by Ray Wallin
The leaves are starting to turn. The hot summer days of relaxing on the apron at Monmouth Park are over. The horses have all shipped elsewhere for the fall and winter.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my home track, Monmouth Park. I put a lot of effort into my own record-keeping and stats that help me make a profit there year after year. Yet, once September rolls around, I have to play something else.
I have hit some monster Pick 4’s at Saratoga over the course of a summer, but the money you make from a year-round track is just as sweet.
While meets like Saratoga and Del Mar get all the glory in the summer and other meets, such as the Fair Grounds and Gulfstream, may get the best horses in the winter, the blue collar horses of the industry go out every couple of weeks and race. Tracks like Parx, Penn National and Charles Town race almost the entire year. Other tracks, like Mountaineer, run nine months out of the year and can be treated similarly.
While tracks like Gulfstream run most of the calendar year, its stock changes with the seasons depending on what northern meets are wrapping up or beginning. The smaller tracks don’t feel this effect and change of horses and horsemen.
So what makes these tracks playable?
There are a couple of stakes, even graded stakes, run at these tracks, yet most of their races are claimers and lower level allowances featuring the same horses in regular intervals. The racing secretaries generally write the conditions around the horses stabled at the track. You will find a lot of conditioned claiming races, like races for non-winners of a number of races in the last year or six months, or optional claiming races. Understanding how these conditions are written is the key to winning these races.
Many of these horses run between ten and fifteen times a year. When a horse runs that often it is much easier to assess its form cycle. When these horses stick to the same distance and surface, you can really hone in on a representative pace line.
I am not a believer in the “bounce”; I think it is a regression to the mean. With these horses that run every three to four weeks it is easy to see what the expected effort should be versus a lightly raced horse trying new distances or surfaces at an exclusive summer meet.
Many of these horses don’t ship in or out very often. Penn National and Parx may have some that run between the two tracks give their proximity, but, generally, the horses at year-round tracks don’t ship very often. It is not uncommon to see horses run between ten and fifteen races a year over the same surface.
Coupling many of the factors above leads to a more consistent product. When horses all run consistently over the same surface against one another their form can be more predictable than at other tracks, where there is speculation about shipping in or trying new distances or surfaces.
Since there is no exchange rate on tracks like Penn National versus Saratoga you should make your money where you can. Knowing that the stock doesn’t really change all year long at the smaller, year-round tracks provide a solid baseline for the horseplayer that is trying to make a living playing the races while you wait for the grandeur of the elite summer meets to return!
Ray Wallin is a licensed civil engineer and part-time handicapper who has had a presence on the Web since 2000 for various sports and horse racing websites and through his personal blog. Introduced to the sport over the course of a misspent teenage summer at Monmouth Park by his Uncle Dutch, a professional gambler, he quickly fell in love with racing and has been handicapping for over 25 years.
Ray’s background in engineering, along with his meticulous nature and fascination with numbers, parlay into his ability to analyze data; keep records; notice emerging trends; and find new handicapping angles and figures. While specializing in thoroughbred racing, Ray also handicaps harness racing, Quarter Horse racing, baseball, football, hockey, and has been rumored to have calculated the speed and pace ratings on two squirrels running through his backyard.
Ray likes focusing on pace and angle plays while finding the middle ground between the art and science of handicapping. When he is not crunching numbers, Ray enjoys spending time with his family, cheering on his alma mater (Rutgers University), fishing, and playing golf.
Ray’s blog, which focuses on his quest to make it to the NHC Finals while trying to improve his handicapping abilities can be found at www.jerseycapper.blogspot.com Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.