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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Tuesday, November 20, 2018 at 12:00 AM

The second half of November is truly one of the great times of year for horseplayers and lovers of Thoroughbred handicapping. The table is set for a big end to November starting with a high-quality holiday weekend of horseracing this Thanksgiving. The season’s top tracks will all be serving-up extra helpings of great racing with all the trimmings for the four-day weekend and beyond. Thanksgiving weekend has something for all racing fans, and the premier tracks all are set to offer up one last hurrah to cap-off the fall racing season.

Important and high-quality racing revolves mainly around three tracks – Del Mar, Churchill Downs and Aqueduct – through late November, which makes it easy for horseplayers to narrow down their focus to these three simulcast signals, perhaps in addition to other track(s) of your own personal preference.  All three of these main track meets are scheduled to reach their climaxes in late November / early December as they all roll out their remaining stakes and fill-up their condition books with turf races before racing at these tracks comes to an end and these circuits all get ready to transition to winter racing.

The biggest-name races taking place over the next couple weeks will include Aqueduct’s running of the $750,000 G1 Cigar Mile on Saturday, Dec. 1, and the running of the $500,000 Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Friday, Nov. 23. In addition to the Clark Handicap and the Cigar Mile, there are many other stakes races scheduled for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, and Del Mar.

Churchill Downs closes for the season on Sunday, Nov. 25, while Del Mar’s season goes on another week until Sunday, Dec. 2. Closing weekend, Del Mar will host this season’s final two Grade 1 races, the Hollywood Derby on Dec. 1 and the Matriarch on closing day, Dec. 2.  Aqueduct will stay open all winter of course, but Graded stakes races for the season will wrap up on Saturday, Dec. 1 with NYRA’s final important stakes races, the G1 Cigar Mile, the G2 Remsen and Demoiselle for 2-year-olds, and the G3 Go For Wand. Formerly these races were the centerpieces of Thanksgiving weekend at Aqueduct, but all are now being run a weekend later.  Here is a list of late fall’s top stakes races:


Thursday, Nov. 22

Churchill:        GII, $200,000 Falls City, Hcp., 3&up, 1 1/8 M

Churchill:        GIII, $000,000 Cardinal Hcp., F&M 3&up, 1 1/2 M (T)

Aqueduct:       GIII, $200,000 Fall Highweight Hcp., 3&up, 6F

Del Mar:          GIII, $100,000 Red Carpet Stakes, F&M 3&up, 1 3/8 M (T)

Friday, Nov. 23

Churchill:        GI, $500,000 Clark Handicap, 3&up, 1 1/8 M

Churchill:        GII, $200,000 Mrs. Revere Stakes, 3yo fillies, 1 1/16 M (T)

Aqueduct:       GIII, $200,000 Comely Stakes, 3yo fillies, 1 1/8 M

Del Mar:          GII, $200,000 Hollywood Turf Cup, 3&up. 1 1/2 M (T)

Saturday, Nov. 24

Churchill:        GII, $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club, 2yo, 1 1/16 M

Churchill:        GII, $200,000 Golden Rod, 2yo fillies, 1 1/16 M

Aqueduct:       GIII, $200,000 Discovery Stakes, 3yo, 1 1/8 M

Aqueduct:       GIII, $400,000 Long Island Stakes, F&M, 3&up, 1 3/8 (T)

Del Mar:          GII, $200,000 Seabiscuit Handicap, 3&up, 1 1/16 M (T)

Del Mar:          GIII, $100,000 Jimmy Durante Stakes, 2yo, 1 M (T)

Sunday, Nov. 25

Del Mar:          GIII, $100,000 Native Diver Hcp., 3&up, 1 1/8 M

Del Mar:          GIII, $100,000 Cecil B. Demille Stakes, 2yo, 1 M (T)

Saturday, Dec. 1

Aqueduct:       GI, $750,000 Cigar Mile, 3&up, 1 Mile

Aqueduct:       GII, $250,000 Remsen Stakes, 2yo, 1 1/8 M

Aqueduct:       GII, $250,000 Demoiselle Stakes, 2yo fillies, 1 1/8 M

Aqueduct:       GIII, $250,000 Go For Wand Handicap, F&M, 3&up, 1 Mile

Del Mar:          GI, $300,000 Hollywood Derby, 3yo, 1 1/8 M (T)

Sunday, Dec. 2

Del Mar:          GI, $300,000 Matriarch Stakes., F&M, 3&up, 1 M (T)


The Aqueduct, Del Mar, and Churchill Downs Fall meets are in the midst of good seasons and all offer horseplayers great options during the month of November. Yep, there is great betting action still going on at this time of year, and the icing on the cake will be taking place over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

There have been some good trends for handicappers to take note of at the current big fall meets. As mentioned, Churchill Downs is getting ready to close at the end of Thanksgiving weekend.  Here is a more detailed look at some tips and factors that could help you win in the final week before the fall meet at Churchill comes to an end.



