Identifying Early Trends for Handicapping the 2021 Saratoga Meet



The Saratoga Race Course meet is in full swing! Through the first nine days, we’ve seen plenty of great racing action, featuring some of the top horses, jockeys, and trainers in the country.

With almost a quarter of the meet already in the books, we’ve seen some trends begin to emerge. It can be important to know if speed is good or bad or if certain jockeys are hot or cold.

Here, we’ll take a look at trends that have emerged at Saratoga thus far.


Trainers

The trainer race is extremely wide-open thus far. Chad Brown had a slight advantage so far, with six wins from 40 starters. However, Brown has plenty of competition right in behind him. There’s a six-way tie for second place, with defending champion Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, Bill Mott, Mike Maker, Christophe Clement, and Brad Cox each saddling five winners thus far.

Pletcher got off to a slow start. Through the first seven days of the season he had saddled just one winner from 19 starters. That one winner was Wit, who impressively won the Sanford Stakes on the first Saturday of the meet. However, Pletcher has since caught fire with two wins last Saturday and two more last Sunday. It looks as if he’s getting back to his old self, and any apprehension bettors may have had about playing Pletcher horses can be relaxed. However, he remains cold in grass races with an 0-for-13 mark. Mott has also had his struggles on the lawn with an 0-for-10 record. He’s also 0-for-6 with 2-year-olds.

Any winner of Asmussen’s automatically merits attention as he continues to close in on Dale Baird’s all-time win record. As of July 27, Asmussen was 10 wins away from Baird’s record of 9,445. In contrast to Pletcher, Asmussen had a very fast start to the meet. He won five races from his first 15 starters but since then he’s on an 0-for-8 streak. This is very likely just an aberration but is still worth keeping in mind.

Among the leading trainers, Cox has the highest win percentage. He’s had five winners from 11 starters, good for a 45% clip. The average odds of his winners are a mere 1.45-1, so while his horses are tough they have not offered much value so far.

Unsurprisingly, Brown and Clement are the top trainers on grass. They’ve each won four races on that surface thus far. Clement has also been sharp with 2-year-olds with three juvenile winners. They include Senbei, who impressively won a New York-bred maiden race on dirt on July 18, and sharp grass winners Derrynane and Pizza Bianca.

Most of Maker’s success came on July 23, when he won three races in one day. Three of Maker’s winners were on grass. His two dirt winners came in 2-year-old races.

On the other side of the coin, notable names off to slow starts include Shug McGaughey, Rudy Rodriguez, George Weaver, Wayne Potts, Ray Handal, Jeremiah Englehart, Mark Casse, and David Donk.

Rodriguez, who finished sixth in the Belmont trainer standings, is in a 1-for-16 drought with his only winner coming with Deputy Flag on July 23. He set the pace and just barely held on to win by a nose. McGaughey’s lone winner thus far was also by a nose, as Third Draft just got up to win on July 17. Weaver’s sole win came with odds-on Thrill on July 23. The others have yet to win a race.


Jockeys

To no one’s surprise, the Ortiz brothers, Jose Ortiz and Irad Ortiz Jr. are off to great starts. Jose has won 16 races from 72 mounts, including a recent 7-for-22 hot streak. Irad has 14 victories from 81 mounts, with three graded stakes wins thus far.

Luis Saez has consistently been one of the top jockeys on the New York circuit but he’s been especially sharp so far at Saratoga. He’s tied with Jose atop the jockey standings, winning 16 races from 78 starts. By contrast, he finished in fourth place in 2020 and fifth place in 2019. Saez has had multi-win days each of the last three race days.

Joel Rosario is in fourth place with eight wins from 51 starts. Virtually all of Rosario’s success has come in grass races. On dirt, he’s a mere 2-for-31. He won an off-the-grass race on July 18, then won the Shuvee Stakes last Sunday with Royal Flag. He has not yet won a dirt sprint.

One of the more fascinating jockey storylines concerns John Velazquez. The Hall of Fame rider started the meet in an 0-for-27 slump, before prevailing with Lime last Sunday in a prolonged stretch duel. He’ll enter the third week of the meet with a 1-for-29 record, for a mere 3% win rate. He’ll almost certainly snap out of the slump at some point, but for now any horses he rides should be viewed warily.


The 2-year-olds

Two-year-old races are part of what makes the Saratoga meet special. Plenty of top, young racehorses make their debut in maiden races at the Spa. Bettors may wonder: In a 2-year-old race, do horses with experience have the edge or are first-time starters a better bet?

Through the first nine days of the meet, there have been 14 maiden races for 2-year-olds. So far, only four have been won by a horse with at least one race under its belt. However, nine races have had at least one experienced horse finish in the exacta, including two races with an all-experienced exacta.

The average winning Equibase speed figure in a 2-year-old maiden race so far is 79. Two of the experienced winners had earned a mark that high before and one other had previously run in the 70s. If a horse has run near the speed figure par in a 2-year-old race, they’re worth serious consideration.

Bettors generally lean toward first-time starters in 2-year-old maiden races. A debut runner went off as the favorite nine times from the 14 races thus far. Interestingly, of the five experienced horses who went off as the favorite none has won, although all five hit the board.


Shippers

Most winners are locally based, having made their last start at either Aqueduct or Belmont Park. The circuit that produces the most out-of-town winners, by far, is Kentucky. Through the first 90 races of the meet, 19 of them were won by a horse who made its last start at either Churchill Downs or Keeneland.

No other circuit’s shippers have made a significant impact. Two winners made their last start at Indiana Grand (both of which came on July 16), one came from Pimlico, two shipped from Monmouth Park (both on July 24), two invaded from Gulfstream Park, one came from Woodbine, and one last raced at Delaware Park. A few horses who made their most recent start in Europe tried without success, and no shipper from Pennsylvania has found the winner’s circle, although a few have hit the board. This suggests that horses with a recent race at either a NYRA or Kentucky track are at a big advantage.


Running Styles

So far, speed has been the name of the game on dirt.

In 42 sprints so far, 13 races, or 30.9%, were won in gate-to-wire fashion. Seven more winners were within a length of the leader after the first quarter-mile, meaning that close to half of sprint races thus far have been won by a horse right on the early lead. There have been 15 route races on dirt so far, and four of them were won in gate-to-wire style. Only one winner, Royal Flag in the Shuvee Stakes, was more than two lengths off the lead after the first quarter-mile. Of course, early speed is always an asset in American racing, but so far it’s been totally dominant on dirt at the Saratoga meet.

Grass routes have been a different story. There’s been 20 of them through the first nine days of racing and there have been only two gate-to-wire winners. Rinaldi on July 16 and Patheique on July 24 are the only two winners to lead at every point of call in a grass route. Seven of them, or 35%, were four lengths or more off the lead after the first quarter-mile. Two of those winners came in three-turn marathon races, but even so, closers have enjoyed success in all sorts of routes.

The grass sprints have been a little bit more balanced. In 13 sprints so far, there have been three gate-to-wire winners, while six winners were three or more lengths off the pace at the opening quarter-mile point. This suggests that, so far, horses can win from anywhere in grass sprints.

10.1.3



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