Saratoga Trainer Profiles Part II

Many handicappers believe the trainer angle is the single most important piece of the handicapping pie, especially when top-rung racing is taking place — like at Saratoga during the heart of summer in July and August. All trainers have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of following the trainer angles, stats, and trends, is that they help you identify these strengths and weaknesses to give you the advantage over the rest of the betting public.

Bet trainers in areas they are strong and bet against them in areas they are weak and your win percentage and return on investment will improve. The Saratoga meet is filled with extremely competitive fields and difficult handicapping puzzles, but the best way to make handicapping easier is by following trainer trends which can help you narrow down the races to the top contenders. When you focus on the contenders and bet against the pretenders, you will be on your way to winning at Saratoga.

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Read onward for an easy-to-use pocket reference for the best times to bet on — and against — most of the top trainers up through the rest of the summer meet at historic Saratoga Race Course.

Below is a betting guide for individual trainers based on recent trends and statistics pertaining specifically to this time of year — the racing season at Saratoga. These preferences may differ elsewhere and at other times of the year. Use this as a betting guide throughout the key summer months of July and August at Saratoga.

Saratoga Summer Trainer Profiles (M-Z)

Mike Maker
Maker will be a major factor in Saratoga turf races of all kinds and he’s always a major factor first off the claim, even though his stable these days tends to be filled with more classy horses.

Bet: Turf routes, first off the claim.
Bet Against: Dirt races not involving claimers or recent claims, dirt sprints.
Neutral: Turf sprints.

Claude “Shug” McGaughey
Shug is more known as a Belmont trainer, but he is deadly at Saratoga in dirt routes (he won 4-of-5 such races in 2015). As good as Shug is on the dirt at Saratoga, however, he is awful on the grass. He’s also not a player with first-time starters.

Bet: Dirt routes.
Bet Against: All turf races, first-time starters.
Neutral: Dirt sprints.

Kiaran McLaughlin
McLaughlin has stepped up his game at Saratoga and usually wins a bunch of races, including plenty of turf races and turf stakes. Bet with caution in all dirt sprints, because he’s much better in routes (dirt). Besides the grass, the best time to catch McLaughlin is with his very potent maiden second-time starters.

Bet: Turf routes, dirt routes, and maiden second-time starters.
Bet Against: Dirt sprints.
Neutral: Turf sprints.

Graham Motion
Motion rarely wins on the Saratoga main track, but he starts all kinds of live grass horses from a variety of circuits plus foreign imports. He has a generally low percentage in Saratoga dirt races, but on turf it’s a totally different story. His winners are mostly older horses, and horses other than 2-year-olds trying turf for the first time.

Bet: Turf races, first-time turfers.
Bet Against: All dirt races, 2-year-olds.
Neutral: Stakes.

Bill Mott
Bill Mott will annually be one of the top turf trainers and he can still win allowances on the dirt as well, primarily in routes. Surprisingly, however, Mott doesn’t start many dirt routers at Saratoga. He gets a good win percentage in dirt sprints during his good seasons upstate. Mott is not effective with turf sprint winners at Saratoga, but he can finish in the money in those races from time to time. As always, however, once they stretch out on the turf, betting Mott’s horses is a no-brainer.

Bet: Turf routes, dirt sprints, stakes races.
Bet Against: Turf sprints.
Neutral: Dirt routes.

Todd Pletcher
Pletcher perennially excels at every facet of the game at Saratoga. Overall, he does better in distance races than in sprints, with the key exception being 2-year-olds, which account for the majority of his dirt sprint winners at Saratoga. Bet Pletcher in juvenile races and with second-time starters. Almost every good Pletcher maiden wins either first- or second-time out (on dirt), so bet them in those races, unless they resort to turf races. Turf sprints, in particular, are throwaway races for Pletcher’s throwaway horses. If a Pletcher maiden hasn’t graduated by its second start, stop betting it.

