By Noel Michaels
The Belmont Stakes (G1) is a few weeks away so there’s more attention on Belmont Park now than at almost any other time of the year. This is the best part of the meet’s spring/summer season, which began April 22 and runs until July 11. As handicappers everywhere focus on Belmont this seems like the right time to bone up on some jockey and trainer trends that can be useful for bettors.
Through May 18, the leading trainers are Chad Brown (15-for-55, 27%) and Christophe Clement (13-for-42, 31%), who have both done most of their winning on the grass. Brown has 13 turf wins versus two main track winners from 12 starters. This kind of win percentage is typical for him on the dirt. Clement, meanwhile, has started two horses on the dirt with no winners. This is a cautionary tale for bettors, who of course want to bet the leading trainers but should not do so indiscriminately. Bet Brown and Clement on the turf and not on the dirt. Clement is the circuit’s top trainer in turf sprints. He has nine wins with 20 turf sprints starters for a huge 45%-win rate. Brown, on the other hand, does his winning mostly in routes.
One of the big stories in racing has to do with perennial top 10 New York trainer Linda Rice, who was handed a three-year suspension – a virtual death penalty – after an investigation turned up evidence, she paid for confidential information to learn race entries ahead of time in a scheme several years ago at Aqueduct. This takes away one of the top trainers on the circuit for the foreseeable future.
Since Brown and Clement aren’t winning a lot of races on the dirt, who is? The leaders on the main track have been Rob Atras and Orlando Noda. Atras has nine wins from 35 starters (26%) including five wins on the dirt, while Noda has seven wins, all on the dirt, from 23 starters for 30%. The trainer with the next most dirt winners is Rudy Rodriguez, who has four wins from 33 starts. His win percentage is only 12% but his average winner has paid a healthy $16.
When it comes to favorites and 2-year-olds, the clear leader is Wesley Ward, who has won three of the first seven juvenile races at the meet and has won with four favorites for an average win payoff of $4.30. On the other end of the spectrum, the best longshot trainer at the meet has been Wayne Potts, who has three wins from 27 starters, but with an average win payoff of $29.
That’s it for the hot trainers. How about the trainers who have not been getting the job done so far? Winless trainers who you should continue to stay away from for the moment include Graham Motion (0-for-13), James Bond (0-for-15), Randi Persaud (0-for-17), James Ryerson (0-for-13), Mark Hennig (0-for-13), and Michael Stidham (0-for-13). John Kimmel is 1-for-17.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. leads all riders in wins with 22 victories from 79 mounts for a strong 28% winning rate. Beyond that, Ortiz has compiled an impressive 41 finishes in the exacta, meaning he hits the exacta in more than 50% of his mounts. Ortiz is strong in all categories, with 28% wins in both sprints and routes, with 12 wins on the turf and 10 on the main track.
Ortiz leads all jockeys at Belmont despite riding stakes races out of town on a few occasions, giving him far fewer starts than current second-leading rider Manny Franco, who has 20 wins from a meet-high 118 mounts. While Franco trails Ortiz by two wins, his win percentage is 17%, which is far behind Irad’s clip. On the plus side for Franco bettors, however, when he wins you get paid a heck of a lot more than when Irad wins. Franco’s average win payoff is $10.70, versus $5.70 for Ortiz. Eighteen of Ortiz’s 22 wins at the meet have been aboard favorites.
The leader in win percentage is Joel Rosario, who has racked up 15 wins from 42 mounts so far for a 36%-win rate. Rosario has been great in routes with nine wins from 20 mounts for 45%, and he’s been lethal on dirt (8-for-18, 44%) and turf (7-for-24, 29%) with an overall average win payoff at $8.20.
The other jockey you want on your Belmont turf horse is Jose Ortiz, who has 12 turf wins from 43 mounts for 28%. The Ortiz brothers and Rosario are all between 26% and 29% wins on the turf. No other rider has a win percentage exceeding 14%.
In terms of ROI, the jockey riding the best with the best prices is Jose Lezcano, who has seven wins from 52 mounts with an average win payoff of $25.90.
Three jockeys have been unusually quiet so far at the meet. John Velazquez has been selectively choosing his mounts and has been aboard only 22 Belmont starters so far with three wins, two of which were aboard 2-year-olds. His bread and butter is racking up stakes wins out of town and he will get his share Belmont Stakes week. Luis Saez has been in and out of town and has five wins from 40 starters at the meet for a 13%-win rate. All five of Saez’s wins have been on the dirt. He is struggling with an 0-for-22 record on the grass. Javier Castellano is having a slow start since returning from an injury and hiring a new agent. He has three wins from 41 mounts (7%). Also ice-cold is Junior Alvarado, who has only four wins from 33 mounts, with all four wins coming aboard heavy favorites.
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.