By Noel Michaels
Saratoga is a difficult meet for horseplayers to win at consistently, but any astute handicapper can increase their win percentage by limiting their wagers only to select situations that enjoy the best success.
Sure, you can bet every Todd Pletcher or Christophe Clement trainee, or every horse ridden by Jose and Irad Ortiz and you will win a lot of races, but you can’t just blindly bet the leaders and hope to make a profit. Narrow down your bets to only the best jockeys, trainers, and posts, and only bet them in the best situations, and you will see your profit margin soar at Saratoga.
Pay attention to the distinctions listed below, and you can win more money. Profit at Saratoga simply by betting this, not that.
Bet This: Turf sprints at 5 ½ furlongs have been a big part of the Saratoga wagering menu since about 2005, and in those 15 years, Linda Rice has been the unrivaled queen of those races, winning more than twice the amount of any other trainer. The current king is Christophe Clement, who annually wins with 20-25 percent of his starters.
Not That: Todd Pletcher is having a great 2020 Spa meet and is the leading trainer as of Aug. 14 with 17 wins. You won’t make money betting Pletcher’s turf sprinters, however, because he rarely wins turf sprints at Saratoga or anywhere. If you see a Pletcher horse in a turf sprint, it’s a tip-off and sure guarantee that he doesn’t think too much of that horse’s abilities. Only the lowest horses in his barn will take to the track in a turf sprint.
Bet This: The far outside posts, shunned by some handicappers in turf sprints, are actually very good at Saratoga. Horses breaking from far outside posts 9-12 in turf sprints this season have won a combined 5 of 30, for a 17 percent win percentage.
Not That: The post position you want to stay away from in Saratoga turf sprints is the rail. This season horses breaking from post 1 in turf sprints are 1-for-37 (3 percent).
Bet This: The inside posts are dominating in dirt sprints, with 78 of the first 83 races being won from posts 1-7. Horses breaking from posts 8 and out are a combined 5-for-69 (7 percent) with no winners from posts 10 and out.
Not That: The rail on the Mellon (outer) turf course has been awful, not only in the aforementioned turf sprints, but also in routes where horses from post 1 have won just 1-of-19. When you combine turf sprints and routes on the Mellon turf, post 1 has won a combined 2-of-56 (4 percent).
Bet This: Irad Ortiz and Jose Ortiz are not created equal. At Saratoga, you can differentiate when the best time is to bet their horses based on surface. Irad is the best rider at the meet on the dirt with 20 wins from 79 mounts for 25 percent. Jose, meanwhile, is great on the grass, where he has 23 winners from 81 mounts for 28 percent, which is mind-boggling based on Saratoga field sizes in turf races.
Not That: Horses ridden by Irad and Jose Ortiz are so heavily-bet at Saratoga, that the money-winning margin on their horses is razor-thin, at best. Winners ridden by Irad Ortiz, especially, have had at average payoff of only $8.80 at the current meet. Therefore, you can look for overlays on other horses by betting against Jose Ortiz in dirt races (just 10-for-70 for 14 percent), and betting against Irad Ortiz in turf races (13-for-84 for a modest 15 percent).
Bet This: Junior Alvarado doesn’t get the notoriety, or the quality mounts, that some of the big-name Saratoga riders get, but he makes the best of them. Alvarado has won 10-of-85 mounts for 13 percent, but his average win payoff is $26.60, which is more than enough to make him worth betting. Even when you take away his $100 winner, his average win payoff is still in the $20 ballpark.
Not That: Joel Rosario is contending for the meet riding title with 30 winners through Aug. 15, in large part because he’s taking advantage of riding first-call for Clement. Clement has won 16 races, mostly with Rosario aboard. Be careful, however, if you are trying to make money betting Rosario riding for any trainer at the meet other than Clement. Rosario’s win percentage is weak aboard horses not trained by Clement, and that’s bad news for a guy whose average winner at the meet is paying a paltry $7.40 to win.
Bet This: Shug McGaughey has quietly been having a monster season on the grass at Saratoga with five wins from his first 11 turf starters for 45 percent. His dirt horses meanwhile are 0-for-6.
Not That: Steve Asmussen and Rudy Rodriguez are two of the best trainers around, and both win a lot of races at Saratoga, but the vast majority of their winners come on the main track. Don’t bet them on the dirt at Saratoga based on their combined 2-for-30 record this season through Aug. 14.
Bet This: Bet Irad Ortiz when he rides for Todd Pletcher at Saratoga. Period. The jockey/trainer combo has won 38 percent (13-for-24) in statistics dating back to last season.
Not That: Irad Ortiz is doing much worse riding for Rudy Rodriguez. The pair has teamed up for only four wins from 30 races for 13 percent.
Bet This: Luiz Saez is doing great riding for H. James Bond, winning 6 of 18 races for 33 percent.
Not That: Saez has been ice cold riding for Joe Sharp, with three wins from 33 mounts for 9 percent.
Bet This: Jose Ortiz is on fire when he rides for Ken McPeek. The jockey/trainer combo has clicked for 40 percent (4-of-10) since last season.
Not That: People seem to ignore that Jose Lezcano rides first call for Linda Rice, and not Jose Ortiz. Handicappers tend to bet Jose Ortiz-ridden horses more, but Ortiz has won only 13 percent of his 38 mounts for Rice at Saratoga since last season.
Bet This: Mike Maker is having a tremendous season, and much of the key to his success has been based on teaming up with Jose Ortiz. Maker wins with 36 percent of his horses ridden by Jose Ortiz (10-for-28).
Not That: Maker does great with Ortiz. Not so much with Tyler Gaffalione. Evidently, he’s giving Jose Ortiz all his plumb mounts, because Maker is only 2-for-18 (11 percent) with Gaffalione aboard.
Bet This, and not that, and you will be well on your way to more wagering success at Saratoga.
Best of luck!
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.