Bet: Two-year-olds, turf routes, stakes, maiden first- and second-time starters.
Bet Against: Turf sprints, maidens beyond their second starts, first starters in turf races.
Neutral: Three-year-old and older dirt sprints.

Linda Rice
It’s no secret by now that Linda Rice has been making her living concentrating on turf sprints, and Saratoga has been where she really does her best work with more than four times as many winners as any other trainer in Spa turf sprints. Rice even wins some longer turf races at the Spa meet. On the dirt at Saratoga, her forte is 2-year-olds. She’s been popping with juvenile winners up at the Spa longer than most people can remember.

Bet: Turf sprints, 2-year-olds (particularly NY-breds).
Bet Against: Dirt routes.
Neutral: Turf routes.

Rudy Rodriguez
There is almost no situation where Rudy Rodriguez is not dangerous anywhere, including at Saratoga.  Beware, however, that his high winning percentage usually drops a couple notches at Saratoga due to increased competition and fewer of his wheelhouse types of races, which are claiming races, sprints, and races for New York-breds. He’s also quietly and sneakily good with first-time starters.

Bet: Recent claims, claiming sprints, New York-bred races, first-time starters (mainly maiden claiming affairs).
Bet Against: Turf routes.
Neutral: Turf sprints.

Dale Romans
Kentucky invader has enjoyed some good success at Saratoga. He does very well with recent claims and not-so-well in route races and on the grass.

Bet: Claimers and recent claims (first- and second-time off the claim).
Bet Against: Route races and all turf routes.
Neutral: Turf sprints.

Joe Sharp
Invades from the Midwest mainly to attack Saratoga’s extensive turf sprint program, which is in his wheelhouse. He hasn’t proven to be a factor here in other kinds of races yet.

Bet: Turf sprints, turf miles.
Bet Against: Dirt.
Neutral: Maidens.

Jason Servis
Jason Servis has grown into a high-percentage trainer to bet at just about any meet he shows up at the last couple years, including Monmouth, Belmont, Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park. He has yet to turn into a Saratoga powerhouse, however, so we’re still waiting for his Spa bust-out meet. Things we know are that he wins equally on turf or dirt and he’s much better in sprints than routes. He’s best with maiden claimers or allowance horses.

Bet: Maiden claimers, turf sprints.
Bet Against: Dirt routes.
Neutral: Dirt sprints.

Barclay Tagg
Barclay is “The Man” with Saratoga first-time starters (back in 2015, he dominated the category with 4 wins from 5 starters). Tagg won’t run in a lot of dirt routes, but he has been good in those races with limited runners.

Bet: First-time starters, all dirt routes, turf sprints.
Bet Against: Dirt sprints, except maidens.
Neutral: Turf routes.

Rick Violette
The best play on Violette at Saratoga is to catch his first- and second-time starters, because he’ll often have his young horses geared-up and ready for this meet in particular. He always has an eye looking ahead to a race in the Saratoga condition book.

Bet: First- and second-time starters.
Bet Against: Turf races, dirt sprints with non-first- or second-time starters.
Neutral: Dirt routes.

George Weaver
Weaver is generally regarded as a turf trainer and, to an extent, that’s true because he does his best work with turf route horses. Nobody is looking at him or betting him in dirt sprints, however, and that’s where he’s quietly making his backers money at Saratoga.

Bet: Turf Routes, dirt sprints, 2-year-olds, first-time turf runners
Bet Against: Dirt routes.
Neutral: Turf sprints.

Nick Zito
Zito trains up at Saratoga nearly year round and has his stable ready to roll annually at the upstate meet. That being said, lately Zito has not been a big factor like he was a few years ago. He wins almost zero turf races, but he will try to roll out some interesting juveniles in dirt sprints and he’s always a major factor with his second-time starters, even if they didn’t show much in their first career outing.

Bet: Second-time starters, except on turf.
Bet Against: All turf races.
Neutral: Stakes, two-year-olds.

