings this season. Gullo, who did well at last year’s inner track meet also, is off to a profittable start to the meet, winning a big 25% of his races with 3 wins from 12 starters, and running in the money 83% of the time. Violette is having an exceptional 2015 on the inner track, too, with 3 wins from his first 11 starters and a big 73% in the money.
Other trainers to bet at Aqueduct in January and February at Aqueduct include Jason Servis, (6 of his first 11 runners in 2015 hit the exacta), and David Donk , usually known as a turf trainer but finished in the exacta with 6 of his first 10 Aqueduct runners this year.
On the flip side, some other trainers are off to unusually slow starts and are burning the money of handicappers very rapidly at Aqueduct to start 2015. This list includes perennial Aqueduct inner track top-two trainer Rudy Rodriguez, who won with only 4 of his last 26 starters for just 15%, and Gary Contessa, who owns a few wins but is costing handicappers dearly in the ROI department because his last 4 winners have taken him 43 starts to achieve, for a win percentage of just 9 precent.
Finally, it should be noted that many of the big-name barns that go down to Florida for the winter but usually leave large strings of horses home in New York for the season have been very quiet this year so far. Trainers like Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, James Jerkens, Kiaran McLaughlin, Tom Albertrani, Shug McGaughey, Christophe Clement, and others have mostly been virtual non-factors so far this winter at Aqueduct.
Aqueduct’s inner track usually is at the mercy of track biases, and not surprisingly, the track has shown various favoritisms since opening early in December (refer to my chart below). However, it must be noted that the track has done an excellent job during a month of January that has been affected by winter weather basically from start to finish. There have been no major biases to mention at the inner track after January 2 - a span of 12 racing days through Jan. 28.
The main bias of note to be aware of so far this winter on the Aqueduct inner track occurred during parts of December, when the outside part of the track was preferable to the inside, which at times featured a slow rail. Here is my view of this season’s track bias information from the Aqueduct inner track:
Aqueduct Inner Track biases
Jan. 24 - Cancelled
Jan. 21 - Cancelled
Jan. 14 - Cancelled
Jan. 10 - Cancelled
Jan. 9 - Cancelled after Race 2
Jan. 8 - Cancelled
Jan. 7 - Cancelled
Jan. 2 - Outside preferred
Dec. 31 - Outside preferred
Dec. 28 - Speed good
Dec. 12 - Helped to be on or close to the pace on drying track
Dec. 5 - Outside bias
Dec. 4 - Outside good on drying track
Since there has been an early outside bias noted on several days of the young inner track meet, that bias has clearly affected the early post position win percentages. Go ahead and downgrade horses that did well with outside trips on the above-noted outside-biased days, and upgrade inside horses that were hurt by the biases on those same days.
Running Styles and Post Positions
Aside from day-to-day biases that may or may not affect any racing surface, you should always be aware of the longer term prevailing biases of any race track. If you are going to be able enjoy any kind of success betting the inner track, you must learn to acknowledge the increased success of speed - and particularly inside speed. Do yourself a favor and upgrade early speed horses while slightly downgrading the closers, especially in a race where there doesn’t figure to be a contentious pace.
Early speed is king on the Aqueduct inner track, and speed and the rail can be a deadly combination. Upgrade early speed horses and make good use of the lone speed angle, while at the same time downgrading deep closers in all but the most contentious pace scenarios.
The three- and four-wide trips that win other times of the year in New York don’t win nearly as often once NYRA racing shifts to the Aqueduct inner track. In routes, the short run to the first turn makes ground-saving trips invaluable and puts the pressure on the riders of the outermost horses in big fields to somehow work out ground-saving trips. Outside posts can indeed win, but the horses from those gates generally need good "inside-out" trips and rides, meaning that they should save ground early before swinging out leaving the turn and rallying into the stretch from not too far behind.
Aside from being known as a speed-favoring track, the Aqueduct inner track is also known as a track that strongly favors inside posts, especially in two-turn route races.
Let’s take a look at the Aqueduct inner track post position statistics through the first part of the meet for an idea of how the track has been playing so far this season.
Aqueduct Winning Post Positions Dec. 3 - Jan. 28
Post Wins-Starts Win% Post Wins-Starts Win%
1 17-141 12% 1 21-111 19%
2 20-141 14% 2 11-111 10%
3 21-141 15% 3 18-111 16%
4 22-141 16% 4 16-109 15%
5 18-138 13% 5 14-104 13%
6 17-127 13% 6 11-99 11%
7 13-99 13% 7 9-84 11%
8 10-74 14% 8 6-56 11%
9 3-47 6% 9 2-34 6%
10 1-27 4% 10 2-16 12%
11 0-12 0% 11 1-4 25%
12 0-5 0%
As you can see from the post positions stats from early in the current Aqueduct inner track meet, there has been very little advantage or disadvantage for inside, middle, or outside posts at any of the distances - routes or sprints. Again, this speaks to how fair the track has been so far this season. The exceptions really have been the strength of the rail post in route races (19% wins - an advantage), and the futility of far outside posts in sprints, with posts 9 and outward winning only a combined 4 of 91 starts for combined 4% wins from those post positions.
Additionally, you can expect that during the course of the entire Aqueduct inner track meet, the win percentages for the inside posts, especially in routes,will continue to improve to go up toward where you would expect the highest win percentages to be down inside, where horses can save all the ground with the short run to the first turn. Conversely, the outside posts, especially in route races, will not continue to win at the high percentages they have been able to win at so far. Expect the win percentage from posts 10 and outward to drop as the season goes on.
Good luck during the Aqueduct inner track meet, and enjoy the upcoming months of winter racing in New York. Remember, just because many of the top horses and horsemen will be spending their winters out of town, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still good bets to be cashed in New York at this time of year. I hope you can make this winter a winning one on the Aqueduct inner track. Enjoy!