Churchill Downs offers high-quality traditional dirt track racing ideal for handicappers. Both of Churchill Downs’ racing surfaces, the main track and the turf course, are unique surfaces that each have their own respective quirks that are important for handicappers to understand.

The Churchill Downs dirt course is generally regarded as a “cuppy” surface at times, meaning that the track does not retain enough moisture in it to hold the sand together. This causes the track to break away from under horse’s feet resulting in footing that some horses love and others hate. This factor makes a horse’s past performances at Churchill Downs very important, and makes Churchill Downs one of the tracks where the horses-for-the-course angle means the most.

As a Churchill handicapper, you must make yourself acutely aware of any inside/outside biases happening at any given meet, and you must pay attention to the rail path in particular, because the Churchill Downs rail seems particularly susceptible to track biases.

The main thrust of the Churchill contenders now are exiting races from earlier in the current fall meet, or perhaps will be exiting races from Keeneland in their last starts.  Generally, these horses will have an advantage over horses coming from places like Indiana Downs and Belterra, but shippers do occasionally come from those circuits to pay big prices at Chruchill.

Due to the cuppiness of Churchill’s dirt surface, the track is more likely to be faster and more conducive to speed in the summer when temperatures and humidity are higher. At the fall meet, Churchill’s main track is generally more likely to play slower than it does in the spring and summer. The cooler the weather turns, the less likelihood there is of speed-favoring conditions or a lightning-fast track. This means that horses exiting big front-running efforts at Keeneland should be downgraded a bit at Churchill. Conversely, late-closing horses that didn’t have a good chance to rally at Keeneland should be upgraded at Churchill now, because perhaps they will run better than in their recent running lines at Keeneland. This is especially true if you see the horse owns a prior win or wins at Churchill Downs, particularly during this or any past fall meet.

Churchill Downs Turf Races

The Churchill Downs turf course is sand-based in order to promote good drainage, and it is this composition that makes this turf course different from most other turf courses, with the exceptions of perhaps Keeneland and Fair Grounds. Chances are if a horse has recently run well on the turf at Keeneland, the horse’s turf form will be much more reliable than horses shipping to Churchill from other places. The Churchill turf, just like the dirt, is another place where you’ll want to heavily weight a horse’s past performances specifically on the home track’s oval, because the horses-for-the-course angle is such a valuable commodity.

Churchill Downs’ turf course is generally fair to horses breaking from all post positions no further out than post 8.  Posts further out than post 8 are at a bit of a disadvantage. The main turf distance that is affected by post position draw is one mile. Win percentages for outside posts commonly drop to an extremely poor average of 3-4% winners at that distance. Therefore, generally speaking, posts outside No. 8 are not great, and can be downright disastrous in turf races run at one mile. Take note also, that at a mile, middle posts 4-7 have, in the past, had an average win rate of nearly 20% making them clearly the best at that distance.

In turf sprints at Churchill Downs, the inside six posts seem to enjoy an advantage, and any post outside 6 is a disadvantage. This is in stark contrast to the turf sprint races run in New York at Belmont and Saratoga, and many other places, which tend to favor outside posts.

In Churchill turf sprints, use the post position angle to your advantage in order to catch some prices. Like in New York, the Keeneland turf sprints also tend to favor outside and middle posts.  When you see a horse entered in a Churchill turf sprint coming off a sub-par turf sprint effort from Keeneland, Belmont, or Saratoga, give that horse an excuse if it broke from the rail, or perhaps any of the three inside posts in that last race.  Chances are, that horse’s chance of winning was hurt by the inside draw, making it an overlay in a turf sprint at Churchill Downs.

Beyond looking at post positions, the main thing you’ll want to take into account on the Churchill Downs lawn in route races is a horse’s running style. Churchill’s turf course favors mid-pack pace-pressers and stalkers over all other running styles. Early leaders generally have a difficult time going wire-to-wire on this turf course, and the deepest of closers have a tough time getting up in time to win.

Just as with post positions, this analysis is especially true in one-mile turf races, where early speed horses win less than 9% of the time, and closers coming from further than 10 lengths out of it rarely ever win.  The ideal winning profile on the Churchill turf is a stalker that runs about 4 lengths off the pace at the first call (half-mile), and 2 1/2 lengths behind at the second call (6F mark).


Whether you will be concentrating on Aqueduct, or Churchill, or Del Mar, or all three tracks during the next two weeks, you will be in store for some great late fall horseracing and wagering actioe.  It is fall racing’s last hurrah, so don’t miss it.  Best of luck, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

By Noel Michaels

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