Submitted by John Conte on Thursday, June 21, 2018 at 12:38 PM
PREPPING FOR THE SPA
The immediate response a player might have to the thought of handicapping a 5 ½ furlong turf race at Saratoga is something along the lines of, how does one analyze a full field of helter-skelter sprinters running at one pace and hoping to get the perfect trip?
Based on the actual results of these races, how they are run and the payoffs to those who bet them, this is not close to an accurate assumption. In fact, a close look at these races indicates that they are among the most formful contests run over the course of the full meet.
These 5 ½ furlong turf races are relatively new to the Saratoga menu. They were added to the schedule as main-stays in 2005 and though officials will not necessarily admit to it, these races provided an infusion of horses which prior to the introduction of the sprints were either not running at all at Saratoga or running at distances which were unfamiliar to them.
The reason for this was the layout of the two Saratoga turf courses. Neither one of them, based on their layout, could accommodate a 6 furlong or 7 furlong turf sprint, distances which were run regularly at Belmont.
With slight adjustments to the course trainers with turf sprinters now had the option of choosing between that distance and the next shortest distance…one mile.
These races have become very popular with owners and trainers and players. Last year there were 56 such turf sprints. And as I alluded earlier in this piece, these races are among the most formful each year.
This formful factor contributes to two opposing factors for a handicapper.
First – with the races being as formful as they are…meaning there is no bias in favor of front runners or stalkers or closers (as I will show you shortly) a handicapper need not be worried he has chosen a runner that has to overcome either a bias or even a tendency when it comes to running style.
Second – on the other hand, because exhibited form does play out as often as it does there are usually a minimum of 3-4 viable contenders in most of these races. That means that the pool is more evenly spread.
The even spread of these legitimate contenders is shown in the winning favorites percentage and average winning payout.
While in 2017 for example the favorite won 32.2 percent of the 5 ½ furlong sprints, which was considerably below the overall winning percentage of favorites at the meet, the average winning mutuel was $12.21, which was slightly below the overall average mutuel payout. This is an anomaly because with a lower percentage of favorites winning you would expect a higher average payout.
My position is that the wagering public does a reasonably good job of creating a 3-4 horse short list of best win bet, but rarely steps in heavily on a single horse in one of these sprints. In fact there were only 2 winning odds-on-favorites from the total of 56 races. A close look also finds that there were only 9 other winners that paid less than $6.60.
The other thing that has been indicated by this significant contention that these sprints are very bet-worthy races…if you know which horses to hook up, legitimate second, third or fourth favorites and the one or two dark horses…you’ll be rewarded with exacta and trifecta payouts which return far above what is normally paid out in an exotic with an average $12.21 to the winners.
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AND BACKUP EXOTIC RUNNERS
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Before I warp up let me leave you with these Quick 5 ½ Furlong Turf Sprints Bullets which give you an idea of why these races are so “fairly run” and financially rewarding:
Number Of Races – 56
Number Of Winning Favorites – 18 (32.2%)
Average Winning Mutuel - $12.21
Wire-To-Wire Winners – 14
Number Of Winners .5 – 4 lengths off the lead at first call – 30
Number Of Winners 4.5 – 8 lengths off the lead at first call – 9
Number Of Winners 8.5 – 10 lengths off the lead at first call - 3