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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at 2:31 PM

With the fourth major winter storm of March bearing down on the New York area this week, it is hard to believe that the calendar has actually turned over to spring, and let’s face it, spring can’t get here fast enough for people in the northeast this year.  Even though it might be hard to believe now, soon pastimes like scraping ice off the car and shoveling the driveway will be replaced with some that we actually look forward to, such as opening day of the baseball season (less than two weeks away – hard to believe) and the return of high-quality day-to-day racing and wagering to New York at Aqueduct and later at Belmont Park. With spring on the way, this seems like a good time to take a look at the Aqueduct meet from the winter so handicappers can try to get a leg up on what to expect this season in terms of the best running styles, post positions, track biases, and jockeys and trainers that should be concentrated on in order to give you the best chances of winning.

The 2018 Aqueduct winter schedule is currently scaled down to just three days a week of racing, Fridays through Sundays, until the beginning of April. That will soon change, however, as the return of turf racing and running of the Wood Memorial usher in spring racing, and the 3-day-a-week winter schedule turns into a 5-day-a-week spring schedule at Aqueduct in April.  Racing finally goes back to Belmont Park on Friday, April 27.

This has been a season of transition for New York horseplayers since the old Aqueduct inner track is gone and all of the racing at The Big A from November through April is all conducted on the same surface, the Aqueduct main track. That is good news for handicappers, because we have a solid collection of stats to help us handicap through the last five months, and New York players no longer need to make the switch from the inner track to the main track which suddenly used to make December-March statistics and track trends worthless when handicapping Aqueduct races in April.  Now, everything that happened at Aqueduct all winter is relevant to your handicapping for the remaining five weeks of the week.

This Aqueduct main track has proven to be an entirely new surface than the previous Big A main track as well as the old inner track. The old horses for the course have been replaced with new ones who prefer the new limestone base to the old clay base on the Big A main track. Races at 6 1/2F and 7F and one-turn miles have been run all winter, unlike the old days (last year) when only 6F sprints were run all winter.  There are no more winter past performances at 1 1/16th miles or 1 mile & 70 yards to mess up your Aqueduct spring handicapping, either. Almost all Aqueduct winter route races were run as one turn miles, and that trend will continue this spring.

Let’s take a closer look at what to expect the rest of the season at Aqueduct.

Jockeys and Trainers

The top human-related stories at Aqueduct as the calendar moves to spring are the battles atop the jockey and trainer standings that could go either way. The riding title has come down to a battle between Manny Franco with 49 wins and Dylan Davis with 46 wins, as of March 17. The trainer’s race is knotted-up at 20 wins apiece for Linda Rice and Rudy Rodriguez.

The wintertime jockey colony changes dramatically at Aqueduct this winter when both Jose Ortiz and Irad Ortiz re-located to Gulfstream for the season. That left the jockey standings up for grabs and not surprisingly Manny Franco has taken the best advantage of it for a win percentage of 23%. Davis is a clear second and winning at a solid 21% clip, but the jockey who has really slipped under the radar this season has been Junior Alvarado, who is third in wins with 34 at the meet. Albarado’s 34 wins have come in only 133 mounts, giving him a 26% win percentage.  Not to mention that his average winner pays more than Franco’s and Davis’, making Alvarado the ROI king in the Aqueduct jock’s room this season. Kendrick Carmouche has also been solid with 31 wins and a 17% win percentage, and Paco Lopez has also done well when riding here, clicking 21 times from 95 mounts for 22%.  Everyone else on the list has proven to be unreliable throughout the season as a whole. Things will change dramatically, of course, after the Florida Derby and then Keeneland when prominent riders such as Johnny Velazquez, Javier Castellano, Luis Saez, Joel Rosario, and the Ortiz’s all return to New York.

Just like in the jockey standings, the trainer’s race has also been very competitive, especially in the battle for the title between Rice and Rodriguez, who are way out in front. Rice not only leads in terms of wins but also in win percentage 28% and ITM percentage with 65% in the money.  This is a remarkable season considering the adversity her barn has faced this winter (equine herpes quarantine, etc.). Rudy has also been plugging along consistently for 25% wins for the meet.  Both trainers’ winners usually pay low prices, however, so you will need to dig deeper in terms of trainers if you are to cash in an Aqueduct.

Trainers doing well enough at Aqueduct as to actually offer some value this season have included Jeremiah Englehart (16 wins, 23%), Michelle Nevin (10 wins, 28%), and Robertino Diodoro (9 wins, 24%).  Other barns to watch out for that have made positive impacts with a more limited number of starters at the meet have included Danny Gargan (6 wins, 38%), Gary Gullo (6 wins, 27%), Jimmy Jerkens (5 wins, 24%), Raymond Handal (5 wins, 29%), Brad Cox (4 wins, 29%), Tom Morley (4 wins, 29%), and Kelly Breen (4 wins, 31%).

