by Noel Michaels
A lot of focus is on racing at Gulfstream Park this time of the year, with the track in the midst of the best portion of its winter championship meet. Daily handicapping at Gulfstream can be a grind, with large, competitive fields and high-quality competition to consider in 10, 11 or 12 races per day. With so much going on, it certainly can’t hurt for handicappers to find ways to help narrow down and sort out the contenders from the pretenders. Here are five ways you can do that at Gulfstream Park based on information and statistics compiled through recent years that have formed a solid winning track profile for various types of races.
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 been for the past several years. The vast majority 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 1-7. So far this season, in 34 two-turn dirt routes, 32 of the winners broke from posts 1-7 with horses from posts 8-14 going a combined 2-for-38 for a win percentage of 5 percent.
The inside three post positions offer the strongest advantage in these races, each boasting an 18 percent win percentage this season (both 6-for-34). This means that more than half of Gulfstream’s dirt routes (53 percent) are won from posts 1-3. All other posts have yielded a combined 16 wins from 160 starters for a much lower combined win percentage of 10 percent.
This produces a two-pronged handicapping angle. Pass on betting horses drawn outside post seven in two-turn dirt routes, but take note of those horses and bet them back next time as live overlays assuming they get a better draw.
Horses with all running styles seem to have a fair chance 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 one mile gave an advantage to 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 six panels to a mile.
The win percentages seem to be similar at the various one-turn distances from six furlongs to one mile, so let’s look at these races at Gulfstream as a whole. The statistics at recent meets, including the current one, show strong advantages for horses from inside posts. The further out you go, the worse your chances are.
In dirt races up to a mile, horses breaking from posts 1-4 this season have won 222 of 1,456 races (15 percent). Horses from posts 5-8 are 134-for-1,130 (12 percent) and horses breaking from posts 9-14 are a combined 8-for-213 (3.8 percent).
From a purely technical standpoint, both Gulfstream’s 5-furlong turf races and 7 ½-furlong turf races are sprints. But, really, for all practical intents and purposes, 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, thereby skewing the numbers when analyzing the turf races at these distances and creating a false look at how the track actually plays. This can also happen in dirt races, too, where some statisticians lump one-turn, one-mile races into the route category, even though in a one-turn scenario they should be lumped in with the sprints.
At Gulfstream, turf sprints at fivefurlongs are true turf dashes with a priority on pure speed. The 7 ½-furlong races, on the other hand, are run around two turns and must be classified like turf routes because that’s the way they tend to be run. 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’s turf course plays completely different in routes than it does in sprints at 5 furlongs. Gulfstream’s turf routes are generally not friendly to 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 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 Gulfstream Park is no exception. Turf rails close to the hedge spells big trouble for the route speed horses at Gulfstream.
Meanwhile, the exact opposite is true in Gulfstream’s many five-furlong turf sprints, 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 five-furlong turf handicapping. Taking “the speed of the speed” is 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 a detriment for horses on the Gulfstream turf (in both sprints and routes), which is contrary to the way most turf courses play. Year after year at Gulfstream, turf posts play fairly 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 posts 1-4 are a combined 35-for-320 (11 percent), horses from posts 5-8 are 33-for-308 (11 percent), and starters from posts 9-14 are 12-for-133 (9 percent).
In two-turn turf races and longer, starters breaking from posts 1-4 are a combined 94-for-856 (11 percent), horses breaking from posts 5-8 are 80-for-837 (9.6 percent) and horses breaking from posts 9-14 are 40-for-537 (7.4 percent). As you can see, there is a slight decline in winning percentages the further out you go, but, generally, this is made up for by better odds on the tote board the further outside you go on the grass.
Use these five simple tips and start cashing more tickets at Gulfstream. Good luck, and enjoy great winter racing and wagering from Gulfstream Park!
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.