***

Originally posted on Aug. 3, 2018

Saratoga Summer Trainer Profiles (A-L)

Tom Albertrani
Albertrani is most dangerous at Saratoga with his high-priced stock, including mostly allowance horses. He also wins a lot doing second-time anything, including second-off-the-layoff and second-time starters.

Bet: Second-off-the-layoff, second-time starters.
Bet Against: Claimers.
Neutral: Turf sprints.

Steve Asmussen

Steve Asmussen

Steve Asmussen
One of the country’s top trainers, Asmussen is hot-and-cold at The Spa. The time you want to play Asmussen is in dirt sprints, especially when he sends out his expensive juveniles in either their first or second starts.

Bet: Dirt sprints, 2-year-olds.
Bet Against: All turf races.
Neutral: Dirt routes.

Charlton Baker
Baker runs good horses both upstate at Finger Lakes and downstate at Belmont and Aqueduct, and he will take his shots at Saratoga with live horses from both categories. Baker’s best area of expertise is with the kinds of long layoff horses that you’d toss out from other barns. He also has been known to pop at The Spa with first-time starters, particularly versus New York-breds.

Bet: First starters, horses returning from long layoffs.
Bet Against: Turf routes.
Neutral: Turf sprints.

Bruce Brown
Bruce Brown struggled to win a race — any kind of race — all of 2015 and part of 2016, but now he seems back to himself again. Who he is at Saratoga is a guy that can win an occasional dirt claiming race. No big surprises, stick to his horses in good form only and don’t expect positive turnarounds.

Bet: Older claimers with good form.
Bet Against: Maidens and first starters; turf.
Neutral: Dirt routes.

Ramon Dominguez and trainer Chad Brown at Saratoga in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Gonzalo Anteliz Jr.)

Ramon Dominguez (left) and trainer Chad Brown (right) at Saratoga in 2012 (photo courtesy of Gonzalo Anteliz Jr.).

Chad Brown
Brown will contend for the Saratoga training title along with Todd Pletcher, with dozens of wins rolling-in in all categories including maidens, allowances and stakes and every kind of turf route race. You can be guaranteed that all of Brown’s horses at The Spa will be live. His wins tend to come early in the meet, and you know he’ll be pointing many good horses for Saratoga stakes.

Bet: Maiden special weights on turf, dirt sprints (not two-year-olds) and every kind of turf router.
Bet Against: Maiden claimers, maidens on the dirt.
Neutral: Turf sprints.

Tom Bush
Bush has main been ice-cold in recent years, but he still can heat up at the Spa for a win or two. He’s been known to jack-up his game at Saratoga and is quietly a trainer to watch in terms of ROI, especially on the dirt. His number of turf starters has been increasing, along with his number of turf wins.

Bet: Dirt routes.
Bet Against: Cheap claimers.
Neutral: Turf races. 

Mark Casse
Mark Casse has expanded his operation nationally in recent years and has also expanded his reach at Saratoga. Once, you could count on Casse for a few turf winners a season, primarily with horses coming down from Canada. Now, he’ll still win on the turf, but with horses coming from everywhere. Casse has particularly upped his game at Saratoga with 2-year-olds, first-time starters, first-time turf starters, and horses making their career debut in grass races.

Bet: 2-year-olds, horses making turf debut, first-time turf, horses making second or third start of meet.
Bet Against: Dirt sprints for 3-year-olds and up, horses making first start of the meet.
Neutral: Turf sprints. 

Christophe Clement
Turf ace trainer Clement’s game is on the grass, of course, and he is among the leaders in turf stakes wins. Expect 25% wins or better in turf routes, and Clement also focuses on turf sprints at this meet. He led all trainers with half a dozen turf sprint wins in 2015. Clement isn’t usually much of a factor on the dirt at Saratoga. He occasionally throws in a dirt sprint winner here and there and can be somewhat sneaky in those spots when he enters.

Bet: Turf routes, turf sprints, turf stakes.
Bet Against: Dirt routes.
Neutral: Dirt sprints. 

