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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Monday, June 30, 2014 at 12:00 AM



By Noel Michaels


Summer racing in New York is about as good as it gets in Thoroughbred racing, with the best of the best the sport has to offer competing all throughout July and August at Belmont, and then, of course, at Saratoga.  This time of year is not only about the top horses and top jockeys – it’s also about the top-notch betting and handicapping. The fields are huge and the competition is stiff and evenly-matched. Therefore the payoffs are often pricey, and loaded with good value for horseplayers who are willing to put in the effort.  Opportunities always abound for serious horseplayers to get their share of profits over the course of the seven-week meet.


The keys to unlocking those profit opportunities often lie in knowing the important trainer trends that tend to dominate handicapping at a high-profile race meet like Saratoga.  Saratoga is America’s premier annual horseracing meet, and there is no better time for race fans and handicappers to start preparing for the year’s best racing and wagering than right now. The start of the 2014 Saratoga meet is just around the corner, with opening day scheduled for Friday, July 18.

The highly anticipated 40-day Saratoga racing season lasts throughout the heart of the summer, running six days a week (every day except Tuesday) from mid-July until Labor Day.  In total, the Spa meet accounts for a total of 40 of the best race days of the year.


You only have to look at the star-studded training ranks to Saratoga to understand the importance of this one meet, because it attracts all of the top-rung players in the sport of Thoroughbred racing such as Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, Christophe Clement, Steve Asmussen, Bill Mott, and so many more, including cameos by such guys as Bob Baffert and Mike Maker, who spend all or part of the their summer season at the Spa.


Many handicappers believe the "trainer angle" is the most important part of the handicapping pie, especially where top-rung racing is being conducted like in New York in July and August. All trainers have strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of following the trainer angles, stats, and trends, is that they help you identify these strengths and weaknesses easily to give you an advantage over the rest of the betting public.


Read onward, and print-out this guide for easy reference for the best times to bet on, and bet against, most of the best trainers during July and August in New York, including the entire summer meet at historic Saratoga Race Course


Below is a betting guide for individual trainers based on recent trends and statistics pertaining specifically only to this time of year – the end of Belmont’s summer meet and to the entire season at Saratoga. These preferences may differ elsewhere and at other times of the year.  Use this as a betting guide, so you can turn trainer trends into pari-mutuel profits throughout all of July and August at Belmont and Saratoga.





Tom Albertrani

Albertrani is most dangerous at Saratoga with his high-priced stock, including mostly 2-year-olds and allowance and stakes horses, owned mainly Middle Eastern interests. He also wins a lot doing second-time anything, including second off the layoff and second-time starters.

Bet: Second off the layoff, second starters, juveniles

Bet against: Claimers

Neutral: Turf sprints



Steve Asmussen

One of the country’s top trainers, Asmussen is hot-and-cold at The Spa.  The time you want to play Asmussen is in dirt sprints, especially when he sends out his expensive juveniles in either their first- or second-starts.

Bet: Dirt sprints, 2-year-olds

Bet against: All turf races

Neutral: Dirt routes



Chad Brown

Bobby Frankel’s former assistant has picked up right where his mentor left off. Brown’s role at Saratoga is rapidly increasing, and you can be guaranteed that all of his horses at The Spa will be live. His wins tend to come early in the meet, and you know he’ll be pointing a few good horses for Saratoga stakes.

Bet: Classy turfers and maidens

Bet against: Maiden claimers

Neutral: 2-year-olds



Tom Bush

Bush has been known to jack-up his game at Saratoga and is quietly a trainer to watch in terms of ROI, especially on the dirt. His number of turf starters has been increasing, and with it, so has his number of turf wins.

Bet: Dirt routes

Bet against: Cheap claimers

Neutral: Turf races



Christophe Clement

Clement isn’t usually much of a factor on the dirt at Saratoga. He occasionally throws in a dirt sprint winner here and there and can be somewhat sneaky in those spots when he enters. Clement’s game is on the grass, of course, and is among the leaders in turf stakes wins. Expect 15% winners and 50% ITM in turf sprints, and 25% wins or better in turf routes.

Bet: Turf routes, turf stakes

Bet against: Dirt routes

Neutral: Dirt sprints



Gary Contessa

Contessa is one of the winningest trainers on the New York circuit, but he’s generally a very bad bet at Saratoga with low percentages in dirt routes, turf sprints (7%), and turf routes. His wins will came mostly with dirt sprinters in claiming races.

