Gulfstream Betting Trends: Much of focus on thoroughbred racing this week will be at Gulfstream Park, which is in the midst of the best portion of its championship meet and coming up to the biggest day of the season, Florida Derby Day on Saturday, March 28.
Many tracks have closed or suspended operations, leaving Gulfstream standing tall as this week’s preeminent simulcast signal for horseplayers to concentrate on. Daily handicapping at Gulfstream can be a grind with big competitive fields and high quality competition to consider in 10, 11, or more races each day.
With so much going on, it certainly can’t hurt for handicappers to find ways to sort out the contenders from the pretenders.
Here are five ways to help you narrow the contenders at Gulfstream. It’s based on information and statistics compiled through the current meet and from recent years that have formed a solid winning track profile using the track’s prevailing biases in various types of races.
Best of luck, and enjoy a tremendous upcoming week of racing and wagering at Gulfstream Park.
The post position bias against outside posts in two-turn races on Gulfstream’s main track remains a solid handicapping factor, just as it has for several years.
A disproportionate amount of Gulfstream’s two-turn races on the main track (primarily 1 1/16-mile and 1 1/8-mile races) are won by horses breaking from posts 1-3. So far this season, much more than half of the two-turn dirt routes at Gulfstream have been won from the inside three posts.
In 43 two-turn dirt route races, 25 of the winners broke from posts 1-3 accounting for 58 percent of the wins. By comparison, horses breaking from middle posts 4-7 have won a combined 11 of the 43 races accounting for wins in only 21 percent of the races. Farther outside posts 8 and outward, as a group, have actually performed pretty well at the current Gulfstream meet, but those posts historically have been brutally bad and are still difficult to recommend.
Horses of all running styles seem to have fair chances in Gulfstream’s main track one-turn races, but post positions do seem to matter. There was a time not long ago when the Gulfstream winning track profile in one-turn dirt races at 6 ½ furlongs, 7 furlongs and 1 mile had given an advantage toward outside horses.
That winning profile has disappeared in recent seasons, however, including this season. Now there is a preference for inside draws in one-turn Gulfstream dirt races from 6 furlongs to 1 mile.
The win percentages seem to be similar at the various one-turn distances from 6 furlongs to 1 mile, so let’s look at these races at Gulfstream as a whole. The statistics at recent meets including the current meet show strong advantages for horses from inside posts. The further out you go, the worse your chances are.
All of the best post position winning percentages in Gulfstream one-turn dirt races belong to the inside four posts, which each boast winning percentages between 14 percent and 18 percent from the rail. Anything outside post 9 has been a big disadvantage, with only eight wins in 420 one-turn main track races run so far this season.
At Gulfstream’s two most common one-turn distances on the main track, 6 furlongs and one mile, the statistics from the current meet tell the story. At 6 furlongs, your horse really needs to draw a post from 1-7 to have a decent chance. At that distance, the rail is the best with 29 wins from 152 races (19 percent).
Horses drawn in posts 8 and outward, however, show a putrid combined record of only seven wins from a total of 166 starters, for a win percentage of 4 percent.
At 1 mile, the stats are more of the same. Horses from posts 1-6 have the best chances to win, and you really can’t bet a horse to win from outside of post 9. Horses breaking from posts 10 and out in dirt miles this season have gone a combined 1-for-36.
From a purely technical standpoint, both Gulfstream’s 5-furlong turf races and 7 ½-furlong turf races are turf sprints. But really, for all practical purposes, the races at the two distances have nothing in common and should not be regarded as similar by handicappers in any way.
It never ceases to amaze how track statistics often lump all turf sprints together, including even the post position statistics listed on Gulfstream’s own website.
This skews the perception of what is really going on in these races when analyzing the turf races at these very different distances, creating a false look at how the track actually plays (this also happens in dirt races, where Gulfstream’s website lumps one-turn 1-mile races into the routes category instead of into the sprint category with the other one-turn races).
At Gulfstream, turf sprints at 5 furlongs are true turf dashes with a priority on pure speed. The 7 ½-furlong races are run around two turns and must be classified like turf routes because that’s the way they tend to be run. Just by simply making this one key distinction, you will be able to increase your effectiveness when handicapping all types of turf races at Gulfstream Park.
Gulfstream Betting Trends: 4 – Avoid Front Runners in Turf Routes, but Play ONLY Speed in Turf Sprints
Gulfstream’s turf course plays completely different in routes than it does in sprints at 5 furlongs. Gulfstream’s turf routes are generally un-friendly to front-running early speed horses, and for many years it has been one of the most difficult grass courses in the country on which to go wire-to-wire in two-turn races ranging from 7 ½ furlongs and up.
Turf route front runners have their best chances on the outer turf oval at Gulfstream when the turf rails are moved as far out from the hedge as possible. Gulfstream announces the distances of its turf rails for every turf race, and it behooves handicappers to pay close attention.
Traditionally, turf rails out is a handicapping factor that aids front runners and even Gulfstream Park is no exception. Turf rails close to the hedge spells big trouble for the speed horses in Gulfstream turf routes.
Meanwhile, the opposite is true in Gulfstream’s many 5-furlong turf sprint races, which put an extreme necessity on early speed and make it very difficult for horses to win from more than a length or two off the pace – no matter how fast the pace is.
Closers can win these races, but it happens so infrequently and it isn’t worth considering these horses in your 5-furlong turf handicapping. Even in races loaded with speed, instead of seeking-out a closer who could capitalize on the pace, you are better taking “the speed of the speed,” which tends to be a much better bet.
When handicapping Gulfstream Park turf races, it is running style – not post draw – that is usually the key determining factor. Outside post positions aren’t as much of a detriment for horses on the Gulfstream turf (in both sprints and routes) as they are at most turf courses around the country.
Year after year at Gulfstream, turf posts play mostly fair and have relatively even win percentages when inside, middle, and outside areas of the starting gate are considered. This generally makes post position a meaningless handicapping factor on the grass at Gulfstream.
At the current Gulfstream meet, in 5-furlong turf sprints, horses from inside posts 1-3 are a combined 35 wins from 333 starters for a 14 percent rate. Horses from middle posts 4-8 are a combined 58-for-492 for a 12 percent win rate, and starters from outside posts 9-12 are 8-for-92 for 9 percent wins. These statistics have been pretty consistent over the course of all recent Gulfstream meets.
In two-turn turf races (and longer) on the Gulfstream turf, outside horses have not been doing as well as they usually have done in other recent meets, but are still holding their own.
Starters breaking for inside posts 1-3 are a combined 95-for-834 for an 11 percent win rate. Horses breaking from middle posts 4-8 are 153-for-1296 for a 12 percent win rate that is actually a shade better than the win percentage of the inside posts 1-3.
Horses breaking from outside posts 9-13 have shown a smaller win percentage this year than they usually do, but they are still far from terrible. Outside posts 9-13 in Gulfstream turf routes this season are a combined 30-for-473 for a 6.3 percent win rate.
As you can see, this season there is a decline in winning percentages starting at post 9, but generally, on the bright side, this is made up for by better odds on the tote board the further outside you go on the grass. Bet outside horses and you are rewarded with better prices.
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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.