Gary Contessa
Contessa is one of the winningest trainers on the New York circuit, but he’s generally a very bad bet at Saratoga with low percentages in dirt routes, turf sprints, and turf routes. His wins will came mostly with dirt sprinters in claiming races. One sneaky angle for Contessa at Saratoga is with first-time turfers, which can occasionally win and pay giant prices when they do.

Bet: Dirt sprints, claimers, first-time turf (only at Saratoga).
Bet Against: Dirt routes, turf sprints, allowance and stakes races.
Neutral: Turf routes.

Chris Englehart
Englehart is making a living on the main New York circuit with his claiming stock, including recent claims and New York-breds. The shorter the race, the better, since he is much more reliable in sprint races than in routes, especially at Saratoga where routes begin at 1 1/8 miles. Against this caliber of competition, don’t expect him to win a lot of turf races, except for an occasional turf sprint.

Bet: Claimers and New York-breds, dirt sprints.
Bet Against: Dirt routes.
Neutral: Turf sprints, turf routes.

Jeremiah Englehart
Jeremiah Englehart can surprise you at Saratoga in turf sprints. His turf route numbers were low. At The Spa, his best game is with claimers and maiden claimers, and 3-year-olds and up at any distance on either surface, with the exception of turf routes.

Bet: 3-year-old and up claimers and maiden claimers, dirt sprints.
Bet Against: Turf routes.
Neutral: Turf sprints.

David Jacobson
Jacobson excels with claimers year-round in New York, but he always takes a dip in win percentage at Saratoga, even when on his best game. Limit his use to claimers and recent claims on the dirt. Stay away from him on turf and with maidens.

Bet: Claimers, first-off-the-claim, dirt sprints, back within a week.
Bet Against: Turf routes, allowance, maidens.
Neutral: Turf sprints, dirt routes.

James Jerkens
James Jerkens is not usually a high-percentage trainer up at Saratoga. He doesn’t win much up there on grass and with distance horses on dirt, but he remains dangerous in stakes. He can win dirt sprints at The Spa, particularly if it’s with a maiden second-time starter.

Bet: Second-time starters in dirt sprints, stakes races, 2-year-olds (not first-time starters).
Bet Against: Route horses (non-stakes).
Neutral: Turf sprints.

John Kimmel
Kimmel is hot and cold at Saratoga, and he is generally one of the streakiest trainers at the meet, and you can also count on him to have a few stakes horses well spotted at the The Spa. Kimmel also does well at this meet with first-time turf horses. Other than that, you’ve gotta ride the wave when it comes to Kimmel and watch for one of his hot streaks to begin.

Bet: Well-spotted stakes horses, first-time turfers, hot streaks.
Bet Against: 2-year-olds.
Neutral: Turf sprints. 

Bruce Levine
Not too many fireworks up at Saratoga. The winners he does catch will probably be in sprints, mainly on dirt, and he may even show up with some recent Monmouth Park winners who are in peak form. His Saratoga dirt routers haven’t been good.

Bet: Monmouth shippers in top form, first-time Lasix.
Bet Against: Dirt routes.
Neutral: Turf.

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D. Wayne Lukas

D. Wayne Lukas
In recent years, Lukas has been running tons of horses at Saratoga and winning at a very low percentage. Most of his big-money owners have gravitated toward other trainers meaning he is no longer a big factor in Saratoga’s juvenile races, even though he does show up with a nice 2-year-old here and there. Lukas hasn’t been a factor on turf at Saratoga lately, so stay away from him on the green. His Saratoga wins these days tend to come in dirt sprints with very well-bred and/or expensive horses, with perhaps a claimer or two sprinkled into the mix. His winning ROI at Saratoga will be skewed for a long time to come thanks to a recent $230 win horse he had. Take that win away and his ROI is a disaster.

Bet: Two-year-old stakes-caliber horses and second-time starter sprinters.
Bet Against: Turf races.
Neutral: Dirt routes.

Noel Michaels
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.

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