Bet: Dirt sprints, claimers
Bet against: Dirt routes, turf sprints, allowance and stakes races

Neutral: Turf routes



Chris Englehart

Englehart is making a living on the main New York circuit with his claiming stock, including recent claims, and New York breds. The shorter the race, the better, since he is much more reliable in sprint races than in routes, especially at Saratoga where routes begin at 1-1/8 miles.  Against this caliber of competition, don’t expect him to win a lot of turf races, except for an occasional turf sprint.

Bet: Claimers and New York breds

Bet against: Turf routes

Neutral: Turf sprints



Mike Hushion

Hushion can put up a decent win percentage here on the grass, mainly because of his turf sprint numbers. When Hushion has been good at Saratoga, it’s mainly been in dirt sprints with horses owned by Barry Schwartz.

Bet: Well bet Barry Schwartz horses, and turf sprinters

Bet against: Dirt routes

Neutral: Turf routes



Allen Jerkens

Amazingly, the “Giant Killer” has morphed into a turf sprint monster at The Spa, and the public by-and-large has not caught on yet. Otherwise, The Chief is not generally known as a turf trainer at Saratoga. He really can win any kind of race at any time, and must always be respected in any type of stakes race.

Bet: Stakes and turf sprints

Bet against: Dirt sprints

Neutral: Turf routes


James Jerkens

James Jerkens is not usually a high-percentage trainer up at Saratoga. He rarely wins there on grass and with distance horses on dirt. He can win a dirt sprint up at The Spa, particularly if it’s with a second-time starter. Which have been known to win at nearly a 40% clip at Saratoga.

Bet: Second-time starters in dirt sprints
Bet against: All route horses

Neutral: Turf sprints



John Kimmel

Kimmel is hot and cold at Saratoga, and he is generally one of the streakiest trainers at the meet. Also you can count on him to have a few stakes horses extremely well spotted at this meet. Kimmel also does well at this meet with first-time turf horses. Other than that, you’ve gotta ride the wave when it comes to Kimmel and watch for one of his hot streaks to begin.

Bet: Well-spotted stakes horses and first-time turfers

Bet against: 2-year-olds

Neutral: Turf sprints



Bruce Levine

Levine is one of New York’s high-percentage winners, but in the summer he may divide his attention between New York and Monmouth. The result is not many fireworks up at Saratoga. The winners he does catch will probably be in sprints, mainly on dirt, and he may even show up with some recent Monmouth Park winners who are in peak form. His dirt routers have been a disaster here.

Bet: Monmouth shippers in top form
Bet against: Dirt routes
Neutral: Turf



D. Wayne Lukas

In recent years, Lukas has been running tons of horses at Saratoga and winning at a very low percentage. Most of his big-money owners have gravitated toward other trainers meaning that he is no longer as big a factor in Saratoga’s juvenile races, even though he does show up with a nice 2-year-old here and there. Lukas hasn’t been a factor on turf at Saratoga lately, so stay away from him on the green. His Saratoga wins these days tend to come in dirt sprints with very well-bred and/or expensive horses, with perhaps a claimer or two sprinkled into the mix here and there.

Bet: Two-year-old stakes-caliber horses and second-time starters

Bet against: Turf races

Neutral: Dirt routes



Mike Maker

Maker has been at or near the top of the standings in Kentucky for quite some time, and now is making a big dent in New York these days since purses went up thanks to slots revenue.  Maker will be a major factor in Saratoga turf races of all kinds, especially with the Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey stable.

Bet: Turf routes, first off the claim

Bet against: Dirt races not involving claimers or recent claims

Neutral: Turf sprints



Kiaran McLaughlin

McLaughlin has stepped up his game at Saratoga and usually wins a bunch of races, including plenty of turf routes and turf stakes. Stay away from him in turf sprints, and bet with caution in all dirt sprints, because he’s much better in routes. Besides the grass, the best time to catch McLaughlin is with his very potent second-time starters.

Bet: Turf routes, dirt routes and all second-time starters
Bet against: Turf sprints

Neutral: Dirt sprints



Graham Motion

Motion rarely wins on the Saratoga main track, but he starts all kinds of live grass horses from a variety of circuits. He has a generally low percentage in Saratoga dirt races, but on turf it’s a totally different story.