On the flip side, some trainers posting awful numbers this season have included Gary Contessa (7%), Carlos Martin (9%), David Cannizzo (9%), Mark Hennig (5%), and John Kimmel (7%). Burning the most money so far have been Steve Asmussen (2-for-22, 9%), and surprisingly Jason Servis (4-for-35, 11%).

 

Prevailing Biases: Running Styles and Post Positions

Less than five months into its existence, the new Aqueduct main track has played fairly this season to all running styles – a far cry from the old Aqueduct inner track which usually favored speed.  Now, however, speed horses appear to have no real advantage against pressers, stalkers, or closers based only in their running style.  As a matter of fact, if anything, off-the-pace runners seem to many people to have a slight edge.

Aqueduct’s main track has, however, often shown itself to be at the mercy of anti-inside track biases throughout the meet. Aside from the apparent prevailing daily bias against the inside paths, the track has shown various stronger biases and favoritisms since opening at the start of November.  If there is one track trend that handicappers must note on the new Aqueduct main track, it is that the rail and inside paths 1-2 have generally not been the place to be, except for on some bias days when the rail has been good.  The overall prevailing bias of the Aqueduct main track this season has definitely been against inside paths on a day-to-day basis, and you definitely must factor this into your handicapping.

The big handicapping angle to come out of this is to look for horses exiting sub-par efforts with inside trips in their recent past performances.  Horses that lost with inside trips in their last start should usually be upgraded next time out (unless it was one of the inside bias days).  In other words, bet back horses exiting inside trips, and bet against horses exiting perfect outside trips last time out.

The slow rail on the Aqueduct main track has not really affected post position statistics to date, mainly because field sizes have been small and horses can usually work out trips off the rail even if they draw post 1 or 2.  The jockeys all know to stay off the inside for the most part, so the post position statistics have mostly been fair.

The Aqueduct post position trends worth noting for handicappers is that the inside (and some middle) posts have been better in both routes and sprints. According to the statistics, horses drawing posts 1-6 have much better chances to win in sprints than the outside horses.  In routes there doesn’t seem to be a dramatic drop-off the wider you go, other than just to say that the inside posts 1-4 clearly have the better win percentages. Most of the Aqueduct routes this season have been miles (one turn), but the inside draws are especially good in the two-turn races.

 

Aqueduct Winning Post Positions

Jan. 1 – March. 17

Sprints                                                             Routes

Post     Wins-Starts    Win%                         Post     Wins-Starts    Win%

1          30-170             17.6%                          1          24-129             18.6%

2          27-170             15.9%                          2          23-129             17.8%

3          24-170             14.1%                          3          23-129             17.8%

4          25-169             14.8%                          4          25-129             19.4%

5          21-167             12.6%                          5          18-119             15.1%

6          28-145             19.3%                          6          4-92                 4.3%

7          9-97                 9.3%                            7          6-52                 11.5%

8          3-69                 4.3%                            8          4-31                 12.9%

9          1-36                 2.8%                            9          1-12                 8.3%

10        2-18                 11.1%                          10        1-4                   25%

11        0-9                   0%                               11        0-1                   0%

12        0-3                   0%                               12        0-1                   0%

 

Aqueduct Track biases

Aqueduct often is at the mercy of daily track biases, and not surprisingly, the track has shown various favoritisms since opening early in December. Refer to my track biases chart below detailing biased days since the start of the year.

Aqueduct biases, 2018

March 10 – Speed good

March 4 – Outside probably the best part of the track

Feb. 24 – Gold rail in the rain got even better when sealed races 6-7

Feb. 23 – Inside and rail advantage on muddy track

Feb. 18 – Horses stayed off the rail

Feb. 17 – Horses stayed off the rail

Feb. 16 – Had to stay off the rail in slop; outside good

Feb. 3 – Inside good

Jan. 26 – Gold rail inside bias; speed good

Jan. 25 – Horses benefitted from avoiding the rail

Jan. 21 – Dead slow track killed inside speed, outside advantage

Jan. 20 – Inside bias

Jan. 18 – Inside advantage in routes

The outside paths generally enjoy an advantage at Aqueduct and the jockeys often avoid rail trips. The above list details certain days when the rail and/or inside paths have been exceptionally bad, or in some cases, such as on February 23-24 and on Feb. 3 and January 26, when the rail and inside paths were actually good. Factor these bias days into your handicapping and you will definitely win more races and pick better-priced winners than the players who ignore this kind of valuable information.

 

Wrap-up

Good luck during the Aqueduct winter/spring meet, and enjoy the rest of the season.  It has been a long, cold, and snowy winter in New York, but it is already late March and there is a light at the end of the tunnel with better horses and jockeys on their way back to New York shortly along with the top trainers who will soon head back to Aqueduct and Belmont following Gulfstream and Keeneland.  Use these tips to raise your success rate at Aqueduct the rest of the way, and enjoy what’s left of the season at Aqueduct. Best of luck.

By Noel Michaels

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