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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 at 5:48 PM

SARATOGA SHOTS
Previewing The 2017 Meet
Volume 16...Number 4

MILE AND AN EIGHT DIRT RACES AT SARATOGA...WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES...OR DOES IT?

There is not a "serious" horse bettor alive who would make an argument for betting every race. It is difficult enough for a solid handicapping tool player to keep his or head above water when they are in their comfort zone. Allowing themselves to drift outside that zone simply to "play the next race" is suicidal.

How one defines a "comfort zone" might vary slightly, based on what kind of races that individual derives a higher Return On Investment (R.O.I.) from, but generally speaking, those R.O.I. success rates must be grounded in value...and over the course of a long data trail there are certain races that have proven an "overall low value proposition."

One of those short-on-value propositions is the nine furlong dirt race at Saratoga. Purely from a value standpoint, these races are always in the top 1-3 least value return races every meet.

Before bullet pointing a few reasons why, let us take a look at result statistics from these races the last two Saratoga Seasons.

2016
53 Races
23 Winning Favorites...(43.4%)
11 Odds On Payers
15 Double Digit Payers
Average Field Size...(6.3 Horses)
Average Win Payoff...$10.16
Longest Price $56.00...Shortest Price $2.60

2015
48 Races
11 Winning Favorites...(22.9%)
3 Odds On Payers
13 Double Digit Payers
(Average Field Size...(7.1 Horses)
Average Win Payoff...$12.20
Longest Price $47.40...Shortest Price $3.40

SARATOGA
"Graveyard of Favorites" for losers... "Longshot Heaven" for winners
And the difference is INFORMATION
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The most obvious discrepancy from the two years is that 43.4% of favorites won last year while just about half that percentage of 22.9% were successful in 2015.

As you would expect, the average win payoff increased by over $2.00, which can also be generally explained by the larger average field size.

That being said, both the $10.16 and $12.20 average payoffs are considerably below the overall average winning payoff for all Saratoga races. Simply put, if one decided to apply the same handicapping skills to these 9 furlong dirt races as they do to all other races and assuming the same success rate of winning, the races in question start with a lower value potential.

There are a large number of reasons for this, and they are borne out by standard handicapping appraisals. Let's just bullet a few.

*The already mentioned shorter field sizes. There is no mystery as to why. At Saratoga the track layout is such that they run one turn sprints from 5 furlongs to 7 furlongs but do not run a mile dirt race or a mile and a sixteenth dirt race. This means that horses that are not their best at the two turn distance, especially many of them who ran the same 9 furlongs, 8 ½ furlongs and one mile at Belmont around one turn are simply not going to participate. And those that try it anyway are running up against 2 or 3 runners that have a pronounced distance and two turn edge.

*Also what is predictable (and this held true over the course of both years) is that a horse with tractable/stalking speed has an edge, which is something that any fundamental tool applying handicapper/bettor can spot. Take a look below for the explanation:

The numbers below were where the winning horse was placed with 3 furlongs remaining in the race.

In 2016
*16 of the 53 were already on the lead.
*31 of the 53 were within 2.5 lengths of the lead or closer.
*The remaining 6 were 3 lengths or further from the front runner.

In 2015
*9 of the 48 were already on the lead.
*30 of the 48 were within 2.5 lengths of the lead or closer.
*The remaining 9 were 3 lengths or further from the front runner.

It might sound a though the purpose of this notice is to dissuade you from betting these mile and an eight dirt races. That is not it at all. The message is simply that in order to maintain a healthy, workable R.O.I. one has to begin with the possibility of playing into the best value. Simply put, these are not such races.

However, if you are a handicapper who can win 40% of races with a $10.16 to $12.20 average payoff, then by all means have at it.

If not, we are here to steer you in more productive directions.

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...AND LET US END ON A SIMPLE BETTING NOTE.

On closing day at Belmont, Sunday, July 16, the early Pick 4 (Races 2-5) paid $320.00 for a $2 Wager.

Given that those 4 races were won by horses that paid between $6.20 on the low end and $8.60 on the high end one would suspect that regardless of the payoff of the winner of race 1, the first leg of the Pick 5 (races 1-5), that Pick 5 payoff could only be so high, especially given that the Race 1 field was comprised of only 7 runners.

By now you probably know where this is going. The winner of the first leg won at 35-1. But based on a parlay of all 5 horses (allowing how the increased money in each subsequent win pool would diminish the payouts by races 3-5) the payoff total would have been between $11,500 and $12,000. The Pick 5, based on an equivalent $2 payout returned $25,913.00.

This is not an argument for playing the Pick 5 but an example of what happens to bettors who fall into a trap that is repeated over and over again and is proven out by a record keeping of tickets punched.

In Pick 5, Pick 4 and even occasionally in Pick 3 wagers, bettors inordinately single the first leg when there appears to be an unbeatable favorite. In this example the favorite in race 1 was 7-10.

A long term tickets-punched-record shows that even when there are odds-on favorites in legs 2, 3 etc. those favorites are covered by a second or third use horse more often.

Maybe this practice is the false sense of security of staying alive as the sequence continues, or something else. Either way, resulting payoffs like the one just shown have over and over indicated that players who single for singling sake in the first leg can often be their own worst enemies, and we might add, friends to those players who hook together the best horses (however many necessary) regardless of which race in the sequence.

Think about it.

The Saratoga meet opens Friday (7/21) so make sure to revisit these pages for more previews as racing develops.

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