Bet: Turf races

Bet against: All dirt races

Neutral: Stakes



Bill Mott

Bill Mott will annually be one of the top turf trainers, and he can still win allowances on the dirt as well, primarily in routes. Surprisingly, however, Mott doesn’t start many dirt routers up at Saratoga. He gets a good win percentage in dirt sprints during his good seasons upstate. Mott is not effective with turf sprint winners at Saratoga, but he can finish in the money in those races from time to time. As always, however, once they stretch out on the turf, betting Mott’s horses is a no-brainer.

Bet: Turf routes, dirt sprints, stakes races

Bet against: Turf sprints

Neutral: Dirt routes



Todd Pletcher

Pletcher perennially excels at every facet of the game at Saratoga. Overall, he does better in distance races than in sprints, with the key exception being 2-year-olds, which account for the majority of his dirt sprint winners at Saratoga. Bet Pletcher in juvenile races, and with second-time starters. Javier Castellano has stolen winners from John Velazquez, but you can look for Pletcher to win with just about anyone aboard.

Bet: Two-year-olds and turf routes and stakes

Bet against: Three-year-old and older dirt sprints

Neutral: Turf sprints



Linda Rice

It’s no secret by now that Linda Rice has been making her living concentrating on turf sprints the last few years, and Saratoga has been where she really does her best work with more than four times as many winners as any other trainer in Spa turf sprints. Rice even wins some longer turf races at the Spa meet. On the dirt up at Saratoga, her forte is 2-year-olds. She’s been popping with juvenile winners up at the Spa longer than most people can remember.

Bet: Turf sprints, 2-year-olds, particularly NY-breds

Bet against: Dirt routes

Neutral: Turf routes



Rudy Rodriguez

There is almost no situation where Rudy Rodriguez is not dangerous anywhere, including at Saratoga.  Beware, however, that his high winning percentage usually drops a couple notches at Saratoga due to increased competition and due to fewer of his wheelhouse types of races, which are claiming races, sprints, and New York breds.

Bet: Recent claims, claiming sprints, New York-bred races

Bet against: Turf routes

Neutral: Turf sprints



Dale Romans

Kentucky invader has enjoyed some good success at Saratoga. He does very well with recent claims, and not-so-well in route races and on the grass.

Bet: Claimers and recent claims (first- and second-time off the claim)

Bet against: Route races and all turf routes

Neutral: Turf sprints



Barclay Tagg

Tagg has had different things work for him at Saratoga than have been working for him downstate lately. Normally a great turf sprint trainer, Tagg does not do as well in thoese races at Saratoga. Tagg won’t run a lot of dirt routes, but he has been good in those races with limited starters. Tagg has also been surprisingly effective with dirt sprinters and maidens, including first-time starters at Saratoga.

Bet: All dirt races

Bet against: Turf sprints

Neutral: Turf routes



Rick Violette

The best play on Violette at Saratoga is to catch his first- and second-time starters, because he’ll often have his young horses geared-up and ready for this meet in particular. He always has an eye looking ahead to a race in the Saratoga condition book.

Bet: First- and econd-time starters

Bet against: Turf races

Neutral: Dirt routes



Nick Zito

Zito trains up at Saratoga nearly year round and has his stable ready to roll annually at the upstate meet. That being said, Zito has not really been a big factor overall like he was a few years ago. He wins almost zero turf races, which for him is easy to predict. Zito will try to roll out some interesting juveniles in dirt sprints, and is always a major factor with his second-time starters, even if they didn’t show much in their first career outing.

Bet: Two-year-olds and second-time starters

Bet against: All turf races

Neutral: Stakes


Others to consider

So many trainers have been known to make an impact this time of year, at least in certain special circumstances where the trainer has been known to excel.


Jonathan Sheppard is more than capable of winning flat turf races at Saratoga, as well as jump races, with his numerous mid-Atlantic shippers.


Michael Matz comes to Saratoga with vastly improved stock, owned in particular by Lael Stable, and he is most dangerous on the turf.


Godolphin Stables often will have a presence here, especially with 2-year-olds and stakes horses that cost a fortune.


Bob Baffert brings in fit and ready to win shippers from the West coast who he feels will excel better on the dirt than back at Del Mar in California, which will run artificial track racing this time of year.


Top Canadian barns such as Roger Attfield, Mark Casse, and Mark Frosted are very dangerous at Saratoga, primarily on the grass and in stakes races.


Scott Schwartz has quietly won a good percentage of his races at Saratoga with New York-breds.


Low-profile trainers such as John Morrison, Randi Persaud, and Charlton Baker have all had some success at times. Baker is particularly dangerous off long layoffs, and his mutuel prices in those races can be giant.

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